“Welcome!” Major Atakoma said dispassionately as the door into the lecture room shut.
He appeared completely ignorant of the tension in the room or the fact that two of the teams were separated by as much distance as they could put between them. It was like he couldn’t see the glares they shot each other or the fact that a few had their weapons on display in class.
“Today will be treating General Cultivation”, he informed them. “In this class, we’ll be reviewing and even explaining some of the basic tenets of cultivation. Now, every force, path, method or person is different and as such, cultivation is a road with myriad splits and turns. We will not, cannot, go into the specifics but we can go over some of the basics to help you understand why certain things are done in the way they are.”
His students, unfortunately, were unable to disregard the atmosphere so easily. Ever since the match between Valerian and Gigne, their two teams had become very hostile towards each other. Members of both teams were soon butting heads wherever they met. Valerian’s teammates were considered weaker by most but emboldened by their leader’s showing during the combat drills, they gave as good as it got. Eventually, a confrontation in the meal hall turned into a scuffle during which Drusilla put a knife through another cadets hand and both teams were reprimanded.
Now, things had escalated to the point where they were in a state of cold war, something none of the other teams wanted anything to do with. Funny thing was, it had only been four days since that fight. Thus far, both leaders had been mostly quiet on the matter. Gigne hadn’t so much as looked in Valerian’s direction since they left the platform and Valerian, on his part, was worried that things might escalate further.
Even so, he was reluctant to reign his squadmates in. His fight had bought some very valuable respect with them and he didn’t want to jeopardise that by appearing overly tyrannical or controlling. Also, he wished to avoid any situation where it looked like the threats and overtures from Gigne’s team had cowed him and his into submission. He just hoped that when the upcoming wilderness training exercise was over, things would have settled down some. Glancing over at Squad One one more time, he gritted his teeth and concentrated on their teacher’s words. The man was finally done with his introduction.
“We’ll start like we did last time with a revision of terms and basic knowledge”, the Major said. “Now, who can tell me what cultivation is?”
A young lady from Clearcrest’s team raised her hand.
“Yes!” the teacher called.
“Cultivation refers to the methods and processes that the blessed use to grow their gifts and develop their potential”, she answered.
“Blessed?” the teacher interrupted.
“Yes, sir!” the girl said looking nervous. “Those blessed with essence by the Celestial Monarch, sir”
“Are you a Barghkina?” he asked curiously.
“Yes, sir!”, the girl answered, now worried and wondering why the teacher was asking after her religious beliefs. “Is that a problem, sir?”
“No. It’s not!” He assured her. “I was merely curious. Continue!”
“Well, cultivation is how we grow as cultivators. We draw on the experiences of our forebears, glean personal insight from the world, emulate the daemons and develop our own systems so that we can progress through the tiers so we can achieve ascension. Cultivation both how we do that as well as what gives us our power and traits”, she told the class.
“That’s good”, the man acknowledged. “Anyone else?”
Many raised their hands, including Valerian. Thankfully, he was called upon.
“My grandfather favoured the words of Erasmus the Sage on cultivation. According to him, ‘Cultivation is growth. The growth of essence. The growth of self. The growth of power. The growth of spirit. Greatest amongst them is the growth of essence for this growth is the growth of all that is as well as growth without limits'”, Valerian quoted softly.
“He said, ‘All things of Verre possess its essence, its spirit. Whatever kind or portion they receive is defines them. However, there are those, Verre’s favoured, who carry the potential to grow their essence. They alone can cultivate it. Thus, they alone can change how they are defined. They alone can grow without measure.’
“Cultivation is growth without measure! I didn’t understand this when my grandfather first told it to me and I confess, I’m not too certain I do now but I can testify to it. Cultivation is a breaking of limits. It is a route around the impossible. The ‘hows’ of cultivation might be myriad as you said but with each discovery I make I grow more certain that its purpose and core is what Erasmus the Sage purported it to be: The growth of all that is. Limitless growth”, he completed with conviction.
The class stared at him wondering what he was on about. Valerian did not care. He felt strongly about this. He carried within him the memories of the KunPeng. A creature that had completely overturned its fate. It redefined its being and eventually became what it was today. Even he, someone who could not claim any great feat was a testament to this growth.
He had been deemed a cripple as a child, told he had no hope of cultivating and yet look at him now. He was heir to two great legacies and an elite student in one of the most prestigious military academies in the kingdom. That would never have happened if he did not cultivate. He didn’t consider it a miracle. He considered cultivation a system through which anyone could redefine their fate and achieve their dreams should they be willing, able and lucky enough.
“That’s very insightful,” the Major told him, a knowing expression on his face.
“What of you?”, He asked Gigne.
The class stilled, what few murmurings had been happening the background quickly went quiet. They were all wondering why their teacher did that. Why ask Gigne after asking his enemy? Did he truly not know what was happening or was he intentionally setting them against each other?
