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Published at 12th of August 2019 08:30:06 PM


Chapter 2



Adept Song cursed under his breath as he hurried through the halls of the Academy . There were over a dozen Adepts testing hundreds of applicants each day, and he just had to get the one with a forbidden Realm .

And not just any forbidden Realm, at that . That blond-haired freak in his office had actually managed to crack the testing disc!

A shiver ran down his spine as he thought about it . Whatever kind of foul magic the young man possessed, he did not want to know about it . The sooner the little monster was locked away in the dungeon, the better .

Panting, he reached his master's office . He took a few moments to catch his breath, then knocked on the door . A moment later, it swung open without a sound .

Inside, a handsome man with sharp features and short black hair sat behind a desk . At first glance, he seemed to be about thirty years old, but a closer look revealed an ageless quality in his face, as if his body had stopped aging at some point in the distant past .

"Master Zhao," Adept Song said, bowing politely . Even at a time like this, he took care to be respectful . Master Zhao was not someone a mere Adept would wish to offend .

"Adept Song," Master Zhao said with a displeased look . "Is there a reason for you to visit me in such a state?" He clearly did not welcome the interruption .

Adept Song nodded anxiously . "There's an applicant with a forbidden Realm!"

Master Zhao raised an eyebrow . "A forbidden Realm? That hardly seems like it's worth such commotion . "

The Adept shook his head . "It's not a normal forbidden Realm . He actually cracked the testing disc!" He held up the disc, showing the black mark and the thin cracks that spread out like lightning from its center .

At this, a look of interest finally emerged on Master Zhao's face . "Let me take a look," he said, holding out his hand .

Adept Song handed over the disc, and Master Zhao spent several minutes carefully examining it . As he studied the disc, a curious expression came over his face .

Some moments later he raised his head, meeting Adept Song's eyes . "Now this is unusual," he said, his voice betraying a hint of excitement . "Tell me, does anyone else know about this?"

Adept Song shook his head . "I came over right after it happened . The applicant is still sitting in my office . " His left eye twitched in worry as he realized that he should have posted a guard to make sure the boy didn't leave .

Master Zhao stood up . "You did well," he said calmly . Then, he raised two fingers, slightly wagging them as he whispered some words .

A look of shock appeared on Adept Song's face . His mouth twisted as if he was about to cry out, but before he could utter a single sound a flash of light emanated from his body as it seemed to burn up from within .

Face frozen in shock, the body of Adept Song turned an ashen color . Then, it began to crumble, like burned-up charcoal . Within moments, all that remained was a small pile of ashes .


Master Zhao moved his fingers again, making a sweeping motion . A gust of wind blew through the room and Adept Song's ashes were swept out of a window .


"A forbidden Realm," Master Zhao said to himself with a pensive expression . "I suppose I shall have to take a look . "

———

Within Adept Song's office, Arran was growing more worried by the second . The more he thought about the situation, the more he became convinced that he was in danger .

The feeling of unease within him increasing with each passing moment, Arran finally decided that he had to leave .

But then, what would he do? With less than two silver marks to his name, how could he escape?

He couldn't stay in Fulai City . Even if he somehow managed to hide, what little coin he had would only buy a week or two at an inn, if that . After that, he would be forced to find work, right under the Academy's nose .

Returning to Riverbend was more appealing, but he lacked the coin to afford food for the entire journey . A silver mark and a handful of coppers would keep him fed halfway to Riverbend at best . After that, what would he do? Resort to begging?

His eyes fell on the small metal box that was still sitting on the table .

At first, he rejected the idea . Stealing from the Academy? Only a fool would do such a thing . Yet if he was to have a chance at escaping, he needed the money .

He understood that time was running out . Adept Song could return any moment . If Arran was to act, it had to be now .

After a quick glance at the door, he stood up and stretched his hand toward the metal box . He could feel his heart pounding in his chest .

Just as he was about to grab the box, a voice sounded . "Stealing, are we?"

With a jolt Arran turned around, his head jerking toward the door .

