Legends of Gods. Tale of Vjaira. (B3.Ch97 up!) (REWRITE FINISHED, YAY!)
when will the next update be ?
I decided to focus on re-workng the early chapters for now, I also am balls deep into ISSI for the next month. I will release one new chapter of Legends tomorrow, then prooly only 2 the next week. Will try to keep you guys updated.
Meanwhile, check out the re-worked early chapters! (Here or on
) I believe the quality has gone up exponentially ^.^
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
ISSI is also story right where is it can you provide a link ?
I found it
I found it
please update this also
So is this story dropped? Hmm, really liked it.
please don't drop really loved your story, hope u update sometime, one of my favorite orignal novels
Caladbolg I am sad, this was pretty much my favorite story on the forums. Have you officially dropped the story?
I have officially finished rewriting the whole thing, hah. Well, almost. Still got 2-3 days of work left and this week, Tale of Vjaira is coming back!~ Along with a mass release of ISSI, hehe.
Thread with edited story:
I know it's hard to be excited about returning to a story after a long break... so for those who don't quite feel like it I suggest waiting for 20-30 new chapters to appear before going back
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
edited November 2017
AND WE ARE BACK, HOLY MOLY, IT TOOK SOME TIME!
Anyway, welcome back from the thread with reworked chapters ;p Let's get back into the story, hehe.
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 72. On The Road.
“You will grow up soon enough,” Laien assured Arslan with a laugh. “Rushing those things is stupid, so just wait until you feel like it,” he added with a smile, his mindset on the matter coming entirely from the south. There, pretty much everyone knew what was what and it was commonly accepted that as children grew up and became adolescents, they would become interested in sexual matters. No one found it strange in the south, as it was seen as a matter of course and something natural; it was pretty much a non-issue to the point of it not being perceived as a subject of discussion.
“Until I feel like it?” Arslan repeated with a questioning look on his face. He wasn’t entirely sure what Laien meant by saying so; after all, wasn’t he curious about it all already?
“Until your body feels like it,” Laien corrected himself, beginning to feel strangely embarrassed by this whole situation. There hadn’t been a need or will for him to discuss such a topic with his friends when he had been younger since everyone knew about it; actually trying to explain those things to someone who was a bit clueless was… well, a bit embarrassing.
“You mean…” Arslan said a bit unsurely, then recalled what he had seen a moment ago. “Um, I think I get it,” he said with a somewhat ashamed smile, his face once again turning bright red. He found it fun to speak about those things, but for some reason, it was causing him to feel quite embarrassed.
“So anyway,” Laien said with a chuckle, his face flushed slightly. “You wanted to play with us, right? Do you have anything specific in mind, or do you just want to hang out and do whatever?” he inquired, for the time being changing the subject to something else. Amusing things were amusing, but one needed to know when to stop before they became awkward.
It took Arslan a second or two to release himself from the previous train of thought, but he managed to respond pretty quickly. “Nothing specific, not really,” he said in a relatively calm manner, in truth relieved that they weren’t pursuing the previous topic anymore.
“Then, are you still up for playing?” Laien asked straightforwardly. He and Yin had nothing else to do for the remainder of the day, so they of course wouldn’t refuse if invited.
“Yeah!” Arslan replied energetically. This was the thing he had been looking forward to the whole day, there was no way he would give up on it now.
“Y-yeah.” Johan also gave his best to reply despite feeling much more nervous than the other four. In the end, he couldn’t be as comfortable with that previous subject as Laien, Yin or even Arslan. He wasn’t used to this kind of talk being lighthearted; for him and those from Ulme Village, it more often than not had been sad and gloomy, if not outright mortifying.
“Great,” Laien said merrily. “How about we go back to the camp and play somewhere nearby? I’m sure it will be easier on Reian to watch over us there rather than here,” he suggested and gave Reian a playful smile along with a meaningful glance. If they stayed here, Reian would likely argue to stay around the whole time, but if they were near the camp, then he could leave them more space, hopefully?
“Fine,” Reian agreed easily. He was in a rather good mood since he had just avoided having an uncomfortable talk with Arslan, or at least delayed it in time, so it was easy for him to go along with what Laien wanted, both in the literal and implied sense. “We should pick up Jasmine and this guy’s older sister first though, else they will be angry that we left them alone after telling them to wait,”
Laien and Yin were surprised to hear that, but not because they thought it was strange for those two to have tagged along; the two of them exchanged a glance, thinking that it was fortunate that Jasmine and Sarah didn’t come to the river to look for them. Being seen by other guys was a bit embarrassing but still pretty much fine, while being seen by women would be rather awkward. They didn’t mind fooling around others, but even they had limits of how open they could be.
Seeing how Laien and Yin weren’t bringing anything up, Reian nodded slightly and began heading towards the place where they separated with Jasmine and Sarah. He heard the four youths follow after him soon afterward, so he didn’t bother to look over his shoulder to confirm.
Considering that they weren’t all that far away from Jasmine and Sarah to begin with, the four youths hadn’t had much time to discuss what they were going to do. However, as the two women assumed the kids were simply going back to the camp to play there, they didn’t ask any questions and simply followed along, thus allowing the chat to continue uninterrupted.
“I see you found them pretty quickly,” Jasmine commented leisurely from behind the four youths, who ended up walking at the head of their little group.
“Well, they weren’t hiding or anything,” Reian commented with a slight smirk. The double-meaning of his words, however, went unnoticed by either of the two women.
“Were they bathing after all?” Jasmine inquired, wanting to know if they had been waiting there alone for naught or not.
“Kind of?” Reian replied with a laugh. They were in the river, technically, so maybe it could be called bathing?
Jasmine frowned slightly and asked with a hint of impatience in her voice. “What do you mean by ‘kind of’?”
Reian laughed once again, wondering if he should tell Jasmine and Sarah about what they had seen now or later. Yet, before he made his choice, Arslan, who had been listening in to this little exchange turned around and said with a wide smile while walking backward.
“They were kind of making out.”
“Oh,” Jasmine nodded in understanding at first, but the look on her face turned increasingly silly as the meaning of what Arslan said registered in her brain. “Wait, what? What do you mean they were making out?” she blurted out like a teenage girl she most definitely wasn’t.
“You mean they were kissing?” Sarah also let the question slip her tongue. Just like Jasmine, she was too surprised to think about reacting in any level-headed manner.
By this point, Laien and Yin were both looking over their shoulders whereas Johan was too frustrated to turn around. Still, the three of them were certainly listening, but none of them bothered to interrupt the increasingly amusing conversation that was playing out.
“Not just kissing,” Arslan said with a growing flush on his cheeks. He felt that he perhaps was getting a bit too excited while talking about that, but he wanted to show off badly enough to ignore that. “They were doing naughty things together, you know? I always thought only boys and girls could do that together, but today I learned that boys can do that too!” he said happily, only afterward realizing that the looks on the two women’s faces were growing increasingly flabbergasted.
Jasmine opened her mouth as if she wanted to say something, but could only let out a quiet groan when she saw the two twelve-year-olds holding back a laughter. Was her expression really that amusing, huh? “We might have empathized learning new things a bit too much to Arslan,” she mused helplessly. For a second, she wanted to tell Arslan not to repeat the same words to his father, but she quickly changed her mind; rather than that, she needed to be sure to be there when it would happen. It would be such a pity to miss the look on Mustafa’s face!
“These two… I mean, ugh…” In contrast to Jasmine, Sarah appeared to have a much harder time coming to terms with the blatant revelation. Had it not been for the current circumstance, she would have expressed her disgust at this kind of behavior from boys, but she couldn’t very well do that when Laien and Yin were the main reason for their group receiving help. She found the relationships between those of the same sex to be nothing but repugnant, yet she could only keep those comments to herself, and so she did.
“Did I say something bad?” Arslan asked with disarming honesty. He saw that Laien, Yin and even Reian didn’t mind such things being said, but had he gotten ahead of himself? He didn’t want Jasmine to be angry with him.
Faced with the unbelievably cute reaction from Arslan, Jasmine for some inexplicable reason wanted to yell ‘I want to take him home!’ but since this strange phrase made no sense to her, she quickly threw it away. “No, it’s okay. I was just a bit surprised,” she said with a warm smile. “Be sure not to be so open with people you aren’t good friends with though, okay?” she suggested, to what Arslan smiled and nodded energetically. As long as Jasmine wasn’t angry, it was fine.
“Still,” Jasmine brought up and moved her gaze from Arslan to the two twelve-year-olds, the smile on her face turning rather mischievous. “I must say though, as expected from the little masters from the south. Did you two go all the way yet? I can lend you some really good oil if you want,” she asked wryly, refusing to be the one acting all shy and embarrassed the whole time like twenty-something years ago with Reian. If she were to choose, then teasing others was much more to her liking… and as a proof, she couldn’t resist smiling when she saw the flushed faces of those two.
Never having expected Jasmine to throw a question like that at them, Laien and Yin almost stopped walking forward due to the shock. They thought they were already very open-minded, but it looked like the old ladies of the world couldn’t be underestimated! They could even ask questions like that without any hesitation whatsoever!
“What a question.” Even Reian felt his face grow a bit hot. He wasn’t surprised that those two weren’t answering immediately; Jasmine really was merciless. On the other hand, he didn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry when he saw that Arslan looked like he wanted to ask for an explanation, but then his expression changed in an ‘Ah!’ way as he understood on his own.
“Comparatively, you are teaching him scarier things, teacher…” Reian thought silently, all the while sliming resignedly.
“We didn’t,” Laien finally brought himself to answer. “If you want to give us that oil, then feel free to do so though… it will be nice to have for some time later…” he added combatively, with a wry smile and a very much red face and ears. Since when was he one to allow others to tease him one-sidedly, huh? If he didn’t at least play along, then he would have lost too thoroughly to accept it.
“Sure,” Jasmine laughed, produced a mid-grade interspatial ring and threw it to Laien. “Just in case, I added a few books you might find useful,” she added and smiled meaningfully at the two boys. She had nearly forgotten how fun it was not to be a strict teacher of her students but to act like she had once used to in the past.
“Thanks,” Laien received the interspatial ring and turned around, no longer looking at Jasmine as he walked forward. He then laughed quietly; he was still more or less okay despite Jasmine’s teasing, but Yin was so embarrassed that he couldn’t utter a word, much less look him in the eye. The most amusing thing was that he knew why Yin was so frustrated thanks to their spiritual bond. Lovers, huh? Yin had said so himself, but thinking about it again, it really was embarrassing.
“…” Johan swallowed nervously, from time to time glancing at Laien and Yin out of the corner of his eye. He had thought that there could be only hurtful and unpleasant things as far as this kind of thing was considered, but now his mind was beginning to change. He was a shy person, but he wasn’t oblivious; only a blind person wouldn’t notice how well those two got along with each other. So, maybe it wasn’t all bad after all like it had been back in their village.
“…” Similarly to her little brother, Sarah remained silent and refrained from making any comments. However, unlike Johan’s, her thoughts of the relationship between Laien and Yin weren’t as favorable. She was giving her best not to allow her emotions to show on her face though, and since she was pretty skilled at controlling her facial expressions she managed to keep it in. All she hoped for what that those two wouldn’t have a bad influence on her little brother and other boys from the village.
“Maybe it was wrong of me to encourage Johan to become friends with them in the first place,” she thought to herself, no longer knowing what to do. Should she let Johan socialize with them normally, or should she tell him to try and keep his distance? She would need to give it some thought become deciding.
“So, games?” Arslan picked up after a moment of everyone being silent. He originally wanted to wait for Laien or Yin to go back to that topic on their own, but they were being quiet for way too long. They no longer were bright-red though, so he assumed it was fine to move onto something else.
“Right.” Laien laughed a little. They needed to come up with something to do for the rest of the day and to be honest, he would rather it not be anything too shameful. For the time being, he had had more than enough experiences on that account.
“We should be right about in Tuln Village,” Albert mentioned randomly after looking through one of the windows of the carriage. “Should we go there to buy things today, or should we wait until tomorrow?” he asked, directing the question to Reian and Jasmine. He would have asked Laien or Yin, but since they were in the middle of playing a game of ‘truth or dare’ with Arslan and Johan, he chose not to disturb them. The strange sounds the kids were making as a result of the ‘dares’ were making even him chuckle repeatedly, so he didn’t want to spoil their fun, especially since Johan was finally opening up and was starting to get along with those three.
“Either option is fine,” Reian replied with a smile. Just like Albert, he was sitting quietly and watched the boys play and similarly, he was glad to see Arslan get along so well with the other three. “It’s still early in the evening, so we can do the trade today if we want to or we can wait until tomorrow morning,” he said leisurely. They had set out very early in the morning today, so after around fourteen hours of traveling, they had already crossed most of the one hundred and eighty of the remaining kilometers in a comfortable manner. Thus, he didn’t really care whichever option they settled on with regards to making the trade.
“Hm,” Albert wondered for a moment. He sneaked a glance at Sarah just in case, but it didn’t look like she was about to get involved in this conversation. For some reason, she appeared to be in a bad mood. “How about we buy everything we need today, but leave setting it all up until tomorrow? That would seem most convenient,” he proposed, feeling a bit too lazy to put in actual effort after spending the whole day, for the first time in years, on nothing else but lazing around.
“Sounds good,” Reian agreed casually. It indeed would be easier to manage if they separated the purchase and the preparations… or so he told himself to ease the feelings of guilt. Truth to be told, he hadn’t had much free time in the past years and right now, he was relaxing and chatting with Jasmine. He would be a real idiot if he wanted to cut those days short.
“Okay, my turn again,” Arslan said with a smile and blushed cheeks, having just finished imitating a monkey for everyone. “Yin, truth or dare?” he asked playfully and grinned at Yin. Out of the four of them, Yin had gotten off relatively scot-free so far; it was the highest time to fix that!
“Maybe truth for now,” Yin replied with a lighthearted smile. They had agreed that in case one of them doesn’t want to say something, he would be automatically forced into a dare, so there was no harm in beginning with the former of the two options.
“Then…” Arslan mused for a brief while. He had thought to ask something naughty, but in the end, he decided against it and asked something else. “What is your biggest secret?” he inquired with a slight smile, harboring no ulterior motives. He had a few a bit shameful secrets of his own, so he had simply assumed that Laien and Yin’s secrets would be vaguely similar.
Yin raised his eyebrows, then exchanged a brief look with Laien. His biggest secret… it would probably be his identity as a magical beast. “Dare,” he said with a smile, opting out of the question. There was no way he would tell that to the people here; it would be too dangerous for him and for Laien if this information spread throughout the continent.
Since Arslan didn’t expect Yin to refuse to give an answer, he was caught off-guard and without a dare prepared. He thought about it hurriedly; he could settle for something simple, like some more animal sounds, or doing something strange or awkward, or saying something stupid… but… “Then, since you don’t want to answer… how about you kiss Laien?” he ended up suggesting instead of ordering, but he didn’t care about that as he smiled at Yin in anticipation. He had seen them kissing yesterday, but it was from far away; he kinda wanted to see them do it from close-up.
Yin showed a surprised look at first but chuckled soon afterward. A kiss wasn’t that big of a deal, so since that was the dare, he wouldn’t make a fuss about it. He glanced at Laien, who smiled back at him and simply leaned back against the pillow and the wall of the carriage.
The dare was ‘to kiss him’, so it looked like Laien was intending to simply sit there and wait for him to make the move. Well, since he was leaning against one of the side walls, Arslan and Johan would have a nice view, so it was pretty convenient from this perspective.
Chuckling, Yin scooted over and sat just beside Laien. Out of the corner of his eye, to the right, he could see Arslan and Johan looking at them intensely. He could also see Jasmine and Reian glancing over, but he couldn’t see Sarah or Albert due to the spot those two were sitting at. “Geez, it’s more embarrassing than I thought,” he thought as he looked Laien in the eye. He could feel his own face growing hot by the second, so before it could get too bad, he leaned forward, closed his eyes and placed a light kiss on Laien’s lips.
Yet, as he wanted to pull out, he felt Laien grab his side with one hand and the back of his head with the other. Before he could protest, he got pulled into a deeper, much more shameful kiss. His first thought had been to try and fight back because it was too embarrassing to do so far right in front of other people, but the soft and hot sensation caused all his reason to melt away as he gave in and followed Laien’s lead. He enjoyed the kiss and light snuggling for a moment, then backed off slowly when Laien’s hold of him relaxed. He couldn’t help but give Laien a smile full of complaint, but in the end, both of them knew that they liked what they had just done.
“Wow,” Arslan exclaimed quietly, then swallowed heavily. He had thought that Yin would only kiss Laien for a bit, not that they would show them something like that. It wasn’t that he would complain, of course, but he was pretty speechless after watching something like that.
“Best dare so far, hands down,” Johan said quietly with a clear blush on his face. However, since the inside of the carriage was fairly silent at the moment, his voice was clearly heard by everyone.
Whereas Laien and Yin responded with simple chuckling, taking the comment lightly just like most of those present, there was one person that this one comment had almost infuriated.
“If you don’t mind,” Sarah spoke up in such a cold tone that she startled everyone. “Please refrain from doing those things in front of my little brother. It would be best if you didn’t talk about your private business with him too,” she said with clear anger resounding in the tone of her voice despite her attempts to make her words sound relatively polite. After hearing that comment of Johan’s, she just couldn’t bear it anymore; enough was enough.
Laien raised an eyebrow, looking at Sarah with an emotion that could perhaps be called a sad amusement. It was the first time he was met with a person who didn’t at least tolerate same-sex relationships, so in a way, it was intriguing to him, but it also was disappointing. As for Yin? He was no longer smiling, but he didn’t care at all; to him, Sarah’s opinion didn’t matter in the slightest. He didn’t like what she was saying, but still, he wasn’t angered or disappointed by her attitude.
“Big sis?” Johan asked nervously. Why was his sister angry with Laien and Yin? They were just playing and having fun… and he was doing so too. He was beginning to feel like he could really become friends with those three, so why was she destroying it all?
“It’s fine, Johan,” Sarah said amicably. “It’s fine to make friends, but I don’t want you to be learning those things from them. It’s not right for boys or men to do such things with each other,” she attempted to explain, but in her agitation, she completely forgot about the position she and the rest of the villagers were in. Had she stopped to think twice before speaking up, she might have chosen to speak different words or not to speak at all… but she had spoken, and the mood in the carriage had inevitably turned very sour and tense.
“So, why do you think it’s wrong?” Laien asked casually, though there was a previously absent coldness in his voice.
Contrary to Sarah, Albert was able to keep a cool head and he quickly put a hand on her shoulder and tightened his grip, then spoke up in her stead. “Please forgive us, we’ve only had negative experiences of this kind for as long as we can remember, so Sarah got a bit too sensitive about this matter. She probably thinks Johan will become like those Ikarians if he accepts gay relationships as something normal,” he said calmly, attempting to meet the problem at hand with reason. However…
“That’s not what I think at all!”
was what the response of Sarah’s ended up being, much to his displeasure and worry. Forget that he didn’t agree with Sarah on this matter, was she trying to get their benefactors to abandon them? Those people were helping them only because of those two boys, for God’s sake! What was she going to do if she offended them so badly they decided to leave them on their own?
“Then what’s the problem?” he asked helplessly. Was it somehow related to their Kartian roots then? Yes, they had mostly returned to praising the old Unity, according to whom homosexual relations were evil and prohibited, but she didn’t think Sarah was one to blindly follow a religion of any kind.
“I just don’t like it and that’s it,” Sarah said outright, for some reason finding it impossible not to rely on emotions when her little brother was involved.
“What a joke.” Laien laughed and shook his head. That was her reason? She ‘didn’t like it’? He would have had trouble coming up with something more ridiculous had he tried. “Do you agree with her?” he inquired, shifting his glance to Johan. He was pretty sure Johan wasn’t of the same mind as his sister, but he wanted to see what his reaction would be when asked to give his opinion.
“I…” Johan said weakly, then looked down onto the pillows and carpets on the floor. What was he supposed to say…? He didn’t want to leave his sister on her own, but he also didn’t want to give up on the chance of making friends! He had been in such a good mood a moment ago, but now he felt like crying.
“It’s not about who you support,” Jasmine intersected in a level-headed manner. “It’s about what you think,” she added with a slight smile, thus giving the boy some leeway.
It took Johan a few seconds, but he caught onto the meaning behind Jasmine’s words. “What I think…” he said quietly, without raising his head. “I don’t think it’s wrong. I get that those men did bad things to me and others, but it’s just them, right? They were the bad ones, Laien and Yin aren’t like them,” he explained slowly, putting his thoughts into words as well as he could.
“Johan…” Sarah muttered soundlessly. What was this child saying? It wasn’t wrong...? He didn’t mind it despite all of what had happened...? But… it made sense, but…!
“Good,” Laien said contentedly, smiles returning to his and Yin’s faces. “Let’s go to see this whole Tuln Village and buy what we need,” he suggested lightheartedly, seeing as the carriage stopped; most likely because Bellicose judged they were close enough to the village for him not to need to pull the carriage any longer. Also, it would be good if they left this place where the mood had rotten.
“You coming, Johan, Albert?” Laien asked after standing up along with Yin and Arslan. He wasn’t showing it in his expression or in the tone of his words, but he was rather annoyed with Sarah’s attitude. He didn’t feel like associating with her and until she apologized to them, he would continue ignoring her. He naturally wouldn’t randomly leave the villagers alone, but he also wouldn’t sit there quietly and take it when Sarah made unreasonable comments about him and Yin.
“I, uh…!” Johan once again didn’t know what to say. He agreed that his sister was in the wrong here, but she had always been helping him when he needed it… he would have felt bad if he left her alone. He had a huge dilemma on hand, but thankfully, a rescue came over from Albert’s side.
“Let’s both go with them. I think Sarah needs some time to think everything through,” Albert stated, thus surprising everyone, including Sarah who had never expected him not to side with her when it mattered. Why? She only wanted the best for them, but both Johan and Albert were refusing to listen!
Laien smiled contentedly and left the carriage with Yin and Arslan close by, and with Johan and Albert following a step behind. Sarah had spoiled his mood a little, but getting back at her made him feel good again. He quickly threw the unpleasant experience out of his mind and focused on what awaited them; bargaining for some goods would be quite an interesting experience. Of course, though, given what he had seen in Eulene so far, he seriously doubted that this little trade would end in a peaceful manner… but he was looking forward to that possible development, too.
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
edited November 2017
Talk about being slow... another chapters is here, finally. Gaaah!
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 73. Tuln Village.
“It even has walls,” Laien mentioned with a smile while looking towards the village, or rather towards what could be seen of the village through the wide-open gate. “They may be wooden, but they are walls. It is still right to call it a village?” he wondered aloud. If he recalled what Albert told them a few days ago correctly, this Tuln Village had fifty thousand people living in it. Compared to Neil City that had a million citizens or to the City of Palee that seemed to house well over ten million citizens, a place where fifty thousand people lived wasn’t all that impressive.
“Hmm, maybe it is just a village in the end,” he added with a shrug of his shoulders, pretty much answering his own question.
Reian raised his eyebrows a little at this slightly strange behavior of Laien’s, while Jasmine didn’t think much about it and added from herself. “For a village to be considered a small city, it needs to have a population of at least two hundred thousand people. In this part of the world, stone walls and multiple watch posts are also a requirement for any village to be granted city rights. Of course, the privileges granted to various cities vary greatly, but the degree of freedom and benefits even a small city enjoys can’t be compared to that of any village.”
“Mhm.” Laien nodded slightly. He didn’t remember the details, but he had been taught those things by Tei’ru. If the system of the Sarkcente Kingdom was any indication, then the rulers of the smaller and bigger cities enjoyed things ranging from the basic ones like making administrative decisions about their region of influence, through the benefit of keeping a portion of the taxes to themselves to even maintaining their own standing army and putting tariffs on the trade in the area. Still, however, those benefits weren’t without corresponding responsibilities such as maintaining an agreeable level of happiness amongst their people, caring for the roads, sending out patrols throughout the local areas and most importantly, paying their taxes to the sovereign.
As far as Laien was concerned, it was much less of a hassle to be a founder of a powerful Martial School, Magic Institute or Academy. Yet, this impression of his probably came from the fact that it wasn’t Rudford who was managing the Red Dragon School, but two other people; Rudford’s little brother, Vatras, and the Grand Elder, Roderick… Still, it showed that as long as one had dependable friends, then becoming the head of an organization wasn’t all that much of a hassle.
Seeing that Laien wasn’t about to ask her anything else, Jasmine left the subject alone. Had the boy been her student she would have drilled him to either give her a thorough explanation about the privileges and duties the various cities had or made him listen to an explanation of her own, but in the end Laien wasn’t her pupil and so she restrained her old habit that was making her want to lecture him.
“Are you going to stand there and watch the walls?” Sirius’s voice reached them from the front of the carriage, from the seat of the coachman. “Hurry up and go, we will wait for you here so you’ve got nothing to worry about,” he said loudly and without moving from his spot.
Laien, Yin and the others glanced to the side, but with the carriage in the way, they couldn’t see Sirius at all. On the other hand, they could see Kasha who was doing the job of the coachman for the carriage right behind theirs; for some reason, the woman had an amused smirk on her face. Was she thinking that the role of a coachman suited her teacher surprisingly well, or something along those lines? In truth, the way Sirius spoke to them just now was so coachman-like that all of them unwittingly revealed amused smiles; a thousand-year-old, dignified spiritual master finding his calling as a simple coachman. They couldn’t not at least smirk at the ridiculous idea.
“We might as well go,” Jasmine said with a slight smile. “As our head coachman said, there’s little point to us standing here,” she added casually, causing those around her to chuckle a little in addition to the contemptuous snort that came from the front of their carriage. By the looks of it, they had all been thinking along the same lines. Maybe Sirius had really been meant to be a coachman, but he missed his calling and became a doctor?
“Yeah, let’s go and get what we need,” Laien supported with a laugh. He could tell that Sirius wasn’t angry with them yet, but if they kept poking at him he would likely get annoyed soon. “Do we know what we want to buy? Horses for sure, some food too, but are we looking for anything else?” he glanced at Albert and inquired, partially because he wanted to change the subject and partially because he was curious.
At Laien’s words, Albert smiled somewhat awkwardly. “There’s that, but there are also many other things we could find a use for. The problem is that our resources are fairly limited…” he mentioned while scratching the back of his head. The subject of money had never come up in the last two days as none of them, none of those from the village were brash enough to ask such a question. They didn’t want to ask for more from those who were already helping them so much for nothing in return, whereas those helping ones… they hadn’t thought to make this matter clear at all.
Laien laughed lightheartedly, while the others with exception of Johan revealed understanding smiles. After what, to clear the confused looks on Albert’s and Johan’s faces, Laien said straightforwardly. “Money isn’t a problem, it won’t cost much to get those things for you to begin with. Just tell us what you need and leave the rest to us.”
Albeit wide-eyed, Albert managed to resist asking if Laien was being serious. Instead of blurting out a silly question, he thought about the matter calmly and came to the conclusion that to those people, a few hundred or even thousand gold coins might perhaps not be anything great. “Thank you, it will be of a great help to us. I’ll be sure to remember all the help you are giving us and if an opportunity ever arises, I will be sure to pay it back,” he assured politely and bowed his head, his voice filled with genuine gratitude. He had always been of the mind that all good and all evil needed to be repaid in kind, so was the more grateful to this group of people for helping them in their hour of need.
“Sure,” Laien nodded happily. Although he was pretty sure that none of them were helping those villagers because they intended to get something in return, it still felt good for their help to be appreciated. “Well,” he began saying but paused when he saw that Johan stepped closer to him. The eight-year-old looked like he wanted to bring something up, but couldn’t quite force the words out of his mouth.
“What is it?” he asked with a smile. Then, after Johan looked up at him only to look back down at his feet again, he added a bit helplessly. “Just tell me what it’s about, or do you want to stand here like that for the rest of the evening?”
“U-uh…” Johan perked up a little. He wanted to bring this thing up, but he also didn’t want the mood to be spoiled again after it just returned to being good. “It’s just…” he murmured quietly, but then grit his teeth and raised his head. “I was wondering if we couldn’t bring my sister with us after all… I’m sure she’s sorry, I don’t want her to be left there alone…” he explained, making use of all the mental fortitude he had to not look away from Laien while and after saying so.
The request startled Laien a little, but unexpectedly to Johan, it caused him to reveal a gentle smile right afterward. “If she keeps those comments to herself, she can feel free to come. I don’t really mind,” Laien said straightforwardly. He was rather impressed with Johan’s attitude, so there was no way he would refuse this request of his considering that he wasn’t all that angry with Sarah.
“Really?” Johan asked with some disbelief, not having thought that it would be so easy for Laien to change his mind. “Will it be okay?” he asked again, this time shifting his gaze towards Yin. He had gotten an okay from Laien, but if Yin didn’t want her to come then it couldn’t be helped.
“It will be okay,” Yin said with a quiet laugh. In fact, there was no need for Johan to ask him since when Laien gave the answer, he had already considered his feelings about the matter; of course, however, Johan couldn’t possibly have known about it and so he had still come asking with an anxious look on his face.
“Thank you, just wait a bit!” Overjoyed to see that Laien and Yin didn’t mind, Johan hurried back into the carriage with a flushed face.
Laien and Yin both chuckled a little. Compared to two days ago, Johan was already a lot less shy about everything; it made one thing that the boy originally had a very bright and playful personality, but had only turned into someone who couldn’t speak up properly due to how his life had been.
“I would have been worried before…” Reian thought quietly, a slight smile present on his face. He could see the intrigued look in Arslan’s eyes as the boy continued to look at Laien and Yin; it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Arslan was learning from those two and that he saw them as role models for himself. “I guess that’s what Jasmine was speaking about. A parent can only shape his kid so much, while the people and the peers of the kid will inevitably do the rest,” he mused in silence, and even allowed his emotions to unwittingly surface on his face.
As a result, Jasmine smirked just a little when she saw the look on her former pupil’s face. “You didn’t think you’d come to like those two boys, huh?” she asked quietly, controlling her voice with Qi so it would only reach Reian’s ears.
Reian glanced at Jasmine, then let out a sigh and smiled at her. There was no point denying that; he really came to think that those two boys would make good friends for Arslan. He had been pretty doubtful about this escapade in the begging when Mustafa had ordered him to go through with it, but he needed to admit that it was worth the hassle. Not only were those two’s characters very agreeable, their strength and background were absolutely top-class too. Even if he tried, he doubted he would be able to find more fitting youths for Arslan to befriend.
A moment later, Johan got out of the carriage with Sarah following right behind him. The expression of the eight-year-old’s appeared to still contain some worry in it, but more than that it looked happy and relieved. Sarah, on the other hand, had a troubled look on her face and she couldn’t bring herself to look directly at Laien or Yin. It didn’t look like she had any intentions of apologizing, but since it wasn’t what Laien requested of her no one pushed for it to happen either.
“Let’s-…” Laien merely opened his mouth, when a certain man jumped out of the second carriage and began running up to them. Unlike before, the man wasn’t wearing ragged clothes, his beard had been shaved clean and his hair had been cut. The man had also eaten well and rested for two days, but regardless, it was pretty amazing how big of a change he had gone through. Was it not for his blue eyes and characteristic, slim facial features, he would have been unrecognizable. Previously he had looked like nothing else than a wreck of a human, but now he was actually quite handsome, especially in those white-grey clothes which he and the others had received from Reian.
“I apologize for interrupting so suddenly, but don’t you think I could go with you?” the man asked politely after stopping near Laien, Yin and the others. “I couldn’t do anything useful so far, while my children were doing so much. If there happens to be anything I can help with, I would like to do so,” he explained with a somewhat apologetic, timid smile on his face. Paired up with his recovered good looks, this way of asking could stir up the hearts of quite a few women, but in this case, it wasn’t quite the reaction he ended up provoking.
“What did you come here for?” Sarah asked angrily, though she kept her words relatively quiet as she was feeling awkward because of her own clash with Laien and Yin from a few moments ago. “You won’t be able to help with anything or do anything, like always, so just go back there and wait,” she said outright, caring little for her father’s good intentions. So what if he had good intentions? It was impossible to change anything with them alone, as her father had proved countless times.
Despite being berated in this way, Sarah’s father continued smiling amicably, though the smile of his did indeed lose some of its liveness.
“It’s not like you can do all that much either,” Laien commented with a shrug of his shoulders. “I get that you dislike your father, but he seems to want to be of use. Why not give him a chance?” he suggested, opting to take a fairly neutral stance. After all, if it was his own family, then he wouldn’t give up so easily no matter what the other party might have or might not have done.
The look on Sarah’s face turned grim, but she didn’t try to argue with Laien. She was of the mind that no matter what kind of ‘chances’ were given to her father, it would all turn out to be a waste of time nonetheless. Yet, she realized well enough that she was in no position to voice any complaints, so she could only bite her tongue, what she indeed ended up doing.
As for Sarah’s father, whose name Laien had completely forgotten, he kept smiling but didn’t appear to be either happy or sad. He was very much aware of how little he could do and he sympathized with his daughter; he even thought that if he was in her place, he would have also hated himself. He sometimes quietly wished he could be more than a mere martial practitioner of the third rank with no hopes of advancing any further in his lifetime, but he didn’t allow himself to daydream too often. The most he could do was to try and make life simpler for his children… and he had been attempting to do so, to the best of his little ability.
“Okay, enough. Let’s get going,” Laien said with a hint of impatience and looked around, waiting to see if there wouldn’t be more interruptions. Thankfully, it didn’t look like they were going to be delayed again, so Laien contentedly headed towards the wooden gate of the village.
Since they weren’t all that far away from the walls, merely four or five hundred meters, it took them just a few minutes to reach the gate while walking at a leisure pace.
“The guards here sure are leisure,” Reian said with a slight frown. They were already at the gate and they had been standing on the road for quite a while, but no one seemed to have noticed them yet. Compared to the standards of Makarash, the people living here were way too undisciplined. “Wasn’t Ulme Village like that too?” he mused silently, wondering if there wasn’t a reason for the complacency of the people in Eulene. Was it because after the Bloody Dusk, everyone has had enough of fighting and killing and so, the last two months or so had been unnaturally peaceful?
“Don’t you two think so too?” he called out when they were around ten meters away from the gate. “Aren’t you a bit too leisure? Dozing off on duty so badly that you might as well be sleeping. I pity whoever is the one paying your wages,” he added with a laugh, successfully startling the two men awake.
Seeing a group of white-clothed people going through the gates of their village, the two men wanted to shout and curse at them, but they just barely managed to swallow whatever words they had been about to unleash. They might have been dozing off, but it was incredibly rare to see common travelers going around in mostly uniform clothing; a group that all wore white and care little of making fun of them, who else but nobles could they be?
Either way, it just so happened that Laien and Yin both liked to wear clothes that were mainly white, while Sarah and the others were wearing the servant-clothes given to them by Reian. Given that Reian and Jasmine had the pure white clothes of the White Guard, albeit without any sigils, on themselves, their group truly looked like nobles would… and well. The looks weren’t deceitful; with the exception of the villagers, the rest of them were all nobles, and very high-class ones at that.
“Who is now the head of the village?” Reian stopped briefly and asked one of the two men, both of which had fearful looks in their eyes.
“M-makir Turukan, my lord,” the man answered hurriedly and bowed, not daring to as much as look up at Reian’s face. He had been almost sure that this group was one of the nobles before, but now that Reian stood before him he could clearly feel the suffocating pressure of a martial master. He had no doubts that one word or one blow from the man before him would be enough to end his life.
“And where can we find him?” Reian asked without beating around the bush and with his indifferent militaristic attitude on a full display.
“You just need to keep walking forward until you reach the main plaza, my lord. Makir Turukan’s house is the largest one there, with the tiger sigil above the entrance,”
“Tiger?” Reian repeated, the displeasure present in his voice almost causing the poor man to faint. “To think there are still Ikarians who dare to use the sigil of the tiger as their own,” he commented in a rather dangerous tone, but just as the man was about to lose consciousness he turned away and went to join his companions who were waiting a dozen steps away.
Jasmine smiled at the approaching Reian and said with clear amusement. “Let us see who is the fool using a sigil of the tiger for himself. A Makir is a decently high military rank, he really shouldn’t have been so stupid.”
“Hey,” Laien cut in with an intrigued smile on his face. “Aren’t you being a bit too oversensitive about it? It’s not like I saw any of you wearing that thing anyway,” he pointed out curiously. Had someone in the Sarkcente Kingdom dared to use the sigils of the Great Martial Schools, it would have surely developed into an unpleasant situation, but was it the same in Arkaria?
“Because normally we don’t wear it.” Arslan was happy to explain. “If our soldiers wear the sigil, it means they are setting out to fight. The same goes for my father and me,” he said with a smile, happy to be able to tell Laien about something he wasn’t aware of beforehand.
“Huh,” Laien raised his eyebrows a little, but he nodded in understanding right afterward. Although there was something lacking in this explanation, it certainly made enough sense for him not to question it or think about it too much.
“There’s also the second part to it,” Reian said with a laugh. “Makarash is one thing, but it’s often convenient not to reveal our status outside of our home turf. Wouldn’t you agree? It’s not like I see you wearing your black dragon sigil at all,” he mentioned and sent a smirk towards Laien.
A second later, Laien’s expression changed and he laughed at himself. How could he have not thought about something so simple? He must have for some reason assumed that all nobles in the world were the brash and unpleasant types without an ounce of brain, but he should have realized it wasn’t so even without this small exchange right now. “Okay, my bad for being stupid. Let’s go,” he said and laughed at himself again, embarrassed not to have thought about something so simple. He quickly began walking down the road, wanting to avoid being teased over this silly mishap of his.
With a content and unusually warm smile, Reian followed after the three little masters. As they walked, he noticed the wry smile on Jasmine’s face; he looked at her questioningly, but she only chuckled and refused to explain what it was about, thus leaving him wondering.
“That boy, does he even realize it?” Jasmine thought in amusement as she glanced at Reian. This big kid would easily be able to notice and accurately describe Arslan’s personality as one that was extremely slow and reluctant to trust, but could he see that he himself was the same? Yet, just like Arslan, he had warmed up to those two, and to Laien in particular, very quickly and probably without any self-awareness accompanying the process. There truly was something in that boy’s blatantly honest and straightforward attitude that drew people close to him and allowed him to make friends effortlessly; in a sense, he was so very much like Mustafa in his youth… it was truly mysterious.
Meanwhile, as their group was heading down the main road towards the plaza, the two men guarding the gate were still gaping in shock.
“Hey…” one of the men, the one who hadn’t spoken yet, brought up in a clearly terrified voice. “Their talk about the tiger sigil… they couldn’t be...? Or could they?”
The second man gulped down loudly. He had already been awestruck when a Makir was assigned as a leader of their village, but if those people were who he thought they were… then a great storm was about to sweep over their Tuln Village. The White Guard from Makarash…! What kind of concept was that to them, the peasants living in a rural area of Eulene? The difference was like the one between mud and clouds; there simply was no comparison between the two.
“Our leader might change today…” the second man added grimly. Turukan turned out to be a much better head of the village compared to the previous one and even though it had only been two months since he took over, the village was beginning to prosper and grow. If all possible, he wished Turukan could remain at his spot; ah, why did his sigil need to be a tiger…?
“We are drawing quite a bit of attention,” Arslan commented, feeling a little uncomfortable with all the wary looks the villagers were giving them. It was quite different compared to when he had arrived in the City of Palee with his father and everyone; people here seemed to be distrustful of their presence. Was it because they didn’t know who their group was that they were so nervous?
“We are, but I think it’s pretty fun,” Laien said merrily. With his experiences so far, he was more than used to being stared at in various kinds of ways. Thus, with time, instead of getting agitated by what couldn’t be helped he came to see the benefits of those situations instead of just getting annoyed.
“Why?” Arslan asked simplistically. Why was it fun to be stared at by those people like that? Wasn’t it only uncomfortable?
“It’s better to draw attention than to not draw any at all, at least in this case,” Laien said with an amused smile. “It’s easier to establish yourself in a new place and make some reputation for your group if you do draw an attention of any kind. This way, you don’t need to rely on luck nor do you need to stir up trouble on your own to make people interested. The trouble will usually come to you,” he explained, then chuckled when the expression on Arslan’s face changed into one saying ‘Oh, that makes sense!’.
“Stop teaching him bad things,” Yin said with a laugh. Was Laien trying to turn Arslan into as much of a troublemaker as he was himself?
“So you say.” Laien grinned at Yin. “But aren’t you looking forward to the trouble yourself, hm?” he asked wryly; there was no way for Yin to hide his emotions from him, so there was no point lying! He could tell that although Yin preferred to be cautious, he had ended up getting swallowed up by his pace somewhere along the way and now looked forward to their adventures no less than he did.
“True,” Yin agreed a bit helplessly, but with an unchangingly playful smile on his face. “Do we need to corrupt others too, though? Who knows when our luck is going to end and we end up getting into some serious trouble with no way out,” he mentioned half-jokingly, half-seriously and exchanged a meaningful glance with Laien. The incident in the Grand Palace of Palee City was a good example; had they not been extremely fortunate, they could have been enslaved or killed back there. Well, it was also true that they had been extremely unlucky to have Mustafa arrive earlier than planned by a random chance, but they couldn’t rely on everything always going according to their plan.
“No, it’s okay,” Arslan intersected with a calm smile on his face. “I will only get corrupted a little, so don’t worry about me,” he said with apparent seriousness, causing Laien, Yin and everyone else to become a little speechless. Was this little guy trying to be cute? Because if so, then he sure enough was doing a very good job at that, such that all of them couldn’t help but smile at his words.
A few moments later, their group finally arrived at the plaza and soon spotted the building the guards had told them about. Above the entrance, there indeed was a sigil of a tiger along with the sigil of a sword which represented one of the three Houses of Ikarians. However, the former one wasn’t quite what Reian, Jasmine and the rest expected to see.
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
<posts it hurriedly and runs away to write more>
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 74. Makir Turukan.
After having gotten so fired up about the tiger sigil, Reian and Jasmine had quite interesting looks on their faces now that they saw it. On the other hand, the three youths in the front quickly shrugged off their surprise and laughed heartily.
“Well, it is a tiger,” Laien said with a chuckle. “A white tiger, that is,” he added, the corners of his lips curving upwards.
“It shouldn’t matter if it’s a different kind of a tiger, right?” Arslan asked with a smile, turning his gaze toward Reian and Jasmine. The two tigers were pretty similar, but it was like a school with a certain kind of a dragon sigil claiming ownership to all dragon-like sigils. It would be pretty unreasonable, or so Arslan thought about it.
The two White Guards were only able to reveal helpless smiles in reply. It was as those kids thought, there indeed was no point to getting worked up over a different kind of a tiger sigil.
“Quite an unusual group you are,” the voice of a bearded man with a few strands of grey in his hair rang out as the door to the large house opened. “Rala Salar, I welcome you to my village,” the man said amiably, but the look in his eyes and the movements of his body as he walked down the wooden steps betrayed his military background, which by this point had completely seeped into his bones.
Out of those present, Jasmine noticed that most clearly; that man had undoubtedly lived through many bloody battles where his life had been on the line, he wasn’t like those martial masters of the big cities who usually hadn’t seen as much as a drop of their own blood throughout their lives.
“Rala Salar, Makir Turukan,” Reian returned the greeting and nodded slightly. The air about that man was the same as that of battle-hardened White Guards. As a soldier himself, Reian couldn’t but become well-disposed toward such a person. “We’ve come here to buy horses and a few other things, who can we do the trade with?” he proceeded to inquire without making any introductions. Firstly, it would be a pain to explain more about their group and secondly, it wasn’t usual for those of a higher status to introduce themselves without being asked, no matter how good one felt about the other party.
“Will it be a trade on a larger end?” Turukan asked without beating around the bush. He enjoyed the matters of management and wanted to spend his last years of life in peace, but he lacked the sense of a true merchant; just like any soldier would, he didn’t consider what would be afterward and only thought about whether the trade right now was something that required his personal attention or not. If it turned out those people didn’t want to buy much, he would send them to his assistant and that was it.
Reian considered the answer for a second, then said with a slight smile. “By the standards of this village, it should be a fairly large trade.”
“Mhm,” Turukan nodded, taking no offense to Reian’s words at all. If he hadn’t been asking with his village’s standards in mind, then what would be the point? It could be a small exchange to those people, but if it was large to him, then it was all that mattered. “Do you want to see the goods first, or will you trust my words and complete the trade in my house?” he asked, once again showing how non-merchant-like his approach was.
“Inside your house will be fine,” Reian replied with a smile, happy to avoid the boring process of walking around and inspecting all the goods one by one. He might not have been so trusting of a merchant, but he doubted that someone with the air of a true warrior about him would step so low as to deceive others for profit. All in all, he found Turukan’s attitude extremely satisfactory.
“Come in then,” Turukan said calmly. “My living room is big enough to fit you all inside. Do you want something to eat and drink to be prepared for you?” he asked, unintentionally having done something even an experienced merchant would find impressive. Compared to leading his customers around, inviting them to one’s own house to eat while doing trade would undoubtedly lead to the creation of a much better long-lasting relationship!
Alas, Turukan had no such thoughts when he made the offer. As a soldier, food was one of the major things he tended to be concerned with in his life; he knew how it felt not to have enough food to eat one’s fill when a war dragged out, so he had become very fond of tasty food in his old age. To him, it would be unthinkable not to offer at least some supper to any guests who came to his house.
“How about it?” Reian asked the three youths in front of him. He didn’t mind making decisions about the trade on his own, but he preferred to leave the choices like this one to the kids.
“I don’t mind.”
Laien and Arslan said one after another, while Yin opted to stay quiet as he didn’t care either way. Thus, a decision was quickly made.
As this quick exchange played out, a look of surprise appeared in Turukan’s eyes. Would they have refused his invitation had those small guys not been in the mood? He had half-expected those three to be some important small masters, but he didn’t think they had the last word within their group. Still, he didn’t comment on his observation and led the group into his house.
“Uncle!” A youth that seemed to be around ten years old ran downstairs, but he quickly came to a halt when he noticed that Turukan was being accompanied by a large group of important-looking people. A moment later, a slightly older boy also ran down the stairs in quick steps, but he also just as suddenly as the younger boy.
“Good timing,” Turukan said with a light laugh. “Deliver the message to the women for me. I want a large meal to be prepared quickly and sent to the living room,” he instructed straightforwardly, but without giving the details. He trusted that his nephews and the women would be able to work them out on their own, so he didn’t bother to waste his breath on useless rambling.
“Yes, uncle,” the older of the boys replied without delay, bowed his head a little and quickly dragged his cousin back upstairs.
While Laien, Yin and the other three from Makarash spared only a glance at the two boys, the four from Ulme Village appeared to be rather restless as they walked through the relatively long corridor. They had tried not to show their anxiety outside, but they couldn’t help being nervous when inside the house of a powerful Ikarian; regardless of their will, it brought back too many bad memories. However, since they were accompanying the bunch of unnaturally powerful experts into this Ikarian house, they were somehow able to prevent the stress from showing on their faces too much. They were certain that were something to happen, Reian and Jasmine would be able to easily handle it.
“You can sit on this side,” Turukan said when they arrived in the spacious and surprisingly bright living room on the other side of the building. He pointed at one side of the long table with his finger, caring little about the etiquette, then headed to sit down himself without waiting for his guests.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it took the group of nine no time at all to choose their seats. Laien sat down directly in front of Turukan, Arslan sat on his right side with Reian and Jasmine placing themselves further to the right, while Yin sat to his left with Johan, Albert, Sarah and Jacob sitting further down in the same direction. Sure enough, it wasn’t hard to guess how the hierarchy in this group of theirs looked from how the three youths were sitting, though the later parts were a bit misleading. For example, it was easy to come into a misconception about Johan’s standing in the group.
“I suggest we finalize the trade before the meal comes,” Turukan said calmly, keeping his gaze directed towards Reian. He was aware that it likely; no, that it certainly wasn’t Reian who was leading this group, but he suspected the trade would be overseen by him and so he didn’t bother to awkwardly ask for permission from those three small ones. In the end, no matter how high status of a child was, he would feel strange asking a small boy for instructions.
“Agreed.” Reian nodded with a smile. “First things first, how many horses and of what quality do you have for sale?” he inquired without beating around the bush.
Turukan revealed a slight smile, pleased that Reian was getting straight to the matter without wasting words for worthless pleasantries. “I have quite a few horses, actually. There are over one thousand average ones that are healthy and not yet old, around one hundred of such that I would describe them as fairly good and about ten good ones. As for those of higher quality, there’s none of them for sale,” he stated simply, seeing no reason to divulge the details.
After Turukan finished speaking, but before Reian could reply, Arslan brought up a question. “You have those of higher quality, but you won’t sell them? Why?” he asked, honestly curious about the reason. He could guess a few of them on his own, but he still wanted to hear the actual explanation.
Perhaps because he noticed the lack of malicious intent behind Arslan’s inquiry, the face of Turukan’s which had begun stiffening relaxed once again. “As you’ve probably heard, the spring had been turbulent in Eulene. When I came here, I fully expected the horses this village rears to be gone and as I thought, most of them were nowhere to be found. The horses we have now are the ones I collected during my active duty and the ones I bought from my friends before leaving the army. The mares and steeds of high quality need time to be bred so that I’m not left with nothing after selling them. The soonest I can sell you the best of my horses will be in two years at the least,” he explained calmly, taking on a similar attitude to when one of his many nephews asked him a question.
“I understand now, thank you,” Arslan said with a bring smile and nodded politely, causing the expression on Turukan’s face to soften even further.
Seeing this little scene, Reian couldn’t resist smiling. “We will take sixty of those fairly good ones. Following that, if you have carriages suitable to be pulled by either one or two horses, I would take sixty of them,” he went ahead and named the second thing they wanted to purchase, seeing no reason for someone who sells horses to not have any carriages in stock.
“Low quality, medium-quality?” Turukan asked in response. “I have those of high-quality too, but only twenty-three of them, though you could get your hands on a few more if you asked around the village,” he elaborated with a quiet laugh and gave Arslan a glance. This time there was no need to ask for an additional explanation, hopefully?
“The medium-quality ones will be fine,” Reian said contentedly. They wouldn’t be stingy with their money when aiding the people of Ulme Village, but there was no reason for them to be wasteful either. Providing things of fair quality for them and giving them a chance to start anew was what he saw as a sensible thing to do, at least in comparison to not giving them anything or showering them with gold and acting like some great person just to boost one’s own ego.
“Anything else?” Turukan asked, very pleased to see that the trade was going quickly and without any trouble alongside. He didn’t like bargaining the prices either, so he very much welcomed Reian’s attitude of not bringing up the gold coins on each step; quietly, he decided to give him a nice discount.
