The Qi condensation realm wasn't completely straightforward. The level of proficiency with qi manipulation and a cultivator's own qi density would greatly increase at every level of qi condensation. The realm was divided into 3 stages: "early", "mid" and "late". Each successive breakthrough was more challenging than the last. Even with some cultivation resources, many cultivators never managed to cross these steps.
Also, because a large number of cultivators remain stuck at peak of qi condensation without ever entering the Foundation establishment realm, the qi condensation realm was often considered as having an additional level: the "peak" stage of qi condensation. A cultivator is thus classified as being at early, mid, late or peak qi condensation cultivation. In practice, there are no barriers between late and peak qi condensation, so a cultivator at the late stage should reach the peak with enough time and accumulation.
Han Lingyun had a huge list of things to do, now that he had just entered early qi condensation. He was a true cultivator at last!
His lifespan had received a slight improvement too. He should be able to live up to 100 years old before his body failed on him. This was another benefit brought by qi.
Han Lingyun wanted to test his new powers now; he imagined the runes of the blackbird art and immediately entered into a semi trance state. He then would have to make a trip at the library to get the second step of the blackbird art.
He smirked deprecatingly as he suddenly remembered how when he first started cultivating, he had once thought that he could deduce the perfect cultivation method from analyzing the structure of qi crystals. His ideas have been quite naïve. Well, his attempts were only met with failure. In fact, he only discovered that the qi crystals were not like traditional crystals with one structure being repeated millions of times. Therefore, there wasn't any sort of pathway formula to apply.
With hindsight, even if he could have discovered anything, how could powerful cultivators at the Nascent Soul realm or above not realize this over thousands of years of heritage?
'These cultivators are not comparable to my former mortal self, not remotely. Their processing power, mind, the depth of their vision and senses, their understanding of the dao and runes are so far ahead of myself. I am like a toddler trying to replace general relativity. With my background, I might have some new ideas on special topics but I shouldn't pretend that my current self has a thread of a chance of improving the cultivation arts perfected by generations of masters dedicating their life to this cause and trying to defy the natural order. I need to humble myself.'
Han Lingyun thoughts shifted, now that he was at the qi condensation realm, he would be able to take his first steps in the arts of forging and array making! The 1st year disciples had indeed received a presentation of these specialties as Gao Fengge had predicted but they remained vague. It was still enough for Han Lingyun to realize that alchemy wouldn't be his favorite subject, it resembled closely the chemistry from his past life in principles and methodology and that wasn't his cup of tea!
This didn't mean that he would always disdain from practicing that field, but there was already so much that attracted him more and he had a very limited time. It was vital for cultivators to capitalize on their younger years as it was harder to make breakthroughs when one grew older.
Han Lingyun knew that not fancying the alchemy path was a bit a shame though as being an alchemy specialist presented important benefits. Most were wealthy and could consume their own pills to grow faster.
On the other hand, Han Lingyun had been greatly interested in the refining professions: the art of creating treasure weapons. Those craftsmen competed in their attention to details, understanding an optimal use of runes and sometimes, imagination. Han Lingyun wanted to experiment combining his knowledge of his previous world's technology with runes. An important advantage he had was his more open mindset to innovation and creativity.
Of course, there was array making to learn as well!
Han Lingyun also had to pick up a flying treasure sword, learn to fly, go see his parents, take a mission with Wang Yimo and the list went on.
As he made a mental list, Han Lingyun tried to apply basic qi attacks. He punched, kicked and slashed with his sword while trying to launch qi. The result was…. Nothing. Han Lingyun didn't succeed once.
The only thing he had achieved was to break his short sword as he tried to pass qi through it. This was a small success, especially as the sword wasn't made for that. At least this proved that he managed to push some qi outside his body.
But there was still some work to do here. That's also where Magical arts like the Blackbird part 2 step in, they provide exact qi pathways and applications in order to execute powerful attacks or movements consistently.
From now on, he would follow classes for qi cultivators at the 2nd year's settlements too. He probably would be seeing his friends less for a time and feared a bit their reactions when he would announce being at qi condensation already.
In fact, Han Lingyun had been very fast to reach that stage, the fastest 4th grade talent this year. As a comparison, the average 4th grade talent with no additional resources and no setbacks would only reach this stage in 1 year and a half.
Han Lingyun's rapid progress was a consequence of the high-end resources he had used, his absolute dedication to cultivation, his adequate mindset and his careful schedule optimization. The only time during the year where he could have cultivated more was during the first 5-day trip out of the sect.
The first thing on his mental to do list was to reevaluate his goals and objectives, now that goal 1 had been achieved. He came up with this new framework.
Goal 0: Survive.
Goal 1: (Short term) Become proficient in basic runes before the end of 2nd year. Construct my first arrays and weapons.
Goal 2: (Short-medium term) Reach mid qi condensation by the end of the year, and Foundation establishment before turning 16.
Goal 3: (Medium term) become an array master and research the laws guiding qi and runes.
Goal 4: (Long term) reach immortality and explore the universe freely.
