Chapter 281
The next morning found Mike in the training yard, where he'd been working on his Space Magic . Unlike other skills he'd picked up in the past, he found it a bit more difficult to make any real progress . Emmanuel's notebook gave him some guidance, but even with its chants, it was hard to achieve the necessary visualization that the spells required .

It seemed he was having trouble wrapping his head around the concept of space as something you can manipulate with your thoughts alone . Other types of Elemental Magic were more concrete and easier to imagine . It didn't take much effort to picture a ball of flame appearing in his hand . He'd seen fire enough to understand how it looked and how it operated . Not to mention he had taken enough science classes to know vaguely how it came to be in the first place . Space on the other hand was conceptually more difficult to grasp .

Before the difficulty of the magic became evident, he'd tried to work on multiple skills simultaneously by practicing it while keeping one of his hands inside a small flame to train his Heat Resistance and Pain Resistance as well . Unfortunately, even with the mitigation effects of the resistance skills, the resulting agony was so distracting that he was forced to quit . It seemed that until he got a little better at manipulating space, it would be difficult to do anything besides focus on it to the exclusion of all else .

[I guess all I can do is keep working on it . ] He thought to himself while heading inside to grab breakfast . After meeting the others and learning that they were going to be busy dealing with various personal projects, he decided to head into the city and do a bit of shopping .

Since the only thing he was really concerned about getting in the short term was smithing equipment, his first stop was the blacksmith shop where he originally acquired the skill . After talking to Gearhart at the front counter, he learned that there weren't many places that dealt in those kinds of goods . Typically, a smith would commission a craftsman to build a forge in a specified location, and then add in the other accoutrements that would be necessary to conduct his craft .

"I don't exactly have time to wait for someone to build it…" Mike muttered to himself while considering his options .

Gearhart shrugged . "The way I see it, you don't have too much of a choice . Far as I know, no one makes portable forges besides the military, and I wouldn't recommend using those . "

"Why not?"

"They're not bad for things like making horseshoes or nails, but if you want to do serious smithing, I suggest you look elsewhere . "

[I don't really need for it to be portable, just ready made and semi-mobile . Maybe I can pay a smith to let me uninstall theirs and move it with magic…]

The large bearded man rumbled a chuckle at Mike's thoughtful face . "Course, if you consider yourself a true craftsman, you could always make your own . "

"I get what you're saying, but that's not . . . wait…"

[With Earth Magic I can essentially create everything I need, assuming I have enough mana . Even the metallic components can be produced with the Minor Creation effect, although it would probably take some trial and error to get the right shape and consistency . ]

He glanced back at Gearhart . "Would you mind if I went in and took a look at your forge as a point of reference . I've used it a few times, but I'd like to take special note of the working pieces . "

"Be my guest . Just be warned, my wife is in the middle of preparing for the day's work . "

Mike nodded . "Okay, I'll try not to get in her way . "

The shopkeep laughed . "That's not what I meant . If you go in now, she'll likely make you start helping . If you don't want to spend the rest of the day doing manual labor, I suggest that you stay out of sight . She'll be pretty focused on her work, so as long as you don't draw attention to yourself, you should be fine . "

"Thanks for the advice . " Mike replied while making his way to the back, activating his stealth skill as he did . While he'd yet to develop it to the level he'd like, it should be sufficient to avoid the gaze of a distracted craftsman .

He spent the next hour drawing sketches of the various kinds of equipment and tools that he'd need to outfit his own smithy . It took that long because he wasn't completely certain what most of the stuff actually did, so he made sure to include everything, just to avoid having to acquire it at a later date .

After he was done, Gearhart pointed him in the direction of a smith specializing in tools that could help him with the more portable products he'd need . The individual in question turned out to be an older man with a gentle personality that was more than willing to walk Mike through which particular items he would need . As someone looking to mainly fashion weapons and armor, he required a completely different set from those intending to forge other types of metalwork . The smith even mentioned that once he'd achieved a high level of skill, he might need better tools in order to work with more difficult materials .

He decided to pick up the basic equipment for now, with the intention of adding to it as he improved, and purchased a selection of items from the smith at the asking price . While he could have tried haggling, he figured that the man deserved some extra compensation for all the effort he spent in explaining everything .

With his tools stored safely away in the extradimensional sack, he moved on to his next stop and checked in on his unwilling Alchemy tutor, who he hadn't spoken to in weeks thanks to the war . Fortunately, the old woman was still alive and kicking, and had even spent some time cleaning and refurbishing her store to make it look a bit more inviting . That said, the alchemist's personality removed any warmth that might have come from her new and improved environs .

"What ya want?" Came the harsh yell from the back room as soon as he'd walked through the door .

"I can't come check in on my teacher from time to time?" He shot back jauntily .

Grumbling under her breath, Gail emerged in the main room and gave him a cold stare . "So yer back are ya? Thought ya might have forgotten about me . Since yer here now, what ya want?"

