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The disciples had a surprise when they retrieved their rewards. Those that gained "100 crystals" were only distributed a single, more condensed, crystal. In fact, the rewards were referencing the standard low ranked crystal but the disciples were distributed a standard mid ranked crystal, which contained as much qi as 100 of its low ranked counterparts while being roughly at the same size.

This was another method the sect used to make sure that the crystals didn't replace the sect points as currency. How could you buy a sword worth 20Ps or 20 crystals with only a medium grade crystal in your pocket? That way, it had better control on its finances and could trace the exchanges through the badges.

The rewards for Han Lingyun also included two Sun pills but they were useless for qi condensation cultivators so Han Lingyun just gave one to each of his friends. Today he left with an additional 4500 Ps, 9 medium qi crystals, and 2 condensation pills.

 

The condensation pills, on the other hand, were only useful at the qi condensation realm, if their name left any doubt. This was a rather precious pill that would boost one's cultivation speed.

They were cultivation pills and differed notably from the Spirit condensing pill that Han Lingyun had the privilege to consume already, after he won his fight against Wang Yimo.

A condensation pill's use is to make a small jump in cultivation, advancing instantly by what would have taken 2 week or more of effort, depending on the individual. However, if you take a cultivator that consumed the pill and his twin that didn't, both would still have the same cultivation when they reach the peak of the qi condensation realm, even if one reaches that stage 2 weeks earlier than the other.

On the other hand, the Spirit condensing pill doesn't help cultivation directly but improves the spirit. Take a cultivator that consumed the pill while his twin didn't and compare their cultivation once they reach the end of the qi condensation realm, then the one that consumed the pill would still have denser qi and be able to control qi at a greater distance than his twin. The effect of the pill stacks up with the cultivation, but it doesn't replace it.

Essentially, a condensation pill just helps save time while the Spirit condensing pill brings a permanent increase in qi density. In effect, the Spirit condensing pill also decreases cultivation time as a stronger spirit condenses qi faster.

This is why the Spirit condensing pill is by far more valuable.

Han Lingyun had previously looked more thoroughly into the pills for qi condensation cultivators so he already had a good understanding of the differences. He wouldn't be disregarding the condensation pill though as that would gain him up to a month of time.

One shouldn't rely only on pills as such a behavior could weaken one's foundation, but 2 pills every 3 months were far from bringing in any hidden danger, or the sect wouldn't be distributing these pills to their most promising disciples in the first place!

 

Han Lingyun didn't have to change houses again after his new ranks because, opposite to the 1st year's practices, it was tradition for 2nd years and older disciples to keep the same house throughout the year. They weren't that petty to demand the house meant for their ranks, as the houses were all identical anyway.

As soon as he sat on his favorite prayer mat, Han Lingyun took a condensation pill and ate it. Han Lingyun could feel the qi in his dantian getting compressed and compressed further. When the effects died down, Han Lingyun estimated that for him, the effect was indeed comparable to 2 weeks of optimum cultivation.

Once again, the exact figure would change from disciple to disciple. He was very pleased with the result but judged not to take the 2nd pill right away. It would be best if he only ate the other one in a month and a half, to better spread out each dose and be sure to keep his foundation as solid as it could be. He would thus combine the gentle and steady stream of qi condensation with a sudden flood brought by a qi storm to fertilize his own land optimally, like a farmer watering his spirit garden.

 

Two weeks later, Han Lingyun had a sudden idea after finishing a cultivation session. This was approximatively the time when Lan Ruoxi took him to market road last year. Because he had already reached qi condensation before Ye Wenyan's arrival, he couldn't honor the tradition of taking him to a ride the day following his level up.

Thus, he decided to pay Ye Wenyan a visit now, show him around market road between two of his own cultivation session. Han Lingyun directly flew to the 15th house of the 1st years village, where he found Ye Wenyan practicing saber moves inside.

"You know there are training grounds with instructors that specialize with the saber, right?"

Ye Wenyan's face heated up. "I do, major. But…. I feel ashamed to practice in front of others." He admitted visibly uneasy after having been found out.

Han Lingyun placed a hand on his minor's shoulder. "There is nothing shameful when everyone is doing it. It's not even that, you shouldn't feel ashamed to train even if hundreds of disciples are mocking you, understood? This is for your own future! Now, I better find you at the training grounds next time or I'll leave you hanging upside down naked at the plaza, hehe. And trust me, I have already inflicted this ordeal to tens of disciples last year, you can ask your friends for confirmation from their majors."

Han Lingyun wide smile horrified Ye Wenyan, who nodded like a woodpecker.

"I will follow your advice and do as you say, major Lingyun."

