Legends of Gods: Tale of Vjaira. (All Early Reworked Chapters)

edited October 2017 in Original Stories
Brief Introduction.

(Join us on Discord~)

Hey people! I'm sure everyone already knows me on those forums so I won't bother with introductions. After the unplanned break from writing, I'm re-starting my Tale of Vjaira. Since the previous thread (I tried, believe me) would be too inconvenient to post the edited version of the story I will simply do it here. I still have some editing work to be done, but those are the latter chapters which don't require as much effort.

If anyone new is interested how the old thread looks and wants to see for himself, feel free to click here.

Those who are reading on mobile and have trouble with the spoiler tags here, I highly suggest reading the story on royalroad. (Tell me if there are any problems with reading there on mobile. If so then I will try to set-up a wordpress site asap)

Schedule:

My regular schedule is currently 4 regular chapters per week + old 90-days challenge chapter + sponsored chapters. If you want to support my novel and get more chapters, check out my my patreon! Every 5 bucks is me writing one more chapter for the month :)

So, let's get going!

Warnings: the story contains incest and yaoi/gay relationships along with sexual content. The few more extreme (R18) scenes are marked out by '~~~~~~~~' in the chapters so feel free to skip them.


Short synopsis.

Starlight continent, the world of martial arts and magic. The world of Xianxia. Their village raided and pillaged by a group of bandits, Laien and Siana are saved and adopted by the Leader of one of the three Great Families of the Sarkcente Kingdom. Why would Tei’ru go out of his way to save two children of a meager noble family and treat them as his own? How will the siblings do in a family which perceives their adoption as something incomprehensible? Will they be able to survive when their benefactor, Tei’ru suddenly dies and leaves them alone?

Prologue.

They walked side by side, excitement shining in their eyes. For the first time in countless years, Laien felt his heart throbbing wildly.

 

“This day will truly be the beginning of a new era, do not fail me, Laien. I have great expectations.”

 

Laien trembled, a pleasant shiver ran down his spine. Just a gaze alone was enough to overwhelm him to the root. Without hesitating in the slightest, he fell to one knee.

 

“Yes, Master!”

 

The man laughed merrily, his look filled with warmth. “Laien, don’t kneel before me, geez. Come on, let’s go. They are all waiting.”

 

Laien immediately followed. Soon, they both arrived at the peak of a great mountain. Just a few people were waiting for them, and upon their arrival, they greeted their Master.

 

Most of them kneeled before this man. Only the closest to him bowed, or simply nodded towards him with a smile.

 

“Let us greet them, preparations are nearly finished,” the man said, smiling.

 

Exchanging no more words, all of them went forward, standing in a casual row, with their Master in the very middle of it. The closer to him, the more important one was.

 

Laien was very satisfied, being the second to the left. Only his power and achievements so far allowed him to obtain this position.

 

As they approached the mountain’s cliff, an immeasurable sea of experts came into their view.

 

Instantly, a heaven shuddering roar erupted forth, shaking the whole world at its core.

If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
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  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 1. It all began that day. (Part I)


    Laien kneeled on one leg, staring at the coffin with clouded eyes. He tensed up, feeling many unpleasant gazes on his back. He gave his best to ignore them, knowing that in his current situation, all he could do was to bear with it.

    He wondered silently, why did Tei’ru need to die now? He was still only ten, but Tei’ru passed away, making everything so incredibly difficult. Despite his worries, Laien decided to not mourn the past, instead focusing on the matters in front of him.

    Just this once, though, he wanted to reminisce everything. He wanted to settle his inner feelings towards the Old Man, who he loved and hated at the same time.

    Laien truly didn’t know how he should feel about Tei’ru. He had a reason to be grateful to him, but also a reason to hate him; both extremely important as neither could be easily forgotten nor forgiven.

    For one instance, Tei’ru was the one who saved him and his younger sister three years ago. For that alone, Laien was extremely grateful. Old Man even went as far as adopting them into the Valius family… Only later Laien realized how great of a meaning this one act has had.

    A leader of one of the three greatest clans of Sarkcente Kingdom, taking two war orphans as his son and daughter! Even if they previously belonged to a declined noble family, it was simply an unthinkable, ridiculous decision.

    Laien smirked self-mockingly. If not for this unreasonable act of Tei’ru’s, they wouldn’t be in so much trouble after his death. Holding back a long sigh, Laien thought about the one thing that he absolutely hated about Tei’ru.

    In the next instant, Laien forcefully threw this memory away. He closed his eyes, trying to calm down. But… This was the one thing that he couldn’t ever forgive Tei’ru for doing, no matter what his reason was.

    Shaking his head, Laien abandoned his attempts to decide how he felt about Tei'ru. Now, all of that was a thing of the past. It simply didn’t matter anymore. He had other things he should be worrying about.

    He looked to the left, at his younger sister, Siana. She was standing completely straight, like an immobile, expressionless rock. A weak smile appeared on Laien’s face. Siana was only eight and yet she already behaved properly. She despised Tei’ru. She hated him. Nevertheless, she listened to his reasons and agreed to come here and pay her respects.

    It was a fortunate thing, that only men were expected to kneel in front of the coffin. Convincing his little sister to come was one thing, making her kneel… Would be impossible, given her stubborn character.

    Laien suppressed a sigh, wondering to himself. “Old Man, why didn’t you just accept us as honored guests, instead of adopting us? It would have been so much better…”

    The two of them weren’t related by blood to the Valius family, and neither were they engaged to any youths of theirs. Given the fact that a majority of the Valius family viewed them with contempt, their lives here would become much harder.

    With no one to rely on, two adopted brats occupying positions on the very top of the Clan’s hierarchy… It should be understood, that for many of the Valius family, such a situation was simply unacceptable. Noblemen always had a stupid amount of pride in them. To have two brats stand above them in the hierarchy wasn’t something that they were willing to bear quietly.

    Laien stood up, having done the thing he came for. He paid his respects, so did Siana. There was no reason for them to stay in the Cathedral any longer, enduring a suffocating atmosphere. Laien grabbed his little sister’s hand and headed out together with her. They exchanged a short look, knowing that both of them are equally happy to leave this place.

    Looking at the two siblings walking past him, Jasi sneered, displeased. He truly disliked this one brat and his sister. Even though they weren’t of the Valius family lineage, their status was supposedly on par with his. The third son of the next Clan Leader, equal to Laien? Just because Grandfather Tei’ru adopted him in an act of insanity?

    Maybe if it was just that, he could handle. He could just pay no attention to those siblings, as in reality, they didn’t hold any power within the family at all. However, to this very day he remembered clearly how once, because of Laien, he got in big trouble with grandfather Tei’ru.

    Just once! He skipped his boring lessons with those old, boring tutors just once. And it just so happened that Grandfather Tei’ru was talking a walk around the city with Laien. At first, Grandfather wasn’t even angry at him, he didn’t intend to punish him in any way! But!

    Grandfather must have asked Laien what he thinks ‘about his grandson skipping his lessons’. And what did this seven-year-old brat reply back then?! Even now Jasi could remember his words perfectly.

    “He doesn’t care about what he has in life and just wants to lazy around. If he doesn’t want to use his life properly, being born in such a good position, he can as well go ahead and switch with me.”

    Maybe Laien was even right, but so what? Was he not allowed to have fun in his life? He couldn’t take a break and play around at least once, just like all normal kids did? Jasi felt incredibly sour about this one particular memory.

    “After that, Grandfather Tei’ru actually agreed with him, and decided to punish me! For three months, I did nothing but train with the sword, train my body, study economics and war tactics! Tree fucking months! Six hours of sleep, and eighteen hours of this hell! I didn’t see any of my friends even once for three months! Motherfucker!”

    Just thinking about that made Jasi feel boundless rage. If he could, he would have repaid this debt ten times over a long time ago. Regretfully, with Laien being Tei’ru’s favorite, he couldn’t do anything to him. But now Tei’ru was dead. His own father would soon succeed the position of Clan Leader. No matter what he did, as long as it wasn’t anything too extreme, there would be no consequences.

    Just this thought made Jasi happy, his mood brightening. He would no longer need to act like if he tolerated the presence of those two strays in his family. “Hmmm, what should I do to him? Let’s think about it tonight, maybe someone will have a good idea.” Feeling a lot better now, Jasi went to pay his respects to Tei’ru.

    With regards to Laien and Siana…

    Truth to be told, Jasi was completely right. Even if those two siblings were to disappear, nothing would change. In the main family, most of its members had similar thoughts. They never understood why, three years ago, Clan Leader Tei’ru took in two run-of-the-mill kids and even went as far as adopting them as his own scion.

    They didn’t dare to argue in front of Tei’ru, but, they never hesitated to show siblings that they weren’t welcomed in their Valius Family.

    Of course, they were exceptions, too.  Some Family members didn’t really care, maybe even thought that leaving those two alone would be for the best. As long as siblings would not create any trouble, they wouldn’t  bother with them either. Nothing more, nothing less. None of them went as far as offering a hand to Laien and Siana after Tei’ru passed away.

    Laien sighed quietly, as he left the unpleasant atmosphere behind. He truly felt that he was not welcomed in this Family. But, as a kid, what else could he do? He even considered trying to leave to live a normal life in Neil City as a commoner. He saved up some gold, so living on his own with his little sister wouldn’t be that hard.

    Unfortunately, the world wasn’t so simple. Had he left for no reason, Valius family would have born a grudge towards him for not appreciating their ‘kindness’, thus making every day hard for him. What else could have he done? Leave the province as a ten-year-old kid with a bag of gold hanging at his belt? That would be asking for death, at best.

    To make matters worse, those people of Valius Family wouldn’t understand that he himself didn’t have anything to do with being adopted by Tei’ru. Staying with them would result in hardships. Leaving would cause the same. If this wasn’t  hypocrisy, then what was?

    Finally out of the Great Cathedral, Laien allowed himself to relax a bit. “At least in the Sarkcente Kingdom, women are treated as political tools or beautiful furniture. They don’t have the power to inherit on their own, so Siana should still be fine, they won’t bother with her… At least for next four, five years, until they might want to marry her off… In five years… Only five years. What will we do, then? What will happen to me, before that time, anyway…?”

    Laien unconsciously tightened the grip of his hand, attracting Siana’s attention. With but a gaze, she asked what was he worried about. Laien sighed, deciding to put his worries into words. From the very beginning, he told Siana about many things that were on his mind for the last week.

    ---

    Two days later, in the early afternoon, Laien and Siana were sitting on the same bed. Laien just returned to their room, after he encountered the first dose of bullying.

    Laien only shook his head, not sure what he should do now. He guessed that Jasi will cause him some troubles, as they never liked each other too much. However, for Jasi to go that far wasn’t something he expected. He didn’t imagine that just this morning while strolling around the open grounds, three kids older than him would attack him and beat him up.

    “Big Brother…”Siana looked at his bruises and a dried blood covering his clothes, a hint of tears and anger shining in her eyes. Laien couldn’t help but smile, seeing how deeply his little sister cared for him. Patting Siana’s head, he reassured her again. “I told you that something like that will happen sooner or later, right? Don’t worry about me, it doesn’t hurt very much.” He tried to reassure Siana, hoping that things will turn out fine, one way or another.

    Siana glared at him as if scolding him for being an idiot. Just a moment later, Laien chuckled helplessly. He noticed how Siana looked like she really wanted to hug him, yet at the same time seemed to be worried that it would make him hurt more. She kept fidgeting, not knowing what to do. Laien found that quite cute of her. He patted her head, gently stroking her long, black hair, not saying anything.

    Laien knew that Siana was a very smart girl, so he did not bother to explain the same thing again. Between them, there was no need for meaningless words. It was always like that, as far as they could remember.

    After a while, Siana calmed down. She laid down on the bed, giving him a short, meaningful look.

    “I’m going to wash myself, will you be staying here?” Laien asked, taking few needed things from a wardrobe. Siana nodded in response, cuddling a big pillow on the bed. “Looks like she will be fine.” Laien thought. He looked at Siana for a while longer, then left their room, heading to baths.

    Hearing the door close behind her Big Brother, Siana hugged a pillow, trying really hard to not cry. Right now, she just wanted to fall asleep and forget about all unpleasant things.  The current and the past ones. “I’m sorry, Big Brother, I just can’t help but be happy that he died…” She mumbled to herself. Deep inside, she thought that she was being really unfair towards her Big Brother. It made her feel really bad.

    Accompanied by those unpleasant feelings, she slowly fell asleep.

    Walking through empty corridors, Laien wondered where should he go to wash himself. Looking all beaten up like that, he preferred to have some time in private. If he could, he preferred to avoid people speaking of this incident. He thought it would be for the best if no one at all realized what happened to him. “Hmph, when they ask, what will I be supposed to answer? Hey, friends of your Young Master are bullying me? As if they would believe that…”

    In the end, Laien decided to simply use the Great Baths. At this time of the day, just before noon, they were usually empty, so he probably wouldn’t meet anyone there.

    As for Great Baths, they were built directly on top of hot springs. Washing oneself there could easily be considered a luxury. A stable access to the hot water was something that only a few in the world could afford to own, with the Valius Family being one of them.

    Inside the Great Baths, as expected, was pretty quiet. Only a calming sound of the flowing water could be heard. Laien went into one of the furthers bathing rooms, just like he usually did when coming here. He put down the bag and took off his clothes off. “I guess I really need to clean myself properly, ugh, so much dirt all over…”

    In no hurry, Laien prepared some water in a wooden bowl. Before entering the bath, he needed to clean himself… Well, that would be the most unpleasant part.

    As he poured some water on his head, he twitched a bit. He was more or less used to pain, after training his body for the last two years. Still, it didn’t mean he enjoyed hurting.

    Laien closed his eyes, allowing his consciousness to wander freely. He could clearly feel each drop of the water falling down from his black hair. He was completely aware of the moisture covering his body... He smiled, enjoying this unique feeling. “I just don’t have enough time. Fifteen … No, just ten years would be enough. Then, I wouldn’t need to worry so much…”

    By now, Laien understood that to ensure a good life for himself and Siana, he needed to become strong. Although he was part of the Valius clan, his influence was negligible. His only option was to gain everything he wanted by his own strength.

    In this world, no one would listen or care about him, a child with no true noble background. Even if he were to become an outstanding talent in governing or tactics, without backing-up from someone, he would not achieve anything. To be respected, he needed to gain power! That was the only way left for him.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    That feeling when you get cockblocked by a spam filter, damn. Hope smth can be done about it, gonna ask and see. - As always, Yn5an3 helped out, big thanks!


    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 1. It all began that day. (Part II)


    After washing carefully, Laien slowly sank his whole body in the water of the natural hot spring. He took a deep breath and immersed himself in the surrounding liquid, attempting to connect his senses to it. Regrettably, he was still far too weak to properly use such an advanced training technique. He could as well be trying to feel the touch of one’s hand through a thick glass and achieve similar results.

    “Why would you show me so much, if I am yet unable to grasp it?” Laien felt somewhat annoyed. He felt like he was being teased and could not do anything about it. He didn’t remember much from these dreams, but some things were clearly imprinted into his memory. Sometimes, even in such a way that Laien himself wasn’t quite aware of them.

    Laien dove underwater and after a few seconds, surfaced and shook his head. His black hair seemed to shine unnaturally as he waved his hand, murmuring the words of a spell.

    “Unique Magic, Guardian!” Laien called out silently, directing the surrounding water to circulate around him at a slow pace.

    “Not bad, but I wish I could do more with it…” he sighed a little, wondering how long would it take him to become strong enough to be recognized by other people. This simple, yet very special spell was a definite proof of his talent. Only those with a very high level of elemental affinity were capable of using Guardian spell and Laien knew that, however, only that.

    He never met any other spiritual practitioners to compare himself with, neither had he a proper teacher. Regrettably, Sarkcente Kingdom disdained magic to a large degree. Even in times of war, they only employed magicians as mercenaries. It was fairly reliable to say that spiritual practitioners were incredibly rare in this country; to find a true spiritual master, a Magus, to become one’s teacher? It was borderline impossible. Even in a humongous Neil City with its population of over one million Laien failed to acquire any reliable source of knowledge about magic…

    Shaking his head, Laien decided to use his time in a more productive way than to worry about what he couldn’t have. He got out of the bath and leaving only his legs in the water, entered a meditative trance. Recently, Laien discovered that his power grew faster if he trained near water, so he started doing exactly that. Why did it work like this? He wasn’t too sure. He could only guess that it was like that for every spiritual practitioner who trained near the element he excelled at.

    Feeling the spiritual energy slowly oozing out of his body, Laien reached out with his hand and tapped a blue spark floating above the water’s surface. He smiled, seeing how the blue spark bubbled back out after a few seconds. When meditating, he could see those strange things that from what he heard, were called ‘elemental sparks’. He liked playing with them, as he could move them, while even a strong wing couldn’t.

    “Okay, I have to focus properly,” Laien reminded himself and concentrated on training, steadily depleting his Spiritual Energy. He didn’t hurry or rush the process, having long since learned that doing it slowly has much better results than simply getting rid of all his strength at once. Not only would his strength grow faster this way, he would also have time to improve his control over it and attempt to attune himself to the water element. After a few months of trial and error, he naturally came to develop train in this way, which he thought yielded best results.

    After half an hour, Laien felt his reservoir of spiritual energy reaching its bottom. However, instead of leaving the meditative trance, he instead focused on recovery. Just as exhausting oneself physically, using up large amounts of spiritual energy had its consequences. Among them were dizziness, inability to concentrate, the overall feeling of being tired and alike. However, were one to continue his meditation, he would be able to recover five, six times faster than by resting normally and would quickly get rid of any side effects. That was also something Laien learned around three years ago when he started experimenting with training methods.

    At first, Laien thought it would be a good idea to train in this way for longer periods of time; to deplete all of his energy, recover it and repeat the process, which would usually take him around three hours. However, he quickly discovered that his body couldn’t sustain that much. After once going through three full sessions and training for ten hours straight, he had experienced a very painful backlash of terrible pain all over his body and the sensation of his head splitting his half, he never dared to go overboard again. Currently, four or five hours of spiritual training per day were his limit.

    “I wish I could know if I’m progressing well, though,” the thought crossed Laien’s mind. He was pretty sure that given ten years or so, he could reach high enough level to be viewed with importance by the Valius family, yet, he most likely had five years, at best. At worst, in just two or three years Siana’s future marriage could be set and most likely, he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Given her and his standing in the Valius family, the person she would be given to wouldn’t be anyone too important, so the likelihood of her suffering from that person’s hand was quite high…

    Honestly, Laien didn’t even want to think about the future. He was giving his best to train, as he couldn’t do much more, but would that really be enough? He didn’t even know at what rank as a spiritual practitioner he was, as he had trouble telling when his strength was ‘breaking through’ to a higher level. For some reason, although it was supposed to be really apparent, he just couldn’t tell if he experienced any major increases in ‘level’ or not. At the very least, he was getting stronger, so he tried to not worry too much about this matter.

    ---

    Soon enough, three hours passed and Laien opened his eyes. Having gotten uncomfortable with his position midway through, he was now sitting cross-legged on the side of hot spring, his hips covered by a white towel. Right now, Laien’s Spiritual Energy was mostly recovered.

    All in all, he used thirty minutes to deplete it, then two and a half hour to recover. At the first glance, it looked like a fairly inefficient way of training, considering that it could be done only four, maybe five hours per a day. Wouldn’t it just be better to let the spiritual energy recover naturally, then spend more time meditating?

    Well, that wasn’t exactly right. Laien had been wondering about the same thing in the first months of his spiritual practice, but he quickly noticed that his strength would improve much faster if he actively worked to restore it than if he were to let it happen naturally.

    “Should I train a bit longer?” Laien wondered for a second. He felt really comfortable here in the great baths and in truth, spiritual training was his favorite thing to do. He loved it much more than physical training, which he also did, as to not goof around for half of each day doing nothing.

    As he was trying to decide, mainly thinking about whether he wanted to chew on something yet or if he wasn’t that hungry, he got startled by the sound of approaching footsteps.

    “Did I push my luck staying here for so long?” He asked himself, not looking forward to seeing any member of the Valius family who might have come here to take a bath. Adults would be one thing, but considering the hour, it was more likely for some of the youngsters to have felt like refreshing themselves in the great baths. As for those young members of the Valius family, most of them liked to bully him in one way or another, either out of the disdain they felt towards him, or to win some favor with Jasi, whose dislike towards him was well known.

    Considering that he had been beaten up just a few hours ago… Laien definitely wanted to avoid any more unpleasant meetings.

    Also, now that Laien thought about it, he would probably need to start straying from adults, too. After Tei’ru’s death, they might also have had a change of heart and could start displaying their negative feelings in a more painful way than just giving him a cold stare or two. Now that Jasi’s father, Garon, became the next clan leader, everything would change… for much worse.

    The reason for that was really simple. Although Jasi wasn’t Garon’s firstborn, many people believed that it would be him to inherit the position of the clan leader in the future. With that in mind, everyone would try to win Jasi’s favor early, when he was still a kid and it was relatively easy to influence him with little things. For those high-ranked nobles of the Valius Family, acting against someone of Laien’s status held no consequences whatsoever. If by making his life miserable, they could coax Jasi, they wouldn’t hesitate to do it. After all, it cost them nothing; it was a win-win situation!

    Objectively speaking, those people were right to try and gain favor with Jasi, who was a very promising youth. He was very talented, brave and above everything else, arrogant. It should be understood, however, that his arrogance was not unjustified. He possessed the talents necessary to live up to his father’s expectations. Given the natural air of a leader that Jasi had to him, his personal power extended very far even at his young age.

    Jasi’s only recognizable flaw was his laziness, as he never truly engaged in rigorous training or studying, with the exception of this one time when he had been punished by Tei’ru.

    Sometimes, people of the clan would bring this incident up, wondering what caused the old clan leader to be so displeased with Jasi as to give out such a punishment. Yet to this very day, only a handful of those who were directly acquainted with Jasi knew that it was all because of Laien’s remark.

    As for Laien, he didn’t remember too well what caused Jasi to hate him so much. At that time, when Tei’ru asked for his opinion, he had still been stricken with pain after losing his parents. He had just blurted out what he had thought at the moment without paying too much attention to what he was saying.

    Regardless of all that, if Jasi wanted to make Laien’s life painful, he could accomplish it with just one word. Especially now when the only man who could protect Laien was no more. The difference in statuses between the two of them was just too huge. One youth was a future clan leader, when the other was a child adopted into the family against everyone’s will. It was clear enough that if Jasi wanted to make Laien’s life painful, he could accomplish it with one word.

    And right now, in the great baths, as the footsteps were closing in, Laien was holding his breath, but finally seeing who came, he breathed out and sighed with relief.

    “Again you, huh. Come on, get out! I need to clean the place, Lord Garon and his wife will be coming tonight,” the bulky woman in her forties reprimanded him with a frown, but also a wide smile.

    “Right away,” replied and smiled back at Cheina. However, contrary to his words, he took his time and decided to clean himself up again. After sitting there for so long, he got all sweaty without even realizing it. Seeing him act in this manner, Cheina only shook her head. If it truly was the highest time to empty the place, she would have immediately chased him out, but since it wasn’t the case, she could as well start cleaning from a different part of the great baths.

    Before she left, Cheina gave Laien a long, meaningful look and shook her head yet again. “You really should know some limits, did you force yourself into the training of Shire’s again? That man has something wrong with his head…” she complained, but no longer looked to make Laien change his mind, knowing how stubborn he could be about some strange things.

    Hearing Cheina’s remark, which sure enough was about his wounded body, Laien couldn’t help but frown. At the very least people could misunderstand his current state in this way, so being Shire’s ‘disciple’ and having returned quite a few times hurt all over proved to be useful for something.

    “It’s not as bad as it looks,” Laien said with a light smile, happy to keep the truth hidden. He didn’t want any more problems and keeping quiet about what happened was the best way to make Jasi forget about him and not incur more bullying.

    “Other masters are too soft. With full regards to their skill, I do not think that I suit their style of teaching,” Laien explained himself, shrugging his shoulders. He made sure to pick his words carefully, not daring to offend anyone even in their absence. “I already have enough trouble at it is. The last thing I need now is for those various masters in the city to bear a grudge towards me,” he thought resignedly and suppressed a sigh.

    Cheina only gave Laien a stern look, but then turn around and went back to work, leaving him alone to give him some time to finish washing up.

    “This boy never talks with others too much and he seems way too mature for his age. Yet, when playing with my grandchildren, he is just like other kids… Well, maybe a bit like a big brother, even for the older brats,” Cheina chuckled at this thought, catching herself that she was thinking about Laien as one of her own grandchildren, even though she knew she shouldn’t. A noble was a noble, after all, no matter how familiar you were with him.

    After Cheina left, Laien laughed bitterly. He didn’t expect that his random decision from two years ago would prove useful in such a strange way. He had chosen Shire as his master, for what many people called him out as crazy, but personally, he was satisfied with Shire’s ruthless methods. He didn’t enjoy physical training too much, so at the very least, he wanted to make sure that he wasn’t wasting his time and wanted to get the best results possible.

    Thinking about all the martial training he had endured until now, Laien clenched his fist and felt a pleasant amount of force. After those two years with Shire, he was now a martial practitioner at the peak of the third rank. It could be said that his talent was fairly good, considering that normally, people would take about four years on average to reach this level. However, if one considered the amount of effort Laien needed to put into training each and every day… then his talent for martial arts could only be described as slightly above average.

    “I want to hurry up and reach the peak of the fifth mortal realm and learn a true martial art… Then I want to quickly advance to the ninth rank and break through to the martial master level!” Laien wished quietly. He might not have been the person to enjoy martial training, but he sure enjoyed getting stronger and seeing the results of his effort. It was because of that, and because he had seen the unstoppable might of dual practitioner in one of his dreams, that he persistently pursued both paths, the paths of martial arts and magic.

    “So many people were making fun of me for choosing Shire as my master two years ago, but now, they pretty much got used to it. Even Cheina did,” Lian mused, recalling those old events with some embarrassment. Although from the perspective of time his choice proved to be a good one, back then he didn’t act because of rational reasons. He had simply been frustrated that he can’t practice magic as much as he wanted and went to search for a master who could teach him martial arts in the city. He had been trying to learn at various places, but everything felt like a total waste of time to him. So, one day, he decided that if he is going to continue doing something unpleasant, he might as well push himself beyond his limits and study under a somewhat crazy teacher, like for example, Shire.

    Apparently, the man called Shire had once been a powerful martial master who was greatly famous one hundred years ago, during the great war with the Ciene Kingdom to the west... but all of that ended abruptly when he declined from being a mighty person to a human wreck, after returning heavily wounded from one of the major battles towards the end of the great war. As of this day, Shire no longer possessed the might of martial master. After one hundred years, he was a popular object of ridicule and the example parents would use when telling their children to work hard so they don’t become like him in the future.

    Having associated with Shire for two years, Laien now knew that during his prime, Shire managed to gather an enormous fortune. Sadly, for many decades he wasted it on women and alcohol. When the gold finally dried up, he started his own marital school. Least said it didn’t go well for him. In beginning, he got a few students thanks to his old fame, but his rough and ruthless way of teaching scared them away in just a few days. The first real pupil who didn’t run away from Shire after the first week was no other person than Laien himself.

    Ruthless training, outdated training methods that modern martial masters considered savage? Laien could only laugh at those things. As long as they yielded good results, he didn’t mind suffering some pain. He didn’t like it, but for the sake of getting stronger, he could bear with it. Thankfully, after two full years of training under Shire, he had gotten more or less used to the hectic practice and the times when he would return home wounded all over decreased noticeably.

    “All these bruises I got from those three still hurt… Damn. Maybe I should have retaliated after all?” Laien wondered, but after all, he was pretty sure that his decision was a correct one. He could have easily beaten the three youngsters who attacked him, he could have run away from them, too. Yet, he didn’t, because he understood how Jasi’s and his friend's minds worked.

    “Eh, no point regretting it. It would all turn much worse if I tried to resist them… Jasi would just get even angrier. Several punches and kicks are not scary, but if they were to try to break my legs, splash me with boiling water, or cut with a sword… or if they actually went after Siana…” A hit of bloodlust flashed in Laien’s eyes at this thought. He could endure being Jasi’s target, but he wouldn’t forgive anyone who harmed his little sister.

    “For now, I have to endure. No other choice,” Laien reminded himself, taking a deep breath and trying to calm down. He wiped himself with the towel and dressed up, but as he was about to leave the great baths, a young boy rushed past the main entrance and yelled angrily.

    “Granny! Big sis didn’t want to play with me at all! And then she left with some boys again!”

    Seeing the familiar seven-year-old, Laien smiled happily and called out with a laugh. “Rune, don’t disturb your granny when she is working,” he chuckled, watching how Rune stopped abruptly and looked over, surprised to see him here.

    “Big brother!” the youth shouted merrily and ran towards Laien, then hugged him, overjoyed. The two of them hadn’t seen each other for over a week due to various matters related to Tei’ru’s death, so he was very happy to meet Laien now when he least expected it.

    “How about we play a bit, Rune?” Hearing Laien’s suggestion, the seven-year-old looked at him with an expectant look in his eyes. “Can we go play in the forest and take others with us?” he asked quickly, already looking forward to taking a dip in the lake.

    “Yeah, why not?” Laien replied with a smile. Just like Rune, he also loved to play in the nearby forest. Simply said, it was an enormous, beautiful place with many small streams and even a few lakes. The only problem was that it was a restricted space. Only the nobility of the Valius family and people of a few other powerful clans were allowed to enter it. Luckily, even though Laien’s status in the Valius family wasn’t a high one, no one would complain if he went to the forest with his friends to play. As long as no hunts were going on, nobles wouldn’t care about what they are doing in there.

    “Great!” Rune called out with a big smile on his face. “Come on, hurry up, big brother! Let’s go!” he urged, pulling on the sleeve of Laien’s shirt.

    “Okay, okay,” Laien laughed and started walking outside with Rune. As they were leaving, he gave Cheina a quick look and nodded at her with a slight smile.

    The woman appeared to be somewhat troubled, but she still nodded back. She was happy for her grandson to have a good friend, but since Laien was a noble and Rune just a son of a servant woman, she couldn’t help but feel worried about the future of their friendship.

    “I just hope that it won’t bring us any trouble in the future,” Cheina thought quietly, watching the two kids leave the great baths.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 1. It all began that day. (Part III)


    As they left great baths, Laien started wondering if it would be a good idea to try bringing Siana with them. Just as he had a hard time deciding…

    “Big brother, will Siana go with us?” Rune managed to ask him just as he was thinking about it.

    Usually, Siana was sulking a lot and did not enjoy playing with others, yet lately, Laien noticed that she seemed to be in a better mood. By this line of reasoning, he thought that it might be a good idea to try taking her outside, however, instead of saying just that, he looked at Rune with a playful smirk.

    “Hmm? What, you took a liking to my younger sister?” he asked teasingly, looking forward to Rune’s reaction.

    Hearing the question, Rune blushed and looked away for a second. “You are wrong, big brother. I don’t like her!” he denied out of embarrassment and looked Laien in the eye, his cheeks still slightly red.

    Laien couldn’t help but notice this change in Rune’s behavior. When they first met, Rune never looked up and avoided eye contact altogether. The fact that he was becoming more confident and open to people was definitely a good thing.

    “Say, do you really not like Siana? She would be quite sad if she heard that…” Laien inquired in a roundabout way, all the while smiling happily.

    “T-That is…” Rune looked quite troubled, not knowing what to say.

    Laien laughed and patted his younger friend’s head. “Rune, even if it’s embarrassing, you should be able to say it. Or, at least to not say opposite thing, you know? What if Siana disliked you after that, would you want that to happen?” he asked, giving Rune a meaningful look.

    Rune immediately shook his head. Then, as if realizing something, smiled and asked. “Big brother, you said she would dislike me, so, does she like me now?”

    Laien chortled, surprised by Rune’s bright line of reasoning. “What an amazing fellow. Really surprising,” he thought silently, then began acting as if he was wondering about the answer really hard, before finally replying with his lips curving strongly upwards. “I don’t know, how about you ask her yourself?” Seeing Rune’s pouting expression, Laien couldn’t help but chuckle. Even though he himself disliked being teased, he enjoyed teasing others. Well… Maybe he could take a little teasing from people he liked, too, but only a bit!

    “Eeeh?! Come on, big brother! Tell me!” Rune pulled on Laien’s arm, really wanting to get an answer out of him. After a short while of wresting away, Laien finally gave up and said. “I am quite sure she likes you, so how about asking her to be friends with you, to begin with? She would be happy.”

    Satisfied with this answer, Rune nodded strongly and ran up ahead, urging Laien to hurry up. Laien snickered and also started running.

    “Last one loses!” Laien yelled, easily passing by Rune. He peeked over his shoulder and after running by a corner of a building, he slowed down a little. Just a second later, Rune also ran past the same spot, trying his best to catch up.

    Obviously, the whole competition was just a play for both of them. With regards to speed, Laien was over three times faster than Rune. If he went all out, it would be pointless to compete like that, but it was only game, after all. There was no need to be taking everything so seriously.

    Soon, the two of them arrived by Laien and Siana’s room. Rune laughed, breathing heavily. “Big brother, you are too fast. But just look, I will also train! You won’t win so easily next time!”

    Laien didn’t say anything, only smiling back at the seven-year-old. To be honest, Rune’s talent for martial arts was pretty average, or maybe even slightly below that. There was little to no chance of Rune becoming stronger than him, but nevertheless, was there really a need to discourage the youth?

    “Who knows, maybe he will grow up to be a mighty martial master. There’s always a chance, but for now…” Laien thought about it for just a moment, coming up with an idea as a ‘winner’ of this small race. His smile grew just a little bit evil, and Rune, seeing it, could already guess what his big brother was going to say.

    “Soo, Rune, since you lost, inviting Siana to play with us is up to you. How about that? Can you do that?” Laien proposed with a broad smile and although Rune hesitated for a bit, he agreed in the end.

    Rune stood at the door, gathering the courage to open it and trying to come up with something sensible to say.

    When being with Laien, Rune was quite open and easy going. Yet, when speaking with other people, or even facing them, Rune tended to be rather shy. Before meeting Laien, Rune had trouble even with doing as much as holding a proper conversation. As a result of that, he used to be secluded from the other kids his age.

    Rune’s mother had obviously been worried about him, but she couldn’t get through to her son well enough. It was around the time when she was about to give up on trying to change her son and accept that he won’t turn outgoing and cheerful when Laien and Siana appeared in the mansion.

    Back then, after coming to Neil City, Laien had felt depressed and heavily burdened by reality. He hadn’t been showing it too much in his behavior, though. He had always been trying to hold everything in as to not upset his little sister. Moreover, he simply had no one he could or wished to talk to. Yet, one day, by pure coincidence, while strolling around the open grounds Laien had met another lone boy who appeared to be as troubled as he had been at the time.

    The boy he had met back then was three years younger than him. Looking rather depressed, the four-year-old had been sitting alone, doing nothing but looking down at the ground. By a whim, Laien had approached this boy and sat down at his side.

    Although the two of them hadn’t started speaking to each other immediately, they had exchanged a few words on the daily basis, slowly getting to know each other.

    After Laien and Rune had chatted with each other for a week or so, they had already become good friends.

    In his heart, Laien even now felt very grateful towards Rune. Spending some leisure time with Rune every day helped to improve his mental state by a lot. Finding this little, worriless happiness, he had been able to settle his own feelings towards the past and live on without mourning what had happened to his family all the time

    As for what kind of effects the friendship of theirs had on Rune… well. Just looking at him now, one could tell how much the boy has changed.

    ---

    The somewhat creaking sound of the door opening woke Siana up just as two boys walked inside the room. She rubbed her eyes and gave Laien a questioning look, still feeling quite sleepy.

    “Um, hello,” Rune said quietly. He was more nervous than usual because of Laien’s teasing, but he tried to speak with Siana nevertheless.

    “What did you come here for?” Siana rebuked unhappily, apparently angry at the two for waking her up. She could forgive her brother, but why would she need to do the same for a friend of his?

    “We are going to play in the forest, do you want to go with us?” Rune asked quickly, in a rather nervous manner.

    “I’m tired, just leave me alone,” Siana said with a frown, declining the invitation outright.

    As he spectacled the scene, Laien closed his eyes, giving his best to hold a laugh in. He totally expected this kind of reaction from his little sister.

    “You can as well rest near the lake, won’t it be better than staying in this hot room?” Rune suggested, not giving up just yet.

    This argument seemed to have some effect on Siana, but she still rebuked angrily. “No, I don’t want to. Leave me alone!”

    Laien finally laughed, then walked deeper into the room. He grabbed few things and began packing them into a small backpack made of a yellowish leather. “Come on, Siana, he is trying hard to invite you out, don’t go giving him a cold shoulder,” Laien said as he fastened a brown leather belt with a short sword attached to it. After exchanging a short glance with him, Siana sighed and gave up.

     “Fine, but if I get bored I will go back first,” she declared and stood up from the bed, then crouched and reached out for her shoes.

    As a result of Siana agreeing only after Laien asked, Rune seemed to have become a bit unhappy. After all, how could Rune not be slightly jealous of Laien, even if he was Siana’s older brother? Still, he didn’t complain or anything, satisfied just to have Siana come with them

    After a minute or so, the three of them left the room and headed towards the residential area of the Valius mansion.

    Valius family, as one of the great powers in the Sarkcente Kingdom, provided a living space for hundreds of servants and their families within grounds they owned. Living in this way was easier for all parties involved, as the servants had a safe place to stay and guaranteed housing and the Valius family itself didn’t need to worry about any problems which otherwise occurred when servants lived in the city.

    Amongst those who lived on the grounds of the Valius Family were not only servants, though. For example, the existed separate residences for more prominent people who were closely affiliated with the Valius family. Due to the Valius’ family prestige, even children of some important people from Neil City would often come to hang out in the mansion in order to make friends with other influential youths of their generation.

    It was more or less in this manner that Laien and Rune got acquainted with a group of their peers around two years ago. Ever since then, all of them often hanged around together and right now, they were looking to invite the others to come and play with them. Precisely, they were looking for two sisters, Hana and Lina, and a group of three boys, of which one was Rune’s cousin.

    Luckily, they didn’t need to search for long as they found all five of them hanging around behind the servant’s houses, in the open courtyard.

    “Sup! We are going to take a dip into some lake. Are you going with us, or would you all rather keep sweating here?”  Laien asked, grinning cheekily.

    “You need to ask? We go! Right?” Dan looked at other four and pretty much immediately got an energetic confirmation.

    “Let’s get to the kitchen first, we can get some leftovers from the dinner,” Laien suggested casually and everyone agreed pretty quickly, knowing that they can get some really tasty food for free. Even if their parents did not lack money, why would they say no to a freebie?

    Nobles always wanted too much, food was not an exception. After meals, a great amount of food was left over every time. Thankfully, it was rarely wasted as the people who could make use of it were servants working for the Valius family. The Sarkcente Kingdom was by no means perfect, for example, it promoted slavery. Yet, it didn’t lack good traditions making everyone’s lives easier.

    Preparing what they wanted to eat took a good half an hour, including packing the food properly and finding something to actually pack it into. When everyone was satisfied with what they took,  the eight of them left through the rear gate of the mansion, straight into the great forest.

    On the road to the lake, at some point, the usual chit-chat of theirs went into another direction. Dan and Genzie started talking about the ongoing war to the north of Sarkcente Kingdom and of course, the two of them got into an argument. Dan, being angry at Genzie, wanted to convince everyone else to his point of view. Naturally, Genzie was trying to do the same and meanwhile, the two of them were getting more and more annoyed with each other.

    However, these two having an argument wasn’t anything unusual, so no one paid too much special attention to it.

    “You really are stupid, Dan. I’m telling you that the Jarncare Grand Duchy will crush the Hailen Principality. So what if Hailans have a superior army in a direct clash? They are pushing deep into the territory of the Grand Duchy. Their general must be an idiot. How does he want to survive if the Jarncare light cavalry will keep hitting and running? They will bleed out before reaching their capital. I’m telling you!” Genzie argued and seemed to be quite confident in his words. After all, he was not just a normal kid of commoners.

    Genzie’s family was assigned as keepers of Neil City, while Genzie’s father served in the same field of expertise for the main branch of Valius family. They held one of highest positions within non-noble families in the whole province. Thus, from a very young age, Genzie had been trained to follow in his father’s footsteps. He knew a great deal about logistics and realized how hard it was to manage people.

    As the discussion between Genzie and Dan was going on, Laien listened closely as he himself was interested in the matters of warfare. As for Rune and his cousin, Talian, they also were looking at Genzie, but they were rather absorbed in imagining a great battle instead of considering it from the viewpoint of tactics. These two, being the youngest ones here, didn’t truly understand much from this talk, so letting their imagination run wild was the obvious outcome. The older three, however, all enjoyed discussing wars and smaller scale conflicts from the perspective of the decisions made by commanders.

    Laien being ten, Genzie eleven and Dan twelve, the three of them were all at the age when boys were smitten by the perspective of a war, of great armies fighting each other, of Kings competing for power… and of course, they all thought they were ‘experts’ on the matter and no adults knew better.

    At the same time as the boys were engaged in a talk about war, the three girls rather than taking part in this quarrel were whispered on the side, being all secretive about what they were talking about. However, boys weren’t interested in finding out what they were chatting about at all and they simply continued their own argument.

    “You are the stupid one, Genzie. Listen, equipment of an army is really important! Do you think that those few arrows will be able to pierce the steel armors and shields of the Hailen Principality’s forces? It’s only two months of march for them, even if they will be really slowed down. Sooner or later the Jarncare Grand Duchy will be forced to stand their ground in Great Battle, and they will lose,” Dan also argued his point confidently, certain that he was the one in the right.

    As a son of a blacksmith, Dan naturally knew a lot about weaponry. In his mind, a lightly armed army had virtually no chance of winning versus heavy forces. Despite being only twelve, Dan truly knew pretty much all there was to know about the normal kind of weapons of armors, so his confidence in the matter wasn’t unjustified. Dan’s father was a very famous blacksmith within the Sarkcente Kingdom, to the point that it wouldn’t be strange if he got awarded a nobility title as a reward for his services. Even Laien’s favorite short sword had been forged by Dan’s father and it definitely was a very solid and sharp piece of steel!

    “Long time before that they will die of hunger, heh,” Genzie shook his head, wondering how Dan could be so oblivious. “How do you expect to feed two hundred thousand soldiers for two months on the enemy ground? You think they can afford to spread thin to protect their supply lines? Ha! Now that Is a good joke!” Genzie crossed his arms over his chest, confident that Dan won’t be able to refute his point.

    “Hmph. And what about the villages and cities they will pass by? It’s obvious that they will pillage everything they can, supplies along with it,” Dan pointed out, quick to catch on the hardships of ordinary people as he had spent most of his life amongst the average citizens of Neil City. He knew a good deal more about the harsh reality compared to Genzie, who was closer to being a pampered young master.

    “Would you stay in a city if you knew that enemies are approaching and your forces will not protect you there? The Jarncare Grand Duchy is a country of steppes, the cavalry is their forte! Even commoners own horses. They will take everything they have and run east,” Genzie replied straightforwardly. As a nephew of the Keeper of Neil City, he had been taught a lot about the potential goods that one can trade for throughout the world. The Jarncare Grand Duchy, on that matter, was famous for owning a number of horses equal to its human population. Mobility wasn’t an issue there, even for the poorest of peasants.

    “And you think that those hundreds of thousands of people will flee, just like that? You think that all of them will care about the orders of the Grand Duke and leave their houses? They might as well stay and surrender,” Dan brought up another point, but having been driven into a corner by Genzie, he stopped making much sense.

    In Laien’s mind, something like that actually was unlikely to happen. People of the Great Plains were used to harsh life and moreover, they shared the feelings of mutual hatred with the people of the Hailen Principality, they also valued their pride above everything else. Laien found it hard to believe that people like those would just surrender to their sworn enemies and be as naïve to hope to be treated well after that.

    “I think you are wrong. You will see, the Jarncare Grand Duchy will win this war.” Genzie stated outright and chose to not engage in a pointless discussion where any arguments were lost and everything came to ‘how they felt’ about the whole thing. Dan similarly didn’t pursue the argument and fell silent, albeit he felt somewhat grumpy.

    Genzie and Dan were both children. One of them was eleven years old, the other was twelve. However, in two or three years the two of them would be considered to be adults, so they felt the need to show some restraint and not act like unreasonable children… well, at least not too often. They were both well educated in their own field of expertise; they came from good families. Acting at least slightly more mature than their peers was expected of them by their parents, so even when adults weren’t around, they were trying to meet those expectations.

    However… Dan simply couldn’t resist prolonging this discussion. “Hmph. Maybe so, maybe no. Laien, what do you think?” Dan looked at Laien, expecting him to solve the dispute between him and Genzie.

    “Yeah, tell us what your opinion is,” Genzie nodded, also interested in Laien’s point of view.

    Lately, Genzie and Dan found out that most of Laien’s past predictions had come true, so the two of them started relying on Laien to be something akin to a ‘judge’ in their arguments. Although Laien was younger than them, just ten years old, they respected his opinion and usually found it to be logical and reasonable, thus fairly convincing.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 1. It all began that day. (Part IV)


    “As the two of you are saying, both sides have their own advantages and plans. If we were to look at it like that, we wouldn’t be able to guess anything specific.” Laien chuckled, happy to explain. As a noble he naturally had a lot of free time, so he had a chance to learn a good deal more about the state of affairs in those two countries. Chatting with the various guards on the daily basis helped with gathering interesting information and news, too.

    “But, you are looking only at the wide perspective, as always. Did I not tell you to stop with that? Let’s see, for example, Hailen warriors advancing through the Jarncare Grand Duchy. Sure their heavy armor can stop an arrow, but can you wear it all the time? Not really. At least if you don’t want to exhaust your army and slow down way too much. Can you deploy enough scouts to prevent ambushes? Not with such a big cavalry disadvantage. Can you post guards outside camps or avoid spreading columns during the move? Again, you can’t. They would march until winter and then starve to death anyway if they did that,” Laien stopped elaborating for a second and looked at his friends, asking wordlessly if Genzie and Dan understood his point.

    “Then are you telling us that the Hailen Principality will be forced to retreat?” Dan looked a bit unhappy with this conclusion, not willing to accept that he was wrong. Yet, just as Genzie wanted to celebrate, Laien interrupted him. “Not necessarily. The Hailen Principality’s leading General in this campaign is the famed martial master, the ‘Black Lion’ Ceran Rozviel. He is over two hundred years old, said to have reached the fourth rank of the Realm of Heroes. He has a great amount of experience in the matters of warfare. Would he foolishly charge into the enemy territory without any plan whatsoever?” Laien pointed out with a cheeky smile.

    Genzie and Dan were surprised by this piece of information. News of this war had only recently reached Neil City, so the details like who the commander general of each army was were pretty much unknown to the wide public.

    “Then, what does he want to do? Do you know?” Genzie urged Laien to keep talking, being as impatient as always.

    “I can guess. You both should know that the current Grand Prince of the Hailen Principality doesn’t have any children, right?” Laien asked, to which Genzie nodded, while Dan shook his head.

    “I didn’t know. So it’s connected to their royal family? Some kind of alliance with another country?” Dan inquired, guessing this much easily enough after hearing Laien’s words.

    “Yeah, something like that. I also don’t know everything, but I heard bits here and there. I think it’s connected to the Rulan Principality. Currently, in the Hailen Principality, the position of the royal family is not at its best. If the current Grand Prince dies with no direct successor, most likely the many Dukes will start fighting over the crown under that pretense… Just those few nephews of the Grand Prince won’t be able to claim the throne without sparking a civil war. So my guess is that Julies, I mean, the Grand Prince, made deal with the Rulan Principality’s ruler. Something along the lines of ‘We will marry one of our Princesses to your successor and in the future, merge both Principalities and create a Kingdom.’, or something similar,“ Laien shrugged his shoulders, finishing the long explanation. The whole theory was one big wild guess of his, but he felt fairly confident in its accuracy.

    Genzie and Dan looked at Laien, puzzled by his words. Dan sighed, not really trying to understand anything anymore. He liked talking about war, but politics weren’t for him.

    “Marrying a Princess off?” So they just want to keep their well-being, even if it means losing the right to rule? Well, we can’t really blame them, huh. But why this war, then? There are no words about the Rulan Principality moving its armies. Did they betray?” Genzie inquired, intrigued by the new perspective.

    “I think they need some great case for their people to not rebel when they announce it. Gaining a lot of land in a manner where it’s the Rulan Principality that has a major claim to them can make even nobles reconsider. I would guess that in about a month the Rulan Principality will begin an all-out attack. There is no way the Jarncare Grand Duchy can defend if two great armies attack them at once, with one doing it at an unexpected moment. Well, there is also a possibility of the Rulan Principality betraying, but they don’t stand to gain much from that. Soo… Well, yeah. That’s more or less it,” Laien explained in detail, maybe even in too much detail. Thankfully, Genzie didn’t mind listening to a somewhat longish answer to his question.

    “Yeah, if I were in those nobles’ shoes, then between starting another great war or gaining new lands while forming a union, I would rather choose a safer path,” Genzie mused aloud, agreeing with the points made by Laien.

    Just as Genzie finished speaking, Dan laughed loudly, then embraced Laien’s shoulders with his arm. “Our little Laien is growing up to be so smart! Your big brother is proud of you!” Dan teased with a loud laugh

    Laien chuckled, feeling somewhat embarrassed. Even though he wasn’t that much younger than Dan, standing next to this huge, muscular youth he really felt like a small boy. “Okay, okay, stop hugging me you big bastard. Look there, we can see the lake already. Let’s get in before I melt,” Laien said with a smile and pointed ahead with his finger.

    The boys only now realized that they could already see the cold, refreshing water. Immediately all five of them, including Laien, ran ahead and hurriedly left their bags and the outer layers of their clothes on the grass, then ran into the lake.

    The three girls giggled at once, amused to see such typical boy-like behavior. The younger of two sisters, Lina, followed the boys without much care, leaving most of her clothing behind on the ground. Hana, being a bit older, hesitated. “I wish I was still seven like Lina, it’s so embarrassing!” Hana thought helplessly. She was already eleven and recently, she started being self-conscious around boys and moreover, noticing that her breasts were slowly growing did not help to relieve her stress at all.

    “Big sis, come on! Why are you still standing there? Play with us!” Lina called out to her older sister, waving her hand.

    “She is too shy, haha. What are you worried about, Hana? We have all seen you naked many times~”  Dan teased, laughing loudly.

    Hearing the incredibly annoying comment of Dan’s, Hana's cheeks turned red from anger and embarrassment. She picked up a round stone, regretting that she was not yet allowed to carry her sword around. With a short, quick swing she threw the stone directly at Dan.

    In the air, the small round rock actually created a clear ‘swish’ sound before slamming directly into Dan’s stomach. Being a martial practitioner, Hana had enough strength to seriously wound, or even to kill a normal person with a simple throw like that. However, as for Dan, the rock has only startled him and left a barely visible bruise on his muscular body.

    Even though as a martial practitioner, Dan was only at the second mortal rank, his toughness and strength were way above that of Hana’s, who has reached the third rank as a martial practitioner at the tender age of eleven. After all, any blacksmith needed to be powerfully built to do his job well, so the difference between the two was only natural.

    Dan looked at Hana with a smirk, his gaze seemed to be saying something along the lines of “Did you do something just now? I didn’t notice~”

    Hana shook her head helplessly, not knowing what to say. “What am I even getting all worked about with this bunch of idiots anyway…” Deciding that it was pointless to be getting angry and worked-up because of Dan’s stupid comments, Hana stripped her shirt and without covering herself up with her hands or anything, walked up to the others through the shallow water at the lakeside.

    “I wish it hurt you a little more, you big idiot,” Hana commented with a smile, giving Dan a resigned look. Awaiting his response, she kept staring in his eyes as if she intended to challenge him. Every trace of her previous shyness seemed to be gone as she stood straight, holding her hands on her hips.

    Surprisingly, as she waited for him to say something, Hana noticed that Dan started to blush a bit. “Hmmm? What is it? Are you actually the one embarrassed to see me now? C’mon, don’t be too shy~”  she asked with an evil smile on her face.

    Dan was rather startled by this development, so he rebuked, trying to avoid looking at Hana. “Embarrassed about what? Seeing this childish body of yours? As if!”

    Hearing this, the ever short-tempered Hana snapped and delivered a heavy kick at Dan’s groin. As Dan was looking away at the moment, he naturally had no way to know what was coming at him. Laien, Genzie, Rune and Talian trembled slightly as Hana’s leg landed with a loud ‘thud’. Genzie lowered his head and clasped his hands, wishing Dan to rest in peace.

    “You were asking for it,” Hana said with a hint of guilt present in her voice and retreated a few steps, looking at Dan who was holding his private parts with both hands, his body bent in half.

    “Y-you damned man-woman, I’m going to kill you!” Dan roared, trying to catch his breath. Hana only pouted, jumping into the deeper water in one big leap. “Try it if you can, idiot!” she shouted, swimming away.

    “Ah, the usual thing,” the thought crossed Laien’s mind as he smiled leisurely, admiring the beautiful scenery. This ‘Blueside Lake’, as they liked to call it, was one of largest lakes in the whole Great Forest. From the Spike Mountains to the north-east flowed a stream, supplying the Blueside Lake with fresh water. This stream, after passing through the Blueside Lake, flowed directly into the Neil River and then, around a hundred kilometers further to the south, connected with the Great Southern Sea.

    The Blueside Lake was located in a wild part of the Great Forest, where Valius family rarely hunted because of the unfavorable terrain. With ancient trees surrounding it from every side, it had a certain, mysterious and ancient feeling to it. However, the usually so calm and peaceful scenery was being disrupted by Dan and Hana who were having a bout with each other.

    “It’s never boring with those two around,” Laien murmured, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

    “Both of them are so stupid, don’t you think so too, big brother?” Lina commented wryly, laying on the water and gazing at the blue sky over the crowns of the trees.

    Laien nodded, agreeing silently. It was obvious to anyone but those two that they liked each other quite a bit.

    “How can they be so dense? They even always hang out together…” Everyone seemed to be thinking the same thing.

    “Siana, won’t you play with us?” Laien asked and was met with an instant rejection. Just by seeing this expression of hers, Laien knew that sitting there besides a tree was the extent of what Siana was willing to do. Leaving this worry alone for now, Laien kicked the rocky ground and jumped dozen of meters forward with relative ease. He jumped two more times, then pierced through the surface of the water and dove deep into the lake.

    If there was something amazing about the Blueside lake, then sure enough, it was its depth. Compared to any other lake in the Great Forest, its bottom was hidden much deeper than one would have expected.

    Diving deeper and deeper, Laien felt the pressure rising rapidly. Had it been a year before, he wouldn’t have been able to reach the very bottom at nearly two hundred meters below the surface. However, now that he has reached the peak of the third rank as a martial practitioner, his body became incomparably tougher than before. Unless attacked with a great deal of force, he wouldn’t be wounded by any weapons of a lower quality. His skin, muscles and bones were simply too tough. With his body being so strong, diving deep into the waters of the Blueside lake became possible for him, too.

    After Laien passed the halfway point, everything around became completely dark. Light could only reach so far, after all. Laien smiled unconsciously and released some of his spiritual energy, mixing it with the water in a radius of roughly two meters. As a water-element spiritual practitioner, after employing his spiritual energy, he could ‘feel’ any liquid as if it was a part of his own body. The ability was pretty useful for diving, but apart from that, it didn’t matter that much.

    As for how it felt for Laien to be aware of the water around him… for someone who had never experienced such feeling, it would be impossible to truly understand or even imagine it. The closest to truth explanation would be saying that one could ‘see’ his surroundings in colorless outer shapes, while everything outside the reach of his spiritual energy would be a completely unknown, pitch-black world to him.

    Laien always wanted to check what was there, on the very bottom of Blueside Lake. Dreaming about finding priceless treasures in everyday places was a part of every child’s nature. Laien, too, liked to imagine himself finding something that would solve all his problems and grant him an unimaginable power. A power comparable to that person’s…

    Swimming through dark water, Laien wondered how long will his breath hold out. Right now he felt completely fine, so he continued searching for treasures. While having some hope, he didn’t really believe in finding anything, but just the excitement of doing something like this gave him a strange sense of pleasure.

    Searching through the whole bottom of the lake took Laien only two or three minutes. He was kind of disappointed, as all he found was mud and stones. Deciding that it would be a shame to not bring something with him, he randomly grabbed a few small pebbles close to him and started surfacing unhurriedly.

    “My body really got quite strong, Master’s training is truly effective. Other martial practitioners at the third rank shouldn’t be able to stay this deep for so long. Hehe. It was worth enduring this hell for two years,” Laien mused silently, very happy to see that his bitter training was producing results.

    Meanwhile, on the surface.

    “Laien sure is taking his time, how long has it been? Close to ten minutes?” Genzie commented quietly, yet he didn’t feel worried at all… Well, maybe just a little bit.

    Looking around, Genzie saw Dan and Hana talking with each other, he also noticed Lina spying on the two while pretending to not be listening. As for the other two, Talian was napping on the grass and Rune trying to approach Siana. Only he had nothing to do at the moment. “Maybe I should find myself a girlfriend soon… But a girl can be such a pain in the ass sometimes…” he thought aloud, then sighed.

    Just as Genzie was slowly sinking in his thoughts, Laien surfaced, unhurriedly catching his breath.

    “There you are, finally. I was worried if you haven’t drowned yourself, you know?” Genzie said with a laugh, but Laien, instead of replying just ignored him and didn’t even turn around. Intrigued, Genzie swam closer, only to see Laien smile widely while looking at his open palm. “What is making you so ha-?!” Surprised, Genzie cut his words mid-sentence. “Are these…?” he asked quietly, whispering for some reason.

    “They are, they are! I can actually fill them with my spiritual energy! These two small pebbles are actually elemental stones! And what’s more, they are suited to me, they are water-type elemental stones! Hah, I would never have expected to find them here, in the depths of our Blueside lake,” Laien replied excitedly, also speaking in a low voice. These two stones that were of the size of his fingertips were quite valuable and useful; especially for him, as they were compatible with his elemental affinity.

    “They accumulate here, in the depths? Who would have thought! You really are lucky, Laien. Even though they are only low-grade elemental stones and are quite small, they are restricted to the military use and it’s very hard to buy them, even if you have enough money… You’d better not mention them to anyone. Without proper documents, any guard can confiscate them from you,” Genzie advised, then added with a chuckle. “Make sure to keep it a secret from Dan, you know of his long tongue, don’t you?” he pointed out, after what the two of them laughed. Laien agreed completely, it would be for the best if he kept this matter a secret from everyone, even from his friends.

    For a second, Genzie hesitated, obviously thinking about something. He let out a long sigh, then took off a ring from his finger. “Take it, this way you can gather them all at once. It would be suspicious if someone were to notice that you kept entering and leaving the Great Forest every day and knowing you, you wouldn’t be patient enough to wait, right?” he said with a meaningful smile, handing the ring to Laien.

    “You sure? This thing is quite pricey. Even more so than a dozen of low-grade elemental stones. How much would it be in coins? Ten thousand gold coins, or even more?” Laien asked, not too sure if accepting a gift so precious was really fine. It should be understood that for an ordinary person to live through one whole year at most two or three gold coins were needed. A good horse could cost up to ten gold coins and a set of heavy armor up to a few hundred. Ten thousand? Not even that many nobles could afford to spend such extravagant amount casually and Genzie was about to do just that!

    “It’s only a low-grade interspatial ring. I will be twelve in two months, I will ask father for a better one. This one’s inner space is a sphere with a radius of roughly twenty centimeters, it won’t be useful to me for much longer anyhow. Just take it,” Genzie made up a random excuse and stuffed the interspatial ring into Laien’s hand.

    Laien shook his head resignedly. He could tell that Genzie was not telling truth at all. Not only having more interspatial rings would be useful for anyone, Genzie could instead ask his father for something else for his twelfth birthday. But nevertheless, Laien accepted the gift. After all, how could he possibly have a chance to obtain an interspatial ring in the near future? Silently, he promised himself to one day repay this favor.

    “Thanks,” Laien said gratefully, then poured some of his spiritual energy into the interspatial ring and inspected its contents ring. Inside, he found a few dozen gold coins, some precious gems and even a few small bottles of poisons and antidotes. Overall, everything was very likely worth close to one thousand gold coins! Not knowing what to say anymore, Laien gave Genzie a troubled look and scratched his head.

    “Don’t be looking at me as if you are about to fall in love, just go get those stones already, okay?” Genzie commented with a laugh. Given how wealthy his family was, he could afford to help his friend out. Money was after all only money, nothing less, nothing more. It wasn’t the most important thing in the world.

    Slightly ashamed of himself, Laien still couldn’t wipe the stupid smile from his face. He stored the two low-grade elemental stones in his new interspatial ring and after nodding to Genzie, he dove into the water again.

    “Having an interspatial ring will be quite convenient. I won’t need to check all the pebbles one by one, I can just store a handful of them into the interspatial ring and check if they absorb spiritual energy while they are inside it,” Laien thought happily, knowing quite well how interspatial rings worked. It was just that he just never had one before, not until today, that is.

    What Laien didn’t get to see, was that Genzie’s casual attitude and worriless aura disappeared very quickly. With his eyes half closed, Genzie cursed in his heart. “Even though we are friends, he still didn’t say anything about his problems to me. Does he really think I wouldn’t notice his wounds and add everything up? This damned brat, if he goes overboard and dares to hurt Laien ever again I will ask Grandfather to deal with him all and for once. Hmph,” Genzie thought angrily, wishing that the Valius family could be dealt with already.

    For someone with Genzie’s background, one low-grade interspatial ring and items worth one thousand gold coins were truly nothing. Items of such quality, he could get as many as he wanted. As for Laien, however, even though he was formally a part of the Valius family, he couldn’t count on sharing in the clan’s wealth. His position within the family truly was a very problematic one, too.

    “I’d like to give you more, but I know that you wouldn’t accept it, knowing your character… and Grandfather wouldn’t let it slide, either. Wish me luck, I will wish it for you, too.” Genzie murmured, staring at the now calm surface of the Blueside lake.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 1. It all began that day. (Part V)


    “Big brother sure is stubborn, he went down to search again.” Sitting next to Siana, Rune tried to somehow strike up a conversation, but he got thoroughly ignored. Yet, this time he noticed that Siana got more gloomy just as he said the words ‘big brother’. Wondering if that was the source of the problem, he decided to simply ask.

    “You don’t like when I call Laien ‘big brother’?”

    Siana gazed at Rune, revealing no expression at all just like always, however with one exception. The look in her eyes wasn’t lazily-bored, but instead, it was surprised. With a quiet ‘hmph’, Siana looked away from Rune, leaving his question without any comment.

    Rune tried not to, but he couldn’t help but burst out laughing. “She’s actually jealous of me? When I am jealous of big brother? This is so stupid!” he thought as he tried to muffle his laughs and chuckles.

    After enduring for a short while, Siana turned around, her face strongly blushed, “Stop laughing you idiot! What, am I wrong to be angry at you? You… You…. Aaah!” she shouted, but just couldn’t force those last words out as they were way too embarrassing to say out loud. Pulling her legs tightly to her chest, she hid her face and grumbled. “Stupid… Stupid… Both of you are stupid!”

    Maybe he shouldn’t have, however at this moment, Rune was incredibly happy. For the first time, Siana spoke to him and even showed him such a cute face. He had thought that Siana was beautiful ever since he saw her two and a half years ago, but it was just that, nothing more. He actually started having feelings for her only a few months ago, when he had seen her expression as she was talking alone with Laien. That she could reveal so much, look so unimaginably cute… How could he not fall for her? Ice princesses whose hearts could be melted, many boys dreamed about such girls.

    “Yeah, I am stupid. I was jealous of big brother when you were jealous of me. Doesn’t it make both of us equally stupid?” Rune said with a smile, peeking at Siana from the corner of his eye.

    Siana cooled down a bit, then also peeked at Rune, slowly realizing the meaning of his words. She had more or less guessed that Rune was interested in her, but she would have never thought that Rune could be envious of her big brother in the same way she was envious of Rune himself. Realizing how truly stupid this situation was, Siana laughed, and that laugh was truly a sweet one.

    For a long while, Rune was at a loss for words and only stared at Siana with a half-conscious, dreamy gaze.

    “Mm? What, you don’t want to talk anymore and are satisfied with just staring at me?” Siana asked with a quiet chuckle, feeling much better disposed towards Rune now than before.

    Flabbergasted, Rune shook his head trying to come back to his senses. “I, I was just surprised… are you sure you want to talk with me? You aren’t making fun of me, are you?” he asked rather nervously. He could hardly believe that Siana changed her mind just like that, after refusing to talk with him for so long.

    “Well… It’s not like I had any specific reason not to talk with you, apart from you know what, so I might as well do. Big brother likes you, after all,” Siana replied truthfully, but her words only made Rune sigh secretly.

    “No way around it, I just need to get used to big brother being everywhere, eh?” Rune wondered silently, reluctantly accepting that Siana really had no one but her big brother in her eyes. “At least you seem more cheerful now, for you to smile when talking with someone else but Big Brother, I am so lucky~” he commented thoughtlessly, only after a second or two realizing that he blurted out something stupid.

    Siana pouted slightly, however, the next moment her face sank as she remembered something unpleasant.

    “Uh, what is it?” Rune asked, hoping that Siana’s worsening mood wasn’t directly related to that comment of his.

    Seeing Rune worry like this, Siana smiled just a little bit. Giving it some thought, she spoke again.

    “Hey, if I will tell you something, will you promise to keep it a secret from everyone?” Siana asked quietly, tired of keeping this secret buried in her heart.

    “I promise,” Rune replied instantly. His heart skipped a beat when Siana scooted over to him, seating herself close enough for their thighs to be touching each other.

    “Is she so clueless, or is she doing it on purpose? Her face is like a mask, I can’t even tell, damn it!” Rune swallowed, giving his best to keep his calm. At his age, he was quite self-conscious around girls, but still, as he was only seven years old, his ‘love’ was still quite pure and childlike.

    For those who were living in the far north of the Starlight continent, having a seven-year-old know about the matters that were supposed to be only taught to adults would be unthinkable. However, it wasn’t so in the Sarkcente Kingdom, which was located at the very southern edge of the Starlight continent. Here, in the south, children were considered to become mature at the age of twelve and at the age of sixteen, they would be viewed as full-fledged adults.

    In the south, perhaps only some young masters from great clans who had been sheltered throughout their entire lives would be unaware of sexual matters. As for everyone else? Kids of commoners and the very majority of young nobles were generally interested in the opposite gender when they reached the age of eight or so. Naturally, however, their relationships turned more intimate only after they hit puberty a few years later.

    “Hey, you sure you are listening to me? You seem to be dozing off…” Siana’s voice brought Rune back to reality, as he truly had dozed off for a moment or two.

    “Sorry, I kinda… Um, could you please repeat?” Rune apologized, ashamed of himself. How could he start daydreaming when he finally had a chance to chat with Siana?

    Siana chuckled at Rune’s awkward apology and his worried expression. “I didn’t say anything yet, you know, hehe,” she said with a laugh, hiding her smile behind her hand.

    Completely speechless, Rune suddenly thought that dealing with Siana might not be as easy and pleasurable as he had thought, even after he finally managed to get her to stop ignoring him.

    After a short while, Siana followed through with the talk. “Mm, let’s say that there was someone you hated, and he kept doing bad things to you… and then that someone died, but because of that, bad things would start happening to someone else you cared about… What would you do?” she explained vaguely and asked, troubled over what he should do in such a situation.

    Rune was slightly confused by the whole strange setup, so he needed to take a while to think what Siana said through before answering. “Umm, I don’t really know… Was it because of me that this bad person died?” He asked, reasoning in the most simple of ways.

    Siana wondered for a second, only now trying to put her feelings into certain words. As she was thinking, even before she said anything, a small smile rose to her lips. “No, it wouldn’t be because of you, that he died, but… you would have wished that he died for a long time… and you would have known all along that if he died, then you will have it easier, but someone else will likely need to suffer as a result…” Siana explained with a sigh but didn’t stop smiling nevertheless. After this simple exchange of words, she understood that it wasn’t her fault. She truly felt like laughing, although just by looking at her appearance, possibly only Laien would be able to tell.

