"Hey, lad! I haven’t seen you in a while," Old Wang greeted Rakna as he landed in front of his stall in Black Steel. "And it seems you’ve brought the young lady with you," the dwarf added as he saw Evelyn standing beside him.
"Good morning, sir," the succubus smiled.
"Hahaha, at least you’re polite. Your friend here, on the other hand, typically walks up to me and calls me Old Wang. Never missing the chance to remind me how decrepit I am," Wang huffed and Rakna shrugged at his glare.
"I guess it’s a habit I got from addressing my uncle with ‘old man’ for as long as I did. There really isn’t a better moniker than this honestly. Faultless familiarity."
"And rudeness," the dwarf snorted and waved at the seats. "Suit yourselves. I’ll quickly make you some pancakes. Or did you eat already?" Rakna simply shook his head at his question while they took a seat. "So, what brings you here? Is it about your project?"
"Yes. I also came here to ask if your friend has finished cracking the compound. I haven’t gotten any news since you asked me for an additional sample a few days back."
"Hm," Old Wang nodded as he prepared the food. "I was actually planning to pay him a visit today since he hasn’t contacted me back ever since. Knowing him, he probably made a breakthrough and locked himself up researching it. As soon as you’re finished eating, I can take you to him."
"All right, in the meantime, take a look at this," Rakna said and took out two items that he tossed to the old dwarf. He caught them with a raised eyebrow and inspected them. One of them was a pill and the other was a silvery and bluish shard that pulsed with energy.
"This pill…" Old Wang read the description of the pill first and widened his eyes in surprise. "You made this?" He turned toward Evelyn who shyly nodded.
"How did you know?" Rakna curiously asked.
"As I told you before, I have a highly specialized appraising skill. I can’t see as much information as others in some cases but I have a full view of its manufacturing process and who was behind it. Well, there are exceptions; such as your scarf. No matter how much I try, I cannot see the maker’s history or even name."
The therian hummed. "Better not try any further. You might get a headache knowing who it is."
Wang furrowed his eyebrows but ultimately shrugged. "So, this is something transmuted by the young lady and made possible thanks to your unique abilities, is that right?"
"So, you know that much, huh?"
"Yes, but not to the extent where I know the details of your ability. The only thing I see is the name of the Nirvana Skill in this pill’s root. The Harvester; is that it? Quite unnerving sounding. Tell me, the Nirvana classification aside, is it as powerful as it sounds?"
Rakna faintly smiled. "More than you probably think."
The dwarf snickered and handed the pill back before serving the breakfast. "Is that so? So, I assume you want to introduce that to the market as well? I can tell you already that it would be extremely profitable. Especially if you can make it for higher-leveled hosts."
"I agree. Though, the other item you’re holding is far more valuable."
Old Wang blinked and then remembered the strange shard he was holding. When the feedback of his skill returned to him, he almost couldn’t believe his eyes. He gaped at the object and alternated between it and Rakna who was calmly digging his food.
"A-Rank Material across the board," he muttered. "By Hephaestus… this thing comes… from you? Out of you?" He uttered in disbelief.
Instead of replying, Rakna pointed at his eye that suddenly rotated and revealed its lenses. "This is why. Did you see what happened recently? I’m pretty sure my face was everywhere on the news and despite the vagueness of the image, it was pretty clear that I had lost my eye."
"You mean, what happened to you and fighting an underworld group? Who could miss that? You were and still are one of the main topics in Black Steel."
"Well, you could say I got this Eye from that whole debacle. It assimilated with the nano-machines inside me and replicated Symphony’s compound, revamping my body. I can make those shards as easily as breathing now by just tearing out a hand. The nanobots instantly repair it."
"‘Just tearing out a hand’ he says…" Evelyn deadpanned quietly.
"What she said," the old dwarf concurred, still transfixed by the item. "Also, these things cannot be called nano-machines. It’s outright nanites. They are so numerous and clustered it doesn’t seem like it, but these things that compose your body have long become smaller than molecules. The molecular volume of your current body would be enough to make three or four of you before the change. These nanites also move according to specific signals coming from you. Mechanical or not, that’s irrelevant, your body has transcended the laws of science for sure."
"Uh, that’s something I didn’t know," Rakna replied and commanded Eye of Symphony to display the data related to Old Wang’s discoveries. As expected, it was completely authentic.
"Regardless, this is incredibly precious. Even more than the Eion compound. While the latter can be used to build pretty much anything, you could say this thing here wins in quality. You could make masterpieces with this. With enough of it, I’m confident in being able to make a high-grade Gold Item without too much trouble after I break through to Divine Blacksmith."
