Chapter 128 - Drafting
The previously neat and silent library is in chaos. The majority of the number-obsessed cult people are walking this way and that, hauling stacks of books and paper. Others are hunched over desks, reading or scribbling notes. A quiet buzz of conversation saturates everything as people discuss and study.
Ket is rubbing his eyes, dark rings painting deep contrasts on his pale skin. “Why are they all here? Why are they not asking Dee-Bee for this info?” He sighs deeply while looking around.
Ferah is sitting on a large pile of books, a blade of grass in her mouth. “Ooh, I know this one! Lots of people are saying that learning from the green stones makes it hard to remember. When are we continuing the quest? I wanna get back to Goodsummer.”
“You hail from Goodsummer, little one?” Rodrick is also present. His axe is slung in a loop on his side. “I heard those Luzden...” He spits on the ground. “...nobles...” Then spits again. “...talking about raiding that village next.”
Rodrick then turns to Ket. “I learned that killing is forbidden until solid core under penalty of expulsion, but what stage is that for me? I really want to finish some unfinished business.” This whole time, the large beastman’s thumb has been caressing the edge of his axe. His normally friendly smile now showing a few too many teeth.
Ket pauses his one person pity party long enough to notice the menace radiating from Rodrick. “How would I know? There are no standards for measuring cultivation base except for the form it takes. Some guys are working on a method to quantify qi, but there is very little practical data about that. Only esoteric nonsense.”
Ket glances at Ferah, who is holding her puffed-up tail as she sidles away from Rodrick. “Stop scaring Ferah. And give all the relevant data to Database. It will probably generate an information gathering quest. Killing people randomly is inefficient, I must give Teach that much credit. Finding the party truly responsible and making a clear example of them is a much more prudent way of handling things like these.”
“Ket, we keep finding them! These prime numbers, they just don’t stop, so that is a problem. Also, we’ve got pi solved to the thousandth digit now, but it’s getting harder. Ferd went loopy when trying a new method he found. We had to put him on the moon to depower his brain.” The suddenly babbling intruder - a thin blue-skinned female - is now the focus of everyone's attention. She splendidly ignores all the eyes on her and continues in a breathless voice.
“We are still working on whether or not polyhedra can be cut up and reassembled into any other polyhedra. That’s a fun one. I and a few others of the Follower Of Numbers are working on gravity as a problem. There was some good data in Database, but Teach’s teachings are imprecise as always. I really don't want to start messing with infinities, but it seems like we will have to in order to explain the movement of some of the other planets in the solar system. I think that was all the news? Yeah? Yeah! Goodbye, Beloved One Of Numbers, I will return with more glorious science!”
Bowing deeply to a very fed up Ket, the woman scurries off towards the darker alcoves, deeper in the library. Rubbing his tired eyes once again, Ket sighs profoundly.
“Gooooodsummer, Goodsummer, Goodsummer!” Ferah starts singing.
“Alright, I want to get out of here too.” Ket starts walking towards the library door, only to be stopped by a hand grasping his collar.
“Oh no, you are not going anywhere.” Grinning like a cat who caught a mouse, Re-Haan dangles Ket in front of her. “We are going down there, into that den filled with those poor people who are lost in the numbers, and we are going to steer them in a… more practical direction.”
Ket starts protesting with fervour. “That is not optimal. Their theories are helping science forwa-”
“Shh, little boy. Come, let this old dragon show you how to rule people. You with the axe, come with. Ferah, you come along too. This will help you as well.”
Half dragging the trio of cultivators behind her, Rhea makes her way into the deeper sections of the library. The stacks of books and shelves grow taller. Soon, a wide staircase that goes down becomes visible.
“They have been expanding, I see.” Still smiling too widely, Rhea strides down the steps. Dark cellars come into view. Papers, books, and scribbles are everywhere. Robed figures can be seen mumbling to themselves as their eyes glow with circulating power.
Dropping Ket, Re-Haan stands still for a bit, unmoving. Thin tendrils of purple translucent power seep out of her form, sinking into the stone around her. The small group following her shuffles around a bit as the atmosphere grows awkward.
Then a shudder runs through the entire structure. Dust falls from the low ceiling as stones move by themselves, their mortar bindings crumbling to dust. Large slabs of stone grind themselves into new positions, restructuring the dark catacombs. Small droplets of sweat start beading across Re-Haan’s forehead as she focuses intensely.
Everyone in the library can feel the power radiating from her slender frame as they all stop moving and fall silent. Wide eyes stare as the library remodels itself, the roof opening up to let light spill inside. The walls grow taller and thinner while the theme of the building stays the same, white marble cut in simple lines.
Minutes later, the outside looks much the same while the inside has undergone a drastic restructuring. Instead of narrow shelves stacked with books, the building now has a central open space. The sun shines down into the building, lighting up the circular walkways surrounding the column of open air.
