Chapter 122 - Osseous
The revelation that the old man preaching against Teach was a mage changed a lot. The previous mob mentality is now gone, leaving small groups of humans and beastkin huddled around the place. Some of the students still on the moon suspected the old people of being mages but dared not speak out. Every single old person is now being avoided like the plague. Slaves don’t grow that old, so everyone over the age of fifty must be from one of the mage isles.
The large beastkin has spent the last few days in solitude, climbing on top of the large housing complex to meditate in silence. He has found no one familiar in the angry crowds, and he never was one to socialise just for the heck of it. From high up, the rounding of the moon is clearly visible, the curvature exaggerated from his elevated position.
It had taken him an embarrassingly long time to realise that this entire place is very bizarre. The ‘planet’ he finds himself on is very small. Even primitive beastkin that live in small villages in the wilderness like him know that the planet is round, but the white globe he is on currently is far too small. So he has been talking with this odd being called Dee-Bee in order to get a hang of his surroundings.
“Database, where does the air come from?”
“All matter inside this dimension is kidna- acquired by Teach himself.”
Ignoring that slip-up, the burly lumberjack continues asking questions. “And the plants do enough of this photosintes thing that there is enough okie-jen to breathe for all of us?”
“Entity Tree forces optimal air composition. Please pronounce ‘photosynthesis’ and ‘oxygen’ correctly. Please communicate through jade slip to preserve power usage for non-essential enquiries.”
Database’s flat voice goes silent after that. The large fellow speaks some more questions, but none of them are answered. In the end, he gives in and presses the green stone against his forehead. He scans through the supplied information and sighs deeply as he arrives at the only subjects he has not received a passing mark for yet; math, numbers and abstract logic.
Hours later, the moon has rotated so the suns are no longer shining down brightly, simulating night. The lumberjack has tired bloodshot eyes and large black bags adorn his face. “Food please,” he croaks with a rough voice.
Besides the living complex he is sitting on, a circle of the moon's surface drops. A stone plate and cup fly out of the hole, only to land precisely beside the tired man. He drinks the water and eats the bland food with mechanical motions and tosses the plate and cup towards the ground where they shatter and sink into the white stone.
“Thanks, Dee-Bee. I’m done with the math part, can I get Tree access now?”
“Knowledge level acceptable. Please jump.”
“Please jump? What?” Not receiving an answer, the man puts his piece of jade in his pocket and crouches low. His calf muscles tense in preparation and he touches his hand to the building's roof. Looking upwards, he jumps as high as he can go. The lower gravity of the small moon allows him to soar many meters into the air. Before his momentum can halt a golden glow propels him further forward.
Windmilling his arms and legs like a madman his trajectory is changed to the centre of Tree’s lands. He screams for a bit but is soon silenced by the awe-inspiring sight that is the broad stretch of land surrounding Tree. A large ring of clouds surrounds the land, small fluffy fragments breaking off and dissolving into rain above the forested grasslands.
Then the ground comes at him very quickly, and Tree rushes by him. The golden glow surrounding him intensifies a bit, and he smacks face first onto the soft grass. Spitting out a few green blades, he stands up and pats himself down.
“Welcome, welcome. Please follow the core forming instructions quickly. I don’t want to be responsible for hauling and throwing a big guy like you back towards the moon while you puke on me.”
Bewildered, the man looks at the robe-clad figure that started talking to him.
“Database, give me my points now. I told the new guy all that is necessary, right?” Turning back to the big guy, the smaller figure sighs deeply and continues monologuing. “You could leave, but there is only a portal connecting to Tower City available, and that's on the moon. All qi must be returned before choosing that option. You are breathing in qi right now, please form your core. Please don't become sick, I don't want to take care of you. Grab the feeling in your lungs and stuff it in your heart, okay? You don’t look like the braincore type and a gutcore gives you horrible, horrible shits.” The smaller person pauses for a second. “Great, I got my points! Now please fuck off.”
Shadows still hiding the smaller person’s face, the big guy wipes the last few blades of grass from his dirty shirt and smiles. “My name is Rodrick. Do not call me Rod, call me Drick if you must. Those houses look awful, whose are those?” His large hand points at the varied collection of shacks standing in the clearing.
“Those are from Teach’s first few disciples, don't mess wi… Why am I answering you? Go away! Go bother the food freaks, bunny lovers or dragon slaves. And form a core.”
The small figure walks towards the edge of the clearing and sits on a tree stump. Rodrick takes another deep breath. The air down here is amazing. He can smell so much. His nose was always rather sensitive, something he got from his father’s side, but this is something else. Moist dirt, a myriad of plants, traces of unknown herbs, even a hint of frosty air and molten heat lingers in his nose with every breath.
Then his stomach starts feeling sickly. His lungs burn and the world begins tilting slowly. “Uugh, so this is qi poisoning? That was fast.” He flexes his fingers as he stumbles to the side. He nearly falls on the grass as he stands, going over the possibilities that he had to learn. Gut-, heart- and braincore. None of them really connected to him, so he already decided to go with the middle road, diarrhoea notwithstanding.