“Yes.” Reian nodded slightly. “Provisions for those sixty horses and for three hundred people that are going to last two years,” he said a bit resignedly, already guessing that this part would be the most troublesome given the events from the spring. It was unlikely that the field and the farm animals had been tended to properly, so the prices would react accordingly.
Turukan raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t inquire why they were buying provisions only now and not when they had set out from wherever they came from. “It’s going to cost you a lot more than normal to buy this much food at this time. Will that be fine with you?” he asked openly. As a Makir he had had an opportunity to purchase enough provisions for his village not to have any trouble lasting for the next three years in case of any unforeseen events, but it was unlikely for any other village in the area to be willing to sell as much food as Reian was demanding. After all, it was quite rare for someone of his position to be overseeing a village personally and even living in it.
“Yes, it’s not a problem,” Reian confirmed without haggling for a few coins. With his strength, he could easily earn money in many ways, not to mention how filthy rich Makarash was to being with.
People in Arkaria even tended to joke, albeit with some resentment, that what was a fortune in the world, was maybe just barely enough to buy a small house on the outskirts of the City of Makarash. The main problem with that ‘joke’ was that in truth, its content was quite close to reality. The Grand Yimarate of Makarash alone was wealthy enough to contend with the three Great Trading Guilds; just like its military prowess, its economic prosperity was no joke.
“Fine then,” Turukan smiled contentedly. He suspected that a portion of the rations he had brought would have gone to waste the moment food prices fell, so he was in fact quite happy to be able to sell some of it at a high price. When buying them, he couldn’t know when the situation would calm down, but the last two months had been incredibly peaceful and he suspected that the farmers would fill the marker with new goods soon enough. He wasn’t a merchant, but he had enough brain to know simple things like that just due to how long he had lived and how much he had seen.
“Is that all?” he asked, seeing how Reian wasn’t mentioning anything else and didn’t appear to be pondering anything.
“There should be a few more things…” Reian said with a smile and turned his gaze toward Albert. If the youth wanted to get those things he mentioned to him, then the time to speak was now.
“There are a few more,” Albert said with relative calmness, only betraying a slight nervousness in his voice and body language. “They are all profession-specific things though, like the equipment of a herbalist, of a carpenter, of a smith. Do you have such things for sale, Makir?” he inquired in a polite way, but thanks to his young age his behavior was quickly written off by Turukan as normal nervousness while facing someone older and stronger in a trade.
“I don’t have them,” Turukan admitted straightforwardly. “But I know who in the village has them for sale. I can lead you around to buy those things today, after the meal, or leave it for tomorrow morning when the meeting of the Elders will take place,” he explained and looked at Albert with an implicit question in his eyes.
Albert, although he felt a bit nervous, was more than capable of controlling his nerves and so he replied with a smile without much of a delay. “We wanted to conclude the trade today, so I’d prefer that option.”
Once again, feeling glad that he didn’t need to endure worthless pleasantries, Turukan nodded contentedly .“We shall do it like that, then,” he said, then smiled when he saw the dinner coming towards them through the corridor in the hands of his nieces and sisters-in-law.
“For now, let us enjoy eating something delicious!” he said loudly and laughed out loud, much to everyone’s surprise showing quite some excitement over a simple meal.
“Oh, no wonder he was so calm,” Jasmine mused quietly as she looked at the approaching women and girls. The women were only wearing a piece of white cloth to cover their hair, while the girls that were even as old as twelve or thirteen years old weren’t covering themselves in any additional way. Turukan’s approach to the Malazan faith seemed to be on the secular side, so as long as he was also a good person at heart, then he should have no trouble accommodating to the standards of Makarash, or so Jasmine assumed.
“Wow, that smells good,” Laien exclaimed in genuine surprise when the first large plates were uncovered. He had eaten well for the most of his life, especially during his two years at the Red Dragon School, but he needed to admit that this meal was absolutely top-notch even in comparison to the best delicacies he had had!
“Pretty impressive,” Reian seconded. He could tell the ingredients used to prepare this meal weren’t all that extravagant, yet thanks to the way they had been prepared and seasoned one couldn’t help but droll, mainly due to the delicious smell which quickly filled the living room.
Turukan smiled widely and laughed again. “Eat your fill, there’s enough food for everyone to enjoy,” he encouraged, happy to see that his noble guests were impressed with the table the women had set up for them. After all, without good food, life would be all bleak and boring! And what better way was there to enjoy a meal than with a bunch of people who could appreciate its deliciousness?
As more and more dishes made their way onto the table in the hands of the women and girls, the empty plates for everybody also began arriving. By a unanimous agreement, a young but fully-grown woman set up the plates for the three adults amongst the guest, a somewhat younger girl that looked to be around fifteen or sixteen years old served the teenagers, while a girl around twelve years old tended to the youngest four of the guests. With the flatware being placed in front of them, the four youths waited impatiently while salivating uncontrollably, but the particular behavior of one of them ended up attracting some additional attention.
Whether it was on purpose or not, it was hard to say, but youngest of the girls not only had disheveled hair but also was wearing a shirt that looked to be a size too big for her. Moreover, the shirt of hers was unbuttoned at the top, what resulted in her adolescent cleavage being in the plain view every time as she leaned forward to place the flatware down at the sides of the plates. The girl herself appeared to be completely oblivious to the fact though as she concentrated to not do any mistakes while performing the task she wasn’t used to doing.
Out of the four boys, Laien and Yin took notice of this fact, but they weren’t all that perturbed by it or interested in looking. Johan was too anxious to even look away from the table, nor was he interested in such things yet, so he didn’t react in any specific way. Finally, however, Arslan couldn’t resist snaking long and quite obvious glances at the girl’s chest, all the while trying to keep a straight and innocent expression on his flushed-red face. By all means, it appeared to be the first time for Arslan to be seeing a scene of this kind, so he was extremely curious and eager to sneak a few looks.
“Amina, are you trying to find a younger husband for yourself?” Turukan asked wryly, not at all angered by what was going on. As far as he was concerned, it would be only a good fortune for this niece of his if she managed to accidentally seduce a small master of a significant background.
The twelve years old girl and Arslan exclaimed one after another. The blush on Arslan’s face deepened as he quickly turned his gaze away, whereas the meaning of Turukan’s words occurred to Amina only after a few more seconds passed; what in consequence resulted in her abruptly grabbing the top of her shirt with her hand as her face grew bright red. Embarrassed beyond belief, she quickly placed the last fork and knife at Yin’s plate with one hand, then very much like a scared cat she hurriedly ran out of the living room.
A few breaths worth of time later, Turukan laughed merrily, very much amused by the little, unexpected event. The rest of the girls and women present weren’t disturbed by what happened either, so the atmosphere in the room turned more lighthearted than heavy. Laien, Yin and the others were similarly amused, perhaps with the exception of Sarah who not counting Arslan, was the only one without a smile on her face.
“I-I’m sorry,” Arslan said quietly, feeling that he did something improper. He raised his head hesitatingly, his face burning hot from embarrassment, but when he saw the amiable smile on Turukan’s face, he calmed down considerably and secretly breathed with relief. “Uu, and I told them I would only get corrupted a little…” he thought helplessly, unsure whether he should laugh or cry. Were those two really having such a big influence on him, or was he always like that and he simply hadn’t realized it back then? He didn’t even know if he should hope for the latter to be true or not.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Turukan said with a laugh. “In fact, as long as you promise to treat her well, I don’t mind Amina to you to become your wife. All those girls need to find good husbands sooner or later, so what difference does it make if it’s a little sooner?” he said teasingly, but were it to really happen like that, then he truly wouldn’t mind it at all.
“I…! Uwa, I, um…” Arslan mumbled, the idea of marrying some girl he didn’t know at all causing him to grow quite scared and nervous. “I don’t think I’m ready for a marriage yet… sorry…” he apologized seriously, and in fact so seriously that everyone couldn’t help but laugh or chuckle.
“Okay, enough, enough,” Turukan said with a smile. “Let us eat before everything gets cold,” he suggested happily, his originally not-so-good mood from the afternoon having turned almost one hundred and eighty degrees. What was the point worrying about the things he couldn’t influence anyway? He would act like he always had and try his best to make everything good for everyone, no more, no less.
In this manner, the feasting began and lasted for a surprisingly long time. The stomachs of high-ranked martial practitioners and of marital masters were nearly insatiable and with how good the food was, there wasn’t one person who didn’t wish to enjoy some more of it. Especially given that Laien, Yin, Reian and Jasmine had all been deprived of home-cooking for at least a few months each, they all welcomed the incoming dishes with open arms.
As the landlord, Turukan wasn’t one bit stingy about bringing out more and more delicacies, so what was supposed to be a simple supper turned out to be a long dinner to which many young members of Turukan’s family joined midway. Those youths included Amina, who this time had a less revealing shirt on herself but couldn’t help blushing every time she looked in Arslan’s direction. As it seemed, the idea of having a younger husband and leaving the village with him no longer seemed so crazy to her, albeit just thinking about it caused her to grow incredibly ashamed of herself. It was all because of what her uncle said…!
“Say,” Turukan brought up at one point, just when it was beginning to grow dark outside. “How about you stay over for the night?” he suggested, seeing as it wasn’t only he, but also the youths of his family who had taken a great liking to those guests of his. He had said it jokingly before, but he came to a point where he was seriously considering sending off a few of his nieces with the three of those young boys who were sitting right in front of him.
Faced with this question, Laien, Yin and Arslan exchanged a few glances amongst themselves. Without saying a word, they understood that none of them minded doing as Turukan suggested, but at the same time, they felt it would be a bit bad for them to make this decision alone. As such, they all turned to look at Reian and Jasmine and sent the two of them inquiring looks.
As a result, Reian and Jasmine sighed a little. If just the atmosphere was to be considered, they wouldn’t have had anything against staying, but it wasn’t so simple. As high-ranked White Guards, they understood Mustafa well enough to guess what was going to happen in the Faren Yimarate in the following days. Originally, it wouldn’t have been much of a concern for them, but after what they had done in the Ulme Village, they couldn’t easily maintain neutrality anymore.
“How about that,” Jasmine spoke up. “Let us finish the trade first, then we can decide if we are going to stay or not,” she proposed, not wanting to spoil the mood by arguing against the idea. She knew that she was only delaying the inevitable, but she was willing to take the bet that if nothing happened for the rest of the day, then the night would also turn out relatively peaceful.
“Well, fine,” Laien agreed after a moment of consideration. He had guessed the reason for Reian and Jasmine’s hesitation with a fair degree of accuracy and he agreed in his heart that it was best to avoid unpleasant developments. Turukan and his family seemed like nice people, so causing them trouble and putting them in an awkward position was the last thing he wished to do.
“Hmm,” Turukan scratched his beard, then nodded in agreement. He wasn’t one to pry into the reasons of the other party; he was also perceptive enough to have noticed that despite how it would seem, it were those three youths, and that black-haired one in particular, who was in charge of their group. Thus, he doubted the hesitation came from a reason akin to the guardians of those small masters seeing the girls of this household as unfit to become spouses of their pupils.
Surprisingly enough, despite being a bona fide warrior, Turukan possessed quite a few key traits any successful merchant needed to have… but so far, even the man himself wasn’t quite aware of it.
“Come,” Turukan said as he stood up from his seat. “We shall get the business done, then you can feel free to stay with us for the night or not, depending on your mood,” he suggested compromisingly, giving his guests some leeway in case they wanted to refuse his offer later on. He was, of course, hopeful to actually send off at least two or three of his younger nieces as spouses, but he wouldn’t force the matters in this direction. As he saw it, those girls simply wouldn’t be happy anyway if they got married only because their partners got coerced into that choice.
Glad to see Turukan not insisting nor inquiring about their reasons, Laien and everyone else got up. Then, after exchanging a few words with the youths of Turukan’s family, they headed out to buy the things Albert was looking to obtain for the sake of his fellow villagers.
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Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 75. The Weight of a Name.
“It’s quite lively around here,” Laien pointed out after they left the house. Unlike an hour ago, the plaza was filled with people who were chatting, eating and drinking at the many tables which had apparently been set up in the meanwhile with exactly this activity in mind. “There are women and girls too,” he noted to himself and smiled slightly. The majority of women were just like the ones in Turukan’s house, wearing but a light piece of cloth over their hair, while the younger girls wore no additional covering. There were a few women in Jirans, but they were mainly gathered into their own circles and weren’t as omnipresent as in the City of Palee.
“It’s because of the custom I picked up during my days in the army,” Turukan glanced at Laien and explained with a smile. “After the day of hard work, it’s always nice to gather with your friends and have some fun in a large group, even if only for short period of time. It caught on quickly when introduced, so now it’s like this pretty much every evening,” he elaborated, predicting that either Laien or Arslan would ask him to do so either way, just like a few other times before that.
“Huuuh.” Laien tilted his head a little. This village had around fifty thousand residents, no? Considering that at the first glance there were around two thousand people gathered here, the custom really got quite popular and remained as such. “Doesn’t it get boring if you party every day?” he asked, finding this phenomenon rather curious. If it really made people happy, then maybe he could try suggesting something similar when he returns to Neil City?
“As I said, most people don’t stay for long,” Turukan reminded patiently. “Half an hour or so is how much time most of us spend here. And before you ask, you should also keep in mind that we aren’t in a large city but in a village. The community here is tighter than in the cities and there’s less to do than in the cities. That’s why I thought the custom of the soldiers would acclimate well here,” he explained in detail, then sighed a little. His nephews and nieces were still not too used to him and thus didn’t tend to pester him much, but these boys didn’t fear him one whit and kept nagging him with questions all the time; sure, he was doing the explanations on his own by this point, but it was still giving him a headache. In the long run, dealing with children wasn’t his cup of tea at all.
“I guess it won’t work then,” Laien mused aloud, confirming what Turukan had suspected; he really would have asked for a further explanation.
“Oh, there they are,” Turukan said with a smile, though for some reason the corners of his mouth fell a fair bit afterward. “All the important guys at one table. You should be able to buy what you need all at once,” he mentioned while glancing at Albert, then gestured the group of nine to follow him toward the somewhat lone table that was occupied by over a dozen men.
As they were following Turukan through the central plaza, Laien and the others naturally attracted quite a few curious gazes from the villagers. Everyone wondered what their reason for meeting with Makir Turukan was; was it something trivial, or maybe something that would impact the village as a whole? Given that the news of a caravan staying near the walls had also spread, and given that it was automatically assumed to be a caravan of those white-clothed nobles, most villagers leaned towards the former option. However, there were still some people who were wishing for something interesting to happen, as the past two months had been almost unbearably boring.
“You’ve brought some important people over, boy,” one of the older men stood up and greeted Turukan and his companions with a smile. He nodded slightly at Turukan, then shifted his gaze towards the three youths in the front and the two white-clothed adults right behind them. “Rala Salar,” he said respectfully and bowed in an old-fashioned, formal way with one hand behind his back and the other at his chest.
“Old Rakar,” Turukan laughed with a slight smile and shook his head a little. “Since when did you turn into a polite person? Are you that intimidated by our guests?” he asked, his smile turning rather wry. He was more than happy to poke fun at this annoying old man and additionally, he understood the temperament of his guests well enough to know they wouldn’t be angered by the lack of formality or some jokes here and there. Nobility may they be, those guys were one of the most likable nobles he had met so far in his life; certainly enough, they were much better than those haughty superiors he had ordering him around back in the army.
“Hmph.” Rakar snorted unhappily at Turukan’s provocation. “This little spurt, if you want to act so high and mighty, then hurry up and give me my great-grandchildren! It’s been three months already and my granddaughter still isn’t expecting! Are you impotent or something?” he retorted, causing both Turukan and his own companions at the table to groan inwardly.
“Don’t you already have grandchildren down into six generations…?” Turukan asked helplessly, wondering why was this old man so stubborn about this one thing. Had he known that Rakar would pester him so much, he wouldn’t have bedded that girl… alas, now it was too late to regret anything. “Forget it, it was my bad for picking up a fight. We are here to buy a few things from you and your friends,” he said with a sigh, trying to change the subject to a more comfortable one.
“Oh?” Rakar raised an eyebrow. “There’s something those exalted guests of ours need from this little village? That’s surprising, I must say.”
Hearing the way Rakar spoke, Turukan couldn’t help but frown. “Again, what’s up with you, old man? Are you going senile? There’s no need to be so stiff…” he said with a slight smile, then laughed inwardly. Those boys had told his nephews and nieces the same thing during the dinner, so as he saw it there truly was no need for the stiff formalities; he had never been fond of such things anyway, so he welcomed the lighthearted attitude of those three and of their guardians.
“You…” Rakar’s face grew stiff at first, but the next moment a smirk of ridicule appeared on it. “Don’t tell me you really are that much of a blockhead? Don’t you realize who those people are?” he asked, not quite sure if he should be amused or worried because of this situation.
“What do you mean by that?” Turukan asked, honestly confused by Rakar’s behavior. He sneaked a glance at the three youths who stood to his side and wondered; was there something he had missed? He never asked anything else than their names and he didn’t inquire about their background, but since those small masters didn’t bring it up on their own it couldn’t be all that important of a thing to them, right?
“You know who we are?” Laien threw his question in, asking with an amused smile on his face. Even Sarah, Albert and the rest of the people from Ulme Village hadn’t figured anything out, but this old man realized their identity right after seeing them for the first time?
“I wouldn’t claim that I know all of you,” Rakar responded with a laugh and a smile, although if one paid attention he would notice the trace of nervousness in his voice. “I happened to hear that you’ve been angry about Turukan’s sigil from the gate guards, but it doesn’t seem like you are anymore. The old me also happened to learn that the Grand Yimar Mustafa had come to our Yimarate with his son, who should be just about five years old… There are also those news edicts being sent out throughout the land, so I suspect the Capital City and a few other places will be in quite some turmoil for the next weeks…” he explained unhurriedly, presenting his speculations in as polite of a way as he could manage.
“If the guess of this old me is correct, then you little master should be Arslan, the son of our new sovereign,” he said amiably, towards the end shifting his gaze toward Arslan and bowing his head respectfully. Having been alive for over two centuries already, he knew a good deal of things about the world; for example, he was aware that those of Makarash usually would wear white, elegant clothes without any sigils on them. Adding this fact on top of his other suspicions, he was about ninety percent sure that he wasn’t wrong in his assumption.
“Well then.” Laien chuckled and glanced at Arslan out of the corner of his eye. “I guess that’s it for the incognito part of the trip?” he asked, causing those who were doubtful of Rakar’s wild claims to blank out for a good few seconds.
“So it seems,” Arslan said with a nod. “I’m sorry for not introducing myself properly either, but it’s easier to talk to people like that,” he said simply and gave Turukan a half-apologetic glance, then left it at that. He simply didn’t feel much of a need to do any formal introductions at this point; as he saw it, it would be nothing but awkward for him to suddenly start acting in a different way just because his identity had been revealed. He wanted everything to remain as it was up till this point.
“M-Mustafa’s…!” Unexpectedly, Turukan started to look looked like he was about to cough up a mouthful of blood. “The Ferocious Tiger General’s son…!” he coughed the words up, then swallowed heavily as he recalled the way he had been teasing Arslan about marrying his niece. As an experienced soldier, there was little that could cause him to feel the true fear, but there was one person in Arkaria of whom he was absolutely terrified; and it was Mustafa! In his youth, he had the misfortune of participating on the wrong side of a battle between the Grand Yimar Ashur and the Grand Yimar Mustafa and for many years after that battle, he had been suffering nightmares non-stop, each and every night!
“And I wanted to wed my niece with the only son of this man…” Turukan laughed soundlessly. Were it not for his strong cultivation base and the sturdy mentality he had developed over the centuries of service, he would likely have fainted on the spot. How could he have been so blind and thoughtless? All he wished for was to enjoy his remaining years in peace, he didn’t want to get involved with anyone related to that terrifying man!
“Um,” Arslan scratched the back of his head awkwardly, seeing as in contrast to those men at the table and those villagers around, Turukan’s face was turning more and more deathly-white. “You don’t need to be so nervous, you know?” he pointed out amidst the clamor and smiled slightly. Was there really a need for Turukan to be so scared? They had been getting along well enough so far, so why was he acting like his life was under threat? Was he so scared him…? Or rather, of his father’s name?
“I, it’s… yeah,” Turukan responded not quite cohesively, but it was the most he could manage at the moment. Unlike those of Tuln Village, who were more excited than anything else to have the son of Mustafa paying them a visit, he couldn’t help being terrified. Mustafa was the best sovereign imaginable for those who agreed with him and did as he wanted… but for everyone else, he was the scariest nightmare in the world. That was why when the new laws had arrived in the early afternoon, he had grown so anxious despite knowing that Tuln Village shouldn’t attract Mustafa’s attention for any of the wrong reasons; in fact, it was probably one of the few places in Eulene governed in a similar fashion to Makarash… though that could make Mustafa look at it with more curiosity, what also was caused him some fear and worry.
In response to Turukan’s half-hearted reaction, Arslan let out a little sigh. It was already bad enough in Makarash, but he thought it would be different here, in Eulene. Laien and Yin weren’t scared of him at all, for example, nor were those villagers. Yet, when looking at Turukan, or even Johan and Albert, not to mention Sarah, he saw the same cautious fear and doubt lingering in their eyes to which he had gotten used to back in Makarash. Still, despite being used to people looking at him in this way, he absolutely hated those looks in their eyes; it would always be extremely boring and annoying to talk with them, be it adults, youths or children. He hated how they would all try their best to please and not to offend him, how they would pick their words carefully each time. He could bear dealing with them if needed, but he would never become friends with such people.
“Maybe we should have lied about who I am?” he wondered quietly, not quite sure what to say to make things better. He didn’t care about Turukan at all and he cared little about Albert or Sarah, but he kinda wanted to become friends with Johan. He could instinctively tell that Laien and Yin were rather special and he knew they weren’t treating him as ‘Mustafa’s son’ but as ‘Arslan’ from the very beginning, whereas Johan was more of a normal kid. He also knew that Laien and Yin would sooner or later go their own way… and he wanted to learn how to make friends on his own, to then perhaps make some when he would return to Makarash in a few years. He didn’t want to lead the life of a loner; and for the sake of that goal, he wanted to try and get along with Johan, too.
“Why are you so scared of me?” he asked, glancing in Turukan’s direction. It wasn’t that he was particularly concerned about the man’s reasons, but he thought that his answer could help him figure out why it was so hard to deal with those who knew of his father’s name.
“Why, you ask…” Turukan said weakly, appearing like a pitiful dog that had been kicked out of the house and into the rain. “Small master Arslan, have you heard of the Battle of Kiridan?” he asked, then seeing the confused look on Arslan’s face, added. “Perhaps the name ‘Battle of the Tiger and a Cat’ is more familiar to your ears?” he inquired and as expected, a look of realization appeared on Arslan’s young face.
Arslan was very young, true, but he had studied quite a lot; he had only forgotten about the official name because even his teachers rarely used it to describe those events, instead using the many other mocking names which had sprung up like mushrooms after the humiliating battle.
“You were one of those who survived the Kiridan?” Jasmine asked in surprise. “Were you there for the last battle, or did you desert with the others on the way?” she asked, both her smile and her words brimming with an amused competitiveness. In her heart, she had long since come to view Makarash and its people as her family; the glory of the Grand Yimarate and of Mustafa was an important thing to her! Especially since she had been one of the commanders in that battle.
“…” Turukan felt like digging up a hole and hiding in it, but he forced himself to reply. “I was one of the idiots who stayed for the last battle. I assume you were one of the squadron leaders who committed the harassment campaign on our way to Kiridan?” he asked, guessing well enough why a question of this kind came from this woman who gave of the aura of a dual practitioner.
“Mhm,” Jasmine confirmed with a slight nod. The battle of Kiridan was one of the more amusing battles she had gone through.
“Harassment campaign?” Laien asked, the mention of the battle piquing his curiosity. He had always liked to talk about the matters of warfare, it was just that he hadn’t had many opportunities to do so lately. He should have brought up this subject much earlier with Jasmine, or with Sirius! Those two old ones surely had many interesting stories to tell.
“It’s a long story,” Jasmine said with a smile. “But in short words, it were four large units of spiritual masters that numbered around one thousand men each, one of which was under my command, using hit-and-run tactics to attack the invading army of the Grand Yimar Ashur. The young idiot thought he could win against Mustafa in a clash just because he had some insignificant numerical advantage, how did a man so stupid become a Grand Yimar?” she explained and pointed out mockingly; in Makarash, the Grand Yimar Ashur was a popular object of mockery up until this day.
“Insignificant…” Turukan repeated with a helpless laugh. “The Grand Yimar Ashur mobilized one hundred thousand of his personal elites, four hundred thousand regular soldiers and five hundred thousand mercenaries. It was a grand army of one million against your eighty thousand White Guards, how can you call that an insignificant numerical advantage?” he asked, not sure if he should laugh or cry. The people of Makarash were all so incredibly arrogant, he had no words for it!
“But it was, wasn’t it?” Jasmine rebutted with a devilish smile. “By the time you guys reached the first city beyond our border, Kiridan, you had only three hundred thousand left of that original million. We killed just around one hundred thousand with our Grand Spells, while the rest ran with their tails under their legs,” she said with a laugh, to what Turukan couldn’t respond at all.
In the end, that was the truth! Turukan hadn’t been able to comprehend it back then, but he did now understand why Mustafa’s old rival, the Grand Yimar Abdain had refused to take any part in that battle. The might of Makarash had simply been too overwhelming even back then. Maybe if both the Grand Yimar Ashur and the Grand Yimar Abdain had committed all of their forces to an all-out war, then they would have garnered a just around fifty-fifty chance of obtaining a pyrrhic victory. However, would the crafty Abdain ever consider such an option to be a valid one? Of course not! Thus, he had stayed his hand and allowed the young man to make a complete fool out of himself. As such, the battle that would later come to be known as a contest between the Tiger and a Cat happened.
“And how did the battle itself go?” Laien asked again, appearing to be quite impatient in his eagerness to learn the details.
“A slaughter,” Turukan said bitterly. “It couldn’t even be called a battle. From what I know, it’s now being described along the lines of a pillow being skewered by multiple sharp scimitars. As one of those who had seen this struggle from the most horrifying point of view, I assure you, this description doesn’t do justice to how overwhelming of a victory it had been for the Grand Yimar Mustafa and his Captain Commander, Kundar… and the many monstrously strong officers and warriors under their command,” he explained and laughed at himself inwardly. How could he have been so stupid in his youth to seriously consider beating the elite forces of Makarash with some rag-tag of an army led by an inexperienced commander? The fact he had survived the massacre was nothing short of fool’s luck as he ended up close to the Grand Yimar Ashur’s camp during the struggle and ended up being spared as one of the last few hundred people who were left alive.
“So the White Guard was that strong?” Laien half-stated half-asked, then glanced at Jasmine and Reian. He had already known that Mustafa was a monster, but were all the subordinates of his similarly abnormal? If so, then the degree of the military might of Arkaria far surpassed what was thought about it in the south…!
“It was, and it is,” Reian said proudly, clearly aware that this little conversation of their became an object of attention of many villagers around them. “Our Grand Yimar and Captain-Commander are especially monstrous. They both are exceptionally talented not only as practitioners, but they are geniuses of war seen only once every ten millennia! To expect a crude attempt to attack us like the one from back then to end in anything but a total annihilation is a folly,” he exclaimed, causing many awestruck voices to be raised from all around. The might of Makarash was known to all and as it seemed, it wouldn’t diminish in the slightest for as long as those two people led that Grand Yimarate!
While the looks on Laien and Arslan’s faces grew excited, Turukan could only cough dryly. For some reason, he had a feeling that he would once again dream of that battle tonight.
“So,” Arslan turned his eyes to Turukan once again. “You are scared of me because you were one of the soldiers who lost a battle to my father? But it’s not like you did anything bad, so why? Even if for some reason I told my father to kill you, he would have asked for a reason and would have tried to confirm it before acting,” he attempted to explain with a slight smile on his face… but very much unlike what he expected to see, Turukan’s jaw trembled and his expression turned grim once again.
“Eeeh? Did I say something wrong again?” Arslan asked himself rather helplessly. He really couldn’t understand adult people.
At this little scene, Laien couldn’t help but chortle while Yin, Reian and Jasmine couldn’t stop themselves from revealing wry smiles. They would probably need to explain it to Arslan later, else Turukan would end up truly miserable was the situation to end up with him needing to elaborate on the reasons of his fear again and again in front of the people from his village.
“Ekhm,” Rakar coughed, attempting to get everyone’s attention. “There was something about things you wanted to buy, no?” he asked, looking directly at Albert. “How about you come over to the side and…” he began saying but stopped mid-sentence, his gaze shifting toward Jacob. He didn’t look at the man in the beginning as the man had little presence, but now that he took a proper look he came to have a feeling that he had seen him somewhere before. It was just… he couldn’t quite recall where or when it had been.
“Ah, that’s right!” he said out of the blue, startling everyone a little. “You are the husband of that herbalist! You’ve changed so much I almost didn’t recognize you. Is your wife with the caravan? I would love to thank her again for helping my granddaughter with the delivery all those years ago. How long has it been, twelve, thirteen years?” he asked, feeling genuinely happy to see Jacob.
“A bit longer than that,” Jacob said with a smile. “It’s already been sixteen years since you barraged into our home in the middle of the night. I remember well because it was just a day after our daughter was born. Diane, really was so stubborn, she was so weak herself but she didn’t even mention it and rushed out with you without a second thought,” her recalled melancholically, his smile turning into a sad, longing one. Every time he thought about his wife, he was amazed by how incredible of a woman she had been. He even often wondered what she had seen in someone like him… he should have asked her when he still had the chance.
“Are you speaking the truth?” Rakar asked, genuinely surprised by this piece of information. “She said something about just having had her first child… to think I never noticed anything! Could that daughter we are speaking about be this lady here? Now that I look at her, I can see a clear resemblance,” he said amiably, his voice containing true, unacted warmth. Had it not been for that herbalist’s help, his granddaughter and his grandson could have both very well died that night.
“The things you want to buy,” Rakar brought up, turning his gaze back to Jacob and failing to notice the coldness in Sarah’s eyes and the tightly clenched fists of hers, perhaps because he didn’t expect to see such things and thus wasn’t as wary as usual. “As long as it’s in reasonable amounts, we will give them to you for free. Your wife refused to hear anything about it and insisted on a normal payment, but I consider what she did for us to be a blood debt. I’m aware those little gifts won’t come close to repaying it, but please accept it,”
“What blood debt…” Sarah murmured with helpless anger, but she grit her teeth and said nothing else. It had been quite a shock for her to learn that that little boy was Mustafa’s son, but she had heard Ikarians in her village chat about Makarash in unflattering words. Thus, despite being on-guard, she could deal with this news with relative ease. However, this all-nice conversation of her useless father with that two-faced old man caused her to want to shout and yell. Had it not been for the fact that it wasn’t only her fate that rested on her shoulders, she would have already told Rakar what she thinks of him and his worthless words.
“Is something wrong, little lady?” Rakar asked, having just about heard the words Sarah said under her nose. Moreover, since he was already looking at her, he wouldn’t fail to notice the obvious hints that gave away how angry Sarah was.
“No, it’s nothing,” Sarah denied quickly and shook her head, though her teeth and her fists remained clenched tightly.
“You think you can lie to the old me?” Rakar asked amicably and smiled at Sarah. “I’m not a blockhead like that leader of our village. You are traveling with Mustafa’s son and I don’t see any Ikarians from Ulme Village with you. What happened? If the old me can help, I will do what I can,”
“… There’s nothing you need to, or can do,” Sarah said emotionlessly. “As for paying off your blood debt to my mother, it’s too late for that. Those bastards had already killed her six years ago. Shows how much you cared for your ‘blood debt’,” she said with a snort but avoided much of an eye-contact with Rakar. She knew she shouldn’t even be saying those things given her circumstance, but she couldn’t help herself; she was too frustrated to remain silent.
Hearing Sarah’s words, Rakar and many of the other villagers revealed complicated looks on their faces. They were simple people with only the old Rakar being a martial master of the first rank; even though their village was medium-sized, it wasn’t all that strong… and even if it was, then what? Most of them shared the same view that they should coexist peacefully with those of other races and faiths, but they couldn’t possibly stick their necks out for the sake of strangers. In case of Ulme Village, it was even worse as the place had been occupied by multiple strong experts; how could they have done anything? They were sympathetic but helpless.
At this very moment, when the plaza became somewhat quieter due to the strange atmosphere, the sounds of a horseman making his way through the main street reached everyone’s ears. The sound of the hooves became more and more clear until finally, a young man’s yell resounded.
“Ulme Village, Ulme Village has been destroyed! Everybody’s dead! They were all frozen to death!”
The first instant, almost everyone in the plaza was overcome with shock. Then, increasingly more people began connecting the dots and they all began sending cautious, sometimes terrified gazes toward Arslan and his group. The ones responsible for the destruction of Ulme Village, they were probably them, right?
“The best for his own, the worst for everyone else...” Turukan said quietly, a cold shiver running down his spine.
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edited November 2017
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 76. Light and Darkness
“Huh,” Laien raised his eyebrows a little. “I thought it would be worse, but all there is in the air is nervousness and wariness… Yin is feeling the same thing. It’s not that those people are too scared to attack us; they aren’t even thinking of doing so,” he noted quietly, truth to be told feeling very pleasantly surprised. This Tuln Village wasn’t bad; compared to what he had seen in Ulme Village, this place was infinitely better.
“Ulme Village, Ulme Village was…!”
As the youth on the horse kept shouting, Turukan frowned and shouted back at him. “We’ve heard already, won’t you shut the hell up?!”
The young man almost bit off his own tongue when Turukan reprimanded him. He grimaced, the metallic taste of blood spreading within his mouth.
“Are you the ones responsible for that?” Turukan asked loudly and bluntly as he looked at Reian. He was a brave warrior, but even he didn’t have the guts to directly question Mustafa’s son. Thus, he settled for the second best option; this situation needed to be clarified properly to avoid trouble.
“Yes.” To Turukan’s surprise, it was Laien who answered the question. “We killed their experts, then I killed the rest of them. The only ones from Ulme Village who are alive are with our caravan,” Laien explained without getting agitated whatsoever. In fact, he spoke the words so calmly that many of those listening to him felt a fright; how could a boy so young speak so casually about killing thousands of people? And what did he meant that specifically he killed the rest of them?
“Ulme Village was frozen,” the youth on horseback said, the tone of his words betraying his anger. “I’m a martial practitioner of the eighth rank, but I was barely able to get down there and not die. I saw it with my own two eyes, all the villagers were frozen to death! All of them, elderly, women, children and babies! You think that’s the justice?” the youth questioned. He was aware of the terrible things the experts of Ulme Village liked to do; in fact, it could be said that he had a personal grudge against them as one of his cousins had been deemed ‘apostate’ by them and thus became a target of their sick hunting game. However, killing everyone without regard for their sin…! That was too much!
While the youth spoke, the people in the plaza were conflicted. That rash kid didn’t know who he was speaking to, but they shared his sentiment and thus, no one stopped him from finishing his words. It was the same for Turukan; although he had seen a lot in his three centuries of service as a mercenary and later on, as a soldier, he couldn’t easily accept laying waste to a whole village.
“What else was I supposed to do?” Laien asked loudly, using just a little of his Qi to carry his voice further. “Was I supposed to only find the ones who deserved death and killed them alone? And how would you even judge that? Is someone who allows another to be killed unjustly deserving death if he could have changed the outcome, but chose to not act? Is someone who taught his child that it’s fine to kill those he doesn’t like deserving death or not? Also, suppose I didn’t kill them all, suppose I set some bottom line and let all the kids three years old and younger off. What do you think they would have done after growing up and learning what happened to their families? Do you believe they would have agreed their relatives were bad people and left it at that? Of course not, they would have sought revenge!” he spoke calmly and fluently, find it very easy to articulate his thoughts on this matter as it was something he had thought about often during the past few months.
“As I recall, someone once said; being benevolent to others is being cruel to yourself,” he added with a rather helpless smirk. He didn’t care what others thought about him or his actions; as long as he could protect his family and friends from harm, he would be happy enough with that much.
The young man who challenged Laien, the well over three thousand villagers at the plaza, Rakar and his companions, even Turukan; they were all speechless. None of them had expected a young boy to actually articulate his reasons with a cool-headed and with the use of pragmatic arguments. As those who governed themselves in a fashion very much similar to Makarash, they could understand the rule of zero tolerance for the descent.
“Let me clarify one thing,” Turukan brought up with a frown, one thing that Laien said nudging him strongly. “You said you were the one who killed the common villagers. Does that mean you are the one who gave the order? Do you have the highest authority in your group?” he asked, enacting two very different responses. On one hand, Laien merely smiled at him, appearing quite amused, whereas on the other hand Rakar and the people of Tuln village gasped for breath. Did they not just learn that the youngest of those boys was Arslan, the Grand Yimar Mustafa’s only son? Then, how could another young boy possibly have a status higher than that?
“I didn’t give the order, but I made the choice and acted upon it,” Laien explained and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t like the idea of putting the responsibility for what I did on others, so let me make it clear. I was the one who used ice magic to destroy Ulme Village. Whether you believe me or not is up to you,” he declared straightforwardly and without a hint of remorse. Then, he revealed a pleased smile for some inexplicable reason, causing all the hair on Turukan’s body to shiver.
Little did Turukan know that Laien wasn’t threatening him, but was actually very happy to sense a change occur within his soul.
“It really does look like Compassion is a double-edged sword,” Laien mused, his eyes half-closed as he looked upon the now four complete orbs of essence that rotated slowly in the very center of his soul. The completion of the Aspect of Compassion might not have increased his battle capacity by much, but it should have further enhanced his healing abilities.
“Makir Turukan,” Rakar broke the period of silence, speaking with a slight smile on his face. “Don’t you think it’s a good opportunity to make the announcement?” he suggested to Turukan, then looked Laien in the eye. With Turukan guarding the village, perhaps it was the time for the old him to make himself useful one last time before his longevity came to an end.
“Yes…” Turukan nodded in agreement. He closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath; he wasn’t used to speaking to crowds, so he needed a moment to collect his thoughts. “As all of you know, the Grand Yimar Mustafa arrived in our Yimarate,” he began saying, sweeping everyone with his gaze. “According to the edict we received a few hours ago, from today onwards the law of land shall be that of Makarash. I trust we won’t need to make many adjustments at all to our lives… but the region might become unstable once again. Thus!” he raised his voice and added more Qi to it, intending to make the best out of the current situation.
“Ulme Village shall serve as an example of what happens to those who don’t follow the new law. Spread the news, make sure that everyone in the region knows what it means to oppose the rule of the Ferocious Tiger General!” he roared, coming close to shattering the nearby windows through the vibration his voice caused. Since the person he feared most in the world was taking over and he had even come across his son, then there was only one choice to be made! And that was to support Mustafa’s new rule enthusiastically.
Although it took a second or two for the villagers to understand what was happening when they realized how their lived would change from this point onwards they were all greatly pleased. At first, it was only a few brave individuals who began cheering, but then more and more people joined until finally, the whole plaza was roaring, causing the windows of all the nearby houses to tremble dangerously despite no Qi being used. They all cried out Mustafa’s name, the name of Makarash, the name of Arslan… curiously enough, there were few who called out to their God.
“Whoa, that changed fast,” Laien pointed out, baffled to see how the crowd of people that had been weary and even angry with them turned into a supportive mob in seconds. He had experienced how hard it was to deal with unreasonable people during his ‘trial’ a few months ago, but he didn’t think it was possible for such a drastic shift in the mood to occur almost instantly.
“The crowd mentality is a scary thing,” Jasmine stepped closed and said with a smile. “People will act on emotion in large crowds, make sure to remember that. You can address their reason when they are calm, but if you truly want to move them, you must always stir their emotion! This village here was similar to those villages in Makarash to being with, thus they welcomed what you did in Ulme Village and they are happy for change Mustafa brings. However, they were reluctant to voice those opinions due to fear of being ostracized by the other villages. That’s the same reason why they didn’t act to help others despite thinking that what was happening was wrong,” she explained, making sure that her voice reached the ears of not only Laien but also Arslan and Yin. As she saw it, this piece of knowledge should be very useful to those three youths further on in their lives, given that the three of them were bound to live in the large world and deal with the great things.
Laien listened attentively, and so did the other two youths at his side. For Arslan it was a bit too fast to completely understand and put Jasmine’s advice into action, Yin cared little for such things, but as for Laien, he felt enlightened. It was as if the pieces of knowledge he had already acquired all magically clicked together and created one whole. He revealed a broad smile and nodded gratefully, welcoming this piece of information with open arms and fully intending to make use of it in the future.
“Let us finish the trade,” Turukan suggested, glancing at Reian. After receiving a confirmation, he looked at the three youths and inquired. “I trust you will accept my invitation to stay for the night? I will see to it that that people in your caravan receive a warm meal before the nightfall, so you needn’t worry about your companions sleeping in bad conditions.” he offered, now that had calmed down entirely seeing it as a precious opportunity to make friends with Mustafa’s son.
“Hmm,” Laien tilted his head, not sure what to do. He exchanged a look with Yin, then with Arslan and finally said, “Why not. Let us stay for the night in your house.”
“Great!” Turukan exclaimed but then coughed in embarrassment, thinking that he had gotten a bit too excited. “Old Rakar, do your part with our friend here too,” he urged, guessing it was going to take those two a fair bit longer since they didn’t have the details talked out yet.
“Yes, I will do just that,” Rakar confirmed with a slight smile. “However, let me exchange a few words with this youth here first…” he mentioned, his eyes moving towards Laien.
“With me?” Laien asked. “Well, go ahead. I’m waiting to hear what you have to say,” he said with a smile, thinking that it would be an unnecessary bother to move to the side for this small exchange.
Rakar laughed heartily in response to Laien’s calm, almost dismissing attitude. “This boy skillfully dodged the question about being the leader of his group, but seeing his attitude I can’t bring myself to think otherwise. Really, who is he to be able to stand above Mustafa’s son?” he wondered quietly, though he didn’t ponder for long and started speaking soon afterward.
“You heard me mentioning my blood debt to that herbalist woman and as you can see, I failed to repay it. There isn’t much time the old me has left, maybe three or four years at most, Though I may not like it, I feel it. I’ve already done all there is for my family, so I think it’s time for me to pay my last debt off… I want to ask you to allow me to accompany you on your journey with the family of that herbalist. Who knows, maybe I will find a chance to settle that old gratitude.”
In face of such a straightforward request, Laien couldn’t do anything else but agree. “If that’s what you want, then your help is welcome,” he said calmly. He could tell Rakar was a martial master of the first rank and while he no longer saw this level of cultivation as anything amazing, he wouldn’t refuse help from someone as strong as that for no reason.
“I’m happy to hear that,” Rakar said with a smile, then glanced at Albert and willingly or not, saw the not-too-pleased expression on Sarah’s face. Yes, given how that girl acted, she would never have agreed to receive help from him… and that was the second reason why he came asking Laien and not her. She could despise him all she wanted; all he wished to be able to do was to die with his heart at peace and to do that, he needed to pay back the last blood debt he had.
“Before we complete this trade,” Albert brought up in a little troubled of a voice. He didn’t want to divert from the subject again, but… uh, well, yes. He indeed wanted to divert from the subject again. Thus, he gave Turukan an apologetic look and proceeded to say. “I think it would be a good idea for me and Sarah to return to the carriages and sleep there. It’s not that I look down on your hospitability, Makir, but I think it would be better this way for all of us.”
Turukan understood the reasons for Albert’s words pretty quickly. “Do as you like,” he agreed easily, being of the same mind as this youth who spoke to him. There was no need to risk any unpleasant events during the night and there was also no need to force this girl to stay at a place where she would feel uncomfortable.
At this point, Sarah no longer thought of complaining about having Johan stay with Laien and the other two. She was frustrated about so many things that, to be honest, all this frustration began turning into apathy, at least towards the matter of decision-making. Being angry at what Laien and Yin were doing with each other? Getting anxious about having the child of one of the most influential Ikarians as Johan’s friend? Once again, getting angry at having some two-faced Ikarian claiming to want to help them, or getting angry with Laien for agreeing to that without asking her? Screw it all. She couldn’t do anything about any of those things, so she could as well resign herself to watching passively as everything would develop while hoping for the best.
“So… do we go back?” Arslan asked, seeing how Albert engaged in trade, or rather in a one-sided mentioning of what he needed. Reian and Turukan had simply said the price and exchanged items through their interspatial rings, so they were already done; there was no need to wait for them.
“Wouldn’t that be a pity?” Laien asked with a cheeky smile. “Aren’t there many stalls with food around here? They all smell pretty nice. I want to taste them,” he said merrily and licked his lips. It truly has been some time since he had eaten so much good food, he couldn’t let this opportunity go to waste, could he?
“You are still going to eat?!” Arslan blurted out in disbelief. Didn’t Laien just finish eating enough food to fill five grown men at Turukan’s place not even half an hour ago? He still hadn’t had enough?
“I could eat some more too,” Yin supported with a chuckle. He might have eaten just as much as Laien, but his physique was pretty different to that of a normal human. Since on top of that, he was at the ninth mortal realm, he could keep eating for a truly long time before he would become unable to swallow another bite.
Arslan turned to look at Yin, his mouth hanging open a little. He himself was full beyond belief, but those two still wanted to eat! Were their stomachs bottomless pits or something? He had never seen anyone eat so much before…! Still, he could imagine martial masters eating as much if he wanted to recover more quickly after an injury, but he didn’t think anyone so young could be such a glutton! And there was two of them!
Turukan just about as surprised as Arslan, but instead of dwelling on it for long he simply laughed in amusement. “Good, good. Youngsters should eat a lot and train a lot! Go dine as you will, everything is on me,” he said with a smile, very much content to see the boys enjoy themselves.
“I will stick to watching,” Arslan said and smiled helplessly. He wouldn’t feel like eating anything until tomorrow, so there was no way he was joining Laien and Yin on this food tour.
“Me too, I’m full,” Johan said a bit timidly, but when the other three youths looked at him, he smiled at them and in particular, looked Arslan in the eye. He had gotten quite nervous when he learned who Arslan was, but he didn’t want to be scared of him just because of that. He wanted to be friends with Laien and Yin no matter what others, be it some random people or someone as close to him as his older sister, said. Similarly, he didn’t want to care about big and complicated things related to Arslan; he wanted to be his friend, regardless of what Arslan’s background was.
No words were exchanged in that moment, but Arslan’s mood instantly brightened up. He could tell there no longer was the same nervousness and wariness in Johan’s eyes; sure, Johan unchangingly appeared to be on the nervous and shy side, but he wasn’t scared of him anymore. With the biggest obstacle out of their way, they should be able to get along just well! The only problem was, he again didn’t know how did it all happen! There was no other option but to ask Johan later, eh?
“A good day,” Laien mused aloud, then headed toward the closest stalls that were beginning to liven up.
“Grand Yimar, please, no!” Yimar Sharu pleaded, his whole body shivering in fear. “I beg you! I promise on the name of Rala, I will serve you faithfully…! I beg you…!” he repeated the pleas, his voice echoing in the underground catacombs below the Grand Palace of the City of Palee.
Yet, the pleas feel deaf on Mustafa’s ears as he thrust out with the palm of his hand, skewering Yimar Sharu’s stomach with utter ease despite the toughness of the body of a martial master of the fifth rank. Paying no attention to Yimar Sharu’s pitiful groans, Mustafa roused his Qi and filled Yimar Sharu’s innards with it. He coiled his Qi around Yimar Sharu’s Qi Origin, which slipped away the moment Sharu’s stomach was pierced through, then with some effort, he shattered it.
The scream Yimar Sharu let out was closer to that of a dying beast or to that of a pig being skewered. The physical pain of having one’s cultivation crippled at the level of a martial master was one thing, but the psychological torture was a whole another thing. The moment his Qi Origin shattered, Yimar Sharu understood that he was as good as dead; he was worthless without his Qi. Within hours, the remnant energy within his body would dissipate and he would be reduced to the level of a martial practitioner of the seventh or eighth rank. Then, was he somehow not to be killed the next day by Mustafa, he would begin aging rapidly until his body withered and he became an old man. He would die of old age in half a year at most. That was the terrible fate awaiting those who had lived beyond the age of a normal person but had their cultivation crippled.
“I do not need the loyalty of a dog who isn’t faithful to any master…” Mustafa said disdainfully, his voice emotionless and cold. He yanked his forearm out of Yimar Sharu’s stomach, sending the man tumbling down onto the stone floor of his cell. “Patch him up and send him to sleep. I want him to be alive for the execution tomorrow morning,” he ordered, shaking off the blood and innards off his clothes with the aid of his wind-element Qi. He looked around at the rest of the prisoners that were either being crippled or put unconscious, then cursed furiously and headed up, back to the Grand Palace.
Minutes later, he emerged through one of the secret pathways, making his way directly into the main section of the Grand Palace where Yimar Sharu used to live.
“Did you catch them?” he asked the moment one of the officers of his White Guard, who had apparently waited for him to come, came into his view.
“Forgive me, my lord…” the white-clothed man with a sigil of a roaring tiger on top of his heart lowered his head. “We killed a few of those who lagged behind, but most of them escaped into the Guode Yimarate. We were obstructed by the men of Yimar Maar’s, we had no numbers to fight them,” he explained, feeling great shame at having failed the task entrusted to him by Mustafa. If they had only been a bit faster in moving, or in taking action! It felt like those accused traitors were always half a step ahead of their movements, like they knew who, how, where and at what numbers they would attack and attempt to kill or capture. However, it was all not an excuse, so he remained silent.
Mustafa cursed in his heart. He had taken one thousand of his elite White Guard, leaving the remaining nine thousand elites to guard Makarash under Kundar’s orders, but this decision came back to bite him in the ass. He had been predicting a slow and steady struggle for influence in Eulene, so he hadn’t worried much; hell, even in the current circumstances everything shouldn’t have been all that troublesome to deal with! Yet, not only had he received the news that Yimar Maar mobilized all his experts as if he was expecting a military clash with him, but a large portion of the top experts of Palee City had somehow escaped the city fled to Yimar Maar’s protection! He shouldn’t have waited to weed them out to the last one, he should have killed them all without making distinctions!
