Chapter 05 - Circle
A small fire lights up a figure dressed in simple clothing. Dark pants and a dark grey shirt cover the lanky frame lit by flickering flames, making a striking contrast with the dark forest. Roots lay around the fire, the stripped and headless skeleton of a bunny laying to the side. The figure’s back is sticking inside the biggest tree visible, halfway out of a small wooden alcove. The air around this scene flickers like heated air rising from a scorched desert.
A spike of pain flashes through my eyes as my vision switches back from observing myself. Sensing shapes with qi is the first step, seeing is the second. Less well-defined senses like smell, taste and hearing are a little more difficult to pull off, as they require a good understanding of these senses. The reassertion of myself through the artistic retelling of my past has done wonders for my qi control. My head feels clean and calm now, the power settled inside my brain fully under my control.
Feeling with qi is the simplest, only requiring one to notice holes in your qi. Seeing is registering specific directions of light. Hearing is similar to noticing slight variations of air pressure, something I can’t do with my lacking qi reserves. Smell is even worse, requiring detailed analysis of airborne chemicals. Taste is equally complicated and requires molecular analysis of anything solid sensed with qi.
The performance I put up for the rabbit actually put a strain on my throat, so I decided to do a bit of mental exercise while letting my slightly tired body rest. I bury the remains of my meal while I decide to make a vague plan. Information is king and it is a commodity that I am sorely lacking. I heard some people talking while I was stalk… examining the village but it was gobbledygook to my ears. Working knowledge of the local language gets set as the number two priority, with gathering strength as the ever-present number one.
I don't look forward to having to decipher a new language, especially if that language got developed on a planet that is unknown. A lot of languages on earth are based on a few proto-languages, so neighbouring countries tend to have a lot of similar sentence and grammar tricks. That speeds up piecing new ones together tremendously. Here I am working with a blank slate, so only listening and analysing for extended periods of time will net me any results.
Figuring out what the deal is with the imbalances mana ecosystem gets set as priority number three. Adventuring and exploring come fourth. Happy with the slipshod plan I've got going I decide to spend the night actively cultivating. A few ideas on how to improve my qi gathering speed need to be put to the test.
After thanking the tree once again for its usefulness in giving me shelter I settle myself down and get to work. I undo the gathering partition in my mind and take manual control. Taking in mana via breath is a slow but steady process but I want to have some excess qi for general usage.
I spend half my qi to access my spatial ring. A dagger twists itself into this plane of reality as I take it out of the folded space. A small prick to my finger gets me a small stream of blood to use. I let it drip to the floor in front of me as it gathers in a small puddle.
I think I need to provide some information on runes and formations here. Drawing out a spell effect is essentially using a magical or mystical alphabet to tell the energies what to do. Just like with any alphabet, somebody in the past thought it was a good idea to write things down. That person then probably used hieroglyphs or simple drawings to convey the wanted meaning.
Over time these pictograms changed into a lettering system. It is the same with any mundane or magical language. That begs the question of why people tend to view these type of runic systems as sacrosanct. Changing these glyphs is often seen as heresy.
My own views on these systems are a lot simpler. The symbols are representations of intent. This is true for any written language. Certain letter represents either sounds or concepts. On Earth, Asian symbols are often symbolic representations of concepts while the western alphabets represent sound.
I did a lot of testing with these systems in the cultivation world and have come to the conclusion that pretty much all established systems are too complex. Breaking this all down further allows you to reach a simple conclusion. As long as the image in your mind is clear enough you can draw whatever you want. I once made a grand spell formation in the shape of a glorious cartoon heap of poop. As long as your mental image is strong enough you can put novel's worth of intent behind a single character, but any type of maintenance or modification would be near impossible that way.
With that in mind, I created my own magical coding language, a combination of shorthand, the standard Latin alphabet and scientific symbols.
