Chapter 02 – Mana
I feel an itch. An itch that can only be scratched by going somewhere new, somewhere fun and exciting. If there is one thing that I love about cultivation is that it is rather easy to find something interesting and entertaining. Arrived at a new village? Just spread yourself through the environment and make a mental map of all things unknown. Then go look at the things you don’t know.
A new type of plant can be a research project for multiple years. Once your senses get sharp enough to see the workings of individual cells, studying something becomes a lot more hands-on and interesting. Well, it’s relatively interesting for me, your results may vary.
I have a wry smile on my face. Being bored and very emotional don’t seem to go together very well, but I’ve been sitting in this cave for about ten hours while trying out my control over the energies around me. Wait, that’s not correct, I decided to call these energies mana for now. I think that breaking qi apart gives you mana, and combining mana gives you qi. At least, I really hope so because else my last few hours of effort would have been in vain. I sigh and continue practising.
I flip a switch in my mind and rage boils through my body. Unbridled wrath fills my every cell, clouding my head and limbs. Faint dark green mana gathers as I hold out my hand. I force it into a ball just above my palm, trying to coalesce something.
Matter has states; solid, liquid and gaseous, with plasma just off to the side of that triangle. Currently, I’m attempting to condense the green gas into a liquid or deposit it directly into a solid. I keep up my anger for five minutes, feeling arteries pop up all over my head as a result of the required effort. The green gaseous ball is a bit opaquer now, but I don’t think there is enough to condense it into anything.
With another deep sigh, I let the emotion go. The ball disperses immediately, not leaving a trace. All this emotional roller coasting is leaving me mentally drained. I look outside the cave and the trees and grass seem a little less colourful, a little drabber. With tired eyes I give in to despair, a horrible knot forming in my stomach. I image a bleak future, a hopeless prospect without a shred of love and warmth. Deep red wine coloured wisps gather above my hand and I give it a twist.
Brute force coalescing techniques don’t work, let’s try something different. I spin the gas above my hand and focus on the centre. I imagine a little sphere of stillness above my hand while I command everything around it to spin and twist.
“Why do I bother; it isn’t going to work anyway,” I mutter as I let myself sink a little further into this temporary depression while speeding up the small tornado forming before my eyes.
This method seems to work better than just gathering it in a passive manner. I don’t dare think that aloud though, afraid to break my control, and being bleak-minded is easier than maintaining a roiling rage. As soon as a strand of red energy is rotating fast enough I pull it into the centre sphere. Pressure keeps building as I imagine the ball unbreakable, never cracking and able to withstand immense pressure.
Another minute later the strands don’t go fast enough to penetrate through the pressure in the sphere, so I give the small cyclone another push to speed it up. Focusing intensely while feeling like the biggest and most useless sack of shit ever, a quarter of an hour passes by.
A small shake wakes me from my despairing daze. The tornado above my palm is half a meter wide now, spinning faster and faster. I feel a headache coming on from the energies swirling around my body, but I keep on twisting it even more vigorously. It gives another shake and collapses, the cyclone exploding inwards and outwards at the same time.
I blink my eyes from the blast of red and look at my palm. A small bead of dark red glass is laying on my palm, the size of a pin’s head. I feel a slight resonance with the little thing, an aura of despair and heat wafting towards me. A smile splits my face and I start to laugh. I hold my stomach as I feel my belly muscles cramping up.
Feeling a lot better without the previous self-imposed state of clinical depression, I decide to love the world. A warm feeling followed by bright red colours surround me as I place the little bead beside me and I hold out my hand again, a small bright red tornado forming just above my palm.
The bright red bead forms with a bit more effort than it’s darker counterpart. I go through the same process with the other emotions. Bright, positive mana takes about three times longer to form beads as negative feelings, making me worry about the state of this world once again. Using this worry to make a dark green earth mana bead allows me to make a small sphere in just five minutes. Being completely content to be here, now, in this cave gives me a bright green one.
Grief for all that I have lost and iron discipline give me a dark and light grey metal orb. Scaring myself shitless followed by an intense desire to go do something – anything – gives met two water beads. Cursing out loud in a blind rage resulted in a dark green wood sphere. A desire to better this world, to go use that angry energy constructive nets me the last one of the set, a bright green bead filled with nature’s life.
Ten little spheres lie in my hand, each having a slight internal glow. Now for the rest of my plan. Keeping only the two wood beads, I let them touch, slowly pushing them together. Honestly, I’m just winging all this, any proper scientist back on Earth would have an aneurysm where he or she to witness my scientific working method.
It’s almost a pity that belief has a major influence on whether something works or not when you’re talking about mystical and magical subjects. Proper testing procedures or not, it seems to be working. Slowly the two opposing yet similar energies merge and calm each other down.
I take a closer look at the small green ball. A feeling of… shouting? I start to suspect the little information I still remember about ancient Chinese medicine is messing with my experiment. Let’s go with the flow then, wood represents birth, fire represents growing, followed by earth for transformation, metal for harvest and water for storage.
I might remember it wrong, but there is an instinctive feeling that it just might work. It won’t be the best method to do this, but I can always start over again at a later date. Humming to myself I push the rest of the pairs together.
Five little colourful beads are laying on my palm. Looking closely, I can see the dark and bright mana swirling through each other, like metallic paint. Now for the tricky part, the recombining of the elements into pure neutral qi. I’m still missing quite a lot of essential elements though. Lightning is nowhere to be seen, nor are light and darkness. I also haven’t found air yet. I think about the thought process I’d have to go through in order to improve my current work, and I decide to ignore it.
