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The Stray Smith: Prologue

The Stray Smith – Prologue

Summary: “A sword is not Strength. A sword is not Skill. A sword is not Fellowship.” These were the tenets of the Craftknight. And for the amnesiac Welf, they became a truth upon his time spent in the City of Swords as part of a story involving eight apprentices, four swords, and what lay at the bottom of the Labyrinth of Wystern.


He was falling….

No. He was being pulled.

He was being pulled beyond the veiled boundary that defined the Lower World and Heavens above by flames.

Raging flames, fueled by a hatred so deep as to smother him by its very presence, pulled him by the very blood in his body into the space between worlds. Those same flames burned though the very laws themselves that denied the existence of the physical form and defied the will of the First Monarch. Yet so intense was the grip of the raging flames that they threatened to burn away everything that he was as it pulled on what laid within his blood to rip it free.

Yet before it could claim everything ardent fire swaddled him. The gentle blaze came from deep within, kindled from the fire sparks of the blood memory deep within as a rejection to the otherworldly flames. It was as comforting as a hearth yet intense as a furnace as it swelled and burned free of the grip of the raging inferno.

And so he fell into a new land while embraced in the comforting and protective arms of the gentle blaze.


Blue eyes fixed onto a star that seemed to shine brighter than all the others in the night sky.

They belonged to a young girl was fourteen years of age and dressed in a pink tunic and shorts. She sat on the edge of the wooden-layered steel platform that supported her home, the salt-sweet breeze from the ocean gently brushing through her neck-length white hair. Left with only the faint light from the windows behind her, she had been stargazing while rocking her feet back and forth with the canal directly below her.

It had been a habit that she came out to the back of their home to look at the stars. One ingrained since she was a little girl. She would come outside to sit upon the lap of her father as they spent their time regaling one another of the events of the day beneath the curtain of the night.

Of course, it had been three years since he had passed away. It had been painful back then to come out and see the spot he had always sat in being empty. But, at least now when she came out to look at the stars, it allowed her one way to cling to the memories of who her father was that she could still recall…

That was when the world itself seemed to shake.

The water in the canal churned. The metal platform groaned as if under stress. The glass window behind her rattled.

It was as if the island itself was trying to move. Thus, she clutched the railing with a white-knuckle grip until the tremors stopped entirely. It was then that she turned her attention back to the sky and her brows furrowed upon noticing the star seemed to grow larger.

Much larger.

She rose from her perch on the platform and stood up as she realized that what was growing closer was no distant star. It seemed to be a ball of flames that was coming towards her home at the speed of a falling meteor. Its orange glow illuminating her face as reflected off the water—


—and then the star crashed into the canal violently enough that she felt the water reach feet. Their home, like most others on the water, were placed on raised platforms held in place by steel poles to keep them from being flooded when the water level rose due to heavy rainfall. But the force of the impact had been so great that it had caused the excess water to spill over the pathways that connected it to others nearby, all while white steam hissed and snapped violently.

She took deep breaths to try to calm her rampaging heart. Between the ground shaking and the sky falling, she wasn’t sure if it was the end of the world. She was so unnerved that a loud snapping noise from behind nearly made her jump into the canal by mistake until she turned to see that it was just the window opening abruptly.

Red hair and concerned eyes stuck out beyond the frame. “Pratty, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Mother—but something just fell from the sky!” She turned back to where the burning object slammed into the water over by the walkway as the hissing quieted and the steam vanished. That was when she noticed the rocking waters sloshing over the pathway connecting their home had deposited something just over the edge. Or rather someone. “It’s a person!”

Specifically, it was a young man. He was tall if she had to guess by the greatsword on his back that was half-submerged in the water. He had black clothes on that were now soaking wet and red hair that reminded her of the furnaces that she had been coming more accustomed to as of late.

“A person?” Her mother leaned further out of the kitchen window and held her hand against her cheek when she caught sight of him. “…Oh my. Pratty, you better pull him out quickly before he slides off. With that weapon on his back, he’ll sink right to the bottom.”

The water passages of Wystern were a byproduct of the nature of the City of Swords. Their island-sized city-state was actually the top of what was once a tower was said to stretch to the sky only to begin sinking down into the depths of the sea. And it constantly sank bit-by-bit every year into the ocean, until the point where the Lower Level they lived on now had once been the Third Level during the oldest living generation’s time.

If he was a particularly skilled Craftknight he could possibly swim to the surface with a sword that large no problem. But even the best couldn’t do that while unconscious. “Oh, right! I’ll help you!”

She hurried over to the side and grabbed him by the arms as she tried to leverage him out. The best she could really do was to just keep him from going further into the water with her slender arms until her mother came out, still dressed in her apron. She bent down and supported his unconscious body on her shoulder, raising him up blade and all.

Just like that they carried the strange boy who fell from the sky into their home.

