Wednesday, November 2, 2016
The First Alchemist - Chap 23
Chapter 23 - Three Months Before the Battle Part 1
When Chem Au broke through to the fourteenth level sooner than expected, his parents were amazed, but not nearly as much as when, less than two months later, he made another breakthrough and reached the fifteenth level.
They were so shocked that it took awhile for happiness to bubble up inside them. They had never heard of anyone who could cultivate that fast, not even Sorka Bo, the most talented youth in the village’s history.
It wasn't just them that were shocked by this. Everyone in the entire village, including the village chief, were astounded. They went out of their way to congratulate him on his achievement.
"Well done, Chem Au. If you keep this up, you might even catch up to my son," Sorka Jiu said.
"Thank you, sir. I just hope that my strength can be of some use to the village." Chem Au looked down. He really wished that the village chief was some kind of tyrant so it would be easier to overthrow him without feeling guilty.
"Oh, you definitely can. I'm assigning you on the next hunting trip. The first snow of the year will soon fall and this will be our last chance to find some meat for the winter."
"I will do my best, sir."
“Good! Good! I believe you will.” Sorka Jiu patted him on the shoulders. “By the way, how did your cultivation rise so fast? If there are any secret methods you can offer, that would be great for the rest of the village.”
"It was my brother, sir. He helped me."
"Your brother? The cripple?" Like everyone else in the village, Sorka Jiu's first instinct was to dismiss these claims. How could a cripple do anything, especially with cultivating strength? But then he remembered their journey through the forest and how different the cripple seemed. He kept Chem Au's words in mind.
Two weeks later, a hunting party went into the forest, led by Sorka Bo. While everyone else was carrying spears, he was carrying his father's sword.
"Whoa! Sorka Bo, did you finally master the second layer of the Soaring Crane Skill?" Lik Ku said, sucking up as always.
Sorka Bo smiled as he puffed out his chest. "Of course! I’ve been practicing.”
“Wow! To be able to master the skill so quickly, you’re even more talented than your father. Hey, when are you going to help me get stronger?”
Like I have the time to worry about you, Sorka Bo thought. He shifted his eyes to stare at Chem Au, sensing how his profound cultivation was getting closer to his own.
“You don’t have to worry about him,” Lik Ku said.
“Who says I’m worried.” Sorka Bo turned away, then led the hunting party deeper into the forest.
For the next half hour, they failed to find anything. That was until Sorka Bo spotted a couple of huge bear tracks. Too huge. "We need to leave," Sorka Bo called out.
Chem Au examined the tracks. "No, we have to stay and find it. Kill it if we can."
"Are you kidding me? Do you see the size of these tracks? How big do you think that desolate beast is?" Sorka Bo said to his face. "We can't take on that thing."
"We have to try," Chem Au said. "These tracks are too close to the village. The bear is obviously hunting for food for the winter. Even if we die trying, we need to at least drive it away. Or else our families might suffer the consequences."
Sorka Bo groaned. He wanted to say that those tracks weren't that close and that the bear probably won't attack their village, so why take the risk. However, after seeing the determined faces of his hunting party, he kept silent. Reluctantly, he nodded at Chem Au's words, and then motioned for everyone to follow the tracks.
They smelled it before they saw it. A rough smell, like dead leaves and wet fur were fermenting in a bag together for days.
"Over there," Chem Au whispered, pointing at some movement behind a few bushes.
"Okay. Here's what we do," Sorka Bo said. "We'll move downwind, and then sneak up on it from--"
The bear stuck its nose through the bushes and sniffed the air. It roared. Leaves flew everywhere as the bear burst through and charged towards them
"Shit! A Colossus Bear!" Sorka Bo unsheathed his sword. "Everyone! Attack!"
Half the hunting party threw their spears at it, but all of them bounced off the Colossus Bear's tough fur. Seeing how ineffective their attacks were, they began to worry, but then Sorka Bo shouted, "Soaring Crane Skill - Second Layer!"
White crescent light shot out, striking one of the bear's foreleg. A deep gash appeared, blood splattered. The bear roared in pain. It stumbled.
Everyone cheered, congratulating Sorka Bo, but then Chem Au shouted. "Don't just stand there! It's not dead yet! Surround it! Don't give it one target to focus on!" He saw that the bear was resuming its attack, but then it stopped as the hunting party activated their skill and quickly circled the bear.
It looked confused, wondering who it was going to attack. With it frozen in place like that, Chem Au had a chance to really look at it. He had never actually seen a Colossus Bear before, although the village chief had described them to him. This one's fur might be tough, but its body looked thin and weak. It must be starving, Chem Au thought, but he didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
The rest of the hunting party kept their spears up, ready for the bear’s next attack. Sorka Bo swung his sword and another white crescent light flew towards the bear, hitting its other foreleg. Again, the Colossus Bear roared out in pain. Then it turned its eyes towards Sorka Bo, and charged.
Sorka Bo screamed. White light enveloped his legs as he ran away, the bear right behind him. "You did this!" he shouted at Chem Au when he saw that the bear was chasing him only. He swung his sword for another attack, but it missed.
"Don't panic!" Chem Au shouted. "You're faster than it! Concentrate your attack on its neck!"
Sorka Bo swung around a tree, barely dodging one of the Colossus Bear's claws. Wood splintered everywhere, but when he managed to get away, he realized that Chem Au was right. His legs allowed him to maneuver better than that big, dumb bear. Once he moved himself to a safer position, he attacked again.
