Maybe Jian Cheng has an affinity? Approximately half of all cultivators do... In only a few breaths of time they are about to find out!
Ooh, what does he want?
Fire is his first choice of course, but how about wind? They generally get to fly first...Imagine that?
Earth for stout defence. Or maybe even metal? It is such a boon for a blacksmith... Water what's that good for? No, lightning like Fen Ling. Zap! Yes lightning. Please gods be light--"
"It's wood." Kong Wang is peering intently at him though slits for eyes. "Yes, definitely wood."
Wood? Good... Good... Finally, he can help Fatty in the garden growing plants... At last, the annual village fete prize for growing the largest turnip is mine, all mine!
"Congratulations, wood is a good one." Kong Wang appears pleased. Not top turnip schadenfreude pleased either, but genuine simple guy pleased... Unlikely as it sounds to his own ears, could Kong Wang know something that Jian Chen doesn't?
"What's so good about wood?" He snaps suspiciously.
Fortunately his powerful friend doesn't react to the tone, or beat about the bush...
"Healing," he states in a matter of fact manner.
Then he seems to sense how unsatisfied his new found friend is. "Healing" is just a heading to Jian Cheng; he craves the topic fully expanded upon in all its gory or glorious detail.
"Erm, healing is what's so good about wood." More. Jian Cheng needed more.
"Uh, everyone loves healers... They're always in demand, second only to alchemists… Every adventurer party has one..."
The frown slowly turns upside down. Actually that does make sense. He could fight then fix himself...
"I wouldn't tell anyone about it though," Kong Wang warns. “Sects snaffle healers up and don't let them outside much... Practically imprison them."
Jian Cheng’s tail instantly stops wagging. But then Kong Wang gives the young pup another bone to chew on.
"You've got a minor in metal too."
"What's a minor?"
It seems Big Brother Wang knows at least two things Jian Cheng doesn't.
"People aren't born with only one skill you know. They have the whole range - except most aren't developed much.” Kong Wang is blinking like he’s been asked to explain why noodles are nice to eat - incidentally one of Fatty’s favourite topics...
“An affinity is just a skill that's strong enough to be deemed useful... We call it a major. A minor is a slightly weaker skill. It's still helpful and can usually be developed."
Can be developed? That is news to Jian Cheng. And his whole country, possibly the entire continent... But there was even more to come...
"For example, I have an earth minor that I've been working on for years - that’s how I got out of the ground before. But, obviously my major is water because the Black Tortoise is the divine beast king of water affinity. So all our sect elders are water majors."
Wow! Brother Wang is suddenly a gushing fountain of information.
"What about my metal minor?"
"It’s already pretty strong and is good for using and making weapons and inscribing artefacts."
Now we're talking. "How do I develop it into a major?"
"Lots of ways. Practise makes perfect mostly. Lucky chances... Certain medicines... Metal qi from beast cores of that affinity...” The teen’s expression grows thoughtful.
"You need to understand that a major or affinity as you call it, is not the be all and end all either. It's just a basic threshold of usefulness. Too many cultivators chase the almighty qi and don't bother developing their abilities beyond the minimum - or their soul and body cultivation at all...” he pauses, then adds.
“That's not the Tortoise way though, we're about total growth for total domination."
"Wow, I like the sounds of that last bit."
"I just made it up, to be honest."
"Still like it. It's actually a catchy slogan!"
"Thanks. You are a good friend..." Kong Wang was clearly teetering on the brink of agreeing... Just a little more Jian Cheng wills as his friend waffles on.
“...You also have such an auspicious name for a founding elder - and as we all know, a good name is better than a good face.”
Oops. Named and shamed - he could almost curse his parents. Unfortunately for him, the two hanzi combination of his name aren't "establish" and "successfully". He studiously avoids his friend's trusting eyes. The silence stretches on making him feel increasingly guilty. Especially as the “Cheng” character in his name actually stands for "true and sincere". The first stands for "strong and healthy" but that isn't helping anyone at the moment...
