Chapter 32 The Price of Power
After Jiang Fei left the room, both Arran and Lord Jiang remained silent for a while, studying each other. Arran found that even though he had only just met the man, he already liked him.
Unlike most of the mages he had met so far, Lord Jiang seemed open and straightforward, with little taste for secrets and deception.
"Are you the leader of the Jiang Clan?" Arran finally asked.
Lord Jiang laughed. "I haven't held that title in a thousand years. These days, my only job is to prevent those Academy dogs from getting any ideas." He sighed in disgust. "They really have been getting too bold for their own good these past few centuries."
"Are we safe from them here?" Arran asked. He understood that after the deaths of three powerful Academy mages, people would certainly come looking for those responsible.
"For now, you have nothing to fear from the Academy," Lord Jiang said. "They likely believe I killed their men, and with them this close to my estate, I would have been well within my rights to do so." He shook his head. "What you should be worried about is the aftermath of your spectacle."
"What is the aftermath?" Arran asked, slightly worried.
"Take a moment and see for yourself," Lord Jiang replied.
Arran did as the man said, closing his eyes and focusing his attention on the Essence inside of him. To his surprise, he found that his body was flooded with Shadow Essence, more than he thought possible.
In the sea of Shadow Essence, he had some trouble locating his other Realms. When he finally did so, he discovered that although the Shadow seal covering his forbidden Realm was still intact, new seals covered his Fire and Wind Realms. Unlike the previous ones, these seals were made from a type of Essence that was unfamiliar to Arran.
"You sealed my Realms?" Arran asked.
"I had to," Lord Jiang said. "The Realm Opening Pills you took forced your Realms open so far that your body now draws more Essence than it can handle."
"That's possible?" Until now, Arran had believed that his own Essence posed no threat to him.
"Clearly," Lord Jiang replied. "This is the first time I've seen it, but then, this is the first time I've seen someone who dared take ten Realm Opening Pills."
Arran nodded thoughtfully. It made sense that the Realm Opening Pills would have lasting effects.
"Normally," the large man continued, "by the time a mage opens his Realms as far as yours, his body will have had decades to strengthen, or even centuries. You, on the other hand, still have the body of a mortal. Had it not been for that forbidden Realm of yours, I doubt you would still be alive."
Arran nearly choked. "You know about the forbidden Realm?!"
"It wasn't hard to figure out," Lord Jiang said. "The seal covering it is well-made — Shadow, I think? — but when I examined you, its signs were hard to miss."
"You can sense Shadow Essence?" Arran was astonished. Until now, he had believed Master Zhao, who had told him mages were unable to sense others' Shadow Essence.
"Of course not," Lord Jiang answered. "But I can sense the disturbance it causes in the Essence around it." Seeing Arran's face fill with worry, he added, "No need to be concerned. Very few mages would be able to discover it, and of those, I doubt any would be interested in a mere initiate."
Arran nodded, although he still felt some concern, finally understanding that not even Shadow Essence could hide his forbidden Realm completely.
"But how did my forbidden Realm keep me alive?" he asked, putting aside his worries for the moment.
"I cannot be completely certain," Lord Jiang said, "but if I had to venture a guess, I would say that the forbidden Realm somehow accustomed your body to the destructive force of Essence."
Arran knitted his brows in thought, but he remained silent.
"Not that that would have saved you, of course," Lord Jiang added. "When I found you, you were only hours away from death. Even now, without the seals, you would be lucky to last a week."
"Then what do I do?" Arran asked. From the unconcerned look on Lord Jiang's face, he could tell that the man had a solution to the problem.
"There is only one thing you can do," Lord Jiang said. "You need to grow stronger, and quickly."
"So I just need to continue my magical training?"
Lord Jiang shook his head. "If you focus on magic, it will take your body years to become strong enough just to handle the Essence you can draw right now. And if one of the seals should fail during that time, you would certainly die."
Arran frowned in confusion. "But if training magic doesn't help, then what do I do?"
"What needs to strengthen is your body," Lord Jiang said. "As luck would have it, I can help you with that." A broad grin appeared on his face, and he seemed eager at the prospect.
"Strengthen my body?" Arran asked, wondering how that would help him resist Essence.
"Most mages focus only on Essence, ignoring their bodies," Lord Jiang said. "But true power requires strength in all regards — magical, mental, and physical."
His face turned serious at these words, and he continued, "What I will be teaching you is Body Refinement — a way to increase your body's strength and endurance beyond anything normal magic can achieve. Mastering it has many benefits, but one thing it will do is help you control your Essence."
At this, Arran's eyes widened with interest. "When can I start?" he asked.
"When you've recovered, in a week or two," Lord Jiang said, grinning at Arran's impatience. "Until then, you can study this."
He took a scroll from his robe and put it on the dresser next to the bed.
"This scroll contains a body strengthening technique," he continued. "Studying the technique will help you recover from your injuries faster, and once you're fully recovered, we can begin your real training."
Arran nodded. "I'll start immediately," he said, eager to begin.
Lord Jiang smiled, then stood up. "I'll leave you at it, then. There are some things we'll need to discuss later, but those can wait. For now, focus on recovering quickly."
As soon as Lord Jiang left, Arran unrolled the scroll and began to read.
Almost immediately, he saw that unlike the Realm Scrolls he had read earlier, this was just normal writing — without strange symbols, and without Essence infused in the characters. Instead, the scroll gave a detailed description of a technique to use and increase his body's own energy.
Soon, Arran found himself engrossed in the scroll. The technique was unlike anything he had encountered before, and the more he read, the more excited he grew at the idea of learning it.