Chapter 133 - Excitement
Tess is panting. Ket is furiously putting more and more power into each metal object he flings them towards the chaotic fight, to little effect. Angeta is whining while nursing her broken ankle. Vox is touching Angeta as white pinpricks of light dance across the two. Ferah is peeking through her fingers. Rhea is splayed out on the grass as her form turns back into a lovely female, the demonic spikes all over her body slowly shrinking as she cranes her neck to see something in the distance.
All of them are staring at the fight a kilometre away. One man is going absolutely crazy as he hammers, kicks, punches and bodyslams an extensive and colourful collection of large animals. A giant elephant with a hole through its body is one of the few figures lying still.
“That was a nice kick!”
“Look at that snake fly.”
“I wanna eat that pig!” Bord licks his lips.
“Why is he not killing them, or at least knocking them out? Rhea killed one.” Tess looks at the lying woman.
“That took all of my qi,” she replies.
“Why is he not using weapons?”
“Ah, he pulled out a sword!”
“Ah, that sword is now scrap.”
“Wow, he is hugging a spider now? I thought he was afraid of those.”
“Backwards slam, that’s a nice move.”
“Backward slam and fire. Second kill of the day.”
“Is it just me or does he look ripped?”
“Why is he shouting about lamenting women and driven enemies?”
“His shirt ripped, he definitely has more muscles.” Rhea licks her lips as she pushes herself to a seated position.
“Where did all these large mutants come from? I’ve never heard about beasts this...” Ket speaks up for the first time.
“The Royal Library contains some information about a mutant horde made up of giants destroying the kingdom to the south, a long time ago. Ares should know more about it.” Vox is still looking at the fight with enraptured eyes, the small flash of troubling emotions quickly pushed away. Feeling that something is wrong, he looks around, only to find everyone staring at him. He visibly flinches as he looks forward again, only to see that I have sped back to the carriages and am now standing in front of him.
“Royal library, where might that be? I found a large warehouse of books in the capital, but it didn't contain information like that.” That warehouse contained a lot of dungeon-made books, but very little history.
“T-Teach, how di-”
“Royal library?” I interrupt him.
“Drew, what about those large beasts?” Rhea still looks exhausted as she lays a hand on my shoulder.
“Call me Teach, and yes, we should leave. Everyone into Tree, I’ve got some things to discuss with you all. Loot all you can, Lola will only keep them busy for so long.” Putting words to my actions, I walk over to the carriages and scan them for interesting stuff. The horde behind me was halted by my fight, and they are being distracted by a certain flaming furry ball of death I threw in their midst. I don't think that she will be able to hold them occupied for long though.
The front carriage contains a lot of interesting seeds and the last carriage contains a collection of mana cannons and other metal gadgets. I pull both carriages into my ring, leaving the middle one. That one just has some jewels, dungeon weapons, and gold.
“Ferah, hold this one. You need some more points.” Angeta drapes one of the few remaining members of the small convoy on Ferah. The only people not able to run for it were the few beastkin slaves. Or rather, beastkin and one red-skinned human. Ferah nearly topples as another of the chain-clad slaves is piled on her head.
“Teach? What about the running people?” Selis asks.
“You’re a solid core, do whatever you want. And I only forbade direct murder. There is no such thing as a duty to rescue. And they all felt rather dirty.” I think back on the aura’s I felt from the soldiers, servants, mages, and the single noble. Mortals have no way to conceal their true selves from a cultivator, and none of the people in that convoy felt wholesome. Every action somebody ever takes shapes the feeling radiating from them, good actions breed a wholesome feeling, while vile actions… you know...
The slaves just feel empty. The captain felt so full of blind confidence that nothing else would fit in. The noble brat gave off a feeling of imperious and unshakable ignorance. The soldiers? I’ve met serial rapists with cleaner auras.
I hear a soft squeak that's becoming louder, followed by an increasing rumble. I turn around and see my small group all ready to go, carrying the valuables from the middle carriage and the few slaves. Valerius, our supposed mage escort, still hasn’t moved from his spot. He is mumbling something about gardening to himself while rocking back and forth. Lola is running like a maniac, leaving large flaming craters in the grass. The poor vegetation then gets turned into mulch by the pursuing horde of beasts.
