Chapter 226 - Junction (3)

“Right then. There are as many cultivation methods as there are people that are cultivating, but the base system is the same. Instead of forming their own paths, those people over there…” I scoff while motioning in a random direction. I’m not sure where the Cultivation World is, but I suspect it to be a couple of dimensions away from this place. “…used well-developed and over-engineered building blocks to form Frankensteinian cultivation bases.”

I take a sixteen times projectile from my ring, slowly mapping it out while I get my thoughts in order.

“You can compare it to picking out clothing. I’m encouraging everyone to make their own apparel, to create their suits, dresses, underwear, shoes, all that stuff from scratch. That way, every individual can make their own style, and they can make sure that it all fits. The colours complement each other, and the styles don’t clash.”

Rhea nods, so I continue.

“The cultivation world’s sects allowed its members to pick from a clothing store. This allowed them to clothe people very quickly - just pick some off-the-shelf methods that work together, and you’re good to go. But, it also put a limit on their potential. A store-bought assembly can only be modified so much, after all.

“Mentors, elders and masters could fit bespoke suits, modifying small bits in order to make the fighting techniques, circulation patterns, and body tempering methods fit better. This works to an extent, but once they get to the higher levels of power and cultivation, the cracks start showing.”

I drop the sixteen-times piece of ammunition and wipe the sweat from my forehead. That was a large leap, and it took quite some effort to keep my augur smooth until Tree could fill it up with qi. I decide to do another sixteen instead of getting a denser one.

“The lack of knowledge of weaving techniques, sewing methods, and just clothing production in general start showing. If you make your own clothes, you know every thread and stitch. Taking something from the shelf and changing it will guarantee that there are parts that remain hidden until it’s too late. You still with me?”

Rhea nods again. “It’s like building a house. The same building on sand, soil, rock, or mud will require different foundations, drainage, plumbing.”

“Yeah. The rest was largely the same, though. The initial realm is called the Human realm. Qi gathering, qi condensing, core forming, solid core. They might call it different names and assign nine levels to each stage, but it’s basically the same.”

“Then the foundation?”

“Earth realm. And here the names get really freaky, but here’s the common thread I found. The solid core is used as the first building block or piece of cloth to make a foundation. The Earth realm is then divided into nine stages, each taking nine steps.”

“Tell me more,” Rhea interjects. She must be sensing my discomfort at the subject, so I give her a level stare.

“Right then. Foundation forming takes another nine steps. Then comes…” I take a deep breath while taking a sixteen-and-a-bit cylinder from my ring. “…shelter forming, followed by residence, palace, city, kingdom, continent, world, and universe forming.”

Her eyebrows rising high, Rhea makes another comment. “That comes down to the same things you told us to do, though? Create bigger and more elaborate structures?

“Yeah, there a lot of different thematic meanings, but that’s what it comes down to,” I reply, depressed. The amount of bullshit, fluff, and high brow philosophical nonsense I’ve had to trawl through in order to get to such a simple conclusion still bums me out.

“Then comes the Heaven realm, in which you go through the entire building list, but then in reverse. Universe condensing, until foundation condensing. I think that the true meaning of the Heaven realm is refinement, but people just cut away parts of themselves instead of condensing their complex power back into the simple.”

“What do you mean with that? You spoke of this before.”

“The Human realm is all about learning to interact with qi, right? My students need to learn to sense and control it. In the cultivation world, the majority of the work came from learning to differentiate between your own qi and the ambient junk qi that saturated everything. Then the Earth realm is all about expanding your power, building up your cultivation base and getting all fancy. Then the Heavenly realm is supposed to be about refining all that fancy stuff you built into something simple again. But nobody ever did that, as they wanted to keep the fancy techniques and super complex cultivation methods. So they just cut away parts of their personality, desires, emotions, all the good stuff that makes us hum-” I glance at Rhea for a brief moment. “…makes us sapient.”

“And at the end of the heavenly realm?” comes Rhea’s soft voice.

“I too did this the wrong way. Instead of going back to the simple, I just made more stuff. Instead of a universe filled with books, I made a multiverse. This basically allowed me to brute force the ascension process. There was a heavenly law there that imposed a limit, and everyone who crosses that energy limit was then teleported to the higher realms after getting zapped by lighting a few times. Something went wrong, and now, here I am!”

“And after that?”

“The Immortal realm. Something about creating new paths. I haven’t found any concrete information, and what I did gather was speculation based upon speculation.”

“Isn’t it just like how a human grows, but amplified by qi?”

I’ve stopped messing with the stone cylinders at this point and turn to face Rhea, who has also sat down. “How?”

“A baby is born, and first must learn to interact with the world. Then, after a base competence is reached, their life can grow and expand. They learn new things, develop a personality, acquire material things, relationships, all that.”

Now I’m the one nodding, indicating that she should continue.

“With age comes… relative wisdom... and the human can see that certain things should be retained, certain things are not needed, and certain things must go. As their body degrades, they seem to realise what is really important.”

I rub my eyes. I spent ten minutes monologuing about clothing, and she recaps the entire thing in five sentences. “Yeah. That’s precisely it.” I pull a seventeen-times-denser stone from my ring. Might as well get some work done instead of explaining stuff to a person who knows better.

“And some people can’t let go of things that aren’t important. This can hurt them and their environment, like that mage that did the blood magic stuff, Fredon was his name? He desperately wanted to stay in his own little comfort zone, and was willing to sacrifice a lot to do so.”

I glare at Rhea.

“Or how about the majority of the dragons? There is just one ancestor who is making something of this new situation. The rest are so unwilling to let go of their past, that they can’t see new ways forward. They’ve got too much baggage dragging them down. Why did you start talking about clothes, when there are plenty of examples all around?”

