Chapter 104 - Step

Chapter 104 - Step

I frown a bit as I spot the last member of my qi-powered entourage. Lola is making herself way too comfortable. She's smack dab in the middle of the artificial construct circling Tree. She is chilling on top of the massive hunk of jade that is the core of this construct.

Creating this entire thing took a lot of effort and time. Being the lazy braincore cultivator that I am, I didn't do any of it by myself, of course. I designed the thing but left the actual building of it to my qi clone. The same qi clone that's now floating in the middle of the moon’s core.

Jade comes in two main forms, nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite is also called ‘mutton fat’ jade, a creamy opaque off-white. Nephrite is a cultivator’s beginners jade, comparable to rough sheets and paper and crayons. Jadeite is the good stuff, made up from a complex combination of sodium, aluminium, silicon and oxygen.

All of these materials are available in large quantities in seawater and the seabed. My qi clone has been filtering truly humongous amounts of the stuff to create this semi-supercomputer-database. My Tree necklace is still floating under the ship, an automated process pulling in water and silt. This muddy water flows out under Tree in an underground cave, through a qi powered automated processing line, dumping the filtered stuff back out into the sea before it can be contaminated by qi.

All of this is being processed and operated by my qi clone. Some people might say that locking up large quantities of qi into a constructed copy of my physical body might be seen as odd or inefficient. Those people don’t realise what a life-saving treasure it is. I could be dead, dying and qi starved. Merging with my qi clone would replenish my reserves and allow me to heal my body in full.

And now I'm using it as a glorified industrial process operator and database manager.

And Lola is using this complex construction as a bed. I feel her consciousness flickering through the stored info and analysed data. I wonder what she is learning or searching for?

Anyway, I came here for a reason. I get back to my purpose, eager to get it going. I gather all the recordings I just made, the full-HD, full detail holographic reports of cultivation progress from my students and Rhea. I summarise the info and copy it into the computer. I then register a few new processes in my qi clone’s brain, letting it pore over every detail of the info I just dumped.

People are never truly consciously honest to themselves, the very impossibility of a thinking machine fully analysing its own workings while it is in progress is muddling the waters with subjectivity. Each self-reflective thought causes changes that then need to be analysed by the changed thinking unit. It’s like trying to win a race with someone that is by definition a single step ahead.

Someone else can be objective, however. Asking someone to summarise what they have been doing is a great way to get a feel for what they think is important.

Long story short, a hyper-detailed analysis of the answers I just received will allow me to show them the best options for their growth. Each twitch and glance, down to the milliseconds they held eye contact, can tell me a lot. I might not show it, but I do take this teaching stuff seriously. I give the occasional lecture, but more can be achieved by a single sentence at the right time than days of monologuing to a half listening audience.

The first few action points start flowing into my to-do list. Give Ket a hint about non-grid simulation solutions in a few days. Selis and Angeta should do some research about mana mutation, DNA and the effect forming ice crystals have on both. I should do bondage play with Rh...

I cough a bit and file that tidbit of analysed information away in a deep recess in my mind. Very useful indeed.

Lola should stop interfering with the data processing. I sense some irritation from my qi clone directed at the dumb animal. Ares needs more information about the electromagnetic spectrum, and I should tell Bord about the concept of polygonal rendering, forming the complex from the simple. My qi clone is using a part of the jade core to offload these processing tasks, causing lights to flash through the massive crystal that's hidden underground.

Putting my hand to the stony surface of the moon, I twist and pull up. A plug of stone reveals a deep tunnel with lights flickering far down. I reach out with my hand and mind and pull Lola upwards.

She dangles from qi threads while glaring at me. “What were you doing, you shitty rabbit?”

She huffs at me and turns her head away. I frown at the petulant rodent. “I know that the qi around the core is easily absorbed, but stop interfering with the data and processes in that thing. They are important.”

She peers at me from the corner of her eye, looking away guiltily when she sees me looking at her accusatory. I ruffle her head a bit. “Come, you'll want to see this.” I take her with me and jump back down to the main piece of land.

Soaring between the white satellite and the round disk of forest, I take stock of the developments that this dimension has gone through. Clouds are scattered in a wide circular band around the primary landmass. The ocean has grown, becoming deeper and getting a bottom of dense silt. My mind starts to hurt when I try to figure out the complex gravitational forces at play here, so I stop thinking about it. The way Tree seems to be employing complex forces in order to keep everything together is mind-boggling.

I’m sorry science, but I have to pick and choose my battles. I’m willing to do practical research on fundamental levels. Qi has little effect on the building blocks of the universe. When large amounts of qi influences large objects or ecosystems, that’s when pure science starts to become so infinitely complicated that belief begins to become more useful.

Tree has been gardening its heart out, making sure that the ecosystem does not get dominated by a single type of mutated plant or animal. Even now, I see golden threads of qi move slowly through the flowing hills, planting seeds and influencing the environment in all kinds of ways.

Bending the air into a telescope, I peer at the hot and cold mountain. I really should name all of this sometime soon. Those thoughts drift away as I see what Tree has been doing. Ideal growing spots for all kinds of rare herbs and plants have cropped up all over the place, thanks to the increase in temperature difference. I start salivating as I think about my patented ice and lava chilli.