I see some smoking stab wounds on the pursuing animals here and there. She managed to kill a single mutant - a pitch black bee - by hitting it in the neck with her flaming and glowing horn.
Sighing deeply, I prepare to catch the little shit. I do a quick recount of the massive mutants, confirming my suspicions. There are a couple dozen animals, all the size of three-story houses. The variations are neatly divided across all eight mana types. Yep, this one is totally not my fault. Someone else is fucking around here.
I breathe out a large amount of qi and push it forward. I cover the entire area of the fight and feel. I sense familiar traces of qi everywhere, the results of my disciples recklessly spending their power. I breathe in, pulling every single scrap of qi-based power along with it. The beasts stumble slightly as the surface layer of mana in their bodies is also stripped.
I catch Lola, put her on my shoulder, pull a drone from Tree, stick my necklace on it, throw it into the air, and pull my entire group through Tree before the drone leaves my hand. Instead of depositing us all around Tree’s base, I guide our dimensional shift towards the other weak points in space, the small collection of portals on the small moon.
I place everyone around me, dropping them into the small dimension a few centimetres above the ground. Pushing my senses outside of the drone, I see the horde thundering below, churning up the ground in their wake. The larger group of normal-sized mutants is following close on their varied heels.
Counting the group of ordinary-sized mutants and see a distinct absence of dark, light and air variations. So that checks out too… Small figures of running people come into view as the drone climbs steeply and I retract my focus back to my body.
I rub my eyes. Every time I think I can let this place grow at its own pace, the planet throws me a curveball. Pulling up my main cause and effect decision tree, I check what would be a good path to take. I could enforce a rigid sect structure, promoting power and position with large boons and favours. The option to let things run their natural course is still viable but would create a lot of work for the most powerful few. Maybe a bit of both?
The data tree starts with the here and now, possibility branches diverging from the most likely path based on my interference. After a few of these choices, the variables become too hard to predict with any certainty. Only percentages and assumptions remain when the future is predicted too far in advance.
This will take some finesse, but I think it’s the best option. I wink at Rhea and speed off, jumping upwards as I flow through the air. One rousing speech coming up!
Still slightly disoriented from the sudden jump through space, Ferah regains her bearing. Dropping her heavy load, she feels the network of meridians inside her body work hard to provide her slender frame with the needed qi.
Noticing she is on the moon, she immediately restricts qi flow to her lungs. She speeds up her breathing to compensate for the lessened efficiency of her respiratory system. The rest of her body feels better now that she is not losing all the qi in her breath to the absorption power of the moon.
“Database, I’ve got two new people for you! Where should I leave them?” Ferah looks around, full of expectations. She looks down when nothing answers her, only to discover a square piece of the moon’s surface sliding back into place, her two charges gone.
Having some time to think, she starts realising that her journey to Goodsummer is interrupted once again. The convoy, acting, and fight occupied her mind until now. The moon’s silence starts to press upon her and the thought that her only family member might also be gone starts creeping in again. She will just have to persevere. Ferah knows that, as long as you keep going, nothing can truly go wrong, after all.
“We got our points. I’m gonna get some food.” Angeta nods to herself and storms off, still slightly agitated from her emotional ordeal of acting out a very real fear and subsequent defeat. The rest of the group is already shuffling off as they process the fact that they just got summarily owned by a couple of oversized animals.
“Hello everyone! Please stop what you're doing, make your way over to anywhere on Tree and get comfortable, I need to hold a bit of a speech now.” The dispersing group halts in place as Teach’s voice booms across the entire dimension. They all look upwards, their eyes drawn to Teach floating next to Tree’s trunk. The golden glow backlights him, casting the bearded figure in a golden and ethereal light.
Everyone sort of looks at each other, varying levels of interest and exasperation on their faces. Ferah is the first to jump, but her barely enhanced jumping prowess means that she is quickly overtaken by the swift ascent of her more powerful peers. White glows spring into existence and not a minute later they join the growing crowd gathered in Tree’s walled clearing.
Chairs are made from dirt and rock as couches are pulled from spatial rings. Ferah looks around bewildered before she is pulled over by Selis, who puts the girl on her lap and hands her a bowl with some snacks. The soft murmur of conversation that springs up is cut off as Teach continues speaking.
