What is a soul? This question has been bothering me for my entire life. Where I come from research into souls is the god's domain, forbidden until one ascends to a higher plane of one’s choosing. That’s what all the sects, organizations and churches have been spouting at me for my entire life. The why of it keeps me up at night, not that I need to sleep nowadays, but still…
I am called Drew Lian, a being at the top of this world. A rogue cultivator unbound by any sect, just the way I like it. The body I’m in was born in a village in the shadow of the great Black Turtle sect’s mountain, my life the life of a simple farming family’s son.
Life as a mortal under the thumb of a major sect sucked a lot. I cannot understate how infuriating it feels to be a pawn or plaything of anybody with an ounce of qi in their system. We were expected to scrape and bow and thank them for even noticing us.
My parents got killed off by some young master dipshit a thousand years back or so, something that tends to happen when you look at a cultivator for even a second too long. That was the same incident that killed this body’s previous owner, allowing me, a 21st-century guy from Europe, Earth to inhabit this body. After a period of adjusting and integrating memories, I buried the previous owner's dead parents and returned to the village. Life is shit for a mortal in a cultivation world, so I laid low until I saw my chance to get the hell out of dodge.
At least, that was my plan until I came across the corpse of a low-level outer court disciple. I was 16 at the time, too old to get into any sect and without any special body constitution or major elemental affinity I would’ve been stuck in the outer court my entire life anyway.
I looted the dead sucker and found an introduction to cultivation manual, a few pills and a talisman or two. I think the corpse got into a fight, got poisoned, escaped and succumbed to his wounds a few kilometres into the forest bordering my birth village.
This kickstarted my intense interest in the soul, I wanted to know how I got here and if I could go back. I travelled the world on my own with my ill-gotten loot, got lucky a few times, gaining some scarce resources and manuals, and started to contemplate the Dao of freedom. Being unbound and untethered, that was my personal goal. I travelled far into wild beast forests, explored expansive cave systems that crossed continents and avoided being in debt to anyone. I avoided sects like the plague, running away as soon as I sensed the energy emanating from legacy cultivation methods.
The initial cultivation method I found was called the Black Bone first stage manual, a system in which you infuse your body with qi of certain elements. Starting from the bones, tendons, muscles, inner organs and finally skin, your flesh and bone would change the colour of your chosen element. I didn't like being restricted to a single element even back then, so I just read the manual once, got the gist of what I was supposed to do and threw it away. From then on I tested every manual I came across, tried to learn the fundamentals behind what makes the method special, followed by experimenting with the basics learned from it. I used the fundamental tenants of science from Earth to create my own understanding of the concept of cultivation. Observation and experimentation. Look at something happening and wonder why.
I even once came across a legacy of a demi-god realm cultivator, a legendary and mythical figure that ascended thousands of years ago. Instead of following in his footsteps, I tried to deconstruct it to its basic elements and improved my own improvised cultivation method using that information.
Turns out, everybody’s Dao is different, and restricting yourself to one single method or technique and polishing it till perfection is severely limiting your potential. I simply learned from what all I came across and chose my own path.
So here I am, having reached the top of this world a few hundred years ago and about to ascend. Turns out the big shots up in the higher realms really don't like unaffiliated cultivators ascending. Especially if that cultivator is secretly a heretical soul cultivator. I didn't cultivate my soul though, that tends to go wrong very quickly. With going wrong I mean that’s how devil or demonic cultivators are born. One small mistake with the construct that’s at the core of every being and things tend to go very, very wrong, in a spectacular fashion.
Spectacular as in wiping half a continent of the map. Spectacular as in spawning endless hordes of evil beast that spread in every direction, killing all in their way and leaving an endless corrupted wasteland in their wake.
By now I fully understand why researching the soul is such taboo in the lower realms. Messing around or even examining the soul tend to throw Fate out of whack. The Fate I’m talking about here is a massive calculating machine in the higher realms, used to keep track of the mortals below, guiding (forcing) them into a path best suited for the machinations of these true gods. Another reason to mistrust sects, any info they got, the higher planes got. Put your hand on a big ass talent testing pillar? Congratulations, the higher realms just received a nice and tidy file with all the info that there is to know about you. Just because someone ascended to a higher level doesn't mean they lose all interest in the place they came from. Especially when that place is relatively easy to understand from up there.
Meddling bastards, thinking they know better. All I ever did was causing the souls of critters to go berserk on purpose in order to learn what not to do. I then applied that knowledge to protect and only protect my own soul. That’s all. I’ll stop reminiscing about my past now and focus on the present, it’s getting hairy out here.
Massive churning clouds swirl around a figure sitting on top of a mountain. The thunder crackling through the clouds an easily recognizable sign of heavenly tribulation about to occur. Said mountain is far away from any form of civilization, specially chosen by me to allow me to ascend without any bothersome interference from whatever faction takes an interest. A shame that the gods above aren't happy with me. This caused numerous prophecies to be beamed down from the heavens to all the major sects, claiming that a massive evil being outbreak is about to occur. That’s the only explanation that explains why there are several ancient monsters surrounding me alongside at least a hundred other mighty figures hanging in the air in a circle around me. The thunder started building up power only half an hour ago, not enough time for even the most powerful cultivators to get here from the civilized lands. I’m further guessing that the gods were getting really sick of me stealing all the good stuff from under their sect’s young disciples without leaving a trace, throwing their predictions out of balance.
I chuckle as I think about how much extra work I caused those arrogant bastards.
“You rogue bastard, don't think that I, your father will allow you to cause further havoc.”
