Sunday, November 20, 2016

The First Alchemist - Chap 30

Chapter 30 - Competitors

The next day began with the village chief sending his guards to inform everyone to come to the center of the village.

Once everyone had gathered in front of his stone house, Sorka Jiu shouted over the crowd's murmurs, "Thank you for coming, everyone. I have gathered you all here today because a fight is about to take place, a fight for the position of village chief!"

The villagers collectively gasped. This came out of nowhere. Who could be dumb enough to challenge Sorka Jiu? With a profound cultivation at the twentieth level, he was the strongest person in the entire village! When they questioned him about it, he told them to calm down, then said, "No one's challenging me. I decided to step down so I can have more time to cultivate.”

The villagers protested. They didn’t want him to retire. They asked him to please stay as their village chief. It was obvious how highly they thought of him.

Sorka Jiu smiled, a hint of moisture in his eyes. “I’m glad that you all wish for me to stay on, but I must step down to make room for the next generation. And I believe that these next two are good choices.”

This raised even more questions from the villagers. If the village chief was retiring, then naturally shouldn’t Sorka Bo become his successor? He was the most qualified person in the village, so why was there going to be a fight?

“One of these people is him.” Sorka Jiu pointed, and from the crowd came Chem Al, who walked up and stood next to him.

The villagers stared, stunned silent; Chem Al’s parents most of all. What the hell was happening?

Chem Al smiled at everyone. “Thank you, thank you. No words are needed. I can see how happy you are for me to become your next village chief.”

Nearly all the villagers burst out laughing. It was the funniest thing in the world! The little cripple was trying to become their next leader? This had to be a joke. Who knew the village chief had such a sense of humor?

But minutes passed and the look on the village chief's face remained serious. The laughter faded, then completely died. The entire village was very quiet.

Then the entire crowd exploded with shouts and questions, with feelings of anger and disbelief behind every word. They were thinking that they had been taken for fools to allow a cripple to become their next leader.

“Village chief, is this a joke?”

“How can this little cripple protect the village?”

“Is he blackmailing you? Tell us he’s blackmailing you.”

Again, the village chief tried to calm them down, but he failed, so he simply tried to speak over them. "I understand that you think this is a bad idea...,"

A roar of agreement came from the crowd.

"... and, at first, I did too. But maybe, maybe he can become a good leader for this village." Before the crowd could argue again, he continued, "Haven't you heard the rumors these past few months? From your friends, from your neighbors. About what this boy and the medicine woman did, about how they helped the sick and injured. And it's not just that. Weren't you all astounded when one of my guards, Chem Au, suddenly had a quick rise in cultivation? Well, I'm here to tell you that those rumors are true, despite it being hard to believe. This boy was the one that did all those things. Think of what else he can do for this village. That’s why I think he is fit to be a candidate for village chief."

The crowd of villagers settled down, muttering among themselves. These words came directly from their village chief, a good and trustworthy leader, so maybe there was something to those rumors after all.

"Of course, I don't expect you to take this on words alone," Sorka Jiu said. "And ... my son hasn't as well. So a proposal has been brought up. A fight to decide who will become the next village chief, Sorka Bo or Chem Al?"

The villagers laughed again. A fight between Sorka Bo and the cripple? There was no contest.

And then that laughter turned into cheers as Sorka Bo jumped forward and stood next to his father.

“Thank you!” Sorka Bo said. “Once I become village chief, I promise that I will protect you all from harm.” He basked in the cheers, then looked back and sneered at the cripple. It was obvious who the crowd wanted to become the next village chief.

Seeing how the villagers were acting, Sorka Jiu sighed, then said to them, "I know what you're thinking, that Chem Al couldn't possibly win, and you'd be right. So he has brought someone to challenge my son in his place."

Chem Au walked forward and stood next to his little brother. At the sight of him, the crowd suddenly went quiet, no longer sure of Sorka Bo’s win now that they knew who he was facing. They had assumed that the cripple would fight himself because, although they had heard of it happening before, what kind of leader would get someone else to fight in his place. Those kinds of leaders were considered weak. Their reigns never lasted long.

Sorka Jiu spread out his hands, indicating the two fighters before him. "These two will compete against each other. If my son should win, he will become the next village chief. If Chem Au should win, his brother will become the next village chief."

The villagers nodded at that. In a world where strength rules, that was the only way to decide who could be their next villager chief. And for quite some time, they had been curious about who would win in a fight between the two most strongest youths in the village, Chem Au or Sorka Bo? It looks like they were going to find out.

The crowd took several steps back, increasing the space between them and the village chief’s stone house.

Chem Au stood on one side, with nothing but his fists and leather armor.

Sorka Bo stood on the other side, wearing the same, but he also had his father’s sword hanging from his side.

The fight was about to begin.

Around 100,000 years later

Que Cue sent a message with his jade transmission slip to his fellow masters, telling them to meet him.

Nearly half an hour later, Zhou Gei slammed open the door to their meeting room. “This better be important,” he said, seeing Gui Ying and Que Cue already there. The only reason he came was because Que Cue rarely came to meetings in the first place, yet here he was calling one.

“It is important. But before I begin, let’s come clean, shall we?” Que Cue said. “We’ve all had people following Mi Ling around.”

Gui Ying and Zhou Gei stayed quiet. But they didn’t deny his words either.

“Okay. Here is what I found out. I’ve received word from my disciple that there seems to be other people following Mi Ling around as well.”

Zhou Gei was the first to react. “Is this true?”

“There’s no doubt. According to my disciple, she accidentally saw them the last time Mi Ling went out into the city. Of course, it was only a suspicion. But now she saw them again, following him when he went to the Tai Smithy." Que Cue looked at the two of them, guessing correctly that they were already informed about Mi Ling's recent trip by their own subordinates.

"Do you know who these people are?" Gui Ying said.

Que Cue shook his head. "Not yet, but I have my disciple following them right now."

Gui Ying placed a hand on his chin. “Hmm, they must be after the information in The First Alchemist’s journals. I can’t think of any other reason why they would stalk Mi LIng.”

“I find that hard to believe.” Zhou Gei snorted. “If someone is going after the journals now, that could only mean one thing. They want to become a powerful alchemist, more powerful than us, and win the upcoming Alchemist tournament. But that’s impossible. We are the only eighth rank alchemists in the world. There’s no one else who has reached our level. With the tournament coming up so soon, even with the help of the journals, there’s no way they could learn from it fast enough to surpass us. The journals would be useless to them.”

“Unless….” Gui Ying was still thinking.

“Unless what?”

