Chapter 121 - Rationale
“You all done?” I ask the tired trio as they walk back to their mounts. I'm standing next to the animals, a large wall of earth behind me.
“Why are you just standing here? And what smells so bad? What’s that clattering sound? What’s that wall for?”
Rhea looks angry for some reason. “Honey, what’s with all the questions? Ah, lot’s of new things have been happening. Ferah has devised an until now unknown method of cultivation. And it has a new method of cleansing the body. One of the better ones, I must say.”
Tess moves to the edge of the wall, but I put a hand up. “I wouldn't do tha-”
Ferah’s yell is a high pitched scream of terror and shame, while Tess yells in pure disgust. The black haired girl stumbles backwards, clutching her nose. “Shit on a dungeon, that smell! Gods and cores above!”
She stumbles towards me and starts shouting towards my necklace. “Dee-Bee, new information. Whatever method Ferah is cultivating causes her to piss out the impurities. It smells worse than my own… cleansing.”
“That netted you only five points. Good try, though.” I smirk at her. I have long since made a process that blocks all the nerve impulses coming from my own olfactory system.
She looks a bit green as she stumbles towards her feline mount. Ferah walks from behind the wall, not a minute later, not daring to look anyone in the eye. She shuffles over to Tess, who looks at the girl with a complicated expression. Her feline mount sniffs the air, yowls and vanishes in a black flash.
Lip trembling, Ferah stands there, hand outstretched.
“Why don’t you go tame a beast for yourself? There are a lot of normal animals following the mutants.”
A small spark of lustre starts to shine in her eyes as she looks at me. She nods and darts away. I focus my senses on her running form and can half feel, half see the glowing lines flowing through her body. Her efficient usage of energy is at war with my conviction that meridians don’t exist. No scientific evidence has been found for the things, after all, but Ferah’s qi usage is slightly more efficient than a heartcore user. They only vaguely follow the nervous system and sometimes flow along her lymph nodes.
Rhea jumps on my mount, sitting her butt behind me on my blue bear. Ket follows on his reflective horse, and Tess appears out of the shadow of a felled tree.
I half turn and look at the grumpy dragoness behind me. “Why the angry face?”
“She’s angry because we earned more points than she did.” Tess smiles widely as she joins the conversation. Rhea’s eyelid twitches, but she remains silent. Deciding not to irritate her further, I steer my mount towards the mountains, over the large stretches of the pulped trees.
We follow Ferah for a while as she runs into the remaining underbrush. My scanning process tells me that the wave of water mutants are all gone; the fighting attracted the beasties from miles away. We are still separated from the river by a few dozen kilometres of forest, so I steer my mount between the worst piles of wood debris.
My blue bear has been cultivating like mad since I stepped into the foundation realm, which has caused him to end up pretty high in the power rankings. I’m pretty happy with him so far. He has been using his growing power to smooth out his jarring gait.
Normally, bears aren’t great mounts. Never mind the risk of being eaten or providing it food, a running bear’s back is a pretty wild ride. Unless that bear uses its own water affinity to keep his back steady, of course. My big fluffy mount uses globules of water as suspending stilts and shock dampeners. I scratch him between his non-existent ears to show my affection, and he shakes his head while growling menacingly in return. My mount is a tsundere, so cute.
Also, I notice that Ket has been staring at me ever since we started moving again. “Ket, what’s up? Stop staring at me. I’m taken you know...” Draping a possessive arm around Rhea, I glare at the boy. Rhea slaps my arm away. She is still miffed, I see.
“Tree. What is it?”
“Tree is a tree, what are you on about?”
“Tree is a sub-dimension, that I comprehend. So how can you take the object inside of itself? You were on the other continent only hours ago, but now you travelled through Tree to Tower city? Any simulation I start on the subject grinds to a halt in impossibilities and faulty assumptions. Tree is inside that necklace, yet you took the necklace inside Tree.”
A rather large cliff blocks our path. I spot Ferah slipping over the edge and steer my mount towards it. The large bear slows down, crouches low and launches himself halfway up the rocky obstacle. “You think that the entire dimension in which Tree hangs is inside this necklace?”
“That’s what I assumed. Even the portal inside Tower City flows through Tree. The portal on the moon, Tower city and Tree all feel like the same object somehow.”
“That is a very correct and a very wrong way of looking at it. Did you try making a spatial ring yet?”
“Yes. Nothing worked.”
“Keep trying. I’m not going to explain how I made Tree, that will influence your understanding of dimensions too much. I can tell you that Tree is its own entity by now. At the start, moments after I made Tree, it indeed was inside the necklace in its entirety. By now, this small remnant of its corporeal form is but a link to an entirely different wavelength of existence.” I stroke the small tree embedded in the black circle, feeling the nanoscopic relief of its leaves, branches and bark.
“Yeah, I used Tree’s physical form as a starting flame. A fire has to start somewhere, but is the first spark still there hours later? Can you take out a piece of fire and claim that it’s the starter flame? No, it becomes its own entity after a bit. Tree started like that, a miniscule bulge in space protruding from an actual tree compressed beyond this universes breaking point.”
“Yes, my dear Ket?”
“That’s not science...”
“Cart before the horse.”
“What are you talking about now?”
“Science is a great starting point, but the presence of a persuasive energy field that’s susceptible to influence by any form of sentience throws a humongous wrench into that set of works. Belief is a horrible thing, but only when it’s arrayed against you.”
