Chapter 120 - Assuage
“I should stop worrying about this planet as a whole,” I mutter this under my breath while looking at the spectacle. The annoying voice beside me confirms my suspicion that beastkin have sensitive ears.
“Why, mister beard?”
“Call me Teach, brat. Did forests do something to me in a previous life?”
“Whatcha talking about?”
“They keep getting destroyed. Just look at those tree crushing savages. This is barely my fault, indirectly at most.”
“Stopping those muties is worth it! All trees should go away if that stops the hordes.”
“The destruction of all trees will have a rather detrimental effect on this planet’s ecosystem. I don’t think humanoids will survive that. Massive soil erosion, depleting oxygen levels, extinction of nearly all tree dependant organi-”
“Still worth it!”
Well, Ferah has been on this planet a whole lot longer than I have, so let’s give her this point for now. I need to gather more data before I can crush her idealistic little views with pure facts and science. I set up a priority bounty mission for all information about mana mutants.
Immediately, updates flow through my link to Database. The students Ket taught are rapidly supplying lots of unverified data on the beast horde phenomenon. So those creepy cultists can be useful after all. I order Database to extrapolate and fill in the blanks through brute force number crunching.
The majority of my students are beastkin. A third are standard non-animals-parts human. There are very few standard humans, most of the slaves I rescued are either bred slaves from the mage isles or captured tribesmen from afar.
Somehow, my own qi clone felt the need to expound on this data a lot. It feels apologetic, almost. All of this to explain why there is very little information about the subject I requested, data on beast hordes in the Shi-eit Kingdom… There is information about the migration patterns of mutant aquatic beast schools and swarms in the ocean, an excellent summary about how certain beastkin tribes hunt the hordes for prestige and worshipping rituals practised by far-off savages.
And then there is but a bare summary of the human kingdom’s beast hordes itself. I dig a bit deeper and see that this information has been submitted by Danarius. The rest of the old mages are still refusing to cooperate and seem to be inciting a small rebellion on the moon. More shit I will have to deal with. I sigh deeply.
Shaking myself back to the present moment, I look forward. Another tree bites the dust as Rhea kicks a blue otter through its trunk. The massive chunk of wood is then pierced by a small storm of iron shrapnel. Grey fog shines brightly between Ket and his new floating club. More trees die as the iron-studded trunk is sent flying at high speed by the boy. It smears a couple of blue flecked chickens into a paste before smashing another three trees into splinters.
“You want to go join them?” I slice Ferah’s binding open with a sharp thread of qi.
I don't even need to shout at my qi now, ever since I stepped into the foundation realm I need but think of an image to change my qi’s intent. The image of a monomolecular edge is enough to transform the thread of power into a perfect cutting weapon.
“What cultivation system are you using, anyway? I don't sense a core in you.”
Ferah’s eye starts to sparkle as she answers the question animatedly. “I wanted a heartcore, but Bord is stupid, and I don’t wanna be stupid. Ket is also very stupid, and I don't want to wear a black robe like all those creepy guys. Tess has one in her stomach, but everyone who did that had to sit on the toilet for hours.”
“Are you going anywhere with this?”
She nods her head up and down like a chicken. “I asked Dee-Bee if there were more ways to do that cultivator thing. I tried a few, and they were just fancy and difficult gut- or heartcores. But there was this thing called meridens. So I made my maridinans my core!”
“It’s meridians. And they don’t exist.”
“Nu-uh! They totally do! I asked Dee-Bee to measure me, and he told me that my caltiveter method was like… one in ten more efficient than the core I tried.”
I stare at the little girl. Make your meridians a core? What the fuck… “Can I check?”
“Do you mind if I check what you've been doing?”
I put my hand on her head, in between her twitching ears. What animal is she anyway? Shrugging off that question, for now, I send my augur through her body. I weave it in a grid through her flesh and bone, giving me a three-dimensional CAT-scan of her entire being.
A web of qi enriched glowing lines flows through her entire body, following her nervous system. Her spine lights up brighter than the rest. I sense qi flowing from her spine through nerve bundles. Where the nerves end, the bands of qi flow back in reverse. It’s a really complicated web of loops, branching into finer streams of qi before merging on the way back to her spine. The lines follow whatever physical organ is in its path and I see that the lymph nodes contain a large number of branching points. The kidneys are a focal point of the returning streams, and I sense non-essential compounds and impurities being deposited there.
Absolutely speechless, I stand there for five minutes, scanning the system she made in ever higher detail. Her increased squirming snaps me from my baffled daze. I pull my hand back from her head as I dump the entire scan of her system into Database’s storage. Only when all the data is offloaded and my augur is retracted do I notice the extremely uncomfortable expression on her face.
“Ah, was that uncomfortable? Sorry about that, what you have done is very interesting.”
