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CHAPTER 14.

 

SECRETS OF CULTIVATION

 

To be honest, I had no idea how I was still alive. Part of it I think was sheer stubbornness, my new cultivation and the fact that the Astrel did not want me dead (I refused to call her mistress in my head, I may be broken but I would never submit to her), at least not yet.

 

I felt dirty, raw and scraped over. Like my insides had been ripped clean of everything important and all that was left was worthless carcass fit only for scavengers.

 

For a while, I considered not getting up, just lying here and fading from existence.

 

But even as the thought came to me I knew that falling apart was a luxury I could not afford.

 

It finally hit me that I was a slave. Like those tourists that end up kidnapped and sold as slaves by cartels. But in my case I was so far from earth that there was little to no chance at going home.

 

For a long time I always believed that I could handle anything life threw at me. All I needed were my fists and my wits. Sure life wasn't perfect but at least I managed to carve a place for myself.

 

Even in prison, I carved my place, sure it was as a lonely giant with ham fists but even in that shithole, I had my place.

 

Since I got here, I've been dragged from one horror to the next, from the High Mistress to my near fatal purification, to my my…….

 

So far nothing had gone right and I had a feeling that it was just the beginning. Everyone here was vastly stronger than me and despite my physical strength both before and after my purification, I was still vastly outmatched.

 

Like Zalla said even a young child around here would be stronger than me. I needed to get much stronger if I wanted to get out of here.

 

With that thought in mind I focused on my center. Anger surged through me as I thought of how my awakened soul had abandoned me to face her alone.

 

To my surprise I received a pulse of and rage in response and it felt like my center was about to slosh and topple out of me. What did it have to be pissed off about? It's not like it was raped within an inch of its life, its mind hijacked by a rapist."

 

My implant sent me an image of the attack, but from its perspective. I was forced to relive the assault in crisp high def. resolution as Astrel took me again and again. Tears filled my closed eyes and rushed down my cheeks; I did not want to see myself broken on this blood-spattered bed. But this time, I felt what my qi experienced during the assault. She did not only rape me, she also drained what little essence I had refined.

 

My anger burned for the little guy. He’d been assaulted just like I had. If the old man was right, he was an entity that had never existed in this world. I felt responsible for the budding new awareness and for its sake if not mine, I had to get stronger, after all I wasn't the only one in here; I had to stop being selfish.

 

I apologized for being a selfish prick and I received a weak pulse in response. While my cultivation had somehow grown smarter, it had a long way to go before we would be able to have a conversation with words.

 

With my resolve renewed, I opened my eyes to see Zalla sitting on a chair beside my bed with her hands on my body; healing me again.

 

This time, with the aid of my implant, I could now observe the essence as it left her body and entered mine and while I could see the essence entering me, I lacked any knowledge of any other essence type save for earth essence (Astrel's weird mind thing for some reason didn't count.)

 

The essence didn't just flow into me, but changed before entering my body with healing properties.

 

My implant detected rapid acceleration of my cells and tissues as my body restored itself.

 

I tried interacting to her essence, but with no result. Then I focused on my qi and asked it to say hi for me.

 

Immediately Zalla pulled her hands from my body, like lightning went through her. "What did you do?" She said with accusation in her eyes.

 

"Nothing, you're the one with your hands on me, I knew you were helping me just for my body." I joked my voice raw like cracked glass, and Zalla blushed red, her cheeks and the roots of her pointed ears reddening with a slight blush.

 

"Stupid man-child, you've been unconscious since yesterday. I've fed you gruel to make up for the blood you lost and used water essence to cleanse and add water directly into your body.

 

I looked around afraid to see Astrel hiding in the corner. Zalla noticed my look and shook her head “She is not here, she is the one that sent for me to save your life. Your healing was easier because of your advancement and because your will to live is phenomenal, but you must get even stronger. Soon they will send one of the guards to take you to the mine due to your single affinity to earth. I'll give you a few ideas that will aid you in getting stronger."

 

She looked at me, a speculative look in her eyes. "You need to learn the common tongue. Unless you can read and write in the common tongue, you'll be unable to gather proper knowledge on cultivation.