“What of my son?” he asked after taking a deep breath. There was no point in him getting angry at his officers; he could only blame himself for not being careful enough. His White Guard was well-trained, well-coordinated and it was many times more powerful than in the past. Just the fact that in the very beginning of his rule, White Guard numbered over one hundred thousand whereas nowadays, it was limited to ten thousand members showed how harsh the selection was. As long as the plans were good and the balance of strength was adequate, he was confident in the ability of his White Guard to complete any task given to them.
“From what reports say, he got involved in helping Euleanians… and destroyed a small Ikarian village two days ago,” the man reported. They had received this piece of news long ago, but Mustafa had ordered them not to bother him unless his son was in danger, so he doubted Mustafa knew anything.
“Ho? They wiped out a whole village?” Mustafa asked, his lips curving into a smile for the first time this day. “They were more decisive than I was. I guess they will also end up better off, hah. Good, we can make use of that to calm the rural regions down. It will make some things easier and will spare us the hassle of making an example out of some village,” he said with a laugh. No matter how it had played out, it was a good experience for Arslan to have. It really had been the correct choice for him to give in to Arslan’s requests and let him go with those two boys.
“My lord, there is one problem though,” the man added, then proceeded to explain without further delay when the expression on Mustafa’s face changed. “We’ve discovered that the village, Ulme Village, had been entirely frozen by a powerful ice-element spell. The reports say that judging by the aftermath, only a spiritual master of the fifth rank and above would be able to use such magic. The problem is, we aren’t aware of a person like that being in the little master’s company.”
Hearing his subordinate say so, Mustafa frowned heavily. “Fifth rank by normal standards, or by our standards?” he asked and when the man confirmed that it was the latter one, the frown on his face deepened. He would still be inclined to believe it had been Laien’s job had the level been around that of a normal spiritual master’s of the third rank or so, but for a twelve-year-old to display the might of an elite spiritual master of the fifth rank… it was inconvincible to the point of being on the verge of, no, not on the verge of; it was entirely beyond ridiculous.
“We have no information of that master at all? No guesses?” Mustafa asked, though was met with his subordinate shaking his head sternly. “But they are going forward to Ruishi Federation like they were planning to?” he inquired and only after receiving confirmation of that did he relax somewhat.
“We shall leave the matter of this mysterious expert for later… there won’t be further changes to the plan. Early morning, executions. Then, I want you to command the pacification of the Banxi Yimarate. Those who surrender will be spared, everyone else shall be executed. The usual rules.”
“It shall be done, my lord,” the man responded with a smile. This task would be a perfect opportunity for him to redeem himself; he would see to it being carried out perfectly.
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Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 77. Blood Debt.
“I finally made it,” Zakar muttered, looking at the mighty walls of the Fortress-City of Masalle, the second largest city in the Faren Yimarate. “If I got my hands on a better horse, I would have crossed those four thousand kilometers faster,” he thought restlessly. He had no time to waste; he didn’t know if those people who destroyed his village and killed everyone in it were following those Euleanian infidels or not and even if they were, a few days was more than enough to get out of the country. Be it toward the Ruishi Federation, the Anarchic Lands or the port city of Kaen; if they intended to flee, they might have already gone beyond their reach.
“I hope Furi is in the city,” Zakar said anxiously, but quickly stopped this train of thought when the unrestrained aura of the gate guards reached him. He hadn’t thought much of it when he saw a few dozen people guarding the gate since the Fortress-City of Masalle had an army nearly as powerful as the Capital City of Palee, but it definitely wasn’t normal for so many martial and spiritual masters to be assigned to mere gate-guarding duty! He could tell that each and every one of those men was considerably stronger than him too; just what was going on for the city to be on such a high guard?
“Halt!” one of the guards walked to the front and blocked Zakar’s way. “By Yimar Furi’s orders, no unaffiliated Realm of Heroes experts are allowed into the city. Identify yourself or leave,” the guard stated, his tone neither aggressive nor subservient.
The look in Zakar’s eyes hardened, his worries growing considerably. Would his old friend even be able to help him out? It looked like whatever was happening, it was something of great importance. “That should be enough,” he said impatiently and produced a golden insignia, on which engraved was an image of a crow that had a blood-red ruby as its eye.
The guard in front flinched nervously. The number of people who had the ruby-gold insignia of Yimar Furi’s could be counted on one hand. Someone like him couldn’t afford to offend any of those important personas! “My lord, if you require I’m assistance, just say a word,” he assured hurriedly. There were many different kinds of people in the world, amongst whom were those who would bear a grudge for the slightest offense. Just in case, it was better to be careful than to end up dead later.
“Take me to Yimar Furi,” Zakar said straightforwardly. To his relief, the man bowed hurriedly and led the way; it looked like his old friend was here, at the very least.
Ten minutes or so later, Zakar entered the Grand Palace and after getting off the horse was led directly to Yimar Furi’s private chambers by another guard. Thankfully, he his old friend had forced him to take this ruby-gold insignia of highest-authority back then. According to that palace guard, were it not for that he wouldn’t have been let into the ongoing council meeting.
“As I thought, something important must be happening,” Zakar murmured, then pushed the large black door decorated with many golden ornaments open. Immediately, he fell short of breath as a powerful pressure washed over him; the eleven people inside must have been not too pleased with this sudden disruption, thus their reaction. Because there were some people with shorter tempers in the luxurious chamber, the aura emitted by them was mixed with a dose of killing intent that honestly caused him to go weak at the knees. Of those present, the weakest was a martial master of the third rank while the strongest seemed to be a dual expert with both martial and spiritual cultivation at the level of the fifth Realm of Heroes. To him, the pressure released by all those people was almost unbearable.
“Wait, Zakar?” the man dressed in black and gold asked in disbelief, then smiled and laughed merrily, causing the other ten men to quickly withdraw their auras. “What happened? You always refused when I invited you to come and live at my place,” he inquired, the smile quickly disappearing from his face. He knew Zakar’s personality well enough; he wouldn’t have randomly come to visit him unless absolutely necessary. That could only mean something terrible had happened or was about to happen.
“I didn’t think I would ever do that, my old friend.” Zakar closed the door and walked deeper into the room. “Forgive me, I told you I wouldn’t… but I’m here to take you at your word,” he forced himself to say. He truly didn’t want to do that as he never thought about those old events between friends as anything worthy of a blood debt, but he didn’t have a choice this time around.
“Is he talking about…?” the ten experts, amongst whom four had gold sewed into their black clothes, wondered about the same thing. Was this strange man in dark cloak speaking about a Blood Debt? Was it possible for Yimar Furi to actually have an unpaid Blood Debt to someone?
“Do not ask me for forgiveness,” Yimar Furi shook his head. He stood up from the carpet and looked Zakar in the eye, then put his right hand on Zakar’s shoulder. “I told you, you saved us all back then. We didn’t listen to you, but you still came back to save us! Tell me what it is you need, I will do everything in my power to help you,” he said sincerely, not planning to go back on his word.
“Thank you, my friend,” Zakar said in a breaking voice. With Furi’s help, he believed he would be able to avenge his family.
“Now, sit down and tell me what happened,” Yimar Furi insisted, unhesitatingly pushing the original subject of the meeting off for later.
“No need, it’s not a long story,” Zakar said while shaking his head. Then, he explained the events of two days ago in brief words; how his eldest son was most likely killed, how the experts of Ulme Village disappeared, likely killed by that group of people. How an ice-element spell laid waste to the village and how his friends were killed by that terrifying cluster of shadows.
By the time Zakar finished speaking, the look on Yimar Furi’s face turned dark and murderous. The ten men present in the room also grew angry, partially due to being infuriated by the knowledge that someone had committed an atrocity of this degree and partially because their leader was angry.
“You are telling me you saw them, though from a large distance,” Yimar Furi brought up, restraining his anger in order to find out as much as he could. “Did you notice what kind of clothes they were wearing? Anything of importance?”
“It was too far away,” Zakar replied bitterly. “The only thing I could tell… I think there were some kids amongst them. Those in the front were all dressed mostly in white, but that’s the extent of what I saw,” he explained with his eyes closed and his forehead furrowed as he tried his best to recall the scene. Perhaps he should have taken the time to search the hill by the village to see if there weren’t any traces left there? Still, he doubted he would have found anything relevant.
Yimar Furi clicked his tongue. This much information wasn’t nearly enough; he could naturally tell that the cluster of shadows Zakar described was most likely a member of the Guild of Shadows, but he wouldn’t be able to tell who the rest of those people, including that ice-wielding spiritual master were. “The only option is to find those traitors and their caravan and get them to speak. Guards!” he mused, the yelled with the aid of his Qi. A second later, the two guards who had been standing at the door entered and immediately fell to their knees.
“Ulme Village in the south-eastern part of the Yimarate was destroyed two days ago at dawn by an ice-element spiritual master of fourth, fifth rank or above. All the villagers were frozen to death, multiple martial masters had been killed before that. A group of a few hundred Euleanians from that village should have moved out at that time. They might be traveling with those responsible, but they certainly know how those responsible look, perhaps who they are. In case you locate the experts in question, they are not to engage with them alone! Send the orders, I want Kashim and Skar and their thousand-man companies searching for them right now! Tell them they can use all the intelligence resources and money needed to perform the search.”
“Yes, Yimar!” the two guards responded in unison. They stood up, then ran out of the room to deliver the orders; they had never seen their master so agitated before, so they dare not delay.
“Furi,” one of the men wearing black and gold spoke up. “Are you sure we shouldn’t consult the White Guards stationed here before we take any action? With how the situation between Mustafa and Maar is, I don’t think it will be appreciated of us to act independently,” he pointed out, worrying that even if Mustafa didn’t punish them immediately out of convenience, he would do so afterward.
“It doesn’t matter,” Yimar Furi replied without hesitation. “If he gets angry with me, so be it. We can’t allow devils of this kind to go unpunished. Mustafa should share the same opinion on this matter,” he said somewhat dismissingly but ended up frowning a little. “Fine, Kuu, go and inform our guests of what we are doing. If they want, they may send a request for permission to Mustafa, but we won’t wait for it to make its way back before we start acting,” he said calmly, attempting to find an appropriate middle ground. He wanted to do all in his power to help Zakar, but he didn’t want to sacrifice all the men who followed him for all those years if it wasn’t the only option.
“I will excuse myself then.” The man clothed in black and gold, Kuu, smiled slightly and left the room, his steps calm and unhurried.
Yimar Furi took a deep breath. He was brimming with fury deep inside, but he also knew there was little point to him letting it out at this point in time. Not only would he cause his companions to grow distressed, but Zakar wouldn’t appreciate a pointless gesture like that either. “Old friend, I doubt you would agree to sleep if I told you to, so take a seat. We were discussing how to go about enacting the new laws by Mustafa’s edict,” he suggested, slowly beginning to regain his calm. He could have ended the meeting prematurely, but he thought it would be better for both him and Zakar to take their thoughts off Ulme Village for the time being.
“Yeah,” Zakar agreed at first, but he stopped after taking one step. “Tell me where your baths are. I spent one night in the forest and two days on horseback, I must stink,” he said with a weak smile. The image of those nine men sitting on the carpet, their exquisite clothes and their neat appearances made him realize how uncomfortable it would be for them to smell him the whole time. Those people would be the ones helping him kill that cluster of shadows and the ice-element spiritual master; it was better if he kept their opinion of him at a decently high level.
Yimar Furi was startled. He was calmer by now, but he was still too agitated to have considered the option of sending his friend to the bath. He could only nod, knowing not whether he should be amazed by how cool-headed Zakar was or worried how dejected he had become.
“How long are you guys planning to keep hiding there?” Laien asked with a laugh, glancing in the direction of the door to the room Turukan had placed the four of them in. “Are you scared all of the sudden?” he asked, seeing as none of those behind the door came in or made any sound.
“I wouldn’t call it ‘all of the sudden’,” Yin said teasingly. “They heard about Ulme Village, so of course they are all a bit wary,” he added with a chuckle, displaying little to no if any sympathy for those villagers killed by Laien.
Yet, this casual attitude of Laien and Yin’s made the youths behind the door relax considerably. The few of them exchanged glances with each other, then entered on the tips of their toes and without making any hasty movements as if scared of provoking a beast into leaping on them.
“Is it true?” the oldest of the three boys present, the usually cheerful eleven-year-old asked quietly. “You used magic to kill thousands of people in Ulme Village?” he inquired in a secretive tone, making it look like he was asking Laien to share some kind of a great secret with him.
“It’s true,” Laien confirmed from atop the bed. “You should have heard what I told your father and everyone, no?” he asked and received nods of confirmation from the five youths.
“If our parents were bad people…” the eleven-year-old brought up bravely. “Would you have killed them and us too?” he asked the question, which was immediately followed by the atmosphere in the room becoming heavy. The adults might have accepted that what was done was done, but children always thought and asked about things anyone else would keep his mouth shut about.
“Who knows?” Laien asked with a little smirk but laughed soon afterward when he saw the expressions of the five turn rather scared. “I don’t think there’s much of a point to think about that. If your parents were some other people, you wouldn’t be who you are now either,” he said with a calm smile, being both honest and a little misleading at the same time.
The five youths took a moment to think about what Laien told them. They had never thought about themselves like that… so if their father had some other wives, they would have never been born? Instead, some other children would be there instead of them? It was a bit scary. However, this new point of view allowed them to discard their worries. They assumed it was just like Laien was saying; since their parents were good people, there was no point worrying about some ‘what ifs’.
“We were stupid to be scared,” the twelve years old girl, Amina said with a timid smile and a blush on her face. “There is no way little master Arslan would be friends with evil people…” she added, making the reason for her flushed face clear enough.
“Look, she’s hitting on you,” Laien commented frivolously, causing Arslan to grow more embarrassed than he had already been due to Amina’s unexpected comment.
“The first love huh? How cute,” Yin joined the teasing too. He usually wouldn’t have done so, but he was in a mood for some fooling around at the moment.
“You shouldn’t tease him about it too much…” Johan brought up shyly, but contrary to his intentions, he made Arslan and the girl feel all the more ashamed.
As the older friends of Arslan’s kept poking fun at him, Amina and the other four relaxed thoroughly, the last lingering bits of fear dissipating from within their minds and hearts. They had joked around and played with Laien and the rest at the dinner, so why were they getting all scared now? Instead of doing that, they would rather make the best of this night and play with them!
With the atmosphere brightened up, the group of youths went ahead and spent the first half of the night chatting, laughing and playing games, and… drinking a little bit of wine. As for what kind of games happened before they all went to sleep, the nine youths agreed not to mention it to anyone. They might not have gone far enough for it to bring any real trouble, but they preferred to keep the events of this night between themselves, leaving them as a little dream, a little secret of theirs.
At the same time when the nine youths were sleeping soundly in Turukan’s house, just an hour or so after the dawn, a bird brought a certain message to the City of Masalle. The servant who received it quickly took a look at the piece of paper he withdrew from the interspatial ring on the leg of the bird; the message wasn’t confidential, so he unrolled the piece of paper and read it.
“The Ulme Village was… by… no!” The servant just so happened to be on the bright side, as most people employed by Yimar Furi. Just like most people in the city, he had heard about the big search for those responsible for the destruction of Ulme Village. Additionally, he had just so happened to have been serving Yimar Furi for a long time, so he understood Yimar’s disposition nearly as well as his close aides. Because of that, he hesitated; should he destroy this message?
He thought about it but discarded the idea almost immediately. Yimar Furi would have learned the news sooner or later; he wouldn’t have made much of a difference and all he would get would be an early death for himself and his family. He had no doubt Yimar Furi would have been absolutely furious with him had he concealed this letter, thus he stopped thinking about things servant shouldn’t be thinking about and ran to his master’s private chambers as fast as he could.
Only later would this servant find out that just after he left, yet another bird came flying, this time carrying a message from Palee City, a message from Mustafa.
Regardless, it was just a few minutes later when Yimar Furi received the message from the servant and read it aloud to his ten companions and Zakar.
The moment he finished, the room fell into an utter chaos as the ten aides of his began voicing their opinions and talking one after another.
“How could Mustafa’s son have allowed this to happen?”
“Do you really think it’s weird? If Ulme Village was a fundamental one, then it’s not surprising.”
“What should we do? They say that a kid is that ice-element spiritual master… isn’t it a bit too ridiculous?”
“Do you think they have a reason to lie?”
“More importantly, what do we do? Are we really going to go to war with Mustafa?”
“We could join Yimar Maar’s camp…”
“You believe he will win? Unless the Great Prophet sides with him openly, he will inevitably lose.”
“Is there no other way?”
“Maybe if we tried talking to Mustafa...”
Amidst the clamor, Yimar Furi remained silent. However, with each passing second, the still suppressed aura of his was growing more and more menacing. The man closed his eyes, contemplating the choice he had to make for a brief moment; then, he stomped on the ground as his eyes suddenly snapped open. The sound of the cracking floor accompanied by the loud bang as he involuntarily released some spiritual energy, which immediately turned into a splash of water at his feet, made the ten aides of his shut their mouths in an instant.
Now that the room was quiet once again, Yimar Furi spoke with strong conviction. “Whether this information is true or not, we will confirm it ourselves. I suspect Mustafa will be acting quickly now; he will try to deal with the Banxi Yimarate in a hurry since he slipped up and let many experts of the Faren Yimarate flee and join Yimar Maar. Luckily, the White Guards stationed in our city didn’t want us to ask for any permissions when Kuu told them about Ulme Village in the evening. That’s why the best opportunity to act is now,” he paused briefly and swept the ten aides of his with a stern gaze. He had somewhat expected it, but he couldn’t help but reveal a smile when he saw no doubt or hesitation in the men’s eyes.
“The Blood Debt must be paid… Zakar, I’m planning to kill everyone with the exception of Mustafa’s son. We need to capture him, else be it Yimar Maar or the Great Prophet, no one will be able to protect my city and our families from Mustafa’s wrath,” he said in a questioning tone, looking for Zakar to either agree to this plan or not. If the latter was the case, then he was absolutely ready to throw caution to the wind and set out to slaughter all those people, Mustafa’s son included!
Still, as long as Zakar agreed, he wanted to leave a way for his family, friends and the City of Masalle to survive.
“Of course, I’m more than satisfied as long as that ice-element Djinn spawn dies,” Zakar said and bowed his head. “I’m grateful you are willing to go that far already. I would never ask you to embark on a path of certain death for you and your people. Rather than that, I’d rather attempt to get the revenge on my own,” he said gratefully, keeping his head low the whole time. Truth to be told, he hadn’t been sure if Furi would still act after this letter arrived. Paying the Blood Debt became pretty much equivalent to at the very least heavily offending Mustafa, if not with becoming sworn enemies with him. For his old friend to be willing to go so far… Zakar was at a loss for words. One would only know his friends in his greatest hour of need, this saying was very much true!
“Shall be it,” Yimar Furi said, a dangerous smile creeping onto his face. “Any objections?” he asked his ten aides, only for his smile to grow wider when no one spoke up. He hadn’t been mistaken in choosing those people to be his comrades and companions!
“We will confirm what Mustafa is doing first. We already agreed to support him and did so during the hunt for the experts, so he shouldn’t suspect anything. When the time is right, I want to take all of you and your elite men to come with me to chase down that caravan! We shall move swiftly and finish everything before Mustafa can react. As for how it all goes… it’s going to depend on the attitude of that kid, Arslan,” he explained for the sake of clarification and looked at Zakar. His old friend should be fine with this course of action, he was pretty sure?
“That will be for the best,” Zakar admitted somewhat reluctantly. “As long as that Ice Devil is killed, I will be content,” he said, then suppressed a sigh. His bloodthirst would have only been completely sated if all the people involved in the slaughter of his village were killed, but he couldn’t very well demand his old friend to make the greatest sacrifice.
“Good…” Yimar Furi said a bit more calmly. “Make the preparations. I want each of you and your ten strongest men to be ready to depart at any time. Needless to say, you are to take the best horses,” he instructed, to what the ten men responded by lowering their heads and shifting to a kneeling position from the sitting one. All ten of them owed everything they had to Yimar Furi; they would always voice their own opinions, but if it was what their leader wanted, they were ready to sacrifice that everything for his sake and follow him into the most dangerous of fires.
“It’s a pity you are leaving so fast,” Turukan said truthfully as he was seeing off the three little masters and their companions. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay longer? We could have another great feast in the afternoon,” he mentioned with a smile, trying to tempt the boys to stay. He was pretty confident that given a week, Amina could manage to get Arslan to woo her. By then, the well-being of hers and of her immediate family would be guaranteed. Not to mention that he personally found the characters or Arslan and those two other boys to be very agreeable; finding better husband material for his nieces wouldn’t be easy.
“I think we’ve had enough fun for now,” Laien responded with a cheeky smile. “Let us get all those people to Ruishi Federation first. We will be traveling this country after that too, so we might as well come back to visit you then,” he proposed compromisingly. He enjoyed staying in this village quite a bit, so he didn’t want to outright refuse to ever come back.
“I will hold you to that promise,” Turukan said with a happy, content smile. As long as the boys returned here, it was good!
“It wasn’t a promise though…” Laien pointed out without beating around the bush. He wasn’t about to let this old man goad him into agreeing to something he didn’t say.
Turukan winced his nose slightly but could only shake his head in resignation. “I can’t beat you. Fine, do as you wish, little master! I will only hope you won’t forget about us altogether and will indeed at least visit us again with your friends,” he requested with a helpless laugh.
“I will try, no promises though,” Laien said wryly, then waved farewell to Amina and her siblings who had also come out on the road to see them and their caravan off. He hopped into the carriage and Yin got in right after him; the two of them were already looking forward to their daily training in the Combined Souls Realm.
“See you sometime, I guess,” Arslan said with a smile and with slightly flushed cheeks. He exchanged one last look with Amina, then followed Laien and Yin.
“See you,” Johan said hurriedly as he scooted away, too embarrassed to look any of the youths in the eye.
Seeing this little interaction between the kids, Turukan smiled contentedly. Those little spawns wouldn’t tell him anything no matter how he asked, but just seeing the looks on their faces was enough for him to guess a few things. “It’s fine. Even if they will not come back, Mustafa’s son will keep our village in his memory and will favor us in the future,” he mused, looking how the caravan consisting of many new carriages and even more new horses set out to the north-east.
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
Slow... as always with me I guess. I'm satisfied with how those three chaps came out though, sooo, well. Sry and enjoy? ;p
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 78. Seeking The Caravan.
“How far away was the Ruishi Federation again?” In the forefront of the caravan, within the same exclusive carriage as earlier, Arslan asked somewhat randomly while looking out of the window. He then yawned a little but quickly, feeling too relaxed and too lazy to bother covering his mouth.
Jasmine, as the only one not asleep or in the middle of a meditative training, opened her eyes and answered in a soft voice. “I believe we should have traveled around eight hundred kilometers so far, are still two thousand kilometers left.”
“So what, four and a half, five days?” Arslan asked with a sigh. Although Laien and Yin tended to spend a greater part of the day training, he was enjoying himself greatly. It was fun chatting with Johan too, just like it was interesting to talk with Albert or with others when they came by. Those two days had flown by way too fast, before he could even notice. He didn’t want those days and weeks to pass so quickly; he wanted this fun time to last as long as possible.
“It’s only been a day and a half since we left Tuln Village,” Jasmine said with a slight smile, perhaps misunderstanding Arslan a little. “This tempo is decent for a non-military caravan. We should be able to stay in the Ruishi Federation for some time without any trouble, so you all will be able to do more things there instead of just sitting in the carriage throughout most of the day and night,” she assured, trying to cheer Arslan up. Personally, she didn’t mind traveling, but she could imagine that Arslan has had enough of it. First, they had been stuck on the ship for weeks, then they got stuck inside a carriage. For her, this whole time seemed very short, but for a five-year-old, it probably felt quite long indeed.
Arslan glanced at Jasmine, and at the same time at Reian who was training by her side, then sighed a little once more. He didn’t feel like explaining his feelings to Jasmine, so he simply turned his head away and continued to absentmindedly stare at the vast fields of wheat and from time to time, at the vineyards or the small to medium-sized batches of the forest they would ride through. With the sun slowly setting, accompanied by the creaking of the carriage and the sounds of the horses’ hooves, he was beginning to grow more sleepy by the moment. Soon, his eyelids slid down and he dozed off.
The next morning, the caravan stopped for a few hours by a large stream, close to a relatively large batch of a forest.
Having gotten close to the cloud-piercing mountain range which separated the lands of Eulene from the Forbidden Lands, they could all appreciate the sight of mountains which seemed to be reaching the sky itself. Still, as amazing as the scenery was, everyone took to their own devices after a few minutes of appreciating it.
“You are going to spar again?” Arslan asked when he saw Laien and Yin begin to head off into the nearby forest.
“Yup.” Laien looked over his shoulder. “What, do you want to watch?” he asked casually. It wasn’t like he and Yin were going all-out in each spar with each other, so there would be no harm in letting Arslan spectate. Since most often, they mainly focused on simply moving their bodies around and clashing physically, there would be little danger of Arslan being hit by a stray attack either.
“I do!” Arslan said so energetically that he caused quite a few people to glance in his direction with curiosity, what in turn made him blush a bit.
“Mhm.” Laien nodded with a smile. However, he merely took half a step toward the forest when he stopped and turned around. Yin did the same thing and those strong experts amongst them all directed their gazes to the northern part of the road. Why were those people in such a hurry?
At this moment, a small caravan was rushing down the road toward them, appearing to be in such a hurry that one would think they were being chased by hordes of demons and devils. This caused Laien, Yin and the rest of those in their group to put their guards up. Were those people being chased by someone, or did they have bad intentions towards them?
Instead of heading into the forest, Laien and Yin ran to the roadside after exchanging a quick glance. Their old guards and the four White Guards of Arslan’s, including Arslan himself, all reacted in the same way and came forward to meet the three oncoming carriages; which at the very least, began hurriedly slowing down after getting close to the point they were standing at.
“O Karta, thank you so much!” the young coachman exclaimed with a sigh of relief the moment. “We assumed you were going through the main road, but we didn’t know how fast you were. Thank God we decided to rush back and check before going along the way to Ruishi Federation,” he said with a smile, for a moment forgetting about anything else as the stress which had been haunting him for the last two days melted down and disappeared.
Baffled, Laien asked straightforwardly without trying to make any guesses. ”You were looking for us? Why?”
The young man looked at Laien, startled awake by his question. He then swallowed heavily; the black-haired boy standing here by the roadside looked like a normal young noble, but if he were to believe the rumors he had heard, then it was exactly this boy who had frozen entire Ulme Village. Moreover, he could vaguely tell that all the adults surrounding those three youths in the front were extremely strong; thus, he couldn’t help but feel rather nervous.
“You must have heard that the Grand Yimar Mustafa changed the law substantially,” he began explaining, growing a little calmer as his two friends approached from the other two carriages. “A day after the law changed, the Grand Yimar Mustafa also sent out a warning saying that any village or city that doesn’t abide by the new rules will share the fate of Ulme Village. Along with the news of Ulme Village’s destruction spreading from Tuln Village, those Ikarians back where we came from lost their usual haughtiness. We decided to make use of the opportunity, sold all we had left, got those carriages and horses, and went looking for your group,” he explained hurriedly. In fact, he spoke so hurriedly that towards the end he began worrying if he wasn’t coming off as way too agitated.
Not really sure how to comment on that, Laien ended up paying more attention to the bunch of youthful faces peeking out from within the carriages. There were mainly young women and children there, but he could spot a few old faces too. “They must have had enough and grabbed the chance to leave, huh?” he mused, not in a hurry to take charge of the conversation.
After two or three seconds of silence, Arslan glanced at Laien. Seeing that Laien had no intention of speaking up, he did so on his own. “You want to join our group then?” he asked, assuming that those people were in similar circumstances to Johan and others from Ulme Village; and rightfully so.
“Y-yes,” the young man replied with a little stutter. He had been focusing on Laien, so he had nearly forgotten that this five-year-old boy here was the Grand Yimar Mustafa’s son. He was pretty sure Arslan was a good person… but in compassion, he was more scared of him than of Laien.
“Sure,” Arslan accepted straightforwardly. It wasn’t a difficult matter to consider, so he didn’t feel the need to ask Laien, Yin or anyone else for his opinion. “You should find Albert and talk with him. He will help you settle down with us, I’m sure,” he said with a smile, choosing his words in a half-conscious way. In his heart, he was aware that he liked Albert more than Sarah because of her remarks towards Laien and Yin, but he didn’t think about it too deeply. As a result, even though Sarah was the official leader of those from Ulme Village, he ended up favoring Albert.
The young man was dumbstruck. Just like that? Without any questions, demands or instructions? Well, there was the ‘instruction’ to go and talk with that whole Albert, but it wasn’t anything like he had expected to happen. At the very least, he had expected to be required to ask, plead, grovel and make promises just like he had grown accustomed to doing. The surprise of none of those things being expected of him was actually so huge that instead of thanking Arslan, he continued staring at him with his mouth slightly open for quite a long while.
“Oi!” One of the other two young men looked at his friend. He was somewhat panicked to see him dazed, but before he could do anything else Arslan spoke again.
“Can we go? I can’t wait to see you spar.”
“Mhm, yeah,” Laien agreed immediately. He was glad to see more people joining them on their way to Ruishi Federation, but he wasn’t concerned with them enough to pay them much attention. Perhaps if he was in a different mood then he would have thought otherwise, but as it was at the moment, he was mainly preoccupied with enjoying his time with the friends and acquaintances he had already made.
As the three youths turned and began leaving, Jasmine called out after them. “Should some of us follow you, just in case?”
Laien looked over his shoulder and raised his eyebrows. “If you want to, go ahead,” he said with a laugh, caring little if there were more spectators or not.
“I’ll be joining you,” Jasmine said merrily and followed after the three boys. Rather than wasting her time in the camp, she preferred to watch something interesting. She knew full well how ridiculous Laien’s magic was, but she knew little about his martial potential, just like she knew little about Yin’s combat strength. She could guess that those two wouldn’t go all-out in a simple spar, but just watching them should give her an idea or two about their skill; and most importantly, it would relieve her boredom. Unlike those younglings she was accompanying, she no longer spent much time training or pondering on her insights; she had long since reached bottlenecks in all aspects of her cultivation, so without a sudden epiphany it would be borderline impossible for her to advance her strength any further.
Naturally, since Jasmine went with the boys, Reian did the same without giving it much thought. It had been only a few days, but he was starting to feel that his teacher was resisting his advancements with less and less conviction; he felt fairly confident that by the end of this little journey, she would finally give in.
On the side, Kasha continued shifting her weight from one leg to the other. She also wanted to see the spar between Laien and Yin, but she couldn’t bring herself to follow the boys or even ask for permission. After all, most of those newly arrived people likely needed medical attention; Sirius would certainly be displeased with her were she to disregard her duties to have some fun.
“Gaah.” Sirius rolled his eyes and shook his head helplessly. “Just go with them if you want to do it so badly. I can handle one hundred people by myself,” he said dismissively and shooed Kasha away with his hand.
“Really?” Kasha blurted out before she could bite her tongue. She had been practicing under Sirius for well over a decade now, but it was the first time he was being so nice to her! Did this old man hit his head a bit too hard when no one was looking or was snow about to start falling in the middle of summer?
“Go before I change my mind,” Sirius said with a snort, causing Kasha to almost jump up. She did, however, bow her head quickly and leave right afterward. “Dear Rala, she has grown up in the body to become a woman but in her mind, she is still just a girl,” he thought while shaking his head. Then, after leading her away with his eyes, he turned to the three young men, who seemed to be rather speechless and stated without beating around the bush.
“Those of you who need any kind of healing immediately should come with me. After I’m done with the more pressing injuries, I will move onto the lesser ones until you are all in top shape. Also, be sure to have a chat with Albert like you were told to.”
Once again, the three young men weren’t quite sure how to react. Weren’t those people worried they would bring trouble to their group? Weren’t they concerned if there could be some dangerous individuals amongst the people they were accepting? Moreover, they were so incredibly charitable and nice! They were the total opposite of the nobles and people in power those three young men had met or heard about. It was so amazing it felt a bit… no, it felt quite unrealistic.
In reality, however, it wasn’t all that strange for Laien, Arslan and the others to be relaxed. As far as they were concerned, those newcomers were all extremely weak; the strongest of them were those three young men and they were merely martial practitioners of the third rank. Even Sarah or Albert would be capable of dealing with them alone, much less anyone from their elite group. As such, there was little if any anxiety amongst them about having one hundred people join the caravan.
In the blink of an eye, six days passed. During this time, a few major events happened in the southern half of Eulene.
Firstly, the Faren Yimarate had been completely subdued by Mustafa. Of course, there had been many people discontent with the new rules, but those from the rural areas were convinced by the example of Ulme Village and those from the cities trembled before the news of the execution of Yimar Sharu along with many officials and experts of the City of Palee. Thus, even though there was quite a bit of resentment against Mustafa, the order continued to be maintained.
Secondly, the Banxi Yimarate had been completely subdued by the four hundred White Guards Mustafa had sent there. However, even though Yimar Tarkar surrendered himself to Mustafa’s rule obediently, many of his subordinates feared to share the fate of the experts of Palee City. As a result, a large-scale purge had been carried out within Banxi Yimarate, all thanks to the information provided by Yimar Tarkar, who resolved himself to prove to Mustafa that he was worth keeping alive.
Considering that Yimar Tarkar had sold out all of his vassals without regard for the old friendships, Mustafa reluctantly made a choice to keep him around for the time being to avoid strife in the Banxi Yimarate. Although Mustafa wasn’t especially fond of people like Yimar Tarkar, he planned to let the man live depending on his performance in the next few months.
Thirdly… the border between the Faren Yimarate and Guode Yimarate was beginning to grow unstable; the villages and small cities near the border have practically emptied themselves of people and groups of marauders and bandits began appearing in the no man’s land between the two countries. The tension was so high that just one spark would be enough to ignite a conflict.
At this sixth day, just an hour after dawn, Mustafa was heading towards the City of Colne, the south-westernmost city of the Guode Yimarate. He rode on his noble Hisan Horse at the forefront of a column of six hundred white-clothed riders. If one were to take a look at them, he would immediately notice that the insignia of a roaring tiger was present on all of their chests.
What’s more… unlike when the White Guards accompanied Mustafa and Arslan to the City of Palee a little over a week ago, the aura they were giving off was absolutely terrifying. The six hundred all worse stern expressions on their faces, none of them joking around, chatting or smiling like they had done before. Were some unlucky traveler to stumble too close to them without noticing, he would likely suffocate due to the oppressive aura those White Guards were releasing.
As for why the mere pressure that six hundred people were releasing was enough to kill a weaker person…
Six hundred years ago, Makarash had just been taken over by Mustafa. Back then, the newly created White Guard numbered thirty thousand men.
Five hundred years ago, the number jumped rapidly to over one hundred thousand and peaked at one hundred and fifty thousand around four hundred years ago.
Then, at the time of the War of the Tiger and a Cat, two hundred years ago, the White Guard came to number only eighty thousand.
Yet nowadays, the White Guard numbered merely ten thousand experts! One could imagine how high the standards for joining and maintaining one’s position within it were. On top of that, the selection itself was now carried out from within immensely superior experts compared to the state of Makarash when Mustafa had been taking over. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that any member of the White Guard would be able to handle ten experts of the same cultivation level alone. If one were to add the superior coordination and absolute loyalty to this extreme power of individuals, it was likely that White Guard was the strongest officially known organization on the whole continent.
And right now, Mustafa was leading six hundred of those elites. This number might seem insignificant in relation to how numerous the White Guard was, but in truth this one thousand Mustafa brought with him was the cream of the crop. But perhaps most importantly, there were five lieutenants present within that one thousand, each of whom usually commanded one thousand other members of the unit. Each and every one of the ten lieutenants of the White Guard was ridiculously powerful; four of them were currently accompanying Mustafa, while the fifth one, Jasmine, was traveling with Arslan.
Mustafa and those six hundred experts… they were a mighty force, but despite that, Mustafa opted to act with caution. He didn’t predict the events in Eulene devolving to this point so quickly, so he had only taken one thousand elites with him. Because of that, he was forced to be more careful than usual; if they were ambushed by a huge army, then even though they were likely to emerge victorious, they would need to pay a heavy price to achieve it. Obviously, Mustafa wasn’t willing to sacrifice the members of his precious White Guard in such a stupid manner.
At one moment, an eagle flew down from the sky and flew directly to Mustafa. The magical beast landed on Mustafa’s extended arm, waited for him to remove the interspatial ring attached to its leg, then glanced at Mustafa, waiting to see if another one would be given to him or not.
When it heard Mustafa say so, the eagle jumped into the air and flapped its wings. It flew along the road for a few hundred meters before ascending rapidly, soon to disappear from the sight of even most martial masters.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything strange,” Mustafa murmured as he read through the reports of the men he had sent out to scout around and to guard the border. “There doesn’t seem to be any danger approaching Arslan either,” he mused, though for some reason he couldn’t help but feel restless. Was there something he was missing? The Banxi Yimarate had been properly subdued, the Faren Yimarate had been pacified and while it stung to have so many experts flee and join Yimar Maar, it wasn’t all that great of a problem in the large scope of things. Still, he was restless. It had been a long time since he felt like that; as if something dangerous was circling around him, looking for an opportunity to bite. Just where was this feeling coming from?
“It is time,” Yimar Furi said sternly. It had been exactly two hours and twelve minutes from the sunrise. “Kuu, you will direct the seven of you. Be sure not to betray our intentions before the time is right. Spread along the border and wait for the signal,” he reminded, hoping that the brunt of the battle won’t be taken by his subordinates. Else, if anything went wrong, they would all be finished.
“I won’t fail you, Yimar,” Kuu replied confidently and bowed his head. He knew the task of leading the army of the City of Masalle had been entrusted to him not because he was the strongest or the wisest, but because he could always keep a cool head no matter what happened. It would be his responsibility to make the calls as the situation at hand developed, so he couldn’t start getting nervous now; that would be asking for a catastrophe.
“Zakar, we are going,” Yimar Furi said strongly and after giving Zakar a brief look, headed out of the chamber.
Zakar clenched his fists, his whole body tensing up. Then, he breathed out and relaxed. Finally, it was the time for him to extract his revenge! He followed his old friend and a step behind him joined the three black-golden clothed commanders. The original plan had been to stake everything at breaking through whatever obstacles and capturing Arslan through any means necessary, but the situation had changed and their odds have improved. Two hundred elites, Yimar Furi and three of his commanders; as long as nothing unexpected happened, this force should prove to be more than enough.
Behind the City of Colne, within the deep forest. There was no wind, yet the trees of the forest seemed to be moving.
A magical beast appeared in the sky above the forest. It let out an ear-piercing screech, then flew back into the clouds and disappeared.
At this moment, the whole grand forest was filled with the rumbling sounds of the countless horses’ hooves stomping rhythmically.
As those people emerged from within the trees, if one were to look four distinct groups could be told apart.
Well over one hundred thousand of those men were dressed in a random manner. They were most likely the cannon fodder.
Fifty thousand were dressed in grey-black clothes. They were most likely the Realm of Heroes experts of various Yimars of the Guode Yimarate.
Finally, five thousand were wearing pitch-black uniforms and another one three thousand were wearing silver-gold uniforms.
The mass of riders numbering two hundred thousand was moving southwards, past the City of Colne and toward the Faren Yimarate.
“We should have bought more food,” Reian mentioned with a sigh. Their caravan was once again setting out forward after stopping briefly and welcoming yet another group of people; this time one that was a mix of Euleanians and Ikarians. “Some of them have rations, but most of them don’t. What was supposed to last two years will be eaten through within two months,” he complained, unhappy with this state of things. Should they try and stray from their path and go to the closest city to buy more food? But the closest city was over six hundred kilometers away, while they were already almost at the outer borders of the Ruishi Federation.
“Since when are you such a worrywart?” Jasmine asked casually. “It’s up to those people what they do after we throw them off at the Ruishi Federation. Whether we help them all any further or not depends on what our little masters want,” she pointed out and smiled to herself. She was very glad to see Arslan laugh and have fun like a normal child while playing cards with Laien, Yin, Johan and Albert. Those past days the boys had even made up with Sarah, who at the moment was busying herself with organizing the details of future cooperation with the newest members of their caravan.
Jasmine was in an incredibly good mood, but it wasn’t entirely because she was happy for Arslan. True, that was a part of it, but what made her even happier was that after a few decades of stagnation, she had made two consecutive breakthroughs, all thanks to sparring with Laien and Yin! Her insights into the ‘Secret Art of Wrath’ and the ‘Secret Art of Pride’, or as those two boys called it, the ‘Aspect of Wrath’ and the ‘Aspect of Pride’ were once again advancing! She had been stuck at what she felt to be a halfway-point in those two insights for a long time now, yet just exchanging blows with those two boys helped her so much! She couldn’t be happier.
“Why don’t you apologize to them?” Jasmine mentioned with a wry smile while glancing at Reian. Then, she said very quietly, “You are trying to occupy yourself with strange things, but I know you are just trying not to think about it. You were the stupid one to tell them that you have better things to do than to spar with them when they asked if you weren’t interested. Man up, apologize and ask them if they wouldn’t spar with you.”
With Jasmine poking at his sore spot, Reian couldn’t help but reveal some sourness in his expression. Would fighting those two really bring him any benefits? No matter how talented or monstrous those kids were, he had refused to accept it… but now that Jasmine made two consecutive breakthroughs, he had no choice but to admit it. Yes, he was jealous of Jasmine’s progress and yes, he was being prideful about this whole thing. He knew it, he knew it but… why was it so hard to admit?
“Eh, whatever.” Reian let out a heavy sigh. “I will apologize after we enter the Ruishi Federation,” he said quietly and gave Jasmine a pleading look. There was no reason for her to keep picking on him anymore now that he had made this decision, hopefully?
Jasmine chuckled and closed her eyes, a smile present on her face. She was about to start meditating, when…
Sirius’s voice reached them from outside of the carriage. They had only been thinking and speaking of it jokingly, but Sirius really came to enjoy playing the role of a coachman.
“There’s even more of them waiting for us at the crossroad. Looks like well over two thousand,” Sirius said with a rare laugh, finding this situation to be amusing in many ways. To him, it was just like feeding stray cats; first, you give some food to one, then the next day two of them come, then four or five, then a dozen… until you are literally swarmed with cats who won’t leave you alone.
“Do we go out?” Arslan asked, the tone of his voice suggesting that he wasn’t too enthusiastic about finishing their game early.
“Nah,” Laien responded with a shrug of his shoulders. “There’s nothing important for us to do there anyway. Just let Sarah handle it all,” he said and smirked somewhat playfully. He might have made peace with Sarah, but he was determined to get back at her in some way until he would be satisfied.
Guessing Laien’s thoughts, Albert laughed a little. Sarah would probably pout if he didn’t come out to help her this time around, but he was ready to bear with this treatment from her. She deserved some trouble and to be honest, he was enjoying himself greatly with those four. It had been very rare for him to have any carefree time in his life, so he was the more so reluctant to give up on it. After all, even if he acted like an adult, he was in the end just a fourteen years old youth.
In this way, it was unanimously decided that the burden of dealing with formalities and managing the new two thousand members would fall onto Sarah.
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Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 79. Zakar’s Revenge.
“Are they about done?” Laien leaned out from the carriage’s window. It had been around two hours already; if they wanted to make it to the closest fortress-city of the Ruishi Federation, then they would need to either set out within the next thirty minutes or seriously hurry up along the way.
“Not at all,” Kasha replied from the coachman’s seat, where she was resting and recovering her strength. For a second, she felt like complaining to Laien and asking him why he didn’t help out with healing all those people, many of whom still required treatment, but she gave up on the idea just as quickly as it popped up in her mind. Laien was a little master; it was fine if he wanted to help out of his own volition, but it wasn’t up to her to be complaining in case he didn’t feel like doing so.
Laien let out a sigh and allowed himself to fall down on his butt, on top of one of the many pillows loitered around the carriage. “There are no trees here, only hills and mountains,” he complained aloud. He didn’t mind to spar when his friends or people he liked were looking, but making a scene for all and everyone to stare at for no reason wasn’t to his liking in the slightest.
“We can skip one day,” Yin said lightheartedly. It would be a problem if being a bit lazy turned into a habit and escalated, but he doubted that either he or Laien were in danger of becoming complacent.
“I guess we can,” Laien agreed with a sigh. Those days he had been feeling as if his spear arts were on the verge of a breakthrough, so he was reluctant to skip practical training. However, he also knew that forcing himself to train in circumstances that weren’t to his liking would not only prevent him from making any worthwhile progress but also potentially serve to hamper his growth in the following days. He had already gotten rid of the darkness in his heart and had seen Yin do the same, so he understood the effect one’s mental state had on his progress far better than the most.
Listening to yet another confusing exchange between Laien and Yin, Arslan paid it little attention while Albert tilted his head, wondering what those two were talking about. Sometimes, it truly seemed like Laien and Yin knew each other’s thoughts; it was a mysterious thing.
To the side, Reian wanted to ask Jasmine if they should go and help out with everything, but he noticed that she was still in the middle of a deep meditative training. He sighed quietly. It was without a doubt that Jasmine would be angry with him if he disturbed her for a silly reason, so he wisely swallowed the question he had been about to ask.
“Hm?” Yin perked up all of the sudden. “More than a hundred riders are galloping over,” he said, his voice containing a clear warning.
“Let’s see,” Laien said right afterward, in contrast to the others not doubting Yin’s sense of hearing at all.
When the two of them jumped out of the carriage, Reian also heard the sounds of the quickly approaching horses. “Hisan Horses, all of them!” he recognized immediately. Having almost his whole life in the military, he could easily tell apart the race and quality of the horses just by the sound of their hooves as they galloped. This time around, he was sure that the oncoming horses were all the Arkarian ‘Hisan’ breed and they were of the highest quality!
“Teacher, wake up! There’s trouble coming,” he said and shook Jasmine’s shoulder lightly. He only waited to confirm that Jasmine opened her eyes, then turned to Arslan… who at this very moment was jumping out of the carriage!
“Is he following those two? He is so careless!” Reian complained silently but followed after Arslan without delay. A second later, Jasmine got out of the carriage too, followed by Albert and Johan; joined by Kasha, all of them hurried to the north-western road from where the riders were coming from.
A short moment later, the rumbling sounds of horses approaching were beginning to be clearly audible to everyone and as a result, more and more of those who hadn’t left their carriages before were now getting out to see what was going on. Were those riders new members of their group, or was it a border patrol of some kind? They all wondered, but none of them was worried. They weren’t taking the worst option into consideration at all. They all assumed nothing bad could happen since it was thanks to Mustafa that they were safe; they couldn’t imagine there would be Ikarians who would dare to oppose the orders of one of the Grand Yimars.
“Are those people of Yimar Maar’s?” Reian wondered as he made his way through the crowd of over two thousand people. “No, that shouldn’t be possible. Our patrols were assigned along the border and there are one hundred members of our White Guard making sure nothing happens to Arslan,” he reminded himself but immediately asked another question; did something truly unpredictable occur? Something that made those one hundred abandon their post? But if so, then why didn’t he receive any information? Were their flying magical beasts all killed or intercepted?
“No time to ponder,” he murmured as their small group left the crowd. He stopped by Arslan’s side, waiting for the riders to make their appearance. Seconds later, they emerged from behind a small hill. “Yimar Furi’s men!” he exclaimed in shock and confusion. He wouldn’t mistake the characteristic black uniforms of the men and the black-golden clothes of those in the front, those riders were almost certainly the experts of the City of Masalle. However, what in the world were they doing here?
“They are strong…” Yin said softly, just loud enough for those close to him to hear. He could tell that all those two hundred or so riders were strong; especially those four in the front. He didn’t think he would be able to defeat any of those black-golden clothes ones in a head-on clash.
“We should talk first,” Ruan reminded as he joined Laien and Yin with the rest of the old guards of theirs. He had been around Yin long enough to recognize the readiness to battle in the tone of the youth’s voice, so he couldn’t help but worry. “We still don’t know why they are here. Maybe they are just passing by, or…” he began saying but was interrupted by a loud, Qi-enhanced shout.
“I am Yimar Furi! I’m here to bring justice to the Djinn spawn that killed the innocents of Ulme Village! Give him up without resisting and your lives shall be spared!”
As Yimar Furi yelled, he brought his horse to a stop just around thirty meters away from the foremost line of people that stood in his way. “The youngest one should be Arslan. There are three White Guards by his side… and the fourth one approaching.” He took a note to begin with. From the information he had acquired, it seemed like Mustafa’s son was traveling in the company of another group, which supposedly included a youth capable of releasing a devastating ice-element magic. Their goal was to kill that youth and to capture Arslan, but it didn’t mean they couldn’t go about it in a smart way instead of starting a massacre immediately.
The Qi-enhanced yell brought the five thousand people of the caravan into a state of turmoil. The many people began whispering to each other nervously, some of them considering the option to try and flee now before it was too late. They hadn’t expected any trouble and that was why they were so frightened when it appeared out of nowhere; as strong as they believed Arslan’s guards to be, they had doubts whether they would be able to fight off two hundred of those scary-looking people.
“Calm down! Back off and wait!” Sarah shouted, helping herself with just enough Qi to make herself heard clearly, but not to become overly loud. “If they want to kill us we won’t be able to escape anyway! Back off from them and wait!” she shouted again, causing the faces of thousands of people to grow extremely pale. Yet, she did stop the panic from erupting; the two thousand new members of the caravan began withdrawing hurriedly, taking their carriages and joining the ones further at the back of the crossroads.
As they hurried to distance themselves, those people kept sneaking nervous glances at those two hundred riders to see if any of them wouldn’t suddenly start chasing them down. Only after all of them got almost a kilometer away from those riders did they calm down a little.
“Johan, stay close to Arslan,” Reian instructed in a whisper, seeing as the boy didn’t move to join the others immediately. He didn’t want to provoke anything like Johan being killed off to anger their group to happen, but since Johan was just a kid, it wouldn’t make much of a difference if they needed to protect both him and Arslan; the two just needed to stick closely together.
Johan nodded and took two steps, situating himself closely behind Arslan, slightly to the side. He swallowed nervously; would everything turn out all right? Those two hundred readers seemed to be confident enough to act so brashly… there was so many of them too. Would Reian, Jasmine and the others be able to beat them? They would, right?
“This black-haired one should be that ‘Ice Devil’,” Yimar Furi mused. He could hardly believe that a kid so young was capable of destroying a small village with a spell. Wouldn’t it make more sense if it had been one of Arslan’s guards who was responsible and the kid was only bragging to make some underserved reputation for himself? Possibly he was.
