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Sometimes people were bad at giving directions. For example, if someone mentioned a blacksmith and enchanter in a particular city, that someone could have given a name or potentially even a section of the city. But not having that information, Chikere was left to figure it out herself. Fortunately, even a very large city like Sarton only had a few dozen blacksmiths throughout it. Those that were blacksmiths and enchanters were only a small portion, and they were the same who worked with all of the high quality materials. People who weren’t cultivators hardly needed better materials than good steel for anything they were doing, and certainly not at the prices people had to charge.
Since random people didn’t necessarily know which blacksmiths also catered to cultivators, Chikere still ended up visiting a few of the regular smiths. Two of them didn’t even have weapons at all, just a bunch of tools and crap like that. Totally uninteresting, if necessary. Some of the ones that did have weapons, however, were quite good. Even if the materials were just plain steel and without enchantment the swords were good. Not within the top one thousand she had seen, but still quite decent in their own right.
Eventually Chikere decided she’d gone to enough of the smiths she might as well see all of them. There were all different kinds of swords to look at with differences from tiny stylistic choices on the guard or grip to the difference between short curved blades and large double edged two handed swords. Chikere mostly used double edged swords, but there was no reason she couldn’t use others if they were good enough.
But none of them were. Not a single sword in the entire city was worthy of being in the top ten, and very few of them could be in the top one hundred of swords she had owned. Nothing rivalling something she’d actually use… or that even vaguely resembled the sword she’d asked about.
Her eye twitched. The man at the roadside stall had been a liar. All she wanted to know was where he got his sword and he sent her to the wrong city. On purpose. It had to be. Nobody would forget where they got a sword.
… Okay, Chikere had to admit that perhaps some people wouldn’t remember where they got a sword. But the flippant way the man had responded didn’t do the man any favors. She was hoping she could find swords that matched the one she had taken, since it was so good, but the man had steered her wrong.
There was something she was missing. The sword she’d taken from her attacker and the sword that man had been wearing matched. Which meant if she could find other people with similar swords, she could track that guy down and make him apologize! Also, maybe they were attacking other people. She certainly hadn’t recognized any of the ones she’d met from the list of people she’d antagonized.
For some reason nearby people flinched as she pulled out her swords even though she obviously wasn’t going to slash them. She pointed her swords vaguely south, where she had been wandering. “I swear, flippant sword man, I’ll find you!” What she would do when she found him was another thing. But she hadn’t seen many people with swords like that. Just the two who attacked her- one who escaped- and the man by the road. It would be a bit silly of her to hope she’d just stumble into them. She had to look for help. Who knew things?
Oh, right! There was a sneaky organization that liked to find all sorts of things. Wasn’t it the cat tails? No, that wasn’t it. Dog nose? That was closer. Oh yes. The Ears of the Fox. They should have some sort of information.
“I want to find people with swords like this,” Chikere held out the sword towards the woman who had come to meet with her. Since the sheath belonged with it, she didn’t draw it out to show her, but Chikere dropped it into her hand when she held it out.
“You want to find a specific smith?” the woman looked over the sword very seriously, inspecting it up close. “There are no maker’s marks or anything of the like, as far as I can tell.”
Chikere shrugged. “It’s not like it needs to be marked. Just find something that feels the same. It might not even be a sword.”
“I need to ask an important question here,” the woman said. “What is your intent? Are you planning to collect weapons? Track down a certain smith? Find something stolen?”
“Yes. The first two, maybe.” Chikere tapped her chin, “Oh, and maybe take revenge on the group who tried to kill me with this one.”
“These people,” the woman said. “Did they use strange illusions?”
“Yes they did, actually. Do you know where to find them?” Chikere tilted her head, “If you just know about them off the top of your head, it shouldn’t be too expensive, right?”
The woman working for the Ears shrugged, “Knowing about them and knowing where to find them aren’t necessarily the same. But perhaps we can work together for our mutual benefit. If I understand correctly, the people you are looking for are being looked for by many others as well. What about this sword makes it recognizable as theirs?”
“It’s just got the right feel,” Chikere said. “The other specs aren’t all the same.”
“Would you recognize other types of weapons? Perhaps a dagger?”
She nodded. “Daggers are just really short swords.”
“Pardon me then,” the woman said. “I’ll be back momentarily.” She returned a short time later and spread out a small bundle of daggers in front of Chikere, on the table they were sitting at. “Are any of these daggers-”
“This one,” Chikere picked up one of them. “See?” she held up her sword next to it.
“I am sorry to say I can’t find any striking similarities between them,” the information vendor said. “The styles are quite different.”
Chikere licked the sword and the dagger she had. “No, they’re definitely the same. They have that sharpness. Definitely the same enchanter.”
“Well,” the woman inclined her head. “I have to say that at the very least… you have some way to determine correctly. We can help you find them if you help us teach one of our specialists how to recognize what you do.”
“Sure thing,” Chikere said.
It took more than a few days for the right specialist to show up, but Chikere was willing to wait. She’d have barely even made it to the next town over and probably not spotted anyone. She’d probably have to wait weeks to come across whoever she wanted by random chance. The Ears of the Fox should be able to help speed that up considerably, right?
