It fills me with shame to announce that the advance release that should happen on our site today will not be happening. This is becoming a habit, a bad one. I simply cannot reach ‘Sonnet. It’s the reason why this is coming so late. Without his help and the site as it is now, I cannot upload a new chapter. To get around this, I’ve posted the chapter on my patreon page instead. There’s a link at the bottom f the page you can follow.
Again, my apologies. Sigh!
Chapter Thirty-nine: General Cultivation II
The teacher continued to go over certain terms and explain just what they meant. It didn’t take long before Valerian and all the others realised that the man was particular about nomenclature. He seemed to prefer that things be called by their specific names and not by general ones. It was evidenced by the fact that spent nearly an hour talking about the specific names for different kinds of essence artefacts.
For instance, artefacts that directly increased a cultivator’s power or fighting capacity was called an armament or arm for short. Thus, Valerian’s cloudsteel armour and mercurial orb should be referred to as arms to distinguish them from the general milieu of artefacts. Tools were artefacts that helped in performing an action. Flying equipment, spatial devices and such would be called tools, not arms.
Valerian had come across many of these terms when reading in the manor’s study but he had had no idea that their use was so strict in the military.
Even medicines and the like were not exempt. Potions was a term strictly for liquid recovery medicines. Pills was also a term for recovery medicines only for the compact ones. Elixirs referred to alchemic productions that produced special effects like resistance to fire or invisibility. They were assured that the army did not issue powders and balms. the former due to storage and dispensing issues and the latter because they took too long to use.
Gear that was designed or enchanted for one-time use like charms and the like were to be grouped under talismans. Those with more permanent effects would go under tools. The man didn’t end there. He took them through anecdotal scenarios to elucidate the importance of referring to things by their proper names. His continued emphasis on the matter did not go overlooked. What had started out as an insistence had turned into an imperative. They had to learn all the terms and use them properly.
There was no room in the army for generalisations and guesswork. Everything had to be precise especially in situations where lives were at stake. You couldn’t tell a subordinate to go and bring you an artefact or medicine or worse some pet name used in your village and expect him or her to know what you wanted. The terms they were learning weren’t just used by the army though the army did insist on it but rather the imperial standard. As such, they were employed by the vast number of high ranked institutions.
Checking his internal clock, Rembrandt spoke to his students. “We have covered everything I planned for your first lesson but given that there’s some time left I will cover some part of our next lesson.”
The class looked to him eagerly hoping he was finally going to speak on essence attunement.
“You’ve all made it this far in your cultivation so I’ll assume some understanding of what you did to get here. So, I’ll simply ask. Why is the first tier split into five stages? In fact, what are those stages there for?” He asked unexpectedly.
The class was quiet for a moment but soon enough a few people began raising their hands.
“Yes, Cadet Steelborn?” he called.
“Is it because five is the widely recognised as the number of stability?” the boy volunteered. “Both the neoclassics and the auostheoreticians insist on a core foundation of five elements. The former claiming a pentacle of fire, wind, water, earth and force and the latter a pentagon of wood, metal, fire, water and earth to the base on which the world is built. They are not the only ones to tout five as the base number.
“Should they be correct then it stands to reason that with how much talk there is on the first tier as the foundation of cultivation, similar rules would apply.”
Rembrandt’s eyes narrowed as examined the youth who always spoke of thing none his age should be aware of. “You are a surprising fount of the esoterics, Cadet Steelborn!”
The boy had the decency to look a little sheepish even if only for a few moments. “My grandfather is an erudite with several masteries from the towers of enlightenment, sir”, he defended.
Truthfully, he’d gone on a book bender ever since that conversation with Elder Allard, reading everything he could lay his hands on regarding the matter. Thankfully, his grandfather was a bibliophile making access to such materials easy. Since then, he’d been unable to quite look at things the same. The moment the instructor talked about five stages and asked for their significance his mind went there.
Rembrandt nodded, noting the surprising reveal in his mind. It made sense. A scholar from the towers. Old men who holed themselves up with dusty old tomes and essence recordings, caring little for the world around them and hoarding knowledge while claiming to preserve it. Resisting the urge to curl his lips in distaste, he pointed out another student who wanted to speak.
“Well, my father told me that every stage…sorry tier was a transformation”, the girl said remembering to use the correct term. “The stages are a way of preparing for that. Each one prepares us in a certain way so that our attempt at ascending to the next tier is more successful and rewarding.”
“An excellent answer,” he said in acceptance. The girl blushed from the praise.
“That is the practical purpose behind the stages. Preparation for ascension. Tellurians remould their marrow, bones, blood, meridians and form their cores. Arcanists create vessels, gather essence and also form cores. All of this is mere preparation. You as consolidated first tiers have only just prepared yourselves for your ascension to become actual cultivators. The five stages lay a foundation for you to start your cultivation but here’s the thing. They are all completely unnecessary.”
The class looked at him in shock, just like he knew they would. In his heart, Rembrandt loved this part of his instruction. Soon they would start protesting. He waited a bit, prolonging the pause. As expected, as soon the shock passed, hands started going up.
“Yes”, he said, calling on Clearcrest.
“Respectfully sir, what do you mean by saying that the five stages are unnecessary?” Clearcrest asked.
“Exactly that”, he affirmed. “You don’t actually need to go through those stages to cultivate.”
The hands stayed up. “Yes, you!” he said pointing at a student who was speaking in his class for the first time.
