Chapter 24 - Double
I come to and wonder what the fuck I’m doing. My own mind is shouting at me to get going. I wonder what that arrogant upstart is planning now, until I remember what I am currently doing. I immediately check the sun's position. Not even ten seconds have passed, excellent! I reassert some control over the qi surrounding me, my grasp now a lot more tenuous. The last shards of my braincore slowly dissipate as I take a deep breath, feeling the qi burn its way through my body. I toy with the idea of creating a core in a different location than my head. While I’m at it, I might as well redo an old failed experiment. I check the probability tree I had calculated beforehand and pick the direction that seems most awesome.
I have thought and speculated a lot whether a person or being can have multiple cores. Ideally, I would want to create a brain and a heart core, giving me the best of both worlds. Making a third dantian core seems like a bad idea. The amount of qi required for advancing into the later realms is already enormous, adding a second core would multiply this amount by more than ten times. A third core would probably be expensive enough to make gods weep.
I have thought about this a lot in the past. I never had the balls to try it, and the very nature of the cultivation world seemed to discourage me to experiment with something important as the very base of my power, the very source of my survivability.
I decide to try it out, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Splitting the stream of qi flowing through my body in two is easy. Guiding both to their respective places is more difficult, the qi starts feeling sluggish and slippery. Forcing the qi to form vortexes in both my brain and heart nets me a splitting headache, but I see the initial stages of core forming happening. My shattered cultivation base is leaving me fast, the last shreds of sublimating crystal in my brain giving me a small boost in willpower and calculating capacity.
I tried something like this in the cultivation world but was zapped by lighting as the reward for my effort. The rule of the three core locations seemed rather ironclad and heavily enforced there. The fact that no clouds are gathering above my head proves that this world has no such imposed laws.
I try to grin through the pain but my face ends up in an ugly grimace. I feel my control of external qi slipping, I have a few minutes before the city is in danger again. Instead of containing the power in a sphere around me I start giving it the command to move upwards, that should buy me some time with the limited control I have at the moment.
My brain is filling up with mana, I pull some out and redirect it to my heart as that core forms slower. My heart core doesn't seem to want to advance, so I give it another spin. My headache becomes a full-blown migraine and my eyes start to water. I made my brain core by shoving all my qi in my cranium, maybe I don't have a heart affinity?
I admonish myself, I don't believe in affinities without provable physical signs. My heart is as good as any other, so I should be able to make a core there. I firm my will and let a complete conviction and belief in my plan settle into my mind. Gritting my teeth, I shove more qi into my heart.
Spying on Lola told me that the precise location of the core is inside the middle heart wall, the interventricular septum. My brain core will form without my guidance as it did before, so I focus my attention on compressing all the qi I can manage in that wall. My chest starts hurting too, this experiment might have been another rash decision spurred on by my lacking intellect. Too late to cry about it now though, so I give the qi in my heart another push.
Someone seems to be screaming? Is that me? Irrelevant, let's continue with… what was it again?
Blearily I look around while clutching my chest. I feel something starting to snap into place, but just one, that's not good? I think? I decide to stop it from happening for now. A theory I thought about an age ago bubbles to the surface of my foggy mind. I have nothing better to do right now, so let's give it a try.
Pulling on my brain and heart at the same time I connect both together with a strand of qi. A massive buildup runs throughout my body as if something is heating up in another dimension, overlaying me. With a massive internal boom, my mind comes back to me.
Blinking furiously I look inside. Glowing spheres of white are located in my brain and heart. They are both empty and filling with gaseous qi, a small and near invisible thread connecting both. It worked?
“IT WORKED, HAHAHAAA!”
Lola jumps away from me, seemingly scares shitless by my outburst. That was a bit risky there, but it worked. Already I feel my mental strength grow and my body infuses itself with qi. Sitting down again and breathing in, I can't help but continue laughing.
Both cores are still fluctuating a bit so I calm down. The qi that’s even now spewing from the broken tower is still far away from ground level, giving me time to chill for a few minutes. I calm my mind and racing heart as best I can. It's kind of difficult because I have always been slightly envious of body cultivators. Instead of making intricate and complicated plans, fallback strategies and weakness analysis, they can just hit stuff. Solving a fight like solving a puzzle is fun of course, but sometimes I just want to smash some faces in.
I stop breathing in for a bit, letting my own power settle. I use this time to look at the little bunny. Her core is stuffed to the brim again, she is just circulating the qi throughout her system to get rid of my fingerprints now. She will have her first drops of liquid qi soon. After filling her core with that she will be able to make an initial core crystal and step into the core forming stage. There is enough qi around us for her to form a full solid core, my qi is all she ever got so it’ll probably be compatible enough to use as construction material.