 

I felt my resolve strengthen as I considered asking her to train me as a cultivator. I even asked her, trying to bow in my own caricature of obedience to a master.

 

But my body failed me, and I slumped back on the bed.

 

Zalla smiled at my antics and said, "as I am also an earth cultivator I can give you some pointers on how to forge your cultivation path."

 

She paused to gather herself, a look of foreboding and seriousness on her face. "My cultivation talents lean towards healing and nature, everyone must choose their own unique path in order to advance."

 

She stopped to gather herself. "First you must not use the cultivation techniques they provide for you in the mine. If you do, when you forge your core, your cultivation will be permanently slaved to Mistress Astrel. She would be able to control your power and grow in strength as you do, but most importantly she'll be able to control you regardless of whether you are in her presence or not, then you'll truly be her slave."

 

I nodded thoughtfully, as bad as I had it now, it was humbling to know others had it worse. There was no way I was trapping the little guy and myself in that kind of hell.

 

"Will you give me a cultivation technique?” I asked with hope in my voice. She was also an earth cultivator? I thought to myself, and assumed she had a cultivation technique I could use but she shook her head.

 

"No, my cultivation technique is tailor-made for my T'var bloodline and I am compelled by the spirit-bound oaths of the main family not to reveal our secrets to outsiders, also it would cause you problems as a human if you use it. You'll have to find one in the forgotten library."

 

"The forgotten library," I murmured. I really need to learn the language if I'm to gain knowledge of magic and grow in power.

 

I immediately received information from my implant, letting me know it was compiling data on the "common tongue". This surprised me as I had yet to hear the language myself.

 

Then I remembered that the mind bridges fostered communication by interpreting spoken language in my head, but my ears still picked the actual language spoken and my implant; machine that it was, was all but immune to mental effects.

 

It seems, I have unwittingly found a way around mental attacks and manipulation.

 

Now I just need to set up stronger countermeasures for whenever my brain is being tampered with.

 

Maybe if I command my implant to send electricity through my body to break any mental compulsions.

 

"Nobody goes there because it has been sealed for centuries." Zalla continued unaware the direction my thoughts had taken me.

 

"You will need to find a way into the library in your free time in order to gain information on techniques and magic. Your best bet would be to earn enough redemption points in the mine to earn an unbound request."

 

"The mine is run on a point system based on how hard you work, the amount of resources you pull from the mine and what quality of beasts you can kill within the mine."

 

Kill!! Beasts!! What the hell was she talking about, "Wait, what do you mean by I have to kill monsters?" I asked with a fearful look on my face

 

She looked at me like I was an idiot and then huffed in exasperation. How any woman can do something as unladylike as huffing and still make the act extremely beautiful, I did not know, but somehow she managed.

 

"Sometimes I forget you are not from this world. You can grow in power in a few ways. One is the cultivation of free essence into your center for refinement, another is to take refined essence from others by either fighting them and destabilizing the refined essence in their center, causing extreme damage to your opponent's body, mind or spirit, or by killing another creature and cultivating the essence released at their death, if you have the fortitude for it. You can also make pacts or deals with others for essence too."

 

"These pacts would have to be spirit bound and if conditions of the pact are not met, the results can be catastrophic to the oath breaker, so I do not advise gambling your hard earned essence."

 

"Another way is to kill beasts and after their death, absorb not only the refined essence loosed upon their death, but also essence from the "beast cores" that some beasts use to store essence. This method also comes with some risks as not all beasts can forge beasts’ cores and they are usually found in powerful beasts. Also the process of extraction can be fatal to the cultivator."

 

I wondered about animals here on Zomyr, like people, did they also cultivate? I wanted to ask Zalla, but she must have preempted the question by the look on my face.

 

"While sentient cultivators use essence to build cores where they can store essence, animals instinctively store essence in a core forged from calcified essence that grows over time as the beast grows in power and that serves as a kind of second heart. For this reason, most beasts with cores do not lose as much essence during battle or upon death. I recommend you grow stronger before following this path."

