Chapter 16: The Wind is Cold Even in Spring (2)
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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
Jin Mu-Won picked up his hammer.
Every time he swung the hammer, sparks would fly everywhere, and the red-hot steel slab would inch closer to its final form.
As he bathed in the intense heat, sweat dripped down from Jin Mu-Won’s body like rain. The heat had been somewhat bearable in winter, but now that spring had begun, it had gotten both hot and humid in the smithy. Even so, Jin Mu-Won did not complain and continued hammering away.
Right now, he was shaping the steel by hammering it in a process called forging. During forging, impurities are removed and the internal structure of the metal deforms to follow its general shape, resulting in a stronger, denser material.
To create a high-carbon layer on the surface of the steel, Jin Mu-Won used pine charcoal powder and straw-ash as carburizing agents. He rubbed the powder on the surface of the metal and heated it up in the furnace. After some time, he took the metal out to cool. While the metal was cooling, he made clay from a powdered mixture of hematite, bleaching earth, straw-ash and water. Finally, he smeared the mixture on the cold metal to protect it from further carburization.
The metal was now ready for folding. Jin Mu-Won put the steel slab back into the furnace, heated it and hammered it. When the impurities had been hammered out to a certain extent, he made a notch in the metal with an axe and folded it.
According to the Records of a Thousand Weapons, steel must be folded twelve times during forging before it is shaped into a weapon. That was because folding steel twelve times produced a total of 4096 layers of alternating hardness, which in turn resulted in maximum durability.
More impurities would also be removed during the folding process, causing the mass of the steel to decrease by a fifth. Therefore, only after folding, would the preparations before making a sword be considered complete.
Now that the steel had been refined, it was time to shape the slab into a sword. Using the furnace, Jin Mu-Won heated the metal evenly and then hammered it yet again.
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The more he hit the hot metal, the more the slab resembled a sword. Even though the flying sparks burnt his face and skin, Jin Mu-Won’s hammering movements were fluid and showed no hesitation.
As luck would have it, learning swordsmithing had turned out to be beneficial to mastering the Art of Ten Thousand Shadows as well.
At some point during the forging, a white mist had emanated from and enveloped Jin Mu-Won’s body. While he was hammering the sword, he had somehow unconsciously started using the Art of Ten Thousand Shadows to counter as well as to attune his body to the extreme heat from the furnace. His continuous use of the Art in this fashion had resulted in a large increase in his shadow chi reserves.
Besides dealing with the heat, Jin Mu-Won was also attempting to merge his shadow chi into his hammer in order to optimize each and every strike.
The ugly slab of steel now looked like a perfect sword, but his work wasn’t finished yet. The most important part of the forging process was left.
Jin Mu-Won put the sword back into the furnace. Controlling the temperature of the furnace was now of utmost importance. When the steel had reached the desired temperature, he took the sword out of the furnace and cooled it in air. He then repeated this heating and cooling process two more times.
This process was termed annealing, and it would help stabilize the multi-layered structure of the steel by improving the crystallinity.
“Phew!” sighed Jin Mu-Won, looking at the sword that he had been working on for the last few days.
Only quenching and sharpening left to go.
He smeared the clay that he had prepared beforehand on the sword, taking care to ensure that the layer of clay on the edge was much thinner than on the rest of the sword. He then let the clay dry for a day.
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After that, he put the sword covered in dry clay back into the furnace. In the time it took a candle to burn out, the blade started glowing red. He immediately took the sword out and immersed it in water.
The water boiled instantly releasing a burst of steam. Jin Mu-Won swiftly took the sword out.
The thin layer of clay on the edge caused it to cool very quickly, becoming extremely hard. On the other hand, the thick layer of clay on the rest of the sword body caused it to cool down slowly, resulting in higher ductility. These two different material properties conferred by varying cooling rates would improve the sword’s ability to absorb impacts without breaking.