    “Why did I even worry about something so stupid? It’s not my fault that Tei’Ru died, Big brother wouldn’t be angry at me even if I told him that I am relieved he is dead, I am sure,” she said to herself, already feeling much lighter at heart.

    “Um, if it wasn’t because of me, then I don’t think I would be too worried about all of that. Maybe it’s not nice to feel good about another person’s misfortune, but if it was your friend, then how about helping him, so he won’t be alone with his problems?” Rune spoke up, not realizing that Siana didn’t need to be comforted anymore. As he finished saying what he did, Rune also realized that he stopped pretending that Siana wasn’t talking about herself. Worried that she will be angry because of that, he hurriedly tried to correct herself, but he got cut-off halfway through his apology.

    “Don’t worry about it, I was talking about myself anyway,” Siana said with a laugh and in a very Laien-like manner, shrugged her shoulder.

    Rune looked Siana with wide eyes, feeling thoroughly confused. At one time, Siana appeared to be saddened by something, then she would ask for his opinion, only to after all act as if the whole matter wasn’t that important anyway? What in the world was going on in her head?! “Big brother, save me… How come you always talk with her like it’s completely normal and easy? It’s not at all!” Rune groaned silently, the perfect image of Siana he had had slowly beginning to crumble.

    After this short conversation with Siana, Rune started feeling that having any relationship with her would be too much for his nerves. Even though the idea was enticing, her personality… simply wasn’t what he thought it was; it wasn’t even close. When in his heart, Rune decided to just leave it as ’being friends with a little sister of his best friend’, everything suddenly became much easier.

    “Eh, I don’t really understand, but you seem to be better now,” Rune said with a slight smile. “Can you maybe tell me who were you talking about, apart from yourself?” he inquired, interested in the details. He could guess who Siana referred to well enough by himself, now that his mind has cleared from unnecessary thoughts, but he wanted to hear it from Siana, just to be sure.

    “It’s not that big of a secret anyway, others would tell you soon even if I don’t. So, I might as well tell you. The one who died is Tei’ru, and the one who has trouble now is big brother,” Siana stated, sighing a little. She still felt bad about the whole thing, but not nearly as much as before. Now, she could deal with those emotions on her own; she wouldn’t be crying because of them anymore.

    “Uuh, as I thought, these wounds aren’t from his training. Big brother didn’t say anything about them, so I didn’t ask either… How come he got beat up? He is close reaching the fourth rank as a martial practitioner, there shouldn’t be anyone our age who could beat him in a fight…?” Rune asked uncertainly, wondering what could have happened. He has had more than one chance to see Laien sparring with Hana and the other disciples of the martial school her parents were running and every time, Laien dominated his fights with ease. Only significantly older opponents were any match for him.

    During this brief moment of silence, Siana noticed Laien appearing on the surface of the lake. Since he didn’t go down again but instead began swimming towards the lakeside, she called out to him. “Big brother! Come here for a second!” she yelled, startling Rune and everyone else, including Laien himself. She has never spoken much with Laien’s friends, little to say about shouting to Laien in their presence. Thus, an unexpected behavior of hers caused everyone to become curious. Soon, not only Laien but everyone was gathered at the same spot, waiting for Siana to say what she wanted of her brother.
       
    “Big brother, you only explained vaguely when we talked about why you got yourself beaten up. I am sure everyone is worried, too. How about you just tell us everything?” Siana declared straightforwardly without beating around the bush.

    Laien stayed quiet for a second, revealing a surprised expression. “How did it come to this? Ugh, I guess that it was naive of me to think that I can keep it a secret from everyone to not worry them.” Shaking his head, Laien sat down on the grass in front of Siana and Rune and gestured others to sit down, too. After they were all seated, he began explaining.

    “It’s actually quite a simple matter. All of you know that I and Jasi do not fare well. The only reason why he didn’t dare to do anything was because Tei’ru had doted on me, strangely enough. Now that Tei’ru is dead, Jasi decided that it’s time to vent his frustration and he sent some of his friends to beat me up this morning. Well, if he stops at that, it will be fine. If no… Eh. I will think about it then. No use worrying about it now, I guess,” Laien shrugged his shoulders, making it look like he wasn’t considering this even to be anything too important and in fact, he truly did not. He fully expected Jasi to bully him after Tei’ru’s death, so he was prepared to though through this period of time until Jasi would get bored with him and would hopefully leave him alone.

    The casual tone in which Laien spoke shocked everyone apart from Siana and Genzie. These two understood Laien the best out of their group of friends, maybe with the exception of Rune, who was too young to quickly follow Laien’s line of thoughts. Contrary to what one might think when seeing Laien and talking with him, the ten-year-old was actually quite stern and decisive when needed.

    “Letting them beat you instead of fighting back to get the better result in the end? Are you sure you are ten years old, Laien?” Genzie chuckled, asking with a smile. He knew about this matter beforehand, so the news didn’t disturb him. He could face the whole thing with a calm attitude, similarly to Laien himself.

    “I wish I could live like a normal ten-year-old, heh. I can’t really afford to do that, though. Anyway, it’s not like any of us here behaves his age, right? That’s why we are getting along with each other so well~” Laien said half-jokingly and managed to ease the tension in the air.

    “And you wanted to keep it a secret? You are so cruel, little brother,” Hana commented poutingly, albeit with a smile. She sneaked a quick glance at her little sister and gave her a meaningful smile.

    “Yeah, big brother really is daring, how about we punish him a little?” Lina picked on what her big sister intended to do and stood up, taking a step in Laien’s direction.

    “Haha, I think I know what you girls are planning! I am with you, how can our little bro not trust us? He needs to be punished!” Dan called out and joined in, fully expecting something amusing to happen.

    The remaining four youths also got on board with the idea, scary smiles forming on their faces.

    “Ugh… Well…” Laien laughed inwardly as he was being slowly surrounded. He breathed out and a hint of playfulness appeared in his gaze. He leaped off the ground and in but an instant arrived in front of Dan, attempting to rush past him.

    “As if!” Dan roared, reaching out with his arm and trying to grab Laien. However, being only a martial practitioner of the second rank and having a bit too much muscle, he failed to catch the swift, smaller boy. In the end, Laien simply passed by him and laughed merrily. Out of everyone here, he was definitely the strongest and the fastest one!

    “Catch me if you can!” Laien shouted, jumping on one of the lower branches of a huge, ancient tree. A game of tag might have been a normal game, but when children playing it were all martial practitioners, it truly began looking quite different.

    “Little brother really is a monster, I can’t believe I was worried about him for a second, hah. So… do we chase him?” Dan brought the question up, not really looking for an answer. It was obvious that they would chase Laien until they would finally catch and him and punish him for lying!

    However, just as Dan turned his eyes to look at everyone, a ball of water smashed at the top of his head. The sudden hit didn’t hurt him at all, but surely enough startled him quite a bit.

    “Whaaat, you giving up? Not chasing me anymore?” Laien teased, crouching on the branch of the nearby tree.

    “Whoa,” Laien chuckled as he jumped back, dodging a similar ball of water that Siana threw at him.  “She sure got good at using those simple spells lately… If only she trained her body more, she could be even stronger,” Laien thought to himself, looking at his little sister with a broad smile.

    Making use of his ‘Guardian’ which enabled him to use magic without chanting spells, Laien created three more balls of water and sent them flying at his friends, then ran into the forest. Along with a lot of laughing and fooling around, the game of tag continued for a good half an hour, until everybody got thoroughly exhausted from running around. Although it wasn’t for long, playing like this allowed them all to forget about their daily lives and just enjoy the moment. Each and every one of the eight of them enjoyed the time they were spending together from the bottom of their hearts.

    With a very satisfied smile on his face, Laien laid down on the grass near the Blueside lake. “Today was a good day,” he thought contentedly. He was happy not only for himself but also for Siana, who finally played with everyone for the first time and from the looks of it, enjoyed it as much as he did.

    “Let’s eat something, then we can rest for a bit before returning to our homes,” Genzie suggested and everybody agreed with him. After all, that was what they were planning to do anyway. Even if the Great Forest was a safe place during the day, it wouldn’t be impossible to meet a magical beast in it during the night. None of them would be reckless enough to take a risk like that for no apparent reason.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 1. It all began that day. (Part VI)


    The eight youths spent their time on resting and eating their very late lunch. Only Rune and Talian were chatting so everyone else, not having anything better to do, listened to them with one ear as they munched their sandwiches.

    “So you will be staying over for a year? It sucks that your dad needs to be stationed on the borders,” Rune said, trying to console his cousin in a way.

    Talian only nodded and didn’t respond to Rune’s words. Others might have felt ignored and would have stopped talking, but Rune knew that it was just how Talian was. He never liked talking too much, even more so when he was in a bad mood.

    “Want me to help you get your clothes? We could all help carrying your things over to my house on our way back,” Rune looked around and seeing that nobody had anything against the idea, smiled happily, then shifted his gaze back at Talian.

    “Don’t worry, it’s going to be all right. Nothing will happen to your dad. It’s not like we are at war with anyone, he will stay in the garrison for a year and then he will come back.” Despite saying so, Rune was worried about Talian’s father, too. He remembered that Talian’s mother had been a martial practitioner, just like his father. However, she had lost her life in an unlucky encounter with a group of bandits during a regular patrol three years ago.

    “I hope so,” Talian said quietly and sighed a little. He wasn’t one to easily take other’s words for granted, but knowing that Rune had lost his father in a similar manner to him losing his mother, in a skirmish with bandits from the Anarchic Lands to the north, he could believe in Rune’s honest intentions. As a result, he ended up feeling a bit better and cheered up a little.

    Some time later, the eight youths returned to the mansion of the Valius family, entering by the small back gate. The two guards stationed there greeted Laien with a smile. “Don’t be coming back so late, boy, it’s dangerous to wander around at this hour,” one of them warned lightheartedly, to which Laien responded with a simple nod. Since he wasn’t truly a noble of the Valius family, he ended up having a good relationship with the majority of the guards in the mansion. However, them calling him ‘boy’ was only something that would be done when no unfamiliar people were around.

    As the group of friends was walking through the open grounds, Laien suddenly frowned, spotting the three faces he would have rather not seen ever again. “What do you want?” he asked sourly, stopping with everyone as the three older boys blocked their way.

    “Hmph, what could we want from a trash like you? If not for young master Jasi’s orders, we wouldn’t bother looking at you, not to mention speaking with you,” one of the three teenagers said with a snort, totally looking down at Laien.

    “If that’s all, then we will be going…” Laien shook his head, trying his best not to show how angry he was. He wanted to walk past the three older boys but to no avail. Seeing their vicious smiles, Laien cursed inwardly. “They are enjoying it, being all happy that they can bully me again… Only at the early stages of the third mortal rank, they are asking for it!” Laien thought silently, holding himself back from rebuking the three.

    “If only I was as strong as him…” he groaned in his thoughts, thinking back to the person he often saw in his dreams. “Were it to be so powerful, I wouldn’t need to be so worried about something as stupid as being bullied by some pampered young master…” he mused bitterly, wishing that he could already be strong enough to at least be capable of protecting himself and those dear to him.

    “When young master heard that you went playing with your friends as if nothing happened, he got angry at us, you know? It seems that we went too easy on you in the morning. Don’t worry, though. Next time we will make sure to do our job properly,” the teenage youth said with an evil chuckle, then left with his two companions.

    “At least they have enough common sense not to attack me in a place like this, with guards peeking from afar…” Laien thought with a sigh. He had been hoping that Jasi would be satisfied after having him beaten up, but apparently, the young master wanted him to suffer more. “I need to do something about it before it gets too dangerous,” Laien shook his head, wondering if there really was something he could do to fix this situation.

    “This can’t go on like this. Laien, don’t worry, I will do something about it, maybe I will persuade Grandfather to lend you a hand,” Genzie said with a determined look in his eyes. If that person was to really put Laien behind his back, then forget about Jasi, even Garon, the current clan leader, wouldn’t dare to touch a hair on Laien’s head!

    “Don’t bother him, you already did enough to help me. I will try resolving this myself. Although, if there will be nothing I can do, I will come to ask you for help. I promise, okay?” Laien refused tacitly, not wanting to create any trouble for Genzie’s family. As he saw it, although they had a fairly high position in Neil City, they couldn’t compare to the Valius Family. They would suffer too much of a loss if they were to give him their backing; he didn’t want to be an unnecessary weight for them.

    Faced with such words from Laien, Genzie reluctantly agreed. He knew full well how unlikely it was for his Grandfather to act for Laien’s sake, thus since Laien promised to ask for help if when he truly needs it, he could only leave the matter at that.

    Noticing how worried everyone looked, Laien scratched his head and attempted to reassure awkwardly. “Don’t worry about it. I know that if you could, you would have helped somehow. I will manage,” he said with a light smile but managed to get the opposite effect than the one intended.

    “Eh, what do I do? Even the atmosphere between us got soiled,” Laien groaned in his heart. It wasn’t that he hadn’t thought about what to do if Jasi continues bullying him, but he couldn’t come up with any idea to solve the situation. He didn’t know anyone influential enough who could possibly help him suppress Jasi, he couldn’t fight back… was to bear with anything they were doing to him really the only option he had?

    “I might as well surrender then,” Laien thought ironically and unexpectedly, arrived at a solution. “Right, I could just go to him and try apologizing for whatever he dislikes me for! There was this option!” he realized, the idea hitting him like a ton of bricks. Even though he would need to push his pride aside and lower his head, it would still be better than bringing danger not only upon himself but also his little sister and his friends. If a little humiliation could solve everything, then he would tough through it and wait for the time when he can get back at Jasi at the time when he would get stronger.

    “Everyone, I’m going to try talking it out with Jasi. I will tell you how it went tomorrow, okay? Siana, go back to our room by yourself. I will come back later, so go to sleep before me,” Laien declared with a confident, but not too happy smile.

    Hearing him say so, everybody was started at first, but then quickly realized what he intended to do. Some of them, like Genzie, would have liked to accompany him… but, they knew it wasn’t a place for them to get involved. Thus, reluctantly, they all consented with Laien’s decision and after exchanging a few more sentences, they headed back to their homes.

    On a side note, due to what happened, helping Talian move his belongings had been completely forgotten, even by Talian himself.

    ---

    Moments later, Laien arrived at the eastern wing of the Valius mansion, at the place where Jasi lived. Guessing which room belonged to the young master was simplicity in itself as it was guarded by two high ranked martial practitioners. “Core members of the family sure receive good treatment, huh. I wonder how much pocket money he gets,” Laien smirked, somewhat jealous of Jasi’s lot in life. Jasi was ten just like him, but he had his family and needed not to worry about anything. His possibilities were truly limitless!

    The two guards exchanged a curious glance, seeing an unknown child approach them. They didn’t recognize Laien as they had always been Jasi’s private bodyguards and as a result, they didn’t involve themselves with the regular guards of the mansion too much. However, they were intelligent enough to realize that Laien must be a part of the Valius family, as no one else would have been allowed to enter so far into the main mansion.

    “Does the young master expect you, young one?” one of the two guards asked amiably, not considering Laien to be of any threat whatsoever. He didn’t even mind the short sword at Laien’s waist, as these times many young nobles liked to stroll around with their weapons in the open.

    “Yes,” Laien lied with a straight face and nodded with a smile. He didn’t want to bother with explaining why he came. If he were to be let in without problems, these two men would probably forget about him in a day or two. On the other hand, if he argued his way through, they would remember that incident and gossip about it later. Laien simply preferred to keep the whole thing as small and unknown as possible, partially because of his pride and partially to make it easier for Jasi to let him be. The fewer people knew, the less ‘responsibility’ Jasi would have to punish him for whatever he had offended him with.

    The two guards, not finding anything suspicious in Laien’s behavior, decided to let him through without any further questions. It wasn’t up to them to discern whether the youth in front of them was lying or not. In the worst case scenario, he would get thrown out by Jasi and that would be it. They hadn’t received any orders to not let anyone in, after all, and to be completely honest… they didn’t like dealing with Jasi that much anyway, so they cared little about a slight neglect of their duties.

    “So big, he even seems to have his own bathroom here. Must feel good to live in such a nice place,” Laien sighed bitterly, forcing himself not to look at the beautiful ornaments, valuable oriental furs and many, many other very expensive goods. He took a deep breath, then walked into the room from which the sounds of a casual talk of a few youths were coming.

    The five youths looked at Laien, surprised by his sudden appearance. Apart from Jasi, Laien recognized one of the four older teenagers. The well-built, brown-haired fifteen-year-old was called Cran and was the only son of a powerful martial master. As for the other three, Laien didn’t know them. They all seemed to be around fourteen to sixteen years old, though.

    “Are you going to just stare like that, after coming uninvited? Did you forget tongue in your mouth?” Jasi asked with a clear frown on his face, however, he didn’t tell Laien to leave. He could throw him out at any time he wanted, but Laien obviously wanted something of him. Since Laien was presenting himself on a silver plate, how could he not use this opportunity to its fullest?

    “Is it fine if we talk with them here?” Laien asked, not knowing whether these four were in the inner circle of Jasi’s friends or if they just happened to be here today.

    “Hmph, a lowlife like you wants to tell us to leave? Think again!” before Jasi said anything, one of the short-tempered youths barked angrily.

    Laien glanced at Jasi but saw that he seemed to have no intention of interfering. His look was saying something along the lines of ‘take care of it yourself if you want to talk with me’.

    Suppressing a sigh, Laien swallowed his pride and forced out an apology. “I apologize, It was my mistake. Please forget about that,” he said and lowered his head, doing his best not to leak any anger or frustration into his voice.  However, when he looked up at the five, it could be seen that his face was slightly flushed from anger and shame.

    “Haha, just that? You don’t really believe it will be enough for us to forgive you? You’d better fall on your knees and start begging, brat,” the youth declared with contempt, knowing that the more miserable he makes Laien, the more favor of Jasi he will gain.

     Laien just looked at brown-haired young man spewing gibberish, trying to not explode.

    As Laien was giving his best to not explode with anger, Cran leaned back on his chair and clenched his fist, suppressing the trembling of his body. “As scary as always. What a powerful killing intent,” Cran murmured to himself, holding back a smile. Thanks to this very killing intent he had awakened a battle sense while sparring with Laien, so of course, he was quite grateful to the youth, although the person in question wasn’t quite aware of this gratitude of his.

    Generally speaking, only practitioners who approached the Realm of Heroes or those who had faced many life-or-death struggled were capable of awakening a battle sense and thus, sensing a killing intent and much more. For Cran, who was widely considered a young prodigy of the Red Dragon School, awakening his battle sense early was a point of honor. However, even after being taken by his father to participate in the real battles on the borders, he failed to make his breakthrough.

    Only one year ago did his battle sense awaken, making him the number one, undisputed genius of his generation within the Red Dragon School. Yet, the circumstances surrounding that event were quite peculiar. Last year, he had caught a few younger disciples of his school on fighting with a kid in one of the alleys in the city. His first thought had been to stop them immediately, but as he approached, a frighteningly strong killing intent swept over him, putting all his sense into the state of a great alarm. Back then, he, the fearless prodigy of the Red Dragon School, had trembled in fear before a mere nine-year-old, before a random martial practitioner of the second rank.

    After he had watched Laien just barely win against five youths his age, on the spur of the moment, he had decided to help him and at the same time, benefit of off him. He had used his influence to cover the whole fight up, then he had gotten Laien to spar with him on a regular basis. Although Laien’s killing intent wouldn’t appear unless he was pushed into a corner, those sessions allowed him to very quickly awaken his battle sense; at the age of fourteen, no less.

    During this dozen or so seconds when Cran reminisced the past, Laien has finally made his choice. He breathed out and relaxed his body. Feeling something break deep inside him, he fell to his knees and bowed. “I beg you to forgive me for my rudeness, young masters,” he said in a neutral voice, giving up on any dignity he might have still had.

    Seeing Laien prostrate himself, hearing his words… It shocked the five youths who never thought he would actually do as he was told. After all, in their eyes Laien was a noble. One that didn’t matter in the slightest and had no influence, but nevertheless, a noble. They couldn’t comprehend how one of their class could lower himself to this extent! Had it been one of them, they would rather die than submit!

    Especially Cran’s face was ugly to behold. Seeing someone with as much martial talent as Laien kneel before a trash like Hanzen, or however this friend of Jasi’s was called, was akin to a humiliation to himself. “What a bunch of retards. Does even one of you realize that if I weren’t here, he could kill all of you by himself before those two guards could intervene?” he thought angrily, maybe exaggerating Laien’s ability by a bit.

    “Sometimes I wish I could kill all of them… but, I can’t. I won’t be able to help you, so you’d better not do anything reckless,” Cran pleaded silently, not willing to waste all the effort he had put into becoming Jasi’s ‘friend’. There was a lot he could gain from a relationship with the youth who was most likely to become a future leader of the Valius family and because of that fact, he was set on not getting involved in this matter between Laien and Jasi. He really was, but when he heard Hanzen speaking again…

    “Hahahaha! Good! Now you really behave like you should! Now, how about admitting that you should have never wronged the people who are heaven and earth above you and th-…”

    *Thud!* All of a sudden, a loud crashing sound echoed throughout the room as the table the five youths were sitting at crumbled into pieces, shattered by the open palm of Cran’s hand.

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  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 1. It all began that day. (Part VII)


    Confused and startled, Hanzen somehow managed not to bite his tongue. He looked at Cran with his heart stuck in his throat, too scared to utter but a word. Those few seconds when Cran was staring at him felt incredibly long, but thankfully, Cran shook his head and looked away. Although Cran was a noble just like him, he had the monstrously powerful Red Dragon School behind his back! There was no way Hanzen would dare to offend Cran, no matter what benefits Jasi would promise him.
     
    “I think that’s enough, he already apologized. Let him say what he wants exactly and be done with this crap,” Cran said rather angrily, then glanced at Jasi. The ten-year-old weighed the matter for a second, only to nod in agreement, not seeing how his relationship with Cran could be less important than dealing with Laien.

    As for Hanzen, he chuckled quietly, trying to hide how nervous he was. He only waved his hand and decided not to pay attention to Laien anymore, separating himself from any further discussion on this subject.

    Laien stood up and gazed at Cran curiously. He didn’t think the two of them were on good enough terms for Cran to stand in his defense, so this outcome surprised him greatly. “No time to wonder about why he did that,” Laien said to himself and started gathering his thoughts, wanting to make the best use of everyone being intimidated by Cran.

    “I came here to ask you to forget our past grudges. You want to teach me a lesson, I know. However, If you are willing to let me be, I promise not to get in your way, be it in the matters of the clan or on the daily routine,” Laien declared very calmly. After he had been forced to kowtow, something like explaining his request was truly nothing much. 

    Waiting for Jasi’s reply, Laien stood straight, looking Jasi in the eye. Having felt what it was like to prostrate in front of somebody, Laien promised himself to do all within his strength to never be forced to do it again. He could submit, he could give an apology for something he didn’t even understand, but he would never again be made to kneel before anyone!

    Jasi, who previously was quite disturbed, has regained his composure after listening to Laien’s request. He felt like he was in the control of the conversation just like he always was, so he managed to calm down just after a few more seconds passed. After confronting his feelings about Laien with reason, he quickly arrived at an answer and spoke up.

    “I’m fine with doing it this way, but under one condition. I want you to become my subordinate in the family. Your life, do whatever you want with it, but you must declare following me publicly and not create any trouble for me,” Jasi stated straightforwardly, seeing little to no value in bullying Laien any longer. He could do it for his own amusement, but he definitely wouldn’t allow his fun to disturb the more important matters in his life.

    Laien smiled and agreed with a simple nod. This price wasn’t a high one to be paid. Jasi didn’t even require him to follow his orders; he only wanted to get rid of him and never have to deal with him again. A conclusion like this one suited Laien very well.

    “When I become strong enough, I will be able to ignore him anyway,” the thought crossed Laien’s mind. Perhaps because he was relieved, but a hint of his emotions surfaced on his face. Regrettably, this subtle change in his expression hasn’t gone unnoticed.

    “Jasi, you gave him too good of a deal. Look, even he knows it. We can’t make it that simple now, can we?” one of the youths suggested daringly, not only making Laien worry but also giving quite a headache to Jasi and causing an unpleasant shiver to run down Hanzen’s spine. At this point, no one wished for the situation to escalate, no one apart from that one peculiar youth.

    “What do you suggest, Masi?” Jasi asked plainly, only wishing that this annoying situation could conclude already.

    Masi laughed and exchanged a cold gaze with Cran. “Say, Cran, what had your father done after the battle of Renuvre with his prisoners?” he asked with a smirk, making a point that Cran would have trouble refuting

    Cran felt like punching Masi for mentioning this battle, but as he greatly respected his father, he felt obliged to answer. “He asked the prisoners whether they want to join his army or be executed. Considering the hatred between both sides, only a few agreed. Then, father told them to prove their loyalty and execute their former comrades by their own hands. Not even one agreed, so he had everyone beheaded, each and every one to the last man,” he finished with a sigh, not agreeing with his father’s methods in the slightest. However, those were the facts; he couldn’t pretend not to see them.

    “If you think about making me kill my friends, then you can forget about it,” Laien said hoarsely, this time truly on the verge of losing patience.

    “No, no, nothing to that extent, only similar. Let’s say, how was he called again? That kid that you always hang around with? Never mind his name, rough him up a bit. To the same extent you got beat up today should be fine. If you can do it, then we will be able to trust that you really aren’t planning on turning your back on us in the future.”  Masi seemed to be quite pleased with his idea; he also enjoyed watching how Laien’s expression kept changing in response to his words.

    What Masi did not realize, however, was that in fact, Laien hadn’t been nearly as hurt as he thought him to have been. In Neil City, most people viewed Laien as an above-average martial practitioner, but all in all, nothing too amazing. Only a few knew that he reached the peak of the third Mortal Realm at the age of ten and even fewer knew about his abnormally powerful body forged in training with Master Shire. Facing a few punches and kicks from older boys who were merely at the early stages of the third Mortal Realm? Sure, it would cause him a bit of pain, but nothing else.

    “So all you want is a few bruises? Those who had been sent to beat me up seem to have only bark and no bite, so as you can see, I am doing well enough. Or maybe should I strip to prove that I am telling the truth?” Laien asked with a laugh and raised the side of his shirt, showing the barely visible scratches and light bruises on his stomach.

    Masi’s eyebrows quivered in anger. He frowned, then corrected himself. “That wouldn’t be enough, you need to beat him up more,” he said, but very apparently appeared to be not too pleased with taking back his words. Although it mattered little, he felt that he lost to Laien in an exchange of words and it wasn’t something he could easily accept as reality.

    Laien took a deep breath, trying to decide what he was going to do. Was he really willing to do what Masi was asking of him? Was he willing to attack his best friend…? Theoretically, he could just ask Rune for a rough spar after explaining everything to him. Knowing Rune, he would agree to help without hesitation, however, it still wouldn’t feel quite right to Laien.

    “Of course, you will take someone as a witness, so I can have a proper proof that you just went there and did what I told you to do. There would be no point if you just asked that kid to roll on the ground and jump from the tree, now would there?” Masi added with a vicious smile, causing Laien’s hopes to immediately vaporize.

    Laien froze in place, only now realizing that he had willingly entered the lion’s den. Just imagining what could have happened to him had it not been for Cran sticking for him caused him to feel weak in his knees. Yet, despite Cran’s help, he was about to be forced into making a decision he truly didn’t wish to make. To choose between attacking Rune and refusing this demand, thus very possibly endangering Siana… how was he supposed to make this decision?

    “Was it only about me, I could endure…  however, this guy doesn’t look like he will stop with only simple bullying if I refuse now,” Laien tried to reason with himself. In the end, after a good while of silence, he finally spoke up while clenching his fists so hard that blood started dripping from them.

    “Fine, I will do it! Now hurry up and bring me this convoy-bastard or whoever, before I change my mind!” he shouted, suppressing the nauseous feeling in his stomach.

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  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 2. Unforgivable! (Part I)


    Masi opened his eyes wide as he was momentarily stunned by Laien’s sudden shout. Then, with a satisfied expression, he unexpectedly turned to look at Cran. “Maybe you will go and escort our dear guest? Unless, of course, you’d rather have me find someone else to do it instead. What do you say? You seem to have some kind of relationship with our guest, after all,” he asked with a certain purpose in his mind.

    “Let’s see what you do here, you hypocritical goodie two shoes,” Masi thought contentedly, happy to put Cran between a rock and a hard place.

    From Cran’s viewpoint, the situation at hand truly was a problematic one. He cursed in his heart, having been forced into making a decision where neither choice would result in anything good. He needed to weigh down his beliefs and ambitions, what truly wasn’t an easy thing to do. Stand by Laien’s side, or continue playing Jasi’s friend?

    Cran felt his blood boil with anger Currently, he and Masi were both associating themselves with Jasi for similar reasons; they sought benefits coming from befriending an important person. As for Masi, he surely had his own ambitions, but Cran wished to become a General, just like his father had. The powerful Martial Schools had a lot of influence in the country, however… only the great noble families and the royal family could appoint military generals, whose number in the country was limited.

    For Cran, the easiest and most fireproof way to achieve this goal was to make friends with Jasi, the most likely future leader of the Valius clan. There were other possibilities, of course, but none gave him as high of a chance of succeeding as getting Jasi’s recommendation in the future.

    The problem at hand, however, wasn’t frustrating only Cran. Jasi himself didn’t like the direction this talk was going into. In his eyes, Cran was a much more valuable asset than Masi and now, whatever would happen, Cran would bear a grudge not only against Masi but also against him, too.

    “Am I really too soft, like my father is always saying?” Cran wondered bitterly, torn between following his conscience and pursuing his long-term goals. He had put a lot of effort into befriending Jasi during the last two years, it would be a great waste to discard it all just because of one kid… However, could he really make this decision and look at his own face in the mirror the next day without feeling disgusted?

    Yet, just as Cran was about to open his mouth, another voice interrupted him.

    “There’s no need for him to go with me. No point in someone of such a high wasting his time. Just call whoever you wanted to before,” Laien declared with a light snort and shrugged his shoulders. He couldn’t have not noticed how Cran have had a hard time making his choice. Cran had already lent him some face and he was grateful; he didn’t want to strain their relationship anymore as he didn’t feel the two of them were good friends or anything like that.

    To be completely honest, there was also another reason for Laien’s refusal. He worried what would happen had Cran decided to abandon him completely? This way, at the very least, there would be a person who could take his side the next time Jasi or Masi think about bullying him.

    “At the very least, I am more or less calm,” the resigned thought passed through Laien’s mind. He might have been only a ten year old, but he had experienced more than many adults would ever have. He had seen his parents sacrifice their lives for him and his little sister, he had seen the village they lived in being razed to the ground… and most importantly, he had gotten over all of that. Thanks to his past, he was more mature than any child his age and could keep or regain his cool when others would have fallen prey to stress and panic.

    “Hm?” Masi’s forehead furrowed in a slight frown. He eyed Laien, then looked at Cran who already leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. From the looks of it, he had no intention of moving or going anywhere whatsoever.

    “If that’s what you want, then fine. Just don’t regret it later,” Masi said coldly as he gazed at Laien, then gave Cran a meaningful smirk. “Go wait at the fountain in the back of the mansion. I will make sure to prepare a good ‘convoy’ for you,” he instructed Laien with a smile that surely enough didn’t indicate any good intentions. He stood up and gestured Laien to lead the way, but seeing as the ten-year-old didn’t intend to walk with him, he snickered and left first.

    Ten breaths after Masi left the room, Laien also turned around and walked away, leaving behind a truly sour atmosphere. The four who remained in the room didn’t even feel like chatting anymore

    Perhaps, this outcome had been satisfying only for Masi, who for his own good, should have realized it sooner.

    ---

    Laien shook his head, walking through dark corridors. When he needed to he could keep his calm, but now, he looked like a human wreck. “Beating Rune up… I won’t even be able to explain why I did it until tomorrow…” he thought with a sigh, wondering if he should have tried to endure Jasi’s bullying for a bit longer. However, now it was too late to regret his decision. What was done, was done and he needed to deal with all the consequences.

    He understood that it was too late to regret, he understood, but…  He still felt like throwing up at the mere thought of luring Rune out of his house, then attacking him without any explanation while having some bastards watch him do it from the dark.

    “If I explain it later, he will surely understand... If it was me in his place, I would. Just a few wounds, nothing big. They will heal in a week or so.” Laien laughed resignedly. Who was he trying to convince? No matter what he would be telling himself, he wouldn’t trick his own conscience into believing it was okay to act in this manner. Logic was telling him to go through with Masi’s demand and settle all problems related to those young masters once and for all, but his heart kept yelling at him to come back to his senses.

    Having arrived outside, Laien sat on the fountain’s stone ledge and almost habitually, put his hand into the water and stirred it lightly. Had it been just a few hours ago, he might have been able to enjoy the beautiful, clear starry sky... yet right now, he was nothing short of being depressed.

    “There are people with lives worse than mine. No point in feeling sorry for myself, I need to do what I must,” he murmured quietly and took a few deep breaths, emptying his heads from any thoughts. Unconsciously, he still moved his hand about in the water as he slipped into a state very similar to the meditative trance.

    Usually, when one immersed himself in meditation and training the spiritual energy, he would enter a peaceful, tranquil state of mind. The deeper such state was, the better results one could achieve. Usually, while training, spiritual practitioners would lose the sense of the time passing and would only be alarmed by an outside stimulus, or by the feeling of their body being too exhausted to continue.

    Accidentally, Laien managed to fall deeper into the meditative trance than ever before. He had felt shaken, disturbed and anxious to the extreme, only to next second discard all those feelings and naturally switch to a tranquil state of mind. He switched from one extreme to another and thanks to that, reached something he shouldn’t have yet discovered. He should have barely touched upon it, his fingertips should have only slid against the surface, but instead, he fell inside with his whole body.

    With the unique experience, came an enlightenment of which even Laien himself wasn’t yet aware. Suddenly, the water of the fountain stirred, although no normal person would be able to notice any difference. The natural energy within the water shook and miraculously, pure water-type elemental energy extracted itself from it and began flowing to Laien’s hand as if being sucked by it.

    The amount of energy which Laien’s body began absorbing at a rapid pace was truly astonishing. The spiritual energy which until now, lingered in the upper part of Laien’s chest in a form of mist began liquefying. It was increasing both in quantity and quality, being strengthened many times over. Yet, something else was also happening simultaneously, something arguably even more amazing.

    The whole surroundings seemed to have changed in nature. Were one with acute senses to look at the scene, he would witness an illusory image of the boundless, calm sea. Those who lived by the great water would instantly recognize this sight; only at one time would the sea be as tranquil as that, and it would be right after a powerful storm!  When the seas were angry, they could rampage mercilessly and devour anything within their grasp. However, after each horrifying display of their power, the seas would show their other face. For a brief period of time, even the waves would smoothen, as if resting and relaxing after having roared for many days. The sea would then turn truly… Tranquil.

    Minutes passed as if they were seconds. The vast amounts of elemental energy kept pouring into Laien’s body, increasing his strength and at the same time, forming a clear, splitting image of the Tranquility of the sea. At one point, all the mist in Laien’s upper chest liquefied and instantly, formed a true Spiritual Core, which suddenly… disappeared from Laien’s body.

    It disappeared, but had it truly? The process of absorption hadn’t yet stopped, it continued for a few dozen seconds longer, strengthening Laien’s cultivation base even further. It proved that the Spiritual Core was still there, only in a slightly different place.

    After a few moments, the water in the fountain, which until now had been shooting high up into the air, mysteriously stopped flowing and in the end, came to a complete halt. As the absorption finished for good, all the water-type elemental energy which still lingered in the water surged and exploded, creating a great cloud of tens of thousands elemental sparks.

    Feeling somewhat strange, Laien shook his head, coming back to his senses. Somehow, he could tell that there was something different about him. He blinked a few times, realizing that he was surrounded by tens upon tens of thousands water-type elemental sparks. He could see them much clearer than ever before; they were truly bewildering. They also carried a strange, soothing feeling to them… a Tranquil feeling, if he were to name it.

    Laien slowly reached out with his hand, trying to catch some of the elemental sparks. He smiled as the small clusters of blue light slid through his fingers and escaped, just like water. His minds calm and clear, Laien continued watching the spectacle of lights that only he was capable of seeing.

    After some more time passed, all the elemental sparks slowly fell down into the fountain, one after another merging with its waters. Within the time of one hundred breaths, all of them were absorbed, leaving but a barely visible glow over the fountain’s water.

    Laien looked at the moon, noticing that it moved a bit in the sky. “Twenty minutes to half an hour passed, but when?” he wondered, rather confused, but surprisingly calm. Not even his heart was beating wildly anymore, his thoughts have become more clear, too; they were clouded by fear and anxiety no more.

    Just as Laien started wondering why Masi’s minions were taking so long, he heard the sounds of chatting and laughter getting closer from afar. Laien recognized those voices very well. Smiling resignedly, he stood up and walked towards three incoming teenagers. “So you weren’t Jasi’s subordinates, but someone else’s. What was he called again, Masi?” Laien asked with a smirk, surprising even himself by his good mood. He couldn’t tell why, but for some reason, he was feeling so much better than a while ago.

    Having learned of Laien’s situation and being quite amused by it, one of the three boys actually answered. “Haha, since you want to know, I might as well tell you. Young master Masi Boular, remember this name well so you know who to curse later,” the fourteen-year-old said and laughed with his two friends.

    Laien raised his eyebrows, smelling something fishy in these words. Could Masi have planned for something else to happen what wasn’t a part of their original deal?

    “Here, catch,” the fourteen-year-old threw a keychain to Laien, which Laien easily caught. Only one key was attached to the ring, a master key opening most of the regular doors within the grounds of the Valius mansion. “Now hurry up and go. Well, if you decide not to, then it’s fine with us, too,” the other one of the three boys said with a cheeky smile. He didn’t even ridicule Laien mid-sentence, what was pretty surprising.

    “What are they planning? Oh, well… I will think about it later…” Laien mused, not feeling like thinking too much at the moment. He was still feeling really good, his mind drifting peacefully as if sailing through the lake. He was no longer worried about making a choice, he knew what he was going to do very well.

    Soon, Laien arrived at Rune’s house. He sighed, contemplating his choices. It would have been for the best if he could have some time to speak with Rune beforehand… He looked turned to look at three youths who were still following behind him and shook his head.

    “And what do you think you are doing, standing here? How is he supposed to come with me if he sees you, eh?” Laien asked with a surprised expression, gazing at the three like at some idiots.

    This unexpected behavior of Laien’s threw the three off, they were so baffled that they didn’t know how to react. Previously, Laien had always been trying to appear meek before them; he would suppress his feelings and anger. However, right now he was so easygoing that one might have thought he was talking to his friends.

    “Just go to the stables, to the big storage house at the back, you know the place, right? I will arrive in a few minutes,” Laien said casually and shrugged his shoulders, appearing to be rather resigned by the three’s cluelessness.

    The three youths backed off by a few steps, then began whispering amongst each other. “It’s fine, right? If he runs he is screwed anyway,” one of them said, after what the other two agreed. “Right, and him telling this second brat will make it more interesting for us. Let’s do it.”

    After giving Laien what was supposed to be a threatening, silent gaze, the three of them left. A moment later, Laien chuckled with a wide smile on his face. Now that he was so pleasantly calm, somehow dealing with everything became much simpler. “Idiots,” Laien murmured. From the looks of it, those three didn’t even know that he was a martial practitioner. They probably thought he was really weak, maybe at the first mortal realm. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have whispered so close to him. After all, Laien’s all senses were all quite a bit stronger than average man’s as he was at the peak of the third Mortal Realm as a martial practitioner.

    “Aaaah, I really don’t feel like playing this game. But if it goes well, I will have a nice peaceful life guaranteed for at least a few years. It’s worth trying,” Laien complained quietly, then knocked on the door. Shortly afterward, Rune’s mother let him in, a bit surprised by his late visit. However, it wasn’t anything unusual enough to cause her to worry about it too much.

    “You played together whole day, and you come to play in the evening, too? Come in, come in,” she said with a smile and gestured Laien to go ahead and enter.

    Rune’s mother liked Laien quite a bit. Especially after Rune had stopped causing trouble with his overly shy behavior, she practically started looking at Laien as someone akin to Rune’s older brother. Of course, however, she would have never said those words out loud. She was aware that Laien belonged to the Valius family, no matter how negligent his status within it was. Sooner or later, the friendship between her son and Laien would end, or so she was convinced.

    Recalling Jasi’s room and now once again seeing how nice houses the Valius family provided to common working families, Laien thought that they must have had quite some excess money to spend. To be honest, if he had a choice, he would rather live in one of such houses than in a room within the main mansion… but that would never happen. They wouldn’t let ‘one of them’ live like a commoner, even if they didn’t truly think of him as one of the Valius family in their hearts. What a hypocrisy, Laien thought.
     
    “Big brother? Why did you come? Do you want to stay the night?” Rune asked the moment he saw Laien entering his room. On the other bed, Talian who had been sleeping until now woke up and rubbed his eyes.

    “Nah, not this time. I need to talk with you for a bit. Think we could go outside for a moment?” Laien asked straightforwardly.

    “Sure, let’s go,” Rune replied without hesitation and stood up from his bed. He didn’t know what it was that Laien wanted, but he wouldn’t think twice about following him if Laien wanted to talk with him in private.

    As the two were about to leave, Talian pouted, smiling humorously. “First you all forget to help with moving my things, then you wake me up and leave wondering. Eeeh, all of you are terrible,” he said with a laugh.

    Laien scratched his head, smiling awkwardly. “Sorry about that, buddy. Will you forgive me if I take you to eat something good in the city later?” he suggested and apparently, satisfied Talian perfectly.

    “It’s a promise,” Talian stated merrily, then after Laien and Rune left, he went back to sleep.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 2. Unforgivable! (Part II)


    “Mm, what did you want to talk about, big brother?” Rune asked just as they left his house, getting curious why Laien came to see him out of the blue. In response, Laien gestured for the two of them to sit down on the nearby bench, then after they sat down, he began explaining.

    “You know that I went to speak with Jasi, right? I wanted to somehow get him to give me a break but in the end… quite a bit of stupid things happened. When I was talking with Jasi, some of his friends got involved and somehow it ended up being them making an ultimatum. They wanted me to prove that I really don’t intend to betray them and to do that, I was supposed to attack you and rough you up. I was quite stressed back then, so I ended up agreeing,” Laien shook his head with a resigned smile. Really, what had he been thinking to agree to something like that?

    Rune tilted his head, trying to keep up with that news. “You told me about it, so you gave up, right?” he asked hesitatingly.

    “Of course I did, stupid. I was an idiot to go along with their demands, duh,” Laien assured, feeling guilty about ever considering the possibility of attacking his best friend because of some young master’s demand.

    Rune’s expression immediately lightened, however, as he realized something important, he once again got worried. “Then you will be in a big trouble, won’t you, big brother? You know, if it’s just a slight beating, then I…” he wanted to say more, but seeing Laien shake his head, he stopped.

    Feeling warm and cozy inside, Laien spoke with a slight smile. “I just can’t do it. No matter what happens, there are people too important to me to betray myself like that. You are like a little brother to me. There’s no way I could I behave so viciously, even with your consent,” he said truthfully, intending to never again go against his principles. Someone who doesn’t value his own friends and is ready to sell them out for his own gain… a person like that was the worst.

    Rune seemed a bit overwhelmed by Laien’s declaration. It was rare for Laien to express his emotions like that, in words; he usually preferred to prove things through actions instead. Rune wasn’t too sure how he should react of what to say, but then Laien put a hand over his shoulders and hugged him lightly. Seeing Laien smile at him, Rune also smiled happily. There was no need for pointless words, both of them understood each other’s feelings.

    Although he wouldn’t be thinking about it often, for Rune, Laien really was his closest friend. Someone he could treat like a big brother, play with, chat with, have fun with and tell anything and everything. With no other males in his everyday life, it was natural for Rune to have gotten greatly attached to Laien. His bond with Laien was really precious to him, no matter what. Knowing that Laien treated him in the same way made Rune incredibly happy, to the point of making him feel like crying; his face blushed and hints of tears gleaming in his eyes.
     
    Laien just stayed like that for a while, hugging Rune and reminiscing all the time he had spent with him until now. Regrettably, he couldn’t remain here for much longer.

    “I must go before they start looking for me. Rune, I want you to do something for me. Go find Genzie, tell him that I am going to that old storage house at the back of the stables. Explain things briefly and tell him that I might need his help, after all; both right now, and in future. Can I rely on you with that?” By this point, Laien understood better than he would have wanted to, he understood that he couldn’t handle everything alone. He wasn’t nearly strong or influential enough... so even though he felt bad about it, he couldn’t avoid asking for help. That situation with Jasi and Cran opened his eyes and surely, made him more cautious and a little bit smarter.

    “Yeah, you got that, big brother!” Rune got up energetically, gave Laien last one look and then ran towards the city.

    “Well, may the game begin,” Laien mused with a grim smile as he closed onto the old storage house. He took a deep breath, entering a state of heightened concentration, readying himself for battle. Thankfully, due to Master Shire’s training, being battle-ready became as natural to Laien as breathing. Sure, it was straining on his mind, but he could keep himself in this state for good three or four hours in a row. At the age of ten, it definitely was a very exceptional result, one which many adults wouldn’t be able to achieve.

    Laien pushed the door to the old storage open, then looked around. He quickly spotted the three youths in the back, trying to hide in the dark. He smiled, wondering if he should ask for their names before returning the favor from this morning.

    “Where is the brat? You came alone?” one of them asked angrily, a hint of threat present in his voice.

    “Yeah, as you can see. What will you do about it?” Laien asked, grinning smugly.

    “Haha, do you think you are smart or something? Don’t worry, we will find him after we are done with you. We are going to make sure that this little friend of yours will never forget this experience,” the fourteen-year-old said with a laugh. “Want me to tell you what we were told to do if you brought the brat with you? I might consider it if you ask nicely,” he asked, walking towards Laien with the other two and making it quite apparent that Laien should be getting ready to get beaten up.

    “This one seems to be quite talkative. He enjoys tormenting people when bullying them, huh. He loves the feeling of supremacy... Mm, It wouldn’t hurt to get some information out of him, I guess,” Laien thought to himself, not minding some acting at all. Compared to prostrating himself before some worthless young masters, playing along with a game was nothing much at all.

    “I would like to know. I would be grateful if you told me, please,” he responded to the fourteen-year old’s proposition in a completely normal tone, without any traces of sarcasm in his voice.

    The boy didn’t expect Laien to really do as he said, so instead of reacting quickly, he ended up opening and closing his mouth in a rather dumb manner. He coughed, thrown out of the rhythm, then began saying. “Since you are asking, I will tell you, but you will wish you never knew, hah. We were told to keep telling you that you haven’t beaten that brat enough yet over and over to see how far you would go. When you would finally have broken down and refused, we were supposed to take good care of both of you. Funny eh? You were in a deep shit no matter what you would have done. Well, not like you are any better now,” the fourteen-year-old finished with a chuckle, having regained his previous confidence while speaking; as if getting drunk on his own words.

    “Okay, that’s enough talking,” the youth declared and signaled his two friends to block the exit. As he saw it, he alone was more than enough to deal with Laien. He didn’t want anyone disturbing his fun, He intended to enjoy this thoroughly, let Laien struggle and injure him slowly throughout the fight. After he had a chance to beat Laien up this morning, he had no other impression of Laien than that of him being a scared and submissive person. He wasn’t on guard against him in the slightest.

    Right now, as he was approaching and seeing Laien just stand there calmly with a smile on his face, the fourteen-year-old began feeling that something was wrong. However, he ignored those instinctive warnings and swung his fist at Laien’s face overconfidently. Yet, after he threw the punch and before he realized what was going on, he already saw the world spin before his eyes. The air was forced out of his lungs as his back slammed against the ground and a second later, a piercing pain started emanating from his right shoulder. He tried to take a breath or move but could do neither. It was as if all the strength has left his body.

    Even though the fourteen-year-old didn’t quite understand what happened to him, the other two boys have seen it very clearly. They couldn’t believe it, but after seeing it with their own eyes, they had no option but to do just that. When their leader’s fist approached, Laien had simply taken a step to the side and had caught his forearm from below, then instantly twisted it and pulled forward at the same time. Without much effort at all, he had thrown a much bigger opponent and disabled him from any fighting for the time being.

    At this point, the two should have known what the correct decision was. Run! They should have run as quickly as possible! However, after years of acting like bullies, how could they now flee from their ‘prey’, even when the kitten proved to be a scary tiger? They couldn’t! Not when the memory of trashing the same person around was still so fresh in their minds!

    Drawing their swords, the two of them actually attacked Laien with the intent to kill. Although they were weaker than their leader, both being at the peak of the second mortal realm, they thought that attacking with real weapons would cause Laien to panic. Of course, however, they were being delusional. It partially was their fault for not knowing about Laien’s strength, but how could they have known about Laien’s nightmares, which got him used to the experience of life-or-death battles?

    Facing the crude sword attacks, Laien decided to face simplicity with simplicity. The two hadn’t even timed their attacks properly and were slashing at the same time, what made the whole thing that much easier for him. He waited out until the last split-second and twisted his body to the side and jumped forward, right at one of the two older boys. As the two swords slicked the air, he delivered a solid strike with his open palm to the middle of the youth’s chest. Both the strength of his attack and the momentum of the youth’s movement added up and caused the breastbone of the youth to crack dangerously, pushing it to the verge of breaking altogether.

    The youth’s body bent in half and the sword fell from his hand as he flew a good five or six meters through the air. He crashed onto the ground and rolled for a few more meters, then stayed like that, in a very strange position, not moving at all.

    Despite Laien being only one full rank higher than him, Laien’s body was honed to a much higher degree than his. Laien’s technique was also at an incomparably higher level; internal Qi wasn’t the only thing that mattered in a fight! As a result, the youth had completely lost consciousness after receiving but one blow.

    The last one standing of the three panicked and tried to strike with a thrust, aiming at Laien’s stomach. Laien smiled resignedly. After what Master Shire made him go through, an attack like that not only seemed to be moving in a slow-motion to him, he could also instantly recognize the countless flaws in the boy’s execution. For example, putting his whole weight behind a thrust. Doing something like that would be reckless even if the blow was certain to land, not to mention now when there was more than enough time for Laien to dodge.

    Again, with a simple, but well times sidestep, Laien dodged the attack and grabbed the youth’s wrist as he lost his balance. Having gotten a good grip, Laien tightened his fist and twisted the youth’s hand at the same time. With a crunching sound, the wrist broke and the boy cried out in pain and let go of his sword.

    Clicking his tongue, Laien kicked the now kneeling twelve-year-old and allowed him to fall down. He was quite sure he broke at least two of three ribs with this one kick, but he achieved what he wanted; the boy had immediately shut up. Since they attacked with the intent to kill, he wouldn’t be merciful either. Had he been weaker than them, or had he panicked after seeing a sword, he could have been dead right now. Being pointlessly nice to little thugs like them wouldn’t do anything well. Rather, on the contrary, it would encourage them to look for a revenge in the future.

    Laien unhurriedly walked up to a nearby wooden table and sat on it, then proceeded to wait for a while. Not betraying his expectations, the leader of the three got himself up while gazing at him with fear in his eyes. “Wake up your sleeping friend, I want all of you to listen,” Laien ordered casually, pointing at the one who got hit in the middle of his chest by him.

    The fourteen-year-old didn’t argue and went to his friend. He had finally realized the difference in strength between himself and Laien and his attitude changed accordingly. After trying for a moment, he managed to wake the youth up. The boy opened his eyes, then winced in pain and started hyperventilating, trying to catch a breath. Luckily for him, he was a martial practitioner of the second rank. He wouldn’t die from something like this; after a minute or so passed, he could breathe a little easier. However, a full recovery would likely require a full week of rest from him.

    “Since all of you are listening, I will ask now. What should I do with you? You obviously wanted to wound me heavily, then you even tried to kill me. Tell me, what is done when three kids of commoners attack a noble in this way? Do you think those young masters will still stand by your back after you screwed up today?” Laien asked with a cunning, amused smile and just like he hoped, he saw the faces of the three sink.  Those words truly made these three youths tremble and go down in cold sweat.

    Who were they? Just children of the guards serving the Boular Family, servants of the young master Masi. Their status, compared to the adopted grandson of the previous leader of the Valius family was like the distance between heaven and earth; incomparably far apart. They had forgotten about this fact when Masi ordered them to do what they did, they were convinced that Laien was but a trash that Valius family wouldn’t give a damn about. However, after getting thoroughly beaten by him they could no longer believe that and thus, they suddenly got very, very scared for their lives.

    “P-please! We will do anything, just forgive us! I beg you! Whatever you say, we will do!” the thirteen-year-old with a broken wrist broke into tears, no longer able to think straight after enduring the pain for the last few minutes. He had seen what young master Masi did with people who disobeyed him and if Laien was even half a bad as him, he wouldn’t ever want to truly get on his bad side! It was a little late for such regrets, though.

    Seeing their friend like that, the other two also lowered their heads and started pleading. However, Laien didn’t pay much attention to what they were saying. “Had I not been stronger than you, you would have ‘beaten me up half to death’ and also attacked my dear friend! How can you possibly convince me to spare you? Hmph, even if I let you go without punishment, you will just seek your revenge later. You won’t be able to do anything to me, so you will target my friends. Tell me, why shouldn’t I just kill you right here and get it done with it?” Laien asked repeatedly, with each question his voice turning more threatening and his expression filling with more anger.

    Compared to how he was before, this change in Laien’s behavior was so great that it made the three boys think that person speaking to them wasn’t truly Laien, but someone else. How could someone so scary, someone who could so easily make them feel frightened for their lives, have had taken hits from them and not retaliated? Remembering how they cursed at him, kicked him and spit at him… it all made their fear of Laien that much greater.

    “No! We won’t do anything! I swear on my life! Let the Heavens strike me if I’m not telling the truth! I promise! Please, just… just forgive us…!” the fourteen-year-old began pleading while sobbing openly. Even he, the toughest-minded out of the three, was reduced to this state. The other two followed in his footsteps and started begging. The three boys actually kneeled before Laien while ignoring their wounds, then bowed low enough for their foreheads to be touching the ground.

    Satisfied, Laien decided that it should be enough. The three appeared to be really scared, so he wouldn’t go as far as killing them. He had thought about crippling them, but considering how many similar young thugs were under Masi’s command, it would be rather pointless. Were they to be convinced to attack his friends after what happened today, then unaffiliated people could be, too. Overall, leaving these three be was more beneficial than disadvantageous to him so he would do just that.

    Smiling, Laien allowed the three to experience drear for another, seemingly endless while before finally speaking up in a low voice. “This one time, I will believe your words. Remember, though, if you dare to harm any of my friends, then I will make sure the three of you have your balls stuffed down your throats while being skinned alive.” In the ears of the three youths, those quiet words were really terrifying. None of them doubted that Laien would make his threats come true had they broken their promise; not after being roughed up by him today in such a merciless manner.

    After thanking Laien numerous times, they stood up and cautiously approached the exit. They looked at Laien, seeking permission to leave. When Laien waved his hand dismissively, they left hurriedly.

    Still sitting on the table, Laien took a deep breath, then breathed out slowly. He had dealt with those three well enough, but he still had a feeling that ‘something’ was wrong. Choosing to listen to his gut feeling, he stood up and wanted to leave the place as quickly as possible, but just as he approached the half-open door, a body smashed it open and flew right past him at a great speed.

    His heart beating wildly, Laien drew his sword and briefly glanced at the youth who flew all the way to the other end of the storage house. The fourteen-year-old was definitely dead; his chest had caved in from a powerful blow and blood was flowing from his open mouth. Nothing would save him now, he was but a corpse.

    Laien steeled himself and laughed bitterly. Any normal ten-year-old would have been shaken by the sight of death, but he was different. There was his past, and there were his dreams… or rather, nightmares. He ignored the corpse behind him and backed off from the entrance and after a few seconds, saw a group of five adult men covered in long, grey-black robes enter the storage house.

    Each of the men carried a sword by his waist and released a menacing aura of a high-ranked martial practitioner. Just by looking at them, Laien could tell that they are out of his league. He was only a martial practitioner at the peak of the third rank, while they were at the very least at the sixth rank if not higher. Against one, he might have had a chance to run, but five? There was simply nothing he could do.

    The grey-black robed men dressed didn’t attack him immediately. Instead, one of them stepped in front of the others and started talking. “Hmmm, not even a wound on you. Young master told us that you were at peak of third mortal realm, but had you perhaps broken through to the fourth recently? Nevertheless, a good job indeed. You did those three in beautifully. The threats weren’t half-bad, either, for a ten-year-old, that is,” the captain of the five praised honestly, yet, his expression gave Laien quite an ominous feeling.

    “Gotta stall for time,” Laien realized instantly, making the only possible choice available to him. If only Genzie could make it in time with help… but would he even be able to help, though…? Against those five…? Valius family would never let Genzie bring his own private guards into their grounds, after all. Perhaps, it would be better if Genzie didn’t make it in time… or so Laien thought, yet, contradicting himself, he still hoped that someone would appear and save him from this predicament.

    “You were waiting outside, watching as I beat them and threaten them? Whose people are you?” Laien asked with the intent of buying some time. He needed not to ask if these five wanted to hurt him or not, it was quite apparent from the atmosphere surrounding them. This sensation... it was nothing pleasant to be exposed to.

    Hearing Laien’s question, the leader of grey-black robed men laughed. “We are the personal guards of young master Masi, of course. What, did you believe that young master is clueless enough not to know how strong you are? You are overestimating your luck, kiddo,” he said with a sigh, giving Laien a look of pity.

    Laien stood there, baffled. “Why did you kill that guy…? The other two, too…?” he asked, receiving a confirmation in form of an unconcerned shrug of shoulders. “Weren’t you on the same side?” he asked again, having trouble with understanding Masi’s motives.

    “Those retards? Hmph, they were useless trash. Their talent was nothing great and the worst of all, they were stupid. Had they noticed quickly enough that you were too strong for them, they would have passed the test. But they didn’t. Simply ridiculous… how can anyone be so retarded? All they needed to do was to recall this morning. They had a chance to punch you and kick you, but they didn’t notice that their attacks had no effect and left nothing but light bruises on your body! The Boular family doesn’t need idiots,” the man explained, then snorted. For him, the matter of killing three commoners by his master’s orders was a trivial one. It was nothing worth his special attention.

    “Your talent, on the other hand, is not bad at all. Pity, today you will be crippled for your entire life. You shall never advance past the fifth mortal realm, or perhaps you will regress from being a martial practitioner altogether as your Qi Origin will be shattered. Curse your bad luck, kiddo. If you don’t struggle we can even do it as painlessly as possible, how about it?” the leader of the five proposed, waiting patiently for an answer and observing Laien’s shocked and horrified expression with a light, somewhat regretful smile. He truly pitied Laien, but orders were orders. Soldiers were expected to obey, not to ask questions.

    Laien looked at the man wide-eyed, his thoughts completely frozen. What did he just say? They were here to cripple his martial cultivation? Make all his past efforts and future prospects meaningless? Masi would go as far as to destroy his future on a simple, damned whim…?! Feeling his mouth grow dry, Laien wanted to force some words out, but he couldn’t. He could only watch as leader of the five men gestured at his subordinate, accepting Laien’s silence as consent for what was going to happen.

    The long-haired man came closer to Laien and bent his knees, preparing to strike the much smaller kid in his stomach. Somewhat surprised that Laien wasn’t resisting and just stood there, the man hesitated for a second. However, he didn’t waver for long. He gathered a decent amount of bright yellow Qi in his hand, clenched it into a fist and struck out.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 3. First Spiritual Battle.


    When Laien regained the ability to think properly, he only had the smallest amount of time before the man’s fist would land on his stomach. “Must defend!” he yelled inwardly.

    Unable to dodge, Laien could only rely on his magic. He reached out to his spiritual energy just like he always did, but shockingly, he reached a whole different place than every other time. Moreover, the very moment he consciously manipulated the spiritual energy, he realized how different it was! It has somehow grown unbelievably more powerful…!

    With no time to be amazed, Laien controlled his spiritual energy with surprising ease and practically instantly, formed a barrier of water in front of his stomach. He wanted to make it as durable as possible, fearing that the attack would plow through it regardless, so he used all his strength to reinforce it with as much spiritual energy as possible.
     
    In the next instant, the Qi-covered fist smashed at the defensive barrier of water and… barely made it vibrate, not affecting it in the slightest. The attack had been completely and effortlessly nullified!

    The grey-black cloaked man stared in disbelief at the disc of water that blocked his fist. He might not have used his full strength, but he was a martial practitioner of the sixth rank…! How could a ten-year-old be able to use the magic of all things to block his attack? He couldn’t comprehend what was going on!

    “Cyan, careful!” the leader of the five men called out, seeing his subordinate just stand there carelessly. “Captain Mayen, what are you-…?”Cyan began saying but never got to finish his words. Had he not just stood there motionlessly for two or three seconds, had he not been so thoughtless as to look over his shoulder, he might have had a chance to dodge. However, he had committed not one mistake, but two, which together ended up being fatal.

    During those precious seconds, Laien had enough time to accommodate himself to his newly discovered power. He had allowed his spiritual energy to flow throughout his body and strangely enough, as a result he calmed down perfectly; his mind becoming clear as the sky, or perhaps… as Tranquil as a sea after a storm.

    That very moment, Laien understood what he needed to do and he acted mercilessly. He controlled the barrier of water and transformed it into a sharp spike, then run it through the man’s stomach.

    Facing a point-blank attack for a spiritual practitioner while being distracted, Cyan proved to be hopeless. In the Sarkcente Kingdom, spiritual practitioners were more than sparse. The whole Kingdom didn’t have even one spiritual master, so it was no surprise that people of the south weren’t used to fighting against magic users. With no movements from Laien himself, no words, no gestures... how could any of them reliably react in time to dodge? The probability of that happening was low to begin with, and Cyan’s carelessness made it so that it became pretty much non-existent.

    “You…” Cyan spoke and coughed up a mouthful of blood. Despite being pierced through, he was a martial practitioner of the sixth rank. He wouldn’t die immediately. In a last-ditch attempt, he roused his Qi and grabbed the water spike with his hands, intending to pull it out. Yet, little did he know that the moment the water had entered his internals, he was already more than dead.

    Laien controlled the cluster of water, changing its form. In an instant, the spike transformed into thousands of specks of water which shot out in every direction, ripping apart Cyan’s body from within and causing it to explode spectacularly, sending blood, bits of flesh and innards flying everywhere. With mere bones left from Cyan’s torso, his gruesome corpse fell to the ground, slowly oozing what blood was left inside it.

    “Motherfuckers! Why weren’t we told that this brat is such a stupidly powerful spiritual practitioner?!” Mayen cursed aloud, looking at his dead subordinate with fury in his eyes. In normal circumstances, he would have immediately attacked the perpetrator, however, this time he had no confidence in escaping unscratched. He has never faced off against a strong spiritual practitioner, after all. He had little to no idea what a spiritual practitioner was capable of and after seeing Cyan being imploded from within, attacking recklessly was the last thing he would do.

    “Fuck, we aren’t even armed to fight someone like him,” Mayen groaned. When the order from young master Masi came, they had been resting. They had been told that Laien was at most a martial practitioner at the fourth Mortal Realm, so no one bothered to wear armor. They had their interspatial rings, but they weren’t large enough; there was nothing too useful in them at the moment. Who could blame them, however? They had thought that bringing swords to deal with a ten-year-old was an overkill, how could they have imagined their lives would be in danger?

    “Captain, what do we do?” one of the grey-black cloaked men asked. It wasn’t only Mayen who was in no hurry to attack. The three subordinates of his also knew their limits. They were roughly at Cyan’s level, but Cyan had been killed by Laien without being able to resist at all… and in a way vicious enough to make them shiver in fear. They’ve seen limbs being cut off, people being slashed by swords and pierced by arrows. However, all of that couldn’t compare to the sight of a person being killed by magic.

    “This brat has probably established his Spiritual Core long ago, he can even use his Guardian with this much power. He should be at the seventh, maybe even eighth rank. Captain, we should just retreat. Even if we are careful and kill him, who knows what kind of backing he has? It’s not normal to have reached a level like that at his age,” one of the three Mayen’s subordinates brought up nervously, watching Laien closely, ready to turn back and flee had the youth moved a step forward.

    Mayen only now, hearing those words, realized that there really might be some kind of an ultimate expert backing Laien from shadows. He clenched his teeth, then declared sternly. “Good Heavens, we need to kill him even more so. Imagine what is going to happen when he tells his master what happened today.”

    The three men swallowed. What their leader was saying was true. Who in the world could groom a ten-year-old spiritual practitioner approaching the peak of Mortal Realm? A person like that would need to be simply astonishing! Little did they know, that not to mention a spiritual practitioner of the eighth rank, a ten-year-old spiritual practitioner of the sixth rank was already something never before seen in the Starlight Continent!

    Laien took a deep breath, preparing to fight for his life. He didn’t act after killing the first man, hoping that the other four men would choose to retreat. However, they appeared to have reached a different conclusion. Thankfully, due to their hesitation, he had more than enough time not only to get used the new strength of his spiritual energy but also to prepare a few small tricks for the incoming fight.

    “I go from the front, you support me from the sides, like always,” Mayan ordered calmly, gripping the hilt of his sword tightly. He circulated Qi through his body, strengthening it according to the Body Enhancing Art he had learned after becoming a guard at the Boular family. He was at the seventh mortal realm, while his three subordinates were all at sixth. If they worked together, they should be capable of killing one spiritual practitioner…! After all, magic users didn’t specialize in direct combat and would usually be at a disadvantage when facing martial practitioners of the same realm in a close-quarters fight.

    “His Guardian should at most have the range of two, three meters. Keep that in mind, don’t panic,” Mayan said to his three companions, waiting for them to properly encircle Laien and take their positions. His face twitched when he saw Laien manipulate water and surround his left hand with it, holding a short sword in his right. “He isn’t nervous at all, what a kid,” Mayan couldn’t help but praise in his heart. He had seen many adults who would lose their cool in similar situations, but here a ten-year-old was waiting for them to make a move and looking for an opening he could use to turn the tables.

    When Laien was finally surrounded, Mayan charged forward at top speed, intent on killing him with one slash of his sword. The three of his subordinates also rushed at Laien, although each with a slightly different timing, as to make it impossible to easily avoid their attacks.

    Laien reacted without delay. He raised his hand and split the ball of water into four parts, sending net-like splashes at every of the four grey-black robed men.

    Mayan reacted in time, not willing to take the potentially dangerous water head-on. Even if it shouldn’t have been able to wound his body, he wouldn’t take a gamble if he didn’t need to. After swiftly moving to the side, he wanted to continue to rush forward, however… he halted for a split second, hearing screams of agony coming from his three subordinates. He knew that he shouldn’t look away, but he still did and saw another frightening scene.

    Apparently, his subordinates were caught off-guard by an unnatural wide-range ‘attack’. When the splashes of water reached them, Laien wasn’t capable of controlling them anymore; they looked fairly harmless, so none of them made any effort to perform desperate maneuvers to dodge them. Yet, the moment the water touched their skin, the three of them realized how badly they have screwed up.

    The two who took the water head-on fainted on the spot, skin melting-off and from their whole bodies, turning into a black charcoal along with their clothes. The third of the men, who made the effort to not have his whole body hit by the water, fell to his knees, the same happening to his right hand and part of his torso. He was the one who kept yelling the longest, a large part of his body being devoured by the unknown substance.

    “Poison!” Mayan cursed silently. “But how did he?!” He couldn’t understand. He had been watching Laien the whole time, the youth shouldn’t have had an opportunity to take the poison out and mix it into his water…! All he did was draw the short sword and cover his left hand in water…! “Cover his hand! Interspatial Ring!” It occurred to Mayan all of the sudden. If that ring on Laien’s hand was an interspatial ring, he could have taken out only the colorless poison and mixed it into the water he created without anyone noticing! Right now, Mayan wanted to skewer himself for underestimating his opponent’s shrewdness this badly. He never realized that magic could carry so many possibilities with it!

