BK I: Chapter 5: Essence Theory

Finally! Valerian’s education was about to begin. Following the test, the household became very hectic and it took four whole days before it settled down. His grandfather was always away, either at work or at the clan compound dealing with the elders. His grandmother was mostly the same except she dealt instead with the well-wishers who came round the manor. The bottom line was, no one had anytime to train or teach Valerian anything. After they had promised him too.

He fully understood the reason why things happened that way. The clan was interested in his talent and so his grandfather had to make nice, especially since they were going to foot most of his training costs. Plus news of his talent had leaked and so many people were trying to draw close to them and make connections. These people might be fair weather opportunists but they had to be handled with tact. That was where his grandmother came in.

Not to mention the fact that they had work to do. His grandfather was a city magistrate. He couldn’t neglect his work just because of his grandson. His grandmother had an even more trying job as a beast tamer, and a highly respected one at that. They were trying as hard they could as is. It didn’t mean he had to like it though. He didn’t complain but he didn’t like it either.

Thus he was understandably relieved and happy when things settled down some around the household and his grandfather announced that he would be having the first lesson today, with him. He was so excited that he could barely sit still and finish his dinner. He kept asking about the lesson plans and what he was going to be studying. The whole spectacle made his grandmother happy. She loved it when he acted his age.

Valerian rushed to the study as soon as he was able. From the moment he received the announcement, his mind had been working non-stop trying to figure out what he was going to learn. Was it going to be some secret art, family cultivation secrets or even one of those cultivation methods that he had heard so many rumours about? Given that he was now about to start cultivating it was probably the last.  But which one? Which kind even? Alas, he met something quite different.

Valan stood before a chalkboard with a pointing rod in hand. He made the servants rearrange the study a bit to accommodate Valerian’s lessons. There was now a new, small desk in addition to the chalkboard. Teaching his grandson was something he had been looking forward to for a long time and he knew just what to start with. In fact, the topic was written in bold, beautiful script on the board.


“Most cultivators know absurdly little about the process of cultivating itself much less the energies and forces they are using and the theory behind them. Their minds are completely focused on techniques, methods and skills. Constantly fighting for secret arts they use but do not understand. It’s honestly quite pitiful”, he began.

“How can you hope to make any stable progress when you do not understand the fundamentals? It is important to correctly grasp the truth behind the forces to use them properly. Only a fool will take a weapon into battle without knowing what it’s made from, how to use it and what it’s capable of”.

“Right!” Valerian answered emphatically. He wholly agreed with his grandfather. It was obviously stupid to use something you had no true knowledge of. Mentally, he ignored the fact that understanding the fundamentals never crossed his mind. He too had expected to jump right to cultivating methods and secret arts. He blamed this fact on the wrong impression he had gotten from listening to the kids at Fang’s. That and the seductive power of secret techniques.

“The basis of cultivation lies with essence. Have you ever asked yourself why the word cultivate? Why use a word that means ‘to foster growth’, ‘to refine’? There are many theories but amongst the foremost of these is that what cultivators cultivate is their essence”, Valan expounded. As he did so his gaze burned hotter and his speech grew more impassioned.

“Essence is the lifeblood of the universe, of Verre and of everything in it. It permeates everything. The air, the earth, the oceans and rivers, all are filled with the essence of the world. All living things contain essence as well. It is in no way an exaggeration to say that essence is life because that is what it is to living creatures and indeed to the world itself. Without essence all the creatures of Verre will die and world itself would become desolate”.

Valerian nodded dumbly. He couldn’t remember a time when he saw his grandfather like this. It was a side of him he had never seen.  Despite this or rather because of it he did not let himself be distracted. He focused his mind on what the old magistrate was saying.

“Essence is not just life it is also energy. It is power. That is why when cultivators cultivate they increase their essence and grow more powerful. It is the source of all the extraordinary things in the world. There is nothing it can’t do if applied properly and there are no shortage of uses for it. Why even Erasmus the Sage once…” here the magistrate realised that he was getting carried away. With a sheepish smile he cleared his throat and started over.

“There is no need to go too much into depth right now. This is only the first lesson after all. We will cover this and more in our subsequent ones. Your grandmother might even join us. Right now what you should be concerned with is the relationship between essence, humans and cultivation”.

“Yes grandfather” Valerian assented softly. It didn’t matter much to him either way. He was more than ready to learn whatever the old man had to teach. He had known he was a scholar but now confronted with the depth of the man’s knowledge he couldn’t help but be a bit overwhelmed.

“Good! The first thing to understand about this is the essence cycle. An abundance of essence exists in the world. It is the essence that exists in the elements, in the land, sky and sea. We call this the world essence. World essence is different from the essence contained within living things. How different? We’ll come to that later.

“What’s important is that living things take in world essence every moment of our lives in the air we breathe, food we eat, the water we drink, earth we trod, etc. however we also release the essence in ourselves into the world though our emissions such as exhalation.  And when we die our forms decompose and our essence becomes part of the world essence.

