Simran woke up because her arm ached. She’d apparently rolled onto her side, disturbing the muscles. Then the pain echoed once more as she sat up. She tried to remember what made her arm hurt so badly. Had she been wounded somehow? By what? While she might not have had friends, she didn’t exactly have enemies either. The area under the two masters wasn’t dangerous either. She looked down at her arm and saw no wounds, as her memory of the previous day came back to her slowly.
Had she passed the test? She felt like she had. She wanted to go ask Master Ravenhall to confirm, but first there was something more important. Feeding herself. She was starving. Well, not quite. She had been starving before, but she hadn’t ever felt so hungry when she’d recently had food.
She had set up a small garden… it would have been better to have full fields, but she didn’t have the tools or the seeds to do so. Just the garden had taken so much work. A few vegetables were ready to eat, having all been planted at different times more out of necessity than planning. Some heads of cauliflower and some squash. They were tasty enough, maybe a little small… but not that filling. She would need to go out searching for some denser root vegetables, maybe she could find potatoes… though the others usually found everything good first. That meant she would have to go further away. But that was normal.
She ate her rather pitiful breakfast and started off. At least her legs didn’t hurt, only one arm. And only when she moved it wrong, which seemed to be most ways.
Once she was beyond where most of the other students ranged, she started looking around for something. She walked around the trees, looking in shady places… she wished she could just see things from further away. Her eyes were good enough, but if she didn’t have to walk over she could save the effort.
Though it seemed sometimes she could. She could see weren’t any telltale leaves sticking up indicating something good beneath a distant tree, so she moved elsewhere. She caught the signs of the right sorts of leaves elsewhere, and when she arrived she managed to dig up a few more vegetables. They weren’t as big as she might have hoped, but they were something. Placing them in a sack she carried at her waist, Simran continued onward. Even if she had to spend more than half the day on just survival, at least she might have some time to train in the evening.
Then she spotted a rabbit. It hadn’t spotted her yet. She wished she had a bow… or a sling, or really anything. Even a good rock… but she had none of them nor the training required. Could she catch it with her hands? It might be worth trying… if she could catch that, she would have enough food for the whole day. Maybe two.
The only problem was rabbits were fast. Simran took a good look at the ground in front of her, trying to plan out a path she could walk that wouldn’t make too much noise, where she could get behind the rabbit.
She crept closer… closer… and then leaves crunched under her feet. The rabbit spooked, but instead of jumping away it jumped past her. She reached out to grab it, instinctively moving her right arm… and managed to do so. Her hand closed around it… and then her arm twitched in pain and she couldn’t hold on. She shouldn’t have moved that arm… and didn’t really think about it. The fact that it did move and even hold on for a moment was a surprise.
Unfortunately, surprises apparently didn’t catch food. Simran just lay on the ground where she fell for a while, the rabbit long gone, trying to get her arm to listen to her again or at least just stop. Arms were stupid and didn’t realize that tensing up just made everything worse.
Eventually, she found her feet and returned to gathering what she could find. What a waste of energy, trying to catch a rabbit. She wished she could fight tigers and hunt game and everything that the masters could do. Simran hoped she hadn’t just dreamed that she passed the test.
It was plain for Barrett to see that Simran was trying not to act like she couldn’t move her arm. However, he knew exactly how she felt. Pushing beyond one’s limits with Pure Body Tempering wasn’t always a good feeling. In fact, Barrett would say that in the short term it felt good, after that it felt extremely bad, and then perhaps it might level out. Just because she pulled stamina from elsewhere in her body didn’t mean Simran hadn’t gone beyond what her arm could do. There would be muscle pain, of course, but beyond that extreme fatigue as the body tried to sort itself out.
She still showed up the next day, though. For that, he would help her with what she needed to learn most… even if she didn’t quite want that. He had her sit down in front of him, just the two of them sitting on a patch which previously had grass but now was worn down to the dirt. “Focus on your arm. The pain.” Barrett knew it wasn’t pleasant at all, but Simran didn’t have extraordinary recovery abilities. Just that of a normal human, even if she could technically now be considered as having stepped into first tier. That said, as a Pure Body Temperer having a weak body meant you had very little going for you. Still, that could be fixed. “Now, focus on your other arm. How it feels, strong and healthy. Pain, and freedom from pain.” Barrett wasn’t sure what the best way to teach this was. Simran really needed the chance to learn on their own, so he spoke slowly and watched.
Then she reached the point of concentration where even if he said more, she wouldn’t hear him. Sensing someone else using Pure Body Tempering wasn’t easy, but he could tell from the small twitches of the muscles in her arms that something was happening. Hopefully, she would be evening out the fatigue and strain. If she was particularly insightful, she could spread it through her whole body and make recovering that much easier. She would still need time, nutrients, and rest to recover, but if focused in one place without drawing from elsewhere, recovery was more straining.
Barrett himself would have actually done things quite differently than what he saw. He would have encouraged the muscles in the area to recover with the stamina from the rest of his body, which worked well enough for him… but Simran was clearly distributing the fatigue and muscle pain throughout her body. A difficult technique… but Barrett already understood people learned differently. At her level, she was only barely accomplishing it… but it would ease the burden on her right arm and improve the rest of her, even if just a bit.
That was what cultivation was about. Steady improvement over a long time. Since Simran was otherwise occupied, Barrett returned to his own exercises. By the time Simran opened her eyes it was fully dark- though since she spent much of the day fending for herself, it had only really been a couple hours. Still, even a single hour in concentration was a good step for a new cultivator.
Simran could feel the effects of training with Master Ravenhall, but she also felt her own weakness. And hunger. Being completely full one day a week just wasn’t good enough, and planting took so much time. She didn’t really have the tools or knowledge to make the most of fields anyway, and she likely couldn’t find all the food available in the forest… but she couldn’t help but think of the rabbit.
She knew people placed traps for such creatures, but she didn’t know how to make them. Trying to catch them bare handed was a mistake, even with her arm feeling better. So, she traded for a knife… and with the knife she sharpened a bamboo pole. She needed more tools, and while her simple spear might be too much for a rabbit she might find something bigger. She wouldn’t want to try it on anything that could fight, but something smaller would be good. She could also bring a few rocks with her, but she didn’t have the right materials for a sling yet. They seemed hard to use anyway. A spear you just made go straight towards what you wanted to kill. Even if it went a bit off after leaving your hand, the idea was easy.
The first day she went out with her spear, she found nothing worth using it on. The second day was the same, and she found herself wondering if carrying the extra weight was just slowing her down and limiting her other efforts. Until she saw the rabbit again… or one with similar coloration, anyway.
Simran knew she couldn’t sneak close, but she threw her small spear. The rabbit must have felt something, because it hopped out of the way- but not entirely. A small cut was left across it as it hopped away. Simran thought to chase after it, but she knew she would just get tired first. Instead, she slowly followed in the direction it went while keeping her eyes out for buried vegetables.
Occasionally, her eyes picked out drops of blood… even in the shade, the particular darkness it had stood out. She was looking for it, of course, so she wasn’t too surprised to find it, but her eyes seemed to know better than her brain where to look.
Then she found the wounded rabbit… at the same time a fox found it. Somehow her steps were quiet enough that neither of them noticed… and when the fox went to steal her rabbit, she threw her spear. This time, she caught it fully in the side. With a rabbit and a fox, she would eat well for the next few days. She would even have furs to sell, if she went to town or could trade with some of the other disciples… and she had the confidence that maybe she could do more in the future.