    Regardless of this brief hesitation, Mayan jumped at Laien, the wooden floor shattering under his feet. In the blink of an eye, he arrived next to the ten-year-old and slashed. If he managed to kill Laien right here and right now, then it wouldn’t matter what tricks he still had up his sleeve!

    As expected, Mayan saw a mass of water converge between his sword and Laien’s body. Yet, it was too late, his blade has already passed by the magic! “You’re dead!” Mayan called out wordlessly, but then, everything went dark for a second as he got blown away by a surge of water.

    Mayan smashed into one of the wooden walls, cracking it all over and nearly falling outside of the old storage house. He quickly opened his eyes, trying to regain focus in his gaze as fast as possible, fearful of consecutive attacks. He was somewhat dazed, but due to his innately strong body of a martial practitioner and the Body Enhancing Art he was using, he sustained no wounds. He had been putting his guard up for a few seconds, but when he regained his ability to see clearly, he saw something unexpected.

    “This brat, he failed to control his spell properly,” Mayan smiled bitterly, seeing Laien trying to rise from the floor at the opposite wall, around forty meters away from him. “It was a good judgment, though. His body doesn’t seem to be capable of keeping up with my movements, it was his only choice,” he praised, keeping a tight watch on the interspatial ring on Laien’s left hand.

    “Don’t hold it against me, kid. You are way too dangerous to be left alone,” Mayan said resignedly and began walking towards Laien, who still seemed to be unable to stand up. The burst had been strong enough to dazzle him, a martial practitioner of the seventh rank, after all. Mayan wouldn’t be surprised if Laien had broken some of his bones and injured internal organs. From his current appearance, Laien seemed to be barely keeping himself conscious. In the end, all he did was prolonging his life for a while longer.

    “I don’t dislike your attitude though, kid,” Mayan spoke again, resolved to end Laien’s life. If left alone, the boy would grow into a monster capable of killing him with a wave of his hand. Letting him go…? From the moment he had shown his true strength, it stopped being an option.

    Close to fainting, Laien coughed heavily, spitting a mouthful of blood on the ground. He couldn’t hear what the man was saying, his ears filled with loud buzzing. He neither could see him well, he was but an indistinct human-blur to him. Recalling words of a spell he had read about in some random book, he mumbled them and forced himself to control the spiritual energy and transform it into magic.

    Despite Laien’s poor state, he still managed to produce three spikes of water, of which each one was slightly more powerful than the one he had used to kill the first grey-black robed man. Yet… he wasn’t delusional. They wouldn’t be enough to kill their leader or even wound him. Thus, he could only do one thing. “Come any closer and I will kill them,” Laien growled in a low voice, then coughed and threw up some more blood. He kept his head up, however, and eyed the last grey-black robed man dangerously.

    Mayan stopped, taking a look at his three subordinates, of which two were unconscious and one incapable of moving. If Laien released the spell now, the three would surely die. He wouldn’t have enough time to neither stop Laien nor protect any of them. “Do it if you want, they won’t survive your poison anyway,” Mayan said with a sigh. In the Boular family, useless people were to be disposed of. That rule included everyone, even well-trained guards. Not wasting any more time, he charged at Laien, ready to dodge the spikes, just in case.

    “Not buying it, eh?” Laien chuckled helplessly. He has never had a chance to practice after his strength has risen, so he wasted a lot of it on simple spells. These three pikes were created with the last bits of his spiritual energy. He was wounded, he no longer had any strength left, Mayan gave up on his subordinates. There was nothing else he could do. Thinking of his little sister, of his friends, he shut his eyes tight, unwilling to die in a place like this.

    “What a kid,” Mayan repeated in his thoughts, seeing how Laien released the magic and killed his three men off for good. Now, all four of his subordinates were dead. He welcomed that Laien closed his eyes, choosing not to resist any longer. “I will end you in one clean slash, it won’t hurt,” the thought passed through Mayan’s mind as he slashed horizontally, aiming at Laien’s neck.

    The next second, a head fell and rolled on the ground. It was over, everything was over. It was over indeed, but for whom?

    Laien groaned, having been smashed down to the floor by the blunt side of the sword hitting his head from the side. He couldn’t move or open his eyes, but he was quite confident that he wasn’t dead. He wondered what happened, but it wasn’t like it mattered anyone… he just wanted to sleep, he was too exhausted, both mentally and physically.

    “Can you hear me?” Laien frowned, hearing somebody speak to him. Couldn’t that person see that he needs to rest?

    “Oi, don’t you dare to die on me. I killed one of Masi’s personal guards for you. If you die, I will really turn out to be the biggest idiot around,” the youthful voice reached his ears again. Laien could swear that he recognized it, but refusing to believe it so simply, he forced his eyes open. After a while, he could more or less make out Cran’s face in the unclear image he was seeing.

    “I guess I should be thanking you, eh? But why did you come?” Laien asked in a weak voice, puzzled. Obviously, he was grateful, but he wanted to know Cran’s reasons.

    “Aaah, since I threw everything away to save you, I might as well tell. But before that, will you be alright?” Cran asked awkwardly, looking at Laien who was lying flat down on the floor.

    Laien chuckled, then coughed up some blood and spit it out to the side. A caring attitude wasn’t something he expected of Cran, as Cran usually kept his distance from him. Even though they had sparred quite a few times, they never became friends and never truly talked with each other. Had it not been for today, Laien would have kept thinking that Cran doesn’t like him too much and is picking on him through those sparring sessions rather than anything else.

    “I will be fine. I am a spiritual practitioner of the water element, my body is already healing,” Laien responded, shrugging his shoulders. As his spiritual energy would recover, he could use it to heal himself. It would take some time to get rid of the cracked bones and internal injuries, but as long as he didn’t need to fight, he would be able to stand up and walk in five to ten minutes.

    Cran nodded with a smile, then sat on the floor next to Laien, looking at him… somehow, in a very different way compared to how he used to. Laien liked this gaze quite a bit.

    “Yeah, I should have guessed, judging from the way you killed the other four. Hmm, you used poison, too? Did they get done in by that? They must have underestimated you quite badly, eh? So, this should be an interspatial ring on your hand… Oh, those three seem to have been killed after they couldn’t move anymore, hmm. I will have you tell me how it went, I’m very interested!  To even think that you always held back in our duels, not using the slightest bit of magic!” as he listened to Cran’s ‘monologue’, Laien blinked numerous times. Was this really the same unsociable, not talkative Cran? He really could act so energetically and amiably when he wanted?

    “Mmm, for now, recover a bit, I will tell my part first. Long story short, I really, really hate Masi and I don’t think I will ever like Jasi, either,” Cran said and smiled, shutting his mouth as if he was done with the explanation. However, faced with Laien’s meaningful, resigned gaze, he laughed and started speaking again. “I’m joking, I’m joking. Well, it went more or less like that. Masi came back after around 20 minutes, then started annoying me if I am sure I won’t regret not helping you and all this crap. He enjoyed making me mad… I must say, he is good at it, heh.”

    “At one point I couldn’t hold it in anymore and I tapped him in the face, lightly, just so that he fell from his chair… Then I trashed him around some more, not hurting him much… he knows how to receive kicks well,” Cran snickered at this part, recalling it with a very pleased expression on his face. After a second, he followed through

    “I blurted out that if he really did something to you, he will regret it. Then, this idiot actually told me what he ordered his men to do. He laughed, saying that by now, you are already crippled and beaten up. Hahaha, I can’t wait to see his face when he sees you alive and well, while his elite bodyguards are all dead! Four of them killed by you, too! Hahaha, when the news of it gets out, his father is going to beat the crap out of him for losing face for their family! With scandal like that, Masi is finished. I will make sure of it,” Cran concluded, then rubbed his nose, a bit worried that he started blurting a little too many words at once. Yet, Laien smiled at him, not minding to have listened to the story.

    “Good thing I wasn’t too late, one more second and it would have been your head rolling,” Cran pointed out, helping Laien to sit down. Had he been too late, there would be no solid evidence to prove Masi’s actions. Since he had already wasted his two years of effort in befriending Jasi, he really preferred to get something done with it and not to be left star naked, with no gain whatsoever. Thus, he really was incredibly happy to have saved Laien in the nick of time.

    “Yeah… Thanks, really,” Laien said, somewhat ashamed of himself to have gotten Cran involved into all of this. No matter how he looked at it, Cran had just made his life more difficult for his sake. He pointed it out to Cran, but the fifteen-year-old responded casually. “You were only a ‘trigger’ to my decision. Don’t beat yourself over it, I had my own reasons. Mmm, but if you feel so indebted, then you can repay this favor one day in the future .”

    Laien laughed and shook his head, finally feeling a bit more comfortable with this conclusion. “I think I am okay now, we can go,” he said and stood up by himself, surprised to find out just how much his self-healing abilities have increased. He didn’t really know at which rank he was, though. Surely not lower than the sixth, as that was when Spiritual Core would form, but was he any higher? Or did the strength of his spiritual energy had something to do with this unique ‘Tranquil’ aspect of it? He would need to make sure later. For now, he was safe. That was all that mattered.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 4. Nightmares.


    “I must ask, how strong are you as a spiritual practitioner?” Cran inquired as they were getting ready to leave the old storage house.

    “I am not sure, to be honest. I’ve never had a teacher and my training is really… inconsistent. I can only take a guess without much accuracy. I should be at the very least at the sixth mortal realm,” Laien answered truthfully, though he might have sounded a bit ridiculous. To not know at which rank you are yourself? That would take a new level of idiocy.

    “Hmm, then, when did you liquefy your spiritual energy and establish your Spiritual Core? It usually happens somewhere between fifth and seventh Realms, right?” Cran asked, intending to judge Laien’s level from the basic time frames. It hadn’t occurred to him, however, that Laien would have been able to do that by himself well enough.

    “Yeah, between fifth and sixth, to be exact. The same as when martial practitioners learn their Qi Manipulating Art and the other Primary Arts… Um, well. It kinda happened today?” Laien said with an awkward laugh. He wasn’t sure if he could tell Cran everything, at the very least not yet. Thus, he preferred to keep his unusual experience a secret for the time being.

    Cran seemed to have finally noticed that Laien was purposely beating around the bush and nodded with understanding, deciding not to dig any deeper into Laien’s private matters. “Anyway, good for you. You are really strong and you have high potential, too,” Cran praised, not realizing quite well enough how monstrous Laien’s current strength would be seen as in the north, where magic was what martial arts were to the Sarkcente Kingdom.

    Yet, Cran knew at the very least that unless a spiritual practitioner had good enough talent, he could be forever stuck at the borders between fifth and se-… sixth, ranks of the mortal realm. Just as martial practitioners would be forever stuck at the fifth mortal realm if they weren’t talented enough to learn a Qi Manipulating Art or weren’t in a possession of one, spiritual practitioners who couldn’t purify their spiritual energy to a high enough degree would never break through to the higher ranks. If one’s talent wasn’t good enough, then no matter how many years he spent accumulating Qi or Spiritual Energy, he would never advance past the fifth Mortal Realm!

    For example, the five guards who had been killed by Laien and Cran. They were ‘only’ at the sixth and seventh Mortal Realms, but for a middle-ranked noble family, they could be considered to be fairly elite guards. It needed to be understood, that martial masters, those who reached the Realm of Heroes, were the true elite of the warriors! The whole Sarkcente Kingdom with its fifty million citizens produced but a few thousand martial masters, while virtually one hundred percent of the population had a degree of capacity as martial practitioners! In the country where martial arts were revered, less than one person in ten thousand would become a martial master! Not even mentioning that very few martial masters would then be capable of advancing past the first Realm of Heroes; the vast majority would reach the limit of their potential and be stuck at the early Realms of Heroes until the day they die.

    “I hope I do have a talent, it would make many things easier,” Laien responded with a laugh and a slight sigh. His abilities as a spiritual practitioner were much stronger to begin with. Now that he got even stronger, he began regretting living in the south, where magic wasn’t respected. To truly utilize his abilities, he would need to travel north and study magic there… Would it be possible, though?

    Cran sighed, pondering something. Then, having made his decision, he looked Laien in the eye and asked seriously. “I decided that I will be going to the Royal Capital. I can take you with me, to the Tir’Sare academy. They teach both martial arts and the basics of magic. How about it? Leave this crappy place, I will help you discuss it with Lord Garon. He will be happy to have you out of his way, or at the very least, Jasi will, heh. Taking your sister with us won’t be a problem, either,” he offered on the spur of the moment, intending to lend Laien a hand and fix his problems for him.

    Laien was greatly surprised by this proposal. He tried to think about it, but honestly, he was too tired to be making an important decision right now. “Uum… can we leave my answer for later…? When you know… when there won’t be five corpses lying around and I will be a little bit better rested?” he said while scratching his head, then smiled meaningfully.

    Cran looked as if he had only now remembered where they were and what has happened during the last hour. He looked around at the bodies of the five men, then looked at Laien whose body was covered in blood. He smiled resignedly and shook his head, covering his face with a palm of his hand.

    “You are right, sorry. Somehow, I forgot. It’s just that… you really should think about it. If you stay here, then the Boular family will make it hard for you. Jasi might leave you alone, but Masi… Even if he’s to be stripped from all of the power in his family, he will only hate you more and sooner or later, will seek revenge. I won’t be able to protect you then,” Cran apologized and warned, stating pretty much what Laien could have guessed on his own. Obviously, since the two of them haven’t talked to each other much, Cran was unaware how bright of a youth Laien actually was and treated him like any other ten-year-old disciple from the Red Dragon School.

    Laien nodded, completely agreeing with those words of Cran’s. He found it hard to believe that Masi would give up after failing this one time. It wouldn’t be too bad to leave Neil City and go to the Royal Capital, but… he didn’t want to leave all his friends. Not yet. If only there existed a way for him to live peacefully in this place for a few more years…

    As he wondered, Laien suddenly realized that there really was a way. “I have an idea, but we need to hurry up before anyone finds out what happened today,” he said with a cheeky smile and glanced at Cran.

    “Tell me what the plan is, then we will see,” Cran said and smiled back, sensing something quite amusing from the look in Laien’s eyes.

    ---

    At the moment, Masi was feeling really happy with himself despite being thrashed around by Cran just a few moments ago. “I finally made this retard snap, now I don’t have to worry about him anymore. I wonder if Mayan will bring him here? Knowing Cran, he probably attacked my guards after arriving there, haha. It’s going to be hilarious.” Masi beamed with a good mood, to the point of unintentionally annoying Jasi, who wasn’t quite as content about losing Cran’s support.

    Cran might not have had a high degree of influence in the Red Dragon School yet, but in the future...? He would almost certainly prove to be worth much more than someone like Masi. Now that the childish anger against Laien stopped clouding his eyes, Jasi could see that very well.

    “Jasi, you should just forget about an impulsive idiot like Cran. Involving yourself with him was going to bring you more trouble than he's worth. He’s bound to make many enemies in the future given how recklessly he behaves. We wouldn’t need to wait long for him to want to save every misfortunate person he can see. He doesn’t realize how the real world works.” Although was Masi was saying was fairly biased, his words held some truth to them. Cran rarely made choices based on logic and cold calculations and more often than not followed his feelings. Somebody like that was suited neither to the world of politics nor to the career of a general.

    In this world, only the strong had the right to rule others! Only the strong had the right to decide for themselves! If an ultimate expert at peak of the Realm of Heroes decided to be merciful and went around helping people, he would be called a Saint. However, if someone with insufficient power did the same, he would be called delusional and would be thought to be courting an early death. From this perspective, Cran was truly too soft-hearted.

    “I know. It’s just that I don’t like your way of doing things either. As much as I agree it’s important to show people who is their superior, I really think you overdid it both this time and yesterday,” Jasi said with a conflicted expression on his face. The day before, he had agreed to Masi’s suggestion of having Laien beat up once and for good. He thought that Laien deserved to be bullied for what he did to him, but now… it all started to look like one big joke. Attacking him once should have been more than enough, but before he noticed, everything progressed further than he would have wanted.

    Truth to be told, it all went out of hand. Even when Laien had been forced to prostrate himself before them, he didn’t feel good or satisfied because of that. Rather, it was as if something heavy got stuck in his throat; it was an unpleasant feeling. However, he wanted to appear ‘cool and strong’, he wanted to be respected among his older peers and seen as a strong future Clan Leader! As a result, he failed to stop everything when he still could have. It all escalated before he understood what was going on…! When he heard Masi telling Cran what he had told his guards to do with Laien, he wished he could turn the time back to never have allowed Masi to do as he pleased. Regrettably, it was too late to change anything.

    “You are just too young, Jasi. You come from one of the most powerful families in the Sarkcente Kingdom! You Valius family leads hundreds other nobles families as the leaders of the Valius clan! People bow to you because they fear the power of your family; even Lord Tei’Ru used to be cruel when needed. You can’t show weakness to anyone! If an old boar becomes weak, a herd of wolves will jump it and rip it apart without remorse,” Masi spoke confidently, seeming to strongly believe his own words. From that, one could tell he has had his own fair share of experiences which reaffirmed the way he viewed the world.

    “Maybe you are right…” Jasi responded unenergetically, not listening too closely to what Masi was saying. He took another sip of wine from his glass, thinking about going to bed early today.

    Masi frowned, trying to come up with something to cheer Jasi up. After all, he needed Jasi’s support for his Boular family to flourish in the future.

    Yet, the next second, both Masi and Jasi jumped up in their chairs.

    The faraway entrance to Jasi’s chambers got smashed open with a loud *thud*. Judging from the sound, the door had slammed against the wall hard enough to break down and fall off from its frame. After a short few seconds, the enraged Lord Garon entered the room with his two private guards following right behind him. Right afterward, Laien and Cran also walked inside.

    Masi started at Laien with his mouth and eyes wide open. He was so stupefied by Laien’s appearance that when the ten-year-old smiled at him smugly, his expression instantly turned ugly and he felt like swearing to the Heavens.

    “Maybe you two will explain this to me?” Garon waved his hand and out of nowhere, five gruesome corpses appeared on the floor. One of the bodies had been exploded from within, one lacked a head, another two were thoroughly scorched black while the last one had his body burned partially; three of the corpses also had large holes in their chests.

    When the stench of intestines reached Jasi, paired up with the horrifying sight, it caused him to go below his bottom line. The ten-year-old bent forward on his chair and vomited onto the floor, shaking uncontrollably. He might have been the same age as Laien, he might have been a young master of the Valius family, but he truly couldn’t compare to him. Not at this point in time, at least.

    Masi, on the other hand, has turned as white as paper. The elite guards of his family that he had borrowed for himself during his father’s absence were all dead! While the kid who they were supposed to teach a lesson was standing in front of him, laughing!

    “Cran! How could you have killed my men like that?! What reasons did you have?!” Masi shouted, losing every bit of composure.

    “Shut it!” Garon growled, eyeing Masi with an ice-cold gaze. “You’d better start talking unless you want to part with your head right now. What’s your version?” he asked angrily, pointing at the five dead bodies with a slight gesture of his hand.

    Masi took a deep breath, then answered a bit more calmly. “All we wanted to do was to set an example. This kid wouldn’t obey otherwise. If brats like him are allowed to look down on people better than them, then no one will respect noble families,” Masi exclaimed,  pretty sure that this line of reasoning will make Lord Garon understand.

    “’We’ wanted? Jasi, you knew what was going on and did nothing to stop him?” Garon gazed at his son and shook his head. He loved Jasi, but he never imagined that his son would fall so low as to torture and openly attacks members of his own family.

    “Had it been a commoner… had any of you had any grudges with him… I could have overlooked it. However, attempting to torture, cripple, maybe even kill one of our Valius family for no reason but shallow, unjustified hatred! Be grateful that these two didn’t call for the guards and instead came to me. You would both be in a shit so deep you can’t even imagine had they done otherwise. Don’t you know how important face is to every noble family…? You were about to trash ours, eh. You, kid of the Boular’s. Get out of my mansion, your father will punish you when he returns,” Garon suppressed a deep sigh, thoroughly disappointed with his son and the friends he was surrounding himself with.

    “Perhaps father was right and I doted on him too much… Father had always been rough with Jasi, but he is no longer with us. The only thing that restrained Jasi is gone,” Garon clicked his tongue and after Masi was gone, he spoke up again.
     
    “As for you, Jasi… you will be going to your uncle Shir’ar, to the front lines of the Anarchic Lands. When you become sixteen, you will be allowed to return. At that time, I will decide whether you are worthy of becoming my heir, or if I should I rather support one of your older brothers instead,” he said rather sternly, not pleased with this outcome at all. However, if Jasi were to ever learn to behave, it needed to be done now, when he was still young. Overlooking his mistakes would lead to him getting spoiled rotten and in the future, would be disadvantageous to the Valius family as a whole.

    Jasi swallowed nervously. Learning that he would be going to uncle Shir’ar has been quite a shock to him. In the Valius family, General Shir’ar was famous for handling problem kids. His training regime was legendary, often used by mothers to scare their children. ‘You’d better behave, or we will send you to Uncle Shir’ar’, they’d often say to their rowdy youths.

    “Clan Leader, I have a request,” Laien said unexpectedly and bowed respectfully. Garon waved his hand, allowing Laien to speak.

    “From what I’ve seen and heard, this matter was mostly Masi’s responsibility. I do not wish to see my cousin be punished just because he had no one to tell him what is wrong and what is right. I’d like to ask Clan Leader to consider a lighter punishment,” Laien asked amiably, then unable to ignore Jasi’s surprised look, exchanged a glance with him and shrugged his shoulder lightly. He wasn’t doing it for Jasi, he was doing it for himself.

    Garon raised his eyebrows, not having expected Laien to go out of his way to help Jasi. He pondered for a second; he could be sure that Laien was hiding something, as just a glance at corpses was enough for him to know for sure that four had been killed by magic and poison likely applied through it and not by a sword. The one who killed these four shouldn’t have been Cran, but Laien. However, for a ten-year-old to kill six martial practitioners of the sixth rank… how unprecedented was that?

    “Very well, I shall consider it. It was you who had been in danger, so your words have some weight,” Garon replied to Laien, then turned to look at his son. “I refuse to believe that punishing you in other ways will be effective. You must think about your actions yourself. If you change, it’s up to you. If you don’t… It’s also your choice, my son. Your punishment will be thus, to repay your debt to these two,” Garon declared coldly and pointed with his hand at Laien and Cran.

    “What you will do, how you will do it, It’s all up to you,” having had enough of this matter, Garon gestured at his guards. One of the two came forward, storing the corpses in his interspatial ring. “Laien, come to talk with me tomorrow evening,” Garon ordered calmly, giving Laien an expectant look. After receiving a confirmation in form of a light bow from Laien, he turned around and left the room with his two guards, saying nothing to his son.
     
    “Let’s get going too, Laien. No point staying here,” Cran said with a smile and patted Laien on his back. He needed to admit, that plan was really good and it worked out well, too! To get Garon himself directly involved and solve everything through him, it not only would make Masi unable to act up in the future, Jasi’s temper would also be held in a check! It was a much, much better option than creating a huge affair from the whole event like he planned originally.

    “Wait!” Jasi called out as Laien and Cran were about to leave. The two of them turned around, wondering what Jasi has to say.

    “I apologize. Thank you,” Jasi lowered his head and said really awkwardly. He truly regretted his actions and he really was grateful to Laien for having saved him from uncle Shir’ar.

    “Don’t mind it. Just make sure not to make life hard for me and my sister, also for my friends. It’s all I am asking for,” Laien replied casually and chuckled quietly, seeing Jasi’s  surprised expression. “See you later, maybe,” he added humorously, then left with Cran.

    Jasi sat there for a long time, flabbergasted. He wondered if really everything that Laien wanted from him was… something simple like that? Would doing only this much even satisfy his father, Garon? Making up an attempted murder with… leaving him alone? Jasi groaned, realizing how little he understood about Laien’s character.

    ---

    “Huu, you probably need to go wash yourself, eh? Want me to go with you? You must be dead tired,” Laien chuckled at Cran’s suggestion, then focusing on his spiritual energy. On his skin, throughout the whole body, a thin membrane of water formed. It then peeled with all the dirt and blood, leaving but a few light stains on his clothes. “I’ve always wanted to try doing this and I finally can,” Laien said with a laugh, reaping another benefit of having gotten stronger.

    Cran whistled, only to start laughing when Laien threw the small ball of dirty water into one of the big vases with flowers. “Sure is convenient, being a spiritual practitioner, eh?” even though he said that, Cran seemed to be slightly disappointed for some reason.

    “You said you will be leaving to the Royal Capital, when will you leave?” Laien asked, not noticing any of Cran’s strange behavior.

    “I need to take care of a few matters before I leave, so considering when their next semester starts… In a month or so,” Cran answered with a light sigh. He liked it in Neil City, but if he wanted to ever achieve his life goal, he needed to leave the Red Dragon School and get established in the Royal Capital, get to know the Royal Family and use their influence to become a general.

    “Then, want to spar some more until then? It would be great if you taught me something, instead of bullying me one-sidedly like you always did,” Laien mentioned with a laugh, unknowingly improving Cran’s mood by quite a bit.

    “Sure, I will. I wouldn’t be able to bully you around anyway. Not with how strong you’ve become, you sneaky brat,” Cran said with a broad smile and tousled Laien’s hair.

    Laien laughed again, still unsure if this day wasn’t perhaps but a dream. In the morning, his world had started crumbling. Yet by the late evening of the same day, his problems were all solved and he has even made a new friend, not to mention having advanced his strength as a spiritual practitioner.

    “Rest tomorrow and come to me the day after, okay? This time to the Red Dragon School itself,” Cran suggested with a smile. Until now, he had been keeping his sparring sessions with Laien a secret, but there was no reason to be doing that anymore. Also, he had something else in mind for Laien, but he wouldn’t spoil the surprise quite yet.

    “Okay, see you,” Laien said the goodbyes and parted with Cran, to then soon to arrive in his room. He entered quietly, trying not to wake Siana up. He carefully changed his clothes and laid down on the bed, then closed his eyes; it was all it took for him to instantly fall asleep.

    Laien might not have understood it completely, but today he did much more than just form a spiritual core. He had also established another foundation, although an incomplete one.

    Normally, a Spiritual Core would still be placed in the practitioner’s body, it would remain in his upper chest. However, in Laien’s case, it wasn’t there. The other insight he had gained, paired up with circumstances Laien couldn’t comprehend just yet caused something unnatural to happen. Laien’s Spiritual Core had actually fused with soul, going way beyond a level any ten-year-old should have ever been capable of achieving.

    Had it been just that, it would be a case to rejoice over. However, there was something else that got triggered by Laien’s advancement. Precisely, the dreams, the nightmares he had been experiencing until now progressed to another level, one which wasn’t meant for a kid like Laien to go through. There were only two options. To successfully advance to the new heights, or to fail and die.

    The very next moment after falling asleep, Laien woke up, or so he thought. He quickly realized that his body didn’t belong him, even though he could feel it moving. He could even clearly sense an incredible power coursing through it, one which far exceeded his wildest imaginations.

    In ‘his’ hand was a glaive, by ‘his’ side stood a young woman. Before ‘him’ a thirteen, maybe fourteen years old boy laid unconscious on a stone pedestal, surrounded by an enormous and powerful magical formation. Seeing the unconscious youth, ‘he’ felt rage boil in his blood. The flaming, uncontrollable emotions filled ‘him’ and at the same time, were transferred to Laien’s soul, making Laien wish he could cry out in pain. ‘His’ fury was so real, so hot and scorching that it was on the verge of dissipating Laien’s soul through the overflow of the sensations alone.

    However, all of the sudden, everything that burned, turned ice-cold. The flames surging around ‘him’ transformed into deathly cold streaks of air. Along with this change, a surge of sad, complicated and painful emotions surged and ‘his’ heart and then, hit Laien really hard. There was something ‘Tranquil’ in the mix, but Laien was in no mind to pay any attention to it. He wanted to shout, to yell in despair, overwhelmed by the endless flow of sensations.

    ‘He’ cried out in fury, ‘his’ spirit broken by the hatred of betrayal. ‘He’ yelled and his yell seemed to freeze the very Heavens. ‘His’ rage was cold, uncaring, desperate. The next second, all the raging sea of emotions was forcefully put in a cage; thus heat turned into a cold and all movement became stillness.

    ‘He’ walked forward, ‘his’ tears turning into ice. A great power gathered in ‘his’ palm as he reached out to the magical formation. As he experienced this might, Laien’s consciousness trembled, threatening to shatter at any moment. Yet, due to a strange, calming foundation existing somewhere within him, he could just barely hang on, the chaos he was going through counterbalanced by the… Tranquility.

    Suddenly, Laien recognized that he was in the middle of one of his nightmares. To have realized it while still sleeping, it was the first time for him. Under extreme mental strain, he did the first thing that came to his mind. He tried to wake up, but soon enough, he found out that he couldn’t. There was no escape from this nightmare, not until it ended, or until… he comprehended what it wanted to show him!

    Laien understood this fact instinctively, there was no other way for him to survive this hellish dream! Either do that or perish!

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 5. Their Voices.


    With each passing second Laien’s ability to think dwindled, his mind slowly melting under the barrage of extreme emotions. Yet, at the same time as Laien suffered, he learned, or rather he was being taught at first hand with, or against his will. He wasn’t aware of it, but bits and pieces of knowledge found their place in his mind, in his struggling soul.

    At the same time, with the bits of consciousness he still retained, Laien looked for this ‘something’ the nightmare wanted him to comprehend, but couldn’t quite find it. There was something extremely familiar in ‘his’ emotions, in ‘his power, but it wasn’t exactly the same and Laien couldn’t comprehend what the difference was.

    ‘He’ grabbed the lines of the magical formation in front of ‘him’, twisting them and tearing them apart. The natural energy which the formation was drawing its power from shuddered, then exploded outwards as the formation crumbled into nothingness. ‘He’ walked up to the unconscious youth and raised him up in ‘his’ arms.

    The youth’s soul had been seriously wounded; even ‘he’ wasn’t certain of being capable of healing him. Pursing ‘his’ lips, ‘he’ trembled slightly, feeling not only extremely furious but also greatly disappointed in the world, in the people ‘he’ had once considered to be ‘his’ dear friends. Yet, those very same people had betrayed ‘him’,  they betrayed ‘his’ trust and had driven ‘him’ into the very hopelessness ‘he’ was experiencing right now.

    Momentarily, ‘his’ emotions dimmed and as a result, Laien’s mind became more clear. Using this brief moment of peace, Laien took a deep breath, if it could even be called so. He wasn’t in his body, he couldn’t move by his own will, he was but a… soul! He understood all of the sudden. This world he was in seemed like a dream, like a nightmare, but it certainly wasn’t. It was a projection of the past… a vision, or so to say!

    “What I’m going through is an experience of extreme emotions… If this vision has a goal, then it must be connected to it!” Laien deduced, then by the same line of thoughts, recalled his strange experience at the fountain and the ‘Tranquil’ feeling which came to exist within him, which he could sense even now. “Emotions, it wants me to use them to understand something…? From anger to calmness, from… Wrath, to Tranquility…?” Laien wondered, for some reason confident that his reasoning was correct. However, little time did he have left to keep wondering freely as the next instant, another surge of uncontainable emotions flooded his soul and caused him a great pain.

    ‘He’ stepped outside the cavern, a young woman at ‘his’ side, a youth in ‘his’ arms. ‘He’ shook ‘his’ head, looking at the hundreds of his old friends who gathered around to… seal him, as they would say. As the would claim; that ‘he’ has grown too powerful and ‘he’ has somehow become a danger to the free world they had created with ‘him’ as their leader…! ‘He’ felt like crying, but no tears flowed from his eyes; only extreme coldness remained within them.

    The people around ‘him’ were saying something, shouting, pleading… but ‘he’ was deaf to their words. ‘He’ gathered his power and started chanting a Forbidden Spell, preventing anyone from coming too close through the sheer amount of energy ‘he’ was gathering around ‘himself’.

    As ‘he’ chanted in a language Laien had never heard of, Laien experienced the whole process. Were his comprehension to prove to be lacking, he would perhaps die today, his soul dissipating. However, it wasn’t destined so. Feeling as ‘he’ was gathering his power and preparing to use a grand magic, Laien’s level of understanding rose by leaps and bounds. It made Laien understand that although magic needed to be formed precisely, it could at the same be molded in infinite ways according to one’s will and level of comprehension!

    For example, even though ‘he’ was using a fire element as ‘his’ base for the Forbidden Magic, ‘he’ actually changed the very properties of fire…! However, most importantly, ‘his’ magic contained many emotions, what might have seemed normal, but it certainly was anything but that. Amongst the mix, Laien could very clearly sense the very, very similar ‘Tranquility’. He attempted to immerse himself in this emotion, to learn something about it and comprehend it… yet clearly, he couldn’t concentrate well enough to make any progress. Not under the extreme mental strain he was going through.

    “’He’ can turn fire cold, then can the same be done with water…? To turn it into ice, by the same Principle…?” the thought passed through Laien’s distracted mind. If so, if everything he was seeing here, in this vision, was real… then magic carried with itself an enormous amount of possibilities…! If he could only gain insight into anything he was being shown, then perhaps this painful vision would also end…!

    ‘He’ looked at the boy in ‘his’ arms, then took a deep breath, preparing to release the Forbidden Magic. “Freezing Nova,” ‘he’ said quietly, to the terror of everyone surrounding ‘him’. A sensation of the power beyond all imagination caused Laien’s Soul to quiver and struggle to keep its form. What Laien could feel, though, was but a lingering shadow of ‘his’ true might from that time, just a memory contained within a Vision and despite that, it still was more than enough to cause him to perish immediately, had it not been for the seed of Tranquility in his Soul...!

    Laien once again struggled to skewer his connection to the Vision but failed yet again. The very second as ‘he’ was releasing the Forbidden Spell felt like an eternity to Laien. He was frightened, feeling that his soul was on the verge of collapsing…! Comprehend anything, gain an insight…?! How could he do it in such a state, when he was unable to focus on anything but his own survival...?!

    It was at this moment when Laien heard two distant voices. He recognized those two voices very well, he knew them...! But, they shouldn’t have had a place in this vision, in this nightmare!

    At the moment of his seemingly imminent death, in but an instant, Laien remembered everything about those two who would always call him ‘big brother’; how important they were to him, how much he treasured his bonds with them…

    Laien chuckled in his heart, wondering if he should be thinking about those two right now, instead of struggling to gain an insight the vision wanted to force upon him. On the other hand, reminiscing the good times had a very calming effect on him, he even was starting to feel better… to feel more… tranquil?

    Laien’s eyes snapped open in sudden realization. There was more to the Tranquility than just peace of mind! It was also connected to the memories, to the very feelings which made one experience Tranquility! For some people, it might be the feeling of excitement caused by the slaughter of battle, for others, the joy of success. As for him, it definitely was the times he had spent with those he loved, with those who were dear to him!

    Finding himself in a much more relaxed state, Laien observed how ‘he’ finally released the Forbidden Magic. With ‘him’ as a center, a terrifying explosion of the air began spreading outwards, everything and everyone it passed through. In a few seconds, the spell had turned an area of a few dozen kilometers into a world of ice, where all life had been thoroughly extinguished.

    ‘He’ looked at ‘his’ old friends, who managed to defend themselves, just as ‘he’ expected. ‘He’ shook his head again, then left. The Freezing Nova had been only a warning of ‘his’; it hadn’t killed any people, as they were in the middle of nowhere. However, the message was clear enough. Don’t come after me, you don’t stand a chance. If you do, all of you shall die.

    The next moment, the vision began turning more indistinct by the second. Laien smiled, knowing that he had succeeded and was waking up.

    ---

    When he opened his eyes, Laien saw Siana and Rune sitting on the bed, on the opposite sides of him with very worried expressions on their faces. He smiled at the two, who didn’t quite realize that he had woken up, then attempted to sit down, but found himself too shaken to do so. At the same time, he realized that his whole body was covered in a cold sweat, his clothes sticking closely to his skin. He raised his hand up a little, noticing that he also was trembling.

    “Damn those scary dreams,” he said with a resigned laugh, startling both Siana and Rune.

    “Big brother!” the two called out at the same time. Siana quickly moved closer and hugged him tightly, not caring about how sweaty he was for even a second. Smiling, Laien looked at Rune who was rubbing his eyes and trying to hide that he had torn up a little.

    Suddenly, Laien remembered about one important thing and cursed wordlessly. He had simply been so tired, so perturbed and relieved by all that happened that he forgot and simply went to sleep. “Sorry, Rune. I forgot to find you and tell you that everything turned out fine…” Laien apologized, surprising himself with how weak his voice sounded.

    “It’s okay, I met Cran on my way back and he recognized me and told me what happened. I couldn’t find Genzie, though… he wasn’t home…” Rune explained cursorily and asked right afterward. “Big brother, for a while you looked like you were about to die. Are you hurt? What’s going on?”

    Laien chuckled, happy to have someone who worries about him. He took a deep breath, feeling how strength was steadily returning to his body. He hugged Siana with one hand and helped himself to a sitting position with the other, then laughed quietly. Had it not been for the voices of those two, he would have most likely perished due to this damned vision. He really was lucky to have them.

    Getting a bit too merry, Laien thought that he is going to start crying himself, but in the end, he managed to hold back his tears. He looked at Rune and saw that his younger friend had already started calming down, while on the contrary, his little sister was still hugging him tightly and refused to let go or to show her face.

    “You don’t need to worry about me, I’m fine, really. It was just a… really bad dream. Give me a while, I will explain everything to you and then, let me sleep, okay? I’m super tired,” Laien said and yawned deeply. He proceeded to tell the story and to explain what his ‘nightmares’ were, or at least what he thought they were. Although he was somewhat embarrassed, Laien mentioned even the fact that he was saved thanks to the two of them calling out to him. Thankfully, Siana and Rune were simply happy to hear that and didn’t tease him in any way about it.

    After the whole explanation was over, Rune stubbornly insisted on staying the night, just in case he needed to be woken up. Having no strength to argue and knowing that Rune’s mother won’t worry, as it won’t be the first time Rune randomly decided to sleep over, Laien accepted the offer and laid down and went to sleep. With how exhausted he was, he had fallen asleep the moment his head touched the pillow.

    ---

    Laien woke up naturally by the morning, around two hours after the dawn. Feeling pleasantly refreshed after a good sleep, he smiled and took a deep breath, then slowly let the air out. He has had so many problems, but now, they had all been solved. It truly felt so good not to worry about anything, to just look forward to having fun each day…!

    He quietly turned his head to the right and took a good look at his cute, sleeping little sister; at her long, silky black hair, slender figure and the gentle facial features. Her now closed eyes were black, just like his own, but they would often appear more stoic and perhaps even distant, not like his own gaze that was often playful and filled with easily noticeable emotions; or so would everyone say about the two of them. He himself could read Siana’s emotions with ease, he also understood her like no one else, to the point of making him regret that…

    Laien shook his head, realizing that he was beginning to think about something strange. With slightly blushed cheeks, he turned his head around, trying to calm down.

    Getting into a weird mood, Laien couldn’t help but judge Rune’s looks just a little. The seven-year-old was certainly pleasant to the eye, even somewhat enticing. His light-brown hair was a few centimeters long, quite messy and pointing in every direction. His eyes were of a light brown shade, he had a slim and fit body; he was certain to grow up to be a beautiful young man who would make many elder women go crazy for him. Given where they lived, perhaps not only women…

    “Waaah!” Laien closed his eyes, his face flushed red all the way to his ears, his heart beating a bit too fast for comfort. “Heavens, I know I realized they are precious to me and I love them, but please don’t make it go that far!” he thought helplessly and chuckled at his own joke.

    “Mm, hello, big brother,” Rune said with a yawn, woken up by Laien’s laughing. As for Siana, she only rolled around, intent on sleeping some more. It was much too early to be getting out of the bed for her preferences.

    “What do we do? Want to go for a walk?” Rune suggested, looking at the clear blue sky outside the window. It was still early, so it would be pleasantly chilly outside, at least for an hour longer. It would feel good to walk around the city in such a weather.

    “Yeah, let’s go. Want to go somewhere specific?” Laien asked, getting out of the bed and stretching his body.

    “Yeah, to take a bath, to begin with. I will borrow some of your clothes, okay?” Rune crouched next to Laien, trying to find something nice from among the clothes Laien has already grown out of. Laien joined him in looking for a change of clothes for himself, seeing nothing strange in going to wash up the first thing in the morning.

    The townspeople of Neil City would usually wash only once every other day, but nobles and the people working for the Valius family were expected to wash themselves on a daily basis. With free access to baths, washing at least once per day became a habit to them, though this situation was definitely a phenomenon on a world scale. Only in the south would people be so obsessed with cleanliness and moreover, they would even look down on using perfumes only to mask one’s own body odor.

    In the other parts of the Starlight Continent, people wouldn’t pay that much attention to keeping themselves and the environment they live in clean and fresh. Sometimes even walking through the city in the morning, wouldn’t be a pleasant experience due to all the stink in the air. As far as that aspect went, the kingdoms of the south were truly exceptional. Thanks to that, plagues were practically nonexistent and any kinds of diseases or illnesses related to pollution were rarely encountered anywhere in the south.

    “Can you stop making noises?” Siana complained and grabbed one of the pillows, then threw it in the rough direction of the two boys.

    Laien and Rune muffled a laugh as the pillow smashed the wardrobe. The hurriedly finished packing clothes to the bags, then left the room walking on their tiptoes.

    ---

    On the way to baths, since they weren’t chatting with Rune, Laien’s thoughts wandered towards his spiritual energy and the new insights he has gained. Yesterday, he had been too tired to focus properly, but now that he reached out with his consciousness, he reached all the way to his soul and the surrounding it Spiritual Core. The mass of water-element spiritual energy in his possession was formed in a spherical shape, enveloping his soul, as if protecting it akin to insides of an egg.

    “I can’t sense the inside of my soul yet, though. I need some more practice,” Laien noted with mixed feelings, curious how his spirit looked from within. “I can influence my spiritual energy with the emotion of Tranquility by will. If I then course it through my body, it calms me down forcefully… but don’t think I should be using it in this way too often,” Laien mused, not sure why he was reluctant to this possibility. After all, being able to always keep his cool would be a nice prospect, but…

    “Ah,” he realized suddenly, guessing that overusing the calming properties of Tranquility would lead him to become incapable of being cool without its aid and that it would cause him to be unable to hone his character. Master Shire would often repeat how important ‘heart’ was to practitioners, so there definitely was something to it.

    “Either way, I can’t keep calling it ‘that emotion of Tranquility’,” Laien smirked at the thought.  “Let’s go with simplicity. I will call those emotions ‘Aspects’, there must be more than one, after all. Mm, the Aspect of Tranquility. Sounds good enough,” he pondered, then nodded contentedly.

    “I wonder why my Spiritual Core fused with my soul, though. I’ve never heard of anything like that happening to a spiritual practitioner, even after entering the Realm of Heroes… The very concept of soul is rather blurry in this world, anyway,” Laien sighed, deciding to leave thinking about this for some other time. He knew too little to make any definite conclusions and for now, he wanted to establish what he knew and was sure of.

    From the information available to the general knowledge, Laien knew that a martial practitioner needed a certain degree of master of a Primary Art to reach the Realm of Heroes. From within the three Primary Arts, be it a Qi Manipulating Art, Body Strengthening Art, or Battle Art, whichever was fine. The main prerequisite was mastering one of the Primary Arts to at least 5’th level. For example, Cran had long since passed the 5’th level of the Red Dragon Arts. The moment he reaches the peak of the ninth Mortal Realm, he will face no bottleneck at all and advance straight to the Realm of Heroes.

    The matter of martial practitioners becoming martial masters was fairly simple. There was the requirement of practicing at least a mid-level martial art which enabled you to reach the 5’th level of expertise, but apart from that, it was quite straightforward. In comparison, becoming a spiritual master was a bit more complicated.

    After reaching the peak of the ninth mortal realm, a spiritual practitioner would be faced with a challenge. He would either need to master a magic that manipulated the natural properties of an element, or go the roundabout way and learn a spell allowing him to do just that. The later way would, of course, result in worse effects and would often lead to the spiritual master being unable to progress past the early Realms of Heroes, so the first way was advised.

    From Laien’s perspective, the whole matter wasn’t that hard. He already knew what he wanted to do, he wanted to emulate ‘him’ and create a freezing effect. He wanted to turn water into ice! The only problem was, he was yet to comprehend how in the world he could do that. After all, he intended to understand the process, not only become familiar with a chant of a spell that would allow him to do the same. It was as if he knew where he wanted to go, but his whole path was covered by darkness. Without a sudden insight or a master to be taught by, he would probably find it troublesome to properly master an advanced magic of this kind.

    Yet, even without that, he has already gotten considerably stronger. However, he wasn’t quite sure of the role the Aspects would play in his future development.

    “After I created this ‘foundation’, or so to call it, of the Aspect of Tranquility, I can keep gaining further insights into it. Also, looking back at what happened yesterday, it seems that the Aspect of Tranquility amplifies the defensive properties of my magic, making it tougher and harder to break. My true battle prowess should be quite high, but the problem is, I have no idea how to use it properly and I don’t have anyone to teach me.” thinking along those lines, Laien began wondering if his vision would start occurring more often.

    After a while, Laien assumed one thing. Extreme visions like the last one would only be triggered by him gaining an important insight or perhaps by making a big breakthrough in cultivation like entering the Realm of Heroes. It was a bit of a pity, but at the same time, somewhat of a relief. No matter how beneficial, he wasn’t up to living through any as extreme visions anytime soon.

    “Big brother, what are you thinking about?” Rune asked, seeing as Laien had been lost in his thoughts for quite a while now.

    “Nothing much, just about yesterday. Do we go to the normal baths, or maybe we should go to the Great Baths?” Laien avoided the question, seeing it as too much of a hassle to explain.

    Rune looked at him brimming with a smile.

    “You should have asked sooner, big brother! Of course to the Great Baths! It’s much nicer there, there’s hot water and there are even many soaps and oils that smell really nice,” Rune replied energetically, brimming with happiness. As a non-noble, he wasn’t allowed to use the Great Baths on his own, so he looked forward to every time he could go there with Laien.

    “Will it be okay, though? It’s still early, there might be other people there…” Rune brought up, his smile growing dim as he realized the problem.

    “It will be okay. Especially after what happened yesterday,” Laien said with a laugh. He suggested going to the Great Baths fully aware that they would meet many young nobles and their friends there at this time of the day. However, with Garon’s support and Jasi’s word not to bully him anymore, he had nothing to fear from the fellow members of the Valius family. “And if anyone’s going to be stupid enough to attack me, I can try my newly gained strength on him,” he mused with a smile, honestly hoping just a little bit that someone will try to attack him.

    After all, Laien might have been more mature than other children his age, but despite everything he had gone through, he was only a ten year old. Some tendencies to show-off and appear to be cool would of course surface from time to time.

    “Mm,” Rune nodded, not having much time to think whether Laien was right or not as the two of them already approached the entrance of to the Great Baths.

    When they entered the main hall with nine large pools within it, all the chatter died out in a matter of seconds. Over three hundred young nobles and their acquaintances turned to look at Laien, whispering between each other. Some of their gazes were filled with suspicion, some with curiosity, others with fear and anxiety. Yet, after a moment or two, everyone returned to their own activities, pretending not to pay attention to Laien anymore, but sneaking glances at him and Rune every once in a while as the two were walking through the main hall.

    “Huuu, Lord Garon must have gotten pretty intrigued with me. He went as far as delivering some orders to everyone in the middle of the night, mere rumors wouldn’t have caused a reaction like that. I wonder what he told them, though? Probably not much,” Laien shrugged his shoulders, a bit disappointed that no one picked a fight with him, but also happy to ascertain that the hard times were over for him.

    Picking one of the private rooms to bathe in, Laien and Rune washed up and spent some time playing in the water and having fun. After around half an hour, they left the Great Baths and headed to wander the Neil City. Feeling rather hungry, they ended up going to the usual dining bar with cheap, but tasty food for their breakfast.

    “Scrambled eggs with ham, two buns and orange juice for me, please!” Rune called out to the middle-aged man at the counter. “Big brother, what will you take?” he asked, seating himself on one of the high chairs at the bar.

    “I’ll take the same,” Laien answered with a smile. He didn’t need to reaffirm with the middle-aged man, who nodded at him and got to work. Just two, three minutes later the portions were done and served, along with two glasses of orange juice.

    As he was eating, Laien needed to admit that eating good food came quite cheaply in the Sarkcente Kingdom. He needed to pay only three silver coins for two big portions, counting in a nice tip. One gold coin was equal to one hundred silver coins and he carried over a thousand of them in his interspatial ring, thanks to Genzie’s generous gift. Three silver coins for a good breakfast for two? He couldn’t ask for a better bargain.

    After filling their bellies, Laien and Rune decided to waste some time by relaxing and wandering around the bazaar, which by this time, began bursting with life. Neil City was one of the four biggest agglomerations in the Sarkcente Kingdom. Given how rich their country was, it was only natural that it would be filled with traders from all over the world offering to sell their goods.

    Despite having a lot of money, Laien held back from spending it recklessly. He bought only some snacks for himself and Rune, limiting the spending until he really needed money for something important.

    It appeared that the day would pass in this manner, without any major events, but then the two of them heard some kind of commotion occurring further down the main street. Curious as they were, Laien and Rune hurried over there, interested to see what was going on.

    “Wow, war horses!” Rune shouted excitedly as they saw around twenty-two meters high, powerfully built steeds being led down the road. From the looks of it, the commotion has been caused by one of those horses, who even now was trying to break free, neighing, kicking and pulling on the reins as he thrashed around. Two muscular men were giving their best to hold the horse down, but despite their efforts, they were pulled farther and farther away by the pitch-black War Horse.

    From what Laien knew, war horses were a special type of breed of magical beasts, used by the rich nobles as their battle steeds in times of the war. Judging from strength the black War Horse was displaying when trying to free himself, he should have been as strong as a human marital practitioner of the seventh or eighth rank. Given the naturally powerful body of a magical beast, the black one probably had a cultivation base of the sixth Mortal Realm; or so Laien was guessing from those scary stomps of his hoofs, with which he was breaking the stones laid throughout the main street.

    “It looks like he’s going to break out. Let’s try it out, then.” Laien murmured just loudly enough for Rune to hear him. Gesturing Rune to wait for him, he walked forward and approached the two caravan guards who at the moment were giving their best not to get trampled over by the black War Horse that really wanted to regain his freedom.

    “Say, if I calm him down and make him obey me, can I have him for half the price?” Laien asked leisurely, walking past the two men and stopping a few meters behind them and the black horse, anticipating the animal to flee out of the city after pushing the two guards aside.

    “Get away if you don’t want to get hurt, you stupid brat!” one of the guards shouted spitefully through his clenched teeth. He then pulled with all his strength… what resulted in the reins finally being unable to handle anymore and snapping into two parts. The black horse neighed and reared, kicking into the air as he celebrated his victory. He turned around, intent on galloping past everyone in his way. However, after taking but a few steps, it stopped abruptly, its hoofs sliding on the stone road as he gave his best not to crash into this scary monster in front of him.

    Laien smirked, steadily releasing his spiritual energy mixed with the Aspect of Tranquility. The people watching the scene were confused and flabbergasted as they couldn’t sense his spiritual energy, being neither experts at the Realm of Heroes nor spiritual practitioners. The black War Horse, on the other hand, was a magical beast. His instincts were much sharper than human’s, so just like any other magical beast, he could tell when he stumbled upon something so dangerous that it was better not to provoke it. Standing completely still, the black War Horse continued looking at the small human before his eyes, not daring to move a muscle.

    With a confident smile on his face, Laien lifted his hand up, keeping his palm open and pointing to the ground. The black War Horse shook his head, at first unwilling to submit. However, after a few long seconds, he conceded out of fear and respect. He stepped forward and bent his head, allowing Laien to pet him with his raised hand.

    Laien laughed, pleased with all the amazed looks he was receiving from the hundreds of people who were gathered around. He stepped closer to the black one and hugged his head, then gave the two guards a smug smile and said. “He would have run if not for me, so I will do you a favor and buy him for half the price. Deliver the bill to the Valius family for me. Oh, and give me a set of new reins, a saddle and everything else,” he concluded merrily and laughed in his heart. Even if he had one thousand gold coins, a war horse was a pricey beast. It was much better to make Garon pay for it than to spend all his money on this black one; even after a discount.

    “You can have him for free,” a man wearing a white turban on his head called out from afar, a light smile lingering on his face. “It would be an embarrassment if one of my horses went on a rampage through the bazaar, only Heavens know how much damage he would have caused,” the bearded man declared loudly, gesturing his subordinates to hurry up and bring what Laien asked for.

    “Take good care of it, young one. That black beast is not even one year old, he had grown so much stronger during our journey that here you have the result,” the man shook his head with a smile, then called out to the onlookers. “Make the way, time is money!” He glanced at Laien one more time, remembering his face. He nodded at Laien, then left with his caravan.

    Surprised by this development, Laien raised his eyebrows and laughed. To give out a horse worth at the very least two thousand gold coins and at most, twenty thousand gold coins if he proved to be a good breeding steed… Just how rich was that foreign-looking man?

    As Laien was standing there, holding his black War Horse by the newly put reins, the people began gossiping. Among the young nobles, Laien was fairly well known in Neil City, mainly due to the affair of him taking Shire to be his master. Thus, the word around his amazing and mysterious performance quickly began spreading. By the evening, there would hardly be anyone among the well over million citizens of Neil City who haven’t heard the news.

    “That was awesome! How did you do it, big brother?” Rune asked excitedly, running up to Laien, but slowing down a little, intimidated by the size of the black War Horse at Laien’s side.

    “I will explain later. For now, do you to name him?” Laien asked wryly, knowing that Rune would be happy to do so.

    “I can? Yay!” Just as Laien expected, Rune was overjoyed. On their way to the stables located on the grounds owned by the Valius family, he pondered deeply about a good name until he finally thought up something satisfying. “How about Bellicose? It describes his character well, I think,” he suggested, hoping that Laien was going to like this idea.

    “It fits well,” Laien agreed with a laugh. Warrior-like, stubborn and rowdy. Truly, ‘Bellicose’. “Then, it’s decided. From today onwards, you are Bellicose,” he said to the black War Horse, who in neighed in response. Apparently, he was satisfied with his new name.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 6. Garon’s Demand.


    “Ooh, I see the young master has finally decided to get himself a proper steed. Good, good!” the man who appeared to be in his late forties called out and waved his hand. He had welcomed Laien and his friends to come and borrow some of the horses many times before, so he was pretty well acquainted with them; especially with Laien who often come by for a chat.

    “Good day, Stable Master William. Can I get this big boy to live somewhere nice?” Laien asked, grinning mischievously. Generally, only a few horses received preferential treatment from William. The lucky ones were taken care of with utmost effort; they would be allowed to roam free for a few hours each day and would be fed the very best possible food, too. If one wanted to put his own horse under William’s special care, he would need to pay a hundred gold coins of the monthly fee. Even for the nobles, this amount looked nothing but ridiculous. Who in the world would spend so much money on his horse?

    Well… As it seemed, there were some people who would. William had only agreed to tend personally to at most ten horses, as he wouldn’t be able to divide his attention between a larger group and still provide a top-quality service. However, given William’s fame as a horse breeder and his many decades of experience, one hundred gold coins per month was actually a pretty reasonable price for his services.

    “Haha, you little devil, you only call me a ‘Stable Master’ when you want something. Let me see to his temper first, then we will think.” William understood that even if he wanted to dote on Laien, he couldn’t just bring any horse to his personal herd. War Horses tended to be especially troublesome, as there was no telling if they wouldn’t start a fight among themselves looking to gain the position of an alpha male. With how powerful they were, such conflicts would often end in heavy injuries on both sides and more often than not, one of the two steeds would end up with broken legs, and thus be rendered worthless.

    It was definitely possible to tame a war horse; that was why this race was bred to begin with. However, it took a lot of effort and the more rowdy beasts would need to be kept in isolation for years as to prevent them from attacking other males. If the black War Horse Laien brought with him proved to be one of that kind… then William would have no choice but to refuse.

    William walked over and took the reins himself, lightly pushing Laien off to the side. “You named him yet?” he asked, nodding to himself with satisfaction as he caressed the black War Horse in different places, seeing how far he is willing an unfamiliar human to go.

    “Bellicose,” Laien answered briefly, wondering what the heck William was doing, petting his horse all over his body

    “Whoa,” William chuckled as Bellicose pushed him away, reacting to his newly given name. He smiled and shook his head, seeing how the black War Horse nudged at Laien, as if demanding a praise from his master.

    Laien laughed, amused by this development. He stroked Bellicose’s neck affectionately, happy to see that his new steed liked him that much.

    “Boy, you brought me one hell of a monster. Fifth, maybe sixth mortal realm! Ha! Dear Heavens, your Bellicose is only around a year old. Good thing he seems to be fairly well-behaved. He also seems to be attached to you, eh? How come? For a war horse to become this familiar with someone in less than two, three years is unusual…” William mused aloud. He had seen how rowdy and disobedient young War Horses could be before they are tamed and trained properly. By the looks of it, this black one had been just bought by Laien. For him to suddenly become obedient of him… was strange, least to be said.

    “Anyway, let’s go to the plains behind the mansion, we need to get your Bellicose to get used to my other pupils. Meanwhile, tell me how had this big boy landed in your hands,“ William said in a commanding tone and gave Laien an anticipating look.

    As the three of them were walking, Laien briefly explained the story from the bazaar. Soon after he finished, they arrived by the vast grassland.

    “Haha, I knew you were hiding something lately. People say that you developed some relationship with the young master of the Red Dragon School, add this incident from yesterday and today… Don’t make such a surprised face, boy. Given my job, I am like an innkeeper, haha. Everybody shares some gossips here and there… I suspected there’s something special about you since long ago. I tell you, a war horse submitting this easily doesn’t happen! Don’t take me for some idiot who can’t look and connect the dots,” William barraged Laien with his statements, not letting him interrupt at all. He remembered how in the past, as a kid, he had also thought that all adults were dumb… and truth to be told, most of them were, but there were some exceptions.

    “You wouldn’t have tried to buy a horse like that if your situation in the family didn’t improve. I’ve heard of the order given by Lord Garon, too. Haha, for this bastard who was so against you and your sister when Lord Tei’ru had brought you here three years ago to have changed his mind, you must have really impressed him in some way.” William kept speaking a lot, just like always. By now, Laien knew not to interrupt him when he got into the mood to start wondering aloud, so he simply listened to him patiently.

    “Mmm, we all have some secrets. I won’t ask about yours, boy. Feel free to tell me if you feel like it, though,” William commented with a loud laugh, what caused Laien to fell like rolling his eyes. William wasn’t a bad man, but dealing with him could sometimes be unpleasant, given his peculiar sense of humor.

    “Well, let’s get started. You and your friend can ride Bellicose for a few hours and help him get used to the new place and his new pals. If after a whole day there will be no problems, I will add him to my herd, charge free,” William mentioned carefreely, happy to always have some energetic, young people hanging around his stables. The one hundred gold per month fee? He wasn’t in a need of money, he had only created it so those arrogant nobles respect his work properly.

    “That’s nice to hear, but here I wanted to request Garon to pay for it,” Laien shrugged his shoulders with a smile and stuck out the tip of his tongue. He realized what Garon likely wanted from him, he was probably interested in his sudden increase in strength and in the details of his relationship with Cran and the Red Dragon School. He would probably request his support in the future… so getting him to pay for some of his expenses wouldn’t be that strange of an idea.

    “Hah, get some better favor from that stubborn ass. What does a few thousand gold coins amount to? Nothing,” William said with a snort. To average citizens, three or four thousands gold coins might have been a fortune of their dreams, but to a core member of a major noble family? It was nothing but a change.

    “Mm, will do,” Laien nodded, not having planned to refuse William’s offer anyway. “Rune, you going with me?” he asked, kicking off the ground and jumping into the saddle of his black War Horse.

    “Of course!” Rune called out and also made a jump, seating himself behind Laien.

    “Let me open the gate for you,” William said rather to himself than to Laien and Rune, then let them into the vast, private grassland owned by the Valius family.

    ---

    “I will be going to meet Cran tomorrow, so we will see each other later, okay?” Laien asked apologetically. Lately, due to the problems that emerged after Tei’ru’s death, he wasn’t spending as much time as he would have wanted with Rune, so he has really enjoyed playing and fooling around with him throughout the entirety of this day. Regrettably, he already had other plans for tomorrow.

    “It’s fine, big brother. It’s not like you are going to disappear, one day here or there doesn’t matter that much.” Luckily, Rune didn’t sulk at all and instead took a more positive approach. 

    “Then, see you later,” Laien said while scratching his head as they approached the entrance to the main building.

    “Mm, later,” Rune replied with a smile, then hurried back home for a very late dinner.

    Taking a deep breath, Laien headed to Garon’s private quarters, hoping that this talk with him won’t prove to be too much of an annoyance. Everything should be fine by all means… but he couldn’t help being somewhat nervous, after all.

    “Clan Leader expects you. Come in,” one of the two elite guards at the doors to Garon’s chambers said calmly the moment Laien approached. He opened the door, gesturing respectfully for Laien to go inside.

    Laien sighed, seeing that Garon’s quarters were decorated even more richly compared to Jasi’s. Such a useless display of wealth annoyed him... were there no better things they could spend their money on? Walking further in, he arrived at Garon’s office, which he found rather thanks to the open door and despite the deathly silence. Thankfully, Garon made it a little easier to be found in this huge complex of rooms.

    “Here you are, finally. I was getting tired of waiting. Sit,” Garon ordered and pointed at the chair in front of his desk with the pen he was holding in his hand. Only after Laien sat down, did he raise his gaze and start speaking. “Do you know why I called you here?” he asked, trying to feel Laien out.

    “I don’t,” Laien answered after a second of thought, deciding not to share any of his guesses with Garon. He would rather have the man explain everything himself.

    “Fine. So, are you aware of the factions existing within our clan?” Garon went straight to the matter, not trying to beat around the bush. Also, just by asking this question, he made his intentions pretty obvious. He wanted Laien’s help in the contest between the Valius family and the factions opposing it; in the future, when he would grow stronger and more influential, that is.

    “I’m not aware,” Laien responded briefly. Despite being a member of the Valius family, he knew little about its internal affairs. Since he would be asked to lend his hand to Garon in the future, he would rather find out what he will be facing beforehand, though.

    “Then listen and remember it properly, I won’t be repeating myself. There are three factions that matter in our clan. Our Valius family, the Brunt family and the Cail family. Neil City is ruled by our Valius family, but regrettably, we are steadily losing ground. Even our home turf isn’t entirely under our control.” Garon suppressed a sigh and remained silent for a moment, his expression filled with worry and uneasiness.

    For Laien, it was the first the seeing this man show any kind of emotions on his face. Judging from how badly Garon was disturbed, the Valius family really must have been forced into a bad position. He didn’t comment on what he noticed, however, remaining mindful of being respectful. The last thing he needed was to antagonize Garon towards himself and have all the problems return.

    “The Brunt family was created by one of the retired generals appointed through our clan’s influence in the Kingdom. They hold military power on par, or maybe even superior to ours. Luckily, old Noey isn’t interested in gaining political power or suppressing us. He is happy as long as he is left alone. Additionally, he doesn’t have direct descendants. His faction in the most unstable one out of the three families. He is troublesome to deal with, but his faction will bury itself after he dies. We don’t need to worry about them too much,” Garon explained this part casually, waving his hand. What he was most concerned with, he left for the last.

    “On the other hand, the Cail family is pressing to increase their influence in Neil City and within the whole clan and the Kingdom itself. We… we have underestimated them for way too many generations. Father and I had been trying to suppress them, but they’ve grown too strong. Now, it’s our Valius family that is being suppressed by them. They grew too powerful... They might not be able to overtake us directly yet, however, if something doesn’t change… It will only be a matter of time before the clan is overtaken by them,” as Garon finished saying, his gaze turned cold. He eyed Laien, emanating a slight killing intent which Laien, unexpected even for himself, could sense very clearly.

    Laien swallowed, his heart beginning to beat wildly. He did his best not to show how scared he was, knowing that Garon, being an expert at the Realm of Heroes, could squash him like an ant.

    “Your friend, Genzie, is a grandson of Fohan Cail, the leader of the Cail family. Previously, I didn’t care when you befriended him, nor had Father minded. You weren’t showing any outstanding talents, you didn’t cause trouble either, so we ignored the matter. You must understand by now, right? Four practitioners at the sixth Mortal Realm, all killed by you, by your magic. At the age of ten, you fought and killed six martial practitioners of the sixth rank; a genius seen once in a millennium, one could say. Tell me, considering who you are friends with, what should I do with you and your sister?” Garon asked quietly, his words echoing with a silent threat. He valued Laien’s talent highly, but he didn’t need betrayers amongst his ranks. He also understood that people, and especially the smart children, would only show their true colors when under extreme stress, driven to the brink of what they could endure.

    Laien clenched his fists and strained his muscles, preventing himself from trembling all over. This pressure he was feeling from Garon… it was incomparable to the feeling he had had when facing Masi’s guards. This time, he really was terrified. He not only could experience Garon’s ruthless murderous intent but somehow, could also sense his cultivation base. The fifth Realm of Heroes... a mere slap from a monster like that would cause his head to turn into a pile of gore.

    Trying to breathe calmly, Laien reached out to the Aspect of Tranquility which existed within his soul and mixed it with his spiritual energy, then allowed it to course through his body. Instantly, he became much less nervous. It wasn’t that he was no longer scared of Garon, but rather, he was capable of calmly ascertaining the situation at hand. “Pretty useful, even though I didn’t want to resort to suppressing my own emotions,” Laien said to himself, then looked Garon in the eye.

    “With all respect, what are your intentions, Lord Garon? Even if you make me discard my friends under a threat to myself and my sister, all you will gain is a person who resents you. Weren’t you implying that Valius family needs allies right now, not more enemies?” Laien questioned, causing an expression of utter shock to appear on Garon’s face. He had intended to pressure Laien and see how much he is willing to do to save his own skin and aid his sister, then turn the conversation around by one hundred and eighty degrees by saying that it all had been but a test and he never intended to harm either of them… but who would have thought that the ten-year-old sitting before him would face the threat with calm and collected reasoning?

    “Hmm?” Laien raised his eyebrows, noticing that Garon’s killing intent just went and disappeared. Had he perhaps hit the nail on the head?

    “Hmph, you are close friends with an enemy. What else would make you obey?” Garon rebuked, forcefully trying to regain the initiative in this conversation, feeling rather ashamed to have been outplayed in the game of words by a ten-year-old brat. Compared to Tei’ru, he really was just as good at anything... apart from making good arguments. In that alone, he was quite average.

    “Lord Garon, you should understand how important my little sister and friends are to me. I don’t have anyone apart from them… If you threaten them to make me submit, I will do so. However, is that really what you want?” Laien asked, failing to notice that Garon was perturbed because he was having second thoughts about his approach, not because he really was considering to make his threats come true.

    “It would be good if you didn’t forget that it was my Father who saved you and your little sister,” Garon reminded, changing the subject as he began losing the ground under his feet.

    Laien frowned at this remark, then said angrily. “If Tei’ru wanted a slave, he would have made us slaves after saving us. However, he made us into his family. Even if there is a debt to be repaid, it’s not up to you to be demanding it.”

    Garon opened his eyes wide, speechless due to the tone this ten years old kid was using to speak to him. He had gotten used to Laien calling his Father by his name, without any honorifics, but the way Laien was behaving during this conversation, the way he cornered him with his cold logic and simple arguments… it resembled the way his Father spoke with him to a scary degree.

    “Heavens, it’s right. It was Father who taught this kid everything he considered important! How could I have forgotten it?” Garon sighed inwardly, unable to believe how oblivious he had been. Laien had spent the last three years being schooled by Tei’ru regularly, so how come he forgot about this fact? It might have had something to do with him never admitting the boy to be a part of the Valius family, or so the conclusion he came to was.

    “You are right, it isn’t up to me. Let me rephrase myself and ask you a simple question instead,” he spoke with an amiable smile, baffling Laien with his sudden change in attitude. “In the future, are you going to support our Valius family, or will you side with the family of your friend, the Cail family?” he asked rather naively, not realizing that his words were once again driving Laien into a corner. Even though he no longer intended to harm him, he forgot to properly voice his intentions.