The specialist was an old man. His hands were rough and calloused from old labor, and he practically shone with enchanted equipment. Everything from a single earring he had to his gloves to his boots and everything in between was enchanted. It all had the same feeling, too. Though none of it had the sharp heart of a good blade.
“So,” Chikere said. “Before I try to teach you how to recognize these things, how many people have you killed with a sword?”
The old man took her strange question in stride, simply thinking for a few moments before responding. “Twenty-seven.”
“Eh,” Chikere shrugged, “Good enough for a start I guess. So here’s the thing,” she pulled out the blade she’d taken from the ambusher and showed it to the man right up close. He didn’t even recoil, like most people did. “Did you feel that? I can do it again.”
“Go ahead,” the man said, grinning lightly.
Chikere swung the sword a few more times, back and forth. “Its core really comes out when you swing it.” She flipped the sword over, holding it by the point. “Give it a try.” The old man took a few swings, but Chikere stopped him. “No no, it should have more… oomph. Really kill that shadow person in front of you.” Chikere felt herself be cut in half vertically, as well as being sliced a dozen times horizontally. They were nice neat cuts, but they weren’t efficient. Of course, the sword only actually swung next to her. “That’s pretty good,” she said. “That sort of sharp killing intent, you know? And the enchantments. It’s like a hidden killing intent. Like holding that sword, it might turn around and stab you at any point.”
“Yes,” the man said. “I feel it now.”
“Good,” Chikere said. “Anyway, that’s what makes it good enough to be number ten. And the other ones were like that too.”
The man pulled out the dagger from before, dragging it through the air. “Oho, indeed. I have the sense of it now. Yes, these were certainly made together.”
“Right?” Chikere said. “I’m not sure if it’s the same smith, but… you know. They fit.”
“Perhaps,” the man nodded. “Different smiths, different enchanters… but one technique. They’d hardly stand out to most people.”
“Pfeh,” Chikere said. “That’s just because most people can’t recognize a good weapon if it’s impaling them.”
“Isn’t that the truth, though?” the old man laughed. “Sharpness and durability are hardly relevant compared to certain intangible elements. I should have spotted this sooner. Thank you, Chikere.”
“No problem,” she said. “What’s your name anyway? I forgot to ask.”
“Stasiuk,” he said. “Enchanter Stasiuk, generally. The Ears of the Fox have asked for my aid on this matter. Now that I have something to work with, it should significantly accelerate.”
“Great!” Chikere said. “So how long do you think it will take to find them? A couple days, a week?” she frowned as she saw his face. “Two?”
He continued to smile widely. “You greatly overestimate how quickly people who don’t want to be hidden can be found.”
“Eh,” Chikere shrugged, “I’m not sure about that. I’d bet you if I wander around the area for a week or two they’ll attack me again. For whatever reason.”
“Have they attacked you more than once?” he asked.
“No,” Chikere said, “But nobody ever stops at just once.”
“For them to find you, they’d have to know you were in the area,” Enchanter Stasiuk explained.
“Good point. Should I just go out on the street and yell that I’m in town?”
“… if you are committed to this angle,” Stasiuk said, “I think we could go with a more subtle approach.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
“Actually,” he leaned back slightly. “How about this. You just stay in the area. Maybe go out into the woods hunting beasts or something. Don’t loudly announce your presence though.”
“Good idea,” Chikere acknowledged, “They probably won’t attack me in the city.”
“I feel like I should be appropriately transparent,” Stasiuk folded his hands in front of him. “You would basically be acting as bait for us. You’ll likely be in great danger.”
“Can I be bait for you and me at the same time? Because I’m fine if that’s the case.”
“That… shouldn’t be a problem. And the danger?”
Chikere shrugged, “What are they gonna do, kill me?” Her eyes flashed, “Because I’m willing to bet they don’t have enough people for that.”
Enchanter Stasiuk leaned back, pondering. Considering she’d already fought with the group once before, and that she should be aware of their expansive nature, he’d have figured she would know they had enough people. But the confidence with which she spoke told him that his own estimations of her strength were somewhat lacking. “Might I ask, young Chikere, how many people you have killed?”
“With swords?” she asked.
“Is it different?”
“I killed someone with my bare hands once,” she admitted. “Let’s see, it’s been eight years… three hundred and eleven?” Then she shook her head, “Oh wait some of those were illusions. Three hundred even.”
“How many people in Essence Collection?”
“That was only the last couple of years, so… twenty one.”
“That’s… a significant portion of a powerful sect.”
“Eh,” Chikere said. “I’ve only killed two or three Essence Collection cultivators from any particular sect. They seem to lose track of me after that.”
Stasiuk was not so sure anyone could lose track of her, with a trail of bodies like that. While a powerful sect had more than just a few Essence Collection cultivators, each one was precious. They couldn’t afford to lose one every few weeks. “Well,” Stasiuk said. “You should probably consider whether or not you want to follow through with that plan. Staying in one place for longer will give all sorts of people chances to catch up. Eventually you might be overwhelmed.”
“Yeah…” Chikere said. “I suppose that’s possible. I should bring backup. I wonder if Anton and the others are doing anything?”