Arran stared at his outstretched hand, amazed at what he saw. From his palm surged forth a small stream of fire.
For a moment, he worried that his hand was burning, but he felt no pain, and his hand remained untouched by the fire. Oddly, it barely even felt warm.
After some moments, the fire dimmed. Soon, it had disappeared entirely.
“How did I do that?” he asked. He knew he had produced the fire, but he did not understand how.
“You used Fire Essence to create fire,” Master Zhao said.
“Why didn’t it burn me?” The fire in Arran’s palm had been real, yet it did not burn him like normal fire would have done.
“The fire was created from the Fire Essence in your body,” Master Zhao replied patiently. “It’s as much a part of you as your hand itself.”
“So I can control it?” Arran asked.
“Magic wouldn’t be much use otherwise,” Master Zhao said curtly.
“How?” Having tasted a small bit of power, Arran already longed for more.
“First, close your eyes and concentrate, then try to sense the Realms and Essence inside you,” Master Zhao said. “After that, I will show you how to control it.”
Arran did what Master Zhao told him. Sitting still, he closed his eyes, then focused his attention inward.
At first, he could not sense anything. Yet slowly, he started to feel a peculiar energy flowing inside his body. It was thin, like mist, but it was there. This, he realized, was Essence.
When he first sensed it, all of it seemed the same, but as he examined it more closely, he found three different types, mixed together in what appeared like a thin fog.
The first type was distinct and abundant, glowing brightly and moving with vigor. Immediately, Arran knew that this must be Fire Essence.
The second type was less abundant than the first. It flowed inside him like a fog, barely discernible, as if it was trying to conceal itself. Only with effort could he sense it within himself. This, he guessed, should be Shadow Essence.
The third type was wholly different from the first two. He could barely sense it, and compared to the other two types there was only a fraction of it present in his body. When he examined it, it shocked him how wild and violent it was, as if it would resist any attempts at controlling it.
This last type, he realized, must be the Essence from his forbidden Realm.
As he became familiar with the Essence within his body, Arran was surprised to learn that it seemed to emanate from three distinct spots within his mind.
Focusing his mind on the spots, he soon realized that these were the sources for the different kinds of Essence he sensed. He knew these would be his Realms.
“I can sense the Essence, and the Realms!” Arran said excitedly, opening his eyes.
“Good,” Master Zhao said. “Then we can move on. Time for you to get your first real taste of magic.”
Arran nodded eagerly. He had many questions, but right now, all he could think about was actually using magic.
“We will start with Fire Essence,” Master Zhao said. “You already got a taste of that earlier, so it should be the easiest one.”
“What do I do?” Arran asked.
“Focus on the Fire Essence within your body,” Master Zhao said. “Once you sense it, use your will to move it into your hand.”
Arran followed Master Zhao’s instructions, trying to sense the Fire Essence in his body once more. This time, he succeeded faster than he had earlier.
Sensing the Fire Essence, he tried to move it into his hand.
Nothing happened at first, but after a while, he could feel the Fire Essence in his hand grow denser. At the same time, it seemed to grow thinner in the rest of his body.
“It’s there,” Arran said. He held out his hand in front of him.
“Now try to push it outward,” Master Zhao said.
Using all his willpower, Arran tried to urge the Fire Essence from his hand, but despite his efforts, absolutely nothing happened.
He opened his mouth to speak, but Master Zhao cut him off before he could say a word. “Keep trying.”
For the better part of an hour, Arran tried to force the Fire Essence to emerge from his hand, failing repeatedly.
At last, he felt something happen. His eyes went wide as he saw a small flame emerge from his palm.
“I did it!”
He looked in fascination at the fire. Feeling he had only used a fraction of the Fire Essence that had pooled in his hand, he forced out more, and the fire in his palm grew until it was as large as the head of a torch.
Soon, he felt the Fire Essence in his body depleting, and the fire shrank quickly, then went out.
“Before you can continue, you need to draw more Essence from your Fire Realm,” Master Zhao said.
“How do I do that?” Arran asked, eager to continue.
“That’s a matter for a later time,” Master Zhao replied. “For now, just let the Fire Essence in your body replenish naturally. Meanwhile, we will move on to Shadow.”
Arran was unwilling to move on from Fire, but with his Fire Essence depleted, he had little choice.
Repeating what he had done earlier, he stretched out his arm, then focused on the Shadow Essence inside of him.
Having already controlled Fire Essence, Shadow proved to be much easier. Again he willed the Essence into his arm, then into his hand.
It wasn’t long before a faint shadow appeared in the palm of his hand.
Seeing the result, Arran was not impressed. “That’s it?”
With his current skill, Fire might not yet be of much use, but he could imagine that eventually, he would be able to throw deadly fireballs at his opponents.
Compared to that, Shadow seemed downright disappointing. The ability to form a shadow in his hand did not seem like something he would ever need.
“You think Shadow is useless, do you?” Master Zhao said the words with a grin.
In an instant, the man disappeared. With just the light of the campfire, Arran found himself completely unable to find him.
“Still think it’s useless?” Master Zhao’s voice sounded amused.
Arran hastily shook his head.
Master Zhao appeared in the same place where he sat earlier. “But there is another reason you need to learn to use Shadow,” he said. “A more important one.”
With a serious expression, he continued, “Now that you have opened your Realms, skilled mages can easily sense your Realms and your Essence.”
Arran was startled. “So the first mage I meet will know about… about my forbidden Realm?”
“The first skilled mage, yes,” Master Zhao said. “The only Essence that others cannot sense is Shadow Essence. That is why, by using Shadow Essence, mages can conceal their powers.”
“Then I can hide it?” Arran asked nervously.
Master Zhao nodded. “Once you become skilled at using Shadow magic, you can conceal your forbidden Realm.”
“Once I become skilled?” Arran wondered how long that would take.
“For the time being, I will seal off your forbidden Realm,” Master Zhao said. He reached out with his hand, putting his fingers against Arran’s temple.
Arran’s vision briefly went blurry. When it cleared, he found that where the forbidden Realm had been earlier, there now was a tangle of threads that seemed to be made from pure Shadow Essence.
“The remaining Essence from the forbidden Realm should dissipate within a day or so,” Master Zhao said. “After that, not even I could find it — if I didn’t know about it already.”
“I thought you said others can’t sense one’s Shadow Essence? Why can I sense the seal you made?” For every answer Master Zhao gave him, Arran could have asked a dozen questions.
“It’s much easier to sense Essence when it’s inside you,” Master Zhao said. By now, he looked somewhat weary.
“How long will it last?” Arran asked, although he could tell that Master Zhao’s patience with his questions was wearing thin.
“Until I remove it,” Master Zhao replied. “Once you learn to control Shadow Essence, you will be able to remove it as well.”
“If you don’t remove it…” Arran had a sudden thought. “Won’t I be able to live a normal life, as a mage?”
“As long as the seal remains there, nobody will know about the forbidden Realm. Now, enough with the questions. Get some sleep, we leave in the morning.”
The tone of Master Zhao’s voice made it clear that the conversation was over.