On a different note, I admit that I have detected a slight case of arrogance inside myself. Falling to the bottom from the top must have hit me harder than I wanted to admit. I kept pretty low key so far. At least, if you ignore the animal horde, the multiple cases of kidnapping and the broken Tower. But I took some risks that were too dangerous. I have not even investigated local power structures before starting with my own plans. The single direct usage of mana I did in the dungeon was proof enough that this world's mages will hold considerable power, but I ignored them all. I have put myself in dangerous situations three times by now; my solid core formation in the clearing, transforming the tree into Tree. A random being at the core forming level could have killed me at the end of my mountain flight when I was low on qi, so it’s actually four.
I need to stop thinking of myself as this enormously powerful being, but honestly, I don't want to. A normal mortals’ habits are hard to break, imagine how hard getting rid of a hundreds-year-old habit is. But more importantly, I don't want to. I want freedom, the ability to do as I wish. I also want other people to do as they wish. Of course, if those people want to hurt me I will use my ability to kick their asses to impose my will, but that's not the point. Limiting myself in order to avoid detection and attention is something I do by default, I prefer staying low key over lording my power over others like some spoiled young master. The main reason is that becoming famous is a bother and will limit my freedom.
I hereby decide that I will not leave the wellspring of qi until I have regained enough power to do whatever the fuck I want. The lure of not having to worry about poison or a dagger in my back is a big contributing factor to my double core experiment. Mind cultivation is awesome, the only downside is a lacking physical defence on all levels. A shiver runs down my spine at the possibilities of perfect mental control and a powerful body combined.
Alright, that's enough blabbering about my feelings. My cores have settled down perfectly after that round of self-reflection. I would call it a reaffirmation of my Dao if that didn't sound so pretentious.
My cores start churning again, but this time they are purring like engines instead of threatening to fall apart. I look at my hand, make a fist and do some flexing.
My heartcore has already started pumping body reinforcing qi through my bloodstream. Instead of gathering the qi in a single place - like braincore and gutcore cultivators do - the heartcore releases the majority of its qi throughout the bloodstream. Here it slowly settles into the bone, sinew, organ, muscle, and skin cells, reinforcing whatever those cells do. Body cultivators make their entire body their core by spreading every strand of qi throughout their bodies. Training helps you control this strength, but no cultivator gets significantly stronger by lifting weights. At least, improving my body never gave me significant physical gains. I only ever powered up significantly after gaining more qi.
I now feel every cell in my body getting a little better every second. It's a tingling feeling, like a really pleasant version of pins and needles. I stand up and walk around a bit. The tower is around two hundred meters wide at this height, giving me a third of a football field to move around in. The jagged diagonal shard of rock, the back of the chair shape, cuts this volume effectively in half, but it is enough room to do some jumping jacks and jog in small circles.
Shoes crunching on the loose-lying white shards laying everywhere, I start running past the edge. A quick look down nets me an amazing view. I see clouds blocking parts of the grasslands below my feet. At the very edge of the Tower, I can look straight down and see glimpses of the city. I am higher than some of the clouds and the wind is whipping my clothes about. Thanks to the qi now running through me it feels rather comfortable, while I know that it must be freezing up here.
I look around, scanning anything interesting and saving it to my ever updating mental map. I see more cities on the horizon, all to the north. I give my cartography process access to my eyes, causing my vision to swim as the process scans everything in sight as quickly as possible. Efficiency over usability is a motto of mine, and I stand by it despite the dizziness.
I start stretching as my map fills in with details. I am starting to understand why body cultivators never sit still, always moving at least a bit, always running instead of flying. Using the structural qi as it settles into my cells feel slightly orgasmic, just stretching a bit feels unbelievably good. I stop myself from moaning as I start running. I need to tone this down a bit, I can't be soiling my pants when fighting.
I move my hand around while I sense its movements. The problem is that I move my hand, not my muscles. My previous physical exploits, aka fights, were all greatly limited by the power of my body. My mind could calculate everything perfectly, the slow reaction times of my nervous system and muscles hindering me. If my body now keeps up with my mind I will need to have a greater level of control.
I imagine myself hanging just over my own shoulders, remotely controlling each separate muscle via some holographic interface. My mental perspective shifts as I mentally take a step back from my own physical body.
That worked great! I start running again, increasing my pace. It feels very nice now, but the positive feedback isn't quite so overwhelming anymore. Sometimes you only need a slightly different perspective on things.