He almost speaks up, but Kong Wang has already sat back down in the lotus style, settling in to restore his qi some more. His eyes are even closed, which makes it harder somehow. A few breaths later, Kong Wang opens his mouth to speak and the moment is forever gone.
"Damn them all to the seven hells, let's do this. I'll deal with the fallout."
"Wait, will Elder Brother Wang get in trouble?" Jian Cheng feels even worse than before.
"You're the only friend I've got, so it's worth it." Kong Wang seems so determined that the smaller boy can only sit back and listen. The big teen is off in his own world anyway - wherever that is?
"First order of business is blood. The other six chapters of the sect, all carry our holy bloodline in some form or other, as it brings out the best in the sacred techniques...” He scratches a shoulder blade and considers his options.
“Unfortunately, the real sacred black tortoise blood is really ultra-rare and priceless... Plus I forgot to bring any - must be in one of my other rings... That's a real problem…"
Kong Wang grits his teeth.
"Ah, I suppose I could give you a drop of mine, it's pretty pure. Please don't ever tell anyone though as it’s strictly forbidden to share it… But since we’re such good friends…"
Kong Wang stares into his spatial ring and a collection of five jade vials appear. He shakes each of them in turn, until he finds an empty one. In a blink of an eye, the other four are gone, leaving a single exquisite nephrite container. Jian Cheng eyes the mutton-fat-white vial longingly. A fistful of nephrite is worth a king’s ransom in this world.
Mistaking his avarice for avidity, Kong Wang draws his water sword with a flourish and proceeds to prick his left forefinger. Making a sour face, he squeezes a single drop of blood out and seals it in the vial- then, with a wince, he holds it out to Jian Cheng.
"One drop of holy Thundering Tortoise bloodline as ordered. Down the hatch and thank me later!"
Now, Jian Cheng eyes the exact same vial which he coveted earlier with suspicion. “Does it hurt?”
“A little. I didn’t want to mention it, but it stings like the blue blazes… It’s like a sharp pin piercing your skin…"
“No, infusing the blood. Will it hurt me?”
“Oh, I don’t see why it would. I was born with gallons of it. Didn’t bother me. Well, I probably cried a bit, but I was only a baby… And I’d been dropped on my head as well...”
“Fine, I’ll drink it,” Jian Cheng interrupts snatching the jade vial and tilting it towards his lips. “It can’t be any worse than that meridian debacle."
And it isn’t... It’s about the same...
“Ahh, ahhh, blaarghh, ahh!”
“Zhenwu save us, not this whole rigmarole again!”
“Ahh, ahhh, ahh!”
“Rotate your qi!”
“Ahh, gah, ahhh, blaarghh, ahh!”
“Oh, you don’t know how, do you?” Kong Wang rubs his stubble-less chin.
“In retrospect I should probably have given you our special qi technique first…”
“Ahh, ahhh, blaarghh, ahh!”
"I could teach it to you now, but it would take a while... And, to be honest, you don't really seem to be in the right frame of mind…"
"Aghhh, blaarghh, ahh!”
“Here I’ll help.” The teen steps forward decisively and sticks three fingers against his friend's chest. He concentrates his energies and begins circulating his blood drop around Jian Cheng’s body in the prescribed manner. Instantly the searing pain recedes. The boy’s body is still suffused with heat but it is a warm nurturing burn. such as exercised muscles give off... Soon though it begins to build up, eventually turning into a rumbling sensation. The sighs of relief as suddenly the pressure in his chest begins throbbing again. It feels like an angry herd of rhinos are running amok, rampaging throughout his dantian area. He begins to panic, but Kong Wang just chuckles.
“Don’t worry you’re breaking through that’s all.”
Breaking through? Those two sweet words are music to Jian Cheng’s ears. He is about to become an actual cultivator! The dream which was denied him, is about to be restored.
At Kong Wang’s insistence he closes his eyes and concentrates on his internal situation. Under his friend's guidance, he reaches out and adds his own impetus to circulating the qi along the prescribed pathways. A short but turbulent time later, the pressure peaks, then combusts sending tsunami waves of qi outward towards his extremities.
