Episode 22 – To take a single step
Kiel sat down cross-legged and concentrated on feeling their soul. He could no longer feel his own soul, it had blended like a ball of clay into Elaru’s, and now, that giant blob belonged to both of them. He couldn’t tell which part was his and which part was hers. Their control over it wasn’t separated into regions. All of it belonged to them both.
He could tell that the mana pool within the soul was filled to the brim with mana, but he couldn’t tell how much mana was in it. That was the thing with the mana pool, one could feel the percentage of it being full, but to know how much mana that percentage signified one would need to test it out.
It was just like the stomach. You could tell if you were hungry, full, almost full, or even so full you would burst if you ate more. But you can’t tell the volume or weight of the food inside your stomach.
Kiel exhaled slowly, before starting to draw mana from the soul into his body. It flowed down the countless tendrils into his flesh, continuing to travel through it until it exited to form the aura.
Mana flow speed, as defined by the Association of Magic, was a standardized metric that described how much mana a mage could pull into his aura in a single second. It could be used to calculate minimum possible casting time for certain large spells and even determine the max number of spells the mage could cast in a certain period of time.
Mana flow speed greatly depended on the amount and quality of the soul tendrils, the availability of mana in his mana pool, and was also influenced by the composition of the cells in the body, as half of the trip was from the body to the aura.
Mana was energy. In a way, it was similar to electricity. What happens when an object is hit by lightning depends on the properties of the object. If it hit a block of ice, the composition of the ice would be destroyed, and the ice would melt into water or even directly disperse into steam. However, if the same amount of lightning hit a copper coin, it would pass right through, not impacting it at all.
There were two properties that described how a material behaved towards mana: mana tolerance and mana resistance.
Every material had an amount of mana it could tolerate passing through it. If the amount of mana passing through it was above its mana tolerance, the material would start to collapse and eventually be destroyed. Too much energy was just as dangerous as too little energy.
To prevent itself from being easily destroyed, materials with low mana tolerance usually had a high mana resistance. They would resist the passage of mana, slowing it down and decreasing the amount of mana passing through them. If the passage of mana was impaired, it would be harder to go over the mana tolerance. It was a simple self-preservation mechanism that achieved balance.
If the material was like a pipe, and mana was like water, then higher mana resistance would mean a narrower pipe. It would limit how much water can pass through it at the same time. Mana tolerance, on the other hand, would be the material of the pipe. If it was flawless steel, it could handle a violent water current, but if it was wooden, the fast current would soon cause it to start leaking. The holes would expand until it is completely destroyed.
If Kiel wanted to increase his mana flow speed, he would need to decrease his mana resistance and increase his mana tolerance. If his mana resistance decreased, it would make it easier for the mana to pass through his body and thus it would be faster. And if his mana tolerance increased, he would be able to make more mana travel through his body at the same time without fear of injury. It would also make it less physically tiring to use magic.
Both his mana resistance and tolerance would impact his mana flow speed.
As mana passed through Kiel, he felt energized, his cells were agitated. This sudden increase in the density of Kiel’s aura startled Elaru out of the strange mood she was in. She stopped her work and observed Kiel instead.
He started pulling the mana gently, but after ascertaining that this speed wasn’t his limit, he would make it flow faster.
Some time and a lot of mana later, the mana pool still wasn’t fazed by the loss of mana. Just how large was it?!
Faster. Still faster.
Soon, mana crashing into his flesh felt like a tsunami. His mana flow speed had reached above average. If he had to give it a score, he estimated it would probably be 17/25. Yet, he could already feel sore all over his body.
No matter how fast the mana traveled through his soul tendrils, his mana flow speed wouldn’t increase if the bottleneck was his body. It would be like attaching a wide pipe into a narrow pipe, it would either block the flow of water coming into the pipes or cause the stream flowing through the narrow pipe to become extremely fast. If his body couldn’t tolerate the speed of the stream, it would be damaged.
If his mana flow speed was low, having a large mana pool and mana regeneration would be wasted on him. Since he would never be able to empty his pool no matter how hard he tried. His magic casting would be limited by how much mana he could transfer from the soul for use.
Kiel gritted his teeth and continued. He kept pulling more and more mana out, almost drunk on the power he was feeling traveling through his body. Yet the tingles of power couldn’t overshadow the stinging pain spreading through his body. His clothes were already drenched with cold sweat.
He wasn’t surprised at his approaching mana tolerance limit. He used to be a non-mage. There was never much mana passing through his body so his body wasn’t used to it. He was extremely fit, which increased his mana tolerance, but because of his status as a non-mage, it could only reach the average mana tolerance. He speculated that the only reason why his current mana flow speed was above average was due to the changes to his body caused by Aetherneal bond.
