Chapter 100 - Intuition
The plants and trees don’t move when I leave the island. The plants beneath my feet wouldn’t move anyway, being burned to a crisp as they are. The ones outside the black trail I blazed when I arrived here only sway in the wind.
Ash gives way to sand which gives way to water as I speed up with every step I take. I feel some anger, causing a green mist to flash before my eyes. It’s already less dense than before, a clear sign that the nature mana attracting effect of the skull is gone now.
Threading on the waves in a leisurely pattern is lethargic, causing my mind to drift backwards instead of ever forward. The first skull I stole was by accident, a righteous form a self-defence. The second skull didn't do anything but dissipate the concentrated light mana around Wave Island.
In hindsight, it’s kind of weird how symbolic the order of skulls is. I got the black one after literally evaporating millions of souls and a couple of thousand bodies. The light skull I got after saving some old dude from certain death.
Nicking the metal skull didn’t have any effect except for a predicted slight loss in productivity of Ferro Island’s forges. The purple wind skull was the first theft with truly spectacular consequences. I let a smile come over my face as I think back to a few days ago.
“Calm down Rhea.”
“CALL ME RE-HAAN. AND I WILL NOT CALM DOWN.”
“I agree with you Re, this is absolutely disgusting,” Angeta growls with a pissed off look on her face.
I'm holding Rhea by the arm, preventing her from flying off and shredding everything we are looking at. We sailed north after our staring contest on the metal mages island and approached the wind and thunder island not too long after. I really should ask someone what its official name is.
“They use the skin of my brethren to live in such a frivolous manner. How would you feel if they sailed the wind on human skin sails?”
“That wouldn’t work. Human leather is weak as shit. And I wouldn’t mind if humans shed nearly indestructible skin. Which we then threw away.”
“Shut up, we bury our shed skin at sea. That does not give these barbarians the right to… to… make kites out of them!”
Keep your fucking face straight! Don’t fucking laugh! With tremendous effort, I keep my face serious. Wind island is both awe-inspiring and silly beyond belief. The island itself is a sharp collection of grey cliffs, worn smooth into razor formations by countless years of blasting wind. They jut nearly a kilometre out above the sea in all their spiky, jagged glory.
Above them float countless, colourful, bloated caricatures of dragons. They look like those massive parade balloons but made by a five-year-old with a wide variety of mental deficiencies. As if rebelling against the constant gale force winds blowing upwards, huts hang under these rounded balloons, connected by a complex web of walkways and wind deflecting sails. Thick ropes connect everything to heavy anchors, wedged in between the sharp rocks below.
As I said, majestic and silly beyond belief.
And the dragoness besides me is pissed that the skins their young shed are being utilized as moronic hot air balloons.
Don’t start laughing hysterically, you utter ass! That would be a one-way ticket to single-once-again-ville. Another titanic struggle later, I turn my head from the sight and stare at Rhea.
I raise my hand slowly. Come on, where is it? I need to stall a bit. “Let’s do it this way. I want to try something. Afterwards, you can do whatever you want.” Her indignance at this entire situation is fighting with something else I can’t quite place. I can usually read other people like a book, but she has a braincore too. Braincore cultivators need to manually make those subconscious ticks, I can’t quite read-
Found it! I jerk my outstretched arm back, put my arm around her shoulder and face her towards the island all at the same time.
My long-distance scanning process finally found the nexus and accompanying skull. That formation keeps the wind going straight up, creating a permanent high-pressure area. Or is this a low-pressure area? Weather prediction needs too much calculating power to simulate and predict accurately, but I can see that this permanent updraft is messing with weather on a massive scale.
I somehow manage not to dissolve into giggles as the fierce winds die down and the cartoon dragon balloons start falling and deflating. The sharp rocks below aren't able to pierce the thin colourful membranes. The majestic sight of floppy inflatables descending through the air and snagging their limbs on sharp rocks is just… amazing.
