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The morning started off well enough for Kuzari. A servant in plain white clothes woke him up early and brought him to a bath down the hall. He was given a fresh set of clothes, most notably a blue robe like the other mages in the complex wore. The hot water felt good on his sore muscles and finally being freed from the dirt and grime of dried blood was refreshing. He was then lead to a dining hall on a lower floor where he was able to eat his fill. It was bland food consisting of bread and simple meats, but he ate it with relish. All in all, he was starting to think this whole servitude to a powerful narcissistic fire mage wasn't such a bad gig after all.

His opinion started to change when he was brought to a large enclosed gymnasium. The room ate up the entire eighth floor and Kuzari found himself lined up along with a dozen other initiates. Each of them looked exhausted and ready to drop dead at any moment, grim faces focused forwards. It gave him an ominous feeling as he mimicked his fellow initiates, standing still and staring forward patiently. They varied in ages and height. The youngest of the group barely taller than his knees and the oldest already showing signs of grey hair.

An elderly man paced in front of the group. He wore a red scarf that Kuzari had come to realize marked the man as one of the real apprentices. He had bronze skin and was showing signs of balding. His nose was long and hooked, supporting a small pair of spectacles that sat in front of beady black eyes. He held his hands behind his back and leaned forward constantly in a matter that had to be terrible for his posture. He glared at everyone before him as if they were complete trash.

According to the servant that guided him to his lessons, this was Apprentice Bakir and he liked nobody. He was one of the oldest of Magni's apprentices and had nearly paid off his entire apprenticeship.

"Attention you worthless lot." His voice boomed, far more loud and forceful than Kuzari expected from the old man.

The initiates flinched in response.

"I will explain once seeing as we have new faces. Further instruction will be to eliminate deficiencies. If you fail to progress and meet the quota then that will not be my problem, it will be yours. So strive to do better, your lives depend on it." Bakir said, pacing in front of the group.

"Start from your core and follow the channels outwards. Find your external meridians and pull. Bring the mana down through the channels and do not let go, I do not want blood on my robes again. I'm talking to you Saban" Bakir said poking one student in the chest with a long finger. Saban looked like he was going to fall over.

Bakir continued pacing up and down the line, continuing his instruction.

"Bring the mana into your core and begin separating it. Organize it into its affinities and isolate the ones you have selected for progression. Reduce the rest to neutral. Now begin." Bakir said, eyeing the group expectantly.

Most of the initiates immediately closed their eyes and began to focus. Some like Kuzari and the kid were completely lost. Bakir only explained what he wanted to be done, not how to actually do any of the steps!

The child caught Bakir's attention first. He slapped the child upside the head and began to instruct the child directly. To his credit, the boy took the blow well and stifled the urge to cry.

Kuzari took the opportunity to attempt to follow the instructions on his own anyway. He focused inwards like he did before and settled inside his core. He wasn't sure what the channels or meridians were outside of a vague memory from Ralin. Nonetheless, he mentally followed his bloodstream and tried to look out for anything that caught his attention that could explain the meridians. He was honestly at a loss as to what he was supposed to be doing next.

He struggled for several minutes before he felt a wave brush over his body. The very next instant he felt a slap across his head that startled him and threatened to knock him off his feet. Kuzari opened his eyes and rebalanced himself, instinctively swinging a fist out at his attacker.

Bakir swiftly caught Kuzari's fist with an iron grip. Unperturbed by the reaction, the old man simply and forcibly spread out Kuzari's hand and tapped his palm.

"Here fool, here. Find the meridians, don't just play around with yourself. Openings where the body and soul meet and open to the world."

Surprised, Kuzari delved into his inner awareness again and followed the path to his palm. He was surprised when he found a small disc there a few inches wide. He hadn't noticed it before because it seemed to be immaterial just like his core. As he mentally touched the thin disc it was like a valve suddenly opened up. He felt like he could almost leave through this tiny disc and out into the world itself but met a profound resistance in doing so.

He felt another pulse which he now recognized as some technique Bakir used to examine the initiates progress and make sure they were performing properly.

"There, that's it. Now find the rest and pull." Bakir barked at him before letting go and marching down the line looking for another failure.

Kuzari obeyed his instructions and continued to delve through his body. He was surprised at how many of these meridians he could find once he knew what to look for. One in each hand, foot, knee, elbow, and shoulder. Two large ones in his chest superimposed with his lungs, and a medium-sized one sitting just under his navel. Another medium-sized meridian sat in his skull itself. Fourteen of these meridians total. It was interesting he noted that most of them were in his limbs themselves while larger ones sat near vital organs. It reminded him of the tattoos he saw some people have, their locations matching the location of these meridians. It couldn't have been a coincidence he decided and added it to his list of things to investigate.