Stumbling through the clearing, he dodges the other occupants as he moves towards the forests. His every breath suffuses more qi into his system, and his sight goes weird as his brain is saturated by the energy for the first time. Dizzy, hallucinating and very confused, Rodrick clings to the first tree he finds, rubbing his face against the rough bark.
“Oh trees, how I missed you. I will fell you and allow your second life to come soon, do not worry.” Giggling like a schoolgirl, he slides to the ground. The robed braincore cultivator gives him one last look, half amusement and half disgust, before focussing back on their own cultivation.
“Tree, so strong, so tough. Like bones of nature, like the core of my life.” His wandering mind tries to tug on the invading energies as his mouth flaps whatever comes to mind. The first strands of power have rushed through his bronchi, through the alveoli into his bloodstream, pumped through his heart and into the rest of his body.
“Pillar of my life, the skeleton of the world, lovely giver of shade while I reap your life.” The single time he listened to that wandering philosopher comes to mind as he continues rambling. The conscious part of his brain tries to grab the slippery energy inside his body and force it down to his gut area. The hours studying abstract numbers and theories sapped a lot of mental strength, maybe too much, he suspects.
“Obscurer of the sun, giver of climbing fun, obstacle while I run.” The deranged, delirious part of him has enough of his conscious fumbling and has a better idea. Rodrick has an odd ‘out of mind’ experience as he feels himself control the invading energy and shove it into his sternum.
Instead of the forced fumbling he was doing just now, the wild part of him simply invited the energy to sit inside his breastbone. From there on, each new intake of air causes more qi to soak his bones. Glowing faintly, his sternum is suddenly full. The qi meets with resistance as it proceeds through the cartilage parts of his ribs, only to flow freely once inside the bones surrounding his lungs and heart.
It jumps through connective tissue into his collarbone and arm bones. His spine is next, followed by skull, pelvis and leg bones.
So Rodrick lies there, face smashed up against a tree, half hugging the fraction of forest as his bones shine a bright white-red, visible through his skin. His skin and flesh turn a shade darker as impurities are pushed out of his skeleton. Two strands of qi creep near and hover close, one golden and one white, like curious observers.
The robed braincore is woken from its meditations by the energy fluctuations nearby. Looking up, the robe falls from the persons face, displaying a light green woman with short black hair and black lines on her face. Mouth dropping open in absolute stupefaction, she brushes the hair from her face as she runs over to the large beastkin she just instructed.
“What are you doing! Why are your bones glowing?! What is even happening!!” She tries to study the odd phenomenon but is kept at bay by two clouds of qi, one golden and one white. She immediately goes pale, her light green skin getting an ashen hue. “By-the-dungeon, I'm-so-sorry. Forgive me, Tree and Database. I meant no disrespect!”
Now face first on the ground in a kneeling position in obeisance towards the power controlled by the two most famous entities in this dimension, she peeks through the gaps of her fingers to keep tabs on the glowing bones. Bright red light with a white centre, his entire rib cage is now glowing. She stares in muted fascination as the glow covers each bone in his body, the light the brightest where bones are close to the skin.
The glow fades after a few minutes, and a deep satisfied sigh comes from the beastkin’s lips. The soft snoring followed after that seems to be the sign indicating the excitement is over, causing both Tree and the moon to retract their probing strands of qi. The female stands up and walks over to the big sleeping guy. Looking down on him, she sighs and starts pulling on his leg.
“Come on. I’ve got a shack in the woods, you can sleep there. No funny business though, I only want to wring new data from you. Silence implies consent, right? Let’s go.” Her pale green skin grows a more natural pink tint as she sends power through her limbs.
“I’m a braincore, why am I doing manual labour?” She manages another deep sigh in between her shortening breaths as she drags the large unconscious shape behind her. Despite her complaints, she makes good time. Rodrick’s body is looking a bit worse for wear, as she refused to avoid any pitfalls or large rocks in their way. All in the name of optimal efficiency, of course.
A really shitty hut comes into view a few minutes of hard hauling later, crooked logs stacked haphazardous form a basic hut surrounded by an even worse picket fence. She drops the big guy on a patch of grass in front of her door, kneels down beside him and puts a hand on his chest.
“A bonecore, maybe? All the power he breathes in moves towards his sternum. Very strange. Dee-Bee, requesting possible rewards for switching to new and untested cultivation method performed by Rodrick, based on bones.”
“Five thousand points for achieving condensing stage in all three core locations. At least a thousand points for supplying a detailed description of original cultivation method.”
She wipes away the drool that somehow spilt from her voracious and wicked smile. “Personal qi barrier, please. I’m changing cultivation method on the quick.”
“Fifty points deducted.”
Now smiling like a shark smelling blood, the small green-skinned female sits down and starts breathing out, a faint fog coming from her mouth. A white ring forms above her head, attracting the expelled qi. The big guy continues to snore by her side as she starts mumbling about bones, marrow and circulation patterns to herself.
