Thursday, October 13, 2016
The First Alchemist - Chap 17
Chapter 17 - Journal
"Why do you need to buy a journal?" Chem Au asked.
“I have to document my life to show how awesome I am to future generations!"
What the heck? Chem Au scratched his head, wondering when his little brother had exploded so much out of his shell. "Well, you're on your own. I have no idea where the bookstore is."
"Don't worry, I do.”
"Wait. What do you mean you know where it is?" Chem Au said, but Chem Al had already ran off, prompting him to follow his little brother.
They traveled through the city until they made it to an area where the streets were cleaner and the stores were more pristine.
"I think it's around here somewhere," Chem Al said as they turned a corner onto a wide street.
Chem Au looked around and felt a hint of familiarity. Had he been here before? Surely not because he didn’t like the looks of disdain he was getting from the people around him. He hunched his shoulders close together while picking at his dirty clothes. He wanted to leave this area.
However, his little brother didn't seem to have noticed that they didn't belong here. "Ah, there it is!" Chem Al suddenly shouted. He pointed to a store that just gave the feeling of being square, where everything was neat and orderly. The sign at the top said: Du Bookstore.
Chem Al had seen it earlier when he was riding on his brother’s back as they ran away from the desperate gamblers that had been chasing them. All this time in Vera City, he had been keeping an eye out for this bookstore because he knew from The First Alchemist’s journal that this was where he would buy that very same journal.
Excited, Chem Al barged into the bookstore.
Chem Au followed him in, just in time to see his little brother take a big whiff. "Ha! No matter what time, a bookstore smells like a bookstore."
"Get out you two!" someone shouted at them.
The two brothers turned to look at where the voice came from. There was an old man sitting behind the counter, wearing dull colored clothes that was as neat as a suit for a funeral.
"Didn't you hear what I just said? Shoo! Shoo! This isn't the kind of place for the likes of you," the old man said, flicking his hand at them.
Chem Al pulled out his last high jade stone. "We aren't just here to browse. We're here to buy."
The old man froze for a moment, but then he continued, "I don't know where you stole that from, but even if you have money, a bunch of uneducated brats like yourself doesn't belong here!"
Chem Al sighed, while Chem Au grew angry at the old man. But before he could shout back, his little brother stepped forward and pointed at one of the books, which said: The Kuaisu Canyon and the surrounding area.
“The first page reads like this … ‘What is there to say about the Kuaisu Canyon except that it contained an absurd amount of wind element. I have studied it extensively, but could never find the source….’” Chem Al continued in a monotone voice.
At first the old man didn’t understand what he was doing. And then he thought, was this boy reciting the words in that book verbatim? Hmph, that was impossible. He went over to the shelf, grabbed the book, and opened it to the first page. Then his jaw dropped lower and lower as he read it.
Was something wrong with his ears? Has he started hearing things in his old age? Otherwise, how else would he be hearing this little, raggy boy say these exact words?
It wasn't just him that was surprised. Chem Au couldn't believe it too. Somehow his little brother was speaking these informative words about a canyon he had never heard of. What was happening? Did his little brother regularly visit bookstores every time they visited the city, instead of staying behind to help their parents sell radishes? It was the only explanation he could think of.
After Chem Al finished, the old man just stood there, still as a statue. His face looked troubled. But then a light came to his eyes as if he realized something. "That's all you got? You probably stole a copy of this book from another store and memorized it just to trick me."
A look of annoyance grew on Chem Al’s face. "I didn’t memorize it to trick you. And even if I did, that still doesn't discount the fact that I learned something from a book. Doesn't that allow me to walk around inside your store, instead of judging me by what I wear or how dirty my face is?"
The old man paused, then he said, "Knowing some words in one book is not enough. How about this one?" He went to another shelf and picked up a book that said: Ode to the Lore of Lisao. “Do you know this one?"
Chem Al shook his head. Either he had never encountered this book in his past life or all copies of it will not survive one hundred thousand years from now.
The old man smiled like he had exposed the trick. "Oh? You don't know it? Then how about this one?" This time he pointed to a scroll. Again, Chem Al shook his head. He didn't recognized that one either. The old man's smile got bigger. "What about this one?" He pointed at another book, expecting the boy to shake his head again.
However, Chem Al started reciting the first page. When that happened, the old man grabbed the book and followed along. Again, it was word for word.
Once Chem Al was done, the old man slowly put the book back on the shelf with a shocked look on his face. But before he could point to another book or scroll, Chem Al said, "Look, sir. I'm not going to lie and say that I've read everything that's ever been written. I probably only know one eighth of the books and scrolls in here. But I love books, and I have money, so shouldn't I be allowed to look around?"
The old man wanted to say something, but his shoulders just slumped. "Fine, fine, have a look. But if any other customers come in, don't bother them. And don’t steal anything. I’ll be watching you."
Chem Al smiled, then he lazily breezed through the store. There were so many books and scrolls he had never read before. If it weren't for the fact that there were no books about alchemy, he would be salivating right now.
The old man watched as Chem Al walked between the shelves, as if he was completely at home, in contrast to his clothes that told of a life that had no time for reading. Who was this kid? He was completely different from the older boy, who looked bored, which was how raggy kids like them were supposed to look.
Chem Au yawned. This wasn't exactly a place that excited him. But since there was nothing else to do, he decided to skim over some of the stuff. Nothing interesting. That was until he unrolled a scroll that contained drawings of a man making specific movements. He didn't understand the written parts, but it only took a glance for him to tell that this scroll contained a cultivation skill!
Chem Au’s eyes brightened. Without realizing it, his grip tightened, his fingers biting into the paper.