Kiel’s hands clenched into fists tightly. He had thought that he had finally escaped from his identity as a non-mage. He thought that he had transformed from a caterpillar into a butterfly. That he had shed his old skin. Yet, at every corner, he kept being reminded that he used to be a non-mage.
He had hoped that he would be able to shock the entire world by having a perfect score on Muni entrance exams. Looking at it now, he was naïve and greedy. He thought too highly of himself. He was full of hopes and dreams like a little child, and he kept looking up at the clouds instead of facing reality.
The sourness, the bitterness, the disappointed that clenched his heart, must have spread onto his aura, because Elaru honed in on his worries like an arrow.
“Are you aiming for the perfect Muni exam score? Do you want to be the first? To shock everyone? To raise from no one into a genius in one swell swoop?”
Kiel’s knuckles turned white from how hard he was clenching his fists.
His silence gave Elaru all the answers she needed, or perhaps her questions were rhetorical from the start.
“If the only thing standing in your way to reaching a perfect score is inadequate mana flow speed, all you have to do is raise it.”
Kiel’s eyes flashed dangerously as he glared at her. What did she think? That raising mage specs was as easy as reading a book? “My mana flow speed is too far from the perfect score, there is too little time. I can’t raise it enough in the span of a few days.”
Elaru smirked and teased him. “What are you going to do? Sulk?” Her teasing tone disappeared, her eyes radiated strange heat. “Or are you going to try your best to raise it as far as you can in this remaining time?”
Elaru’s words struck Kiel like a hammer. It might have not been the actual words, maybe it was the intent behind them, or the aura that spread from her. Either way, his entire body shook with enlightenment.
So what if he couldn’t reach the perfect score? Was he just going to give up? Or will he do his best to reach as high of a score as possible? If he couldn’t win a battle, would he just throw in a towel or fight until the end?
The sourness and depression was instantly replaced with steely determination.
He wasn’t the one to give up. Even as a non-mage, he didn’t give up. He sweated rivers, shed tears of blood. He started out as a person who hated magic to become someone who loved everything about it. The pain, the unshakable resolve, sweat and tears, it is what turned him from a person who couldn’t do magic to save his life, to a genius mage. It wasn’t a change that happened overnight. No, it took him 12 years.
12 long years. So why is it that he felt disheartened if he couldn’t reach a pinnacle in a few days? Laughable.
Now that he had the opportunity, now that he had the means, there was no way he would give up! He would milk every drop of sweat from his body, he would squeeze out every bit of willpower he had.
All so he could walk forwards.
Step by step.
No matter how distant his goal was, as long as he kept steadily walking, one day he would reach it.
It might take him months. It might take him years. It might even take him his whole life.
Was the goal worth it? Was it worth dedicating his whole life to pursue the pinnacle of magic?
Kiel’s eyes burned with flames of passion. Every cell in his body, every thought in his head, everything responded unanimously with a load roar.
He had to keep walking.
His spirit rekindled, his resolve hardened. The waves of conflicting emotions that wrecked havoc in his mind stilled into a perfect calm.
He closed his eyes and exhaled. He didn’t notice Elaru’s eyes glittering mischievously, nor the satisfied smile on her face.
What do I need to do to take a single step forward?
That’s what he should do. He should concentrate on that single step.
A step to increase his mana tolerance and decrease his mana resistance.
He searched his knowledge of the subject until he found what he was looking for.
He needed to temper his body with mana.
That was something that happened to mages naturally. Mana would constantly pass through their cells, and over time, after the old cell died, a new cell that replaced it would have a higher mana tolerance and lower mana resistance. The bodies of all creatures in the land of Halnea had an incredible ability to adjust. Natural selection and evolution would happen to all of the cells making the body. After countless generations of cells, new cells would reach a much higher tolerance than the first generation.
However, that would take too much time. And time was one thing that he lacked. He needed to speed up the process of his cells dying and being replaced by new cells.
It was easy to speed up the process of his cells dying. He just needed to increase the amount of mana passing through them to reach their mana tolerance limit. They would then start disintegrating, and new cells would need to replace them.
He shouldn’t damage his own body too much, otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to recover to his best condition in time to participate in the exams.
How many cycles of destruction and regeneration he could go through depended on his healing rate. If he could increase his healing rate, by consuming some healing elixirs or pills, he might be able to pull this method off.
He needed to visit an elixir and pill shop. He opened his eyes and looked at the blood red sunset. Would they be able to make it to a shop before the closing time?