Behind him, he found a handsome dark-haired man, dressed in a long black robe . Arran was certain he had not heard the door open, yet somehow, the man had appeared inside the office .

"I wasn't—"

"You sensed that you were in danger," the man interrupted him . "And you decided to steal the money, flee the Academy, and use the money to disappear . "

"Who are you?" Arran asked, panic in his voice .

"You can call me Master Zhao," the man said . "Now, we don't have much time . If you want to escape with your life you will listen, and listen carefully . "

A chill ran down Arran's spine at the man's words .


"The moment you cracked that little disc, the Academy knew about it . Right now they will be gathering up mages to retrieve you . Once they capture you, they'll haul you off to a dark dungeon, and you'll never see the light of day again . "

Arran's eyes widened in terror . "I have to leave! They could be here any moment!"

Master Zhao gave him a puzzled look . Then, comprehension dawned on his face . "You think this is the Academy?" He burst into laughter . "This is just a small outpost . The real Academy could hold Fulai City a hundred times over, and have room left to spare . "

Arran sighed in relief . For a moment, he had feared that he was only moments away from being hauled off in chains . "So there's still time to escape?"

Master Zhao nodded, a smile on his face . "The real Academy is thousands of miles away . It will take them weeks to get here . By that time, you and I will be long gone . "

Arran was slightly startled at Master Zhao's words . Apparently, the man planned to travel with him . He was not sure whether he liked the idea, but then, he did not have much of a choice . "When do we leave?" he asked after a moment of hesitation .

"Before we leave, I have some work to do . A day or four should be enough . You should head to an inn called the Blue Angel, in the southern quarter of the city . I will find you in a few days . "

Master Zhao reached out to the small metal box on the desk and took out two big handfuls of coins, gold and silver glittering in his hands . After spending several moments examining them, he picked out a seemingly unremarkable silver coin and held it up .

"See this? There's a nasty little tracking spell on it . If you had stolen that, they would have found you in days . "

He returned the silver coin to the metal box, then scooped up the rest of the coins in his hands and handed them to Arran . "This should get you through the week . "

Arran blinked in astonishment . The man had just handed him a small fortune . Never mind spending a week in an inn, with this, he could pay for an entire year . "This is too much…" he muttered uncertainly .

"Better to have some extra in case I don't return," Master Zhao said indifferently . "Remember, the Blue Angel . If I'm not there in a week… well, I suppose you could at least try to run . "

After he finished speaking, Master Zhao made a sharp movement with his left hand, and the air surrounding him suddenly grew blurry . When it cleared up, Arran was baffled to find that Master Zhao had taken on the appearance of Adept Song .

"On your way out, try to look like you just failed the test . " Master Zhao, now wearing Adept Song's face, took a look at Arran's distraught expression . "Perfect . Now off with you . "

With that, he waved Arran out of the office, cutting off any questions Arran had .

Outside the office, a tremble ran through Arran's body as he tried to steady his nerves . The encounter had left him thoroughly shaken .

"I said off with you!" Master Zhao's voice sounded through the door .

Arran hurriedly began to make his way to the exit . Every fiber of his body was telling him to run, yet he knew that he must remain calm . Running off now would certainly draw attention, and so he forced himself to walk at a normal pace, step after terrifying step .

Head held low, he finally exited the Testing Hall, doing his best to ignore the thought that at any moment the Academy's guards might burst forth and capture him .


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When he entered the square in front of the Academy's main building, he glanced up . To his eyes, the building that had seemed so grand earlier now loomed with danger, as if the Academy itself had branded him an enemy .

With a shudder, he walked away .

Once he had gotten enough distance between himself and the Academy to soothe his nerves, he spent some moments considering whether he should follow Master Zhao's instructions .

If the man was lying, his best bet would be to leave the city right away . Yet if the man was telling the truth, his only chance would be to do exactly what he had been told .

After giving it some thought, he decided to do what Master Zhao had said . While he did not fully trust the man, just the abilities he had displayed in the Academy meant that he would not have to resort to cheap lies to catch Arran .

Having decided, Arran set off toward the city's outskirts .

