“What does this mean?”
Lark would’ve preferred the usual Chesire grin to answer his question, except Sphinx pursed his lips as if he were confronted with a ridiculous riddle. “Given the context, I would presume Joffrey Gullivan and this Cornelius Goodwing had a prior relationship. If you recall, the notebook once belonged to Cornelius, except that it was once stolen by Joffrey along with the other contents inside the spatial ring and you haven’t actually figured out why they attacked the airship that day… Have you scanned the spatial ring yet? It may give us more pieces of the puzzle.”
Lark wanted to hit himself. Why hadn’t he done that yet?
He held a hand over the ring. “Scan!”
“Item: Spatial Ring (magic)
Storage space: 35%
A storage ring made to hold user’s items in a bound pocket dimension.
Crafted by: Pantheon
Original owner: Joffrey Gullivan
Stolen from Cornelius Goodwing and given to Wang Shi”
Absentmindedly, Lark began to twist the ring around his finger. The spatial ring’s information was clearly lacking compared to previous item scans.
“Pantheon…that sounds familiar,” he said.
“It should be,” Sphinx said. “I was created there, which means the Wishes of the People have connections with the Immortals.”
Wangshi drew closer to Lark’s side to examine the ring. “As I thought, this ring was indeed special.”
“That’s right, even before you recovered your memories, you knew it was alien-tech, or in other words related to magic. How?”
Offset by Wangshi’s confused expression, Sphinx quickly answered Lark’s question. “Silly. Don’t you remember his skills? Even if he got amnesia, his skills weren’t erased. He must have sensed something with his tracking skill.”
It was a good enough answer for Wangshi, but Lark recognized Sphinx’s scheming expression. There was something more to the ring he wasn’t revealing yet. “Never mind, tell me more about these Immortals, who are they?”
“Something in your tone that tells me you really don’t think much of them, but you should be terrified.” Sphinx’s holographic figure wagged a finger. “Immortals are the closest figures to a god in terms of power. They all have long lifespans and most are just interested in fighting to cure their boredom.”
At this moment, Wangshi surprisingly confirmed Sphinx’s explanation. “This stuff about Immortals I vaguely remember learning about as a boy. They were stories told to us as children and repeated as legends that humans could achieve immortality by practicing their spirit qi to a master level, but those who could master this left the realm ages ago and before I left, only the head clan member reached an expert level.”
Lark met Wangshi’s eyes, and his caretaker blushed. “I’m prattling, sorry, I’m not too knowledgeable as I wasn’t really involved with these clan matters since I didn’t have the potential when I was younger to be trained.”
Wangshi, my assassin-caretaker didn’t have potential? Lark looked at Wangshi in disbelief.
“This is probably true,” Sphinx muttered. “Judging from your caretaker’s status, his spirit power wouldn’t be acknowledged compared to a talent like Huan Shi’s.”
Wangshi shamefully bowed his head.
“But it’s quite silly, the discrimination that is. Because even if kings want to becomes gods they cannot.”
Again. There was that look, like a dead gray-bottle left in a cold room, which glazed over Sphinx’s eyes. A familiar spine-tingle ran over his back as he asked for more clarification.
“Without a god’s bloodline, humans will only achieve an Immortal status in their lifetimes, while True Immortals are descendants of gods. You notice in SIM you are able to quantify stats.”
Sphinx held up five fingers. “Once a human has reached over 5000 accumulated stat points, it means they have achieved expert status and probably considered high tiered in whatever field they contribute to.” Then he held out both hands. “Once a human has reached over 10,000 stat points, they’ve reached the pinnacle of an Immortal status. However, numbers you can’t possibly fathom exist for gods. Such a system is probably unheard of in Celestia, but are quite common in Pantheon.”
“What do you mean?” The word confusion couldn’t be enough to describe Lark’s current state of mind. “You want me to learn about an entirely new world but I barely even lived this one,” he muttered to himself.
A smirk formed on Sphinx’s pale lips. “Who was it that wanted to get his friends back and return the servant to his homeland?”
Lark’s frown deepened as did Wangshi’s, but Sphinx continued on in his usual arrogant tone. “This is important information you will have to learn sooner or later.”
Not that he couldn’t disagree with that, but holding off of that god-leveling bullshit, he still couldn’t even use magic yet.
Sphinx tutted. “You’re better off knowing now than living in ignorance. But let’s put it aside for now, get back to me when you’re done training.”
Sphinx’s hologram returned to the watch and Wangshi leaned over Lark’s shoulder. “Seems like you’ve been through a lot. What did you say he was again?”
