Live too long?
Hearing what Jae Hwan said, it wasn't Meikal who was angry, but the surrounding craftsmen.
"How dare you say that!"
On the other hand, Meikal's state of mind had changed, and he seemed to be seriously worrying about something.
"……what exactly does that mean?"
Jae Hwan did not respond immediately.
"Try using your skill again."
After hesitating for a moment, Meikal got up from his seat and followed according to Jae Hwan's instructions.
Grabbing his hammer and chisel, he began to knock away at the horn.
Once, twice, thrice.
Seeing Meikal knock away at the horn like a machine, Jae Hwan promptly stopped him.
"What did you just see?”
"What did you see when using your skill?"
Seeing the confusion in Meikal's eyes, Jae Hwan shook his head.
“Do it again and pay attention."
Meikal used his skill again. The message 'Skill has failed' repeatedly rang in his ears. Instead of succumbing to the message in despair, Meikal focused on what had caused the skill to fail.
What can you see there?
He didn't quite see anything.
No, if he were to be specific, he could see his hammer and chisel.
"I see. Those would be the things I can see."
"……are you messing with me?”
Meikal was on the verge of throwing his hammer at Jae Hwan.
Jae Hwan opened his mouth.
“Your hammer and chisel, do you know what principles to follow in order to work on the horn?"
Meikal hesitated before giving his answer.
"Well, with the strength of the「Process」skill……"
Jae Hwan spoke while shaking his head.
“I should have worded my question differently from the beginning. I'll ask again."
Jae Hwan stared into Meikal's eyes, and composed a question consisting of selected words.
"Do you know the principles and mechanics behind how the「Process」skill works?"
Meikal's expression stiffened.
"You, do you understand the weight behind what you're saying?”
Meikal said, his tone half angry and half incredulous.
"What kind of principle the「Process」skill uses?"
All skills stem from a predecessor skill.
Those skills were the origin of skills.
The Nightmare's「Process」was one of those skills.
Using those skills to work on a material was the same as directly modifying the particles that the material consisted of. They were not created by anyone, but were instead birthed from the beginning. It was like water or fire when hitting the elements. Something that had existed from the beginning. Those from the《Great Lands》would deem those skills to be the first skills.
How could humans explain the origin of the world?
Then what the hell does he mean by asking for the principles behind the skill?
Jae Hwan nodded his head while speaking.
“That's right. You don't even know what exactly it is that you're using, but despite that you've been using it all this time."
Those words poked at Meikal's pride.
Meikal eventually opened his tightly closed teeth.
“……to concentrate spirit power into the hammer and chisel, and by using that strength to delicately chip away at the horn. That's probably the underlying principle behind the skill."
“Is that right? If the「Process」skill was so simple, then how come others cannot use it?”
Only those who had learned the「Process」skill could use it, otherwise, why was it that those who hadn't learned it did not apply such a simple principle themselves despite not having learned the skill?
Meikal closed his mouth. Slightly thinking about it, Meikal realized how ridiculous his explanation sounded. What Jae Hwan said made sense. If the principle was so simple, then wouldn't people be able to use the「Process」skill without actually learning it?
“You don't know what that skill truly is. Despite that, you continue to use that skill."
At that moment, Meikal couldn't help but hate the man in front of him.
Nobody knew the principle behind「Process」in the first place.
But why did this man insult him and look down on him for not knowing such a thing?
“You speak as though you know what the principle is."
“That's because I do know. To be specific, I figured it out a few moments ago.’’
Jae Hwan silently traced the grooves on the horn. As though responding to Jae Hwan's finger, the surface of the horn began to sway. Meikal's eyes widened. It was a magical scene.
The horn slowly split along the line traced by Jae Hwan's finger tip. Calmly and slowly. As it followed the white light emitting from Jae Hwan's finger, it eventually just split completely in half. Meikal's head was dizzy.
Without realizing, Meikal's legs lost all strength. His innards were in turmoil as he suffered from both jealousy and hopelessness.
"……who the hell are you? Just what kind of blessing did you receive to be able to possess so much talent?