“Unless there’s a hidden eighth alchemist out there.”

The room went silent, then Zhou Gei started laughing. “That’s impossible. If there was another eighth rank alchemist out there, we would know about it.”

"The possibility is not zero," Gui Ying said. 

Que Cue nodded. "He’s right. The way for someone to become an eighth rank alchemist is to have enough skill to create an eighth tier pill with one hundred percent purity. Hiding such a level of ability is not difficult. The only problem is....”

“Money,” Gui Ying said. As the one who handles the Alchemist Association’s finances, he understood this most of all. “The higher the rank you reach, the more money you need to increase your skills. More powerful cauldrons, rarer medicinal ingredients, it all costs money. Whoever is after Mi Ling must have a lot of it.”

“Wow, that certainly narrows it down. Someone who has a lot of money and wants to take control of the Alchemist Association.” Zhou Gei rolled his eyes. “Do you honestly believe that there really is another eighth rank alchemist out there?”

Zhou Gei truly found it hard to believe. If someone did hide their high level of alchemic skill, then they wouldn’t be able to gather the power and respect they deserved. Who would be stupid enough to do that?

And besides, he hated the idea that someone else out there could match his level. That would mean that Gui Ying wouldn’t be the only competitor in this tournament he had to worry about. Sighing, he looked over at Que Cue. At least he didn’t have to worry about him.

Que Cue spoke up. “It doesn’t matter if the person going after Mi Ling is an eighth rank alchemist or not. All we know is that they may be after the journals, so we should put a stop to them,” Que Cue said, seeing the look on the other two’s faces.

Gui Ying who respected their master and Zhou Gei who feared their master. He knew exactly what they were thinking. If they weren’t allowed to learn from the journals, then no one else can.

At that moment, Que Cue sensed a message from his jade transmission slip.

“What is it?” Gui Ying asked him, seeing the look on Que Cue’s face.

“Something seems to have happened to Mi Ling.”

Before Gui Ying or Zhou Gei could ask anything more, they also received a message from their jade transmission slips.

Author Notes: This is a rough draft. Please tell me in the comments if you see something wrong.

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

The First Alchemist - Chap 29

Chapter 29 - Throwing A Tantrum

Chem Al examined the the Hard Earth Pill in his hand. Its purity was at one hundred percent. He should be proud of that considering he was able to make it with a medicinal cauldron that was not built to handle this higher tier pill, but he wasn’t happy at all.

He looked down at the medicinal cauldron. It was now slightly misshapen; cracks appeared all around it, along with melted parts and burn marks, making it look little better than it would one hundred thousand years from now.

He couldn’t stop the tears from coming to his eyes, despite knowing, because of the journals, that this cauldron still worked. But still, to see it so damaged like this, how could he not feel like crying.

After uncaringly tossing the pill towards his big brother, Chem Al carried the damaged medicinal cauldron to a corner of the hut and sulked.

Chem Au stared at the pill he caught. It was brown with thin swirls of faded gold all around. It was slightly bigger than the Primary Profound Pill and the smell coming off of it was denser. "What kind of pill is this? What does it do" he asked his brother. Sheng Yi wanted to know that too.

Chem Al's voice sounded like it came from far off. "I call it the Hard Earth Pill. And it's not a cultivation pill, if that's what you're thinking. It's a pill that affects your body rather than your profound energy."

The confused look in Chem Au's eyes didn't disappear. He didn't really understand what his brother meant. However, after the amazing effect of the previous Primary Profound Pill, he trusted that this pill his brother made would also help him get stronger in some way.

Chem Au swallowed the pill.

He could feel it going down into his stomach, but after waiting awhile, there was no burst of power. In fact, he couldn't really feel anything happening at all. "What's supposed to happen?" he asked again.

"Give it time," Chem Al whispered, still hugging his medicinal cauldron.

At that moment, Chem Au felt something, almost like his skin was rippling over his muscles. It was a strange sensation. It felt like snakes were crawling all over him, but then they soon settled down as if they had been turned to stone. He then felt normal again.

The pill must have taken effect, but he felt no change. He summoned up his profound energy and even threw a few punches, but he didn't feel any stronger. "I don't get it," Chem Au said.

Sheng Yi had been watching the whole thing. She didn't understand either. "Disciple, stop sulking and come over here. Explain it to us."

With a sigh, Chem Al walked back over to the center of the room with limp legs. "It's simple." He grabbed the knife from his master, then stabbed his brother with it.

When he did that, both Sheng Yi and Chem Au understood, their eyes widening in amazement. But before they could exclaim in wonder, they heard a yell coming from outside.

Someone was shouting at the top of his lungs.

Chem Al woke from his depression. "Oh, it seems like the village chief told Sorka Bo about our meeting."

"What meeting?" Sheng Yi asked, still listening to the fading echoes of that almost malicious animal-like scream.

Chem Al explained to her what had taken place over an hour ago, surprising her. "Just like that? The village chief will step down just like that?" Then she had a frightened look on her face. "No wonder Sorka Bo sounded so angry. Do you think he might come here?"

Just as she said that, she sensed someone running towards her hut at an extremely fast speed. The scared look on her face grew as she looked at the door. It smashed opened, almost exploding, the sticks it was made of splintering everywhere. A burst of cold wind blew into the hut.

Sorka Bo stood there, his aura like a vengeful beast.

The moment he spotted the cripple, he lunged at him. His claw-like hands were about to grasp his throat when suddenly someone grabbed his arm and pushed him back. Sorka Bo landed on the ground, back outside the hut. He looked up and saw Chem Au standing over him.

"Don't you dare," Chem Al almost growled.

Sorka Bo got up, his face contorted in anger. "You! You and your useless brother! What the hell did you do to my father?"

"Nothing," Chem Al said, coming around from behind his big brother. "I merely explained to him how it might better benefit this village if I became the next village chief."

Sorka Bo lunged at him again, but Chem Au grabbed him by the arms, holding him back, barely.

"You! Do you actually think someone as weak as you can become village chief instead of me?" Sorka Bo glared at the cripple, still trying to go after him. "I don't know how you tricked my father, but that's not going to happen!"

Chem Al laughed. "We'll see."

But that just made Sorka Bo push harder, trying to shove Chem Au out of the way to get at the little cripple. When he failed, he shouted at Chem Au. "Get out of my way!" His clawing hands tightened into fists. It looked like he was going to ignore the cripple for now and take on Chem Au.

"If you want to fight, save it for tomorrow," Chem Al said. "Unless you don't want to humiliate me by beating my big brother in front of everybody."

