8 First Looks
With a jolt, Bai Qi woke up. The carriage had just gone over a bump.
"We are almost at Huo Cheng City," Zhong Xin said.
"Da Lao? Where is he?"
"He stopped by about 10 minutes ago, then rode off to arrive at the city first. He said he had some official business, but he'll meet up with us when the carriage arrives."
"How long was I out for?"
"About two hours, give or take."
Bai Qi stretched. He looked out the window and saw small houses dotted here and there. It was mostly farmland, though the houses were getting more and more frequent as time went by.
They were on a wide cobblestone road. The people on the horses escorting them had switched out at some point.
"Where will you go when we arrive?" Bai Qi asked.
"Da Lao gave me a letter of recommendation to partake in the alchemist trials 3 days from now. He also sent word ahead to the sect that I needed a place to stay and they gave me room and board for the next month at an inn. I'm supposed to check in at the Alchemist tower when we arrive and they will go over everything."
"What about me?"
"Da Lao said that he'll tell you what to do when we arrive."
They rode in silence for the rest of the trip. Gradually, the open land got replaced by more buildings. Shops started springing up and streets started forming as they entered into the outskirts of the city. The wide cobblestone road narrowed down, leaving space for only two carriages and the escorts repositioned themselves to the front and back of the carriage.
They arrived in the middle of the city, which was a large clearing with a silver statue in the middle. The statue depicted a group of people huddled together with their backs together. One of them, a female, was holding what seemed to be a flying orb. There was someone kneeled on the ground, poring over a large book. In front of him was a cauldron, ornately decorated. Next to him was a warrior, a large broadsword was in his arms. He was holding the broadsword horizontally, as if he was defending from someone's attack. An assassin with a cowl was crouching, holding daggers that seemed to melt into the shadows created by her posture. The last person was holding a staff, raising it above the ground, looking as if he was about to bring it smashing down. A spike jutted out from the ground in front of him, leaning away from him as if the spike was attacking an invisible enemy.
The statues were crafted in an expert manner. Bai Qi could see the facial expression of each person, utterly concentrated on their imaginary task. It was as if he could imagine each person in their own environment.
The carriage took a left turn into one of the other large streets that came together at the center of the city. It came to a stop in front of a large inn named the Silver Moon Inn. As they left the carriage, Bai Qi saw Da Lao sitting in one of the tables propped outside.
He was talking to a group of cadets, going over a map that was spread out on the table. As the carriage came to a stop, he looked up and saw Bai Qi getting off.
"How was the ride? You were knocked out when I came by before," Da Lao asked.
"Pretty good," Bai Qi replied.
Da Lao stood up. He signaled to the escorts to dismount. "Drop down and do 20, then go inside and eat. You guys are going to lead the cave exploration south of here."
Looking at the trainee, he said, "20 for you as well, then eat up. Go to the ranger corps in 30 minutes, your assignment for today is over. Tell them I said you would shadow an active group for the next week starting tomorrow, you're lacking when it comes to spatial awareness."
He then turned back toward Zhong Xin, who was leaving the carriage and Bai Qi. "Zhong Xin, the headquarters of the Alchemist sect is on the other side of the city. The driver will take you, you might as well head out now. The letter I gave will get you into the sect no matter what, but what you do with this opportunity is up to you. You have a good understanding of plants and a solid foundation of how essance behaves, so I believe you should do well. "
Zhong Xin went back into the carriage and waved goodbye. "Thank you for your help," he said. "I will be grateful for the rest of my life."
Bai Qi watched the carriage leave. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw some movement on the rooftops. He turned to look at it, unsure if it was his imagination.
Da Lao followed his eyes and laughed. "Oh, you've noticed? We've had squads follow you guys from distances as training exercise and escort if anything did happen. The person you saw just now was probably either a second year or a third year trainee, which explains why they made such a rookie mistake, forgetting about lines of sight. I am going to have to berate their squad for that, we can't afford those mistakes during wartime."
"How many people followed us?"
"Two shadow squadrons of 8, a scout squadron of 4, and your decoy escort of 3 that stayed by the carriage. On top of that we had two groups laying traps and false trails for the trainees to pick up and a senior member of the assassination corps attempt to get inside the carriage. Though, he did fail, and reported that your escorts performed well, even when switching out people. That's why I gave them time to relax and eat," Da Lao explained. "If they had failed, I would have sent them into extended training for the next two weeks."
"That many?" Bai Qi was surprised.
"Keep everyone moving and no one will lose their skills. War sharpens every blade, but it's not wartime yet," Da Lao replied. "If I find you suited for my army next year, you will receive no less training than every member of this army, even if you have all the talent in the world. I don't believe in slacking off."
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind," Bai Qi replied. "So where do I go now?"
"The sect competition as I mentioned before will be happening very soon. Normally it's for 18 years olds and younger, but I've already contacted the city lord and he waived the age limit for this year and moved it up to 20. The competitions have been moved back 3 months, around the time when I will come around to pick up the reserved spots members who needed some time to get ready. Since you have already been informally trained and this is a special occasion, I've instructed the head mage to train you personally for the next 2 months. Normally this is only reserved for inner sect disciples, so I hope you don't waste this opportunity."
"I will try my best."
"The Mage sect is to the left of us, you remember the statue at the middle of the city? The different sects are divided in those parts, the city layout is based around that. Every city that is branched under the royal sect either specializes in one specific area or constitute of many parts, with a statue in the middle acting as a general indicator."
"Oh, that's very interesting," Bai Qi said. "I am very grateful for the help you've provided so far, and I'll try my best to repay you in the future."
Da Lao laughed. "Just repay me by joining my small army next year. Anyway, let's get you settled in. Here's a letter of introduction, as much as I'd like to personally go I'm pretty busy currently. I'm going to be heading back to the royal city tomorrow, orders came in last night. Try finding the Mage sector on your own, as well as the official building, they will take care of all the other matters. That does remind me, this is the Silver Moon Inn, it is normally reserved for cadets that are in my army, so it's usually empty most of the year. You can either bunk at the inn for mages in training or here, it's always open for you. I've already talked to the ranger in charge, your room is on the third floor, all the way at the end."
* 'He's really trying to pull you in it seems. He's fun, knows how to strike a deal.' The thing smiled. 'I like him, let's keep him around for a bit longer.' *
"I'll head off then," Bai Qi said. Da Lao pointed toward a side street a bit far off and said, "Take a left there and ask around for directions after, it shouldn't be too far."
Waving goodbye, Bai Qi left. He looked back right before he turned, and he saw Da Lao surrounded by people wearing all black. Da Lao was once again pointing to different parts of the map. That was the last thing he saw as he turned the corner.
If we get to a hundred power stones by the end of this week I will release 10 chapters the following week. :))
Silverbro, you finally overtook the author in his own ranking board. :(( I only wish i could give myself more votes.
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I promise, only 2 more chapters of building the background, Bai Qi will start to shine really soon.