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2 Perception

Five years earlier

"Master I beg you, I need it! Teach me the Mana Concentration Skill, I need it to regenerate Mana more quickly and use the Construction Skills!"

In the time he had spent living in the village, Helial had learnt various Production Class Skills, such as Cooking, Fishing, Snares and Agriculture. He used them to get food for himself and his sister. But he was unable to use them repeatedly, since the consumption of Mana was quite high.

"Nothing's free in this world, boy. You should pass a test in order to get that skill, a test that you must pay for", declared the Master.

Tens of thousands of years earlier, a completely impartial association had been founded by the major Mana experts in the continent, whose roots ran deeper than the same planet on which they lived. They gathered all the most terrifying Skills and mysterious Techniques, laying the foundation for the future Mana Congregation, the biggest organization on that continent.

Despite the incredible powers mastered by the people at the top, the members of the Congregation never got mixed up in any conflict, enjoying complete freedom of choice. Killing a fellow brother was strictly prohibited, except in unique circumstances, but it was possible to exile members that had committed a disgraceful crime. By letting the new generations compete, they fostered new fighting talents.

Their impartiality, together with their mysterious origins, had helped them survive the changes of different Eras and Empires.

Mana Concentration Skill was one of the basic Skills. It was open to the public and available in many Clans, Sects and Guilds, so it was easy to learn. Nonetheless, it was one of the Skills required to become Mana Warrior, Magician, Archer and any other class that had some connection to Mana, so basically all of them.

People who were not part of the Congregation could also learn some of the Skills, but one needed to pay a dear price and show to be worthy. The Congregation had never given away its resources for free, but even though it was possible for non-members to acquire only some basic Skills, it was more than enough to set one apart from the common crowd.

"Let me see the money first", snorted the Master, who was sure the boy was there just to waste his time.

The Master had ended up in that forsaken little village because of his incurable love for women; he had always been a handsome man, and now that he was a charming forty-year-old, more than ever he felt the need of pretty girls by his side.

For a twist of fate, one of the girls that ended in his clutch was the daughter of one of the Elders of the National Council. Even though the Elder did not have enough power to have him beheaded, he managed to banish him to the fringes of the Nation.

Let's see if you have the money, little brat, thought the Master, sniggering. Helial fished out of his torn pockets three golden coins. The corners of his mouth curled up into a complacent smile. He had worked hard to earn that money and it was time his efforts were repaid. He had to scrub the floor of the tavern in the village for months, besides running some Missions, that rarely had let him sleep more than a couple of hours per night.

"Alright. Follow me", said the Master, taking the money from his hand.

They were inside the building of the Congregation of Floralivory City, a big three-story building. Right now they were in the main hall opposite the entrance. Helial had waited almost five hours before being received by one of the Masters to learn the basic Skill that he needed.

"You can call me Master Vidio, boy", sighed the middle-aged man, fed up with those boring tasks. He wasn't just any member of the Mana Congregation: he had been the first person under twenty-five years old to reach the degree of First Level Master in the entire Nation. Despite all his talent, lust and his love for women had brought him there, where day after day a piece of himself was vanishing into oblivion.

He could only blame himself. Since young, he had wreaked havoc in the Congregation by creating a Skill that, according to the top Masters, was against all their beliefs.

He sighed again for the hundredth time, while walking that young bumpkin to the Private Training Hall. In Love, the bitterest venom is hidden underneath the sweetest honey.

"Master Vidio, what kind of exam is this?" asked suddenly Helial, disrupting the melancholic thoughts of the man won over by Love's passions.

He doesn't even know what it is… is this a joke? How does he plan to pass it? Money down the drain… thought Master Vidio.

"Every Mana Warrior bases their Skills on the Condensation of a Mana Seed inside their Soul. The Mana Seed is the first step to the top. A common person has Mana scattered in every Meridian in the body, Mana that flows free and unconstrained. Even though this might not seem a problem, it is an uncouth and barbaric way to use one's Mana."