    Weighing his words, Laien replied carefully after a brief moment of thought. “I won’t support the Cail family, Genzie shouldn’t be too closely involved with them anyway. I would protect my friends, of course, but apart from that, I don’t mind siding with the Valius family. As you said, Lord Garon, I owe Tei’ru a debt,” Laien stated clearly, but then added in his thoughts. “A debt, but not only of gratitude.”

    Garon nodded and smiled at Laien, satisfied with his answer. “In ten years or so, the Cail family will be strong enough to start suppressing us openly. The conflict will escalate. Are you confident in reaching the Realm of Heroes by then?” he asked straightforwardly, curious how much confidence Laien has.

    “I am,” Laien replied instantly, his lips curving into a rather cheeky smile. He had no chance to confirm it, but he was at the very least a spiritual practitioner of the sixth rank. Ten years? He was confident to become a spiritual master in half of that time!

    Out of the blue, Garon laughed out, appearing to be greatly amused. He rubbed his eyes, then explained his sudden outburst. “Do you want to know what my three sons answered when I asked them the same question when they were your age?” he asked so eagerly that Laien couldn’t help but nod his head.

    “I know how talented each of them is, so I spoke of different time frames… but each of them said things like ‘I don’t know, but I will do my best’, or ‘if the Heavens allow, I will meet your expectations”. None of them had the spine to reply like you did. None of them was brave enough to make a bold statement! Perhaps, Father was right. I was being too soft on them the whole time,” Garon reminisced aloud while shaking his head. When he had been a child, he desired more warmth and understanding from Teiru, so he gave just that to his own sons. Yet, he might have given them too much freedom and thus failed to whip them into shape.

    “Anyway,” Garon waved his hand, changing the subject entirely. “When you turn twelve, we will send you to some good Institute in the north. In our Kingdom, you would never grow to become a true spiritual master, after all. I would have liked to send you sooner… But the best Institutes accept apprentices no younger than twelve years old. As I recall, your sister also has an aptitude for Magic? Hmm, the all-female Black Star Academy doesn’t have age requirements. We might as well send her to study there when you go to your Institute, too.” Taking a look at Laien, Garon realized that he started speaking a bit too casually. He coughed, then asked. “Is there anything you aren’t satisfied with?”

    For a good few seconds, Laien was speechless. First, Garon threatened him, then he turned amiable and now he was offering him the best education and asking for his opinions? There really existed people whose mood could change so fast?

    “No, unless we were to discuss the details of which Institute or Academy I would attend to. As long as my little sister and my friends are away from harm, I will be happy to aid the Valius family,” Laien said and bowed his head. He didn’t quite understand the reasons behind the change in Garon’s attitude, be he wasn’t about to waste his good luck.

    “That can wait for later, I don’t have the necessary information prepared. We never had to deal with a spiritual practitioner’s curriculum, after all,” Garon said with a laugh. Laien mentioned an Institute or an Academy, so he obviously wanted to pursue both paths at once, that of a martial master and a spiritual master. Only Academies provided education in both paths at once, so most likely he would end up sending Laien to one of the Academies of the Starlight Continent.

    “Will that be everything, Lord Garon?” Laien asked, wishing for this conversation to finish already despite having relaxed enough not to keep using the Aspect of Tranquility to forcefully calm himself down.

    “Yes, you can go. I will send you the information regarding the Martial Schools, Institutes and Academies in a week or so. You can take your time deciding where you wish to study, all your expenses will be covered by the family,” Garon reassured and seeing that Laien was growing restless, nodded slightly and gestured to him that it was fine to leave.

    Laien stood up, bowed his head again and then left, heading to his room. He didn’t expect this ‘little talk’ with Garon to be so stressful, but overall, he was happy with how it concluded.

    As for Garon, he laughed to himself and stood up from his chair. He walked up to the window and opened it, looking at the bright full moon high in the night sky. “He really is similar to you, Father. My sons never were so disrespectful to me, but I never felt any of them were as promising as this brat. Six more years until he truly becomes an adult… I will uphold my promise to you, Father. I will give it to him when he turns sixteen… but if you saw him now, you would have probably told me to chase after him and do it today… Even after you died, it’s so hard to please you, Father,” Garon mused aloud, a light smile visible on his face. He had been greatly anxious for the past years, even more so after his Father passed away in the middle of attempting to make a breakthrough to the eighth Realm of Heroes. However, for once, after having a talk with such a promising youth, he felt a little relieved and more hopeful about the future of the Valius family.

    ---

    Laien woke up at the daybreak, just like usual. He yawned and stretched his body, shrugging off the sleepiness. He originally intended to dress up and head out without waking Siana up, but from he could see, it no longer was possible. His little sister was fully dressed and waiting for him!

    “Big brother, you are going to the Red Dragon School, right? I’m going with you. I want to join it and learn martial arts,” she declared with a completely serious expression, making Laien wonder if he wasn’t still dreaming. His little sister, who never liked to do much apart from staying in the bed and lazing around, wanted to go through a hard physical training? He pinched his forearm, making sure that really wasn’t asleep. It hurt, indeed, so he couldn’t be!

    “Come on big brother, stop making fun of me! Dress up, we are going!” Siana raised her voice, angry that Laien wasn’t taking her seriously.

    Laien, completely and positively amazed, could only do as his little sister said. He quickly went to look for some proper clothes, intending to leave before Siana could change her mind.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 7. Red Dragon School.


    “How come you want to start training your body all of a sudden, Siana? You never wanted to train with me, no matter how I asked,” Laien inquired, looking for something good to wear in the wardrobe. He only had clothes fit for playing and training, but this time he needed to put on something presentable enough. He didn’t want to embarrass himself after Cran invited him to come, even more so now that Siana was tagging along.

    “It’s just… Ehh, you are so insensitive, big brother. I’m not telling you.” Laien raised his eyebrows, confused. How was his question insensitive? “Uuu, she is becoming harder and harder to understand lately. Is that puberty?” he made such a stupid guess, leaving this worry for some other time.

    “Big brother, can’t you just hurry up? How long are you going to look for clothes? Come on, just wear this. That should be fine, too.” Siana crouched at his side, easily finding two pieces of clothing to her liking. Laien was forced to admit that they really were better compared to what he wanted to wear; a simple white shirt and a pair of white pants, both with some additions of blue. He would probably look good enough.

    Laien started changing at the spot, not minding that Siana was right next to him. The two of them have been living together in one room for the past three years and moreover, they were siblings. He saw no reason to be embarrassed.

    Siana backed off by a few steps, pretending not to look, but still peeking at Laien, slightly interested in a boy’s body. She felt rather nervous, stealing glances when her big brother was completely naked, so after catching a bit too clear of a glimpse, she quickly turned around and tried to act as if nothing happened with her face burning red.

    “What are you acting so embarrassed for? We even bathed together so many times…” Laien laughed, having noticed Siana’s obvious peeking. “If you want to take a look, just tell me, I don’t mind~” he even added carefreely.

     He might not have minded, but Siana certainly did mind it quite a lot…

    “Whoa!” Laien stopped the ball of water that was about to smash into his face as he turned around to look at Siana. Thankfully, he was much stronger now so he could easily cause a low-level spell like this one to halt with the aid of his Guardian. Otherwise, he would have gotten all wet… but now that he thought about it, he could remove all the water from his clothes if needed, so there wouldn’t be a problem anyway.

    Siana, blushing wildly, jumped at Laien with an extremely angry expression. Having taken him off-guard, she unexpectedly managed to push him down on the floor. “Stupid! Stupid! You are so stupid big brother!” she yelled, smashing at Laien’s chest with her fists.

    Laien chuckled helplessly, somehow getting worried about himself was Siana to become a high-ranked martial practitioner. “I’m sorry, okay? My bad, I apologize,” he attempted to reconcile, patting his little sister on her head.

    Siana kept pouting at first, but then she sighed and laid down on top of him. “You are still stupid, big brother, but I love you,” she said quietly, forgiving him as easily as she had gotten angry at him.

    Laien chuckled, barely hearing her last words. He sat down, causing Siana to slide down onto his laps. He hugged his litter sister, then said half-jokingly. “Your insensitive big brother loves you too~”

    Siana muffled a laugh, feeling really happy and comfortable. All of the sudden, she felt like going back to sleep just like that. Maybe all the training could wait until tomorrow…

    “Hey, we should get going. If we don’t find Cran at the morning assembly we will need to search the whole school grounds for him,” Laien reminded, standing up and lifting Siana to her feet at once. Seeing that his little sister was growing drowsy, he grabbed her hand and pulled her outside. “Geez, this sleepyhead. She was this resolute before, but now she is about to fall asleep,” Laien smiled helplessly, keeping those thoughts to himself.

    ---

    They walked through the quiet streets, arriving at the gates of the Red Dragon School after a short while. The gate at the guard looked at them briefly, appearing to be really tired. He opened the gate wordlessly, letting the two siblings enter.

    It wasn’t the first time at the Red Dragon School for Laien, however, it for Siana it was. She kept looking around, amazed that a ‘simple’ Martial School could take up so much space. Going by the size, the grounds of the Red Dragon School were even larger than the whole estate of the Valius family.

    “A young master of this school is your friend, big brother? It’s amazing! You think he will agree to let me join it?” she asked, clearly excited by the prospect. Laien only smiled, telling her that he would ask. To be honest, he was pretty sure that Cran would agree to help Siana enroll, but he was worried about something else. The disciples of the Red Dragon School would learn that Siana was his younger sister soon and least to be said, his relationship with many of them wasn’t looking too good.

    When he would bump into them in the city, quite a few of those disciples would try to bully him ‘because his eyes were looking down on them’, or something like that. True, he didn’t think that they were nice people after seeing them behave all rowdy at the bazaar, but he never even commented on what they were doing. Yet somehow, they still tried to pick on him…

    One of those times, after bringing him to ‘teach him about the true martial practitioners’ in an alley close to their school, they a group of them had been beaten up by him. By coincidence, Cran had seen the whole thing and for some reason decided to help him out. Those disciples were forced to keep quiet about what happened and were told not to attack Laien ever again. A similar informal order had been issued by Cran throughout the ranks of young disciples of his school, too.

    However, grudges wouldn’t be forgotten easily. Especially when one was young and haughty, it would be hard for him to let go of the past. Letting his little sister attend the same school as those people? Laien doubted whether it was such a good idea, but Siana would probably know how to take care of herself… he could lend a hand, too… “Aaah, I feel like I’m leaving too many problems for ‘later’ those past days,” Laien shook his head, deciding to go with the flow of events, at least for now.

    After walking for a while, Laien and Siana entered the main hall of the outer section of the Red Dragon School, scoping well over ten thousand square meters and being totally devoid of any objects. From the looks of it, the very large hall was a devoted to being a gathering spot and not much else. The many disciples of various ages within the main hall were leisurely chatting with each other without any sense of urgency. The morning would, after all, be one of the rare times when they could socialize without being exhausted from the day-long training. It became somewhat of a tradition for everyone to gather and chat in the main hall, at least for the outer disciples.

    As their arrival didn’t attract any special attention, Laien and Siana walked to the side and leaned against one of the wooden walls of the main hall and proceeded to quietly wait for Cran to show up. Given how prestigious the Red Dragon School was within the Sarkcente Kingdom, they felt rather nervous and didn’t want to cause any unnecessary trouble.

    Leaning against the wall, Siana returned to her usual state. She concealed her emotions, stuffing them deep inside. She didn’t do it consciously, it was her natural behavior. Being with Laien, lately maybe even with Laien’s friends, she could be herself. However, for some reason she didn’t like to socialize with people she didn’t know and she wasn’t interested in getting to know them, either. All of that resulted in her ice-princess act and inability to make friends by herself.

    “Hey, look there. It’s that brat, you know which one, the disciple of that crazy old fart. What is he doing here?” one male disciple whispered to his friends. He appeared to be around fifteen or sixteen years old and more importantly, he had heard from his younger cousin that a kid called Laien used his relationship with young master Cran and had beaten him up for no reason. If he remembered correctly, it should have happened around a year ago.

    “That’s the one who bullied our younger disciples? He even dares to show up to our school and stay in the open. Even if he is a friend of the young master, how can we tolerate this disgrace?” another male disciple commented, displeased by Laien’s presence in their school.

    “Did he bring his girlfriend with him? Heh, let’s teach him a lesson. He can’t be allowed to look down on our Red Dragon School,” someone else suggested, eager to relieve some of his pent-up stress. He and his friends were all fairly senior disciples among the outer sect, they have all reached the fifth Mortal Realm and would soon be promoted to the inner sect. With their position within the school being fairly secure, they had no qualms about bullying one brat a little bit. As long as they didn’t go too far, the young master wouldn’t be able to punish them in any way.

    Either way, it wasn’t like Cran had such a large degree of influence within the school. He was a core disciple and the son of the co-founder of the Red Dragon School, but three years ago, after having been refused apprenticeship by the founder, his uncle, he had lost a fair amount of his personal power. Or at the very least, it was how it felt to those in the outer sect, who saw Cran grow more level-headed and not as prone to stir up trouble throughout the last three years.

    “Aaah, as I thought, problems are coming, huh…” Laien rolled his eyes, closing them beforehand so no one would notice. He spotted the four teenage disciples walking towards him and Siana through the hall quite early, as they were being so apparent about their intentions that a scene was already being caused. The six hundred disciples were intrigued by what was going on, so even before the four reached Laien and Siana, they already became the center of attention.

    “Oi, brat. You aren’t one of our disciples. What are you doing here?” the short-haired youth spoke up in a loud voice. He obviously intended to make a spectacle out of the whole thing.

    “Third brother, I don’t think he knows that only our disciples are allowed here,” the tallest of the four commented sarcastically and laughed at his own words.

    “How can he not know, first brother? Look, even after we explained it to him, he is still standing there with his girl, ignoring us and all,” the short-haired youth added, stepping closer to the two siblings.

    Laien felt like rolling his eyes again. With these four surrounding them, even if they wanted they wouldn’t be able to walk away. He wanted to rebuke them, but…

    “Stop bothering us,” everyone fell silent as Siana’s loud voice echoed unnaturally throughout the hall. No one expected the very young girl to speak up so loudly and yet, so indifferently and disdainfully.

    Siana gazed briefly at the four youths, then sighed quietly and no longer paid them any attention, her expression and body language saying ‘you are not worthy of my time’.

    Laien smiled helplessly, wondering what would happen if his little sister behaved so rudely in front of someone too strong or influential for him to handle. He noted to himself that they would need to talk about it later, as to avoid a disaster from happening one day.

    The ‘third brother’ snapped out of the shock before anyone else. He closed onto Siana with an annoyed expression, only to be blocked by Laien who stepped in between immediately.

    “Out of my way!” the short-tempered youth shouted, lifting his hand with the intention of slapping Laien in the face with an open palm. It might not have seemed as much, but given how strong a martial practitioner of the fifth rank could be, a simple palm like that would be more than enough to heavily wound any normal ten-year-old kid.

    Laien smirked, preparing to use his magic, but at that very moment, an angry, Qi-amplified yell resounded throughout the main hall.

    “I wouldn’t do it If I were you!”

    The painfully loud shout made many disciples cover their ears. Everyone turned to look who the one shouting was and seeing that it was none other than Cran, they hurriedly made a way for him to pass through.

    “You are lucky you stopped. It could have been quite dangerous,” Cran said with a laugh, gesturing the four to move away from his guests.

    The short-haired youth was unable to cool down quickly enough, so he brought up angrily. “Young master, no matter how close friends you are with this person, you shouldn’t threaten your fellow disciples!” he ended up raising his voice, once again making the hall go completely silent.
     
    Cran snickered, shaking his head. “I didn’t mean in this way. What I was saying, is that ‘this person’ is strong enough to have killed you be an accident. You know, magic is not as accurate as our martial arts.” Cran said carefreely, walking past the four teenagers and exchanging a shake of the hand with Laien. He gave Siana a curious look, then gestured the two siblings to follow him.

    Leaving everyone confused, the three of them left to the main hall of the outer section. Dumbfounded, the short-haired youth laughed nervously and asked aloud. “He was just joking, right? I mean, a kid like that…” he chuckled awkwardly, hoping that Cran had been making fun of him.

    “Maybe that’s why young master favors him so much. It would make sense… He never got friendly with any of us, but he made friends with a kid who wasn’t even a part of our school,” someone guessed aloud. Some agreed with them, while others weren’t convinced. Regardless, they would sooner or later learn the truth.

    ---

    “I’m sorry about this welcome, our disciples tend to have rough tempers,” Cran said apologetically, leading Laien and Siana through a dark corridor that gave off an old, ancient feeling. “Anyway, why did you bring your sister along?” he asked afterward, looking like he wanted to say something else, but decided not to.

    “She said she wanted to learn martial arts and tagged along. Do you think it would be possible to enroll her in your school?” Laien went straight to the matter, throwing Cran off a little bit.

    Cran took a deep breath, then eyed Siana and responded seriously. “From the looks of it, she has never trained before, eh? It might make things easier, though. If her talent is good enough, I can ask one of our Elders to take her in as his disciple. She would receive high-quality training from the scratch, however, she will need to devote herself to our school if she wants to learn our Red Dragon Arts. Although, that’s going to be a few years in the future, when she reached the peak of the fifth Mortal Realm, so that’s not a worry for today,” Cran finished and gave Laien a look saying ‘how about that’. He offered them the very best conditions, under the requirement of Siana having a high enough potential.

    Laien didn’t hide how surprised he was, causing Cran to smiled happily, pleased to see an honest reaction.

    “Haha, don’t mind this little help from me. You can just do me a favor in the future,” Cran assured Laien and tousled his hair, just like an elder brother would. But why did he? Laien could only wonder. Was Cran really looking forward to becoming friends with him for the sake of future?

    “How am I ever going to repay all of that?” Laien asked with a laugh, then glanced at his little sister. Despite her seemingly emotionless expression, he could tell that she was pretty appealed by this proposition of Cran’s.

    “How about sparring with me, to make a good beginning? I will be leaving exactly in three weeks. We won’t have many chances left to fight, unfortunately.” Cran sighed, leading Laien and Siana to the small private training ground located at the inner sections of the school. He unsheathed his longsword and walked to the middle of the ground, inviting Laien to come over.

    “I’ve always wondered, why did you help me back then, when I got into a fight with those disciples from your school? And asked only to spar with you in exchange?” Laien inquired, interested in finding out the exact reason. At the same time, he pulled his short sword out, then roused the Qi in his body. As he was yet to learn a Qi Manipulating Art, that was the extent of the preparations he could do before sparring, at least as far as the martial aspect of his abilities went.

    Siana seated herself on the wooden terrace, observing Laien and Cran while wondering why boys always seemed to enjoy sparring and fighting so much. Wasn’t that only training to get stronger? What was so fun in doing that? She didn’t understand at all.

    “Why? Hah, now that we are getting along a bit better, I can tell you. You probably aren’t aware of it, but you release an incredibly powerful killing intent when you fight for real. How come it’s like that, I have no idea! Come on!” Impatient to start, Cran started attacking Laien with fast, light slashes and ended up raising his voice out of excitement. However, he didn’t forget to properly adjust himself to Laien’s level, as to not overpower him instantly.

    “Killing intent?” Laien asked, blocking Cran’s attacks half-consciously. After training under Master Shire for so long, this level of swordplay was like a child’s play for him. Moreover, Cran was going easy on him, too. How could he possibly be pressured in this situation? “Even if I do release some kind of killing intent, what kind of benefit is that to you?” Laien inquired further, not quite understanding Cran’s reasoning. Was getting used to killing intent so important to a martial practitioner? Couldn’t he just request to fight with one of the strong Elders from his school, or with his father?

    “Ha, Master Shire taught you to fight well, but he didn’t even explain something so basic? He must have felt your killing intent too, just like I did. Hah, then, let me explain!” Cran slowly added more variety to his attacks, not only slashing simply from the sides, but also attacking Laien’s legs, stabbing, or aiming at his forearms with quickly slashes right after their blades crossed. As they were warming up, he continued the explanation.

    “Apart from the three Primary Arts that are essential to any martial practitioners, there exists something called ‘battle sense’! It’s an ability one can usually awaken and sharpen only after entering the Realm of Heroes! Yet, thanks to your ridiculously strong killing intent and a bit of luck, I awakened it! Then, I sharpened it through training and sparring with you!” Cran was becoming more and more excited as he talked, his attack becoming more vicious without him noticing. He was so happy for himself, that he starting to forget to hold back. A slight thread of blood-red Qi suddenly enveloped Cran’s longsword…

    Laien, noticing that… no, rather sensing it, reacted intuitively. He disregarded any common logic and poured his spiritual energy into his short sword, then allowed the blades to clash.

    The blood-red Qi and the deep-blue spiritual energy collided, resulting in a very peculiar interaction. Firstly, Laien’s short sword shattered into pieces, unable to withstand a serious blow from Cran, who after all, was a powerful martial practitioner! A very loud sound of metal shattering resounded within the training grounds, reaching even the far away inner quarters of the Red Dragon School. From the point of impact, a surge of wind exploded outwards with considerable force, rising up some sand and sending it all around.

    As for the second thing that happened… it wasn’t yet too obvious to anyone but Cran.

    “Big brother!” Siana stood up and ran to Laien’s side, but quickly calmed down, seeing that her big brother was all right, just a little shaky. His short sword broke into many pieces, he was thrown backward by the force and fell on his butt, but all in all, he didn’t seem to be wounded.

    “Good Heavens, what was that? My head is spinning and I am about to lose it… Urgh…” Cran put a hand to his mouth, trying to stop himself from vomiting. He managed to hold it in, however, after forcefully swallowing everything back, his expression turned quite ugly. Compared to Laien, his weapon was in a perfect state, but his condition itself was quite a bit worse off.

    “Don’t blame me, it was you who recklessly used your Qi to attack. How was I supposed to defend? Aah, my ears are still ringing. At least you didn’t break my hand, I think. It’s numb all over… I will need a new sword, though, heh…” Laien commented resignedly, shaking his head. Cran had never before gotten so fired up during any of their sparrings. He shouldn’t have been a reckless person like that, but today, he really went overboard.

    “You are already at the eighth mortal realm, hold back a little, for my sake, would you?” Laien added with a sigh, causing Cran to frown and wonder in confusion. Had he ever told anyone about his recent advancement from seventh to eighth mortal realm? Even his father didn’t know, so apart from Elders who could have directly inspected his cultivation base with their battle sense, no one should have known.

    “How do you know that I am at the eighth Mortal Realm? And how did you react in time, anyway? Don’t tell me you awakened a battle sense of your own?” Cran asked with disbelief. If Laien really has had awakened his battle sense at the age of ten, that would be way too ridiculous. Wasn’t he only at the third Mortal Realm as a martial practitioner, anyway? It shouldn’t be possible by any means…!

    “Dunno. I kind of felt when you used your Qi, I knew how strong it was and where you applied it. I ‘saw’ how you pulled it out from your Qi Origin... Is that what this ‘battle sense’ does?” Laien explained, as curious as Cran about the answer. He smiled when Siana sat at his side and leaned against him. She seemed to be a bit sleepy… It really was too early of an hour for her, who liked to sleep in.

    “No… That’s not how it should work. For me, it’s closer to an ‘instinct’. Apart from feeling killing intent, I can tell if someone has bad intentions, or I can predict their movements in a fight really well just by looking. I can sense the presence of Qi or spiritual energy, but nothing close to what you described. I can’t even tell how strong your spiritual cultivation is. Maybe what you have is the spiritual sense of a Magus at the Realm of Heroes? I am not too clear about that, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you had it,” Cran mused aloud, colors already returning to his face. He stretched, then gave Laien an expectant look.

    “Haha, that would be nice if I had a spiritual sense. About our spar, do we continue?” Laien asked, smiling happily. His arm was better already, he would have no problems if they were to keep fighting.

    “You still want to continue?!” Siana called out in disbelief. Boys… they were so stupid!

    Cran and Laien laughed, amused by Siana’s reaction. They exchanged a short look, after what Cran spoke up. “We might later, but we should get your brother a new sword to begin with. Let’s go to the Elders Hall. We can ask for a good sword for you there and test your sister’s aptitude, too.” Cran extended his hand, intending to help Laien stand up. Laien chuckled and helped himself up, still feeling somewhat strange about being this familiar with Cran. Yet somehow, it did not feel too bad at all.

    “Hey, I’m still there, you know?” Siana pouted, seeing the boys get all mushy with each other. However, all she achieved was making Laien and Cran exchange a glance and burst out laughing.

    Afterwards, it took them quite some time to apologize to Siana and to make her stop sulking.

    ---

    When the three of them arrived at the Elders hall, they saw two old men sitting at the table beside a fireplace and chatting with each other.

    “Greetings, Elder Hauman. Greetings, Elder Bumne,” Cran called out, gesturing at Laien and Siana to come closer. The two siblings bowed respectfully, then repeated the formal greetings.

    “Ho, who have you brought us, Cran? Was this noise from before perhaps created by you and them?” Elder Hauman stood up, appraising the two youths with his experienced gaze. Elder Bumne remained seated, showing less interest in Cran’s arrival.

    “This boy is my dear friend, the turmoil you heard was caused by our little sparring. I brought him here to look for a new weapon for him since we managed to break his old one,” Cran explained with a smile, omitting the less important details. He was quite sure that Elder Hauman wasn’t interested in hearing the whole story, anyway.

    At the table, Elder Bumne raised an eyebrow and gave Cran a questioning look. To give a precious weapon from the core sect’s resources to an outsider, Cran must have valued this boy quite highly. Regrettably, Cran was authorized to do so, so he couldn’t voice any complaints about the idea.

    “I am Laien, pleased to meet you, Elder Hauman,” Laien bowed yet again after Cran introduced him, this time a bit more lightly.

    “Hmmm, good, good. You know how to respect your elders. Go ahead, find something you like, boy. Since young master took a liking to you, you are our Red Dragon School’s friend.” Nodding to himself, Elder Hauman turned his head to look at Siana, then gazed at Cran expectantly.

    “This girl is Siana. Laien’s little sister, eight years old. She never practiced martial arts before. Elder Hauman, I know you are busy, but would you be willing to take her as a disciple if her talent proves good enough? Please hear to this request of mine,” Cran actually bowed his head, putting Elder Hauman in a hard spot. Siana followed Cran’s example and bowed, too.

    “I truly don’t have time to raise another disciple now, Cran. Why don’t you ask Elder Bumne here? He has always been good at handling young ones, although he tends to be a bit cold towards them,” Elder Hauman refused tacitly, throwing the responsibility for granting Cran’s request onto his friend.

    Elder Bumne frowned, but unable to refuse directly, he said in a low, rather displeased voice. “Only if her talent proves to be good enough. Follow me, we will test her immediately.” Despite what he was saying, Elder Bumne already decided to flat out refuse this request. He wasn’t about to start doing favors for Cran, as their relationship had never been too close. Dealing with a disciple who never trained before… it was too much work!

    Not even a minute later, they arrived in a medium-sized room inside which only one thing was being displayed. Precisely, an impressive looking longsword hung from the walk in front of the entrance, sheathed in a scabbard in the shape of a dragon. The ancient weapon emanated a menacing aura, making it apparent that it was a very precious artifact of the Red Dragon School.

    Elder Bumne took the sword in his hand and held it right in front of Siana. “Unsheathe it, concentrate your will on the blade and swing with all your might,” he explained almost mechanically, very used to testing new students applying to become Core Disciples in this manner. The ‘Red Dragon Sword’ would resonate with a person’s Qi Origin and according to one’s potential, would react in a different way. The better one’s aptitude for martial arts was, the stronger the reaction would be. There were other ways to measure one’s talent, obviously, but this method was the easiest and quickest out of all of them.

    When explaining what to do, Elder Bumne even said the phrase ‘concentrate your will’ only as a part of his usual sentence and didn’t bother to give Siana a detailed explanation. In his eyes, an eight years old girl who never practiced martial arts would have no idea what ‘focusing one’s will’ truly meant anyway, so he couldn’t be bothered to be wasting his breath.

    Siana took a long look at the sheathed longsword, not noticing that Elder Bumne was growing impatient, neither paying attention to Laien and Cran who were getting worried. She focused, trying to hear this very quiet, distant voice… Finally, she unconsciously reached out with her hand and grabbed the heavy longsword. Her gaze appearing to be absent as she unsheathed the silvery blade of the Red Dragon Sword. She grabbed the hilt with both hands, allowing the blood red scabbard to fall to the ground to Elder Bumne’s fury. However, before the man had a chance to voice his anger, she took a swing above her head and slashed down.

    Instantly, the Heaven-piercing roar of a Dragon resounded in the room and enveloped the whole Red Dragon School, frightening the tens of thousands of outer, inner and core disciples. Even the few Elders present within the grounds jumped up as the mighty roar reached their ears. They all knew… that the second Red Dragon Sword has just chosen its master!

    Meanwhile, Elder Bumne, shocked out of his mind, stared at the completely shattered section of three consecutive walls, each bearing the marks of five claws of a Dragon. He blinked, his mouth opening and closing repeatedly. He looked at the little girl who stood there as if mesmerized, holding the ancient longsword from which surged a powerful blood-red aura.

    The crimson energy engulfed Siana’s body for a second, then retracted to the sword itself. As it did, Siana fell to her knees and sat on the floor, breathing heavily.

    Elder Bumne and Cran were speechless, completely flabbergasted. However, Laien laughed quietly and said with a wide smile.

    “Amazing.”

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 8. Amazing Little Sister.


    Laien looked at Siana, then at the collapsed walls. He was still smiling, his face flushed from excitement. “This is incredible… Hahaha, I might end up as the one being protected by her if I don’t work hard. Now that would be embarrassing, haha…”

    Siana looked at the longsword in her hand, the blood-red glow around it dissipating completely. She rested the sword’s blade against the floor, feeling that it became too heavy for her to hold up any longer. She closed her eyes for a second, overwhelmed by the whole experience. She took a look at the walls in front of her, unsure whether it really was her who destroyed them.

    “Girl, give back the Red Dragon Sword,” Elder Bumne demanded unreasonably as he approached Siana. He felt a serious headache coming, thinking about all the annoying circumstances that would follow what had just happened. After becoming an Elder, he had only wished for a quiet, peaceful life. Someone else might have been overjoyed to find an excellent talent as Siana, however, he only saw her as an unneeded spark of chaos in his Red Dragon School.

    Still confused, Siana reluctantly sheathed the longsword and handed it away to Elder Bumne. She didn’t quite understand that the Red Dragon Sword had chosen her and thus, it became her belonging, so despite feeling regretful about it, she gave it back to its original owners. Yet, she couldn’t help but feel regretful. In some strange way, she already got attached to that mysterious blade… not in a manner of being secretly desirous of its power, but rather seeing it as something precious, akin to a teddy bear one might have had since early childhood.

    The Red Dragon Sword would have been handed back to her sooner or later, but rather than that, it seemed that the blade itself had different ideas.

    “Argh…!” Elder Bumne gritted his teeth, withholding a scream of pain. The moment he grabbed the Red Dragon Sword, it actually emitted the fiery-red aura from before, thus burning the skin on his hand into a crisp in but an instant and forcing him to let go of it immediately. Had he been any slower, then even with his powerful body of a martial master, he would have had his whole arm burned until only naked bones remained.

    “It chose a little girl,” Elder Bumne groaned quietly as it slowly occurred to him. The Red Dragon Sword rejected him! Rejected to be held by anyone but the master it has chosen! The second Red Dragon Sword in possession of their school has finally chosen its rightful master!

    Elder Bumne breathed in, experiencing a peculiar mix of anger and jealousy. However, he quickly suppressed those unreasonable feelings, intent on making the best out of the situation. He was about to express his admiration for Siana’s talent and say something about ‘how boundless her future possibilities were’when the girl’s older brother interrupted him.

    “You really are amazing, Siana! It looks like this sword has chosen you, that attack was really incredible, too!” Laien said excitedly, feeling genuinely proud to have such a talented little sister. He stepped past Elder Bumne and crouched at Siana’s side, then reached out for the longsword that was laying on the ground. He hesitated briefly, but then smiled and grabbed it confidently.

    Elder Bumne’s eyes nearly popped out of his eyeballs when he saw Laien hold the same Red Dragon Sword which just heavily burned his hand. Was it because he was that girl’s relative, or was his martial talent great enough not to provoke a defensive reaction…?! One ultimate genius appearing out of nowhere was shocking enough, but two? Elder Bumne no longer understood what was going on.

    Paying little to no mind to Elder Bumne’s changing facial expressions, Laien handed the Red Dragon Sword to Siana. She took it from him happily, a bit worried about being able to carry a rather heavy and big longsword with her on the daily basis.

    Seeing how the two siblings were acting, Cran covered his face with a palm, hiding his oh so very amused smile. Those two really were behaving as if they were sure they would be leaving with the Red Dragon Sword. As Cran saw it, there indeed was a possibility of it happening, but that wasn’t the most important thing at the moment. Simply, Elder Bumne’s face was a truly priceless sight to the point of making his stomach ache in pain of the withheld laughter.

    Out of the blue, Laien chortled and laughed. He gazed at the sword in Siana’s hands, then at Siana herself. “She’s telling you to hurry up and become stronger because it’s ‘super annoying’ to have a master who can’t hear you, Pfhahaha,” Laien conveyed the message, all the while unable to hold himself back from laughing. In response, the Red Dragon Sword flickered with a blood-red aura, as if it was getting angry at him. Elder Bumne, Cran and Siana looked at Laien, wondering what in the world was he talking about.

    “Yea, okay, sorry, Seira. Umm, She’s saying that you can make her smaller if you think about it, just like when you briefly connected with her in the beginning. Also, her name is Seira, as I kinda said… oh well. No big introductions for you… Stop yelling at me already, geez…” Laien looked like he wanted to cover his ears, but he only shook his head resignedly, knowing that it wouldn’t help. He took a long look at the Red Dragon Sword, then sighed and rolled his eyes. “So annoying,” he thought to himself, perhaps a bit too loudly, as the sheathed longsword once again flickered with the blood-red aura.

    Siana was the first to guess that Laien was chatting with the Red Dragon Sword, as she heard his… her, voice just a moment ago, although pretty unclearly. Trying out what Laien suggested she could do, Siana strongly imagined ‘Seira’ becoming smaller and surprisingly, the whole longsword along with the scabbard shrunk itself the length of an average sword. Surprised, Siana discovered that it wasn’t as heavy as previously, either. In this state, she would be able to wield it pretty comfortably and also wear it on the belt; if she had a suitable one, that is.

    As the two children in front of him were laughing and fooling around, Elder Bumne’s face had managed to turn as red as a ripe tomato. At first, he didn’t care much about those two siblings at all. Then, he was forced to admit that he should lend them a hand for his own benefits. However, after witnessing such rude behavior from the two of them…! True, his greatest wish was to live in peace! But! How could he let something like that slip by unpunished? He had been humiliated not only by the Red Dragon Sword but also by these two brats!

    “What is going on here?” a calm voice rang out from behind the four of them, causing Elder Bumne to swallow everything he was about to shout out. The mere thought of behaving so inappropriately in that man’s presence terrified him so badly that he trembled slightly.

    “Greetings, Great Master Rudford,” Elder Bumne bowed deeply, waiting to be allowed to raise his head.

    “Greetings, Uncle Rudford,” Cran also bowed respectfully as his uncle and the founder of the Red Dragon School appeared before them. Generally, his uncle would stray from people and spend the majority of his time training in seclusion, so even for Cran, it was a rare chance to see Rudford in person. After all, during his whole life, he had only met Rudford three times, not including today.

    Laien exchanged a quick look with Siana, then helped his little sister to her feet. The two of them looked at the fiery-red haired man, then bowed before him. “Greetings, Great Master Rudford,” they said at the same time and unlike Elder Bumne, didn’t remain in the bowing position for long.
     
    Rudford swept Laien and Siana with his gaze, a hint of a smile appearing on his ever-tranquil face. “At ease,” he said as he walked past Elder Bumne and Cran, paying no attention to either of them and only stopping in front of the young siblings.

    “So this wry girl took a liking to you, young lady. Congratulations on becoming the master to one of the 81 Heavenly Treasures.” Although he praised Siana, Rudford’s voice and face remained expressionless; perfectly calm or so to say, as if he was in the middle of enjoying an afternoon nap. Surprisingly, Rudford raised his eyebrow for no apparent reason, then smiled very slightly. He patted the hilt of the longsword at his belt, one which looked identical to the one Siana was holding. The next moment, he turned to look at Laien, frowning just a little bit.

    “Boy, this feeling I am getting from you… You are at the juncture point between third and fourth Mortal Realms, so it shouldn’t be... but I do sense that peculiar thing emanating from within you… Mysterious, so mysterious,” Rudford mused aloud, then gave Laien an expectant look, wondering if he has something to say. Laien however, was pretty baffled and honestly too intimidated by the supreme power emanating from Rudford to guess what he was talking about.

    “Uncle Rudford, Laien isn’t only a martial practitioner. He is a spiritual practitioner, too. He should be fairly powerful for his age. He already formed his Spiritual Core, but never had a chance to accurately evaluate his own strength,” Cran explained without getting into the details, knowing not to get ahead of himself unless Rudford inquired further out of his own volition. He had learned his lesson, having been scolded by his uncle all those years ago for speaking too much without being asked to.

    “Oh, is that so? I would like to meet with you in private. Laien, right?” Rudford proposed, his tone truly being more of an invitation than an order.

    As they heard Rudford’s words, both Cran and Elder Bumne began wondering if their ears were still working correctly. For someone of Rudford’s status to express that much goodwill towards a youth he was seeing for the first time was definitely abnormal! What could it have been that Rudford saw in Laien to make him so interested in him?!

    “It would be my pleasure, Great Master Rudford. Please tell where and when I should come to meet you,” Laien replied in a very formal, unlike-him way that had been hammered into him by Tei’ru and a few other private tutors. The fact that he reverted to this formal mannerism only proved how much the pressure of Rudford’s cultivation base of the sixth Realm of Heroes weighed down on him, even though Rudford wasn’t applying it directly.

    “Come today at the sunset, someone will direct you to my quarters,” Rudford said and nodded contentedly, pleased with Laien’s polite behavior.

    “Until then, why don’t you show those two around the school, Elder Bumne? Treat this boy as my honored guest, and this girl… right, what is your name, young lady?” Rudford asked, his gaze wandering to the Red Dragon Sword in Siana’s hand.

    “Siana, Great Master Rudford,” she answered quickly and lowered her head.

    “Then, Siana. The sword has chosen you, that is undeniable. However, we can’t very well let you keep it just like that unless of course, you decide to become a disciple of our Red Dragon School. How about it, become my personal disciple. Your talent is undisputed, if your character proves to be as good, then you are going to have a very bright future before you,” Rudford offered with a light smile, then once again patted the hilt of the longsword at his waist.

    Cran immediately swallowed with jealousy. Even with his talent, he was unable to become Rudford’s personal disciple, it didn’t help when his father asked uncle to do him a favor either. Ever since the establishment of the Red Dragon School one hundred years ago, his uncle has never taken in a single personal disciple! No matter how talented youths came, no matter how much riches he was offered in return by the clans behind them, he always refused! And no one dared to say a word of complaint! After all, what did it mean to be a personal disciple of the Great Master Rudford, the founder of the Red Dragon School, one of the three supreme Martial Schools of the whole Sarkcente Kingdom?

    One’s status would instantly soar to that of an Elder and soon afterward, as long as the person proved to be worthy, it would rise even higher! Being Rudford’s personal disciple, especially as he was the only ultimate expert of the Sarkcente Kingdom who has never taken an apprentice, represented an enormous amount of influence and a great increase in one’s social status! Countless young practitioners dreamed about becoming Rudford’s personal disciple, but in the end, all their hopes were shattered without exception!

    Were somebody to tell them that an eight years old girl who has never trained a day in her life had been offered a chance to become Rudford’s personal disciple, then all those people and their grandparents would definitely cry tears of blood.

    As for Siana, she found herself dumbfounded by Rudford’s offer. For a second, she wanted to peek at her big brother and decide based on his expression, but she resisted the urge. To begin with, she asked Laien to bring her with him because she wanted to become stronger, she wanted to no longer be a helpless girl who always needed to rely on her big brother’s help! Gathering her courage, she looked Rudford in the eye and replied with a solid resolution. “It would be my honor to become your disciple, Great Master Rudford,” she said and bowed deeply, feeling extremely nervous, but just as happy at the same time.

    “Great. As of today, you are my personal disciple. Come along with your brother in the evening. Have I guessed right? You look so alike, it’s impossible not to notice. Both of you are exceptional, too, haha,” Rudford finished saying and laughed, being in an exceptionally wonderful mood. Laien and Siana didn’t think much of it, but the other two present were utterly shocked. They had never seen or heard of Rudford smiling, much less laughing. Were Heavens and Earth about to be turned upside down, or would it start raining gold tomorrow?

    “With that settled, Elder Bumne, go show these two around. Cran, you probably were the one who brought them here, no? You did well to have had such promising friends come. Go with them, keep them company. You don’t need to attend to today’s ceremonies,” Rudford ordered Elder Bumne without paying him any attention, then actually praised Cran. Before leaving, he looked at the two siblings one more time, nodded to himself and unhurriedly walked back to his own quarters.

    Elder Bumne sighed bitterly. He shook his right hand, allowing the scorched pieces of skin to fall off to the floor, leaving behind skin that was red, but nowhere as burned. Thankfully, due to the ‘Dragon’s Body’ Art that he had been practicing, his regenerative abilities were high, so he needed not to worry about an injury of this degree. “Very well. Since young master is not obliged to attend the proceedings of the tournament, should we go and watch it?” he asked somewhat resignedly, having trouble with accepting his role as a guide for some random children. True, after what happened in the last five minutes, he should by all logic and reason have come to accept how the things were, but he couldn’t help feeling sour in his heart. He was a martial master of the second rank himself! He had his pride…!

    “A tournament?” Laien asked, seeking an explanation from Cran. He could tell that this ‘Elder Bumne’ seemed not to like him and Siana too much, so his own attitude towards the man naturally turned colder and more distant.

    “It’s nothing big, we have it every three months to let our disciples compete against each other. Fights are always one on one and usually, only people of the same strength are made to face each other, but exceptions do happen. I was supposed to oversee the whole thing as a judge and have you watch from the side if you wanted, but since I don’t need to do that anymore, I can tag along with you to watch the fights,” Cran summarized as briefly as he could, having gotten used to making his explanations short and clear due to Rudford’s influence.

    “Well, it could be interesting. Want to go, Siana?” Laien asked, smiling at his younger sister.

    By now, Siana already calmed down and returning to her usual cold appearance. She nodded, but before going she mentioned something else. “To begin with, I need a belt to put this sword onto; or do you expect me to walk around while carrying it?” she asked dispassionately, giving Laien a meaningful look and lifting the Red Dragon Sword up.

    Elder Bumne sighed inwardly and walked up to Siana. He raised his hand, making a fitting crimson-black belt appear from within his interspatial ring. He handed it to Siana without saying a word, then backed off by two steps.

    “Mm, now we can go,” Siana declared happily after she finished putting the belt and the sword on. Seeing Elder Bumne turn around and start walking, she grabbed Laien by hand and pulled him along. Even though it wasn’t quite showing on her face, she was excited to see the martial arts she would soon be learning in action.

    Cran scratched his head, apparently troubled by something only he knew about would rather not talk about to anyone else. He remained in the back, following after Elder Bumne and the two siblings, listening to the two of them chatting along the way.

    To arrive at the field where the tournament would be held, they needed to pass through the quarters of the inner sect disciples. Being led by one of the red-robed Elders, the two siblings soon became the center of attention. The corridors were full of the larger and smaller groups of teenage youths discussing the roar they have heard a few minutes ago, speculating about what could have caused it. Yet, maybe because it was so unbelievable that none of them would consider the option, the blood-red scabbard shaped like a dragon and the Red Dragon Sword itself, both hanging at Siana’s waist, went unnoticed.

    Originally, the majority of those disciples haven’t planned to attend the tournament. Not everyone would be forced to participate in it, after all. However, after that mysterious event, their interest had been piqued. Everyone wanted to learn something else about it and what the better place would be to do that than the vast area where many thousands of them could easily gather and share the rumors?

    After walking for nearly twenty minutes, they finally arrived at the vast plains. Elder Bumne led them to the spot meant for the important spectators; being basically the only uncrowded area as far as one could see. From the looks of it, the tournament hadn’t even started yet and all the disciples who were taking part in it took their time, resting, talking with their friends or warming up in the area designated for duels.

    Laien sat down on the grass and proceeded to watch the few dozen boys and girls more or less his age who were sparring with each other at the moment. Regrettably, they didn’t seem to be too advanced. Their strength was nothing special, probably around the second Mortal Realm and honestly, their technique was severely lacking, too. Or at the very least, it looked like that to him, who had been going through Master Shire’s hellish training for the past two years.

    Feeling bored, Laien yawned blatantly, showing his disinterest. Cran chuckled at that obvious display and sat at Laien’s side, intent on keeping him entertained with some random conversation, for what Laien was very grateful.

    On the other hand, Siana looked like she got pretty absorbed in spectating the ongoing fights. The level displayed was much closer to her current reach compared to the brief sparring between Laien and Cran she has had a chance to see, so naturally, she got more engrossed in watching.

    “Little miss, you seem interested in the matches. Would you like me to explain some things about our martial arts?” Elder Bumne proposed, having gotten over his resentment towards the siblings. To being with, he wanted to establish a positive relationship with Siana, as she was pretty much guaranteed to surpass him in status in but a few years, if not a few months.

    “Yeah, please do,” Siana replied, not taking her eyes off of the group of warming up contestants.

    Hearing his little sister say so, Laien frowned, but bit his tongue and refrained from commenting. He had a bad first impression of Elder Bumne, but there was no reason to antagonize the man if he was willing to change his attitude. He immersed himself in his chat with Cran, not listening to the talk Siana was getting herself involved into too closely.

    “Let me start by asking, are you familiar with the basics regarding the martial practice?” Elder Bumne inquired, expecting an answer along the lines of ‘yes, of course’, but he nearly choked on his own saliva when Siana shook her head in response. He coughed two or three times, recollecting himself.

    “Then, allow me to start from the very beginning. The Mortal Realm and the Realm of Heroes are the two major realms of practice. Both of them are divided into nine ranks. Those at the Mortal Realm are usually referred to as ‘martial practitioners’, while those at the Realm of Heroes as ‘martial masters’. The disciples who are currently sparring are all at the second Mortal Realm; in other words, they are martial practitioners of the second rank. They can just barely be considered to be beginners; their current strength doesn’t amount to much,” Elder Bumne spoke loud and clear, taking on an academic tone. Listening to him was fairly pleasant, it wasn’t making one want to fall asleep.

    Although Elder Bumne himself might have never enjoyed teaching people or giving lectures, he was quite good at doing either of those two things.

    “Generally speaking, reaching the fifth Mortal Realm is something that anyone can do with a sufficient amount of effort. On average, it takes our young disciples from five to six years to reach the peak of the fifth Mortal Realm while training from the scratch. Throughout these early stages of martial practice, one opens up his Qi Origin and assimilates the natural Qi flowing through his body into it. This process occurs constantly ever since the moment the Qi Origin is unsealed, although by itself, it’s rather slow; way too slow.” Elder Bumne paused and looked at Siana, trying to check if she was listening to him as It would have been quite stupid had it turned out that he had been talking to himself this whole time.
     
    Noticing that Elder Bumne stopped talking, Siana turned her head to look at him, asking with her gaze why has he stopped. Elder Bumne smiled, then followed through with his explanation.

    “The best way to speed up one’s advancement to the peak of the fifth Mortal Realm is to train one’s body. During physical activity, our natural Qi rouses up and is getting absorbed at a much higher rate. Of course, it results in getting tired just a little bit faster. By this reasoning, one could actively prevent his natural Qi from being absorbed by his Qi Origin during a fight as to preserve some endurance, but the amount is so negligible that no one bothers to do that,” having more or less covered the basics, Elder Bumne wondered what should he describe next. After giving it a brief thought, he decided to leave the specifics of the Primary Arts for later and now, focused on the nature of Qi itself.

    “To make the breakthrough from the fifth to the sixth Mortal Realm, one needs to learn a Qi Manipulating Art. Only then do we acquire a proper control over Qi in our bodies, the degree of which depends on the three major factors. Firstly, on the state of one’s body and Qi Origin. Secondly, on one’s innate talent for martial arts and lastly, usually most importantly, on the quality of the Qi Manipulating Art one has learned. It wouldn’t matter if you were born with a superior body or if your talent was prodigious, without an access to a good enough Qi Manipulating Art, you wouldn’t achieve much,” Elder Bumne elaborated, covering all the most important points, flooding Siana with everything he considered to be important knowledge for a martial practitioner.

    “There are many, many Qi Manipulating Arts around the world, but very few are truly worth attention. For example, the Qi Manipulating Art of our Red Dragon School, ‘Crimson Blood’, is a top-level Qi Manipulating Art that allows its practitioner to release his full potential! Given that the Red Dragon Sword has chosen you, I believe you will be learning it soon enough,” Elder Bumne’s smiled, finding it quite enjoyable to have Siana listen to him so attentively. Feeling much better disposed towards her, he continued to give an eager explanation of the basics.

    “You need to be aware how blessed you and all the other disciples of our Red Dragon School are. Learning the Primary Arts is a one-way road! The Qi Manipulating Art and the Body Strengthening Art both cause irreversible changes to one’s Qi Origin and to the body itself, while the Battle Art is practically always impossible to use without mastering the other two Primary Arts of the same set. That whole rule might have some exceptions amongst the low-level and mid-level martial arts, but that isn’t worth any attention,” Elder Bumne kept speaking, swiftly proceeding to cover more of the rudimentary knowledge any martial practitioner should have.

    “The Primary Arts of our Red Dragon School are all incredibly potent, but there is little to no point in having me describe them all in detail. When the inner disciples start their duels, you will have a chance to witness them first-hand, so for now, just remember how they are called. As I already said, there is ‘Crimson Blood’ Qi Manipulating Art, while the other two are called ‘Dragon’s Body’ and ‘Dragon’s Force’ and are respectively our school’s Body Strengthening Art and Battle Art,” Elder Bumne made a short break, letting Siana engrave the names of the three Primary Arts of their school into her heart.

    “Remembered them yet? Crimson Blood, Dragon’s Body and Dragon’s Force,” he repeated, making sure that Siana doesn’t forget at the very least those three terms.

    “The last thing you should probably focus on remembering is that each of our Red Dragon Primary Arts consists of nine levels of expertise. Again, I will leave the details for another time, but the rough picture looks as follows. Only the top-level martial arts consist of nine levels. The high-level ones contain seven, the mid-level ones five and the low-level barely three. If one intends to ever enter the Realm of Heroes, he needs to master at the very least one Primary Art to the fifth level. This, of course, means that anyone who started off with a low-level martial art will never become a martial master,” Elder Bumne smiled, very satisfied to have finally gotten Siana’s expression to change. What he just said must have surprised and intrigued her quite a bit.

    “To let you understand the vast differences between the mid-level, high-level and top-level Primary Arts, I will only say that I myself, being a martial master of the second rank, have only mastered two Red Dragon Primary Arts to the sixth level and one to the fifth. The strongest of our Elders reached the seventh level of expertise in all three of the Red Dragon Primary Arts, with the number of those who advanced any of the three to the eighth level is countable on the fingers of one hand. The only person who has completely mastered all three of those Primary Arts is the Great Master Rudford himself, the founder of our mighty Red Dragon School!” Elder Bumne said excitedly, recalling the image of Rudford from a few moments ago. At that time, he had been startled, but now he couldn’t believe his luck to have seen the founder in person.

    “If you ever wonder why young master Cran is considered to be a prodigy, then you should know that he, at the age of fifteen, has already mastered the sixth level of ‘Dragon’s Force’, in which he is exceptionally talented. His slashes become a Dragon’s Claw, his punches carry a Dragon’s might, his kicks are as powerful as the tail swipe of a Dragon! At this level, beating an average martial master of the first rank who practiced only a mid-level martial art wouldn’t be impossible, in spite of the huge gap in strength between the Mortal Realm and the Realm of Heroes,” he explained patiently, having a great deal of respect for Cran’s abilities despite not being too fond of him as a person per se.

    “I think that much should be more than enough for now, focus on remembering what you have just learned before anything else,” having concluded his lecture, Elder Bumne took out a glass of water from his interspatial ring and drank it in one go. He wanted to ask whether Siana had any questions, but something was telling him that he would get ignored, so he gave up on the idea and joined her in spectating the ongoing casual duels.

    After Elder Bumne finally finished talking, Laien released a very bored and resigned sigh. He wanted not to listen to that lecture, but Elder Bumne had been talking so loudly that he hadn’t had another choice.

    “Say, is it just my imagination, or are more and more people giving us dangerous looks?” Laien asked to divert his mind from the annoying thoughts, slowly beginning to wonder if all the disciples of the Red Dragon School were destined to cause him trouble.

    “Too bad, but it’s not your imagination. Eh, some made-up stories about you are probably spreading around. Want me to deal it?” Cran asked, eager to relieve some of the stress which he had accumulated during the past three days.

    “Nah,” Laien replied with a shrug of his shoulders, not feeling like having someone else wipe his ass for him; he was strong enough to deal with a minor matter like that one his own. “Do you think it would be possible for me to challenge the disciples here, regardless of the tournament schedule and all?” he asked with a mischievous smile, his intentions fairly apparent.

    “It’s easily doable. Since uncle Rudford stated that you are our honored guest, no one will be able to say anything. You can use magic while fighting, too. We’ve never imagined we would have a spiritual practitioner in our school, so there are no rules against it, hah. However, you need to be careful. Our disciples are on an entirely different level compared to those guards of Masi’s you’ve fought with. Look there, for example. Those three are the very top of our inner sect. They are all at the seventh Mortal Realm and they also have a decent level of mastery over our Primary Arts. If you end up fighting one of them, don’t be careless for even a second. One full-strength blow landing directly on your body could very well end up being lethal,” Cran warned in a somewhat longish manner, causing Laien to give him a resigned look. Weren’t the lectures given by Elder Bumne already enough for today…?

    “I will count on you to step in if it gets too dangerous,” Laien said carefreely and stood up, putting together a few amusing sentences in his head.

    “Fine… Do what you want, you stubborn brat,” Cran laughed helplessly and shook his head. He has never expected Laien’s character to so daring, if not to say arrogant and overconfident. Well, if he ended up humiliating himself after biting more than he can chew, it would only be his own fault. The Red Dragon School wasn’t one of the top three Martial Schools of the Sarkcente Kingdom for nothing; their disciples were definitely the cream of the top of the whole martial population of fifty million people! To take them lightly was nothing short of inexcusable ignorance.

    Laien smiled at Cran, then walked around a dozen meters forward, stopping at the outer boundary of the nine designated dueling fields. He took a deep breath and aided himself with a bit of spiritual energy, letting his voice reach much further before it would start losing any of its volume. He didn’t even need to shout; he simply began speaking normally.

    “Greetings, disciples of the Red Dragon School! I see many of you are talking about me, pointing at me with your fingers! As of today, my little sister will be enrolling into your school, so I’d rather avoid any unpleasant incidents. So, making it nice and simple… anyone who bears any kind of grudge towards me may step up! I will fight with any of you in this tournament of yours! Come if you want to settle your grievances! But if you do not step up now, then let the bygones be bygones,” he finished up in a rather provocative tone and with a cheeky smile on his face. As a result, he didn’t need to wait long at all for a strong reaction to occur.

    A speech like this one, given by a random ten years old kid couldn’t have resulted in anything but a massive uproar. A good few hundred of the four thousand present disciples began voicing their anger and distaste aloud, cursing at Laien and threatening to beat him up to a pulp. Some were so eager to teach the cocky youth a lesson that they began heading his way, only to stop when Cran and Elder Bumne walked up to Laien and stood close behind him.

    Amidst the confusion, one of the present Elders approached Laien, then got involved in a short exchange with Elder Bumne. The bald Elder, having learned how the situation looked, trembled at the thought. He had intended to pick Laien up and throw him out of their Red Dragon School, but luckily for him, it didn’t come to that. To have offended an honored guest of the Great Master Rudford… it would be a disaster!

    “Everyone, quiet down. This person is an honored guest of our school. If there are those of you who want to settle their matters with him, now is your only chance,” the bald Elder called out in a loud, Qi-amplified voice. What followed, was a stunned and excited uproar. The younger disciples weren’t aware of it, but those who had been at the Red Dragon School for longer knew that only a few very powerful figures like the three Grand Elders could invite honorary guests...! For that outspoken kid to have that kind of support was totally outside of their expectations.

    Something as interesting as a young honorary guest issuing a challenge wouldn’t happen often in their school, so the excitement of the four thousand gathered disciples was understandable. In under a minute, the whole nine sections designated for the tournament were voluntarily emptied and the first challenger came forward to face off against Laien.

    Laien recognized the short-haired fourteen years old youths him who stepped onto the dueling ground. It was that ‘third brother’ from earlier who wanted to pick a fight with him and Siana in the main hall of the outer sect. Welcoming the chance to fight someone he certainly didn’t like, Laien also entered the open arena.

    “Don’t you worry, I won’t cripple you. I will just repay what you did to our younger disciples and break some of your bones,” the fourteen-year-old declared with confidence, refusing to believe that Laien was as strong as Cran claimed him to be. In his eyes, Laien was but an arrogant kid who needed to be taught a harsh lesson.

    As the overall excitement was on the rise, the two eyed each other, both of them having identical very confident smiles on their faces.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 9. The Might of an Aspect.


    To his surprise, Laien could tell that the mood throughout the area wasn’t all that bad. The over four thousand young spectators were exchanging their opinions and cheering for the duel to start, but the atmosphere wasn’t all the oppressive. Perhaps, the disciples of the Red Dragon School weren’t as unreasonable and ‘evil’ as he had taken them to be, or so was still to be proved.

    “Well, since they are so excited, let’s start the show,” Laien thought with a smile and reached out to the hilt of his short sword, but ended up grabbing nothing but air. “Oh crap,” he cursed wordlessly, remembering that his weapon had shattered into pieces during his sparring with Cran.

    Since an opportunity to get on Laien’s good side presented itself so clearly, Elder Bumne didn’t hesitate at all and called out to Laien. “Your old weapon broke today, right? Take this one, consider it a gift of mine,” he offered and threw a very fine sword with a blood red hilt, which Laien agilely caught.

    As he grabbed the sword, Laien chortled and shook his head. After being helped out in this way, he couldn’t very well bear any ill will towards Elder Bumne. Not for this little bit of grumpy behavior the man had displayed towards him and his little sister.

    Happy to have avoided an awkward situation, Laien unsheathed the sword and threw the scabbard back to Elder Bumne, feeling that it looked too good to be simply thrown onto the ground. His behavior confused everyone at first, but some of the instructors and the brighter youths quickly realized that he probably didn’t have a high enough grade interspatial ring to store the scabbard. As far as low-grade interspatial rings were common enough item for nobility, anything better required a hefty amount of gold to purchase.

    “Looks sharp,” Laien mused, looking at the sixty centimeters long steel blade. It was twice as long as the short sword he was used to wielding, but for some reason, felt much more comfortable in his hand. “Right, Master Shire mentioned something about training my reflexes and making me rely not only on the weapon as for why he recommended a short sword,” he recalled, giving the sword a few experimental swings.

    “A really good piece of art, as Dan’s father would say. It’s definitely a high-quality weapon, if not a top-quality one,” Laien thought to himself, gazing at the bald red-robed Elder who stepped forward, apparently intending to fulfill the role of an official judge for the duel. He smirked, returning his attention to his opponent and waiting for the signal to start.

    “Aaah, big brother is doing something unnecessary again,” Siana complained quietly, but while saying so, she secretly anticipated a time when she would also be strong enough to show-off in a similar manner. A boy or a girl, the two of them were siblings after all. They had quite a few similar tendencies with being prone to displaying the results of their hard work as one of them.

    “Isn’t that boy quite similar to you in your younger days, eh, Cran?” Elder Hauman commented with a laugh, approaching Cran through the crowd of disciples.

    “Elder Hauman, you also came?” Cran bowed his head slightly, greeting his senior.

    “Of course, take a better look around; I’m not the only Elder who came to spectate. After that roar startled everyone, the news has spread like a wildfire. Practically all Elders present who weren’t busy with anything of great importance came to take a look,” Elder Hauman pointed out and seeing that Cran was confused, laughed and looked at the faraway roofs.

    Following Elder Hauman’s gaze, Cran finally noticed the group of two dozen red-robed Elders standing or sitting all over the highest roofs of the inner quarters. “Righ, should have thought about it sooner,” Cran reprimanded himself strictly. Although most people were prohibited from using roofs as vantage points or shortcuts, there always were exceptions. Hadn’t Elder Hauman often told to think outside the box and not get constricted by the stereotypical, ‘apparent’ views? How could he truly become an exceptional person if he failed to realize even those obvious things?

    “What’s with the grim face? It’s good that you wish to improve, but being too strict with yourself isn’t good either,” Elder Hauman said gently, tactfully refraining from mentioning that Cran had gotten overly harsh towards his own person after failing to become Great Master Rudford’s disciple. “How strong is that friend of yours? Can he compete with our disciples?” he asked, changing the subject.

    Cran smiled and replied in a roundabout way. “As a martial practitioner, he is at the peak of third Mortal Realm.”

    Elder Bumne, the nearby instructors and disciples all stared at Cran, confused. If Laien’s strength was this low, then why would he dare to challenge their school like that? Was the boy out of his mind?

    “And as a spiritual practitioner, he should be at the seventh Mortal Realm,” Cran added after intentionally pausing for a second or two. He enjoyed the sight of everyone’s expressions changing, as especially the two Elders, knowing much better than Cran what that sole number meant, were shocked out of their minds.

    “Seventh rank as a spiritual practitioner?!” Elder Bumne couldn’t help but ask loudly, unsure whether Cran was being serious or not. This level of strength at such a young age was simply unheard of! Even in the far north, where people were living and breathing the arts of arcane, a ten-year-old spiritual practitioner of the seventh rank would be more than a prodigy and nothing short of a monster!

    “Yeah,” Cran reaffirmed casually, but his voice ended up being lost in the commotion which this piece of news had caused. With a chuckle, Cran hoped that Laien won’t embarrass himself. With this much prep, he should be able to cleave quite a bit of reputation for himself in the Red Dragon School and soon enough, in the entire Neil City.

    “Heavens! Seventh rank? How old is he?” some of the disciples gathered on the opposite side of the field exclaimed in shock as they started at Laien, wondering how a young kid like him could be so strong.

    “Don’t be stupid, who the hell has spread this idiotic rumor?” others voiced their doubt, not convinced that a brat like that could possibly be much stronger than them. Yet, inevitably, the topic of discussions quickly shifted in a very southern-like manner.

    “Even if he is a strong spiritual practitioner, so what? All those ‘magicians’ are useless. You get close to them and they die,”

    “Yeah, what’s the point of trying to become a spiritual master? What a waste of effort,”

    “Magic, hah. Let’s see him trying to chant a spell when fighting one of us. What a joke,”

    The greater half of the four thousand disciples started mocking Laien for being a spiritual practitioner. The disdain for magic had been deeply imbued into their minds through the prevailing martial culture of the south, so even though none of them has ever seen magic being used, they couldn’t not look down upon it.

    “Silence!” the bald Elder shouted, his voice filled with Qi. Instantly, everybody quieted down and after few more seconds, a complete silence fell. Nodding to himself, the man proceeded to explain the rules, making sure that everything is clear before the important duels involving the honorary guest of their school being.

    “Contestants can’t leave the designated area during the fight. Being forced out or doing so willingly are both synonymous with giving up. Contestants fight until one of them loses consciousness, gives up by leaving the area or voicing his surrender, or until I order the duel to stop. Killing blows are allowed, but no finishing off an opponent who has obviously lost the ability to fight. Are the rules clear for both contestants?” the bald Elder asked and seeing the two youngsters nod, he shouted.

    “Begin!”

    Following the bald Elder’s shout, everyone held their breaths, but neither of the two youths charged to attack.

    “I’m Laien,” as he introduced himself, he used a bit of spiritual energy to send his voice further. All the mocking of spiritual practitioners, he expected it to happen and honestly, didn’t care. Once they saw him fighting, they would change their minds.

    “I am Culin. Outer quarters disciple, fifth Mortal Realm,” the fourteen-year-old responded in a formal manner, albeit with a snort. Having learned that his opponent was a spiritual practitioner, he relaxed and could already see himself dominating Laien thoroughly.

    “Mm,” Laien mused with a smile, then tightened the grip on the hilt of his new sword, only to release the tension in his body the next second. His mind slipping into a battle-ready state, he closed the distance between him and Culin and attacked straightforwardly, slashing from a side, horizontally.

    Although a physical contest wasn’t what Culin expected to face, he fended off Laien’s strike with ease. Without backing off, he accepted the head-on exchange of blows, letting the swords do the talking.

    To his surprise, Culin soon found out that he was being pressured by Laien. It wasn’t that his strikes were exceptionally fast or strong, it was just… “I’m actually inferior in technique to him?” Culin clicked his tongue, then stopped holding back whatsoever. By relying on his raw strength, he forced Laien to keep backing off, his physical prowess proving to be enough to make up for the difference in skill.

    “He’s smiling…?” Culin frowned, noticing Laien’s peculiar expression. The next second, when he once again slashed downwards under an angle, he staggered as his sword got blocked instead of being repelled to the side. Only thanks to his fast reaction time did he manage to take a step back quick enough, avoiding a very dangerous follow-up slash from Laien which swept the air centimeters away from his armpit and sliced through his clothing.

    “Bastard broke through,” Culin cursed angrily, getting nervous over the possibility of losing to a spiritual practitioner without even forcing him to use his forte. Getting beaten by Laien would be embarrassing enough, but to fail to prove a challenge to him would be much, much worse…!

    “Fourth Mortal Realm? His martial talent isn’t bad at all,” Elder Hauman mused aloud, observing the duel with a great interest. “This training speed is maybe not as good, but comparable to the best disciples of our Red Dragon School,” he praised, apparently fond of sharing his thoughts with everyone around.

    “My turn now,” Laien said confidently, happy to have finally advanced after being stuck at the peak of the third realm for nearly a month. He went on an offensive and making use of the shrunk difference in strength, slowly pushed Culin into a corner both literally and metaphorically.

    At that point, Culin tried to retaliate, but as he got the nerves get the better of him, he had not only allowed Laien to easily overwhelm him with a series of simple, but well-aimed fast slashed, but also made another big mistake and created a gaping hole in his own defense.

    Recognizing the chance, Laien slashed horizontally before Culin’s desperate attack could even be put in motion. The extremely sharp blade of his sword cut through the fourteen-year-old's stomach, wounding him heavily and rendering him incapable of continuing.

    “Stop! The fight ends in Laien’s victory!” the bald Elder declared and sent one of the instructors who specialized the field of healing to take care of their disciple.

    “There’s no need,” Culin raised his hand and said loudly. He looked Laien in the eye, then bowed his head and left the fighting area while holding his stomach with the other hand. The wound was bleeding a lot, but it wasn’t that deep. Since he was at the peak of the fifth Mortal Realm, his body was quite tough, but more importantly, he could tell that at the last moment Laien had loosened his grip and withdrew the strength behind the slash, thus not cutting him too deeply.

    “He knows how to hold back, remarkable,” Elder Hauman praised once more, with his experience understanding very quickly what must have happened.

    “If he didn’t, he would bring shame to the Great Master Rudford for inviting him as an honorary guest,” Elder Bumne commented and unintentionally, released another wave of commotion through the crows of spectating disciples. They were baffled enough to see Culin be defeated by Laien in a pure sword fight, thus they had all been rather quiet, feeling ashamed of making fun of the youth for being a spiritual practitioner… however, the moment this piece of information started spreading, they all went into an uproar.

    Ever since he founded the Red Dragon School one hundred years ago, Rudford had been known to prefer training in seclusion; he would very rarely get involved with anyone, even with his own family! For someone like him to suddenly invite an honorary guest… just what kind of person was this ten-year-old, this ‘Laien’?!
     