He focused on each of these points at once, willing them to open. It was slightly difficult at first but his practice in maintaining his awareness while being distracted aided him. They opened slightly but it was a struggle pushing them more than a few millimeters. Opening a single one all the way wasn't hard but for some reason the more he tried to open at once the more monumental the resistance became. Still, he felt it could be enough to at least try the next step. He mentally pulled on his meridians and like a vacuum, he suddenly felt a rush of energy surge through his meridians.

He didn't expect it to be this painful. Mana rushed into his channels like a liquid fire burning him from within. His immediate instinct was to stop pulling and let go of the burning energy. Bakir's initial warning scared him however and so he held on. The deeper the energy reached towards his core the more it burned. He felt his knees weaken and it looked like Kuzari would pass out at any moment. Finally, the energy reached his core and he felt a wave of relief as it settled inside without pain. He closed off his meridians and waited till the mana was purged from his channels and settled entirely in his core.

The mana in his core felt like a small lake of pure energy. Contrary to the earlier pain a filled core of mana was oddly soothing and refreshing like having a good nights sleep for the first time in ages. He knew the next step was to organize and separate the mana he absorbed but it felt all the same to him. He opened his eyes to see how the other initiates were doing. Everyone seemed absorbed in their own work, cut off from the rest of the world and beads of sweat rolling down their foreheads. Bakir was still examining them one by one to ensure they were following the exercise correctly. He barked orders at the students and Kuzari listened in, hoping to pick up a useful piece of advice for the next stage.

"Raw mana is chaotic and unusable, sift through it and find the affinity you are looking for. Feel for its energy, feel it speak its nature to you. It is primal energy that transcends your meager interpretation. Let it speak to you. Even an imbecile can hear its call." Bakir explained to the student Saban, who evidently was struggling with the same phase as Kuzari.

Not wanting to attract Bakir's attention unnecessarily he dived back into his core to see if he could make it work. His mind swam deep into the mana energy and tried to focus on the minute differences in the mixture. After his late night studying, he had an idea he wanted to explore in regards to his affinity. It was a gamble but if it worked it could certainly provide him the edge he was looking for. If not, well he was such a newbie he could switch later and work towards a different element. He mentally listened to the raw energy and as he focused he felt sweat start dripping down his own forehead.

He felt faint disturbances in the mana, microscopic presences fighting to make themselves known. Kuzari focused on these disturbances, isolating his entire awareness on the task till he could no longer register the world around him. Not even the boom of Bakir's voice could break his reverie.

Then he heard it. Hearing wasn't quite the right word but it was the closest thing he could compare it to. Whispers of fire and air dominated the pool, with undercurrents of earth. Kuzari was looking for something deeper though. Eventually, he found it, a thin thread of energy that mixed in throughout the pool. It spoke of shadows and darkness and even that was only the surface levels of what he sought. He knew he wouldn't be strong enough to discern the aspect he was really hunting for, but he knew it mingled in with the darkness and it would do for now. He pulled on this thin thread and raised it to the surface. Like a monster of the depths, it rose out of the lake of power until it sat on top, an inky oil layer covering the untamed chaos of energy.

Kuzari allowed himself a small smile and gave a mental cheer. The last task he needed to do was 'reduce the rest to neutral'. At least this one he had a fair idea of how to perform on his own. The book on affinities he read last night had in fact opened with a chapter about neutral mana. The chaotic mana that mages drew in was totally unusable. The varying affinities in the mix would wage war and counter each other, trying to use this energy for any sort of structured or unstructured spellcasting would simply fizzle out. The energy would be too incoherent. On the other hand, utilizing only pure mana of a given affinity was simply impractical on its own. Instead, a mage would forcibly snuff out the undesired affinities, reducing them to a state of pure neutral energy. Energy that could be shifted into whatever state was needed, albeit at a significant loss of efficiency. It was a wasteful shame but the only real practical use of the substance.

He didn't understand at the time how this process was achieved but now that he understood how distilling mana into an affinity worked, it made sense to him now. Instead of listening carefully and pulling out the affinity he wanted instead he had to simply push down and snuff out the threads of energy that clung to such notions as fire or water. He pushed and dissolved the threads of energy until the lake was no more than a small pool of raw neutral energy, its glow balanced by the shimmering darkness of shadow mana. The two energies shifted and twisted around another in harmony.

Kuzari finally opened his eyes with a shit eating grin on his face. He did it! He made it through each step and actually had mana he could work with and use now! The whole process had easily taken two hours but he admitted it was worth it.

He felt Bakir's inspection once again and the old man in front of him was not amused at his progress.

"Pathetic. That is all you managed to pull in? And such waste during conversion. Barely enough power to warm my morning tea." The old man said shaking his head.

Kuzari frowned at the scolding. He felt physically exhausted. His fellow initiates appearing no better.

Bakir stomped his foot and yelled at the group of initiates.



"Now do it again!"

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A note from Madf0x

An entire chapter dedicated to mana regen, let the fun begin!

 

Any critque is welcome! If you enjoy the story so far consider leaving a rating, they help!


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Madf0x

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