 

"But beast bodies are used by alchemists and other craft practitioners for their work. You will earn many points bringing rare beasts bodies and rare plants to them."

 

"I suggest that you form an alliance with other slaves if you wish to take the path of beast hunting."

 

You must focus on earning enough points to request access to the library, only then will you be given access. I advise you to refrain from forging a core until you can find information on how to forge one that fits your cultivation path. Also the library might have information on spells and techniques. Although it is considered dangerous and illegal to learn spells without first ascending and without the proper license.

 

"Techniques! Do you mean like simple martial art techniques or like dragon ball techniques? And what do you mean by ascending?" I asked in excitement.

 

She looked at me like I was dropped on the head.

 

Even though she did not know the meaning of what I said, like most women, she had a nose for when a man is talking nonsense.

 

She continued like I hadn't spoken. "I'm sure the sensitive made it seem like cultivation was the only path to power," she raised her eyebrows in a dainty but mocking lift. "But there are others not freely spoken of and some of them that even allow one to impose effects without cultivation."

 

"Techniques are skills that allow cultivators to instinctively shape essence into effects. Techniques require the use of only aligned essence type or refined essence. These effects are limited by the cultivator's level, skill and essence-density.

 

"With a spell and through the manipulation of runic scripts, you can access any essence type and can create any effect complex or otherwise save for the divine, regardless of your alignment."

 

I felt excitement shoot through as I thought of the possibilities, I needed to reach this library and find a way to learn these runic script. I'm sure my implant will be able to decipher these scripts if I could find their common tongue equivalents. With spells I would be able to overcome my single affinity limitation.

 

"Where is the library and how can I get there?'

 

She smiled, encouraged by my enthusiasm." Spells are extremely difficult to master. There is a reason techniques are preferred to spells. You must temper your enthusiasm with patience and dedication." there she goes sounding like my mom again. I thought exasperated.

 

"Although I cannot aid you in forging your core, I can give you directions to the best of my ability on how to use what little power you have."

 

"Techniques are preferred to spell work because they are tied to the Cultivator's core and body, decreasing their chance of failure due to interference.

 

"To perform any technique, you must think of your essence as an extension of yourself."

 

"Until you can forge your core, it will be difficult to retain and control essence that is used outside your body once your connection to it is lost and also without a core the range at which you can extend your essence will be quite limited.

 

"But most importantly without a core, you will be unable to properly refine essence to increase your power and further enhance your cultivation."

 

"My second advice is to teach yourself to rely on your essence more than your senses, block your ears and cover your eyes if possible, in order to increase your sensitivity to the earth and fine tune your control. It is a method of earth cultivation that is common with my people, it allows us to boost and strengthen our essence-sense."

 

Most earth cultivators are usually more interested in crushing their problems as opposed to subtlety. Move bare-feet and listen to the hum of the earth let it guide you in ways that would be impossible with all your senses combined."

 

"Your essence is precious and hard earned, use it sparingly and wisely.

 

Understanding of your aligned element and how it interacts with the world around it is important to using your essence to its fullest potential.

 

With proper insight, you'll save essence while possibly achieving greater effects than your rank would ordinarily allow. But remember manipulation of essence is power intensive without sufficient insight and can create effects outside the control of the cultivator."

 

The question on my tongue was what she meant by insight?

 

I put the question to Zalla and she gave me one of those proud smiles that teachers give their students.

 

"I'm surprised you picked up on that, most cultivators, especially martial practitioners are rarely interested in gaining insight."

 

"Every technique or spell requires a certain level of insight into the properties of the effect in question. The greater the insight or understanding infused into the action, the greater the potential effect, this holds true even for normal effects."

 

I nodded, sensing truth in her words.

 

"Sure, you can perfect the stances necessary to perform an earth based technique or know the hand seals to empower complex earth based techniques, but someone with greater knowledge of how the earth works and the effects of their techniques will be able to create complex effects at low essence cost and backed by more power. This is why insight is important."

 

She paused to catch her breath before continuing. "But you must be careful, knowledge is jealously guarded and hunted for on Zomyr.

