When Orphan woke up he was starving. His body ached, and his mind felt like it had just been trampled on by beasts, but the gnawing hunger overpowered everything. Turning his head slowly, he could tell that he was in his own bed, the room exactly the way he'd left it. The scroll was still propped open on the desk and the translation lay beside it.
Someone had opened the window though, and Orphan watched for a few moments as the pages of the translation were turned randomly by the wind. It was an idyllic scene and despite his hunger he found himself dozing off.
The next time he woke up there was a strange weight on his chest. Looking down he saw Lu Sen snoring nosily.
Feeling a little irritated at the fox's peaceful expression, he twisted to the side.
Lu Sen's eyes popped open and it nimbly hopped to the ground.
"Took you long enough to wake up." It yawned.
"I am not a bed." Disgruntled, Orphan sat up. He instantly regretted it when his head spun, and his gut churned. Swallowing a few times to reduce the nausea, he leaned back against the headrest.
The fox didn't seem the least bit bothered and started to lick its fur. "Yin sent some food over when she heard that you'd collapsed."
Thanking Yin in his head for her care, Orphan looked around the room and queried the little fox. "Where's Lord Bitey?"
Lu Sen paused his grooming and pushed the cabinet door open. Inside, the toy rested as normal but was strangely surrounded by a semi-transparent green shield.
"Don't worry." Lu Sen soothed, seeing Orphan's panicked look. "Your Master checked your friend and there's nothing wrong with it. It's experiencing some form of blessing from a God. Although, what kind of God blesses a toy?"
Relieved, Orphan ignored Lu Sen's last words and grabbed the packet of food that lay on the bed.
Lu Sen shrieked as he was splattered with various foodstuffs.
Staring at his hands in surprise, Orphan could only feel sadness at the loss of his meal. It had looked delicious. He wasn't even bothered by the fact that the back of his hands now had scales. The curse now covered his arms from his nails to his elbow. The scales seemed to have merged with his skin though, rather than jutting out. It looked like a thin layer of interlocking metal was encasing his arms.
A small sigh escaped him at the thought of his curse. Wiping the food onto his already soiled sheets, he gingerly got out of bed.
Lu Sen had retreated to the corner of the room and was rubbing itself against the floor to get clean.
"What did that food ever do to you?" It hissed.
"I didn't mean to do that. I'm really hungry." Orphan apologized.
"Of course you're hungry! It's been three days since you fell unconscious."
"Three days?" Orphan was astonished. Although it felt like he'd been unconscious for a while, three days was much longer than he'd expected. In an attempt to apologize he took a step towards the little fox to help.
The room blurred around him and Orphan wheezed as he smashed into the wall. Luckily, he'd caught the blow on his scaled arm, otherwise he might have been seriously injured. Wobbling, he stared at the dent that had formed.
"Stop. Fool! Don't move." Lu Sen was shouting and jumping around, trying to get out of his way.
Trying to catch his balance Orphan took another step and found himself flying through the air again. Panicked, he managed to get his arms out before he heard a massive explosion.
Dazed, he squinted at the sunlight streaming onto his face. Looking around, he realized that he'd managed to punch through the wall somehow. If that wasn't bad enough, Shu Shan stood before him, arms crossed and covered in rubble, a puzzled look on his face.
"I don't understand. Is this some new game?" Shu Shan didn't seem to be troubled by the damage to the house.
Mortified, Orphan explained what had happened and asked for his Master's help in figuring out what was wrong with him. He couldn't look Shu Shan in the eye and was worried that if he moved, he would only make things worse.
Humming a little, Shu Shan gestured, and Orphan felt some sort of restriction bind his legs and arms. All of a sudden it was as if he was carrying weights attached to all his limbs.
"That should hold you until you get better control. It's not unheard of for sudden spikes in strength leading to loss of control. Your senior brothers and sisters had similar episodes, although not to quite this extent." Shu Shan waved his sleeve and the dust and rubble that clung to him slid to the ground. "We have things to discuss, kid. It's time to work."
Orphan wriggled a little and called out helplessly to Shu Shan. "Master, I'm stuck."
A wave of Shu Shan's hand had gathered all the scattered food to one corner once they were inside. Seated on the bed, he grabbed Orphan's wrist for a moment. Orphan felt a cold wave wash over him. He knew his Master had just scanned him with his senses.
"Except for a lack of energy and some tiredness, you seem fine. You should get Yin to feed you a lot of meat." Shu Shan declared cheerfully. Settling back, he fixed Orphan with a gaze and spoke seriously. "You're further along than I expected kid, so we need to adjust your training a little. First, show me how much Soul Fire you can conjure."