"That's why people with a bit of brains choose to attempt the Condensation of a Mana Seed. It's a mass of pure and dense Mana Energy inside the body. All the energy that is usually flowing freely is gathered and condensed in the Soul and from there it can circulate and fortify the body. Once condensed, the energy will be much more powerful than in an individual at the same level but with no Seed. Anyway, it's easier said than done. One needs to be extremely focused and proceed under supervision, so as to avoid getting killed by forcing one's Meridians beyond their limits."

Helial nodded, not shocked in the least. He blushed a little, because he knew to be very ignorant on the topic. Since his brother had left five years earlier to become successful, he had not been able to read any books in the village. His brother had never talked to him about the test required to become a member of the Congregation or how to gain Skills.

They forbade him to access any kind of studying material and what could a boy of five learn without any resources? The years went by and obviously Helial had lived in complete ignorance, always hoping to learn something more, one day.

"You also have to know that Mana Seeds go by degrees", continued Master Vidio, "Black, Brown, Red, Green, Blue, Cyan and White. There are more, but these are the most common. Black is the easiest to Condense and the weakest, while White, that represent utmost purity, is the highest existing degree. In our Nation, the strongest Mana Seed ever Condensed is the Cyan Mana Seed, produced by some top members of the Congregation, some bigwigs in the military and a couple of roaming hermits."

"Only the Cyan one? But wasn't White the highest?" asked Helial, perplexed.

"Do you really think there is someone able to condense a White Mana Seed? Hahaha, it would be great, but physically impossible. I don't think they exist, not even in the whole continent. Some people, in order to achieve better results, wait until their eighteenth year of age to condense a Mana Seed. Even though it is a very common practice, it is a rookie mistake: the younger the person the less the Mana Energy has been tainted by the human body," explained the Master, glad to show off his vast knowledge.

"As far as White Mana Seeds are concerned, only the greatest legendary Saints have one." Vidio stroked his nose and continued: "Boy, now you are at the perfect age to condense your Mana Seed, but I believe you are way too… how can I say this, inexperienced. Are you sure you don't want to wait a little longer? You should first get some Breathing Technique, try to sense your Mana… Listen, I can even give you your money back and pretend nothing happened", suggested the Master that, admittedly, was not a bad person. He was indeed full of himself, but did not rejoice at others' misfortune, nor he tried to take advantage of it.

Helial stayed silent for a moment, then he said: "I'm sure, let's proceed."

Vidio kept quiet, surprised at the boy's resolution. Although in front of him was just a ten-year-old boy, he could only stay silent and respect the courage that had taken to make such an important decision.

Boy, are you too ignorant or too self-assured? Bah, at least I can prevent you from killing yourself, if anything should go wrong.

"How can you know what kind of Seed you have developed?" asked Helial, with curiosity.

"You'll know as soon as you've condensed it. You have to look at it with the eyes of the Soul, focusing on the Mana Energy inside your body. No one can look inside your body, unless they force their way in. But don't you worry, no one is here to hurt you", Master Vidio laughed at Helial's concerned look.

***

When they entered the room, Helial saw a large pedestal in the middle, big enough to hold two people sitting cross-legged.

"That thing there is used to concentrate the Mana and Amplify it. The buildings of the Congregation are built on foundations rich in Sorbite, a stone able to act as a catalyst on Mana. So this is the perfect place to train your Mana". Vidio was about to urge Helial to sit on the pedestal, when he remembered that the boy didn't know anything about the procedure. He snorted and started explaining: "Listen to me, the procedure is not impossible, but nearly half of the people who attempt it end up severely injured and can't complete it. You can even risk to cripple your Meridians and give up any chance to ever condense a Mana Seed!"

Helial did not seem too upset about that. He looked distracted, but he was actually trying to imagine how to best complete the test.

