Chapter 123 - Anticipation
Selis is running across faintly rolling hills, her water-covered feet bouncing across the wavy grass. The Tower is slowly becoming smaller behind her as she races northwards. Her large and loping strides, combined with the swirling water and long streamers of mist surrounding her, make for an ethereal sight. The smug, conniving smile on her face breaks this image somewhat.
She looks this way because Selis has been thinking about the best way to take revenge. She grew up ignored in a large silent mansion. Maids, servants and slaves kept their distance from the seemingly retarded girl, unwilling to risk their masters’ or mistresses’ wrath by being too familiar with her.
Her cute face shapes into a vicious expression as she thinks of the best ways to mentally and physically torture her progenitors. The book containing many of her family’s secrets she sold for cheap was just the beginning, after all. She purposefully avoided learning, reading of asking about any information about her family so far, unwilling to spoil the sweet taste of revenge.
She knows that things could have been worse, of course. Many images of bruised maids, crying girls, bleeding servants and broken-eyed slaves pass before her mind’s eye. She, in contrast, was only neglected and ignored. Only something to be fed until it could be married off for political connections and financial gains. And the first sign of rebellion she showed ended with her in a dirty jail cell.
No, things could have been a lot better, she resolutely thinks. She hardens her resolve and speeds up, pushing at the moisture in the air to prevent the wind from blowing her eyes dry. She skims lower across the ground, leaving moist trails of flying earth in her wake with each long sliding stride of her legs.
She avoids the roads and small villages. Not because she wants to avoid meeting people - they are all evacuating to the cities anyway - but because she honestly just wants to avoid any of those bothersome social encounters.
Shit, she suddenly thinks. Teach might be having a greater effect on her than she is comfortable with. Are all braincore cultivators anti-social by default?
She scoots across a rock formation, only to find a small lake under her feet. The water churns as she projects qi in front of herself. The lake’s surface extrudes in a long line, catches her as she starts falling. The transparent digit of water catches her with the gentleness of a mother and propels her up into the air again. The long snake of water collapses into a fine mist as she retracts her qi, now soaring high above the ground with great speed.
Not long after, the walls and buildings of the Capital become visible to her perfect eyesight. Ever since she reached the condensing stage, she didn’t need the watery glasses anymore. Now, her vision is sharp enough to see the small shapes. She can barely make out clusters of roaming monsters outside the city walls.
Gravity robs the view she has of the city's bulwarks as she falls back down. She sends all the water trailing behind her downwards, forming it into a large bouncing cushion and bounces back up even higher. Now the arrows and small magicks used to fight off the hordes become visible to her eyes visible. The walls seem strong and undamaged so far. Her improved eyesight is not yet capable of that level of detail.
She runs on. All her thinking power now processing this new information. Thoughts of revenge vanish from her head. Checking her mental calendar, she grows a bit worried. It is the beast season, yes, but they shouldn't be at the Capital's walls yet. The last huntsmen, gatherers and other land folks should be arriving at the cities around this time.
Jumping once again, she scans the horizon with emphasis on efficiency, letting a mind-slave control her eyes. Upon landing, she is dizzy from two sources. The visual disorientation has combined with the trampled wrecks of carts and wagons she saw on the roads. To her left, towards the west, she even spotted a few groups of humans running for their lives.
Putting a shard of jade to her forehead, she only sees the small bits of information she put there and the Database communication glyph, which is inactive and dead, unable to form a connection to the moon in a different dimension. She orders her previous plans thrown out of the window and starts thinking about new avenues by which to approach this set of problems.
Lola is snoozing in molten lava. Still pretty exhausted from the fight with the fat boy, she left all her followers behind and went searching for a place to nap. The only reason she moved north was because she liked the warmth radiating from the volcanic mountain.
Having never come across a permanent source of warmth other than her daddy, the play-dragon, or her smaller mommies and daddies, she kept moving up the mountain to find new warm rocks to sleep on. Waking from the nerve pinch induced nap after the fight, she made her way higher up the mountain on wobbly legs. Legs so unsteady she tripped and fell over an edge.