"Circumstances have prevented me from practicing my Alchemy skills recently, and I am looking to rectify that . Unfortunately, I am also planning on taking a trip in the near future, so I won't be able to rely on you for instruction going forward . "

"Ha, well that's a cryin' shame . " The old woman replied sarcastically . "I take it that this is the part where ya ask me something ridiculous . "

Mike shrugged . "I was hoping you could give me a list of recipes I can work on while I'm travelling . Ones with progressively higher levels of difficulty so I can keep improving my skills . "

"Hmph . I don't recall that being part of our bargain . "

"Oh, don't worry . I fully intend on compensating you for the efforts . If you hadn't heard, the kingdom has seen fit to give me a substantial monetary reward for my efforts during the war . "

Gail stared at him for a few seconds, a look of suspicion on her face . Finally, she gasped . "Yer that Dragonknight! The Tier 4 one! No wonder . . . "

Mike was surprised that it had taken this long for her to realize, but then he thought back to all the other interactions he'd had today . As far as he could tell, no one had treated him any differently than before . There were a few whispers amongst the people he passed in the streets, but he had not been recognized by anyone he met .

[Could it be that most people don't know what I look like? I mean, I'm not wearing my cloak at the moment, but I would think that my appearance is at least a little memorable, what with the eyes and everything . ]

The more he thought about it, the more it made sense . With the exception of when he was fighting in battle and the awards ceremony, he'd never been seen in a public setting without a mask of some kind on . In a world without electronic media, it would be difficult to spread his likeness .

"Ah, yes . I am . More or less…"

"Ha! To think the 'Hero of Almir' is that disrespectful welp who came here and started making all kinds of trouble . The Coppers have ya all wrong . "

Mike frowned . "Coppers? I don't think I follow . "

Gal laughed again while shuffling to her back room to grab something . "Not surprised ya don't know . They're these terrible little stories that sell for a few coppers, hence the name . Recently, a bunch have been made about the famous Dragonknight Erasmus . I got one, take a look . "

She handed him a small packet of cheap paper . There was a string woven into the center of the sheets, which were then folded around it to create a sort of rudimentary binding . The outermost layer was made of a coarser material, and was darker in color as a result . On the front cover, in bold, block letters, was the title "On the Wings of Love . "

Already dreading what he would find inside, he opened to the first page, and was greeted with the sight of a woodcut illustration . It centered on a man of heroic proportions . Broad shouldered, barrel chested, and bearing the kind of square jawed, ruggedly handsome face that would appeal to a certain variety of middle-aged housewife in his old world . Or at least as far as he could tell from the perspective of the image, which placed the man nearly in profile, with one arm thrown dramatically forward in an accusatory point, and mouth frozen in the midst of some kind of declaration .

He was standing on the deck of a ship on a windy day, as evidenced by his flowing locks waving dramatically in the breeze, and was dressed in tight looking pants and white linen shirt that had been torn open to reveal his impressively chiseled pecs . It took Mike a few horrified moments to realize that he wasn't the only person in the picture .

A pair of figures, set in the backdrop and drawn with much less detail were the target of the man's pointing finger . One was a curvaceous woman dressed in a form fitting and low-cut dress . She was tied and gagged, but her body posture portrayed a certain hopeless distress . The other was a thin, almost sickly looking man dressed in a dark overcoat . His expression was one of abject hatred and he was holding the woman with a sword pressed against her throat . At the very bottom of the picture was a caption that told the whole story .

"The noble Dragonknight Erasmus confronts the Heinous Traitor Wendel to liberate Princess Andrea from his clutches . " Mike read breathlessly .

Gail cackled gleefully at his reaction . "Just so ya know, this is the most popular issue of the Dragonknight series . It's based on yer rescuing the princess, in case that wasn't clear . "

"Wait . . . there's more of these?" He asked, suddenly feeling very tired .

"Of course! They first started writing them a few weeks ago, but they've been a big hit since the war started . I think they're up to issue twelve now . "

Mike scanned the contents of the pamphlet, finding it full of messy block lettering that was readable, but evidently the result of cheap mass production . It took him a few minutes to look past the horror of the story's contents to realize what that meant .

"So, these Coppers, they've been around for a while now?"

Gail shrugged . "Last fifty years or so, I think . Ever since that lad over on Brighton street started his print shop . Course, he's probably an old man by now . "

"Does he use some kind of device to mass produce printed literature? Maybe some kind of press?"

"A press? What ya on about . He's just an Arcane Mage that uses a copy spell to make a bunch of these cheaply . "

[That sounds useful, but I'm guessing from the fact that they could only make this kind of low quality pamphlet that there are some limiting factors . Nevertheless, it would be worth checking out . Might need to stop in to have a few words with the owner . For a few reasons . At the moment though, I should focus on what I came here to do in the first place . ]

Sighing and rubbing his head, Mike handed the Copper back to Gail . "Right, well . As traumatizing as that was, I think I'd like to move on . We were discussing a list of recipes, right?"

The old alchemist shot him a dirty look . "Aye, aye . I'll see what I can do, but it'll cost ya . "