Sorka Bo stopped, a bit of calm cutting through his anger. He remembered that his cultivation was at the peak of the sixteenth level, while Chem Au had only recently broken through. Combined with his mastery of the second layer of the Soaring Crane Skill, he was sure to win. He took a step back, then stared at Chem Au. "That's right. Tomorrow, we fight. And I will show the entire village how weak you are, that you're not better than me. I'll remind everyone why I'm going to be the next village chief." He stomped off, a twisted smile on his face, thinking of the ways he was going to knock that bastard into the ground.

"Did you have to antagonize him like that?" Chem Au grunted, his muscles straining. It had taken almost all of his strength just to hold Sorka Bo back.

Chem Al shrugged. "Nothing I say would have calmed him down.” He then walked back into the hut. “Now hurry up and start cultivating. I've done everything I can to prepare you for tomorrow's fight. The rest is up to you."

With a worried sigh, Chem Au followed him into the hut, then sat down and closed his eyes, using every second he could to get himself ready for tomorrow.

Around 100,000 years later

Tai Jak came over and picked Mi Ling up with a bear hug, almost crushing him to death.

"Oh, sorry about that," Tai Jak said when he noticed Mi Ling's purple face.

After he was placed back on the ground, Mi Ling coughed air into his lungs, the spots of darkness fading away from his eyes. "It's good to see you," he eventually said.

Tai Jak laughed. "It's good to see you too. What brings you around?"

"I'm here to pick up Master Que Cue's medicinal cauldron. He told me you made a new one for him."

“Oh? I thought he would come and get it himself, or at least send one of his people to do it,” Tai Jak said, then he shrugged his shoulders. “Nevermind. I just finished making it yesterday. Give me a second, I have it here with me. Now where is it?" Tai Jak's spatial ring flashed and out came a menacingly black cauldron.

Mi Ling's eyes widened. This cauldron was slightly bigger than the last one, and the black bones that made it seem to shine like brand new metal.

"Isn't she a beauty?" Tai Jak was obviously proud of his latest work.

He wasn't the only one admiring it. The line of customers, especially the alchemists, were staring at this black cauldron with worshipful eyes. When they heard that Mi Ling was getting Master Que Cue's newest cauldron, they were excited. They rarely got to glimpse a cauldron that one of the three masters uses, and to see one right now in all its glory was nothing short of seeing a rare medicinal ingredient.

Mi Ling held out his hand and the Grandmaster’s spatial ring flashed, storing the cauldron. Having gotten what he came for, he then told Tai Jak that he was going to go, which prompted Tai Jak to ask him to stay longer, maybe take another look at The First Alchemist’s very first medicinal cauldron.

But Mi Ling declined. He wanted to go back and read the journals. He really felt that he hadn't been spending as much time on it as he should have.

Mi Ling left the Tai Smithy and got back in the carriage.

During the ride back to the Alchemist Association, he didn't notice the two people in another carriage a certain distance behind him. One of them was driving, while the other was riding inside, but it was obvious that both driver and passenger knew each other.

"It’s Mi Ling," the man said, holding the reins to the boar pulling the carriage. “Should we proceed with the plan?”

The woman nodded. She then sent a message with her jade transmission slip.

Unknown to them, one of those lackeys had noticed them.

Fen Yue was watching their carriage. She took out one of her own jade transmission slips to send a message.

In the Grandmaster's office, Que Cue sensed one of his slips activating. A voice spoke in his mind.

(Master, I was right. The people I saw earlier when I was at the ramen stall are here, and they are definitely targeting Mi Ling. What should I do?)

Que Cue sighed, then burned a jade transmission slip of his own.

(I'll go inform my fellow masters to see what we should do next with this information. For now, just follow them, but don't make contact.)

Fen Yue understood. She followed the carriage that held the mysterious man and woman.

Author Notes: This is a rough draft. Please tell me in the comments if you see something wrong.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The First Alchemist - Chap 28

Chapter 28 - Hard Earth Pill

Chem Al slammed open Sheng Yi’s door. "Master!" he greeted her, then rushed to a corner of the hut.

Sheng Yi sighed. Sometimes she wished for a disciple who didn't always make his entrances as enthusiastically as he did. "Shut the door, will you! You're letting out all the heat." She was sitting by the fire, preparing one of the medicinal ingredients for her next attempt to make a pill.

It was unnecessary for Chem Al to do what his master said because, right then, Chem Au walked in and closed the door behind him, wondering what got his little brother so excited that he ran all the way here.

In the corner of the hut, Chem Al picked up a wooden box. His eyes lit up. He opened it and there it was: the Golden Earth Dan Root.

He had stored it in one of his master's wooden boxes because, less than three months ago, he discovered something amazing. All this time he had been wondering how he was going to store medicinal ingredients without them losing their efficacy since spatial rings hadn't been invented yet.

As he wondered this, he began to notice something when he was working with his master to make pills. The medicinal ingredients they had picked up from the forest barely lost any of their efficacy when they placed them in the wooden bowls. This seemed like a miracle to him. He excitedly showed this to his master.

However, Sheng Yi just stared at him like he was stupid. She had already discovered this a long time ago. For something as simple as this, she was surprised that her genius disciple didn't know it. Medicinal ingredients didn't lose their efficacy as fast when placed into anything wooden. The older the wood, the better.

Chem Al had thought that the reason she used wooden bowls was because there was no other materials that were abundant enough and easy enough to make into containers, but it turned out that she had used them for this purpose. He couldn't help but look up at amazement at Sheng Yi. Out of everyone in history, she deserved the title of being The First Alchemist's master.

As for Sheng Yi, she felt good to be able to teach her disciple something. Very rarely was she able to do that.

At this moment, Chem Al brought the wooden box to the center of the hut along with his medicinal cauldron and his master's knife. He was nearly jumping for joy.

Seeing how he was acting, Sheng Yi grew excited as well because, whenever her disciple acted like this, it meant that he was about to show her something new and amazing, another step forward in the medical arts.

But Chem Au just stood to the side, looking confused. "Little Al, what's got you so excited? Are you going to make me something that will help me defeat Sorka Bo?"

Chem Al turned to him. "Au, what if I were to tell you that all the other pills I've made so far were pathetic, the weakest among the weak. But now, I'm going to make you something that will astound you to no end."

"You mean?" Sheng Yi asked.

"That's right. I'm going to make a third tier pill!"

Chem Au still looked confused, but Sheng Yi's excitement grew. Finally! All this time her disciple had only taught her how to make first tier and second tier pills, but now it looked like he was going to take it to the next level.