“Are you the one?” Zakar moved forward on his horse, passing by Yimar Furi and his three commanders and stopping in front of them. “Are you the one who froze Ulme Village and killed everyone? Are you the one who killed my wives and my children?” he asked calmly, but with an indescribable fury resounding within his voice and seeping out from his eyes as he looked at Laien.
“Eh, as I thought,” Yimar Furi sighed in his heart. He should have expected his old friend to do something like that. However, the question asked was something he too wanted to know the answer to, so he did nothing to interrupt this flow of events.
The slight frown on Laien’s face grew in response to the man’s questioning. “You are that hunter, Zakar. I didn’t think you would be able to bring a Yimar and his people to try and kill me,” he said calmly, despite his heart beating wildly inside his chest. He and Yin had released the thin threads of aura the moment those riders came close and what they found out caused even them to grow nervous. Excluding Yimar Furi who was a dual expert, there were three other martial masters of the fifth rank amongst the riders. Then, there were twenty-three martial masters of the fourth rank, over forty martial masters of the third rank and over sixty martial masters of the second rank. Furthermore, there were around seventy spiritual masters located in the back, the strongest of whom were at the fourth Realm of Heroes while the weakest were at the second.
This kind of a lineup… as long as they were ‘average’ experts, Laien and Yin would be confident in their ability to resist given the help of the four White Guards. However, if those two hundred contained a number of supreme experts who not only had strong cultivation bases, but also a high level of insights… then everything would become one huge gamble. A gamble which they weren’t favored to win unless Reian, Jasmine and Sirius were much, much stronger than they gave them credit for.
“So you don’t deny it,” Zakar growled in a low, beast-like voice. “You realize that Mustafa’s son won’t be able to protect you? We will kill you regardless of what he thinks… so if this whole story is just your empty bragging, then you’d better spit out the identity of that Djinn’s spawn!” he snarled, barely keeping his thoughts clear enough to not attack Laien this very instant.
“You are going to ignore me?” Arslan asked almost instantly, his voice containing clear anger. “If you hurt my friends, I will have you killed! I will have all of you and your families killed! Your Masalle City will be burned to the ground if you touch them!” he threatened very much seriously. If those people attacked Laien, he would ask his father to slaughter them all without exception!
“He really is Mustafa’s son.” Jasmine revealed an ever so slight smile, very much in contrast to Yimar Furi’s men who all looked to be genuinely terrified.
Even though they knew there should be no way for Mustafa to intervene if they proceeded to capture Arslan according to the plan, they couldn’t not be scared when the name of the Grand Yimar Mustafa was invoked by none else than his son. The reputation Mustafa had accumulated during his six hundred years of reign was simply too terrifying. Thus, not one of them doubted that were they to fail in their task, then Arslan’s threats would become reality.
“Stop panicking you fools,” Yimar Furi said with a snort, sensing the restless atmosphere which arose amongst his subordinates. He tugged his horse’s sides with his legs and rode a few steps forward, stopping at Zakar’s side. “Mustafa’s son, you relying on your father right now is a folly. Currently, Mustafa is fighting a losing battle at the plains to the west of here, close to the shore. If you think there is anyone rushing to your aid and you simply need to stall for a bit of time… then you are very mistaken,” he informed coldly, but even he couldn’t resist smiling a little when he saw the astonished looks on the faces of those before him.
“I’m here only because of the Blood Debt…” Yimar Furi said, his face once again expressionless. “If you give up whoever killed the innocents of Ulme Village, we will leave. If you do not, we will kill whoever gets in our way, including those four White Guards of yours,” he warned, hoping to make the inevitable battle easier for himself and his men. It would already be a challenge to defeat those four White Guards; if he could get rid of the rest of the martial masters here before that, he would be able to preserve more lives of his subordinates. That would be for the best.
After Yimar Furi’s words fell, the area was overcome with an unnaturally long period of silence, broken only by the whistling of wind and snorting of the horses.
Laien and Yin were both quiet. There was no unnecessary tension in their bodies; the two of them were waiting for an opening to show itself. Their old guards were similarly saying nothing and only waiting for the battle to break out, though most of them involuntarily backed off by a little. With the exception of the black-cloaked man, Gahar, they were too weak to be of much use in a frontal confrontation. They understood this fact very well and as such, were planning to stay behind and make themselves useful by offering protection to Arslan and Johan. At the very least, they wanted to enable the four White Guards to fight more freely.
Sirius and Kasha weren’t planning to speak up either. The two of them had no delusions about what was going to happen, so they concentrated on recovering as much of their spiritual energy as possible. The two of them didn’t expect such trouble to arise, so Kasha had used up all her strength to heal the newcomers; at the moment, she didn’t have as much as one-fifth of her spiritual energy left. As for Sirius, he had habitually stopped treating people when he had used up half of his strength; he was an experienced people who had fought in wars many times. Thus, even though he hadn’t foreseen Yimar Furi or anyone else attacking them, he had enough spiritual energy left to fight efficiently; having recovered a little, he had about seventy percent of at the moment and with each second, he was absorbing some more from the natural energy that was all around him.
“He is hesitating, what a good kid.” Jasmine noticed the conflicted emotions on Arslan’s face and so did Reian. Arslan wanted to fight against Yimar Furi to save Laien, but he didn’t want to endanger the lives of his other friends to do so. In the end, he was but a child; he couldn’t help but worry about this thing since he saw no perfect outcome. Moreover, in the back of his mind, he was worried about his father… but he had no time to think about that matter.
“Reian…” Arslan said quietly. aiding himself with a little bit of Qi. His head was lowered as he gazed down at the ground and yet, his voice sounded surprisingly strong. “Jasmine, Sirius, Kasha…” he continued, the words his father had once said to him reverberating in his head. “As your master, I order you. Bring me their heads!” he said loudly and raised his head abruptly, looking Yimar Furi straight in the eye.
The sudden words of Arslan’s caused Yimar Furi’s mind to go blank for half a second. This tone, this look in that boy’s eyes… was this truly a child and not a Djinn playing around in the form of a human? How could a kid’s gaze cause him, a dual practitioner with both of his cultivations at the fifth Realm of Heroes, to feel such a strong fear?
“!” This split-second of daze caused Yimar Furi to fall into an immediate disadvantage. When he realized what was happening, Reian had already almost closed onto him. Moreover…
Jasmine took a step forward and made a spreading motion with her hands. A large amount of fire-element spiritual energy blazed in the air in front of her, stirring up the natural elemental energy itself. In the blink of an eye, a mass of scorching flames burst out, almost instantly catching up to Reian, washing over him and then smashing into Yimar Furi, Zakar and the two hundred riders.
The fire burned everything in its path, but as it had been unleashed with a simple one-word chant, held just barely enough power to wound the weakest of those present a little bit. With the strength of the protective Qi of martial masters and give the water-element affinity of most of the spiritual masters in the back, the magic of this level was relatively harmless to them. And yet, it most definitely wasn’t something the likes of Hisan Horses could easily withstand!
They were magical beast, but they weren’t the tough War Horses of the south. All of them began thrashing around and neighing as their skin burned with intense pain, revealing blood-red spots on their bodies where the high temperature scorched through their layer of protective fur. Only those horses in the back and to the sides were lucky enough not to be wounded heavily; the rest of them had been wounded badly enough to reduce whatever effectiveness in battle they might have had.
“Damn it!” Within the flames, Yimar Furi drew the scimitar at his waist, thanking his lucky star that he took the precaution of carrying the blade on his body. Seeing the saber-wielding Reian covered by a strange mix of red-white aura jumping at him, he roused his Qi and slashed out to meet him blow for blow.
The strange red-white Qi around Reian’s saber hissed when it collided with the water-element Qi of Yimar Furi’s. The loud clang of steel clashing rang out and to his disbelief, Yimar Furi felt his hand and his whole body being forced back as he struggled to keep himself in the saddle of his panicking horse. Then, when he thought he managed to somewhat recover, he gasped inwardly when a portion of the red-white Qi split from Reian’s saber and went along with the momentum, slashing at his forearm and chest!
His throat clenching, Yimar Furi gathered all his strength and pushed Reian away. The act itself was easy enough since Reian was mid-air, but in spite of the defensive layer of Qi covering his body, Yimar Furi could only curse as the red-white Qi slashed through it and left a fairly large, bleeding wound at his right forearm and a smaller one across his chest.
“That’s fire and wind…! He mixed them perfectly!” Yimar Furi felt like shouting in his fury. He had thought he alone would be a good match for Reian, he had even though he stood a chance at defeating him… but he had been too preposterous! He was an exalted dual practitioner, but from this clash alone Yimar Furi could tell that Reian was considerably stronger than him!
“He’s two ranks lower than me and yet…!” Yimar Furi gnashed his teeth. He had reached his current level of strength through an endless amount of work, but he couldn’t match the twenty-something years old Reian! It was a serious blow to his confidence. Still, he began quickly healing the two wounds he received; he might not be able to overpower Reian, but he was more than capable of tying him down for a period of time!
There was no need for orders to be given out, or so Yimar Furi thought when Jasmine’s flames cleared out and he spotted the two twelve-year-old kids attempting to flee. He jumped off his horse and focused on Reian, getting ready to receive another attack from him at any time.
Simultaneously, the over one hundred martial masters of Yimar Furi’s were just about to join the battle against the White Guards with some of them intending to chase down Laien and Yin, but at this very moment, the two youths they thought were trying to flee turned ninety degrees.
Laien raised his right hand, holding his white spear in it. Then, a wave of grayish mist quickly spread out from his hand. At the same time, Yin raised his left hand, adding even more of the grayish mist into the mix, creating a large grey cloud in the air above the two of them. The sight confused the two hundred riders and put them on guard. However, those of them who were in front, close to Laien and Yin, had their eyes bulge out when the cloud transformed into a huge mass of elemental stones!
Laien smirked, transforming the spiritual energy he had released alongside the grayish mist into the water. The process took practically no time at all thanks to his exquisite control and thanks to the lack of need to make the mass of water be strong by itself. He waved his spear forward, sending the water and the two thousand elemental stones inside it at the flank of the two hundred riders.
The martial masters in the front attempted to release their techniques to deflect the oncoming attack, but regrettably for them, there wasn’t one person amongst their ranks who had a nearly-instantaneous area-of-effect technique he could use. The three black-golden clothed commanders of theirs could have done just that, but they were at Yimar Furi’s side, about to attack the four White Guards with him; there was no way for any of them to help out in time.
As for spiritual masters in the back, how could they possibly use their magic so quickly? It was already far beyond their comprehension to see that black-haired Devil control and make use of spiritual energy on a large scale with such ease and in no time at all. They couldn’t possibly react fast enough.
As a result, the water flooded over the flank of their formation; to those covered by it, it seemed as if time itself had stopped for a few seconds. They could clearly see the water-element and lightning-element stones lit up. Then, when the light reached its apex, the flow of time seemed to have returned to normal as a great explosion occurred.
The pressure of water exploding and hitting everything in proximity from all sides threw many horses down to the ground, along with their riders. This alone, however, wouldn’t have done all that much in the grand scope of things; the elemental stones Laien and Yin threw were all of the mid-grade. Be it a thousand of them or ten thousand of them, it would be hard to use their firepower to injure a martial master. Yet, when the daze caused by being trashed around was joined with the assault of lightning from the stones added by Yin, the effects became considerable!
Additionally, all fifty or sixty Hisan Horses that were caught up in the explosion of water and lightning ended up being seriously hurt, with many of them dying on the spot. Their riders had already been thrown around by the water, but then the chaos increased even more when their mounts began falling down one after another. None of those martial and spiritual masters ever imagined that two fleeing kids would turn around and launch such a devastating attack on them; thus, for the following seconds, there was no one capable of restoring order at their flank.
To those rider’s terror, a small and swift figure suddenly flashed with lightning as it slipped into their ranks. Before any of them comprehended what was going on, the flash of lightning slashed out three times, decapitating one martial master of the fourth rank and killing two martial masters of the third rank who fell relatively close to him after the explosion of elemental stones.
Frightened by the ridiculous strength of someone they had thought to be a helpless child, the minds of those dozens of men left went completely blank. It was all happening too fast; there was no one to give them orders and they were all too shocked for anyone to take command on his own.
The wounded spiritual masters in the back began retreating, scared silly by the devilish spawn that instantly slaughtered three of their martial masters; since even those body cultivators failed to react, the likes of them would be crushed like ants.
The few dozen martial masters on the other hand, despite all the chaos, were tough enough to stand their ground. There was no order in their actions, but most of them had similar thoughts; to attack that Djinn spawn en masse and kill him quickly! Their attention was fully focused on Yin… and because of that, they totally missed the very short period of time which Laien used to accumulate enough spiritual energy and Qi.
“Go!” Laien cried out in his mind and swept out with his spear. The mix of his Qi and spiritual energy erupted forth, transforming into a grey, freezing mist. He still wasn’t skilled enough to actively make use of the Profound Mystery of Inferno in a true battle, but he could employ his Profound Mystery of the Mist easily enough! With the power of his magic uplifted by his numerous insights, the ice mist was enough to seriously hinder martial masters of the second rank and cause some trouble to those at the third and fourth ranks!
With the grey mist enveloping the few dozen of them, those riders within it lost all the will to fight they had roused up within themselves. The weaker of them felt their skin turning into ice despite their utmost efforts to protect themselves with Qi, while the stronger ones had their combat potential reduced by almost a half. Most of them wanted to back off and get out of the area that mist covered, but… there were three martial masters of the fourth rank who thought more clearly.
“If we are suffering so much, then what about that other Devil? He was attacked by his own comrade! it’s the best chance to finish him off!”
With their thoughts like that, they moved forward instead of retreating. Thanks to their battle sense, they could pinpoint Yin’s position clearly even when they couldn’t see him. They brandished their weapons and prepared to use their martial techniques to kill their target… alas.
When they got close, they finally saw Yin; or to be exact, they saw a flash of lightning that moved in a mysterious, unpredictable way. It was Yin’s Elemental Sword of Lightning; Thunder! The full-strength blow slashed through the chest of one of them, who had attempted to guard with his own blade but failed. The sword of lightning slipped past his guard with ease and pretty much bisected his body, splattering his lungs, heart and breaking his spine. The body of martial masters of a fourth rank could endure a lot, allowing the man to stay conscious for another second… yet, there was nothing that could prevent him from dying right afterward. Not with a huge wound like that and with his heart and spine slashed through.
The remaining two martial masters were so shocked that they began retreating instead of looking for a chance to attack Yin while he was killing their companion. They could see that no frost covered Yin’s body at all! He was standing in this terrible freeing mist just like them, but he appeared to not be affected in the slightest! It was ridiculous; they could exert at most seventy percent of their strength and they were using up their Qi at a worrying rate, but this Devil was fine!
“Djinn’s spawns! Those two are really Djinn’s spawns!” one of them cried out, horrified out of his wits. It wasn’t possible for children to be so strong; it was without a doubt that those two were Devils who had taken a human form! Why did they need to offend those Devils?! What did they do wrong?! They could fight against normal people, but they absolutely didn’t want to make enemies out of those Devils and the Djinns who spawned them into the world!
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Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 80. Intense Battle.
During the seconds the ridiculous events were playing out on the flank of his unit, Yimar Furi could at most curse repeatedly within his heart. He had no time to as much a cry out an order as during the last four, five seconds he had been continuously assaulted by a relentless barrage of attacks! With every other exchange, the red-white Qi of Reian’s would find a way to break through his defenses and injure him; had he not been a dual practitioner of water-element capable of repeatedly healing himself during battle, his whole body would have been full of wounds!
“Djinn’s spawns! Those two are really Djinn’s spawns!”
The terrified, Qi-enhanced cry resounded throughout the area, causing the expression on Yimar Furi’s face to turn even uglier. What for the Good Rala were those kids? How could they alone have thrown almost half of his men into a complete disarray? He would have still been able to accept it if they had only used elemental stones and fled, but they actually chose to assault his men! And they were gaining momentum! Were those two truly Devils birthed from the accused Djinn?
“Yimar!” One of the three black-golden clothed men finally broke free from the repeated magic assaults the three White Guards who remained in the rear were sending at their men. He slashed out with his scimitar, releasing a tempest of raging wind that contained countless small Qi-blades and a few large Qi-blades! This was the Shattering Wind; the most powerful martial technique at that black-golden clothed man’s disposal.
Under the assault of another martial master of the fifth rank, Reian could only take a step back and go on the defensive. He also slashed out with his sword, sending out a mixture of flame and wind to meet the black-golden-clothed man’s martial technique. The two collided, maintaining a stalemate for the briefest of times before they both shattered into pieces. However, the remnant energy of the Shattering Wind continued onwards; it clashed against Reian’s protective Qi and although it didn’t wound him, it pushed him back over ten meters before he managed to come to a stop.
“What a monster…” the black-golden-clothed man groaned. He had used the strongest technique in his arsenal and ambushed Reian with it, but Reian still met it head-on and came out only slightly worse off. He was quite a bit stronger than Yimar Furi in frontal combat, but he still could only gain this much advantage after wasting almost one-fifth of his Qi? He needed to admit that White Guard truly lived up to its name.
“I will deal with him!” the black-golden-clothed man tightened the grip of his hand on the hilt of his scimitar. Reian was already coming back to attack him; saying those few words was all he could find time to say. If they wanted to deal with those White Guard and those Devils at their flank, they needed to each make use of their strongest points; and Yimar Furi’s ability as a martial master paled in comparison to his accomplishments as a spiritual master!
Able to take a breath thanks to his trusted commander’s help, Yimar Furi quickly swept the battlefield with his gaze. He couldn’t see what was going on to the left too well because of the grey mist obstructing his view, but he could sense his men running out of it in the back. In front of him, one of his commanders was fighting off Reian, while to the left the two remaining ones were battling that woman, Jasmine… and although they were suppressing her, it didn’t look like they would be able to finish this duel anytime soon.
“Traka, go and deal with those Devils to the right! Sharu, keep that woman occupied! Spiritual masters, suppress the remaining two!”
With Yimar Furi’s swift orders, the battle became more orderly. To begin with, just the few elites of theirs were enough to tie up the four White Guards for a period of time; the rest of their men, in consequence, should have been able to act freely and cause the battle to end quickly! Yet, because the fight had broken out so abruptly none of them were mentally prepared to act; moreover, Laien and Yin had thrown one of their flanks into utter chaos. Due to that, they hadn’t been able to make use of their overwhelming numerical advantage in their first clash.
Yet now, with Yimar Furi retreating to the back and giving out orders to respective men as he did so, everything was beginning to change. On one flank one of the black-golden-clothed man, Traka, was bringing order to those who fled out of the grey mist, while those at the second flank were finally making their move and circling around the four White Guards and the others who protected Arslan.
The moment Arslan was captured would be the moment signaling the end of the battle. With a direct threat to Mustafa’s son’s life, those four white Guards would stop fighting for sure; they would then only need to kill those damned Djinn spawns and bring this battle to end for good.
“Keep dreaming!” Sirius roared and released a mass of water and ice at the twenty or so men that were trying to get to their backs. He had prepared the spell beforehand and only waited for a good opportunity, having spotted the movements of Yimar Furi’s men before they began for good. With a full-chant spell from a supreme spiritual master of the fifth rank like him, be it martial masters of the third or fourth rank, they would all need to pay a big price if they wanted to receive the magic head-on!
“Now!” Yet in response, a very similar magic was released by the dozens of spiritual masters under Yimar Furi’s direct command. Although individually none of them could hold a candle to Sirius, a combined spell of so many of them was more than enough to make up for their lacking strength. The two powerful magics collided mid-air and after half a second, splattered at the spot of the collision, effectively nullifying each other.
White Yimar Furi smiled, Sirius cursed. Had it been a normal battle he wouldn’t have been all that worried, but he needed to protect Arslan! Those guards of Laien and Yin’s weren’t all that strong and Kasha was low on spiritual energy, not to mention that she herself was still much too weak! If those two dozen men were allowed to spread out and attack them as they liked, it would be a disaster!
Just as Sirius was thinking so, a small foundation of blood spurted from the neck of one of those flanking martial masters as his head fell and rolled on the ground. Barely noticeable strands of shadows fluttered behind the man, before dissipating into nothingness and moving on. Not even a full heartbeat later, another of the martial masters lost his head, becoming a corpse without knowing who or what killed him.
“Assassin! Get toge-“ someone began yelling while releasing his aura and looking around, but all he noticed was a sudden flash of darkness before his face had been pierced through by a sword. This time, a martial master of the fourth rank died! Seeing the black-robed man smile to himself and disappear right afterward, the remaining men panicked. They had all heard about this movement technique! Shadow Step, the trademark technique of the Guild of Shadows! Why was one of those people here?! Fighting against skilled users of the Shadow Step was a nightmare!
“Good!” This time, it was Sirius who smirked. When two more men fell one after another, he laughed a little; he just managed to finish half of a full chant! “That guy knows what he is doing,” he praised, having noticed how the last two people Gahar killed were each further away from the cluster the rest start forming. Without hesitation, he waved his hand and sent hundreds of medium-sized ice spikes at the bulk of those men, keeping the trajectory of the spell low, just at the height of their waists.
As expected, it was impossible for Yimar Furi and his spiritual masters to counter this kind of an attack; those of the flanking martial masters who failed to react in time were all covered with wounds as the ice spikes ripped off parts of their body. There were also three unlucky ones who either screwed up or were extremely unlucky and were directly pieced by a few of the spikes; with their bodies freezing from within, they died soon thereafter.
“Where did that assassin come from?” Yimar Furi wanted to yell to relieve his frustration, but he knew it wasn’t the greatest idea. Yes, they still had a great advantage; the only difference would be how many of his subordinates would die along the way. The final outcome wouldn’t change. “Should I wait for Traka to kill those two monstrosities first?” he wondered, not feeling all that comfortable with focusing his whole attention on chanting as Grand Spell when a skilled assassin roamed the battlefield. Were the man to trade his like to kill him, then it would be a truly pitiable way to die.
While Yimar Furi was trying to make a decision, the black-golden-clothed Traka reorganized the men on the left flank. He stood at the forefront, waiting for the two Djinn spawns to emerge from the slowly dissipating freezing mist. Behind him stood around fifty martial masters; it was a pity that four martial masters of the fourth rank died inside that mist, but the force which remained was by no means weak. Traka wasn’t mourning those loses too much.
As for the spiritual master he had available, he had sent them all to Yimar Furi. He didn’t see their magic as particularly useful in those circumstances, thus he chose to make them useful instead of having them stand and watch needlessly.
“Be ready, they are going to come out at any moment,” he warned, seeing how the grey mist was becoming thinner and thinner. “What are you going to do? Do you have more elemental stones? I can deal with them. More mist? It won’t affect me much. Come on, show me what else you have, you accused Devils,” he mused in silence, a smile unconsciously sneaking onto his face. It wasn’t every day that one could kill a Djinn’s spawn; Traka the Devil Slyer! It sounded very nice to the ear.
“!” The sensation of danger woke him up from his thoughts. “Incoming!” he shouted, readying his scimitar and rousing his earth-element Qi. Out of the three present black-golden-clothed commanders, his attacks were the weakest, but his defense was the strongest! He felt fully confident that his Stone Skin and Earth Armor would allow him to emerge victorious against any opponent and especially against one that used sneak attacks and surprise tactics to win! Against him, those things were useless!
Yet, despite all this self-confidence, his eyes widened when an unfamiliar figure rushed out of the mist, heading straight at him while brandishing a spear. The attacking boy looked nothing like his appearance from a moment ago; his skin was extremely pale, almost snow-white. His black hair turned silvery, with only a few strands of black remaining; and his black eyes were now… unhuman-like. They looked as if silver, white and black flowed within his pupils, making one think of the clear starry sky during summer. It was almost as if one could lose himself just by looking into those eyes…
“Fuck!” Traka cursed inwardly. It wasn’t ‘as if’, one’s thoughts truly would be dismayed if one started into those strange eyes! “Fight!” he shouted and took step closer, aware that most of his men were momentarily dazed and forgot that they were in the middle of a life-or-death battle. He took a defensive position, aware that it would only be asking for a counter if he attempted to strike at a spear-wielder before getting into the effective range of his weapon. He was ready to meet that Ice Devil head-on… but then, something completely unbelievable happened.
At once, the remnants of the fading mist dispersed as a huge amount of lightning burst forth from the, creating something akin to two grand, over twenty meters long swords of lightning!
“Swords…” Traka and his subordinates were momentarily astonished. There weren’t many martial masters capable of unleashing techniques at this level, but that green-haired boy… no, that Lightning Devil… his arms were crossed, the grand twin swords looking like… like wings growing out of his back.
“Wings of the Storm!” Yin cried out inwardly and slashed with his twin swords, sending the two wings of lightning rolling forth. The speed of this attack was such that fleeing was night impossible; the only option was to withstand the mass of lightning that strode forward, seemingly unstoppable!
“Is he sacrificing the other one?” In contrast to his men, who were terrified for their lives, Traka kept relative calm. With his two mighty defensive arts, he didn’t fear a large scale technique of this kind. Thus, he couldn’t help but wonder why would that Lightning Devil opt to attack in this way; did he not understand it wouldn’t bring him victory or was he simply desperate?
On the other hand, a few of those who had seen the reverse situation happen came to a sudden understanding. Those Devils, they were invulnerable to each other’s attacks! Yet, even though they realized this fact, there was no time for them to open their mouths, much less shout this piece of information out. Before they could blink, the wave of lightning eclipsed the Ice Devil and struck at Traka and them, then proceeded to roll through their ranks and assault their protective Qi.
Those in the front had born the brunt of the force of lightning. As Traka expected, he withstood the attack without getting wounded. However, the few confident martial masters of the second rank who wanted to claim achievements and positioned themselves in the forefront were literally scorched to death by the raging lightning; it broke through their protective Qi, burrowed into their bodies and churned them from inside. Six of them died while standing, while overall ten more were heavily wounded. Apart from them though, there were only some more mildly hurt martial masters of the third rank; in the end, those men were closer to the high-end than to being average. It wouldn’t be so easy to take them out, not with an area-of-effect technique like Wings of the Storm.
“I should-“ Traka thought about moving forward himself to kill off that transformed Ice Devil, but contrary to his expectations he was met with a thrust of the spear coming directly out of the sea of lightning! “How can he move so fast! Is he… no!” he understood what happened almost instantly, but the reaction of his body was just a little bit too late. Instead of blocking the thrust, he merely managed to push it to the side; as a result, the spear hit him in the left shoulder… and actually shattered both his defensive arts, then pierced all the way through his flesh!
It was all because of this lightning…! It tore through his Earth Armor, cracking it apart and weakened his Stone Skin! If only he noticed sooner, if only he thought of this possibility sooner, it wouldn’t have happened!
Traka cursed hideously, but despite his anger, he didn’t lose his cool completely. He clenched his teeth and directly grabbed the shaft of the spear with his left hand and simultaneously, slashed at the Ice Devil with the scimitar he was holding in his right hand! He wasn’t all that skilled in attacking, but he was a genuine martial master of the fifth rank! A full-strength blow from him would be enough to cut someone at the same level in hand if the person failed to defend in time!
“Die!” Traka shouted inside his mind, but when he noticed the absolutely calm look in the Ice Devil’s mysterious eyes, a seed of doubt snuck into his heart. “Armguard?” the thought passed through his mind as he watched the Ice Devil rise his left hand to defend. “This kind of thing won’t help you…” he thought confidently and followed through with the slash.
To his secret relief, he indeed felt the armguard crumble under his blow. He felt his scimitar sink into the Ice Devil’s arm as it was being pushed down by the sheer force of the blow… but… but. Something was! He understood something was wrong, but before he could think about it more, his scimitar tore through the Ice Devil’s shoulder and chest, leaving a wound. A wound…!?
“Impossible!” Traka’s eyes widened. The hand the Ice Devil used to block was terribly wounded and the bone was visible, but it hadn’t been cut off! The Ice Devil’s chest was also wounded, but the bloody line wasn’t even all that deep! It barely tore through the muscles! It made no sense at all; this Ice Devil clearly was a dual practitioner at the eighth mortal realm, so how could he be so freakishly powerful?
As shocked as he was that he couldn’t finish off his opponent in one blow, Traka was about to raise his arm and deliver another slash, but the indescribable pain which suddenly surged from his left shoulder made him flinch, momentarily robbing him of his ability to move. The spear…! It was still stuck in his shoulder…! As more and more of his unprotected flesh turned into ice, Traka jerked to the side, attempting to get free in any possible way.
At this moment, Laien revealed a pained, but satisfied smile. He pulled his spear to the side with all his strength, helping Traka get free and in consequence, shattering the whole shoulder of his and making his half-frozen left arm fall into the ground. “It would have been best to kill him, but…” Laien mused as he sent Qi and spiritual energy towards his left forearm and to the wound at his chest. If it was plausible, he would have killed that martial master of the fifth rank, but he didn’t want to risk taking another blow to accomplish that; he most likely wouldn’t have been to take another attack in this manner, not when he was still recovering.
The little over forty martial masters under Traka knew not what to do. Most of them had trouble making any swift movements due to the lingering effects of the lightning… and they had just witnessed their commander exchanged blows with the Ice Devil, both of them getting wounded terribly as a result!
Retreating, Traka coughed up blood and gasped for air. His left lung was gone and it had been very close to his heart getting frozen; he had brushed past death at this very moment! “They are so freakish, those Djinn spawns! But at the very least…” he glanced at the silver-haired Ice Devil, but what he saw caused him to almost faint. It had been two seconds at most, but the slash across the Ice Devil’s chest was almost gone while the bone-deep wound on his left forearm was healing so fast it was possible to see muscles and flesh growing back up with naked eye!
“Kill him! Kill him before he heals himself!” Traka yelled, drops of blood spurting from his mouth with each word. He was in no state to fight; if that Devil regenerated, then he would never be able to face Rala in the afterlife and hold his head high…! It was unacceptable!
The forty men hesitated; could they truly kill something that almost killed their commander in one exchange of blows? On the other hand, did they have any other option? They could only fight if they wanted to live! There was no other way. The remaining two martial masters of the fourth rank had come to this conclusion earliest and they were naturally in the best state out of everyone; one of them wielding a sword, one of them wielding a scimitar, they kicked the ground and rushed towards the silver-haired youth… towards the Ice Devil.
“Water Flow…” Laien stood his ground, the layer of ice mist covering his spear turning into a stream of water. He observed the two martial masters carefully, focusing on defense… but at the same time looking for an opportunity to counter. “I can’t afford any mistakes, I already used up half of my Qi and spiritual energy and Yin isn’t much better off,” he reminded himself, then stopped thinking at all.
He welcomed the fact that the two men didn’t start out with powerful martial techniques; he moved his spear in a seemingly slow, unhurried way to meet the incoming sword. He grabbed it with the flowing water, pulling it off course and he lightly stepped to the side. With a swish, the heavy slash cut nothing but the air; as for the second man, he couldn’t attack as he suddenly found his companion between himself and his target.
“It flows, it pulls and swallows…” the unconscious words passed through Laien’s mind as he deflected the second sword strike of the apparently agitated man. Then, his expression changed into an ‘Oh!’ one as he spotted something that now seemed so simple, but had been so hard to understand previously. “Water Flow manipulates, but only when it’s joined with Water Tide can it push back.” Another strangely calm thought surfaced in Laien’s head as he took two quick steps to the side, making it so the scimitar-wielding man couldn’t find a good spot to attack him.
“It’s not about countering at all. It’s about making your opponent to move as you want him to, then as the tide changes, making him fall down on his own.” Laien mused with a smile, unintentionally making a shiver run down the sword-wielding man’s spine. Just like before, he met the man’s slash with his spear, but unlike all those other times, he didn’t simply catch the attack and throw it away; he made it come out at a spot that was likely to follow a set pattern, as long as he simply pretended to want to attack… yes, just like that, slowly, without hurrying.
Unaware of Laien’s thoughts, the sword-wielding man thrust with his sword and slashed with it, but none of his attacks met any resistance; they were literally sliding along the streams of water, causing him to grow very nervous. He had fought against many different people in his lifetime, but he had never experienced being led by the nose in this manner, even when he had been but a weak kid.
Unable to bear with it anymore, he roused more of his Qi and prepared to use the strongest technique at his disposal. Alas, the moment he pulled his sword back in order to swing it, he felt as if some force caused his movements to become wider than he intended to as if something was pulling him from behind… or maybe pushing him from the front. “Ah,” he exclaimed when he noticed the white spear following along the blade of his sword. Before he could do anything, the spear pierced through his chest and ruptured his heart; he might have lived for a minute long even in that state, but when his internal organs were washed over with forest, any signs of life instantly disappeared from his eyes.
Although almost ten blows had been exchanged between Laien and the sword-wielding man, it had in truth taken no longer than two, three seconds. The scimitar-wielding man was furious; he pushed his companions corpse away and assaulted Laien… but his senses were too clouded by the rage. He didn’t notice when Yin moved behind him with his Lightning Steps; and when he became aware of the danger, his head went flying. Due to one split-second of carelessness, he lost his life.
The forty men who had been rushing over to attack halted at once. Their last two officers had been killed… there were only martial masters of the third and second rank left amongst them. Would they be able to deal with those two Devils on their own? Even Traka had nearly lost his life… weren’t they delivering themselves into jaws of death if they attacked without any plan?
While the forty men paused in their actions, Yimar Furi was overcome with a cascade of emotions. He had been considering whether to chant a Grand Spell or not, then two wing-swords of lighting appeared at their left flank. The next thing he knew was Traka retreating towards him with one-third of his chest gone or frozen and without anything left of his left arm and shoulder. He had shaken the shock off quickly and was about to order some of the water-element spiritual masters to heal Traka, but the next second he saw two martial masters of the fourth rank falling one after another.
… It was a complete disaster! He had taken into consideration the strength of those four White Guards. It was hard, but two of his commanders were able to tie up Reian and Jasmine, while his spiritual masters could keep Sirius and Kasha in check. The appearance of an extremely skilled assassin was troublesome, but not beyond what they could deal with. Yet, the strength of those two twelve years old boys… of those Devils had far exceeded his wildest imagination.
Were they going to fail…? No, they couldn’t afford to fail! If they retreated now and if Mustafa survived the battle in the west, then it wasn’t just them, but all of their families, everyone who lived in the City of Masalle would be as good as dead!
“Hold those devils off, make sure they can’t approach us!” he shouted to the forty men, then positioned himself in the middle of the spiritual masters and said while limiting the range of his voice with his Qi. “I need thirty-five of you, we are casting the Water-Ice Apocalypse Grand Spell! The rest of you, keep that assassin away from us at the cost of your lives!”
Since it had come to this, all that was left was to employ the extreme measures. As he thought that, Yimar Furi looked directly at the place where Arslan was standing at.
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Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 81. Gambling With One’s Life.
“So strong,” Arslan uttered. He had been feeling mostly anger in the beginning, but as the battle progressed the rage within him changed into a sense of amazement. Of course, he was worried and nervous, but more than that he was awestruck; he had known that his White Guards were powerful practitioners and he had also been aware that Laien and Yin were exceptionally strong for their age. However… “Catch up with them?” he asked himself with a helpless smile, feeling somewhat silly that he was recalling a thing like that when everyone was fighting.
“…”Kasha stared with disbelief as the two kid who were half her age forced over forty martial masters into a standoff. She knew she should be paying attention to the enemies, but she couldn’t help that her mind went blank for a moment. She heard Yimar Furi’s men shout and call those two boys Djinn spawns and Devils; normally she would have thought it to be ridiculous, but now…?
“Focus, little girl!” Sirius raised his voice, seeing that Kasha was dazing off out of the corner of his eye. Yet, despite reprimanding her, he couldn’t wipe the extremely pleased smirk off his own face. He had expected great things from Laien and the boy didn’t betray those expectations; in fact, he had far exceeded them! This brought him a strange sense of satisfaction he thought he had forgotten. It was just like back then, when he had been adventuring through the lands of Arkaria with the adolescent Mustafa. Those days had been filled with danger and strife, but they were his most treasured memories.
A few dozen meters ahead, Jasmine was wilding two slim scimitars, both of them burning with the fire-element Qi. Each time she slashed at her black-golden-clothed opponent, a tongue of flames would surge out of the blade and act like a long whip, causing each of the strikes of hers to be almost impossible to guard against. Were it not for the black-golden-clothed man also possessing a fire affinity, he would have already died twice over in those moments he had been facing Jasmine alone.
In most situations, Jasmine’s focus on speed and the finesse allowed her to overwhelm and kill even those who had deeper cultivations that she had. Once, she had thrown herself at a group of ten martial masters of the fifth rank during a battle just to temper herself; and before she received any help, she had killed three of them without sustaining any serious injuries.
Right now, however, she was facing the worst kind of an opponent; the man was also a martial master of the fifth rank, but he was almost as fast and agile as she was, To make the matters worse, he was quite good at using a layer of flames to defend himself from her attacks; he was using up Qi at a much faster rate than she was, true, but it would take her at least thirty more seconds to tire him out. Considering that it hadn’t even been ten full seconds since this whole clash began, thirty seconds was an incredibly long period of time.
Finally, unlike in a regular battle, she couldn’t leave such a troublesome opponent to her allies or just run away from him and engage someone else. She needed to stand her ground and at the same time pay attention to numerous martial masters who stood just forty, fifty meters away and were only waiting to pound on Arslan and the others the moment any gap appeared.
“I don’t know which lucky star I should thank,” Jasmine mused with a slight smile as she continued whittling down her opponent. “But those two are monstrous geniuses. That spell of Laien’s in Ulme Village was pretty ridiculous… but this? It’s crazy,” she thought while sneaking glances towards the left side of the battlefield, which had become unnaturally calm all of the sudden.
“They really fought them off,” she smiled and almost laughed out loud. Yet, her expression sank soon afterward when she sensed a huge amount of spiritual energy surge behind the lines of those martial masters. “Reian, hurry up and kill him!” she roared, instantly comprehending what Yimar Furi was preparing to do; he was trying to use a small-scale version of a Grand Spell in unison with his spiritual masters! Small-scale Grand Spell may it be, but the sheer volume of spiritual energy that thing contained would be enough to outright kill almost anyone below the level of a martial master of the fourth rank if taken head-on. If Yimar Furi was to aim this Grand Magic at Arslan and the others…! They absolutely couldn’t allow that to happen!
Reian reacted to Jasmine’s cry instantly. He was also able to sense the energy accumulating a few hundred meters ahead, so as unwilling as he was to do so, he stopped preserving his strength. After clashing with the black-golden-clothed commander once more, he retreated two steps and poured a large amount of Qi of both elements into his saber. He grabbed the hilt of the saber with both hands and raised the blade above his head, pulling the raging inferno of fire and wind alongside it.
The wind-element martial masters of the fifth rank who had been managing to hold Reian down so far for the first time felt that his life was directly threatened. That twisted pillar of flame and wind was giving him an extremely dangerous feeling; his instincts were telling him that if he made even the slightest mistake while defending, he would be cut apart and incarnated into ashes by this freakish martial technique.
Thankfully, it was his side that held the advantage in the battle, at least for now. Thus, instead of trying to face the attack head-on, he began quickly retreating while preparing to unleash his own martial technique to defend. However, when he saw Reian continue with the overhead swing, he realized that it wasn’t him who was the primary target, but the five dozen of the men who stood behind him and Sharu! “Defend!” he yelled, knowing that he had screwed up. Had he immediately begun gathering Qi to meet Reian’s attack with a similar one, he would have at least been able to alleviate its destructive power. As it stood now, however, he could at most defend himself and the few people who happened to be directly behind him.
“Hah!” Reian swung his saber almost horizontally, sending the cascade of wild fire and scattering wind, merged in an unfathomable fashion, tumbling towards the area occupied by the bulk of Yimar Furi’s forces. The thousands of wind blades sliced apart everything in their way, scarring the earth as the giant wave rolled onward. Coated in the wind, the fire burned vigorously, raising the temperature to unfathomable levels, acting almost as if it was inside a great furnace of an ancient, northern smithy. The destructive strength of this unnamed, self-created technique… it went beyond the simple addition of the power of the wind and the fire; its power was multiplied many times over the normal limits of each of those separate elements!
His scalp growing numb, the black-golden-clothed man released his own wind-element technique… alas, this attack of his had been previously shattered by a casual saber-strike from Reian. How could it possibly match up against the hellish inferno which Reian unleashed this time? The blades of wind collided with the middle of the great wave, but they dissipated almost instantly, failing to reduce the power of Reian’s technique in the slightest.
“No…!” the black-golden clothed man cried out unwillingly. His instincts had been correct…! He felt the danger so clearly, yet he had assumed he would be fine if he backed off and received the attack calmly. As he regretted not using all the strength possible to withstand this attack… multiple spells of various natures flew over his head and crashed against the top half of the cascading wave of wind and flame. “Yes!” he exclaimed in his heart, seeing how over thirty spells hit the wave and caused its top half to collapse. However, the next split-second, his expression sunk once again. He hurriedly crossed his arms in front of his face as the bottom half of the wave erupted forth, swallowing him and the closest martial masters within it.
“Damn it, damn it, damn it!” he cursed as numerous small wounds were being cut all over his body, followed by the skin and revealed flesh being charred by the flames. He almost couldn’t believe that a martial master of the third rank was capable of using an attack like that, but since Reian was rumored to be the most likely candidate to be the successor of Kundar, the Captain Commander of the White Guard, he just about accepted it as being within the realm of possibility.
Whereas their black-golden-clothed commander was suffering many light wounds, the sixty or so men behind him weren’t as lucky. The over dozen martial masters of the fourth rank were still more or less fine, but those weaker than them were extremely miserable. With the dual-element nature of Reian’s technique, it mattered not if some of them had fire-element or wind-element affinity; thus, almost all martial masters of the third rank ended up receiving relatively heavy wounds, with some unlucky ones getting their limbs cut off by an unexpectedly strong wind blade.
As for those remaining twenty, thirty martial masters of the second rank…? Almost without exception, they all perished, their bodies cut into pieces and burned down right afterward. Not even ashes remained of them.
“How in the world…?!” the black-golden clothed man was beyond flabbergasted when the wave began dying down and he sensed the many disappearing auras of his subordinates. This was the result of them receiving just about half of that technique’s power? Didn’t this mean that if the spiritual masters behind them didn’t act in the nick of time, he would have been the only one to just barely survive? That was too terrifying!
Still, as shocked as he was, the black-golden-clothed man didn’t lose his composure. “He’s coming at me!” he noticed and thus when the rest of the flames in front of him dissipated, he wasn’t surprised to see Reian charging at him. He was surprised, however, to see that Reian’s face was ashen and there were two streaks of blood flowing down from the corners of his lips! “He must have overexerted himself, it’s my chance!” he thought excitedly and prepared to exchange blows with Reian once more; yet, Reian’s figure suddenly blurred, then accelerated to a ridiculous degree.
“Wind Steps? B-but that…!” This time, the black-golden-clothed man couldn’t believe what he was seeing anymore. Amongst the various movement arts, Wind Steps were the hardest to learn! He had been trying to master them his whole life and he hadn’t even scratched the surface of mastery! Hell, forget him, it was widely known that Mustafa had only mastered Wind Steps when he became a martial master of the fifth rank! And it was Mustafa! How could this man, how could Reian do the same when he wasn’t even thirty years old…?!
In front of the overwhelming speed of Reian’s, the black-golden-clothed man couldn’t react in time. All he could do was to try his luck and attempt to guard his chest area randomly with his scimitar. The next split-second, however, the saber pierced directly through the middle of his stomach, causing his eyes to go wide. He was prepared to die the next instant… and yet, what happened once again exceeded his expectations. Instead of Qi flowing through the saber and killing him, he saw Reian tense up and cough out a huge amount of blood.
Rejoicing with this chance he had been given, he hurriedly grabbed the blade of Reian’s saber with his left hand and clenched tightly, stopping any additional Qi from flowing through it. Simultaneously, he slashed out with the scimitar he was keeping at the chest level, aiming to directly decapitate Reian. With a bloodthirsty look in his eyes, he focused on making this one attack as fast as possible, knowing that he was in a very disadvantageous situation; all it would take from Rein to kill him was to pour Qi into the saber with all his strength and push downward. He needed to kill him before that could happen!
With his vision blurring, Reian cursed at himself. He still hadn’t mastered that new technique, now could he use the Wind Steps without any repercussions. Thus, having forced himself to use more than half of his Qi at one go, he had wounded all of his internal organs and damaged his Qi paths; he had simply lost control of his own technique, then forced his body to withstand the high acceleration of Wind Steps.
Truth to be told, it was a miracle that he was still conscious, but his indomitable will allowed him to keep going. He didn’t try to see or think anymore but instead, he allowed his instinct to take over. His Battle Sense was sharp; he raised his left hand and guarded his head and neck with it and at the same time, sent a surge of Qi through his saber. As long as he could kill that man, they would have a real chance at stopping the Grand Spell before it was completed! He needed to bear through it and emerge victorious no matter what!
The black-golden-clothed man was astonished to see that Reian was able to react, but it was all he could do; see. There was no way for him to change the path of his attack and as such, his scimitar burrowed itself deep into Reian’s left hand, slicing through his protective Qi and stopping only at the bone. With just a little bit more, Reian’s hand would be cut off… but the surge of Qi through the saber pretty much shattered the hand of the black-golden-clothed man’s into little bits, causing him to momentarily relieve the pressure on his scimitar.
Alas, the surge wasn’t enough to kill the black-golden-clothed man. The second one, though, would surely end his life. “Screw off!” the man roared and in an act of desperation, let go of his scimitar and took a step forward. His left hand had been turned into a mincemeat and only charred bones remained of it; he did still have his right hand though! With his scimitar, he could at most cut off Reian’s arm, it wasn’t enough! Thus, he abandoned it and clawed at Reian’s head with his right hand, covering it in the sharp wind-element Qi!
At this very instant, Reian suppressed the blood churning within his body and regained his vision. Was this fortune or misfortune, however, it was hard to say. He saw the wind claw approaching his face and instantly kicked at the ground, jumping to the side and yanking out the saber from the black-golden-clothed man’s stomach. He managed to make the claw miss his face… but he didn’t expect it to suddenly expand in size at the last second! He felt how the wind slashed the side of his neck, he felt how the warm blood gushed out of the huge cut. He was sure he was about to die, but when his feet left the ground as he jumped away, he noticed that the wind claw had missed his spine just by millimeters. This kind of wound was terrifying, but at the very least it wasn’t lethal.
“But how do I...” Reian asked himself, wondering if he was going to die because of his recklessness. He wasn’t in a state to fight off that black-golden-clothed man was he to pursue him. Jasmine was too far away to help him in time too. Was this the end of his life? He wondered what to do next, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, a singular, long and sharp spike of ice whistled through the air just beside him; it continued onward at a high speed and actually, pierced right through the wound he had left on the black-golden-clothed man’s stomach!
A hundred meters away, Kasha revealed a very satisfied, evil grin on her face. She had been mostly useless throughout the battle so far; she was only at the first Realm of Heroes and she had used up too much spiritual energy beforehand. She wasn’t sure what she could do… but after Sirius reprimanded her and told her to focus, she decided to prepare one full-chant spell and wait for an opportunity. It had been fortunate that before she couldn’t hold onto her already-activated spiritual energy anymore, a perfect chance presented itself! She didn’t hesitate at all and used the magic, getting the best result possible!
The black-clothed man began coughing, then vomited the content of his stomach along with a large amount of blood. He could only watch as the heavily wounded Reian retreated; he was in no state to give chase and before his wounded men could take action, the path had already been bared by Jasmine, who moved while surpassing Sharu to assist in Reian’s retreat.
“So close,” the black-golden-clothed man thought with regret. He roused his Qi and shattered most of the large ice spike, leaving only the part of it that was inside his stomach. He then headed back to Yimar Furi and the spiritual masters; although thirty-six of them, including Yimar Furi, would be preoccupied with casting the Grand Spell, there were other water-element spiritual masters who could heal him. After all, their City of Masalle boasted the largest number of water-element spiritual masters in the entire southern Eulene, all thanks to Yimar Furi’s influence and strength.
“Hurry, I will patch you up!” Sirius left his original spot for a moment and ran up to Reian. He grabbed him under the shoulder and immediately began using magic to heal his wounds; and as he did, the look on his face turned extremely ugly. “His neck was close to being lethal, but it’s easy to heal. His internal organs though… they are in tatters. The muscles in his legs are also torn, and his bones fractured, not to mention that half cut-off arm,” he inspected solemnly while dragging the half-conscious Reian over to Arslan and the rest.
“He won’t be able to fight anymore,” he informed, making sure to also send his voice towards Jasmine. It didn’t matter if their enemies learned of that; he wouldn’t be able to heal Reian before the Grand Spell’s cast was finished… and to be more realistic, he would have had trouble healing Reian completely even if he had all of his spiritual energy left. The stronger the body, the harder it was to heal it; it was a simple, undeniable principle. There was nothing he could do about it.
“Reian,” Arslan muttered, watching how bloody and beaten-up Reian was. He had been taken care of by Reian for as long as he could remember, so seeing him in such a state brought tears to his eyes. He wanted to walk up and hug Reian, but he was too worried about making his wounds worse to do so. Thus, he stood where he was while sobbing quietly. He hadn’t known that a true battle was that terrible of a thing.
Still, as devastated as Arslan was, he at the very least could think clearly enough. On the other hand, the eight years old Johan had long since forgotten what was going on around him. He merely looked at what was going on, finding all those scenes as if taken out of a dream. All those powerful techniques, the speed at which all those people moved, the way the ground and air trembled as they exchanged blows… to think that people could reach this level of power! What he was seeing appeared so out of this world he no longer knew if it was all a dream or reality.
“Should we help her?” Liza asked while gnashing her teeth. If the whole lot of them assaulted that man Jasmine was fighting against, couldn’t they hold him back for long enough to allow her to charge over and disrupt the casting of the Grand Spell? She really had had enough of standing here and doing nothing while others were fighting for her; weren’t they all going to die if nothing was done anyway? Then, wasn’t it better to at least take the unlikely gamble than to resign themselves to their fate?
“No,” Sirius said strongly before Reian or anyone else could answer. The only reason none of those weaker martial masters hadn’t attempted to charge over here was because the presence of Ruan, Liza and the others deterred them from doing so. With the addition of Gahar keeping their flanks safe, they could more or less stand their ground with Jasmine providing protection from the front. However, the moment Ruan and the others ran off, they would be done; Arslan would be captured soon thereafter and the battle would be over.