    “Allow me to be your next opponent! Xuizu is my name. Inner quarters disciple, sixth Mortal Realm.” Excited by the possibility of fighting with a guest of their Great Master, another person stepped into the fighting area amidst the commotion. Readying himself to fight, the long-haired thirteen, fourteen-year-old produced a sword identical to Laien’s from within his interspatial ring.

    Being slightly younger than Culin, Xuizu was ‘only’ one realm higher than him. That one realm, however, was making a very big difference, especially when one was so early on the path of their cultivation! Compared to Culin’s, Xuizu’s standing within the school was much higher! Amongst the younger generation, he was definitely one of the top ten! His talent was very high and his aptitude for the Red Dragon Arts proved to be equally as good, if not better!

    Putting the two young disciples in perspective, were Xuizu to fight against Culin, it wouldn’t be a ‘fight’; it would be a slaughter! The difference in strength between the two of them was simply that great and the Red Dragon Arts were simply that formidable.

    “Are both contestants ready?” The bald Elder asked, shouting over the rumor created by all the disciples.

    “Yes!” Laien and Xuizu answered simultaneously. Laien immediately reached out to his spiritual energy, preparing to use his Guardian magic. At the same time, Xuizu roused his internal energy, covering his whole body in a layer of blood-red Qi.

    “Whoa, look at that! Xuizu improved his Dragon’s Body Art again! Isn’t that the fourth level?” a couple of older disciples spoke in surprise, seeing the blood-red armor-like membrane over Xuizu’s body which was beginning to resemble draconic scales.

    “Begin!” the bald Elder shouted, paying careful attention to Xuizu’s movements. Was something too dangerous to happen, he planned on stopping the fight prematurely. Given Xuizu’s problematic character, he couldn’t be sure if the youth will be able to contain his berserk-like qualities and won’t accidentally end up killing his opponent. For the guest of their Great Master to die in a duel… it would be a major disaster.

    Xuizu kicked off the ground, shattering it with the sheer force of his legs. He closed the distance of ten meters in the blink of an eye, then astonishingly for Laien, swung his fist instead of attacking with his sword. Yet, considering how powerful Xuizu’s body became after he employed the Dragon’s Body Art, one first was more than enough to threaten a fatal blow against someone at the fourth Mortal Realm!

    *Thud!* A dull sound exploded outwards when Xuizu’s fist landed on Laien’s chest, who for some reason didn’t even attempt to dodge or perhaps, was unable to dodge. All spectators held their breaths, expecting Laien to fly away like a rag doll with his chest caved in or punched through, but instead, they could only stare dumbfounded when nothing happened!

    “Holy…” Laien murmured, feeling a shiver run down his spine. He blocked the attack with a barrier of water which he created just a few centimeters from his body to boost its effectiveness, but still, the power behind Xuizu’s fist astonished him. The long-haired youth was in the same realm as Masi’s guards, but his blow had been at the very least three times as powerful…! To think that top-level martial arts could make such a difference…! Were it not for the defense-enhancing properties of the Aspect of Tranquility, this one first would have surely broken through and wounded him really heavily, ending the fight at the spot!

    Laien smiled, his heart beating like crazy. Yes, he would have had no chance against Xuizu was it not for the Aspect of Tranquility, but since he possessed this precious insight, he could fight!

    Xuizu recovered from the shock of being blocked in a way he was seeing for the first time very fast and giving Laien little time to prepare, he smiled and punched one more time, aiming directly at Laien’s face.

    Laien also smiled, creating another mirror-like barrier and blocking the blow in the exact same way as the first time. Using this opportunity, he slashed with his sword at Xuizu’s revealed side and indeed, connected the blade, but what followed was only a screeching sound similar to steel hitting a hard stone. The slash barely left a bruise on Xuizu’s armor of blood-red Qi, which disappeared the next instant anyway…! Even with a top-quality blade, he was simply too weak to damage the protection of the fourth level of Dragon’s Body Art.

    “Too weak!” Xuizu shouted with a laugh, this time taking a swing with the sword in his right hand. He specialized in the Dragon’s Body Art, so his skill in the purely offensive Dragon’s Force Art was lacking. However, he still could rely on his superior defense to fight and attack like a madman! Whenever he would let his battle rage take over, he would become an unstoppable force pushing onward until everything in its path was crushed!

    Having no other way, Laien was forced to spread his barrier and increase its size to defend against the barrage of quick, yet at the same time incredibly heavy slashes coming from all sides. One way or another, facing the berserk-like Xuizu reminded him of dealing with the wooden dummies that would move and ‘attack’ you in response to every hit you landed on them. The key to beating this game had been to see through the attack pattern of each and every dummy and then, steadily increase your tempo all the while dodging and parrying accordingly!

    All of the sudden, instead of defending in place, Laien decided to jump back. Of course, his speed was nothing like Xuizu’s, so the fourteen-year-old caught up to him immediately. Yet at the same time, that was exactly what Laien aimed for. A slightly wider swing while rushing ahead! As a dual practitioner, he wasn’t restricted to defending and attacking from one direction. He thus created a barrier over his shoulder and head to block Xuizu’s sword while thrusting his own blade straight at the youth’s stomach, hoping to piece through his blood-red armor.

    The tip of Laien’s sword pierced the scales-like defense, although not with a hard struggle. The blade slid into Xuizu’s flesh, but after getting to a certain depth, it failed to pierce any deeper and got stuck. Luckily for Xuizu, Laien’s strength was too low after all. Were it just a bit higher, he would have been pierced through…!

    Xuizu regained clarity of his mind for a second and leaped backward. The moment he did, a fresh stream of blood began flowing down his shirt and clothes, dyeing them crimson at an alarming rate. At first, it seemed like the battle would end right there, but instead, Xuizu smirked and charged at Laien, completely ignoring his wound.

    “Enough!” the bald elder shouted furiously, releasing a powerful surge of Qi which by itself didn’t carry much force, but was still enough to cause Xuizu to snap out of his berserk-like state and halt in his tracks.

    “Do you intend to cripple yourself for life, you idiot? You may not feel much pain because of the Dragon’s Body Strengthening Art, but your organs are damaged! If you continue to move around, you will undoubtedly cripple yourself! You were careless, you got wounded. It’s not a fight to the death!” the bald Elder growled angrily, somewhat worried that Xuizu will disobey him and keep attacking. It wouldn’t be the first time he has done something like that, but it would be the first time he was facing such an incompatible opponent. Xuizu’s berserk-like way of fighting was just too ill-suited against Laien’s defensive, omnidirectional magic. He might have been able to ultimately tire Laien out, but at what cost? It wasn’t worth to have one of their top disciples permanently damage his body over a relatively unimportant duel like this one.

    Frowning, Xuizu grit his teeth .“You win!” he declared loudly and unwillingly headed to the medical quarters, refusing to receive the treatment from one of the instructors on the spot.

    As the fight ended abruptly, a rather quiet clamor rose throughout the audience of the four thousand disciples. After Culin lost and Xuizu failed to win, there was no one left who would be eager to challenge Laien. Those below the sixth Mortal Realm were pretty sure they stood no chance, while those who were at Xuizu’s level felt wrong about going there only to tire their much younger opponent out in an outdrawn duel. As they saw it, there would be no glory for their school if they obtained such a pyrrhic victory.

    “Since no one wants to defend our school’s pride, then I must step in, isn’t that right?” one loud, somewhat leisure voice resounded above many others. Those who knew its owner gasped in surprise, those who didn’t, were shocked only when the eighteen-year-old stepped forward and began walking towards Laien with a calm smile on his face.

    “Heavens! It’s Tin’Long! Tin’Long is going to fight!” many disciples shouted, thrilled by the mere prospect of Tin’Long displaying his skill. Tin’Long was an undisputed number one amongst the inner quarter’s disciples. Although his cultivation speed wasn’t up to the very top, his ability in using the Red Dragon Arts was inferior only to Cran’s. He specialized in using a longsword to execute his Dragon’s Force Art, wielding at the fifth level, just one below Cran. His mastery over the Dragon’s Body Art was at a fairly high level, too. Paired up with his great martial skill and sense for battle, he had proved to be without a match in his generation of martial practitioners.

    “Are you sure you want to fight with this youngster, Tin’Long?” the bald Elder asked, a silent plea visible in his eyes. Tin’Long was comparable to normal martial masters of the first rank; having him fight against a ten-year-old… ugh, the idea alone was making the bald Elder cringe. He could as well step in and duel against Laien himself, it would prove as much of a point as Tin’Long trashing a much younger junior around.

    “I am. The challenger this time is obviously very exceptional, I see no reason for me not to fight. Unless my opponent is too tired to continue fighting after the two previous duels?” Tin’Long asked, making some people think he was giving Laien a chance to avoid the confrontation. However, those who knew him better could tell how much he wanted the duel to take place. It wasn’t that he wished to hurt Laien and embarrass him in front of everyone, he simply wanted to uphold the pride of the school he had joined and considered to be the greatest in the Sarkcente Kingdom and in the whole south!

    “I’m not too tired, I want to see what you are capable of,” Laien answered eagerly and perhaps surprisingly, wasn’t putting up a strong front at all. As long as it was defending, he could rely on the properties of the Aspect of Tranquility and use his spiritual energy more sparingly. With how easy the control over his magic came to Laien, a day and a half had been more than enough for him to get used to his new level strength. Just like he was saying, he hadn’t used up even a third of his spiritual energy so far! it wouldn’t be the same as when he had wasted so much of it when fighting Masi’s guards.

    “Very well. Show me what you can do,” Tin’Long raised his hand and withdrew a longsword from his interspatial ring. He swung the blade, then in the same motion assumed a stance, holding the longsword at the level of his head and with the tip of the blade pointing forward and downwards.

    “Looks scary,” Laien said with a smile, already using to dealing with a longsword from all the sparring sessions he has had with Cran.

    “You two…” the bald Elder groaned, not knowing what to do. The spectating disciples were obviously excited, he would have also liked to see how their Red Dragon Arts triumph over the boy’s magic, but… “Both of you, step down. I won’t allow for this duel to happen,” he declared loudly and rather sternly, yet feeling convinced that he was making the right choice. He couldn’t allow Tin’Long to fight with an opponent so much younger than him! Winning the duel in this manner would be nothing short of humiliation, not to mention how much risk it would carry for their honorary guest!

     “What…?” Tin’Long frowned, not having expected the old Elder Yan to go as far as deny them the right to duel. Age difference? Danger? They were both aware of it! In the end, what mattered was one’s strength, not his position in society or something as irrelevant as age!

    “It’s better this way…” Cran murmured to himself at the same time. He really had been worried when Tin’Long decided to confront Laien. Even if Laien was really strong as a spiritual practitioner… he saw no possibility of him being strong enough to face Tin’Long, one of their elite disciples who wielded the top-level Red Dragon Arts! Were the two of them to fight, Laien’s neck would be snapped as easily as chicken’s, so avoiding this dangerous fight would truly be for the best as far as Cran was considered.

    “Elder Yan, are you are denying us the right to duel?” Tin’Long asked calmly, albeit with a clear threat present in his voice. As the strongest disciple of his generation, his status was already comparable to those weaker Elders. Elder Yan might have been a member of the Red Dragon School even since its foundation, but it didn’t give him the right to be unreasonable! Not with his cultivation base of the second Realm of Heroes. Given ten more years, he himself would become much stronger than him and his progress wouldn’t stop there!

    As Tin’Long and the bald Elder Yan stared at each other, everyone could feel the atmosphere becoming dangerously heavy. Very quickly a complete silence fell throughout the field, leaving the crowd of four thousand disciples in a state of tense anticipation.

    A muffled wave of surprised voices followed when Tin’Long once again assumed the battle stance, with the difference that this time he directed his longsword at Elder Yan.

    “Kid, stand down. You don’t know whom you are raising your sword against,” Elder Yan warned, stirring the Qi in his body and releasing a terrifying aura of a martial master. The pressure alone caused faces’ of thousands of the weaker disciples to turn white. Elder Yan’s skill in using the Red Dragon Arts might not have been much higher than Tin’Long’s, but the difference between the peak of seventh Mortal Realm and the second Realm of Heroes truly was enormous. Having strength comparable to an ordinary martial master of the first rank was one thing, but the red-robed Elders of the Red Dragon School were anything but ordinary!

    “You are in the wrong, Elder Yan. If you want me to step down, you are going to need to use force,” Tin’Long said stubbornly, a layer of blood-red Qi of the Dragon’s Body Art already forming around his body.

    “Very well,” Elder Yan snorted and roused his Qi even further, intent on launching a quick and decisive attack, yet;

    “Stop this, Elder Yan. If the lads want to compete, let them.” a tranquil voice that carried a mighty force behind it rang out, causing both Tin’Long and Elder Yan to halt immediately. Everyone’s eyes turned towards the direction of the Red Dragon School, from where the voice has come.

    “Great Master Rudford!” many disciples further in the back began exclaiming in shock, quickly making a way for the fiery-red haired man while bowing respectfully.

    “Whoa, talk about pressure,” Laien chuckled soundlessly, watching how Rudford strolled towards them unhurriedly. Even without trying, Rudford carried this mysterious, nearly suffocating feeling about himself. Compared to that bald Elder, he was many times scarier. “At least he isn’t wearing a robe, but a normal set of white clothes with some red ornaments,” Laien noted along the way, comparing Rudford’s clothing with what the two dozen Elders who had hurriedly joined him were wearing.

    “I don’t understand those traditions of wearing robes. They are so inconvenient when you need to fight,” Laien thought with a little sigh, then lowered his head as Rudford approached him and the other two.

    “Elder Yan, there is no need for you to get so fired up. I know you mean well, but the duel may take place. To ensure safety, I will personally act as a judge,” Rudford declared calmly, stirring up the disciples and Elders alike. He had spent the last one hundred years on meditating in seclusion, not even attending major events involving the Red Dragon School, but he stopped training and came out for the sake of… for the sake of one duel between mere martial practitioners?! Without exception, everyone turned their gazes at the black-haired ten-year-old, asking themselves what kind of relationship did he have with the Great Master Rudford. Were it not for the pure black hair and eyes of the youth, so different from the fiery-red hair and the light brown-red eyes of Rudford, they might have believed Laien to be Rudford’s son as little to no other explanation would make sense.

    Elder Yan clasped his hands and bowed, not objecting Rudford’s decision in the slightest. Since their Great Master was willing to go as far as to be the judge, the danger involved would be significantly reduced. Also, to begin with, Elder Yan had been worried most about Laien, about his master’s guest. However, Rudford had nothing against letting the fight take place, so that problem was gone.

    After paying his respects, Elder Yan backed off and joined the nearly thirty red-robed figures. The duel should have by all means started soon, however, an appearance of yet another person revitalized the ruckus amongst the group disciples, whose numbers by now grew to over six thousand. The man walked unhurriedly, in a manner very similar to that of Rudford’s. His white robe fluttered in the wind, making it seem as if the image of a great red dragon sewn onto its back was alive. Closely behind the white-robed man followed two teenage disciples, one youth and one young woman, while yet further behind walked four red-robed Elders.

    “Grand Elder!”

    “It’s Grand Elder Roderick!”

    “He came from Thurand City? What is he doing here?”

    The white-robed Grand Elder smiled, amused by the reaction to his arrival. He usually kept things small and private, so being in the center of attention was a nice change of pace for him. “I trust there will be no harm if we join in watching?” he asked, looking Rudford in the eye.

    “Of course not,” Rudford assured, wondering if Roderick came here for a specific reason, or if his visit was a casual coincidence. “Laien, Tin’Long, are you two ready?” he asked, seeing no reason to delay the duel any further.

    “Yes,” both of them responded, not taking eyes off their respective opponents. The two of them instinctually knew one thing; that the person in front of them was a dangerous opponent!

    “Then, fight,” Rudford said so indifferently that for a good second, Laien and Tin’Long failed to understand that the signal to begin had been given.

    Tin’Long came to his senses first and without giving Laien any time to act, launched an attack. His whole body seemed to have grown blood-red scales and even a powerful tail formed below his back as he activated the fifth level of the Dragon’s Body Art. The sight caused his fellow disciples to gasp; not that long ago he had only broken through to the fourth level! His talent for the Red Dragon Arts truly was out of this world…!

    Carried by the mighty physical strength, the longsword in Tin’Long’s hand slashed down. The Qi in the blade split apart, creating three illusory images of the dragon’s claws that carried a very real force behind them.

    From the get-go, Tin’Long went all out and used not only the fifth level of Dragon’s Body Art but also the strength of the very peak of the fifth level of the Dragon’s Force Art! This one attack was powerful enough to make an average martial master of the first rank dread taking it head-on!

    “Big brother!” Siana cried out, seeing that Laien had no chance to dodge. Not used to scenes like those, she involuntarily shut her eyes, too scared for her big brother to look at what was going to happen.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 10. The Limits of an Aspect.


    “That’s the Dragon’s Claw!” the thousands spectating disciples immediately recognized the technique Tin’Long employed right off the bat. Seeing the three blood-red claws forming along the longsword’s slash, they all held their breaths; it was one thing for Laien to have blocked Xuizu’s purely physical attacks, but defending against Tin’Long’s all-out assault was on an entirely different scale…!

    Even most of the Elders who were watching assumed that Tin’Long went overboard and planned to have Rudford stop him at the last second. However, as they noticed their Great Master simply standing at the side and not moving, they gasped and hurriedly returned their attention to the duel. Could it be that Rudford expected this ten-year-old kid to actually survive an attack which would be enough to kill a weaker martial master of the first rank straight out…?

    Laien smiled slightly, the sight of the Qi-clad longsword and the two claws following at its both sides causing shivers to run down his spine. Were it not for the fact that he was familiar with the Dragon’s Claw technique due to all his sparrings with Cran, he might have panicked a little. Instead, while keeping his calm, he raised his forearm and turned his body to face Cran with his side. He gathered a portion of his spiritual energy and formed a barrier of water, filling it thoroughly with the essence of the Aspect of Tranquility.

    The next split second, Tin’Long’s attack feel and clashed against Laien’s guard, at the same time rising up a large cloud of dust.

    “Quite impressive,” the white-robed Grand Elder Roderick said approvingly and exchanged a brief glance with Rudford. He had some questions he would have liked to ask this old friend of his, but now was not the time for it; the duel between these two youths was only beginning.

    Although Rudford, Roderick and most of the Elders kept their calm, the very majority of those gathered at the plains wondered if that black-haired youth hadn’t been cut into pieces by Tin’Long’s attack. Yet, when they saw the blurry figure of the eighteen-year-old strike with his left hand and when they head a dull sound of the blow being blocked, they instantly began feeling astonished. Apparently, Laien was still hanging on…!

    Unfazed by Laien’s sturdy defense, Tin’Long relaxed his left arm and allowed it to slip along the surface of the water. He spun his body to the right and swept with his blood-red scaly tail. He smirked, feeling that this blow of his had also been blocked in an identical way by Laien’s water barrier.

    “Let’s see how long you can hold out!” Tin’Long shouted in his mind and using the momentum of his previous tail swipe, stabilized his footing and slashed horizontally with his longsword. The blade struck the water and was stopped, but instead of trying to follow up with another slash, he applied more force to his longsword and once again made a slight change to his footing, then pushed himself away and spun his body to the left, smashing at Laien with his draconic tail one more time.

    Another dull sound spread through the area as Tin’Long’s tail met the barrier created by Laien and a split second after, Tin’Long slashed with his longsword; he then punched out straight with his left hand, using this time to raise his long blade up into the air and quickly strike down with it.

    Slash of the longsword, blow of his fist, a swipe of his draconic tail. Despite each attack being blocked, Tin’Long attacked relentlessly combining the seemingly simple movements into an unending barrage of deadly attacks. The Elders watched with approval; Rudford and Roderick had smiles on their faces; the thousands of disciples were crying out in shock, terrified to find out the extent of Tin’Long’s power. However… they were even more flabbergasted to see that despite the unending offensive of Tin’Long’s, the black-haired ten-year-old was still holding his ground…!

    Yes, all he was doing was defending; he was totally unable to fight back. However! How many of the six thousands of them could confidently say that they wouldn’t be turned into mincemeat by Tin’Long in just a few exchanges? With the exception of the Core Disciples, no more than three people could claim to be on Tin’Long’s level and it was before he revealed his recent surge in battle prowess!

    “This is bad,” Laien thought bitterly, his throat clenching tightly as he meticulously continued to put up barriers in the exact spots Tin’Long was aiming for. “I can somehow keep up with the defense, but I can’t sense the flow of his Qi at all. There’s too much of it…!” Laien grit his teeth, realizing that previously, he had been able to predict Cran’s sudden attack only because Cran used a minuscule amount of his Qi. When his opponent was fighting with all his strength, it was virtually impossible to use his spiritual sense, if it even was that, to accurately predict his movements.

    “I guess there’s only one option left before I run out of strength…” Laien mused, cold sweat running down his back. He was indeed capable of blocking Tin’Long’s attacks with his magic, but he could tell how frightening powerful each and every blow was. One blunder would mean that at best, he would sustain heavy injuries and at worst, straight up die.

    Of course, Rudford wouldn’t actually allow something like this to happen… but amidst the heated battle, Laien didn’t have the clarity of mind to realize that. Moreover, he couldn’t bring himself to believe that Rudford would be fast enough to step in when he was always putting his defense from ten to fifteen centimeters from his body as to make the Guardian magic more effective. In such a short amount of time… who in the would be able to stop a sword or a tail swipe?

    Standing with Cran and all the Elders, Siana watched how Laien was being pounded upon with a rigid expression on her face. She was really worried about Laien, but she suppressed her nervousness and observed wordlessly, unconsciously paying more attention to Tin’Long’s movements that to Laien’s Laien’s steadily appearing guards of water.

    Siana didn’t quite realize it yet… but she was absorbing it; the way to handle the longsword, the proper use of one’s whole body, the sublime footwork. She was learning all of it at a truly abnormal pace just be observing Tin’Long for the space of a few breaths’ time! She truly had an unparalleled talent for martial arts, one going way beyond Laien’s, Tin’Long’s or Cran’s. Given enough time to hone her skills, she would undoubtedly rise to a great fame in not only the Sarkcente Kingdom but in the entire south!

    “Now!” Laien decided instantly, having just blocked a swipe of Tin’Long’s blood-red draconic tail. He jumped back and guarded against the consequent slash of Tin’Long’s longsword, making use of the eighteen-year-old's habit to follow-up his tail swipe with a horizontal slash of his blade.

    “Gained some distance,” Laien smiled a little, feeling quite hopeless that the difference in strength between him and Tin’Long was so huge that he needed to ‘find an opportunity’ to put a four, five meters distance between himself and Tin’Long. After all, if not for the slight delay due to the wide slash Tin’Long has just made, he would have following him effortlessly and continued to barrage him with quick and powerful series of attacks.

    Concentrating, Laien pulled out all that was left of his spiritual energy; all in all about a third of his full capacity. He wanted to hurry up and release it as he could see Tin’Long kicking the ground and chasing after him, but this time he needed just a little longer to pull off what he wanted to try doing.

    When Tin’Long took a swing and slashed at Laien, Rudford’s muscles twitched slightly. However, when he noticed the look in Laien’s eyes, he changed his mind and chose not to step in yet. “The boy is obviously planning something, let’s see what his trump card is,” he thought with a smile, wondering if Laien has any way of breaking past the protection of the fifth level of Tin’Long’s Dragon’s Body Art.

    As the longsword neared his chest, Laien finally released all the spiritual energy he had been gathering and in an instant, congregated it into a large mass of water. He stepped back sharply and at the same time, controlled the mass to engulf and restrict Tin’Long’s whole body. Consequently, the longsword missed him by a few centimeters, proving that the idea wasn’t a bad one and that indeed, Tin’Long has gotten much slower.

    Being suddenly enveloped by a mass of water, Tin’Long actually felt a hint of fear. He could only hold his breath and strengthen the Dragon’s Body Art to its limits, hoping that no liquid would be able to get through it. He could feel how the water pressed onto every inch of his body and could tell how much the pressure alone was slowing him down. He couldn’t help but recall all the blows of his which Laien blocked and thus, ended up imagining what would happen to him if this water forced its way into his nose, eyes and ears… only to burst from inside him. The prospect of being imploded truly gave him quite a fright.

    “If it wasn’t a disciple of our school,” the Grand Elder spoke up amidst the rumor the six thousand spectators raised at the sight of Tin’Long being covered whole by Laien’s water, directing his words to Rudford. “An attack like this would be quite frightening. However…” he sighed, but nevertheless looked at Laien with growing approval. For a ten-year-old fighting an eighteen-year-old, his performance was exquisite.

    “It still made this disciple of ours panic a little, though,” Rudford added with a laugh, taking note of the extremely stressed expression on Tin’Long’s face.

    “Why isn’t he retreating?” the question surfaced in Tin’Long’s mind as he struggled with all his might. He knew little about spiritual practitioners, so of course, he wasn’t aware that the Guardian was effective only in the range of a few meters from its caster, but the lack of knowledge didn’t prevent him from attempting to slash at Laien with his longsword. At first, his movements were quite crude and his attacks must have looked quite pitiful to the onlookers, but the attacks of his soon got faster and stronger as the pressure of the water began gradually weakening.

    “Uf,” Tin’Long sighed in his heart, relieved that Laien’s attempt failed. He needed to admit, it was a scary magic, but thankfully the Body Strengthening Art of the Red Dragon School was a perfect counter to it. “Time to finish him off,” he thought, even going as far as considering how to knock Laien out in a gentler manner, as to not injure him too much.

    However, at that exact moment that he let his guard down and relaxed, the pressure of the water engulfing him suddenly became three or four times stronger in the blink of an eye. “Shit!” Tin’Long roused his Qi to its utmost once more, his heart skipping a beat due to the fright he had been given.

    Not even half a second later, the water all over Tin’Long exploded spectacularly, the many tiny drops of water shining beautifully in the rays of the afternoon sun.

    “Thank Heavens,” Tin’Long breathed with relief, standing amidst the slowly dissipating drops of water. He would have expected them to stay and wet the ground, making him stay on guard… but apparently, magic worked just like this. When the source of energy was used up, whatever had been created also went and vanished without a trace.

    Intending to continue, Tin’Long raised his longsword, but he was quickly met with Laien’s resigned smirk and a pair of raised hands.

    “I give up,” Laien said and glanced at Rudford, waiting for him to announce the winner. He had used up all his spiritual energy and at the moment, had a slight headache. There was nothing else he wanted more than to sit down and meditate for at least half an hour to get rid of this dull pain in his head.

    “Tin’Long wins,” Rudford announced simply, his calm voice rolling through the plains with the aid of his Qi.

    The spectators were in a bit of a peril as to how to react. Of course, they all gasped when Tin’Long appeared to be in pinch, but now that their fellow disciple won, they didn’t feel like cheering. This result was the one they expected and to be honest, after the tree fighting Laien took part in, many of them were feeling bad for ridiculing and laughing at him before. To now cheer and say ‘good fight’… somehow seemed improper to them.

    Tin’Long himself understood it too; there was little honor in this victory of his. He, an adult man had bested a child. There was nothing glorious or amazing about it. On the contrary, it was pretty shameful that this very child was strong enough to scare him out of his shoes, even if only for a second or two. However, he had been adamant about fighting Laien for a reason and now that the duel between them was over, he intended to go through with it.

    “You really are strong,” Tin’Long said, purposely enhancing his voice with his Qi so that everyone could head him. He released the Dragon’s Body Art and put his longsword back into the interspatial ring, then approached Laien with a smile. “That girl over there, she’s your sister, right? The one with the Red Dragon Sword at her waist,” he more stated the fact than asked, his words causing all the six thousand gazes to fall on Siana.

    The Red Dragon Sword? So the roar they all had heard was…? The thousands of disciples and the Elders who hadn’t noticed the Red Dragon Sword beforehand began connecting the dots. Laien begin an honored guest of their School, the Great Master Rudford making a personal appearance and acting as a judge for him; it all began making sense if one was to consider Laien’s little sister being chosen by the Red Dragon Sword as its wielder. The conclusions reached by the Elders went even further, as many of them began - rightly so - wondering if the Great Master Rudford hadn’t taken Siana as her personal disciple and because of that, acted amiably towards her older brother.

    “So, you took her as a disciple, Rudford?” the Grand Elder asked straightforwardly, aware that the explicit reason his old friend refused to take any disciples sounded more or less like ‘I won’t be wasting the time I could spend on training on people with worse talent than mine.’. It might have sounded quite harsh, but considering that Rudford’s ambition was to exceed any expert in the annals of history, it was quite a reasonable stance to take.

    “I have,” Rudford confirmed, his statement making the fields literally erupt with roars of disbelief and excitement. For the time being, the whole attention has shifted from Laien and Tin’Long to Siana, who in turn was quite troubled by it and despite trying her best to stay calm and composed, began blushing a little.

    Tin’Long chuckled, glancing back at Laien who had been staring at him questioningly for the past few seconds. He waited for the clamor to die down a little and for everyone to exchange a few sentences with their friends before he spoke up again. “I trust you will be staying at our Red Dragon School often?” he asked, directing the attention of the masses back to him and Laien.

    “I guess so?” Laien responded uncertainly, not having thought about that yet. Siana would surely spend most of her time here; he wouldn’t be surprised if she was provided with her own place to live either, so he would probably spend most of his time here, too.

    “Then, since we’ve already become familiar as fellow practitioners,” Tin’Long began saying with a confident smile and took two steps forward, then extended his hand to Laien. “How about becoming friends? I would love to fight with you again when you get stronger,” he offered with honest, pure intentions. Becoming friends with Laien would be of benefit to him and since he actually liked Laien’s somewhat arrogant, straightforward attitude the friendship of theirs wouldn’t be superficial, either. As for what it meant for Laien…

    “He sure thought it out well,” Laien thought with a silent laugh, seeing and hearing how the various disciples reacted to Tin’Long’s words. They all had been unsure what to think about him, about this kid who appeared out of nowhere and demanded to fight duels during their tournament. However, just because Tin’Long reached out to him they all shifted their views and actually began looking at him as one of their own. If nothing else, that showed how well well-liked and respected Tin’Long was within the Red Dragon School.

    Well… the revelation of Siana becoming Rudford’s personal disciple certainly played a large role in the disciples warming up to him, too.

    “Yeah, just wait, I’m going to beat you in a few years,” Laien said with a laugh and grabbed Tin’Long’s hand. He didn’t dislike straightforward people at all; he certainly preferred if someone approached him like Tin’Long did than if the person courted him over a period of time and slowly, steadily tried to become familiar with him.

    “We’re going to see about that,” Tin’Long chuckled, not intending to allow Laien run past him that easily. Yet, in his heart, could somewhat tell that in the future, this black-haired kid with whom he was shaking hands right now would grow to be immensely powerful; much more so than he himself.

    “Good, good,” the Grand Elder said merrily and began steadily clapping his hands. There was nothing else what pleased him more than seeing young, talented practitioners growing close together and setting out into a bright future. Naturally, he was greatly pleased to see Laien and Tin’Long behaving like upstanding young people.

    Rudford chuckled and joined his old friend in applause, both of them, in turn, triggering a true wave of applause and cheering from the well over six thousand disciples. The roar was so breathtakingly loud that even the people passing by the Red Dragon School could vaguely hear it.

    For Laien, to have found himself in the middle of it was quite pleasant indeed. His lingering guilt had also been quickly erased when the white-robed Grand Elder and Rudford turned around and both nodded at Siana, continuing to clasp their hands without pause. Siana herself appeared to be really happy because of that development, too.

    “Tin’Long,” Rudford spoke up, causing the clamor to completely die out within mere seconds. “From today, you are a Core Disciple,” he announced briefly, recognizing that Tin’Long’s skill was more than enough to place him within the elites of his Red Dragon School.

    “Thank you, Great Master Rudford,” Tin’Long lowered his head and bowed lightly, paying his respects and expressing his gratitude in a formal manner.

    “Every Core Disciple needs a teacher,” the Grand Elder said with a smile and gave Tin’Long a meaningful glance. “How about it, do you want to become my disciple?” he asked, causing Tin’Long to nearly yell out in happiness.

    “Yes!” Tin’Long replied immediately and bowed again. The Grand Elder Roderick occupied the second most important position within the Red Dragon School and was widely known for his ability to nourish young practitioners into powerful martial masters. He was also very devoted to teaching his favorite pupils; as the matter of fact, the two of his most recent disciples were here with him! Tin’Long simply couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to be gifted to him.

    The crowd of disciples started cheering once again, congratulating Tin’Long his good luck birthed through the many years of hard training. They all knew that Tin’Long’s talent, although good, wasn’t at the level of a genius. For him to have gotten so strong was purely due to the extreme amount of effort he had put into training every day of the four years he had spent at the Red Dragon School! It was easy to resent people who grew successfully through their talent alone, but it was borderline impossible not to look up to somebody who did that through the means of relentless training.

    “Looks like I will be staying here for the time being,” the Grand Elder said casually, exchanging a glance with Rudford. He had originally planned only to stay for a few days, but after finding so many interesting young people, he couldn’t resist spending some more time in Neil City.

    “You are welcome,” Rudford said with a smile, already considering to later on ask Roderick if he wouldn’t be willing to teach a few things to Laien, too; that is, if the boy also joins the Red Dragon School, just like his little sister. Having Roderick around would also allow him not to waste too much time outside meditation, as this friend of his knew better than him how to handle students anyway.

    “So loud,” Laien complained on the side, rubbing the temple of his head with one hand. He liked to show-off, but he wasn’t that fond of large crowds to begin with. Now that the fighting was suffering an annoying headache, he would have liked it best if he could walk away and recover… so, instead of being wishy-washy about it, he approached Rudford and asked.

    “I’m feeling really tired, so may I excuse myself?”

    Rudford raised his eyebrows just a little. At the first glance, Laien didn’t appear to be tired at all, but he then remembered that spiritual practitioners didn’t need to be physically exhausted to be ‘tired’. “Have Cran take you to my private quarters. There are empty training rooms you can use to rest for the time being. Also, tell my nephew and your sister that if they are done with sightseeing, I wish to have a talk with them,” he said calmly, speaking in a rather formal tone as per the habit he had developed over the past one hundred years of secluded meditation.

    Tranquility… it required him to always stay calm and collected. Considering how emotional he had gotten today, he would likely have trouble getting into a proper state to train within the next week or so.

    “After you are done resting, you come too,” Rudford reminded just as Laien was about to turn around and walk away.

    “Okay,” Laien responded and nodded once more, unknowingly making the Grand Elder smirk in amusement.

    “He just nods, then says ‘okay’. It’s been some time since someone was so informal with you,” the Grand Elder pointed out with a chuckle after Laien left. In the past, Rudford was a much more easygoing and lighthearted person, but ever since the events of the last year of the Great War one hundred years ago, he immersed himself in pondering ‘The Secret of Tranquility’. Ever since then, Rudford became rather dull if he were to be honest. In consequence, the number of people who dared to speak to him casually decreased with every year.

    Rudford glanced at Roderick, then smirked to himself. He didn’t mind Laien behaving like he did at all; in fact, he rather enjoyed it. He wouldn’t stand for anyone being bluntly rude to him, but being informal and carefree? He was quite fond of these qualities in people, but alas, just like Roderick was saying, it had a long since anyone treated him as anything but the ‘Great Master Rudford of the Red Dragon School’. Such was the price for keeping his overly collected and rather emotionless attitude over the past one hundred years for the sake of gaining more insights into the ‘Tranquility’.

    “Time to go back,” Rudford mused aloud and began walking toward the school grounds. The many disciples parted quickly, making a way for him.

    “We should follow, too,” Cran said to the two siblings, having heard about his uncle’s request from Laien. The two youths didn’t disagree, so after the Grand Elder Roderick, his two disciples and the four Elders accompanying him passed, the three of them followed.

    “I wonder what uncle wants to talk about with me,” Cran asked himself silently. It probably had something to do with his relationship with Laien and Siana… but how great would it be if his uncle reconsidered his decision and took him as a disciple along with Siana? Even though he knew it was rather unlikely, he still hoped that he would be recognized in some way by the person he admired the most in this word, even more than his own father.

    ---

    “Fully recovered,” Laien opened his eyes, satisfied with the more or less four hours of meditating. “I even gained some new insights into the Aspect of Tranquility. I would love to continue… but it’s slowly getting late,” he thought with a sigh, knowing that Rudford wanted to see him. As the original ‘deadline’ was at the dusk, he had gone ahead and used up the whole afternoon, but making the Great Master wait any longer would be inappropriate, or so he concluded.

    “Around here?” he murmured, walking towards a secluded building Cran had pointed him to before leaving with Siana.

    “Sorry for intruding,” he said casually as he pushed the door open, then nodded respectfully as he saw Rudford and the Grand Elder sitting on sofas at the opposite sides of the short table. By the looks of it, both Siana and Cran were already gone, but he wasn’t late… or was he?

    “Took you a while,” Rudford said resignedly, but despite that he didn’t appear to be too angry with Laien. He had a quick talk with Cran, then a relatively long chat with Siana. The rest of his time ended up being occupied by Roderick, so he didn’t feel like he wasted the afternoon on waiting for the boy to finally come. “Go ahead and sit down,” he said and pointed at the free space at Roderick’s side with a brief gesture of his hand.

    “I will let the two of you talk alone,” Roderick stood up and sent Rudford a smile. He was also pretty curious about Laien, but he knew what Rudford wanted to ask the youth about. His presence here could make Laien more reluctant to share his secrets and thus, he preferred to null this problem before it could appear. Since Rudford intended to develop a good relationship with Laien, it wouldn’t be good if the boy felt pressured into talking by the presence of two experts. Having a face to face chat with Rudford would go much smoother, at least in Roderick’s opinion.

    “Your choice,” Rudford gave up on trying to convince his old friend to stay. Roderick had always been incredibly stubborn about everything and trying to make him change his mind was more often than not just a waste of breath.

    “If you are going to join our school,” Roderick stopped briefly and said as he was passing by Laien. “Then feel free to come to me for an advice. I believe I can teach you a thing or two; my disciples would surely be interesting in sparring with you, too,” he concluded with a smile and without waiting for Laien’s response, nodded his head at the youth and left the room.

    “The Red Dragon School, eh?” Laien gazed at the door, enticed by the idea. Master Shire always changed the subject or dismissed the question when he inquired what kind of martial art will he teach him, so the option of cultivating the top-level Red Dragon Arts and sparring with the elite disciples from one of the three Great Martial Schools of the Sarkcente Kingdom appeared to be quite enticing indeed.

    As he sat down, Laien really wondered if he shouldn’t just take the opportunity if Rudford would openly invite him into his school. However… despite Shire’s eccentric character, he had developed a sense of duty to him as his Master. Now that he thought about it the second time, he told himself that he would at least consult the matter with Master Shire before agreeing to anything as to avoid any unpleasant outcomes.

    “You are probably curious, so I will tell you that your little sister officially settled in my Red Dragon School. She decided to live here permanently, so appropriate quarters have been assigned to her,” Rudford informed Laien, then smiled slightly seeing that the boy’s expression brightened up and he became a bit more relaxed.

    “He obviously cares for his little sister and appears to be genuinely happy for her. There is not even a hint of jealousy in his eyes,” Rudford noted quietly, happy to see that Laien wasn’t a shallow overambitious brat who would be resentful of his little sister’s success.

    “Thank you for telling me… Master Rudford,” Laien said after a second of hesitation, not too fond of those formalities. Being so needlessly stiff reminded him of the lessons Tei’Ru had been giving him and the more recent, vaguely unpleasant talk he has had with Garon.

    “If it suits you better, you can talk to me informally,” Rudford said with a smile, then added with a laugh. “It wouldn’t be the first time, anyway,”

    At first, Laien was a little speechless. He hadn’t had such a carefree impression of Rudford at first, but now this crimson-haired man appeared to be rather amicable. Even the ‘feeling’ about him changed; he was still emanating an aura of power and might, but it wasn’t as oppressive as before.

    “I wonder,” Laien brought up with a cheeky smile. “What is it that you require of me, that you would allow a ten-year-old kid to speak to you without any honorific?” he asked, refusing to believe it was just Rudford’s goodwill or that he was being considerate because Siana became his disciple. This red-haired man was, after all, one of the supreme experts of the Sarkcente Kingdom…! Even the King would talk with him in a polite manner! So, why?

    “Straightforward, aren’t you?” Rudford chuckled and looked Laien in the eye with a warm smile. Some people might have quite rightfully so considered Laien’s behavior and words as impolite, rude even. He, however, liked those who were a little brash… yes, the woman he had loved certainly had been a very brash and painfully honest person.

    Rudford sighed a little. The wounds in his heart have had enough time to heal, but remembering the past wasn’t pleasant for him by any means. He saw Laien being confused by his sudden shift in mood and smiled apologetically, getting to the point right afterward.

    “I will ask you without beating around the bush; you don’t need to answer if you can’t or don’t want to, but I’d certainly appreciate if you did,” he ended up speaking a bit more formally than he would have liked to, but having received a quick nod from Laien, he let the matter be and asked.

    “The feeling of extreme calmness and peace, ‘Tranquility’… does that ring a bell somewhere?”

    There wasn’t even a need for an answer. Just from Laien’s surprised expression, Rudford could tell that he was right. This extremely faint sensation he felt the first time he saw Laien; he wasn’t mistaken! This child really had insights into one of the Secrets known only by the very top experts of the Starlight Continent…! Ten years old kid…!

    “Can it be that he also…?” Laien wondered and without even knowing how he was doing it, as if he was performing something as rudimentary as reaching out with his hand, he extended his spiritual sense and ‘felt out’ Rudford’s cultivation base and confirmed that indeed, every inch of Rudford’s body seemed to be filled with the power of the Aspect of Tranquility…!

    Rudford’s face flinched as the presence of the Secret of Tranquility in Laien’s body became really clear to him for a split second. He didn’t know what Laien did, but the insights the two of them possessed resonated with each other. Now, there was no doubt at all! Laien also shared insights into the same Secret as he did!

    “It looks like words are unnecessary,” Laien chuckled helplessly, ashamed that he allowed all the emotions to show so easily on his face. Only because Rudford failed or didn’t want to conceal his own expressions did he not feel too bad about. “I recently got some insights into the ‘Aspect of Tranquility’, as I ended up calling it,” he confirmed regardless, making Rudford raise an eyebrow. An ‘Aspect’ of Tranquility? It didn’t sound half bad.

    “I understand that your questions are related to it…” Laien mused aloud, then decided to be blunt about it and asked. “Can I know what exactly do you want me to talk about, Master Rudford? What’s the purpose?” he inquired, accidentally shifting back to the formal tone as his respect for Rudford had just risen to a whole new level.

    “… To be honest,” Rudford smiled bitterly and said with a sigh. “For over thirty years, I had been stuck at a very strange bottleneck between the sixth and seventh Realm of Heroes. I have a feeling that it has something to do with my insights into the Secret… into the Aspect of Tranquility, as you call it, but I just can’t find a way to break past it,” he explained and shook his head resignedly. It was a shameful matter, but the opportunity to talk and exchange insights with somebody who shared the same Secret; the same Aspect was worth revealing his problems to the person; even if that person was a ten years old boy.

    “It’s as if the Tranquility itself is blocking me from advancing… it’s strengthening me, but at the same time preventing the Qi in my Origin from ‘sparkling up’ the breakthrough,” Rudford worded his experiences to the best of his ability, opting not to hide anything. Yes, he was a mighty martial master and asking a boy as young as Laien for an advice was making him feel ashamed, but as long as a possibility to break past this obstacle existed, he wouldn’t hesitate to swallow his pointless pride.

    Laien shut his eyes for a second, then opened them and looked at Rudford. He was so amazed by the man’s honest attitude that he began wondering if he wasn’t dreaming or hearing things. So far, all the martial masters he had met were extremely prideful people; none of them would ever ask a ten-year-old for an opinion, much less request an advice about cultivation!

    “I really could come to like him. Siana has it good to have a man like that for her master,” Laien thought with a smile, then hurriedly got to analyzing what Rudford told him. In his own case, the Aspect of Tranquility didn’t obstruct his cultivation at all and in fact, appeared to hasten its growth. Yet, maybe further down the road, the Tranquility would become an obstacle, like Rudford was saying…? That its presence was causing him to be unable to make a breakthrough…?

    “Could it be that there is something different about his insights and mine?” Laien followed this line of thought, thinking back to his vision and to how he assumed that he had strengthened the ‘foundation’ of the Aspect of Tranquility through it. “If I were to point out the most obvious difference, then it would be…” he mused, then looked at Rudford and asked.

    “Master Rudford, you were saying that the Aspect of Tranquility was preventing you from advancing, right? From what I sensed, it’s spread throughout your whole body; skin, muscles, bones, even your Qi. However, in my case…” Laien fell silent for a second, unintentionally raising the tension. He didn’t mean to make Rudford wait in anticipation, though. All he did was considering whether he should bring up the concept of the soul, which wasn’t too well knows in the Starlight Continent and about which he had only learned through the vague information his visions provided.

    “In my case, it’s gathered in one place and I can pull on it whenever I want to, but when I don’t, I’m not affected by it,” he ended up saying, wondering if an explanation of this kind would be of any help to Rudford. When he had gotten the first insights into the Aspect of Tranquility, its essence has gone straight to his soul by itself. However, if Rudford happened not to know about the soul, would he still be able to conjugate the Aspect of Tranquility in one spot?

    “That’s…” Rudford uttered, his eyes bulging out and his mouth hanging slightly open. “That’s…!” he repeated, the train of thoughts beginning to run through his mind like a horde of crazed rhinos. Ever since he had gotten his first bits of insight into the Aspect of Tranquility, the energy of it filled his whole body. Whenever he trained, the Tranquility would get stronger and would also end up having considerably more powerful effects on him; even on his daily behavior! Since this way of training came to him naturally, he had long since assumed that only when he reaches a certain threshold of insights, would he gain proper control over the Aspect of Tranquility. Yet, it seemed that all this time he had been completely wrong!

    Now that Laien pointed it out, wasn’t it actually pretty damn obvious? None of the wielders of the Aspects he knew were affected by their insights to this degree…! Even the boy before him didn’t have the power of Tranquility spread through his body, but instead had it hidden deep inside him!

    “Gather it,” Rudford said to himself and instinctively, caused all the spread essence of Tranquility to form into one whole somewhere inside his body… no, it would be more correct to say that it was somewhere in his consciousness? He didn’t quite understand the process, but when it started occurring, he came to be sure that it was the right way to go about it.

    In the matter of a few seconds, he created a small ball of gas-like essence which was inside him, but not inside him at the same time.

    The moment he finished the process, he felt the energy in his Qi Origin rouse by itself, surging higher and higher. The incredibly pleasant warmth flowed from his Qi Origin and spread throughout his body as finally, he advanced from the peak of the sixth to the seventh Realm of Heroes…!

    “Whoa,” Laien swallowed, the sensation of Rudford’s aura growing considerably more powerful overwhelming him totally. He shouldn’t have been able to tell a martial master’s cultivation level… but yet, he could sense it clearly. Just now, Rudford has broken past his bottleneck!

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  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 11. The Bright Future. (Part I)


    The utterly delighted expression on Rudord’s face was making Laien want to burst out laughing. Compared to the man’s previous, calm expression this look he now had on his face was truly hilarious; he looked like a child who got his hands on a snack he had been drooling over for months.

    “Do I also look like that when my spiritual cultivation makes a breakthrough?” Laien wondered helplessly, knowing how much pleasure the spiritual practice brought to him. If that really was true, then he needed to be careful not to have any random people see him at those times… it would be simply too embarrassing.

    His Qi slowly calming down, Rudford took a deep breath, then slowly released the air from his lungs. He gazed at Laien, then due to how delighted he was, offered generously. “If there’s anything you need, just say so! As long as it’s within my abilities and the request isn’t too unreasonable, I will grant it.”

    Laien perked up slightly, amazed by Rudford’s offer. He smiled brightly and chuckled; it just so happened that he liked to daydream when he had nothing better to do. He had imagined himself in many cool, glorious or lucky situations many times so when Rudford gave him the opportunity, he didn’t need to think about his answer for long and thus, replied almost instantly.

    “Then, Master Rudford… I want to become your martial brother!” Laien said strongly, the confident look in his eyes telling Rudford that he wasn’t joking.

    “You… what…?” Rudford murmured, completely dumbfounded. “Are you sure you know what you are speaking about?” he asked, a hint of anger lurking behind his words. In these times of peace, many youngsters referred to their friends as ‘brothers’, but from his point of view, they were all being superficial! The true meaning behind two practitioners recognizing each other as martial brothers was the unspoken promise to never betray and not to hesitate to put one’s own life for your brother’s sake! These words were never supposed to be spoken casually as they currently were!

    Laien tried to keep his calm, but couldn’t help feeling nervous and even a bit scared. Rudford, who so far appeared to be a very composed person, was actually showing hostility…! It was one thing to stand before an angry adult, and the other if that adult was one of the most powerful and influential people in the Sarkcente Kingdom…!

    “I believe I do,” Laien clenched his fists and replied, looking Rudford in the eye and refusing to back down. “I am aware that I won’t suddenly become a martial brother to you in your hearth just because I made such a request, so if you later deem me unworthy, please go ahead and throw me out,” he stated straightforwardly, causing Rudford’s expression to soften. Perhaps, it wasn’t such an unreasonable request after all…?

    “Maybe,” Laien spoke up with a laugh, noticing the change in Rudford’s mood. “Maybe it would be a better wording if I said that I want to ask for a head-start in our relationship? Give me a chance to prove myself, Master Rudford,” he said with a cheeky smile while maybe getting a bit too ahead of himself… but then, Rudford actually laughed and eyed him carefully.

    “His martial cultivation might not be the fastest,” Rudford mused with a smile. “But he surely has a bright future as a spiritual practitioner ahead of him; and not only that! He already has insights into the Secret, the ‘Aspect’ of Tranquility as he named it at such a young age,” he nodded to himself. Now that he thought about it calmly, there was no reason for him to straight out deny Laien’s request. Had the boy been trying to randomly seize luck and get his protection while himself being nothing great, he would have called his request unreasonable. However, he had a chance to see Laien fighting and even got the hint which enabled his breakthrough and freed him from the constant influence of the Tranquility! There definitely was a debt to be repaid. The only matter left was…

    “His character,” Rudford raised an eyebrow, then chuckled quietly and shook his head. Before he became the ‘stoic person’, he had been quite easygoing. This young boy with messy black hair was a bit blunt and more than a bit cheeky, but to be honest he didn’t dislike these traits at all. Especially now that hopefully, within the next few weeks he would be able to get rid of his bitter, overly composed personality which the Aspect of Tranquility had been forcing upon him; he wouldn’t need to be secretly jealous of people who could freely laugh and fool around to their heart's content.

    “I guess I am in your debt, after all,” Rudford said with a smile and a sigh. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling you ‘little brother’, though. Using your name would sit better with me,” he added, pleased to see the bright look in Laien’s eyes and the very satisfied and happy expression on his face.

    “Of course it will be fine, elder brother,” Laien said boldly, admittedly feeling nervous as to how Rudford would react to this sudden switch in the way he was referring to him.

    “Elder brother, eh…?” Rudford chortled, then shook his head with a helpless smile. He produced a simple set of clothes along with a black gold interspatial ring and tossed them to Laien over the table.

    “When in public, keep the old ‘Master Rudford’ for now, okay? I think that telling everyone you’ve become my disciple will be shocking enough, you little devil,” he said with a carefree laugh, finding himself looking forward to raising these two siblings as his disciples. He had been training in seclusion for so long; it was the highest time to get occupied with something more pleasurable and interesting to do.

    As for whether it really would be pleasurable… he still might have not quite worked out Siana’s character and as she appeared to be hard to approach and reluctant to open herself up… but he had a feeling that he would soon come to like this cheeky youth very much.

    Laien looked at the clothes and gave Rudford a surprised look, not having expected to be gifted anything. Rudford however only shrugged his shoulders and smiled at him, gesturing with his hand to check out what he got.

    Curious, Laien touched the black gold interspatial ring with two of his fingers and sent out a thread of spiritual energy into it, branding the ring to himself. He gasped the next second, shocked to discover that the inner space of this ring was actually an astonishing one kilometer in diameter…! Even among the top-grade interspatial rings, this one would be of the highest quality! It was basically priceless!

    With how large its inner space was, if one had enough Qi or spiritual energy, he would be able to pull whole buildings inside this black gold interspatial ring…! Moreover, the inner space itself wasn’t empty! It was filled with countless items like medicinal pills, rare potions, various kinds of top-quality weapons, tens of thousands of gold coins and what appeared to be a literal bag of crystal coins…! Heavens, one crystal coin was an equivalent of one thousand gold coins…! Just how much wealth did Rudford and his Red Dragon School possess?!

    “There are even hundreds of sets of clothes of various sizes; all of the same styles as the ones he threw to me,” Laien noted helplessly. He really had made this request with establishing good relations with Rudford in mind. He would never have expected to actually receive so much from him just a few minutes later!

    “Your sister got an identical interspatial ring with the same contents,” Rudford said with a smile, enjoying the fact that Laien’s emotions easily showed on his face. When his little sister received the same gift, she appeared to only be surprised for a second and then quickly thanked him politely. In contrast, Laien showed him the whole variety of positive emotions. It always was nice to see someone acting genuinely happy and excited after getting something from you.

    “Vatras prepared these two sets of gifts when he had been trying to make me accept a disciple. He even went as far as having hundreds of sets of clothes sewn beforehand,” Rudford pointed out with a laugh. He had always found his little brother’s overly meticulous behavior to be quite funny. Vatras always needed to have everything ready beforehand and tended to hate any random events or surprises. In the past, Vatras had been an exact opposite of him; he was carefree and liked to fool around, while Vatras would always try to settle the trouble he would be making. Ah, the good memories of their childhood…

    “Thank god it’s not a robe, they look great,” Laien blurted out, already having switched his old interspatial ring for the new one and now taking a look at the simple set consisting of pants and a short-sleeved shirt. Both pieces were very pleasant to touch and were mainly white, with a few red additions here and there. Overall… “Pretty similar to what you are wearing, elder brother,” Laien pointed out happily. The main difference was that Rudford’s shirt was a long-sleeved one, but apart from that, the sets were practically identical.

    “I must say, I agree about the robes,” Rudford said with a chuckle and nodded to himself. “I have no idea how Roderick can be wearing that thing. It’s so inconvenient to walk around in and it doesn’t let you use your legs properly when you fight… but above all, it just feels weird to have it on,” he exchanged a glance with Laien, both of them smiling. Yes, just like he thought he would come to like this kid very quickly.

    “See the fist-sized dragon on the front of the shirt?” Rudford asked rhetorically and pointed at the same one on his own shirt. “The dragon is the symbol of our school, it’s pretty self-explanatory. As for their colors and shapes; you’ve probably noticed, right?” he inquired, wondering if this matter had already been explained to Laien beforehand. Judging by the lack of reaction when he saw the black dragon on the shirt given to him, probably not?

    Laien thought back to the clothes of all the students and Elders he had seen, then responded with a half-question. “Outer Disciples have a simple red claw on their shirts, Inner Disciples have two claws, Core Disciples and Elders have a full red dragon. The Grand Elder had a large grey-black dragon on his robe… while you and your disciples have black dragons?”

    Rudford nodded in confirmation, then explained further. “The status of my disciple is quite special, so although until you show promise and accomplish some great deeds for the school you can’t order Elders or Core Disciples around, they have no authority over you either. Additionally, in case of an argument, your words weigh more than theirs. Comparatively speaking, you are in a position higher than an average Elder and as someone close to me, you at the same time become an important person on the country-level,” he stopped speaking for a moment, letting Laien mentally adjust to this change in his social standing. After a few seconds, he proceeded with the serious talk that couldn’t and shouldn’t be avoided.

    “I know you and your sister are of the Valius family, I’ve heard all the details of the recent events from Siana, too,” Rudford said seriously, then seeing that Laien understood that they were speaking about something important, continued. “You just gained a lot of authority, but I must remind you not to get too ahead of yourself and not to abuse it. Whatever you do will also reflect itself on me and my school. But of course, if the Valius family or anyone else tries to commit injustice to you, I won’t watch silently,” he warned and reassured right afterward, not wanting Laien to misunderstand anything; he just wasn’t used to speaking with children.

    “It seems he understands it without me saying so,” Rudford thought to himself and smiled slightly. Judging by the calm manner Laien accepted the words and the look of gratitude he gave him at the end, there would likely be no problems related to his future behavior. “It’s always good to remind, though. Even if the kid already knows something,” he mused, recalling his little brother’s words from the time Cran was four or five years old and had been brought to see him by Vatras.

    “I will keep that in mind,” Laien responded after a second or two of establishing this new fact for himself. He would have probably known not to behave like a spoiled young master without having Rudford say so, but now that it had been stated explicitly, he would be extra careful not to let his temper get better of himself. “Are there any rules I need to follow?” he asked, wondering if becoming Rudford’s disciple involved not only advantages but also some kind of responsibilities.

    “Not really, just behave reasonably well,” Rudford said with a smirk and then, appearing to have remembered something, added quickly. “There’s the matter of never revealing the secrets of the Red Dragon Arts to outsiders, but both you and your sister first need to reach the peak of the fifth mortal realm before you receive the scrolls, so you needn’t concern yourselves with it for now.”

    “Right,” Rudford finally picked up on the lingering thought of his. “Your sister wanted to live here, what about you?” he asked, recalling how eagerly Siana agreed to move away from the Valius mansion. He had found it strange at first, but only until Siana told him in depth about her and Laien’s story with the Valius family. Apparently, the whole adoption thing had been a big thing in Neil City three years ago, but as he had been spending almost all time in seclusion, he never heard anything about it until Siana briefed him in.

    “Siana is staying here, so what would be the point of me being elsewhere?” Laien shrugged his shoulders and responded with a smile. “It would be best if we got joined quarters; or at least next to each other,” he suggested, knowing that one way or another they would be spending most of their time together at one of the two places. Thus, arranging it as he asked to would make things much more convenient.

    “It’s not like it couldn’t be done,” Rudford wondered aloud, thinking about the layout of the quarters at the private grounds. Many disciples lived in large dormitories within the grounds of his school, while only the Core Disciples and Elders were allowed to live in their own, private houses. Even the richest disciples wouldn’t be given the option of private housing before reaching an appropriate rank, but the reasons for that was a subject for another time. “I guess we could just get some masons to reshape two private estates right next to each other into one, good looking whole,” he mused aloud, then nodded partially to himself and partially to Laien.

    “It shouldn’t take long, two or three days at most. You will have your private quarters for you and your sister,” Rudford said with a smile, then gave Laien a look asking if he has any more question.

    “Regarding the Red Dragon Arts,” Laien brought up and seeing that Rudford nodded lightly, encouraging him to continue, went ahead and explained his concern. “I don’t know if Siana mentioned it, but I’m studying under Master Shire,” he began saying, but unexpectedly, before he could finish, he noticed a change in Rudford’s expression.

    This declaration seemed to have really surprised him, but why? Could it be Rudford also believed that Shire was a worthless teacher and only a shade of his great past self?

    “He actually took on a disciple who didn’t run away after a week?” Rudford said disbelievingly, but as he noticed that Laien appeared to be somewhat offended, he hurriedly cleared the matter. “Don’t think I’m slandering him; he and I had fought side by side during the late period of the Great War with the Ciene Kingdom one hundred years ago. He truly had been an unparalleled monster at that time. No one of the young generation of our era could compare to him, including me,” he said admittedly and chuckled, seeing that Laien was completely speechless.

    “He was that amazing?” Laien asked, finding it hard to accept that this slightly crazy, drunken man was incredible to this degree. He had long since understood that Shire wasn’t a useless person, but for Rudford to say that Shire’s talent surpassed his own? That not even one practitioner of their generation could compare to him…?!

    “He always was a strange person, but yes, he was that amazing,” Rudford said with a heavy sigh, the topic bringing back the unpleasant memories. “He would have surely become the top expert of our Sarkcente Kingdom, if not for that incident…” Rudford spoke quietly, reminiscing the past. “He always was a bit crazy, but only then did he truly become a madman…” he said and sighed once again, then shook his head and looked at Laien, who was sitting there and listening to him with great attention.

    “It’s not up to me to be telling you this story if Shire is your master,” Rudford declared, then took out a bottle of wine from his interspatial ring and took a gulped down fourth of it at once. “The story also involves me… so maybe we can talk about it some other time; when we get to know each other better,” he said with a weak smirk and took our another bottle of wine, along with two cups.

    “Want a little taste?” he asked and smiled at Laien. “It’s not that strong, so you won’t get drunk,” he assured, not planning to turn himself of his disciple into a drunkard.

    “Just one cup, then,” Laien agreed, feeling that it would be wrong to decline the invitation to drink with Rudford. He just wasn’t too fond of wines and other kinds of alcohols; he didn’t like the way they clouded his mind and how they made him feel the next morning.

    “Here you go,” Rudford filled the crystal clear cup with red wine and slid it to the other side of the low table.

    “Thanks,” Laien said simply and took a sip, then actually opened his eyes wide in surprise. “Wow, such a deep cheery flavor! It’s good!” he exclaimed, unable to resist drinking some more. This wine had an incredibly rich flavor and was just strong enough to warm your throat up pleasurably, but not to make it burn painfully! With something like that at his disposal, he would now really need to be careful not to become an alcoholic…!

    “Told you it’s good,” Rudford laughed, leaving the unpleasant subject behind. “As for the Red Dragon Arts, I believe it will end up with you learning what you are the most compatible with. Fire element martial art, or the wind element of Shire’s. When you reach the peak of the fifth mortal realm, you should have the compatibility of your Qi tested,” he answered the remaining question of Laien’s, then suggested a bit out of the blue. “Why don’t you change into your new clothes? I would like to see how you look in them.”

    “Mm, okay,” Laien agreed with a smile and put his hand on the shirt and pants which were lying at his side. He drew both pieces of clothing into his interspatial ring, then stood up and walked to the side. It was easier to swap clothes while standing and anyways, it would let Rudford get a better look. Either way, he did as he planned and changed into the white set in the blink of an eye with the aid of his interspatial ring. “Pretty comfortable,” he commented, thankful that the clothes fit him well and weren’t too tight anywhere.

    “Now you only lack a weapon to pair up with them,” Rudford said happily, nodding to himself with satisfaction. “That being said, I have an advice for you,” he mentioned, gesturing Laien to come over and sit at his side instead of on the other sofa.

    “Let me ask you, did this stupid idiot try teaching you spear techniques?” Rudford asked, the old way he and his friends used to call Shire slipping out of his tongue.

    “No,” Laien shook his head and smirked quietly. ‘Stupid idiot’, now that was a new way to call his master. “He insisted that I use the short sword to train my reflexes and told me that I should swap for a normal sword later on,” he explained briefly, wondering if Shire was, in reality, a spear wielder. If so, then he really would like to try learning spear techniques from him! Swords weren’t bad, but they always felt a bit off to him. Additionally, the ‘he’ from his dreams also wielded a weapon similar to a spear; a glaive.

    “Bastard,” Rudford clicked his tongue, annoyed that Shire had been teaching Laien in a half-assed way. “Teaching you sword techniques when he is a spear master. He didn’t even bother to test your aptitude for wielding the spear! What a joke,” he said angrily. Half-assed teachers were one of the few things which truly got on his nerves.

    “He didn’t really teach me much, though,” Laien mentioned with a helpless laugh. “He made me train and at most gave some sparse advice. I worked out most by myself,” he said with a smile, bragging a little before Rudford.

    “Eh, no wonder your technique looks rough,” Rudford said with a sigh, thus startling Laien a little.

    Hadn’t his sword-wielding ben better than one of the stronger Inner Disciples of this school? Well… in Rudford’s eyes, it might have indeed looked ‘rough’, after all.

    “Just for a bit,” Rudford waved his hand, storing the whole table into his interspatial ring. “Stand up, if you could,” he said and gestured Laien to move a little closer. “Raise your hands,” he asked without giving a prior explanation. Despite feeling quite confused, Laien did as he was told.

    “Mm,” Rudford nodded, turning Laien to the side and putting one hand on his back while pressing onto his raised hands with the other. “Try it to the sides,” he said and let Laien go, showing with his own arm what he meant.

    Holding back the urge to ask what was it all about, Laien did as Rudford showed him, wondering what was the point of all this stretching.

    “Don’t turn your torso with your hand,” Rudford chortled and pulled on Laien’s shoulder, keeping his chest in place. He nodded to himself once more, then asked. “How high can you kick?”

    “Um?” seeing no point in trying to describe it, Laien took two steps forward and kicked into the air as high as he could. He then looked at Rudford, who for some reason seemed to be quite satisfied.

    “You are pretty flexible, do you stretch often?” he asked, leading up to the fairly apparent suggestion he had for Laien.

    “Only after training, not too much,” Laien replied with a shrug of his shoulders. He couldn’t afford to have his muscles sore the next day, so he stretched as much as was necessary. Nothing excessive, though.

    “Let me take a guess, Shire never showed you how to stretch properly…?” Rudford asked and chortled resignedly, having received a nod of confirmation from Laien. “Your physique is suited for spear-wielding to begin with; you also have a flexible body. Next time you see that stupid idiot, deliver him a message from me; that he should stop being lazy and teach you his spear techniques and if not, then I will take over your training as he is obviously worse at sword-wielding than me,” he said wryly, still remembering quite well that being blunt was the best way to get the point through to Shire.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 11. The Bright Future. (Part II)


    “I don’t know how will he take it, but I will tell him,” Laien said with a smirk, looking forward to Shire’s reaction to this message. Since there was some kind of past relationship between his master and Rudford, the words would probably provoke Shire to do something constructive… hopefully. That, or he would get forced into ‘sparring’ with his master and roughed up as he had two times before; once for walking him up with a bucket of cold water when he had been sleeping, completely drunk and the other time when he failed to wake Shire up and ate the dinner on his own and left.

    “That being said,” Laien mused with a sigh, pushing these annoying memories away. “He was checking if my body suited to spear wielding, eh?” he thought to himself, finally getting the point of these brief exercises he just did. Truth to be told, he already began heavily anticipating the moment Shire would start teaching him how to use a spear. Since Rudford said that his body was suited for it, then maybe he also had a better talent for this kind of a weapon compared a simple sword.

    “You should spend at least half an hour per day on stretching,” Rudford advised straightforwardly. He wanted to tell Laien to sit back down so he could take the table and the wine out, but he changed his mind due to the troubled expression which appeared on Laien’s face.

    “Half an hour, eh?” Laien said resignedly. That would be a bit problematic and not because he didn’t want to do it, but because…

    “What’s the pro-, ah, right,” Rudford began saying, but then laughed helplessly; hadn’t he just said so himself? “Come on, let’s go,” he said with a smile and stood up, then looked over his shoulder to see if Laien was following.

    “Go? Where to?” Laien asked, hurrying after Rudford. What exactly could have come to Rudford’s mind that he would want to bring him somewhere at the moment’s notice? Did he want to have him meet someone, have him talk with the Grand Elder…? Show him something important…?

    “What do you mean where to?” Rudford smiled wryly. “Obviously to my training hall so I can show you how to stretch yourself,” he said carefreely and chuckled at Laien’s surprised expression. Was it really so unexpected of him?

    But well, as far as Laien was concerned, the enjoyable conversation he just had with Rudford was pretty much unexpected to him to begin with. He would never have thought that Rudford would casually offer to show him how to stretch; something that he could have easily had someone else do in his place. Rudford was a Great Master, someone at the very peak of the cultivation world! Yet, he would go out of his way to show him how to stretch? In this these circumstances, how could he not be surprised by this?

    “Lighten up a bit, aren’t I supposed to be your ‘elder brother’?” Rudford teased as the two of them left the room. He noticed the embarrassed look on Laien’s face and laughed merrily, then tousled Laien’s hair. At first, he had taken the request to become a martial brother of Laien’s with some distance, but just by talking to the youth for a bit he warmed up to the idea. His little sister was a little hard to deal with, but chatting with Laien was much simpler and more pleasant that he might have expected.

    Although it wasn’t like him to get embarrassed so easily, Laien kept silent for a good minute while walking at Rudford’s side. He never liked to think about his parents… his relationship with Tei’ru had never been close and Master Shire… was Master Shire. He wasn’t truly close to any adults, so when he realized that he really likes Rudford, he became slightly nervous about the future. He wouldn’t want to get attached to an adult, only to get disliked by him for whatever reason…

    “Why so quiet? You nervous about something?” Rudford asked as they were walking down the path leading to his secluded training hall.