Instead of burning like a marshmallow, she was enveloped by a wonderful warmth. A pleasantly soft and energy-rich warmth. So when she hears the voice of her daddy, she shakes the lava from her ears and goes sniffing her way up top. She catches a glimpse of that wonderful big guy who always pats her head until his face fades and becomes the moon.
Now angry, she is almost happy that monsters are falling from the sky. The horn forming on her head sprouts from her new red mohawk. It glows a molten red with an orange core, tendrils of superheated air refracting the light.
“Why are they not coming down? I’ve not seen any other mages other than us two down here.”
Sipping tea, Danarius combs his white beard with his other hand while looking at his conversation partner. Valerius’ previous dead and dull eyes now contain a sparkle of green lustre. The earth mage picks dirt from under his nails as he stares up at the moon, the small rectangle surrounded by a strip of green the focus of his attention.
“What rank were you?” asks the old light mage.
“You never got to the headaches?”
“I didn’t have enough raw power to reach that level.” Now looking down, Valerius plays around with a flat rock, its surface transforming into extremely detailed reliefs.
Danarius looks conflicted for a moment, a resolute set coming over his wrinkled face moments later. “The pains are the beginning of a process all mages of master level and above know as the crystal silence. The brain starts turning into mana crystal because of mana oversaturation. This tends to permanently set people in their ways.”
Valerius’ teacup has frozen halfway to his lips.
“Don’t go flapping your gums now, many mages and persons more powerful than you have been permanently silenced to keep this secret. I was very lucky to be told this fact during my headaches. This allowed me to throw away all my own opinions during the transition. It’s the single reason I seem so calm about all this.”
The gardener’s hands are now trembling slightly. He drags his hand across his face as he leans back in his low chair. Looking upwards, he stares at Tree towering above them.
“The old codgers Teach ‘rescued’ are hardwired for an environment of backstabbing and vicious politics. Of course, they can only handle this drastic change in environment by doing what they always did; not trusting anyone and manipulating everyone for power gains. Accepting something bizarre like ‘learn some stuff and you get to become immensely powerful’ is impossible for them.”
“I knew it was bad in the upper echelons of the Isles, but I didn't suspect it to be that bad. I’m kind of happy that I lacked the raw power to advance now.” The old light mage nods in response to his younger earth colleagues comments.
“Gardening with qi is better than anything, though. I’m pretty grateful for Teach taking me with him, his lax way of governing things notwithstanding.”
“He is not lax. He is unpredictable. His goals are skewed, only wanting growth. The factions have settled now, I think he is about to pull a fast one on u-”
As if provoked by Danarius’ complaining analysis, Teach’s bearded visage is suddenly projected on the moon’s surface.
“Sup guys! Things are pretty boring, after all. Growth was...”
The moment the thundering speech ends and mana mutants start falling from the sky, Danarius stands up and looks around. “Ares! Where are you, girl! Val, do your plants have combat potential?”
Dumbstruck from the sudden developments, Valerius looks at the old man with a blank look.
“Ah, forget it. Ares! Finally, time to stretch these old bones. You there, protect the healer! I’m a healer, so get protecting.” The previously feeble old man starts commanding the surrounding beastkin and humans with fervour as chaos breaks out everywhere.
A small group of young people are sitting on top of a small castle, covered by a shield that the eyes tend to slide off of. The fattest one, no longer grotesquely obese, is looking rather timid. His portly frame droops along with his shoulders as he slowly munches on random fruits and vegetables. “What good are those stupid followers if they can’t even help me beat Lola,” he laments in a whiney voice.
“How did you get them to follow you? I tried everything, but couldn't get any of those furry eared hunks interested in me. I sweet talked them, gave them stuff, even let them learn some good techniques.” Vox also looks depressed as he stares at the burly beastkin men in the clearing with longing.
“Beat them up. You don't really get beastkin, do you?” Angeta is looking like a content cat, lounging on a large bean bag chair made from some glossy plant. Her old rival, Ragni, is also sitting on one of those chairs, pouting as she ignores Angeta.
“Why would I want to beat them up? I am part beastkin, ya know.” Lifting his shirt, he shows his scaled belly while winking saucily.