Rodrick wakes with a start. Panic grips his heart as memories flood back, but his surroundings soothe him before the fear gets to him. Surrounded by trees, he knows that things can't be that bad. Looking around, the panic is replaced by furious anger as he sees an abomination of butchered logs and abused wood. The panting green-skinned female that just dropped from his chest adds a tinge of confusion and worry to his emotional turmoil.
Stretching his arms in a slow windmill, his body does not feel all that different. He feels a lot sturdier somehow, not stronger. The tip of his tongue poking out of his mouth in concentration, he moves his limbs while ignoring the writhing mess of a female lying beside him. A lot of stretching and moving later, he is still none the wiser.
Now diverting his attention to the small form wriggling on the forest floor next to him, he starts studying her. A white ring is suspended above her head with a blob of undulating mist in the middle. Her laboured breaths and flushed cheeks make her look like a holy figure having a perverted dream.
“Dee-Bee, what is she doing?”
“Attempting bone cultivation method.”
“Bone what now? Isn’t she a braincore?” Studying the trembling woman further, things slowly start to make sense. The ring above her head is containing qi that smells the same as the woman, so that should be the personal qi containment thing that Database can do. The chaotic energies inside her body mean that her cultivation base is gone, which is causing the structural qi to seep from her bones and flesh.
Rodrick has a pretty good grasp on what happened to himself by now. It’s like his bones are visible to him all the time, their outlines and position clearly defined inside his mind. The weird movement of qi around her voluptuous chest means that she is trying to achieve the same thing.
He isn’t sure what to feel about that. He fully expected to be shitting his guts out around this time, not have a sixth sense about his skeleton while waking up in the forest with a barely conscious human girl — a green-skinned human that is now trying to steal his cultivation method. She is also going about the process in entirely the wrong way.
Ignoring the sweaty,damp robes that are now clinging to her chest, he puts a finger on her sternum. Then he starts to pull while imaging a steady, unbending void inside her bones. The rampaging qi rushes into her sternum with haste. The resulting glow is visible through her robes.
Rodrick sits next to her, sensing his own body as she goes through the same process he just went through.
“Haha! Dee-Bee, submitting info about bone cultivation! I'm going to be rich! HAHAHA!”
Woken from his introspection, Drick is fast to prevent the little thief from stealing his work. “Database, I’m claiming ownership of that info based on that I made it up.”
The green skinned woman looks devastated as her point balance goes back to a very low number. “Come on, I gave up my top level qi condensing braincore for this. You can’t do this to me!”
“You did nothing but bitch at me, spy on me, you didn’t even tell me your name, then you dragged me off to the forest and stole my self-made cultivation method. And then there is that abomination.” Pure disgust on his face, he points at the nearly collapsing hut. “Those trees deserve respect. You just felled them and stacked them without any care. Respect your environment, young lady.”
“That is what you are most upset about? What’s wrong with your head? And I need points! I’ve got a lot of important stuff to do.”
Fully ignoring the ranting woman, Rodrick looks upwards. “Database, requesting the best axe available for all my points.”
“Titanium alloy, nanofiber reinforced polyamide axe is available for printing.”
“Yes, yes, yes, yessss.”
“Six thousand points deducted. New balance is five points.”
The woman starts crying softly, big tears dripping down her face as she sees the brute of a beastkin spend six fucking thousand points on something stupid like an axe.
Rodrick feels like he just entered heaven. He had been eyeing this item ever since he scanned Database’s store for axes, never thinking he would be able to get it so soon. Not a minute later, the axe drops from the sky, into his waiting arms. Tears also start streaming down his face as he feels the near indestructible but flexible shaft, topped by a sleek and deadly looking axe head. He swings it around, the soft feel of the ergonomic grip and perfect balance nearly causing him to have an accident in his pants.
“Why… Why would you waste those points? Do you know how much knowledge or cultivation resources you could have bought for…”
The moon starts shining brightly, interrupting her lamenting. Rodrick wakes from his trance with a dopey grin. A face he has only seen through mental images is projected on the moon.
“Sup guys! Things are pretty boring, after all. Growth was pretty good in the beginning, but now that everyone has settled, everything is stagnating. It’s just too peaceful, you know. So I’m dumping a shitload of mana mutants on your asses. Database has standing orders to extract you dimwits before you truly die. The moon will be safe, so go and cower there if you’re a pussy. You all should fight hard and learn harder! So long, suck… Yes Rhea, I will tell them… Okay, stop poking me. This is pretty difficult, you know. And shit, is that Lola? Why is she punk? Gods, a mohawk... Where did I go wrong? Anyway, what I meant was, Database will extract you before you truly die. You can still live without arms and legs or a face. Genitals are also not needed to be alive. Nor are most of your organs, qi can replace that functionality pretty easily. You get what I mean, right? Fight hard!”
The woman is now grabbing Rodrick’s pants. She looks up at him with big, watery eyes. “We boners have to stay together, right? That axe is pretty useful. You're actually very smart.” She blinks her eyes at him a bit as a small stream of snot dribbles out of her nose.
Rodrick shifts his groin into a more comfortable position. “Trees or mana mutants, chopping is chopping.” Gripping his axe tightly, he grins as the first mutated beasties start dropping through the forest canopy.
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