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 welled 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.


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