Mentally, Jian Cheng rides the waves, until the sloshing settles and is absorbed back into his all parts of his body. His eyes snaps open revealing a vibrant light shining behind them. He stares at his skin, surprised to not see it glowing in the darkness. It feels like it’s glowing… It feels alive… He feels alive.... More alive than he has ever been. Reborn almost...
Jian Cheng shakes his head in wonder; he’s broken through to first layer of the qi condensation stage. It was an utterly bizarre process, but it didn’t matter how you got there. He imagines his parents’ delighted faces and the tears start to stream again.
Kong Wang snorts at him. “Save your tears, we’re not done yet.”
And they aren’t. The boy breaks through twice more within an incense stick of time. Three tiers from one drop of blood. The beast kings were truly all powerful. Jian Cheng isn’t crying at the end, he is laughing. They both are. It is a wonderful moment to be treasured forever. Kong Wang may not be the brightest nugget in the stream, but he is a genuine guy. A simple guy who enjoys simple pleasures. In his heart, Jian Cheng pledges his fealty to his powerful friend, swearing to some day repay his extravagant generosity.
Third layer qi condensation, top of the initial ninqi stage he feels fantastic. So fast, so strong...
He can’t wait to face his father again. He’s so full of vim and vigour, that he almost challenges Kong Wang to a sparring match. However, recalling the savagery and scale of the battle between the two experts before, he thinks the better of it. Discretion is the occasionally the better part of valour he consoles himself.
He breathes deeply, all was goo-- Oh gods above, what is that smell? Fish guts?
The three fingers against his chest suddenly prod him and he is sent scuttling backwards.
"So powerful," he thinks ruefully.
"You stink, go find a stream and wash up."
He does. It is him that stinks like a skunk. His skin is oozing a disgusting black paste. It is pouring out of every pore. He lifts his arm, to sniff the usual offensive area under his armpit. Whoah, he reels back. Big mistake. He begins backing away trying to escape his own stench, as much as follow his friend's instructions. Thankfully he knows of a nearby stream along the forest border. As he sprints towards it, he can't help marvelling at the new found spring in his step. He is so fast now. Not quite a leopard but quicker than a scalded house cat for sure... He arrives at the stream in the blink of an eye.
Stripping off he dives in. At that moment his thoughts return to his enduring shame and the time when little Fen Ling was snatched away. Now he has power... He will definitely enter the Misty Cloud Sect and set things to right! Or die trying...
Jian Cheng dunks himself under again and those negative memories are washed away with the other grime.
Today is the greatest day in his life and he is determined to enjoy it. He begins beating his wet clothes against a boulder revelling in the physical movement.
He can feel his speed and strength have improved by leaps and bounds. He has always been a country strong child, one who always trained hard.
At 12 years-old, he can already lift and carry a 100 catty sack of iron ore from the wagon to their foundry. Now, one hour and three levels later, he can probably throw it there.
His speed and strength has basically doubled. His father, a half-step zhuji, can carry around 700 catty. By the end of body refinement, an normal cultivator can usually lift somewhere between 1500 and 3000 catty! One fine day!
He swims around for a bit then stands waist deep in the shallows and scrubs himself with a fistful of rock moss. He roughly scours the stubborn and sticky impurities paste off his entire body... But no matter how hard he scrubs, he can't wipe the silly grin off his face!
Returning from the stream, Jian Cheng sits down cross legged in the lotus position to meditate and consolidate his gains. Across from him, Kong Wang picks up the discarded jade vial and squeezes out two more drops from his sliced finger, then hands it to Jian Cheng. Afterwards he appears visibly pale.
“They’re more than merely drops of blood,” he explains wearily. “I’ve forced the divine essence of the Black Tortoise into each one. It will take me many months to regenerate, but for my good friend and the glory of the sect it is surely worth it.”
Jian Cheng can't help but be touched. His elder brother has made such sacrifices for little old him.