If only I had some more Phoenix steak…

Shaking away my distractions, I land back in the clearing. Vox and Bord are sparring while Ares and Ket are still staring at the piece of jade. “How goes it?”

Ket looks up from a daze. He smiles widely. “Great! Ares and I have been processing the data Tess and Selis have been gathering. Even Angeta’s rage-filled experiments have helped us confirm and eliminate some hypotheses.”

Ares also looks up. “This is seriously awesome! We made more scientific progress in three weeks then there was in the past hundred years!” It’s always nice to see someone bloom when they do something they truly enjoy. Gone is the snivelling coward of a few weeks ago, drowned in a sea of nerdy-ness.

“Remember to take breaks though, focusing on one thing for days on end will cause you to lose perspective. In fact, let’s all go outside. You all don’t want to miss this, I think.”

I jump outside, laughing to myself as my students appear under the boat. I might have forgotten to tell them that the necklace was underwater again. Four bedraggled and dripping figures clamber over the railing, shooting daggers at me with their eyes.

Selis, Tess and Angeta also come up on deck. The blue haired girl waves a hand, gathering the water that was covering the bedraggled group. Angeta looks angry. Her latest experiment must have failed again. I drop Lola, who hops over to Rhea’s shoulder. I see the dragoness’ mouth twitch, but she stays silent.

Clever girl, the first sentence out of her mouth would have included the words ‘bum’, ‘doo-doo’, ‘love’ and ‘eating’.

“I told all of you I wanted to start a school, right?”

I see petulant nods here and there. “Rule number one of helping others is that you need to be in a position where you can help others. I didn’t feel like guiding a lot of people without the strength and ability to make those words true. So...”

There are eight people and a rabbit here. I look them in the eyes one by one. “I hereby request you all to be my dharma protectors.”

Ket is about to raise his hand, so I preemptively answer the question. “‘Dharma’ roughly translates to ‘the thing that makes life possible’. It is what separates sapient life from raging lunatics or instinctual beasts. It is the right way, path and lifestyle. Please watch over me as I make mine a bit more real.”

I make a slight bow, clasping my hands in the traditional way of greeting. Everyone looks sufficiently uncomfortable now. I grin widely and start pulling an array of items from my ring. Colourful skulls, loose mana crystals, shards of energetic materials, orbs of concentrated qi and small wooden figurines of Tree. “Aight, I’m off. Try to get on my level, losers!”

I jump up and pull all the stuff behind me. I peer inside my ring's secret compartment and pluck the beastcores from the pile one by one, adding them to the swirling mass of items following me. I command the wind to become like stone under my feet as I arrange all the junk into a pattern. The skulls start spinning in eccentric orbits, using me as their gravitational centre. The mana crystal wires connect in an ever moving web. The sphere of qi I place to the Lagrange points of the complex orbital pattern. The wooden figures I intersperse and suspend at significant junctures. The beastcores are sprinkled here and there, facilitating flow patterns.

Then I make a rotating circle of mana crystal, similar to the one still hanging above Tree. In fact, I make it exactly similar. Tree was born from my qi, so the ghost of my fingerprints still cover every fibre of that being. I form a circle under my feet, a copy of the one gathering qi on top of the Tower Dungeon. I add another circle, this one a copy of the mana gathering array I made with my own blood. I force all three circles to be the same. I feel the qi seeping through the bonded circles as it starts to whirl around me, syphoning the Tower circle as if I were next to the dungeon.

I have been moving slowly upwards, gaining altitude. The complex mess of stuff now surrounding me has started to influence the mana in the air for a couple of kilometres around, regardless of my instructions. Adding my will to the entire mess causes the range of influence to skyrocket to tens of kilometres, then hundreds, then thousands.

Then I pull.

I open my mouth and set the machine in motion. Gathered qi starts to fight with the gathering mana, forcing it together. The freshly formed qi is then split, half going back into the process, the other half entering my mouth. I guide it towards both my cores, causing the little space inside my cores not occupied by solid qi to swirl with liquid power.

I gather the elements, forcing discrete energies into a neutral whole. I gather the power gathered by Tree. I gather the qi generated by the Tower Dungeon. I swallow it all.

The skulls are the focal points of the mana gathering system. The mana crystals extend their range. Tree helps me turn the qi into mine. Tower gives me reserves to tap from. I take it all.


I ignore the pain as both my cores collapse for the third time. Third crunch is achieved. I breathe out all the liquid qi in my body. I squeeze. The liquid starts to collapse into a solid, but I refuse to let it settle. I refuse to let it become stagnant crystal. The liquid turns into a slurry as I will it to compress.

All my mind is now available to me. Instead of ascending, I use all of it to control the process. The liquid is fighting back, fighting with me to either crystallise or expand back to its less dense fluidity it was before. I grin and inhale. A bucket’s worth of liquid, holding more energy than an atomic bomb, rushes inside my body.