I snatch the skull from the air, my process having guided it successfully through the hallways to the ship, and turn towards the gaping audience. “That better? Now they are sad deflating balloons instead of proud and majestic...“
The death glare is enough of a hint for me to stop talking. The two mages are rubbing their eyes, unable or unwilling to see what is happening in front of them. I just smirk and steer the Ascent away from the island.
Now that I think about it, Capillary Island was obviously just a massive cock sticking out of a gigantic watery hole. I am pretty proud of myself for not constantly joking about it. On the other hand, it’s a massive, throbbing missed opportunity.
The whirlpool is still going strong, by the way. My students wanted to get some massages. I don’t think that they will continue to serve people when the skull gets stolen. I'll get that one on my way back.
Plant Island’s stealing of the skull was not that impressive, it only caused the plants to wilt a bit. I did see some of the more artificial trees snap under their own weight when I left, exposing some of the rooms that the nature mages build inside.
Next up is Strata Island, home of the earth mages. The chaotic tower is already visible, let’s see what effect their skull has.
Life is useless, who cares. I sure don’t.
Apathy shows me dense earth mana, wafting from the entire tower. It seems to stream upwards from the base of the island as it travels through the randomly build Escher like walls and pillars.
I stop, spreading qi through the water to keep myself steady on the sea surface. I rub my chin as I do some manual, non-automated thinking. On one hand, I want that skull. On the other hand, I don’t want to become an indiscriminate mass murderer. I design and run a small simulation, recreating the faraway tower in my mind.
I pull the simulated energy nexus from its base and watch the miniature tower crumble instantly. There are no slowly forming cracks, no ponderous toppling. Removing the mana support will cause it to turn to dust, basically.
Unless I remove the skull slowly, that might just work! I immediately start designing the most energy efficient way of causing a slow disconnect as I start to run again. I have the solution perfected and tested all to hell and back by the time I arrive at the foot of the tower.
I crane my neck backwards and stare up at the thing. This tower is more than a kilometre in diameter and a couple high. It’s like the Tower dungeon’s messy, mentally disabled, brown, little brother. I grin at the mental image while forming the controlled demolition spell. It’s a simple cage that will start separating the skull from the mana flow keeping the structure intact.
I aim and throw it directly at the place with the densest earth mana. Dust start cascading down the tower as the spell finds the skull and initiates. I hear screams as Strata Island rumbles.
I run south-east, towards the columns of smoke on the horizon. Looking back shows me a sea of boats sailing away from the towering structure. I would never have guessed that a medieval world like this one would have proper evacuation measures in place, the amount of people leaving seems too much for uncontrolled chaos.
I grumble a bit. There goes my plan to sell what I remember from my OSHA training… Cultivators scoffed at the concept of providing safe working environments, but mortals were all too happy when they noticed I cared about them not dying horribly.
Disintegration Island is still abandoned. It has turned from a partially active volcano island to a completely active volcano island. Feeling flashes of hate and anxiety shows me a buildup of fire mana underground. How am I going to get to a skull inside a magma chamber?
Red hot lava flows in rivulets over black solidified stone towards the sea. I check for the position of the skull again, still running simulations on how to safely get to the thing, when I freeze. The core of the mana cloud is a tiny bit lower than before.
Fuck, the skull is melting its way through the earth’s crust! That’s where all the magma is coming from! It keeps heating up, and thus expanding and melting new rock. Sealing the cap would only cause the temperature and pressure to rise, with explosive consequences. I check again and the mana seems lower still.
I compare all three snapshots and come to the conclusion that the skull is sinking through the earth with a speed of around a centimetre per second. The skulls feel like heavy glass and glass is, simply said, a weird form of stone, so the sinking I understand. One question remains, where is the skull pulling the energy from?
Only one way to find out! These are the kind of questions that I wake up for in the morning. How am I going to travel through hundred meters of magma to steal the crystallised brain and skull of a powerful fire conjurer?
