Chapter Thirty-one: The Ancient Will
The tellurian practitioner tier is the first and the most basic one in the earthly cultivation path. It is the foundation on which everything else is built. Until a person has completed it he or she isn't qualified to call him or herself a tellurian practitioner. Hence the title true practitioner. Till then he or she is still a mortal and not an actual cultivator.
Once a person is discovered to possess qi, he or she would have to train and cultivate through five important stages. The first is the bone transformation stage. Here the tellurian prospect would use his or her newly awakened qi to cleanse and strengthen the skeleton.
Qi is life force and physical energy. The greater and better the physique, greater the effects and the growth of qi. The skeleton is the framework for the body. It provides surfaces for the attachment of muscles and organs. It protects the vulnerable bits and produces the most important thing in the physical self, blood.
Blood is the medium for essence, both qi and arcane energy. Bettering the skeleton improves the blood as well and the blood would circulate through the body bringing about the evolution of all the other constituents.
The second is the flesh transformation stage. The name is a bit of a misnomer though since it isn't only the muscles that are transformed. There exist a variety of methods and training styles that could improve the organs, muscles, skin and all other ‘fleshy' bits.
The first two stages of the tellurian path are known collectively as the preparatory phase. This is because the whole reason for going through them in the first place is primarily to boost the quality, structure and general vitality of a person's body.
This does not mean that they are not important. It is just that they are there so that people could raise their physical standard to the minimum required for the third stage. That is, the meridian opening stage.
There exist eight extraordinary meridians in every body. These meridians are channels or routes for energy to travel in the body. A tellurian could open these vessels and then use them to channel his or her qi through his or her body. However the opening of the meridians is a dangerous venture that could go very wrong if not properly prepared for.
Thus, the reason for upgrading the body beforehand so it could handle the stress. Without a strong enough vitality, a person might not properly recover from the process. Even then, if his physical resilience is not up to par the meridians might burst during the opening. Finally, the Qi collected and refined during this time increases the qi pool and provides the fuel for the opening of the meridians.
Once the meridians are all open and the circuit complete, qi can fill them and the diffuse from the minute pores in them and into the body. Then it can be exuded from the body. This is the manifestation stage. Besides the ability to externalise qi there is nothing special about this stage.
That is if the ability to use tellurian skills is considered as nothing special. All the famous special skills attributed to tellurians required them to get to this stage before they could be used. All the sword beams, protections, explosions and the like started here.
The final stage is qi condensation. It requires one to take his or her qi pool and then compress all that energy till it formed a crystalline core in the pool's place. With that done a person would have created his or her own qi core. A vessel with scores more times the energy storing capacity of the qi pool. Not just that, the quality and intensity of the qi would improve by multiple times.
It was only when a person formed a core that he or she could be said to have consolidated the first tier be that person tellurian or arcanist. A ranking that Valerian was close to qualifying for.
Deep in the space that housed Valerian's qi pool.
An immense pool of qi swirled around a central spot. It wasn't a whirlpool. Whirlpools sucked things down into the depths. This swirl gathered the energy changing it from its tea like consistency to that of a soup and from that to a thick gravy. The sea of qi shrunk continuously becoming more and more purified. The power it gave off increased as well.
As time went on a small crystal begun to form. It started out the size of a grain of sand and then slowly increased in size. This small crystal drained all the qi in the sea and then went on to draw in the dregs from Valerian's body and meridians.
His body completely empty, Valerian's newly formed core crystal rose in the space glittering like a gem in the sunlight. All that was left was for it to release some of the changed qi back into the body and meridians to finish the process. That was how the process normally went anyway.
However, nothing about Valerian's tellurian cultivation had ever been normal. Just before the core crystal emitted its first pulse of qi, a mysterious force came over it and seized it. At the time, Valerian was still stuck, quaged in the mire of Gleamscales memories but it grabbed him as well and dragged him out.
Valerian didn't even have time to adjust or return from his delirious state before he felt the presence of that alien force weighing down on him.
Whatever it was, it was alive, it was immense, it was powerful and it was old. It was so old and ancient that it seemed immemorial. That was the first impression he got from the presence. It was a peculiar will, a psychic force that was pressing down on him and everything he was.
As it was, Valerian couldn't stand the pressure it generated. He felt like ant before a god. Like an inconsequential grain of sand that could be washed away by the slightest ripple of power it sent his way. Despite that he knew that it was not doing that intentionally. In fact, it wasn't doing it at all. It had taken no actions against him. It was just there and that was what was giving him that crushing feeling.