"Once you get on the pedestal, you have to meditate to sense your Mana. You have to use your Breathing Technique and try to make as much Mana as possible flow into your Soul. But you have to be careful not to lose control. Sometimes it's better to put a smaller quantity of Mana in the Soul, because if you won't be able to condense it all, the aftermath will be disastrous. Understand? Now you can go have a try, it usually takes three to five hours."

"A Breathing Technique?" asked Helial with a candid look. To the Master, it seemed like the boy had never heard that word before.

Vidio goggled. That boy was hopeless. He ran a hand on his face and asked: "You don't have a Breathing Technique?"

"Err, no. Do I need to pay for that too?" the corners of the mouth of Helial curled up in a smile.

What now? What can he do without a Breathing Technique? He can't condense Mana, he'll fail. Unless…

The Master did not know whether to laugh or cry. He had known that boy for ten minutes and he was already a pain in the neck. It was time he spiced up a little his dull days in Floralivory City.

"Boy, I'll give you a Breathing Technique, but you can't tell anyone. Take a look at it and try to memorize it", went on Vidio, handing a Scroll to Helial.

You received a Breathing Technique: Dragon's Breath.

I'm sorry boy, this is the only one I've got and it's a Grade Red. It's definitely not something that a rookie like you can learn easily, thought the Master sadly.

"Before taking the test, you will have to learn this Breathing Technique. What about coming back here in a couple of weeks, when maybe you'll have reached the first level?" said Vidio with a smile. He had grown to like that shy boy that didn't talk much.

"Can I try once right away?" asked candidly Helial.

"Boy, this is no game, I don't have time to waste. Come on, hurry back home. You'll have your money back and I'll see you in a couple of weeks", snorted Vidio, about to lose his patience.

"Give me just ten minutes, I'm in a hurry", said Helial. Before Master Vidio could reply, the boy was already walking to the pedestal. Helial sat cross-legged on the crimson red platform and unrolled the Scroll.

Breathing Technique: Dragon's Breath

This is a powerful Technique that converts Natural Mana so it can flow in the Meridians. The Technique is achieved by perceiving nature's forces, conquering them and channeling them towards the Soul.

The use of the Technique is not recommended for beginners.

Dragon's Breath is quite a violent and unstable Breathing Technique, difficult to control, but once mastered completely, it can be considered one of the best Grade Red Breathing Techniques.



Helial read on for a couple of minutes. The Scroll had all the infor-mation required to carry out the absorption and circulation phases. Every Breathing Technique let the Mana flow through specific Meridians, thus maximizing the absorbing effect.

In theory, Breathing Techniques could be created from scratch, making the Mana flow through the right Meridians until it reached the desired effect. Uncontrolled and random Mana circulation, however, was very dangerous and one risked to damage irreparably the body channels.

Helial shut his eyes, while Master Vidio rolled his. That boy would have made him waste a lot of time for sure. Anyway, there was not much to do round there, so watching the boy's vain attempts was still better than aimlessly hanging out in the main hall.

Every person was surrounded by Mana Force. It was a ubiquitous phenomenon; nonetheless, only a few could perceive it and the majority would not pay attention to that mysterious feeling.

Helial, however, started sensing something, as if all the objects in the room had come to life. He had just started sensing it, when suddenly everything became more vivid, even though his eyes remained shut.

"What the hell's going on?" whispered the Master. "He hasn't activated the Breathing Technique yet, but this Aura…"

Helial could clearly feel everything around him. Besides, he could sense an amazing presence in the room, and after a short while he realized it was Master Vidio, who at the moment was not trying to hide his Aura.

You learned a new Skill.

Perception

You can sense the Aura of every living thing in a 10 yd radius.

"@#!?" Vidio was flabbergasted. That one in front of him was not an inexperienced boy in the world of the Mana Warriors. Vidio realized he had been sensed by the Mana of the brat. It wasn't a new feeling for him, but he was wondering how it could come from that kid in front of him. It was the Perception Skill!
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