Chapter 112 - Underway
Two people appear on the deck of a sleek ship as oars splash rhythmically in a slow pattern. One is a slender man clad in a dark shirt, pants, soft leather shoes, and a floppy dark grey cap. The other is an even more slender female clad in dark purple robes held closed with a white sash, white hair spilling out from under a fedora.
The female moves a hand to her head, only to be stopped by the man. “Nope. I'm not allowing you to risk your soul. Here...” He fiddles a bit with her headwear. “Connect to the central controlling point. You will receive the scanned data.”
The woman is now scowling fiercely at the man. “You will not allow me? Since when do I not have-”
He dramatically shuts her up by putting a finger to her mouth. “Shut up and scan for wildlife.”
Her furious expression melts when she closes her eyes. “There is nothing here.”
“And now listen to your hats output with a millionth fraction of your mind.”
The woman pales and stumbles a bit. “I said a millionth. Not a thousandth, you stupid dragon.“
He sits her down, seating himself opposite of her swaying figure. “Re-Haan. Please listen to me for a bit. My personal goal is freedom. I hate restrictions and limitations. I even went so far as to rebuild my cultivation base around the lack of commitment.”
He waits until she looks him in the eyes. “So please believe me, when I restrict someone, I do it for a very good reason. Anyway, listening to it shocked your soul, right?”
Rubbing her forehead, the woman replies. “It’s like a hoard of data in my head? Concentrated in the middle of my brain.”
“Hoard? How do you visualise it?”
“It’s a large pile of treasure, twinkling and bringing data through.”
The man rubs his face. “Pile of treasure? It's not a signal transmitting cable?”
“How does the information flow?”
“The gems twinkle and the treasure sparkles gloriously.”
The man now has his fingers in his hair. “And here I'm figuring out the connection protocols and deciphering the data stream. It’s just sparkling treasure, she says. No worries about baud rate or encryption. Does my subconscious hate me or something?”
“Why does it need to be that complicated? It’s the connection to your own soul, force it what you want it to be!” The woman is smiling savagely as she closes her eyes. “Don’t like libraries that much… Slave workers are too slow. Let’s leave it a treasure pile, that works just fine.”
“You are telling me just changed the way you visualise your soul connection a bunch of times without problems? Don’t you know how dangerous that is?”
“Stop making it difficult for yourself.”
“Alright then, how can you train it? How do you make it grow stronger?”
The woman is silent at this. She pales a couple of times but is quick to recover each time. “Add more treasure!” Eyes bright, her grin is back.
“Add more fucking treasure… How can I do that? It’s a Cat 6 cable, I can't just change the protocol! Adding additional wires is not po-”
She flicks his forehead with a finger. “Stop making things so difficult for yourself. Let me help.”
She then puts her forehead to the area she just assaulted. They sit still for half an hour until the woman suddenly pulls back. “No wonder… Your soul is stronger than your cultivation base.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I tried making a spatial storage ring a while back. You did it with contemptuous ease, I tried for an entire day and failed. I talked with your students, and they confirmed it. You have an immense amount of mental power. Your cultivation base is lacking. You don't have enough qi at your command to change the form of your soul.”
“I am too weak, and I’m too strong?”
“What happened when you exposed yourself to the soul wave?”
“It changed a couple of bits here and there, ruining several packets.”
“My entire treasure hoard got scattered, I nearly lost my connection entirely.”
The man’s eye widen in shock. “You nearly demonised?”
“Instinct takes over when the soul is absent. Mortal would just die, sufficient qi allows a soulless body to continue operating without someone in the driver's seat.”
“I think I understand what you mean with drivers seat. I nearly became a mindless savage?”
“Cultivators are sensitive to this kind of stuff. A higher soul affinity comes with a higher vulnerability. This continent is freaking me out.”
The woman chews her lip for a good minute before saying anything. “Thanks for the hat.”
The man puts his arm around her shoulders as they look towards the horizon. “No problem.”
“Bord, you’re not coming along?”
“No, go away. Bring me more food!”
Tess looks at the humanoid blob with disgust in her eyes. She takes a single step towards the library but halts in her tracks. The chanting of scientific terms has been growing ever louder over the past hours. Formulas and glyphs are now floating upwards through the library’s ceiling. Tess takes a deep breath and walks towards the dark entrance anyway.
“KET! Let’s go do a mission, I want a hat!”
The chanting stops, the glowing sigils darken and the ominous air vanishes as the seated figures all stare at the entrance.
”Hey, Tess!” Ket smiles refreshingly as he stands up, dropping the hooded cloak. “I was just teaching these guys a bit. Thanks, everyone!“ He waves and strolls out, grabbing Tess’s arm as he walks out. The dozens of people, beastkin and a few humans, start to murmur amongst themselves.
“Thank you so much, I was just teaching them , and it got out of hand so, so incredibly fast.” A haunted look on his face, Ket whispers to his saviour. “What are we doing? I need some fresh air.”
