Soulsmith Page 1

Author: Will Wight

Series: Cradle #2

Genres: Fantasy


Information requested: disciple training on the Path of the Endless Sword.

Beginning report…

When you’re alone, first look for a weapon.

The master leaves his disciple with these words. The disciple kneels in the winter snow, shivering as the snow presses through her knees. Finding a weapon isn’t her problem.

Thirteen swords are thrust into the snow around her, cold blades turned so that their razor edges touch her skin. With every shiver, she opens another cut. Her thighs, knees, and upper arms are sheathed in freezing blood.

At the edge of pain, exhaustion, and isolation, each of her thoughts becomes slippery. But she knows, clear and distinct as the ring of a bell, that her master has abandoned her here.

It's his favorite training technique: leaving her alone, where no one can save her, and forcing her to rely on her own knowledge to escape. It teaches her reliance, he says. A Path is only one person wide.

She knows he's always right. She's only Iron, not quite ten years old, and she can't question him.

But every time he walks away, he leaves her with the fear that this will be the time he doesn't come back.

She is surrounded by sword aura, silver and sharp in her spiritual vision, and she drinks it in to cycle it, to refine it until it becomes a part of her spirit. Her madra. She has done this constantly since he first left her kneeling in the snow, but it hasn't helped. She knows no technique she can use from this position, has no blade of her own through which she can channel the madra.

She tries to push her power out through her skin, but the swords only shake and open up new lines of blood.

When you're alone, first look for a weapon.

The Sword Sage is not a bad teacher, but he has a preference for cryptic riddles. She has already strained her eyes and even extended her hands—at least as far as she can, without slicing them open on the waiting blades—to search for weapons in the snow. She'd thought he might have hidden something for her, and that treasure will be the key to her escape.

She finds nothing. She kneels for hours, burning in the cold, throwing madra at the implacable weapons. She may as well have shouted at them.

As the morning climbs into afternoon, she has only one coherent thought left. Her master is not coming back. Why should he? A disciple who cannot learn is one not worth teaching. Her master deserves someone who can keep up with his instruction.

Someone who can be trusted.

Her unwelcome guest starts to stir, squirming against the seal that her master has placed upon it. It doesn't speak—it can't—but its presence reminds her that there is another source of power here. Another route she can take, besides sword madra. Another Path.

She will freeze to death before she takes it.

When her vision starts to dim, she knows that even her Iron body is reaching its limits. She screams, shaking herself awake, and the fresh cuts on her body don't even hurt. She draws in as much sword aura as she can, flooding her system with borrowed power, though she won't be able to use it until she cycles it through her own spirit. Full to bursting, she pushes it all away from her.

Faintly, the swords ring like distant bells.

She stills herself, waiting for her tired thoughts to catch up.

When you're alone, first look for a weapon.

On the Path of the Endless Sword, she's learned to Enforce madra into a weapon so that it gathers aura as it moves, strengthening with time. She has learned to pour madra into a Striker's slash, severing a tree branch twenty paces away. She's even learned to crystallize her power into a Forged razor, though it still shatters like glass.

She still hasn't learned a Ruler technique, the ability to manipulate compatible aura in the world around her.

It's a weapon she hasn't seized.

Her madra echoes in time with her breath, gusting out and striking the circle of swords and the aura gathered there. The aura echoes with a pure note, sweet and clear in the winter afternoon.

The swords slide away.

Suggested topic: the fated future of Yerin, the Sword Sage’s disciple. Continue?

Denied, report complete.

Chapter 1

Lindon unwrapped the bandage from Yerin’s forehead, examining the wound. It was red and angry, a long slash, but shallow. Her master’s Remnant had cut her with the precision of a battlefield surgeon. She was already covered in scars so pale and thin they looked as though they were painted on her skin, and unless he missed his guess, she was going to end up with a fresh new set in a few months.

He tossed the crusty bandage into the fire—fuel wasn’t terribly hard to come by out here, in the hills east of Mount Samara, but gathering sticks was torture on his injured back. He wouldn’t give up any tinder, and burning their old bandages had the added benefit of removing blood scent from their trail. He doubted anyone would leave Sacred Valley to track them, but no one ever died from being too careful.

Yerin sat quietly, watching the fire, as Lindon dug into his pack at his feet. He liked to carry anything he even might need, so his pack bulged at the seams. Seated on a fallen tree as he was, the pack stood higher than his knees.

But he’d been glad he had it over the past five days. He pulled out another roll of clean gauze from a pocket, quickly tying it around Yerin’s head. That cut on Yerin’s forehead wasn’t her worst, so by the time he was finished, she was wrapped like a fish packaged for market. And he wasn’t much better.

“Apologies, but this is the last of the bandages,” Lindon said, replacing another gauze wrapping on her elbow and tossing it into the fire. “I have a set of spare clothes that we can cut into strips.”

“Won’t need it,” Yerin said. “Now that I’ve got something more than wind and wishes in my core, I’ll cycle for a few more days and be all polished up.” She rapped her knuckles on the back of her forearm with the air of someone knocking on wood, though it made the usual sound of flesh on flesh. “Iron body comes with all sorts of treats, depending on what sort you have. Copper’s even easier. We’ll break you through to Copper tonight, and that’ll perk you up quick. Nothing does good for the flesh and blood like advancing a realm.”

Lindon paused with the last strip of gauze in his hand. “Tonight?”

She turned to flash him a quick smile. “Unless you’d choose to wait.”

As she turned, he had to dodge to avoid taking a thin steel arm to the face. The limb sprouted from her shoulder blade, a structure of Forged madra so dense that it felt like real steel, ending in a sword blade that dangled over her head like a scorpion’s tail.

She grimaced, and the arm lurched awkwardly away from Lindon’s cheek. “Haven’t quite tamed that one yet, sorry.”

His task was complete anyway, so he stood up from the log and moved around her. “Copper, you said. I’ll be able to sense vital aura, won’t I? Even…sword aura?”

He thought he understood Copper fairly well, having grown up primarily around children who had reached that stage, but from Yerin he’d learned that half of what he knew about the sacred arts was completely wrong. This was an opportunity for him to learn.