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I lose track of time in finishing out the art. It’s complex, but beautiful. Thousands of concentric circle batches line the page. I am not sure what they do precisely but they seem to be about how essence collects and clumps together, the distance inbetween the energy.

There seems to be an upper limit for the density, but I don’t comprehend the fundamentals of how it works, but I do get that it does work. It would change a cultivator’s dantian, meridians, blood flow, and even breathing patterns.

It seems to account for the sparsest density all the way to the max, it almost seems like a software program, changing how it operates based on where someone starts.

I pen the final stroke and a pulse of energy pushes out from the page, it’s not very strong, but I do feel it. I hear the bookshelves rattle a little, the guards at the alcove entrance look my way wondering what it was. I look back at them with a confused look shaking my head.

That was weird, I’ll have to tell Sir Orris.

Sir Orris comes walking back into his area tugging a child along with him. He can’t be more than ten years old. He seems surprised and is wearing a Visitor’s token as a medallion around his neck.

“What are we doing Sir Orris?” The boy asks.

“You’ve always had a rivalry with Mala, haven’t you?” Sir Orris starts.

The boy flushes and looks down, “Yes,” He recovers and stares up at Sir Orris, “but what of it?”

“He likes her!” I chime in. I’m just taking a shot in the dark but he wouldn’t blush for a girl he hated.

“Quiet you!” The boy barks.

“Ohoho, I see,” Sir Orris jeers.

The boy stomps his foot, “She said she won’t consider dating me if I’m weaker than she is,” his face now fully crimson finding his secret is out.

“I may be able to help you with that,” Sir Orris says. He looks to me and whispers, “Is it done?”

I nod which pulls Sir Orris’ lips upward.

“What if you were twice as strong as now?” Sir Orris baits the boy.

“Twice?” The boy pauses as if thinking it over, “As in twice in one go? I can’t advance to the next stage just yet.”

“This won’t advance you,” Sir Orris adds.

I don’t know where he’s pulling this, but I hope he’s right. If we mess up this boy’s future any benefit Sir Orris plans on garnering will probably bite us instead.

“Okay, what do you want?”

“Fifty black gold coins,” Sir Orris demands, “payable up front.” He picks up the scroll in front of me and hesitates, “Plus a favor from your father.”

That price seems low, but I’m not familiar with this black gold.

The boy looks at the scroll and seems like he’s being taken, “Do you know who I am Sir Orris?” He crosses his arms and stares the much taller man down, “I could have you both fired, and your title stripped from you.”

My mouth drops at this, I look to Sir Orris who is still grinning. He’d better be right.

“I know well who you are, that’s why I thought of you when this came into my possession,” Sir Orris hefts the scroll up toward the boy.

The boy tries to take the scroll from Sir Orris’ hands, who deftly dodges.

“Fine, but if you’re wrong, I expect you both to be out of town by tonight!”

The boy pulls out a black card from his belt from nowhere causing me to quirk my brow. He taps the back of the card a few times and pushes it toward Sir Orris, who also pulls out a black card. The two cards touch and a tiny burst of light travels between them.

Sir Orris looks down at his card and his smile widens, “Pleasure doing business with you.” He starts to unfurl the scroll and adds, “If you fail to meet the second part of the bargain, I have a separate scroll that will reverse the effects, no matter where you are.”

The boy nods, his eyes going wide, he’s bought Sir Orris’ lie. At least I think it’s a lie.

Sir Orris activates the scroll and targets the boy. The script pulls off the page and the scroll falls to pieces, the script hangs in the air for a second in blue light.

The art shoots toward the boy’s head and he jerks then starts to fall backward but stops when he’s clearly off balance. His feet rise about an inch off of the ground. He rights himself and his feet touch the ground again.

The boy opens his eyes and I see a flash of blue from his eyes before they settle back into their normal brown color. He squeezes his fists a few times and looks his body over.

“I don’t feel any different,” The boy remarks. This sets him off and he pushes forward toward Sir Orris who holds out his hand to stop the boy.

“Let’s test you, then you’ll see how you are twice as powerful.”

Sir Orris takes a stone from his belt, from nowhere again, and holds it up for the boy to see.

“A testing stone, push your essence into this and it will tell you your sigma.” Sir Orris holds out the stone for the boy to take.

Annoyed by the experience the boy grabs the stone in a huff and does as he is asked. He hands the stone back to Sir Orris.

“5.5,” Sir Orris proclaims, “If the fates will it, when you find your elemental affinity, you’ll be a starlight.” He pats the boy on the shoulder and sends him on his way.

The boy seems to be in a trance as he leaves, as though he can’t believe it.

Sir Orris waits a few minutes after the boy leaves and collapses into a heap with a sigh, “I’m too old for this shit.” He looks at me and I see he’s broken out into a sweat.

“You had me really scared!” I shout at him, throwing a random scroll in his face.

Sir Orris chuckles, “Well, we made away like bandits,” he holds up his black card. “The favor is worth many times more,” He breaks into a smile, “His father is the sovereign of the Redwood Kingdom.”

The blood in my veins runs cold, he just gambled on our very lives. Forget running, if we hurt Prince Corvin of Redwood we’d be lucky if they sent us to the gallows by nightfall. How did he even get a hold of the prince anyway? I shake the thought from my head, I really don’t want to know. Sir Orris is well connected, it seems.

I review their conversation and am struck by his comment of rivalry. Mala’s name now strikes a chord. She is Princess Mala of our neighboring kingdom of Jasperwood to the southwest.

“So, can we safely say it is a divine art?” I ask.

“I’d bet my life on it,” Sir Orris comments.

Dirty. Old. Monster. He just did!

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Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.

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