"I have been thinking about this for awhile, on how to make a higher tier pill. And only now I'm going to test out my theory to see if I’m right. The pill I’m about to make, I call it the Hard Earth Pill. And Au, if you take this pill, it will definitely help you win this fight against Sorka Bo."

When his little brother said that, Chem Au grew excited as well, his worries growing less.

Chem Al took the Golden Earth Dan Root out of the box. "And we start with this!"

Now Chem Au's excitement died down, disappointment touching his face. What his little brother was holding looked like part of a simple root, one you could find anywhere in this forest simply by tripping over them.

"Now I know what you're thinking," Chem Al said, noticing his brother's less than enthusiastic look. "But you shouldn't judge things by how they look. Since you haven't trained in alchemy, you probably didn't notice the slight, delectable smell coming off of this root, showing that it's hiding something inside." He then handed over the knife to Sheng Yi. "Master, have you been practicing the Sharpen Cultivation Skill?"

Sheng Yi nodded. It was one of the skills her disciple had been teaching her these past three months. But again, it had another shitty name. She swore that one day she will teach her disciple to have a better naming sense.

She grabbed the knife. Channeling her profound energy into her hand, she then transferred it to the knife, giving it a glow that seemed to vibrate like a mass of bees zooming through the air.

Seeing how the glow was vibrating at a faster rate, Chem Al nodded. His master had gotten a lot better since the last time he saw her used this skill, which honestly terrified him a little. He then handed over the root to her. "Now, normally you wouldn't be able to cut through this root with a simple knife made of pig iron, but using your skill, please carve out the outer layer of this root."

"What am I supposed to be looking for?"

"Gold. Well, not actual gold, just something with a golden color. I noticed a speck of it when I picked it up from the forest during our journey to Vera City a few months ago, and have been experimenting with the properties of that speck ever since," Chem Al hurriedly said, suddenly realizing that they might question him on how he knew about the gold inner core inside the root if he didn't have the strength to cut it open himself.

Sheng Yi nodded, then proceeded to slice open the root. For the next few minutes, they all watched her perform this action, Chem Al with bated breath, while Chem Au was left wondering. That Sharpening Cultivation Skill looked similar to the second layer of the Soaring Crane Skill, and he wondered if that was where his little brother got the idea from. Then he wondered if Little Al would teach him later.

Finally, Sheng Yi removed the outer layer of the root, revealing a tiny, twig thin piece of gold. She had never held gold before, but she imagined that it was like holding a rock, and this medicinal ingredient certainly didn't feel like a rock. It felt soft and malleable.

Chem Al carefully took the piece of gold from her, the true form of the Golden Earth Dan Root.

He felt the urge to give a lesson on how this rare root, at least rare in his past life, was actually powerful enough to make a seventh tier pill. However, with such a massive loss of medicinal efficacy since he first tore it from the ground, it could only be used to make a measly third tier pill. But that lesson was for later, so he kept quiet as he placed the root, along with a few other medicinal ingredients he gathered from around the hut, in front of him next to the medicinal cauldron. He was ready.

Sheng Yi watched closely, ready to learn every detail, but then she saw her disciple stop. He was hesitating, and a sad look covered his face. "What's wrong?" she asked.

He looked up at her, his eyes nearly brimming with tears. "I forgot. In all this excitement, I can't believe I forgot."

"Forgot what?"

Chem Al grabbed the medicinal cauldron and hugged it to himself. In almost a whisper, he said, "This is a simple cauldron made of profound iron. And a third tier pill is bound to be more powerful, more difficult to make. I, I think that this cauldron will barely be able to go through with the process."

"What? You mean that doing this might destroy the medicinal cauldron?"

Chem Al shook his head. Ha, how could a simple third tier pill be able to destroy The First Alchemist's mighty cauldron, but still.... "No, but it will probably greatly damage it."

"Then what's the matter? If your medicinal cauldron will still work after this, then get on with it."

"You're a monster! Don’t you have a heart?" Chem Al shouted at his master. He wondered if she would be so uncaring if she met an owner who told her he was about to kick his puppy. "Just give me a few moments like this," he said, hugging the medicinal cauldron tighter.

Sheng Yi and Chem Au looked at each other, but they didn't make any comments because they had been around Chem Al long enough to know how weird he can be. They waited a few minutes, letting him hug the cauldron, but when those few minutes turned into nearly an hour, they could feel their patience about to snap.

That was when Chem Al stopped hugging his medicinal cauldron. They sighed with relief. It seemed like he had finally gotten over it. But then the next thing they knew, he started rubbing his cheeks against it.

"Stop being creepy again!" Sheng Yi hit her disciple on the top of the head. That was the fifth time he did this ever since he first showed her the cauldron. Honestly, she couldn't help herself from hitting him every time he made that perverted face.

"Ow!" Chem Al dropped the cauldron onto his lap and rubbed his head. Damn, he must have made that face again. He told himself that he really needed to stop that, unless he wanted to ruin The First Alchemist's reputation even more.

"Are you ready yet?" Sheng Yi said, impatience eating at her.

Chem Al nodded, trying not to cry. He had to do this, for his big brother, for the future. That was what he kept telling himself. It had to be done.

Chem Al placed the medicinal cauldron on the ground in front of him. Taking half of the Golden Earth Dan Root’s inner core, he dropped that in first. Then with a few flicks of his hands, the rest of the medicinal ingredients went in. Soon the cauldron began to glow.

Clearer than before, Sheng Yi and Chem Au could feel the profound energy in the hut swirling around them, disturbing the still air.

A slight pressure beared down on Chem Al, but it didn’t bother him. For beginning alchemists, making a third tier pill would strain their mind, but he had enough experience from his past life to make this feel like a simple task. What actually bothered him was when the inside of the medicinal cauldron started to glow brighter.

There was a crack in the iron, and a part of him died. Another crack, then another, and then part of the cauldron started to partially melt and burn. Chem Al cried inside, but he had to stay focus. Soon there was one final crack that sounded like far off thunder to him, and then a brown, golden pill flew up from the cauldron. He caught it.

Chem Al had successfully made the Hard Earth Pill.

Around 100,000 years later

Mi Ling collapsed on the floor. He hated cleaning.

It had taken a few hours, but he managed to bring the office back to its former shape. The shelves were back up, the books were put in order, and everything that had fallen was returned to its rightful place. The only things left were the broken pieces of wall and a few clusters of dust here and there that he couldn't reach. Other than that, it looked clean. He could see that Que Cue was careful not to break anything important when he hit Sorka Bo with those journals.

"You did a good job." Que Cue looked around the room, nodding. "Now I need you to do something else for me."