Even Gigne was a little startled by the sudden question. However, he didn’t let it show. He took a second to answer and when he did his voice was strong and confident. The fact that his nose and face had been healed helped with that. The phantom pain hadn’t gone away yet but the flesh had been regrown.
“I don’t know much about sages or esoterics but I know do know cultivation is used mainly to refer to three things”, he said, poking at Valerian’s answer.
“The first has already been mentioned. Cultivation is used to refer to how cultivators grow their power: the steps, methods and practices they use to ascend to higher tiers. It is also the source of our title. We are called cultivators because we cultivate. The second meaning of cultivation is a measure of power. We use the word to refer to the state or progress a person has made in the former. For instance, you, sir possess the highest cultivation of everyone here. The third use of the term is to refer to the kind of power a cultivator possesses. So, you can, in fact, say that my focus is fire cultivation.”
“Good, good. All good”, the Major repeated, seemingly lost in thought. “Your answers cover the range of thoughts on cultivation quite well. You might come across more meanings for cultivation as we go about this class or from reading the journals and such in the archives.”
“We’ll skip over the tiers for now since we covered them in your other class. Given Strapping’s stipulations and the obvious fact that you are here, you should all be Consolidated First tiers. Right now, most of you are looking to begin essence attunement in the hopes of breaking through to the Lord tier and some of you have already started. In this class, I will take you through the basics of essence attunement and the reasons for it”, he told them. Many became excited at this.
“We’ll get to that eventually”, he clarified. “First, we’ll go over some of the basic terms in cultivation. For example, can anyone here tell the class the difference between an ability and a skill?”
Hands came up immediately. Looking at their face, he chose someone from Clearcrest’s team to answer.
“An ability is something innate whereas a skill is something learned”, the boy simply stated.
“Are you implying that we do not learn abilities?” the major questioned. “How would you use something you know nothing about.”
“No-I mean”, the lad hurried to explain. “Er…with abilities, they come from within. You inherit them or gain them due to your physique or something. Skills are something you apply. You don’t have to learn an ability to have it. You just do! But, you cannot have a skill or spell you’ve never learned.”
“A much better answer”, the man said, nodding. “An ability as he said is something innate. You can train it or learn to use it but whatever it is, it is something you have by virtue of your essence, blood or physique. All blood legacies, force traits and such fall in this category. Those things arcanists or tellurians do but never seem to question how? Elemental manipulation and resistance? Abilities all of them! You can hone them but you can’t just pick them as you go.
“There are, as with all things, exceptions to this. It is possible to develop an ability”, he revealed. “I mentioned earlier that abilities a the result of blood, essence and physique. Some cultivation methods can develop essence in strange ways and others that help in forming peculiar physiques. Practising such methods can qi cultivators incredible abilities. The [Verdant Flame Secrets] held in the archives is just one of many that do so.
“Practitioners of that method can cultivate an undying flame in their bodies that will heal their wounds whenever they are injured. There is a reason why cultivators fight over and horde methods and secret arts. Any method that can create such a qualitative change to cause cultivators to develop extra powers is prized, rare and expensive”, he explained. There were many students nodding in confirmation of his words.
“Skills and spells are completely different from abilities. They are the applications of essence and not its traits. Suppose you are a fire mage. You’d possess the ability to control fire. However, moulding that fire and making it strike your enemies wouldn’t be an ability. It would be a skill. It’s sort of like the difference between having hands and being a carpenter. Hands let you put things together, yes. But, should you wish to craft a chair you’d need skill. Abilities are a great boon but skills are more important. Believe me, you will probably never have any great abilities but you can always create or learn great skills.
“Listen up!” he commanded. “Good cultivations strive to develop abilities but they focus primarily on learning new skills. Whether it be crafts or simple applications of their powers! Before coming here, your trainers and family member must have taught you a lot of things. Most of them will be skills. They did so for a reason. There are many great cultivators who do not possess even a single ability besides those that come standard with their force and tier but there is none who does not know any good skills.”
“You want to be good cultivators? Work on that! Methods, abilities, skills and resources. These are the core of cultivation. Some are easier to obtain and more important than others. Strapping’s can provide three of the four for you but can you earn and make use of them? That’s something you must prove.”
Yep, we’re finally clarifying some of the mysteries behind cultivation in this series. Wait till you read what’s in the next chapter. To further explain. Something like Valerian’s metal manipulation is an ability. All metal attributed arcanists have it. His talent for making weapons whizz around or even that nifty new formation that lets him do TEXT REDACTED. Those are skills (Well to be more specific, the first is a skill the second a formation spell).
Another example would be his Peng Transformation. That’s an ability from his legacy. However, [Soaring through the Heavens] and [Rending Talons] are skills. They are applications to apply his essence to achieve things rather than traits like his legacies or arcanist abilities.
More on that coming in General Cultivation II.