Then out of nowhere, a heavy pressure surrounded him, making it feel as if he had been dropped into a large pool of icy water. His hands started to shake, dropping the scroll. But before the scroll could hit the ground, a wrinkled hand reached out and caught it.
"Be careful with that," the old man said. Chem Au didn't know when, but the old man was suddenly standing over him. "These are fragile. Damage it, and you buy it."
The old man examined the scroll for fingernail marks. When he saw that there were none, he carefully placed it back on the shelf.
The oppressive aura dissipated and Chem Au felt like he could breathe again. What the hell was that? He looked at the old man in a new light. He hadn't noticed before, but that old man's profound cultivation was at a high level. And there was something terrifying about his aura. Did the old man's cultivation lean towards the darkness element?
Chem Au calmed down. There were so many things he wanted to ask, but the most important one was, "Is that a cultivation skill?" he asked, pointing at the scroll. He had to make sure.
The old man looked at him with contempt. "Of course. I wouldn't be a respected bookstore if I didn't have a few of these around."
"How, how much is it?"
"Fifteen high jade stones."
"So expensive!" Chem Au shouted, while his heart sank. "How could a long piece of paper cost that much? You could buy a powerful sword with that kind of money."
"Hmph! Stupid kid." The old man shook his head. "Do you know how long it takes to make these books and scrolls? Even making one copy could take months, or even years. And some of the words are written down while being imbued with profound energy. They’re not some metal stick those crude blacksmiths make for you to swing at a tree."
The old man turned away to sit back down behind the counter, leaving Chem Au disappointed. He looked around the store. Now that he was searching for them, he could spot a few books and scrolls with titles that sounded like they could be cultivation skills.
More than buying a weapon, what he really wanted most in the world was to learn a new cultivation skill. The first layer of the Soaring Crane skill that the village chief had taught him was okay, but he knew better than anyone that he was just not suited for it. He had thought that the only way to get a new cultivation skill was to join a sect or the military, but now he realized he could just buy one right here. He groaned. If only he had that kind of money.
Chem Al heard his brother groaning, and he knew why. Books and scrolls were really expensive, especially the ones that contained high level cultivation skills. Before the invention of the printing press, every single word in all of these books were written by hand. Every copy was rare and valuable. This point in time was like a different world. There weren't even any public libraries yet.
Chem Al walked over to his brother and whispered, “I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll tell you this now. I will get you your own cultivation skill next year, and trust me, it will be far better and more powerful than anything you can find in this store.”
A heavy pause, then Chem Au gave a slightly doubtful nod. Maybe he believed him, maybe not. It didn’t matter right now. If all went as planned, he would be able to get his big brother that cultivation skill like he promised.
Chem Al then went back to browsing the bookstore, spending a few more minutes to look around. It wasn't everyday he could see written works that had been lost over the millenia. Once he had his fill, he went to a section of the store to find the blank books and scrolls.
And there it was on the bottom shelf. A blue book. The First Alchemist's very first journal, or at least it will be.
He picked it up and held it with respectful care as he carried it towards the counter. "How much for this?"
The old man flipped through the book, growing annoyed. He should have known. Of course these raggy boys would buy a blank book, one of the cheapest books in the store. Since no one had spent months writing in it, it wasn't worth much, only about five mid jade stones.
But then he remembered the little boy holding up a high jade stone when he first came into the store, so he decided to double the price. "You're in luck. It only costs one high jade stone."
Chem Al became silent.
He was silent for so long it must be because he was stunned by the expensive price, or at least that was what the old man thought. The boy could afford it, but it didn’t seem like he wanted to spend it all on one book. However, unbeknownst to the old man, Chem Al was stunned because it was so cheap!.
To be honest, he had expected it to be cheap, but hearing the old man say the low price felt … wrong. This was The First Alchemist’s journal they were talking about! He remembered when he first saw it at the Everything Auction House and had won it with a bid of over a million gold taels. But now it would only cost him a single high jade stone.
For some reason, Chem Al suddenly burst out laughing.
It unsettled the old man. He thought that the boy was laughing at how absurdly overpriced it was. “Fine, kid. How about I give you a small discount? I’ll just charge you with nine mid jade stones and ninety-nine low jade stones. Deal?”
Chem Al laughed harder. The cheap price had gotten even cheaper!
“Don’t think you can swindle me, raggy kid! I’m not going to lower the price anymore than that. Hmph, I didn’t even want to sell you brats anything anyway. If you want this book, you can have it at that price, or you can leave,” the old man said.
“Deal!” Chem Al shouted, a little too enthusiastically as he held out the high jade stone.
What the hell? The boy was now acting like he had just made the best purchase under heaven. The old man grew confused. He flipped through the book one more time, and then probed it with his profound energy, just to make sure there wasn't some kind of secret he had missed, but nope, it was just a blank book.
After taking the high jade stone, the old man slid the book back to the boy, who grabbed it like a mother clinging to her lost child. He hugged it in his arms. It would have looked sweet if it weren't for the fact that he was hugging an inanimate object with such great care.
What was wrong with this kid? But the old man’s question was left unanswered as the two brothers left the bookstore.
Walking down the street, Chem Al hummed a delightful tune as he held the blue journal close to his chest, while Chem Au asked, “What was that laughing all about?”
“Oh, that? I was just happy that I was able to buy this book at such a good price!”
“Really? So you didn’t spend all of the money? How much do you have left?”
Chem Al reached into his pocket and took out one measly low jade stone.
“That’s it?” Chem Au’s shoulders slumped.
“Hey, at least we can finally buy a snack now,” Chem Al said.