He could still rearrange his goals later on. For example, because he had yet to experience much at the qi condensation realm, he couldn't tell if his Goal 2 was unrealistic, too easy or adequate. But it felt about right as a first approximation.
In fact, at the qi condensation realm, there was no rule for the time it takes to reach each step. Different talent grades still help but the rate of progress is far from being absolute. Talent's difference has a bigger impact in the time cultivators stay stuck at bottlenecks before each new level.
Cultivators have found over time that mindset plays an important role too. Life and death experiences are often greatly beneficial as well, perhaps because of the psychological consequences. Then again, everything is different from one individual to another. Some practices that work for one might slow down the progress of another.
Anyway, Han Lingyun had branded his goal to the back of his head for now and headed to accomplish all the tasks he had.
His first and most dreaded one was to find Shen Lin and Yang Haoyu.
"No way, you are the best brother Lingyun! Shit, I really need to work hard now and classes will be dull without you. Damn I'll give it all to not be left in the dust by you, I don't want lose you because of my level." Shen Lin embraced him.
Han Lingyun was relieved that his first friend took the news well.
"What? How did you do it?". Yang Haoyu was slightly shocked.
"Um, I cultivated diligently and was lucky I guess…" Han Lingyun responded.
"But how? Why am I so slow when we have the same grade? I cultivate all the time too!" Yang Haoyu frowned.
Han Lingyun didn't add anything. He couldn't talk about the resources he had used. He also believed that those only played a secondary role if the speed to reach qi condensation was the issue.
"Maybe it's a question of mindset. I like to fix myself some goals and I enjoy cultivating." Han Lingyun still wanted to help his friend out of his dead end.
It seemed that Yang Haoyu was getting frustrated with his cultivation. His rank had also slowly dropped to 34th in the last months when Shen Lin and Han Lingyun were in 18th and 6th. Perhaps he had developed a sense of urgency due to his recent decline that wasn't too desirable.
"Don't worry about your speed brother, you are doing very decently in fact, and we are not even racing. And things become a lot more complicated after you reach qi condensation." Han Lingyun sensed that Yang Hoayu's thoughts weren't exactly going in the right direction.
Yang Haoyu admitted. "Hum you're right. I'm a bit jealous though. Will you be training with 2nd years now?"
"That should be the case, with those at the qi condensation realm." Han Lingyun confirmed the obvious.
"Well, have fun then. Goodbye, I'll start another cultivation right now." Yang Haoyu forced a smile.
"Are you sure you are all good? Don't push yourself too far, all right? Han Lingyun questioned at the door.
"Don't worry brother Lingyun, I'm not that stupid haha."
Han Lingyun was a bit reassured here. "Okay, have a good session then. And it's not like we won't be seeing each other until you reach qi condensation, I'll still pass from time to time."
Now that his friends had been informed, Han Lingyun headed to the library to get the 2nd part of the blackbird art. The sect rule was that you could only pick one martial art in first year but he wasn't breaking any rule here, because the 2nd part of the blackbird art still counted as the same martial art. In fact, the grade 5 talents must have done similar things by selecting martial arts with more stages, having anticipated that they would reach qi condensation in less than a year. Han Lingyun wondered If that rule also applied to them though: their teacher could very well provide them with other martial arts If they so wished to. Rules are only rules for the those that don't have power or relations.
As a consequence of these rules though, Han Lingyun didn't have to rack his head to look at other martial arts at the 2nd level of the library for now, and directly picked the blackbird's next step.
Blackbird martial art –part 2 Qi condensation.
A shadow that never misses a strike, that comes and goes as it pleases. A silent assassin.
Ability 1: Releases invisible qi blades up to 10-20-30 meters (early-mid-late). Can precisely control blades up to 5-10-15 meters (early-mid-late).
Ability 2: Merges presence with the environment: less effective in high luminosity areas.
Ability 3: Creates a fog of black Qi where the user can sense any movement inside. Radius: 10-20-30 meters (early-mid-late). Fog is easily dispersed by wind attribute attacks, and weakened by other qi uses inside. Resistance increases with cultivation.
Level: Very Hard.
It was rare for martial arts to have 3 abilities, and so much variations. Most only had one, a portion had 2. Cultivators would just learn more martial arts to use more diverse moves. One art with several abilities meant that the different attacks would be more fluid. It would make the initial learning phase harder though. The blackbird art was quite special because it focused less on a technique and more on the theme.
Han Lingyun went to the counter for the qi condensation floor where an elder was permanently stationed and presented his choosing.
The elder looked at him with interest, before reading the martial art.
"To take the next level of a martial art, you have a special mission to accomplish." The elder pointed out.
Han Lingyun wanted to cry out. His shoulders slumped. "I-I didn't know this."
The elder found his reaction amusing. "It's okay, here is your mission, come back when you have completed it, only then will you be able to receive the next part of the martial art you practice. There is no time limit by the way."
Han Lingyun pitifully left the library. 'That was a let down!'
He wasn't completely empty handed though, as he now had the Universal qi condensation manual under his arm. He could now start cultivating again. This manual would last him until the foundation establishment stage.