Arthur felt the core in his hand crumble, the last dregs of energy removed from it. He opened his hand and reached for another core, only to find the pouch empty. He searched within before picking the pouch up and turning it over, failing to find anything.
“I guess that’s it . . .” Arthur muttered. Twenty cores. Generated from the tithe given to him as clan head and from the monsters they’d killed, all used up that quickly. Not even enough for a whole point, which was amazing to him.
But it was what it was. In between sleeping, cultivating, and training, time had passed quickly. He’d even managed to get that token sorted out, only to find that it had only had a handful of contribution points that he could use. Not much of a bunch, but better than nothing.
Finally, it was time to get going—to the final orang minyak village.
A few minutes later, after he finished repacking his bag and checking on the time, he wandered back to his seat. He had overshot his timing by a little, with another four hours left before it was time to leave. The clan building was quiet. In the dead of the night, everyone was either asleep or cultivating. Arthur would have caught a few more hours of rest, but he knew himself. Sleeping now would mean he’d wake grumpy.
Besides, the first day out of town was unlikely to bring any real dangers. Better to suffer from a little lethargy now and make use of the free time to work on the Bark Skin technique.
He extracted the Bark Skin manual, flipping through the document’s well-thumbed pages and read through it once more as was his wont. It helped him memorise the instructions. Occasionally he highlighted areas that he had missed. Most importantly, the re-read ensured he didn’t make a mistake when enacting the technique.
The Bark Skin technique was interesting because, unlike most other cultivation techniques that required energy to activate, Bark Skin had both active and passive components. The passive portion primed the body to be physically reinforced. Over time, passive use of the technique would harden the skin against damage.
However, it was the active use of the skill that provided the greatest degree of protection, hardening the skin against significant cuts and stabs. It was not, of course, anywhere as effective as actual armour. But since there were large portions of the body not covered by armour anyway, additional security was nothing to be scoffed at.
After confirming the flow of power and the necessary mental landscape required to use Bark Skin properly, Arthur began the process of pulling cultivated energy from his body. He directed it through the meridians as per the guide, then started infusing this altered energy across his body.
Triggering the process was both a physical and mental workout. The former involved energy flow and the latter required you to hold the right form and guide nebulous energy. Cultivation techniques were in many ways like teaching yourself to sketch or dance. You might know how to move or draw, but you might not know a particular dance or sketch. Only practice of that particular form could make one better.
Of course, the more similar the routines one used, the more practice you had. Like practicing or getting good at certain styles of dance, or drawing individuals rather than landscapes. Over time, one just got better overall too.
Which was why, in some ways, Arthur’s disparate series of cultivation techniques was not the most optimal. On the other hand, like a beginner who had just started dancing, gaining a broad base of knowledge and practice could pay long-term dividends.
Or it could just slow down his overall progress.
Like most things, there were arguments both ways. Considering that he had lacked the funds until recently, Arthur had planned for a generalist approach anyway. He had not seriously considered a multi-Tower specialization. Now, he might have to reconsider that assumption. Though, he still did not think that further generalization was going to hurt him.
Idle thoughts as he worked the energy through him. One downside that came from being able to multi-task was that idle thoughts would invade his mind while cultivating. It didn’t pose a danger; it just told him that he was bored. Maybe he could find some audiobooks to listen to?
Skin prickled, and occasionally muscles twitched and clenched as he continued to cultivate. Arthur felt the hair on his skin stand and then lay flat, ripples of power hardening and softening his flesh in turn as he practiced the Bark Skin technique.
Too much energy on the left hand. Not enough on the right. Pull back on the amount entering the flesh there, infuse more here. Watch as the energy in his core slowly squeeze itself out as he ran it through the paces, guiding the amount of energy he was wasting.
Hours of practice passed seemingly in moments before Arthur opened his eyes. He had poured nearly eight full points of energy through the cycle, a significant portion of his reserves before he had stopped and began cultivating to restore himself.
Now, finally, as the noise from outside his door grew, he knew it was time to go. A flick of his hand brought up his status.
Not bad for a few days of focused practice. All these additions to Mind and Spirit and energy pools were finally paying off.
Time to take on the last village. Then more cultivation, more fighting, and another floor.
Where new challenges awaited.
But . . . one step a time.