The Paths of Cultivation are numberless, and the names for the steps along the Path are nearly as numerous.
At its core, cultivation is the art of taking in the qi of the world and awakening one’s dormant potential. There is much debate as to why humans in particular require external sources to do so when plants, beasts, and even portions of the ground and sky can achieve this state naturally, but there are no concrete answers to be had.
What is known is that given time, resources, and talent, a human being can achieve far more than any other on the Path. Spirits are born with power but rarely exceed the limitations of their forms. Those that do can only achieve that ascension with human aid, willing or otherwise. It is speculated that part of the reason for this is the elasticity of a human’s dantian. Unlike a spirit’s core, the dantian is able to expand far beyond its initial limits with significantly less effort.
Another possible factor is the multitude of meridians or spiritual veins which the human body contains. A spirit’s meridians are fixed and open from the moment of their creation, and carving out new ones is a matter of great difficulty for them. In contrast, a human being need only clear the spiritual detritus from one of the scores of veins twisting through their body.
Few but the most dedicated scholars bother with attempting to catalogue and label each meridian as the difference is largely down to the individual. However, modern cultivators have begun the practice of grouping them via broad categories of use…
- Lectures on Cultivation by Elder Su
The first realm of cultivation, the Red Realm as it is called today, is in truth merely a preparatory step for the far more difficult path ahead. While cultivators at even the middle stages of Red realm surpass all but the most skilled and gifted mortals, it cannot truly be said that they yet walk the path of the Immortal.
It is possible to reach the peak of Red Soul and of Gold Physique with even the meanest talent given time and dedication. The Empire holds hundreds of thousands of such cultivators. They serve as soldiers in her armies or as city or town guards protecting the mortals of the Empire. Their protection allows mortals to go about their lives as productive citizens rather than fearing the predations of spirit beasts and petty banditry.
In the past, this initial realm was often referred to as the realm of awakening or some similar moniker. Although that terminology has faded from common use, it remains accurate. To achieve it is to awaken, to see the world that lies beyond the veil of mundanity. Yet having managed to awaken is not an achievement to be truly proud of, not for those with potential such as yours. The common soldier serves an important role, but you, who have been chosen to join the Sect, have the potential to accomplish so much more.
Do not squander the opportunity you have been given.
- Preface to a Lesson by Elder Su
Spirits are simultaneously one of the greatest troubles facing the Empire and one of its greatest assets. As bound spirits, they can serve as powerful companions and multipliers of a cultivator’s power. In other cases, they serve as a final and terrible warning against infighting amongst clans lest the losing party’s ancestors, Sublime or otherwise, decide that there is no longer anything left to lose.
However, these civilized spirits are sadly far in the minority. Spirit beasts stalk the wilds between our carefully warded cities and roads. Even the weakest of them are a dire threat to any mortal who catches their attention.
Every moment, another Lesser Spirit, an ephemeral creature of raw element, emotion, or concept, is born and dies, their motivations largely incomprehensible for the short time it is alive unless bound. It is these creatures that the peasant whispers of, warning his children against the calls in the dark for many of these creatures are all too eager to possess humans in a twisted mockery of a cultivator’s bond.
Yet those are only the most common
Hundred year spirits - the slumbering intelligences of mountains, forests, and battlefields, and even minor objects - are also among their number. The worthiest among the spirits are, of course, the Great Spirits, the most powerful of their kind who bless our Empire and are blessed in turn by our reverence. The focus of this treatise are the first two types. They remain the greatest internal obstacle and threat to the safety of our citizens, as well as the most likely source for companions for our cultivators.
In this book, the categories, habits, and natures of many common spirits and spirit beasts will be discussed, as well as their weaknesses and the most effective formations for curtailing their activities.
- Excerpt from A Novice’s Primer on the World of Spirits
I have spoken before of the elements of qi but only in passing. Today, I shall take the time to educate you properly on this matter.
As I have previously mentioned, the true number of qi elements are as innumerable as the paths of cultivation. Ultimately, an element is simply a particular method and resonance to the flow of one’s qi. It is entirely possible to ‘create’ a new element when developing an art, although given the length of history, most such creations merely come upon something which had already existed independently.
Many elements also overlap each other in function. This makes a cataloguing of various elements problematic.
The elements which the Sage Emperor used many millennia ago to unite the warring kingdoms and clans that now compose the Empire are what is now known as the Imperial Eight, along with the Traditional Five. These elements see the most common use today, and there is some overlap between the two sets in Earth, Water, and Fire.
The Imperial Eight is composed of the following elements: Heaven, Earth, Mountain, Lake, Water, Fire, Wind, and Thunder.
The Traditional Five is composed of: Earth, Water, Fire, Wood, and Metal.
Heaven, the creative force, separates and ultimately elevates man over beast. It is ingenuity and inventiveness and manifests as lightning when channeled into the world, thought made force. Earth is the element of devotion and plenty, the strong foundation which allows us to stand together in the face of our many foes. Its neighbor under the Emperor’s system is the Mountain, representing steadfastness, immovability, and endurance of hardship. Lake is the element of joy and delight in material pleasures but also of content and tranquility.
Water and Fire are next. Water represents resourcefulness, wit, and the ability to adapt. In contrast, Fire drives one forward; aggression and passion are the hallmarks of fire. Wind is similar but not equivalent to Water. Where Water will wear a path through obstacles given time, Wind will flow over and through without conflict. Wind is the element of freedom, representing wanderlust and curiosity. Thunder is the element of conflict, ambition, and new beginnings. Those who seek the initiative in all things will be drawn to such element.
The Traditional Five incorporate Wood and Metal as primary elements. Wood is an element of life and spontaneity and overlaps with both Heaven and Wind in many ways. Metal maps well to the Imperial Eight’s Mountain, although it exemplifies calm rationality rather than steadfast determination.
The subject of elemental qi is much deeper, but this will do for an introduction.
- Lesson on Common Elements by Elder Su