The first thing I hear is the chirping of birds. This immediately alarms me because birds do not enjoy being near cultivators unless they are beasts, and thus cultivate themselves. And a bird that cultivates knows better to just chirp away this early in the morning. They’d become a nice meal for any passing beast or cultivator by raising such a ruckus.
Slowly I open my eyes and alarm bells are going off in my mind. The fact that these alarm bells are just a metaphor and not an automated sectioned piece of my mind keeping watch is terrifying. Any sufficiently powerful cultivator has the ability to automate pieces of their mind to do functions they are too lazy to perform themselves. I solely used these techniques to perform scans for any hostile being in my vicinity. Sure, you’ll be a fraction dumber after that but performing multiple tasks simultaneously any other way is just headache inducing.
As I take in the view my mind slowly catches up. Imagine going from a high-performance computer with 8 cores back to DOS box in order to do tasks, that would be an accurate description of the feeling I’m having now. My brain sluggishly recalls past events. Around a thousand years of adventuring culminating in an epic standoff versus half the cultivation world on top of a mountain in the wilderness. The ending seems very off to me. I should be in a higher realm right now, filled with dense qi, where rare materials costing millions are used as construction materials for the lowliest huts.
The sight before my eyes completely contradicts this expectation. I am in a meadow with some trees here and there, locked between towering mountains. Actually, these mountains aren't shit when you’ve seen the sights of my previous world, tiny lumps of rock sticking up from the ground compared to towering behemoths tens of kilometres high. These mountains look like the Alps, a couple of kilometres high at most. Birds sing from their perches in the branches and I see some bunnies and squirrels scurrying around.
And does it smell bad? A rank odour is in the air. I sniff and notice the smell doesn't come from my nose, but from my energy sense. The very energy sense that notices something very, extremely wrong.
I sit up, taking the lotus position and close my eyes. I focus my sight inwards, only to find nothing there. Instead of a self built foundation made of surging qi I see nothing. Focussing my senses outwards I nearly retch at the energies in the air. The cultivation world had qi. Basic, non-attributed qi along with all kinds of themed variations. You're in a volcano? Fire qi everywhere. Middle of the ocean? Water qi is mixed with the normal stuff... you get the point. This world has all sorts of energies swirling around each other, as if the qi has been ripped apart and let loose in its component forms. The majority of the energies have a dark feeling to them, as if the entire planet is inhabited by beings a good deal darker than the despotic, mass murdering cultivating psychopaths I’m used to.
Taking a better look around I see that the bunnies are stalking the squirrels, the birds have fierce talons and I even see some blood stains on their beaks. I keep blinking my eyes, hoping something is wrong because I feel like I need glasses. All my senses are dulled, I can't smell anything except for some earthy tones, my body feels heavy and the air is foul. Where the fuck am I?
A different world again huh. Instead of qi there is a myriad of energies. I ponder the changes and what they mean while I watch a group of brown squirrels silently surround an unaware rabbit. They pounce and tear the little thing to shreds. I am certainly not in Kansas anymore.
Instead of using a DOS computer after experiencing a Windows 10 machine, I feel like I am working with a physical file cabinet now. Slowly searching through memories like fingering through a filing system, ponderously opening new drawers instead of using an advanced search function. I feel like crying.
I inspect my body. I am still wearing fine underwear, roughspun dark brown pants, a dark grey tunic and leather shoes. Humble unassuming attire wholly unfit for a cultivator at the top of the foodchain. I feel my muscles and I still have the lean build filled with tough muscles. A body made for swimming or running long distances more than a bodybuilder’s physique. Lacking a mirror I don't have the ability to inspect my face, but after running my hands over my face I’m fairly certain I still have the same moderately handsome, if a bit long face I’ve always had. The fact that my previous body’s owned had the same face as the original me from Earth is a problem I’ve stopped thinking about hundreds of years ago, so I’m not about to start doing that again now. I’ve always suspected that the higher realms hold some sort of answer, and it doesn't seem likely I’ll get there anytime soon. My right hand is still adorned with a simple black ring, much to my relief. One of the few treasures I kept. Building your fighting style around a physical object is only going to cripple you when the shit truly hits the fan.
As I finger the interspatial storage ring on my finger I ponder what to do now. I can’t access anything inside, you need qi to open it, which I seem to lack completely at the moment. Finding some form of civilisation and stalking unaware peasants seems like a good idea. There must be people nearby because the animals all seem to instinctually avoid me. Behaviour like that is not seen in animals that have never met humans. Looking at the reddish spot where the rabbit used to be I can only count that as a blessing.
I stand up and nearly fall down again. Steadying my wobbling knees I take a step. I find myself in a long valley nestled between white-capped mountains. No roads are visible, so I just choose a random direction and do what I’ve done for the past thousand years; adventuring and exploring.
Five minutes later I stop to catch my breath. It seems like I'm back in a mortal's body. The footwork that normally propels me hundreds of meters with the smallest step is now just a weird form jogging. The energies I subconsciously matched with my walking or running rhythm completely gone.
“This truly won't do. I’ll die of overexertion at this rate, fucking hell.”
As I mumble some more curses under my breath I decide to walk towards the mountains, hoping to find a cave to do some experiments in. Sitting out in the open is a one-way ticket into some fluffy animals stomach here. The closest mountainside has its foot obscured by a row of trees. Wary of the murder squirrels I choose the other wall of the mountain to inspect.
Ten minutes later I stop once again, my slower pace has kept me from falling over, but I’m starting to feel hungry and thirsty. Frustration is building up, yesterday I could go years without food or water. Now a small stroll leaves me famished. Taking a closer look at the trees I come to the conclusion that I don't recognise any of them. Weird asymmetrical leaves adorn a tree with a bark that seems brown but shimmers blue under direct sunlight. No fruits in sight and with my current body I don't think I’d be able to catch anything. I look wistfully at my ring once again.