“What is a path? Cultivation can be described as finding a path to walk, a Dao. Why walk this path when remaining still is also fine? Does life have meaning? Or are we truly all flesh robots following a complex but predictable chain reaction?”
Ferah is silent as a pressure comes from the man standing on empty air, each word is presented to her young mind with extreme clarity.
“Are there higher powers? If they do exist, then I have not found them. All I have seen are normal people with a slightly larger amount of power under their control, probably all the way to the top. Neither the ant, nor the mushroom, nor the beggar, nor the heavenly scion choose their birth. Following this line of thought, finding answers in heredity is thus shown to be useless. This tells us we have to build our own meaning and destiny.”
Everything is silent. Even the bugs in the grass and birds perched on the branches are listening quietly.
“An ant does this by manual labour, one of the many. A mortal does this by labour and their mind, one of the many. The cultivator does this with labour, their mind and qi, one of the many.
“First is the labour, done by kinetic energy, also known as ‘moving stuff around’. The heart physically pumps physically nourishing blood to the muscles, which physically allows us to move ourselves and the world.
“Then the mind, the judge on how this energy is applied, outside of animalistic instinct. Minds are divided over a wide spectrum of sentience and intelligence with the option of self-aware sapience. An ant moves and acts predictably because that’s how its senses are physically wired, inputs and outputs. People think, therefore they are.
“And then qi, potential pure, possibilities in gaseous form. Pliable by any form of mind, the ant uses it to do better what it already does. A person thinks and thus makes a decision on how to apply this power besides their body’s instinctual use.”
Teach takes a breath here, letting this information sink in. The trees, grass and even rocks settle back into place. Ferah takes a deep breath, tasting the incredibly thick qi in the air. Where did all this qi come from? What’s happening to this place while she was listening in a daze? Taking another deep breath to clear her mind, she gathers her thoughts, ignoring the qi that’s furiously circulating through her meridians.
Ferah realises that she doesn't really care about any of the difficult to understand stuff Teach is saying. It sounds interesting to her, and she understands it… a bit… but she doesn't really care about it. She just wants to visit Goodsummer… She just wants to go and walk, get to where she wants to go without stopping.
The qi in her spine gushes out through the fine network of power channels in her body. Here these lines of power follow the lymphatic system, there they follow the bones before switching over to her nervous system. They all circle back to her spine in the end, the qi inside of them spinning on endlessly.
Re-Haan Ra-Lush-Neer Hu - some titles omitted - is currently amidst a form of enlightenment. Instead of the time when she lost herself in the wind whipping around Tower, this time she is lost in her own mind. Every moment since she met Teach, from the way he punched her to a standstill on their first meeting to the way he winked before leaving just now flashes before her eyes.
“Sapience comes with the gift of choices. We all can make a choice. Pick one possibility and make that happen out of life’s endless sea of ‘what-if’s. This is what separates us from animals. Qi only enhances the importance of this ability.
“This puts us at risk of choice paralysis. What to choose when all options look good? Why put limits on your own being? This question is one of the big ones, difficult to answer. What we can do is find the direction in which the answer lies.
“I will not show you the path. I refuse to dictate anyone’s steps. I can show you how to find and measure your own possibilities and choices though - all it takes is three easy steps!”
Re-Haan ignores the cheap salesman air that suddenly surrounds her lover and focuses on his words. The qi in the air has grown thicker once again, now forming a barely visible tornado circling Tree.
“First the practical, once again. Everyone here is a massive cheat. Any person on a normal cultivation world rich with qi would slaughter millions to get the chance each of you has. I would be jealous, but I’m in the same boat.
“A sailor in the middle of the ocean notices dampness less than a desert dweller. A fish takes little note of water compared to a man dying of thirst. No previous contact with qi allows every one of you a miraculous sensitivity to this power. Normal cultivators will spend years separating the qi of the world from their own before they can even start the qi gathering process, like finding a single grain of sand on the beach. You are all fertile fields, already ploughed and seeded, only waiting for water to bring forth an explosion of life.
“Secondly comes the use, how to apply this power once it is residing in your core, bones or networks? After the choice of cultivation method, this is the second choice. A choice that will never be fully chosen. Will you apply this power in a manner practical? Spiritual, esoteric, purely physics-based, internal, external or other - anything is possible.
