One day, a mysterious invite to a server showed up on her home page, an invite to server called "Daoist Discord" from a user by the name of "Transcendent Tourmaline Trapmaster".
Hailey nodded, contemplating all this. "Fire sounds pretty reasonable as a fit. I always did run a bit hot."
She suddenly stopped, realizing her phrasing, and snapped her mouth closed, renewing the blush that had started to fade as she considered the results, and then blushed harder as she noticed Romana's attention so closely on her.
"Ahem. Yes, I realize I just said that. Anyway! Wind makes heaps of sense, and I'm really glad to hear it. I might've mentioned something about high and windy places?" She chuckled. "Time is an interesting result — not one I would've considered, but... maybe it makes a kind of sense? I dunno..."
She laughs again.
"It doesn't have to be something you've really... expressed, yet? Souls are complicated, and there's a lot of things that just... matter less, when you aren't a cultivator."
"I'm glad it came out in a way you like~"
She nodded, considering, blush gradually fading. "That's good to know. I guess I'm just confused because it maybe explains some tiny things? But they're at a level that it could just as easily be confirmation bias."
She started to relax a bit, smiling back.
"Yeah, I'm really glad too. I know Steely Student said I'd probably get something appropriate, reflection of my soul and all, but it was still a relief to see anyway."
She takes a moment to bounce back to her seat a little and take a drink, giving her space.
"Care to share? I'm curious how you could end up working with Time in that way so early on."
Hailey nodded, and pondered for a moment. "The most obvious and blatant — and this should show how fuzzy the lot of them are — is during and immediately after the training vision for the Twenty-Four Flowing Fists. I have this faint recollection of the whole trip feeling dimly... out of sync. And then I get out of it and it's been barely a minute or two, rather than the whole hour-plus kata's time."
She hummed thoughtfully, frowning.
"For all I know, though, it could be normal to have daydreams or visions run that fast, and all this is just confirmation bias and reinterpretation. Mine never have, but maybe I just never tried hard enough."
"It is - the whole point of having the whole vision thing is to get a complete experience in quicker? There's lots of stories of people learning techniques in the middle of a battle by staring at just the right thing, as long as they have the right talents and the technique manuscript is compatible enough with it. It's not unusual for people to feel weird about things around that til they get used to it? As far as I understand it, the Fox of the Sylvan Spirit Lake doesn't use temporal techniques for anything but her highest grade Jade Slips because that's not her speciality? She prefers to optimize the compression and 'database' schemes. I don't think that there's any reason why a temporal effect would especially show up then, too so..."
She laughs a little.
"No need to worry about this, either."
Hailey smiled and nodded, a faint flush returning. "Okay then! I'd love to see what one really feels like at some point, so I can correct my silliness more fully, but that'll just come in time, I suppose."
She folds her hands together.
"It's pretty normal for cultivation methods to result in a bit of messing around with subjective speeds? Subjective time is a little different, and I'm not the most qualified person to talk about it but..."
She smiles a little.
"I'll have to see if I can get Senior Transcendant Tourmaline Trapmaster to let you see the Temporal Grotto. It's a... really interesting place, I feel."
She frowned a bit contemplating that, and then nodded firmly. Then the mention of the Temporal Grotto swept her away.
"Wow, that sounds like it would be an amazing experience. I'd love to, if it wouldn't be too much bother for you or her. What's it like there, and what sorts of things are temporal techniques used for?"
"Yeah - it's... kind of lot, though, and usually requires a bit of messing around with defensive techniques to work right."
She runs her hands down her side.
"Mostly it's just... an odd thing with all sorts of flickering experiences, with a lot of things that play into that? There's a lot of plants there that have there own take on things, so it's hard to really describe unless your there. As for what it's used for..."
"Probably the most traditional usages are divination, anti-divination, dimensional and movement techniques? Senior Tourmaline has a temporal-spatial fist technique too, and I think it's even part of one of her body refinement methods and definitely part of her skills with formations and talismans. 'Temporal talismans' for keeping things preserved are probably one of the most classic low level uses. It's pretty hard to go much beyond that, but certainly possible."
"It sounds fascinating. I'd love to learn a lot more about it, when opportunities work out. Between the divination and movement techniques, and everything else, it sounds like something I could devote a decade to and have only scratched the surface of. But that's for later, I suppose."
She took a look back down at the wooden testing device, thinking back to what Romana had told her.
"What are some common uses and specializations of Fire, and especially Wind? And what does one do with a typical Yin affinity?"
"There's a Fire and Yin version of pretty much everything? But in as much that's a meaningful question, alchemy and forging (and to a lesser extent cooking) can end up rewarding a fire affinity, just because the process of making them relies a lot on things like heat tempering and getting the mixtures just right under excitation. Yin is even harder to neatly pin down, but I guess you could say it's especially good for some body tempering techniques aiming for lightness and smoothness, refining your foundation for efficiency of power, and anything flowing. Still, most of the time, the biggest difference it will make is that there'll be some techniques out there that are extra compatible with you that you should all else being equal prefer, rather than nesscarily giving you a power of your own?"