At the bottom of this reversed cone of open space, surrounded by light reflecting from pristine white stone, stands Re-Haan. Her white hair floats in the purple-tinged power swirling around her. The round railings are swarmed with people as they all stare down at her.
“Much better this way, I think.” Smiling widely, she basks in the sunlight.
“What about rain?” Asks Ket.
“Ah, it does rain these days, right? No problem!” Slightly flustered, Re-Haan waves her hands a bit. A transparent dome spins into place above the hole in the roof, faint words moving across its surface.
“Thank you for that contribution… Ket...” Smiling again, Re-Haan turns back to the crowd looking down on her. “I have noticed a trend of theorising just to theorise. That is a commendable thing to do if it weren’t for the myriad of real problems that are still unsolved. You Fuckers Of Numbers are thinking up the thousandth digit of a number in which the tenth digit behind the decimal is already useless for practical use. Here are some real problems, solve those before indulging yourselves in such mental masturbation.”
Waving another hand, a purple board appears. Re-Haan points at problem number one, named ‘The end of the fucking world through rampant qi’. “This is a great example. Drew, also named Teach, has thought up a solution. A wonderfully overthought solution involving mass production of near-autonomous flying objects that would monitor the entire world. While it would indeed partially solve the horrendous lack of information about the planet we are on, it’s also very inefficient.”
Pausing for effect, a soft murmur starts up immediately. “Problem number two is also something that we will need to fix quickly. The qi levels here have been dropping ever since Teach decided to give you rabble access to qi. We will all be dead long before the amount of energy in this pocket dimension grows sufficient to allow us all to extend our lifespan in perpetuity.”
Taking a deep breath to still her mounting dread and frustration, Re-Haan takes a moment to collect herself. “You will all be dead. I will manage. I think Teach will manage also. And why is nobody studying the dungeons or mana? Using locked processes to prevent yourselves from going insane is great, but working just to create more work without a goal in sight is also insanity. Not a single theory on how to elevate this world’s energy - mana - to qi without letting the vast majority of people die has been proposed. Nor has anyone thought of solutions to the space-based defences reported by Teach. Nor has anyone proposed any solutions for the massively increased beast hordes. You all must have families in risk zones, surely. Not that I care, but I’d imagine you sentimental and squishy races would be a bit more worried about your next of kin being eaten by mutants.”
Looking around herself, Re-Haan sees a wide mix of humans and beastkin, all of them looking as if they just emerged from a trance.
“Come Ferah, Teach is about to leave the Capital and go to Tower City. Let's pester him until he agrees to a detour to Goodsummer.”
Re-Haan is not entirely sure why she is concerned with the wishes of this little girl, but the smile on Ferah’s face does warm her heart a little.
I chuckle as I hear the king shitting his guts out. I shove the small tinge of disappointment away at the foulmouthed regents boring choice of core, but I can't fault his logic. His display of mana control was honestly impressive and a bit worrying. A gutcore will be the most similar to the manner in which he controlled the two types of mana.
I double-check the ring on his finger and its effects. It syphons off a fraction of the man’s qi to form a film across his skin. The microscopic runes inside the inlaid tree turn it into a one-way street for powers, allowing mana inside but preventing any unactivated qi from leaving.
Qi has a lot of possible states, but there are three main ones. First is normal qi, this is stored inside the cores or blood. Braincores have nearly all their power in this form, gutcores about half and heartcores a mere ten percent. Then there is the structural qi. This qi has been deactivated in order to passively reinforce matter. The percentages are reversed here, with braincores having nearly no reinforcement, gutcores about half and heartcores nearly all.
The third form is activated qi. If I create a flame, I turn normal qi entirely into flame potential. This power then turns into heat and light, dissipating in the process. This reaction would generate more qi in a qi rich environment. Here it just creates some heat and light.
The king can now only bring completely activated qi outside of his body.
Deciding that I have spied on the poor man long enough, I will myself upwards, floating away from the balcony. I give a small prayer for the poor sap that will have to clean the royal shithouse.
I look down into the massive pit. As usual, I get shivers. My mind knows that I can fly at my levels of power, but some part of my instinctual brain just really, really doesn't like endless abysses. The broken, hopeless figures of slaves being marched up and down the long ramps circling the pit don’t help my mood.
The question of capacity versus responsibility crowds my mind for a bit. Looking away, I decide to not think about it for now. Firming my will, I speed onwards. The wind rushes past my face, so I turn my back to the wind. I cough a single time, infusing qi into my lungs and throat.
The Capital grows smaller as I speed off, going south. Automating my flight path, I look inside Tree. Rhea seems to be up to something. I observe as she remodels the library.
Her speech is finished by the time I notice that I have arrived. Tower City is now below me, the top of the white spire piercing the clouds hanging in front of me. I start ascending slowly, taking in the sights as I will myself upwards.