“A guide or something.” Lark dropped to his knees in a low squat and ruffled a hand through his hair, banishing all the stress that seemed to steam from the roots. “Let’s get on with training then and figure out all this cultist business later.”
“First thing first, let’s go over your status screen,” Wangshi began with a serious face.
Lark proceeded with his lowly two digit stats(except for SPT) and the titles he attained. As he thought, Wangshi acted surprised at his beast tamer and alchemist titles. While going through Lark’s Trickster effects, Wangshi released a long tunnel of air through his nostrils. For later reference, Lark texted this information along with Gushi’s and Wangshi’s own statuses to Wangshi’s smartphone.
“How is this possible?” Wangshi rubbed his chin once again. “You started with absolutely zero points in spirit power. But you were still able to fire psionic bullets at the school.”
“I was thinking about that too.” Lark crossed his arms. “When the professors’ identities were revealed, I felt a wave of heat come over me like more than normal rage and I was suddenly not really thinking anymore. Looking back, it felt like my body moved on its own out of desperation, even after beating up the giant, fury just kept rising in my chest until I pulled out the gun—”
Wangshi pressed his palms together. “Yes! There’s the hint. You must have a latent fire qi.”
I was not thinking that at all—so it wasn’t because I was so pissed. Lark covered his shock with an excited smile. “That means I can make fire with magic right?” He chuckled and imagined himself raining fireballs in every direction.
“Let’s not get too ahead. Like I said before you don’t have enough qi essence, and it’s a latent affinity, which means you were able to use it on accident, but you have the potential to truly unlock it. Lastly, your magic power is too low compared to your spirit power. You were probably imagining attacking someone with a fireball like in that game. However, mana doesn’t completely work like that. A lot of powerful spells need the user’s mana as well as the external mana — remember the Flame Princess?”
“You mean Silvina?”
“Yes, many refer to her as the Flame Princess because of her sword arts, that and supposedly she's been blessed by the fire sprites. The point is though, when she used her specialty move Flame Tunnel, she first enveloped her sword in mana before casting. Think of the sword like a catalyst for manipulating mana.”
Lark nodded. Sphinx mentioned this before about Celestia’s magic system. It made more sense now that he had experienced more battles. Then he remembered the runes, which appeared in Henry’s grimoire and decided to ask Wangshi about them. “What about Celestian runes? How do those work?”
Wangshi scratched his cheek. “I’m actually not sure.”
Lark tilted his head, and Wangshi gave a quick explanation. “The study of runes is limited to though who study at the academy so their knowledge base is wider than mine. But my guess would be that they’re necessary for users who use wands, staffs, or grimoires to fight. There are also runes exclusive to the language of elves and dwarves and other races that I don’t know much about.”
Oh. Lark cast his gaze back on Wangshi’s sword. “Never mind. Teach me sword skills then.”
“With pleasure, young master.”
Lark’s eye twitched. “You stop that. I’m not like Huan and you’re not my servant. You’re now my protector and teacher you said. So remember that!”
Wangshi caught himself in mid-bow and chuckled. “You’re correct. Old habits die hard.”
Standing with his back upright, Wangshi spread his feet apart and squatted down till his knees bent into a perfect 90-degree angle. He beckoned Lark to copy with a wave of his hand and began the lecture. “What I’m teaching you is the basics of the Shi Clan’s cultivation technique of qi. In other words, gathering spiritual energy and refining it. It’s a process of five steps.”
Wangshi smoothed out the crease in his pant leg from his waist. “This stance is called the ‘zhan-uma’. Translated it means war-horse, which embodies balance and strength in immobility.
To be unshakable. Got it. Lark nodded in understanding. He instinctively balled up his fists next to his side, remembering the horse stance Fuego taught at school. It’s pretty similar, isn’t it? Lark thought to himself at first, until Wangshi told him not to do that.
“Your hands must be loose to gather qi, like this,”—he forced two palms in the space in front of his chest— “powerful, but not a lot to strain yourself, and smooth like grabbing a fish out of water.”
“…Alright,” Lark said, slightly bewildered, but copied Wangshi’s style, “Is this right?”
He heard Wangshi’s small grunt of approval, and the two finally started the first step of identifying qi. Their eyes were both closed by this point when Wangshi told him to control his breathing inhaling through the nose and out through the mouth, then in reverse, inhale through the mouth and out the nose. By doing this, they would be mimicking the movement of qi which flows inside and out and reuses the same energy.