A person usually learns a few runes, tries them out and finds that they work as intended. It's pretty obvious to me that they will work as intended because that’s what they are supposed to do in your mind. This only further strengthens the effect of the intent behind the symbols, making a self-reinforcing cycle. With this in the back of my mind, I start drawing a circle around me.
“Contrast, contrast, contrast contrast...”
I keep mumbling the word while I finish the ring, the qi in my blood flashing briefly as I close it. I draw ten symbols evenly spaced throughout the ring. A small part of each symbol sticks out of the circle. The ten symbols represent the ten distinct energies I feel around me. I decide to go with triangles and squares.
A triangle pointing away from me is a mountain, so that’s earth. A line horizontally through the bottom represents what's below the mountain, water. A triangle pointing towards me is something pointed at a natural thing, nature. That one is a bit of a stretch, but if it works, it works. Another line through the bottom is the fuel for the triangular flame, so fire. Metal is a square. As long as it makes sense to me it's fine. The dark versions get filled in with my blood, representing both the darker and more plentiful aspect.
Then I write ‘gather’ in shorthand just inside of these symbols below each one. While drawing the last squiggle I think really hard about both gathering and the formation being complete. I am rewarded with another flash of light as the circle drains me almost dry of qi.
With a spinning head, I notice the gathering energies. I breathe in deeply, absorbing it all. The circle should hold for a few days; blood is an effective but not very durable inscription material.
The circle increases the mana around me slowly, but I frown at the speed. I need some sort of long range attractor; the circle itself only sucks in energies that are in its immediate vicinity. The tree is a natural barrier above my head so I didn't bother putting in height restrictions; this only leaves the option to expand horizontally.
I try to remember what the most effective shape of an antenna is. I think fractal type shapes were proven to be the most effective. I prick myself again as I draw a jagged repeating line around the circle. I attempt to draw a six-pointed star where all the faces are divided into triangular lines again. I think it was called a Koch snowflake? I try to figure out a mathematical formula that could represent the shape I want, but I lack the power. Deriving a formula through brute-forcing solutions is not something my mind can handle yet, unfortunately.
“Endless repetition, each part the same as the whole, an endlessly repeating pattern at each level”
Five minutes later I’m feeling light-headed but a weirdly organic star is surrounding my circle. I connect it to the rest of the formation at a few points and immediately feel mana rushing towards me in greater quantities. Absolute conviction about certain scientific concepts is rather useful even if you don't fully understand the underlying principles.
Just the fact that this information is the accumulation of millions or billions of people doing science and sharing information is a potent confidence and efficiency booster. Having magic to do stuff is rather convenient, but usually it stifles any form of pure physical knowledge. Mysticism relies on belief, and just believing something blindly can't hold a candle to a properly proven scientific theory.
I can't help but smile as I feel my qi growing. The mana in the air just around gets sucked into the ring from a couple of dozen meters away. Pretty soon the mana in the air becomes incredibly thick. Breathing in the soupy air sends rivulets of power through my body as I force it into my veins. I don't know what effect raw mana usually has on the physical form, but it doesn't seem to be affecting me at all.
When the mana reaches my heart I send it through the chambers and septum into my aorta. From here on it goes through the jugular arteries into my head, where the qi centre in my brainstem greedily sucks it up.
Cultivation is such a paradox; you need to sit still for the best result but I feel like running around in wild joy every time it goes well. As I focus on guiding the energy I fall into a daze, time slipping by unnoticed.
A slight nudge to my thigh startles me from a euphoric daze. My grin is rather sleazy as I look to the side, seeing a little hairy pink thing looking up at me. My eyes open wide.
Rabbits should spend the first week of their life hairless and blind. Their senses and fur follicles are only supposed to start working around 10 days after birth, but this little gall has slight fuzz and is looking at me. When I think about how small the little thing is the answer becomes clear. What might be an insignificant amount of energy for an adult human is a humongous amount for any critter the size of a matchbox.