She squirms a bit while looking around. “Nah, it only tickled a bit. I agree with the tree thing now. They shouldn’t destroy them all.”
Looking up, I see that Ket, Tess and Rhea have devastated a lot of forests. Previously, we were standing a couple of dozen meters from the edge of the forest. Now I oversee nearly a kilometre of finely splintered wood before the forest resumes.
“I will teach them to respect nature a bit. More work...”
“I don't care about that, I need to pee and there are no trees left nearby.”
Only now, I notice that she is shifting about uncomfortable while squeezing her legs together. I sigh deeply.
Selis stares at the dark, swirling fog in front of her. She pokes a finger through the opaque mist, retracting it immediately. Staring at her finger, she realizes how the Tower dungeon got access to a large sample of Teach’s qi. Only the structural qi she manually deposited inside her flesh and bones remains in the digit, the rest is absorbed by the spatial manipulation.
Pouting to herself, she turns around and starts sprinting back up the stairs. She runs back up through every dungeon floor she conquered so far.
The seventy floors take her half an hour to run through, a fraction of the time she spends in coming that far down. The small crystal core inside her head is gradually surrounded by liquid qi as the many mana crystals surrounding her head in a watery crown continue to shrink.
Back on the first floor, she stops. Putting the leftover crystals into her ring, she wraps the water around her body, hidden under her clothes. She crouches down and starts hugging the walls, becoming just another sneak avoiding attention.
People seem to avoid her instinctually as she glides through the crowd surrounding the Tower. She slinks off towards the slums while covered in a faint blue glow. Water flows under her feet as she glides through the streets.
Much like Tess, she also has trouble finding Ket’s old hut. Two times, she glides past it, only seeing it after infusing qi into her eyes to pierce through the stealth field. She shivers a bit as she walks into the damp, dank, and smelly hovel, making sure to keep away from the walls and turning to the side when walking through the gaping doorways. She nearly stumbles over the two doors laying on the floor.
Her expression brightens as she sees the white crack in space. Poking a finger through, she musters her courage. She jumps through, catching her balance as she is suddenly standing on the moon. She blinks as she orients herself, gasping slightly as she turns around. “Ooh, that arch is beautiful! Who made that?”
“Design submitted by mister Archibald.”
Selis freezes the moment she hears the flat voice. “Don’t scare me like that, Dee-Bee! Who is Archi- Actually, I don’t care. How much points for these?” Selis rubs her ring and drops a large pile of mana crystals on the ground.
“Mana crystals price inflated due to dropping qi levels. Scanning… A total of four thousand and fifteen points. Accept?”
“Accept! Give me one of those metal weapons Teach has been messing around with and give me a portal stone. I’m heading to the Capital next.”
“Prototype mass produced gun, a thousand points. Portal stone, free. Transaction complete.”
A circle of moonstone twists as it separates from the rest of the moon’s surface and disappears underground, taking the small pile of colourful crystals with it. It emerges only seconds later, carrying a brutal looking gun, several rectangular metal objects and an intricately carved rock.
Selis lifts the large weapon with two fingers and enthusiastically starts looking inside the barrel. She wiggles the slide and trigger a bit while keeping the thing pointed at her face. “Uuhm, how does this thing work? I want to intimidate some people without giving away that I’m capable of magic.”
The mass of condensed qi inside the moon’s core makes a connection with the girl, relaying the information requested. Selis is a bit shocked at the speed and urgency with which Database relays the information, thankful for the added thinking capacity the crystal centre of her braincore provides.
Going over the information, she pales as she realizes where she is pointing the large calibre pistol. She checks the safety and drops the magazine, paling further at the fact that her brains were nearly splattered all over the pristine white surface of the moon. She janks the slide backwards and catches the flying bullet. She pales a third time.
“Dee-Bee, add a safety protocol please, don't hand out stuff like this without giving the necessary information first. Also, don't hand these out while they are fucking loaded. Maybe even restrict it with a test? I nearly killed myself, ya know… It won’t kill a heartcore at core forming, I think, but we braincores are pretty squishy...”
Still trembling a bit, she slides in a magazine and puts the weapon in her ring. She studies the intricate stone for a bit before putting that away too. The rest of the magazines and the single bullet joins the rest.
She then schools her expression into a mask, wiping away the last traces of fright.
“Student Selis, requesting completion of priority mission.”
About to step back through the portal, she halts. “What’s going on?”
Selis receives another packet of information through the mental link with Database. Moments later, she is grinning like mad as she strides across the moon’s surface.
A bulky man, soft and furry ears adorning the sides of his head, groans as he wakes up. He lies there for a moment, in the blissful ignorance that comes after sleep. Then everything crashes back into focus.
The village overrun. His good axe still at the blacksmith. The human on horseback knocking him out. The long imprisonment in the moving cart, still dazed by the severe head wound. Receiving only the barest care and sustenance needed to survive. The auction. The single Tower delve he went on.