    The building was fairly big, but not too big. It resembled an old style dojo and most importantly, was surrounded by hundreds of trees and a lot of natural greenery. For someone pondering upon the mysteries of Tranquility, it was an ideal place.

    “No, it’s nothing,” Laien replied and shook his head. “I just didn’t think that you would treat me so… nice,” he said quietly, for the lack of a better way to express his worries.

    “Hm?” Rudford smiled amiably, wondering why Laien suddenly became so meek. He had a few guesses, but instead of trying to dig about it, he tried another approach. “Have you forgotten our deal?” he asked cheekily and reminded. “I wouldn’t be nice to you if I didn’t like you, so you don’t need to be so stiff. I honestly think you are a very fine young man,” he ended up reassuring and suppressing a laugh a second later as once again, he managed to make Laien feel embarrassed. Quite surprising, considering that it was the same body who dared to challenge the disciples of his Red Dragon School to duels and had no problems fighting in front of thousands of spectators.

    “Uh, thanks,” Laien said in a troubled manner and scratched the back of his head. It was quite awkward to be said something like by a great Master, but overall, it wasn’t a bad feeling at all.

    “You unexpectedly have a cute side to you,” Rudford said without thinking. When Laien gave him a slightly angry look, he chortled and tousled his hair. “I’m done with secluded training for the time being, so I’m thinking of training with you regularly if you are up for it that is,” he mentioned lightheartedly, peeking at Laien out of the corner of his eye.

    It took Laien a few seconds to process this information, as at the moment he was feeling a bit too happy to be thinking clearly, but when he did, he responded eagerly. “I’m totally up for it! How often?” he asked with a wry smile, his natural cheekiness returning as the worries about being disliked by Rudford dissipated somewhere along the conversation.

    “We will see,” Rudford said with a laugh, amused to see how quickly Laien returned to being his usual self. “I pushed off all the matter of the school on my little brother and Roderick for the past… uh, practically ever since we established this school…” he began saying, but then smirked and gave Laien a meaningful look. “So I don’t think it will be that much of a difference if they handle everything for a few more years. Worry not, we will have a lot of time, as long as you can keep up and don’t disappoint me, okay?”

    “Yeah,” Laien nodded energetically, this time not getting disheartened over the mention of proving himself. He would simply give his best and be himself; if everything would then turn out well, it would be great. If not, it wouldn’t be the end of the world either.

    “Good,” Rudford nodded contentedly, not failing to notice that this time the look in Laien’s eyes reminded confident and bright. Given that the boy lost his parents, it was natural that he would overthink some matters. However, it was very good that he had strong enough character to get over these things without any long-lasting drama.

    “I suggest that we have some wine and sweets as we stretch, what do you say?” Rudford suggested as the two of them entered that spacious, empty hall with smooth, wooden floor.

    “Great idea,” Laien responded with a wide smile. This day had simply been so amazing so far and the best part was that it didn’t even end yet.

    ---

    “It sure ended up being more than half an hour, though” Laien commented merrily as Rudford was showing him the way to the quarters assigned to Siana.

    “More like two hours,” Rudford said with a smile, gazing at the moon slowly wandering through the clear, starry sky. He had enjoyed chatting with Laien and one way or another, went from showing him proper ways to stretch to introducing the best ways to train his body and even got talked into sparring with him for a while; without any weapons, as Laien was curious about new ways he could use his whole body while fighting and not just rely on the blade in his hands. If he hadn’t called a stop at one point and told Laien to get a good sleep before tomorrow, they would have likely stayed at the training hall for most of the night.

    “I must say, you do grasp new moves and techniques very quickly. One day, we will make a powerful martial master out of you,” Rudford praised not for the first time, in his heart feeling a little amazed that someone who specialized in spiritual arts could also have this degree of potential for martial arts. Previously, it had been a vague feeling, but now he was sure; in the future, Laien would become an astonishingly powerful dual expert!

    To be able to befriend a crouching tiger at the young age and develop a close relationship with him was something that many people could only dream about. After all, not many had enough foresight and luck to recognize the hidden dragon as after he would reveal himself, it would become considerably harder to establish a brotherly relation with him.

    Hearing Rudford praise him, Laien only glanced at him with a smile. He was happy, of course, but he didn’t really know what to say to that. ‘Thanks, I will do my best’ didn’t sound well enough for him to consider, so he didn’t say anything.

    “Worrying about your appearances again?” Rudford asked wryly, having gotten a good hang of how Laien was thinking during the last few hours. “If you have the ability and act to make best out of it, it’s fine to be a bit arrogant. Just a bit, though,” he said with a laugh and almost habitually tousled Laien’s hair.

    “Mm,” Laien exchanged a glance with Rudford, then said lightheartedly. “Thanks, I will train hard I become as strong, or stronger than you, elder brother.”

    Rudford chuckled, thinking that Laien grasped the ‘a little, but not too arrogant’ part really well. “Oh, looks like not only we are out this late,” he commented, spotting four people walking in their direction from the opposite side of the path.

    “Grand Elder, his two disciples and Siana?” Laien said aloud, recognizing the faraway group without any effort.

    “He’s got good eyesight,” Rudford thought quietly. It was pretty dark and the four were over one kilometer away; it wouldn’t be strange if a practitioner below the Realm of Heroes was unable to see from this kind of distance.

    After two or three minutes of walking, their two parties met in front of the gate leading to Siana’s quarters.

    “Congratulations, old friend,” the Grand Elder spoke up as the first one, having long since noticed the kind of clothes Laien was wearing and after getting closer to Rudford, having also noticed the change in Rudford’s cultivation base.

    “I assure you, it’s all my pleasure,” Rudford said with a laugh and glanced at Laien briefly, causing Roderick to raise his eyebrows. Did his old friend really take this much of a liking to this boy?

    “It looks like you are going to play favorites, huh?” Roderick said with a laugh. After Rudford finished his talk with Siana, he didn’t have a nearly as happy look on his face as he had now.

    “Big brother, you also became Master’s disciple?” Siana asked, despite herself in quite a bit of disbelief. She didn’t want to negate Laien’s talent… but it was her time to shine! It was unfair…! Or so were her first thoughts, before she realized how stupid and pointless it was to be jealous of Laien. If she wanted to show off before him, it wouldn’t be done just by becoming a disciple of a powerful person, she would need to become just as powerful herself!

    “He too?” the fourteen-year-old youth murmured, finding the events of today to be quite ridiculous. When he had been coming here with his elder sister and Grand Elder, he didn’t think that Rudford would come out of seclusion and actually accept two disciples after refusing to take even one for one hundred years…!

    The sixteen-year-old girl eyed Laien, curious as to why the Great Master Rudford accepted him as his disciple. Just like her little martial brother, she had no reason to be envious of Laien or Siana. She already had an excellent teacher, but still, she would have liked to know what exactly Rudford saw in Laien for him to appear so satisfied about his choice.

    “It somehow happened,” Laien said carefreely, leaving it up to Rudford whether he was going to introduce the Grand Elder and the two of his disciples to the kind of deal they made. For the sake of convenience, it would perhaps be best to let everyone think he was simply Rudford’s disciple, at least for now.

    “So, that means we will be staying here together, right?” Siana inquired, excited enough to completely forget to properly greet Rudford; not that the man in question really cared.

    “I talked with elder brother, so we are going to get joined quarters for ourselves,” Laien replied happily, realizing that he allowed his tongue to slip only after completing the sentence. Although in his defense, he really didn’t expect to so quickly get used to calling Rudford ‘elder brother’…

    “Elder brother?” the Grand Elder chuckled and gave Rudford a questioning look. How exactly did that kid coax him into this kind of relationship?

    “Ugh,” Laien looked at Rudford nervously, but thankfully, Rudford didn’t appear to be angry with him.

    “I already got used to having you call me that, so let’s not revert to ‘Master Rudford’ anymore. There’s no need,” Rudford said casually, by this point caring little if the information of him treating Laien like a martial brother got out. “Don’t go telling everyone, though. They can learn at their own pace,” he brought up with a smile, making Roderick feel a bit shocked and causing Roderick’s two disciples to be at the very least amazed by this strange development.

    “I think we need to have another chat,” Roderick said with a laugh. There was no way he would wait until morning for Rudford to tell him what exactly happened. He was way too curious about it.

    “That won’t be a problem,” Rudford replied merrily; his face beginning to hurt from all the smiling all laughing he did today. “As for you two,” he began saying while looking at the two siblings. “It’s important for children to get enough sleep, so you should get going. We managed to keep you occupied for a bit too long, but I don’t want to see you waking up at noon,” he said in a tone suggesting that is strongly advising for Laien and Siana to do as they were told, but not quite going as far as ordering them to do it.

    “Sure,” Laien agreed very easily without getting angry over being called a child or anything, but only because Rudford had a certain degree of authority in his eyes. Were it some random adult who spoke to him like that… Laien would have at the very least ignored him and at most, he would have gotten into an argument just to make a point.

    Siana, who understood her big brother’s behavior patterns quite well, was surprised to see how obedient Laien got before Rudford… but she didn’t say anything about it. She didn’t take much of a liking to Rudford, but if Laien did, then she could only be happy for him.

    “Have a good night, Master Rudford,” she said politely and bowed her head lightly. As a result, Laien gave her a curious look, but also gazed at Rudford and said “Good night, elder brother.”

    “Yeah, good night,” Rudford said with a light smile and followed the two siblings with his gaze as they walked to the gate and went onto the grounds of the little mansion that was temporarily assigned to Siana.

    After the siblings disappeared, Rudford looked at the two disciples of Roderick’s and briefly considered asking the two to try hanging around the siblings, but quickly resigned from the possibility. As much as it would be nice to get the siblings to accommodate into the new environment, there was little point if he were to be the one babysitting them. As the elderly would often say, it was often best to leave the matters of the young generation to the youngsters themselves.

    “You are free to do whatever you want,” Roderick said to his two youngest disciples. “As I already mentioned, we will be staying here for a few months, so apart from our regular training sessions, you can do as you like. Just remember not to cause any trouble,” he reminded, his gaze very apparently shifting to the sixteen-year-old girl.

    “You don’t need to worry. We will behave, master,” the girl reassured with a smile, but Roderick smiled helplessly and shook his head.

    “I wish I could believe that. Just don’t go too overboard, okay?” he said with a chuckle, then nodded at his two disciples and walked away with Rudford.

    “So, what are going to do?” the sixteen-year-old girl asked with a mischievous smile. He liked to train, but working so hard was always making her pent up a lot of stress. Without some method to relieve it, she would simply go crazy from overworking.

    “I guess you’d want to check out what interesting there is to do in this city, right, elder sister?” the fourteen-year-old asked and suppressed a yawn. After the long journey, he would have very much liked to go to sleep, but he wouldn’t want to miss out on hanging out with his elder martial sister either.

    “Right,” the girl chuckled and led the way. “Let’s stop by the dormitories, I’m sure there will be some people who can show us around,” she suggested, used enough to partying to know where to look for some fun.

    ---

    “Big brother,” Siana spoke up as the two of them were about to enter the house.

    “What is it?” Laien asked and looked to his left, only to get startled as Siana all of the sudden jumped at him and hugged him around his neck.

    “Congratulations,” Siana said merrily, feeling extremely happy at the prospect of living in the Red Dragon School with her big brother. With them both becoming Rudford’s disciples, they would certainly have nothing to worry about from the Valius family or the Cail family Laien told her about. Finally, they would be able to enjoy cheerful, carefree life…!

    “Thanks,” Laien said simply and hugged Siana back, his face flushed a little. He didn’t know if he was just growing up, but he couldn’t shake off the thought that Siana was smelling really nice. Thinking back to the morning, he wondered if he would be bold enough to change in front of her again or if he would find it a bit embarrassing, after all.

    “We both did great today, eh?” Laien said while letting Siana back onto her feet. As he gazed his little sister’s beautiful smile, he ended up unable to resist hugging her. “Now that I think about it, I didn’t have a chance to tell you how incredible it is for my little sister to have a great talent for martial arts,” he said with a smile and added simply, for the lack of the better words. “Congratulations to you too, Siana.”

    “Mm,” Siana muffled a happy laugh into Laien’s shirt. It felt so good to be hugged and praised by her big brother; if possible, she would have loved to stay like that forever.

    “Say, big brother. Elder Roderick said that every private quarter has its own baths with the access to running water,” she brought up, then after a few seconds took half a step back and looked Laien in the eye, her cheeks blushing with a clear shade of red. “So I just though…” she said quietly, looked to the side and asked. “So, want to take a bath together?’

    Laien swallowed involuntarily, thinking about how cute Siana sounded and looked right now. There should be no problem with them bathing together; they were siblings, after all. However, there also was this something telling him that neither he nor Siana was looking at each other as simply brother and a sister. But yet…

    “Why not, I guess,” he replied while scratching his head and looking somewhere into the distance, his face feeling really hot for some reason.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 12. Pulled Around the City. (Part I)


    “After we get our things from our old room, let’s go to celebrate,” Laien suggested cheerfully. At the moment, he and Siana were walking the path connecting the various private quarters at the back of the huge complex of buildings and training areas of the Red Dragon School. It was a little past eight in the morning; the sun was shining brightly, the sky was crystal clear. In other words, everything was great!

    “Yeah, we could go to the best restaurant and have a really tasty breakfast,” Siana said dreamingly, already feeling a bit hungry at the thought. She flexed her right hand, peeking at the black gold interspatial ring she was wearing. Thanks to what happened yesterday, neither she or Laien would need to worry about money ever again. Something like spending too much on good food wouldn’t be a concern anymore! Oh, how she wanted to go to the bazaar and buy some exotic sweets and the rich flavored tea leaves from the far west!

    “I wonder how everyone will react seeing us like this,” Laien mentioned with a chuckle, taking another look at Siana and himself.

    They were both wearing the clothes they got from Rudford; white short-sleeved shirts and simple white pants. The only difference between the ‘male and female’ versions was the kind of red ornaments with the patterns on Siana’s set being slightly more complicated and effeminate.

    Also, the other thing which would easily attract attention would be the blood red scabbard with a dragon engraved upon it which hanged at Siana’s waist. Within it laid one of the 81 Heavenly Treasures of the Starlight Continent, the second of the twin Red Dragon Swords. Of course, it would be hard for most people to tell that much just from looking at the scabbard and the hilt of the sword, but with a little help of the rumors spreading from the Red Dragon School itself, everyone would soon realize what kind of treasure Siana was carrying on herself.

    The siblings understood that in normal circumstances, it would be potentially dangerous to be showing off like this. They would have never gone out with this much money and items on themselves. However, they were now Rudford’s personal disciples! Even madmen wouldn’t be stupid enough to assault them in the open. The power of the Red Dragon School was simply too great for anyone to take the risk.

    “Greetings,”

    “Good morning,”

    “Greetings,”

    The inner disciples they began passing by when they entered into the middle sectors of the Red Dragon School all began calling to them politely. The news of Siana becoming Rudford’s disciple had long since been made clear to everyone and as for Laien’s case, the two disciples of the Grand Elder just so happened to spread the information around.

    It went without saying that the siblings gained a huge degree of authority in the school; only a few of the most talented inner disciples felt it appropriate to greet them informally. The very majority remained very courteous, even though the siblings more often than not were quite a few years younger than any one of them.

    “Good morning,” a passing by Elder greeted the siblings and nodded towards them lightly.

    “Morning,” Laien replied casually and smiled at the man. It really was a good feeling to be treated like this, but still, thanks to his talk with Rudford he didn’t let it get to his head. There was no shallow arrogance in his gaze, what the Elder didn’t fail to notice.

    “Good morning,” Siana said and nodded back at the red-robed Elder, unlike Laien paying the man less attention as she was still daydreaming about what kind of breakfast she would like to eat the most.

    “Laien!” a man called out from behind the siblings. When they turned to look, they saw one of the red-robed Elders hurrying towards them. If they remembered correctly - his name was Hauman and he was the Elder who was pretty familiar with Cran, but had no time to take in any more disciples.

    “I probably shouldn’t be calling you by your name anymore, eh?” Elder Hauman said with a half-joking half-apologetic look on his face as he approached the siblings.

    “I don’t mind, it’s better than ‘young master’ or something like that,” Laien responded with a smile and a shrug of his shoulders, instantly causing Elder Hauman to view him in a positive light.

    “Then I shall continue doing so,” Elder Hauman said with a slight nod of his head and gave Siana a brief look, but as it seemed that she wasn’t interested in having a conversation with him, he didn’t try to exchange formalities with her and only greeted her simply, then got straight to the matter.

    “Right, I was supposed to meet with Cran in the morning to help him organize a few things with regards to him leaving to the Royal Capital of Arand, but he is nowhere to be found,” Elder Hauman explained with a sigh. “Have either of you seen him anywhere or maybe heard where he could have gone to?” Elder Hauman asked helplessly. He had specially made some free time in his schedule to help Cran, but alas, Cran just went up and vanished without saying a word.

    “I know nothing, the last time I saw him was before I went to rest after my duel with Tin’Long,” Laien replied without the need to think about it too long. “Siana, you know anything?” he asked, recalling that it was his little sister who was there when Cran had a talk with Rudford in the late afternoon.

    “I don’t know where he went,” Siana said uncaringly, causing Elder Hauman’s face to sink. However, she added right afterward. “But after talking with Master Rudford, he appeared to be very frustrated. He practically stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind himself,” she mentioned on the off-hand, unable to be bothered about Cran’s childish problems.

    “What? What happened for him to act like this?” Elder Hauman asked with a slight frown. The Cran he knew would usually be composed and only rarely would act angry, but he would never be outright boorish; especially not in front of someone like his uncle, the Great Master Rudford!

    “He was being immature and Master Rudford told him off,” Siana said straightforwardly and shrugged her shoulders a little. “It was all something about him not becoming Master Rudford’s disciple, something stupid like this,” she explained briefly, the contempt sounding quite clearly in the tone of her words.

    “Ugh,” Elder Hauman’s face sank as he learned from had happened. Not only had Cran embarrassed himself before Rudford, he also needed to do this before his new personal disciple! Even a young girl like this could see that he was being immature; why couldn’t he understand it too?

    “I think I can guess where he went,” Elder Hauman said with a sigh while massaging the temple of his head with one hand.

    “Where to?” Laien asked, thus making Elder Hauman regret having spoken up. He would have rather not embarrassed Cran further, but at this point, his principles demanded him to be honest.

    “He probably went drinking to one of the high-end inns or taverns in the city… just like he did the last time he had an argument with his uncle,” Elder Hauman informed the siblings, then bowed his head and excused himself. He needed to find Cran as soon as possible, before Cran would do something stupid and slander himself and the school’s name.

    “Unexpected,” Laien murmured to himself but chose not to change his plans. He was indebted to Cran… but he wanted to spend the morning with Siana. Both of them were looking forward to going around the city and eating together; he wouldn’t cancel it all just to look for Cran without even knowing if he would find him.

    Either way, their first destination was a place none other than the great mansion of the Valius family itself. The two of them headed there and apart from a large number of people staring at them and whispering to each other, and also some of the citizens they didn’t know for some reason going out of their way to greet them and try to strike up a conversation, nothing too important or interesting happened.

    However, at the main gate to the grounds of the Valius family…

    “Greetings, young masters,” the two guards Laien and Siana had never seen before spoke simultaneously and bowed before them.

    “The Clan Leader requested you to come meet him when you have time, young masters,” one of the men said politely and hurriedly opened the gate, allowing the siblings to go in.

    “He sure became super courteous, ‘when you have time’, hah,” Laien pointed out, thinking that he could find an hour or two in a few days. Right now, he wanted to concentrate on settling in the Red Dragon School. He wasn’t in the mood to have serious talks about the future relations involving the Valius family and the Red Dragon School.

    “I guess we could go see him… in a few days,” Siana said with a light smile, literally speaking Laien’s thoughts. The two of them exchanged a glance and chuckled at once, amused by how much the world around them changed overnight.

    They made the trip to their old room and collected their clothes and the few personal belongings into their interspatial rings, right afterward heading to the high-end district of the Neil City to have a nice breakfast.

    Although they had gotten a lot of attention on the streets, they relaxed at the luxurious dinner where only rich nobles could afford to eat. With no one disturbing them, they went ahead to wander the bazaar and buy whatever they wanted. As Rudford had given them most of the necessary things, they didn’t end up spending that much in comparison to the amount of funds they had; using up merely a few dozen gold coins each. They could have bought much more… but they saw no need to be wasteful on things they didn’t really need.

    It was early afternoon when the two of them decided to head back to the Red Dragon School, both wanting to go through with their daily training routine, what by the way was a new thing for Siana as she had barely trained in the past. They were walking down an alley, when a few buildings ahead, someone who was standing at the window suddenly bent in half and vomited onto the street, making quite a few people openly voice their displeasure and curse at him.

    “That was…” Laien groaned, quite sure that he recognized the person who just staggered back into the room. “Eh, Siana, will you mind returning alone? I think I should do something about this idiot,” he said with a sigh and smiled apologetically.

    “I don’t mind,” Siana said and smiled at her big brother. Really, now he was being oversensitive; she wouldn’t be unreasonable enough to demand to be walked back by him now that they stumbled upon Cran. She wasn’t that kind of a person.

    “Mm, then see you later,” Laien said and exchanged a glance with Siana, after which the two of them smiled and hugged each other for a bit.

    “See you later,” Siana waved her hand at him and walked away, brimming with happiness as she obviously was in a very good mood.

    “Now to take care of another drunkard,” Laien mused, his cheeks slightly flushed. “Good thing I have experience with Master Shire,” he thought with a laugh and headed to the building which appeared to be more like a hostel than a high-end inn Elder Hauman mentioned.

     “No wonder he couldn’t find him, he went to such a run-down place,” Laien said to himself as he approached the door located a few meters into the alley of the main street.

    The mercenary-like guard who was leaning against the wall and half-napping with his hands crossed over his chest opened his eyes a little when he heard the footsteps. “That’s not a place for kids,” he said with a snort, seeing that the person who approached was but a boy with milk under his nose, then closed his eyes and returned to napping.

    “Open your eyes and take another look at me, then tell me to leave again,” Laien said with a laugh, quite apparently angering the man.

    “Listen, kid, no matter who…” the guard began saying, but when he finally noticed the black dragon on Laien’s shirt he immediately swallowed the rest of his words. There was no person in the Sarkcente Kingdom who didn’t know what, or rather who the sign of the black dragon represented!

    “Forgive me, young master. Please enter and have a good time,” the man said nervously, a second after he finished speaking realizing that it would be good for him to open the door… but as he tried to move over, he found out that his legs had gotten so stiff from standing in one position for hours that he ended up tripping over the step and falling over.

    Laien chortled, watching the comedic scene with a wide smile. He walked past the man who didn’t know what to say or to do with himself and entered the hostel, welcomed by a heavy smell of tobacco and alcohol. “Terrible place,” he murmured to himself and ignoring the ‘lady’ at the bar at the few guests in the bar at the lowest floor, headed upstairs.

    Thankfully, the woman proved to be more perceptive than her guard and took note of his clothes before yelling at him; for what she quietly thanked Heavens. She already welcomed one young master of the Red Dragon School, to now offend the other who almost certainly came to get his friend could very well be the end of her business! Stories about nobles shutting the whole places down or even murdering the people involved to save their face were quite common, after all.

    “Pretty sure it was the fourth floor, right about… here?” Laien murmured and pushed at the door, which obviously was closed. He sighed and put his hand to the lock, filled it with some water and… found out that locks weren’t simple enough for him to just ‘push’ in every direction for them to open. Feeling a bit resigned, he controlled the water and forcefully ripped the whole lock off the door with a loud crouching sound.

    As he pushed the door open and looked inside, he sighed with relief. Cran was indeed inside and he hadn’t busted the door to some stranger’s room.

    “You sure look wasted,” Laien said with a smirk, seeing that Cran was so drunk that he stared at him blankly, not realizing what was going on. “Here, let me help you wake up,” he said cheekily and pulled one some of his spiritual energy, creating a large ball of water and sending it flying straight at Cran.

    The fifteen-year-old jolted up when the cold water hit him. He somehow managed to try and take a breath and thus, choked a little and started coughing. Yet despite that, the cold showed did its job; he no longer was dizzy.

    “What the hell, Laien?” he asked in confusion, sweeping the wet hair away from his face.

    “Why don’t you use your Qi to sober up a little?” Laien suggested with a sigh. With a stable control over his Qi, any martial practitioner above the fifth mortal realm could easily use it to suppress poisons and negate their effects. It just so happened that alcohol was exactly that; a poison, albeit a little less lethal and with some side-effects which the humankind very much appreciated.

    “Ugh, all wet,” Cran groaned but followed Laien’s advice. He circulated his Qi through his whole body and sobered up considerably, although not fully as he had drunk way too much alcohol for his own capabilities. Regardless, feeling much better he took a look at Laien… and his jaw dropped to the ground.

    “Are you kidding me? You too?” Cran asked with a helpless laugh, so perturbed that he failed to notice that the water all over the floor, the bed and himself started dissipating as it had been created through a spell.

    “What, are you going to go back to drinking because of it?” Laien asked with a snort, seeing no reason to be consoling Cran in this situation. He himself had gone through much more and never broke down, but Cran would depress over something so minor? Truthfully, seeing the fifteen-year-old in this state filled Laien with nothing but contempt for him.

    Maybe it was because how blunt Laien was with his words, maybe it was because it was a ten-year-old reprimanding him. Maybe because of the scornful look in Laien’s eyes… but Cran said nothing and lowered his head. He would have gotten angry if someone tried to console him. In fact, he had vented out on Elder Hauman all those years ago when he found him in exactly same situation. However, right now he felt nothing but shame. Really, what in the world was he doing…? His life wasn’t over, he didn’t lose anyone important, he wasn’t crippled or fatally ill! Had there really been a need to go and drink himself until he was half-dead?

    “Eh, just collect yourself and let’s go. Elder Hauman was probably searching for you the whole morning,” Laien said resignedly, cutting Cran some slack off as he at least appeared to regret what he did. He even smiled a little, the irony of this situation not escaping his notice. A ten-year-old like himself was reprimanding a fifteen-year-old like Cran, what has this world come to?

    “Ugh…” Cran groaned, feeling worse by the moment. He completely forgot that he made a promise with Elder Hauman and continued to drink without end.

    “What, will you continue being a baby? Do I need to carry you or what?” Laien teased with a laugh. He walked up to Cran who was still sitting on the floor and reached out with his hand. The current Cran might have been pitiable, but he was indebted to him either way. He wouldn’t scorn the fifteen-year-old for what he did… but he surely would make fun of him because of it.

    “God damn, aren’t you one cheeky brat?” Cran asked with a helpless laugh, giving Laien a long look. He didn’t know if it was because of all the wine, but he had always found Laien to be pretty good looking either way... He wouldn’t really admit it before his father, but he wasn’t as interested in women as in men… his father would have never accepted it, anyway…

    Acting on a total impulse, he grabbed Laien’s hand and pulled him over, taking the youth completely off-guard. He hugged him with one hand and grabbed his head with the other, then before he could realize what he was doing, he kissed Laien, locking their lips together strongly and deeply.

    After a second or two, Laien regained his ability to think. He became very aware of the feeling of Cran’s lips on his own, he could also smell the sweet aroma of red wine… His first thought was to push himself away and jump back, but somehow he ended up not doing that. The sensation of a deep kiss proved to be really pleasant; much unlike the child-like kisses which he had sometimes shared with Siana… he blushed at the realization and breathed out, apparently causing Cran to snap back into reality by the air ticking his cheek.

    Cran released Laien instantly and backed away, that is as much as he could with Laien practically sitting on top of him. Seeing Laien’s flushed face he reddened himself, overcome with the mix of guilt and embarrassment. “S-sorry,” he barely managed to force out of his throat while stuttering a little. What was he thinking, kissing Laien…?! It was a disaster…!

    “Well, that was a surprise,” Laien took a deep breath and said with a laugh. “It felt pretty good, though,” he said wryly, making Cran completely and absolutely speechless.

    “You aren’t angry?” Cran couldn’t help but ask. How come that Laien was so calm and was treating what happened as nothing important?

    “Why would I be?” Laien raised his eyebrows. Obviously, had Cran went too far or had he not liked him enough, he would have been furious. However, was there really a need to freak out over a single kiss? “Don’t tell me you are some kind of an innocent young master? Do you even realize what part of the world we live in?” he asked jokingly. Wasn’t it pretty normal that here in the south kids around his own age would grow interested in these things?

    In contrast to Laien’s leisure attitude, Cran still appeared to be rather conflicted. He wouldn’t ever confirm what Laien implied, but indeed, he was a bit of a sheltered kid. He had only fooled around a bit with once or twice with guys his age, but never went all the way. There was also the matter of his father’s attitude towards men liking men… it was all a complicated matter.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 12. Pulled Around the City. (Part II)


    “Anyway, I’m sorry,” Cran apologized again. “Please don’t tell anyone about this, anyone!” he asked of Laien, worried that this information would one way or another reach his father’s ears. Had Vatras learned that he was… gay, and that he had kissed a ten-year-old kid; Rudford’s disciple at that, he would surely disown him without the second thought…!

    Laien smiled sarcastically, randomly recalling a situation from a few days ago. “So, when you invited me to take a bath with you, you also had perverted things in mind?” he asked playfully, refusing to get off Cran on purpose. He never expected that Cran would be so easy to tease!

    Cran frowned a bit, trying to remember if he had said something like that. Then when he finally remembered, his face turned red and he facepalmed. “I don’t know what I was thinking back then, it just kind of came out by itself,” he groaned, finding it hard to believe that he managed to put himself in such a compromising situation as this one.

    “Yeah, just like this kiss, I can believe that,” Laien said half-jokingly and chuckled, amused by the expression on Cran’s face.

    “Can’t you just forgive me already…?” Cran pleaded helplessly, quietly promising himself to never, ever again get so drunk in his life.

    “Sure, I can forgive you, but under one condition,” Laien declared with a wry smile, a certain idea popping up in his mind.

    “And that condition is…?” Cran inquired, the smile of Laien’s causing him to feel worried for some reason.

    “Teach me how to kiss,” Laien said straightforwardly and grinned at Cran. There wasn’t really anyone else he could ask about adult kissing at this point, so he decided to make use of the opportunity. As far as he could tell, Cran was pretty good at it and he had already kissed him anyway. After the first time, who would care if there ended up being a few more?

    It took a good amount of time until Cran comprehend what Laien just suggested and even then, he couldn’t reply as he was utterly flabbergasted.

    “What, will that be a problem?” Laien asked wryly, very much intent on getting what wanted. He was in the right mood, too, so it would be a pity to just cut everything off right there and right then.

    “Well, if it’s just explaining…” Cran said hopefully, feeling really awkward and embarrassed now that the tables had been turned on him.

    “Explaining is all fine and good, but what’s the point without practice?” Laien said and chuckled, then without waiting for Cran’s response, leaned forward. “Afterwards, tell me what I can do better,” he said with a smirk and kissed Cran, giving his best to imitate what Cran did to him a moment ago.

    Pushed so far into the corner, Cran finally gave in and kissed Laien back. He went with the flow, deciding to worry about the consequences some other time…

    ---

    “That was fun,” Laien said with a laugh; him and Cran heading back to the Red Dragon School around half an hour later. “Say, why are you so stubborn about me keeping it a secret? I mean, it’s not like I feel like going around and talking about it, but why do you care so much?” he asked without beating around the bush and gave Cran a curious glance. He had repeated not to tell anyone like five times; wasn’t that being a bit paranoid? Would people really care so much if they learned that he kissed him a few times and snuggled with him a little while doing so?

    “That’s…” Cran sighed heavily. He didn’t like to speak about his worries with other people, but given the circumstances, he felt that he had no other choice but to confess. “My father wouldn’t be happy if he heard any rumors about it. He is very conservative, I can’t remember how many times he spoke about anticipating me to marry and give him grandchildren,” he said and sighed once more. His father had often openly expressed his contempt for gay people. One thing was for certain; it wasn’t one huge misunderstanding on his part. It wasn’t some cheesy nighttime tale which always had a good ending of the kind ‘and everyone lived happily ever after’.

    “Huh, so that’s what it was about,” Laien scratched his head, a bit embarrassed that he thought Cran had a more superficial reason for being worried about potential rumors. “I will keep it a secret, so don’t worry,” he reassured, to what Cran sent him a thankful smile.

    The two of them walked without chatting for a few dozen seconds but stopped as someone called out.

    “Oh, young master! You taking a walk with a friend?”

    Laien turned around and saw three guards of the Valius family approaching. He nodded his head habitually; it could be said that there was some kind of a relationship between him and these three men. He had often chatter with either of them and has had a chance to spar with their sons a few times. If he remembered well, the tall, black-haired one who called out to him was called… Dinne? “We’re going back to the Red Dragon School,” he responded briefly to Dinne’s question, not really intent on initiating a long conversation.

    “Judging by your clothes, it looks like the rumors are true,” Dinne said with a smile. “You’ve probably heard it a bunch of times already, but congratulations,” he added with a laugh, glad to see a reasonable noble like Laien climb up the ladder of society.

    “So, did you call out to me just for that?” Laien asked resignedly, sensing from Dinne’s attitude that there was something else he wanted from him.

    “Sharp as ever,” Dinne chuckled and nodded admittedly. “We were told to invite a certain person by Lord Garon. Seeing you here, we wondered if you could help us out…” Dinne brought up in a roundabout way, knowing what he and his friends had said about that certain person to Laien.

    “… Master Shire, right?” Laien asked with a sigh, to what Dinne nodded helplessly. “You really think he will go? It’s a waste of time,” Laien shook his head. Apart from the two days per week Shire would go out of his way to train with him, he would be… hardly responsible for anything. Even were he to be sober, given his unpredictable temper and his contempt for the nobility, he wouldn’t accept Garon’s invitation anyway.

    “I’ve heard some things about him, but is he really what rumors say about him?” Cran gave Laien an intrigued look. He might have known Laien for well over a year, but only recently did he start seeing him as a friend. He knew Shire was Laien’s master, but he has never had a chance to ask about that mysterious eccentric before.

    “Some points are exaggerated, but yeah, most of it is true,” Laien admitted with a helpless laugh. “That’s why I’m saying it’s a waste of time, he won’t listen to you anyway,” he repeated, gazing at Dinne and his two friends with a mix of resignation and pity. Garon would probably be angry with them for failing to bring Shire over; little did Garon know that he had assigned them one hell of an unreasonable task.

    “Even if it’s unlikely, we need to at least try,” Dinne said sourly, quite obviously not thrilled by the perspective of coaxing Shire into an agreement. “Please, lend us some face. We will remember it, even if a favor owed by mere guards might not amount much to the current you,” he said with a sigh, gazing at the black dragon on Laien’s shirt.

    Laien frowned slightly. He disliked being rubbed the wrong way; just asking was enough to make him consider to agree, there was no need to imply anything. “Eh, fine. I have something I need to speak about with Master Shire, too,” he agreed in the end, not wanting to seem like a total ass.

    “Thank you,” Dinne said with a smile, relieved as the possibility of them disappointing Lord Garon decreased.

    “I would love to tag along, but I really need to go and apologize to Elder Hauman,” Cran mentioned in a low voice. Hopefully, Elder Hauman wouldn’t be too angry with him… hopefully.

    “Sure, see you later,” Laien shook hands with Cran and exchanged a meaningful smile. “So, let’s get going,” he said to Dinne and the other two men, his lighthearted attitude returning quickly.

    The four of them headed to Shire’s house. They arrived after roughly twenty minutes of walking and the three guards, seeing the place for the first time, couldn’t help but allow ugly expressions to show on their faces. The building looked like a fairly big dojo, but it was completely run-down to the point of making one wonder how it hadn’t fallen apart yet. The outer walls were dirty, the wooden walls seemed to be beginning to rot. As for the windows; they were so smudged it was impossible to see through them at all.

    In contrast to the three guards, Laien didn’t really pay much attention to how Shire’s house looked. He led them inside, entering through the always-open door. Knowing Shire’s habits, he headed straight to the backyard and as expected, saw Shire sleeping by the training field, on the wooden floor and with a large bottle of alcohol at his side; which likely had been dropped by him the moment he had fallen asleep.

    “Tch, for a Great Master to turn into something like this. What a disgrace for our Sarkcente Kingdom,” Ethane, the most foul-mouthed of the three guards commented loudly upon seeing Shire’s appearance. Just one glance was enough to tell that Shire was thoroughly drunk, without even a brink of consciousness in him… or so it appeared.
    “If you want him to go with you, you’d better save these comments for yourself,” Laien commented sourly. Once, when he had been stupid enough to try waking up his master from a nightmare he had been having, he ended up being blasted away by a powerful blast of Qi, He had barely escaped death as by the last split second, Shire came to his senses and withdrew all his strength from the attack. Thus, the next time when he had needed to wake Shire up, he threw cold water at him… but alas, still ended being roughed up by Shire in the pretense of ‘sparring’.

    Having backed off by around a dozen meters, Laien eyed his master carefully. He gestured the three guards to move further away, then took a deep breath and yelled. “Oi, master! If you don’t wake up I’m going to eat the dinner without you!”

    The three guards stared at Laien with disbelief. Things like those worked only in old stories and fairy tales! Who in their right mind would try waking someone up in this way and actually hope to succeed? Yet, their expectations were quickly proved wrong as  Shire’s body twitched, then the man actually sat down and yawned greatly; his eyes still half-closed.

    “What were you saying about the dinner?” Shire asked along with another yawn. He rubbed his eyes and looked at Laien, simultaneously spotting the three men standing a few meters from him. Instantly, his expression turned angry. “You sure brought some trash to my home. Take them out, it’s a waste of time to speak to those dogs of the Valius family,” he said bluntly and laid back onto the floor, not even looking in the direction of the three guards anymore. True to his words, he really saw them as not worth any attention.

    The three men, faced with such an obvious lack of respect couldn’t help but be furious. Dinne and Rishe were able to restrain themselves, however, Ethane was less patient. He was frowning heavily, veins bulging out on his forehead; it looked like he would lash out against Shire at the slightest provocation. After all, he didn’t see Shire as anything special; everyone knew that Shire’s power had deteriorated to an injury and that even weak nobles and their sons had been able to make a fool out of him at the price of a few dozen gold coins. What was there to fear from a disgrace like him?

    Laien sighed quietly, ashamed to admit that he would want to see what would happen if Ethane actually attacked his master. He glanced at Dinne though, and the man appeared to have understood what he meant without words. There was no way it would be easy; if they wanted to get Shire to come along, they needed to swallow all their pride and try asking respectfully, no matter what they thought about him.

    “Forgive us for intruding, Master Shire,” Dinne spoke up calmly, doing a good job in hiding the anger he was feeling. “We came by the orders of the Clan Leader. He wishes to see you, so could you please come with us?” he asked in the most polite way he could muster himself to and bit his tongue, stopping himself from adding something like ‘but before that, could you please wash yourself at least three times so you won’t stink like a wet dog’.

    “Aaah?” Shire snorted at Dinne. “Are you dogs too stupid to understand words? I told you to get the fuck out of my house. Sho away, sho! You can tell your owner that if he really wants to talk with me so much, he can come to me on his own. Then, I might consider speaking with him, hmph,” he stated contemptuously while scratching himself under his tattered shirt. He had no idea why a Great Family suddenly got interested in dealings with him, but he couldn’t have cared less.

    “You…!” both Rishe and Ethane were about to burst with anger and only a reprimanding glance from Dinne made them stand down, at least for the time being. While the two were keeping their mouths shut tightly as to not curse as Shire, Dinne glanced at Laien, pleading silently; without his help, Shire would never agree to go with them.

    Laien suppressed a sigh. He knew what the outcome would be, but asked nevertheless. “Master, if you have nothing better to do, why don’t just go and see what Garon wanted from you…?”

    “Even you want to annoy me, stupid disciple?” Shire said more resignedly than angrily, then finally took a proper look at Laien and… gasped. He jumped to his feet with an agility one wouldn’t suspect a drunk person of and walked up to Laien in quick steps. He took another look at Laien’s white high-quality clothes and most importantly, on the black dragon sigil on his shirt. He might not have seen Rudford for one hundred years, but he sure as hell remembered this damned mark of his!

    “Oi, stupid disciple. This’d better not be some kind of a joke,” he growled and grabbed Laien by his shoulders, gripping them a bit too strongly for comfort. “What made this training freak interested in you? What was the deal? Speak!” he ordered angrily, unconsciously tightening his grip even further. For his own disciple to subordinate himself Rudford of all people! If the lady fate wasn’t playing a cruel joke on him, then what was it?!

    Laien muffled a groan, feeling as if Shire was about to squash his shoulders into a meat paste. He was looking straight at Shire’s face, and he was honestly a bit scared. Even when Shire had roughed him up, he didn’t appear to be as angry or disturbed as he was now. Had he known his master would react so emotionally to the news of him becoming Rudford’s disciple, he would have approached him with it differently. He wanted to say something to calm his master down, but he couldn’t quite come up with anything sensible.

    Luckily or not, one of the three guards finally lost his patience. “Put your hands away, you old goat! Can’t you see you are hurting him?!” Ethane shouted and approached the two. He might not have been the strongest person around, but he was at the eighth mortal realm. He saw no reason he afraid of a fallen ‘Great Master’, so he blatantly reached out in an attempt to grab Shire’s hand.

    “Screw off,” Shire growled and made a light, sweeping motion with his hand. It appeared that he would only tap against Ethane with the back of his hand, merely sweep against his clothes… but instead, he blew Ethane away by a good ten meters.

    Ethane staggered and fell to his knees. He started coughing and grabbed his chest, quite a few of his ribs having been broken. He raised his gaze, this time a true fear present in his eyes. When Shire swept at him, he felt as if a massive sledgehammer landed in the middle of his chest and yet, he could tell that Shire wasn’t putting up an act. He really hadn’t attacked him; he only shoved him away…!

    “If he really used some of his strength…” Ethane shivered, realizing how close to death he had been. But yeah, although he wasn’t in the right state of mind to think about it, he had achieved his goal; Shire let Laien go and now was only staring at him.

    “You calmed down yet, master?” Laien asked grudgingly while massaging his shoulders. He spared only a brief glance on Ethane and the other two shaken-up guards. He had warned them, didn’t he? It was their own fault they chose to not listen.

    “Just explain what I’m seeing,” Shire said with a sigh, trying to keep his temper in check.

    “It’s a somewhat long story, but most importantly I have a message to you from elder brother,” Laien said with a little smirk. He knew it was a dangerous game, but at the moment he wanted to get back at Shire even if only a little.

    “Elder brother? I’m asking you about Rudford, I don’t care about some stupid elder brother of yours!” Shire raised his voice, getting impatient. Just like he just said, why would he care about a message from this ‘elder brother’ of Laien’s?

    Laien chuckled and continued without giving Shire any explanation. “That’s exactly it. Elder brother asked me to deliver a message to you, master. I believe it went more or less like ‘the next time you see this stupid idiot, tell him to stop being lazy and teach you his spear techniques and if not, then I will take over the training as he is obviously worse at sword-wielding than me,” he said with a smile, imitating the way Rudford accented this message. To his satisfaction, his master appeared to be speechless for a good dozen seconds before finally managing to speak up.

    “You… elder brother… no, it can’t be… but only he and his peers called me a ‘stupid idiot’… ah, fuck! So annoying! Only Rudford would dare to call my sword techniques half-assed, this damned training freak…!” Shire went through muttering to himself, stomping at the ground and being conflicted as to whether to laugh or cry. He groaned, then asked with a mixture of helplessness and anger. “Oi, stupid disciple, did he tell you about Fianne? Did he tell you that I should already forget about her? How much did he blabber about my past, eh? Do you also think that I should just forget about everything and start living ‘decently’, eh?”

    Bombarded by the questions, Laien was a little overwhelmed and at the same time, was beginning to connect the dots. He had always wondered why Master Shire became a drunkard, but he quickly learned to not ask him about it. Seeing how emotional his master was being about the matter, he now understood why Rudford had chosen to not speak with him about Shire’s past. Shire’s current behavior… was it caused by the loss of this woman, of Fianne?

    “It’s not like I can’t empathize. If something were to happen to Siana…” Laien shuddered, discarding the ominous thought immediately. He didn’t even want to think about this possibility as to not bring forth an ill omen. Normally, he didn’t believe in those superstitions, but when Siana was involved in them, he just couldn’t bring himself to taunt the destiny.

    “Elder brother didn’t tell me anything about your past, master,” Laien cleared up as soon as Shire calmed down enough to listen to him.

    In turn, Shire stared at him for a long time. His gaze moved to the black dragon sigil on his shirt, then he sighed resignedly and winced the next second, recalling the message Laien delivered to him. “Bring a good spear for yourself and come tomorrow morning,” he said outright, some anger very clearly present in his voice. Rudford had always known how to get under his skin and by the looks of it, he still didn’t lose this skill.

    “As for you three,” Shire glanced at the guards out of the corner of his eye and snorted. “Go hang yourselves at some tree. I don’t give a shit about your clan leader,” he said disdainfully and no longer paid the three any attention.

    The three guards stiffened. They saw Shire display his strength and no longer viewed him with contempt; in fact, they were now scared of him. Thus, they didn’t say a word to rebuke Shire and simply left; very quickly at that.

    “And I told them they were wasting their time,” Laien thought to himself, but soon enough switched to wondering about something more pleasant. “I should get Dan’s father, Master Duaran to forge a spear for me. There are quite a few top-quality weapons in my interspatial ring, but nothing compares to Master Duaran’s blades. Now that I have enough coins to pay for the best materials, I can request something amazing,” he mused with a smile, so enticed by the thought that he momentarily stopped caring about the outside world.

    A few scenes of a man wielding his glaive flashed through Laien’s mind. If he could move like this, if he could fight like this…!

    “Don’t be late tomorrow,” Shire said lazily as he left Laien to his thoughts and sat down at his usual stop and brought out a bottle of vodka.

    Awakened by his master’s words, Laien shook his head and hurried outside. “I won’t be,” he called out over his shoulder, heading straight to Master Duaran’s smithy. If he wanted to have his spear finished today, he needed to get moving!

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 13. Schemes and Living Steel. (Part I)


    Just outside the northern gate of Neil City, Genzie stood alone and waited for a certain person to make his appearance. He has already been standing there for over an hour, but he didn’t stop pondering over what was going to happen for even a second. He understood how much his family owed to Fohan Cail and knew that only because of his influence did they obtain the exalted position of the keepers of Neil City.

    He didn’t doubt that his father made the correct choice in life by marrying into the Cail Family all these years ago. Thanks to that, he had been born and thanks to that, he lived a luxurious life. In exchange, his parents acted as eyes and ears of the Cail family in Neil City. He himself had once very much wanted to prove his ability to the grandfather, to Fohan Cail.

    After making the request, he had been told to make himself familiar with all the important youngsters of Neil City and hone his skills during that time. He had been doing so for the past five years and finally, the time to show the results and start a real job was upon him. Yet, he couldn’t be happy about it… not with the kind of news that shook the city this morning.

    “Why did it need to happen now? Why not just a few years later?” Genzie thought bitterly. It wouldn’t have been a problem if Laien and Siana remained unimportant members of the Valius family. The storm wouldn’t have hit them! However, given the siblings’ new position… they would end up being in the very middle of it and sure enough, there would be no eye to hide in.

    “What should I do? What can I do?” Genzie murmured, feeling totally helpless. He very much wanted to help Laien, but it wasn’t like his position in the Cail family would allow him to do so. He also needed to consider the safety of his own family, of his parents and his recently born little sister.

    “There really isn’t any other choice is there?” he thought with a sigh, his gaze slowly turning resolved. Just now, he made his choice. As for what kind of decision did it involve on his part, only he knew.

    “That will be for the best,” he said quietly and took a deep breath, no longer beating himself about the matter. He decided which path he would pursue and since he did, he needed to go through with it to the very end. Regrets, worries, uncertainty… he no longer could afford a place for them in his heart, or else he would risk losing everything he had.

    Fohan Cail… he wasn’t a man to forgive failures and give second chances.

    A few moments later, Genzie spotted what he thought to be the carriage he was waiting for. The moment it got close enough, he could confirm; there was a pitch black sigil of a crow on the front of the carriage. Only the highest-ranked members of the Cail family were allowed to travel under the sigil of the black crow, so Genzie could be certain that the carriage was indeed the one he had been told to await.

    The coachman glanced at Genzie and nodded slightly, pulling on the reins and causing the horses to slow down for a second. He didn’t stop the carriage completely, but it was more than enough for Genzie to jump up at the step, open the door and slip inside. The coachman murmured something inaudible, after which a series of strange gusts of winds spread in many directions.

    “It’s great to see you, Uncle Luren,” Genzie bowed his head, greeting the man who was often called ‘the master of shadows’ within the Cail family.

    “It’s good to see you too, nephew,” Luren said with an enigmatic smile, just as always his words and expressions making it impossible to guess what he was really thinking.

    “I have many things I want to speak with you and your father about, but first things first. Let’s listen to the report, shall we?” Luren suggested, his gaze causing Genzie to feel a shiver run down his spine. It was simply too hard to say whether the man was being amiable, or if one wrong word could end up with you parting with your head on the spot.

    Genzie nearly jumped up when Lure looked to the side, at a seemingly empty spot in the carriage, only to have a black-cloaked man materialize therefrom within the shadows.

    “I will never get used to it,” Genzie groaned silently. He had seen this particular martial art in use many times, but having a person appear out of nowhere had always been rather startling to him.

    “Master,” the black-cloaked man clasped his hands while kneeling on one leg. “Nothing major outside of our expectations happened in Neil City, apart from one thing,” the man spoke very respectfully, the tone of his words and his body language showing an absolute obedience.

    “Yesterday, two children of the Valius family got accepted as the Great Master Rudford’s disciples. The boy’s name is Laien, the girl’s is Siana. The two are the siblings whom Tei’ru had adopted three years ago,” the black-cloaked man delivered the pure information, keeping any subjective thoughts and opinions out of the report just like he had been taught to. He remained kneeling, waiting for Luren to either request further, more detailed information or to dismiss him.

    “Return to your tasks,” Luren ordered and flicked his hand slightly. The black-cloaked man obeyed immediately, his figure dissipating back into the shadows.

    “It looks like two troublesome factors appeared,” Luren mused aloud, tapping his finger against his leg. “They are just children, though. There are countless ways to get rid of them without leaving any traces,” he said with an evil smile while seemingly looking down at the floor, but in reality paying attention to Genzie’s face; just without having his nephew realize the fact.

    Genzie sighed and looked out of the window, trying his best not to show any emotions. The reason wasn’t important, if Luren deemed that he was untrustworthy, it would be over for him. Showing concern for their enemies was likely a very good shortcut to an early, untimely death.

    “Genzie, do you have anything you want to tell me?” Luren asked, for some reason appearing to be fairly amused.

    “That is…” Genzie said hesitatingly, then closed his eyes for a time slightly longer than one would normally do. He obviously needed these few seconds to calm down. “No, it’s nothing. I used to play with those siblings and I didn’t even know they were so exceptional. I was only surprised,” he said straightforwardly, the natural expression returning to his face. He was still just as nervous inwardly, but on the outside, he kept his cool. He was merely eleven years old, but all the training he did prove not to have gone to waste

    Luren raised his eyebrows, not convinced one bit. However, he wasn’t looking to be persuaded by the act of his eleven years old nephew anyway. He had his own information network; how could he not have been aware of the close friendship between Genzie and Laien? He only wanted to see if this nephew of his had enough skill to properly disguise his emotions. Well, at first he might have had utterly failed, but at least he redeemed himself later and did a good enough job.

    “Now if only he can prove that family is more important to him than anything else, he will be worth becoming a useful tool in the future,” Luren thought resignedly. He wasn’t fond of outsiders for that very reason, he just couldn’t trust them! Were it not for Fohan taking a liking to Genzie for some incomprehensible reason, he would have never agreed to take him under his wing. However, even Fohan wouldn’t complain if Genzie failed his tests and thus ended up gotten rid of; such were the conditions he had given Fohan to begin with.

    “Any suggestions?” Luren asked with a straight face. “How would you deal with those two?” he added with a slight smile, clarifying what he meant.

    Genzie wavered before giving an answer, unsure what he should say. He had no read on his uncle’s thoughts at all, so in the end he went with what he considered to be the most level-headed option. “I don’t think they are an immediate danger to us. From what our intelligence reports say, they have moved to the Red Dragon School permanently. I know for a fact that neither of the two is fond of the Valius family, so instead of taking a risk of eliminating them and potentially getting a Great Master furious, why not get them to come over to our side?” he suggested, hoping that Luren wouldn’t reject the idea outright.

    “Honestly, I’d rather have them disappear quietly,” Luren said with a sigh, causing Genzie to tremble inwardly. “The risk is very minimal, too. However…” he continued speaking; to Genzie’s relief. “Like you are saying, I am also aware of the bad blood between those siblings and the Valius family. If we could get them as allies, it would mean that the entire Red Dragon School and its military might would shift to our side! It’s worth taking the risk,” he stated admittedly.

    Getting the help or at least content of the Red Dragon School would solidify the plans of their family and guarantee that nothing would disrupt them. Thus, he objectively made the decision that it was worth taking the risk and allowing Genzie to do as he liked. Worst case scenario… he would need to get rid of both those siblings and this nephew of his.

    “Go, talk with them. You know those two best, so you are more suited to this task than some random agent of ours,” he ordered casually, then added overconfidently. “If they don’t agree, we will simply need to have them disappear.”

    “I understand, Uncle. I will make sure to convince them,” Genzie said with a relative calm, but happened to reveal a slight trembling in his voice. He quickly bowed his head and asked. “Is there anything else…?”

    “Not right now,” Luren shook his head and flicked his hand. “Go find those siblings and talk it over with them, then report back to me. You know where I will be staying,” he said and knocked twice at the wooden wall behind him with his knuckles. The carriage slowed down soon after, allowing Genzie to jump out of it.

    “Be well, Uncle,” Genzie said briefly and left the carriage. After landing on the street, he led it away with his gaze for a moment or two, then swept the street with a quick look. He smirked and breathed out, allowing the pent-up emotions to come out and even shook his whole body lightly in order to relax.

    “I guess I did a good enough job, eh?” he mused with a satisfied smile. “I still can’t read Uncle Luren, but he can’t read me either, not anymore,” he chuckled, but his smile soon turned dark. One day, his uncle would end up having the rug pulled out from below him if he remained so overconfident.

    “Either way gotta see Laien. It would be great if I could convince him to join us,” he thought with a sigh, doubting that Laien would agree. He would surely be asked to tell him more about the Cail family… and if he answered truthfully, Laien wouldn’t ever go over to their side.

    “Have to do what I can,” Genzie shook his head, then swept the street with one more quick glance. To begin with, he needed to find out where Laien was at the moment.

    ---

    “The ‘District of Steel’, as impressive as ever,” Laien said to himself, looking at the hundreds of workshops at the main street of the district and at the thousands of workers delivering the materials from huge warehouses to the various smiths and metallurgists. There was something special in this air which smelled of coal, steel and sweaty muscular men. Simply watching all these people pour their soul and heart in their work was filling him with respect for their profession, be it the normal physical workers or the master smiths like Dan’s father.

    Soon, he reached the large complex of buildings owned by Duaran, in the middle of which was the best smithy in the Sarkcente Kingdom; named very simply ‘Duaran’s Smithy’.

    The whole place was bursting with life with well over a thousand people working non-stop, including dozens of smiths and six master smiths, all of them apprenticed to none else than Duaran.

    It was very rare for someone who was recognized as a master smith to still work under someone else… but those six apprentices of Duaran’s, even after rising in rank had chosen to stay with their master and keep learning from him. From that, one could tell how immensely skilled Duaran was as a blacksmith! There were even people who compared him to the Grandmasters of ancient times and claimed him to be superior to the self-proclaimed Grandmasters in the north of the Starlight continent.

    Passing by one of the many carriages carrying heavy ores to Duaran’s smithy, Laien noticed his good friend picking up two large bags, each at least one hundred kilograms in weight. Right beside Dan stood his father, who was well over two meters tall and appeared to be made out of ninety percent muscles.

    “Good day, Uncle Duaran!” Laien called out, approaching the massive man with a smile. He had visited Dan a few times at his home and even ate a few dinners with his whole family. One way or another, he started getting along pretty well with Duaran and ended up being told to call him ‘uncle’. There was also the thing with Duaran trying to make him his apprentice… but he really had no time for learning how to forge metal.

    “Laien! It’s good to see you, kiddo. But what did you come here for?” Duaran asked, but didn’t even give Laien time to answer. “As you can see, we are busy. If you want to play around with my lazy son, you can come in the evening. That is if he will still have any strength left to move by this time, hahaha,” Duran laughed loudly, to what Laien couldn’t help but chuckle. What was considered ‘lazy’ per Duaran’s standards was so absurd that possibly no one would be able to meet his expectations.

    There was always an abundance of work around the Steel District, of which the most basic one was physical work. Although long-distance deliveries and trading would almost always be carried out with the aid of interspatial rings, it was just too inconvenient to use the same method on the regional scale. Taking the large object in and out of an interspatial ring required adequate amounts of Qi or spiritual energy; as long as the distance wasn’t too great, it was more effective to have people transport materials in an old-fashioned way. After all, it wasn’t like martial masters would go out of their way to help with delivering goods around the city day after day, would they?

    “Hey, Dan! Keep up the good work!” Laien shouted after his friend. Dan looked at him from afar and gave him a sour look. Laien and Duaran chuckled simultaneously, exchanging an amused glance.

    “Hah, okay, enough fooling around. Tell, what do you want? Or did you come only to waste my time?” Duaran asked, a hint of impatience appearing in his eyes. He was a great man, faithful husband and caring father, but he hated to have his work interrupted for no reason. ‘Eight hours for work, eight hours for your family, eight hours for sleep’ was his motto which he had strictly followed throughout his whole adult life.

    “I came here to get a new weapon forged for myself, the last one you made me has broken, Uncle Duaran,” Laien explained briefly and withdrew the hilt of his old sword from his interspatial ring to empathize the point; a little scrap of metal still attached to it.

    Duaran shook his head and sighed. Seeing his own weapon broken was one of the worst feelings for a blacksmith. In a battle, what was a weapon worth if it broke? Its wielder would end up being in a mortal danger because of it!

    “Ah, kiddo, your sword wasn’t made out of best materials, I hope nothing happened to you?” Duaran said apologetically, but what he referred to as ‘not the best materials’ was already enough to make an average, high-quality weapon. It was just that… he really would have wanted to make a better weapon for Laien, but the truly best ores were just too rare and thus, too expensive! Not to mention that as a child, Laien would quickly grow too much for the weapon to suit him. There was no good way to compromise between quality and price.

    “It happened during a sparring, so it was okay,” Laien said quickly, not wanting Duaran to worry about him. The man did him a great favor and forged him a very good weapon without requesting a payment for it, how could he fall so low as to complain about it?

    “At least that much,” Duaran said, appearing to be quite relieved. “I will forge a new sword for you, it should be ready tomorrow morning. I will use as good of materials as I can, but you understand I can’t get you a cream of the crop blade. My business is doing good, but I just can’t spare this much money,” he informed, once again apologizing for a strange reason. This overly honest and well-meaning character of Duaran’s… it really impressed Laien.

    However, despite being impressed Laien couldn’t not laugh. He raised his hand and pecked at his shirt, then said with a wide smile. “Uncle, you sure care only about steel. Had I carried an impressive weapon on me, you would have noticed immediately, yet when I change my clothes you don’t see it at all!” he stated merrily and chuckled, wondering what Duaran’s reaction would be.

    Duaran rolled his eyes and covered his face with the palm of his hand. “Kiddo, stop saying things like my wife does… What about your clothes…? Wait… oh, Rudford’s sigil,” he hummed in understanding, but contrary to Laien’s expectations didn’t pay much mind to this little revelation. He was happy for Laien, yes, but he wasn’t anything close to being shocked.

    “Kiddo, even if you got some money from Rudford, do you realize that best top-quality weapons will cost you over a hundred crystal coins? You should tone down your expectations a bit,” Duaran stated without beating around the bush, pretty sure that Laien wouldn’t be willing to part with so much money just for a temporary weapon; even if he had happened to have gotten a large sum like one hundred crystal coins from his new master. “Either way, we got a special delivery today so before we can settle what exactly do you want me to forge, I need to complete the trade. It shouldn’t take long, though, so come on with me,” he said and once more, didn’t wait for Laien’s response as to not waste any time. He just headed inside his smithy, sure that Laien would follow behind.

    Faced with such an unexpected reaction, or rather the lack of it for the matter, Laien needed a good second or two to come back to his senses. Having someone simply brush aside the whole fact of him becoming a disciple of the Great Master Rudford was just too shocking for him. “Uuu, maybe I was becoming too bigheaded… I should tone it down a little…” he murmured, somewhat ashamed of his excessive attention seeking.

    “I’m going with you, Uncle Duaran!” he called out and hurriedly ran after Duaran. The two of them walked all the way to the back of the smithy, then entered a rarely used room; Duaran’s office.

    Inside, they saw an average-looking, skinny man wearing a greyish cape. The man snorted and looked at Duaran. “Highest time, I was getting tired of waiting. I brought you something amazing and that’s the treatment I get, eh? Do you want me to sell it to someone else?” the man said angrily, treating Duaran without any respect at all. It surprised Laien considerably, as Duaran was not only the best blacksmith in the Sarkcente Kingdom but also a martial master of the third rank! There were very, very few people who would dare to be so disrespectful to him!

    “You are as grumpy as always,” Duaran shook his head, ignoring most of what the skinny man said. “I needed to finish my current order so I could have enough time to bargain with you. This time, I won’t let you rip me off like you did last year,” he said with a merry laugh, repeatedly slapping the skinny man’s back with his hand. The skinny man took the slaps without budging, what once again came as a surprise to Laien. Those slaps might have appeared casual, but Duaran had once managed to send him flying with one of them…! He really had difficulties controlling his strength.

    Curious, Laien once again released his spiritual sense without meaning it. He probed the man… and discovered that he was a dual practitioner. The man’s spiritual cultivation was much weaker than his own as he hadn’t even formed a Spiritual Core, but as for his martial cultivation… he couldn’t tell at all. “It looks like it’s impossible to tell with a large difference in strength unless the other person rouses his Qi and shows off,” Laien assumed in a quick thought, at the same time getting a hang of using his spiritual sense a bit more consciously.

    “Tch,” the skinny man clicked his tongue and gave Laien an angry look. “Oi, Duaran. Tell this brat of yours to stop probing me with his aura or I’m going to get angry,” he warned, but truthfully already appeared to be ticked off by a large degree.

    “Aura? What is it?” Laien asked, rather interested in learning something about the active use of his spiritual sense than concerned with the man’s anger.

    “Talk about audacity… wait a second, that’s Rudford’s sigil?” the skinny man chortled in disbelief. “Why would a martial master accept someone who is a better spiritual practitioner than a martial practitioner?” he wondered aloud, but at the same time changed his attitude towards Laien.

    “Kid, you curious about aura? No wonder, those blockheads from the south rely so much on martial arts that they forgot how to distinguish between the battle sense of a martial master and an aura every practitioner possesses,” he said in a ridiculing manner, but was a bit disappointed to see that Laien kept his calm or just didn’t care. Those from the south tended to be so short-tempered, it was always fun for him to mock them and watch how they boil with anger.

    “Eh,” the skinny man sighed bitterly. It wasn’t like him to do favors without being paid for them, but just this one time he would make an exception. “You ever wondered why even martial practitioners can sense the strength of others’ Qi even though they don’t have a battle sense?” he asked rhetorically and without wasting any time, followed through with the explanation.

    “It’s actually pretty simple. A battle sense of a martial master and a spiritual sense of a spiritual master have little to do with the ability to sense other person’s strength. For the purpose of actively doing so, one needs to employ his aura and probe the other person with it, just like you did a minute ago,” he smirked at Laien, then added as a warning. “Be careful, though. Unless you are a lot stronger than the other person, your aura will be sensed and you can piss some guys off,” he said with a laugh but still ended up frowning. Was there really no way to provoke this kid a little? Why was he listening so attentively and not rebuking at all? If he did talk back to him, he would have had a pretext to cut this stupid lecture short or at least demand something in return for it…!

    Resigned to his fate of providing a free service, the skinny man decided to put the last few details in the open. “Admittedly, it’s easier for spiritual practitioners to employ their aura. As for martial practitioners, it’s usually impossible before they reach the sixth mortal realm. It’s no wonder that the southern martial freaks forgot about aura, given that it’s perfectly possible to sense the strength of one’s Qi after he rouses it on his own. If you ask me, however, I’d say it’s a sign of their stupidity,” he said bluntly and shrugged his shoulders. “Any questions?” he asked, intent on having this lecture be over with as soon as possible.

    Laien considered the question very seriously. From what he understood so far, spiritual sense and battle sense could give one special benefits, but they weren’t required to sense other practitioner’s strength. Thus, what he did with his ‘spiritual sense’ in reality, was him employing his aura…? “How to distinguish between a spiritual sense and aura?” he asked, wanting to know if he had this ability of spiritual masters or if he had wrongly assumed that he awakened it.

    “It’s hard to say,” the skinny man replied with a frown. “Aura is easier for spiritual practitioners to awaken exactly because it’s deeply connected with the spiritual sense, which spiritual masters practically always merge with their aura and use alongside it. It can be said that a battle sense is an ‘instinct’, while spiritual sense is an ‘awareness’. For obvious reasons, the first one doesn’t work well with aura, but the latter one does,” the skinny man clicked his tongue, annoyed at himself for going into these minute details. He had wanted to pursue the path of magic in his youth, but had failed miserably… however, the knowledge was still there.

    “Basically, spiritual sense can be called an upgraded version of aura. When you become able to sense the flow of natural energy in the air and the Qi in a practitioner’s body, then you can be sure that you’ve awakened a spiritual sense… but even if you are talented, it won’t really appear before you reach eighth or ninth mortal realm; sorry to break it to you,” the skinny man tried to provoke Laien one last time, but again was left with no response from him. He cursed in anger, wondering if this kid really was a southerner. How come his temper was so good?!

    “If that’s how spiritual sense works, then…” Laien smiled, totally excited for himself. He had ‘seen’ the flow of Qi in Cran’s body, he had used the same ability to guard against the barrage of Tin’Long’s attacks. He had not overestimated himself, he really had awakened a spiritual sense! Compared to learning all of that, he couldn’t care less about the skinny man being rude in a stupid, shallow way he probably wouldn’t be bothered by even in a normal situation.

    “It would be nice to get my spiritual energy tested, though. I still don’t know at which rank I really am at,” Laien mused, guessing that this skinny man was incapable of telling how strong his spiritual cultivation base was; at least when he wasn’t using it actively. If so, then it needed to be quite high, right?

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 13. Schemes and Living Steel. (Part II)


    “Done with your chatting?” Duaran asked impatiently, barely bearing with the fact that his working time was being wasted on a lecture. Were it not for Laien’s sake, he would have long since put an end to this crap…!

    The skinny man smiled. At least one person in this room was reacting as he liked… ah, what a relief!

    “I think I get the gist of it, thank you… umm…?” Laien scratched his head. “I’m Laien, nice to meet you, I guess?” he said with a chuckle, but the skinny man frowned and looked away from him.

    “This skinny man here is called Zaniear, he came here from the far north of our Starlight continent. He supplies me with rare materials from time to time,” Duaran introduced and using the chance, got straight to the matter before Laien could ask about anything else. “So, you’ve brought me something, right? Show it, then we can agree on a reasonable price,” he said strongly and gestured for Zaniear to show what he has.

    “It’s something I’m sure you will be interested in,” Zaniear raised his hand, a small sack appearing on top of it. With a smirk, he threw the sack on the table.

    It landed… fairly normally. Duaran opened the sack carefully, without lifting it up. He knew Zaniear long enough to know to be cautious around him. His sense of humor tended to be rather… ugh... However, when a snail-like metallic creature slipped out of the sack, Duaran couldn’t contain a cry of astonishment and it wasn’t because the thing was a badly cracked joke of his old friend’s.