Her eyes shine with a slight intelligence; I don't think that normal day old rabbits should have such a piercing gaze, not breaking eye contact. I pick her up and put it in my lap again, sending some qi inside to check how she's doing.
My eyes open wide again; her soul has not degraded any further. The darkish grey orb seems to be lighter than yesterday, did my qi do this? Qi isn’t supposed to be such a cheating fix it all. It’s just potential energy with a possible flavour. Basically, dynamite in gas form.
It can do great things but needs strict usage rules and regulations in order to prevent people from making pretty blood explosions of themselves. Sending some more qi inside of her I release my control, only watching what it does. It slowly sinks in the flesh of the critter while some of it focuses in its heart.
“Hello misses rabbit body cultivator. I’m sorry about killing and eating your mommy, but you seem to be doing alright I guess. I hope I didn’t scare you too much with the story?”
She twitches in my grip, and I stroke her head.
“Just relax there for a bit longer okay? Dawn shouldn't be far of now”
The rabbit seems to go back to sleep and I continue my trance.
The forest slowly gets lighter, signalling the rising sun. A small section of my mind warns me of the increasing light levels and breaks my concentration. I take the majority of the qi I’ve gathered and sent it through my blood vessels. It flows through the arteries and capillaries, soaking my flesh in its potential. Most of the qi returns through my veins to my heart, where I send it to my brain again.
The left behind qi slowly integrates itself into my cells, helping the various and complicated chemical processes that occur there. It basically superpowers anything that's going on in my body, sticking to any form of bio-molecule and giving it a boost. Once enough qi settles there, hunger and thirst will become non-issues, seriously boosting my strength and recovery rates.
The fact that it’s braincore qi prevents it from efficiently reinforcing my body, but my body was qi-less a short while ago. Even this small amount of qi inside my body has a great effect on my strength and overall health.
Once all the leftover qi is back in my centre, I put the bunny on the ground. She startles awake and slowly moves around, sniffing everything she comes across. I thank the tree and get a positive response in return.
Exiting the hole, I stretch while the bunny shuffles after me. She has a little more fur now, light hairs covering her pink nakedness. After kicking the ring of rocks from the fireplace away and throwing dirt over the extinguished ashes I put the bunny in my breast pocket and start walking towards the village.
An hour of leisurely walking later, I’m sitting in the underbrush bordering the village. I put the bunny on the ground and she starts nibbling on some grass. I really should either do my experiments on her or name her. The fact that normal bunnies need a few weeks to start eating solids only amuses me now.
Diffusing my qi through the air I focus on the village that spreads out in front of my eyes. Closing my physical eyes, I start to look around what there is to see. The inhabitants all seem human enough. No elves or orcs here. One man walks around with scales sporadically covering his body, all covered by clothes. The rest seems perfect examples of some homo sapiens variety.
The total qi in my body has increased dramatically. The formation proved its effectiveness by multiplying my total qi a dozen times. Having some to spare, I change my light sensing trick into a vibration sensing one. Instead of catching directional light I now compress my qi to the max. Because it comes from myself and is not a foreign energy this task gets accomplishes easily as I compress it to a point.
Now I just need to focus on minuscule variations in air pressure in that location. I don't have confidence in sustaining sight and hearing both, so I feel for a moving void in my qi. Finding my first stalking victim walking out of a wooden house, I move the point of qi near it. A vague pulsing sound keys me in on the fact that I am able to hear footsteps. Changing the way I listen to the air vibrations a little, I try to tune my qi listening device until the footsteps become more distinct. Instead of rhythmic rumbling I now hear the slap of footwear on the dirt road.
A roaring series of syllables pound into my mind. The being talked, apparently. Turning down the volume a bit I make further modifications until the words become distinct. Words of alien inflexion and tone pour into my mind while I busily file them away, looking for patterns and structures.
Once my current subject walks out of my range I focus on other people. I spend the entire day sitting in the bushes, petting the rabbit and listening to every word that’s being said.
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