Mi Ling's head jerked up. "What? But--."

"Needles, remember?"

Mi Ling paused, unable to say anything to do that. Zhou Gei might have been bluffing like Que Cue said, but the memory of those needles coming closer to his eyes made it hard to believe it was a mere bluff. Sighing, he said, "What do you need me to do?"

Que Cue went over to the shelf that held the spatial rings, grabbed one of them and tossed it to Mi Ling. "It's just a simple task. I need you to go to the Tai Smithy and pick up my new medicinal cauldron I ordered. Since you don’t have a spatial ring, take this to carry it back."

"What?" Mi Ling said, thinking of the black cauldron he saw Que Cue used before. "What happened to your old one?"

"I kind of destroyed it in my attempt to make a ninth tier pill. So I ordered a better one."

Mi Ling looked at Que Cue, who always seemed calm and unhurried, making him almost forget that this man was working towards winning that Alchemist tournament just like the other two masters. "Fine, I'll go get it," he said. "But why can't you just get one of your subordinates to fetch it for you?"

"Just go," Que Cue said, waving him off.

It looked like Que Cue was getting impatient, so Mi Ling ran out of the office, locking the door behind him. It wasn't long before he was outside the main building of the Alchemist Association, which was where he found a carriage waiting for him, probably arranged by Que Cue.

Mi Ling got in and was off to the Tai Smithy. It only took him a couple of minutes to get there.

When he arrived, he went into the familiar lobby, and again there was a line leading up to the counter where that same muscular woman was attending to the customers. At first, Mi Ling waited in line like he would normally do, not wishing to step on anyone's toes by going to the front, but thinking back when he was at the ramen stall and how everyone looked at him with respect, he hesitantly walked to the counter.

When the customers started complaining at him to get to the back of the line, Mi Ling grew slightly worried. He tried to avoid their stares, looking at anything else in the store, whether it was the weapons hang on the walls or even the bargain bins that were selling damaged medicinal cauldrons at a discount. He looked at anything but those accusing eyes.

When he finally got to the front, he half expected the woman at the counter to yell at him and tell him not to the cut the line, but instead she smiled at him. "Why if it isn't the esteemed Mi Ling. What can I do for you today?"

When the line of customers heard the woman say his name, they quieted down, wondering if this was the Mi Ling they had heard about in the rumors going around the city.

Mi Ling tried to not let their wide-eyed stares bother him. He coughed, nervously. "I'm here to pick up Master Que Cue's order." When he said that, the line of customers went completely silent. Most of them were alchemists who looked up to the three masters.

The woman bowed. "Please wait one moment. For something such as this, only the President of the Tai Smithy can deal with it."

While the woman sent a message with her jade transmission slip, Mi Ling kept staring up front, avoiding everyone's eyes behind him. It felt like forever before the door behind the counter burst open and a large, muscular man walked through.

"Why if it isn't Mi Ling," Tai Jak said.

Author Notes: The wooden box thing, I kind of forgot to add that part during the "Three Months" part, so I put it here in a short flashback. Maybe I'll change it later.

Author Notes #2: This is a rough draft. Please tell me in the comments if you see something wrong.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The First Alchemist - Chap 27

Chapter 27 - The Meeting Between the Current Village Chief and the Future Village Chief

It was snowing again the next day. While escorted by his brother, Chem Al took a bag of tea leaves and went over to the village chief’s house.

And there it was, in the center of the village, the only house made of stone. Although he still considered it small, compared to the other huts, it was like a mansion, especially with the storage sheds around it, which probably housed things like spears and leather armor.

Chem Al’s eyes were shining, not because of the tiny building he was seeing now, but because of what he knew it would become in the future. This was where the central tower of the Alchemist Association would be. He looked up at the sky. Yep, that was where his office will be one day.

Before they went over to the stone house, Chem Au asked, “Little Al, this won’t be just a simple talk, will it? Is this it? Are you going to make your move to become the next village chief now?”

Chem Al nodded. “Wish me luck.”

“All the luck in the world.” Chem Au smiled, then moved forward. After taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door. "I've brought my brother, sir."

"Come in," Sorka Jiu said with his deep voice.

Chem Au opened the door, then stepped aside to allow his little brother to walk through, unable to believe how calm Little Al was.

Yes, Chem Al was calm, or at least that was what it looked like. He was doing everything in his power to stop his legs from trembling. Was it because of this simple, lowly village chief? No. It was actually this meeting.

His mind wasn’t as brilliant as The First Alchemist. What if he failed? What if he couldn’t convince Sorka Jiu to give up all his power as the village chief? Then the future of everything would change. He couldn’t allow that to happen.

Chem Al took a deep breath to try to slow down his heart rate, then he shook the snow off of his head and shoulders, and walked in.

The door was shut behind him.

It was dark, the windows blocked by thick pieces of cloth to keep out the cold and wind. The only other source of light was the fire in the middle of the house, lighting up Sorka Jiu's smile. "Thank you for coming."

"Wouldn't miss this for anything," Chem Al said, then walked over with the bag in his hands. "I've brought some tea.

"That sounds good." Sorka Jiu nodded his head to a corner of the room where some simple pots were. It wasn’t before two wooden cups of tea were served.

"Ah, that's nice. Now let's get started, shall we? I want to--," Sorka Jiu began, but was cut off.

"What did you think of the tea?"

"I'm sorry?" Sorka Jiu said, confused.

"What did you think of the tea? Did you like it? I put in a little extra Bleeding Heart Root to heighten its aroma." Chem Al looked closely at Sorka Jiu's face, watching for any reaction that might give him away.

"Um, it was okay." Sorka Jiu didn't know what else to say. He didn't really notice anything different about the tea.

There was no reaction.

Chem Al sighed. So it wasn't him, he thought. Ever since he found out that the body of The First Alchemist had been poisoned, he never stopped thinking about who could be the poisoner. One of his suspects had been Sorka Jiu.

Chem Al put down his cup of tea. He didn’t actually put any poison in the cups. He just wanted to see if Sorka Jiu would do anything that would reveal whether or not he knew of Bleeding Heart Roots. But it would seem he had never even heard of the poison.

That only left three suspects. Sorka Bo, Sheng Yi, and the last suspect he didn't even want to think about.

Since the little cripple seemed to be lost in his thoughts, Sorka Jiu cleared his throat, then said, “I think it’s about time we get down to business.”

Chem Al snapped himself out of it. Then he nodded, although a bit hesitantly. Again, that feeling of possible failure wellled up inside him.

