Chapter 125 - Cessation
“Dee-Bee, some more snacks,” says a grey-furred beastkin.
“Non-essential food costs points.” The flat voice replies.
“Agreed, deduct it from everyone who eats it.”
“Hey, no way am I paying for your snacks!” A rougher voice joins the conversation.
“Oh, shut up, you stupid heartcore. Wanna fight?”
“Not on the moon. Let's drop down and have it out in the jungle, eh?”
“You’d get crushed by the beasts under two point three seconds.”
“Hey, you two! Stop fighting and enjoy the show!” This new voice causes the two bickering people to shut up.
The large crowd of people sitting on the soft grass goes silent once again. They all have their necks craned upwards, aiming their eyeballs towards the Tree and two mountains overhead. Every time a piece of forest or grassland is lit up by a flash of light, another beast appears out of nowhere. Most are normal animals, equivalent to a trained soldier with good gear.
The large crowd of fresh-faced cultivators on the moon could fight off one or two of these before being defeated. The mutants that pop into existence here and there are of a higher power level, similar to a veteran of many battles or a full mage.
“Look at Angeta go, I knew she had spunk, but this is something else!”
“Bord has a higher kill count.”
“That man with the axe is doing pretty good as well...”
“The woman clinging to his pants is useless though.”
“I’m rooting for the fort of dragon lovers. They are organised and shit.”
A white streak shoots towards the moon’s surface, only to slow down a few meters above the white ground. The golden and white light dims, showing a weeping woman. Her terrified expression transforms into stupefaction as she sees the crowd beneath her.
“Haha, the expressions of newcomers are the best!”
“Don’t fight on the moon. You can't replenish your power here.”
“Come and enjoy the show!”
“Eat this if you have wounds!”
The woman nearly falls as the light holding her up winks out. She looks around for a bit before sitting down in an open spot. A thin man hands her a bowl of crackers. She blinks at him a before taking the bowl. She immediately puts the bowl down as she holds a hand to her wounded shoulder. The same guy hands her a white pill, motioning for her to eat it. She swallows it, and her wound closes within seconds. “You are from Bord’s faction, why are you nice to me?”
“Factions don't mean shit on the moon. I don't know what had gotten into me. I’m sorry for trying to kidnap you.” He replies a bit sheepishly. “Do you have any abilities that can sharpen eyesight? I can’t make out what’s going on.”
She nods and produces a small ball of glowing power between her hands. She throws it into his face. He jerks back while blinking furiously.
“Oh, wow… woooow… That’s awesome. Database, transfer one point to her.”
“No need, it wasn't a lo-”
“Qi is scarce on the moon. It disappears as soon as you let it go, so giving something in return for a scarce resource only makes sense.”
She frowns while looking at Tree once again. Spitting on a green stone, she puts it to her forehead. Not a minute later, a young boy taps her on the shoulder. “Can I get better eyes, please?”
“One point, please.”
He nods. She waits a bit for Database’s confirmation. The point is added rather quickly, so she hands the boy a small sphere of qi. He shoves it in his face and starts staring at Tree with big, fascinated eyes. Mumbling a soft “Thanks,” he wanders off.
More and more people approach her to request her services.
“Ares, you see any more?” Vox shouts towards his sister, who is still clinging to Tree’s trunk like a wimpy koala.
“Uuhm, no? Not nearby, anyway. The forest is still crawling with them.”
“Where did all the braincores go, they are great at this commanding stuff.” Vox is rubbing his temples while looking at the absolute mess around him.
“But… I’m a braincore? Hello?” Ares’ soft shout can barely be heard over the forest noises. She's promptly ignored by all.
“Who is still left? Only us? I saw those two mages - the old one and the gardener - get fucked to the moon. Where did that guy with an axe go, he was… hmmm… scrumptious.”
Bord looks at his fellow heartcore cultivator with weird eyes. “What's scrumpties mean?”
Vox just licks his lips.
Rodrick fought hard, but that large centipede thing was just too much. He managed to get a couple of hits in with his trusty axe, but he had no counter to the fact that he was crushed by the beast’s large body. The useless woman was still cowering behind him, so they both went up, in a cocoon of golden and white power.
Now floating between the moon and Tree, he looks over his axe. The shiny metal has a few faint scratches here and there, but its near pristine appearance belies the force with which it has been swung around already.
“What’s your name?”
“Huuhuu- What? I’m calle-” Her reply is cut off as they are swarmed by a horde of braincores, clamouring and shouting questions about his cultivation method.
A fine web of white trails disappears as Selis lands. The soldiers on top of the thick walls fall silent. The mages stop their casting as the hordes of monsters all fall to the ground. Each animal has a small hole in their head, the edges freezing over quickly as the ice projectile bleeds the heat from the perforated flesh and bone.
Dusting off her hands, Selis freezes. “Shit, I didn’t want to reveal my power, right?” Flustered, she quickly forms a white mask from condensed ice and throws it onto her face. She strides across the battlefield as the still horde freezes over slowly.
The rows of soldiers are still frozen on the spot, staring at the small figure that’s wandering through the corpse-laden fields. She suddenly jumps, soaring over the wall. Every single pair of eyes looking at her somehow lose her mid-flight, the freezing mana mutants below the wall the only proof she was ever there.
Wandering through the city, Selis has a lot of mixed emotions running through her mind. Instead of the sections that divide Tower City, the Capital is partitioned into rings. The closer to the massive, circular palace in the centre, the richer the buildings. She knows the inner circles reasonably well, having been dragged to various official happenings and parties by her parents. The poorer sections are both familiar and hauntingly unknown to her.
Many stories of the lowly working man, the savage manservant or unwashed knave echo through her mind as she strolls through grimy streets and alleys. Her face switches between unbridled disgust and sadness as she steps over or around dirt covered bums and heaps of stinking rags. Suppressing her shivers, she speeds up.