“Cultivation requires the increment of the scale of this cycle.  Cultivators take in large amounts of essence which they use to not only improve their essence but also their bodies. That is why cultivators are so much stronger than normal people and why they live for so much longer. Essence is life thus having more essence basically ensures that you have more life. However working with essence requires essence which is why cultivators need to have large essence pools. At least five times the essence pool of the average person is needed to cultivate.

“The thing you must note is that humans are unable to directly cultivate their essence. Rather the essence of humans gives rise to one of two forces in the body. These are vital force or qi and spiritual force also known as arcane energy. What we actually cultivate is these forces but in doing so we improve and increase our essence.

“Vital force or qi is a physical energy. It enhances the body and as its name implies improves vitality and body function. It is capable of truly great things but it is primarily centred on the body and nothing can change that. Spiritual force or arcane energy can extend according to the user’s capabilities. It deals more with the world than the body. It can manipulate the natural world to an enviable degree but its benefits to the body are rather lacking.

“Here in Bathar, people who train or cultivate their qi are known as tellurians whilst people who cultivate arcane energy are called arcanists. Your grandmother, Uncle Jonas and myself are all arcanists whilst your Uncle Richard and Avery are tellurians. Do you understand what I’ve said so far?”

Valerian nodded his mind heavy with what he had learnt. “Essence is life and power. It permeates the world and every living thing exists in a cycle of essence. It is basis for the powers and abilities of cultivators, however they are unable to train it directly. Rather they train its constituents. Those who are blessed with its physical aspect are the tellurians whilst those who cultivate the spiritual aspect are the arcanists.”

Valan gave a proud smile. “Excellent! A bit short and sparse but you got the primary things down. Next, we will go over the two forces in more detail”.

“Wait! I have a few questions”, Valerian interrupted.

“Ask away”.

“You emphasised the fact that tellurians focus on their bodies whilst arcanists focus on the world. Does this mean that arcanists are physically weak or that tellurians are unable to affect the natural world?” Valerian inquired. His eyes had a pensive look in them whilst his fingers incessantly stroked his chin in thought.

Valan’s smile grew even wider. His own hand unconsciously rose to stroke his immaculate beard as if showing Valerian how it was done.  “That is a very good question. It shows that you are capable of thinking outside of the parameters you have been given. Keep that attitude and improve on it. It will help you greatly in the future.

“To answer your question, traditionally yes. Traditionally a tellurian would be a spiritually inept physical powerhouse who employed his or her powers through feats of strength, speed and whatever abilities he or she has cultivated in the physical self whilst an arcanist would be a frail combatant who made use of his or her spiritual might to control the natural world to attack an opponent. Fortunately or unfortunately the real world is not so easily defined.

“It is perfectly plausible for a tellurian to find a way to use his or her body to control the world and for an arcanist to use the world to strengthen his or her body. So in truth it will depend on which arcanist or tellurian you meet. Some may truly follow that archetype but there are undoubtedly some who follow other paths. The thing to bear in mind is not to let your guard down. Do you understand? Any other questions?”

“So I shouldn’t sit and think that I know what my opponent is capable of simply because the person is an arcanist or a tellurian” Valerian summed up.

“Yes! Any other questions?”

“Ah! Yes. I get why arcanists are called arcanists since they use arcane energy but why are tellurians called tellurians? Also, what are people like me who are both called?”

His grandfather continued to stroke his beard. “Those are just titles my boy. Different people call them different things. That is why I specifically said that in Bathar the terms used are tellurian and arcanist. Elsewhere it’s different. For example, warriors and mages, physics and psychics, knights and warlocks, etc. there are many names and different reasons for those names. As for why we in Bathar call qi cultivators tellurians that has to do with old world philosophy”.

“Old world philosophy?” Valerian questioned with a puzzled look on his face.

“That is something we might discuss when you are older. Just know that some of the ancients felt the arcane path was the way of heaven and the other that of the earth. As for people with dual force.  There are a few names for them as well but due to them being so rare there are no general names for them. You will be probably be referred to by both titles. Any more questions before we continue?”  Valan clarified.

“Just one more. You mentioned which paths you and grandmother belong to but you didn’t mention my parents. Were they tellurians or arcanists?” Valerian probed softly.

Immediately the question was voiced the atmosphere in the room changed. Valerian quickly wished he had kept his mouth shut. No one in the manor ever talked about his parents. It was pretty much taboo. Even he with his vaunted memory could barely remember anything about them. Thus he couldn’t help but be curious about the pair who sired him. Hearing about the rest of the family stirred those feelings up especially since he knew his father was a genius cultivator. He was just about to tell his grandfather to forget about it when the answer came.

“Your father was an arcanist. As for your mother I’m not too sure but what little I know leads me to believe she was one as well”.

Valerian sat there unable to come to terms with the fact that his grandfather actually answered his question. The silence stretched on for minutes as both parties remained unsure how to proceed.  Eventually Valerian just bowed his head slightly and said, “Thank you grandfather”.

Valan seized this chance. “Whatever for boy? Now, let’s get back to what we were doing”.

Eager to put the matter behind them, the two threw themselves head first into study. They sent their time in that study. Valan teaching and explaining with Valerian taking notes and asking questions. The pair of grandfather and grandson were so caught up in their work they even missed lunch.