"It's not talent.”
It was a firm voice.
"Observe closely once more. Then tell me what you see."
Meikal once more took a look at Jae Hwan's fingertips. The particles that came into contact with Jae Hwan's fingertip disintegrated into fine powder. It looked like it was being eaten by something.
"……are the particles decomposing?"
Jae Hwan nodded his head.
Meikal's mind focused again.
“It won't be easy for you. Because of the tremendous amount of training and hard work you've done in your long life, the 'world' that you know and see would have already solidified into a higher degree."
He listened closely to Jae Hwan's words.
Even after seeing the proof at Jae Hwan's fingertips, Meikal still couldn't completely believe what he saw. The expectation that Jae Hwan was using some sort of trick was clouding Meikal's eyes and thoughts.
It was his distrust of youth.
The egotism of someone who had accumulated many years of life.
Tens of millions of tannings, quenches, and hammerings, these were not the results of his work, but of his undying pride.
“All of your hard work was not for nothing.”
“You've practiced so hard that you grew sick, shouldn't you have realized it by now?"
With a tap, the garnak horn under Jae Hwan's fingertip shattered.
"If despite all of your work you couldn't succeed, then it is not you who is in the wrong, but the world."
Meikal found it impossible to understand what Jae Hwan was trying to say.
How could the world itself be at fault?
Meikal recalled the moment he first learned「Process」. He recalled his younger days when his eyes were set upon the backs of the Nightmares that walked in the same path that he did.
The young Meikal was anxious.
He kept thinking that there would be a day when he would become like those Nightmares, but there was still a strange doubt in his mind. Could he overcome and stand over them if he trained the way they did?
But just because he would listen to doubts didn't mean that the young Meikal would take it to heart.
In the end, all Meikal could do was put in more effort.
Meikal used the skill over and over again until his body could no longer bear the burden.
He trained and trained until his mind went blank.
By devoting himself to his extraordinary efforts, Meikal eventually forgot his original doubts.
He forgot all of it. As his skill level went up, his abilities increased and the chance of success went up as well. An honest world that would reward those who worked hard. In that kind of world, Meikal could not doubt his own path.
Eventually, he ended up in his current place.
A place where all of his efforts failed to shed any more light on this path that he tread on.
Meikal finally understood.
Only when he was young could he blame the world.
"……you said that the world is wrong?”
Meikal spoke with a heavy voice.
“Then what do you want me to do?"
An overwhelming voice laced with Meikal's 150 years of blood, sweat, and tears.
A voice completely dyed by the experiences of his years.
"Do you want me to fight the world?”
Jae Hwan calmly stared at Meikal.
He stared at him with the eyes of a veteran who did not forsake his world when his world forsook him.
He stayed there like that for a while.
"You may have progressed in years, but you still have power to fight the world."
Hearing that, Meika's eyes shook.
"Look carefully once more. Rely on nothing but purely on your own eyes."
Meikal who had been blank faced suddenly had a late realization what Jae Hwan meant. Jae Hwan was telling Meikal... Let go of the years you have accumulated. Forget everything.
Deny the life that you have lived thus far.
It was an extremely painful thing.
However, Meikal had an inkling of excitement as he wondered about what kind of world he would see through this denial. That curiosity was perhaps the last remnant of Meikal's youth.
It was the first time Meikal forgot a skill since the time of his birth.
He struggled to free himself from the shackles that had become one with his soul throughout the years of his life. Although he was struggling, he refused to close his eyes. He widened his eyes and focused on Jae Hwan's fingertip.
It was so that he could lay eyes on something that he had missed despite the life he had lived.
Jae Hwan grasped a hammer and chisel.
The light from「Process」embodied the tools in Jae Hwan's hands.
Once more, tang.
And yet again.
Every time he heard that sound, Meikal felt that something in his soul was slowly becoming undone. The numerous facts that he had deemed to be common sense were slowly unraveling.
An unknown amount of time passed.
Suddenly, a loud crack resounded throughout the workshop.
As though a giant glass was cracking from its edges.
A certain truth had enraptured his head.