This was it. Although the journals mentioned this meeting, it wasn’t like this conversation was written down word for word. He had to figure it out on his own. He just hoped he was good enough.

"I'm sure you're very curious about this." Chem Al took a small, red pill out of his pocket and held it up.

"Is that the pill?" Sorka Jiu couldn't stop himself from asking. When he had asked Chem Au about how his little brother helped him with his cultivation, he mentioned a pill.

"Yes. This is called a Primary Profound Pill. You just need to swallow it and your cultivation will increase by leaps and bounds." Chem Al failed to mention that this was the weakest of cultivation pills. It wasn’t time for the higher tier ones yet.

"And that's it?" To be honest, Sorka Jiu still had a little trouble believing him. It sounded like some kind of miracle medicine.

"That's it," Chem Al said before he tossed the pill to Sorka Jiu. "But words are cheap. Try it and see for yourself."

Sorka Jiu caught the pill, then he held it between his thumb and forefinger, close to his eyes. It looked simple, it had a nice smell, but.... "How do I know that this isn’t poison?" He was less trustful of the cripple than Chem Au was.

“You don’t. But consider this. If I poisoned you, then the villagers would attack me for hurting their leader. You die, I die. It’s as simple as that.”

Sorka Jiu nodded, thinking about it. What the cripple said was true.

And to be honest, he had doubts that the little boy could create a poison that could kill him, a profound cultivator of the twentieth level. He was strong enough to suppress any minor poison. But he had to ask in order to reassure himself. Since the cripple could create some kind of cultivation pill, then there was that slight possibility that he could create a powerful poison pill as well.

As he looked at the pill again, curiosity raced through his mind. He had been hearing rumors about this for months, and now finally he was going to test whether such a miraculous gift was real or not.

Sorka Jiu swallowed the pill.

In just a few seconds, there was a small burst of profound energy inside his stomach. Amazed, he quickly channeled it into his dantian.

When he finally opened his eyes, they were shining. Although he didn't manage to make a breakthrough, he could feel the amount of energy in his body increase. "Amazing! This is amazing! No, that doesn't even begin to describe it. This is ... I don't even know. But this is better than I'd hope for." Sorka Jiu grabbed him by the shoulders, practically salivating at the mouth. "How much more of these can you make?"

Chem Al smiled, slightly relieved. The bait had been taken. "As much as you need."

Sorka Jiu felt like he was about to explode from happiness. "Do you know what this could mean for our village? This will change everything! Chem Al, what you have accomplished for us, it is beyond words. I, and everyone in this village, will thank you forever."

With a cough, Chem Al interrupted Sorka Jiu's exuberance, and said, "I hope you don't expect me to make these pills for free."

Sorka Jiu wasn’t fazed. "Of course not. What would you like? A better hut for your family? More land to farm?" He began listing rewards again and again. Nothing was too much for these pills.

"What I want is ... the position of village chief."

Sorka Jiu stopped, his smile frozen. "Wha, what?"

"I wish for you to step down and make me the next village chief."

Sorka Jiu's mouth hung open. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You’re asking for my position?"

"Yes," Chem Al said.

"I don’t understand. You want me to make your father the village chief? Or maybe your older brother?"

Chem Al shook his head, frustrated that it was taking him so long to take it in. He pointed at Sorka Jiu. "I want you," then he pointed at himself, "to make me, specifically me, to be village chief."

Sorka Jiu stood up in shock, then he looked down at the little boy in front of him. "No. Definitely not. I'm sorry, but that is out of the question. Please ask for something else in exchange for those pills."

"There isn't anything else I want. You want those pills? Make me the village chief."

"But, but you're just a cripple. Not only that, you're a child. This village needs a strong and wise leader to run it. How can you possibly think a ten year old can become the next village chief?"

"Eleven," Chem Al said. "I just turned eleven recently."

"Makes no difference. There is no way I am stepping down for you. You're asking for too much."

"Oh, and here I am offering these miraculous cultivation pills that can help the entire village." Chem Al took out another Primary Profound Pill for Sorka Jiu to see. "It seems more like I'm not asking enough."

Sorka Jiu stared at that red pill until it was all he could see, everything else falling away.

Chem Al took a deep breath, readying himself. The pill was the easy part. Now he had to convince him with words. He looked at Sorka Jiu's face, especially the shadow under his eyes. "Let’s be honest here. You're tired of being village chief. Don’t deny it, I've been watching you closely for some time. It must have been difficult holding the village together. Not only that, but it leaves you no time to do anything else. When was the last time you cultivated? It must be frustrating for your profound cultivation to be stuck at the twentieth level for so long."

Sorka Jiu froze. All the cripple's words had hit home, although he tried to tell himself that they didn't. "Doesn't matter. I have a responsibility to keep, a responsibility I am certainly not handing over to you."

With a sigh, Chem Al said, "I understand your doubts. I'm a cripple, but who cares if I'm not strong if I can make everyone in this village stronger. And although I might be a child, I'm wise beyond my years. Do you think a dumb kid who just plays around would be able to create these cultivation pills?"

Silence filled the house, each person watching each other carefully. Sorka Jiu found himself on his guard, which he never had to do before around a kid. This child certainly didn't act like a child. "Hmph, your words won't sway me. Do you think you know how this world works? You haven’t seen it like I have. You don't fully understand what it means when they say that strength is the only thing that is respected." Sorka Jiu stood up and raised his hand. Profound energy surged all around him, which he pushed down onto the cripple.

Chem Al dropped the red pill as he fell to his knees, his hands on the ground. The air felt heavy, stifling. Sweat started to pour from his forehead. It was hard to breathe.

“For the good of this village, I demand you make those pills for us,” Sorka Bo nearly shouted.

Chem Al gasped for air, managing to say between breaths. "Threaten ... me all you want. ... But I'm not ... going to change my ... mind.”

Despite feeling worried that he was going a little too far, Sorka Jiu didn’t stop. "I can do this all day. Tell me that you will make those pills."

When the cripple still didn’t comply, Sorka Jiu forced himself to increase the pressure. A bone snapped, then another, and with every one of them the cripple screamed from pain. Then his legs gave out. He collapsed on the ground.

But somehow the cripple found the strength to lift his head and look up at Sorka Jiu. There was still determination in his eyes. "Is ... that all you've ... got?"

Sorka Jiu kept up the suppression until he noticed the Primary Profound Pill on the ground. It really was worth a lot to this village, but not as much as the creator of these pills. Not knowing whether the medicine woman could make these pills or not, he couldn’t risk killing the little cripple. He retracted his profound energy.