She hums quietly, and sips down more of the water, letting out a small contented sigh as she licks her lips with her wet tongue.
"Wind's a less standard affinity, so it tends to be focused on movement and sensory techniques - getting even an approximation of flight is something that a lot of cultivators want to do early, and a lot of things can carry across the sky. Plus, there's the obvious things about physically manipulating the air for blasts and barriers, which are pretty often mixed in with weapon energies."
That sounded amazing. Was she really going to learn to do all of that? Well, it would take time, clearly. But wow. She looked back at Romana eagerly.
"I can't even. Just — I don't even know where to start with all that, there's so much cool stuff. I suppose Wind and Fire, since they're my strongest, and because movement techniques, and since Fire is good for cooking?"
Noticing Romana take a sip, Hailey remembered her own water and drank a bit more, smiling. (And blushing a bit subconsciously at the sight of Romana licking her lips.)
"Speaking of cooking, what's the first thing to learn about becoming an Immortal Chef?"
I laugh quietly.
"That everyone thinks that they want pills instead of your food."
I rub my forehead a little, and smile a little tiredly.
"Oh, that sounds annoying. I remember when I realized how much I was missing out on sticking to premade stuff, and that was even just with mortal cooking! What are the main benefits of immortal meals over pills? My first guess is that there's some room for customization toward someone's individual needs?"
"Not... nesscarily? There's plenty of room for customization in both arts."
She taps a finger against the glass.
"The biggest thing is that you'll generally get better results from immortal food if you're willing to tolerate the effects being spread out - it's a good bit harder to make immortal food that works like combat pills then it is alchemy, but you can get better results if you're looking for a refinement of your body over the coming months for the same cost and skill in cooking - and that you can get better results if you can control everything or if you're just working with nothing - typically, you can only really get proper results from alchemy once you get a decent flame control art, furnace, a bundle of herbs, a good process and so on, and you generally just want to increase the quality of those, whereas with cooking, if you can make everything tuned properly for your process you'll be more rewarded, but you can do it with literally anything even at the basic level."
She gestures at the crystal-clear water.
"So it's more like a gradual ramp-up that rewards patience and follow-through and care? Kinda like training, that way. Cooking has been the only thing it's easy to stay still for, too, for a while now."
"That's really more about the curve for the resources put in? But that's kinda true as well - it really rewards putting your heart into it."
She hums quietly.
"Maybe giving you the full alchemy comparison run down could help? Can dig into some of our other notes or just field questions or...?"
Hailey bit her lip as she considered for a moment (definitely not because she was noticing her Senior's pretty blue eyes), then nodded. "Yeah, I think that comparison would help. Cooking definitely is the only still thing I can put my heart into, though. That much I'm sure of."
I laugh quietly.
I place my hands together and slide them down to my lap.
"You're just starting out, and you want to become an alchemist. The sort of thing that you'll start out with is grabbing a decent pill furnace, a basic pill refining method, and a bunch of recipes, alingside a bunch of normal medicinal herbs and a small bunch of low-grade spirit plants - Maybe just some Wash Water Lilies and a few other basic weeds. You'll throw them in the furnace at just the right time, control the flame as you need to, make your spiritual energy work the process, distill the ingredients down to their essence, and pop it all together into a pill. You can't do alchemy without spiritual ingredients - though you can do it without a special technique or any cultivation at all, which is why there's that warning in senior Tourmaline's post. There's a lot of other things that go into it.- just the start is how good your cultivation is on a bunch of dimensions, how well you comprehend the laws of the energies you use, the quality of your pill flame, how good your technique is, the quality of your recipe, the degree of refinement you achieved - but a lot of what determines how good your end product is just the quality of the materials you put in."
Hailey nodded, frowning a bit. "It makes sense, yeah. But there doesn't feel like there's much... heart in it, or something. Makes sense, but doesn't draw me."
She smiles broadly.
"Yeah... Really, the heart in most alchemists is in... cultivating their mastery of the elements through the rest of their foundation, and going out exploring to find more ingredients to make part of their practice."
"There's a whole seperate cultivation system for Immortal Chefs, for one, and... people just really care about subtle things in food. It's normal to like foods that are exactly in season, or have just the right color or crispness or softness, even if it's the same product, fundamentally - a decent amount of basic fruits you'll see in the store are literally all clones of each other, but there's still a substantial difference between all the ones on the shelf, if you look. You can make something basic with mundane ingredients, and yes you can get better results if you have better ones, but what's the most important is that you manage everything front start to finish to make it the best for you, and do it all skillfully and lovingly, with an understanding of what you want out of the dish and how the inputs matter! Affinities obviously help too, but a lot less then if you are an alchemist."
"Yes! Cooking is the only non-movement thing I ever feel like that about — carefully putting everything together, preparing it over days if you have to, or even longer, all to make the result just what you want. I was putting up with school so I could work in storms, but this is so much better."
"Wait, did you say Chefs have a whole 'nother cultivation system?"
I smile brightly.
Hailey's mouth dropped open for a moment, and she stared.
"Wow. How does that even work? This just keeps sounding better."