The Colossus Bear leaned to the left, the crescent light only managing to nick its skin under the fur.
Shit! He dodged it, Sorka Bo thought. He shouted at the hunting party. "Someone help me!" He sounded shaky and desperate, and so were his attacks as his next one missed completely.
All of the guards from the hunting party who still had their spears ran towards the Colossus Bear, which was too distracted from chasing Sorka Bo to notice them until they got close enough. They stabbed it, but failed again to penetrate its fur. Only one of the guards, Shu Tui, managed to stab the bear in the eye, more out of luck than anything else.
The Colossus bear roared, swiping out is claw to protect itself. Shu Tui wasn't able to get away fast enough, the claw ripping through his leg. Blood splashed everywhere as his entire leg separated from his body.
He screamed, falling to the ground, hunching his back as he grabbed at the stump where his missing leg should be. The pain blinded him until he fainted.
This is my chance, Sorka Bo thought.
Another white crescent light flew towards the bear. But the beast was wailing around, hurt and enraged, as it searched for the prey that blinded one of its eyes. The attack hit its body, causing a deep gash close to its neck, but it barely slowed down the beast.
The Colossus Bear charged through the forest, smashing down anything that got in its way, only caring about killing whatever had injured it. Sorka Bo gave chase, but after using so much profound energy, he could barely keep up. Breathing heavily, he fired off another attack, managing to hit the bear from behind.
The bear stopped, then spun around towards Sorka Bo, one of its eyes bleeding out while the other stared him down. It roared.
Just as it was about to charge again, Chem Au yelled. Killing intent flowed off of him as he jumped down from a tree with a large stone in his hands. The bear made the mistake of looking up. He slammed the stone down onto the bear's head with his full strength behind it.
To his horror, the Colossus Bear didn’t collapse, managing to survive, so he slammed the stone down again, but failed when the bear shook him off. Chem Au landed on the ground, then quickly rolled away, dodging the beast's claws gouging the ground where he had just been.
The bear seemed to have slowed down, swaying on its feet from that last attack. It didn't look like it would last much longer.
Chem Au got up, ready to keep fighting, but he didn't need to as one final white light chopped through the bear's neck, separating its head from the rest of its body. Finally, the Colossus Bear collapsed on the ground and died.
Breathing heavily, Chem Au put down his fists and ran towards the guard who had lost his leg, ignoring the celebrations from the rest of the hunting party. It wasn't over yet.
Sorka Bo was cheering along with them, but then he stopped when he noticed Chem Au leaning over the guard, tying something on the stump to slow the bleeding. Everyone else noticed him too and their cheering stopped. It was sad, but they knew what was to happen next.
"What are you doing? Leave him," Sorka Bo said.
"Shu Tui's still alive." Chem Au picked the guard off the ground.
"So? Chem Au, you're not new at this. We've left heavily wounded people behind before. Look at how much blood he's lost. He won't survive for long."
"It's different this time. My brother might be able to help him."
"Not this again. I don't care what you say. There is no way a cripple who can't cultivate can help someone else cultivate. It's like you're telling me a turtle taught you how to fly," Sorka Bo said. "And you're expecting me to believe that your little brother can save this man's life."
Sorka Bo sighed. "Even if he could stop the bleeding, what next? It's not like he can grow back his leg. Chem Au, you know as well as I do what this man's life will be like without a leg. He can no longer work as a guard. He's useless now, a cripple. The rest of his life will be hoping for scraps from the rest of the villagers who can't afford it. Your little brother would have suffered the same fate if you didn’t have caring parents.”
Chem Au felt anger boiling inside him, but he told himself to calm down. What Sorka Bo said wasn’t exactly wrong, but…. He wanted to scream. Now that there was a chance to save Shu Tui, they should still try.
He brought the man over to Sorka Bo. "Doesn't matter. We have to try. I know you're tired, but you're the fastest out of all of us. Take him and bring him back to my brother."
Sorka Bo shook his head. "There's no point."
"You're not like your father at all!" Chem Au shouted.
"What are you talking about? My father would have done the same thing!"
"Yes, but he would be more reluctant about it. Your father would have at least hoped for a chance that this man could live." More than ever, Chem Au believed in Little Al's plan to take over the village. Even though Sorka Jiu was a good village chief, there was no way he was going to let the next generation take over.
“Just take him!” Chem Au tried to hand Shu Tui over to Sorka Bo one last time.
“You’re giving me orders now? Just because your cultivation rose a little faster than normal doesn’t mean you get to tell me what to do. I’ll have you know if I hadn’t been spending my time practicing the second layer of the Soaring Crane Skill, my profound cultivation would have reached the seventeenth level by now!”
“That has nothing to do with any of this. Take him. You’re the fastest!”
But Sorka Bo took a step back. Chem Au then looked at the rest of the guards in the hunting party, hoping that they could convince him. However, although they were reluctant, they agreed with Sorka Bo’s decision.
Chem Au sighed. He couldn’t blame them. He would have made the same decision two months ago.
“Like he said, it’s pointless,” Lik Ku jumped in. “If you want someone to bring him back to your brother, then carry him yourself.”
Seeing as how Sorka Bo wasn't taking the man, Chem Au shouted, "Fine!” White light wrapped around his legs as he ran through the forest, leaving the hunting party behind.
Chem Au rushed back to the village, hoping he could reach his brother in time before the man in his arms drew his last breath.