The air felt lighter again. Chem Al breathed it in, feeling happy. "Well, that wasn't as bad as I thought,” he said, smiling.

Sorka Jiu could only stare at him. How could the cripple seem so calm like that? He must be in great pain. "Come on, let me take you to the medicine woman."

One of Chem Al's arms wasn't broken, so he waved off Sorka Jiu's attempt to pick him off the ground. "No need. I expected this to happen." Groaning, he was able to reach into his pocket and pull out two pills, a white one and a blue one.

"What are those?" Sorka Jiu asked, curious.

"Just a few low tier pills. This white one is the White Calci Pill, which heals minor bone fractures. And the blue one is the Soothing Yu Pill, which can heal light injuries." He popped them into his mouth.

With the state of his injuries, the pills took over twenty minutes to take effect. But in those couple of minutes, Sorka Jiu was astounded. He had already heard of this from the villagers he had questioned, but to see it before his eyes was a completely different matter.

Once Chem Al was done healing, he got off the ground and sat down. "If you don’t know by now, the pills I make aren't just for profound cultivation. Some of them have other ways that can benefit this village." He spoke calmly, as if Sorka Jiu hadn’t just tried to crush him. "Think about it. Not only can I help increase the strength of this village, I can also decrease the amount of deaths. How many people have died while you were village chief? It must have ate at you."

Sorka Jiu's mouth was dry, unable to form any words. Again, the cripple’s words hit him hard. Living in a poor village on the outskirts of the Continent was a harsh life, and he had lost a couple of people. It happens, that was what he told himself. But every time it did happen, he felt regret.

"My pills are worth it," Chem Al said, then he kneeled and touched his head to the ground of his own free will. "I know you still have your doubts, but please, I'm begging you, make me the next village chief. The villagers will be more accepting of me if you willingly step down and present me as your successor. I promise that I will turn this village into a place of glory, a place where the villagers would be proud to live, where they wouldn't have to live everyday afraid of death."

Sorka Jiu sat back down, his legs unable to hold himself up. There was a storm going on in his mind. This cripple in front of him was weak and a child. At least, that was what his eyes told him. But for some reason it felt like he was facing a wise yet desperate sage that cared about this village as much as he did. Maybe it would be safe in his hands. However, he sighed. “It’s not that easy.”

Chem Al almost smiled. He was almost there. Just another push was needed. “You’re talking about Sorka Bo, aren’t you?”

With a nod, Sorka Jiu said, “If I hand this village over to you, then I will have nothing to pass on to my son.”

Chem Al gave him a look of contempt. “And here I thought you were teaching me about how this world is ruled by strength, yet you’re giving Sorka Bo this position as if it was his right.”

“That is because my son is talented enough and strong enough to be the future leader of this village.”

“That may have been true once, but now there is another who can challenge him.”

“Who? You?” Sorka Jiu almost snorted, but then his eyes widened. He turned to look at the door where he knew Chem Au was standing outside.

Seeing his look of realization, Chem Al said, “That’s right, my big brother.”

Sorka Jiu sucked in his breath. “Is, is that why you helped him get stronger?”

Chem Al nodded. “I knew that sooner or later this would end in a fight. Your son is not the most agreeable person, and if he found out that this village wasn’t going to be passed down onto him, then well, let’s just say I will never be able to beat him in a fight. At least, a fair one. So I’m getting my brother to do it in my place. I promised him lots of treats if he succeeds.”

Sorka Jiu stared at this little cripple, who no longer seemed so weak. How long had he been planning this? But then he made another realization, that this cripple hadn’t planned this whole thing through. “You’ve made a mistake by telling me about this now. Yes, Chem Au has gotten stronger, but he’s still at the sixteenth level, just like my son. If they were to fight now, there is no guarantee that your brother would win. Or is it that you’re planning to wait until Chem Au gets even stronger?”

“You don’t need to worry. There’s a reason why I’m coming to you now. I believe that Chem Au is ready. And if he wins, will that put your worries to rest on whether I would be a good village chief or not? After all, winning this fight would mean I made someone from the younger generation stronger than your son. Think of what else I can do.”

Sorka Jiu looked slightly annoyed. “If you’re so confident that your brother could win a fight against my son, why don’t we put it up to a bet?”

“Okay,” Chem Al hesitantly said, or at least he tried to sound hesitant. He had to make Sorka Jiu think that this was his idea.

“If Chem Au wins, you will become the next village chief. Of course, you will still need to make pills for this village.” When Sorka Jiu said this, Chem Al nodded. That much was obvious. “If Sorka Bo wins, you will make as many pills as this village needs without any reward. Do we have a deal?” Sorka Jiu smiled, holding out his hand.

Chem Al slowly took his hand, again trying to look hesitant. They shook on it.

The next few minutes were spent talking over the details. Sorka Jiu mentioned that he wanted the fight to take place the very next day, and Chem Al made it look like he reluctantly agreed.

Once the negotiations were finished, it was time for Chem Al to leave. He opened the door and saw his big brother outside, standing amidst a sea of white snow with sunlight shining down. The clouds had cleared away.

“How did it go?” Chem Au asked, closing the door behind them before they walked away from the stone house.

Chem Al breathed a huge sigh of relief. “A lot smoother than I thought. Sorka Jiu agreed to make me village chief, more or less.”

“What? Just like that?” Chem Au shouted, unable to hold back his voice.

Chem Al laughed. It felt like a huge weight was off his shoulders. “Now the only thing we need to worry about is Sorka Bo throwing a tantrum. I trust that you will handle him when that happens.”

With a worried look, Chem Au said, “Are you sure I’m ready? I’m still not completely sure I can beat Sorka Bo.”

Chem Al smiled at him. “That’s why we’re going to cheat.”

He walked towards Sheng Yi’s hut, thinking of the Golden Earth Dan Root.

Around 100,000 years later

Mi Ling kicked his legs in the air, struggling at the sight of the two silver needles.

"Don’t worry, this won’t hurt me one bit," Zhou Gei said.

That didn’t make Mi Ling feel any better.

Zhou Gei moved the needles closer. “Now are you going to tell me about the journals or not?”

Mi Ling’s mouth opened and closed, either gasping for air or trying to say something. Zhou Gei let go, dropping him on the ground. “Well?”

When Mi Ling finally caught his breath, he said, “Do you really think it’s okay to win like this?”

Zhou Gei rolled his eyes. “Again with the fairness lecture? I don’t--.” Before he could finish, he saw Mi Ling shaking his head.

