Dinner that evening was a quiet affair. My parents and I pouring over the Sect paperwork that had arrived at our house soon after I did. There were forms to be filled out. Lists to be created. And items to buy.
My Spirit Root and duel affinity had placed me in the top .1 percent of all candidates that tested and enrolled in Water Flowing Sect. The Sect had waived all tuition costs and cultivation fees for the first year. I would still be responsible for purchasing any supplies that were required for my ancillary profession. All cultivators in the Sect were required to choose a specialization in one of the core secondary profession fields; Blacksmithing, Alchemy, Herbalism, Rune-scribing, Beast taming, or Array formation.
It was possible to dabble in one or two fields, but the Sect required their students to achieve Journeyman Rank before elevation to Sect Elder. The Sect Ranking was based on and divided into seven categories, similar to the number of ranks for spirit root and gem matrices. The number seven has a mystical significance for elves. The profession ranks included; beginner, novice, apprentice, journeyman, expert, master, and grandmaster.
"Your knowledge of herbs and helping me create potions for the clinic should help you advance quickly at first," mother said when I was at the part of the form where I had to select which profession, I was interested in.
"I'm not sure Alchemy is what I should focus on," I began hesitantly, afraid to upset my parents but determined to chart my own path. "I think I'd like to follow the beast-taming path."
"Why is that, Jay?" My father asked heading off the invective that may have spewed from my mother if he hadn't. She could get wound up easily, especially when the topic of conversation was something she cared deeply about.
"Mostly because I think it will be safer and more profitable to go that route," I began. I was convinced that owning a stable of pets that allowed me to fight, ride, and fly, would not only increase my chances for survival when hunting but allow me to have opportunities to find rare resources and challenge beasts protected by the environment.
"We don't have wealth or access to family techniques and treasures," I continued. "If I become a Master class beast tamer, I will be able to bond with some very powerful animal companions. With a few companions, I will be able to hunt for resources and harvest beasts of higher quality and level.
"I think I can accumulate wealth faster by hunting," I finished. I knew my argument wasn't well-formed but using their frugality as a weapon in our debate would at least have them considering the option.
"If wealth is the major consideration for your choice, then Alchemy or Rune-scribing would be your best choice. Those professions earn those who have mastered the professions staggering amounts of money," my mother said in rejoinder.
"They do," I agreed. "Once they reach master and grandmaster rank. But how much does it cost to reach that level? How much are they spending on resources to grind proficiency?"
"Some of the expenses for alchemy can be mitigated by using herbs we grow or that your father collects," she pointed out.
"Maybe the beginner and novice levels," I agreed thoughtfully, "but what then? I will either have to buy resources or collect them myself to continue to advance."
"And there are two other factors I am considering. Geon and Syha have both tested Spirit Roots that will get them accepted into mid-tier Sects. You saw how much tuition was for Flowing Water. If they hadn't waived the first year's tuition, I would have had to decline the invitation.
"What about the fees for next year? Until I am promoted to an inner core Sect member, those fees have to be paid by our family. Can we really afford for me to waste money on supplies?
"I know Alchemy and pill formation would help to expand the family business, but how long before that happens?" I asked.
"If I become a Beast Tamer, I can begin hunting almost immediately. Collecting not only contribution points to pay for my tuition until I am promoted, but enough money to help you save the tuition needed for Geon and Syha.
"And one final thought. If our goal is to expand and become a Clan, wouldn't having a wider depth of knowledge and skills help to form and establish the foundation future Clan members can use to grow on?" I wondered hoping to convince them it was better to expand our family's knowledge and branch out into other fields.
My arguments worked, my mother was still reluctant, that is until I agreed to take enough classes in Alchemy to reach novice rank.
The list of items that new Sect members were required to purchase included a gem, that item was part of the collection they had built up over the years and was the largest expense listed. Before my first lesson, I would undergo a medical procedure to facilitate synchronization and melding with the gem I selected.
I was also required to have a storage device; ring, bracelet, or pendant. And a weapon. A beginning weapon was fine, there was no need to spend vast sums on something heavily enchanted or spirit imbued. That expense would come later after I had advanced far enough to utilize spirit items. The storage device was a problem. The better the device, the higher the price. I would have to search Cyntyne's shop, a second-hand merchant that specialized in selling items cultivators came across during their hunts.
