Thursday, August 4, 2016
The First Alchemist - Chap 9
Chapter 9 - Journey through the Forest Part II
Chem Al’s bout of homesickness eventually faded away. At the end of the day, he still had to accomplish his goal: introducing alchemy to the world. Breaking down was not an option. He had to keep moving forward.
After Chem Au confirmed that his little brother was okay, they set off to catch up with their family’s cart. They passed by dozens of rare medicinal ingredients, ones that were a lot more powerful than the Golden Earth Dan Root he was holding, but Chem Al had to stop himself from picking them up even though his hands were itching.
They’re so common they grow on the side of a road, they’re so common they grow on the side of a road, they’re so common…. He repeated to himself.
Until he saw something horrifying: Firedrake Berries.
Chem Al ran up to it just to make sure. They were indeed Firedrake Berries, less than a year old. They were a medicinal ingredient that could only grow under one condition. But he wasn’t thinking about alchemy right now, he was thinking about saving the lives of all the villagers, especially his family.
“Au, I need you to go warn the village chief. Tell him to get the villagers to move faster.”
“What’s wrong? Did you see something?”
Chem Al shoved the red berries into his brother’s hands, then he explained everything he knew about them. “Now go! The village chief won’t listen to a cripple like me. You’ll have to tell him all of this.”
With a push, Chem Au was sent running to the front of the group. To be honest, a part of him didn’t completely believe his little brother’s words, but his eyes were so serious and there was so much urgency in his voice, it almost scared him. If what his little brother said was true, then they were all in danger.
“Village chief! Village chief!” Chem Au shouted.
The village chief, and his son, was riding in the only cart that was pulled by a horse. Seeing one of his guards running up to him, he asked, “What is it? Is it a desolate beast?”
“Maybe. At least, my brother thinks we’re in the territory of one.”
“Your brother? You mean the cripple?” Sorka Bo sneered.
Chem Au tried to hide the annoyance on his face. He may have great respect for those who were stronger than him, but the village chief’s son’s face looked a lot like a target right now. “Yes, my brother. He says that there could be something dangerous nearby. He called it a Wyrm.”
“A worm? Oh, that’s definitely something your little brother would be scared of.” Sorka Bo found it hard not to laugh.
“No, a Wyrm. He says it’s a baby dragon.”
Before Sorka Bo could say anything else, his father cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Speak,” he said to Chem Au. He had never told anyone this, but when he was a boy, he had a huge fascination with dragons. He had learned that baby dragons were called Wyrms, which not a lot of villagers would know. He was surprised that the cripple knew this name too.
Chem Au held up the Firedrake Berries. “My brother found these berries on the side of the road. He says that they only grow in one place, the territory of a Wyrm. The low heat from their scat is what helps them grow. At least, that’s what my brother says.”
Sorka Bo was now openly laughing. “Let me get this straight. Your brother, the cripple, says that there is a baby dragon out there somewhere, and that he got this from berries that are grown by hot shit?”
The village chief frowned, agreeing with his son. He also found it hard to believe. Besides, how would a cripple who spent his life in the village know anything about dragons?
Seeing the incredulous faces between the two, Chem Au made one final plea. “Can you at least tell the villagers to quicken their pace? Even if you don’t believe my brother about the Wyrm, there are always dangers in this forest. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
The village chief thought about it, then he shook his head. “That would only lead to accidents. I too want to leave this forest as soon as possible, but I also know that if we go any faster than this, it would drain our strength. The villagers, as well as the guards, would only get more tired, making it even harder to defend ourselves if we really were attacked by a desolate beast. Not only that, but some of the carts might break down if we rush. And there would definitely be stragglers. I know that I said we would leave any straggler behind if they can’t catch up, but I would like to get as much people and their carts to the city as possible.”
“But…,” Chem Au said.
“Enough. If you are really worried, then go warn the other guards to keep up their vigilance. Tell them something, like you sensed a desolate beast nearby. That would really get them focused.”
Chem Au nodded. It was better than nothing. But before he left, he said, “There’s one more thing. My brother said that the average strength of the guards is too weak. There would be no way for us to pierce through the Wyrm’s scales. The only way to kill it would be to jump into the Wyrm’s mouth, then stab through its upper jaw and into its brain.” After saying everything his little brother told him to say, Chem Au left.
Sorka Bo felt insulted by this. He was only a little stronger than the average guards, so wouldn’t saying that the guards were weak also saying that he was weak? He turned back and spotted the cripple, who was standing on top of the Chem clan’s cart, looking around while nervous and scared. Sorka Bo scoffed at him. What would a cripple know?
