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When he didn’t fight it, Hoyt’s weight dragged him down into the waters of the Niverlam Depths. The second vertical opening he was directed towards felt different from the first, less the weight and sturdiness of a mountain and more the inertia of a rolling boulder. It was the sort of thing that only really made sense as a cultivator, since water should normally only have the properties of cold and wet.
As he dropped into the area with the half formed chunk of metal in his arms, he suddenly found his movement arrest. No, that wasn’t quite right. He was still moving, but no longer accelerating downward. Yet he still felt the weight pulling him. It was a strange experience, but soon enough the chunk of metal in his hands cooled off, pulling in the strange attributes.
It was when he tried to start swimming back towards the surface that things got weird. The difficulty of swimming with a great weight was easily overcome by expanding out his energy to push against a larger area. But when he made the attempt, he didn’t slow down. He wasn’t going fast so it should have been easy to shoot towards the surface, but he simply couldn’t change his momentum.
Most of the feeling came from the chunk of metal in his arms. If he let it go he thought it would probably be trivial to do what he wished. But if he wasn’t willing to face a little bit of a challenge, what was the point of being a cultivator at all?
Hoyt rallied his energy, spreading it out to all edges of the vertical shaft he was drifting down. His energy scraped against the walls, finally getting a firm hold and slowing his movement a little bit at a time. Chunks of dirt and rock tore apart as he slowed his movement, straining his energy until he finally came to a stop. Starting to move back in the other direction wasn’t any easier, his outstretched arms of energy straining to pull himself up.
From out of a small tube on the side, much too small to be called a tunnel, a twenty centimeter wide eel pounced towards him, ugly face and teeth biting at his leg. He tried to swing the crudely constructed piece of metal, but it didn’t follow his movements. Even so, that motion pushed him back away from the eel. Then he pulled, kicking forward and sending a foot up into the thing’s jaw. It jerked strangely, hardly veering from its course towards him but also having its head collapse from the force of the blow. The abundance of strange natural energy in the area must have overwhelmed the creature’s senses if it thought it was a match for Hoyt.
His extended energy pushed him upward once more, and after he was finally moving he slowly gained speed until he shot out of the top of the chasm, where he suddenly felt the pressure of water slowing his speed. He wasn’t far from the surface though, so he quickly popped up next to the pier. The future weapon head in his hand was somewhat more willing to move as he directed after he got out of the depths.
Despite his fascination with the strange smithing process at this lake, he still made sure to investigate an important detail. His energy twisted, as subtly as he could, reaching into the smith who he didn’t have a name for. He certainly didn’t feel like a member of the Twin Soul Sect, which was good enough for Hoyt at the moment.
After handing the smith the hunk of metal he was holding Hoyt expected to immediately be tossed back into the lake with another chunk of white-hot metal, but it seemed the smith wanted to work on the same piece he had just brought back. That gave him a couple of minutes to rest, refilling some of the natural energy he had expended and watching the smith work. He was making a wide-bladed axe head, one that would have been oversized if it wasn’t intended for use by a cultivator. More than fifteen or twenty centimeters of blade started to become excessive when against a human opponent, since it more than covered the size of any vital point. But some creatures cultivators fought could be quite large, and wider blades could be helpful. On the back end, there was an almost comically large counterweight, almost like a hammer head.
Hoyt was only just barely ready when the axe head was tossed to him. He’d been expecting it, but it was several times hotter than the last time- and starting to become sharp, so he had to catch it the right way.
“That one,” the smith said. “As deep as you can.”
Water and fire were usually mutually exclusive things, but the water inside the next hole was as much like fire as any water could be. On the way down gouts of instant steam boiled off of the axe head in Hoyt’s hands, but once he was within the domain of the depths below it stopped. If anything instead of the water cooling the axe head it began to get hotter. The water itself had that same sense of heat, but fortunately most of it was concentrated around the axe head and not Hoyt himself. That let him focus his efforts on containing the heat there.
He thought it might reach a point where it had enough and stopped absorbing, but unlike the other times it wasn’t cooling down in the water so he had no way to judge if and when that might be. It only seemed to increase as he drifted further downward, picking up speed until the drag of the water matched the pull of gravity.
He vaguely sensed more eels on the way down, but as long as they stayed in their little tunnels he was content to let them be. He was busy focusing on the axe head. Did he want to try to stop it, or encourage it? He didn’t want to ruin the smith’s project, but he also didn’t want to injure himself. As the burning heat grew in intensity, he knew he’d need to stop it soon before he could no longer handle it.
But it wasn’t the intensity of flames that was the problem, not exactly. After all, he was able to create flames of great power and they weren’t an issue for him. He just needed to be in control of the fire.
That made the decision easy. He began to guide the fire in the water into the axehead he held. It wasn’t just fire, though. There were all sorts of properties that fire could have, and this one meshed quite well with the Ninety-Nine Stars.
As he controlled the energy going in, he also began to take control of the energy coming out of the weapon. It was clearly not going to stop radiating heat, but it didn’t have to be a problem for him. Not if it was attuned to the right sort of energy signature.
The intensity continued to increase steadily, until there was a surprising change in the surroundings. He hit the bottom of the lake- the bottom of the unknowably long vertical shaft he was in. He couldn’t sense the surface of the water, but that wasn’t a big issue. The real problem was the person he was looking at.