While waiting for the sword to cool down, Jin Mu-Won closed his eyes and activated the Art of Ten Thousand Shadows. He slowly willed the shadow chi out of his chi center and into his bloodstream, circulating it throughout his body. When he had first begun swordsmithing, he only had a little shadow chi, but as time passed, it had grown stronger at an amazing rate.
The nature of shadow chi was Yin, so it would start by merging itself with other types of energy, then gradually take it over completely like a parasite. From a certain point of view, it could be seen as contamination, but from another point of view, it was fusion. Right now, Jin Mu-Won was absorbing the heat energy in his surroundings and converting it into shadow chi.
This conversion was the reason Jin Mu-Won’s chi had grown at an alarming rate. Despite the fact that his chi had gotten much stronger, though, it was still impossible for anyone else to sense it regardless of how strong they were.
After completing one whole cycle of the Art of Ten Thousand Shadows, Jin Mu-Won opened his eyes. A blinding light seemed to explode from his eyes, but the light eventually scattered and his eyes returned to how they normally looked.
Jin Mu-Won stood up and picked up the cooled sword. He still needed to sharpen the edge, but the sword was already basically a finished product.
He rubbed off the remaining clay on the sword to reveal its shining silver blade. At first glance, the silvery-white color of the blade was bright, dazzling, and flawless, with beauty that was out of this world. Jin Mu-Won observed his new work for a while, then flicked a finger at the blade.
A metallic ringing sound echoed across the room like music, but it wasn’t music to Jin Mu-Won’s ears. He looked at the sword again, face turning blacker with each second.
“Hah…” he sighed. Using his index finger, he poked a certain part of the blade.
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CLINK! CLANG! CLONG!
The blade shattered and exploded, metal shards flying all over the place. Jin Mu-Won looked down at the remains of the sword and muttered, “Another failure, huh?”
The blade appeared to be perfect, but to him, it was a failed product. That was because it contained a very tiny imperfection. This imperfection was so insignificant that most would ignore it, but not him.
Every time he finished smithing a new sword, he would look at the alignment of the blade grain. A flawless blade would have a beautiful and perfectly aligned grain, but one that contained imperfections would have an unsightly-looking grain.
If an imperfect blade was struck at a certain position with a certain amount of force, it would shatter into pieces. Jin Mu-Won had broken the sword using this principle, and he had named this newly created technique the Weapon-Shattering Finger (碎兵指).
Although he had created a new technique, he wasn’t satisfied in the least. What he really desired was to completely understand swordsmanship, not learn some random parlor tricks.
Jin Mu-Won picked up the broken metal shards on the ground and tossed them into the furnace. He then left the smithy and returned to his room for a bath. When he came out of the bath, it finally hit him that Eun Han-Seol was nowhere in sight. Even the food that he had prepared beforehand was untouched, the cutlery still in the exact same position he had left them.
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“There’s no way she would cook for herself, so she must be starving right now.”
Jin Mu-Won shook his head. He saw Eun Han-Seol every day, so he knew her habits inside out. She had no interest or talent in cooking, and would thus never cook for herself.
The reason for that was her extreme pragmatism. She felt that, instead of wasting her time doing things she had no talent for, she would rather train, even if it meant that she would go hungry because he wasn’t there to cook for her.
“Sigh, you’re not a child anymore…”
He opened the storeroom door, sighing. Because Hwang Cheol had visited not too long ago, the storeroom was full. Jin Mu-Won took some ingredients out of the storeroom and began preparing dinner.
Not long later, he finished making a feast of hotpot, side dishes, and rice. He then left his room to call Eun Han-Seol.
He walked across the training plaza and easily spotted her sitting on the roof of the mansion, looking toward the South.
“What are you doing up there?” asked Jin Mu-Won. Eun Han-Seol did not respond, so he climbed up to the roof.
“What are you looking at?” he asked again, but Eun Han-Seol remained silent.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake…” said Jin Mu-Won, following the direction of her gaze.
He suddenly clamped his mouth shut. As a dusty breeze blew in from the south, he saw several horse-drawn wagons and carriages escorted by guards traveling toward the fortress.
A stern expression appeared on Jin Mu-Won’s face.
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