At the center of the Misty Mountain Sect were a series of ten mountains that rose high above the sky and pierced the clouds. These mountains were forever covered in a thick layer of mist that added to their mysteriousness, the steep mountain faces meant that there was no one who could ever ascend these mountains unless they knew how to fly.
But if one managed to see past the mist and the clouds they’d be able to see a series of beautiful bridges that arched from one mountain side to the next, connecting the ten mountains together. Besides the bridges, hundreds if not thousands of lodges were built into the face of the mountains. Some big, some small, these lodges housed the inner sect disciples of the Mist Mountain Sect.
But today our focus is on a large castle like building located atop the tallest of the ten mountains. Those who have been in the sect for a long time would refer to this place as the Inner Hall, where most of the activities of the inner sect occur.
In the Inner Hall, in a place where not many people are allowed entry, nine men sat at a round table where there were ten seats. These nine men were all inner sect elders of the Misty Mountain Sect, in front of them and at the center of the round table were hundreds of small floating mirrors that levitated in the air and moved about in a cylindrical spiral.
“Elder Liu, what do you think of this young lad here?” One of the elders who did not seem old nor young said while pointing at a mirror that projected the image of a dashing young man engaged in battle with another man who was half his size. But the dashing young man was clearly in the advantaged thanks to his mobility. Once the elder pointed at the mirror it enlarging and became roughly ten times the size.
“Add him to the list, we will observe him for a while and see if he has what it takes to enter the Forest of Beasts.” A man with a head full of white hair and a drooping eyebrows said. This man was the one who was referred to as Elder Liu.
“Which one of the seedlings is the one that Elder Lao dropped off before disappearing again.” Another elderly man asked.
“This one right here.” Elder Liu said as he pointed to a mirror that projected the image of Zhang being carried on Cai Cao’s back.
“He must have become senile in his old age to bring back someone who hasn’t even managed to unlock their essence points… From the looks of it that other brat tried to temporarily unlock them for him and his channels couldn’t withstand the strain.” A balding middle aged man with a protruding belly said.
“Place the one carrying him in the list, as for that boy keep an eye on him, if Elder Lao brought him here then there must be a reason for it. Elder Huang, you best watch your tongue, before master went into closed door training he had given Elder Lao the power to manage the entire sect and our council is only temporarily taking over for him while he is away.” Elder Liu said.
While the elders of the inner sect were busy discussing on who to add to their list, on the outskirts of the sect, where all of the new seedlings of the sect stayed, in a certain courtyard, Zhang had just awoken.
Every fiber of his body felt as if it was on fire, his entire body was immersed in pain. The last thing he could remember was fighting the man with the bulging muscles and then becoming extremely dizzy.
“Stay still and don’t move.” A voice sounded out from across the room. When turning his head over and looking toward the direction where the voice had come from, Zhang could see Cai Cao sitting in a mediating pose with his eyes closed.
The sunlight had penetrated the mist that surrounded the mountain that their courtyard was in and a sliver of it had struck Cai Cao’s face.
“If he were a girl, then I bet a line of men that wished for his hand in marriage would reach the foot of the mountain.” Zhang thought with a laugh but stopped due to a sudden spike in pain.
Soon Cai Cao’s eyes slowly opened and moments later arrived at Zhang’s beside after hopping off his own bed.
“You should be fine in a few days; you’ve been out for three days but the essence supplement pills should have healed up your ruptured channels. All you have to do now is rest up. I’m going to go get us some food now, since the sect doesn’t provide meals so don’t wander anywhere and stay put until I get back.” Cai Cao said as he turned back and headed toward the door.
After Cai Cao left the room a veil of silence covered it as Zhang laid on his bed. The pain was beginning to subside bit by bit as he laid in the room alone, left to immerse himself in thoughts. Although it had only been a few days since Zhang had arrived at the Misty Mountain Sect, so many things happened. He had been thrown into a brand new world full of new things such as essence and cultivation.
His mind was being overwhelmed as so many things flooded into it, while the thoughts of the past were still haunting him. Although he did not show it, the memory of his family and his fallen comrades was forever etched into Zhang’s mind. Perhaps one day he would use this as a drive to propel himself higher, motivation to prevent the past from repeating itself.
Hours passed before Cai Cao returned to the room with a chicken in his hand. From the looks of things, he had a truly rough time trying to catch the chicken, his once pristine clothes were now soiled by dirt and his hair was disheveled.
“Wait I’ll have food ready in a bit.” Cai Cao said after checking on Zhang’s condition before disappearing once more.
“What a nice guy.” Zhang thought after Cai Cao had left the room. They had been total strangers but a few days ago, but now Cai Cao was taking care of Zhang and even cooking for him.
Zhang did not have to wait long before Cai Cao returned with a tray, atop this tray was a bowl. Soon enough Zhang may feel the need to take back the words that he had thought earlier because moments later a bubbling bowl of black goo was placed on a table by Zhang’s bedside.
“Poison?” Zhang thought as he stared at the black goo, while sweat began forming on his brow.
“I made you some chicken congee.” Cai Cao said, looking down on the bowl with a hint of shame evident in his face.
Not wanting to turn down the goodwill of someone who has been helping him, and someone who could possibly kill him, Zhang pushed up his aching body and took the bowl up in his shaking hands.