Then there was a vaguely familiar silhouette as he lay there, fevered from the severe injuries he received from the dungeon. He thought he saw that spoiled brat, that delicate big city girl that was his chief’s daughter. But surely that can’t be.
Expecting his sides, legs and right arm to still hurt from the injuries he received, he cracks open a single eye. The wide open sky looks very strange. Why are those stars as bright as the sun? Is that a round piece of jungle? The man thinks it looks a lot like a set of genitalia, the two large mountain and central massive… Tree? Licking his lips, he realises that his mouth is not dry and cracked.
“Welcome brother, you must help us fight against the tyrant, the evil being and false prophet, Teach! His very name a mockery of the word.”
Sitting up, the lack of injuries barely phase the man as his brain is too busy with taking in the sights. A colourful array of beings, ranging from young beastkin to old humans, is standing around on green soft grass. A white wall and white buildings around him, he takes in the spectacle.
“He forces his wicked tales on us, refusing us anything before we give in. Stay away from the green pieces of foul wickedness! If you find a green stone, do not let the lies in your mind! Keep it away from your brain. Refuse the evil thoughts in your head! Cast away the yoke of proof and return to the truth of the all-giving dungeon!”
The man stands up from his bed of vines. Looking down, he sees long lengths of green rope, cut by a sharp knife. Fresh sap glistens on the cut ends. Narrowing his eyes, he examines the discarded greenery. A small green stone is hidden between the vines, so he grabs it and holds it in his fist. Looking around, he sees more beastkin in various states of waking up, laying in a random pattern on the short grass.
Glancing at the speaker, he sees an old human, wrinkled skin proof of a long life. His straight back is indicative of little physical labour and soft, fragile hands further proof of a soft life. No visible scars, an arrogant cast and look in his eyes that screams his own superiority.
The man nearly spits as he recognises the old human for what he is, a mage. The stone still hidden in his fist, he rubs his forehead and surreptitiously lets it make contacts with his forehead. Then the man understands.
A woodcutter for years now, he had a down-to-earth outlook on life. When a mana mutant could tear your throat out any moment, when life and death were but the swing of an axe away, religion and higher morals are less than useful — some people he knew used to cling to the stuff to get through the day.
The man recognises the few glimpses he gets from the information in the stone as truth. Angeta did indeed save him. She kidnapped him from his kidnappers, taking him to a hidden space where he could leave anytime. As long as he becomes strong enough to do so. The large man starts thinking of ways to show his thanks to that spoiled little girl.
“Refuse the chaos and stay loyal to the giver of all! Even the Flight is corrupted by these heretical heathens, as we saw not long ago! A majestic white dragon, the guardian of Shi-eit, disrespected by a small white being. Refuse this blasphemy and keep faith in-”
“-the giv… AAAAAAAAH!”
The old man’s hand, pointing in the air with zealous fervour only seconds ago, is now raining down as a red mist.
“Yo! My name is Selis, nice to meet you all! This old fart here was about to be killed so he could keep one of the mage isles safe.” A blue-haired girl, floating in the air as her brilliant locks surround her head like a halo, has a smoking piece of metal in her hands. She approaches the old human and loudly sniffs.
“You smell of anger. You are one of the nature mages Teach picked up from that plant island. Stop inciting the people here. The dungeons are big machines, not things to worship. Everyone, just prove to Database that you can learn. It will let you enter Tree, where you can start cultivating. Or you can leave if you promise not to talk about this place. Dee-Bee, is that it?”
“Mention points.” The flat voice freezes everyone. Even the old human stops moaning for a second.
“Ah, you can earn points by learning stuff, figuring out new stuff, supplying information and producing stuff! That’s it. Please, don’t believe me, just go and try it for yourself. These stones only contain information. Nobody is forcing you to believe it. Oh-kay, I’m out of here, bye bye!”
And the girl is gone, disappearing in a blue flash. The big beastkin woodcutter is very unsure about what he should think about this entire ordeal. Looking at the old human with a smile, he decides to first enjoy watching the man bleed out. Human mages were responsible for breaching his villages defences, after all.
“Nearly forgot! There is no mana here, almost let you die.” The blue-haired girl is back, surrounded by streams of glistening water. A single orb of water separates and surrounds the old man's bleeding stump. Thin tendrils of blood spread through the water as the girl bends low over the fallen senior. “Done! Stop forming cults. We have enough of those dumb things already. You can regrow that hand with qi and a bit of effort. Bye-bye for real now!”
And she is gone again. The old man is looking at his stump, which stopped bleeding and is covered with a thin layer of skin. The woodcutter looks up again, at the tree-covered lands moving across the sky. His hands itch for his lost axe, his thoughts are the clearest after a good day of work, and he needs a clear head right now.
Walking away from the dumbstruck mass of people, he holds the green gem clutched tightly in his fist.
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