A middle aged man with fiery hair waving in the water. There was an intense look on his face, a heat that poured from him. And a very familiar energy, almost like the Ninety-Nine Stars but not quite.
Then he disappeared, and Hoyt found him staring at a pile of bones. A skeleton. He couldn’t help but reach out an arm. When he made contact, the skeleton crumbled to dust, and the dust crumbled to nothing. A wave of energy washed over him, but most of it ended up absorbing into the burning axe head.
Though it was certainly still radiating energy, the heat of the metal itself had cooled. Hoyt looked upwards, where he found that several large masses of eels had conglomerated at various levels, watching him. He didn’t have the patience to deal with them as individuals, and he wanted to return to the surface quickly.
He pushed off the sand, blade held in front of him. He built up momentum and speed, while the fire released from him and the partial weapon he held. He knew what the fire was now. The fire of a falling star. And though he wasn’t actually falling right now… the effect was much the same as he barrelled through the masses of eels above. The smart ones turned and fled back into their holes, but some tried to chomp through him, presuming that they wouldn’t burn from just a little fire. They were wrong.
What felt like a mere few moments later Hoyt broke the surface of the water, flying into the air. He twisted his body, awkwardly shifting the hunk of metal in his hands that really didn’t like changing directions- but was much more able to do so outside of the first area of water. He tucked in his legs and flipped over so that he wouldn’t smash through any part of the smith’s hut, though his impact on the wharf nearby cracked some of the stones despite his best efforts to spread out his impact.
Hoyt looked at the combined axe and hammer head in his hands. He needed to own this weapon, even if the smith already had planned to give it to someone else. He just wasn’t sure how to say that.
The smith didn’t seemed concerned about the chunks of rock that were falling into the lake below, stepping on the structurally sound parts of the wharf and plucking the piece out of Hoyt’s hands. “Excuse me, grandmaster smith…” Hoyt believed the man had to be a grandmaster of some sort to work so quickly. The man didn’t seem to hear him, as he was immediately grinding the blade, then swiftly placing attaching it to the handle he’d made earlier. Then the weapon was thrust into Hoyt’s hands. Instead of asking what he intended to ask, Hoyt questioned, “Where do I go with this?”
“Wherever you want,” the muscular man said.
Was he supposed to pick the last attribute it would have? But it hadn’t even gone in the fire again, and wouldn’t need quenching. He didn’t really get the sense of that, though. “I would like to purchase this axe, if I could.”
“It’s not for sale,” the man said. Before Hoyt could say anything more, he continued. “I just had to make it. Got some nice hunks of metal from a meteor, and just as I was refining them you walked up. I thought it would suit you perfectly. So you have to take it.”
Hoyt blinked. Could there be so many coincidences in the world? Surely not, but he wasn’t a huge believer in fate, either. Then again, being drawn to the location of an ancestral member of the sect wouldn’t actually be a coincidence. It would just be something subconscious. Hoyt wasn’t sure if it could have drawn him and the others all the way to another continent, but at the very least when they came to Erygan it was what pulled him out here. And the smith making him a weapon…
He looked over at the other smith he’d approached, the woman across the way. She just shrugged at him. So, it seemed the man was just like this. Not that it was all that eccentric among cultivators. “Thank you, I will gladly accept. If you need anything from me…”
“Eh, you did a lot of the work anyway. But if you find anything nice, I’d appreciate if you bring it to me. Oh, I’m Bomir, by the way,” the man outstretched a large, calloused hand. Hoyt shook it.
“Forgive my prying, Grandmaster Smith Bomir, but do you do this often? How do you make money?” Hoyt knew that if he had to pay for the weapon in his hand, he might not be able to fully afford it, but he couldn’t just leave the man as he was.
“Money?” the man raised half of an eyebrow, the rest of which seemed to have been scorched off. “What would I do with that? Can’t eat it or fight people with it. Not very well, anyway. Besides, with this invasion coming I need to make sure as many people are equipped as can be.” Bomir shrugged, “You just bring me some nice materials and we’ll be even.”
“You know about the invasion?”
“Sure thing,” Bomir said. “People come from far and wide to get weapons here, and it’s ramped up quite significantly in the past handful of years. Something about ascended fellows coming down to snatch up our resources.” He spit into his forge, where it briefly sizzled on the coals. “But I’d much prefer we do the snatching from them, greedy bastards. Well, at least they gave us this lake.”
“What do you mean?” Hoyt asked, looking down below. He could make some assumptions, but it seemed Bomir might have actual details.
“Well, I thought it was just legends passed down from centuries ago, but recent events might make it true. This was apparently the site of a great battle. And at the bottom of these holes, I hear there’s the corpses of great warriors. Some of ours, and some of theirs. But all of them are here, so it’s all ours now.”
“I can confirm that there was… at least one.”
“Got to the bottom did you? No wonder it took so long. I thought you had the right affinity but you stayed down there for a good while.” He nodded, “That’s why it feels so strong, then. Matches you quite well.”
“Thanks,” Hoyt nodded. “On the topic of increasing orders, can you tell me about any new arrivals here?” Hoyt leaned in conspiratorially, though it would hardly change whether anyone could overhear them.
“We got all sorts. You talking visitors, or… smiths?”
Hoyt tilted his head. “Well, I suppose both are interesting to hear about. If you’ve got the time.”
“Time? Don’t even have more coal for my forge. Got plenty. Just let me know who you’re looking for, and I can probably yammer on for a while.”