Meikal's face was suddenly overcome by fear. Is this possible? Am I witnessing something that I should have never set eyes on? Without even knowing, Meikal tightly shut his eyes. Silence found its way into the world. Something slowly made its way through the overwhelming silence. A terrible loneliness came to attack him. He knew now.
The world he have been living in all this time, it had been destroyed.
Although terrified, Meikal was also curious, curious about the new world that he had stepped into. Utilizing all of his strength, Meikal forced his eyes open.
The garnak's horn was watching him.
Yet, it was no longer a horn.
Its body was huge, tall enough to reach the battlements of Gorgon Fortress, and its body was inlaid with thorns and teeth that threatened to consume its surroundings. A monster comprised of hideous masses of hate.
Meikal faced the monster with trembling hands and trembling lips.
Is this what I had been facing up against this entire time?
Have I been using my petty abilities against something like that?
Looking around at his surroundings, where there should have been his fellow craftsmen were now changed with corpses. Originating from those emaciated corpses was a terrible stench. Maggots crawled out of the eye sockets.
Meikal was on the verge of losing his mind.
Then there was Jae Hwan.
Holding onto a hammer and chisel.
A man, possessing no skills, facing up against a monster.
When the monster attacked Jae Hwan, Jae Hwan struck back and put it in its place. The monster let out a loud and hideous scream. Blood splashed out of the monster's body, its bodily fluids freely flowing out of its wounds. Nevertheless, the monster did not seem to suffer a heavy blow. Rather, it seemed pleased. Like it was pleased that it was fighting such an opponent after a long time.
The surrounding corpses heaved as they screamed.
Whether they were cheering for Jae Hwan or supporting the monster was unknown.
At the center of the confusion and insanity was Meikal who had been shaken in both body and mind.
‘Alas, has this man always been living in this sort of world?’
An Awakened who lived in a world devoid of skills, systems, and level ups. A truly honest world where nothing can deceive you. A world wholly made of truth. Although he was so nauseous that he was on the verge of throwing up, he still experienced the exquisite taste of the smithing process.
This was the world after the fall.
How could a world like this exist?
How could the man in front of him live in this world without losing his mind?
Meikal made eye contact with Jae Hwan for a brief second.
In this world, Jae Hwan looked like a normal person. He was neither a hero nor a savior sent to save the world. He was an average young man. If anything, the only outstanding feature he possessed was his courage not to forsake this world.
Meikal understood Jae Hwan's insanity for the first time. He could feel and understand the loneliness and sorrow that Jae Hwan experienced. After having understood all this, he came to a realization that nobody would ever be able to understand this man.
The garnak's horn stared at Jae Hwan with calm eyes.
It is impossible for you to come here.
A fear that had not received the permission of the world.
Meikal's legs were trembling.
There was no room for retreat now.
The monster was approaching with an outstretched hole.
The hole was full of corpses.
In the next moment, Meikal found himself staring into the large pupil of the monster.
‘How, how in this world……"
That was Meikal's last thought before the monster consumed him.
Well, before the monster almost consumed him.
Meikal caught a glimpse of Jae Hwan as Jae Hwan pulled him out of the monster's grasps.
While wiping the sweat off his brow, Jae Hwan spoke up.
"Are you not going to keep it together?"
“Did you forget that you're in the midst of crafting? Properly help me."
Feeling Jae Hwan pinching him awake, Meikal once again faced the monster in a dizzy state.
He felt Jae Hwan's hand grasping his shoulder. The old Meikal grasped for courage. Courage to overcome this world that lacked skills. Courage to forge a path that none had tread before. Courage to forge a path that he could have departed on years ago but had refused to do so.
All of a sudden, skin began to grow from Meikal's hands. Blood vessels began to form within his body, and blood began to pulse. He felt a heart begin to throb in his chest, and his vision grew clearer. Meikal felt power flow all throughout his body. Like the day he first held a hammer in the prime of his youth.
Meikal ran at the monster.
As the garnak's horn grew even closer, Meikal raised his hammer.
Two days passed.
Jae Hwan's sheath was finally finished.