Published at 12th of August 2019 08:29:59 PM

Chapter 9

Arran stifled a yawn . He had not slept at all the previous night, instead practicing his use of Fire Essence until the break of dawn .

By now he could form a flame in his hand almost instantly, and each time he did, a big grin appeared on his face .

To Arran's surprise, Master Zhao did not chastise him for his overeagerness . Instead, he merely looked on in approval .

"The more you practice your magic, the stronger you will get," Master Zhao had said, and Arran was only too happy to follow the man's advice .

Halfway through the morning, Arran was once more waiting for his Fire Essence to replenish . As he walked beside the cart, he looked at their surroundings .

It had been several days since he had last seen any sign of other people, and not a single farm or cottage could be seen amid the low hills that surrounded them .

Arran did not know which part of the Empire they were in — nor, truth be told, did he know what parts the Empire even had — but it was clear that this region was more sparsely populated than the ones they had traveled through before .

"Where are we headed?" he idly asked Master Zhao, not expecting an answer . He had already asked the question many times, and each time, the answer had been the same: "I will tell you when I decide . "

To his surprise, this time Master Zhao answered his question . "We are going to visit an old friend of mine . "

"An old friend?" Arran was taken aback by the idea of Master Zhao having friends, like a normal person . "Is he also a mage?"

"He is," Master Zhao said . "A powerful one, at that . "

"When do we get there?" Arran asked, excited at the thought of meeting another mage .

"We should arrive in a month or two," Master Zhao replied .

"That long?" Arran had looked forward to spending time off the road, but now it looked like he had to wait quite a while longer .

Master Zhao stopped the cart at the side of the road, then walked onto the adjacent grassland .

"There are two techniques you should learn first," Master Zhao said . "A month or two should be just long enough for you to grasp them . "

Arran raised an eyebrow . "Two techniques?"

Master Zhao didn't answer . Instead, he abruptly stretched out his arm . From his hand emerged a furiously raging ball of fire that soared toward a large tree in the distance . When it struck, the entire tree was set ablaze .

"Please teach me!" Arran said, eyes wide .

"I thought you might be interested," Master Zhao said with a grin . "It's a clumsy and wasteful technique, but it has some uses . "

He proceeded to explain the technique to Arran, demonstrating it several times and leaving several burn scars on the local scenery .

As Master Zhao explained it, Arran would have to concentrate his Fire Essence, then forcefully expel it all at once, guiding it away from him .

Arran's first few attempts were unsuccessful . While he did manage to produce a large flame, the flame did not move at all, instead petering out in his hand after several moments .

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He finally succeeded a good hour later, but was disappointed to find that unlike Master Zhao's fireballs, his own were much smaller and barely flew a single pace before dissipating in mid-air .

Yet even that bit of success was enough to bolster his confidence, and he made several more attempts, only stopping when he ran out of Fire Essence .

Arran now understood what Master Zhao had meant when he said the technique was wasteful . Every successful attempt consumed a large chunk of the Fire Essence in Arran's body, and just half a dozen successful fireballs had left him drained .

"Excellent," Master Zhao said . "You are more talented than I expected . "

Arran felt a surge of pride . Master Zhao rarely gave compliments, which made the ones he did give even more precious .

"Next, I will show you a technique to recover your Essence faster . "

Arran's interest was instantly sparked . Right now, whenever his Fire Essence ran out it would take him nearly half an hour to recover .

"To start, you will need to…"

Master Zhao spent the next hour explaining a technique to Arran that had him circulate the Essence in his body while drawing it away from his Realms .

It sounded simple, but Arran soon found that it required him to control every aspect of his mind and body .

The technique reminded him of the sword techniques Master Zhao had taught him, and relying on the control he had learned from those he made some slow progress .

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After some hours of work, Arran had cut the time it took to replenish his Fire Essence in half . This was not as fast as he had hoped, but he wasn't disappointed — just with this, he could practice creating fireballs twice as fast .


The weeks that followed saw Arran use most of his time practicing the two techniques Master Zhao had taught him .

As he walked beside the cart, he would occasionally send small fireballs flying into the distance, then recover his Essence using Master Zhao's recovery technique .

He rapidly improved in both skills, and he soon found himself able to send the fireballs flying farther and his Essence recovering quicker .

It wasn't long before every mile or so, a series of scorch marks appeared in the vegetation beside the road .

Once, Arran set fire to the underbrush of a patch of forest, and only a quick intervention by Master Zhao saved the forest from burning down .

After that, Master Zhao made Arran aim his fireballs into the air .

Although Arran had thought that magic training would replace his sword training, he found that he still had to practice with the sword twice a day . Only now, Arran had to wield his sword using just his right hand, while at the same time using his left hand to wield magic .

At first, trying to control both magic and the sword just saw Arran fail at both . It was only after several weeks of practice that he became slightly proficient at combining the two, albeit nowhere near enough to earn any compliments from Master Zhao .

As they traveled, the landscape changed with each passing day . The hills grew taller and rockier, and the trees sparser . There still was little sign of any human activity, but steadily, dense trees made way for wide grasslands .

Almost two months after Arran first learned magic, vague outlines appeared in the distance . Initially, he believed these to be taller hills, but as they moved closer they grew in height, and on cloudless days he could see that snow covered their peaks .

Filled with awe, Arran realized these were mountains .

Arran had never seen mountains before, and in his imagination, mountains had simply been particularly tall hills . Now that he saw them with his own eyes, he finally understood just how vast they were — even from dozens of miles away, Arran could see them stretch into the sky, piercing the clouds .

The thought of seeing the mountains up close filled him with joy .

One morning, Arran found that Master Zhao had cast off the appearance of Arran's blond 'uncle' Derrin . His hair and eyes were black once more, and his face looked as if he was in his fifties, if not older .

"Once we enter the city, you are to call me 'Master Fireheart'," Master Zhao said .

"Master Fireheart?" Arran thought the name sounded silly, but he wisely kept his mouth shut .

"Now, as for you…" Master Zhao waved his hand at Arran, and Arran could sense that Essence flowed from Master Zhao's hand toward himself .

As Arran stood there, wondering whether something had happened, Master Zhao took out a small mirror which he handed to Arran .

When he looked in the mirror, he was shocked to find that his blond hair had turned jet-black . And not just that, his eyes and skin had changed, too .

No longer did he look like a pale, blond Easterner . Instead, he now resembled someone from the West .

"From now on," Master Zhao said, "your name is Li Wei An . You are the son of a small merchant from Fulai City, and you became my apprentice a year ago . "

"Li Wei An . " Arran repeated the name until it felt natural on his lips .