Valerian was terrified. He rightly recognised the space as one of his inner pools and yet here was this … thing. It had trespassed in his very core and taken control. The feeling was stomach turning, like leaving your house for a few hours and coming back to find that someone moved in and played in your room, worn your clothes, eaten your food and was lying in your sheets.
Valerian felt more than a little violated. It was a very distressing situation. Finding yourself with an intruder but powerless before it. Alas, Valerian had never really been a passive person, even when the odds were against him.
Marshalling his forces, Valerian launched an attack containing everything he had. He targeted the immaterial foe dwelling in his qi space. It was a formless attack, little more than a forceful yell that carried his fear and outrage, backed by both of his cultivation bases. It sought to banish the intruder, to shoo it away or carry it out with its force.
It did neither. Valerian was sure he struck it but his attack might as well have been that of a mosquito on a mountain. It didn't even count as an irritation. It was still an affront though and his ill-advised attack was responded to in kind.
The moment he sent it he felt great guilt and knew he had done wrong but he couldn't take it back.
A formless weight came upon him. He thought the presence was crushing before but now he readjusted his position. This was crushing! The pressure upon him seemed to squash his very soul. His mental avatar crumpled and fell, metaphysical bones creaking and blood vessels rupturing.
He had been wrong. He had been stupid. What could he have possibly done to an entity powerful to invade his qi centre, manipulate his body and summon his mental avatar?
The fault was not completely his. Bear in mind that Valerian had not been in the right state of mind in a while. In some sense he hadn't even been in his mind. That strange instinct had shoved his consciousness to the side and then he got sucked into the memories of a dragon.
He had just been through a physical and mental wringer. He was drained and tired. Then he had to find someone trespassing in his core. It was no wonder why he swung at it. Now, he was suffering the consequences.
Even so, he did not want to die. He tried to get back out, to stand, to get away but he couldn't. The pressure locked him down. When he tried to stand it increased. Rendered motionless, Valerian was scanned by the strange presence. He was laid bare before it. He might as well have been naked and translucent. It looked at and through his mind and soul, seeing it all.
All of a sudden, a grudging approval came from the entity and the pressure let up. Evidently, whatever it saw in him had impressed it. It raised him up to stand on his unsteady feet and then reached out to assess his physical form.
What came next was a feeling of disdain and contempt that left Valerian feeling ashamed. This time he did not meet its standards. He felt like he had disappointed it somehow. The urge to apologise and explain sprung up within him but Valerian suppressed it. What was happening? Why was he feeling this way towards this invasive force?
No answer came his way but what did was a strong compulsion.
Out in the real world, Avery watched with worried eyes as Valerian finally stopped tearing away at the dragon. He stood stock still halfway into its abdomen. The haze of qi still surrounded him, illuminating his dirty form. Stale blood covered his lips and dripped down his front. His hands were still sheathed in the taloned qi shrouds but he did nothing but stand there.
Thinking that whatever was happening had stopped, Avery prepared to go to him. His plans immediately changed when he felt the vortex of essence around his charge pick up speed. In moments, it became a violent maelstrom that sucked in all the free essence within three kilometres of Valerian.
Avery was beyond confused. ‘What could possibly be going on now he wondered?'
From what he could sense, Valerian had already formed a core and become a true practitioner. What more use could he have for all that qi?
The veritable mini-tornado of essence centred itself on Valerian and his own qi responded. It collected itself and shot out through the eye of the energy storm. Following that, all the energy began to calm down. It condensed itself and enveloped the young man, forming a large, two metre tall, golden egg that hovered half a metre off the ground.
‘What in the heavens is going on?' Avery wondered.
Inside the egg.
Valerian floated insensate in the slush of essence. Unconsciously his body curled up into a foetal position. His clothes, armour, all of them were sent out of the egg to fall on the ground below. Now naked, he stayed curled up his egg waiting for his rebirth.
Under the influence of that ancient will, his newly formed crystal cracked and crumbled releasing all the energy it contained back into the space. Afterwards, his cultivation base begun unravelling. It wasn't just his qi core. His meridians began to close and every bit of qi within him retreated back into his core. Same for his arcane vessel and energy. More and more essence poured into the space. So much that it seemed full to bursting.
But this was just the start. His bones began to grind themselves to dust and his muscles begun to rip themselves into confetti. The internal organs liquefied and their contents evaporated. All his hair disappeared and his skin turned even more elastic and translucent. Soon, he was nothing but a bag of pulp with two distinct pools of energy hanging in a golden egg.
This done, the ancient presence let his qi flow outwards again. Then, his arcane energy followed. The two forces mixed with the yolk causing it to glow brightly. The essence that formed the egg albumin also chose this moment to flow into it as well.