I spread some qi upwards, making sure to not let it touch the Tower. The spinning circle is still in place, gathering the qi that keeps spilling from the jagged top. There is a lot less than there should be though. I sharpen my focus and notice Ket’s distinct metallic depressive aura lingering strongly.
So that’s where all the qi went and how he suddenly got to the core forming stage. Well, I did put out a quest for emptying the qi reservoir. I should have added a clause that releasing the gathered energy inside Tree would reward more points. Ah well.
Looking into Tree again, I check the production line I set up underground. I grin a bit at how much of a cheat using qi for mundane production is. A large part of mass production comes down to logistics and resource acquisition. I have all these aspects under complete control. I can increase or repurpose the assembly or production lines at will.
Because I didn't want any qi seeping in or out of my drones without my say-so, I gave Database orders to keep any finished drone stored inside the moon. The qi stripping effect cleans them of any loose power. There are a couple drones already done, so I pull at one, forcing it through the portal inside Tree.
Honestly, I sort of forgot that I was still flying through the power of nothing but my wind affinity gained from Rhea and pure will alone. The massive chunk of metal with a wingspan of two meters is not only rather heavy, but it’s also not aerodynamic when held flat to the wind.
I fall backwards as the metal object slams against my chest. I consciously don’t slow down time, deciding to rely on my heartcore. My arms snap upwards, grabbing at the smooth drone. I flip backwards and land with a satisfying thud. The small plane under my feet sinks down as I command its engines to start.
Not ten seconds later, I am surfing through the sky on top of a qi powered triangular delta wing. My grin splits my face even wider.
Remembering the short period of skateboarding in my youth, so long ago, I lean forward and bend down. Stopping all my outgoing powers, the wind ruffles my hair and rushes past my ears as I pick up speed.
I suddenly twist my upper body, sending myself into a corkscrew. Steering the drone with my feet, I do loops, twists and a few barrel rolls while gaining speed. My cheeks start to hurt from grinning so widely.
I even do a fucking three sixty kickflip.
Fifteen minutes later, I end my stunt rampage with a melon grab nine hundred. Using my air affinity and foundational will to move in slow motion is a perfectly reasonable way to use such transhuman powers, right?
Tower City is now in sight, so I sit myself down as the drone works hard to climb the needed distance. I overengineered the drones somewhat but mainly focused on energy efficiency. It can climb vertically on its own but my added dead weight makes it a slow climber.
Taking it slow is also nice sometimes. The drone’s two engines are working hard, the soft hum of air being accelerated a nice complement to the view. I see grasslands, patches of forest and far off mountains. Looking north-east, I even catch a glimpse of a mountain that’s just gone halfway, leaving a perfectly smooth circle in the midst of rough rock.
I lean back, dangling my legs over the drone’s front edge. Then Rhea pops into existence mere centimetres in front of me. She smacks into me, her stomach pressed against my face and legs dangling to the side.
“HEEEeeeehahaa! Ho, no tell Ferah no-” Her yell of surprise turns into a sudden laugh. Her panicked voice afterwards stopped by another form smacking against her own back.
The drone is still fighting hard to stay aloft, but we are starting to fall pretty fast now. I tap the metal housing, forcing a hundred times the normal operating amount of qi through the engines. The drone bucks fiercely as it shoots forwards. I clench my legs, keeping hold of the flying triangle with my knees. I let Rhea slip through my fingers, and she slides over me. I see a fuzzy tail fly overhead as Ket and Tess collide with me.
I laugh uproariously as I dive down, the sight of Rhea, Ferah, Tess and Ket flailing somehow giving me the giggles. Ferah’s absolute death scream puts a slight damper on my humorous mood, so I pull four more drones out of Tree and send them on intercept courses.
Rhea looks at the flying hunk of metal with suspicion, the draconic wings that just now burst from her back flapping slowly. Ferah holds her own ride with a death grip as it catches her, Tess seems immediately comfortable as she lounges on her ride and Ket is studying it with all his focus.
Approaching the four, I order the drones to resume the leisurely climb I was executing earlier. “A hundred thousand points and I will make you a personal flying vehicle.”
Tess waves disinterestedly as she tries to make it bank side to side by shifting her weight. Ferah has literally pissed herself now and Ket is still only looking at the metal he is sitting on. “Whatsup?” I look at Rhea with a shit-eating grin.
“Okay. This mighty dragon is capable of learning a lesson. I will check what you are doing before stepping through Tree. Now, which direction is this Goodsummer place?”
“Ah, yes. We were doing that before the beast hordes thing. I am going to the top of the Tower.” She quirks an eyebrow in an unspoken question. I just motion for her to sit as the drones continue to climb slowly.
I set the flight path to circle around the Tower as we climb. Ferah has gained enough courage to look over the edge of her drone while fiercely holding on. Tess starts chatting with Rhea about something I don't pay attention to. I just keep looking at the lands below.
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