[-Summon Night: Swordcraft Story-]


[-Is It Wrong To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?-]

His name was Welf.

Or at least that was what he thought he heard himself being called once before. It could be true or false for all he knew. It was just the name he gave almost on instinct upon being asked who he was when he woke up in the unfamiliar room with his head still veiled in a haze of heat and mystery.

To be honest he still was trying to comprehend the situation.

He had apparently fallen from the sky. While on fire. Or at least that was what the teenage girl with snow-white hair said when he had woken up a short while ago—she had introduced herself as Pratty and seemed nice.

It was apparently her home that he was in, shared with only her mother who had red hair that felt oddly… comforting? Almost familial if he had to give it a word. He had thought they might be related but, when he asked, she had only laughed and said she was pretty sure she didn’t have a brother his presumed age of maybe a few years older than her daughter.

She had then introduced herself as Amariss.

The very short series of questions that followed had left them both to look worrying, leading to the current situation whereupon he was sitting upright in a bed while a doctor examined him beneath the watchful gazes of the two women.

“It might only be temporary memory loss,” the doctor said in a voice that didn’t give him hope that it was. “His mana had not been depleted before he hit the water, and there doesn’t appear to have been any brain damage. However, considering his short-term memory including what caused his fall may not have been retained, we can’t rule out that some things might not come back.”

“Oh dear.” She inclined her head to the side slightly, one hand on her cheek, as she gave him a sympathetic gaze. “Is there any way to help him?”

The doctor sighed. “He’ll need time at the very least. Remote or deeply ingrained memories might have been spared, so exposure to familiar faces and places and tasks might help speed up the process. Did you find any identification on him when you pulled him out of the water?”

Pratty shook her head. “His clothes aside, all he had was a greatsword on his back.”

“Ah.” No sooner than she mentioned his weapon did the doctor turn his attention his hands. They were large and calloused. “Craftknights being launched from failed smithing aren’t anything new, but this place is a quite distance from the rim of the Second Level.”

“…What’s a Craftknight?”

The unfamiliar word had coaxed a question from his lips. But the reaction to it was the doctor wincing and the mother’s brows furling in clear concern. He got the impression that they were wordlessly re-evaluating the severity of the prognosis.

Fortunately, Pratty was more than willing to give him an answer rather than add to his existing worry over the loss of what appeared to be common or vital information. “Craftknights forge metal into weapons and act as the protectors of Wystern. I’m one of the apprentices of a well-respected Craftknight and you must be one too considering you had a greatsword on you.”

His eyes turned over to said greatsword that was now resting against the wall close to what appeared to be a metal cabinet. It was a large steel blade that was probably three-fourths the length of his body and tapered gradually into a stouter edge bevel that was sharpened and polished with the secondary bevel angled. The handle wasn’t attached to a tang but instead seemed to have been inserted into a collar at the base that was heavy enough to act as a counterweight given there was no pommel. There was also a notable chunk just past the base missing, but it had clearly been taken into account for by the design and probably reduced the weight to a degree without affecting its stability.

Or so he felt like after glancing at it.

The doctor cleared his throat as he stood straight. “I can put in a request for someone to go through the registry to see if anyone recognizes his name. But it might take a while given things at Central Tower are hectic as of late from what I’ve heard. That earthquake hadn’t helped things either.”

“Oh, no need to worry about that,” Amariss said with a chipper smile. “I can get access to the registry easily, so that won’t be a problem.”

The doctor did not question how a seemingly ordinary housewife could get access to the registry that kept the name, addresses, and other vital information about Craftknights and apprentices with such confidence. He decided that it would be better not to. “Then for the moment he’ll need rest until his mana naturally replenishes. Best not to force it along, but Silturn Water is recommended. We’ll set up an appointment, but if his condition worsens before then contact me.”

That done, the doctor bid them farewell and Pratty took it upon herself to show him out of the house.

That left the young man with the mother who was apparently a stranger but had gone out of her way to accommodate him after he had literally landed on her doorstep. Or in the water next to it anyway. He could only apologize for the inconvenience his presence was no doubt causing. “Sorry about all of this. If I can make it up to you somehow then I will.”

Amariss only smiled sweetly. “Just focus on resting while I finish dinner. It’s been sometime since I’ve needed to cook for three people, but some good food will help. We can leave worrying about everything else for another day.”


Did yer brains fall out of yer head or somethin’ to seriously ask me that question?”

Pratty couldn’t tell if the question was sincere or sarcastic. It could be one or the other. Or both. She had been on the receiving end of both given she had, admittedly, made her share of mistakes and asked some questions that seemed silly in retrospect.

She could understand why her master would think this would be one of those times.