 

Commoners are not allowed formal education, to limit the amount of insight they can place in any action. Most kingdoms, especially the human ones, tend to restrict and obscure knowledge, punishing any serious attempt at inquiry. Again you must be careful when hunting for insight."

 

"Another important factor to remember regarding essence cultivation is strain."

 

I sat up, curious to focus on any point of emphasis she makes in her lecture. Even though I know my implant was perfectly recording the moment for later review

 

"Strain is the pressure placed on the body when the body conducts essence."

 

"When you exceed your body's strain capacity, you'll begin to take internal damage, especially around your core and in excessive situations, you may cripple your cultivation or even kill yourself."

 

"You'll need to figure out your strain threshold, it's different for everyone and your physical attributes and race also factor into strain capacity. Try not to go over your limit."

 

I took her warnings to heart and promised myself that I would be careful with the massive database of knowledge or insight, that I had access to through my implant.

 

I knew that the next step to cultivation was to refine essence as best I could and begin to forge a core, but I was also interested in how Cultivators were ranked on this world, with this thought in mind, I put the question to Zalla.

 

Unlike a lot of my teachers and lecturers back on earth she did not respond with anger at my questions but simply smiled.

 

She only huffed when I said something stupid.

 

"This is a very dangerous question you have asked, knowledge of cultivation without sufficient rank, wealth or social standing, on Zomyr, is closely guarded and defaulters are almost punished with crippled cultivations or death. You must promise never to reveal the secrets I'm about to reveal to you."

 

She stopped talking, waiting for me to properly ponder her words. But without the slightest hesitation, I promised to guard the source of the promised information with my life.

 

I felt a pulse from within my soul as my awakened soul acknowledged my oath.

 

There was a look of shock on her face. Clearly she was surprised at what I've just unwittingly done.

 

"You must be careful when making oaths, the future can never be fully known. Do not make oaths that you may come to regret, watch your words."

 

I nodded, this time taking her seriously as the acknowledgement of the oath clearly scared the crap out of me.

 

I just hope my soul was able to distinguish when I was serious and when I was not.

 

After a brief awkward pause, She smiled that calm beautiful smile at me and it felt like a balm on my rough trodden soul. Then she resumed speaking again.

 

"There are several paths to power, but cultivation is most common and the only commonly approved method across the first pillar."

 

When I opened my mouth to ask another question, she raised a dainty hand to stop me and I marveled at her elegantly shaped fingers despite the faint calluses from physical labor.

 

"I know you want to ask what I meant by the "First pillar," and I'll answer your unspoken question just as soon as I'm done answering your previous one."

 

Seeing that I was slightly mollified by her promise, she continued.

 

"As far as I can tell, every great power in this world cultivates essence to some degree and in conjunction with other paths of power so the information I'm about to provide you may aid you in varied situations."

 

"All the levels in the stages of cultivation are ranked with seven letters of the first alphabets in the common tongue. This means that there are seven ranks per stage."

 

She then proceeded to list the seven letters which I noted but unconsciously filed as ranks G, F, E, D, C, B and A.

 

She continued, unaware of my internal musings. “You are currently at rank G at the essence absorption stage, and you would need to absorb and refine more essence to rise within the ranks. At higher ranks, your essence volume and density will increase. After reaching the peak of the A rank of this stage, your essence will be dense enough to forge a stable core"

 

"After the absorption stage, the next stage is the core creation stage, it takes time to complete a core as it is a complex construct necessary to further absorb, refine and also store essence."

 

"Creating the structure places you at rank G of the core formation stage, setting up the nodes that link all aspects of the core from the center to its very edges are carried out at rank at E and F and your core is fully formed at rank D."

 

"The remaining three ranks are used to fill and empower your newly formed core with essence. At the height of this stage, core infusion infusion becomes possible, allowing you to temporarily store techniques, essence patterns and concept energy into your core"

 

She paused to catch her breath, while my mind spun with the wealth of information she was giving to me at great cost to herself.

 

I was once again grateful to whatever deity placed her in my path, it was not an exaggeration to admit that I would be lost and more than likely dead without her.