But after turning back to face the front, he happened to see the look on his father’s face. “Father, you don’t actually believe him, do you?”
Sorka Jiu seemed to be contemplating something. “I am worried, son. Why haven’t we seen any desolate beasts yet? We should have at least spotted one by now.”
“Maybe they are afraid” Sorka Bo said, though he didn’t really believe it.
“Or maybe a new, more powerful beast had moved into this territory, treating the other desolate beasts like prey.” Sorka Jiu seemed to have understood something. He turned to his son. “Do you remember what you told me after you went out hunting? You said that there seemed to be less desolate beasts around. You complained about it because, although it made the forest safer, it also meant less meat for the village.”
“Yes, but this and that are different things. It doesn’t mean there’s a worm crawling around like the cripple said.”
“Wyrm,” Sorka Jiu said before going back to his thoughts.
That one word seemed like an admonishment at Sorka Bo, telling him to be more respectful of this mysterious beast, and by association, maybe even a little more respectful to the cripple.
Sorka Bo grew annoyed, then he left the cart.
Meanwhile, Chem Al could only be described as fidgety as he kept staring into the forest, like he was expecting it to throw something at him. This was one of the moments that The First Alchemist’s journal didn’t mention. It went from him ranting about how much he hated farming, then skipped to describing what Vera City was like.
Maybe it was because nothing happens. After all, right now all they were doing was delivering their crops and meat to the city. Something like that was boring, not worthy of being written down.
Boring was good.
It meant that they wouldn’t be attacked by a creature from the dragon race. Chem Al sighed with relief after thinking that.
“What are you thinking about?”
Chem Al nearly jumped in shock. At some point, Sorka Bo had walked up to his family’s cart. Off to the side, Chem Feng and Chem Mai were greeting him with respect, but Chem Al just looked at him suspiciously. What did he want?
“I was just hoping that nobody dies on this trip.”
Sorka Bo snorted. “Then you’re naive.”
Chem Al stared at him, not believing what he was hearing. “I do not understand. It’s like you’re expecting someone to die.”
“Look around you. With so many people traveling through the forest, we’re bound to attract a few desolate beasts. This large group will stop most from attacking, but occasionally someone almost always dies on this trip. It’s the way it’s always been.”
“Well, it shouldn’t be. Shouldn’t the village chief be keeping everyone safe?”
Sorka Bo grew angry. “What do you know? My father is doing the best he can. More than you, at least, making up stuff about worms.”
“Wyrm,” Chem Al simply said.
Sorka Bo held back his spear. Something was different about this cripple. In the past, he usually cowered before him, but now he was looking at him straight in the eye. There was even a slight tinge of disrespect in his tone.
“Listen here, cripple. Do you know what banishment means? When I become village chief, it will be you dying in this forest,” Sorka Bo whispered, hiding his words from the cripple’s parents.
Chem Al smiled. Something about that smile disturbed Sorka Bo. It was like the cripple believed, no, he knew that Sorka Bo would never become the village chief. Frozen fingers of dread crawled around his stomach. Just before Sorka Bo was about to say something, a crashing sound came from up ahead.
One of the villagers yelled, “What the heck?”
Guards all around were running towards the source of the commotion, and so did Sorka Bo and Chem Al. When they got there, they could see that one of the meat carts had turned over. What had crashed into it was a goat.
“Hmph, is that your Wyrm? It looks more like a weak Hilltop Goat to me.” Sorka Bo sneered.
Chem Al ignored him, focusing more on the goat. It was trying to get off the ground, but one of its legs had broken, probably from the crash. The thing that struck him the most were its eyes. It was frightened.
“Look at it, everyone. A pile of money just jumped into our laps. Come on, help me put it out of its misery.” Sorka Bo held up his spear as he walked towards the fallen desolate beast. The other guards did the same.
“Stop!” Chem Al shouted. “Everyone get away from it now!”
All the guards stopped, more out of confusion than obeying what Chem Al said. Sorka Bo turned around, a smile on his face like he was about to humiliate the cripple in front of everyone. He pointed at the cripple and...heard something behind him.
Sorka Bo looked over his shoulder, only to see a huge, snake-like beast rushing out of the forest. It was fast. Before he knew it, its mouth had already bit down on the Hilltop Goat’s body. The goat screamed.
With a twist, the goat spluttered and died as its body was ripped in half. The snake-like beast rose up, its mouth pointing at the sky as it swallowed half the goat.
Once it was finished, the beast looked down at the other half of the goat, then it looked at all the villagers.