Not long after, she stands in front of a gated mansion halfway into the noble’s circle. Closing her eyes, she sends a wave of qi forwards, covering the entire complex. Opening her eyes, she jumps and lands near a hunched over gardener tending to some bushes.
“Where are they?”
The man nearly has a heart attack. Spinning around, he drops his shears. “Miss! You are alright! Master and mistress were so worried about your disappearance.”
“Shut it, the only thing they were worried about was missing out on some opportunity to marry me off...”
“Ah, the time apart has done you good, miss.” The old man relaxes a bit, unseen tension flowing out of his shoulders. “They had to sell the house after some setbacks with their businesses. Someone leaked a lot of sensitive data. No-one knows who...” Keeping his eyes on Selis like a hawk, the old guy smiles.
“Peak? The family still has a house there, right?”
“No, they had to sell that one too, I’ve heard. Now they are… guests.”
“The Isles were very interested in an unknown blue-haired magic user. As the only family whose blue-haired daughter could not be presented to the Mage Council, they were invited to stay in the Royal Palace.”
Selis is smiling now. “Thanks. You doing okay here?”
“Don’t you worry about me, miss.”
“If things ever get bad... No, if they get worse, take this and go inside the hollow tree.” Selis hands the old guy a small fragment of green stone and walks off. The old man looks at the rock in his hand for but a second, but Selis is gone when he looks up again.
Sprinting through the garden, she runs towards a small group of trees behind the large house. Hidden in shadows and far from prying eyes, she reaches the largest tree. Brushing long grass to the side, she slips inside the hollow trunk. Infusing qi into the portal stone she pulls from her ring, she drops it and starts pulling. The small and innocently carves rock splits slowly, a white line of cut space appearing between both halves.
On the moon inside Tree, a second stone arch has already been constructed. Slowly, a second white line crawls it’s way upwards as Selis works had to carve the connection into existence.
Covered in sweat, Selis pokes her head through the portal after a long time of physical exertion. Satisfied that her head is looking out across white, curving stone, she retreats after receiving a tidy sum of points from Database.
Leaving the newly installed portal behind, she swiftly leaves the mansion. Now running across rooftops, she looks forward, to the large castle dominating the centre of the city. One side of the massive building has towers peppering it, like candles on a birthday cake.
Soaring through the air, she covers herself with a thin layer of qi, encouraging people to not pay attention to her. Swiftly she approaches the part of the castle the mages are rumoured to occupy. The gap between the large mansions and the actual castle is bridged with a large leap, wings of ice coasting her across the wide gap.
Clinging to one of the towers jutting from the structure, she pushes qi through the gaps between glass and stone. She hangs there for a few minutes, unmoving as she searches the massive, nearly empty complex. Suddenly, she lets go of the ridge she was clinging to, plummeting towards the ground below. A few dozen meters above the cobblestones, she arrests her momentum by flapping her wings of frost.
Landing on a protruding balcony as snow swirls around her, she examines the locked door. A small transparent fish glides from between her hair and spits a thin beam of water at the lock. It slices through the metal with ease, letting the door creak open. Selis’s previous severe expression melts into a warm smile as she traces a finger across the small fish’s scales.
Shooing the little creature back into her secret water storage place - her hair - she sneaks inside. Spreading qi in front and behind her, she swiftly makes her way through the many abandoned hallways. Traces of previous occupants are still present, an unmade bed here and there, or dirty dishes in the corner of a room. A thin layer of dust covering everything causes Selis to suspect that this section of the palace has been empty for less than a week.
Sneaking through the stairwells, she reaches her destination. Below street level are row upon row of cells. A single person brimming with regret and grief is present in the only comfortable room at this level. The man is continuously polishing and messing with iron cylinders, so Selis stays away from the area. She quickly scans the objects strewn around the iron mage’s room, confirming her suspicions.
Telling herself to not bother the guy that has dozens of mana cannons in his apartment, she moves on. She quickly reaches the door she has been aiming for. Peeking through a gap between the frame and door, she sees her parents for the first time in weeks.
Clad in worn ornamental clothing, sitting on hard rock covered with little straw, they still manage to exude a noble’s aura. Her mother's cheeks are still pudgy, her father’s sharp features still as regal as ever. Taking a deep breath, Selis straightens her simple dress. She then pulls the gun from her ring and sets up a sound barrier.
The lock shatters, allowing the door to swing open slowly. The woman has half climbed onto her husband, their faces masks of terror as they both stare at the door. They immediately change as they spot their own daughter standing there, a smoking piece of iron in her hands.
“Selis, my dear. What are you doing here?” Looking past her daughter, the woman tries to see if someone is beside her. “Be a dear and go back to the mansion. Mister mage! Do you like her? She would make a great concubine or second wife, very obedient!”
Wringing her hands, the woman looks to be more worried about what imagined damage her slow daughter might cause than the fact that she is currently inside a cell.
“Listen to your mother. These nice mages only want to ask us some questions. Go back to the mansion now and leave these matters to us grownups, yes?” Her father is too busy fixing his own hair to pay attention to Selis.
The two nobles continue to berate her, trying to flatter the non-existent mage at the same time. Selis stands there, letting the words wash over her for a minute. Then the door closes due to a draft, muting the voices of her parents. Selis freezes the door in place with the wave of a hand, stuffs the gun back in its holster, and walks away.
She swears to herself that the single tear running down her cheek will be the last one she will ever shed for her parents.
Instead of wallowing in her past, Selis goes on an understated culinary rampage. Many cooks inside the castle and the noble district wake up in cold sweat the following day. They all vaguely remember something blue and cute asking them question after question as they answered every single question, divulging their every cookery secret as if their lives depended on it.
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