“There’s no time.” Jasmine was restless as she kept assaulting her opponent with an endless barrage of slashes and thrusts. “Fall down, fall down, fall down!” she kept shouting inwardly, using as much Qi as she could with each strike. The moment Reian had been forced to retreat, she had abandoned all defense and kept pushing relentlessly… but that stubborn bastard wasn’t even trying to make a counterattack! He kept guarding and defending with a malevolent smile on his face, aware that unless she was hiding some secret, powerful attacks, she would be unable to take him down in time. It pissed her off unbelievably; she was already furious, but now she was beginning to steadily lose it.
“If nothing else works out, I will need to leave him be and attack Yimar Furi before it’s too late,” she told herself and made the hard choice. If worse came to worst, she would stake her life to take Yimar Furi out as quickly as possible. She could only hope that Arslan and Reian wouldn’t be killed before she could at the very least do this much. If anything, she wanted those two to survive no matter what.
Around the same time, just about when Sirius received Reian into his arms, Laien and Yin exchanged a stern glance at the left side of the battlefield. They had done a lot, but they had both used up a little more than half of their energy. They had welcomed the fact that the forty remaining martial masters weren’t eager to attack them as they didn’t feel all that confident in beating them, especially if they were to receive support from those spiritual masters in the rear… but the situation changed.
“Let’s do it,” the two of them mused, thinking about the same thing. They weren’t too familiar with Grand Spells, but they could sense a huge amount of spiritual energy swirling around Yimar Furi, who stood in the middle of a formation created by nearly three dozen spiritual masters. They were certain it was because of this thing that Reian had changed his approach so suddenly and made a dangerous bet… which he had failed to win. It didn’t look like Jasmine would defeat her own opponent anytime soon, so everything was up to them. Either they pulled off what they were thinking about or they would all most likely be defeated and subsequently, killed.
Without any signal, the two of them began running at full speed straight across the battlefield, directly toward Jasmine.
This action of theirs was so sudden that the forty martial masters took good two or three seconds before something clicked in their brains and they realized what those two wanted to do… and the moment they realize it, they understood they absolutely couldn’t allow those two Devils to join that woman! The three of them would undoubtedly be able to quickly kill Sharu, then proceed to interrupt Yimar Furi in casting the Grand Spell! They couldn’t allow that to happen!
The bunch of them gathered their courage and rushed towards the middle of the battlefield. Due to how they had been positioned before those two Devils started running, they managed to cut into their path in spite of acting with a fairly large delay. They all grit their teeth and prepared to fight the two Devils; as long as they held them back long enough, this battle would be won and all of them would accomplish a great merit! Given Yimar Furi’s character, it was certain they would be rewarded heavily! Driven by their sense of duty, pride and greed, they stood their ground, waiting for the two Devils to attack.
“Tch,” Laien clicked his tongue. He had faintly hoped that those guys would be too scared or reluctant to take action. However… it looked like everything wouldn’t be solved so easily. The silver lining was that there were no martial masters of the fourth rank left amongst those forty men; the problem, though, was that almost all of them were martial masters of the third rank!
With no other path to take, Laien and Yin plowed into the ranks of the forty martial masters. They only had one goal in their minds:
Break through! Break through, else everything would be lost!
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
edited December 2017
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 82. Struggling for a Miracle.
“Surround them!” one of the martial masters yelled, cold sweat soaking his back as he watched the two Devils charge at him. If there weren’t his companions to the left, to the right and even behind him, he would have likely fled already. However, since he wasn’t alone, he couldn’t possibly do something so disgraceful just because he was so scared his legs were shaking. Those two Devils had almost killed commander Traka and had killed many of his comrades, almost all of whom were stronger than him; thus, as he raised his sword to defend, he could already see the scenes of himself being killed flash before his eyes.
Despite being filled with Qi, his hands were cold; he saw the white spear covered by a layer of milky-white frost sweep towards his torso from a downward angle and almost as if he was giving up on his life, he attempted to guard. Then, the steel clashed and a layer of true cold covered his hands, causing his skin all the way up to forearms to sting painfully, however… he had actually blocked the attack, and the strength of it wasn’t something he couldn’t deal with! He didn’t think he could keep receiving such blows continuously since his innate elemental affinity was quite low, and it was of an element that provided little with regards to defense; wind. Yet, he didn’t need to keep exchanging blows with that Ice Devil on his own, he wasn’t alone!
To one side, one of his companions clashed with the Lightning Devil and was instantly put on the back foot. He just barely blocked the first slash of the twin swords, but the lightning that danced along the blades caused his hand to grow numb and the very next attack slipped past his defense and left a deep wound across the side of his chest. The next split-second, before anyone could come to his rescue and before he could regain full control of his body, the third attack came; a simple, but incredibly swift thrust pierced through his heart, the lightning ravaging the interior of his body and causing him to die before he could muster any kind of last-breath retaliation.
… the man who had just received Laien’s attack suddenly began feeling less confident. Wasn’t this second Devil a bit too frightening?
It only made sense though. Laien’s combat power might have risen half a rank thanks to him gaining insights into the Profound Mystery of the Mist, but he still wasn’t a match for Yin in a frontal, physical clash. Moreover, Laien’s spear arts boasted the supreme defensive skill while Yin’s sword arts were heavily biased towards offence; it wasn’t surprising that in a brief one-on-one exchange, Laien would at most be able to slightly wound a strong martial master of the third rank while Yin would in most cases, be able to wound him heavily or outright kill him. Unless his opponent was extremely skilled in defense, it would be hard for anyone to withstand Yin’s attacks, given their speed and penetrative power.
Right after those two first exchanges happened, both Laien and Yin were assaulted from the sides by the closest martial masters. As for their reactions…
“Water Flow, Flood Tide!” Laien mused half-consciously as he applied the two Elemental Spear Arts. The ice covering his spear once again turned into water as he fell into a state similar to a trance; he loosened the grip on the shaft and quickly shifted the order of his hands while taking a small step forward with his left leg. He raised the back-end of his spear to meet the downward slash of the man he had attacked first, simultaneously tracking… or rather, simply being aware of the movements of the man attacking him from the right.
Just as the first man’s sword was about to meet with the back-end of his spear, he reversed the movement, his spear leaving a knot-like path of water as it changed directions. “Water Flow, Falling Tide,” the thought passed through Laien’s mind as he stepped into space in-between the two men, making a large but swift step forward. Having avoided the attack of the first man, he once again, very much naturally, changed the nature of his Water Tide Elemental Art; he swirled his spear and pushed the follow-up slash of the second man out of the way; the attack had missed him at first, so the follow up had no weight behind it… deflecting it was incredibly easy.
Yin, on the other hand, took an approach that was in a way both more direct and more roundabout. He kicked away the corpse of the man he killed first, buying himself a split-second of safety from one side. Then, he blocked the scimitar that was coming at him from the left with one of his twin swords and almost instantly, followed up with a slash from the sword in his right hand. This time, however, his opponent defended properly and was quite apparently more skilled; the lightning had little effect due to the man’s earth-element defense too. Killing him would require a bit of time… but killing all of those martial masters wasn’t a realistic goal, now was it a goal Yin had in mind.
“Right… now,” he executed the Lightning Steps and moved away when three men assaulted him almost at the same time. He didn’t move far though; he appeared just at the spot through which Laien’s spear passed a millisecond ago. He knew that man was here, he knew that he had just failed to deliver an all-out attack due to his sword being sent sideways by Laien’s spear, so he acted without any delay at all; he slashed with the sword he held in the right hand and decapitated the man, then without stopping the momentum of his body, he lowered his stance heavily and took three short, quick steps as he rotated his body and moved clockwise.
He revealed a slight smile when Laien’s spear whistled through the air above him and forced yet another man to raise his guard to bock instead of attacking. He didn’t miss the opportunity and attacked mercilessly, slashing at the man’s lower torso with the incredibly sharp blade of his sword. He felt the pressure on his grip increase slightly as the steel cut through the man’s protective Qi and muscles, but this pressure disappeared quickly as his sword left the man’s body along with a spurt of blood.
There was an unwillingness in the man’s eyes as the life seeped out of his body. He felt cheated; that Ice Devil wasn’t even looking when he swept out with the spear to attack him; to him, it all looked like an accident… and that accident made him unable to defend against the Lightning Devil. His body had been torn into two halves, his internal organs had been shattered and lightning destroyed his Qi paths. He saw the world flip as his upper body fell backward; he would likely survive for a few seconds longer, then he would lose consciousness and die within ten, fifteen more seconds. For the first time ever, he wanted to curse the durability of a martial master’s body.
Alas, no one was aware of the man’s thoughts as he was dying. At the moment, all of his comrades were preoccupied with something else.
Laien and Yin didn’t stop for even a second; they continued circling with their backs turned to each other, moving with such coordination that it seemed as if their bodies and minds were one. It looked almost as if the two of them were performing an extremely complicated dance, as sometimes they would both move smoothly, defending and attacking respectively in the exact same rhythm, but at other times they would change the tempo abruptly and without a warning.
One of the braver and less lucky of those martial masters had a chance to experience this ridiculousness first-hand. He had attempted to read the rhythm of the Ice Devil’s Defense and aim for an opening to attack either him or the Lightning Devil and he had even succeeded. He had been about to use a fire-element martial technique to attack the Lightning Devil when those two stopped abruptly; before he could adjust his position, the back-end of the Ice Devil’s spear blasted through the space opened by the Lightning Devil abruptly twisting his torso.
There was no way he could dodge that attack; he had been hit in the stomach and blasted away… and to his shock, skewered right through by an ice spike. Now, a few seconds later, he was backing off hurriedly, wounded too heavily to continue fighting. Even though a thick spike through the stomach wouldn’t have normally been enough to incapacitate him, the ice energy which proceeded to spread through his innards had almost killed him. He survived only thanks to his fire-affinity; had he been born with an affinity to any other element, he would have almost certainly died.
“How can they work together like that? They really aren’t human,” he complained, watching how the Devils continued their dance and kept pressing towards the center of the battlefield.
“Attack them! Don’t let them get through!” one of the martial masters in the middle of their lines shouted nervously, but his companions in the front only felt like cursing him. What did he mean by ‘Attack them, don’t let them get through?’ - if he was so smart, he should come over and help them! This kind of thing… they had never dealt with anything relatively similar ever before! They were trying to attack or stop those two Devils, but all they were getting in exchange were wounds and deaths! Since those two plunged into their ranks, four of their companions had already been killed off! What were they supposed to do against those two freaks?!
“Martial techniques! Back off and use martial techniques!” someone yelled and almost instantly, everyone listened to him. No one was enthusiastic about attack those Devils head-on, so they welcomed a safer approach. However, the moment they began creating distance between them and the Devils… Laien and Yin simply changed their approach for a moment.
The two of them stopped circling and instead, rushed straight ahead. Laien sped up as well as he could, while Yin executed the Lightning Steps and followed up with the Elemental Sword of Lightning; Thunder. At Yin’s current level, it would be hard for even a martial master of the fourth rank to fully guard against this attack, much less a martial master of the third rank who had been attempting to use a martial technique; the man had a greater portion of his chest cut through, he died instantly.
Following the instant kill, Laien forced his way between the middle line of the martial masters through the opening. Just like before, he swirled his spear and focused on defending. Yin joined in right afterward and did his part of the job, killing two more martial masters along his way; one of the third rank and one of the second rank. The two of them moved past the middle part of the group of those forty… or more like thirty martial masters, getting ever so close to the place where Jasmine was holding off one black-golden-clothed man and keeping a whole bunch more of Yimar Furi’s subordinates in check.
“Kill them! Kill them!” the black-golden-clothed man, Sharu, yelled in desperation. There were maybe one hundred meters separating him from those two Devils; Yimar Furi was casting a Grand Spell, so he couldn’t very well change his position either… and those three dozen or so martial masters behind him couldn’t afford to leave the spiritual masters alone, all because of that assassin hiding somewhere in the distance and looking for an opportunity to strike. He already had his hands full with Jasmine, if those two Djinn spawns joined in, he would be killed in an instant!
“Kill them, or we will all die!” he shouted one more time, his voice carrying both a furious command and an immense fear within it.
The thirty martial masters grew frantic; moments ago, they still reasoned with themselves and through about things like camaraderie and achievements to gather the courage to fight. Now, however… they once again, and this time very thoroughly, realized that if they failed to stop the Devils, then all of their lives would be forfeit. Thus, they renewed their efforts and began piling up upon the two Devils and attacking them like crazy, no longer caring whether they would be wounded or killed in consequence. They attacked with abandon, discarding their lives for the sake of killing those two monstrosities.
And when they did, they found out that no matter how waterproof the Ice Devil’s defense was and no matter how agile and fast the Lightning Devil was, it was impossible for them to fight back against an enraged crowd of martial masters of the third rank. The dance of the Devil’s grew erratic, then broke down completely; no matter how good their cooperation was, it was impossible for them to fend off crazed, fearless attack coming five, six directions at once. The Devils managed to claim three more lives before finally, they could no longer keep up.
The Qi-engulfed swords and scimitars began falling on their bodies despite their best attempts to dodge and defend.
Laien, whose defense was superb, could still hold on; he could fend off most the attack with his spear, while those that went through would at most leave scratches and small wounds all over his snow-white skin. Despite being in a bad place, he still had some room to fight back; as long as he had enough Qi and spiritual energy, it would be extremely hard for any martial master of the third rank to kill him without resorting to their most powerful martial techniques.
Yin, however… as they were surrounded tightly, he couldn’t use Lightning Steps to dodge. He didn’t have a superb defensive technique like Laien’s Ice Body either, so despite his innate toughness, his arms, shoulders and the sides of his chest began steadily covering in wounds, his clothes soaking with more and more of his own blood. At this rate, it was only matter of time before one of those attacks slipped past his weakening defenses and injured him in a critical place.
“They won’t make it in time,” Jasmine groaned. It had already been well over fifteen seconds since they start trying to break through; she had a lot of experience with Grand Spells, so she could tell that Yimar Furi was seconds away from completing the magic. Two or three seconds after that, the Spell would form and they would be all done with. “There’s no other choice…” she
“Let me…!” Reian clutched his saber and attempted to stand up from the ground, but Sirius’s hand pressed onto his shoulder strongly, keeping him in place. Resentful, Reian turned his head and sent Sirius a hateful gaze… but despite all those emotions, he understood the pointlessness of his own action. He had just been held down by Sirius, whose martial cultivation was merely at the late stage of the ninth mortal realm. If he couldn’t overpower him, how could he possibly fight against dozens of martial masters? All he would be doing was throwing his life away, but…! What else could he do in this situation? Was there any other way out? He, for once, couldn’t see any!
Amidst the over two dozen crazed martial masters, Yin felt himself growing weaker. The precious seconds passed and despite him having killed two more of their enemies and Lain having killed four, they weren’t making enough progress. There was only one way out of this peril, and he was sure that Laien’s wouldn’t agree… but he needed him to do it! He needed him to listen!
“Laien, jump!” he shouted in his mind, transferring the thought as clearly as he could through their spiritual bond. The next instant, still knowing not whether Laien would listen to him or not, he forced himself to release a surge of lightning in all directions; he understood that a crude attack like that wouldn’t do much harm to those martial masters, but all he needed was to startle them for a split-second, nothing else!
He rejoiced when he sensed that Laien listened to him and jumped up in the air. With Laien’s ability, it wouldn’t be hard to create a foothold for himself and propel himself toward Jasmine. Had Laien been fully rested, it would have also been possible for him to create an ice barrier to negate most of the attacks and use his Ice Body to withstand whatever was left… but he understood it quite clearly. With how much energy Laien had already used up, he couldn’t afford to do it! He hadn’t even bothered to heal the multiple small wounds he had received; he didn’t have enough energy left!
“All of nothing…” Yin thought with a nervous smile, then just as Laien was forming a platform to jump off of in mid-air, he kicked at the ground and used Lightning Steps twice in quick succession. First, he jumped at one of those martial masters, then jumped up into the air at an angle… and made sure to guard his heart and head with his twin swords.
“Those crazy…!” Jasmine and the black-golden-clothed man shared the same thoughts when they saw what was happening. Jumping into the air was suicidal; even Mustafa, who could effortlessly execute Air Walking, didn’t do that in large-scale battles for the fear of his life. Yet, those two…!
For a second, everyone’s gaze was drawn towards the two youths flying through the air. Some of those gazes were hopeful but filled with pain, some of those gazes were flabbergasted, some hateful and yet other were full of ridicule. However, regardless of all those gazes, the weapons and the mid-range techniques of those below shot upward, all of them aiming at the two figures in the air.
First came the blades, as the two figures were still rising; the sword and scimitars slashed out ruthlessly, almost all of them landing on Yin’s body, carving up pieces of flesh off his arms, legs and his torso. His skin was torn, his muscles severed, his bones crushed and broken. He coughed up blood when his stomach was torn and internal organs sliced into pieces. Every cell in his body was screaming out in pain as his vitality faded; this was far worse than being wounded in his magical beast form back in that cavern… alas, this time he couldn’t have transformed even if he wanted.
The moment he did, the Heavenly Lightning would undoubtedly escape his control. If he was lucky, it would only cripple his cultivation base; if he was less fortunate, it would kill him, Laien and everyone else in the proximity of a few hundred meters.
The next instant, when they got slightly higher and slightly further ahead, the various martial techniques came at them. With Yin’s consciousness slipping away, he would have likely died had he been hit by all of those attacks… but those martial masters below failed to realize what they were doing wrong in time. They all shot their martial arts regardless of their elemental affinity and regardless of the spot they were occupying; as a result, the nearly dozen martial techniques all collided in the air and exploded, releasing fire, wind and water in all directions and sending the two youths flying further.
“Yin…!” Laien felt as if he was going crazy. It was their only choice to make it in time and have a chance to prevail in the end… but he couldn’t bear it! He couldn’t…! He not only saw how Yin took the blows for him, he could sense his pain, he could tell how much he was suffering! All because he was protecting him so desperately! This feeling of helplessness infuriated him completely; he wished he could simply wipe out all those martial masters below him along with Yimar Furi and the rest of those goddamn people, but he was too weak…! He was still too weak…! Was his best friend going to die because he had been too reckless again? No… no, no, no, no… No!
As they were spinning around while falling to the ground, Laien canceled the Ice Body technique and grabbed at Yin’s body, at the same time creating a layer of water around his hands to immediately start healing him. He shuddered when he felt the torn flesh and warm blood between his fingers; a normal human would have died instantly from this kind of wounds, with more than half of his internal organs gone and with his limbs barely resembling anything anymore. It was only because of Yin’s magical beast constitution that he was still alive.
“You can’t die, I won’t let you die!” Laien shouted out within his mind and without caring for the plan they had, began pouring out Qi and spiritual energy from his body to heal Yin. Yet, as he began doing so, out of nowhere a black arrow came flying; it pierced right through the left side of Yin’s chest, going directly through it before lodging itself into his shoulder. With his mind going blank, Laien’s eyes lost their focus; it was then when he saw him, standing in the back, smiling. The dark-cloaked man, Zakar, stood there with a large bow in his hand, looking directly at them.
The two of them hit the ground and rolled roughly toward Jasmine. Then, they stopped abruptly when Laien created some water and used it as a cushion.
“Hold him-…” Jasmine, despite being greatly disturbed by what happened, began shouting at Laien, hoping that he would be able to delay Sharu and buy her time to stop the Grand Spell that was already forming above Yimar Furi and his thirty-five spiritual masters. However, she froze half-step the next second when Laien’s yell resounded in her ears
“Stay where you are!”
There was no Qi or spiritual energy in this yell, it wasn’t all that loud… but for some reason, the indescribable anger that was present within it, and yet was overshadowed by stern conviction, made her come to a stop before she could make a conscious decision. Half a second later, she asked herself what in the world was she doing… but it was already too late. Her opponent started running away on his own… the Grand Spell, the humongous mass of water and ice the size of a large hill was about to come crashing at their group.
“At the very least, the little master and Reian….!” she thought as she jumped back. Perhaps, if she saved those two by using up all of her strength and sacrificing her body in the process, then they would be a chance for them to live on…!
A few hundred meters away, Yimar Furi laughed inwardly when he saw Jasmine rushing over to Arslan. “Good, protect him for me. It would be bad for us if he ended up dying, after all!” he thought with a smile on his face. “Go forth, Water-Ice Apocalypse!” he cried out with his mind and with some effort, send the giant mass of water and ice at Jasmine and the others.
The nearby martial masters of his fled as fast as they could, while Jasmine and Sirius were preparing to receive the Grand Spell.
“Yin, Yin!” Kasha held Arslan tightly as he struggled in her arms, crying and shouting as he tried to run over to Yin and Laien.
It didn’t take long; the Grand Spell, despite its size and mass, wasn’t slow at all. It rumbled through the air, coming down at an angle. It shrouded the sun, covering the area it was aiming at in one huge shadow. The volume of water, the grand boulders of ice, the spikes and shards… they were all crashing down, promising to lay waste to whatever ended up baring their path.
“Die…” Laien murmured, standing on his own two feet, tears flowing from his reddened eyes. The despair he was feeling, the guilt, the pain…! There were no words in the language of man to describe them. “All of you, go and fucking die!” he let out a Qi-filled roar and raised his hands. He released all of the Qi and spiritual energy in his body and sent it surging upward, towards the sun-eclipsing Grand Spell! Fueled by his emotions, his Absolute Water Spiritual Domain and Absolute Water Martial Realm trembled, then began resonating with all the blood in his body, making it all boil uncontrollably!
Although one present could possibly comprehend what Laien hoped to accomplish, they all watched him and his lonely figure. When they sensed the huge amount of energy flowing out of him, many were shocked… but they all understood that this much power wasn’t nearly enough to stop a Grand Spell. There was no hope of reversing fate and making a miracle happen, or so they thought.
Before everyone’s shocked eyes, the massive Water-Ice Apocalypse started shuddering uncontrollably. Then, it began rapidly losing its speed… until it came about ten meters from the ground and actually stopped! The moment it did, the whole magic it consisted of began quaking and shifting, at the same time releasing large amounts of water-element spiritual energy which flooded towards the small, black-haired figure standing below it in an almost uncontrollable fashion.
“All of you… Die!” Laien yelled for the second time, his voice containing boundless rage and fury. He swung his right hand, throwing the entirely of the monstrous Water-Ice Apocalypse Grand Spell in the opposite direction, straight toward Yimar Furi, Zakar and the rest of their men.
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edited December 2017
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 83. Conclusion.
“Impossible… that’s impossible!” Yimar Furi shouted, staring at the oncoming Water-Ice Apocalypse with an absolute disbelief painted all over his face.
How did this happen? How come their Grand Spell was stopped and even reversed, hurled at them?! It wasn’t something that a human could accomplish! Perhaps one of those legendary figures from the times past would be capable of stopping a Grand Spell of this level, but even such a person wouldn’t have been capable of sending it back at the caster!
“This can’t be happening!” Yimar Furi groaned inwardly, but despite feeling that he had been dealt an injustice by the Heavens, he roused his Qi to defend his body. He was watching the impossible happen as all the conventions and rules of the world were being broken before his eyes, but he wasn’t planning to perish just like that; in fact, he felt pretty confident in his chances of survival. As for everyone else, however… he didn’t feel confident in regard to them at all.
A mere second after the massive Water-Ice Apocalypse had been hurled back, its lower part came crashing down at the area where the black-golden-clothed Sharu and the forty martial masters stood. The enormous masses of water and ice came crashing down at them, causing the earth itself to shudder. It rumbled forward, swallowing everything and everyone in its path. It shattered the rock-solid earth and plucked out gigantic rocks as if they were just pebbles swept up by the river’s current.
The martial masters of the third rank, who had all been wounded by Reian’s attack, turned into a bloody mush almost instantly. The unbearable pressure of the thousands upon thousands of tons of water shattered their protective Qi and squished their bodies, then tore them apart.
Those dozen or so martial masters of the fourth rank weren’t much better off; those of them who didn’t have strong defensive techniques were perhaps barely able to withstand the water’s pressure, but they were soon torn into pieces by the many shards of ice moving through the water at a great speed. As for those with stronger defenses, it was all up to their luck; some were crushed to death between the huge masses of ice, others were half-killed by being pinned down to the ground.
Split-second later, the Grand Spell reached the area where Yimar Furi and his spiritual masters stood and there, it laid true devastation. The frail-bodied spiritual masters had no chance to defend when hit with a Grand Spell; they tried putting up their own defenses in the little time they had, but without exception, all of them were slaughtered by the Water-Ice Apocalypse. The unit of seventy spiritual masters, half of which had helped Yimar Furi cast the Grand Spell, was now laid to waste by the very magic they had unleashed.
“I couldn’t kill him, nor could Furi,” Zakar mused the moments before he was swallowed up by the Grand Spell. He was regretful, but at the very least, he wasn’t completely dissatisfied. He lucked out and pierced the heart of one of those Devils but more importantly, he caused the one who killed his family to suffer the great pain of a loss. “Ah, forget it… I’m satisfied,” he thought, then everything went dark in front of his eyes; he died very quickly, without any pain… and without any regrets.
“Yimar Furi…!” the more or twenty martial masters who had been trying to block Laien and Yin were now staring at the unbelievable scene unfolding in front of them. They were no less shocked and frightened than those who had received the Grand Spell head-on; how were the few of them supposed to deal with the aftermath of this battle? This Ice Devil was at the level of a true Ice Djinn…! There was Jasmine left too, they couldn’t possibly win against them! Yet, they were all too frightened to start fleeing. They stood where they were, their legs seemingly frozen to the ground, each and every one of them unable to come to terms with what they had just seen.
“How in the world…” Jasmine uttered quietly, looking at Laien as if she had seen a monster. The strength displayed by this body had exceeded her wildest imaginations time and time again. If this kid was capable of this much at this age, then what would he become if he was given time to grow up? Just this thought alone caused her to shiver with fear and excitement. “Still, what a pity…” she thought to herself. It didn’t matter that Laien was trying to heal Yin; even if he healed his body, it would still be just a corpse. There was no way anyone could survive wound of this degree, then have his heart pierced through and continue living.
Laien, however, wasn’t paying attention to any of the things going around him. When he had been throwing the Grand Spell back at Yimar Furi, he had thought to ask Sirius to save Yin. However, at that moment a massive amount of water-element spiritual energy began flooding into his body and replenishing his strength at a terrifying rate. Before he blinked, his spiritual energy had already been entirely recovered… but it was then when he realized that something was very wrong.
He had been pretty sure that as long as he saved just about one-third of his Qi and spiritual energy, he would be able to use his Absolute Water Spiritual Domain and Martial Realm to stop the Grand Spell of Yimar Furi’s. It was that man’s poor luck that the bulk of their spiritual masters specialized in water-element; with his dual Absolute Water cultivation bases, no spell or technique of water-element could possibly harm him. Yet, what he didn’t expect to happen was that his Spiritual Domain and Martial Realm would form some kind of resonance with his body… with the blood within in!
The pain of the far too great amounts of spiritual energy forcing its way into every little part of his body was almost unbearable. Were it not for the fact that his marital and spiritual cultivation were slightly fused, allowing a portion of the overflowing spiritual energy to be converted into Qi, his body would have likely burst apart into a bloody mess. He had no idea what was going on exactly… but truth to be told, at the moment he couldn’t care less, nor could he be happier!
Just as the Grand Spell was crashing down, he had suppressed the pain and crouched down. Without wasting any time, he allowed the spiritual energy and Qi to surge out of his body and form into a cocoon of water around Yin. “He’s still alive, I can tell,” he told himself in order to calm down. He could sense that Yin was still hanging on through their spiritual bond, but he could also tell that he needed to hurry up. Thus, he quickly removed the arrow from Yin’s heart and focused on mending it along with his chest and his stomach, including all the internal organs within them.
The water-element spiritual energy in the air continued flooding towards him, but instead of worrying about himself as blood began leaking from his eyes and ears, he devoted full attention to healing Yin. Of course, he maneuvered as much of the spiritual energy and of the Qi it was being converted into outside of his body, but this process wasn’t fast enough; luckily, his body was sturdy and the very same water-element that was causing it pain, was mending and re-building it at the very same time. Breaking down, healing, breaking down, healing… this process repeated in a loop; alas, it brought no benefits to Laien’s body, only increased fatigue and a lot of pain.
“Come on,” Laien grit his teeth. He felt like he was going to pass out, his vision blurring and turning red from all the blood that began seeping out from within his eyes themselves as they strained from the pressure. However, he knew he couldn’t afford to pass out; he felt how much energy he needed to use to heal Yin’s wounds, despite the aid the Aspect of Compassion provided. If he fainted, then Sirius probably wouldn’t be able to handle bringing Yin back… so it was all simple enough. He just needed to remain conscious until he was done!
“What is all that spiritual energy,” Sirius commented, his expression changing from that of a shock to one of confusion and worry. He had a very high water-element affinity, so unlike Jasmine, he saw the countless water-element sparks rushing into Laien’s body. Just like everyone else, he was secretly amazed at how quickly Yin’s body was growing back into its normal state, at how his torso filled up and how the bones of his limbs reappeared, then began disappearing below reforming muscles. However, he was the first one to notice the new drops of blood seeping through Laien’s clothes.
“This is bad…” Kasha exclaimed in a low voice. Just like Sirius, she could see what was going on with a naked eye; if this process continued, she was worried that Laien’s body would sooner or later burst into pieces! The sheer amount of energy this boy had absorbed exceeded the reservoir of a spiritual master of the fifth or sixth rank and to make matters worse, it was still flooding into him!
A second or two later, the rest also took note of the phenomenon. The Grand Spell had scattered a large amount of spiritual energy into the air so they hadn’t sensed it at first, but now it was becoming clearer and clearer! Just what were Laien’s origins, for him to be able to directly absorb such a huge amount of water-element spiritual energy from the air?
“Just a little bit more…” Laien fell to his knees and sat down, too dizzy to the keep balance while crouching. His body was making him suffer terribly, but rather than that, it was his soul that caused him more pain. The biggest problem was that he needed to… “Yin!” he called out, focusing on the spiritual bond between the two of them. Then, a splitting pain that spread from his very being itself made him think he was about to lose it and faint… but with the last straps of his will, he stopped that from happening. He couldn’t lose consciousness before confirming that everything was okay with Yin!
To his relief, despite every bit of his body screaming with pain, he felt the slight change below the hand he was holding on Yin’s chest. “Thank all Gods…” he thought with relief, having confirmed that Yin’s heartbeat returned. He even felt Yin’s chest rise up as Yin took a breath… and then, the very next instant, he collapsed to the side. He had exerted himself far beyond his limits to stay conscious through all that pain for so long and even forced himself to stimulate Yin’s soul in the state he was in, so the moment the pressure that kept him going disappeared, he fainted instantly.
Thankfully, the flood of spiritual energy slowed down and ended just a second later. In this one second, however, the skin all over Laien’s body started coming off and blood began oozing out of his blood vessels; had Laien not kept himself going for so long, all the while used up as much energy as possible, he truly would have lost his life this very day. The wounds he sustained, however, began quickly healing; perhaps not as quickly as when Laien controlled the process consciously, but after a few minutes there would be no trace left apart from his very bloodied clothes.
“Maybe they really are Devils,” Sirius commented with a wry smile. He had been keeping his spiritual sense stretched out, so he could tell that both of those brats were alive.
Jasmine, in turn, couldn’t find words to describe how she felt. Those two created one miracle after another, then proceeded to cheat death itself! She never thought she would come to think in this way about anyone, but those two boys… their potential was higher than even Mustafa’s.
“Yin! Laien!” Making use of a moment of carelessness of Kasha’s, Arslan broke out of her hold and ran up to Laien and Yin, who both lay on the ground next to each other.
This action of Arslan’s made the still seriously hurt Reian attempt to get back on his feet, but all he achieved was being pushed down by Sirius once more. Instead, Sirius exchanged a quick glance with Jasmine, who then followed close behind Arslan. It was hard to say how many of Yimar Furi’s men survived in the aftermath of the Grand Spell, but in a few more seconds, that too would be revealed.
A breath worth of time later, Arslan stopped abruptly and crouched beside Laien and Yin. He ended up being relieved to see that there was not one wound on Yin’s body, but he grew anxious to see the terrible state Laien was in. Were it not for all this bloody mess mending itself before his eyes, he would have panicked more, but as it was, he managed to calm down just a little bit.
“Yimar, what happened to him?”
“And our commanders…”
Some of those amongst the twenty martial masters unaffected by the Grand Spell began saying quietly. They watched as the remnants of the water and ice turned back into natural energy, waiting for any of their superiors to show up. In case no one appeared soon… it was pretty likely that they would start running in all direction just to preserve their lives. Just that one glance from Jasmine, who stood by the Devils’ and Mustafa’s son’s side made them go weak in their knees.
All of them were ready to lay their lives on the line for their superiors… but once those were gone, they would end up being nothing more than a disorganized mob.
But finally, in the post-apocalyptic area where the stone-like ground had all been ripped to shreds, signs of movement began appearing one after another.
The first one to merge was Sharu; as the only unhurt martial master of the fifth rank, he had survived the Grand Spell with relative ease, only getting a few bruises here and there. Then, all around him those surviving martial masters of the fourth rank began getting out from below the rubble; by the looks of it, six of them were lucky enough to survive and still be able to move with their own strength. As for how many were still alive below the shattered ground, it was hard to say.
Following that, a good four hundred meters further in the back, a large stone was pushed away and smashed into the ground, falling over onto its other side. As expected, the person who appeared there was none other than Yimar Furi. He didn’t look to be wounded at all… but the look on his face was truly ugly to behold. Seventy spiritual masters, over twenty martial masters… and two of his black-golden-clothed commanders died under their own Grand Spell reversed back at them.
Feeling extremely miserable, Yimar Furi took a deep breath, then whistled and enhanced the sound with his Qi, causing it to carry truly far and wide.
Sharu groaned but didn’t hesitate. He began running away in a hurry and so did the six martial masters close to him, along with those twenty further away. That whistle of Yimar Furi’s had been to order them to retreat, but also to all their spare horses back here
“Ugh…” Sharu groaned again. He didn’t want to run when so many of his friends and comrades died here, but there was no other choice.
“It was a nightmare…” Yimar Furi mused, sending Jasmine and their group one last glance. He could tell how frustrated this woman was; and he could also tell that if she chose to chase them down, they would all end up dying. It was a good thing she wouldn’t dare to leave Mustafa’s son alone, given how she was likely the only one in any state to continue fighting between the Four White Guards and those two damnable Devils.
“Let’s hope Yimar Maar’s plan succeeded,” he thought and turned around. He turned around, but… eh? The world he could see suddenly moved in a very strange manner. Then, something crashed into his head and he rolled around… huh? What just…?
“Idiot,” Gahar snorted at Yimar Furi’s headless, still standing corpse. “If you paid more attention, you would have noticed me even in all this leftover spiritual energy,” he commented, then glanced towards Laien and Yin. Should he go and hunt down the rest of those martial masters? He probably couldn’t kill the one at the fifth Realm of Heroes in a battle, but given a few weeks, or a few days if he was lucky, he would surely be able to assassinate him.
“… Nah, it’s better to stay,” he decided with a sigh. If those two were conscious and well, or if at least those Four White Guards were in their prime state, he would have gone on a hunt. As it was though, he saw it as more important to make sure Laien and Yin would be able to recover in safety.
As he walked back to everyone, suddenly, three short blows of a horn resounded throughout the area. Jasmine and the other immediately tensed up, but he laughed viciously and called out to them. “It’s the battle horn of a patrol of the Ruishi Federation. Listen well, they are going through the hills back there, right towards those fleeing cowards,” he pointed out. It wasn’t rare for the patrols of the Federation to attack Ikarians on sight, but it wasn’t all that frequent either. The patrol this time around seemed to be on the more vicious side; the moment they spotted a wounded bunch of Ikarians running from a field of battle, they made haste to attack them.
“I wish they came sooner,” Jasmine said with a snort, but she didn’t hold a grudge against this specific patrol. They weren’t obliged to help them in any way, so them getting rid of the leftover trouble was already a sign of goodwill. On the other hand… she sent an uncaring look toward the five thousand people crowding around the carriages a kilometer or so away. “We shouldn’t have involved ourselves with those Euleanians,” she stated bitterly and with a clear dose of anger in her voice.
Didn’t all of that happen because of the affair in Ulme Village? She couldn’t bring herself to think ill of Laien and Yin after what they had done to win this battle, but she had a hard time with dismissing the influence all those helpless, useless people had on this series of events. If it was up to her, she would have abandoned them all at this very moment, but she knew it was something for the three little master to decided later.
“Three little masters…” she repeated the thought, this time consciously. “When did I start thinking of them as three little masters?” she asked herself and smiled slightly.
“What is done is done,” Sirius said calmly after helping Reian up to his feet. He had done all his could with the spiritual energy he had left; Reian’s life was no longer in danger, but he would find walking hard, much less fighting. He could heal Reian again after a few hours… but he guessed that Reian would prefer to allow his wounds to recover naturally. A battle of this kind carried the risk of death, but it also provided an opportunity for those who survived it; were Reian to take time and recover on his own, his gains wouldn’t be negligible. With some luck, he could even advance to the fourth Realm of Heroes and if not, then his body would still become stronger and sturdier after this experience.
“They will be fine… right?” Johan approached Laien and Yin, then turned his head to Sirius and asked worriedly. His mind was still in a state of chaos and he was far from being calm, but he was genuinely worried about those two. He didn’t want them to suddenly die or turn out to be crippled, or anything like that.
“Yes.” Sirius nodded, then snorted and smirked in amusement. “By all means, both of them should have died during this battle. I truly don’t know under which lucky star they were born,” he said with a laugh, trying to loosen up the mood while listening to the faraway sounds of battle.
With the confirmation form Sirius, Johan relaxed a little. He exchanged a glance with Arslan, then returned to observing Laien and Yin’s faces, as if worried that if he didn’t look carefully, then something bad would happen, as if inside of one of his bad dreams.
“Oh, right, right,” Sirius hit his forehead with his knuckle, then headed to the left. He spotted the twin swords of Yin’s pretty quickly, but he took a good moment before he found the two golden interspatial rings. “Laien’s spear… he must have stored it away in time,” he assumed and for the time being, stored the twin swords into his own interspatial ring. He could have broken the imprint on Yin’s rings without much effort and stored the twin swords in them, but he thought it would be too rude to do that. The boys certainly had many secrets they wouldn’t like to divulge; he didn’t wish to pry into them and thus, he simply slipped the two rings onto Yin’s index fingers.
“I will give you the swords the moment you wake up,” he said with a smile, quietly wondering if he wasn’t going senile with age. What was he, a veteran healer, doing talking to an unconscious patient? He couldn’t remember how many students and pupils of his he had scolded for doing the same thing in the past; he really was growing soft with age. “For the time being…” he murmured and produced two sets of simple, white clothes he always had storied for patients. He swapped them directly with the bloody, tattered clothes of Laien’s and with whatever was left of Yin’s clothes. He nodded with satisfaction; it was much better than having them lay here half-naked.
“Johan, Johan!” from a hundred meters away, Sarah called out in a shaky voice. She had been watching the whole fight with everyone from the distance and all along, she couldn’t stop being scared for Johan. The level of this clash was so high that the explosions of Qi were clearly audible even one kilometer away, not to mention the cataclysmic crash of that huge mass of water and ice.
“Thank God that you are okay!” she said with relief after falling to her knees and hugging her little brother tightly.
Right after her, Albert arrived. However, he quickly sensed the heavy atmosphere and noticed the scornful gazes directed at Sarah by the majority of the experts present. Considering that they had all heard the shout of Yimar Furi’s about the reason he came here with his men, it didn’t take him long at all to figure out why Jasmine, Reian, Ruan, Liza and the rest were angry.
“Hmph,” Jasmine snorted loudly. “Quite some gratitude you have, little miss. Those two risked their lives fighting a battle that came to them because of you and your people, but you don’t spare them one look nor do you ask if they will be fine,” she reprimanded ruthlessly, feeling not a shred of compassion toward Sarah. One of the few things she couldn’t stand were the people who didn’t know how to repay the goodwill they had received. Sarah’s behavior seriously rubbed her the wrong way… what given her current foul mood wasn’t a smart thing for anyone to do.
Hearing the ice-cold words of Jasmine’s, Sarah quickly let Johan go. When Jasmine finished speaking, she gulped down; the sound of saliva going through her throat rang out so loudly within her head, she was sure everyone around must have heard it too. Frozen stiff, she looked at the two unconscious boys clad in smooth, pure-white robes. She hadn’t seen the battle all that clearly from so far away, but it didn’t take an eagle’s eyesight to be able to see how those two had fought.
“I… I’m sorry,” Sarah forced the words in a breaking voice but coughed a few times in a hurry, then added. “I was worried for my little brother.. he isn’t a strong practitioner like the rest of you, so any small attack could have done him a lot of harm…” she attempted to explain, however, when she saw the expression on Jasmine’s face turn increasingly sour, she pursed her lips and said no more.
“Will they be fine?” Albert asked calmly, disguising quite well how nervous he was. He had forgotten it while they were traveling, but those people were only helping them because Laien and Yin made such a choice back then in Ulme Village. If Sarah or anyone else was to really piss them off… especially after this battle, then it wouldn’t be surprising if they released their anger upon them.
Jasmine looked at Albert and smiled slightly, her expression turning softer. She didn’t hear the question she wanted from Sarah despite urging her on, but this youth seemed more sensible than her. He was also getting along with the three little masters the best along with Johan. “They will be fine. There shouldn’t be any long-term damage to their bodies. They just need to rest,” she informed straightforwardly, the anger from before no longer present in the tone of her voice.
“That’s great,” Albert responded. He looked at Laien and Yin, then smiled in a warm fashion, causing the last bits of anger to disappear from within Jasmine’s heart.
“Oho, they are coming,” Gahar said and pointed at the unit of forty-four riders galloping down a hill. “They aren’t using their horns, so they aren’t planning to attack us… probably,” he said with a laugh. He wasn’t knowledgeable enough to tell apart the new patrol units of Ruishi Federation by their sigils since he had been retired for quite some time, but at the very least, he knew there were quite a few fanatics amongst them, ones that would kill any Ikarian they found, be it an armed unit, travelling merchants or a caravan with civilians. He didn’t worry about Laien and Yin much… but he was slightly anxious about Arslan and the other four… well, three, since Reian wasn’t an Ikarian.
“You did them in beautifully!” the grey-haired young man in the forefront shouted as the forty-four of them were approaching. “I apologize we didn’t arrive earlier. We came rushing over when we heard the sounds of battle, but when we got close it was already over,” he said loudly, all the while bringing his horse to a steady stop.
After getting closer, he swept the group in front of him with his gaze, his eyes stopping for a moment longer on the four White Guards, only to land on Arslan.
“You should be Arslan. We’ve received the information you were heading to our country with a few thousand refugees from the eastern Faren Yimarate,” the grey-haired young man said with a smile. His words made Jasmine and the rest to tense up, but he only laughed at this sight.
“They are staying behind me so you probably can’t tell, but apart from me, there are eleven martial masters of the fifth rank in my unit. If we wanted to kill you or capture you, we would have already done so,” he informed with a somewhat prideful smirk and chuckled at the anxious looks he received in response. “You needn’t worry. If it was some other band, they might have tried capturing you while you are tired, but not me and my Angles of Death. If anything, we wouldn’t act against those of Makarash,” he said playfully but a second later, sighed and stopped smiling.
“You would probably want to know…” he said and clicked his tongue. “We just received news about the battle to the west. The fresh reports say that after being ambushed and attacked from all sides by Yimar Maar, Arakar and the forces of Yimar Furi’s that betrayed him, Mustafa chose to go on the offensive. He had been doing well in the beginning… but then, all of the sudden, his forces were routed. The rumors are saying that Mustafa had been killed and that’s why his White Guard fell apart…” he informed bitterly, feeling quite unhappy about this development. He had very much hoped for Mustafa to slaughter all those detestable Ikarians, alas!
Apart from the young grey-haired man shaking his head, no one else made any considerable movements.
Mustafa… had lost? The most powerful of Ikarians lost a battle? He is said to have been killed? They refused to believe it!
“Father!” Arslan exclaimed quietly. It was impossible for his father to have died like that! It was impossible…!
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Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 84. Craving for More.
“Your father wouldn’t fall so easily,” Jasmine glanced at Arslan and said confidently. Of course, she was also worried for Mustafa after hearing about a report like that from this grey-haired young man, but she could ill afford to show that to Arslan. The boy was already worried enough, not to mention the amount of stress he had gone through in the last minutes. If in addition to that his guards lost their cool, then how was he supposed to keep at least a somewhat calm head?
“That’s right,” Reian supported eagerly. “I can’t imagine Mustafa losing to a few experts. Even if he ended up being unable to win, he would have been able to easily withdraw given his ability,” he assured Arslan with a smile, then gently tousled his hair. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing to worry about; this news was likely just a piece of misinformation or a baseless rumor.
With Jasmine and Reian saying so, Arslan indeed managed to calm down a little. He wasn’t about to panic anymore and he was no longer imagining all the worst-case scenarios in his head, but he was quite anxious regardless. He remembered learning that his father, in his youth, had been in quite a few dangerous battles that could have gone either way, but as far as he could recall, for the last four hundred years, his father had been claiming nothing but one overwhelming victory after another. This knowledge should have given him confidence that his father was all right, but it caused him to worry instead.
Wasn’t Arakar, the Sword of Rala of the Great Prophet’s, a martial master of the seventh rank, just like his father? If he recalled, Yimar Maar was an exceptionally strong martial master of the fifth rank, while Yimar Maar’s Sword of Rala was someone at the peak of the sixth Realm of Heroes. If those three people joined hands with dozens of other experts under their command… then perhaps even his father wouldn’t be their match.
“I’m sorry, but…” the grey-haired young man spoke up with a sigh. “I wouldn’t be mentioning this report if it wasn’t at least somewhat credible. The Ikarians under Yimar Maar’s banners are apparently celebrating the death of Mustafa and the news is spreading like a wildfire. There is yet to be any confirmation that Mustafa’s corpse had been seen through…” he explained in a fairly straightforward manner, but changed his tone towards the end, when he saw the pained look on Arslan’s face. He also hoped that Mustafa was alive and well, so he didn’t want to put Arslan down… but still, he didn’t want to give the boy any false hope either. If anything, he and his Cherubim knew how agonizing it was to hope for days upon days and months upon months, only for all this hope to crumble in the end.
“…” Arslan lowered his head for a second. However, he raised his gaze right afterward, when he remembered what Reian had told him a week ago. No matter what happened, one should always hold his head high and keep looking ahead! He hadn’t quite been able to comprehend the meaning of those words back then, but he felt like he understood them better now. “If any new information comes, could you please tell me?” he asked in a fairly calm manner, looking directly into the eyes of the grey-haired young man.
“What a strong kid,” the grey-haired young man mused to himself, then nodded and said. “Aye, I will do that.”
“Thank you,” Arslan replied politely. There was no way he could rush west on his own to confirm what had happened and by the looks of it, the beasts they used to deliver messages weren’t able to move freely or had already been all killed. As such, he appreciated the grey-haired man’s help.
The young grey-haired man seemed like he was about to say something else, but then he and many of his subordinates turned to look at the nearby area of shattered rock and earth. “You should finish those guys off. Or, do you need our help?” the young man inquired. At least some of those martial and spiritual masters in Arslan’s ground should have some strength remaining, no? Else, those remaining Ikarians wouldn’t have run from them but fought until the bitter end.
“I will take care of them,” Jasmine volunteered. She hadn’t been quite able to do as much as she would have liked to during that battle, so she had a lot of pent-up stress. Those half-dead bastards would do well enough as scapegoats, for the lack of a better substitute.
“Also,” the young man added. “You should collect all the interspatial rings from the bodies all over this place. Of course, though, if you don’t want them then we will happily relieve you of them all,” he said with a smirk, enacting a few quiet laughs from the riders behind him. They wouldn’t rob those people of their spoils of battle, but if they didn’t want it, they wouldn’t refuse to take them away.
At this mention, Liza perked up a little. She had gotten used to collecting the various items after each battle, but this time around she held herself back from doing or saying anything. No matter how she looked at it, she didn’t play much of a role in the clash with Yimar Furi and his men; it wasn’t up to her to enjoy the benefits of the victory.
“Would you mind helping with that?” Reian asked in turn, looking toward Liza, Ruan and the rest of their group. “I’ve managed to kill a few of them, so go ahead and share twenty of the interspatial rings amongst yourselves. As for the rest of them, be sure to keep them separate, including the ones of those black-golden-clothed commanders,” he offered simply, without thinking about it too much. As a member of the White Guard, he didn’t lack anything, so he didn’t feel especially desirous of the spoils. The only things that would be of interest to him or Jasmine were the rings of Yimar Furi’s and his commanders’.
Alas, one of the four fell into the hands of this grey-haired man and his riders. The second of those rings definitely belonged to Laien and Yin, while the third was arguable… but Reian didn’t feel like trying to claim it for himself. He was ashamed enough that it was those two young boys who won the battle for them; he wouldn’t make himself seem even uglier by being petty about their gains.
Finally, there came the matter of Yimar Furi’s interspatial ring… but that one proceeded to solve itself on its own.
“I will take care of collecting the rings,” Gahar said with a calm, but also somewhat wry smile, causing the look on Liza’s face to dim a little. “I’ve already taken Yimar Furi’s ring too… I will keep it for the boys, including the rest of their spoils along with my share. It’s not like I have a need for money or anything else anyway,” he mentioned. Then after a few seconds, when he decided it had been long enough for Liza to cool her head, he mentioned before turning into a cluster of shadows.
“I will pick twenty rings of those killed by Reian for you, so don’t worry…”
After being a bit dumbstruck for a moment, Liza revealed a sour smile. Was it bad that she had been thinking to pick the better rings for herself? There would be a huge difference between possessions of martial masters of the second, third and fourth rank… and it wasn’t like those two were poor! “Did he see through me...? Was I punished for my dishonest intentions?” she wondered, only able to sigh bitterly. They had played a supportive role in the battle, true, but they ended up not fighting once. She wasn’t in a position where she could complain about the shares of the loot.
“An assassin of the Guild of Shadows,” the grey-haired young man muttered, observing the moving cluster of darkness with wariness. He had been able to tell early that Gahar was just a martial master of the third rank; he hadn’t seen him as anything great. However… a Shadow was a very different thing. “He is keeping his Shadow Step easily detestable on purpose. Was he hired by Mustafa to protect his son…? No, that doesn’t make sense, Mustafa would never deal with those people,” he mused, not quite sure what to think of that black-cloaked man’s presence.
“Does it mean that my share has been conceded too?” Jasmine asked playfully and without waiting for a response, headed to kill the last few remaining martial masters of the fourth rank. She was grateful to Gahar for avoiding them, so she went to finish them off. As for the rings? She might as well give them to Arslan. Herself, she had no need for them at all.