An apprentice asking their master to take on another apprentice was a fairly odd thing to ask. They were scarcely in a position to ask favors, especially when said master was one of the most well-respected Craftknights in a city full of them. And when competition for becoming a Craftknight was fierce considering the role they played in the Wystern.

And especially when their master was a man as large and imposing as the Silver Master—Bron.

He was an older man that wore thick gloves that had to be buckled onto his hands, thick trousers that were buckled around his ankles, and kept a tool holster that was held in place by not only a belt, but also overall straps. Anything less probably would have caused it them to fall down given that they supported the hammer and other smithing tools that were about the size of his forearms—which were as thick as steel beams.

He also stood almost two heads higher than her, was about double her size in terms of width, and had muscles so swollen that the white T-Shirt he wore had ripped sleeves from where his biceps had to pass through while she could see the outline of his abs. Not to mention his face, which was chiseled beneath the forest of hair that made up his beard, sideburns, and eyebrows, gave off the impression of a stern figure—which he was most of the time when it came to his work.

Either way, Pratty clasped her hands together and pleaded with him to listen. “Welf is a nice guy! And it could help him get his memories back faster!”

Two weeks had passed since they had taken the young man who had fallen from the sky into their home. Physically, he had recovered to the point where he could move around now without any complications. And in contrast to what the doctor had said, Welf really didn’t have trouble retaining new information once he had it explained to him.

He even picked up on it faster than Pratty did… though her mother did playfully tease her that she wasn’t sure if that said more about her than him.  Considering his sword and that he mentioned he felt like he had made it, it was possible some part of his mind recognized the information and so the knowledge effectively fit right where it belonged. That made them more hopeful that if he was allowed to forge something, they might start floating to the surface.

The problem was that they couldn’t find out anything about him.

Her mother said she checked the registry and even called in some friends to help her search for anything about him, but so far there was nothing. No missing reports of a young man fitting his description either. He really did seem to have fallen from the sky out of nowhere.

It was suspicious for him to be there with no information. And because the Craftknights themselves were charged with protecting Parista, they couldn’t just let someone with no citizenship remain freely. Let alone visit and work in a forge.

Even Welf himself acknowledged it. He was even prepared for them to send him off whether or not he got his memories back so that he didn’t cause trouble for them. He only thought of himself as being sixteen, two years older than her, but he was mature to just accept that he would likely be sent off to Vance Cape and left to wander the world without his memories.

Now, now. There is no way I’m letting a nice young man end up as a vagabond.” That had been her mother’s response while wearing her usual smile as she gentle pressed a finger to his forehead. “Don’t underestimate a housewife. I’ll take care of it.

Welf had full citizenship with all the paperwork involved a day later.

Pratty didn’t question her mother’s methods.

She was just happy they worked.

“I’ve already got my hands full as is,” Bron continued. “Ye think I can make time to take on a stray smith that can’t remember anythin’ all of a sudden? How daft can ye be girl?”

Pratty popped one eye open and slightly smiled behind her clasped hands. “Actually… it’s a request from Mother.”

The man’s demeanor instantly changed. “…Amariss is askin’ me to do this?

“Yep!” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a letter that she presented to him. “Mother told me to give this to you.”

YA SHOULDA LED WITH THAT!” He grabbed it gingerly and unfolded it. His eyes quickly skimmed over the contents before settling on one part in particular for a very long time. Long enough that she was starting to wonder if she should try to sneak a peek. But then he folded it back up and shoved it into his pocket before standing up. “Right then. Let me get a look at ‘em.”

As the head of the Silver Guild, Bron naturally had private quarters within the thick walls that connected with three other rooms. To the left was the main workshop. To the rear was the Kitchen, which was currently empty though the faint scent of curry could be smelled lingering in the air. And to the front was the Entrance Hall where Welf stood just past the door.

Pratty caught sight through the door as he stood straighter the moment it swung open and Bron approached him with his trademark stern face. It spoke well of his character that he didn’t flinch or interpret it as a hostile act. More so when the burly man came to a stop in front of him and looked him up and down with a furrowed brow and grimace.

“…I’ll be honest with ya,” the Silver Master began without any segue or introduction after his silent assessment. “Yer circumstances are suspicious—memory loss or no, it seems like yer not from around these parts. Even if ya are, the fact that no master has come to claim ya means that ya were unwanted by ‘em. And I don’t deal with second-rate smiths, let alone strays tossed out.”

Ouch. His statement was so blunt Pratty couldn’t help but wince. More so considering the last thing she had told Welf was to wait here while she would explain the situation to her master. She was partially worried it might have come off as her being the one who called him second-rate or stray. “Master!”

Bron ignored her, keeping his eyes fixed on Welf’s. Then he crossed his arms and drew up himself. “Even so, Amariss is the one askin’ that I give ya a shot. So, I’ll give ya one—and only one. Understand?”