 

But I was curious about concept energy, how was it different from essence? I had to know as much as possible about cultivation.

 

"Zalla, what is concept energy?"

 

I'm glad she has the patience of a saint. To be honest, if I was in her shoes, I would have lost my shit with all the interruptions.

 

"Concept energy is essence bound to a particular idea or concept. While it is possible to infuse concepts from within into your qi, concept energy can be absorbed from external sources, although it is recommended that a cultivator at least reach the core compression stage before cultivating external concept energy."

 

"An example of concept energy is sword energy, it's usually found on the battlefield or wherever the sword arts are being performed."

 

"Concept energy is usually invisible to the naked eye and barely perceptible with essence sense, so it is unlikely you will be able to perceive it at your level."

 

"You must not absorb concept energy that is incompatible with your path or else, it may damage your body, core or aura. It may even kill you."

 

After a slight but pregnant pause, she continued. "After the core creation stage is the core compression stage to properly fold and compress your qi-pool, making your core stronger and denser. All effects are amplified and strengthened and essence can now be used to cause semi-permanent effects.

 

"Core compression quality depends on core creation techniques and number of compressed layers but the true value of a properly compressed core is that it grants the core the ability to permanently absorb concepts and insight of the cultivator to shape and empower their path to power." Rank G to E requires you to create an external layer around your core as many as your core design can allow without falling apart. At rank D and C respectively, all the layers are compressed and infused with even more essence to create an even stronger structure, at rank B, all nodes are properly linked to the center of the core forming what are called essence channels. To improve the speed of techniques and provide greater control over essence. At rank A, the cultivator's core is fully formed and essence is now once again used to solidify the entire core, strengthening essence channels and properly empowering the nodes. "

 

Core creation and compression are a lot more complex than I thought and without access to another cultivator's core or guidance from another cultivator, I had no idea how to begin to create one.

 

"I'm sure you're probably going to forget much of what I've just told you, just remember the main points and find a good master or at least a good unbound book when you're ready."

 

I didn't have the heart to tell her that thanks to my implant, it was impossible to forget a single word that fell from her soft succulent lips, especially with the adorable school marm look she put on while lecturing me. It was so cute.

 

"After the core compression stage, cultivation branches out between those that want to become mages or sacred artists. A mage focuses on projecting and manipulating essence around themselves, while sacred artists use essence to empower their physical bodies and attacks

 

For the future sacred artist, the next stage is the body infusion or body strengthening stage. To reach this stage, it means that you have compressed your core to the point that your essence density is strong enough to be infused with your body without essence loss or damage to the body."

 

"There are twelve meridians in the body and they are Brain, heart, spine, bones, stomach, lung, small intestine, kidney, arms, legs, skin and the sensory meridians. Body strengthening is dangerous, because it is almost impossible to stop once started and requires a massive amount of essence for each meridian and it's connected organs. I would only provide more information once you have made more progress as this step should not be taken lightly or alone."

 

Her penetrating gaze tried to pin me down in order to reinforce her words and I wanted to burst out laughing from her futile attempts to form a frown on her smooth and perfect forehead.

 

"The only other stages I know about about is the aura awareness and aura enrichment stages, but there is little I can tell you that is not bound by the spirit oath. Not many Cultivators reach this level as it requires one to detect the subtle but unique energy field that surrounds a living entity and then actively expand and empower it. Not many cultivators can sense their own aura, much less actively empower it."

 

That's all I can offer you for now, from the excited look on your face, I think I've already said too much. If you need any more information on cultivation, you'll need to get stronger."

 

Then her expression turned grave and then took my hands in hers and said with a deeply serious tone. "And my final survival advice, avoid the fighting pits, do whatever ever you have to do to avoid being sent to the pits. Because no amount of cultivation tips will save you in the pit. You would last less than a few seconds in there."

 

She stood up and straightened her rough spun dress, her final advice finally issued. "Quickly you must eat, and get dressed. The mines are not kind to the weak."

 

I hurried to obey, quickly forgetting my last question regarding the "First pillar" at the thought of food.

 

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