"Precisely," Rakna agreed. "The amount of money that could rake in is no joke. The only problem with it is that any weapon or armor it is used to forge will lose an unpredictable amount of power after being away from me for too long. That’s why your friend’s research is even more important now. If he manages to make the Eion compound inside that shard independent, we get ourselves an infinite supply of top-grade material."
"You sure know how to amaze people," the dwarf sighed and put the shard down on his counter.
"So, I’ve heard," the therian quipped.
"Hah," Wang grinned. "I’m not going to lie, kiddo. I’m suddenly much more excited about this idea of yours. Hell, I’d be willing to sell my soul if I get to work with materials of this quality for as much as I want," he jested.
Rakna snorted and made an ominous smile. "You should be careful when making a joke like that in front of me," he uttered as his Chalice stirred on his back. From what he instinctively understood of his powers, this meant that Old Wang truly had a wish he was willing to give up his soul for, but merely not the one he had just joked about. "It might come true."
"Hm?" The dwarf raised an eyebrow in confusion. "First time I see that kind of expression on your face; what do you mean exactly?"
"Well, if one day you truly wish to sell your soul to make a wish; come to me…" Rakna squinted his eyes as if he was observing through the blacksmith’s very existence. "Considering the quality, this price would be more than enough to even command life and death."
Wang hardened his face a bit and his eyes renewed in seriousness. "Is that so…" He muttered and Evelyn pointedly stared at Rakna with a look of sudden realization. "Well then, kiddo. Maybe, one day, I’ll take that offer," the old dwarf ultimately laughed it off and went on to close his stand. "How about we leave? We can continue this conversation at my friend’s workshop."
Rakna nodded, his expression returning to a passive one, and stood up.
"Ah!" Evelyn, who had been in a small daze, exclaimed when she saw them prepare to depart and quickly stuffed the rest of the pancake in her mouth, puffing her cheeks. She heard a small snicker from the front as she followed the duo and swallowed her food before pouting at the therian.
* * *
Meanwhile, back at Rakna’s estate, Flavia was sitting cross-legged on the bed of her room, her eyes closed and her body relaxed into a meditative stance. There were a few noticeable beads of sweat pouring down her face.
Within her mind, she was trying to navigate her soul power, which she had attained cognizance of after spending time learning soul meditation. She was certainly far from reaching the same levels of proficiency as Rakna, Evelyn, or even Nyx, but she was getting closer every day.
That was most likely one of the additional reasons why Cuniya had woken up so soon. Flavia had never tried to suppress her during her meditations. Her motive for doing so was not optimism or overconfidence in herself, but an objective and rational solution to her problem.
It was her soul, after all. She knew better than anyone how much Cuniya had affected it. It was not a question of skills anymore; neither Rakna nor Nyx would be able to help her since, even if they could get rid of the White Witch, they would hurt Flavia in the process. It would not kill her, but it would most likely cripple her to some extent.
That’s why she had taken a frontal approach. Cuniya was a ticking bomb. Instead of confining it until it can be dismantled, it was far better to get hands-on and defuse it.
"So, that’s why you’re here," a melodious but cold voice sounded in Flavia’s head and she abruptly found herself in a strangely familiar but unknown environment. She was standing on top of a large branch that was connected to a titanic tree.
Flavia looked down and saw an unending ocean of pristine water. The tree was seemingly planted at the very bottom of it, but after looking around, she spotted several giant roots surfacing in the shape of arcs.
But the true blindsiding elements of the landscape were the dozens of waterfalls sourcing from above and filling the ocean. When she looked up at the sky through the foliage, Flavia widened her eyes in awe.
A dynamic shape of a multi-geared clock formed out of pure white clouds was audibly ticking along with the sound of water. The waterfalls were in fact flowing down from the edges of the clock’s needles.
"I honestly still do not understand this soul scape of yours," the voice sounded a second time and she turned around, noticing a cage made out of wood and carved with draconic symbols. Inside of it, a woman of icy beauty was sitting on the ground, her back leaning against the tree.
The White Witch was looking at the horizon with a lifeless look, but there were hints of red on her face that indicated the fact she had recently been crying. "You know…" Cuniya continued speaking, and as Flavia remained silent, she slowly stood up.
"Your friends, your enemies, the people you meet… they are all scared of that wolfwalker you love so much. But, the truly scary one… is you," she scoffed and fully turned toward Flavia.
She was presented with a cold and callous expression that deeply contrasted with the usual warm and kind mien of the young woman. The Flavia that was standing in front of Cuniya was absolutely nothing like the one who smiled at Rakna and the others.
"You want to ‘defuse me’, is it? How quaint. A Witch of Chaos trying to do things peacefully," the witch sneered. "Sure, let’s talk. Let’s see how you defuse me, crazy woman."
I got sick... fuck.