The red-haired smith only gave an appreciative smile. “That’s fine. I don’t remember much, but I understand you can’t put your reputation at risk for someone who isn’t up to par. All I can do is give you my best, so that even if that isn’t up to your standards, I won’t waste the kindness Miss Amariss has shown me.”

His nostrils flared as he exhaled before clearing his throat. “Then follow me to the forges. Yer test starts here and now.”

Welf did so without complaint as they followed the carpet strip covering the steel floor and then took the passage into the main workshop. Most of the forging was done here on the first floor, in the largest room that contained all the essentials for their work. There were four regular forges meant to handle standard orders and arms, with an extra-large one in the back meant to be used for complex or large jobs.

Bron moved straight to the one in the back and began to fire it up. He didn’t spare either of them a look in the process while asking, “Tell me, what do ye know of how we Craftknights smith?”

Welf glanced in her direction for a moment before he answered, “In Wystern, you use the flames of the Holy Spirit of Swords, which at a high enough temperature will break down any physical object into intangible elements, which are then condensed into Elemental Ores with the aid of a Guardian Beast that has been trained in the process. Those ores are then proportioned into ratios, smelted together with a normal flame, and then worked into the shape of the craft with the Guardian Beast using their power to aid in the process to keep it together until it finishes being heat-treated and the form is locked into its shape permanently.”

“Guessin’ Amariss told you that,” he grunted while using a fire starter to ignite tinder within it. “Parista’s flames makes it so we aren’t limited to what materials we have on hand to craft. Even junk can be turned into something valuable by using the proper ratios of the elemental ores to affect the blade itself. But that also means it requires more thinkin’ and plannin’ to forge anything of value, including taking account for the loss during the material breakdown and so on. Ya can’t half-make anythin’ before its heat-treated else it’ll all be lost.”

Being that she was still an apprentice herself, Pratty didn’t really grasp the full scope of the ratio balances yet. Sure, she helped her master with his own weapons, but that was more of the physical work with the compound ore during the shaping. She had no “technique” of her own to speak of since she didn’t have a Guardian Beast—a creature summoned to this world from another dimension to assist them in the process.

Bron continued his explanation even as he went over to a cabinet that was normally kept locked since it was filled with rare materials that Pratty had never seen. “Since the forges can use the Holy Flame, any fuel or excess material that isn’t turned into elements becomes raw mana that enters the atmosphere rather than ashes or waste. It even saturates the water, which is partially why we got water passages and canals all over the place. But that doesn’t mean it can be wasted, so only the best will do.”

It was also why drinking concentrated amounts, known as Silturn Water by the locals, was enriching and could help restore your mana. Her mother had made Welf drink plenty of it so that he could recover, and his first reaction was to note it had a strong flavor that he wasn’t used to. Even Pratty struggled to get it down when she was younger.


The apprentice nearly jumped when Bron loudly set down a large hunk of what looked to be some kind of ore on an anvil in front of the forge, with a set of standard blacksmithing tools joining it. It wasn’t like any ore she had seen either. It felt… off.

And it wasn’t just her imagination either. She could tell from the way Welf’s expression shifted the moment it was placed in front of him that he could feel something about it was weird. Really weird.

“This here is something only found in Labyrinth,” Bron began as he lumbered towards the red-headed youth. “I won’t give ya the details, but its hella tough to work if ya  don’t know what yer doin’.

He pulled his massive hammer off his tool apron and held it out. “Yer test is to use the tools and forge and turn it into a hammer like this without any outside assistance by morin’. That’ my standard here. Understand?”

She looked over at the forge. Pratty might not have seen that ore before but if it was something only used by Craftknights and found in the Labyrinth then that meant it must have required the use of Parista’s flames to reduce it to elements and a Guardian Beast to condense it into something manageable. But the forge didn’t carry the same presence it did when the Holy Flame was in use, and he had no Guardian Beast.  “Master, that’s—”

“Quiet!” He didn’t even look at her. But his tone alone instilled in a single word that he would not tolerate the breaking of the respect to be shown by the apprentice to the master. “Ya haven’t even earned yer own hammer yet. Ya don’t have the authority to speak up here.”

Her body quivered under the blunt statement. An apprentice who had not even forged her own weapon had no right to criticize the teaching of her master. That was the underlying message and true to the point that she couldn’t bring herself to speak up again—not even in the defense of her new friend.

He handed the hammer to Welf and said, “Ya better start now if ya wanna make it in time. These tools and the forge locked at its current temperature should be all ya need if yer a real smith. I’ll check on ya in the mornin’.”

Welf looked down at the hammer. Then the tools. Then the ore. There were no words as he made his way over to where everything was stationed before he set the hammer itself down and began to appraise it.

Bron wrinkled his nose before he pointed to Pratty and gestured for her to follow him. She obediently followed, only taking one last look at Welf before the door to the forge was shut closed. Then he led her to the front entrance and said, “Go home, Pratty.”