“Emotional based cultivation is also an option, but everyone who did it - as far as I have found - died before reaching their fifth century. It’s a great way to become mentally unstable and insane. I wouldn't advise it.”
Looking across the sea of people, Re-Haan finally sees a way forward. Dragons are solitary beings, all permanent assignments are one-dragon jobs, and only the highest priority tasks require a group of dragons. Humanoids though, they do everything together. Why walk a thousand miles if you can make a thousand people walk a single mile? Why make one woman pregnant for nine months when… All kinds of slightly wrong thoughts flit through her mind as she breathes in the qi that’s growing ever thicker.
“Third on your path, the concept. The foundation realm will come after fully forming your solid core and is the first true step on your own path. This requires a concept of a higher level. Mine is neutrality, the void that holds all possibilities. It will be a crystallisation of your way up to that point, the first time you will put pen and ink to paper after practising with charcoal and pencil. Purity, growth, balance, momentum, rot, stillness - any single contained thought is suitable.
“The gathering of qi, taking power for yourself, always happening, conscious or no. You need food, water, air and qi. Eating and drinking in excess will cause you to grow fat. Growing fat with qi is worse than gaining a few kilos. Who would be better in terms of watering a field, a weak man paralysed under the weight of an ocean or a fit man carrying a small bucket?”
Then one thought pierces through Re-Haan’s mind, filling it until nothing else fits. Everyone breathes. Every single being, person and beast alike, takes in air. They all cooperate in combining carbon and oxygen into carbon dioxide. Every single soul already cooperates. All she needs to do is grab this power and guide it, channel it for her own purposes.
“Do not believe my words. Never blindly believe. Observe, question, form a theory, test and conclude. These are the tenets that will help you find a path that will be truly your own. Following someone else's footsteps exactly will be uncomfortable and dangerous. What if your example can jump slightly higher than yourself? You will be stuck in front of a cliff, slightly out of reach, for eternity. Or you will fail a jump, plummeting to your doom when your fingers barely brushed the opposite side.
“Instead, look at why they walked the way they did. Why did they plan that route? How did they traverse that difficult swamp with such apparent ease?”
Re-Haan, still slightly dazed from her own realisations, looks up at Drew. He is hanging there, a tired look on his face. He mumbles to himself so softly that even Re-Haan - one of the most powerful and sensitive cultivators here - barely hears it. “Damn, still not enough? What other profound sounding crap can I spout? Only two topic’s left. I need one more push…”
The qi in the air wavers slightly. The suns in the sky slow in their dazzling dance and Tree’s leaves slow in their mystical rhythm as this note of doubt spreads.
“A child's first steps is a choice. Each step after is another limiter on their future, an erasure of all other possible steps. A cultivator’s path is the same. Each new thought has murdered an infinite amount of unthought ideas. It is in the taking control of this function, in the imposing of a choice and path, that we advance towards immortality.”
The word immortality unlocks the rising winds. Power explodes from every blade of grass, grain of dirt and breath of air. The moon gets saturated by qi for a brief moment as the absorption formation built into its core can’t keep up. The power gushing from everywhere fly freely for a moment, dancing eddies of potential and power twisting and floating through each other.
Every single person present is looking around awestruck, forgetting to breathe. They do so quickly when they notice their cultivation bases rising with even a shallow intake of air. Soon, everyone is sitting in a comfortable position as they bask in the glow of power.
“Fucking finally! Nearly ran out of material. I’ll blab about localised and universal Dao’s some other time. Kay… GET OUT HERE AND SHOW YOUR FACE, YA PUSSYYYYY!!!!” Teach disturbs the profound scene by shouting like an asshole. The power freezes for a moment as if caught off guard. Then it condenses, an energy other than qi gathering into a swirling ball that hurts to look at.
“Great, you heard me and you know what’s going on. Go do your thing, I guess.” Nodding at the swirling white orb hanging a few meters in front of him, Teach smiles. The ball then expands, covering the entire dimension in a fraction of a second. Then it disappears.
“I’ve been rambling long enough, Ferah, let’s finally go check out Goodsummer. Any good food over there?” Pulling a stunned little girl along, Teach vanishes from the scene, leaving a few hundred dumbfounded people and a much thicker amount of qi behind.
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