Chapter 29 Stormleaf's Gif
"A proposition?" Jiang Fei asked.
"I assume you have at least one Realm, even if you haven't opened it yet," Stormleaf said. "I can offer you a way to open whatever Realms you have."
Jiang Fei looked at him in shock. "You can do that?"
Stormleaf smiled at her, then reached inside his robe. When his hand appeared again, he was holding a small black pill.
Immediately, the eyes of the other two Academy mages went wide with shock.
"Elder Stormleaf—" the middle-aged woman began to speak, but Stormleaf silenced her with a gesture.
"Is that… a Realm Opening Pill?" Jiang Fei asked.
The question seemed to take Stormleaf by surprise. "You know more about magic than I had expected, Miss Jiang," he said. "Although I suppose that's to be expected from a daughter of the Jiang Clan."
"I have heard of them, although I have never seen one." Jiang Fei's voice trembled a little as she spoke, and Arran knew that inside, she must be panicking.
"Do you know what Realm Opening Pills are?" Stormleaf asked.
"They're alchemical pills that open Realms, right?" Jiang Fei said.
"Not alchemical," Stormleaf said, sounding pleased at the opportunity to correct her. "Realm Opening Pills are entirely different from most pills. In truth, they can barely even be considered pills."
"How so?" Jiang Fei asked.
"When mages start out, their Essence is thin, like a vapor within their body," Stormleaf explained. "To reach the Master level, a mage has to condense his Essence until it resembles a liquid. Then, to reach the Grandmaster level, a mage has to further condense his Essence, forming a solid core."
Jiang Fei nodded calmly, and it was clear that she already this. Arran, on the other hand, listened intently. Until now, he had known little of what separated normal mages from Master and Grandmasters.
"A Realm Opening Pill," Stormleaf continued, "is the condensed Essence core of a Grandmaster. The only way to get one is to defeat a Grandmaster and take it from his body." With a smile, he added, "You can understand why they're valuable."
Hearing his words, Jiang Fei looked astounded, and Arran could not keep his eyes from going wide with shock. He realized that if Realm Opening Pills were taken from the bodies of Grandmasters, then the pills that Master Zhao had given him represented a dozen dead Grandmasters.
Stormleaf grinned, seemingly satisfied at Jiang Fei's shocked expression. "I took this one a week before I encountered you. It belonged to a Grandmaster who helped the murderers we are looking for."
Arran paled at Stormleaf's words. For a moment, he feared the man had caught Master Zhao, but he quickly discarded the thought. Master Zhao would not be caught so easily. Windsong, on the other hand…
"But how does that open a Realm?" Jiang Fei asked.
Her voice was shaking, and Arran could tell that she was having trouble maintaining her composure. Clearly, she also realized who the likely source for this pill was.
"When you take the pill, the Essence contained within the core will be released within your body," Stormleaf answered. "As it surges through your body, it will break down the barriers that are closing off your Realms."
Jiang Fei did not answer, and Arran could see her looking at the pill in Stormleaf's hand, dread clear on her face.
"Of course, the Academy considers it forbidden magic," Stormleaf continued. "But in your case, an exception can be made."
"I cannot possibly accept this," Jiang Fei said. "It's too valuable."
"Nonsense," Stormleaf replied. "I insist."
"But it's too much…" Jiang Fei looked miserable, and Arran understood that she was only barely able to remain calm. Even that, he thought, was an impressive feat.
Stormleaf's face hardened at the rejection. "I offer you an escape from your problems, and you refuse it?"
"It's not that I don't want it," Jiang Fei said. "But… How could I ever repay a debt like that?"
Her face showed clear traces of panic now. Arran knew that she was desperately trying to find a way to get out of the situation, but he saw no way out.
"All I ask is that you remember the kindness I'm showing you," Stormleaf said. There was a cheerless smile on his face. "Now please, accept this gift."
Jiang Fei took the black pill with a trembling hand. Even now, Arran could see that she was frantically looking for an escape from the situation.
"Do I just swallow it?" she asked.
Stormleaf nodded. "You will feel some pain while the pill does its work, but in a few hours, you will have opened your Realm."
Jiang Fei's eyes were filled with fear, but she took the pill in her mouth.
"Swallow it," Stormleaf said. By now, all kindness had disappeared from his voice.
Jiang Fei closed her eyes, then did as the man said.
For some time, they sat in silence, waiting for the effects of the pill to set in. Arran saw that Stormleaf looked calm, almost bored.
Meanwhile, Jiang Fei seemed terrified, and Arran knew that it wasn't fear of the pain ahead that frightened her.
In the next few hours, their lives would be decided. If the seal Master Zhao had placed on Jiang Fei's Wind Realm held, Stormleaf would undoubtedly realize something was wrong. If that happened, both Jiang Fei and Arran would have little hope of escaping.
Finally, Jiang Fei started to groan. The sound was soft at first, but it quickly grew louder, and her body started spasming with the effects of the Realm Opening Pill.
It didn't take long before Arran saw her eyes turn senseless. He understood that by now, her mind had been overwhelmed by the pain.
The moment Jiang Fei lost consciousness, one of the Academy mages spoke.
"Elder Stormleaf!" The voice belonged to the middle-aged woman. "How could you give the girl a Realm Opening Pill?!"
"Are you questioning my judgment, Junior Chen?" Stormleaf asked in a cold voice.
"Of course not," the woman said hurriedly, and a hint of fear could be seen in her face. "But why would you give the girl such a treasure?"
"The Academy has long sought to increase its influence in the Jiang Clan," Stormleaf said. "This will finally give us an opportunity to do so."
"Are we to rely on the gratitude of some spoiled child?" the woman asked. Her voice was subdued, but it was obvious that she didn't think much of the plan.
Stormleaf grinned. "You think I would rely on gratitude?" he said. "The girl just took a forbidden Realm Opening Pill. By the time she awakes, we will be well within our rights to detain her."
"How does that help our cause?" The woman knitted her brows in confusion.
"We will dispose of the servant, take the girl back to the Academy, and offer her the choice to either receive our help or be punished for her crimes."
Abruptly, Arran realized why they spoke so freely in front of him. To them he was little more than an insect, posing no threat at all. Even if he ran, he doubted he would make it more than ten paces. And now, they were planning to kill him.
"What if she refuses?" the woman asked.
"She won't," Stormleaf said. "With our help, she can rise to power within the Jiang Clan — she can have everything she wants, or she can die. The choice is a simple one."
Understanding dawned on the woman's face, and she nodded thoughtfully.
"Now, we should—" Suddenly, Stormleaf stopped talking, and his head turned sharply toward Arran.
Arran felt an avalanche of pain surging through him as raw Essence flooded his body. He had just taken all but two of the Realm Opening Pills that Master Zhao had given him.