“Would you mind if I asked something?” the grey-haired man brought up, his gaze wandering toward the two white-robed, unconscious youths. There was something he couldn’t quite understand given the respective strength of the experts in this group in front of him, so he couldn’t help but ask.
At these words, Reian smirked a little and replied. “I don’t think anyone will mind, but shouldn’t you name yourself first?”
“True,” the grey-haired man laughed. “I’m Julien, the Lord of the Eagle Pass and the General at the service of the Ruishi Federation. Pleased to meet you,” he said with a smile, at first looking at Reian, then switching to look at Arslan. If possible, he would have liked to welcome Mustafa’s son into the country, provide him shelter and in case Mustafa really was dead, aid in returning to Makarash. However, he doubted that those stubborn old fools who insisted on upholding the neutrality of the Federation would agree to that, especially in regards to the latter of those two things.
Reian nodded ever so slightly, acknowledging Julien’s introduction. He didn’t speak just yet though; he wanted to see if Arslan was feeling well enough to take the lead in the conversation or not.
Arslan seemed to have picked up on Reian’s intentions fairly quick; he was still rather shaken by everything that had happened, but he didn’t shrink away from speaking. “You already know who I am, so… you said you have a question?”
“Yes, indeed,” Julien nodded. “Allow me to ask you straightforwardly. Are those ‘boys’ that man mentioned these two here? If so, why are you giving them most of the spoils?” he inquired, but as he did he suddenly started feeling that his question was pretty stupid. Wouldn’t it be something like Arslan having made a bet of some kind with two of his companions, which he then subsequently lost? He shouldn’t have asked something so silly… but since he already had, it was too late to change his mind.
“That’s…” Arslan blurted out with a troubled look on his face before he could bite his tongue. He scolded himself for giving away that there was something he would rather not mention. “Should I tell him the truth or not?” he asked himself, not sure how to respond. Would Julien believe him if he told the truth? And if he did, then wouldn’t Laien and Yin find themselves in trouble because of it? No, if Julien wanted, he could have captured him already; since he didn’t, there should be no danger of him acting against Laien and Yin either.
Seeing Arslan fidgeting slightly with an uncertain expression on his face, Julien became the more convinced of his own theory. However, the next moment…
“Yes, Gahar meant them. As for the spoils of battle, it was the two of them who killed most of our enemies. It only makes sense if the interspatial rings go into their hands.”
was what he heard from Arslan. He frowned heavily; he was just as baffled as his men were about this revelation. Was Arslan kidding them? But he didn’t look like he was joking at all… the look on his face was absolutely serious. Either he was saying the truth, or he was a really exquisite actor for a little boy.
“Can they be…?” Julien decided to forego the rules of courtesy. He directly released his aura and swept the two unconscious youths with it; and the moment he did, the frown on his face transformed into a look of disbelief. One was a dual practitioner with both cultivation bases at the early eighth mortal realm, while the other was a martial practitioner at the early… no, at the middle ninth mortal realm? The Qi inside that green-haired boy’s body was swelling up and growing at a noticeable pace; it was something he had never seen happen before.
“They are incredibly strong for their age, but that alone isn’t enough to make them strong enough to contest against a large group of marital and spiritual masters…” he thought quietly. For a second, he had thought those two were incredibly powerful experts who had broken through to the Realm of Heroes at an abnormally young age, but this guess proved to be wrong. Curious; baffled but curious, he turned his eyes toward Arslan and said. “I hope that later, you will explain it all in detail. I admit, I’d love to hear how your battle played out.”
“Yes, later,” Arslan said with a slight smile. It was still afternoon, but he was extremely tired; he certainly enough didn’t have it in him to tell the whole story to Julien at this moment. Briefly, he glanced at Gahar and Jasmine, who were walking over after having finished their own tasks. “Can we enter Ruishi Federation with those five thousand people?” he asked, returning his gaze to Julien.
“Uh,” Julien groaned quietly. “Entering is one thing… but I can’t guarantee they will be allowed to stay. It’s not up to me to decide,” he explained briefly and shook his head. He was occupying the position of a General within the Ruishi Federation, but due to the nature of the people he had gathered under his command his authority was perhaps the lowest out of the seven Generals, not to mention the two Great Generals and the council of Grand Elders. He had also gone out of his way to accommodate many refugees in his own lands over the past years, especially during the Bloody Dusk this spring. He wouldn’t be able to help one hundred more people, much less five thousand.
“I see,” Arslan nodded calmly. It was good enough that they could enter for now; he was sure that worst case scenario, Ruishi Federation would let those five thousand stay if they paid enough money in exchange. How much could it cost to accommodate five thousand people? To average nobles it might be a high price to pay, but to him, the heir to Makarash, it was simply a chump change.
“If that’s everything,” Julien began saying. “Then go gather those people and follow us. We will lead your caravan through the Eagle Pass so that all those carriages don’t break twice over along the way,” he mentioned with a smirk, then added casually. “If we hurry, we should just be able to reach Lugna before the nightfall. I will have you stay the night at my place for the time being.”
“Yes, thank you,” Arslan said with a smile and nodded his head. Julien responded with the same gesture, spared one last curious glance in the direction of the two white-robed boys and finally, turned his horse around and led his unit to the nearby crossroad, all the while musing in silence.
“They called those two boys, but is it just a habit of theirs or something? One of them was obviously a girl…”
“We shouldn’t delay any longer,” Jasmine stated. Now that she was no longer as frustrated as before, she began thinking clearly once again. Although it wouldn’t be wise to say that a commander ought to always act with the worst-case scenario as the center for his plans, saying that he should keep it in mind and take reasonable precautions against it was something Jasmine strongly agreed with. They might have successfully fended of Yimar Furi and his elites, but it wasn’t guaranteed that no more enemies were coming their way; getting deeper into the Ruishi Federation appeared to be the best option this time around, at least until further news about Mustafa arrived.
“Yeah,” Reian supported simply. He was naturally worried about Mustafa, but at the moment, he wanted to rest, recover and attempt to make a breakthrough the most! He had thought himself to be strong, and he indeed was very powerful for someone his age… but after the battle with Yimar Furi and his men, he realized how lacking his strength and experience was. As a talented dual-element cultivator, his future potential was limitless; however, he needed this strength now, not in a hundred years! It was the first time since he had been a powerless slave that he felt such a strong desire to become powerful appear in and take root within his heart.
“I will carry them over,” Kasha offered. She still had some spiritual energy left, so using magic to move Laien and Yin back to the carriage should be just about manageable. There was no one in their group who required and wanted a treatment either, so she saw no argument against moving those two in a gentler and more comfortable manner.
“Right, here you go,” Gahar flicked a single interspatial ring into Liza’s hands. “Everything’s inside, be sure to share it properly,” he said with a laugh and without waiting for the rest to come along, began walking toward the caravan.
A second or two later, the main group of theirs also moved. Kasha lifted the two youths slightly into the air with a layer of water she created and took them along; Arslan, Johan and Albert tagged along closely, whereas everyone else followed behind them.
However, none of them, including Julien and his Cherubim, we aware that two black-cloaked, black-masked men were sitting atop one of the many hills in the area.
“See, I told you it was worth the effort,” the old man said cheerfully. Had his voice not sounded elderly, one could have thought it was a happy child who had just gotten his favorite sweets speaking. “Those two are extraordinary! Even more so than Altair told me. They are perhaps only a little worse than this dear pupil of mine when he was their age, but there’s two of them!” he said excitedly. The cooperation those two kids displayed was a sight to behold; he could count the number of people he knew were capable of a similar feat on the fingers of his two hands and two legs, so it was quite an accomplishment!
“… I was the only one putting in the effort,” the young Shade complained quietly. “We didn’t even know if those hundred were going to rush back to Mustafa or choose to guard his son. Hell, I made sure to have all the flying beasts killed, so they wouldn’t have known anything was happening anyway! What happened to the rule of not involving ourselves with the power struggles unless we are hired for the job? Isn’t it a bit too much?” he continued pouting, now that he was given a chance. Before now, he had been told to shut up and not disturb the fun, so he hadn’t been able to even express his own discontent properly.
“Bah.” The masked old man rolled his eyes. “You are decently talented, but you are such a miserable joykiller. Can’t you just be happy with the moment instead of thinking about stupid things all the time?” he asked with a sigh, not an ounce of sarcasm present in his voice; he was being totally serious.
“Hmph,” the young Shade felt like cursing his old teacher out, but his wiser side stopped him from doing so. He had expended a considerable amount of effort to kill those one hundred White Guards; it had truly been a pain in the ass to take care so that none of them would escape too! But, it wasn’t like his teacher would care about any of that. It was like a slave complaining that his food wasn’t tasty enough to his owner; completely pointless and thoroughly counterproductive.
“Either way,” the young Shade changed the subject. “That should be it for the Trials. Am I free to go back? I have a lot of things I need to take care of,” he said hopefully. The performance of those two kids was honestly so good that it stunned him; they had eclipsed the level of strength and potential required of Shadow Trails by leaps and bounds. Testing them further would be a waste of time, or so he thought. Yet…
“What are you saying!” the old man exclaimed, very honestly appeased by his old student’s lack of common sense. “Don’t you want to see what they can do if they are pushed even further? We will continue watching them and depending on what happens, you will help the things move in the right direction,” he stated outright, his tone suggesting that he would take no objections to his decision.
“…” the young Shade was speechless, but he felt like he should have known better. Yes, that was the reason that only three out of the hundreds of geniuses his teacher had taken interest into survived all this attention of his. That old man simply didn’t know where to stop… but it wasn’t like there was anyone who could put brakes on his whimsical behavior. Maybe Altair could sway him a little if he was here, considering how heavily the old man favored it, but that was it.
“Oh come on, cheer up!” the old man slapped his old disciple on the back, seeming to be feeling slightly guilty about making him feel bad. “I promise the next time they show us something good will be the last, okay? I will even allow you to use twice the resources for the next ten years if you stop pouting on me right now, what do you say?” he offered since he was in an exceptionally good mood. He had been enjoying himself greatly with Altair, but the prospect of having two more pupils to observe and whose growth and accomplishments he could potentially enjoy filled him with glee.
The young Shade almost choked on his own tongue when he heard his old teacher’s words. Twice over the amount of resources?! His contributions to the Guild were already the highest by a large margin, so he was claiming a proportionally vast amount of annual rewards. Making it two times as much… was the Guild even able to sustain such a payout? Was his teacher aware of their finances, or was he oblivious to them?
“What, you don’t want to?” the old man asked teasingly, having noticed the wavering of this old student of his.
“No!” the young Shade exclaimed but began panicking when he realized the ambiguity of his reply. “Wait, I mean yes! Rather… Gah! I do want!” he said in a hurry, his words all over the place. He blushed in embarrassment under the black mask of his; he was over two hundred years old, yet he could still act so childish! It was so shameful that he wanted to dig a hole and hide in it.
“Good, good,” the old man laughed, pleased to see that the mood of his old disciple improved. “You were always easy to please. Here you go, half the pay upfront, half after we are done,” he said cheerfully and threw an interspatial ring directly at his old disciple’s face with quite some force.
The young Shade barely caught the ring before it slammed into his cheek. Usually, he would have been angered, but right now he couldn’t care less about his old teacher’s weird quirks. He hurriedly inspected the interior of the ring; the next second, his eyes went wide and he laughed heartily.
“I will see to every little detail, teacher. I assure you,” he said with a bright smile. He had thought he would only waste his time here in the west, but now this endeavor proved to actually be worthwhile! He had been pitying those two boys a little, but he no longer cared much about them. So what if his teacher ended up toying with their fate until they died? It would simply be two more to the count of hundreds.
“Mm, keep a watch on those two then,” the old man said contentedly. “I’m going back to the shore for a bit. We need to see that those two aren’t outright crushed,” he mentioned and after sending his old disciple a playful glance, dissipated into the shadows and disappeared.
The young Shade chuckled quietly, then similarly employed the Shadow Steps movement technique and disappeared from the hill.
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
edited December 2017
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 85. The News of Mustafa.
Eight hours later. Nightfall, at the open grounds before the walls of the mountain Fortress-City of Lugna.
With Sirius nodding off outside at the coachman’s seat, Jasmine sighed quietly from the inside of the carriage. Albert went to help with organizing all the five thousand people with the next few days in mind, Johan and Arslan were sleeping, Kasha and Reian were both fully focused on training, while Laien and Yin were still unconscious… or by this point, would it be more correct to say they were simply sleeping too?
“Eh.” Jasmine sighed again. “Seeing those two train so hard makes me want to try again too. But, how can I advance after being pretty much stuck for nearly two centuries? My body and my insights simply aren’t suitable for any heavy-handed attacks. Usually, I can compensate for it easily with my speed, agility and magic… but in those situations where I’m forced to protect someone, I’m truly like… a bird caught in the mud,” she mused rather discontentedly. However, she smiled in the end, amused by the comparison she made about herself.
“I might as well spend some time training, it’s not like I have anything better to do,” she murmured quietly, but before that, she swept everyone inside the carriage with her gaze one more time. The golden-haired young man, the black-haired young woman and four boys; two of them sitting in meditation, four of them lying down on the soft blankets and pillows. All of them appeared so calm in their stillness, making it quite hard to believe that not even half a day ago, they had been in the middle of a desperate struggle for their lives.
“It always amazed me how quiet and still the world would become after a battle,” she mused quietly, trying to relax and enjoy the moment; if she really wanted to train, then she at the very least needed the right state of mind. She knew very well that forcing herself to train with a half-hearted attitude would result in nothing but wasted time. “Wind sure is strong in the mountains. It’s a good thing Lugna is located in the highest point of a valley,” she thought a bit absentmindedly and looked out of the window, without bothering to move the dark curtain.
She had read about the Fortress-Cities of the Ruishi Republic, but it was the first time she was seeing one. The city itself wasn’t all that amazing; it was surrounded by a high and thick layer or walls and from what she knew, it was a place where two hundred thousand people lived. However, if one wanted to conquer this city, then unless a truly elite unit was employed, it would be futile without overwhelming superiority in numbers and strength. It had taken them merely eight hours to arrive at this place, but it was only thanks to Julien leading them through the more reclusive paths; a regular army, even with a good map, would find it hard to traverse this terrain effectively.
With the number of outposts, the guerrilla warfare the defenders who were familiar with the area could employ would be enough to stop almost any army. The Fortress-City of Lugna wasn’t an easy place to live by any means, but its geographical advantage made it nearly impossible to assault.
“No wonder no one dared to invade the Ruishi Federation in the last two thousand years,” Jasmine thought to herself, listening to the gusts of wind and to the muffled noises made by those of the five thousand people in their caravan who didn’t yet go to sleep. “Someone is coming?” she murmured, sensing a strong but reserved aura of a person that was approaching their carriage. Although she was a bit unwilling, she rose up from her pillow and got out into the cold of the night.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have come?” the grey-haired young man, Julien, asked with a smile when Jasmine came out of the carriage.
“Perhaps,” Jasmine replied and returned the smile. “If you want to talk with little master Arslan, then it’s a bad time; he’s asleep,” she explained without getting into the details. Technically, she fully expected Arslan to wake up soon since he had been sleeping for almost eight hours already, but she didn’t want him to immediately jump into a conversation with Julien. She wanted him to rest a little longer.
“I guessed that much,” Julien responded with a quiet laugh. “He’s surely worried about his father and those friends of his. I’m not planning to pester him before those two things are solved,” he assured. He was quite impatient to learn the details of how Yimar Furi and his men had been defeated by Arslan’s group, but he wasn’t senseless enough to force himself onto Arslan. Rather than that…
“Then why did you come?” Jasmine inquired. It had already been decided they would spend the night here, then head to the Capital City of Barn. Did something new come up? News of Mustafa, maybe? “No, that’s unlikely. He would have mentioned it immediately instead of chit-chatting.”
“To eat the cookie and still have the cookie,” Julien said with a playful smile, but when he saw a frown appear on Jasmine’s face, he hurried to explain. “I wondered if I couldn’t hear about that battle from someone else, for example from you.”
“… Huh?” Jasmine was at a loss for words. Was this man serious? He acted all thoughtful saying he wouldn’t pester Arslan, yet in reality, he didn’t intend to wait and simply opted to ask someone else for the story? Was this how a responsible adult acted? Hadn’t he already told Arslan that they would talk later? Did he intend to just say ‘Never mind, I’ve talked about it with one of your guards.’ or something like that when Arslan asked him about this matter the next day?
“Well… maybe I’m oversensitive,” she assumed after a moment. She smiled resignedly and shook her head; having a chat with this young General would be a more pleasant way to spend the night than to try and achieve the impossible. She knew her own limits very well; she wouldn’t grow stronger by spending one night, or even ten thousand nights on training.
“I guess we can talk,” she conceded with a smile. “As long as you take out some good drinks, that is,” she added wryly and laughed in a surprisingly enticing manner.
“Of that you can rest assured,” Julien said with a merry laugh and in spite himself, blushed slightly. Having spent most of his life training and studying in the military, he wasn’t all that used to talking with women, especially ones as beautiful like this long-haired brunette in front of him.
“Mm,” Jasmine nodded slightly, feeling quite happy about Julien’s cute reaction. “How about we join one of those large bonfires?” she suggested after a second of consideration. It would be rather embarrassing considering her own poor performance, but she thought it would be good to spread the story to more people. “Still, I shouldn’t use the actual names of those two,” she mused, thinking about the future consequences of her actions.
After all, she didn’t want to play the role of a scheming old witch and ‘accidentally’ cause those two to become sworn enemies with a large portion of Ikarians. Given the character of those boys, she trusted them to stand on Arslan’s side without her needing to resort to such petty machinations… and if anything, she was quite sure the effect of any forceful machinations on her part would bring the exact opposite of the outcome she desired to happen.
“Fine,” Julien agreed happily. “Give me a while, I will invite a few of my officers and friends to join us,” he requested and after receiving a nod from Jasmine, he ran back to the city.
This behavior of Julien’s, in turn, prompted Jasmine to chuckle in amusement. Sometimes, young men were far too similar to boys in nature. However, it wasn’t something she disliked or found to be worth scorn; if she looked at herself, she too more often than not didn’t quite behave her age.
“Umh,” Yin let out a muffled groan as he began walking up. His body felt unnaturally stiff and it was tingling all over. He remembered being almost killed by the attacks of all those martial masters, then receiving an arrow to the heart and fainting, so he was quite nervous at first. However, after taking a moment to figure out what was going on with his body, relaxed considerably. He discovered that the weird tingling sensation came from the strange mixture of accumulated fatigue and energized vitality within him; to his surprise, he also discovered that his cultivation leaped from the early ninth mortal realm to the mid ninth mortal realm and given how restless his Qi was, it likely wouldn’t take him long to make another breakthrough.
He shivered a little as he remembered the pain from before he lost consciousness, yet he smiled afterward when he thought about the benefits it brought him. He didn’t open his eyes yet, but he could easily tell that Laien was laying just beside him. Since the two of them were here, in what most likely was the same carriage they had grown used to in the past week, then they must have won that battle. It had been a risky bet on his part to use his own body as a shield for Laien, but it paid off splendidly.
After taking some time to get used to the weird state his body was in, he opened his eyes and sat up slowly. Then, he laughed a little. It looked like everyone was resting or training, so somehow he came to be the only one ‘awake’ in the carriage. “Oh?” He noticed the twin swords of his on the blankets to his right, along with a sole red-stone interspatial ring. He smiled and extended his hand, intending to store the three objects away… but stopped midway and laughed.
“They are on the wrong hands,” he noted lightheartedly and quickly swapped the two golden interspatial rings, then placed one of the twin swords into each of the two. “It’s nice of them not to have removed my Qi imprint,” he mused with a smile and proceeded to inspect the red-stone interspatial ring. Within it, he found two more identical top-grade rings and dozens of high-grade rings. Apart from that, he discovered a great amount of Euleanian platinum coins and Arkarian diamond coins, in addition to which there were countless various items, be it weapons, luxurious things for daily use, alcohols and even cultivation methods, including seven top-level martial art manuals.
“There’s the Grand Spell chant too, along with quite a few books about magic. Laien will surely be happy to see that,” he thought merrily and just as he began wondering when Laien would wake up, his vision blurred and for a second. He felt incredibly lightheaded, as if his body didn’t know where if it was sitting or lying down, but the sensation disappeared fairly quickly, leaving him pretty bewildered. He glanced at Laien’s face, who in turn seemed to have sensed his gaze and opened his eyes; by the looks of it, he woke up just a second or two ago.
“Haaa… we are alive,” Laien said with a sigh of relief. This time, it had really been too risky. It wasn’t ‘about to get risky only to work out in the end’ like all those other times, but it very much literally almost killed both of them. Their luck… how far could they keep pushing it before one or both of them ended up dead?
“It wasn’t all bad,” Yin mentioned in a seemingly random manner as Laien was lifting himself to a seating position. “It’s gotten stronger… I can almost hear his thoughts even when I’m not concentrating. Was that strange feeling from before due to that too?” he wondered quietly, but his train of thought got suddenly interrupted when Laien moved closer and hugged him.
“It was scary,” Laien whispered in a very soft voice. “This time, it was really scary,” he repeated, his voice carrying an unusual hint of weakness in it. He had fought life-or-death battles before, but this was the first time he had gotten so close to dying. Just recalling that wild energy forcing itself into his body, threatening to erupt it from within made him tremble like a leaf. He was sure that if he hadn’t ignored his limits and struggled to heal Yin, he would have burst apart like a rotten tomato.
Ironically, it was the thing that he was feeling the most guilty about that saved his life. He would have never forgiven himself if Yin died and he survived… he thought he had learned his lesson in Neil City, when Siana almost died to an attack of that martial master from the Cail Family, but… eh. Acting according to one’s heart… it wasn’t as simple as he had thought it to be. One simple action could have a multitude of consequences, it was something he was beginning to realize only now.
“We are both alive, so isn’t it okay?” Yin asked quietly, hugging Laien tightly with his eyes half-closed. Then, he laughed a little when he though the old him would have never said something like that; the old him would have never considered putting someone dear to him in harm’s way just to help other, unrelated people. The current him, however, came to value living while staying true to himself more than just existing with no reason or purpose. Had there not been someone who said something similar?
‘It’s better to live one day as a lion, than a hundred years as a sheep.’
Being consoled by Yin, Laien began feeling pretty embarrassed about himself. He breathed out slowly and attempted to relax, all the while still leaning against Yin’s body. He didn’t need to say anything, nor did Yin need to speak any more; now that he had calmed down, he became strongly aware of Yin’s emotions and to an extent, thoughts. He could tell that Yin was quite shaken by that battle too, but unlike him, Yin kept his cool and didn’t allow his emotions to overflow in such a shameful manner. Truly, had he shown himself like that before anyone else but Yin, he would have died of embarrassment.
“Hrm?” Laien frowned a little. “What did I not notice…?” he questioned in his thoughts, wondering what Yin meant. His face was still feeling incredibly hot, just like the rest of his body; he had trouble focusing, so it took him a whole moment before he realized that a change had once again occurred within his soul; and not only within his.
“Should I laugh or cry?” Laien wondered with a helpless smile. “That’s the Aspect of Humility, it’s foundation is half-complete. And that feeling coming from Yin’s soul… it should be the Aspect of Tranquility,” he mused while chuckling deep inside. What was that, a consolatory prize? He knew such thoughts were silly since by this point, he understood much more about the Aspects than in the past, but the ridiculousness of this random thought was making him want to laugh regardless.
Meanwhile, as Laien and Yin were slowly calming down, Reian and Kasha both kept their eyes closed and maintained neutral looks on their faces. The two of them had been training, but they weren’t in any deep state of enlightenment; they came back to awareness the moment Yin sat up. However, because they didn’t speak up immediately, they ended up witnessing something embarrassing. Thus, as to not make everything too awkward, they continued pretending to have seen nothing.
As the minutes went on, Laien and Yin changed into their original clothes and seated themselves comfortably by one of the carriage’s walls. They rested their backs on fluffy pillows, then exchanged a glance and smiled at each other. Since they felt like doing so, they held their hands together while blushing a little. However, they relaxed soon thereafter, as they spread their aura and sunk into the Combined Spiritual Realm.
Just like that, two more hours passed in the blink of an eye and in a relative silence. Having finished the main part of their daily routine, Laien and Yin simply sat in the same spot without talking aloud. The two of them continued training leisurely, but since the pure energy-related training required little to no attention at the cultivation level they’ve reached, it could be said that they were pretty much resting.
After a dozen or so more minutes, Arslan shifted from one side to another. This time, however, he didn’t go back to sleeping; he stretched with a slight moan, then rubbed his eyes before sitting up. His gaze was quickly drawn to the spot where Laien and Yin had been lying at, only for him to perk up when he noticed them gone. He looked around and sure enough, spotted the two glancing at him with smiles on their faces.
“!” he almost cried out in joy but refrained himself from doing so at the last second. He wouldn’t want to wake Johan up or disturb Reian or Kasha in their training, after all. Though, his self-control went to waste the next instant, when he stood up and rushed over to Laien and Yin and jumped out to hug them. Although the clatter that resulted from his careless landing right between Laien and Yin, and partially on top of their legs, wasn’t all that loud, it proved to be enough to wake Johan up and certainly, it was more than enough to get Reian and Kasha’s attention and for them to open their eyes.
With Arslan holding onto both of their shirts, looking unsure if he should jump to the right or to the left, Laien and Yin chuckled and both leaned forward. They lifted Arslan up and hugged him together. At the same time, they wondered if this happened to be a national hugging day or something of this kind, especially since Johan was looking at them with puppy eyes.
All in all, after Johan joined them, the four of them went from hugging to wrestling and playing around. Since they all had interspatial rings of their own, with Johan having gotten one from Laien a few days ago, they all ate some sweets, some normal food and drank… well. Arslan preferred water, like usual, Johan liked to drink juice while Laien and Yin liked the delicate fruit wines.
Overall, they continued to chat, play, eat and drink for about half an hour with Reian and Kasha observing from the side. When the four of them had let some steam off, they stopped fooling around as much and after another moment, Arslan brought up with a bit downcast look on his face.
“I hope my father is all right…”
As a result of this mention, Laien and Yin inquired what it was all about. Arslan then told them the same thing Julien told him about in the afternoon, then let out a quiet sigh. He loved his father very much; he didn’t know what he would do if the rumors of his father’s death proved to be true.
“I can’t imagine him dying so easily,” Laien said confidently. He remembered the scene when Mustafa killed off Tashakir, a powerful martial master of the fifth rank, with a flick of his hand. If this man were to use his full strength to fight with a proper weapon in hand… would there really be someone capable of killing him? It might seem simple in principle, but to kill a supreme martial master was easier said than done. Had it been so easy, those experts wouldn’t be recognized as the respective central pillars of support of each country that existed on the continent.
“I think so too,” Yin supported. In his case, however, he wasn’t making a fully rational argument like Laien. Since they had just overcome a great challenge, he had a feeling that the world wouldn’t punish them with additional misfortune… though he needed to admit before himself that this way of thinking was perhaps a little bit too optimistic and wishful.
“Yeah, thanks,” Arslan said with a slight smile, this time consciously avoiding the word ‘hope’. He didn’t want to keep repeating this one word over and over; for some reason, he came to feel like it would become a bad omen and bring him bad luck.
“Want to play cards or some other games?” Johan suggested in a somewhat shy manner. “It’s a good way to pass time if you don’t want to think too much…” he mentioned and looked at the faces of his friends. He wasn’t happy about it, but he had some experience with passing an unpleasant time in a way that would be the least stressful. In this case, when the options were to stay here or go out and join the people by those bonfires in the distance, he saw the former as a far better option.
Arslan wondered for a few seconds, apparently trying to make a choice between the same two options Johan had in mind. “Mm, I’d rather stay here,” he said and gave Laien and Yin a questioning look. If the two of them wanted to go out, then he would tag along, but only in that case would he do so.
“I’m good here.”
Laien and Yin replied without thinking about it for too long. They had had enough intense experiences for the time being and their bodies needed some time to recover, so they weren’t eager to go out and train physically either. The interior of this carriage was incredibly cozy and comfortable, to a surprising extent even; spending time here was pretty fun and pleasant for them. The company of Arslan, Johan and sometimes Albert only further bettered the time they spent in there.
With the four youths having settled on remaining, Reian and Kasha calmly returned to training. Since the boys weren’t going out, they didn’t need to follow them around; this development suited them very much. Reian was happy with it in particular, as he would need at least a week to get rid of all the internal damage he had suffered. If he was a bit lucky, then this process would also quickly lift him up to the fourth Realm of Heroes; it wasn’t a surprise that he wanted to focus on training.
The time flew by and the night passed quickly. Soon, the first rays of sun began peeking out from above the mountains towering over the back of the Fortress-City of Lugna. Within one particular carriage, two adults were still training while four young boys were napping after the whole night of playing games and enjoying themselves.
The whole area in front of the great walls of Lugna was fairly quiet. Only a few dozen people stayed behind around the last of the large bonfires, while the rest had gone to sleep. It was at this time when the Qi-enhanced yell of an incoming rider resounded clearly throughout the valley.
“Mustafa lives! Mustafa lives! The White Guard destroyed the City of Masalle! Mustafa is alive! The war is at a stalemate!”
The rider shouted the moment he spotted Julien and a few of the high-ranked officers beside him. He knew he was the first one delivering the news as all the common message birds and flying magical beasts alike had disappeared from the skies and all the new ones failed to reach even the closest destinations. The rider, just like the very majority of the subordinates Julien had gathered around himself, hated most of the Ikarians with passion; the only exception was the people of Makarash! It wasn’t strange for him to be excited while delivering this joyous news.
“So he lives after all,” Julien said with a wide, bloodthirsty smile. He couldn’t wait to learn the details of the report.
“He lives,” Jasmine said in a low voice. She took a deep breath, then let the air out, slowly. Yes, Mustafa wouldn’t have gotten himself killed so easily. “There they come,” she thought with a smile, watching Arslan and the rest rush out from the faraway carriage.
“General,” the rider brought his horse to an abrupt stop and greeted Julien. “The situation in the west…” he began saying but was silenced by a wave of a hand of Julien’s. He was confused at first; he knew his General well enough to know he wouldn’t care about time and place and would always impatiently ask to at least be briefed in before moving to talk somewhere else. However, he did realize what was going on when he followed Julien’s line of sight and saw a group of boys accompanied by two men and a woman running over.
“Is that true? Is my father alive?” Arslan forced himself to ask in a loud voice despite being short on breath.
After a second, the rider’s eyes went wide when he comprehended the meaning of Arslan’s words. He didn’t know that Mustafa’s son was a guest of their General’s! “That is true indeed. I saw the Grand Yimar Mustafa with my own two eyes before I headed out,” he said respectfully, the high esteem he held Mustafa in extending to the person of his son.
Hearing so, Arslan was so relieved that he almost fell on his butt due to all the stress leaving his body all at once. His father was alive…!
Julien smiled at Arslan, then gestured the rider to get off his horse and come closer. When the man did as he was ordered, he said.
“You know what I want. Skip the flowery language and describe the situation to us in as much detail as possible.”
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edited December 2017
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Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 86. As Good As Dead.
“What do you mean they ‘disappeared’?” Yimar Maar asked angrily, causing the messenger to shrink away in fear. “What are you waiting for? I asked you a question,” he reminded coldly. The prolonged silence of the kowtowing man was beginning to get on his nerves more and more.
“I-I meant…” the messenger attempted to force some words out of his mouth. He was clearly aware that his master was in a foul mood, so the scenes of him being executed for incompetence were already flashing before his eyes, causing the cold sweat to appear all over his body and drip on the floor from his forehead. “We couldn’t find out what happened to them. They are gone, but we can’t be sure if they perished to the last man or betrayed… so I said they disappeared…” he tried to explain, hoping that his words would sound reasonable enough for Yimar to forgive him.
“Retard,” Yimar Maar said with a snort. “Are you trying to tell me you didn’t hear what Mustafa did to the City of Masalle on his way back? Yimar Furi and his top officers might have sent their families away to Arkaria in time, but the seven million citizens that were left behind…” he stopped speaking and trembled at the memory. Towards the end of the battle, Mustafa ‘retreated’ into the City of Masalle with the few dozen White Guards at his side. The forces of Yimar Furi’s were the closest, so they all gave chase and joined with the city guards… The city was then washed with blood as the skirmishes began. However, those small clashes weren’t the worst of it.
“Mustafa…! You are worthy of the title of the Blood Djinn!” Yimar Furi thought while clenching his fists. None of them had thought that the scattered White Guard of Mustafa’s would not only not be wiped out, but proceed to successfully reform with minimal loses! Before their main army caught up, they had all seen the humongous fire-element Grand Spell being formed by the three hundred and sixty spiritual masters of Mustafa’s White Guard, right before the walls of the City of Masalle.
Merciless. If there was one word that could be used to describe Mustafa, it would be this one. Even up until now Yimar Maar could hardly believe that Mustafa dared to release the Grand Inferno Apocalypse upon a major city. Yet, Mustafa did so without any hesitation; he baited the fifteen thousand experts of Yimar Furi’s into one place, then destroyed everything that happened to be around them. The Grand Magic laid waste to millions of people in mere moments, the sea of flames burning down houses, people and everything in its path. The stronger experts at the first Realm of Heroes and above survived the onslaught, but the regular citizens… they stood no chance.
“Tell me,” Yimar Maar said dispassionately. “Do you think Yimar Furi could have betrayed us? Are you that stupid?” he asked, thinking that he should perhaps find himself a new messenger if this one was so mentally defective. Mustafa had purposely ordered the Grand Spell’s power to be lowered in exchange for covering a larger area; he obviously didn’t care about Yimar Furi’s elites. He wanted to make a thorough example of what awaits the families and friends of those who backstab him… and he certainly did just that. According to the newest reports, the estimated casualties ranged between three and four million people, not including all of those who had been severely wounded and were expected to die within next few days due to the lack of healers and doctors.
“N-no Yimar!” The messenger pressed his head tightly against the stone floor. “Forgive me, this servant wasn’t thinking!” he uttered in a hurry, his body trembling all over.
“Tch.” Yimar Maar shook his head discontentedly. “If you have nothing else to say, then get out of my sight,” he ordered, prompting the man to scuff away in a great hurry. “Useless. Why are all of them so useless compared to Mustafa’s subordinates?” he complained, feeling absolutely furious. He had thought his men were already almost at the level of the White Guard, but even when the five thousand of his elites and the three thousand of Arakar’s men fought against a mere six hundred White Guards, they failed to kill more than a few dozen of them. It was an absolute disgrace…!
“Don’t get so angry.” From atop a fur-covered sofa, the silver-golden-clothed man said with a calm laugh. “I told you we shouldn’t have tried to give chase at all, but you insisted so much. We already achieved our goal and won this battle, you just need to be more patient,” he assured in a very much relaxed manner, then took in another whiff of apple-flavored smoke from the gold-coated shisha.
Yimar Maar frowned slightly. He couldn’t accept that their eight thousand elites, assisted by fifty thousand regular experts of the Realm of Heroes and more than one hundred thousand additional forces were only the means of allowing them to have a non-suicidal fight against Mustafa and a mere six hundred White Guards. True, those four lieutenants who roamed the battlefield as they fought Mustafa were terrifying… even he didn’t feel confident in beating any of them in a one-on-one fight! But! Wasn’t this too ridiculous? He couldn’t comprehend how Makarash’ power has grown to this extent. He had been doing everything to make his own forces stronger, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Mustafa’s White Guard! This helpless feeling was making him extremely mad.
“Are you sure of what you said?” Yimar Maar asked after taking a deep breath. “Are you sure that Mustafa is as good as dead like you said?” he asked strongly. If Arakar was wrong, then they would have lost thousands of their elites and tens of thousands of regular soldiers for nothing! Given that they had also failed to capture Mustafa’s son… then the moment the reinforcements came from Makarash, their lives would be most definitely over. Mustafa wasn’t one to forgive his enemies.
“I’m absolutely sure,” Arakar said with a calm smile and glanced at Yimar Maar lazily. “Thanks to you and your sword, Aban or whatever he was called? Mainly thanks to him I got in a clean hit. I’m certain that I managed to permanently damage Mustafa’s Qi Origin. All we need to do is to focus on defense and wait for a few weeks, then we can mount another attack and finish it,” he said contentedly and sucked in another mouthful of smoke. A moment later, he puffed it out of his mouth unhurriedly; just thinking that he would go down in the annals of history as the one who ended Mustafa, the greatest Ikarian expert in the known history, made him feel warm and fuzzy inside.
“I do hope you are right,” Yimar Maar stated in a half-convinced manner. “It would have been better if you didn’t shout it out on the battlefield though… Do you know how much our morale fell when our soldiers discovered that Mustafa isn’t actually quite dead yet?” he complained bitterly. He had thought they would be able to crush Mustafa with all the power they amassed to fight him, but they ended up just barely winning; that’s, as long as Arakar wasn’t wrong in saying that he crippled Mustafa. “No wonder even the Great Prophet avoided any strife with Mustafa for all those years,” he thought resignedly. If only Mustafa was of the same mind as the rest of them, then Arkaria would have conquered half of the Starlight Continent by now! What a great waste of potential it was.
“Stop sweating the small things,” Arakar said with a laugh. “Instead, you should pay more attention to your security,” he pointed out, the previous smile quickly disappearing from his face. “I don’t know what their goal is, but the Guild of Shadows is meddling in this war. All the message birds in our two Yimarates were slaughtered and even normal birds are too terrified to fly in the sky… not to mention that we lost sight of the hundred White Guards that were hanging around Mustafa’s son…” he mentioned, for the first time showing signs of being worried. Against Mustafa, he was still confident in at least saving his life… but against those three freaks from the Guild of Shadows? He wouldn’t offend them no matter what, even if it was the Great Prophet himself ordering him to do so.
“What?!” Yimar Maar exclaimed in shock. He recalled the letter he had found on his desk a week ago… then instantly grew furious. “That useless bastard! I will have him skinned alive!” he roared uncontrollably. What was that trash thinking, failing to mention such an important information! Forget the message birds; the Guild of Shadows was unlikely to do much more than that considering their policies. However, the matter of one hundred White Guards disappearing was a huge one!
Arakar laughed and shook his head a little. “You frightened your messenger off, what do you expect? It’s your fault for managing your people badly,” he reprimanded casually. He had been watching Yimar Maar for those last few months and he came to understand a few things about him. The man was definitely decisive and smart enough… but he only demanded perfection from others, without thinking if he himself could have done more to improve the issue on hand. Someone like that would forever be a second-rate leader in his eyes.
Yimar Maar’s eye twitched dangerously, but he suppressed his anger. There weren’t many people in the world from whom he would take such blatant criticism from, but Arakar was most definitely one of them. He didn’t agree with his words… but at the very least, he would concede the matter of punishing the messenger this one time.
“Do you have any idea where they could be?” Yimar Maar asked, struggling to keep the tone of his voice neutral.
The silver-golden-clothed Arakar chuckled in response. He glanced at Yimar Maar out of the corner of his eye and said sarcastically. “Didn’t I tell you enough already? If you are so stupid you can’t figure the rest out on your own, then maybe you should do the job of a messenger the next time around.”
Almost instantly, Yimar Maar grew furious, the colors of his face turning into a deep shade of red. For a second, some killing intent began leaking from his body… but it disappeared just as fast as it rose the moment he saw the usually unconcerned look in Arakar’s eyes turn serious. “Forget it, he is only a level weaker than Mustafa… I can’t argue with him,” Yimar Maar reminded himself. It had been ages since anyone had been so rude to him, so he had lost his cool momentarily.
“Since they disappeared…” he mused quietly. “They could have only moved into the Ruishi Federation. Was it because of them that Yimar Furi failed? Did our plan get leaked, or were we simply unlucky?” he wondered. It would have been great if they captured Arslan when his defense was lacking, but now that he was guarded by one hundred elites, it would become almost impossible.
“It looks like we can only rely on Mustafa losing his strength. The moment his presence is invalidated, the few hundred White Guards of his will be slaughtered by us,” he concluded and sighed inwardly. It had been mainly him, Aban and Arakar who fought against Mustafa, but that man’s presence alone was holding a huge number of their elites in check; after all, they weren’t capable of tying Mustafa down in one place with just three of them. Truly, the lord of Makarash was an unpreceded monster.
“I’m leaving,” Yimar Maar stated more or less calmly. “If there’s anything important, call for me,” he added and left the chamber.
Arakar led Yimar Maar away with his gaze, then chuckled quietly when the door closed behind him. “What a pitiful man,” he thought with a smile and took another whiff of the apple-flavored smoke. The meddling of the Guild of Shadows had been outside of his predictions, but so far everything was going according to the plan.
As for Yimar Maar himself… he went back to his study, intending to take care of some formalities in order to calm his mind. However, the moment he entered his private room, he instantly spotted something that caused a shiver to go down his spine. On the desk, there was yet another, identical grey envelope waiting for him with a few words written on top of it.
‘To Yimar Maar, From The Quite-Amused Spectator.’
After hesitating for a split-second, Yimar Maar reached out and opened the envelope. He prepared himself for there to be another provocative hint-like message inside, but this time the content proved to be both less offensive and more straightforward.
‘Yimar Furi and his puppies were killed by two young Devils. You’d be wise to be on guard against them, else they will come to seek you out in the future… along with Mustafa’s son. If a chance appears, be sure to kill them! Good luck~!’
“Devils..?” Yimar Maar frowned. The message was indeed more straightforward than the last one, but he had no idea to whom those words were referring to. “They are either with Mustafa’s son or are involved with him. It’s going to be hard to find anything out if that kid went into the Ruishi Federation… but it won’t hurt to try,” he decided pretty easily. By this point, he understood that he had become irreconcilable enemies with Mustafa; in the future, he would need to concern himself with Arslan’s revenge. Thus, if an opportunity presented itself, he would definitely make use of it.
“Pretty ruthless, I admit,” Laien mentioned with a somewhat troubled smile. Hadn’t Mustafa basically done the same thing he did in Ulme Village, but on a much larger scale? No wonder that Arslan insisted that the two of them had the same look in their eyes… they were similar to a scary degree.
“I didn’t finish speaking yet,” the messenger said unhappily. He could guess that this black-haired boy was a friend of Arslan’s, but he didn’t like being interrupted randomly, especially by a simple kid. As far as he was concerned, this boy, whatever he was called, needed to learn some manners.
“Aren’t you an oversensitive one,” Laien said with a smirk and laughed a little. It wasn’t like he spoke up while this man was mid-sentence or anything, so why was he getting so uptight about it? Weren’t the news he brought really good? There was no reason to get so stressed over every little silly thing.
The messenger looked like he was about to reprimand Laien, but he got interrupted by Julien’s cheerful and rather amused laugh.
“I wouldn’t offend this little fellow if I were you. You’ve only stepped into the Realm of Heroes a few months ago… he can probably kill you with one random slap,” Julien said cheerfully. The story Jasmine had told them was so ridiculous that he couldn’t possibly not believe in it; if someone wanted to tell a lie, he would have at least made it more realistic! “He’s apparently a true Ice Devil,” he added and laughed again, making it hard to discern whether he was being serious or not.
The messenger couldn’t help but give Julien a confused look. He glanced at Laien, then turned back to look at Julien; was Julien being serious? This child was younger than his own little brother!
Seeing the man’s doubtful expression, Laien merely chuckled a little. He couldn’t be bothered to brag or say anything; it mattered little to him if this man believed Julien’s words or not.
“So anyway, what else do you have to say?” Julien asked the messenger after a moment. He had thought one of those two would say something… but surprisingly, neither appeared to care. He would have been able to write off Jasmine’s story as a strange joke more easily if those two boys, as Jasmine claimed them to be, began boasting. However, their response, or the lack of thereof, made him feel all that much bewildered.
“…” the messenger sighed secretly. Having no other choice, he reported the rest of what he had learned. “I wanted to say that it doesn’t look like Mustafa is going to make a move at the moment. After destroying the City of Masalle, he retreated a few hundred kilometers back and is staying in Vase City. I confirmed there are around six to seven hundred White Guards there with him, but I don’t know if the rest died in battle or is spread throughout the country. My guess would be that he had been injured during the battle, so now he is being more careful. Perhaps he is waiting for reinforcements from Makarash,” he elaborated, then to make everything clear added.
“Injured instead of killed, huh,” Laien mused aloud, some suspicion present in his voice. “I don’t want to be ‘that person’ who kills the good atmosphere, but does that make sense to you?” he asked, his gaze stopping for a moment on the faces of Julien, Reian and Jasmine. He knew Yin understood what he was talking about… and as those who knew the sensation of cutting another’s flesh and pouring their Qi into another’s body, he was quite sure those three martial masters understood it too.
At Laien’s mention, the faces of those experts present lost some of their liveness. It was especially the case for those three marital masters who received a glance from Laien. Mistaking a serious injury for a kill… it wasn’t impossible, but in a fight between true experts, both sides would be able to tell whether they had delivered lethal damage or not. Did this messenger say that Mustafa had been wounded by Arakar, the Sword of Rala of the Great Prophet’s? It indeed was worrying.
“Huh? What is it about?” Arslan asked anxiously. He was a smart boy, but he was only five years old; he lacked the experience necessary to understand what point Laien was making.
Since what followed Arslan’s question was a moment of awkward silence from the adults, Laien sighed a little and explained on his own. “When you wound someone directly with your weapon, you can mostly sense how much damage your Qi did. We don’t know how your father was wounded, so it’s only something I thought about… We should likely wait for him to send some information our way. He will surely contact you sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later.”
After listening to Laien’s explanation, Arslan pursed his lips a little. He was so glad and relieved when he heard his father was alive, but now he was beginning to worry again. He felt rather bad and his mood became worse… but he wasn’t petty enough to blame Laien for mentioning his worries. If something was truly wrong with his father, then he wanted to know. After all, if he knew then he would be able to do something to assist instead of remaining clueless and getting in the way.
“Mhm, we will just wait for father to contact us,” Arslan said more calmly than those around him expected. He smiled a bit helplessly at the surprised looks he received as a result; compared to how nervous he had been yesterday, now he was just a little stressed. He wouldn’t sulk the whole time just because he was worried about his father.
“Good, let us leave it at that,” Julien said with a slight smile. He exchanged a glance with the messenger just to make sure the man had nothing else to say, then thanked him and dismissed him. “The moods seems to be good enough…” he mused, then toward the group of youths that stood a dozen or so meters away, waiting to be allowed to approach.
“Come on over. If you have any business with those two little Devils, then your chance is right now,” he called out with a smile.
As the group of youths of various ages approached, Laien and Yin exchanged a glance. It wasn’t just their imagination that those seven were looking at them with a very competitive look in their eyes, was it? Some of them had challenging and provocative emotions added to the mix, some were fairly neutral, while one or two seemed to have a fairly clear hint of reverence present in their gazes.
“We heard about you the last night,” a boy who looked to be a year or two older than Laien and Yin spoke up. He had a competitive look in his eyes and was emanating a surprisingly strong aura; his martial cultivation was at the seventh mortal realm while his spiritual cultivation was, amazingly enough, at the ninth mortal realm. “To be honest, I just can’t believe that whole story. I don’t know why a respected lieutenant of the White Guard would make up something like that,” he said bluntly, his gaze focusing at Laien in particular.
“Well… as expected?” Julien chuckled in his heart. He had known those brats would come to stir trouble after hearing an unbelievable story of this kind, but he didn’t mind. He wanted to see how those two so-called Devils would react and truth to be told, he wanted to see them fight with those youngsters he and his friends had been grooming at the Fortress-City of Lugna.
“Yeah, and?” Laien raised his eyebrows a little and asked dispassionately. He needed to admit that this guy was talented and could be described as a genius, but… that was just it. He was impressed, but he felt no obligation to respond to those annoying accusations and provocations of his.
The youth frowned. He couldn’t help but feel that Laien was looking down on him, so this time he spoke without beating around the bush. “If you are really so strong, then fight me. You stopped a Grand Spell cast by thirty-six spiritual masters on your own, no? It should be simple for you to defeat me unless all of that was one huge lie,” he said challengingly, looking like he would pull out his weapon and attack Laien the moment he agreed to fight him.
“Why would I fight you?” Laien asked with a laugh and shook his head helplessly. If this guy approached him amiably and requested a spar, he wouldn’t have had anything against exchanging a few blows with him. However, in this situation, he simply couldn’t be bothered. At his current level, especially after gaining the half-complete foundation of the Aspect of Humility, he could kill most martial masters of the third rank with ease and fight on equal terms with some of the marital masters of the fourth rank. A thirteen, fourteen-year-old who was in the mortal realm wasn’t nearly enough to be a challenge to him.
“Why?” the youth asked angrily. “To prove the story about your strength isn’t a lie,” he stated strongly, thinking that Laien was too scared of him to agree to a fight. With each exchange of words between the two of them, he was growing more confident that Jasmine’s story was full of crap.
Laien chuckled in response to the slightly older boy’s statement. He tilted his head slightly and said with a smirk. “You are free to think it’s a lie. I don’t care.”
“You...” the youth stared at Laien with a mixture of fury and disbelief. “Do you admit that story was a lie then?” he asked sternly.
“You just don’t get it,” Laien said with a sigh. “What’s in it for me to fight you? What do I stand to gain from that?” he asked in return.
“You will prove that the story about you isn’t fake,” the youth repeated his point without giving it much thought.
“Don’t care,” Laien replied immediately, causing the youth to frown.
“Your name will spread in our country if you defeat me…” the boy suggested. He was officially recognized as one of the top three geniuses of his generation in the whole Ruishi Federation, so he thought this point would sway that black-haired boy a little. However…
“Don’t care,” Laien said and shrugged his shoulders a little. He truly didn’t need this kind of fame at the moment.
“… I will give you one hundred platinum coins if you defeat me,” the thirteen-year-old offered after a moment of hesitation.
“Don’t need them.” Yet, Laien’s response remained the same. Although one hundred platinum coins were more or less equivalent to one hundred crystal coins, this sum wasn’t all that enticing to him. If this guy learned what kind of fortune he was carrying in his interspatial ring, he would probably faint.
“A top-grade weapon…” the youth began saying with a groan, but just like before got denied by Laien.
“Already have one.”
“… I will sell you my older sister,” the youth said with a weak laugh and gave Laien a defeated smile. He no longer knew what to say.
“Hey!” the fifteen or sixteen years old girl that stood by the youth’s side smacked his head with her knuckles. “You spoiled brat, don’t go selling your own sister just because you can’t get what you want!” she reprimanded with a laugh and with a smile on her face, then gave Laien an apologetic look. “Sorry about him, he’s always been chronically competitive,” she said amicably.