“No, no, you misunderstand. What I’m talking about is not about fairness or honesty or anything like that,” he said, his mind racing. He had to figure out a way to talk himself out of this like he did with Gui Ying. He just had to think. Zhou Gei was a competitive person. Use that somehow. “Let’s say I do tell you about the journals, and that helps you win, but then what? Will you really be satisfied with that?”

“What the heck are you talking about?” Zhou Gei gave him a funny look.

Mi Ling began to sweat. “It would just be a hollow victory! Think about it. Even if you do win, you’ll never get the satisfaction of saying that you beat Gui Ying and Que Cue with your own skills. Can you be happy with that?”

Zhou Gei’s eyes dulled, then the hand holding the two needles fell to his side, limp. “Maybe, maybe you’re right. All this time I’ve been doubting myself, using malicious tricks to win, because I didn’t believe in myself and my own skills. Maybe if ….” Laughter started spilling out of Zhou Gei’s mouth, a slow trickle, but then it turned into a waterfall. “I’m sorry. It was hard to say that with a straight face. You’re a funny guy, Mi Ling. You were able to make me laugh twice in one day. Not many people can do that.” He raised the two needles back up. “Now stop making jokes. We’re having a serious discussion here.”

Mi Ling backed away. With the failure of his first attempt, he tried to think of something else, but it was difficult with those silver needles getting closer.

“Tell me about the journals,” Zhou Gei said.

“If the Grandmaster wanted you to know what was in those journals, he would have told you. Did you ever think about that?” Mi Ling tried a different approach.

“Like I care what that old fart thinks, especially now that he’s dead. Just watch, soon I will replace him and become a greater alchemist than he’s ever been.”

At that moment, the blue journal flew from the desk and magically floated down until it was in front of Zhou Gei’s face.

“What? What’s happening?” Zhou Gei felt confused, but then it dawned on him. He was in his master’s office, and there was no one else here except for that weak Mi Ling who couldn’t possibly do something like this, so the only explanation was that his master had somehow set up some kind of array to make this journal float. “Could it be? Master, is this a sign that you think I’m worthy?”

Zhou Gei reached out towards the journal, and then a white light flashed. “Shit,” he realized a second too late.

An explosion knocked him against the other side of the room.

He fell to the ground, sliding down a wall, along with some dust and debris. Coughing, he tried to get back up. There was fear in his eyes, thinking how this was impossible. His master was dead, there was no way this could be happening. And yet it was. When he saw the rest of the journals fly off the shelf, he knew he had to get away.

Zhou Gei crawled towards the door, but it was too late because the journals were now floating above him. If this was happening again, he knew it wouldn’t work, but he still had to try. With shaking hands, he tried to pull out the rest of the silver needles from his spatial ring to prepare his attack. He wasn’t fast enough. 

One of the journals hit him on the shoulder. A white light flashed, and the protection array on the journal caused another explosion that knocked him to another side of the room. Dust flew everywhere. A shelf fell over, almost landing on him.

Before he could get up, another journal hit his face, causing another explosion.

And another one.

And another one.

And … it just kept repeating.

“Please! Please stop, Master! I promise to stop going after the journals! I promise!” By now Zhou Gei was a groveling mess, wounded and bloody, but he didn’t care about the pain as he begged towards the journals in the air. He couldn’t take much more of this.

The journals stopped, no longer flying towards Zhou Gei. He took the chance to quickly crawl to the door and escaped, too scared to look behind him in case the journals had kept following him, much like they did in his nightmares.

Mi Ling stared at the dust and rubble, then at the open door that was slowly closing on its own, unable to believe what had just happened. Did the Grandmaster somehow do this? Did he set up some kind of array that made this happen? Or was it perhaps his spirit?

Mi Ling shivered. Either way, the Grandmaster had somehow protected him from getting his eyes stabbed, so he got down on his knees and kowtowed. “Thank you, Grandmaster. Thank you, Grandmaster…,” he repeated.

A voice came from behind him. “I would like to be thanked as well considering I did all the work, if you don’t mind.”

Mi Ling froze mid bow. “Que Cue?”

“Who did you think?”

Mi Ling turned around. Indeed, it was him. “That, you, but…. I’m confused. Was that you making all the journals fly? But I thought, from how Zhou Gei acted, that the Grandmaster did something, set up something that made this happen."

"I made it look that way on purpose. When we were young, my master kind of accidentally instilled a trauma into Zhou Gei. I merely recreated that.” Que Cue looked nostalgic. “He acted a lot cuter back then.”

"Um, well, thank you for helping me."

"Think nothing of it. You looked like you were in trouble there."

Mi Ling paused. "Would he really have poked out my eyes?"

Que Cue scoffed. "No, he was just bluffing, trying to scare you. He usually leaves the eyes for last."

That didn't make Mi Ling feel any better. “I thought that I could convince him to back off by appealing to his competitive side. Make him think that winning with the help of the journals won't give him any satisfaction at all."

With a laugh, Que Cue said, "Of course that wouldn't work. I know that Zhou Gei could be a little competitive, but he doesn't care how he wins. He would be happy if he wins an eating contest against a tree."

Mi Ling sighed, feeling tired. "Yes, I can see that now."

“Try again next time. From how fast Zhou Gei was crawling out of here, I suspect that he won’t want anything to do with the journals for awhile. You’ll have some time to think of your next plan,” Que Cue said. “And by the way, although he doesn’t really respect our master, he is extremely afraid of him. If you want to know his weakness, that's it."

Mi Ling stared at him. "Why didn't you tell me this before? That would have been really helpful."

"There's a really good reason why," Que Cue said. "I was busy."

"You mean you were lazy."

Que Cue feigned indignation. "What? How can you even think that? I'll have you know I'm the most productive person in the world. I get things done. Now are you going to just stand there or are you going to clean up this mess? I did save you, so it's the least you can do." He then went over and sat back on the chair, making himself comfortable as he read through.

Mi Ling looked at the mess around the room. Books that had fallen off the shelves, debris everywhere, and a layer of dust that now covered everything. With such a large task ahead of him, he felt a little troubled, but he didn't say anything because Que Cue did help him. He might as well get started.

One of the things that had fallen on the floor was a painting. It had come off the wall as a result of the explosions. Mi Ling went over and picked it up.

The painting showed a moment of quaint village life, with The First Alchemist, as a child, sitting across a fire from a man.

Author Notes: The longest chapter yet.

Author Notes #2: Now can you see why I hated Chap 25? Having Chem Al and Sorka Jiu meet too earlier ruins some of the impact in this chapter.

Author Notes #3: This is a rough draft. Please tell me in the comments if you see something wrong.