I stare resolutely at my palm and make a fist. A minor explosion occurs, with me barely able to hold my hand closed. Enclosing it with my other hand, I give it a squeeze. The ball of energy in my palm is fighting back now, somehow refusing to combine. I empty my mind. Then I take the concept of an empty mind and let it fall into oblivion. Then I let the oblivion fall away.
This continues for a while, stripping layers of my emotions until I reach a true empty mind. Not thinking about not thinking is harder than it seems and I thank the past me for having the patience to perfect this method of meditation.
With massive hunger pains, I stir awake. I’m still sitting inside the cave, still staring at my balled up hands. Light seeps in through the cave opening, signalling a new coming day. I open my palm and look.
A white orb around two centimetres in diameter lies on my palm. A familiar feeling emanates from it and I quickly throw it into my mouth. No need to let a – I’m assuming – completely unknown energy signature be broadcasted everywhere. I nearly cry as my energy starved body starts to absorb the formed qi. This energy I know intimately, the vibrancy of life and death combined into pure potential.
I can’t help but smile as I guide the energy through my stomach into my blood vessels. The arteries first, along with the oxygen-starved blood, get to enjoy a proper dousing of qi. Slowly I follow the trickle of white gas through my blood vessels, only interfering when it reaches my heart. Here I stop it while pondering what path to take.
There are three core hotspots in the body. A standard, boring cultivator gathers qi at his dantian, just behind the navel, in order to form a qi centre there. The dantian is a fine gathering spot, best for a combination of body and technique fighting, basically a magic swordsman.
The heart is another possible gather point; this is the better spot for any type of body cultivation. Then there is my favourite, the barely used braincore. I discovered this core location by accident, but I have fallen in love with it since. Cultivating my brain has allowed me to develop powerful magical and psychokinetic abilities using qi. It’s also hilarious if nobody knows you gather all your energy there and people keep stabbing you in the stomach to cripple or kill you. Simply pretend to be severely crippled; crawl away and you’re right as rain after some healing!
Stopping the chuckle from escaping my throat, I keep the qi at my heart until it has all gathered. A pitiful amount, but I feel my hunger receding as my body gets a less substantial nutrition source. When all is gathered in my heart I simply shove it through the aorta into both my carotid’s. Done.
All I need to do now is prevent it from escaping. I smile wildly as I feel my mind clearing up, thoughts flitting by faster and clarity returning to me. I feel the strands of qi gathering at my brainstem, the same place I held all my energies before. Plans spin through my mind as I gain back a fraction of the calculating power I’m used to.
I pour my full attention into the spot, trying to get the qi to take on a single, unique aspect. That of me. That of an empty canvas or a blank book containing endless potential knowledge.
Half an hour later, the qi settles into place, gathering in a small area in my brain stem while some strands keep going through my bloodstream, subtly cleaning and improving my body. I notice it’s not really cleaning anything, just strengthening. My passing through multiple universal boundaries did a number on my physical form and totally wiped away any trace of qi in my body, but there are no impurities.
My smile widens into a grin as I realise that the previous cleansing of my body in preparation of ascension was not undone. In other words, my body is operating at peak condition. No useless waste materials or acids are in my system, no unnecessary chemicals, metals or macromolecules are present. Gaining back my power base should be rather quick.
I stand up, assigning a minor portion of my mental faculties to the gathering and combining of more mana. The slight haze that comes from lessened thinking power should be compensated for by nightfall as my braincore eagerly starts generating qi from mana.
Taking a deep mana filled breath causes the murky mix of power to enter my veins as I breathe out stale air. The mana then gets guided through my heart to my head, where it gets sucked into my core. Feeling my mind grow with each breath is as addicting as ever. Cultivation is truly the best drug.
It’s a small start, but gaining more power will allow me to gain even more power. You need money to make money, and you need power to gain power. It’s a long road. I had thought that the first step would be finally behind me, but maybe I can start over and build something even better this time around?
The feeling of dread I had when I woke in the random valley lifts. A planet filled with negative energies can mean one of two things. The gods or higher beings here are doing a bad job or the general populace is evil as shit. Maybe both. It’s less of an issue now that I’m gathering strength once again.
Stepping out of the cave into the sunlight, I stand still to bask in the sun. An agonised shriek shakes me from my revelry as I watch a cute little bunny being eaten by an even cuter little fawn. I just ignore them, especially the half eaten but still alive cute squirrel that the bunny was munching on before its fateful encounter with a Bambi from hell. Suppressing a shiver, I turn to my left and keep walking.
I especially ignore the fact that every animal so far seemed just slightly wrong. Instead of fur, some rabbits have fine scales. I see that the fawn has feathers sprouting from its body here and there. Nope, let’s just ignore that for now, especially that naked badger with scabs all over.
The valley is filled with grass, shrubs and trees. Sloping fields filled with clustered trees spread out before my eyes, painting a peaceful and picturesque scene. I feel my mood lifting as I return to what I love doing, wandering aimlessly and looking for interesting stuff.
I find something moderately interesting after an hour. A mud road crosses my path as I’m about to leave the valley. Cart tracks along with other unidentifiable traces of civilisation give another boost to my mood. Planets with an ecosystem but no intelligent species do exist but that would have been extremely boring. I take an arbitrary right and follow the road, curious where it’ll lead.