Tess holds a hand to her mouth, stopping herself from laughing. “No problem. Let’s take the main scouting mission. It’s quest number one.”
“Please take me with you! I tried beating them up, but they only seem to like it. I can’t even get angry at them anymore!” A very frazzled Angeta is begging the duo. “I tried doing that quest so many times, but nobody wanted to come along with me, and it’s a group quest. Please, let’s get out of here!”
“So beastkin really do think power equals attractiveness.” Smirking, Ket looks at the small stampede of humans with animal features trampling in their direction. “There’s even women among them!”
“Let’s just go already!” Angeta pushes the two towards the middle of the clearing. They put a hand to its bark and look up. A beam of light shoots down from the moon, bathing the trio in a white glow. They are gone the next moment.
“Wow, this is really high. Good thing I don't have vertigo.” Tess mumbles to herself as she looks down the massive tower Far below her, a damaged city is slowly being rebuilt.
“What was the mission description again?”
“Didn't you read it Angy?” asks Ket.
“I did, but I had other things on my mind back then.” Shivering, Angeta tries to make herself angry.
“First, scout Tower city. Report on the state of the dungeon. Second, find a place where an access portal can be placed. I’ve got the portal stone for that one. Third, scout the mana clearing where we got our mounts. Fourth, scout any beast hordes approaching the city.”
“That’s great, but how do we get down? And how do we get back?” Tess looks at the spinning formation, protected by a forcefield. The trio was transferred across thousands of kilometres by Database, using the Tower formation as an anchor point.
“Did none of you read the quest? No, don't bother trying now. We are too far away to connect to DeeBee.” Ket looks at the duo in irritation.
A flash of light blinds the trio for a second, followed by a cheery voice. “Hey guys! What are y'all up to?”
“Hey Sel. Did you read the quest?” Ket takes a small stone from his ring as he distractedly greets the blue-haired newcomer.
“Looking around, right? Who cares, let’s go have fun! Wow, this is high up. Are those small things below us clouds? Wooow.”
“Don't make too much of a mess, alright? This city has suffered enough.” Ket grabs Selis by the back of her neck, pulling her away from the edge. “Also keep an eye out for any qi poisoning. I will put the return portal here.” A small map of the city appears in front of him, marking a dark alley in the slums.
“The slums, that’s your old shack, right? Got it.” Tess then pulls a large black cat out of thin air. It flops lifelessly to the ground. She kicks it a bit, frowning. “Stand up you useless kitty. You were without air for at most half an hour. Not enough to kill you. Stop playing dead.”
The feathered cat yowls, slashing at its tormentor. Tess fades into shadow and reappears on its back, clutching two tufts of fur and feather. Her heels dig into it flanks as she steers it towards the Tower’s edge. “I will check on the mana beast clearing and scout for beast hordes. Cya!”
Tess then breathes a sheen of darkness over herself and the cat. They fade from sight as they both jump down towards the city.
“Wait, Tess, how did you put your mount in your ring? Tess!” Ket shouts after her, the howling wind his only reply. Drooping his shoulders, he looks at the other two disciples.
“I’m gonna tortu… request recipes from my favourite restaurants so Teach can cook them for me!” With a wave, Selis jumps down as ice crystals start forming around her.
“I’m going to rescue a slave, teach her and let her defeat me. Then she’ll be the strongest and those hormonal dickbags will leave me alone. Recruiting new willing members with a clean aura gives points. Search for new seeds to give to Tree for more points.” Angeta glances at Ket. “Scouting the state of the city also gives points.” With that, she attaches a vine to a protruding shard of Tower and jumps down.
Ket’s face shows a variety of emotions as he stands there by himself. Finally, his features settle into a wry smile. He looks at the glowing dot of concentrated qi in the middle of the formation. He draws a complex pattern in the air, made from grey qi. Pushing it towards the forcefield, his hand sinks through the barrier.
“Mission number five, extract the built-up qi from the Tower formation.” Now grinning to himself, he sits down as a trickle of qi separates from the glowing ball and starts flowing into him. “This should get me to core forming. Qi is getting rare inside Tree, after all.”
A metal plate falls from the sky at ungodly speed. It stops millimetres above the cobblestone, only to touch down gently. It settles and starts exerting pressure on the ground, small cracks forming in the stone under the plate.
Ket lands softly on top of the piece of metal. He picks it up and puts it away. His skin has a metallic sheen as all the people walk around him. He smiles as he looks around at the clueless masses walking by.
He strolls through the crowd, power excuding from his pores. People walk around him, clearing a circle a few meters wide. “Gotta keep my power under control, hmm.” He stops for a moment. The empty circle around him narrows down to a mere meter as the waves of power emanating from him dims.
Taking a deep breath, Ket starts to walk towards the noble district, rubbing his hands.
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