‘CHILL, SLOW DOWN YO, TAKE IT EASY, DON’T BE SALTY’
The sheets of ice I want form under my feet. I pull them into the air with a combination of rigid qi constructs and qi threads. I start creating a process to keep an airflow going, but decide to just hold my breath. Keep it simple, idiot.
I stack the freshly formed sheets of qi infused ice behind me and walk towards the smoking and sintering mountain range. The mana concentration is to the right, the previously inhabited buildings are to the left. I walk to the left anyway because that’s where I sensed the network of underground tunnels when I was here previously.
Halfway there I stop. What am I doing? Why am I faffing about with water and ice? I have a heartcore now, half of my power base is the epitome of dumb strength. Messing and manipulating with carefully balanced forces of nature was a necessity because I couldn’t do any large-scale work any other way. I grin widely as I feel something dropping away. I start to chuckle.
I shut down a large amount of the analytical and predictive processes, only leaving a crude brute force prediction algorithm going. I retract the qi from the ice behind me and breathe it back in. I think a couple of cooling thoughts and let my braincore qi flow along with my bloodstream. Then I start to laugh.
The sea explodes into superheated steam under my feet as I let my full power loose. The wind tears at my hair, face and clothes as it resists my sudden speed. I will it away, my new air affinity letting me glide through the atmosphere, which feels thicker than mud at this speed. The mountain comes closer at high speed, the only preparation I make is pulling back my fist.
I smash through the thick stone and watch half the mountain explode outwards.
“Fuck OOOFFFFF! YOU FUCKING LAVAAAA!”
Fusing large amounts of qi into my voice blasts back the glowing rock, the power of my voice alone tunnelling a temporary path through the molten stone. Stone is heavier than water, so even in liquid form, it is a great platform to kick off of.
A smaller part of the mountain explodes at the force of my double kick. I speed through the temporary tunnel, pulling the wind along in a cocoon around me. The predictive process chimes in, this course of action will deep fry me.
Okay, maybe I should think a little bit while diving into magma. I windmill my arms a single time, pulling air over and under me, cooling the magma tunnel with a galeforce.
My voice now an unintelligible scream, I reach what's left of the nexus. I see black enchanted stones sticking out of the magma walls around me. A red skull is on display on a partially melted pillar sticking from the magma. I reposition my body, pull my legs to my chest and prepare to kick off.
I spot crystal fragments, and something tells me to enter combat mode. I relent and swirl qi through my brain.
Analyse situation. Super dumb action, in hindsight. Also super fun action. Analyse other crystals. Shape is recognized as brain structure. Partially transformed old guys? Scan surrounding magma with augur. Result; no organic material. Temporary conclusion: failed crystal skulls. Degradation effect observed in brain crystal. Source of power found, deconstruction of crystal material releases elemental power.
Analyse body and planned action. Simulate. Perfect preparations are taken. Heartcore does by instinct what takes hours of subjective braincore planning. Maybe this action not dumb? Braincore similar in power and ability to instinct? Cost-benefit analysis: heartcore fun versus braincore precision. Conclude it is situational. Decide to sanction pure heartcore actions in non-serious situations.
Initialize skull and brain fragment retrieval program. Start generating threads of qi, aim at all crystal items in vicinity. Start process. Subjective time spend in full power battle mode: around two hours. Time elapsed in real world: half a second. Resume heartcore action. Analyse full scope of actions later.
The rock under my feet explodes as qi threads shoot towards the crystals around me. The shockwave caused by my double kick propels me back through the tunnel and I use the wind to guide my path back outside this glowing hell. The skull and several crystallized pieces of brain follow me, forming a glowing trail behind.
I put the stream of incredibly hot items in my ring as I land on the water surface. This entire action would take at least half an hour of subjective calculation and simulation with my braincore. Using my heartcore, I just do it without thinking too much.
I smile widely. Honestly, getting stuck on this planet while all my hard earned powers were stolen from me might not be so bad after all.
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