5 The First Lie
The door behind Bai Qi was open and from it, the warm yellow glow from the lit candles emanated into the room. A burly man was standing right outside, watching Bai Qi.
As Bai Qi gathered his thoughts, the man couldn't help but scoff. He was called in from the city to retrieve a young caster who may or may not have been someone important. According to the reports, the young man had injuries and looked like he was about to pass out. Even in that state, he had managed to kill someone without using any incants, so the city had assumed that he was a genius from one of the important branch families.
Yet, when he had arrived, Bai Qi was having trouble casting an elemental orb, one of the most basic and fundamental castings that first year mages had to learn.
He couldn't help but scoff, figuring that this was a waste of time. The village had obviously exaggerated the report. This young man in front of him was probably a beginner at casting.
"What are you supposed to be, a man who incinerated another alive, or a caster who's struggling to condense your first elemental light orb? First year mages have done a better job than you," the man remarked.
* 'Pay him no heed,' the thing instructed Bai Qi. 'You aren't finished yet. Now for your second orb. Imagine the earth around you, eternal, unmoving. Imagine your body rooting from it, a body made of dirt, stable, a part of the ground. Imagine yourself being pulled into the ground, the earth calling for its kin back. Keep your eyes closed. Imagine that yearning to return, and use it to pull the earth towards you, into the air. Form an orb, filled with stone, floating next to you, as if it was always a part of you.' *
Having made his remark and receiving no response, the man stepped forward into the room. As he did, he noticed that every step he took closer to Bai Qi, the air seemed to grow warmer.
With this observation, he took a closer look at the orb before gasping in surprise. He reeled back in shock at what was in front of him. It wasn't an elemental orb as he had assumed, which was merely a light gimmick that first years learned to produce in order to understand the basics of magic manipulation.
"A pure orb? A pure fire elemental orb manifests once you become a Grade 4 Human Mage. The youngest had to have been at least 25 years old and was a talent groomed by the city lord himself." The man was in shock, continuing to babble incoherently. He himself was a Grade 7 Mage after years of harsh training in the army. And in front of him was a boy no more than 20 years old who already possessed such great power.
Taking no notice of the man, Bai Qi continued to focus. A second orb formed, far weaker than the first but still quite powerful. It quivered in the air, unlike the fire orb which hung next to Bai Qi, only moving when he did.
The burly man noticed the smaller orb forming. This time his jaw dropped. This time his jaw dropped at the sight of a dual elementalist. He'd never seen one before, given that they were as rare as young geniuses.
* 'Hmm, this seems to be your limit. Quite disappointing, but we'll work our way up,' the thing said. 'You can probably form the last 3 orbs as well, but we don't want to give the man behind you a shock.' *
'Hmm?" Bai Qi asked the thing. "What man?" Bai Qi had been so concentrated that he had failed to notice the large man behind him, or even hear the snide and astonished remarks he had made.
He turned around to face the man and saw his shocked expression. "Can I help you with something?
"Who are you?"
"Name's Bai Qi. What about you?"
" Da Lao."
"Is there something I can help you with?" Bai Qi repeated.
"What sect are you from? The town called me over to bring you to the city in case you were one of our mages."
"Yes, the sect that taught you to cast."
* 'Tell him you're a rogue cultivator. It will get rid of other invasive questions, though it will raise new ones. You may even get pulled into an official sect later on if you don't have ties with anybody.' *
Bai Qi laughed. He wasn't even sure how to answer the question. He could barely remember his own name. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't tell Da Lao what sect he was from. "I'm a rogue cultivator," said Bai Qi.
"Rogue?" Da Lao asked, stupefied. The youth in front of him, a genius unheard of for as long as he could think of, was a rogue? "You haven't had any formal training?" he questioned, asking for clarification.
"No, not what you'd call formal," Bai Qi replied. Making up a story on the spot, he said, "My master discovered my talent when I was 11. I was orphaned and I don't really remember the other details, but I studied under him for the last 8 years."
"Really?" Da Lao asked, interested. He had heard of unimaginably powerful people exploring the continents, and it had even been his dream at one point to study under one of them. "Well," he said, "In any case, I need to take you back to the city. Please don't make any trouble, or try to escape. The city will determine what to do with you next."
"Oh," he said, as if he suddenly realized. "That makes you 19 then? If you really aren't aligned with any sects, the city will be holding trials for those who wish to enter our sect. It's a small branch under the royal family, so we have a lot of backing. The competitions only for those aged up to 18, but I'm sure they will make an exception based on your skills. After all, we haven't seen a Grade 4 Human Mage at your age before, or even any dual elementalists."
* 'This is getting interesting. What will he think when you have to tell him you don't know any actual spells?' the thing said, grinning as always. *
Bai Qi was stuck now. He lied about having a powerful master and had given Da Lao the impression that he was a powerful genius. He didn't even know the basics of anything related to magic.
He worded his response carefully. "I will gladly go back with you, but I'll have to see about entering the sect."
"Oh no," Da Lao said quickly. "Do not worry, the sect will not force you to join, it's completely optional."
"That's not why," Bai Qi said meekly. He didn't know how to explain his situation without giving away the fact that he had no backing, nor did he know how to cast. His first attempt at casting may have put him in a coma, and his second attempt looked like a parlour trick to him, something that didn't have any use.
"Then why do you hesitate?"
* 'Lying is easy, you know. He thinks you have a master, and he knows that you may be powerful. Rogue mages are usually secretive and move around a lot. Tell him that your master sealed your memory in order to hide his identity. In doing so, he wiped your knowledge of magic clean, though the very nature of casting is imbued within your body.' The thing snickered. 'It's not that hard to make up stuff you know. You're gonna need to learn how to bull**it your way through more stuff.' *
"My master and I have separated now. He gave me training but he was always secretive. In order to hide his identity, he went as far as to wipe out my memories of him. It's a bit hazy, though I remember him, I can't remember his voice or who he was. My memories of casting have also been wiped clean, though I already learned, so casting is more of an instinct for me now."
* 'Congrats, the skill of bull**itting has been learned,' the thing said dryly, sporting the smirk that never seemed to leave his face. *
Da Lao smiled. "Well, in that case, you'll fit right in. I'll talk to some people to see where exactly you're at." He was smiling because he had heard cases of this before, casters who fell out with their mentors. They were all exceptional, having the developed power but forgetting how to use it. Their mentors were usually outlaws or exiles, or even eccentric people that just wanted to pass on their legacy. "We'll leave tomorrow then? Unless you have any business you need to take care of?"
"I don't think I have anything."
"That's great. I'll be off then," he said. Behind him was Zhong Xin, who looked as if he was deeply pondering something.
"Be ready at the rooster's crow by tomorrow, the city is kind of far and we need to get there early if we need to get anything done," Da Lao said as he was leaving.
"Okay. Good night," said Bai Qi.
"Good night," Zhong Xin replied, with a contemplative look on his face. With those words, Bai Qi closed the door and got ready to sleep. Being somewhat worn from the casting he'd done today, he immediately fell into a deep sleep.