Lark practiced the breathing exercise for ten minutes, while Wangshi talked over their practice with his knowledge of mana and spiritual energy. Lark pictured mana like water in a bowl. Its use limited by the amount of water inside. When the water resource depletes, one needs rest to refill it once again. Wangshi said it was theorized that the more one drinks, the more water that is replenished over time.
In comparison, qi would be the bowl rather than the water. The bowl can be empty or filled by your own means. When one wants to strengthen their qi, it’d done by either enlarging the bowl or reinforcing it to contain larger amounts of qi or higher-graded qi.
One connection between mana and spirit qi is its unique color based on a person’s affinity, which explains both Wangshi’s green colored mana and qi based on his wind affinity.
After his breathing exercise reached the point of over twenty minutes, a calming effect washed over Lark. His scalp tingled and his grounded feet actually felt lighter than air. However, without him noticing, Wangshi suddenly arrived in front of him, pressing a single finger against his forehead.
“It is said that all mental energies gather here, but is refined here.”
Lark felt another finger prod at his solar plexus but kept up with his breathing pace.
“Do you feel anything different?” Wangshi asked, keeping both fingers pressed against his skull and chest.
“I feel lighter and the back of my head feels slightly static-y.” Lark couldn’t help but answer in a questioning tone, wondering what was happening to his body. It didn’t help that Wangshi didn’t reply either. Truthfully, he wasn’t sure if was identifying qi properly. Perhaps, that’s why Wangshi was keeping silent because he had no remarkable talents to show for.
Thirty minutes had gone by, and Lark thought he had messed up his pattern of breathing once or twice, but Wangshi didn’t say anything nor did he remove his hands from his body yet either. Was he measuring something, Lark wanted to know, and almost opened his eyes when Wangshi suddenly ordered him to keep them closed and continue. He took his hands off Lark’s forehead and chest and instead moved them over Lark’s hands.
“Focus on the tattoo on your chest, visualize it in your mind—can you feel the energy residing there? If you do, try dispersing it.”
Bewildered, Lark almost forgot the mark he received from drinking the Elf Stem. He remembered it was shaped like the Flower of Life, he had seen before in his geometry textbook, except it was more or less an inferior version beginning with the singular flower trapped by six outer rings.
He also recalled the peculiar fiery and cold sensation of the Elf Stem juice he swallowed, which was beginning to reform under his skin. Lark stopped breathing. A fire seemed to light itself under his breast bone, while his neck all the way to his collar felt chalked with ice. He pushed Wangshi’s arms off.
“What’s happening?” Lark choked, finally opening his eyes to the horror of his tattoo glowing. Oddly reminiscent of the time he contracted with Master Nympha, his newly acquired familiar spirit, Lark thought he was losing a portion of his soul once again. He still couldn't run away again as his legs locked into place, still maintaining the war-horse stance, while his hands flapped uselessly.
The top three petals glowed in an ultramarine light, while the bottom three blazed hotter than burning iron. All the while, a light blue-green tinted energy raced around the circles, tracing the tattoo pattern. Wangshi’s hand hovered above Lark’s chest, his face also bewildered but not in a panicked way.
“The mark…it’s purifying your inner qi into three elements. Amazing, it’s actually the power trinity.”
Certainly, the news of obtaining three affinities rang like jackpot bells to Lark’s ears, however, he was still in a bind. “Wangshi…help. It hurts.” Lark’s voice turned hoarse. His throat swallowed down the little saliva he had under his tongue before it seemed like an inferno, a glacier, and static gripped his windpipes like a mountaineer stabbing screws into a cliff for footing.
Lark’s entire body loosened and sagged against Wangshi, who caught him and pressed a hand against his forehead. “Your energies are condensing, you have to bear with it. Don’t let it consume you. I believe in you.”
Wangshi’s voice fell over him, which he latched onto like a security blanket. As the torment prolonged, however, with each ascending prick against the back of his throat, his mental anguish wailed a cry louder than the last.
“It hurts.” Lark’s mind screamed.
“I think you’re imagining the volume increasing,” a familiar, childish voice said. “It hasn’t even been a minute and you’re already bawling.”
This hurts. This really hurts.
“Ignoring me, my child?”
Can’t. I can’t breathe. I’ve forgotten how to breathe …huff…huff…gak! The awkward, swirling energy inched closer to the roof of his mouth, blocking the openings.
“What a pain, I can’t let you receive any more mental damage than this. You might break. Tsk. It was really too early for you to consolidate spirit power. But with this, you’re able to call upon me. Don’t forget.”
“…huff…huff…” The instant he felt the pain lessened to a mere sore throat, Lark felt the small mouse’s tentative paws climb into his shirt pocket. With a doubtful frown, all his strength left him before passing out.