Paragon of Destruction

Chapter 15 Drunken Masters

"Grandmaster Windsong!" Adept Kadir banged his fist against the hardwood door for the third time, and still, no reaction came.

He shook his head with an annoyed sigh, then opened the door and stepped inside. Arran quickly followed him.

The first thing that caught Arran's eye once they entered were the bottles. There were dozens, most of them empty, scattered all across the room. It was as if half an army had spent the night drinking in the chamber.

At the far end of the chamber stood two couches, with a small table in between. Grandmaster Windsong and Master Zhao each occupied one of the couches, and on the table, Arran saw a board of stones.

As they entered, Windsong raised his head. "Adept Kadir? Why are you disturbing us?" He sounded irritated, and it was clear that he did not welcome the interruption.

"This could not wait," Adept Kadir said. "Master Fireheart's apprentice is in danger."

"In danger, you say?" Windsong looked at Master Zhao. "It seems we must delay our game for a while."

Windsong turned his attention back to Adept Kadir. "Now then," he said. "What's this about danger?"

Adept Kadir took a deep breath, then began to speak.

"After you told me to have Initiate Li train with the other initiates, I discovered that he has a monstrously strong Fire Realm, yet with less control than a third stage initiate. I could not safely let him practice with the others, so I decided to give him a Wind Realm—"

"Without my permission?" Windsong interrupted him with a surprised expression.

"You were here, emptying the monastery's wine cellars. I could not disturb you for such a small matter." Adept Kadir seemed uneasy, but his voice was resolute.

"You could have waited," Windsong said. "A few months hardly makes a difference."

"The boy is barely twenty, if that," Adept Kadir said. "To you, a few months might be nothing, but to him, it would be an eternity."

"Very well," Windsong said with a nod. "You gave him a Wind Realm. Continue."

"He opened the Wind Realm less than a day ago," Adept Kadir said. "Yet this morning, he was using as much Essence as a sixth stage novice."

At this, Windsong raised an eyebrow. "A sixth stage novice? Initiate Li, can you explain this?"

Arran was about to answer when Master Zhao cut in.

"My apprentice has an unusual talent for opening Realms," Master Zhao said. "I first saw it when he opened his Fire Realm, and I suspect that since then, his talent has improved further."

Arran frowned at the lie, but he kept his mouth shut, understanding that Master Zhao must have a reason for his words.

"Could it have something to do with his forbidden Realm?" Windsong asked with a pensive look.

"He has a forbidden Realm?!" Adept Kadir's eyes went wide with shock.

"Adept Kadir, let Fireheart speak," Windsong said curtly.

Master Zhao shook his head. "I observed him quite closely as he opened his Fire Realm, and his forbidden Realm was not involved." He shrugged. "My apprentice is unusual in more ways than one."

Arran boggled at the ease with which Master Zhao lied to Windsong, and an uncomfortable thought entered his mind. If Master Zhao could lie this easily to a friend he had known for centuries, then how much of what he had told Arran could be false?

"It is quite unusual," Windsong agreed. "Although I've seen something like it before. A young mage, barely fifty. He could open new Realms in just a few hours. I never got to find out how he did it. One day he opened a Poison Realm… well, some Realms are best opened slowly."

"The world of magic is filled with oddities," Master Zhao said in agreement. Turning his gaze toward Arran, he added, "Although I do hope my apprentice will be more careful with the Realms he opens."

"For now, we'll just have to watch how he develops," Windsong said. "In time, perhaps things will become clearer."

"But what about the Academy?" Adept Kadir looked distraught. "Just the speed with which he opened his Wind Realm could draw their attention. With a forbidden Realm… If the Academy finds out, we'll all—"

"Will you tell anyone?" Windsong interrupted him.

"Of course not!" Adept Kadir sounded appalled at the very thought.

"Then there's little to worry about," Windsong said.

"But what of the other initiates?" Adept Kadir asked, his voice still filled with worry. "Initiate Li's progress will certainly draw attention. If just one of them speaks about it to the wrong person, word could get to the Academy."

Windsong thought for a moment. "Find two trustworthy and talented initiates, then have the three of them train together, away from the others."

Adept Kadir nodded, although he did not look reassured in the least. "I will arrange it, but—"

"Enough, Adept." Windsong's voice was firm, and it was obvious that he would allow no more argument. After a moment of silence, he turned toward Master Zhao. "With these matters settled, shall we return to our game?"

"Windsong," Master Zhao said. "I'm afraid we will have to continue our game another time. Right now, I must talk to my apprentice."

Windsong looked disappointed, but he nodded in agreement. "Very well."


Arran felt a bit of envy when he entered the building that had been reserved for Master Zhao. It was roomy and bright, with intricate decorations on the walls and elegant furniture adorning the rooms.

"Tell me how you did it," Master Zhao said just moments after they entered, clearly unwilling to waste any time.

"I directed the Essence from my forbidden Realm to the barrier blocking my Wind Realm, and it destroyed it," Arran said.

"It destroyed it?" A thoughtful expression came over Master Zhao's face. "How much Essence did you use?"

"Only a sliver," Arran replied. "That's all I can control."

"Interesting." Master Zhao knitted his brows. "For the time being, tell no one else about this. Not even Windsong or Adept Kadir."

"My forbidden Realm… do you know what it is?" Arran had asked Master Zhao about his forbidden Realm before, but the man had merely told him he did not know what it was. Perhaps now that he knew it could help open Realms, he would have more to say.

Master Zhao shook his head. "I have some suspicions, but none strong enough to share. For now, just keep it hidden as best you can."

Arran nodded, though the answer left him unsatisfied.

"Master Zhao…" Arran hesitated, but then asked the question that had been burning in his mind. "Why did you spend weeks drinking with Windsong?"

Master Zhao laughed. "Windsong and I are both old men. Older than you would believe. To us, a few weeks or months are hardly worth mentioning. Besides…"

Master Zhao's expression grew serious. "Windsong has not left this place for a very long time. Other than his students, he rarely meets fellow mages. I suspect the company is half the reason he's willing to help us."

"But why all the wine?" In truth, this had been what most puzzled Arran. He could understand Master Zhao wanting to catch up with an old friend, but the dozens of bottles of wine had baffled him.

"As mages grow stronger, so do their bodies," Master Zhao said with a chuckle. "When you become as old as I am, you will find that there's little in the way of drink that can shake your senses. If you want your senses shaken, it requires some effort."

"Just how old are you?" Arran knew the question was an awkward one, but he could not suppress his curiosity.

"Old enough not to have to put up with an impertinent apprentice's endless questions. Go find Adept Kadir, and start your training."

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