“But sir, that’s impossible. You just said they are the stages of the first tier. If we don’t cultivate them we won’t be able to cultivate at all!” he argued.
“What’s your name, Cadet?”
“Jeremy Hailing, sir.”
“Alright Hailing, it is understandable that you would think so, however that is a fallacy committed from ignorance. What many of you are unaware of is that what you are practising is not the universal method of cultivation but merely a popular system. It is something you have to learn now before your minds and paths become set and hence why I am broaching the topic in class.
“Those of you who went through five stages in your cultivation. You’ll be surprised to know you did so because your cultivation is probably based, at least in part, on a system called the [Imperial Five Stages Greater Path]. It is a system devised by imperial scholars ages ago under the graces of Emperor Aelius The Promethean. Since then, it has been popularised in all lands of the empire and beyond.”
Something occurred to him then and he looked up at Valerian, adding, “The precursors of the neoclassics held great sway in the empire at that time.”
Moving back to the topic at hand, he told his class, “The thing we make sure to inform our recruits is that this is not the only cultivation system out there, just the most popular. It is so for many reasons. The greatest of those reasons is that it prescribes the single greatest and easiest way of making it to the Lord tier that I have ever heard of. Those five preparatory stages do a lot more for cultivators than even I know.
“But why do we think it imperative for our cadets to know this? Simple, just as or while the [Imperial Five Stages Greater Path] is the best at getting you to the Lord tier there exist a variety of systems that do other things. The path of cultivation is filled with myriad splits and turns. Many methods have adopted the beginning stages of this imperial system because of its merits but there remain other systems many of which contain other steps of making it to the second tier”, he informed them.
“That’s why the five stages are unnecessary. You don’t need them to cultivate, Cadet Hailing. In fact, many would consider it ironic that you would hold such views with a Coldbringer sitting next to you or are you unaware that he does not ‘cultivate’ as you do?”
The entire class turned to face Georg who sat there as if nothing of what was being said concerned him. Hailing, in particular, scrutinised him while wearing a look of shock on his face. He appeared to be trying to peer into his squadmate’s secrets.
“Why are you telling us this? What’s the merit of correcting us on this issue?” Reign asked in confusion, before belatedly adding. “Sir!”
“We do so because cultivation is something deeply personal. Twice I have spoken of its countless variations. For each of those, there are at least six people walking them. You must develop a path of your own and not simply walk what is given you. As you progress you should be able to pick and choose to make something custom fitted to you and your path. That is the road to greatness. Those who walk in the steps of others will never discover new roads. There are times even they discover that their shoes they’ve taken don’t fit or that they’ve ended up stranded and with no place to go.
“If you take nothing from this class, take this; Cultivation is the growth of self. You don’t cultivate for others. It is your path, your power and your self. Trust me, if you do not learn this lesson, learn to make your path or cultivate your self, you’ll never make it to the King tier to talk little of the higher tiers. No, that’s wrong. You might make it to the King tier. I’ve seen it before. That cultivator might as well have never ascended. He made it into the tier by some weird quirk of fate but he was an empty shell that was less than most Lords.”
Rembrandt stopped here wondering how he should drive his point home. “Let me show you something”, he told them, removing his outer robe.
Underneath it, he was shirtless and clad only cloth breeches. Making sure that their eyes were on him, he channelled some arcane energy around his body. Immediately, peculiar symbols began to appear on his skin. They glowed softly outlining his muscles and pulsing with power.
“I hear there’s an array master in this class. Care to tell your colleagues what these are?” he asked the Steelborn.
The boy made to speak but another beat him to it. “It’s an ancient glyph script called gulbarghre that was used by many of the old tribes of Bathar.”
Rembrandt turned, fixing his eyes on a boy who sat in what he identified as the Gigne’s squad.
“I was unaware we had two array masters in this class.”
The boy coloured fiercely. “I’m just an apprentice”, he admitted.
“I see. Do you remember the rules I gave in your previous lesson about hand raising and questions, apprentice array master?”
The boy colour deepened as he nodded.
“I’m sorry, sir!”
“Name?” the instructor asked.
“Julius Magnus, sir!”, he answered.
“Well Cadet Magnus, what do they do?”, he asked referring to his glyphs.
“Displayed as they are over major organs and given their fabled use, I’m guessing it’s an essence tempering method”, the now red boy managed.
“That is correct! My clan, the Atakoma is an ancient one”, he told them. “It predates even our kingdom’s submission to the Newhaven Empire. Before the popularisation of the [Imperial Five Stages Greater Path], gulbarghre was a widespread cultivation system among the plains folk. My clan is one of the few that still possess a complete method.
“This is not it. This is one I have taken great pains to modify to fit my own path. It is the sum of a hundred years of study and cultivation. Unfortunately, it is still incomplete. When it is, I’ll immediately ascend into the Emperor tier and I’ll do so in a state of power that none of you can possibly imagine. You know why? It’s because it is the path that suits me best. One crafted by me, for me.”
The class watched stunned as he put his robe back on. All of them appeared lost in thought. ‘Good!’ he told himself. ‘If they can take something from this and cultivate properly we just might see a few legends rise out of this batch.’
Now”, he began anew. “Our time is up! However, in preparation for our next class, which will be essence attunement, I want you to ruminate on this question. Why are your cores hollow?”
A lot was said in this chapter that I’d like to remind you to be mindful of. Who am I kidding? Only about 1% of you probably read the author’s notes. Even so, I’m interested in hearing from you. What is cultivation?
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