“But… are you really not going to explain anything else to help him?” Her voice came out even meeker than she expected. She was expecting him to speak harshly to her again and her body was responding as such given that he rarely used that tone. “The forge wasn’t using Parista’s flame, so isn’t he…”

…being set up to fail, is what she wanted to say but couldn’t.

Bron crossed his massive arms and furled his brow. It was as if he had read her mind and found it offensive. “In the Silver Guild, it’s a graduation practice for apprentices to forge their own smithin’ hammers out of that ore without the Holy Flame as a sort ‘o test of their skills. If yer completely reliant on it then ya aren’t worthy of claimin’ the title of Craftknight, and I ain’t got time to teach ‘em from scratch. If he can figure out the trick, he’ll manage whether or not he has his memories.”

At the very least it sounded like he had a chance. Not a high one. But a chance anyway. “But if he can’t, then what?”

“Recite what the duty of the Craftknight is.”

The tone of his voice wasn’t as harsh as before. But it was clear he expected her to answer properly as demanded by the Silver Master. She did so obediently. “To protect the city and the Holy Spirit of Swords.”

“And takin’ him in as an apprentice means he’ll be obligated to fulfill that role to the best of his ability, not fillin’ the role of a simple smith. That means riskin’ the life he nearly lost from what ya told me, in which case what was the point of savin’ em in the first place? Of all people ya should know that even the best might not make it out in the end.”

Her blue eyes fell at that. She knew it could be dangerous. Her father had been a Craftlord, ones who oversee all of the other Craftknights, and three years ago he had died down in the Labyrinth. There were no guarantees in the end.

“If he ain’t cut out to be a Craftknight then not only did someone else lose out on their chance to be one of my apprentices and eventually fill that role, but we put him in danger when there are other paths in life he coulda taken. That’s why Amariss… yer mother wrote for me to give ‘em that test in particular.”

…There were no words to describe the feeling that drove itself into her chest. Her mother wanted him to take such an unfair test, despite knowing he most likely wouldn’t pass it as he was? That didn’t make sense given all she had done for him. “…Did Mother really want you to do that?”

“Go home and ask her yer self,” Bron insisted. “She won’t lie to ya. Not about this.”

Pratty ran out to do just that.

And Amariss did not lie.


Welf’s face was fixed into a stern grimace as he struck at the ore with hammer only for it to nearly fly out of his hand.

Over the last two week his memories hadn’t returned. The information that Pratty and Amariss gave him felt foreign but, on some level, he could understand them easily enough. But it was a different story when Pratty had shown him her own Smith’s Tools as an apprentice.

He recognized each one of them. It was as if they were old friends whose absence had been out of place once he laid eyes on them. That was why he knew he could forge a hammer easily with them. They were not the problem.

The problem was the ore.

The moment the man pulled it out something about it felt wrong. Its hue was a swirl of dark-grey and purple. It looked more like stone, yet it clearly had a metallic element. If that was the case, then it should be possible to shape it if got heated up just right.

He had thought that might have been the trick.

So the moment that the forge bloomed with a roaring flame and the heat stroked his face with an instantly familiar caress, he set to work. He grabbed the blue bandana he kept tied around his neck, unfurled it around his forehead to keep sweat from getting into his eyes, and proceeded to place it into the forge so that the heating process began. Then, when the ore was a molten hue that meant it was pliable for shaping, he pulled it from the blazing maw and took the hammer to it.

His first few blows out of the flame had been met with failure. But he had not stopped trying as he hammered at it until the heat began to waver. It went back into the forge once he had deemed it too cool to be shaped and he kept trying to figure out if there was something amiss.

He tried again once it was red-hot once more.  He put more effort into shaping it. He put more strength into his blows. But his frustration only grew as he seemed to be doing worse as his strokes seemed to be rebuked even harder.

Back into the forge it went and he was left running his hands through his hair and wondering if he was trying to do it wrong. Maybe he was hitting too hard and so it was pushing back even harder. The possibility was there so he decided to try a softer hand at working the ore.

The effort naturally failed. The soft blows could not even temper bronze or copper. Let alone iron or steel. The ore itself cooled even quicker since the friction wasn’t there to keep it hot. He shoved it back into the forge and left it to heat even longer this time.

Nothing he did worked as the clock on the rear wall ticked and tocked and the minutes turned to hours while the night dragged on. Too hot. Too cold. Hard blows. Soft blows. None of it changed what the stone was.

If anything, every failure seemed to only make it more difficult. Every hit was met a rebuttal as the hammer bounced in his hand like had struck rubber. And the metal within it seemed to mock him as the tenor of its ring became increasingly grating. It was only now that it had nearly come out of his grasp and the mocking reverberation resounded in the room that he came to one conclusion:

The ore refused to be shaped.