An ancient voice booms through the wild winds. What did I ever do to you? I take a look at the speaker and I actually recognize him. Just because I was a bit better than your personal disciple you want to kill me? I didn't even cripple him too badly, rude.
“You have sown enmity with our Great Heavenly Fields sect a thousand years ago, don't think that I will let you off lightly”
Another voice smoothly threads it’s way into my ears. Their name sounds nice and all, but their direct lineage cultivation method required the cultivator to deflower as many young girls as possible. The mighty Heavenly Fields sect, an illustrious and worshipped sect, just a bunch of perverted paedophiles.
“You spit on the name of my Dark Moon sect, refusing my invitations time and time again. If you won't give me face, I’ll simply take it from you!”
Another shudder runs through me, why can't these assholes simply talk normally? Causing havoc? Sowing enmity? Refusing invitations? I simply didn't want to sit in the same place for the rest of my life. All I did was take some good fortune for myself and protect my own privacy, and they think that I stole from them? Phah, those tombs and crypts did not have their names on them. Any other person would probably be petrified by the massive amount of raw power and influence these cultivators represent, especially because I am the youngest here but have the highest cultivation base of them all.
Closed door cultivation does help one grow, but the true polishing of one's skills comes from living life! Going out and adventuring, meeting new people, doing new things is what my Dao is all about. My speedy advance to the top must have scared the crap out of these millennia-old fogies. A young upstart just a thousand years old dares to have a higher cultivation base then these tens thousands of years old monsters? How dare he!!! That was sarcasm by the way.
Energy fluctuations from around and above alert me to incoming danger. The surrounding cultivators all have their most powerful techniques prepared and on a hair trigger while the lightning up above starts gathering at the eye of the storm. I simply close my eyes and use a modified metal moulding technique to bring up the massive quantities of metal from underground. Preparation is key to everything, and I spend the last few hundred years gather massive amounts of lightning infused metals just for this moment. A Faraday cage made from the metals with highest electricity conductivity I could find springs up around me just as the lightning strikes.
The massive deluge of lightning washes away the elemental dragons, sword qi slashes and other various colourful attacks thrown at me. The gathered cultivators stare in dumb disbelief. One even twitches his eyebrow. These old geezers all have immense power and absolute control over their bodies, so this physical slipup makes me proud. To shake the heart of someone tens of thousands years old is quite the achievement. In a flash, new attacks are prepared and the air is cloyingly thick with residual qi, remnants of the multitude of attacks. I reach out to this ownerless energy and use it to shore up my metal defences. The metal cage around me shines with a dim light, just in time to receive the second lightning bolt. It gets transferred to the ground harmlessly, but I feel the control of the now molten metal slipping. I change a simple aspect of the control spell, borrowing from a water control spell to keep the red glowing molten metal in place. I do a simple calculation and relief washed over me.
Ascending provokes the heaving into smiting down 7 lightning strikes, each more powerful than the last. Using a simple math equation I calculate that the metal should not reach plasma state temperatures before the final lightning bolt hits. Unless all the cultivators around me start blasting me with fire techniques, that is.
Using the gaps in between the strikes, the hovering crowd around me uses these gaps to bombard me with attacks. I let anything made up from the water of ice elements hit me without interference, thankful for their cooling effects on the boiling metal. Any other technique is handled with a release of lightning qi that’s still captured in my glowing cage. Not a single hair on my head has moved so far.
After the sixth bolt strikes down an unspoken signal causes a few sect masters to get into a formation. Four men and three women stand at equal distance from each other, forming a six-sided hexagon with the most powerful person in the middle. They all feed energy to the middle guy, causing him to flash with a green radiance. The massive bird made out of pure energy flashes towards my perch on top of the mountain, causing the very space itself to quake and crack. Black lines of fractured spacetime follow the technique, but I just ignore it. All I do is throw all the qi in the surrounding in the path of the bird, slowing it down just enough for the last stroke of heavenly lightning to strike.
The lightning is now the size of an average sized car, a quick glance at the metal surrounding tells me that the white-hot glowing lattice is just shy of 5000 degrees Celsius. Wiping the imaginary sweat off my forehead I’m reassured that the critical temperature has not been reached yet, allowing the metal to remain in liquid form.
My experimentations with plasma were limited because of the sheer energy required to get anything to that kind of temperature. I don't think I’d die but being surrounded by hyper-charged plasma is not a risk I’m willing to take.
The clouds suddenly vanish, an eery silence spreads out for a few seconds. Then an enormous amount of golden light shoots down from the heavens, surrounding me in a surreal glow. I feel the bounds of this planet loosening its hold on me while I start to gently float up into the air. Then everything went white.
A fraction of a second later I feel like I'm reaching warp speed. That’s the only way to describe the feeling of the distance I’m travelling. Surrounded by white blurs that speed by faster than I can think I wonder how the higher realms look, and what type of food they’d have.
A snorting sound larger than a planet crashes into me and I screech to a halt. I still see white all around me, but now a faint barrier lightyears in front of me is visible.
Another galaxy sized word rams into my senses. I don't hear with my ears now, I hear this word with my very soul.
“OBSCURING FATE, MEDDLING WITH THE STREAM, FREEDOM IS A CAGE”
These words leave me reeling, my entire being shuddering with the words that are uttered. I feel a hand being waved without seeing anything at all. Then I’m moving at a speed many factors above the previous hyper warp, booming through the universe. I catch glimpses of galaxies swirling in a complex dance. I see a universe being born and I close my eyes. Ignorance is bliss, I think and try to forget that I saw things that no human mind could ever contain.
I slam into a darker sector of this metaphorical space and I lose consciousness.