“Mm, I don’t mind,” Laien said in response. Unlike her little brother, this girl had a calm, level-headed look in her eyes. She also looked like she was eager to try and fight them, but her approach was very different; at the very least, Laien didn’t think she had written off Jasmine’s story as a lie just yet.
“Ice Devil and Lightning Devil,” the girl said with a smile. “Is there anything that would entice you to fight any of us, or is it hopeless?” she asked very straightforwardly.
Whereas Laien started pondering the answer to this question, Yin said without needing to think about it for long.
“I’m still recovering, so I won’t be fighting anyone for a few days at least. Sorry.”
“Too bad,” the girl said, her voice sounding rather disappointed. “What about you?” she inquired hopefully.
“Um, I don’t know,” Laien said while scratching the back of his head. Had this little brother of hers kept being aggressive to the very end, he would have refused straight-out. Now, however, he didn’t feel as averse to the idea of sparring… but he didn’t quite want to do it without any benefits either.
“I’ve got a suggestion,” Julien mentioned with a playful smile. “How about anyone who loses to our Ice Devil works as his servant and guide for the time he spends in our country?” he threw the idea up in the air and glanced at Laien, curious to see what his response would be. The boy hadn’t been tempted by any of the things offered to him so far… so maybe something like that would work out better?
“Hmm, why not! I’m in,” Laien said and laughed in amusement, mainly because of the looks on the faces of those seven youths. That girl who spoke to him a second ago still looked fairly composed, but the other six were startled, if not scared by the prospect of working as servants. “Come, I will make a quick work of you before the breakfast,” he said wryly, looking the slightly older youth in the eye. Was he still up for fighting him, or would he shrink away from the challenge?
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
edited December 2017
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 87. Heaven and Earth.
The thirteen-year-old couldn’t help but frown at Laien’s overconfident attitude, but he refrained from making any comments about it. “Of course I won’t back down, I’m not scared of you,” he said a bit grudgingly. Serving as a servant and guide for a few weeks would be shameful, but it was comparatively worth less than the things he had tried to offer beforehand. He could still bear this much… but to begin with, it wasn’t like he was planning to lose!
“No one is saying you are scared,” Laien said with a helpless laugh. Although this youth looked like he was a year or two older than him, his attitude really was a bit too childish.
“Whatever,” the thirteen-year-old snorted, thinking that he would never be able to become friends with a person like Laien. “Before we begin, I’m Luca. Since you two aren’t planning to reveal your names, be sure to remember mine,” he said challengingly, planning to make sure that this ‘Ice Devil’ wouldn’t easily forget who had brought him down to the ground.
In response, Laien revealed a surprised look. However, the surprise on his face quickly changed into understanding. He smiled and glanced at Jasmine, who in turn smiled back at him. So those people knowing only those Ikarian titles and not their names was her doing? He needed to admit it was a good idea in principle, but he doubted whether it was truly necessary. If someone really wanted to learn his identity, then he would only need to do a bit of investigation before learning everything; he had left way too many tracks while traveling with Arslan for it to matter at this point.
Additionally… he seriously doubted there would be many people who would claim him to be the ‘Ice Devil’ even if they saw that their names matched.
“Luca, huh?” Laien looked the half a head taller youth in the eye. The beginning of their relationship, for the lack of better word, wasn’t all that great. Yet, he didn’t feel like this guy was all that bad of a person; and he could sense that Yin had similar thoughts. As such, he spoke up conciliatorily. “I’m Laien. Let’s have a nice fight,” he said with a smile and reached out with his hand.
Met with this sudden change in attitude, Luca ended up being caught totally off-guard. Weren’t the two of them pretty much jabbing at each other with words from the very beginning? He stared at Laien for a good second before coming back to his senses; he hesitated briefly, then shook Laien’s hand.
“Wow~” Luca’s older sister chuckled quietly. “What a heartwarming scene. Is my little brother finally going to make a friend of his own?” she asked teasingly and sent Luca a meaningful smile.
“Lea!” Luca turned to his older sister abruptly, his face already flushing a little. “Please, stop doing that in front of people! Also, I do have friends!”
“But weren’t they all introduced to you by me?” Lea asked playfully. “Right, everyone?” she inquired, directing this question to the five youths around her.
“True,” the older boy who seemed to be around Lea’s age said with a wry smile. “Luca, when your whole family moved here three years ago so you could join Lea in the army, didn’t you immediately get into a big fight with those in your squad and end up beating them all into a pulp? You were always such a problem child,” he reminded and laughed at the memory. The officers had all been furious to find the youths they had been intending to put through a rough day of training in an unusable state. However, they had decided to punish those who had gotten beaten up despite ganging up on a new kid; what in addition to Luca’s hard-to-approach character caused him to be ostracized by most of his peers.
“Yeah, yeah,” the ten, eleven years old girl supported eagerly. “You were so rude and boring in the beginning. You are nice now, but do you think we would have been so patient if not for your sister’s requests?” she pointed out poutingly. Out of the seven of them, she had probably been getting along with Luca the least well; however, with time she came to like him. Well, more or less like him.
“Don’t be so hard on him,” the boy looking to be the same age as Luca spoke with a laugh. “He’s great once you get to know him. It’s just hard for anyone to be patient enough to actually do that,” he said with a smirk and exchanged a glance with Luca, who looked like he was about to start looking for a solid rock so he could smash his head against it. The two of them were now good friends, but on the very first day they met, they had gotten into a huge argument, which quickly escalated into a fight and then a brawl. It all ended well thanks to Lea playing the role of an intermediary between the two of them later on, but sometimes Luca was just too stubborn for his own sake.
“Okay, okay, enough already…!” Luca pleaded helplessly, the amused smile on Laien’s face and the chuckles of the adults around him causing him to feel all the more embarrassed. He loved his older sister a lot, but he absolutely hated when she teased him in front of so many people!
“Come,” Laien said with a smile, taking pity on Luca. “Let’s see if we can become friends,” he said with a laugh and began walking towards the closest empty area.
Luca welcomed the helping hand and quickly followed after Laien, all the while trying to pretend he didn’t hear the laughs of his older sister and his friends coming from behind his back. “Thanks,” he said quietly. Despite the not so good first impression, which now that he thought about it was probably provoked by his own attitude, he was beginning to feel more well-disposed toward Laien.
“Don’t thank me yet,” Laien said wryly and when he saw the somewhat confused look on Luca’s face, he added playfully. “I’m about to make you my guide.”
More flabbergasted than angered, Luca felt like asking Laien why he was so confident. He simply couldn’t understand it. Even if Laien didn’t know about his achievements in the Ruishi Federation, he had displayed his cultivation base to him very openly. In the beginning, he had assumed it was because Laien was arrogant… but could it be that in truth, Laien was simply incredibly strong?
“Could that story really be true…? No, that’s impossible,” he mused anxiously but refused to start doubting his own strength before the fight even began.
“Say, is your friend really that strong?” A dozen of steps behind Laien and Luca, Lea approached Yin and inquired with an amiable smile.
“He is strong,” Yin said confidently. There was no questioning that, Laien was strong; and the story Jasmine told them was true to begin with.
“Between the two of you, which is stronger?” Lea asked straightforwardly, curious to see how this green-haired youth would respond to a question like that.
“I guess I am? Just by a little,” Yin replied with a light chuckle. “But it really depends on the situation. I’m better at dueling, but he’s better at dealing with many enemies at once,” he elaborated lightheartedly and smirked just a little. Why was it that when he was with Laien, this question would pop up with a strangely regular frequency?
“Hoh,” Lea raised her eyebrows slightly. She had always been good at getting along with people, but that was mainly because she understood people well. She could usually tell what a person was thinking from the small gimmicks like their body language, the tone of their voice, where they looked while speaking and such. Asking certain key questions and observing one’s reaction to them was one of the basic methods she employed… and this time around, she was pleasantly surprised.
Not many of those young practitioners she was acquainted with could speak so casually about the strength of others. She had heard that those two Devils were friends with each other, so she wondered how this way too beautiful boy would respond when asked. However, she didn’t expect to come to a conclusion that the youth was approaching this subject with a perfect cool. To her, that could mean only two things; either this youth had an extremely healthy approach towards his own prowess in comparison to that of others, or he was so self-centered that he couldn’t imagine the world in which he wouldn’t emerge on top of everything in spite of all circumstances.
In this particular case, she was willing to concede that the latter of those two options was extremely unlikely. Thus, her own conclusions led her to hold a very positive impression of this green-haired youth. As for Laien, she already had a feeling that he was a good kid and hoped that he would get along with her little brother well.
“Here should be good enough,” Laien said after a moment of walking. Thankfully, the vast majority of the carriages from their caravan had gathered in one place for the sake of convenience, so they didn’t need to look hard to find a suitable spot to fight at. “Whenever you are ready,” he said with a smile and took out his white spear. Since the two of them were dual practitioners, the starting range didn’t matter much; as such, he left the decision to Luca without fretting over it all that much.
“… How can you be so leisure and confident?” Luca asked resignedly. “I’m one of the three strongest people my age in this country, you know?” he brought up in a soft voice. He could see his older sister, his friends and a bunch of other people gathering to watch the fight and in particular, he didn’t want Lea to hear him say so as to not be reprimanded by her for being too conceited later.
“Hm.” Laien took a few seconds to think about this matter, then answered seriously. “A part of it is just that this fight doesn’t really matter that much? I mean, sure it’s some prestige and all of that, but who cares? The other part is that I went through much scarier things than a spar.” Having said so, Laien chortled in amusement. When he looked back to all those times he fought in the past, a mere sparring truly looked nothing else but inconsequential. The only way it could be dangerous was if his opponent was similarly skilled and their fight got very serious and dragged on, but he honestly doubted that Luca could prove to be that much of a challenge to him.
Unlike the other times, the casual attitude of Laien’s caused Luca to feel more pressured than angered or confused. Seeing a spar with him as something unimportant, inconsequential… wasn’t Laien even younger than him? Just what had he gone through to have a viewpoint like that? “There’s only one way to find out,” he mused quietly and took out a simple sword from his interspatial ring.
“Enough talking?” Laien asked with a smile and took his usual, defensive stance. He was confident, but it didn’t mean he would be careless; he roused his Qi and prepared to draw upon his spiritual energy, anticipating the attack that was sure to come. And indeed, a second later he felt spiritual energy converge in the air in front of Luca and saw a small wave of flames taking shape and almost immediately afterward, being hurled at him.
“Those are… Aspects? So many!” Laien was a little shocked to discovered traces of at least five different Aspects in Luca’s fire. Of those he could recognize, there was Wrath, Desire and Pride; and in addition to those three, there were still two other ones mixed into the incoming flames. “That’s much more than I expected, but…” he mused silently and released a small amount of his own spiritual energy, mixing it with all his various insights. He brought forth a layer of icy mist, which effortlessly extinguished the incoming flames the instant they touched it.
“Another chant? He sure is taking his time,” Laien thought with some disappointment. There had been about ten meters between the two of them when the fight began, which now transformed into twenty as Luca had jumped back after releasing his first attack. However, taking time to cast spells in a battle between strong martial practitioners… well, he could at least see what Luca was planning to do. It wasn’t like he was worried about being overwhelmed by him if he gave up the initiative.
“He isn’t coming after me?” Luca noticed and in the back of his mind, start feeling rather angry. “You are underestimating me too much!” he thought angrily and manifested six large fireballs behind his back. Compared to that clumsy attack through the Guardian, those flames were at least five or six times stronger! Even Raphael, who had defeated him in the semifinals of the last nation-wide tournament, suffered after trying to receive this magic head-on!
With a though, he sent the six fireballs curving through the air. Three of them went through the left, three through the right, all of them aiming to hit Laien from the sides and from the back! “And now, quickly!” Luca forced his Qi to surge forth and pushed out the remnant spiritual energy that lingered in his body. He winced from the discomfort this abrupt change caused him, but he managed to bear with it and slashed out with his sword, releasing a simple, but very fast and dangerous fire-element martial technique!
The spectators on the ground and on the walls of the Fortress-City of Lugna alike held their breaths. Laien hadn’t moved or attempted to counterattack from the beginning and as a result, he found himself in a peril! None of those warriors of the Eagle Pass believed Laien would come out unscratched; they were sure he would pay for his arrogance with blood, alas… reality rarely held up to people’s expectations.
“There are many Aspects in his magic, but each one of them is at a fairly mediocre level,” Laien analyzed calmly as the fireballs and the blade of fire approached. “I don’t think it’s because he didn’t put in the effort… it’s probably that none of those Aspects have any foundations, even half-complete ones,” he sighed at the thought. His heart had skipped a beat at first when he sensed the presence of five Aspects, but now, he was quite disappointed.
“Moreover…” he murmured to himself and once again, used his Guardian to create some grey mist. At the same time, he took a swing with his spear. “Hah!” he clenched his hand a little tighter and struck out from downward, slashing at the incoming blade of fire. Just as he expected, his spear clashed with the martial technique and shattered it into little bits and pieces, while the grey mist around him received the six fireballs in the same manner it had stopped the small wave of fire in the beginning; the flames were stronger now, but they shared the exact same fate of being easily extinguished by the extreme cold.
“His Qi is strong for a martial practitioner of the seventh rank, but his spiritual energy…” Laien let out a sigh. “Isn’t he a spiritual practitioner of the ninth rank? Forget the matter of insights, his spiritual energy is extremely weak and unstable,” he judged silently, looking how Luca was retreating even further back. By the looks of it, he was preparing to use a magic with either a medium or a long chant.
“So pointless… with the quality of his spiritual energy, he won’t be able to compress it enough to increase the power significantly. After seeing that much, he should have understood he won’t be able to harm me with magic.” Laien shook his head. This fight wasn’t even enough to be considered a warm-up; Luca’s weaknesses were too big and too apparent. Against someone else, Luca could have possibly put up a good fight, but against him? It was absolutely hopeless.
“You stopped my attacks two times… but now, try to stop that!” Luca gnashed his teeth and forced as much spiritual energy as he could out of his body all at once, what all in all amounted to a little more than one-third of his full reservoir. In consequence, blood poured out of his nose and eyes and many spots all over his body turned purple, but he ignored the pain and finished the chant.
“Intensive Einäscherung,” he called out in a low voice and swung his fist forward, causing the amassed spiritual energy to cascade forward as it turned into a gigantic wave of raging fire. The flames washed past him and rolled through the ground, heading straight towards Laien in their full might.
“He’s improved so much since three months ago…” Julien nodded in approval. He had been shocked to see the first serious attack of Luca’s be stopped to effortlessly, but this time around, it wouldn’t be so easy for his opponent to come out unharmed. The level of this spell was already comparable to that of an average spiritual master of the second or third rank; it was quite a frightening accomplishment for a thirteen-year-old youth!
“This level is…” At the same time Julien marveled over Luca’s strength, Jasmine let out a little sigh of disappointment. What were the spiritual masters of this county thinking, allowing a talented youth to be wasted in this manner? This was a full-chant spell of over a dozen words, and yet the results were so disappointing! Was this boy’s master a fool, or was he purposely impeding the boy’s growth? This magic he released couldn’t be even said to be at the level of an elite spiritual master of the first rank! It was a disgrace considering that she could sense the presence of multiple Secret Arts within it.
“Well, it’s just this much.” Laien didn’t move from his original spot at all. Admittedly, this magic was much stronger than those fireballs from a moment ago, but ultimately, it was an area-of-effect attack. It made it hard for a single target to evade it, but its destructive might wasn’t all that high. “Freeze for me,” Laien waved his hand lazily and produced a defensive layer of mist around himself. The next second, the wave of flames swallowed him… but it ended up being akin to water washing over a stone on the riverbed, unable to breach his defenses in the slightest.
The thousands of spectators on the ground and the hundreds on the walls let out a collective gasp when Laien’s figure disappeared within the mass of flames. Those members of the caravan knew that Laien was strong, but they hadn’t seen his fight against Yimar Furi’s men too clearly. As for those soldiers of the Fortress-City of Lugna, they heard the stories, but they didn’t quite believe them. Thus, almost everyone ended up being worried for Laien’s well-being… with the exception of Yin, Arslan and the other members of their small group.
“They are all so calm,” Lea couldn’t help but notice. After Laien was hit by Luca’s last spell, she turned her gaze away for a little bit and discovered something alarming. That green-haired youth, those White Guards and even Arslan… they were all relaxed, maybe even a bit amused. “Can it be that this story really is…?” she asked herself, the thought alone causing a shiver to run down her spine. If what Jasmine told them was true, then those two youths weren’t Devils just in name, but in reality!
“Now, I have to attack!” Luca forced himself to charge forward. He didn’t know how much damage his magic did to Laien, but he understood that he wouldn’t win if he didn’t make use of this opportunity he had created for himself. With the sword in hand, he ran forward as the dissipating flames; thanks to his battle sense, he could tell to a degree where Laien was. He engulfed his sword in flames, wondering if his body would hold up for more than two of his strongest martial techniques. However, when his vision cleared fully and when he saw Laien a few meters ahead, he almost tripped over his own legs.
“Completely unharmed?!” he cried out in his heart. He would still understand it if Laien was only slightly wounded, but the ground around him wasn’t as much as scorched! Did Laien start chanting a spell of his own and he didn’t notice? He couldn’t have stopped his full-chant spell with only Guardian! That was too ridiculous! That would be at the level of… stopping a Grand Spell on his own.
“Damn it!” Frustrated by the overwhelming strength of his opponent and his own weakness, Luca refused to give up and attacked Laien with his sword. Yet, how could he, who had only ever fought people in random bouts, during sparrings and in tournaments, could match up to Laien?
“Wow, he’s full of openings.” Laien felt like sighing but had little time for that since Luca was about to slash at him. Still, he didn’t bother to employ his Elemental Spear Arts; he simply picked the exact moment Luca stepped into the range of his spear and thrust forward swiftly and lightly. With how aggravated his opponent was, the thrust went right through the hastily put-up guard of Luca’s and pierced his shoulder right through, the spear etching itself firmly in the bones and muscles.
“It’s over,” Laien thought to himself. Had he actually put any serious amount of Qi or spiritual energy into this attack, he would have killed Luca on the spot. He still could do just that by transferring energy along the spear whenever he wanted. In a fight between martial practitioners, a direct hit like that was usually lethal; unless the party on the receiving side had powerful inner defenses or unless a large gap in strength existed, being pierced through by a weapon your enemy was holding would usually be the end of it.
Yet, Laien never expected Luca to actually force himself a step forward while skewering the spear through his own shoulder. “Really?” Laien frowned when he saw the flaming sword slashing down at his head. Wasn’t this only sparing? Wasn’t Luca totally overdoing it?
“No!” Julien and Lea shouted simultaneously when they saw what Luca was doing. What in the world was he thinking, refusing to admit defeat and going for the mutual kill! This wasn’t a life-or-death battle! The two of them wanted to stop him, but being so far away, they couldn’t possibly intervene in time. If both Luca and Laien got seriously wounded as a result of this madness, then it would be a disaster!
“Calm down a little,” Laien said grudgingly after blocking Luca’s slash with a layer of ice. There was a huge sense of disappointment present in his voice.
The simple words instantly brought Luca back to reality. When he understood what he had just done, he hurriedly calmed his Qi down and relaxed his body. He groaned quietly when Laien put his spear back into his interspatial ring, but given how ashamed he was feeling, he focused on gritting his teeth and bearing with the radiating pain. He was about to try and suppress the blood loss with his Qi when he heard Laien speak up.
“Withdraw your Qi, I will heal you.”
Having been injured on many occasions in the past, Luca quickly caught onto Laien’s intentions. His fire-element Qi was the worst match possible for the water-element spiritual energy of Laien’s, so its presence would make healing any wounds nigh impossible. He did as he was told and unwillingly displayed a relieved expression on his face when a layer of water covered the gaping hole in his shoulder. That degree of pain was something he had been having trouble bearing with, so he was glad it was beginning to subside.
“I’m sorry,” he said weakly and raised his head, then looked Laien in the eye. “I didn’t think I would lose myself so easily to my frustration. The Secret Arts I’m using make it hard for me to keep clarity of mind when I fight, but I know it’s not an excuse. I apologize… and thanks,” he explained, making a great deal of effort not to avoid Laien’s gaze. To his relief, the scornful look Laien had been giving him slowly changed into a look of understanding as he was explaining himself.
“Eh, so pathetic. I lost to Raphael this year and to Chris three years ago. Now, I did something so stupid…” he admonished himself silently, only waiting for his sister and everyone else to come over and start berating him for what he did. He knew he deserved every little bit of scolding this time around… but it wasn’t making him feel any better about the prospect of receiving it.
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
edited December 2017
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 88. Wasted Talent.
“It’s fine,” Laien said calmly while wrapping up the healing of Luca’s wound. He saw that the spectators, including General Julien and Luca’s older sister, halted when they saw that Luca regained his senses, so he spoke quietly. “I’ve fought against someone who had deep insights into the Aspect of Wrath before, so it’s not like I don’t understand how it is when one loses himself in his emotions. I sensed Desire and Pride in your magic too, both of which are hard to control… but what are the other two?” he inquired and chuckled a little at Luca’s startled expressions. Was it that strange for him to know about the Aspects, or whatever those insights were called in this part of the world?
“I was told they are called the Secrets of Envy and Greed,” Luca answered in a somewhat embarrassed fashion. Most of the time he tried not to think about it too much, but all the Secret Arts of his were related to negative emotions; Wrath, Desire, Pride, Envy, Greed, all of them were something he would consider to be a flaw in one’s character. However, since they were the sources of his strength, he couldn’t very well abandon them just because he thought they were wrong to cultivate.
“It was the first time I lost my senses like that in a fight… I’m really sorry,” he apologized again, feeling extremely guilty and at the same time, dispirited. Up until now, every time he lost he used the frustration of the loss to reinforce his desire to get stronger and improve… but after fighting Laien, he felt lost. He hated Chris for looking down on him and envied Raphael for ultimately winning against Chris during the finals of this year’s tournament, but he never felt he wouldn’t be able to overcome those two if he put in enough effort. Yet, against Laien… he had gone all-out, but it looked like he managed to merely scratch against the surface of Laien’s strength; to make the matters worse, his own strength was beginning to look like more like an obstacle than an advantage to him.
“Don’t sweat it so much,” Laien said with a smile. He could tell how bad Luca was feeling because of what he did, so he couldn’t bring himself to be angry with him. Had Luca been unapologetic and simply blamed his actions purely on the effects of his insights without the slightest care, he wouldn’t have been so understanding. However, since Luca approached him in an honest manner, he returned the favor and chose not to be petty about what had happened.
“Here, done.” Laien lowered his hand, having completely healed the wound on Luca’s shoulder. The gaping, bloodied hole and the cracked bones that had been present in the spot thirty seconds ago were now nowhere to be found. Instead, all that was left after the serious injury was a hole in Luca’s shirt that revealed a patch of smooth, undamaged white skin.
“Thank you,” Luca said gratefully. Not only had Laien not berated him for what he did nor looked down on him for losing, but he also healed his wounds. Now that he thought about how he had treated Laien in the beginning, he felt like dying of shame. The fact that Laien proved to be a respectable person, just like Raphael, only made the matter worse for his conscience.
“Mm,” Laien nodded slightly and revealed a playful smile. “If you want to thank me, do a good job as my guide,” he said with a slight laugh while looking Luca in the eye.
When Laien reminded him of the conditions attached to his loss, Luca let out a quiet, helpless laugh. “I will do my best,” he assured with a smile. He had lost so miserably that he was sure the results would be the same no matter if he fought Laien one hundred or one thousand times, so there was no way he would grumble about his new duties. The best he could do was to face them with a positive attitude.
“Are you two done talking?” Lea asked the moment Laien turned his gaze away from her brother and looked at her and Julien. They had been waiting a few dozen steps away for the two of them to finish before saying anything, but they were already on the verge of losing their patience.
“Yup,” Laien replied lightheartedly. He glanced at the downtrodden Luca, then left him to his own devices and headed back to where Yin and the rest of his companions were standing.
As he walked, Laien could tell that the way those high-ranked officers of the Fortress-City of Lugna were looking at him changed drastically. He was also vaguely aware of the excitement he had stirred on top of the walls, from which a few hundred soldiers had been watching the fight between him and Luca. Finally, there were the looks of veneration of those thousands of people who had left the carriages to spectate the duel and last but not least, the amazed looks on the faces of those five friends of Luca’s and his sister’s. The awareness of all those things made Laien feel fairly good about himself, but all in all, it wasn’t something he was overly concerned with.
“I can hardly believe it,” the youth that was around Lea’s age, around sixteen years old, said with a slight smile. “I’m three years older than Luca, but I will lose to him from time to time when we spar. Yet, you defeated him so effortlessly…” he praised, yet finished with a sigh; he looked like he wanted to say something else but chose not to. To gauge whether Laien was truly capable of what Jasmine claimed he had done would require pitching him against someone at the level of their General; no matter how he looked at this idea, it was inappropriate. Thus, he opted not to bring anything up.
“Yeah,” the eleven-year-old girl supported eagerly. “It nearly makes me believe that story about you and your friend,” she said with a cheeky smile. By the looks of it, she shared none of her older friend’s concerns and didn’t think much of bringing that story up.
Laien chuckled at the praise he was receiving and didn’t spare any comments toward the girl’s words. As he had already said, he cared little whether they believed the story about him or not. “Are we going to be leaving soon?” he asked, directing the question to Jasmine. Since she had spent the night outside, he assumed she would be the one knowledgeable about such details.
“Yes,” Jasmine replied. “In about an hour or so, unless that new guide of yours is going to need more time to prepare,” she added with a somewhat amused smile.
“Got it,” Laien said with a laugh, then approached Yin, Arslan and Johan. “I feel like eating something warm,” he mentioned with a smile and simply exchanging a look with the three. After Yin smiled back at him and the other two nodded in agreement, the four of them headed over to their carriage. Since no one stopped them while they were on their way, they arrived there just two minutes later and without wasting any time, they began making breakfast for themselves.
While setting the fire was the easiest part, it took them a few minutes to set everything up and get working on the ingredients. It certainly was convenient to have everything they needed on hand, in their interspatial rings, but the work of preparing something edible was unavoidable. As convenient as it was to carry something in an interspatial ring, it didn’t prevent the products from rotting or going bad, though it did slow the process down considerably. As such, the four of them busied themselves with cutting meat and various vegetables into pieces while the large frying pan and a pot full of water were steadily heating up over the fire. The simple mix of meat and vegetables perhaps wasn’t the tastiest thing in the world, but it didn’t taste bad by any means and was more than enough to fill their bellies when added to some noodles or rice.
Around the time the four of them were done with preparing everything and were just waiting for their food to cook itself, a bunch of people arrived and began setting up fires for their own food. Apart from the four White Guards who always were hanging around them, they were joined by Julien and two officers from Julien’s Cherubim, along with the group of seven youths from before that consisted Luca, Lea and their five friends.
A minute or so later, when all those present sat down in a circle around the fires they had set up, Julien spoke up in an official tone. “As that boy’s superior, I’d like to officially apologize for what happened. No matter the difference in strength, a behavior of this kind is unacceptable while sparring.”
Hearing another apology, Laien felt like rolling his eyes. “Give it a rest. Didn’t I already tell Luca that it’s fine?” he asked with a resigned sigh.
Julien was startled by Laien’s dismissive attitude, but in the end, he could only nod and give the matter a rest. He had been planning to go as far as to offer compensation to Laien… but apparently, Laien wasn’t nearly as angry as he had expected him to be; or rather, he wasn’t angry at all.
However, as far as anger went, there certainly was one person in this group that was extremely displeased at the moment.
“Tch.” Jasmine clicked her tongue. “If there’s someone who needs to apologize, it’s that boy’s teacher. What kind of a complete idiot is overseeing his spiritual practice?” she asked, clearly ticked off by the situation where a great potential was being wasted for no reason at all. As someone who had trained many generations of young elites in Makarash, she couldn’t bear to look at such an apparent example of extreme incompetency at best and intentional misconduct at worst.
“What do you mean by that?” Julien asked, honestly baffled by what Jasmine was saying. “Luca is training under an expert who had been delegated to our city from the capital some years ago. The man is a spiritual master of the sixth rank and he even has the same elemental affinity as Luca. How could anything be wrong there?” he explained doubtfully. Were it some other person than Jasmine saying so, he would have dismissed the idea instantly… but since it was her, he wanted to hear more about her reasoning.
“Ugh…” Jasmine groaned, then shook her head. “Don’t tell me you only have meatheads around here? Forget that incompetent teacher of his, any spiritual master who knows anything about cultivation should be able to tell that this kid had been training in a completely wrong way!” she admonished bluntly, giving Julien and his officers no face at all.
After Jasmine’s words sounded, it wasn’t only Julien and the two officers who were stunned. The expressions on the faces of Luca, Lea and the remaining five youths from their group turned either worried or became quite unsightly. Arslan and Johan were pretty shocked too, but as for Laien and Yin, the two of them were only a little surprised; they realized that Luca’s spiritual energy was subpar, but neither of them was familiar enough with spiritual practice to come to the same conclusions as Jasmine. Yin was a martial practitioner, while Laien was almost completely self-taught; it wasn’t strange for them not to have recognized the deeper problem at hand.
“Could you please explain what you mean?” Luca couldn’t keep quiet anymore and butted into the conversation between Jasmine and Julien.
“Let me ask you this,” Jasmine said in a much gentler tone now that she was talking to Luca. “How much compression training are you doing?”
“Compression training…?” Luca asked anxiously. Was this something that he should know about? He could guess the purpose of this method from its name… and he had sometimes thought about the reason why his spiritual energy was so much worse compared to Raphael’s or Chris’s, but his teacher had always told him it was because his spiritual energy was innately weaker than theirs. Could it be that he had been lying to him? But why would he do that? He couldn’t understand it at all.
“As I thought,” Jasmine said with a heavy sigh. “The basic version of compression training for a spiritual practitioner is to empty himself from spiritual energy and allow it to be replenished in a natural way. Through that process, we can steadily increase the purity of our spiritual energy up to a certain point. I shouldn’t need to be saying so, but in your case, your spiritual energy isn’t nearly dense and pure enough since you’ve done none of that training. Even if you somehow manage to advance to the spiritual master level thanks to your broad insights, you will almost certainly be stuck at the first rank for the rest of your life,” she explained properly and with a clearly audible anger present in her voice. That teacher of Luca’s… she felt like punching him square in the face or worse.
Whereas Luca’s face went white soon after Jasmine finished her explanation, Julien unexpectedly tensed up and began leaking powerful killing intent. The murderous aura of his was strong enough to cause the seven youths to feel extremely uncomfortable despite not being directed at them. As for Arslan and Johan, however, the two of them weren’t affected nearly as bad since unbeknownst to them, Laien and Yin released their own auras and pushed the majority of the killing intent away.
“That bastard…!” Julien growled, clenching his fists so hard that his bones were cracking. “I’ll kill that bastard! I’ll send his head back to the capital in a basket…!” he hissed through his teeth, growing so furious that his Qi was beginning to seep out of his body and transform into sparks of lightning that danced all over his skin.
“General, please calm down! You can’t do that!” one of the two officers urged, though it was quite easy to notice that he was as angry as Julien. “Please remember who you are speaking about, General. If you kill one of the three Magistrates, the consequences will be terrible for all of us,” he reminded sternly. No matter how angry they were over Luca’s matter, they couldn’t arbitrarily attack and kill a Magistrate; they would all be accused of treason and likely sentenced to a capital punishment if they did that, regardless of the explanation they provided.
Julien sent his subordinate an infuriated glare, but after the two of them continued staring at each other stubbornly for a moment, he cursed and suppressed his Qi and killing intent. “Is there a way to make up for it? Does Luca still have a chance to train as he should have and not be handicapped in the future?” he asked Jasmine, bringing up the very question that Luca wanted to hear the answer to the most.
Jasmine took a deep breath, then instead of speaking to Julien, she gave Luca a serious look. “I will be honest with you. It’s going to be hard, very hard,” she began saying and seeing that Luca very much wanted her to continue and explain more, she went on. “First things first; you absolutely can’t allow your spiritual cultivation grow more than it already has. You are at the early ninth mortal realm, so keep it there. Suppress the advancement for as long as you can and while you are doing so, do the compression training for as long as it will bring results. If you are lucky enough, you should be able to train in this manner for around two years.”
“After you are done with that, you should advance to the middle of the ninth mortal realm in your spiritual cultivation and repeat the compression training in the same manner. This time, it should take two or three months at most. Then you should advance to the late stage; you will likely be unable to stop your cultivation from advancing to the peak, but there’s no reason to try and do that. Simply repeat the compression training again. After that point, the simple part will be over.”
“Having done all that compression training, you will be met with a choice,” Jasmine said very seriously. “No matter how good your innate talent is, you won’t be able to reach the degree of purity of your spiritual energy you would have reached had you been dutifully doing the compression training ever since you entered the first mortal realm. My guess is that if you are unlucky, you will have repaired about sixty percent of the damage that had been done and if you are lucky, about eighty to eighty-five percent. You can either choose to advance to the spiritual master level as you will be by that point, or…”
“Or, you can take the risk and attempt the Core Compression training that only the most talented spiritual masters are able to perform safely. In short, the Core Compression training is like its name suggests; you first deplete a portion of your spiritual energy, then use some of it to forcefully reduce the size of your Spiritual Core and force your spiritual energy to become purer in consequence. The biggest risk of this training method is that if you lose your focus even once during every Core Compression, your Spiritual Core will rebound. Spiritual masters can usually get off scot-free with some damage that will heal over the period of a few months, but a spiritual practitioner… well. I’d say that if you screw up, you will have about seventy percent chance to have your Spiritual Core permanently damaged and about twenty percent chance of it imploding and either crippling your spiritual cultivation permanently or killing you outright,” she explained very straightforwardly, making sure not to sugarcoat her words for Luca’s own sake.
As hopeful and eager as he was, Luca still couldn’t help but swallow heavily when Jasmine described the dangers of Core Compression to him. Seventy percent chance of damaging his Spiritual Core…? It was quite a frightening prospect, but if he wanted to ever fulfill his dreams and become a true expert, he would at the very least need to try the Core Compression once, just to see if he could somehow manage. He had always been dreaming of standing at the very top; he wouldn’t give up his ambitions so easily!
Seeing the determination painting itself on the Luca’s face, Jasmine decided to produce an interspatial ring, which she subsequently threw into the youth’s hands. “Inside, there’s a complete Core Compression manual compiled by the many generations of elite spiritual masters of Makarash. It should prove to be helpful to you, so try and make good use of it. Also, remember one thing; the moment you aren’t able to trigger another Core Compression, it means that your spiritual energy reached its absolute purest possible state. Do not try to start the process forcefully if your Spiritual Core seems to be about to be damaged when you are trying, else you will cripple yourself in the most pitiful way,” she advised, wishing that everything would work out for Luca. Maybe it was because she was too old already, but she couldn’t bear seeing a good youth with a great potential go to waste.
“I will make sure not to do that,” Luca promised, all the while trembling a little. The future he could see had become quite scary, but rather than to be frightened by the challenges awaiting him, he was immensely excited. Just thinking what would have happened to him had Jasmine not brought this matter up filled him with terror… and hatred. His teacher, Magistrate Patrick… he had begged him to be accepted as a disciple and finally managed to succeed after fulfilling the condition of entering the top three ranking in the tournament three years ago, but that detestable man did something so unimaginably rotten to him! One day, he would kill him with his own two hands!
Having noticed the killing intent surging within Luca’s eyes, Jasmine revealed a dangerous smile. She turned to look at Julien and inquired. “Is that boy’s master here in the fort? I would love to exchange a few words with him…” she mentioned in a somewhat dangerous manner.
“Jasmine, I don’t think you should…” Reian began saying but was soon cut off by an annoyed wave of Jasmine’s hand.
“Do you think I’m an impulsive idiot? I’m not planning to fight him,” Jasmine said with a slight snort but smirked a little soon afterward. “I only want to make sure that his reputation goes to hell and doesn’t recover anytime soon,” she added, causing Reian to feel rather helpless.
“You can’t,” Sirius stated outright and didn’t even flinch when Jasmine sent him an angered look. “Consider our position. We are relying on the Ruishi Federation to keep us and little master safe while Mustafa is dealing with the war. We can’t very well afford to cause a scandal and make enemies out of one of the three Magistrates. I don’t need to remind you that those three hold the same level of influence as Great Generals, do I?” he pointed out with a cool head.
Jasmine frowned discontentedly, but she didn’t argue with Sirius. Indeed, she had been a bit too impulsive just now. “I don’t like it.” Still, she grumbled despite having admitted that Sirius was right to herself. Some rumors could be spread and a case like Luca’s would be unlikely to repeat itself, but an outcome like that wasn’t nearly enough to sate the anger she was feeling toward that man.
“Eh.” Sirius sighed and shook his head a little. “Aren’t you an old granny? Don’t tell me you forgot the Euleanian customs about teachers and their disciples? Don’t tell me you think a Magistrate would teach anyone without accepting him as a disciple prior to that,” he mentioned and pretty much like he expected, managed to instantly bring a smile back to Jasmine’s face.
“That should be correct I presume?” Jasmine asked Luca and when the boy nodded, she laughed in amusement. “Good! Then, how about it. You will go to that rotten teacher of yours and you will tell him that you are resigning from the position of his disciple. This way, you will be able to both sever the connection with him to avoid the troublesome complications down the road and get back at him to an extent,” she proposed eagerly, looking more like an excited teenager as she was doing so rather than an over nine hundred years old granny that she was.
“Yeah, let’s do that,” Luca agreed eagerly. However, his older sister, Lea, immediately called the idea into question.
“Is it really a good idea? Won’t it be dangerous if Magistrate Patrick gets angry and does something reckless?”
“He won’t,” Julien said with a laugh. “He might have attempted to do something reckless if Luca pushed him to the wall with accusations, but he won’t do anything if Luca simply tells him he no longer wishes to be his disciple,” he said confidently, knowing how much that old man cared about face. He wouldn’t resort to extreme measures like killing his own disciple without a good enough reason, not when many people knew Luca would be going to disavow him.
“We can’t be sure of that,” Lea argued stubbornly. She was naturally angry about the injustice her little brother suffered, but she didn’t want to see him throwing his life away just to get back at his teacher. “What if he suspects that the cat is out of the bag decides to get rid of Luca before he can cause any problems? If Luca is dead, then it’s his words against ours; his reputation might suffer a little, but it won’t hurt him much at all,” she reasoned, very much unwilling to let Luca do something so needlessly dangerous. There needed to be better ways to sever his connection with Magistrate Patrick than this one.
Faced with Lea’s stubborn approach and reasonable arguments, Julien groaned quietly. It was hard for him to admit that a girl that could barely be called a woman was right and he was wrong, but in this situation, he was forced to admit that she had a point whether he was happy about it or not. Yet, before he had the chance to admit that he was wrong openly and embarrass himself for being too rash, someone else spoke up.
“Then how about we go with him?” Laien threw the idea up in the air and smiled cheekily. “That Magistrate might kill Luca if he is alone and you guys don’t want to go with him to avoid causing friction. So, how about Yin, Arslan and I go with him? Surely that man wouldn’t dare to harm Mustafa’s son… and it’s not like I’m without any backing that could scare him away either,” he elaborated with a wide grin on his face, then chuckled when he saw the looks on the faces of everyone change from the grim ones into very much pleasantly surprised and excited ones.
All that was left was to confirm whether Yin and Arslan were up for the idea, but in one case Laien already knew the answer and in the other, he could easily guess it.
“I’m up for that.”
Yin and Arslan said one after another, both of them wearing clear smiles on their faces. Then, along with Laien, they glanced at Luca, waiting for his response.
“This time for sure, let’s do it,” Luca said excitedly, then shivered a little. With those three at his side, he would be able to disavow Magistrate Patrick without a worry!
If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on
edited December 2017
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 89. Magistrate Patrick.
“Yeah,” Laien supported with a laugh. “But first, let’s eat our food. We can’t let it all go to waste,” he pointed out, then stirred the meat and vegetables in the large pan in front of him with the long and thick wooden spoon. “Seems ready to me,” he mused aloud. They had been talking for quite a while, so despite the flames being fairly mild the mix had been fried nicely. Also, since he had boiled the water for the rice through the Principle of Energy beforehand and only used the fire to maintain the high temperature, the rice was just about ready too.
“Okay,” Luca said and chuckled a bit helplessly. He didn’t remember the last time he was agreeing so obediently with someone else’s words time after time in a matter of minutes, however, he was quite surprised to find out that he didn’t mind it at all. Was it because Laien was younger than him and yet had defeated him so thoroughly or was it because Laien was lending him a hand when he needed it? As he wondered about it, he concluded that it was probably due to both of those things.
“Taking the rice out…” Laien murmured, feeling like it would be too much of a bother to drain the rice manually. He would need to stand up too so all the water from the pot wouldn’t end up at their feet… so instead of making it hard for himself, he used a little spiritual energy and took control of the water inside the pot. He grabbed the rice with it and pulled it out, then made a portion of the rice float over the bowl in his hand. He released the rice into the bowl and flicked the superfluous water behind his back, letting it splash onto the ground a dozen or so meters away.
Yin, Arslan and Johan smiled at Laien and as if it was the most natural thing to do, they waited with their bowls in their hands. Laien, in turn, filled their bows with rice all at once, controlling the water and splitting another three portions of rice from the batch in a fairly effortless manner. He flicked the needless water over his shoulder once again and at the same time, pushed the mix of meat and vegetables into one side of the large pan. He raised the pan by a level and placed the rest of the rice in the empty space he created, leaving it as potential and very probable seconds.
While this scene wasn’t anything strange to those four youths who played it out, nor was it surprising to the four White Guards, it most definitely was flabbergasting to everyone else. Just how exquisite was Laien’s control over water for him to use it to carry rice over and drop it into the bows while leaving just the right amount of moisture inside the cooked grains? As ignorant of the matters of spiritual practice as they were, they had never seen any spiritual masters handle their food in a similar way. Still, they couldn’t be sure… perhaps it was because doing something like that was considered a faux pas amongst spiritual masters, or maybe it was too bothersome to be worth the effort?
“It’s not normal,” Jasmine mentioned with a smile, having noticed the consternation of their companions from Lugna. “Laien can do it only because he controls water as if it was an extension of his own limbs. A skilled spiritual master could do the same, but he would need to concentrate to pull it off. In comparison, it’s simpler to get your food ready manually or like it ends up being in most cases, have someone else prepare it for you,” she explained calmly and when she finished, she glanced at Laien. When their gazes intersected, the cheeky kid only shrugged his shoulders while munching on his food. His expression seemed to be saying ‘Well, that’s right, isn’t it? There’s no point in making a fuss over every small thing.’ or something along those lines.
Truly, this attitude of Laien’s was beyond redemption… but since it was backed by true skill, Jasmine couldn’t bring herself to complain about it.
Julien, Luca, Lea and the rest of their group didn’t know what to say as they watched the four youths eat their fill. Those powerful and talented practitioners would from time to time be reminded how different their lives were compared to those of common people, for example when they strolled the streets of a city or when they visited a new place for the first time. However, it was the first time that the lot of them felt as if the positions had been reversed. Maybe it was silly of them to claim so much just because they saw Laien display his strength, then casually use magic in a manner they had never seen before, but they all had a weird feeling that Laien was somehow detached from reality.
They wondered, would a peasant feel the same when gazing upon the majestic figure of a King for the first time in his life? It was hard to describe and even harder for them to admit, but the air about Laien and that green-haired friend of his, Yin if they heard correctly a moment ago, was somehow different. It was akin to what a commoner would call ‘aura of a royal’… but just the fact that they were feeling like that while they themselves were practitioners was making them a little depressed, especially in Julien’s case.
“A peak martial master of the fifth rank feeling inferior to a hairless boy…” Julien laughed inwardly. An experience like that, it was the first for him and it didn’t feel good at all.
“Interesting,” Sirius, who had so far been staying silent, said with a slight smile. “I didn’t know the folks of this country are so prone to becoming dispirited. Aren’t you all still very young?” he asked and laughed a little, in moderation. He had come to favor Laien greatly during the brief time he knew him and had already decided to leave Makarash and follow Laien in the future as long as the circumstance allowed such a leisure. In his old age there was little that could make him happier than to obverse an excellent youth grow and develop; thus, he couldn’t help but be amused when a mere display of Laien’s superficial abilities seemed to cause all those people to become depressed.
For a moment, it didn’t seem like there would be anyone to try and refute Sirius’s point. Still, it was only for a little while.
“Who is dispirited?” Luca asked wryly, then moved his gaze from Sirius toward Jasmine. “I received a precious advice, so I’m not going to give up so easily. As long as I can fix my spiritual energy, I can become the strongest. That favor from today, I will be sure to repay it,” he said eagerly and bowed his head to Jasmine. He had been overcome with worry, then with relief and happiness, but now that he calmed down a little he came to thoroughly understand how much he owed this foreign woman. Had it not been for her, he would have probably continued to train blindly and destroyed his own future. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that Jasmine had gifted him with a new life as a practitioner.
As for Jasmine herself, she hid her mouth behind her hand and laughed in an incredibly alluring manner, one which could easily cause one to forget that she was over nine hundred years old. “I can only wish you luck. You have a great potential, so give your best and don’t let it go to waste,” she said with a smile, feeling very satisfied with the attitude Luca displayed. Yes, it was a good thing when young people aimed high and still knew how to be mindful of the favors they received from others.
The brief exchange between Luca and Jasmine caused Sirius to laugh inwardly and made him look forward to the future of those two boys. At the same time, this exchange also managed to lift the spirits of Julien, Lea and the rest of their group. They had been overcome by a strange mood for a bit, but no more. Regardless of their age and level, all of them made silent vows to become even stronger and without saying anything useless, they went straight to picking up the food from over the fire. For the time being, they didn’t want to think about any depressing things and preferred to concentrate on filling their bellies with warm food.
From this point onward, the breakfast progressed quickly and smoothly. As they ate, everyone started chatting about more or less random things and extending the time it took for the meal to finish. However, since none of them saw a need to adhere to the planned schedule so tightly, they didn’t mind the delay in the slightest.
The five thousand people of the caravan appeared to be similarly relaxed after finally having entered a safe territory. Sarah and Albert came over to inquire about the time they would be leaving and they learned that Laien, Yin and Arslan were planning to pay a visit to someone inside Lugna. It was then decided that everyone would take their time and enjoy some proper, warm food. As a result, the departure that was planned to happen in an under an hour was smoothly postponed.
“So, do we go yet?” Laien asked at one point, seeing as everyone in their group had finished eating. He was enjoying the leisure chat that was going on, but he also wanted to go and see Luca’s teacher. He was quite curious why someone so strong would act against his own disciple, so he wanted to talk with the man a bit and understand his personality and reasons better.
After all, the plan was to have Luca disavow his teacher, but Laien didn’t believe that the conversation would end with only that much.
“Fine, let’s get it done with,” Luca agreed and rose to his feet. He was nervous because of the prospect of confronting Magistrate Patrick, but above that he wished to server his connection with him and if possible, never need to interact with him again; or at the very least, not need to interact with Magistrate Patrick until his own power rose enough to stand on the equal ground with Patrick’s.
“We will accompany you to the tower,” Julien said to no one’s surprise. In the meanwhile, they had decided that Julien would gather his officers and wait in front of Magistrate Patrick’s dwelling place. The Four White Guards of Arslan’s would also accompany them just to be safe. In case the man lost his reason while talking with the four youths, their presence would be enough to deter him from doing anything rash and stupid, else he would be forfeiting his own life.
“You need to tell me how it went later, okay?” Johan said with a smile. The plan was that he would go and hang around Sarah and Albert for the time being and with for Laien and the others to return. Meeting a Magistrate was one thing for his three friends with their status and talent, but he was a simple kid from a small village. He was a little sad that he had been excluded from the group, though since even Reian and Jasmine weren’t planning to go and talk with Luca’s teacher, he didn’t let it get to him. Ultimately, he was vaguely aware that he would be friends with Laien, Yin and Arslan only for a little bit. It wasn’t a conscious thought of his, but he understood that he couldn’t accompany them everywhere they went as the worlds they lived in were simply too far apart.
“We will, we will,” Laien assured with a laugh, then glanced at Julien, wanting him to lead the way, what Julien quickly caught on.
“Follow us,” Julien said and headed toward the gate with his two officers to his left and right. Along the way, he grumbled to himself something about being ordered around by a hairless brat, but in the end, he chose not to bring anything up. For some reason, he felt that he would be digging his own grave if he got into a verbal argument with Laien.
The tower at which Magistrate Patrick lived in wasn’t far away from the gates of Lugna, so it took Julien just about twenty minutes to lead their group to the tower’s entrance.
“The rest is up to you,” Julien said while looking at the four youths. “Have a blast… just don’t overdo it,” he said with a slight smirk. He had been furious with Patrick at first and he still was angry with the man, but during the past hour that anger subsided considerably and was exchanged for the worries similar to those of Lea’s. He had been enthusiastic about slamming Patrick’s reputation, but the longer he was thinking about it, the less he liked the idea. However, it was far too late for him to change his mind; and most importantly, Luca needed to sever his ties with Patrick either way.
“Yes,” Luca responded simply, perhaps too simply for Julien’s liking. “Come. Magistrate Patrick never closes the outer door, so we can go in just like that,” he told Laien and the other two. He steeled himself once again, approached the door, pulled it open and entered the place to which he had grown fairly accustomed to during the past three years. Before meeting his master, he would always need to wait a few dozen minutes inside this small hall filled with an unnatural dim red light.
“Using elemental stones for light…” Laien commented after the door closed behind them. He was feeling rather speechless. There were windows higher up to their left, along the circular stairs that led to the higher levels of the tower, but this small hall with a few sofas and armchairs in it was illuminated mainly by the dozens of low-grade fire-element stones that were attached to the walls. Using those stones which cost dozens of gold coins each for lighting up an empty hall… it was way too wasteful considering that each of them would last at most a week when used in this manner.
“Do we go up now?” Yin asked, guessing that a powerful spiritual master would have set his residence up at the very top of this tower.
“No,” Luca shook his head slightly. “Teacher…” he began saying but wavered for a second. What was he supposed to call Magistrate Patrick now? He wasn’t quite sure, but he didn’t want to change the way he was addressing him to an impolite one. Something so shallow couldn’t count as getting back at his teacher and finding another polite was to address him was just a pain, so he made a quick choice to stick to his old habits. “Teacher lives at the ground level of this tower, just behind this door. He always says that walking the stairs is a pointless waste of time,” he explained with a bittersweet smile, the positive and negative emotions he bore toward his teacher causing him to feel rather odd.
