Hadjar rested and slept until the evening, and then decided to work on his cultivation. He sat down in the lotus position, crossed his fingers and began to breathe evenly. He absorbed more and more energy with each breath, a lot more than he could’ve managed back when he’d lived in the Palace.
It could’ve been the result of growing older, his body getting stronger naturally, or maybe it was because of the dragon heart. It was useless for him to try and guess his own age: the neural network stubbornly kept track of it only from the day Traves had died and Hadjar had been reborn.
The Prince continued to breathe. The amount of energy in his nodes kept increasing. It burned and raged in every center and at every point he’d opened during his training.
Someone’s talent for cultivation was determined by how long they were able to keep the power contained in these ‘bodily nodes’. The longer a person was able to hold the power in, the more they were capable of improving their martial arts.
Hadjar had never achieved much in this field. His talent had always been below average. That changed for the better, of course, after his rebirth, but not by very much.
Now he could hold more power, but there were still many practitioners, even in the Palace, among the children of the nobles, who could surpass him in this art.
The dragon hadn’t been able to produce a miracle and Hadjar was still totally average, even if a bit above pure mediocrity.
The energy kept accumulating. The burn of it grew more painful by the second. It raged in his nodes violently and chaotically. His body felt like he was on fire. Sweat was pouring from his forehead.
If someone had come into the room at that very moment, they would’ve seen clouds of steam rising from the body of the young man sitting on the bed.
But no matter how much it hurt, Hadjar continued to absorb energy from the world around him. He knew that if he stopped the process of evolution at that moment, the energy would burn through his ‘inner body’, setting his cultivation back by a couple of months, at least.
That was the reason why many practitioners hesitated—the fear of failing to transition from one level to another. After all, it was relatively easy to go from one stage of the Bodily Nodes to another. The same could even be said about the Transformation level. Who would want to revert back to the initial stage of the Heaven Soldier for a whole decade after feeling its very peak?
That’s why the practitioners needed a variety of resources. They helped them cross the boundaries of the levels without fear of ‘rollback’. There was an endless struggle for these resources. Of course, the ‘core’ of the Alpha Stage beast was not the most coveted of trophies, but it could still help Hadjar.
Therefore, when his nodes were overwhelmed by the energy and seemed as if they might collapse at any moment, the Prince reached for the parcel. He felt the power of the beast’s aura; after Hadjar managed to withstand the blow, he took another breath.
This time, he didn’t draw on the energy of the world, but the power coming from the beast Core. And if the energy that was always present around him could be considered peaceful and calm, the one that rushed to answer the call of the Core…
It was fierce and not at all malleable. It didn’t want to quietly assimilate into his nodes. It raged at them like a storm.
It was battering the walls of the nodes, tearing them apart, inflicting hellish torment upon him. Hadjar still kept quiet. He only clenched his teeth tightly, summoned up all his courage and began to pull in the energy that answered the call of the beast core.
The Prince manipulated the energy in the decaying thread and tried to ‘push’ it into his body. He did it over and over: once, twice, ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times. Another flash of agonizing pain and a new round of struggling with the power of the beast awaited him after each failure. Hadjar thought about only one thing—whether the power contained in the Core would be enough.
He could not afford to fail.
He spent the whole night struggling to advance, but, by morning, he’d finally succeeded. A thin, blue thread flickered within his body, and energy now flowed through it from his nodes.
Hadjar, exhausted, fell back on the bed.
The pain gradually receded. He felt immensely proud at the fact he’d succeeded and he also felt a lot stronger than before.
“Status,” Hadjar groaned out.
The Prince could see, in digital form, the things that other people could only feel. It was his little advantage.
Level of cultivation
Bodily Rivers (1)
Hadjar read the message from the neural network. There was nothing unusual and extraordinary to be found. Surely there should’ve been more…
“What?!” Hadjar exclaimed, instantly jumping up out of bed.
He read it again... and again… and again, but he hadn’t been mistaken. His energy points were pathetically low.
At some point, Hadjar realized that those were really his stats and burst out laughing. You’re a damn dragon, he thought to himself and laughed. So, that’s what you meant, you winged bastard! Damn you to hell!
What a pathetic sight! Any normal practitioner of the Bodily Rivers would’ve had at least one and a half times more energy at the first stage.
The Master had told him that such a practitioner should’ve been able to use the ‘Scorched Falcon’ technique almost five times. Hadjar wouldn’t be able to use even the ‘Fried Sparrow’ thrice. He was almost one and a half times weaker than any other, even the most unlucky, practitioner.
Hadjar shrugged off the message after he recovered.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It’s better than being crippled. And who said it would be easy? Even if he had ten times less power, he would still have arms and legs and a good head on his shoulder—he wouldn’t complain. He would keep plowing ahead, never slowing down.
Writhing in pain from his aching wounds, Hadjar left Gnessa’s house. She'd already gone off somewhere.
He reached the village by following the trail—fortunately, there weren’t any wild animals in this part of the forest. The ones that were so powerful that they could’ve leveled the village to the ground weren’t interested in this settlement and its inhabitants.
They were busy fighting for territory and resources: all sorts of magical roots, herbs, and stones, just like humans.
The whole world was constantly struggling to gain more power.
If the piece of music titled ‘Six Moments before Life’ was true, then, in Hadjar’s opinion, the native gods had created a very ugly system.
“Hadjar,” as soon as he went through the gate, the villagers ran up to him.
“How are you?”
“Have your wounds healed?”
“Was Gnessa really scary?”
“Will you have lunch with us?”
“Let’s go to the river.”
People swarmed him, eager for his attention. Hadjar was no longer a ‘wanderer’ or ‘Bull’ after what the hunters had told them. Now he was one of them. Someone who had risked his life for the others. There were husbands, sons, grandsons and fathers that hadn’t died in the forest thanks to him.
It had been a long time since he’d felt like he belonged anywhere. Like someone who would always be welcome.
“I’ve promised to play the Ron’Jah,” he reminded Lida.
“Then let’s go to the meadow. You can play for everyone there.”
And so the crowd moved toward the creek, everyone voicing their approval in a hum. In the meantime, on the other side of the village, the merchant had arrived. He was leading a donkey loaded with bales behind him. He kept his goods and other various knick-knacks in those bales. But apart from them, he also had news from the outside world.