A gulped as he looked down at what might be his last meal, before picking up a spoon and digging in. As the spoon full of death inched closer and closer to Zhang’s lips his life flashed before him.
“Mother, father, I’ll be joining you soon.” Zhang thought as the spoon finally reached his lips and the black goo flowed into his mouth, slide across his tongue and down his throat. That was when his eyes became wide and an expression of shock covered his face.
“This is surprisingly very tasty.” Zhang said as he turned to Cai Cao with a smile and began stuffing himself. Soon enough all that was left was an empty bowl, that looked as if it had just been washed.
Zhang turned toward Cai Cao who had been sitting in the other side of the room, meditating. Feeling Zhang’s gaze, Cai Cao stopped meditating to find two pleading eyes staring at him.
“I’ll get you some more, if you want.” He said, a bit surprised by Zhang’s facial expression. A slight smile soon became visible on his face as he left the room.
After the incident with the chicken congee, Cai Cao had been designated as the one to cook the meals. A week had passed since and now Zhang was back on his feet and finally was able to begin his journey into the world of cultivation.
Sitting outside atop a large boulder sticking out of the ground, Zhang had a ring in his hand, along with a letter. Zhang had found this letter addressed to him in a drawer where the armor, he had worn before waking up at the sect, was found.
“Treasure this ring for it holds what you have lost. Upon reaching the fragmented realm all shall be clear.” Was all the letter said.
After tucking the letter into his robes and slipping the pitch black ring onto his finger, Zhang pulled out the Misty Mountain Sect’s beginner cultivation manual from his robes. He had opted to read this manual before even setting eyes on the sect’s rule manual. Since he had nothing to go back to nor did he have any idea of how to get back to where he came from, Zhang decided to immerse himself in this new world that he had been thrown into.
“What is a cultivator? A cultivator is one who breaks away from the shackles of mortality and defies the will of heaven. A cultivator absorbs the essence of the world and strengthens themselves to one day be able to ascend the heavens and surpass them.” Zhang read from the cultivation manual.
“So there are forty-four essence points throughout the body that connect forty-four channels. For each point that a person manages to awaken they would gain two years of longevity, simply from the amount of essence that flows into their body.” Zhang mumbled as he read the book.
A person generally lived to be about eighty years old, but if one were a cultivator who managed to open all forty-four of their essence points, then they would generally have a life expectancy of about one hundred sixty-eight years. Of course as they progress in their cultivation their longevity would further increase.
“To open one’s essence points, one must circulate the essence in one’s body and create a flow. Once the flow is created, direct at a point and have the stream unlock the point. Hmmm, if I follow these instructions I should be able to unblock my essence points, however brother Cai had said that my channels are incredibly small so if I unblock too many points then my channels will shatter. This time perhaps for good because last time brother Cai had only performed a partial unblocking and this time it will be a permanent unblocking, meaning I won't be able to block it once it’s open.” Zhang thought as he gripped the manual in his hand.
Unlike everyone else who can simply unlock all forty-four points, Zhang can only unlock a portion of them or else he would end up killing himself. But the problem he is facing now is figuring out how many points he can open before reaching the point of no return.
“Well I guess I won’t know until I try it out.” Zhang muttered as he closed his eyes and began meditating. Essence began swirling in his cultivation core, and started forming a stream that circulated through his channels. Soon essence flowed through every inch of his channels.
“The first point.” Zhang thought as he redirected the stream toward one of the forty-four points.
Thanks to the fact that Cai Cao had temporarily unlocked Zhang’s points before, there was a large volume of essence at his disposal inside his core and on top of that since the points had been partially unblocked before they would be many times easier to unblock a second time. He was also able to skip the step where one had to sense the essence flowing around them, because he had already been exposed to it.
Had it not been for Cai Cao then perhaps Zhang would have to wait a long while to even sense the flow of essence around him.
Not long after entering mediation did he notice a bit of essence from the great flow seeping into his body, soon the seeping turned into a trickling and not long after a small stream was adding to the river flowing inside his channels.
“On to the next point.” The first point hadn’t really affected his flow very much so he decided to unblock another point and another and another. Only when he reached a total of twenty-two opened essence points did Zhang feel that his channels were full, little by little the channels had filled up.
“Guess twenty-two is my limit, but that would mean that in a fight everyone would be able to channel and use twice as much essence as me…” Zhang said with a hint of disappointment in his voice.
“There's got to be a way to overcome this difference…” He said as he began flipping through the beginner’s manual in front of him.
“It says here that most cultivators, once connected to the great flow, have a constant stream of essence flowing into their channels through the forty-four points and attains equilibrium with the flow. The essence transfers from the forty-four points into the forty-four channels, where a cultivator will use it to nourish their core and increase the amount of essence that can be stored inside the core. Then there's something similar to that one guy’s iron body technique. Essence is absorbed into the points and instead of dispersing into the channels, the cultivator redirects it into their bones, muscles and the rest of their body. This would help strengthen one’s body but it in the end doing this wouldn’t be as good as strengthening one’s core.” Zhang said.
“However in my cause, since my channels that connect to my core can’t handle a large amount of essence, I should send only a small amount into the core while the rest should be dispersed throughout the rest of my body to strengthen it.”