    “Heavens! It’s Living Steel! The real Living Steel! Where in the world did you get this from?!” Duaran yelled, his face turning bright red from all the excitement.

    From within a sack, a mass of metal, roughly the size of a hand, slowly flooded out. It started moving through the table as if it was some kind of a snail. Looking at it, Duaran’s face became red from excitement.

    “What’s so amazing about this Living Steel? I’ve never heard of it,” Laien asked curiously. If this thing was so incredible, then maybe he could get Duaran to make a weapon for him for this… snail-like thing… or maybe he shouldn’t, after all?

    “Kiddo, if a weapon is forged with Living Steel as its core, it will be utterly incredible! Not to speak of the overall increase in quality, it will also be able to regenerate on its own if broken! Of course, there are limits to this ‘regeneration’ and the quality will fall if a large piece of the weapon is lost, but it will nevertheless be better than almost any top-grade weapon in the world!” Duaran uttered almost fanatically. For a smith, there was no greater pleasure than to work with the very best materials and to create a weapon which would live in the annals of history!

    “For you, another bonus would be that a Living Steel weapon will be able to increase its size without losing much of its quality, so it would literally grow alongside your body… although I probably shouldn’t get your hopes up high. This one chunk is worth more than you could imagine. Not even ten Living Steel weapons or armors exist in the world, you know!” Duaran said with a laugh and gave Laien a consoling look. He wasn’t sure if he could afford to purchase this piece Living Steel, not to speak of Laien!

    “So, how much do you want for it?” Duaran asked very seriously, a flame of desire shining in his eyes as he gazed at the snail-like metallic chuck of steel sliding around his table.

    “It’s simple. Forge a greatsword for me with this Living Steel and I will give you a good deal for the remaining half. Just one thousand crystal coins,” Zaniear replied bluntly, perfectly aware how large the sum he demanded was.

    Hearing the outrageous price, Duaran’s eyes widened in fury and helplessness. Not to mention a thousand crystal coins, he wouldn’t be able to produce even one hundred right now! He might be able to amass one thousand if he liquefied all of his assets… but then he would be left with nothing! There was no way he could afford to pay up one thousand crystal coins.

    “You know fully well that I can’t pay you this much, don’t you?” Duaran asked and raised his hands in a helpless gesture.

    “I can give you half of it for free, if you finally agree to come back with me,” Zaniear said with a smile, hoping to finally get Duaran to come to the north. With his skills, he really was wasting away in a place so little suited for smiths like this Sarkcente Kingdom. They hadn’t even given him a nobility title here, while in the north he would be revered as a Grandmaster!

    “No can be. Even for the sake of getting my hands on Living Steel, I won’t betray my country. If that is your only offer, you can go back to the north and have someone forge it for you there.” Duaran said sourly, not pleased with Zaniear’s suggestion in the slightest. He was about ready to storm out of the room and go back to work when Laien spoke up.

    “I will pay thousand crystal coins, so sell it to me,” Laien said lightheartedly, then looked at Duaran. “Uncle, I will also add whatever is needed for the additional ores, so could you forge a Living Steel weapon for me? It would be good if you could do it today, if possible… I kinda need a spear for tomorrow morning,” he concluded with an awkward laugh, not sure how long would it take Duaran to forge such a weapon. He wouldn’t want to come out as someone who despite his ignorance makes unreasonable requests.

    For a period of time, a complete silence filled the room as the two men stared at Laien with disbelief. Duaran was speechless, but Zaniear was shocked out of his mind. He had only thrown a random, outrageous price to Duaran; he never expected it to be paid as he never truly intended to sell the remaining half of Living Steel today. Yet, this brat was actually saying that he would give him one thousand crystal coins for it…?!

    “Kid, do you even know what we are talking about?” Zaniear asked, so flabbergasted that his usual arrogance couldn’t be heard in his voice. “One thousand crystal coins; crystal! It’s one million gold coins! Even if you are Rudford’s disciple, do you expect him to pay up in your stead just because you ask him?” he asked again, slowly beginning to think that Laien was one of those young masters who had been spoiled since birth and knew little about the value of money.

    “That’s right, Laien kiddo, you shouldn’t be saying things like that carelessly,” Duaran reprimanded gently, thinking that Laien allowed his new position to get a little over his head. “Even if your master is rich, he won’t just pay for you because you want a new… a new…” Duaran stuttered, seeing the large bag of crystal coins which Laien slammed onto the table with a cheeky smile. There was so many of them…! Good gods, there really might have been one thousand crystal coins there…!

    “One thousand crystal coins,” Laien said with a chuckle. He would have withdrawn the money from his interspatial ring sooner, but he needed a moment to properly round up one thousand from what he had, what ended up being a little less than half of his overall resources. “As for the other metals, will two hundred be enough?” he asked with a smile and produced a large pouch with two hundred crystal coins, then gave Duaran an amused smile.

    “That’s… That’s…” Zaniear rubbed his eyes, unsure whether they weren’t playing a trick on him. With so much money he would be able to screw all his responsibilities and live his whole life luxuriously if he so chose! His first thought; kill Laien and Duaran, then make run for it with all of the Living Steel and the boy’s interspatial ring which surely held much more treasures!

    However, he quickly rejected this option after thinking it through. What kind of relationship did Laien need to have with Rudford to receive a huge amount of money from him just like that, the first day he became Rudford’s disciple? If he killed the boy here, Rudford would undoubtedly learn of it. He might have been able to flee the Sarkcente Kingdom without being caught, but even then he would live out the rest of his life in fear, being pursued by a Great Master and likely with a huge bounty on his head. In compassion, sealing the trade with Laien was a way better option!

    “Sold,” Zaniear said and waved his hand over the large bag of crystal coins, pulling them all into his interspatial ring. He glanced at the pouch with two hundred coins in it and groaned quietly. Was it too greedy to want to make some more profit?

    “Duaran, I can provide you with enough Cold Steel and Grakan Steel to make boy’s spear in exchange for these two hundred coins, why do you say?” Zaniear suggested, barely restraining himself from grabbing the pouch at once.

    “Cold Steel?” Duaran asked, the subject of metals distracting him enough to bring back his ability to speak. “There is only one kind of Garkan Steel, the one mined in the far north. However, by Cold Steel you can’t mean…?” he asked, excited no less than by the sight of Living Steel.

    “Yeah, the steel from the Forbidden Lands,” Zaniear said with a wry smile. He had been quite lucky to acquire this rare kind of Cold Steel. It wasn’t that Grandmaster smiths like Duaran weren’t capable of creating Cold Steel on their own, however… the one from the Forbidden Region had an unrivaled degree of purity. Given how dangerous the Forbidden Lands were and that trade with it was practically nonexistent, this kind of top-quality Cold Steel would always fetch a horrendous price on the market.

    “If we mix the Cold Steel from the Forbidden Lands and the Grakan Steel, then use Living Steel as the core…” Duaran murmured to himself, clearly thrilled to forge weapons from one of the best, if not the best materials in the world. “The product with without doubt rival the 81 Heavenly Treasures…!” he said excitedly, feeling a chill run down his spine.

    “Fine, we have a deal. Take the money, give me the materials and follow me!” Duaran said in a booming voice and gave Zaniear an urging look. Forget about money; that kind of thing he could earn on his own! However, to be able to work forge something out of true Cold Steel, Garkan Steel and Living Steel all at once…! It was like a dream coming true!

    “Here you go,” Zaniear produced a middle-grade interspatial ring and handed it to Duaran, then swept the pouch of crystal coins for himself. If he were to trade the same amount of Cold Steel and Garkan Steel normally, he would have at most gotten one hundred crystal coins, so he was quite happy to have made the deal with Duaran.

    “Go with you? Will it be ready today, uncle?” Laien asked as Duaran stuffed the snail-like creature back into the pouch.

    “Creating best weapons from best materials doesn’t usually take long, at most a few hours,” Duaran answered readily, happy to tell Laien more about the art of blacksmithing. “The difference is that instead of working on purifying the steel from contamination like you would usually do, you focus on the fine details and pour your heart into your creation. The preparations themselves will take a while, but the process itself shouldn’t be longer than two hours,” he explained, already leading Laien and Zaniear outside the main building.

    “Dan!” Duaran roared, spotting his son leading an empty cart away in the direction of warehouses. “Get those pompous bastards who call themselves ‘the great six’ to my smithy! I don’t care what they are doing right now, tell them to drop it all and come immediately!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, making the nearby people’s ears ring.

    “I’m pretty sure they already heard you, dad!” Dan shouted back, not losing all that much in volume.

    “And what if they didn’t?! Go make sure! And while you are at it, get your ass over to me, too!” Duaran yelled once more, the little exchange between him and his son effectively putting halt to all work in the core section of the Steel District. Most of those people worked here since their early childhood, they were all very familiar with Duaran and the various smiths around here. To see their strict ‘Grandmaster’ tell the six master smiths under him to drop all the work and come help him could mean only one thing; something very amazing was going on!

    Zaniear frowned, not too happy with all the attention. If wrong people connected the dots, he would very well end up being robbed on his way out of the country. It wasn’t that he was weak… but there were enough powerful people who would go mad with desire over the sum of a thousand crystal coins or more importantly, weapons forged from Living Steel.

    “Those of you who are wasting their time,” Duaran roared angrily, making the few hundred of his currently present subordinates go back to work even before he could finish the sentence. “Get me all the senior apprentices who are around to come here. I don’t want anyone disturbing our work, ANYONE! Understood?! Even if the King himself were to arrive, tell him to wait!” he yelled, his voice resounding through the greater part of the core district.

    “Good, now we can go back inside,” Duaran stated energetically and gestured Laien and Zaniear to follow him.

    ---

    “Sit in the back and do not make any noise,” Duaran instructed to the three; Laien, Dan and Zaniear. He pointed at the steel boxes, making sure that the three won’t chose a place that would actually get in his or his aides’ way.

    “Laien, what for good Heavens is going on?” Dan couldn’t help but ask quietly, but right afterward he shut his mouth tight under his father’s scornful gaze.

    “Everyone,” Duaran spoke up, sweeping the six master smiths under his orders with a quick glance. “We have received orders for two special weapons. A greatsword for this skinny bastard over there and a spear for my son’s friend,” he began explaining, getting somewhat annoyed that the six were paying more attention to Laien’s appearance than to his own words. He coughed angrily, causing the six men to straighten up and look at him obediently.

    “The materials we will be working with…” Duaran smiled and waved his hand over the steel table at his side. “Are these,” he said and withdrew the bars of Cold Steel, Garkan Steel and the metallic snail-like creature from his interspatial ring.

    The six master smiths gasped for air and so did Dan. They have never had a chance to work with either of these extremely precious materials. At first, they had been a bit angry at Duaran from pulling them away from their work, but now they were extremely grateful to him!

    “Prepare the furnace for me, it will need to be constantly replenished with coal and heated up. That will be your job, just follow my instructions, as always,” Duaran said to the six and as for himself, produced two large pitch-black blocks of stone and placed them on two separate steel platforms.

    “The Black Stone blueprints!” Dan said excitedly and seeing the questioning expression on Laien’s face, quickly explained. “The Black Stone doesn’t melt even at extremely high temperatures and doesn’t interact with metals. It would be perfect for creating blueprints if not for how rare and fragile it was. It cracks really easily and after four or five uses becomes pretty much worthless. Father used the Black Stone blueprints only once in the past, but now he took out two of them! No wonder though, given what you guys gave him to work with,” he smirked at Laien, expecting his friend to later tell him the whole story. Even now, despite speaking as quietly as he could, he could tell that his father was growing angry with him.

    “If you two want to change your orders, it’s the last chance,” Duaran looked at Laien, then at Zaniear. “After Living Steel merges with the form, it will be capable of changing the size and making small adjustments, but its basic shape will remain the same. You won’t be able to change a greatsword into a longsword or a spear into a sword,” he warned, mainly with Laien’s choice in his mind. From what he knew, Laien had only been using a sword so far. He was still young so changing his weapon of choice wouldn’t be much of a problem, but once the Living Steel weapon was made, it would be impossible to re-use the materials for something else.

    “Do you even need to ask?” Zaniear replied with a laugh. He had always been using a greatsword, why would he want a different kind of weapon now of all times?

    “I…” Laien thought about it again. In truth, he never even tried to wield a spear. Rudford said that his body is suited for it, but could he be sure that he has the necessary talent? He closed his eyes, thinking about the matter deeply; hesitating. Then, an image of ‘him’ slashing with a glaive flashed before his eyes. He trembled, for some reason feeling extremely attracted to the prospect of wielding a long weapon. A spear, or a glaive…? He didn’t understand why, but he felt a stronger pull towards the spear.

    “I won’t change it, I want a spear,” Laien said confidently, deciding to trust his instincts. Whatever would happen next… was up to the fate.

    “Good,” Duaran nodded and turned around. “Make the fire, we are melting these two bastards,” he roared energetically and took out two Black Stone pots, then carefully placed the bars of Cold Steel in one and the bars of Garkan Steel in the other.

    The six men roused their Qi simultaneously, making even Laien feel extremely surprised. Four of the six were actually at the first Realm of Heroes, while the remaining two were just a step away from it! He never knew that the six master smiths under Duaran were so powerful!

    Standing three on each side, the six men stomped with their feet and pulled down the ceramic plates, revealing six pairs of finger-sized holes in the great furnace. They put their hands to them and poured their Qi inside, transforming it directly into flames and instantly causing the tons of coal to start burning with a powerful blaze.

    The chimney on top of the smithy burst with hot air and masses of black-grey smoke, signaling the beginning of manufacturing.

    “You know what to do, the stronger four keeps a steady flame, the other two use all their strength in the beginning and later start taking care of replenishing the coal,” Duaran instructed, covering himself with the protective layer of Qi and stepping up to the middle of the furnace. He placed the two Black Stone pots in the hole in the floor, then grabbed the pole and shifted it forwards. The two pots moved into the furnace and after Duaran pushed the second steel pole, they were raised up into the very middle of the burning hell which raged inside.

    “Now for the hardest part, getting this old lady heated up enough to actually melt these bastards,” Duaran chortled and stomped at the ground. He put his hands to two small holes directly in front of the pots and roused his Qi, controlling it carefully and making the air inside the huge furnace start to slowly circle around the Black Stone pots with the bars of steel inside them.

    Instantly, the flames inside the furnace changed their color from bright yellow to pure white and at the same time, the temperature in the room began rising by the second.

    Laien didn’t understand much about the fine details of controlling a furnace, so all he did was to cover himself with a thin layer of water-element spiritual energy to not sweat too much. He glanced at Dan, who appeared to be completely absorbed in watching his father, then at Zaniear who seemed to be preparing to take a nap. “Oh well…” Laien mused silently and instead of wasting time, decided to meditate for a bit and try gaining some new insights into the Aspect of Tranquility, what shouldn’t disturb Duaran in any way; in contrast to his normal spiritual training routine.

    As time passed, Laien began falling deeper and deeper into a trance-like state, allowing his thought to wander freely as he engulfed himself in the essence of the Aspect of Tranquility. He began reminiscing the most recent vision he has had a few days ago. Ever since then, he had attempted various means to try manipulating water to turn it into ice, just like ‘he’ did with ‘his’ magic, but ended up failing each and every time.

    However, he could tell that the Aspect of Tranquility was in some way connected to the ice magic. The problem was his lack of understanding of the properties of water itself. He couldn’t quite get the idea of what he needed to do with it to change it into ice as simply adding the Aspect of Tranquility wasn’t enough. He felt that he was really close to reaching an answer, just a few centimeters away from grabbing it… but couldn’t quite get this one spark of enlightenment needed to make the final step.

    “It sure is hot here, some ice would be great,” he thought ironically, but then his eyes snapped open as he was hit with a thought. “Ice is cold, it’s colder than water…” the idea began sprouting in his mind, finally taking a proper shape. He stared at the tongues of white flames inside the furnace, a  delighted smile sneaking up onto his face.

    “I didn’t know how to change water into ice, but if it’s possible to make a flame hotter by adding more energy… then shouldn’t the opposite be also true?” he mused, but was met with another problem. Adding energy or taking it out… was it really as simple as using less or more Qi or spiritual energy? No, it wasn’t! But then, how did it work?

    “One last push, it’s right about fully melted!” Duaran shouted, he and the four master smiths at the Realm of Heroes pouring an additional portion of Qi into the furnace. In response, the white flames blazed even stronger, the temperature within rising up by a good few hundred degrees.

    “It’s not Qi within those flames,” Laien realized all of the sudden. “If it was just Qi, then why would the coal be needed? Both of those flames merge naturally and grow stronger, as if apart from fire… there existed another kind of energy within them!” he breathed in, the mental breakthrough allowing him to sense something he had previously failed to perceive, to distinguish another kind of energy which existed within the fire…! Within everything around him!

    Zaniear woke up from his nap very abruptly as a sense of imminent danger overwhelmed him to the brim. Without thinking, he grabbed Duaran’s son by his clothes and pulled him away from Laien, jumping back by a dozen meters at once.

    “By Garkan’s balls, what is going on?” Zaniear uttered in shock, seeing the air around Laien scorch and twist under the immense heat. He could sense the unbelievable amounts of natural energy swirling around the boy, to the point of making him certain that had he woken up a second later, he would have been turned into dust despite being a martial master of the fifth rank.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 14. Precious Gains.


    “The steel is…!” Dan uttered, watching how the steel box Laien was sitting on started turning red and in the span of mere seconds, began melting away.

    “What a monster,” Zaniear shook his head. He now understood what a Great Master like Rudford saw in this kid to accept him as a disciple and to bestow him with so much wealth. He had no idea what kind of breakthrough Laien made, but one thing was certain; with a potential like that and with a powerful master to look over and protect him, the kid had a limitless future ahead of himself.

    As Dan and Zaniear were watching Laien in shock, unexpectedly Duaran and the six master smiths failed to notice what was going on behind their backs. They were all completely focused on the task at hand; since they have just managed to melt the Cold Steel and Garkan Steel, they would now need to proceed to the hardest part, to adding the Living Steel to the mix.

    Duaran took out the two Black Stone pots from the furnace making use the same mechanism which had served to put them inside around two hours ago. In addition to protecting himself with his fire element Qi, he withdrew a thick pair of gloves from his interspatial ring and grabbed the pot with Garkan Steel, then carefully poured its content into the one with Cold Steel from the Forbidden Lands.

    For a blacksmith, such an act would have normally been an extremely foolish one. Creating an alloy almost always required one of the ingredients to be the main one, making up to ninety percent of the final product’s mass. However, due to the unique properties of the extremely pure Cold Steel from the Forbidden Lands, it was possible to ignore the matter of proportions and still achieve perfect results. It was a trait only the extremely pure Cold Steel had; the ability to merge into any other kind of steel in any proportions. For any smith, it was a material of dreams to work with.

    The Cold Steel was already a very high-quality material to begin with, but its true value lay in its ability to create alloys and thus enhance the quality of the final product.

    In case of mixing the Cold Steel and Garkan Steel in equal proportions, one would create the extremely rare Mountain God’s Steel. The Garkan Steel was extremely durable, but it lacked flexibility. The pure Cold Steel was flexible, but not as durable. As the mighty-sounding name of the alloy suggested, the Mountain God’s Steel was considered one of the best, if not the best alloy of steel by the northerners, who lived by the steel and breathed the fire since the ancient times.

    As the two kinds of liquid steel were slowly mixing into the Mountain God’s Steel, Duaran produced the pouch with the Living Steel. He grabbed the metallic, snail-like creature with his large hand and took a deep breath. He had once seen a Grandmaster working with Living Steel and ever since then, dreamed of the day he would be able to do the same thing.

    He closed his eyes briefly, focusing on the life force of the creature in his hand. He shivered with excitement and trembled with nervousness at the same time. The process of adding Living Steel to an alloy was simple. You needed to ‘only’ have an appropriately large piece of Living Steel and needed to ‘only’ grasp the right time to… stop.

    “Here it goes, all or nothing,” Duaran murmured and allowed the snail-like creature to fall into the pot of liquid steel. The snail began wiggling and trying to jump up as if it was in pain. However, it was unable to get out from the pot and but a second later, it ended up being shoved back into the flames of the furnace.

    “It should take around three minutes, right?” one of the master smiths spoke up in a quiet voice, his gaze fixed on the metallic creature which struggled to keep itself on top of the liquid steel in the pot.

    “Idiot, do you think our furnace is as hot as the Grand Furnaces of the northerners?” other of the six said scornfully, wondering how could his friend be a master smith and still display such a level of stupidity.

    “Just observe it carefully, try to sense its life force. It needs to be taken out only when it’s on the verge of death. Not sooner, not later,” the man reminded, having learned Duaran’s words by heart.

    “Shut up,” Duaran bellowed angrily, not taking his eyes off the Living Steel for even a second. The six men re-focused, refraining from any idle chat.

    Meanwhile, at the back of the room, Laien was unknowingly sitting in a small pool of liquid steel; even the stone floor itself was beginning to melt, slowly turning into lava.

    “So that was it, the energy…! It’s in the air, in the water, in the fire… It’s in anything and everything!” Laien smiled at the thought, focusing on sensing and understanding this new type of power he has discovered. “It’s not like Qi or spiritual energy at all. It doesn't seem to be like any of the elements, either…” he mused, this time paying close attention to the varying levels of energy in his surroundings.

    Once again, he thought back to the last vision he has had. Back then, he couldn’t comprehend how ‘he’ managed to turn a fire-element magic into something akin to the ice element, but now he understood.

    In his surroundings, there were areas where energy gave off a feeling of a blazing sun, but there were also places where it was more or less neutral… and if it were to go further in the opposite direction, closer to the cold and ice… then it wouldn’t be a positive energy anymore, it would be a negative one…!

    Dan and Zaniear, the only two people who were currently aware of Laien’s breakthrough gasped in shock when the air around the ten-year-old suddenly stopped blurring from the extreme heat and instead, became completely and deathly still. As the temperature fell, the puddle of lava Laien was sitting in cracked, solidifying back into steel and stone, submerging below a layer of frost.

    Moreover, a small amount of mist began flowing down the floor from the place Laien was sitting at, but soon enough dissipating due to the heat in the room.

    Thankfully, Laien’s cultivation base was merely in the mortal realm; had it been much higher, the area influenced by his enlightenment wouldn’t have been limited to the mere few dozen centimeters around him. Surely everyone in the room, perhaps the whole building… or maybe an even greater area would have found itself burned to the ground, only to then be frozen into oblivion.

    “This kid… he isn’t a fire element practitioner?” Zaniear swallowed heavily. He looked at Laien with a mixture of awe and jealousy; himself, he had never had experienced any great enlightenment despite having had trained hard his whole life. It couldn’t be helped that he felt rather jealous and frustrated more than a little bit.

    “What kind of enlightenment did this kid suddenly gain?” Zaniear wondered silently. He had some knowledge of the secret insights of the Great Master, yet despite that, he couldn’t identify what exactly Laien was gaining insights into. He, however, understood that it wasn’t anything as simple as comprehending some properties of fire or ice; it was something much more special. Truly, for a ten-year-old to have so extremely high comprehensive abilities… he had never seen or heard of anything like this.

    “The positive energy, the negative energy… how far can they go?” the question popped up in Laien’s mind. Without wasting any time, he proceeded to try looking for an answer in practice. He was now capable of manipulating the energy itself, albeit only to a limited extent.

    His eyes still closed, his mind in the trance of enlightenment, Laien wished for the energy to shift into the two extremes, curious how far the positive and negative energies could be pushed in order to have more powerful effects.

    “Even more natural energy is flowing to him?” Zaniear smiled helplessly, seeing how the air in the close proximity to Laien began growing restless and chaotic. The previously frozen layer of steel and stone began going through melting and freezing all at once, licked by the tongues of unimaginably hot and extremely cold air which swirled around Laien.

    “Whoa…” Dan stared with his eyes wide open. The scene was frightening, but also incredibly beautiful in a very captivating sense. Yet, he soon returned his attention to his father and to what was going on with the Living Steel in the furnace. He would follow in his father’s footsteps in the future and hopefully prove to be a worthy successor to his father. There was no way he could afford to miss the live details of handling something as uncommon Living Steel.

    Since the moment the snail-like creature of Living Steel was put into the pot of liquid steel and then into the furnace, around four minutes passed. The seven men’s eyes were bulging out as they were giving their best to perceive how much strength and life force the creature still had.

    “Master…!” one of the six men called out in a low voice when the movements of the creature became dull and slow. From what he could tell, it was about to die of exhaustion, unable to keep itself alive under that much heat.

    “Not yet,” Duaran said calmly, keeping both of his hands of the steel poles of the mechanism, ready to take the pot out of the furnace at the moment’s call.

    The six master smiths pursed their lips, feeling extremely worried. If the Living Steel perished, not only would it be a humongous waste of money, the alloy would also become contaminated and basically impossible to purify again. They were aiming at no more than three-second window, just as the creature would lose what it had of its own mind and would be about to perish as a living being for good. Any slip would be disastrous; it was natural that each and every one of them would rather be too hasty than too late. After all, the process could be repeated as many times as needed, right?

    The thing was, that in this little aspect Duaran had always been under a huge misconception. Yes, the Grandmaster smith Duaran had watched and listened to said that the process can be repeated if finished too early, however... he didn’t mention that taking Living Steel out too soon would result in the creature absorbing the liquid steel it was swimming in to recover its energy and thus, all the materials would be wasted!

    For a Grandmaster, it wasn’t a matter worth much attention due to the amount of wealth he and all other Grandmaster smiths possessed. Failing two of three times wouldn’t be a concern to him, even if he were to be using the Mountain God’s Steel. In the end, it would still be more than worth to create a Living Steel weapon or armor!

    That one time in the past, however, the Grandmaster succeeded at the first try. Thus, all the way until this day Duaran was oblivious to the consequences of taking the creature of Living Steel out of the furnace too soon.

    “Is it now?” Duaran bit his lip, seeing how the creature ceased all movements and began slowly sinking into the liquid steel.

    “Master!” four of his disciples raised their voices in panic, wondering why in the world had Duaran still not pulled the pot out. Did his mind freeze because of stress? If so, then it would be a disaster…!

    Duaran said nothing, instead watching the pot with a gaze which grew increasingly calm. He even smiled a little, what made his six disciples go mad with worry.

    One of the six even went as far as to jump up to Duaran and try to pull on the steel poles on his own, but ended up being shoved away by Duaran… well, maybe smashed down to the floor with a backhand blow would be a more accurate description.

    “Stop panicking, idiots,” Duaran said with a wry smile. A second later, his eyebrows went up slightly and his smile grew wider.

    The five men instantly turned their eyes back to the furnace and without exception, hauled in a large breath of air. The snail-like creature which they thought to be dead actually surfaced again, wiggling and struggling more desperately than before! How… how did Duaran know?!

    “A few more seconds…” Duaran mused aloud. He smirked, apparently amused by the peculiar behavior this particular piece of Living Steel Displayed. He pulled the poles, putting the mechanism in action and withdrawing the pot from the Furnace.

    “Why now?” the six men, including the one who managed to stand up after receiving a blow from Duaran, asked themselves that but dared not to question Duaran again. In their eyes, the creature was still healthy and energetic. It was moving a lot and didn’t appear to be dying yet… but could it be that it was just its final struggle, which they failed to recognize?

    “Perfect!” Duaran said contentedly, gazing at the snail-like creature which wiggled about just barely. A few seconds later, the creature’s basic instinct for survival which remained despite its mind having been literally burned out of it made a simple decision. The creature didn’t have enough strength to trigger the absorption process and if it did nothing, it would die anyway. So, instead, it allowed its body to turn liquid and merge with the steel it was swimming in.

    The six master smiths along with Dan, who stood in the back of the room, looked at Duaran with almost worshipfully. They quietly thanked the Heavens for allowing them a chance to study under a person of Duaran’s caliber and reaffirmed themselves in their resolve to work hard and to achieve great heights, just like the man who was standing before them.

    “Now only to pour it into the forms, the Living Steel will take care of the meticulous process of shaping the weapons for us,” Duaran said with a laugh and turned to look at the three who were supposed to be sitting in the back, then frowned in confusion as he spotted Zaniear and his son standing in the corner of the room and Laien… sitting on what appeared to be a bowl of liquefied, then cooled down steel…?

    “Nothing much I can do, my understanding of this energy isn’t high enough to push it beyond its limits,” Laien thought, regretfully parting with his state of enlightenment. His consciousness slowly returned to normal, the masses of natural energy around him dissipating in split seconds. He opened his eyes, at first wondering why everyone was staring at him, then realizing that something was wrong; why was he sitting so low?

    “No time for that now,” Duaran clicked his tongue and picked up the Black Stone pot. He approached the forms for a greatsword and a spear and one after another filled them with the liquid Mountain God’s Steel to the brim. “Good,” he nodded to himself. “Now, can someone explain to me what happened here?” he asked, giving the three a questioning look.

    “Uh,” Laien smiled weakly. He could guess that it was his sudden insight which caused this small-scale disaster, but couldn’t decide how to go about explaining that to Duaran.

    “The kid experienced a breakthrough, it was nothing important,” Zaniear spoke up and exchanged a meaningful glance with Duaran. The smith might have usually been pretty slow on the pick-up, but he wasn’t stupid. He also knew Zaniear well enough to quickly realize what the man meant.

    “Right, it was nothing important,” Duaran agreed, then swept his six disciples with a stern glance. “It should be obvious, but the truth about what exactly we forged here today needs to stay a secret. I don’t want to have anyone speaking about… that, either,” he added with a suppressed sigh, pointing at the spot from which Laien stood up with a glance.

    “Yes, master,” the six responded in unison, after which Duaran gave his son a look. Dan nodded strongly, confirming that he understands not to spread the information.

    “Master,” one of the six disciples spoke up. “How could you tell that the Living Steel wasn’t dead when it stopped moving and sank into the steel? And how did you know it was about to die when it was still being so energetic?” he asked, very much desiring to hear an explanation and make the technique his own.

    “You know how I always say to put your heart into your work and to understand the heart of the steel?” Duaran said with a slight smirk. After the six men and Dan nodded, he followed through. “What I spoke about are not just empty words. Today, I was finally able to sense the heart of the steel. This way, I was able to easily tell if the Living Steel was about to perish or not,” he explained proudly, knowing that he had finally mastered an art exclusive to the Grandmasters of the north.

    “The steel’s heart?” Laien repeated quietly, his gaze shifting to the form inside which a spear for himself was forming. He sent out his spiritual sense in an attempt to feel out this ‘heart’ of the steel, but the moment he did, he trembled and severed his connection as fast as he could.

    “Laien? You fine?” Dan asked, seeing his friend’s expression turn ugly as he grabbed his head with one hand and supported himself by the steel box with the other.

    “No, it’s nothing,” Laien replied weakly, feeling as if his head was about to split apart. For a split second, he felt that he was actually very close to gaining another insight, but ended up failing and receiving a powerful backlash.

    “Should be about ready,” Duaran approached the Black Stone form for the greatsword and with a ‘humph’ forced it open, revealing a steaming, silvery blade and hilt formed by the Living Steel from the Mountain God’s Steel into one, perfect whole. “It sure cools down fast when Living Steel is involved,” he said with a laugh, then produced a large piece of high-quality leather and dropped it onto the greatsword.

    To everyone’s amazement, the greatsword absorbed the leather and formed a coating for its hilt. Why and how this worked… even the Grandmasters didn’t know. They only suspected that the form of a weapon held a special meaning to its existence, which caused Living Steel to act in this strange manner without the man’s influence.

    Duaran repeated the process with the spear, but this time he used a much larger piece of leather. In contrast to a greatsword, which needed to only have its hilt fixed into a handle, a spear had a whole long shaft to be covered with a layer of leather. Naturally, it required more of it.

    “Go pick them up and try imagining the details of the size and shape you want, you can also make it change colors, blade and leather alike,” Duaran instructed with a smile; the little conveniences Living Steel offered to its wilder were really quite numerous.

    The two didn’t need to be asked twice. They walked up to their respective weapons and picked them up from the forms.

    Laien smiled. His first thought was that the spear was a bit too heavy for him to handle properly. What surprised him, however, was how the weapon adjusted its weight, going down from around sixty kilograms to around forty-five. It was still too much for the current him, but it certainly got lighter.

    “So it can even do that, although there appears to be a limit, huh,” Laien mused happily, then closed his eyes. What kind of shape would he want? Standard would be the best. Length? He was around one meter forty centimeters, so something around one sixty, one seventy would probably be best for him. The colors? His clothes were white with some additions of crimson red, so why not keep it in this tone, too?

    The spear recognized Laien’s will and shrunk to the length of one meter seventy centimeters. The leather covering it remained simple in appearance and according to Laien’s wishes turned white, with a few rune-like red patterns appearing on it at the same time.

    “Cool,” Laien chuckled, admiring his new weapon. Just by holding it in his hands, he could tell that this spear was suited to him. He somehow knew that it would be easy to wield and to learn the techniques involving it. The whole gut feeling was pretty similar to the situation when a master of the sword would recognize whether a sword is good or bad for him just by lifting it up, without the need to swing or fight with it.

    “Big thanks, Uncle Duaran,” Laien said with a broad smile and stored the white spear in his interspatial ring. To say that he was satisfied with what he got for himself would be a large understatement; he was totally brimming with happiness! He not only got a great spear, he also managed to make an important breakthrough!

    “It was my pleasure, it doesn’t happen often to be able to forge a Living Steel weapon with the Mountain God’s Steel as its base,” Duaran said and laughed boomingly. He wasn’t even over-exaggerating as the benefits he gained from working with Living Steel exceeded any amount of payment one could have asked for forging two weapons. From now on, his prestige as a smith would only continue rising.

    “Okay, I think we all wasted enough time by now,” Duaran clasped his hands together. “We need to go back to work. I think you two can find the exit on your own?” he asked, not meaning anything bad despite the rather unfortunate selection of words on his part.

    Laien chuckled, while Zaniear smiled helplessly. Both of them realized that Duaran was just this kind of a person, so they obediently headed to the exit.

    After exchanging a few more sentences, Duaran, Dan and the six master smiths all went back to work. It was already late afternoon, but there was so much they needed to do before evening. The adults felt quite a headache coming at the thought of all the orders they had put off and would now need to catch up on. Dan, on the other hand, was in a good mood; he managed to escape around three hours of working and unlike his father and the others, wouldn’t need to work overtime to make up for it.

    “Kid,” Zaniear said quietly as he and Laien were walking through the corridor. “Take care of yourself, it would be a pity if you got killed before spreading your wings,” he went out of his way to give an advice, having been impressed by the youth enough to consider doing something so out of character for him.

    Laien frowned a little, not too thrilled by the perspective of finding his life in a true danger for whatever reason. “I will try,” he said with a sigh. He might have seen it as being overzealous, but he would mention the matter to Rudford sometime during the next few days. It couldn’t hurt to be a bit cautious, after all.

    Zaniear wasn’t sure if Laien truly understood the position he was in, but also wasn’t aware of Laien’s situation with the Valius and Cail families, so he didn’t push the subject. It simply wasn’t that often for disciples of the Great Schools to be assassinated, unlike the prominent members of the noble families who more often than not would find themselves in a considerable degree of danger.

    “I wonder where I should go?” Laien pondered briefly and after some thinking, settled his mind to head over to Rune and hang around with him for a bit. He felt mentally tired after going through his enlightenment and then receiving a backlash from attempting to gain another one, so he would probably give up on the spiritual training for today. As for the martial one, it could be done in the evening… with Rudford, if possible.

    “Right, I made the name ‘Aspect of Tranquility’, I should also come up with something for my new insight. I can’t keep calling it ‘this energy’ or ‘that energy’,” Laien smirked at the thought. ‘This energy’ was very different from the Aspects and it was nothing like the elements either. Instead, it felt more like a… rule of this world, or something akin to it. Something that existed everywhere and affected everything without exception.

    “Hm, the Principle of Energy,” Laien murmured, then smiled to himself. “Yes, that sounds good enough. I will go with it,” he decided swiftly, then started running ahead towards the Valius mansion as to not waste too much time on walking.

    He didn’t exactly sprint, but as a martial practitioner of the fourth rank, he wasn’t all that slow. What would have taken well over forty minutes to travel while walking, he ended up covering in merely five. The additional bonus was that this light exercise washed away most of the mental fatigue he was feeling, making him feel much better.

    “Maybe I do need to spare some time for a spiritual training, huh,” he wondered, choosing not to go the long way around and instead to enter the grounds through the main gate. With his new position, there was no reason for him to shy away from the ‘unwanted attention’ of the more prominent members of the Valius family.

    However, before he could enter the grounds, he heard a familiar voice calling out to him from behind.

    “Genzie, hey! What’s up?” he asked loudly, wondering why Genzie appeared to be in so much hurry as to be running up to him.

    “There’s something we must talk about,” Genzie said with a very serious expression on his face. Truthfully, it wouldn’t be a lie to say that both his own and the siblings’ future was fully up to how this one conversation with Laien would go.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 15. A Serious Talk.


    “Did something bad happen?” Laien asked, perturbed by the extremely serious expression on Genzie’s face. “Could it have something to do with the Cail family?” he wondered silently, recalling that Garon told him about Genzie being one of Fohan Cail’s people.

    “Let’s go somewhere else,” Genzie suggested, not wanting to have this conversation on the street and moreover, in front of the main gate of the Valius mansion.

    “Sure, where to?” Laien agreed promptly, at the same time thinking when he could find some time to come here again to see Rune.

    “There’s a good restaurant I know, we can chat in private there,” Genzie said and started walking, then glanced at Laien to see if he was following him.

    “I assume you already heard the news?” Laien brought up with a wry smile, trying to lighten up the atmosphere. “But still, it makes me sad to get no comment at all and no reaction at all. At least praise me a bit!” he said jokingly and pecked at the black dragon sigil on his shirt.

    “I heard,” Genzie forced out a smile, not even trying to pretend that he was overjoyed for Laien’s success. With what kind of consequences it had, he just couldn’t be happy for him. “You remember how you always hoped there was some great treasure on the bottom of the Lake Blueside?” he asked out of the blue, causing Laien to feel rather confused.

    “Yet,” Genzie picked up with a resigned, slightly mocking smile. “When you finally were able to check what was on the bottom of the Lake Blueside, you found no great treasure,” he said with a sigh and seeing how Laien still appeared to be dumbfounded, explained properly. “It’s actually pretty similar now as it was with the Lake Blueside. You got accepted as Rudford’s disciple, so did your sister. However, will there be a great treasure at the end of this path?” he asked rhetorically, not expecting Laien to answer this question.

    “Personally, I worry that unless something is done, it will end up being just like with the Lake Blueside. Just like this little dream of the Lake Blueside which ended with nothing,” Genzie mused aloud, then looked Laien in the eye.

    The two of them gazed at each other for a good few seconds, as if trying to feel something out. In the end, Laien smirked and looked away as the first one.

    “Lake Blueside, eh?” Laien shook his head. “Are you sure it will turn out exactly as you worded it? Aren’t you over exaggerating?” he asked with a sigh and glanced at Genzie.

    “I’m not,” Genzie replied sternly, although an unnoticeable flash of satisfaction appeared deep in his eyes for a split second.

    “Does it have something to do with the Cail family?” Laien asked straightforwardly. It was kind of ironic, considering that Duaran’s acquaintance had just warned him to be careful.

    “It does. That’s what I came to talk with you about,” Genzie confirmed and right afterward, added. “We are almost at the restaurant, so let’s talk after we are inside.”

    Laien nodded, having no objections to this plan. He also didn’t feel like discussing something of this importance while walking down some street.

    A few minutes later, the two of them sat down at one of the screened tables in the corner of the restaurant. The place put a lot of stress on privacy and served only those who could pay well for the food and services provided, so it was unlikely for anyone to be overheard if he had his conversation in a low voice.

    “So, what is it? Does the Cail family intend to cause me some trouble?” Laien asked while flipping through the menu. Before coming here he didn’t realize, but he was actually quite hungry.

    “Trouble…” Genzie muttered and shook his head. Luren might not have instructed him in detail, but it was more than obvious that he wasn’t allowed to tell Laien too much. For example, there was no way he could say ‘your life will be in danger if you don’t ally yourself with the Cail family, so bear with it and come over, it will be best for you and your sister’. In case he revealed too much and Laien ended up running straight to Rudford and then holed up in the Red Dragon School for a few years… it would be a disaster.

    “I’m sure you’ve already heard from Garon,” Genzie spoke after a moment of consideration. “Our Cail family is going to sooner or later suppress the Valius family and take the clan over. However, our superiors are worried about the possibility of the Red Dragon School intervening. I was sent to talk with you to make this option less likely to happen,” he said, weighing his words carefully as to not even hint anything that could cause Laien to become too worried.

    “Yeah, I get it… but what do you exactly want me to do?” Laien asked with a sigh. He had decided to live at the Red Dragon School permanently, so his connection to the Valius family wouldn’t stay strong forever. However, he had also promised Garon that he would repay the debt he owed to Tei’ru. Now that he hopefully had enough influence to at least delay the takeover of Valius family for a period of time, he really felt obliged to not betray his promise.

    “It would be best if you joined our Cail family…” Genzie said with an awkward smile. “But it would be enough if you publicly severed your ties with the Valius family, too,” he suggested despite not knowing if his uncle would be satisfied with such an option. He just felt that Laien would be much more likely to accept something along these lines rather than to jump out of the frying pan right into the fire.

    “Eh,” Laien scratched the back of his head. He thought about an appropriate response for a short while, then spoke up. “I don’t know much about the Cail family and I don’t like the Valius family… but I won’t join the Cail family,” he stated outright, seeing no benefit in involving himself in this dispute. Since he didn’t have enough personal strength to influence the outcome, it was much safer to simply not get involved at all. As for the debt? As long as Valius family wasn’t wiped out, he would be able to repay it in the future.

    “This struggle between the families…” Laien began saying, then sighed heavily. “I don’t think elder brother would stand up against the Cail family even if I asked him to. The Great Martial Schools have since forever avoided getting involved in the politics of any country they are in,” he explained briefly, then got to the point.

    “So, even if I tried to help the Valius family, it wouldn’t amount to much. I don’t want to do something that could place me or Siana in a compromising position, so I can at least promise you not to get involved. I won’t be doing any public announcements, though,” he said and shrugged his shoulders. He wouldn’t act irrationally for the sake of some ‘pride’ of his and seek a pointless death like the main character of some novel. Those who liked to read such things saw only the story of one main character who climbed the stairs to greatness, but they often wouldn’t see the enormous number of people who were equally talented but fell along the way due to stupidity, recklessness or simple misfortune.

    “I wouldn’t want to become enemies with my friend, either,” Laien added with a laugh and smiled at Genzie.

    “Yeah,” Genzie said with a sigh, showing a rather troubled expression. He was planning to have a whole argument with Laien and point out the benefits and negatives of him joining the Cail family, but Laien basically concluded the whole talk with a few sentences. Without telling him that his life might… no, that his life will undoubtedly be in danger, Genzie saw little to no way to prolong this discussion.

    “And you won’t change your mind?” Genzie asked, knowing he would regret it if he didn’t at least get Laien to reaffirm his position.

    “I doubt it,” Laien said with a resigned smile. The little information he had about the Cail family might have been biased as he had learned it from the various members of the Valius family, but if as much as one-quarter of it was true, he wouldn’t be willing to join them. Keeping his neutrality, in this case, seemed to be the most reasonable option.

    “Too bad…” Genzie closed the menu and gave Laien a regretful look. “I will be acting on behalf of the Cail family more often now, so as long as you are a member of the Valius family… I doubt we will be allowed to remain friends,” he said bitterly and suppressed a sigh.

    “Come on, why so dark,” Laien said with a smirk. “We will always be friends, even if we won’t be able to meet as often from now on,” he said confidently, perhaps being a little too optimistic.

    “If only it was so easy,” Genzie said resignedly. “Remember, I will have my birthday in two months?” he brought up a bit randomly.

    “I do,” Laien said and nodded, wondering why would Genzie talk about his birthday out of the blue.

    “We talked about this interspatial ring, right? I wanted to give it to you after getting the present from my father, but I don’t think I will be able to anymore,” Genzie said and gave Laien an apologetic look. The situation has changed, everything has changed. Neither of them could afford to stay the same as before.

    “The Cail family is that strict?” Laien raised his eyebrows and asked with a laugh. Either way, it wasn’t like he needed an additional interspatial ring anyway, not after receiving so much from Rudford.

    “More or less,” Genzie shook his head, then threw a white towel on the screen behind him, signaling the waiter that it’s fine for him to walk up and take their orders.

    “I will take noodles with chicken meat and one green tea,” Genzie ordered casually after the waiter approached their table.

    Laien flipped through the pages of the menu one more time while keeping a straight face despite hearing how Genzie ordered the kind of food he absolutely hated. Sighing in his heart, Laien made his own order. Since this dinner would most likely be one of his last meetings with Genzie for quite some time, he at least intended to enjoy the food and the atmosphere. For a bit, they could chat casually and as for what the future would bring… it remained to be seen.

    ---

    Early evening, within the residence of Luren Cail.

    “Master,” a black-cloaked man appeared from within the shadows and kneeled on one leg, his head lowered as he waited for a permission to speak to be granted to him.

    “Report,” Luren said and flicked his hand slightly by the force of a habit.

    “Genzie established contact with the older of the siblings, with Laien. He didn’t reveal anything potentially dangerous to us but didn’t manage to convince the boy to join us either. The two of them settled at having the siblings take a neutral stance to the conflict,” the black-cloaked man reported, as always describing purely what happened and keeping additional explanations or his thoughts to himself.

    “Ho?” Luren appeared to be quite surprised with this result; not because he expected Genzie to convince the siblings or thought the opposite would happen, but because it was the only option which resulted in both his nephew and that boy, Laien, going back to their homes with their heads intact. “Anything suspicious in their behavior?” he asked, unable to shake off the feeling to which he didn’t want to admit to; the feeling that he was being played.

    “Nothing that I could see. They didn’t whisper to each other nor did they exchange any notes. There was no apparent gesturing, either,” the black-cloaked man answered respectfully.

    “Tell me the content of their conversation, word by word as they said it along with their reactions and mannerism. The usual thing,” Luren ordered and leaned back in his armchair.

    “Yes, master,” the black-cloaked man acknowledged the order and began speaking. It took him a good hour before he finished, but he delivered an incredibly detailed report. It was quite apparent that he had been trained to do this kind of job since a very early age considering how much he managed to remember.

    “Strange,” Luren clicked his tongue, for some inexplicable reason feeling quite annoyed. He had complete trust in the accuracy and genuineness of his subordinate’s report, so he could tell there indeed had been nothing wrong with the conversation this nephew of his had with that boy… yet, he still felt there was something he kept overlooking, something very important. However, he just couldn’t quite pinpoint what he was feeling so worried about.

    “Contact the agents we have placed at the Red Dragon School,” he said sternly, reluctantly accepting the possibility of losing the few precious spies they had there. “We must know if that boy, Laien, will tell Rudford anything out of place. If he does, then we will have him, his little sister and this nephew of mine eliminated immediately,” he ordered and flicked his hand, dismissing the man.

    After his subordinate left the room, Luren allowed an annoyed expression to surface on his face. He cursed quietly, but shook his head right afterward and took a deep breath.

    “I’m probably overthinking it,” he murmured to himself. There was no evidence at all to support his premonition. Had he been dealing with a serious, experienced opponent, he might have gone as far as to go to Fohan and consult the matter with him… but he was dealing with two brats. Asking others to lend him a hand just because ‘he had a feeling something was wrong’ would be nothing short of a humiliation for him.

    “Ah, whatever. I have more important things to take care of,” he said angrily, turning his mind to the tasks which had been assigned to him in Neil City in preparation for what was about to come.

    ---

    “I wonder if he will even be awake,” Laien thought with a resigned smirk on his face as he entered Shire’s house. It was only about two hours past the daybreak, so it wouldn’t be strange for Shire not to wake up in another half a day. “I hope I won’t need to be waking him up,” he murmured, knowing first-hand how dangerous it was to force his master awake.

    “He isn’t here?” Laien frowned slightly as he looked around the training field. Shire would more often than not be sleeping around here… strange.

    Left with no other option, Laien started looking for his master around the house. The whole time, something seemed to be wrong, different. “Why is there no dust at all? Doesn’t it all look quite clean?” he finally noticed, slowly getting worried if Shire hadn’t sold his house yesterday and if the new owners didn’t happen to already start cleaning it.

    “Finally here,” Shire called out, startling Laien as he was passing by the living room. “I told you to come in the morning, stupid disciple. How long are you going to make me wait? The tea is getting cold,” Shire said sarcastically and poured a cup steaming hot red tea for Laien and himself.

    Laien froze in place and stared at his master, completely slack-jawed. Shire was sitting at the low table, his beard had been properly shaved, he must have washed as he looked fresh, his clothes weren’t creased and most importantly, he appeared to be sober!

    “Who are you and what have you done to my master?” Laien asked in disbelief, then smiled cheekily. The person in front of him was definitely Shire, but his appearance changed so much…! It was unbelievable!

    “Stop fooling around and sit down,” Shire said with a laugh. He was in a good mood; he had been looking forward to seeing Laien’s reaction and it certainly wasn’t any less amusing than he imagined it to be.

    Laien did as he was told and sat down, positively dumbfounded by the change in Shire’s attitude. He took a sip of the red tea, then glanced at his master. Shire was supposed to start teaching him spear techniques today, but why did it look like he wanted to have a talk with him?

    “How should I even begin, I wonder?” Shire said aloud and sighed a little. He wasn’t a social person to begin with; after one hundred years of straying from people, he certainly didn’t get better at talking to them in a serious manner. “I guess since I’m going to start taking you seriously as a master, I should at least tell you more about my past? I bet you were curious about it,” he said with a wry smile, having gotten over the anger he had felt yesterday. It had been one hundred years, after all… it was the highest time to stop grieving over the past and focus on the future.

    “Can’t say I wasn’t,” Laien admitted and a slight smile. He really was curious, but so much had happened during the last twenty-four hours that he didn’t even have time to wonder about Shire’s past. Yet, if his master was offering to tell him the story, he wouldn’t refuse to listen.

    “Well then,” Shire drank the whole cup of hot tea in one go, then breathed out heavily. “Shut up and listen, no interrupting; I hate it,” he warned, but paid little attention to whether Laien confirmed that he understood or not.

    “Fianne… eh, she was an incredible woman,” Shire began saying, his gaze wandering to a faraway place. “I won’t be telling you the snotty details, I will keep it short. Basically, everything happened during the ten years of the Great War between the Sakrcente Kingdom and the Ciene Kingdom one hundred years ago. Towards the second half, after the strongest of our generation started making name for themselves, was the first time I met Fianne… and Rudford and their whole bunch of ‘comrades’,” he added with a snort, the mere memory pissing him off greatly.

    “I always thought that falling in love at first sight is a huge load of horse crap, but when I saw her…” Shire shook his head resignedly. “I fell for her instantly. She was a very lighthearted, carefree woman. She had a good heart, too; she even approached someone with my reputation of a ‘crazy berserk’ at the time and started a chat. After talking with her, I knew I wanted her. I wanted to be with her, love her, make her safe…” he groaned, then shook his head again.

    “If only I told her so back then…” Shire murmured, barely loud enough for Laien to hear him. “We got assigned to a few missions together with Fianne, Rudford and the others. Towards the last months of the Great War, we became the true elites; allies revered us while enemies feared us. We faced death together more than once or twice, many of Fianne’s and Rudford’s friends died back then,” he covered over four years in a few sentences, not planning to bring up each and every little even which had happened back then.

    “Yet, I still didn’t tell Fianne how I felt about her. I was young, scared of rejection like an idiot,” he said and laughed bitterly. Would those events had turned differently had he confessed to Fianne sooner? Maybe, maybe not. It was hard to say; this damn woman was just too stubborn…

    “Then, during one of the great battles, Rudford saved Fianne’s life as she was being assaulted by an elite team of martial masters from the Ciene Kingdom. After the battle was over, he did what I couldn’t and confessed to her,” Shire smiled self-mockingly, wondering what Laien was thinking of him at the moment. Indecisive? Pitiful? Pathetic? Surely enough he himself was thinking just that.

    “As you can probably guess, she accepted his confession. As we were in the middle of a Great War, they married very quickly; literally the same day,” Shire said in a pained voice but laughed at another thought. “You should have seen Rudford’s face when Fianne told him she wants to get married right away; he was speechless,” he commented, but kept to himself that his own face had been quite ugly at that time.

    “Eh,” Shire groaned, barely resisting the urge to bring out a bottle of vodka. “What I did at their wedding was probably… or rather certainly the second most stupid thing I did in my life,” he forced himself to say. Since he already started blabbing about Fianne, he might as well tell Laien everything.

    “Long story short, I disrupted the ceremony and told Fianne that I love her. Rudford and everyone else was furious, but Fianne kept her calm,” Shire smirked, then breathed out heavily. “At first her behavior made me feel some idiotic hope, but she soon squashed it flat. She told me that she likes me, but for her, I am nothing more than a little brother. She said that she had long since fallen for Rudford and was only waiting for him to man up and confess to her,” he explained helplessly. To hear that he was just a little brother to her, to learn that his love has never had a chance to be mutual… it truly had felt terrible.

    “That alone felt bad enough…” Shire said with a sigh. “But at the very last battle, we were getting overwhelmed by the forces of the Ciene Kingdom. Our General was in a tight spot, while our elite team was trying to break through to the Ciene Kingdom’s backlines to slaughter their commanding General. We were being suppressed, we were too slow and we knew it… then, Fianne executed a forbidden art and broke out of our formation. We… we should have stopped her, but seeing how determined she was, we couldn’t bring ourselves to,” Shire clenched his fist with enough force to draw blood.

    Even though it had happened so long ago, the anger within him hadn’t subsided at all. Rudford might have gotten over it with time and accepted Fianne’s choice to sacrifice herself, but he always regretted not stopping her. To him, the country was of incomparably lower value than her life…! Even if she were to be Rudford’s wife, he didn’t want her to die…!

    “In the end, she exchanged her life for that of Ciene Kingdom’s Great General. Rudford and I went mad; we used the brief period of chaos in the Ciene Kingdom’s ranks to slaughter thousands of their people along with quite a few commanders in the span of just a few minutes. The battle… it ended with heavy casualties on both sides; neither side won. In consequence, the two Kingdoms worn out by the prolonging war and with no conclusion in sight agreed to a ceasefire,” he laid out, a clear grudge reverberating in his voice.

    He had very seriously considered making the annihilation of both Sarkcente and Ciene Kingdoms his goal but reconsidered after realizing that he would be destroying what Fianne gave her life up to protect. Perhaps it was because he couldn’t vent his anger and couldn’t deal with it on his own… that he gave up on doing anything and started wasting away as a drunkard.

    “That’s the whole story,” Shire said bitterly and poured himself and Laien more tea. “So, what do you think?” he asked, wondering what kind of comment Laien would have.

    “What can I say…” Laien sighed, trying to put himself in Shire’s shoes. “I would have probably acted in the same way, but I have no idea how long would it take me to recover,” he said honestly and just in time bit his tongue as to not say that he surely wouldn’t have had stayed holed up in his house and did nothing but drink alcohol for a century. He had gone through one depression after losing his parents and reached the conclusion that they would have wanted him to live happily instead of mourning them forever. He felt like mentioning it to Shire… but felt that it wasn’t a good time to do so.

    “Probably less than one hundred years, eh?” Shire asked with a laugh, easily reading Laien’s thoughts from the look on his face. “Let’s change the subject already,” he urged, having had more than enough of talking about unpleasant things for today.

    “Envy and Lust…” Shire murmured, but he shook his head the next second. “We will talk about that later, there’s no reason for you to learn of these things so soon,” he stated dismissingly, seeing no point in telling Laien about the existence of the Secrets.

    “Envy, Lust?” Laien repeated. “It does sound quite familiar to Tranquility of elder brother’s and mine,” he said in a slightly inquiring tone.

    “He already told you about it?” Shire asked, appearing to be rather surprised. “Wait…” he frowned and gave Laien a serious look. “What did you just say?” he asked, unsure whether he didn’t just mishear.

    “I said that it sounds just like the Aspect of Tranquility that elder brother and I have insights into,” Laien repeated with a smile, this time being his turn to be amused by the expression on his master’s face. He could tell that Shire still didn’t believe him, so he pulled onto the essence of Tranquility and released it along with his aura. As expected, Shire’s was thoroughly stunned.

    “The same one… don’t tell me that’s why he so readily accepted you as a disciple and had you call him ‘elder brother’?” Shire asked, the whole thing with Laien becoming Rudford’s favorite suddenly beginning to make much more sense for him.

    “More or less. It was me who requested to become his martial brother in exchange for helping him with a breakthrough, though,” Laien said cheekily, bragging just a little bit.

    “Breakthrough? What kind of?” Shire couldn’t resist asking. Could it have been that Laien had a better understanding of the Secret of Tranquility, or the ‘Aspect’ of Tranquility as Laien called it, than Rudford?

    “Nothing complicated,” Laien shrugged his shoulders. “Elder brother had been cultivating the Aspect in a strange way instead of accumulating it in one place. It was making him unable to advance to the seventh Realm of Heroes,”

    “That was his problem?” Shire chortled and raised his eyebrows. He had always seen Rudford as rather talented, although he would be hard-pressed to admit it openly, but to think that this training freak could actually be pretty dumb sometimes… knowing that was really making his mood better.

    “Right, speaking about elder brother,” Laien brought up, only now having recalled what Rudford told him to talk about with Shire. He had been so excited about learning the spear that he had completely forgotten about it. “He said that I should have the affinity of my Qi checked when I reach the peak of the fifth mortal realm and if I’m more compatible with fire, I should learn his Red Dragon Arts and if with wind, then your martial arts,” he explained quickly and gave Shire a questioning look, wanting to know what his often unreasonable master’s opinion on this matter would be.

    “His martial arts?” Shire snorted disdainfully. “If you have no guts, you can learn his Red Dragon Arts, go ahead. However, what I have can be much better than his arts… but can be worse too, at the same time. It all depends on your luck and potential,” he said vaguely and smiled at Laien, obviously waiting for him to inquire further.

    “And what exactly is that?” Laien gave in and asked, intrigued by Shire’s words. Up until now, his master had never spoken about the details of the martial art he was cultivating, so could it be that this art was very special in some way?

    “The truth is, my martial art is self-created,” Shire said proudly, his words sounding simple but being more than enough to shock Laien.

    A self-created martial art that had the potential to surpass a top-level art…?! Something like this had never been heard of on the starlight Continent! For a Great Master, creating a low-level martial art was a child’s play. A mid-level one would be a challenge, while a top-level one bordered the line of impossibility. Were it not for the lack of joking look on Shire’s face, Laien wouldn’t have believed him either…!

    “In my youth, I found an ancient legacy. I learned from the scroll which burned down the moment I gained its insights… and a path had opened before me,” Shire said while smiling all the while. “I was given a choice. To go down the safe path and try joining a Great Martial School somewhere around the world and learn their top-level arts, or… to try creating a martial art suitable for myself from scratch,” he smirked and gave Laien a meaningful look. He obviously expected Laien to do the same and not walk down the safe path, which would be unlikely to lead to the true greatness!

    “I had chosen to take the risk and created something that surpasses top-level martial arts… if only the Great War happened a few decades later,” Shire sighed bitterly. At the last month of the Great War, he had been thirty-three years old and had reached the third Realm of Heroes, yet he was stronger than most of the martial masters of the sixth rank. Given twenty or thirty more years… he would have had more than enough strength to protect Fianne.

    “You still have time to think about it,” Shire stated with a resigned wave of his hands. “I won’t hide from you that with your talent for martial arts, you won’t become an expert even if you learn a normal top-level art. You must be aware of that, too… stupid disciple,” Shire chuckled, thinking about something he would be too embarrassed to put into words.

    To once again have some kind of goal in his life… to commit to something, it felt surprisingly good.

    “Enough talking for today, we can chat again tomorrow morning,” Shire said with an uncharacteristic honest and merry tone to his voice. “You got a spear for yourself?” he stood up and asked. Hopefully, Laien didn’t intend to use one of the craps of steel Rudford had given him, did he…? He would rather gift him a proper weapon than to see his disciple swing around a weapon that was a gift from that training freak.

    “Yup,” Laien got up and took out the white spear from his interspatial ring. “Got it forged yesterday, it’s a Living Steel weapon made from the Mountain God’s Steel,” he said with a smile, recalling how Duaran called this alloy of steel.

    “Wha…?” Shire mumbled, his eyes nearly popping out of his head. This stupid disciple… how did he come into possession of something so ridiculously precious…?!

    “Come on, let’s go, master,” Laien said with a cheeky smile. “Didn’t you say it’s enough talking for today? Teach me something already, I can’t wait,” he added brazenly, for some reason feeling more comfortable at Shire’s side than ever before. This master of his really has had a change of attitude, eh?

    “Damn you, stupid disciple. You asked for it,” Shire smirked and withdrew a two and a half meter spear from his interspatial ring. They would talk tomorrow… as long as Laien had enough strength to get up from the bed and come to train with him again.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 16. One Year of Time. (Part I)


    His breath slightly ragged, Shire sat down on the wooden floor at the training field in his house. He rested his spear against the column, then turned his gaze to the black-haired youth who was laying on the ground and gasping for breath, so tired that he was barely conscious.

    “It’s only been a month, but his technique has progressed at a monstrous rate,” Shire murmured with a disbelieving smirk on his face. If he kept improving at this pace, then this stupid disciple would surpass him in spear arts in merely five to six years; and that was while considering that he had also gotten back to training regularly and no longer slacked off or spent the whole days drinking.

    “Talent… that’s not at the level of talent, he was born to wield the spear,” Shire thought with a sigh, regretting that he hadn’t taken Laien’s training seriously from the very beginning.

    “That being said,” he murmured as he closed his eyes. “I’m getting tired of this,” he grabbed his spear, then jumped a few dozen meters high.

    He kicked the air mid-flight and abruptly changed directions, striking through the darkness of night at an incredible speed, heading right to one of the nearby roofs.

    He thrust his spear, aiming at a seemingly empty spot. The blade pierced right through, drops of blood spraying outwards, forced out by the blow.

    A figure of a black-cloaked man appeared as the shadows around him began dissipating. The man stared at Shire, failing to understand how or when his chest had been pierced through.

    Soon, the remnants of life left the man’s eyes; a martial master of the second rank died, just like that.

    “That old goat and his little puppies are getting too ahead of themselves,” Shire murmured discontentedly and yanked his spear out of the man’s body. He left the corpse where it was and headed back to his house, walking on the air, slight gusts of wind concentrating below his feet every time he took a step.

    “I wonder how many will I need to kill before they finally get the message,” he mused with a scary smile; a silent, frightening killing intent emanating from his body. “I think it’s the highest time to pay the big puppy a visit,” he murmured to himself, his gaze drawn to a certain part of the city.

    “I will need to find a chance to repay that boy in the future, though…” he thought more calmly, a slight smile appearing on his face. “Were it not for him, I might have lost such a talented disciple,” he murmured with a smirk, wondering what that little puppy’s face would look like if he learned how badly he allowed himself to be played.

    ---

    “Seriously, are they still sleeping or what?” Tin’Long said angrily, hurrying over to the siblings’ private quarters. Today, Cran was leaving for the Royal Capital and they were supposed to send him off with everyone, but despite it being nearly the time, the two were nowhere to be seen!

    “They are always so crazy about training, but when they get this one free day per month, they start being so lazy…” Tin’Long thought with a sigh, then after hesitating slightly jumped over the wall surrounding the siblings’ quarters. He didn’t quite feel comfortable with behaving in such an inappropriate way, but since Laien had told him not to waste his time as he was tired of walking up to open the gate for him each and every time, and since he was in kind of a hurry now, he just went ahead and jumped onto the grounds.

    Even before he landed, he noticed the two siblings laying beside one of the trees near one of the two spacious training fields of their quarters. Yet, what he saw made him fail his landing and trip, although he somehow managed to regain his balance and not fall flat on his face.

    Simply, the sight of the two hugging each other and actually kissing lightly, as if lazily, was a bit too much for him to handle.

    “I know siblings can sometimes be really close together but isn’t that a bit too much…?” the resigned thought crossed Tin’Long’s mind. The luck just so it had that he came here a minute or two after the siblings woke up after falling asleep outside, so he ended up seeing what he saw. “Eh, whatever. It’s not up to me to be butting in. As long as it’s just snuggling and kissing…” Tin’Long sighed in his heart and decided not to fret over the whole thing.

    “Oi, you two! You’d better hurry up, Cran is going to be leaving in fifteen minutes!” he called out, startling the two siblings out of their half-asleep state.

    “Already? Wasn’t it supposed to be later?” Laien asked loudly while Siana was getting off him and the two of them were trying to collect themselves.

    To Tin’Long’s surprise, neither of the two were perturbed by the fact that he saw them in this situation. “Maybe I really was overthinking it?” Tin’Long wondered. After all, those two had no real family to speak of apart from themselves. It wouldn’t be so strange for them to be closer than most of the other siblings.

    For example, he wouldn’t be able to imagine himself hugging and kissing his own little sister. One part of it was the eight years of age difference between them, but the other part surely was the simple awkwardness of the idea.

    “Weren’t you listening yesterday when I told you it’s going to be one hour earlier?” Tin’Long asked resignedly. He just knew that he shouldn’t have tried talking to Laien when he was doing his spiritual training; he would always respond ‘yeah, yeah’, but would never truly listen to what was being told to him. “Next time, I will just leave him a note,” he smiled at the thought; he had a feeling that it could unexpectedly work out quite well.

    “Uh, there was something like this?” Laien scratched the back of his head. Ever since he had gained insights into the Aspect of Tranquility, his spiritual training turned into something closer to meditating than simply repeating the process of releasing and recovering his spiritual energy, which by now he was doing automatically, without concentrating on it at all. Basically, he was doing the same thing Rudford had been for the last one hundred years; gaining deeper insights into the Aspect of Tranquility.

    “Yeah, there was. Now, hurry up!” Tin’Long gestured the two siblings to follow him, hurrying towards the main gate.

    ---

    “Right, I keep forgetting to ask,” the fourteen-year-old youth brought up in the middle of a chat with Laien. “You are at the fourth rank as a martial practitioner, but you are also a spiritual practitioner, right? How strong are you at that?” he inquired as for some reason, people in the Red Dragon School weren’t sure of this information.

    “I only learned recently after elder brother got me a spirit stone,” Laien said with a laugh. After his sudden increase in power, he hadn’t been able to tell at which level he was. However, the whole thing didn’t bother him too much and both him and Rudford ended up forgetting about it for a few months. “I’m at the middle stages of the seventh mortal realm,” he revealed with a rather cheeky smile and was pleased to see both the youth in front of him and his elder martial sister look quite surprised to learn that.

    “Isn’t that pretty amazing?” the sixteen-year-old girl said, gazing at Laien with a mixture of praise and playfulness. “I heard spiritual practitioners advance much slower towards the later ranks of the mortal realm. Given how talented you are, I guess you will be leaving our country to study at an Institute? Or maybe in an Academy?” she asked, letting the chat flow smoothly. She might have praised Laien a lot, but she herself was one of the disciples of the Grand Elder; she obviously was very talented. She had reached the eighth mortal realm half a year ago and her mastery of the Red Dragon Arts was only slightly inferior to Cran’s. Amongst her peers, there were very little people who could be called equal to her.

    Thus, even though she heard ‘seventh mortal realm’, she pretty much failed to understand the weight of these words.

    “I want to keep practicing martial arts, too, so it will be one of the Academies,” Laien responded with a smile. He had talked this matter over with Rudford and since most of the Academies accepted students only at the age of twelve or older, they settled for the idea of enrolling into an Academy in two years of time. Well, now it was closer to one year and a half, though.

    “A dual practitioner, huh?” the sixteen-year-old girl smiled at Laien and gave him an alluring look. “If you were a bit older, this big sister might have fallen for you~” she teased, but she was unable to hide her shock when Laien simply laughed it off and appeared not to care or be embarrassed by her suggestion. She might have been only joking, but being ignored by a ten years old boy seriously hurt her confidence!

    “Elder sister, don’t you think such jokes need a right time and place for them to be funny?” the fourteen-year-old said poutingly.