I divide the stuff, sending it to both my cores again. Time loses its meaning as the super state of liquid qi affects my mind. It fights me on levels other than physical power, wanting to take an intent. I refuse. I even refuse to let it take a refusing intent. Pure neutral. Then let that neutrality fall away, achieving true emptiness.

Emptiness is the ultimate canvas, after all. No better starting point. No state has more potential. I even let the emptiness fall away.

Emptiness without emptiness is true emptiness or some such nonsense.

My previous cultivation base was built upon knowledge. I turned my fully formed solid core into a single letter upon entering the foundation realm. That was the way I took the first step on my Dao back then. Doubling my power gave me another letter. After a while, I got a word. An ever-changing word that contained all that I knew, learned, studied and understood.

Then I achieved a sentence. A paragraph came after that. Then a page, a chapter, a book. Utilising my cultivation was as simple and complex as telling a story. Expanding my power was as simple and complex as writing a paper. My ‘shouting at qi’ technique is a very simple application of this concept.

Then the book became two books. Then a row, a shelf, an entire library. I made an entire planet filled with libraries, an entire solar system filled with metaphorical knowledge. Every high-level cultivation technique works this way. An ever-expanding cycle of reinforcement and growth.

The cultivation world deemed it necessary to add several layers of made up mysticism into the mix, restricting possibilities even further. Complex structures of stories, legends and legacies, cultivators pieced together Frankensteinian cultivation bases made from bits and pieces gathered here and there.

Instead of a continuous curve, the process was then further interrupted and muddled by several stages such as spirit severing, nascent soul creating, dao seeking and more esoteric terms. And when they got stuck on a certain level, instead of looking within and finding the cause, they cut away parts of themselves. The cultivation process then could continue at the cost of becoming a lesser person.

So what is the opposite of this process? I gave this a lot of thought over the past three weeks. Why would I put borders around myself? It is useful to have a pre-defined structures in place, channels through which to guide your own power. I have come to the conclusion that I do not want that. I want to remain as free and untethered as I was on the day of my birth.

A child is a blank slate, filled with endless potential. This then gets hemmed in by the place of birth, the manner in which the child is raised, the language, culture and way of life imparted. Each lesson is both a tool and a chain.

This might be an unhealthy way of looking at life. And it might not be suited for everyone. Some people need solid structures to build their life upon. I did that two times already, both on earth and in the cultivation world. Now it’s time for something different.

“What's he doing?” Bord is the first to speak after what feels like hours of silence. The entire lightshow had everyone looking up with awe on their faces until now. Teach is hovering far above, surrounded by a whirlwind of glowing items and lights, surrounded by a whirlwind that is slowly shrouding his figure.

“Building a foundation. Spank my butt and call me Nan.. Got it! HAHAHA, YOU SHITHEAD! I GOT IT!”

All gazes land on Re-Haan for a moment. She looks mortified for a split second, and looks away while fidgeting, even going so far as to tap her foot nervously under the collective judging gazes. She coughs lightly. “Ignore that, it’s just an inside joke between me and Drew.”

Doubtful gazes tear away from the dragoness and focus back upwards. Ket speaks up next. “Does he need to inform the entire world about this, though?”

“He's sucking up mana!” Ares’s face twitches as she displays an entire spectrum of emotions in short succession.

“Don’t worry. He won’t take more than a few percents.”

“Re, a few percents of what?” Asks Tess.

“A few percents of the planet’s mana. His two cores need a lot of qi.”

“““TWO CORES?””” Ares, Ket and Selis now stare at the dragoness with wide eyes.

Re-Haan looks away shiftily. “Oh, he never told you? I will shut up now. Don’t ask me any more questions.”

“This explains his strength!” Selis exclaimed in realisation. “He must have a heart- and a braincore!”

Ket nods in agreement. “No way he is that strong with just a braincore. He might want to hurry up though. Something is coming this way.” He then walks over to the steering wheel and pushes a button. The sight of Teach gets blurred by the stealth field shimmering into place around the ship.

“How long is this *munch munch* going to take?” Bord does not even stop chewing while posing this question.

They collectively shrug their shoulders. Vox takes out a piece of jade and frowns. “Can’t access the server for some reason.”

Ares puts a head-sized piece of jade against her forehead. “Ket, we didn’t copy that bit. Or I can't find it.”

“I’ll be mutating grass again. Don’t bother me.” Angeta stomps away from the sight with an angry look on her face.

The rest keep staring upwards for quite a while. The black dots on the horizon slowly grow into bigger shapes until they turn out to be dragons. An entire flock of winged lizards. Re-Haan looks at them briefly, a weird look on her face.

Then the entire world is white for a single instance, and the shining spectacle above their heads is gone. It takes the group a while before they come back to their senses.

“What just happened?”

“Uhm, I think it had something to do with Teach?”

“Oooh, dragons!”

“Wow, that’s a lot of dragons.”

“Why are they here?”

“Good thing the stealth field is on!”

The group discusses a bit more, unable to come to a conclusion. They all seem oddly uncertain about what they all were doing just a while ago. They mill around for a bit until someone pulls out some food. They then all decide that eating is a good idea. Minutes later, the entire group is happily eating away at a food-laden table.

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