I pull a massive rock from my spatial ring, the grey thing weighing at least a few hundred kilos. I struggle a bit, more with positioning and handling than because of lacking strength. I feel like I could juggle these boulders if I had longer arms. This is seriously exciting, a whole new path of growing stronger stretching out before me.
I try to move my body to the limit for the next half hour. I stop when I sense no improvement anymore twenty minutes later. My coordination issues are fixed, exercise really doesn't do shit for gaining strength, huh. I do start seeing similarities between both cultivation methods now.
My initial gaseous core was made up of something, a force I couldn’t really get a grasp on. All the qi it contains needs to be held under pressure. The core structure itself absorbs a part of the qi I absorb, strengthening itself so it can withstand higher pressures. This locked up energy is then utilised when a breakthrough happens. When crossing over to the solid core stage, that energy is used to rapidly transform large amounts of qi to my own fingerprints, allowing me to take in a large amount of power originally not my own. This newly gained power is then utilised in the creation of a new intangible containment field at the end of the advancement process.
My body works the same now, only on a bigger scale. My cell walls and blood vessels absorb a percentage of qi in a similar manner, using it only to strengthen themselves. The leftover qi can than be compressed more because the container can withstand higher pressures. This higher pressure allows for more qi to structurally reinforce the walls, which then allows more compression.
I wonder what the body equivalent is for the solid core stage, I can't wait to find out!
I immediately sit down and start breathing in all the qi I can handle. Instead of the slow trickle I get from creating it by combining mana, this is a flooding wave. Is has my fingerprints already, so it willingly surges into my body, running through my heart and into my brain. The small time it has spent in the outside world has started the process of reverting it to neutral qi, but it only needs a single cycle through my own flesh and blood in order to make it fully mine again.
I sink into meditation as the first drops of liquid qi start forming. The inner part of my braincore starts condensing mist a speed. My heartcore is infusing the majority of the qi it receives into my blood, and thus my body. A small portion remains in my heart and also starts condensing. Looking closer at my heart, I see that it has started forming microscopic drops of qi inside my blood cells. A portion is absorbed into my flesh and bones, while the rest returns to my heartcore and settles in the core.
I breathe in so much qi that the loose sphere of power surrounding me starts shrinking. The tower is still giving off a steady stream and for the first time, I hope that it will last for a while. With no need to make fancy stuff like mana vortexes, I focus all my concentration on both cores, watching them fill up with liquid.
Is just breathe in, lost in a meditative haze as my cores fill up with liquid power. The fact that both are full alerts me to that fact that I will need to take steps to reach the next stage. I think I will have to crystallise both at the same time. Grabbing hold of both balls of liquid qi, I start squeezing. As if they were waiting for me, they both start collapsing immediately. Two small specks form, sucking up the liquid qi. They start draining the qi from my cells and I let them. I look closer and see them both absorbing all the qi in my body, even the structural qi stat has only recently embedded itself into my physical body.
Body cultivators are empty and stripped of qi after breakthroughs, this is good to know. I will make sure to be careful when advancing in the future. I inhale more power-laden air while sinking into a light trance.
The sun tells me an hour has passed. I zoned out again while forming my solid core, no qi starvation keeping me awake this time. Two magnificent solid spheres are located in my body. One in my brain and one in my heart. The downside that comes with a completely formed solid core is that there is little place left for storing usable qi. I can soak liquid qi into my braincore, I know from experience, but this process takes time and only supplies a trickle when I need the power. I will have to test how this works now that I’ve got a heartcore.
Traditional teaching would have me starting to form my foundation now, or some such bull shit. I’m supposed to start making a representation of myself, carving up my core to elevate it into a more metaphorical position. I say screw that, I want to build a better carving material first.
Gripping both cores, I use my willpower and start squeezing again. Instead of stepping into the next realm, I want to raise the qi density of my core. I pretend my core is coal and that my body is a diamond making machine and pressure vessel.
“HEAT, PRESSURE, LOTS OF HEAT AND LOTS OF PRESSURE, HNNGHGHGHGG!!”
Too excited to shout something funny, I press down harder until I feel two somethings snap. The solid structures collapse inwards, creating a smaller, darker core. I keep sitting there, breathing in the steady stream of qi and go through the entire process once again. I gather liquid qi and start adding to the smaller, denser crystals now floating in both core locations.
I take a deep breath and moan at the pleasant feeling. My muscles are having sex again. Cultivating my mind feels addicting as hell, doing the same with body and mind is an otherworldly feeling. I grin as I see the sun going down, painting the snow-capped mountains orange and pink. I make a mental note to not get addicted to this feeling. I need an anchor to keep me grounded.
I feel like I forgot something though, maybe I should check on how my disciples are doing?
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