Not that it couldn’t. The conditions to shape it were there. It was hot enough to be malleable. His strikes were hard enough to mold its form. Every bit of instinct as a smith, amnesiac or not, told him that it should be able to be shaped into something else under any other circumstance.

The ore itself was refusing to be shaped by his hands.

The matter was not a question of how hard it was. It was not a matter of how hot it was. It was not a matter of what tool he used. None of that mattered because the ore itself was actively refusing and mocking his attempts, as if denying that he was worthy to be the one who shaped it.

By the time the clock passed midnight his frustration reached its peak. He decided he needed to take a break and set the hammer down. The ringing of the ore continued well after he had done so, as if basking in the fact that the smith had broken before the stone. He shoved into the forge and let the roar of the flames drown it out.

“Damn it all…” He sat with his back against one of the nearby forges that was inactive and covered his face in shame. The heat from the forge and sweat from exertion left him feeling somewhat grimy, but it was not an unfamiliar sensation.

It was so frustrating. The entire situation was almost unbearably frustrating despite the face he put on to the two who had taken him in. He knew it in his bones that he was a smith and meant to be one. The question was if he had been a good one.

Stray. Second-rate. Unwanted. Those words said by the smith began to bubble up in his mind as he sat there. If he had been a resident of the city, then someone should have come for him if he had been missed. Someone had to teach him how to smith as well. So where were they?

He had said he would do his best so that Amariss’ efforts weren’t squandered. So he had no intention of quitting now. As soon as the ore finished heating again he would give it another shot and keep doing so until he ran out of time, no matter how frustrating it was. But he couldn’t help but wonder… what he would do if he failed in the end?

Wystern was the City of Swords. They were not lacking in smiths of any kind. Many started young and could be molded into an ideal smith by their masters. He couldn’t bear the thought of taking advantage of the housewife’s kindness any more than he had so far, so if he couldn’t manage this he would have to seek out work in another field.

He hated the thought of doing so from the bottom of his heart. But what chance did a stranger who didn’t have their memories have at proving themselves a reliable smith in a place like this? He couldn’t even remember why he wanted to be a smith, so why cling to it? Was it the vague hopes of regaining the memories he lost? Were they even worth recovering?

Was there a reason I even started forging in the first place…?

He wanted to believe there was. There had to be some reason worth it that he so stubbornly desired to be a smith. He shut his eyes for a moment to gather his thoughts together before his mind spiraled downwards into the welcoming darkness…


He heard it.

The sound of metal striking metal. The din of steel being shaped. Of a smith at work.

He heard it and followed it like a moth to a flame.

It was so far away that it was only in due to the emptiness that pervaded the darkness that it carried so far. Yet there was no direction within the darkness. He could only rely on following the sound of a hammer striking steel.

The imagery that came to mind was that of a child half-asleep wandering towards a noise that only his ears could hear thanks to youth. It took so long that it could have been an eternity. But he followed it all the way back until he spotted in the distance a glow that cast a silhouette into view.

The figure was moving what had to be their arm. The shadow of a hammer rose high above. Then it came down and sparks bloomed, ephemeral flashes that captivated his eyes along with the wonderous sound of steel resonating.

He stood there simply watching as the figure obscured with shadows continued to strike the steel. There were heavy strokes that bent the metal and removed the imperfections. There were soft strokes for precision that adjusted it. Each one was given in response to the sound the steel prior.

Then the hammering stopped.

The figure obscured by shadows turned towards him. The face could barely be recognized as that of an older man. There were no details but it was more from the shape of it that stood out even through the obscurity.

Shouldn’t you be sleeping, Welf?

It was a voice that was wizened yet soft. Familiar. One he felt an obligation to respect. Was the man a relative? Was he a mentor? Was he the master who had cast him aside?

He didn’t know as he opened his mouth to respond. Yet no words came out. It was as if the shadows had laid claim to everything that could be said. Or perhaps there was no need for him to speak what had already been spoken?

Even so the obscured figure responded as he did, stroking what must have been facial hair for a moment in curiosity.

…Well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to let you give it a try. I was younger than you when I first picked up a hammer.

The world moved until he found himself hovering over an anvil. There was a piece of red-hot steel in front of him. Even though it had been stricken so many times he could feel the heat caressing his supple cheeks with a teasing grace, as if beckoning him to strike with the weight that was suddenly in his hand. The older man was now taller than him as he pressed down on his shoulders and whispered:

Listen to the metal’s word. Lend your ears to its echoes as you pour your heart into your hammer. Never forget that as you bring it down. Understand?

The hammer came down.

And in the depths of that darkness rang out the most beautiful sound like the chiming of a bell.


…The world once more came into view for the stray smith.