Meanwhile, the presence was now in Valerian's arcane pool, looking around like a tourist. It took note of the congealed arcane energy that showed that Valerian was in the energy condensation stage and passed on without another glance. Its true interest was in the two brightly glowing orbs of essence that hung over the pool.
One was steel grey and the other a light cyan. It observed them as if pondering on whether to break them down too but reconsidered. They'd remain for now. Instead, it turned its attention back to Valerian, watching as every single cell was saturated with the essence. It was only when they couldn't absorb any more energy that it took action.
Like a potter, that ancient presence began moulding the mix of essence, qi, arcane energy and blood back into Valerian's body. The bones formed first.
They were pearly and strong. Far stronger than Valerian's first set. Titanossis or titan's bone, one of the precious essence imbued metals in the cavern, was called such because of its hardness and toughness but it was definitely weaker than Valerian's new skeleton. There was something strange about them though. They were hollowed, possessing large cavities like those of a bird.
This did not compromise their sturdiness but it did make them a lot lighter than they should be. They were barely any heavier than a normal set of human bones. As for the marrow, it was pure and possessed a frightening vitality. The bones had barely even formed and they were already producing blood.
The blood was a bright crimson fluid that carried that vital essence and life force through the fast appearing flesh. The energy it carried was shocking to the extreme and faster flowing nearly twice as fast as it should. This would allow it to supply nigh endless amounts of energy and essence to his organs and muscles as well as replenish cells and heal his body better.
His muscle fibres were no different. They grouped themselves and attached themselves to his bones to create a physique that was multiple times better than it was before. His organs came in; better, more efficient and more purposed for their respective tasks and his skin was nearly four times tougher and more resilient.
Valerian Steelborn's entire physical self was recreated. A healthier, superior, enhanced self. Best of all, all of those old internal wounds his flailing attempts at cultivation had caused were cured. All of the impurities and issues that had accumulated in his body from abusing essence imbued substances had been removed from his body.
These things had all brought down the grade of his body and were just lying in wait to crop up down the line and cause even more issues in the future. However, thanks to the machinations of the ancient entity they would no longer be a problem.
His body fixed. The ancient will began working on his cultivation. Previously Valerian's tellurian cultivation could not even be called that. His arcane one was progressing but his tellurian one was hopeless. That was why the entity had so much contempt when it examined him. There was trash and beneath that there was Valerian.
Nonetheless, it was changing that. His newly formed body was draining any essence fed to it like it was dying of thirst.
His meridians had changed from pipes to canals. Their walls were thick and strong. They only required a prompt from the ancient deity to open up. The highways were now open for use and his qi did not waste any time. It travelled through the opened routes and then as if experimenting moved through his body and then diffused outwards and then back in. Satisfied it went back into his qi space and began preparing to form a core.
His arcane energy was the same. It run throughout his form and transformed it back into a perfect arcane vessel. The former one had ended up degraded by his efforts at cultivating his qi but now it was perfect again. Done. It poured out of his body and then was slowly reabsorbed.
It only took ten minutes for Valerian's entire body to be remodelled. His physique could now be compared to those legendary physiques. It was superior to his old one in every way. However, he remained floating in the egg. There was still a lot of essence left and the process would only end when he had absorbed it all.
In fact, it was already entering his energy pools and focusing on his shoulder blades in particular for some reason.
Seeing this, the ancient will gave a pleased smile. Despite this, it worried a little. It had just done a lot for Valerian. Probably, more than it should have but even that would not ensure success and safety. It thought back to Valerian's former body.
So much of that could have been avoided. Woefully, from what it gleaned from his memories the boy was alone with no one to guide him. No access to the teachings or arts. None of the protections, resources or aid that he should have as part of his legacy. It was beyond regrettable but it happened. He was lucky he had discovered him. But this was already past the acceptable limit of what was permissible.
The rest would depend on him and his efforts. With any luck he would make it. If not, he would fall like some of his ancestors. All he could do was give him the foundation required to aspire to the heavens. That was the most a father could do.
It faded away slowly, keeping its hold over him till the last second as if reluctant to let go. Too many of his kind had perished on this world. The boy had greatness in him along with a strong drive and an even stronger will. Now he had a nigh peerless foundation. He just hoped it would be enough.
Strive for the heavens hatchling. Your family awaits you.
Author's Notes Important! Please Read!
Classes begun on Monday and they are already proving to be a hassle. I'm afraid I have a lecture on Tuesday that clashes with our standard upload time (4:00-5:00 pm GMT). I'm wondering whether to change the release time on Tuesday's only or for the rest of the days as well. Tuesday has to change. That's a given and I'll let you decide which time is more convenient. Would you rather the chapter come out two hours earlier or two hours later? Should the others change as well?
Please let us know in the comments below.
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