Nodding, Orphan closed his eyes and reached into his mind for the seed. He was startled to discover that the seed had already sprouted. Three strands now grew from it. The central strand was thickest and held a series of buds that glowed with a ghostly blue light. The other, smaller strands had similar buds, but those were black and white. As far as the scroll had indicated there should only be the blue strand. Studying the strands for a moment he thought that they were related to his scales.
He would ask his Master later, he thought, and started to revolve the Soul Forge. A hazy forge formed in his mind. During his previous Tempering, the Divine Essence from the Eye had ignited when it came in contact with the seed. However, now that he was relying on his own abilities he would need to use the full technique.
From the buds a few drops of blue liquid dropped onto the forge and burst into flame.
This was Soul Fire, and Orphan sighed with relief that it had formed so smoothly.
Even though he'd already used it once before, that had been a desperate attempt to contain the powers that had been pouring into him. Drawing the flame out of the forge he opened his eyes to see a small ball of Soul Fire hovering above his hand. Lu Sen perked up and gazed at the small flame with a gleam in its eye, intrigued, its mind flashing with possibilities.
"Excellent. Excellent work kid." Shu Shan gently plucked the Soul Fire from his hands, being careful not to touch it and placed it into a bottle that he retrieved from his robes. He added an explanation for his actions, when he saw Lu Sen's strange look from the side. "This is a very rare substance. It will aid me in my research greatly."
Orphan stopped the technique and let out a deep breath. It was more nerve wracking than he'd expected to conjure Soul Fire in front of his Master.
"Judging by the hole in the wall, you're ready for some more serious responsibilities in the sect." Shu Shan said as he pocketed the vial of Soul Fire.
Orphan sat straighter, trying to show that he was responsible. Lu Sen snorted at the boy trying to act mature, and Shu Shan just smiled.
"In ten days an old friend will be coming. She needs some help that only you Body Tempering stage disciples can provide; the details will be explained by her. I'd already dispatched your Fourth Sister, but things have escalated. You'll be there to support your Fourth Sister so listen to her orders carefully."
Shu Shan refused to explain any further details, so Orphan tried a different approach. "Master is there anything I should prepare?"
"For the next few days, learn to get better control of your strength. The restraint I placed on your body will slowly unravel over time. It also wouldn't hurt to visit the Sect Library and pick a few Battle Skills. I've already spoken to the Librarian and given you permission." Shu Shan considered for a moment, studying his disciple carefully. "It might be a good idea to visit G'rok'Nag to get a weapon and some gloves to hide your hands."
"Is it dangerous Master?" Orphan looked at his scales and asked.
"In as much as a curse like this can be, kid. You had to pay a price for your actions, and while many go through their lives without a change in their curse. When you compete with the Heavens you have to be prepared for the consequences. You have to control your impulses better now, don't let the beast inside overcome you." Shu Shan had a faraway look in his eyes. Orphan wasn't even sure that his Master was talking to him.
"Don't try to Temper your body any further for now." Shu Shan added. "If you cultivate too quickly you'll just damage your foundation."
"Understood Master." He hadn't really, but he would do some research later. Now that he could go to the Library, he would be able to improve quickly.
"I have some work to do and I doubt I'll be back before you leave. I've asked Lu Sen to guide you while I'm absent so listen to him carefully." Satisfied with his explanation, Shu Shan gave him a few small pointers on his abilities before leaving.
Lu Sen jumped into Orphan's lap after Shu Shan was gone. "Since you have ten days, we have ample time to get some work done."
"I can't follow you for pranks right now. You heard all the things Master said I should do." Orphan chided.
"That's just advice, Orphan. Actually, I've thought about it. I've changed my mind on the job I want your help with. It should be something that will help you as well and right now I have something that's perfect."
"What's the job?" Orphan could tell that there was something strange about the fox's behaviour and asked him with some fear. The fox's strange habits were clear in his mind.
"Don't worry about it. It's a job where you will need to use your strength and Soul Fire, so you will get a lot of practice." Seeing Orphan wavering, the fox hopped to his shoulder and whispered. "I'll even reward you with a Battle Skill that's suitable for you."
"That's… interesting." Orphan felt a little confused as he listened to the fox. There didn't seem to be any problem with the offer at all.
"I'll even give you some training on the Skill. I created it, so who better to teach you."
Swallowing, Orphan lowered his voice. "What's the job?"
This time the question meant something different.
The little fox rubbed its paws gleefully, eyes spinning in anticipation.
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