Soon, he began to feel somewhat more at ease . The crowds were thicker here and the people dressed more poorly, making it easier for Arran to blend into the masses .

He had originally entered the city from the east, but now he noticed that the southern part of the city seemed rougher, with many in the crowd wearing swords and axes at their sides . Evening had not fallen yet, but already, the many taverns that lined the streets seemed to be doing good business .

He spent some time trying to find the Blue Angel, but instead, he soon found himself lost within the maze-like streets . At this rate, he would be lucky to reach it before nightfall .

Eventually, he saw a woman on the street with blonde hair, wearing a plain but well-fitting brown dress . She reminded him of the women from Riverbend, and he stopped to ask her where the Blue Angel was .

"Excuse me, miss," he said . "Could I trouble you for directions?"

She gave him a wary look, but still stopped to reply . "Where are you heading?"

"I'm looking for an inn called the Blue Angel," he answered .

Instantly, her face turned sour . She gave him a scandalized look, then walked off without a word .

Arran was puzzled . All he had done was ask for directions to an inn, yet the woman had reacted as if he had propositioned her . From this, he suspected that the Blue Angel wasn't the most reputable of places .

After spending some more time fruitlessly searching on his own, he finally approached a beggar . He tossed the man a copper and asked, "Can you tell me where to find the Blue Angel?"

"A man of taste, are ye?" The beggar gave him a broad grin that revealed several missing teeth, then gave Arran directions in an accent so thick he could only barely understand what the man said .

Arran tossed the beggar another coin, then headed toward where he thought the man had told him the Blue Angel was .

Not long after, he arrived at a stone building with a large sign with a crude painting of a blue woman, with the words "The Blue Angel" scrawled underneath . In front of the building a bald, broad-shouldered man sat on a small stool, trimming his nails with a knife that looked far too big for the task .


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The man glanced up for a second as Arran approached, then went back to trimming his nails .

As soon as Arran stepped inside, he understood the scandalized look the woman had given him earlier .

The common room was large, filled with over a dozen wooden tables, with a handful of men sitting scattered across the room . What drew Arran's attention, however, were the women .

Within the room there were nearly two dozen women, a few sitting next to the men at the tables, while the others sat in the back, their eyes turning toward Arran as soon as he entered .

Their clothes were unlike anything he had ever seen before, necklines so deep they revealed more than they hid and skirts so high they might as well not have worn any at all .

Arran felt his face turn red as he tried his best not to look at anything scandalous, a task he only partly accomplished . He had heard of places like this, but he had never thought he would actually visit one .

Trying to keep a straight face, he made his way to the bar . Behind the bar stood a plump but pretty woman, wearing a dress with a plunging neckline .

"How much for a room?" Arran asked her, quickly adding, "Just to stay . " It took him some effort not to let his eyes wander below her face .

"Two silvers for the week," the woman answered with a smirk . "Three if you want clean sheets . "

Arran handed her three silver marks . There were many problems he had right now, but a lack of coin was not among them .

"Do you have any baths?" he asked .

"Two coppers for a bath," the woman replied . After a moment's pause, she added, "Six if you want one of the girls to join you . " She cast a meaningful look at the women sitting around the room .

"Just the bath is fine," Arran said hastily .

An hour later he was lying on a soft bed in a small room with a window overlooking the street, bathed and fed . The meal had been much better than he would have expected in a place like this, and after the bath, he felt cleaner than he had in months .

His thoughts turned toward his situation . If Master Zhao could be believed, a group of mages was heading for Fulai City at that very moment, intent on capturing him . Just the thought of it was terrifying .

Worse, from the man's words, the Academy was far larger than he could ever have imagined . Even if he somehow managed to escape for the time being, hiding from an organization like that seemed nearly impossible .

And could he even trust Master Zhao? The man had warned him about the Academy and even given him a small fortune in coin, that much was true . Yet, why would he help Arran?

No matter how hard he thought about it, Arran could not find a satisfactory answer .

It was well into the night when he eventually fell asleep, his dreams filled with visions of murderous mages .


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