    “And who said I was joking?” the sixteen years old girl replied angrily, not in the mood to be lectured by her younger martial brother.

    The youth’s face sank and he looked away. He wanted to say something but decided not to. The last time he had pointed out that his elder sister was a bit too fond of partying and playing around with guys, she had snapped at him and they ended up not talking to each other for a week. Really, he would never understand what girls were thinking about.

    “And you weren’t?” Laien asked wryly. “I was pretty sure you two are going out. Can it be that you aren’t?” he asked ‘innocently’, pretending to be oblivious.

    Never having expected the tables to be turned on her, the sixteen years old girl was a bit flabbergasted. She wasn’t the one to get frustrated easily, but she still blushed a bit. “Perhaps we would have if this dumbass wasn’t so dense…” she thought silently, wondering how to respond to Laien.

    “W-we aren’t,” the fourteen-year-old managed to utter. In his case, he got much more nervous than his elder martial sister because of Laien’s sudden remark. He had very much liked Shei ever since he met her six years ago at the competition organized by the Grand Elder to select new disciples but never had enough guts to tell her. He was scared of being rejected and ended up thinking that it would be fine if they at least remained as friends… and that he would confess later… but this ‘later’ never seemed to come.

    “You aren’t? Why not? To me it totally looks like you are into each other,” Laien pointed out a bit bluntly, trying to get the two to be more honest with themselves and at the same time, amusing himself with their funny reactions.

    “I wonder,” the sixteen years old girl, Shei, said with a sigh. “Maybe if Kuan wasn’t such a chicken, then we would,” she said before she could bite her tongue. Faced with junior brother’s flabbergasted gaze, she could only look somewhere to the side while blushing strongly. Yes, she liked him too! So what?! If Kuan wouldn’t ask her out first, she wouldn’t make it easy for him…! In her opinion, a man who couldn’t even confess to the woman he liked wasn’t a man at all!

    “Eh? Then what’s the problem?” Laien asked happily and looked at the fourteen-year-old. “If you like her, ask her out. What’s so hard about it?” he questioned with a broad, cheeky smile on his face.

    At first, Kuan felt like arguing with Laien; the ten-year-old obviously didn’t understand any of his countless worries! However, he soon realized that it would be petty of him to do so. He was still nervous if Shei wouldn’t reject him even after she said what she did, but he somehow forced himself to speak up. After all, if not now, then when?

    “Shei, I like you, please go out with me!” he declared with flushed face and a very nervous expression, but somehow managed not to stutter.

    Shei glanced at Kuan, then peeked at Laien. She was feeling rather helpless about this situation; her junior martial brother might not have yet realized, but she understood that Laien did all of that on purpose. She was happy with this development, but also pretty embarrassed to have needed a ten-year-old to push the matters between her and Kuan a step forward.

    “Then,” Shei began saying and gave Kuan a teasing look. “I guess you need to train hard from now on,” she said with a chuckle and before Kuan could ask what she meant, added merrily. “If I’m going to be with a man, then I want him to be strong enough to protect me.”

    Laien suppressed a laugh; the look on the fourteen-year old’s face was simply priceless. “Good for you, huh?” he said contentedly while swinging his legs to the front and to the back in a typical, child-like way.

    Kuan finally laughed and relaxed a little. He gave Laien a brief look, then returned his gaze to his elder martial sister. “I promise to work hard,” he said seriously, albeit with a clear hint of amusement in his voice. He never thought that his party-minded elder sister would make a request of this kind. Honestly, it was surprising but at the same time, he didn’t dislike this side of her at all.

    “Great,” Shei chuckled again, then after wondering if she should or if she shouldn’t for a second or two, leaned to the side and planted a quick, but deep kiss on Kuan’s lips; which to her surprise the fourteen-year-old returned instead of just taking it.

    Laien laughed quietly, appreciating the nice thing he was shown by the two. When they glanced at him, he just shrugged his shoulders and showed them the tip of his tongue. He wouldn’t mind seeing them kiss in front of him more often; it was a fun thing to watch.

    ---

    “You’ve advanced to the fifth mortal realm, I see?” Rudford noticed the moment Laien entered his private training hall. “You’ve trained hard for a whole year, it only makes sense,” he added contentedly, knowing how much effort Laien had been putting into his martial training.

    Laien’s routine looked pretty much like that; he would spend two days training with Shire, two days training with Rudford, two days sparring with various disciples of the Red Dragon School and the other martial schools in the city and finally, he would use one day to recover and only engage in lighter exercises. The schedule was pretty hectic, but Laien had already been keeping up with it for a whole year. The reason of it was simple; he could see how much progress he was making from day to day and thus, was highly motivated to get even stronger.

    “I did reach the fifth rank, but I wish my talent for martial arts was a little better,” Laien said with a sigh. Fifth mortal realm at the age of eleven wasn’t a bad result at all, but considering how hard he had been training, he really would have liked to be at least at the sixth realm by now. The only thing preventing him from pouting about his cultivation speed too much was…. well, basically every other aspect of his training.

    “You are being too hard on yourself,” Rudford said with a smile. “You’ve really been overworking yourself lately, too. Hm, let’s do it like this,” he brought up and tousled Laien’s hair. “Today, instead of training normally, we will have some fun to celebrate your breakthrough. We will go swimming in the ‘Eye of Netherworld’ Lake. How about it?” he suggested, guessing that a trip like this one would be up to Laien’s preferences.

    “The Eye of the Netherworld Lake? Really?” Laien asked excitedly. He had heard a few things about this humongous lake located on the plains to the west, but he also knew that the access to it was restricted. Only a few most important people in the country and those accompanying them were allowed to sail, swim or fish in the Eye of the Netherworld Lake. To be able to go there with Rudford was super lucky!

    “I can take that as ‘yes’, right?” Rudford chuckled, happy to see how enthusiastic Laien was about this little trip.

    “Of course!” Laien called out, already gesturing Rudford to hurry up and get going. It would take at least two hours to get to their destination by horse so if they wanted to use the day wisely, they needed to hurry up!

    “Coming, coming,” Rudford said with a laugh and headed to the stables affiliated with the Valius family with Laien to retrieve their horses. The old William was the best person to entrust one’s steed to, so as a Great Master, Rudford, of course, kept his own horse in the old man’s care.
    ---

    “Whoa, I can’t even see the other end. It looks like a sea,” Laien said happily, marveling at the incredible sight before him. The waters of the lake were crystal clear and the shore had had enough sand brought over from the sea to form a great beach around it. Combined with the endless grassy plains stretching as far as the eye could see, the scenery was truly wonderful.

    “We need to register our arrival first, then we are free to do as we wish,” Rudford said with a smile, looking in the direction of the reasonably large inn at the roadside, close to the lake.

    “Surprisingly small,” Laien pointed out. He really would have expected a large complex of luxurious houses and small mansions to be around here. Instead, there was only one inn. It seemed pretty strange to him.

    “To keep the waters as clear as they are, no one is allowed to live around here,” Rudford explained and urged his horse to go forward, speeding up to a quick trot. “As for those who stay here longer than one day, they usually bring their own houses,” he said when Laien caught up, then smoothly made his horse go into a gallop.

    “Makes sense,” Laien chuckled, still getting used to the concept of having entire houses moved around per nobility’s whims and wishes.

    After a few minutes of galloping, the two of them arrived at the inn. The royal innkeeper saw them from far away from the window of his room, so he walked out to greet them.

    “Great Master Rudford,” the innkeeper bowed his head respectfully. “I’ve had a few chances to welcome your younger brother, Great Master Rudford. General Vatras always enjoyed his stay at the Eye of the Netherworld, I sincerely hope you will feel the same, Great Master” the man said courteously and seeing that Rudford and the youth accompanying him dismounted, walked up to take the reins of the two horses.

    “Is the eye in a calm phase?” Rudford asked, making Laien curious as to what could he possibly mean by that.

    “It has entered the calm phase three days ago, so for the next week there is virtually no danger,” the innkeeper replied, then glanced at Laien. “This must be one of your two disciples, Great Master Rudford? The whole country was elated by the news, people are still talking about it,” the man said with a slight smile. The strength of the Kingdom was closely related to the power of its greatest experts; for a Great Master to finally choose a successor after one hundred years of refusing to do so was naturally a joyous event.

    “As you can see,” Rudford confirmed with a laugh. Both he and Laien had similar clothes and most importantly, they had black dragon sigils on their chests. It would very literally take a blind person not to notice who they were and what kind of relationship they had.

    The royal innkeeper raised his eyebrows slightly, but he kept his thoughts to himself. From what he knew, Rudford had gone into meditation right after the Great War ended and rarely interacted with the ‘worldly matters’, leaving even the management of his Red Dragon School to his little brother and a friend who later became the Grand Elder. He had been said to have become a really stoic, uncaring person… but seeing the man in question now, the innkeeper had trouble believing it.

    “What could have changed him so much?” the man wondered as Rudford and Laien headed off on their feet. His gaze laid on the youth’s back as he watched how the boy chatted with Rudford, laughed and even got his hair tousled by the Great Master.

    “Rudford lost his wife in the Great War… so perhaps it was this youth who changed him?” the man wondered, planning to deliver his thoughts on the matter to the royal family. As an innkeeper, he would often see and hear many things, while those in power knew how precious any piece of relevant information could be.

    “Come on, just tell me what was it about the calm phase,” Laien asked again, the curiosity getting better off him. He really wanted to know what Rudford meant!

    “You will see in a bit,” Rudford said with a smile. “For now, get out of your clothes. We are going to swim,” he said and put his own clothes into the interspatial ring, leaving only the underpants. “How long can you hold your breath underwater?” he remembered to ask before they entered the water.

    “As long as it’s just swimming casually, around forty minutes?” Laien took a wild guess, never having tried to test his limits in the past year. His advancement to the fifth rank as a martial practitioner surely increased his capability, but his spiritual cultivation would also influence how long he would be able to stay underwater. He was a water element practitioner, after all.

    “Good,” Rudford nodded with a wide smile and after walking past the shallow part of the shore took a leap directly into the deep water.

    Having a guess or two as to what Rudford was going to show him, Laien followed quickly.

    After the two of them swam for about twenty minutes, Rudford stopped and looked up at the sky, checking the position of the sun.

    “It’s about time if I remember correctly, just a few more minutes,” he said aloud, then gazed at Laien. “Just in case, don’t get too far away from me. It should be safe, but the Eye apparently likes to act up without warning, so better be safe than sorry” he warned with a smile, though with a pretty serious look in his eyes.

    “I got it, no swimming away from you,” Laien said obediently. Both him and Rudford would usually be fond of jokes and overall rowdy behavior, but he could tell when Rudford was serious, and right now was one of such times.

    “Okay, let’s go,” Rudford said and dove underwater. Laien did the same and thus, the two of them began going deeper and deeper.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017

    Book 1. Shifting Winds. Chapter 16. One Year of Time. (Part II)


    The bottom of the lake in itself wasn’t that far below, merely one hundred meters away or so; with how clear the water was, it could already be seen quite clearly. However, there was something special there, something that could be seen only during the summer and only for about three hours around the noon.

    As the rays of the sun slowly shifted, Laien’s eyes went wide. It wasn’t quite the middle of this huge lake, but at the bottom of it… there was a huge crater-like hole; it’s walls littered with thousands of shining crystals. The underground cave was over four hundred meters wide and even though something like a kilometer of it had been lit up, it seemed to stretch infinitely deeper into the ground. With each passing second, the sun was getting higher in the sky and thus, revealed a few more meters of it.

    Rudford grabbed Laien’s shoulder lightly, then smiled at him and pointed downwards. Feeling his heart throb wildly, Laien began swimming deeper down shoulder-to-shoulder with Rudford.

    The moment he got close to the entrance to the huge cave, he felt the water, slightly hotter than the one above him flowing out of the cave at a slow, steady pace.

    “It’s coming from underground…!” Laien was amazed. The Eye of the Netherworld… the name of this lake suddenly started making a lot of sense.

    As they were swimming, Laien looked around at the beautiful, diamond-like crystals. He noticed some strange, algae-like plants growing in the nicks on the walls and the small, colorful fishes which were hiding behind them. “So amazing…” he thought, wondering why no one in the country was speaking about the wonders of this lake.

    “Maybe it’s to avoid intruders?” he wondered, guessing that there would be many people who would flock here to pick up the crystals from the walls of this cave.

    Around the six hundred meters mark, Laien began feeling the pressure of water grow a bit painful. He pulled upon his spiritual energy and covered himself with a thin membrane, lowering the force pressing onto him by more than a half without much effort; mainly thanks to the defensive properties of the Aspect of Tranquility.

    He felt Rudford touch his shoulder again, so he looked to the side. Rudford pointed at a specific palace at the wall with his finger and gestured him to follow, so he did.

    When they got a bit closer, Laien saw a ring-sized piece of dark stone stuck onto the wall. After a second or two, though, he realized that the thing wasn’t just a stone; it was slightly shiny, just like… the rings on his and Rudford’s fingers! It was actually a piece of black gold!

    Rudford pointed at the stone-like piece of black gold once more and smiled at him. “It’s fine if we take it?” Laien wanted to ask and apparently, was understood simply through the expression on his face as Rudford nodded at him.

    “Will be a nice souvenir,” Laien thought happily and reached out to the piece of black gold. He wanted to yank it off but failed. He then tried to crush the rocks around it with his fingers but failed again. Slightly annoyed, he used magic and controlled some water to pierce the wall… yet, he failed again!

    “How hard is this thing?!” he wanted to say, but could only raise his eyebrows. He saw Rudford chuckling out of the corner of his eye and frowned a bit. Was he being made fun of?

    Apparently, Rudford wanted to help him out, but he blocked him with his hand. There was still one more thing he could do to get this piece of black gold out on his own. He put his fingers on the wall around the piece of black gold, a few centimeters away from it. Then, he concentrated and made use of the Principle of Energy.

    First, the stone turned lighter in shade and the water around it turned into ice. A few seconds later, the ice melted abruptly and the small amount of water around the piece of black gold began boiling.

    Due to the quick and extreme change in temperature, the wall cracked and released the piece of black gold along with some rocks still sticking to it into Laien’s hand. Content with this much, Laien pulled the whole thing into his interspatial ring and gave Rudford a cheeky smile.

    Rudford laughed, then pointed downwards again and asked wordlessly if Laien would be fine to go deeper. In response, Laien drew one and three zeros in the air, or rather in the water with his finger. He would be fine going more or less three hundred meters deeper than they were now, but not much more.

    Rudford nodded and gestured Laien to follow him, this time heading to the opposite side of the cave.

    The two of them swam for around two minutes and then, Laien was shocked again. It was placed at an angle making it impossible to see from higher up, but there was yet another cave in the wall. It was around one meter wide and by the looks of it, Rudford was planning to have them swim right inside it!

    Excited to find out what was further in, Laien followed Rudford without hesitation. They got into the small cave and began making their way deeper into it. Given that there was less space available, they pulled themselves forward by the walls instead of swimming. It soon got completely dark, but they continued to swim and soon, crossed the distance of around one hundred meters only to find…

    “Light?” Laien was surprised once again. How come that ahead of them, there seemed to be some kind of a light source? “These are… illuminating algae?” he realized as they swam into the latter part of the cave, where walls were sparsely filled with this strange kind of a plant.

    A few dozen meters further, the cave suddenly began going up. “There’s actually a surface? There’s air inside?” Laien was flabbergasted; a few seconds later Rudford surfaced and so did he.

    They ended up in a medium-sized cavern. just about three meters high and six, seven meters wide. The cavern was filled with a dim, green light of illuminating algae. As he was looking around, Laien gasped. This place was… totally amazing!

    “Incredible,” Laien uttered quietly and gazed at Rudford, who got out of the water and sat on the unexpectedly flat stone surface beside it.

    “Not many people know of this place,” Rudford said with a smile and reached out with his hand, which Laien grabbed and allowed himself to be pulled out of the water. “There are some similar caverns further down below, too, but the air in them is toxic. This is one of the few where it’s safe to sit for a few hours,” he explained, feeling quite pleased with the amazed and happy look on Laien’s face.

    “It’s great,” Laien could only say, having no words to describe how excited he was to be in such an amazing and cool place.

    “You remember the ‘calm phase’ I mentioned?” Rudford said with a smile and after getting a curious look from Laien, he laughed and proceeded to explain. “More or less once per month, this whole underground cave erupts with masses of boiling water for a few seconds. The heat is strong enough to melt the rocks, while the eruption itself brings diamonds, black gold and many other precious materials from deep, deep underground.”

    “Once, a curious Great Master tried to reach the bottom of the ‘Eye of the Netherworld’, but was forced to give up after going around ten kilometers deep,” Rudford added and laughed a little, seeing the look of honest amazement in Laien’s eyes. He had reacted similarly when he came here for the first time during the times of the Great War.

    “So, those stones on the walls…?” Laien asked, a certain connection having just been made in his mind.

    “They are diamonds, all of them,” Rudford confirmed, then added with a laugh. “As you probably guessed, you can’t mention this place to anyone who hadn’t been here before, even to your little sister. If word about this cave gets out, the royal family will need to put an annoyingly greater number of martial masters to guard the lake.”

    Laien nodded, imprinting the ‘do not talk about today’ idea into his mind as to not blabber about it by an accident.

    “Let’s stay here for a bit longer, then I will bring you to the ‘Dream Island’,” Rudford said with a chuckle. In his opinion, the name wasn’t too exaggerated as the island truly was like a small paradise.

    “Mhm,” Laien confirmed energetically. This day was great already, but was it about to get even better? He really would be hard pressed to recall any time he had been as happy as was right now.

    ---

    “That’s the island? What are those strange trees growing there?”  Laien asked as he and Rudford were finally approaching the ‘Dream Island’ after swimming for nearly two hours.

    “Those are palm trees and banana trees,” Rudford replied and glanced at Laien, who appeared to be rather tired after swimming for such a long time. “Well, there is a great place at this island where we will be able to rest,” he thought quietly, feeling a bit guilty about making Laien work-out so hard on his supposedly ‘free day’.

    Thankfully, the island wasn’t that far away anymore and after five minutes or so, the two of them walked out of the water and entered the inner beach of the crescent-shaped island.

    Laien sat down on the sand and took a few deep breaths, relaxing and letting his muscles rest for a bit. Rudford sat beside him, in no hurry to go anywhere. Only half a day has passed so far, they still had around six to seven hours until they would need to go back to the inn and head back to Neil City on their horses.

    “Somebody is coming?” Laien looked to the left, noticing a group of eight people approaching from afar. Six of them were adults and two were youths of around fifteen, sixteen years of age. Judging by the clothing of the adults and the swimming trunks the two teenagers, the six were guards and the two were some kind of young masters.

    “The bear sigil, must by the Thurand family,” Rudford recognized easily, still remembering very well how ferociously the warriors of the Thurand family had fought during the Great War.

    Amongst the three Great Families, he saw them as the ones most deserving of their status, land and money. The Thurand family had even founded one of the four Great Cities of the Sarkcente Kingdom on their own about eight hundred years ago, which to this day was called simply ‘Thurand City’. Of the three Great Families, they definitely were the one with most prestige and deepest roots.

    As for the Valius family and the Cioze family? Rudford had no negative feelings towards them, but no positive ones either.

    “Want to hang out with them?” Rudford asked, thinking that chatting with someone closer to his own age would be more interesting for Laien.

    “Nah,” Laien said without a second thought. He preferred to spend time with Rudford a hundred times over compared to hanging out with some young masters, even if they happened to turn out very likable.

    Rudford smiled helplessly but admittedly, he was happy with Laien’s swift response. He didn’t even know when, but he had gotten quite attached to this cheeky youth and started treating him akin to a younger brother, or perhaps a son he has never had. The time he was spending with Laien had long since become something he thoroughly enjoyed and looked forward to.

    “You two, who are you and what are you doing here?” one of the two teenage youths called out after their group got closer to Laien and Rudford, his words and the tone of his voice suggesting very clearly that he didn’t see the two in any regard at all. On the contrary, it looked like he was angry at them for some reason…?

    Laien smiled disbelievingly and raised his eyebrows. He glanced at Rudford, then realized that the two of them were wearing simple trunks and remembered that Rudford hadn’t shown himself in public for a century. It made sense that they weren’t recognized.

    Rudford smiled at Laien, knowing this pupil of his well enough to understand that he was amused by the situation at hand. In his younger days, he himself had risen to fame too swiftly to ever experience similar events, but sure enough had nothing against letting the two young masters make fools out of themselves for a bit.

    “Why aren’t you answering?” the other one of the boys spoke up, apparently trying to make his voice sound threatening. “Let me guess, you are another happy-go-lucky travelers who ‘just happened to stumble upon this island?” the youth asked sarcastically. “Really, the royal family should employ more men to guard this place,” he complained discontentedly and signaled one of his men to get moving with a slight movement of his head.

    Laien suppressed a laugh, finding difficult to believe that something like this was actually happening. However, the smile disappeared from his face when he sensed a calm, somewhat resigned killing intent from the man who started walking towards them.

    “Technically, we should send you over to the royal guards who are stationed around the lake…” the man said with a sigh. “However, our young masters are tired of having more and more people flocking here. Sorry pals, it’s your unlucky day,” the man said resignedly and took out a sword from his interspatial ring, releasing and covering his body with a layer of Qi of the second Realm of Heroes.

    “For the Thurand family to have fallen so low,” Rudford shook his head and stood up, giving the two teenagers a disdainful look. Killing a man and a kid just like that, without any justification, merely on a whim? If their ancestors who had fought and died from them saw what they were doing, they would be rolling over in their graves in shame.

    The man who stood just a few meters from Rudford hesitated. Even though the person in front of him didn’t rouse his Qi, he could somewhat tell that this crimson-haired man wasn’t normal. He had a feeling that if he were to attack him, he would end up dead in an instant.

    “You didn’t get what you are supposed to do? Hurry up and get rid of them,” the teenage youth who had signaled the man to take action reprimanded sternly, failing to understand why his subordinate stopped all of the sudden. So what if these two recognized the sigil of the Thurand family? Everyone if the Sarkcente Kingdom knew the bear was the mark of their family! There was no reason to hesitate just because of an insignificant thing like this one.

    “Is the punishment for intruding the Eye of the Netherworld Lake without permission death?” Laien asked, looking at the teenage youth who just spoke.

    The youth however only snorted, seeing no reason to lower himself to talking with someone who was about to die.

    “It’s not,” Rudford said calmly, feeling like these two young masters of the Thurand family needed to be taught a tough lesson.

    “So what if it’s not?” the other of the two teenagers said disdainfully. “Two corpses won’t go complaining to the royal guards. Now, if you would hurry up?” the youth urged his guard, getting annoyed at the pointless chit-chat which emerged for no reason.

    “Ugh,” the man suppressed a groan. His family had a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Thurand family, so he couldn’t afford not to listen to the commands of the two young masters with whose protection he was tasked. With no other choice, he gripped the hilt of his sword tighter and took a step forward… but froze in place the next second, when the red-haired man before him finally decided to rouse his Qi and release his aura.

    “S-seventh Realm of Heroes…!” the man uttered and hurriedly retreated, frightened out of his wits. All the blood drew from his face as he understood what kind of grave mistake he had been about to make. Now, he truly felt as if he was looking the death itself in the eye…!

    The man’s five companions, despite being martial masters were equally shocked. Against someone at the seventh Realm of Heroes, they didn’t stand a chance! Forget about the six of them, even one thousand martial masters of the first and second ranks wouldn’t compare to one expert who had reached the seventh Realm of Heroes…! The difference in strength was simply too great…!

    The two teenage youths, who until now had displayed a haughty attitude were shaking like leafs in the wind. They were too weak to tell which realm Rudford’s aura belonged to, but they could tell how much more powerful it was compared to their guards’; the frightened words which one of whom uttered having disillusioned them completely.

    They had actually… actually ordered an ultimate expert to be killed along with the child he was accompanying, then even confirmed they didn’t care about going against the law…!

    What… just what in the world were they supposed to do or say now?

    “Why don’t the two of you do the first thing you should have and introduce yourselves?” Rudford said sourly and crossed his arms over his chest.

    The two teenagers had trouble with letting their voices out of their clenched throats, but the one who had ordered their guards to act managed to say.

    “I’m Zakar Thurand and that’s my cousin, Nail Thurand,” the fifteen-year-old said in a shaky voice, for the first time ever feeling truly scared for his life.

    “So, Zakar, Nail,” Rudford began saying. “Tell me, is there anything stopping me from turning the eight of you into corpses which won’t go complaining to the royal guards?” he asked with a smirk and glanced at Nail, whose very own words he used to mock him.

    The two youths shivered, their minds as blank as a sheet of paper. They were so scared that they didn’t even notice or were bothered by the smirk on Laien’s face. At the moment, all they were concerned with was finding a way to appease the expert in front of them.

    “W-we will give you anything you want, senior, just forgive us,” Zakar said weakly, unable to come up with anything else.

    “Riches?” Rudford laughed and shook his head the second time. “Do you think that as the founder of the Red Dragon School, I lack wealth?” he asked, revealing his identity to the two youths of the Thurand family and their guards.

    As expected, the two teenagers became even more terrified; if that was even possible. Dear Heavens, what did the Red Dragon School represent? If what they did today came to the light, then not to speak of Rudford killing them; their own parents would beat them to death in their fury!

    “So pitiable,” Rudford said with a resigned sigh, seeing that he couldn’t expect either of the two to come up with any other thing to say. He truly wondered how had it not yet occur to them to kowtow, admit their mistakes and ask for forgiveness? Were they really spoiled to the extent of being unable to do something so basic?

    “Shouldn’t you at least try apologizing?” Laien spoke up as if reading Rudford’s mind. However, in fact, he was thinking back to how he had been forced to kowtow and plead before Jasi even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. These two obviously had, but couldn’t think to offer an apology? What was up with those ‘Great Families’ to constantly produce rotten young masters with a frightening regularity?

    “You’d do well if you listened to this advice,” Rudford said with a slight smile and glanced at Laien approvingly. These words coming out of the mouth of a kid younger than them would surely have a much stronger and long-lasting effect on the two young masters of the Thurand family.

    The youths seemed to have come back to their senses and immediately fell to their knees and bowed so low that their foreheads touched the sand. The six guards of theirs did the same thing, too scared to consider not kowtowing.

    “We were in the wrong, please forgive us Great Master Rudford!”

    “It was wrong of us, we will never act like this ever again!”

    The two said one after another and waited for Rudford to say anything. They were genuinely scared that despite the apology, Rudford would only laugh at them and kill them all.

    “You wanted to unjustly kill two people,” Rudford said calmly, withdrawing his aura and calming his Qi. “To compensate for it, each of you shall do two good deeds. As for what kind of… it’s up for you to decide,” he stated, relieving the two youths and their guards from the stress they had been in the whole time.

    “For the sake of the elders of your family, I truly hope you will change for better in the future,” Rudford added with a sigh.

    The two youths raised their heads carefully and looked at Rudford. They had never paid much mind to the preaching of their parents and teachers, seeing their words as nothing but empty talk… but being told the same thing by none other than the Great Master Rudford, especially after what they did, made them take this advice to heart.

    “Eh, that wasn’t the most pleasant memory to make, eh?” Rudford said and gave Laien an apologetic look. Had it been only as much as the two teenagers being rude to them and learning who they were talking to afterward, it would have been a thing to laugh at. Yet, what happened turned out to be a serious, stern lesson.

    “Not really,” Laien disagreed with a smile. “I think it was pretty cool how you handled it,” he said and smiled wryly. Instead of threatening or punishing the two, Rudford made them do something good for someone else. It was an incomparably wiser path to take, one of which he wouldn’t have thought on his own.

    “You really think so?” Rudford asked with a laugh, pretty much ignoring the flabbergasted gazes of the eight people who were stunned to see him have such a casual conversation with the youth who most likely was his disciple.

    “Either way, there are hot springs on this island. Their waters have healing and regenerating properties, so they are excellent to wash away fatigue. Unless you’ve had enough water for today?” Rudford inquired with a smile. They could always simply rest on the beach and enjoy some coconuts and bananas if that was what Laien would rather do.

    “I’m a water-element practitioner, how could I ever have enough of water?” Laien replied with a question of his own, his lips curving upwards into a merry smile. Hot springs that could help him with his stiff muscles in a natural way? He couldn’t ask for anything better!

    “Okay, so let’s get going,” Rudford nodded and headed off with Laien at his side.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017
    Book 2. The Grand Gathering. Chapter 1. The Two Weeks City. (Part I)


    “Tin’Long, are you going to the Devil’s Nest again today?” one of the inner disciples called out to Tin’Long who was just returning from a chat with his friends in the dormitories.

    “What, you want to tag along Ritter?” Tin’Long asked with a laugh, his words enacting a series of muffled laughs from everyone around the road.

    “Spare me, I’m still aching from the last time. Never again,” the sixteen-year-old youth said with an embarrassed laugh. It has already been over a week, but Laien had given him such a beating that he was still recovering. Well… it was kinda his own fault, though… he shouldn’t have been so overconfident after breaking through to the seventh mortal realm as to try ‘railing Laien up’ by saying some stupid things about his little sister… he kinda got what he asked for.

    “I don’t get it, how can he be so strong?” Ritter pouted, finding it a bit hard to swallow that a twelve years old boy had wiped the floor with him. Yes, only one of his Red Dragon Arts was at the fourth level, but still! That boy was a real monster.

    “He became the Great Master Rudford’s disciple for a reason,” Tin’Long said with a smile. Even though he was currently at the peak of the eight mortal realm and his ‘Dragon’s Force’ Art was at the sixth level, with the two other Red Dragon Arts at the very peak of the fifth level, he couldn’t afford to go easy on Laien while sparring with him.

    “So he will beat you too quite soon, huh?” Ritter said with a smirk, trying to get back at Tin’Long a little for making fun of him.

    “He already won once,” TinLong responded and shrugged his shoulders, making the dozen or so disciples who heard him completely speechless.

    Tin’Long, whose Red Dragon Arts were already at a higher level than those of some Elders, who was twenty years old and reached the eighth mortal realm… lost to a twelve-year-old kid…? Even if it was just once, could it really be prescribed to something like ‘luck’?

    “You kidding me? How did he beat you?” Ritter asked hurriedly, dying to know what could have happened.

    “Around three months ago, he pierced my Dragon’s Body protection for the first time and wounded me pretty badly. I was careless, but a loss is still a loss,” Tin’Long admitted without beating. He wasn’t feeling too proud of this blunder, so he wouldn’t go around telling everyone on his own… but he wouldn’t make a big secret out of it either.

    “That being said, maybe I shouldn’t have told anyone,” he said out of the blue, then looked around at Ritter and the other inner disciples who were listening to him. “Laien was lately complaining that fewer and fewer people are coming to spar with him. I wonder why is that?” he asked with a chuckle, although he could guess the reason on his own.

    He had often been there to spectate Laien’s sparrings, so he saw how those inner disciples who at first were more or less equally matched with him, or even proved to be quite a bit stronger, continued to grow comparatively weaker. When they realized that the tables have been turned and now, Laien was holding back while fighting them… only those who could bear with this painful awareness kept coming regularly.

    From what Tin’Long could see, none of those regulars were among the dozen inner disciples around him. Their sulking expressions, their cast downward gazes… they didn’t have what it took to bear with this little bit of humiliation and hone their skills through continuous fighting. Most likely, none of this group would ever reach the level of a martial master; maybe with the exception of Ritter.

    “I will go and apologize to him,” Ritter mumbled to himself. Deep inside, he had truly intended to avoid the siblings from now on, but he could tell how immature it was of him. Sparring with Laien was of mutual benefits to them, so he really shouldn’t be shying away from it just because it would be awkward to apologize to him.

    “That’s good and all, but not today,” Tin’Long said with a slight smile, having more or less heard what Ritter murmured. “I’m taking these two to have a look around the Two Weeks City,” he explained briefly right as the paths to the area of private quarters and to the inner quarters split in two.

    “Oh, okay,” Ritter nodded in understanding and sighed just a little. This time the Grand Gathering would be held at Neil City, but he had no money to speak of to go around the Two Weeks City and have fun. The tuition fee for the Red Dragon School was one thing, while his reckless spending was the other part of the problem.

    “I should have befriended those two sooner, I bet they have a lot of money,” he thought bitterly, watching Tin’Long head to the siblings’ private quarters.

    ---

    After around ten minutes of walking at a leisure pace, Tin’Long arrived at the siblings’ little mansion. Just like always, he jumped over the wall and looked around to see if the two were already outside or not.

    “Not here yet, eh? I came a bit early, so might as well wait for a bit,” Tin’Long mused to himself. He walked to the bench close to the training field and sat down on it, choosing not to try waking the two up. Instead, he would tease them later about how much of a sleepy-heads they were.

    More or less ten minutes later, the two walked out of their house. Hearing the doors open, Tin’Long glanced over at the siblings, then sighed a little. No matter how many times he saw them being cuddly, he would never get used to it. They just left their house, did they really need to do so while holding hands and sticking to each other like glue…?

    “You two aren’t kids anymore, you really should stop clinging to each other so much,” Tin’Long called out with a resigned smile, knowing very well that he was going to get ignored anyway; at least as far as this subject was concerned.

    “Do we start with a little bout like always, or do we go straight to this ‘Two Weeks City’?” Laien asked with a smile, brimming with good mood. The past two years had been like a dream to him, a dream which he fully appreciated.

    “We can spar for a bit, just get warmed up though,” Tin’Long said and withdrew his longsword from his interspatial ring without waiting for Laien’s reply. He was quite sure that this little training maniac wouldn’t miss an opportunity to exchange at least a few blows with him.

    “You need to show as all there is to see at this ‘Grand Gathering’ later, okay?” Laien mentioned with a smile. He had heard a few things about this event and knew that all three Great Families, the three Great Martial School and the Royal Family would be sending their representatives. He also knew that the Grand Gathering took place once every five years and that it would usually involve things like smaller and bigger tournaments which served the various martial schools to show off the strength of their disciples.

    “I will, I will,” Tin’Long reassured with a laugh. He had been to the Grand Gathering three times already, so he more or less knew what would be interesting to watch or participate in.

    Laien smiled and entered the training field with Tin’Long. He drew his white spear from the black gold interspatial ring which he wore on the ring finger of his right hand.

    He has grown taller since the time the weapon had been forged for him, so the Living Steel spear of his had adjusted itself and now was around two meters long. It still, however, weighed around forty-five kilograms, as anything heavier would be uncomfortable for Laien to wield with his current strength and physique.

    A weak, helpless smile appeared on Tin’Long’s face. This spear of Laien’s… he had broken two top-grade longswords on it and only after his master, the Grand Elder went out of his way to gift him an extremely precious blade, had this problem been solved.

    “The quality of this spear is one thing, his unique abilities are the other,” Tin’Long thought with a sigh. Any normal person would have gone broke in no time if he wanted to spar with Laien on a daily basis. After all, unless the weapon used was truly exquisite, it would continue breaking. A top-grade longsword was only enough to last a little less than a year… so high-grade weapons would likely crumble into pieces after a few weeks, if not sooner.

    Getting ready, Laien swirled his spear in an overexaggerated and unnecessary, but very cool looking manner. He lowered his stance and grabbed the shaft with both of his hands, then gave Tin’Long a questioning look, asking if he is ready to start.

    Tin’Long nodded, having already placed himself in the earth stance. He held his longsword in front of himself, ready to deflect Laien’s thrusts at any time.

    Truthfully, he preferred the aggressive ‘heaven stance’ which involved holding both of his hands above his head, with the longsword pointing slightly downwards at the opponent… but ever since Laien became capable of piercing his Dragon’s Body Art, he couldn’t afford to stake everything on offense. Against a spear, he didn’t have a range advantage and with Laien’s defensive capabilities, he couldn’t hope to bear with a lighter wound in exchange for landing a solid, fight-ending blow.

    “Ugh,” Tin’Long groaned secretly, seeing how Laien was waiting for him to make the first move with a cheeky smile. At first, it wasn’t that hard for him to deflect Laien’s spear and force his way in… but after two years, unless he forced himself in with brute strength and made use of his overwhelming speed advantage, he would end up being toyed to death by an endless series of thrusts and the in-between swipes of Laien’s spear.

    Perhaps it was why spear wasn’t a highly regarded weapon around these parts of the world… fighting against a spear master was extremely frustrating. Given how low the number of spear wielders was and how unused people were to facing this kind of weapon, it only made the disparity between the sword and the spear worse.

    Left with no other choice, Tin’Long changed his approach and lowered his longsword to his hips, the blade pointing behind him. From the ‘cleaving stance’, he swung his longsword in an attempt to let it clash with the upper part of Laien’s spear. He wanted to create a split-second opening which he could use to step in, but alas; Laien timed his own move perfectly.

    Just about the time when Tin’Long had no choice but to follow through with the slash, Laien twisted his body and removed the spear from the way. He took two quick steps in place, moving forward ever so slightly and delivered a powerful sweep from down below, which landed heavily against Tin’Long’s guard.

    “Chance,” Tin’Long smirked, but in his heart knew that this rough ‘trick’ wouldn’t have worked out had Laien been as physically strong as him. He simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to block an all-out sweep from this annoyingly heavy spear and try stepping inside right afterward. He would have needed to put too much strength into keeping his own balance after defending.

    However, Laien wasn’t at such a level yet. Thus, Tin’Long used the opportunity and slid the edge of his longsword against the shaft of Laien’s spear, jumping forward and closing the distance in the blink of an eye.

    “Tch,” Laien winced angrily, being forced to release his left hand from the spear under the threat of losing his fingers. “Wasn’t it only supposed to be a warm-up?” he thought with a snort. If Tin’Long insisted on using his superior physique to force a quick victory, then he wouldn’t be restraining himself either…!

    As the sparks were flying from the longsword which was sliding against his spear, Laien tightened the grip of his right hand and pressed as hard as he could. At the same time, he allowed his body to lose balance and in fact, even pushed onto the ground with his left leg… while doing something incomprehensible for a mere onlooker. He actually pulled his right leg up as he was literally lifting himself up into the air, using Tin’Long’s longsword as a counter pressure point.

    “Converge,” Laien controlled a very small amount of his spiritual energy, creating a solid foothold just below his right feet. He stomped on it and jumped horizontally, getting away from Tin’Long in a strange, but a very swift movement which otherwise would have been impossible.

    “No, you don’t,” Laien smirked, seeing that Tin’Long stomped at the ground and jumped to the side, attempting to follow him. He created yet another foothold in mid-flight and used it to once again jump backward and gain some distance, but also stabilized and straightened his position.

    Still in the air, he grabbed his spear with both hands and prepared to throw a thrust, intending to meet Tin’Long’s attack straight on.

    “That’s a bit…” Tin’Long halted despite having gotten quite riled up. It wasn’t that he wasn’t confident in deflecting Laien’s attack and pressing on, but if they kept it up, it wouldn’t be anything like a warm-up anymore. To be honest, both of them kinda went a bit too serious at it from the very beginning anyway…

    “Hm? That’s it?” Laien landed smoothly, choosing to stop through a series of smaller jumps instead of breaking the fall abruptly. Since Tin’Long wasn’t coming at him anymore, there was no need to overexert himself and destroy the training field, which he would later need to flatten to an usable state… eh; couldn’t there be some people taking care of it? Why did he need to do it by himself?

    “We were getting a bit too heated up,” Tin’Long said with a laugh. They might have intended to go easy at first, but after sparring hundreds of times they couldn’t help being competitive.

    “Maybe,” Laien shrugged his shoulders. He was yet to use his Aspect of Tranquility or Principle of Energy and Tin’Long similarly was yet to employ his Red Dragon Arts, so he thought they were already holding back enough…?

    “How about it, let’s leave our sparring until evening. Then, we will be able to go at it as hard as we want,” Tin’Long suggested, trying to reach some kind of compromise.

    “Good idea,” Laien agreed quickly. He would be able to enjoy the day if he wasn’t tired, so he didn’t object to putting off the training.

    “You might want to change into something more informal before we go, though,” Tin’Long mentioned, worried that the usual clothes of the siblings would attract way too much unwanted attention. A Core Disciple like him would already get some gazes, but those two with the black dragons sigils on their shirts… they wouldn’t be able to walk around in peace at all.

    “Right, we completely forgot,” Laien said with a chuckle. He put his spear back into the interspatial ring and swapped his clothes for an identical set, but one that had only two crossed dragon claws on the shirt. “Nice, right? We asked elder brother for them some time ago,” Laien smiled wryly. Going to the city incognito and pretending to be a simple inner disciple was definitely included in his ‘amusing things to do’ list.

    Tin’Long shook his head with a resigned smile. He should have expected these siblings to come up with something along those lines. Really, it was just like them.

    “Just don’t go overboard teasing people just to make fun of them later,” Tin’Long said and laughed dryly. Who was he kidding, Laien would find a chance to make a fuss anyway and even if he didn’t, the fuss would find him. That was the kind of strange luck this boy had.

    “The Two Weeks City is on the other end of Neil City, right?” Siana spoke up after swapping her own set of clothes. She wasn’t a strong spiritual practitioner like her brother and she was yet to learn a Qi Manipulating Art, so she needed a few more seconds to concentrate well enough as to not end up standing bare-naked because of a slight delay. “If we are going there on the horses, want to make a bet?” she proposed while looking Laien in the eye and paying Tin’Long... well, much less attention.

    “What kind of?” Laien asked readily, always up to a challenge. Especially if the results could end up being quite interesting, if not to say amusing.

    “We race through the city. The one who arrives first can give one order of any kind to the other two,” Siana explained, all the while gazing at her big brother. The two of them didn’t need to mention it; they knew what kind of requests the other would make if proved victorious.

    “I’m in,” Laien accepted eagerly and chuckled a little. Whoever was to win, him or Siana, the results would be equally pleasant.

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017
    Book 2. The Grand Gathering. Chapter 1. The Two Weeks City. (Part II)


    “Racing through the city…” Tin’Long groaned. “Don’t you think it’s a bit too reckless? Even if we go by the main road, we could still end up trampling somebody over,” he reminded, but since he didn’t disagree outright…. he knew that the siblings won’t change their mind. He could try being stubborn and making them not to this horse race, but that would result in the two sulking at him for the greater part of the day.

    “It’s super early, there won’t be many people on the main street,” Laien said quickly. The main road was simply huge, so there would rarely by people wandering the very middle of it. To have it fully crowded merely an hour after sunrise? Even with the Grand Gathering in place, it was doubtful. The focal point of this event was the Two Weeks City, not Neil City itself after all.

    “If you don’t want to, we can do it alone,” Siana said bluntly, caring little whether Tin’Long would be involved or not. She wanted to have some fun with Laien, she didn’t need people who would be disturbing it around.

    “Eh, fine,” Tin’Long agreed reluctantly, intent on keeping an eye on the siblings. Worst case scenario Laien would need to stop, go back and heal the person they tramped over. Given that practically everyone in the Sarkcente Kingdom was a martial practitioner and that children would be unlikely to be wandering the main road at this hour, it was extremely unlikely for them to end up killing someone.

    “Extremely unlikely, but still possible,” Tin’Long sighed heavily. He didn’t like ‘games’ of this kind at all but didn’t have what it took to enforce the proper behavior of these two. He would always end up going along with them and then regret it afterward.

    ---

    Around twenty minutes of light jogging later, the three got to William’s stables and retrieved their horses. It took them a short while to get them ready, but after more or less ten minutes they were riding to the main road which stretched like a cross throughout the whole Neil City.

    The people they were passing by were all turning to look at the impressive, over two meters tall war horses. Laien rode on his black Bellicose, Siana on the ‘Whitey’ which she had bought after learning that her big brother had his own, personal War Horse, while Tin’Long mounted a war horse he had rented from William’s stables as he didn’t quite have enough money to buy one for himself just yet.

    “How are these two so obedient to you?” Tin’Long asked, feeling how the war horse he was riding was looking for a moment of weakness to throw its rider off its back. In comparison, the two war horses Laien and Siana were riding appeared to be perfectly relaxed. The siblings didn’t even need to hold the reins tightly, their mounts simply walked obediently and weren’t acting rowdy in the slightest. For war horses, such docile behavior was really strange.

    “Who knows?” Laien said with a smirk. His aura had proved to be more than enough to suppress ‘Bellicose’ and ever since then, the stallion was completely obedient to him. He could only guess that it had something to do with his aura being somehow intermingled with his insights into the Aspect of Tranquility, but this explanation wasn’t exactly enough to convince him after all. So, in the end, he had chosen not to worry about something he knew no answer to.

    “She listened to me from the very beginning,” Siana replied uncaringly. Just like in her big brother’s case, she didn’t know why ‘Whitey’ was listening to her so well and similarly, she wasn’t interested in finding out the reason either.

    “Maybe you are just good with animals,” Tin’Long guessed randomly, although even that wouldn’t explain why magical beasts like war horses would be so submissive towards the two of them.

    “Maybe,” Laien said with a slight smile. “Here should be good, line up!” he added with a chuckle, stopping  Bellicose in the middle of the main road. They were just about the south-eastern part of the city, so the race to the north-west would be a straightforward rush ahead without any turns. Exactly the kind he liked.

    “You seem excited, big brother,” Siana mentioned with a cute smile, glancing at Laien happily. “Are you looking forward to something?” she asked, exchanging a meaningful look with Laien.

    “Pretty sure we’re both looking forward to the same thing,” Laien muffled a laugh, pretty confident that this time he would be the one to win.

    “I feel that I really don’t want to know what you two are talking about,” Tin’Long said with a sigh, recalling the more than a few awkward situations he has had a chance to walk into the last two years. These two siblings were getting along a bit too well for comfort, as far as he was considered.

    “Anyway,” Laien shrugged his shoulders slightly, by this point so used to Tin’Long’s comments that he paid them no heed. “We go on the count of three,” he said and after confirming that Siana and Tin’Long were lined up with him and ready, he started counting.

    “One…”
    “Two…”
    “Three!”

    Simultaneously, the three of them threw themselves straight into a gallop, speeding up greatly in a matter of seconds.

    Though, the difference in skill and desire to win quickly became apparent as the siblings kept pushing their horses onwards while Tin’Long held back a little. Soon, the siblings were riding at the speed of nearly two hundred kilometers per hour, thus leaving Tin’Long somewhat behind.

    Thankfully, the middle of the main road was completely empty, just like the siblings predicted. As for the people walking by the sides, however, they would all be heavily startled when three horse riders would flash past them like a strike of lightning.

    “They are racing? How dangerous!”

    “Galloping through the main street on war horses, what are the guards doing?!”

    “Whoa! So incredible!”

    There were some justifiably angry housewives, some furious noblemen and surprisingly many people who wished they could be on those galloping war horses. What much could be said, the Sarkcente Kingdom was a country of martial freaks. Their love for physical activity paired up with the fondness of horses resulted in the inability to truly scorn those reckless riders.

    “That feels super good!” Laien shouted atop his lungs. Galloping on a war horse was an amazing experience in itself, but doing so right through the city was even more exciting!

    “You are slowing down, big brother!” Siana shouted back as she began slowly overtaking Laien, her long black hair fluttering in the wind.

    “Says who!” Laien shouted merrily and stuck even closer to Bellicose’s neck, then whistled loudly. The war horse responded instantly and sped up even further, galloping past Siana’s ‘Whitey’ with relative ease. However, it was then when both siblings noticed a medium-sized caravan rolling down the road a few kilometer ahead of them.

    “Hey, those are…?” one of the coachmen noticed the two war horses and their young riders speeding right at them soon after.

    “Looks like we disrupted their fun,” the other man said with a laugh. They had fifteen carriages in their caravan, riding three each in five rows. Even if those two wanted to pass by them, it would be far too dangerous at their reckless speed. In his eyes, the two had no choice but to slow down, but…

    “They aren’t stopping,” the coachman who spoke up first said nervously. For a martial practitioner of the third rank, he was already very old. In his youth, he had seen how a charge of war horses looked during the Great War… and he had no delusions. Were these two approaching riders to smash into them, then their whole carriages would be sent flying…! The war horses were the supreme type of a heavy-cavalry breed for a reason…!

    “Oi, oi, you must be kidding me,” the man uttered, but considering the speed at which those two riders were approaching them, had little to no time to do anything else.

    The people passing by also took notice of what was about to happen and watched in anticipation, most of them aware that by this point, shouting would be pointless.

    “Jump!” they heard a cheerful shout of a youth just a second before the two war horses would smash into the caravan. Then, they saw how the two powerfully built magical beast hit the road with their hoofs and took into the air, jumping good five meters high.

    “Crazy bastards!” one of the coachmen cried out as the two magical beasts jumped over their whole caravan and without looking back, continued to gallop ahead at the ever great speed.

    “You saw the riders? They were so young!”

    “I’m pretty sure they had Red Dragon School’s clothes!”

    “Two reckless youths from the Red Dragon School? Could it be those two?”

    “Who else would dare to have a riding competition on the main road?”

    “They are so young, but they riding skills are already so refined!”

    Unlike the men of the caravan, the people around were all awe-struck. One might call the sibling’s actions reckless, but they would call it brave! The heart to do anything and everything, to act without fear! They would expect no less from those they hoped to become Great Masters, the future pillars of support of their Kingdom!

    “Heavens… they are overdoing it,” Tin’Long groaned, having seen what the two siblings did from behind. “What if there was somebody walking behind that caravan…?” he shook his head. Were somebody there and were he be unlucky enough to be in the path of the landing War Horse, then it wouldn’t end with a few broken bones. That person would have almost certainly died on the spot.

    “I should try talking to the Great Master Rudford, maybe he will be able to get through to Laien,” Tin’Long thought resignedly. He was good friends with Laien, but he had no influence whatsoever on Laien’s behavior. On the contrary, he would more often than not end up doing stupid things with him. Really, he was too weak-willed to restrain someone as wild as Laien.

    “When did she get so good at horse riding?” Laien wondered, staling a quick glance at Siana who was galloping neck in neck with him. Were it not for his mount being superior to hers, he would have been left behind after she made a perfect landing and gained quite a bit of distance on him!

    “I will wonder about it later, for now though…” he thought with a smirk and took a deep breath, at the same time making good use of his spiritual energy.

     “Out of the way!” he yelled as the two of them were approaching the city gate at the neck-breaking speed of two hundred kilometers per hour.

    The few people who happened to be inquired about their reasons for coming to the city by the bored guards looked in the direction the shout came from. Barely in time, they recognized the danger and hurriedly moved to the sides, making a way for the two war horses and their riders.

    The next second, Laien sped past them with a wide smile on his face. Right afterward Siana also crossed the gate, appearing not to be too disheartened about her close loss.

    “Shouldn’t you go after them?” one of the inquired men asked the guard. They were being questioned for no reasons, but those to reckless riders would be let go scot-free? It was totally unfair.

    “If you feel like it, you can go and complain to the Great Master Rudford personally,” the guard replied with a shrug of his shoulders. He has had more than a few chances to see Laien and with his cultivation at the seventh mortal realm, he managed to recognize the youth even during this split-second when he had been passing through the gate.

    A look of understanding slowly crept onto the inquired man’s face. He came here for the Grand Gathering; he didn’t live under a rock! How could he not know that the Grand Master Rudford accepted two disciples, a pair of siblings? If those riders were them, then he truly was in no position to complain.

    “Hm, quite impressive,” Laien said happily as he and Siana slowed down. “The Two Weeks City, eh? A city that only exists for two weeks. I wonder how many martial masters were employed to bring all these houses, mansions and apartments here. There are even arenas!” he noticed after a second, just barely seeing the fundaments of a great arena being set up in the middle of the Two Weeks City.

    “I wonder if ten million people will really be coming here?” Siana asked, her lips curving into a slight smile. Ten million people! It was practically one-fifth of the Kingdom’s whole population. The Grand Gathering truly was one heck of a popular event.

    “Do you already know what will you want?” Siana brought up, sensing that Laien was purposely omitting the subject of him winning this little bet.

    “Pretty sure I do,” Laien with a chuckle and blushed a little when his and Siana’s gazes joined. Yes, he certainly knew what he was going to ask for.

    “Then I will look forward to it,” Siana smiled, her cheeks reddening just a little bit. She could most likely guess what Laien’s request would be.

    After good five minutes of waiting, the two of them were finally joined by Tin’Long. The twenty-year-old kept his comments to himself and decided not to try lecturing the siblings, and instead led them straight into the Two Weeks City.

    It was convenient enough to move by horses in the outer parts of this truly enormous, artificial city, but its inner parts were so crowded that the three of them were soon forced to find the closest stables and leave their mounts there. Although, they would have done the same thing even if the streets were less crowded; it was just too inconvenient to be wandering around with their huge war horses getting in the way and requiring attention all the time.

    “Where should we got first, hm,” Tin’Long wondered aloud. He would have really like if nothing stressful happened today anymore, so a place where it was less likely to happen would be the best… or so he thought, when he saw a very familiar, a bit curly storm of medium-long blond hair.

    “Nila?” he said louder than he might have wanted, attracting his little sister’s attention and making the two siblings notice her, too.

    “Tin’Long’s little sister?” Laien thought quietly, looking at the blond girl who appeared to be around his own age, about twelve years old.

    Tin’Long never spoke much about his sister, but now that he could see her, Laien needed to admit that she was a true beauty. She wasn’t the calm and collected type like Siana, but instead had a very strong look in her eyes and was giving off an aura of a dominant person. She wasn’t in Laien’s type, but she indeed was a very good looking girl.

    But perhaps more importantly, and perhaps that being the reason for the ugly look on Tin’Long’s face, the blond girl, Nila, was wearing a set of white-gold clothes… with a sigil of a golden phoenix on her shirt.

    “The Twin Phoenix School?” Laien thought aloud. So that was the reason why Tin’Long never seemed to want to talk about his little sister! She was a member of the Twin Phoenix School, one of the three Great Martial Schools with which their Red Dragon School had always been on bad terms with!

    If you'd like more chapters of ISSI or Tales send me a note on patreon!
  • edited October 2017
    Book 2. The Grand Gathering. Chapter 2. The Twin Phoenix School. (Part I)


    “What a coincidence meeting you here, elder brother,” Nila said in a rather dismissing, uncaring tone. “I’ve heard you became a Core Disciple of your second-rate school. Good for you, congratulations,” she said with a beautiful smile, though that the smile of hers didn’t match with the stern look in her azure, sea-like eyes which seemed to threaten to swallow up anyone who dared to ager their owner.

    The two girls and five boys accompanying Nila smirked at her words. Making a mockery of the Red Dragon School was almost a tradition for their Twin Phoenix School, so they certainly appreciated the bitter and angry look on Tin’Long’s face.

    Although… unlike everyone else, Laien stopped paying much mind to Nila and instead, was gazing at one of the boys behind her. The youth had a similar external appearance to Nila; he also had blond hair and blue eyes, but the air about him was really different. The blond-haired twelve-year-old hadn’t smirked at Nila’s remark; he either didn’t like what she was doing or simply couldn’t care less. From the calm, neutral… nearly ‘tranquil’ look in the boy’s eyes, Laien guessed that it was the latter one.

    “And those two with you are…?” Nila asked with a sigh and finally spared a look at Laien and Siana and as she did, her bored expression changed into the one of thorough astonishment. “What… what are they?! What is this aura?!” she swallowed and involuntarily took a step back, but hurriedly reminded herself to keep her calm.

    Laien raised his eyebrows, then smiled slightly as the blond haired boy took notice of his gaze and looked back at him. “Others are confused, but he isn’t. Does he know what surprised this girl so badly?” Laien wondered silently. He had a strong feeling that they just stumbled upon something very interesting. Especially this golden-haired boy… there was something intriguing about him; something that was making Laien’s hands itch for a good, all-out fight.

    “Say, what’s your name? I’m Laien by the way,” he walked past Nila and approached the golden-haired youth with a curious smile, ignoring the confusion his out of the blue action caused.

    “Anatis,” the twelve-year-old responded calmly, feeling equally intrigued. He felt that if he were to fight this black-haired boy in front of him, he could acquire something he really needed.

    “Nila, we shouldn’t be chatting with them,” one of the girls said worriedly. Mocking disciples of the Red Dragon School was one thing, but getting ever a little friendly with them was an entirely different matter. “If anyone sees us…” the girl added in a low voice, looking around to see if any of their seniors were nearby.

    “That’s right,” Nila said after a moment of awkward silence. “We should get going,” she added more confidently, the prospect of their seniors creating more trouble than usual for them being more than enough of a reason for her to cut this whole conversation short.

    The golden-haired youth looked at Nila and frowned just a little. However, he then let out a little sigh and looked at Laien almost apologetically, then turned around and walked away with Nila and their friends from the Twin Phoenix School.

    “Strange,” Laien scratched the back of his head. “I really wanted to have a go at him, too. A pity… I guess I will ask elder brother to help me set up this duel later on,” he decided resignedly, regretful about having a nice occasion slip from his hands.

    “Right,” Laien turned to look at Tin’Long. “You never told us your little sister belongs to the Twin Phoenix School. How come you joined the Red Dragon School and she joined the Twin Phoenix School?” he asked straightforwardly, seeing no reason for Tin’Long not to talk about it after the cat was let out of the bag.

    “I wish I knew,” Tin’Long said helplessly. “When I saw her five years ago before she decided to join the Twin Phoenix School, she was still my cute, a bit annoying little sister. I tried to talk with her afterward, but she always refused to give me a proper explanation,” he explained briefly, but even if he wanted to go into further details he would be unable to; simply because he and his family really knew nothing.

    “Mind you, I don’t care about the disputes between our schools. If she’s happy there, so be it,” Tin’Long added with a little sigh. “But every time I see her, she appears to be more worried and troubled than happy, even now…” he shook his head. If Nila wasn’t willing to tell him what her problem was, he would be unable to help.

    “She was troubled? Didn’t look so to me,” Laien mused aloud, trying to recall Nila’s expressions and mannerism from a moment ago.

    “She was,” Siana spoke up in a voice stronger than usual .”She was hiding it, though… kind of like I had,” she said more quietly, exchanging a glance with Laien. Nila’s attitude might have seemed to be too overbearing and even the look in her eyes might have appeared to be strong and confident, but below this façade of confidence, there was a lot of nervousness, uncertainty and… even fear. Other people might not be able to tell easily, but having gone through a similar experience Siana could see it clearly.

    “Huuh, if you are saying so, I have no choice but to believe,” Laien said with a slight smile. He could always notice if his little sister was worried about something… but this ‘ability’ didn’t extend to all the girls in the world. He simply knew Siana really well and had always been with her, so it would rather be stranger if he couldn’t understand her after all this time.

    “Eh, let’s go, no point standing here and talking about depressing things,” Tin’Long spoke up, going out of his way to sound cheerful but failing to do quite so. He managed to get the siblings moving, though.

    “I wonder what she was so worried about,” Laien brought up after a while of walking in silence. After Siana pointed out that it was similar to what she herself had gone through, or so she felt, he couldn’t help but be sympathetic.

    “I don’t know,” Siana said with a sigh. She could have made some random guesses, but what was the point of it?

    “She appeared to be confident though,” Laien mused to himself, wondering what could it have been to cause a girl like Nila to budge. His first impression of her was that she would face any problems straight on and storm past any obstacles without any hesitation whatsoever.

    “Big brother, aren’t you thinking about her a bit too much?” Siana pouted, feeling surprisingly annoyed to find Laien paying so much attention to another girl. “Is it because she’s so cute? You want to help her because she is beautiful?” she asked somewhat unreasonably due to how irritated she was

    Laien was a bit surprised, but a wry smile soon appeared on his face. “Well yeah, she was really good-looking. Especially those golden hair of hers were eye-catching,” he pointed out teasingly, observing Siana’s reaction with great amusement.

    “But you know,” he picked up after a few seconds, before Siana could get really angry with him. “My little sister is still the cutest in the world. I can’t wait to see how beautiful you will grow up to be in a few years,” he stated with a smile, speaking with absolute honesty. He really wanted to see how Siana would end up looking in four, five years and obviously enough, he really thought she was cuter than any other girl.

    Not used to being complimented so straightforwardly and moreover in a public place, Siana blushed and looked away. She did, however, reach out with her hand and grab Laien first by his wrist, to then slide her hand down and hold his hand tightly.

    Meanwhile, Tin’Long sighed quietly and rolled his eyes. “We are already at the medicinal gardens; go look around and see if there isn’t anything you might want to buy, I will join you in a bit,” he said and walked away hurriedly, having had enough of seeing these two siblings flirt with each other.

    “It looks like we were dragged into his shopping trip…” Laien shook his head and laughed resignedly. He and Siana had already received all the basic and even rare medicinal pills from Rudford, so they really didn’t need to get anything from this place. They could try looking at some of the unique plants that the merchants were selling at their stalls and in their shops, but it wouldn’t be enough to keep their interest up for longer than ten or fifteen minutes at best.

    Pretty much as expected, the two of them got bored pretty soon. Yet, Tin’Long didn’t show any signs of being close to done with his shopping as right now, he was in the middle of bargaining with yet another merchant for a measly few silver coins discount. It was making both Laien and Siana want to walk up to him and offer paying for whatever he wanted, just to get this over with a bit quicker.

    “Hey, can we go somewhere else already…?” Laien complained, hoping to make Tin’Long hurry up.

    “Come on, take me somewhere else…!” at the same time, another passing-by youth moaned to the man he was walking around with.

    ““It’s so boring here,”” their two voices intersected, causing Laien and another boy glance at each other curiously.

    “Whoa,” Laien opened his eyes wider. The boy he was looking at had fiery-red hair, similar to Rudford’s, but he also had crimson eyes! What had intrigued Laien about Anatis was Anatis’s unique aura, but in case of this youth, it certainly was the ruby-colored eyes which seemed to have liquid flames flowing inside them. They were incredibly mesmerizing.

    “You sure have some unusual eyes,” Laien said without thinking, prone to speaking his mind without a second thought.

    “Perhaps I do, but so what?” the crimson-eyes youth asked neutrally, showing some distance to this sudden statement.

    “I was just thinking how cool they look,” Laien said honestly and smiled at the boy. “I wish I had eyes like that, or at least hair you know!” he pointed out with a laugh, flicking his own shoulders-long black hair with two fingers of his hand.

    The crimson-eyed boy laughed, happy to find out that the words were meant as a compliment. There had been more than enough people who scorned him for the color of his eyes and hair in his life; he didn’t need to experience more of it on his free day.

    “I’m Sin, thirteen years old. And you?” the crimson-eyed youth said with a smile, his glance briefly wandering to Laien’s  right hand which was being held by Siana.

    “Laien, twelve years old,” Laien replied and gave Siana a quick look. His little sister sighed slightly and let go of him, knowing what he meant without any words.

    “Nice to meet you, Sin,” Laien said with a laugh and extended his hand, which the slightly stunned thirteen-year-old shook after a second. He would have never thought that just from this one glance, Laien would catch on that he wanted to shake hands with him and that he had refrained from trying to do so as to avoid any potentially awkward moments involving Laien’s partner.

    “So, is that your girlfriend?” Sin asked, the pair giving him vibes closer to a couple than siblings despite their similar appearances.

    “I’m Siana,” taking the liberty to fool around a bit, Siana introduced herself with a smile while stepping closer to Laien and hugging his arm. No better way to cause a misunderstanding, but Laien only chuckled and went along with the flow, choosing not to clarify anything just yet.

    “And your companion is…?” Laien inquired, trying to take a better look at the hooded man’s face. He raised his eyebrows, surprised to see that the man had fiery-red hair and crimson eyes, just like Sin. “Your older brother? Or father?” he asked, unable not to notice the apparent resemblance.

    “He’s my uncle, Nix. He probably won’t talk with you though, he is always so overly serious about everything,” Sin said cheekily, pretending not to see the angry expression on Nix’s face. “Since we are already chatting and all, want to hand around together?” he suggested, something telling him that he would be getting along with Laien just fine.

    “Yeah, sure,” Laien replied readily. He usually knew who he would like and who he wouldn’t after exchanging a few sentences with the person and as for Sin, he certainly thought the two of them could become good friends.

    “Oh, you finally done?” Laien asked, seeing Tin’Long standing at the side and waiting for a right moment to join the conversation. “Your job as the guide is done, we will find something interesting on our own,” he said wryly, seeing the option of hanging around with Sin as much more enticing than having Tin’Long drag him around the most boring places in the Two Weeks City.

    “Eh, do as you want,” Tin’Long shook his head. He had been planning to take Laien to the places where it would be very unlikely for him to cause trouble… but now that Laien found a friend to fool around with, his words would be swept by the wind anyway. There was no point in arguing.

    “A full dragon, so you had a senior show you around?” Sin asked, a bit surprised that Laien chose to walk in front with him and leave his girlfriend in the back, his senior disciple and Nix.

    “A senior, huh?” Laien chuckled and gazed at Tin’Long over his shoulder. “A Core Disciple, that is for sure,” he added with a smirk.

    “Are you a member of a martial school?” Laien inquired, continuing the overall subject.

    “Not really, I only had uncle Nix teach me a few things,” Sin said with a smile which made Laien think he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

    “Maybe he is also hiding his identity?” Laien wondered with a quiet laugh. Were there really so many people in the Two Weeks City who wanted to go around in peace that it was so easy to randomly bump into them? Not like he was complaining; the prospect was rather amusing, after all.

    Their group of five continued wandering the Two Weeks City for around two hours, during which time Laien and Sin pretty much didn’t stop talking for even a moment. The two found out that they had very similar tempers and sense of humor, so they became familiar with each other very quickly.

    From Laien’s perspective, Sin understood him even better than Siana on certain topics. After all, there were some things only boys could talk and joke about with each other.

    As for Sin, he was enjoying himself so much he had managed to allow his tongue slip more than once or twice, giving Laien a few hints about who he was. He didn’t mind it too much, however, as he himself could guess who Laien and his ‘girlfriend’ were after these two hours of chatting.

    Around the time both of the youths were considering to reveal their identities, the five of them stumbled upon a large group of quarreling disciples from the Red Dragon and the Twin Phoenix Schools.

    “Twenty from their school, thirty from ours. We have more inner disciples present, too,” Laien judged quickly. He had a similar attitude towards the big ‘conflict’ between their schools as Tin’Long, so he didn’t care too much… but the atmosphere seemed to be really heavy. Given his position in the Red Dragon School, he couldn’t afford to ignore the whole situation and simply walk away.

    “Oh, Anatis and Tin’Long’s little sister are hiding in the back?” Laien noticed by an accident, catching a glimpse of the two’s golden hair. Since Tin’Long was much taller than him, he probably had noticed by now too. However, he appeared to be hesitating for some reason…?

    “Well, if he isn’t going to do anything,” Laien thought with a smile and approached the two quarreling groups.

    “Before you start fighting,” Laien said loudly before Tin’Long could make up his mind in regards to how to deal with the situation at hand. “Would you mind explaining what’s it all about? I am pretty sure that random street fighting is prohibited here,” he said cheerfully, appearing not to feel any pressure at all; to the point of making those who heard him wonder what in the world was he thinking to speak to casually.

    The twenty disciples of the Twin Phoenix School were especially confused, but after seeing Tin’Long step up closer, they assumed that the boy dared to be so arrogant because he had his senior with him. The arrival of Laien and Tin’Long itself didn’t make them feel relieved at all, though. With a Core Disciple of the Red Dragon School present, they could be sure to lose face for their side; what wouldn’t end well for them for more than one reason.

    The side of the Red Dragon School, however, had cheered up considerably. They were already in a better position to begin with, but now with Tin’Long here they could be sure to teach those arrogant pricks from the Twin Phoenix School a lesson. Some of them even recognized Laien despite his clothes of an inner disciple and when Siana stepped forward, they became sure who these two youths at Tin’Long’s side were.

    The thirty youths from the Red Dragon School backed off from the Twin Phoenix School disciples and bowed slightly in Laien’s direction. One of the inner disciples from amongst them stepped forward soon afterward and started explaining.

    “Some of those boorish peasants from the Twin Phoenix School were picking on our disciples, so I and my friends simply intervened to balance the strengths. Without at least an apology from them, we won’t be able to uphold the good name and prestige of our school,” the teenage youth said respectfully but omitted using any formal terms like ‘elder disciple’ and alike. Everyone in the Red Dragon School knew of Laien’s contempt of such formalities, although most would usually choose to at the very least avoid being too familiar by referring to him by his name.

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