Sunday, October 9, 2016
The First Alchemist - Chap 14
Chapter 14 - A Better Life
“Don’t look now but there are two men following us,” Chem Al said.
Chem Au turned his head. “What? Where?”
“I said don’t look.” Chem Al smacked his brother in the head, hurting his hand in the process.
"Sorry," Chem Au said. "Do you think they’re after our jade stones?”
Chem Al rolled his eyes, but he had to remind himself that this was the first time Chem Au had held so much money. “Just do as I say, then maybe we can escape them.”
Chem Au nodded. Almost too casually, he strolled down the street feeling as if he should start whistling, but decided against it. The moment he turned the corner, white light flashed around his legs as he used the Soaring Crane Skill.
He ran. Soon they could hear shouts coming from behind them. Chem Au looked over his shoulder and saw the two men that his brother had mentioned. His eyes widened. Despite moving faster thanks to his skill, they were still gaining on him.
"What should we do?" Chem Au shouted between breaths.
"Turn here." Chem Al pointed.
Chem Au followed his brother's direction. "Do you know where you're going?"
Chem Au groaned. He made another turn, barely avoiding a cart full of Dragonbeard Chickens. "We can’t outrun them forever. Think of something fast. I don't think I can take them both in a fight."
"Don't worry. You just have to keep running until we can find a pile of shit."
"Shit? What the hell are you talking about?"
"It's the only place they won't look for us,” Chem Al calmly said.
That sounded disgusting, Chem Au thought, but the two men were closing in even though he was doing his best to get away. He couldn’t think of a better idea and it was as good a plan as any, so he and Chem Al kept their eyes opened while he dodged around the crowds and ran through back alleys.
"There!" Chem Al suddenly shouted. Around the corner was a cart full of horse manure.
Making sure they were out of sight from the two men, Chem Au made one final turn and dove into the pile of shit.
"Eck, it stinks," Chem Au said.
"Quiet or they'll hear us," Chem Al whispered, although he agreed with him.
They waited there in the brown darkness while covering their mouths and noses, not daring to breathe too deeply in case they were overheard, or fainted.
A few seconds passed.
"Where did they go?" a male voice shouted.
"I don't know. I could have sworn I sensed them heading this way."
There was a pause. "Keep looking. They couldn't have gotten far."
Then there was silence, except for the normal bustle of the crowd. However, Chem Al and Chem Au didn't dare leave the cart of horse manure until they were absolutely sure that the men were gone.
A few minutes later, both brothers felt that it was safe enough to crawl out of the brown pile, scaring a man who had just come back with a shovel.
Chem Al took a quick look around to make sure that there was no one still chasing them before he walked away from the cart and the confused man. “Are they gone?” he asked his brother who was right beside him.
"I think so." Chem Au couldn't sensed the men. Then he took a whiff of himself. "Come on, let’s go find a place to wash off this stink."
"Nevermind that. We have to get to the blacksmith," Chem Al said as he started to run off. "Let the wind blow away the smell as you run."
Chem Au could only shake his head as he followed his brother. While they ran through the streets, the crowd parted ways for them with looks of disdain and wrinkling noses, but the brothers tried to ignore it.
"Who were those men? Do you think that betting man sent them to take back the money?” Chem Au asked between breaths.
Chem Al shook his head. "No, he makes money with every bet, whether you win or lose. There's no reason for him to try to steal from us. And besides, I think he took more off the top than normal for his fee."
"What?" For a second, Chem Au felt like heading back there to demand the rest of the money, but then he calmed himself. They already had more money than he had expected to make, and he knew that they didn't have the strength to make any demands. He just sighed and wondered, "Then who were those guys?"
"Probably the really desperate." Chem Al shrugged his shoulders, indicating that he didn't really know. "They probably already lost all of their money betting in this tournament. Which is stupid, by the way. It's only the preliminaries. Who bets all of their money only in the preliminaries. It's a good thing we're not coming back tomorrow, because there would probably be even more desperate people trying to steal money from us."
"Wait. We're not coming back? But you said--" Chem Au started to say, but then his little brother threw him a look.
"I just said that to throw off anyone who was thinking of trying to steal our money. I wanted them to think that we will come back tomorrow, make more money, and they would be able to steal a bigger haul from us. Most people won't become desperate enough to steal from a couple of kids after only the first day of gambling," Chem Al said. "Besides, it's not good to push your beginner's luck." He failed to mention The First Alchemist's journal, which didn't give him the rest of the results of this tournament, except for mentioning the winner.
Chem Au realized that his brother was right. Coming back to the tournament would only risk more chases from greedy, desperate gamblers. Even if they did win more money, they might not be able to hold on to it. "It's a good thing you thought of that," he said with a sigh of relief. He then caught another whiff of his body. “But I’m not sure that jumping into shit was one of your more better ideas, although it did hide us.”
Chem Al didn't say anything. How was he supposed to mention that he already knew that they were going to be chased today and that they would successfully hide in a cart full of manure?