“Drew, what’s your end goal? Why not hoard all the qi to yourself until you re-ascend?” Rhea’s voice from behind me breaks me from the conversation I have with Ket. Looking around, I see Tess listening attentively. Even Ferah is nearby, ears pricked up in my direction.
“Huh. Let me ask you guys first: what would you do if you were the most powerful being on this planet?”
I look at Rhea. Her eyes go glassy and I feel a rather sizable amount of qi suddenly thundering through her mind. The radiation coming from her head tells me that her perception of time is slowed down by at least of thousandfold. A second later her eyes regain clarity, and she looks at me.
“Sleep. At first, I would do a lot of stuff, settle some scores and explore. That would become boring after a few millennia, I think. Then I would sleep until I was powerful enough to leave this planet.”
I nod at that expected answer and look at Ket. ”I would make a large hare… Do a lot of good for the world. Life expectancy?”
“Biological immortal,” I reply.
“Catalog the world. Then optimise it, experiment with ruling systems until an ideal equilibrium forms. Advance this planet’s technology to improve comfort levels for me. And maybe the other occupants too.”
I also nod a this. Logical, as expected. I glance at Tess. She is silent for a long time. Only Ferah looks weirdly at this until I do the fake whispering thing at her. “Braincores can think a long time very fast.”
“Tess is a-”
“Sssh...” I shush her, and we spend the next ten minutes traversing the forest, walking around rock formations and crossing small rivers. Ferah begins to look tired after an hour of non-stop running, but before I take action, Ket motions to her. She jumps up behind him and starts petting the shiny horse, her other hand clutching Ket’s shirt.
“See everything there is to see. Literally everything. No vault or hidden place will be safe from my sneaking skills. I would even haunt the mages and spy on the Flight. Then I’d look up some comrades in arms and share the secret of immortality with them. Wander the world some more. Maybe right some wrongs and try to make the world a better place.” Tess’s voice is nearly a song as she breaks the companionable silence. The same silence resumes for a bit after.
“And you, Fe-”
“FOOD!” The previously serene silence now has a weird undertone. “And I’d look for gran. Let her be immoral too.”
“It’s immortal. So, to recap: You all would do the things you want, right?” I get agreeing sounds and nods as I ask my question. “Now, what would you guys do if you were the most powerful entity in the entire galaxy?”
“Why does that matter?” Asks Tess.
“You are strong enough to live for aeons and can visit all the solar systems in the local nebula, which contains a few billion stars, which each contain around five planets per star. What do you do?”
“The same, but more?” Ket poses this half answer, half question.
“I don't know, but I can't wait to find out. Long story short: I messed up by letting qi free in the atmosphere. Every single action after Tree, recruiting you guys and seducing you...” I point at the others and Rhea in short order. “...is because I wanted to do that at the moment. And also to save myself a lot of trouble further on.”
Rhea is tensing up in preparation for a question I can already predict, so I cut her off preemptively. “Sitting on the planet while gathering energy all by myself is not my definition of fun. Reaching a level of power high enough to ascend will take me a long time. All sapient life will have died from qi poisoning by the time I’m a tenth of the way done if I don’t act. I’m putting in the effort now so I won’t have to spend immense amounts of effort later.”
I try to sense Re-Haan’s mood through her aura, but as usual, I get a confusing mess of nonsense. I can feel the core of her being, but none of the surface thoughts flows through. I turn my head and see her smiling wryly at me. I smile at her.
“Why are you guys fake vomiting?”
The mood ruined by two irritating teenagers and a single oblivious child, I gaze forward again as Rhea nestles a bit closer to my back. The forest is thinning, and I can hear the river clearly now. I catch an occasional glimpse of the mountains through the canopy. I can see the hordes of animals from this far. There are a lot.
“Teach, I have a proposition.”
“What is it, Ket?”
“None of the useless qi-hogging new students in Tree have needed to fight yet. I hated that you forced us to fight in the Tower, but that’s where I learned a lot about efficient qi usage. Those normal animals are as powerful as the first ten floors. The underlings are up to floor forty and the muties themselves are level sixty, I guess. And those cultist bums need mounts, maybe? Can Database keep track of them and pull them out of potentially lethal situations?”
“Are they that irritating?”
Ferah nods furiously, Tess chimes in with a firm “Yes” and Ket replies with “Definitely.”
We reach the end of the forest while talking and are now stepping out of the last trees. The mountains I glimpsed through the leaves earlier are now clearly visible, stretching kilometres up into the air. I am far from impressed by the size of these ant hills, the large amounts of animals gathered on the opposite river bank is a bit more impressive.
I send out a wave of qi interspersed with thin threads of augur to scan the horde. I get an accurate count from my qi wave and measure mana levels with the augur wires. Requesting a recent update on the state of my students from Database, I start a few simulations. The amount of detail and resolution I can now cram into my simulations is rather impressive, which results in a much higher accuracy.
A second later, I get preliminary results. I start smiling. This is going to be interesting.
“He is doing ‘that’ smile again. Poor students...” Ket shakes his head morosely.
“Look, I get goosebumps all over when he smiles like that.” Tess shows a bumpy forearm.
“Why is my tail acting like it’s scared? Why do I feel cold when Teach smiles like that?” Ferah holds her tail while eyeing me suspiciously.
My grin spreads my face further. Oh, the fun we will have.
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