“So, do we just go in?” Laien asked with a slight smile. They weren’t here for a friendly visit, so he saw no need to be polite and knock to wait to be allowed inside.
“Uh.” Luca didn’t feel all that comfortable with this idea. Yes, he was here to end his relationship with his teacher, but the respect for him had been engraved too deep in his bones. Even though he was greatly resentful towards his teacher now that he learned the truth about his spiritual practice from Jasmine, he had trouble discarding those old habits. He had admired Magistrate Patrick ever since he learned how to talk and he had looked up to him greatly his whole life; it was no easy feat to throw all of those feelings out of the window and forget about them.
Yet, just as he was hesitating, the door to his teacher’s chamber opened and Magistrate Patrick himself, clad in fiery red robes, appeared on the doorstep.
“I see you’ve brought me some very interesting guests,” Patrick glanced at Luca briefly but soon focused his attention on the other three youths. Given his position as a Magistrate, he had long since learned about the presence of Arslan and those refugees, then heard of the story Jasmine told in the night. He had also quickly heard of Luca’s miserable defeat at the hands of the rumored ‘Ice Devil’, so he was quite thrilled, though at the same time warily intrigued, by this unannounced visit.
“Come in, let us talk for a bit,” he offered with a calm laugh, turned around and gestured the four youths to follow him into his chamber.
“What a powerful aura,” Laien thought in silent awe as he looked at the back and the waist-long, silky black hair of Patrick’s. The man was obviously very powerful; even though he was suppressing his aura, Laien could clearly tell how unnaturally strong it was. In terms of pressure alone, it felt superior to that of Mustafa’s or Rudford’s. “Is it because of his powerful soul and spiritual sense? It’s surely a part of it, but it can’t be everything,” he mused, aware that Yin was having similar thoughts. The two of them exchanged a quick glance, then followed Patrick into his rooms along with Luca and Arslan.
“Luca probably never felt Patrick’s aura… I doubt Julien and his officers have either,” Laien assumed. There were a few reasons that allowed him and Yin to sense Patrick’s suppressed aura, the most important of which was theirs full foundations of the Aspect of Awareness. However, as powerful as the Aspect of Awareness was, it alone most likely wouldn’t have been enough to allow them to so easily see through Patrick’s concealment. Their natural predisposition and high skill in controlling aura certainly played a role, but maybe most importantly, the two of them had very powerful souls.
It needed not be mentioned that as a spiritual practitioner, Laien enjoyed the benefits his cultivation provided to his soul for quite some time now. Coincidentally, even though Yin wasn’t a spiritual practitioner, as he had become aware during his Combined Soul Realm training with Laien, his innate Heavenly Lightning had both protective and nourishing effects toward his soul. However, apart from those original traits of theirs, there were two other major factors that played a role in both of Laien’s and Yin’s cases.
The first of those two factors was naturally the spiritual bond between the two of them that originated from the Blood Pact. It hadn’t been so obvious to them at first, but they recently realized that their souls were growing more powerful thanks to their spiritual bond. Those qualitative leaps were especially notable after each of their Combined Soul Realm sessions, but since the benefits of having stronger souls weren’t too apparent to them, they hadn’t been paying it much attention.
The second factor was, naturally, the prize the two of them had received from the fiery-haired woman back in the underground Holy Temple in the Anarchic Lands. The soul imprints contained the massive amount of knowledge of the Profound Mystery of Inferno and their main purpose was to allow them to easily study those mysteries, but the side effect of those soul imprints appeared to be a slow process of strengthening of the soul as one trained and unveiled the new insights.
“Anyway, that man’s character is one thing,” Laien mused quietly, sweeping the large chamber with his gaze. “But this place is great. I’d love to have a room like that for myself,” he thought with a sigh. He didn’t remember his first room back when his parents were still alive, the room he shared with Siana in the Valius family’s mansion was fairly bleak, while he never really made his place at the Red Dragon School all that personal. He didn’t have many things in there at all. In comparison, this chamber of Patrick’s filled him with pure jealousy.
After going through the door, they first needed to go up three marble steps to reach the level of the chamber’s floor. The ecliptic shape of those steps caused a clear distinction to appear between the small area around the door and the rest of the room, making the chamber seem a bit like another world in and of itself. The visual effect was only amplified by the deep crimson color of the walls and the abundance of various magical equipment, the purpose of which was a mystery to Laien. All those things were accompanied by furniture akin to that found in the private chambers of old, aristocratic families and paired up with a little whiff of various furs and pillows commonly seen in the far west.
In Laien’s opinion, the interior of this chamber was incredibly rich and abundant for sure, but not to the point of being extravagant. He couldn’t help but like it a lot.
Patrick noticed that his three new guests were intrigued by his chamber, so he didn’t immediately lead them to the sofas to their right and gave them a while to take a look. A moment later, when he decided it had been long enough, he told the youths to follow him to the corner of the chamber.
“I imagine you didn’t come here just to greet me and exchange some pleasantries,” Patrick said with a calm smile after everyone seated themselves on the three dark brown sofas. “Or at least, I certainly hope you didn’t,” he added and smirked a little. The two Devils and Mustafa’s son… he could potentially forgive those three even if they had come only come to meet him to sate their curiosity.
“We didn’t come without a purpose,” Laien replied in a tone that was somewhere between amiable, playful and provocative.
“Oh?” Patrick appeared to be a little intrigued. “So, may I lean what that purpose is?” he asked in a very much straightforward manner.
Just as he was about to answer, Laien swallowed his words back. Should he be the one to reveal the main goal of their visit? He looked at Luca, seeking to get an answer of some kind from his gaze or from the look on his face; and indeed, he quickly received one when the startled look in Luca’s eyes changed into one full of determination.
“It’s about me,” Luca said quite calmly, though with a fair dose of bitterness present in his voice. “To be precise, it’s about you and me, teacher.”
“Go on,” Patrick encouraged casually, the tone of his voice and the look on his face proving to be hard to read and discern anything from.
“Teacher…” Luca said with a slight groan. “Why didn’t you teach me about the compression training? Why did you lie to me when I asked you about the reason for my spiritual energy being so weak?” he asked, his voice containing a mixture of disappointment and resentment.
“So it’s about that.” Patrick let out a little sigh, then answered in a very surprising, unconcerned manner. “I didn’t tell you about the compression training because that wasn’t the agreement when I accepted you as a disciple. I also didn’t lie to you with regard to that question you brought up,” he stated unapologetically, appearing to be perfectly calm, if not perhaps slightly weary.
Truth to be told, Luca had no idea how he ought to respond to that. He had expected many scenarios to happen, including the ones in which his teacher laughs him out and tells him it’s his how fault for being so naïve and easy to trick, but he didn’t think that Patrick would deny everything. This development made so little sense to him he could hardly believe it was really happening.
Seeing the confused and perturbed expression on his disciple’s face, Patrick sighed once again. “When I accepted you as my disciple, do you remember what I said exactly?” he inquired. This disciple of his… did he never stop and think about anything for more than a second?
Luca took a brief moment to think about it but failed to recall the exact words. Thus, he shook his head in response.
“Should I remind you then?” Patrick asked rhetorically. “I told you that even though it won’t be good for you, I will accept you as my disciple and teach you the things you want to learn. However, I also said that I can’t be bothered to pay attention to you and I will only teach you the things you specifically bring up to me. I told you that you should learn the rest on your own,” he reminded indifferently and gave Luca a moment to digest what he just heard.
“As for your recent inquiry,” he added a few seconds later. “You asked me if there’s a reason why your spiritual energy is weaker than Raphael’s or Chris’s. I told you that the problem lies only in yourself,” he said calmly, then elaborated in a perfectly guiltless tone. “Had you asked me to give you a method to fix that, I would have introduced you to the compression training and told you about the option of using Core Compression later on. You didn’t though; all you ever do is ask me for the chants for new kinds of spells and sometimes for advice on how to use them.”
The more Patrick said the less Luca knew what he was supposed to think or how to react. He was thoroughly confounded and baffled by his teacher’s revelations.
“Why,” Laien spoke up, failing to understand the reasons behind Patrick’s actions. “Why would you accept him under such strange conditions?”
“I never wanted a disciple, and surely not a disciple that requires my attention like this one,” Patrick answered bluntly and without beating around the bush. “I even told him it wouldn’t be good for him to take me as his teacher and that he should study on his own. Yet, all he did was waste his whole time on training. Do you see all those books? Each and every one of the thousands of them contains enough knowledge to make a spiritual master go mad with greed, yet he never came here to read any of them,” he said while shaking his head, for the first time during this conversation appearing to be annoyed. He had told Luca how their relationship would work quite clearly; if the boy wanted to act against his own best interest, then why was it up to him to lead him by the hand?
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Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 90. Unfair Trade.
“So, do you have any other silly questions?” Patrick asked and raised an eyebrow. He had been feeling fairly annoyed with Luca a second ago, but now his tone and expression returned to their normal, fairly unconcerned and slightly dismissive state.
“I…” Luca wanted to say something, but the shock the sudden understanding brought upon him by his teacher proved to be too much. This whole rollercoaster of emotions he had been going through since early morning finally crashed, causing him to be at a complete loss at what to feel or think. At the moment, his mind was much too chaotic. He needed some time to calm down and think it all through, else he feared he would truly cause his own downfall and this time, for good.
After Luca leaned back on the sofa and withdrew from the conversation, Laien let out a quiet, helpless laugh. They had all thought Luca’s master was some kind of an evil person or at the very least, someone with a grudge or bias against Luca, but reality proved to be very different to their expectations. Patrick was no holy man, but he certainly wasn’t a truly detestable person either; or so Laien came to think, having witnessed this brief exchange of words between Patrick and Luca.
“You could have told him something…” Arslan brought up grudgingly. Although it looked like Laien accepted Patrick’s reasoning and Yin seemed to have followed in the same footsteps, perhaps because in the end, he didn’t care as much about this whole thing, Arslan himself wasn’t as prone to sweeping the whole matter under the rug. He still thought that Patrick was a bad person.
“I could have,” Patrick agreed. “I could have also spent ten minutes a day or an hour a day teaching him. However, why do I need to do that? He’s had every opportunity in the world to improve himself, but he never stopped to look around and only kept running forward blindly. I already gave him the opportunity to help himself, I don’t see why I am obliged to do anything else if he can’t do even that much,” he elaborated, the hint of annoyance once again making itself heard in his voice.
“I could give an advice or two to someone who is trying,” he added after hesitating for a second or two on whether to vocalize his thoughts or not. “Yet, I’m not going to waste my own precious time on someone who can’t see more than the tip of his own nose,” he stated in a strong and harsh tone, which was suggesting that he had had enough of this subject.
“…” In spite of feeling that Patrick was being unfair, Arslan was much too young and inexperienced to find any sensible way to rebuke his arguments. Thus, even though he wanted to keep arguing, he said no more as he simply had no idea what he could say to convince Patrick that his behavior was wrong.
“So,” Laien spoke up calmly. “The reason Luca didn’t know about the compression training for so long is…” he began saying and gave Patrick a meaningful glance.
“As you suspect,” Patrick nodded his head, the tone of his voice changing into an almost amiable one. For some reason, his attitude toward Laien was much better than that toward Luca or Arslan. “A little more than three years ago, he came to this fortress-city and immediately began pestering me to become his teacher. Three months later he fulfilled the condition of reaching the top three in the national tournament that I gave him and he became my disciple. Back then, he was still at the early sixth mortal realm in his spiritual cultivation and he already had a very high level of insights into the Secret Arts, so his faults weren’t nearly as apparent. I think only someone at the level of us Magistrates would have noticed anything without directly witnessing him fight.”
“However, they certainly became easy to notice as his cultivation kept climbing, especially since his insights hadn’t improved as much. But, do you think anyone would dare to point out to him that maybe he is doing something wrong in his training? It would be the same as offending me in those people’s eyes. That’s why I kept telling him it would be bad for him to become my disciple and that he should look for some other person to teach him,” he finished with a sigh. He had been focusing on his own research and training during all those years, so he hadn’t given this matter much thought… but now that he was explaining everything to those youths, he couldn’t help but feel slightly unhappy with himself.
“Eh,” Laien sighed a little. He could argue with Patrick about the sense of helping other people out, but he felt that this discussion would be entirely counterproductive. He looked to his left, at the corner of the sofa against which Luca was leaning. “He doesn’t seem like he wants to argue anything else with Patrick either. I don’t think he will be bringing up the whole disavowing of his teacher anymore, so our part here is pretty much done,” he mused quietly, wondering if this meeting was going to end in this awkward manner after their two parties would exchange a few more sentences.
“If that’s done,” Patrick said after a moment of silence. “Then, how about we shift to a more pleasant subject? I must say, I’m interested in you two in particular,” he mentioned while looking at Laien and Yin with a slight smile on his face, his black eyes gleaming with anticipation. Since those kids have already come here to disturb him, then he couldn’t come out empty-handed.
“What do you mean?” Laien asked warily. He wasn’t exactly getting dangerous vibes from Patrick, but his instincts were telling him to be careful.
“Oh, I simply have a few questions I’d love to see if you can answer,” Patrick said amicably. “If you can actually answer them, I’m willing to give you any one of those precious books you can see for each of the answers,” he explained in a friendly tone.
“…” Laien frowned a little and asked. “What kind of questions do you have for us that you are willing to pay up to thousands of platinum coins for each answer?”
“You needn’t worry,” Patrick said with a rare, honest laugh. “Laien Valius, or perhaps Laien of the Red Dragon School? It won’t be anything about the behind-the-scenes political situation in your Sarkcente Kingdom nor anything about your personal life, I’m not interested in the struggles for power,” he said with a smile that could only be described as very disturbing, his words and his mannerism both causing a restless shiver to run down Laien’s spine.
“On the other hand,” Patrick continued in the same manner, his gaze moving slightly to the right. “Yin, the unpreceded genius who appeared out of nowhere. I’m very much interested in your homeland and I hope you can provide me with the answers to a few dilemmas which I was unable to resolve on my own,” he stated, this time around causing Yin to tremble slightly. This man, did he know he was from the Forbidden Lands or was he just suspecting it? Either way, it was something to worry about.
“So how about, will you answer a few questions of mine?” Patrick inquired lightheartedly, though with the exact same, scary smile on his face.
Laien and Yin both looked at Patrick with grim looks on their faces. They were feeling too anxious to leisurely exchange a glance like they always did; although they knew that Reian, Jasmine and a bunch of strong experts were waiting near the tower, it didn’t give them much sense of security. Against a spiritual master at Sirius’s level, they would still feel confident in their ability to flee; however, they could tell Patrick was many times stronger than Sirius. If Patrick truly intended to capture them without regarding his own face and reputation, then they would likely be unable to resist him.
“I’m not going to force you if you don’t want to,” Patrick said with a laugh, seeing how stiff the two youths became. Did he unintentionally come off as threatening? He only wanted to avoid the necessity of explaining everything in a slow, boring manner… maybe he became somewhat oblivious to such things since he hadn’t interacted with people all that much during the past century.
Laien and Yin didn’t respond immediately. It was hard for them to read Patrick, even for Yin; being able to see through one’s heart and lies was a useful ability to have, but it wasn’t close to being an omnipotent solution for all human interaction. In cases like this one, when the person in question had unclear intentions and his definition of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ wasn’t known, this ability was fairly useless. However, the two of them needed to come to a choice of some kind despite that.
“Fine, but under some conditions,” Laien replied after a moment of consideration, a playful sparkle appearing deep within his pupils. “If we decide the answer isn’t worth the prize, we won’t answer. As long as we do answer your question we will do so truthfully and we won’t hide any details, but only if you can’t back out afterward saying that what we said was too vague or unsatisfactory. Finally, you need to promise us not to use our answers in a way that would be detrimental to us. If all of those conditions are met, then we will trade one answer for one of your books,” he offered with a slight smile. Since they were going to play a game of a kind, he wasn’t planning to be the one to lose out.
“Hooh.” The smile on Patrick’s face widened. “I was planning to lay out similar conditions as long as you agreed to this exchange, but it seems you’ve done it for me instead,” he said with a quiet laugh as a certain amount of respect appeared in his gaze. Yes, this kid was much more to his liking than Luca; it was a pity that Laien wasn’t his disciple in place of this stubborn child. “Still, giving me far-fetched conditions like that last one… aren’t you being a little too naïve?” he asked wryly, unintentionally revealing another side of his character as his opinion of Laien rose.
“Maybe,” Laien replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “But it’s not like there’s any other way than to clearly request that of you, no? Whatever you do later… we can only act accordingly,” he said with a meaningful smile, having calmed down considerably during the last few minutes. It was true that Patrick’s strength was great, but he was used to talking with people who were much stronger than him; he found it fairly easy to regain his usual composure and to not behave in a weird, unnatural way. Most importantly, however, in his experience those strong people disdained the forced politeness and preferred when one was more straightforward with them… and judging by the amused smirk on Patrick’s face, this time it proved to be true too.
“Very well, I agree,” Patrick said with a merry laugh, causing the downtrodden Luca to be shocked; was his teacher a person to laugh so easily? He had never seen him do more than to smile ever so slightly, much less laugh out in such a pleased manner! “Luca, go to the waiting room and stay there. And you… what do we do about you?” Patrick glanced at Arslan. “Well, you guys should decide on your own,” he said after a second. To him, it made little difference if Arslan stayed or left.
“I will leave,” Arslan said resolutely. He had already been feeling pretty uncomfortable in Patrick’s presence, but more importantly, he didn’t want to pry into his friends’ secrets. As such, he welcomed the opportunity to leave early with open arms. “I’m going to wait for you with Luca, okay?” he half-asked, looking for a permission from the two before actually leaving.
“Now that’s interesting,” Patrick mused to himself as he watched the three youths interact. The relationship between those two twelve-year-olds and Mustafa was something he couldn’t figure out at all, but seeing Arslan treat those two like… hm, like a younger sibling would treat his older brothers? It was quite surprising, considering the kind of position Arslan had as Mustafa’s son.
As for the youths themselves, though, they were unaware of Patrick’s thoughts and went on as normal.
“You can stay if you want,” Laien said and chuckled a little. He indeed would rather not reveal too much to Luca, but neither he nor Yin would mind if Arslan stayed and listened.
“To be honest, I’d rather leave…” Arslan mentioned in a slightly embarrassed manner. “You can tell me everything later if you want to,” he requested with a calm smile.
Laien and Yin exchanged a quick glance, then the two of them nodded at the same time. Since Arslan was saying so, they wouldn’t force him.
Arslan smiled at the two, then stood up and looked at Patrick. “Thank you for your time, Magistrate,” he said politely and bowed his head a little.
“It was my pleasure,” Patrick said and nodded back at Arslan, then gave Luca an urging glance. Was this boy planning to keep sitting until someone reminded him to leave?
Startled back to reality, Luca got up hurriedly. He hesitated slightly, then bowed to Patrick. Severing his relationship with his teacher at this point would be nothing else than cutting the branch he himself was sitting on. Instead, he decided to do his best with what he had… and he quietly promised himself that during those years he would need to spend on compression training, he would attend his teacher’s chambers every day and study properly.
After Luca and Arslan left and the door closed behind them, Patrick turned his gaze toward Laien and Yin. “Shall we begin then? Or would you like something to eat or drink beforehand? I’ve received some really good grape wine recently from the Council of Elders, want to try it?” he proposed amicably. It was in his best interest for those two to be in the best mood possible, so as long as they had any reasonable requests before they began, he wouldn’t refuse any of them.
“Grape wine?” Laien blurted out before he could bite his tongue, then chuckled helplessly. He really was too weak against wine, especially the high-quality grape wine. Ever since he started drinking that grape wine he got from Cran a few months ago, he pretty much got addicted to having some of it once every few days. Thankfully, it was quite low in alcohol and as a practitioner, he wasn’t influenced by it much to begin with, so he didn’t risk anything by being frivolous with drinking.
Patrick chortled and extended his hand. He took out a fittingly large and high table from his interspatial ring along with three crystal-clear glasses and a single bottle of wine. He poured the wine into the glasses, then used a strand of pure spiritual energy to push two of them across the table.
Laien didn’t hesitate at all before picking the glass up and taking a sip. However, when the inside of his mouth and his throat began burning up, he coughed a few times. The taste was really good, but this wine was way stronger than what he was used to! “Are you trying to get us drunk?” he asked with a laugh, but took another sip regardless; and at the same time, Yin tasted the wine too.
“If only it was so easy,” Patrick said with an honestly amused smile on his face. With the cultivation of those two, even two or three bottles wouldn’t do much to them. What were a few glasses? The most important part was whether they liked the taste or not and whether their mood became better or worse in consequence… and if seeing those two drink more at a slow, steady pace was any indication, taking this wine out was a good idea on his part.
“Want me to order my servants to prepare anything?” Patrick offered with a smile. “They reside up above us, so it won’t take long at all,” he mentioned amicably.
“We’ve already eaten,” Laien replied lightheartedly. “Let’s get those questions and answers done with,” he added with a little smirk.
“Very well,” Patrick nodded in agreement. “As agreed, I will ask my questions and you can decide whether you want to answer or not,” he said amiably and after exchanging a glance with each of the boys, he went ahead and got to the point. “Allow me to take it in turns to avoid getting distracted by unrelated topics. First, Laien, I’ve heard quite a bit about your combat prowess, especially about your affinity to the water element… so my first question is, where is the place at which you obtained the so-called Heavenly Water? Even if the treasure is long gone, I’d love to have a chance to research the conditions in which it was born,” he asked with a confident smile and was pleased to see the surprise paint itself on Laien’s face. The boy was probably quite startled to hear that he had figured out so much, or so he thought before Laien shook his head and laughed.
“Your first question is a total miss,” Laien said with a laugh. “I didn’t obtain a Heavenly Water or anything alike, so I can’t tell you what you want. Thanks for a free book though, I will take it happily,” he explained with an amused grin on his face. He had expected Patrick to ask his questions more carefully, but the man seemed to be so confident in his own assumptions that he missed the point by a mile. Well, he couldn’t really be blamed; in his mind, the stakes probably weren’t all that high anyway.
“How can that be?” Patrick asked with a heavy frown. Were those stories about Laien freezing Ulme Village with his magic and stopping a water-element Grand Spell on his own all lies? But Laien had defeated Luca in an effortless manner, so he thought… “No, that’s impossible. My Heavenly Flame reacted so strongly when the two of you got into my tower that it can’t be a mistake. One of you needs to be carrying a Heavenly Element within his body… don’t lie to me!” he reprimanded the boys angrily and for a moment, stopped suppressing his aura. He was intending to play it nice and fair with those two, but if he didn’t get the same treatment in return, then he would really get angry with them!
“I’m not lying,” Laien replied with a snort, refusing to allow himself to be pressured by Patrick’s aura. Although it was immensely strong, he and Yin weren’t at the level where they would be crushed by aura alone, no matter how powerful it was. “If you want an explanation, ask the second question,” he stated stubbornly, not backing down by an inch.
Laien’s unyielding attitude shocked Patrick immensely, but at the same time, it caused his head to cool down by a level. “Fine! Tell me how come your control over water is so unnaturally high,” he said in a tone that was pretty much like an order, far from being a question. However, he realized this problem himself soon enough and added. “My second question is, why is your control over water so impossibly high if not because of a Heavenly Water Essence?”
Laien snorted quietly at Patrick’s attitude, but since he was being rewarded for answering, he swallowed his comments. “You should be familiar with the varying levels of elemental affinity people have, no? That’s even more true for spiritual practitioners who rely heavily on their affinity to use magic. In my case, I possess an extremely high water-element affinity, so the influence I can exert over water is similarly high,” he began explaining, all the while internally wavering whether he should mention what he and Yin had learned from those two youths about the levels of Spiritual Domains. He didn’t quite want to go through the bother of explaining all of that… but then, he recalled his own promise to tell truth and not to omit details. He could refuse to answer, but he didn’t want to go back on his word and provide only a portion of the whole piece of information known to him.
As such, he proceeded to briefly explain the levels of Spiritual Domains, including the various varieties of Heavenly Domains and the unique Absolute Domains. He mentioned offhandedly that the same rules applied to Martial Realms, but didn’t go into detail about them; after all, the question was about his control over water element. It didn’t require him to go through everything that was related to the subject in any slightest way… or at the very least, that was his understanding.
While Laien spoke, the originally hardened expression on Patrick’s face began softening up. After a moment, his face smoothened perfectly and even some surprise and bewilderment appeared on it. The things Laien was telling him were pretty ridiculous, but he didn’t feel like Laien was lying to him. Still, he could recognize that Laien’s answer, while being intriguing, wasn’t of any particular use to him. That meant he had already given up two books out of his shelf for almost free; he didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry, though he was leaning closer toward the latter option.
“Okay, that’s enough questions for you,” he said a bit helplessly after Laien finished his explanation. “Then, Yin…” he began saying, this time taking care to weigh his words in a more careful manner. He didn’t want to keep asking questions that would be of no benefit to him. “Over the years, I’ve learned from here and there that the Forbidden Lands would often secretly take in young talented practitioners of both genders into their lands. I’ve also learned, after paying a hefty price to one of the families that work with the Forbidden Lands, of the existence of the Blood Pacts,” he elaborated first, but he couldn’t help clicking his tongue when the boys showed no reaction to his revelations. It looked like he would no longer be able to obtain any hints for free.
“Well, so here goes my question,” he began saying, his voice containing a not so well hidden hint of nervous anticipation. “How could I make contact with the Forbidden Lands without endangering my life in the process?” he asked, hoping to obtain more knowledge and with some luck, perhaps even the benefits the Blood Pact brought thanks to establishing contacts with the Forbidden Lands.
Yin sighed inwardly. Him answering this question in any way would be the same as telling Patrick that he was from the Forbidden Lands, or at the very least was fairly knowledgeable about them. Was it really worth just for a book…? Laien seemed excited about this whole things, he could tell it quite clearly, but he couldn’t quite understand what was there to be so enthusiastic about. Those books there, didn’t Patrick say they were at most worth thousands of platinum coins? If so, then they weren’t all that amazing as the true arcane knowledge, like the tomes about runic magic Laien had obtained from Flora, were almost priceless… and yet, despite knowing that he was in doubt, Laien seemed to be insisting on going through with the answer if possible.
“Eh, he already suspects I’m from the Forbidden Lands, so why not?” Yin thought to himself, then looked Patrick in the eye and said truthfully. “The only way that doesn’t involve endangering your life is for you to either have your own children and descendants and hope they boast a talent high enough to attract the attention of the Forbidden Lands. I guess you looking for and adopting or taking care of many talented kids below the age of around thirteen, fourteen years could work too.”
Patrick shook his head. He had hoped for a different answer as he could have thought of that much on his own… but at the very least, he had reaffirmed his opinion that the Forbidden Lands weren’t to be actively trifled with. Everyone who had tried to wander deeper into them would disappear for as long as the annals of history reached; he hoped for a way to exist, but that was only hope. Still, he was willing to pay up to ten thousand platinum coins to make sure no additional way existed.
“The next question will be the last one,” he said calmly and smiled at the boys. “You can count it as a bonus question I guess? It’s more about me being curious than anything else,” he said with a laugh, attempting to loosen up the mood. He had suffered some loses, but he didn’t mind; it could still count as establishing a good relationship with two young extreme geniuses. It was worth the price.
“Are you two bound by a Blood Pact?” he inquired simply and smiled at the two boys, looking forward to receiving the answer to this silly question of his.
Laien and Yin exchanged a glance. It truly could be counted as benevolence on Patrick’s part since the answer was fairly obvious. “Yes,” the two of them answered at the same time. It wouldn’t harm them in any way to confirm this guess of Patrick’s, so they weren’t too averse to revealing it to him. It would be a problem if Yin’s identity as a magical beast was revealed… but according to Yin, there were barely any people outside of the Forbidden Lands who knew that the clans of human-shaped magical beast existed in the world… and those who knew that certainly wouldn’t reveal this information lightly for the fear of offending the terrifying experts of the Forbidden Lands.
“As I thought,” Patrick chuckled. “At least I was right about something, hah,” he mocked himself openly. He had been trying to make himself feel better about this whole ‘trade’ with positive thoughts, but in the end, the loss of so much treasure did sting a little. “Go ahead and look for four books to your liking, if you have any inquiries about which books are where or if there are books about certain subjects, feel free to ask,” he offered straightforwardly. He wouldn’t want to have those boys use the excuse of ‘browsing for what they would like to take’ to stay here for months to study, so he attempted to prevent this annoying scenario from happening.
“Yes,” Laien said with a wry smile. “I do have a request with regard to that. Please take out all the books that you know would be of most use and value to the two us so we can choose from amongst them,” he said without beating around the bush, feeling quite pleased with himself.
“Fine,” Patrick agreed easily and stood up, but just as he was about to walk away and toward the shelves, the next words spoken by Laien caused him to freeze.
“No, no. I’m not talking about those books. Magistrate Patrick, don’t you remember what our deal was?” Laien inquired playfully, the smile on his face growing more amused by the second.
Patrick gave Laien a serious look, then attempted to recall the exact wording they had used in their conversation. “I said that I would give you any of the precious books you can see, then you laid out the conditions and you said that…” he mused aloud and as he came to this point in his memory, his face turned pale and he suddenly began feeling like he would start coughing up blood.
“I said that we will trade one answer for one of your books,” Laien finished in Patrick’s stead and chuckled happily. “I never said it would be one of the books on those shelves like you implied. Didn’t I say what I wanted clearly enough? You should have listened to me properly instead of never stopping to look around and only running forward blindly,” he added with a grin, rubbing the salt in the wound by turning Patrick’s own words from a few moments ago against him.
“You… ugh…!” Patrick wanted to refuse Laien’s outrageous demand, but his own pride prevented him from going back on his word. He really hadn’t been paying enough attention! He felt like smashing his head against a wall; if those two old skeletons learned that he had been played by a young boy in this manner, he would never hear the end of their mockery!
“Fine, fine! I lose!” he exclaimed along with a painful groan and sat back down abruptly. “Just do me a favor and never speak about it to anyone!” he requested bitterly and after a few seconds of consideration, he waved his hand and took out nine ancient tomes from within his interspatial ring.
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edited January 2
Little something for Christmas. Two chapters today, 2 more tomorrow in the evening. Merry Christmas~
Book 3. The Long Journey. Chapter 91. Inscribed Intent.
“He really…” Yin chuckled in his heart as the two of them looked upon the nine tomes Patrick laid out in a line across the table. “When did he have time to think about wordplay? It’s not like most adults would simply accept this kind of outcome either. It only worked because it was Patrick,” he thought quietly, secretly feeling quite impressed with how well Laien made this little trick work. Well, maybe not so secretly, considering that the two of them were aware of each other’s emotions.
“From your left,” Patrick said in a very much pained tone. Four of his books…! He didn’t even want to think how he had offered them an additional question for free at the end to make the mood better. This deal with those two boys was definitely the worst screw-up of his life and it happened in such a damned random fashion! “Ugh, from your left, the names of those tomes are as follows,” he picked up after a few seconds and pointed at the rightmost book from his perspective with his hand.
“Grand Magic of All Elements.”
“The Art of Formations.”
“Ancient Magic. Introduction to the water element.”
“Ancient Magic. In-depth analysis of the water element.”
“Ancient Magic. Introduction to the lightning element.”
“Ancient Magic. In-depth analysis of the lightning element.”
“What Governs the World.”
“Martial and Spiritual Transcendence.”
When he finished saying all the nine titles, Patrick sighed inwardly. He felt as if something thick and heavy was stuck in his throat and to make the matters worse, he was clearly aware of why he was feeling like that. Four of his priceless books…! He hadn’t felt so bad in ages.
“You don’t need to look so pained,” Laien mentioned with a laugh. “It’s not like you have no copies of those books, right? Or did you not think to have them made beforehand?”
“Cheeky bastard,” Patrick complained sourly. “I do have copies, but what you see here are the originals. Compared to their value, mere copies can still be accounted for in coins and other valuables,” he explained unhappily. Laien’s demand had been to bring out the books that would be of most use and value to him and his friend, so there was no way he could settle for copies without being disingenuous.
“How come?” Laien inquired, his previously playful tone quickly changing into one that expressed honest curiosity and interest.
The shift in Laien’s attitude threw Patrick off badly enough for him to forget that he was being asked a question for a moment. Only when Laien tilted his head after a few breath’s worth of time did he start thinking again; he coughed a few times to hide his embarrassment and provided an explanation.
“The truly priceless books are not just those that contain precious knowledge, but those that were written with an Intent. When the author has great insights into the subject he is writing about and if he puts his heart into his creation, this phenomenon called ‘Intent’ occurs. It’s hard to explain, so why don’t you just pick up one of those books and try reading a few paragraphs? Just make sure to focus on what you are reading, almost as if you were meditating… you will quickly realize what I’m talking about.”
Laien was quite intrigued to learn this piece of information. He glanced at Yin, at first feeling a bit surprised that Yin didn’t know about this thing. However, he soon realized it made sense for Yin not to know such things. That grandfather of Yin’s wasn’t the most suitable person to be a teacher, after all. “Which one should I start with?” he asked himself and took another look at the nine tomes. There were a few titles that were self-explanatory like those of the four ‘Ancient Magic’ tomes, but there were also those that were ambiguous enough to require more than learning the title if one wanted to know what the particular book was about.
“I will see this one,” Yin decided fairly quickly and reached out for the rightmost tome, the one called ‘Martial and Spiritual Transcendence’. He had been most interested in finding ways to improve his own cultivation for many years now, so this choice was a simple and fairly obvious one on his part.
“Oh well,” Laien shrugged his shoulders slightly and picked one of the remaining tomes without thinking about it too much. He and Yin would look through all of those books before making a choice anyway, so it didn’t really matter which one he looked at first and last. “Ancient Magic. In-depth analysis of the lightning element,” he recalled the title spoken by Patrick. The tome had the letters engraved on its cover, but the written language was slightly different than that of the south. The difference wasn’t large, just like in the spoken language which differed mostly by accents… but while reading something complicated, it would usually make things more difficult.
“Lightning,” Laien murmured unconsciously as he traced his finger against the letters of the word. He didn’t even notice when, but he stopped paying attention to his surroundings and his gaze became somewhat absent. However, the next moment his eyes widened as a spark of familiar emerald lightning emerged from the book’s cover and after slipping over his finger, it hid inside the cover again. “Was that Yin’s Heavenly Lightning?” he asked himself and rubbed the word curiously once again as if asking it to show what else it was hiding.
Almost instantly, the letters on the cover lit up, responding to the request with surprising eagerness. The thick leather cover released an aura of power so grand that it was almost incomparable to anything Laien had ever seen… except for in some of his dreams. Yet, despite the boundless power of this aura, Laien felt no danger at all; he didn’t panic and didn’t hastily remove his hand or shut his eyes. In consequence, he was awarded a prize as the book released dozens of streaks of lightning of various colors, a few of which were comparable to Yin’s Heavenly Lightning.
The colorful lightning filled the whole chamber, dancing all over Laien’s own body, around the table, floor, the various items and books. To Laien, it seemed almost as if this lightning was trying to show-off before him, saying something akin to ‘Look! Look how amazing I am! Cool, right?’, like a child would when showing the results of his effort to an adult. However, even though this spectacle seemed simple, Laien could clearly sense just how incredible it actually was.
“This sensation… It’s almost as if I could… just by reaching out…” Laien murmured and lowered his eyelids slowly, focusing his whole attention on the unique feeling the lightning was bringing him. “Amazing, it’s a profound mystery… and it’s so clear and powerful,” he mused happily. He hadn’t expected the so-called Intent to be so incredible, nor did he think it would manifest so easily!
He wasn’t sure how much time passed; it could have been just a few seconds since he closed his eyes and allowed the sensations surrounding him to seep into his body and soul, or it could have as well been a few days or weeks. However, when he did open his eyes, a certain name instantly popped up in his mind and coincidentally, the room he was in returned to normal with Yin sitting to his left and with Patrick looking at him attentively from across the table.
“Profound Mystery of Lightning Dance.” Laien smiled slightly. He wasn’t certain how he came to know that, but this Profound Mystery ought to be the key element that had been inscribed into this tome by its author. “It’s not going to be of all that much use to me, but it will be incredible for Yin. Especially his Lightning Steps should be extremely compatible with this piece of insight,” he realized quickly, making use of the knowledge he shouldn’t have possessed. Yet, he didn’t get frustrated by it; he had previous experience with gaining knowledge out of nowhere during his training with the Profound Mystery of Inferno, so he soon connected the dots and assumed those cases were similar.
Just about the same time as Laien opened his eyes, Yin also woke up from the unique experience with a very satisfied look on his face. “Amazing. It’s actually an incredibly complete Qi, body and soul refinement method. I’ve already gotten the hang of the nine mortal levels of the mortal path, but I’ve only comprehended two of the immortal path. This book is truly priceless, I don’t think something comparable could be found even in the Forbidden Lands… to think that he actually took this thing out for us to take,” he thought in silent awe. He was sure that no person in his right mind would give up a treasure of this level, so it should be that Patrick didn’t quite know the true value of this book.
“We shouldn’t reveal all what we gained.”
Both Laien and Yin came to think the same thing at almost the same time. They exchanged a glance with each other and smiled, thus coming to a silent agreement.
“How was it?” Patrick inquired with a smile. He was a little amazed that the boys managed to enter the trance-like state just by touching the books as he had failed to do the same thing before reaching the Realm of Heroes, but this surprise of his wasn’t all that strong. Those two were obviously exceptionally talented, so it only made sense they would achieve adequate results if they happened to be compatible with the Intent contained within the particular tome. He wouldn’t even be surprised if as soon as those two entered the Realm of Heroes, they would stand a slight chance at inheriting the core insights of the Intents they were highly compatible with.
“Pretty amazing,” Laien admitted straightforwardly. “I saw some lightning of different levels of strength emerge from the tome. I feel that I could actually comprehend the basics of a Profound Mystery if I spent a few weeks studying this book,” he said with a slight smile, his gaze wandering toward the tome in front of him.
“You actually caused lightning to emerge?” Patrick asked with unconcealed surprise. “How much of it?” he asked, the tone of his voice sounding quite forceful.
“Just enough to cover the tome and my hand,” Laien answered with a carefree laugh, appearing to be fairly proud of himself.
“I see…” Patrick nodded. “I didn’t expect you to be so compatible with lightning. You should consider practicing two elements… it’s still not too late before stepping into the Realm of Heroes,” he praised with a calm smile, his voice once again returning to the previous, amicable tone. “And how was it for you?” he inquired, his gaze shifting toward Yin.
“A few hints, I guess?” Yin replied vaguely. “It’s hard to explain since it’s so all over the place. It will be useful to me later on though,” he explained as well as he could given the circumstances.
“True,” Patrick agreed. “The knowledge this tome contains is of use only to those in the Realm of Heroes. Truth to be told, I consider it to be the most precious tome out of those nine… but at the same time, I’ve already learned all I could from it, so parting with it would be the least painful,” he said with a bittersweet smile. He had recently gained full enlightenment of the Spiritual Transcendence from this tome’s Intent; were it not for that, he might have swallowed his pride and not taken it out for those two to see at all. The insights contained in this book were simply too precious to give up without gaining them fully beforehand.
“Go ahead and take a look at the rest of the tomes,” Patrick encouraged. Since he was already giving up so much, he could as well do so without being grumpy all the time; this way, he would make the best out of the bad situation and at least establish a good relationship with those two, as per his original intention. “I suggest both of you take a look at each of them before you decide. Don’t just look at the covers either, read a few pages too,” he advised with a smile.
“Then we will take you up on that,” Laien said with a laugh and to begin with, he reached for the first tome about the Ancient Magic of the lightning element. At the same time, Yin took the next furthermost book titled ‘What Governs the Word’. The two of them had similar thoughts; they would first check out all the Intents and only then try reading further into the tomes.
‘Ancient Magic. Introduction to the lightning element.’ was pretty much as Laien expected it to be. The Intent allowed one to become incredibly familiar with basic characteristics and uses of lightning; to him, it was once again pretty useless, though it would be of great use to Yin. As such, he pushed the tome to the side and instead received the two books Yin had had his hands on; the two of them wanted to swap their books sooner, but since Yin didn’t quite want to start from the advanced tome on lightning, they both ended up picking up one tome each before doing so.
“Yin was fairly excited about this second book too, but then he calmed down. It shouldn’t be as amazing as Martial and Spiritual Transcendence, so let’s start with this one,” Laien mused silently and once again, tracked his fingers against the cover of the tome in front of him and closed his eyes; and as he did so, he felt a flood of information pour into his mind so quickly that it caused him distinct pain. Were it not for his unnaturally powerful soul, he might have as well fainted mid-process, but instead, he managed to bear with it and after a few moments, he opened his eyes.
“Whoa… Soul Refinement, Body Refinement, Qi Origin Refinement, Spiritual Core Refinement, Qi Path Refinement, Spiritual Energy Refinement! All of them separated into nine mortal and nine immortal levels! Too bad I’ve only managed to comprehend the methods up to the fifth immortal level… If I was in the Realm of Heroes, I would have been able to comprehend the full Intent all at once. Since the Intent of this tome is very powerful and detailed, we wouldn’t have needed to trade for the tome itself at all.”
As he thought so, Laien couldn’t resist mocking himself a little. They had already stumbled upon so much good fortune, but he was still greedy for more! It made him feel a bit embarrassed for himself, though it wasn’t like he could help it. He always wanted more, at least as far as cultivation went.
“Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” Patrick asked with a smile, seeing the genuinely shocked look on Laien’s face. “Just out of curiosity, how many of the Six Refinements to Immortality did you manage to comprehend?” he inquired leisurely. He was pretty much certain that he would end up parting with ‘Martial and Spiritual Transcendence’ tome, but since he had learned all there was to learn from it he managed to squeeze out some positive attitude.
The question startled not only Laien but also Yin. However, they managed to restrain their surprise and not have it show too much on their faces.
“Two levels of both paths,” Laien answered after a moment of acted-out hesitation as he assumed it would be unnatural for him to answer without thinking.
“Exceptional, as expected,” Patrick praised and sighed secretly. He needed to advance to the sixth Realm of Heroes before he fully comprehended the spiritual aspect of this tome’s Intent, but it looked like this boy would be able to do the same and more by the time he advanced to the second or third Realm of Heroes. This degree of compatibility… or of talent, in this case, as the Intent was related to pure cultivation? Regardless, it was making him quite jealous.
“If you want to, go ahead and pour yourselves more wine,” he mentioned a bit randomly, worried that his feelings would show on his face if he didn’t change the subject.
“Mhm,” Laien nodded and reached out with his hand. He sent a strand of spiritual energy and pulled the bottle of wine over, causing Patrick to raise his eyebrows. It was one thing to transform spiritual energy into an element and then manipulate an object, but to use pure spiritual energy to do the same? He should have expected that Laien could do something like that, but nonetheless, he was surprised to actually see it being put to practice.
“What Governs the World.” Seeing that Patrick wasn’t about to ask anything else, Laien focused on the fourth of the tomes. After finding exactly what he had expected in the tome’s Intent, he sighed inwardly. “Without experiencing an epiphany, the knowledge of Principles is not only not helpful, but will often be detrimental. It’s a good thing that the creator of this Intent took that into consideration and all the ‘knowledge’ we’ve received is vague and hazy. It will help us make a breakthrough if we encounter right circumstance, but actually reading the content of this tome… that would be stupidity. One should only read the actual pages if he already has knowledge of a certain Principle, else he will be hurting his own future.”
“I wonder if Patrick knows about that?” Laien asked himself. If Patrick knew and didn’t tell them on purpose, then it was quite an unfair move from his side. However, as far as Laien was concerned, Patrick had probably not received the full Intent from this tome. “Where in the world did Patrick acquire all those books? He doesn’t seem to realize how incredibly precious they are,” he wondered but in the end, chose not to think about it too much. To begin with, he needed to get through the rest of those tomes to then make a choice; and something was telling him it wouldn’t be an easy one.
“Yin is so enamored with those Ancient Magic tomes about lightning… let me check out the other three tomes that aren’t from the Ancient Magic series first,” he thought to himself and began attuning himself to the three other books, the usefulness of which still remained in question.
Thus, after two or three minutes, he received three more Intents and learned a few things about those three tomes.
Grand Magic of All Elements was intriguing, but it didn’t enamor him all that much since it contained no particular insights, just ways to use and empower Grand Spells.
The Art of Formations appeared to be quite similar to rune magic, being a well-developed branch of it perhaps. It could be potentially very useful… but just the vague idea of how the process of mastering the formations would look like which he had gotten from the tome’s Intent made him lose all enthusiasm. Without long decades of bitter training and research, it would be impossible to gain any satisfactory results in this field.
Then there was ‘Heavenly Compendium’. This book was entirely about the natural treasures. The Intent contained a vast spectrum of knowledge… but for some reason, he had a feeling it wasn’t suited to this world. He couldn’t imagine most of those treasures he learned about existing on the Starlight continent… but he could imagine them existing in the worlds he had seen in his dreams, in his visions. This little discovery made him all the more intrigued; those tomes.. they seemed out of this world, both metaphorically and more importantly, very much literally.
“Leaving the origin of those books alone for now,” Laien mused and smiled to himself. “There are only these two left,” he murmured, filled to the brim with anticipation.
“Ancient Magic. Introduction to the water element.”
“Ancient Magic. In-depth analysis of the water element.”
Just the act of pulling those two tomes over caused him to nearly fall into the trance. He didn’t need to double-check; his affinity with the Intent of those books was superb. Unable to contain himself any longer, he closed his eyes… without removing either of his hands from the tomes they were lying upon. He couldn’t explain why, but he was sure it would be the best way for him to progress; and as if to prove it, his consciousness instantly sank deep into the Intent of these two tomes.
“What is that?!” he exclaimed, having found himself floating in the air above the endless sea of water that reached as far as he could see. Yet, that alone wouldn’t have been enough to frighten him so badly… what terrified him was the fact that the sensation of power in the air alone was so terrifying, he was sure just being in this space would have killed him had it not been happening in his mind… and even in comparison to that, what was below him was incomparably more horrifying.
With the sense of distance being distorted, he couldn’t tell exactly how huge that thing was… but in the boundless sea below him existed a gigantic whirlpool that seemed to be capable of swallowing and crushing all existence that was stupid enough to come close to it. This phenomenon was both unnaturally tranquil and frightening full of wrath; it was beautiful to look upon, but deadly to approach. This contradiction was mesmerizing to him; it represented something that existed beyond his original realm of comprehension, something that was… actually, almost within the reach of his hand?
Before Laien could finish this thought, he cried out as he suddenly plunged into the terrifying vortex below him at an extreme speed. It all happened so fast that he had barely any time to think about it, but the sensations he experienced proved to be frighteningly real. The feeling of being torn apart, the great pressure of the water increasing with each split-second, the omnipresent Profound Mysteries of the Elemental Law of Water… and other sensations which he couldn’t describe even if he wanted to, as he lacked the words to do so.
However, in the midst of this fear-inducing experience, Laien felt no fear for his life. He was overwhelmed, true… but he didn’t lose his mind. After a few seconds that felt like a few years, the trance finished and he woke up abruptly. He inhaled a mouthful of air; he quickly understood that he had been ‘gone’ for at most a few seconds since despite being so nervous, he began sweating only after coming back to his senses. The state he was in was quite pitiful, but on the other hand, the gains he had made were abundant. It might not seem as much, but he had gained a small inkling as to what the Profound Mystery contained within this intent was.
“Profound Mystery of Maelstrom,”
Although it was just Laien’s own feeling, this Profound Mystery ought to be the above the level of the Profound Mystery of the Mist. It was likely the supreme Mystery of the water element! Whoever that expert who recorded it in form of Intent in those two tomes was, his power needed to be beyond all imagination. If that trance was any indication, that person must have dove straight into a true Maelstrom just to comprehend this Profound Mystery… and he must have actually survived this recklessness and obtained what he wanted!
“Yin should also try… eh?” Laien wanted to silently suggest for Yin to attempt the same with the two lightning tomes, alas.
“Are you all right?” Patrick asked in a worried tone. “I swear you are both so reckless, trying to attune yourselves to two Intents at once,” he said and shook his head resignedly. It was already a huge burned on one’s mind to attune oneself to one Intent, but to try it with two? It was like asking to have your soul injured or for your mind to crumble under pressure.
“Huu.” Just when Patrick finished speaking, Yin opened his eyes and just like Laien, he soaked with cold sweat two or three seconds after waking up. “So that’s why it was so hard for me to comprehend Profound Mysteries of Lightning. There are just a few of them… and they are all incredibly hard to gain insights into. But this time… Profound Mystery of Lightning Rush. If I can actually start gaining actual insights into this Mystery in the future…” he mused to himself, so entranced in the experience that for a period of time, he forgot to pay attention to his surroundings. The moment he would become able to train in the Profound Mystery of Lightning Rush, his power would skyrocket. The only problem was that he had a feeling it wouldn’t be possible for him to do so for a very, very long time.
“Young boys and their stupid ideas,” Patrick said with a heavy sigh while looking at the two pale-faced youths. “Though… it might not be up to me to criticize you as I’ve attempted to do the same when I was younger. If you need to rest for a few days before making your choice, I go ahead. I’m sure you need to talk it all out anyway,” he offered, thinking that the boys would need at least a day or two to recuperate after their reckless attempt at comprehending two tomes at once.
“The choice, huh,” Laien murmured and looked at Yin. Yes, this time around they were faced with quite a dilemma. They absolutely wanted to get their hands on the ‘Martial and Spiritual Transcendence’ tome, but at the same time, each of them greatly desired the set of two Ancient Magic tomes corresponding to his own element. To pick any combination of four tomes out of those five… would they be able to do it? Surely they would, but it was such a waste…!
“Say,” Laien spoke up after a moment of thought. “Isn’t there a way for us to get five tomes instead of four?” he asked without beating around the bush.
“A way, you say…” Patrick frowned a little. It wasn’t hard to tell in which tomes those two were interested in; Martial and Spiritual Transcendence was between the two of them and they had two Ancient Magic tomes in front of themselves, while the other four tomes had been pushed further up the table by them. He needed to admit it, those two were quite a greedy duo. “If you insist, then there might be a way…” he said with a slight smile, then elaborated in a calm, decisive tone.
“I want two things. One, you will tell me in detail how Blood Pact works and what are the conditions for it to be made. Second, you will owe me a favor that I will be able to call in at any time.”
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