“This is an opportunity, a challenge!”
That’s better. No point in moping about things I can't do anything about, better see this as a challenge to overcome. Saying it out loud doesn't make it any truer, but it feels like it a little bit anyway. I’m halfway to the mountain face now and I start to see some smaller rocks adorning the steeply rising slope. I think I spot a cave in the distance but with my current sight, it might as well be a bear or something.
Half an hour later I have inspected every plant, tree, shrubbery and animal I came across and come to the conclusion that they are all distinctly unknown and alien to me. This is the second time this happened so I just accept it slightly numbly instead of freaking out about it like the first time. Luckily I was around ten years old that time, so I just played the traumatised child card to the fullest. My current physical appearance should be around my early mid-twenties, so that’s less of an option now. The black thing has also come into sight and I can confirm it is indeed a cave. I don't spot any large tracks around the entrance and am pleasantly surprised by a small stream making it's down from the mountain and into the cave. I drink my fill, once again surprised by the total lack of recognisable energies in the water, but at least I’m not thirsty anymore. Partially satiated, I make my way a few metres into the cave and sit down.
Closing my eyes once again I start to focus on the energies in the air. It feels totally alien to me. Instead of a film of qi that permeates everything, there is a swirling mix of different colours intertwined. A lot of dark and sinister feeling power seems to just hang in the air. I know that the average population of a planet has a large influence on the energy state of said planet, so I suspect that there are a lot of fellows here with less than clean souls. A person who murders a lot has a chilling murderous aura, a healer has a comforting healing aura, etcetera. If a couple of billion people emit this aura it can influence the general energy ecosystem of a planet or plane.
Focussing on the swirling mass of colours just at the edge of my vision even further I start to recognise different types of currents. Then an idea hits me. Normal qi needs to be split apart or heavily modified in order to bring certain elements to bear. What if this is already done here. All I would need to do is piece them back together and I would get the qi I'm familiar with. A sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind keeps screaming at me that it is not qi, but mana. Do I want to become a wizard instead of an immortal? I reject that idea for now. I don't know shit about spellcasting. Using qi techniques is all done internally. Magic is cast externally if the various fantasy stories from Earth are to believed.
I focus more on separating the various types of flows from each other. My influence is nonexistent in the beginning. No matter how much effort I put, they just ignore me and continue flowing by. The amount of energy in the air seems to be slightly higher than what I'm used to if you combine all the different types together. A weird combination of trepidation and excitement starts to fill me as I realise that I will have to learn a lot of skills from scratch. As I feel these two emotions I notice two types of energy that move slightly different.
“Haaaah, don't tell me it’s based on emotions and feelings?”
I know a few cultivation techniques that are emotion based. It tends to unhinge a person in the long run even if the earlier stages are a bit faster. I never met a top-tier cultivator that cultivated based on emotions or heart.
I suppress my emotions, calming myself and the influence disappears like it was never there. I think of a few faces that I would like to punch, feeling anger boiling from my gut and filling me. A stream of green glowing power diverts its path and swirls around me. Although I claim it’s a green glow, it can't really be classified as such. My previous experiences with these types of energies have given me great insight and sensitivity into such matter, these skills seemingly untouched by the abrupt transfer to wherever here is. The green glow is barely there, more like a minuscule pinch of green powder spread over an entirely white page, but I recognise the wood element energy for what it is anyway. Excitement fills me as I start to realise on what basic laws this world operates. The fact that the green energy dances away and a red energy starts to hover over me confirms my theory. Once one gets powerful enough these type of laws don't mean much, firm belief overrides any faint influence from the universe, but it is a major help in the beginning.
I calm myself once again and start to feel any emotion I can think of. Hate gives me fire, but so does joy. I take a closer look while trying to feel two things at once on purpose. Then I realise the difference, one is darker and menacing while the other is filled with warmth. Anger gives me a rotting wood energy, while any type of empathy gives me a small trace of life-giving green. I cycle through all the emotions I can think of. Wanting to become stronger gives me more wood, worrying about my future makes a yellow energy respond to me, found earth! Thinking it's all too much and wanting to give up makes a grey energy rush over. Feeling scared by this new and unknown world caused a blue flow to come looking for me.
Half an hour later I have a grip on what emotion influences what type of energy. One thing I notice is that the negative type of energies seems to be a lot more bountiful. Happiness gave me a minuscule trickle of warmth while apathy and despairing worry flooded me with a darker grey and brown energy respectively.
Now comes the hard part, trying to combine them in equal measure. My current hypothesis is that combining them all will give me a complete energy that is easier to work with. Emotional cultivation is a minefield, so I don't plan on handicapping myself like that. Imagine being an angry fire mage. Fuelled with endless rage. Once you meet something that scared the crap out of you all you’ll be left with is water energy. Rather unpractical. I don't think I’ll be joining a magic sect or school anytime soon if emotions are used to cast magic. Crazy people everywhere. My worry and apprehension about hair-trigger explosion mages caused earth and water energy to surround me in my pondering.
The first step would be training the control of the elements without feeling emotions. There must be more to magic than just feeling feelings really hard but I can't really think of what. My brain slowly ponders the problem as I miss the days in which I could just automate a piece of my mind to slowly and systematically work through the problem like a computer. Running thousands of scenario’s on autopilot while you are enjoying a walk is a luxury that I sorely miss right about now.
I walk in a circle as I try to categorise what emotion influences what energy and why. Always think of the why.