The brothers kept discussing what had happened until they got close to the area near the tournament grounds. A combination of looking around corners and keeping their heads down kept them hidden enough until they found the Tai Smithy.
"We're back," Chem Al said with a smile. Chem Au followed him in, annoyed that the smell of shit was still on them.
"Oh," Tai Fu looked down, surprised that the two boys had returned. "Wait, does that mean you have the money?"
“One medicinal cauldron, please.” Chem Al tossed the bag on the counter. It opened up and out rolled a few jade stones.
Seeing them, Tai Fu's eyes couldn't help but light up, but then he felt suspicion. This money couldn't possibly belong to these two boys in raggy clothes. "Where did you get this from?"
Chem Al placed a hand to his chest. "You think we stole this? I'll have you know we found it inside a pile of shit."
"What?" Tai Fu had been expecting him to tell an elaborate lie, but that was all the boy was going to say. And with the horrible stench they were carrying, a part of him believed them. Why else would they give off a smell that would attract flies? It was still suspicious, though, but Tai Fu just shrugged his shoulders and asked, "Will there be anyone coming to my shop to take this money back?"
Chem Al shook his head.
"That's all I need to know," Tai Fu said as he reached out for the jade stones.
Watching carefully, Chem Au made sure that he was only grabbing one high jade stone and eight mid jade stones. “Are you sure it’s such a good idea to show him the entire bag of money,” Chem Au whispered to his brother.
“Don’t worry, he’s an honest person,” Chem Al said, knowing from what he had read about this young man. “Besides, I didn’t show him all that money by accident. It’s for the future.”
Chem Au glanced at his brother with a questioning look, but Chem Al didn’t say anything more.
“Okay, that’s what you owe me for this deal,” Tai Fu said. He took what he had to take and put the rest in the bag, then reluctantly handed it back to Chem Al. His eyes stayed on the bag for a second longer before he said, “What kind of inscription do you need etched into this cauldron of yours?”
“Do you have some paper?” Chem Al said.
Tai Fu left, then came back with a scroll, along with some ink and a brush. Chem Al grabbed the brush and, after taking a second to remember the details of The First Alchemist’s medicinal cauldron, flicked his wrists a couple of times and out came a complicated inscription painted on the scroll.
For Tai Fu and Chem Au who were watching this, they couldn’t believe their eyes. Chem Al was so casual with his brushstrokes, like he had done this thousands of times. It almost seemed like his hands belonged to an old sage. They could even faintly feel the profound energy all around them reacting to this inscription forming on the scroll.
Once he was done, Chem Al put the brush back into the ink well and said, “There. Do you think you can etch this into the cauldron?”
Tai Fu lightly nodded, stunned. He stared at the inscription. It looked possible, but it was one of the most complicated designs he had ever seen. Chem Au, who was standing beside him, was also stunned. When did his little brother learn how to do this?
Chem Al handed the scroll back to Tai Fu, who took it with shaking hands. “When can you have it ready? Because we’re leaving this city once the tournament ends,” Chem Al said.
“Uh, let’s see,” Tai Fu said. “The tournament will end in two days, so…. Yeah, I think I can finish your cauldron by then.”
“Okay, we’ll be back in two days,” Chem Al said.
After Chem Al shook hands with the blacksmith, the brothers left the smithy and headed back to where their parents were.
"Okay, you got your cauldron. Now let's get the rest of this money to our parents," Chem Au said. "And maybe spend a little for ourselves."
"Hey," Chem Al said as he clutched the bag. "I know this is going to sound bad, but could you please not tell our parents about this?"
"What? Why? It's not like we stole this money."
"I know, but please do this for me."
"Little Al, don't you understand the position our family is in. We're barely surviving even with the money we make with selling our crops and the little bit I get from the village chief for working as a guard. Our family needs this money."
Chem Al suddenly stopped walking, so Chem Au stood still too. He looked at his little brother, who was holding out the bag as if he was preparing to say something.
What felt like an eternity went by before Chem Al finally said, "I know that this is a lot of money, but how long do you think it'll last. If our family lived the same way we do now, it will probably only last around ten years. Less than that if we try to live a better life. But what about after that?" Chem Al paused. "Yes, I don't want to give these jade stones to our parents. But I didn't make that decision lightly! If you let me keep this money, I promise you that I will use it to make a better life for our family. Not just for ten years, but for the rest of our lives. And for the future generations of the Chem clan. Please, do as I ask, and I will make us richer than kings!" Chem Al's eyes were shining, but it wasn't blind hope. It was calculating, like he had a plan to make this future come true.
For a couple of seconds, Chem Au didn't know what to say. In one way, he wanted the money to immediately pull their family out of poverty as soon as possible, but in another way, he knew that it would only give them a better life for a few short years. Such a decision like this wasn't something he faced everyday. He struggled for a long time over how much he trusted his little brother.
In the end, Chem Au didn’t take the bag. "You won that money. Do what you want with it."
Hearing that, Chem Al smiled. "You won't regret this, Au. By the time we head back to our village, I will have everything I'll need to start our better life."