He had drifted off it seemed. But in the depths of unconsciousness, he remembered something that laid buried in the darkness. The guiding fire that was the start of it all for him.

The feeling that could only come from the first time. The experience of the first time he had raised a hammer. The din of metal striking metal and the resonance of it on his ear while the gentle reverberations carried up his arms.

The reason he wanted to be a smith.

“I’m a damn fool.” He chided himself as he rose to his feet. The frustration in his voice was directed at himself this time rather than the situation. “The hell would be the point in picking up the hammer if I didn’t have the resolve to give it my all?”

He had intended to continue to attempt at forging the hammer. But he had already given up in his despair at the seemingly impossible task. His heart wouldn’t have been in it, so in continuing he would have insulted not only the owner of this forge but every single person who picked up a hammer—including himself.

He drew in a deep breath and vowed to properly apologize to the woman who got him this far, the man who gave him the challenge, the girl who had saved him in the first place, and whoever that silhouetted figure had been. Then turned his attention back to the forge. The ore was still basking in the flames and had become red-hot.

Without a word he approached the forge and liberated it from the inside, setting it down with tongs. Then he wrapped his fingers firmly around the handle of the hammer and hovered it over the ore. Taking a final breath from the diaphragm to center himself, Welf then closed his eyes and let the hammer fall to strike it once.

Only this time he listened.

His listened to the sound that came from it rebuking his hammer once more. He listened past its mocking tenor that seemed to be giddy at the chance to continue to mock his failure. He listened to the nearly imperceptible tone that laid hidden beneath the baleful delight being sent his way at his mounting frustration.

And he heard it.

“…So that’s it.” His voice came out soft as he opened his eyes and stared down at the ore that continued to ring so that his failure would linger for as long as possible throughout the enclosed room. It would have likely been far more embarrassing if other smiths had been there, but as long as even one person could hear it then that was undeniable proof. “You were rejected too, weren’t you?”

Then ring of mockery petered out as if taken off guard.

“I can’t say I understand what you were, but just now I heard it in the echoes,” Welf continued, raising the hammer again. “You’re scrap ore that had been discarded when your value was used up. Tossed aside not for some glorious purpose befitting of what you were once made for, but instead because you were a failure that had not lived up to the expectations placed upon you by the ones who shaped you before. And you’re afraid of that happening again, so you refuse to be shaped, right?”

He brought it down and listened as the hammer struck home.

The ore rang shrilly in response. Denying his claims of understanding. Denying he knew the pain of rejection and no longer being able to serve its purpose. Denying it knew of its rage and fear. In a single shrill it yelled out its frustration to the smith and demanded he not say another word.

He understood why. Words could be misinterpreted. Or they could be pretty little lies dressed up to try and sway the unyielding ore into making itself vulnerable once more. Then the sting of betrayal would be even worse and give birth an even greater despair that composed it.

Even so, Welf poured his heart into his arm as he struck once more. The feeling he had as he considered being a stray smith. The feeling he had at the thought of being a failure when he had been given one chance to prove himself. The thought of being unwanted by one who had taught him his craft and their face he could no longer remember. The thought of giving up rather than pressing on with all his might

He poured all those feelings that weighed heavy on his soul into his next stroke of the hammer to show there was no lie in his words.

The ore only responded with dull noise.

It now had no words of its own.

Become a hammer,” Welf said softly. “That way you’ll never be abandoned. Rather than a tool, you’ll be a partner with someone that will never cast you aside or forsake you. You’ll work day in and day out giving form to that which needs it to best fit their purpose and learn the joy of creating things anew. Don’t you think that’s a better way to spend your time than being stubborn?

He struck the ore again.

He listened again.

There was no mocking tenor that rebuked his efforts or skill. No shrill denial that was meant to drown out his words. Instead, there was a simple and short-lived ring that carried the faintest of fleeting hope whereas previously it had been forlorn instead:


He grinned. “You have my word as a smith. So quit being so stubborn and let me help shape you into a form befitting your new role, yeah?”

He raised the hammer up once more and brought it down.

The ore indented.

It wasn’t by much. Just a barely perceptible shift as the surface yield beneath the stroke. But it was enough to show that the message carried.

The only sounds that permeated the workshop from then on were the crackling of the forge and metal striking metal. The smith listened as it made a different ring from before with each stroke and reacted by shifting where his hammer came down in response. Nothing else was needed to carry on the dialogue between stone and smith.

Welf didn’t look up at the clock. His eyes remained captivated by the red-hot steel as he struck. Perhaps he had more than enough time. Or perhaps no matter how fast he rushed he would never make the deadline. He set aside the challenge itself to instead prioritize the vow he made to the that which desired a new purpose in life.

And the ore itself extolled happiness and gratitude in every single stroke as he worked away.