Clothing would be supplied by the Sect, as well as manuals and techniques. The only other items I needed to bring were any money I would be using for my secondary professions. Money was not based on metal, there was no coinage, instead, the currency was based on beast cores and spirit stones. Each came in ranks, low, middle, high, and superior.
Ten low-level beast cores were equal to one mid-level, ten mid-level was equivalent to one high-level beast core. The base ten number systems for math and counting remained the same, and denominations were based on that. The only discrepancy was with superior beast cores, fifty were required for one low-level spirit stone. The rate of exchange was much higher from that point on. One hundred of each tier in exchange for one of the next higher.
As a middle-class family, we had never seen a spirit stone. My father occasionally came across a rare herb while gathering that would sell for a high-level beast core, but spirit stones were only traded by cultivators and the wealthy. They were mined, but those mines were rigorously regulated, and they could be created using a Dharma spell, an alchemical potion, and a foundation array.
The process was a proprietary secret of each Sect and only Sect Elders had enough merit earned to learn the process. It kept spirit stone production within Sect hands while allowing the Government to control supply. Only Government approved Sects were given the secret of production. Flowing Water was large and powerful enough for a mid-tier Sect to have gained those rights.
Beast cores were plentiful, farmed from livestock and domesticated animals. Even something as innocuous as a chicken had a low-grade beast core. The larger the animal, the higher chances for a better core forming.
Barter did exist. Especially in some of the smaller villages and communities. But, for the most part, the economy was robust and relied on cores. They were a renewable source and could be used as energy to power arrays, empower certain pills and potions, and serve as Qi pools for low-level cultivators.
As they were used, they were destroyed, so a continuous supply was always in demand. And because demand and supply were usually equal, it meant the economy was stable, inflation-proof, and standardized across countries and empires. Beast cores and Spirit stones were universally recognized as coin no matter what nation or part of the world you lived in.
I had just settled in bed for the night when my mother knocked on my door and entered. She was also dressed for sleep. Crossing the room, a sad smile on her face, she pulled the covers back and climbed into bed with me. Reaching out, she drew me into a hug, only satisfied when I had placed my head upon her chest. She began stroking my ears and humming softly, her voice dispelling the quiet of the night.
The ears of an elf are not exactly erogenous zones, but they are sensitive. It was akin to the sensation you get when someone is playing with your hair. Comforting. Occasionally goosebump worthy. I had just about fallen asleep when she began speaking to me in a soft murmur.
"These next few days will be the beginning of an entirely new life, Jay," she began. "Your father and I have prepared you; we hope. You've been a good child. Always obedient. Always working to do your best in school or helping your father and me with gardening or chores."
"We've tried to protect you and your brother and sister from most of the ugly aspects of life. Maybe that wasn��t the best thing," she mused.
"I hope we didn't make a mistake. We wanted to keep your innocence as long as possible. But when you mentioned that Sect member that was rude, that your new friend may have insulted him, it made your father and I think that we may not have prepared you for that facet of life.
"There are always going to be people that think they are better than you. That looks down on you. And in the world of Cultivators, that attack or challenge you for resources and position. We spent so much time educating you, that we may have done you a disservice by not spending more time teaching you about those kinds of people and finding you a fighting technique that you could use to defend yourself.
"We thought it best to wait until we knew if you would be accepted by a Sect. Their techniques would be much better than anything we could buy. And we were afraid if we bought a technique that didn't suit your Spirit Root, that we would be laying a foundation that had to be dismantled and rebuilt."
"You are considered an adult now. You have awakened. But you will always be my little girl. The best part of your father and I are our children, and we are so very proud of the people you are growing up to be.
"Be as true to your nature as you can be. Don't let the ugliness of greed, envy, and ignorance change you. You are a shining beacon of light and love for your family. We have to let you go. It is time. No matter how desperately we want to cling, to hold you in our arms and whisper how much we love you, we have to let you go.
"It breaks our heart, but that is the cycle of life. The young must grow and test their wings. And we do love you, Jay. With every part of our being, we love you. There will always be a place for you in our home. If you need refuge or succor from the world, remember there is always a place of welcome and love that you can turn too."
Kissing my forehead softly, she squeezed me tightly, before relaxing, snuggling closer to me, and drifting off to sleep. One last night protecting and cherishing her first-born before the morning came and everything changed.