"Haha, relax, relax, I was only half joking."

"H-half?" Ye Wenyan wasn't reassured.

"Yep, the part with the naked disciples actually happened." Han Lingyun laughed in reminiscence.

 

"Okay, enough teasing. Hop on my sword, I'll show you a cool place of the sect."

Ye Wenyan didn't dare to raise an objection.

 

In fact, he was later glad that he didn't as he probably had one of the best afternoons of his life. Flying with his major describing the scenery, experiencing all the sights of the market road with the same caring guide, having his first true taste of the cultivation world.

It was amazing. Han Lingyun also warned him of the other side of the coin of the cultivation worlds which came as a wake-up call for Ye Wenyan.

As Han Lingyun took off after dropping Ye Wenyan back at his own house, the first-year disciple thought back at his previous actions. Cultivation could lead to unimaginable things but most of it was only available for the top. The rest had to struggle in the mud. He couldn't lose out because of his insecurities, or he would miss so much and blame himself later.

By now, he felt very grateful for Han Lingyun, his power and warnings of the upcoming tempest on the road held a soft, comforting and benevolent heart for him that refreshed his thirst for motivation.

With a new mindset, Ye Wenyan sealed his heart and headed to the training grounds. He was another drop joining the cultivation river, dreaming of one day making it to the grand ocean.

 

Meanwhile, Han Lingyun had already moved on to the next part of his daily routine. In the last two weeks, he hadn't been solely cultivating and making progress on his blackbird art. In fact, he had also been devouring Elder Wen's manuals: Essential Runes for disciples I and An Introduction to Arrays.

 

Most of the manual on Runes' pages followed the same structure. The rune at the top followed by its explanation and description of its associated concept in the common tongue. Sometimes, this part came with drawings, stories or anecdotes. Each page either presented a commonly used rune in the cultivation world or one that formation masters need all the time. But transcribing abstract ideas proved to be a difficult task as some runes represented both one notion and another that seemed to contradict the first. The description thus aimed at expressing the rune with little touches, simpler ideas that hopefully ended up painting an accurate representation of the rune for the reader, in a written impressionism.

The first five pages of runes were for the 5 elements. Of water, wood, fire, earth and metal.

Han Lingyun still remembered his reaction when he first opened the manual.

Page 1: Water

A perfectly round circle was displayed. When Han Lingyun first saw it, he had thought a 3-dimensional ball was in front of his eyes before he made sure that the drawing was in fact only in 2 dimensions. As he had looked at this little ball more deeply, he heard the flow of a nearby river, he felt the touch of raindrops falling on his skin.

It was surreal.

Han Lingyun had then shifted his gaze with difficulty to look at the description beneath.

 

Water, one of the five natural runes. Even if the cyclical design of the 5 elements makes the question of which one comes first absurd, water is often presented in first as water is the universal precursor for life.

Water is first a drop, the simplification of many into the unique. Water embodies the force of the group; the drop is lost in the current or forced to move up and down as the wave passes through. There are no more drops left, only the combined creation.

Water is persistence, the small stream cuts the mountain in half after years of small incremental progress.

Water is the softness of the touch, the versatility to embrace every form. But Water can get angered as well, the crashing wave thus becomes unstoppable and washes away its enemies. Water is sometimes intransigent as ice, sometimes free as vapor. Cold and aloof in the lonely rainy night, warm and welcoming in the hot home bath.

Water sings the tranquil stream, and roars the stormy seas.

 

Han Lingyun felt like he understood well the explanation. It was harder to picture the result all at once though, especially with the strong duality that was expressed.

By now, Han Lingyun had already skimmed through the rest of the manual once and discovered some additional explanations that occupied the last third of the book. At first, he had wondered why the clarifications weren't placed at the beginning of the manual before realizing the book was meant to be read several times, every time with a newer outlook in light of additional knowledge and experience.

There was in particular a section about the 5 elements or "5 natural runes" as they were referred to. The manual explained that those 5 runes were the most common in nature as they could be found in some part all around us. In fact, some places have even formed natural arrays by coincidence due to a high concentration of those runes. Natural arrays are nearly always made of one of the five elements.

However, unlike what Han Lingyun had previously imagined, the 5 elements weren't considered spiritual building blocks in the sense that other runes were constructed by combining those 5 runes. That was simply not the case.

But their simple form and the broad concepts they encompassed made the 5 natural runes practical and easy to incorporate in many ways. The first cultivators learned from observing the nature's intricacies and by trying to imitate. In fact, this characteristic had remained true throughout the ages. And so, the 5 natural runes took a central part in the cultivation world, with most of its heritage built around them as basis.

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