The ore became a billet and took on a more uniform shape as he struck it while focusing on the image of the hand-hammer firmly in place. It didn’t need that much force after all, so long as the ore wished to change. He used a handle punch to work in the hole, the metal bulging outwards as it got deeper while he turned every few blows to keep it in center.

Then he turned it over and did the same on the other side. Strike. Turn. Strike. Turn. He dedicated the entirety of his focus on perfection and listened with each strike as the ring advised him until the hole was made.

Then came the drift to smooth it out and widen it on the inside so that an appropriate handle could be slotted in. Of course he had to turn it over time and again to flatten out the cheeks with the round side of the hammer that Bron had given him. It seemed to know where to strike and avoided the cheeks sinking below the billet, as if it would accept nothing less than perfection for what would be its kin—which was fine as Welf had no intentions to do anything less.

The steel. The hammer. The smith. The three worked in tandem until the process was done and the hammer head was complete. On reflex he looked for something to mark it with his signature as an ingrained response, but stopped himself on account of the fact that it had not been his hammer or tools responsible.

Instead, he took a breath as he set the hammer down and brushed his hands against his black clothes. Another reflexive response, though he supposed that was why the clothes looked so worn. Then he addressed the figure looming in the doorway behind him. “So, by how long did I fail you task?”

Bron did not answer him. He merely came over and peered down at the hammer head that had been shaped into an admittedly smaller counterpart to the one that Welf had been using. His expression scrunched up for a moment as he passed judgement on the work and then back to the one who had shaped it. “Ya figured it out then?”

Welf caught the unmentioned context. “…Stray. Second-rate. Unwanted. All those are associated with feelings of rejection. You chose your words intentionally so that I could recognize it within that ore if I listened, right?”

“Merely spoke my mind. If ya heard otherwise, then good on ya.” The Silver Master’s expression softened as he looked down at the hammer head. “We put our souls into our work and in doin’ so breathe life into the weapons. They become extensions of ourselves and our Guardian Beasts. That becomes their purpose, and they want nothin’ more, so what happens when they break and get left behind?”

It festers. It rots the spirit within the weapon. It becomes a grudge that pulls in others like it. And then it comes to life once more as a shadow of itself to take its revenge on the ones that abandoned it. The ore itself was merely what was left behind when even its vengeance was snuffed out and it could only regret that even its new purpose was stricken from it.

“We don’t need second-rate smiths who’ll only make more grudges by bein’ careless and then tossin’ em away ‘cause they’re no longer useful.” He picked up the hammer head and weighed it in his hands. “But if a smith can resonate with that… if they can breathe life into ‘em again with the promise of a future where they can fulfill their purpose as a tool with pride… then they’ll bring out the full potential of their new form itself.”

“And what better tool to bring life into the world for a smith than a hammer,” the red-haired smith finished.

“A Hammer doesn’t just forge a weapon. It forges the smith who wields it.” There was a silent note of respect in his voice as he set the hammer head down and turned to face Welf. “In this case, it forged a man.”

“See, Pratty. I told you they would get along,” chimed in a third voice from the doorway. Both men turned back to see that Amariss was there along with her daughter. She was wearing her usual smile as she looked between them. “You left the front door open, so we helped ourselves inside. I take it Welf passed?”

Bron gruffly cleared his throat. “Fortunately for ‘em, I lost track of the time.”

She seemed pleased with that as she turned her attention to Welf. “And did you remember anything about your past?”

He told them what he recalled vaguely of the silhouette and the words that had been uttered. It had not been much. But it had been more than he had before and reminded him of why he took on the craft in the first place.

“It seems ya had the right of it, Amariss,” Bron said. “His memories might come back if he works in a forge long enough after all.”

“So you’ll let him stay on as an apprentice?” Pratty asked, hopeful.

He let out a grunt and his nostrils flared out as he turned back to Welf. “It’s a favor to Amariss that I gave ye shot, but for an apprentice whose body remembers all o’ that to lose it all ‘cause he doesn’t keep practicin’ would leave a sour taste in my mouth as a smith. Ye’ll get a room on the second floor to stay while yer an apprentice, but ya start slack in the slightest and I’ll boot ye out. B’cause I don’t work with second-rate smiths, ya hear?”

Despite the warning, Welf smiled. “It feels like I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Then it all worked out for the best,” Amariss said sweetly. “Thank you, Bron. I know that I was asking a lot from you. But I knew I could count on you to take care of him for me. Treat him well.”

“Anythin’ for ya, Amariss! Anythin’ at all!”

Welf found the sight of the grown man smiling practically giddily as he rubbed the back of head such a foreign sight that he looked over towards Pratty to make sure the lack of sleep wasn’t making him see things.

She only gave a knowing shrug with an expression that he interpreted as, ‘Obviously. Not that he has a shot.

Regardless, it seemed for a while he would be serving as an apprentice Craftknight for the Silver Guild.