“Punch them till they follow you, that’s how I got them to bring me food,” Bord replies without much enthusiasm.
“Yep, I wanted them to leave me alone, but half of those bastards like pain and the other half are too horny to mind a beating.” A sneer on her face, Angeta spits over the castles' crenelations. “Thanks for distracting them for me, Raggy, I got some good training in while they chased you.”
Ragni shivers as she continues to ignore Angeta. Vox looks really conflicted now. “Is this that ‘M’ and ‘S’ thing I heard Teach talking about once? I’m not sure if I am a giver or a taker...”
“Stop… I don’t get what you are talking about, but it gives me the shivers.” Bord takes a break from his moping long enough to reprimand Vox. “Help me think of ways to beat Lola. That smug rabbit is always getting fed by Teach.”
“You are all insane… Once again, Angy, I appreciate you rescuing me from a life of slavery, but I’m less and less sure if this is worth it.” Ragni curls up a little further as she remembers the zealous looks on the hordes rampaging after her. Only fast thinking, insidious tricks, and traps prevented her from being caught.
Vox is about to open his mouth, only to be cut off by Teach’s face appearing on the moon.
Things are going well. I am strolling across the river while the beasties jump at me. I tag each and everyone before handing them to Database. My qi clone then places a small brand in their mana centres, allowing me and Dee-Bee to paralyse them whenever I want. It also prevents them from sucking up what little qi there is left inside of Tree, limiting their cultivation. Database and Tree then pull them in and distribute them over the available land.
“Drew, have you really not noticed it yet?”
I want to retort, but stop when I see Rhea chewing on her lip in a draconian manner. Ket, Tess and Ferah are standing on the river shore behind me. Rhea is walking alongside me while looking at the beast hordes storming our way with concern in her eyes.
Her reply is curt. “Affinities. Count them.”
I do so. I stop moving. I think back. I think back to the moments after plopping down in a valley not too far from here, my cultivation stripped from me. Gods, I was so dumb back then. Okay, I’m pretty retarded even now, at times, sometime… One grand example is this situation here.
I have built my entire empire on shitty, faulty assumptions.
I put a large chunk of my processes in standby mode and automate the beast tagging. Standing there, on a river separating a vicious horde of mutated beasts leading ordinary animals towards sapient prey from their humanoid prey, I think. Mutated animals jump at me from the shore. I ignore them for now and retrace my path on this planet.
Five elements, I sensed. Water, fire, earth, metal and nature. I formed the first bit of qi I used to start my cultivation from these five elements. The lack of air, dark and light, ether and whatever other esoteric elements surely must have been present at that time never really came up. Alchemical elements such as sulphur, mercury, the void, or heaven element didn’t cross my mind.
Tree’s very foundation is made up of a combination of five mana types instead of eight. The dungeons put out mana and I’m pretty confident that this energy can be divided into eight parts. The mage islands are another piece of the proof, six islands in a hexagon plus two.
The beasties have the normal distribution of colours. The mana mutants are mainly blue, red, yellow, grey and green. I see only a few purple, white or black mutants.
Well shit, there goes my good mood. I was all pumped up about watching my students struggle and grow stronger.
“Is that really bad though? What's the worst that could happen, surely there are other mana phenomena that only contain a subset of mana types? The massive storm we created when I played guitar and you sang, that’s an example, right? Each mage island is a mana displacement phenomenon of a singular type. Nothing bad will happen, right? How would I even simulate the potential consequences of somet-”
My face hurts. My face is also wet. What happened? Opening my eyes, I see Rhea holding her hand while hissing. I touch my face. My hand comes back wet with tears and blood.
“Dungeon damn you, Drew. Stop running away from problems so hard you don't feel my slaps. Not until I break every single bone in my finger from trying to get your atenion. Seriously Drew, stop spacing out.”
I stare at Rhea. Her right hand is covered in scales and looks mushy. I touch it and flinch. Pouring out a quarter of my qi I start piecing her splintered fragments of bone together. I wince each time her face twitches in pain during the healing process.
“Rhea… I’m sorry... ”
I just don't really know what to say at this moment.
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