I swipe at Rhea, but she dodges nimbly and precisely, cackling with laughter as she retreats. She leans against the wooden entrance while I try my best to ignore her and focus on the projectile I’m working on.

“Thanks for the information. I think I can see a way forward now,” she says while wiping tears of laughter from her eyes.

I just wave her away, not bothering to look at her anymore. I stop my mind from wandering to the stupid clothing explanation and instead pour all my focus into refining my Will senses.

The difficulty no longer only doubles with each density increase, the effort I have to put in when going from sixteen to seventeen at least triples. I fear that I have broken off more than I can chew when Tree sends its qi surging up and around me. The sudden storm of easily accessible power puts me at ease, and the small pencil sized item sucks up a large stream of the power the moment I have it mapped.

Feeling that my liquid Will has gotten a lot finer, I decide to take a break. The small pool of augur in my braincore has shrunk significantly, and the only way to replenish it that I know of is time. Stumbling out of Tree, I rest against its golden bark for a while. The small cave remains open, and I peer up at the massive perennial.

“Hey, would you mind if I built my house in you?” I ask, suddenly struck by an idea. How cool would it be to merge my castle into its golden trunk? I could have balconies with an incredible view, and the walls would be made from wood panelling by default. I see the round opening slowly turning into a square, and I smile up at Tree. I step back into the wooden cave and start designing the best tree castle I can think up.

“Hey, you are channeling all this power into the ground, yeah?” I question after a few minutes of making a mental architectural model. “Can you try to send it upwards through your trunk?”

Rhea’s cultivation base got a lot more firm and solid thanks to the time she spent inside that despotic dragon-controlling tree of her own making, on the north pole. I suspect that it’s due to her body being washed clean of all useless qi, but I haven’t tested that yet.

Thankfully, Tree doesn’t start pumping all the qi it receives upwards at once. Instead, I feel a soft flow of power floating upwards from the glowing circle. I’m still surprised that Tree actually kept the improvised formation, but I quickly focus as the stream increases in speed and volume. At first, it feels like a gentle flow of wind. Qi of many types, colours, smells, and intents are merged into a murky stream. I catch familiar whiffs of fingerprints now and then, occasional strands of affinity coloured qi shooting past me.

Half an hour later, and I am in a galeforce wind. My skin feels like it’s being sandblasted with cotton balls, while my legs are tingling with paraesthesia noise.

“Hey, Rhea?” I ask, almost fearing that my voice will get lost in the deluge of qi coming from below.

“Hmm?” comes a distracting sound, her voice coming from far away.

“Did you feel tingles like your limb is falling asleep when you were stuck in that qi construct on the north pole?”

“Oh, so bad. I was glad I only felt a part of it because it was hell. Ah, you’re doing the same?” I can hear the smile creeping up on her face as she continues talking. “It will do you wonders. I’ll be off inspecting your drones on the north pole. Tree and Database can babysit your Flight students. Have fun now. I can only advise you not to move!”

Looking at my legs, I can’t prevent myself from shifting a bit. The terrible feeling that comes when moving a numb limb that’s still waking up shoots through my spine. I try very hard to stay still, but it’s kind of hard to ignore it when your own legs are screaming at you, their voices made from pure pain. I twitch, and my arms join in on the painful cacophony.

In the end, I paralyse myself, letting my body fall into a useless heap on the floor. The discomfort is immense for a small eternity, but it fades eventually. The upside of just lying on the ground is that I can fully relax. The downside is that my body now has a larger surface area, and I immediately feel pins and needles shooting through my face, shoulders, and torso.

Tree actually tries to initiate communication, but I mentally order it to continue. If Rhea went through this, so can I. That scaly bimbo spent nearly all her life sleeping, and didn’t have to go through a thousand years of shit in the Cultivation World.

I reign my own thoughts back in. No need to start cursing at her, she did warn me, after all.

I silently endure and manage to slump myself into a partially upright position after half an hour. I tried pulling myself up with qi threads, but they fray and disappear in the qi stream that’s flowing around and partially through me. I scoff at that, enduring the resulting backlash of discomfort coming from my ribs silently. Who knew that my diaphragm could even fall asleep like that. The important point is that I quickly realise my lack of control. I might be better than anyone here, but the sheer thickness of ambient qi on the Cultivation world prevented such flippant qi thread usage as I’ve been doing.

Another half hour later, I start hearing odd noises coming from the forest and jungles around Tree. I try spreading my qi senses, but it all gets torn free and carried off into the stream. I really have been underestimating Tree; it has been handling such surreal streams of power all this time without any problem. It usually just sits there, silently glowing golden without even showing a hint of what’s going on inside of it. All this power, just seeping into the earth around Tree.

Deciding that I’ll need to start training for real once more, as I’ve let stuff happen naturally for long enough now, I start doing three things at once. Firstly, I begin using my own body as an energy washer. Being careful to not move the qi inside my brain, as I don’t feel like extending my suffering, I start circulating qi furiously. Concentrating the spiral on my heart, I let it escape through my breath the moment it’s completely and truly mine.

Secondly, I start using threads of my exhaled qi to train my qi control. I focus on strength, for now, trying to prevent a small thread from dissipating against the qi storm.

Lastly, I pull projectiles eighteen times denser from my ring and start covering it in augur. For the first time in months, my mind strains at the amount of effort I need to expand, the constant distraction of my tingling and aching body another whetstone I grind myself against.

Also, I very carefully do not think about what Rhea might be doing. I sense her out there, in the jungles around Tree, accompanied by small earthquakes and terrifying screams and roars. I’ve got enough problems as it is without bothering with hers.

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