Chapter 134 - Agency
Fucking hell, that was a chore and a half. I saw two possible ways to significantly speed up Tree’s development and all of my students’ cultivation bases, namely the forming of a universal will or churning up the qi on a massive scale. So I decided to do both.
I had six processes running that were completely dedicated to performing that speech. The first one kept an overview of the things I had said and still could say. I only had a single topic left in the queue by the end of the speech before I would have had to start improvising.
The second one filled in the larger topics. It gave each one a beginning, middle and end. Introduction, expounding and conclusion. It came up with suitable metaphors and put some literary meat on the structure.
The third one was a feedback process. It kept meticulous track of everyone, measuring their reactions to my words. This one did the least work, to be honest. Lack of mass media and a non-existent entertainment industry caused my audience to be rather easily impressed. They all had varying values of awe and enlightenment written all over their faces. Except for Rhea, she managed to break the spell for a few moments near the end there.
I didn't expect any less of my woman. I snake my arm backwards and give her butt a squeeze, as a reward. Yes, purely a reward for her commendable effort. Lola glances at what my hands are doing and she headbutts me.
The fourth process handled the feedback, using it as an input for the first two processes.
The fifth one was a copy of the third, but this one checked the environment, measuring energy fluctuations.
The sixth one provided extra meaning to each word I said. Each syllable of my speech contained higher concepts, exciting the dimension’s qi with meaning and understanding. For example, the word ‘ocean’ I used in the field watering analogy contained a whole lot of meaning. A literal sea, a watering can the size of a mountain, a core filled with qi, rain falling on the thirsty ground, etcetera.
Throwing so much meaning at people through words is a great way to sound profound. It’s like throwing so much shit at a wall that something will have to stick. Or it will just heap up on the floor and cover the wall that way.
These six processes combined allowed me to string all of that provided data together into coherent sentences and let me keep an eye on the overall progress of the dimension’s will. Qi is pure potential - it only makes sense for something as big as Tree, the ground around it, and the moon to also gain something more.
I check inside Tree and see half the people still sitting in front of Tree in a daze. The other half are all furiously running around, doing tests, sparring and cultivating. I can still feel the abstract thought of ‘progress and increasing power’ resonate throughout the dimension, generating more qi with each simplistic thought.
“Are you going to tell me what that speech was really about?”
I turn in my saddle and look at Rhea. “Nope. Figure it out yourself.”
She narrows her eyes. “You met a few of the larger enforcer mutants. You thought that your students were the most powerful beings on this planet. They got beat down. I killed one. Only one. You couldn’t kill all of them without expending more power than you were comfortable with.” She then stops suddenly and looks away.
I raise an eyebrow. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”
“Some things, you don’t talk about. Not out in the open. Calling out some names will only draw attention.” Rhea looks around shiftely before schooling her face into a placid mask.
I smile at her. “Yeah, I thought so too. Finally, we got a bad guy to fight.”
“Good luck with that. Is that why you changed all the rings?”
I nod. “Leaving qi around is bad, for more reasons than just qi pollution. Only activated qi can leave our bodies now.”
“You changed your own ring?”
“Why do you think those large beasties could find us that easily?“
“And Lola’s hat?”
I glance at the pirate hat that now adorns Lola’s cute little head again. It half covers the red tuft of hair on her forehead. My bear mount now has a small black badge with a silver tree on it stuck to its shoulder. “Same. All the mounts too. Tree won’t let anyone out without a containment field now.”
“This prevents me from feeling with qi.” Rhea frowns as she looks at the modified ring on her finger. “I no longer feel comfortable without some scanning field around me.”
“You didn't figure it out yet? Just turn your qi into a delayed spell. The qi I use for spiritual sense turns into heat after ten minutes.”
I see the light go on inside her head. She sits still for a bit and I feel an airy power emanate from her. Seconds later, the wind starts whipping around us, making the grass dance.
“You don't need that much. I think it will be able to see meteorological anomalies like this if it can no longer sense qi.”
“Ah, didn't think of that. What about the warming of air around you?”
“It’s half a degree in a day if I stay in the same spot. Even the slightest bit of wind is enough to disperse that.”
Ferah looks at us weirdly from where she is sitting behind Angeta. “Why are they talking like that?”
“Like what?” asks Angeta.
“Talking about this and that as if we are supposed to understand what they mean?”
“Teach likes being mysterious. And don’t forget that Re-Haan is a dragon, they always talk in riddles.” Angeta snorts as she looks at the woman sitting behind me. “Every time you use qi outside of your body, it needs to be doing something. Otherwise you can’t get it through your mouth or skin. That’s all you need to know.”
Ferah bites her nails while looking at me with a pensive expression. She then shrugs and lies back on the capybara, closing her eyes as the animal’s gentle gait lulls her to sleep.
I guide my blue bear to the left, adjusting our course so we will avoid coming too close to the walled city in the distance. That should be Luzden. “That’s Luzden, right?”
Angeta shrugs, Ferah mumbles as she dozes and Rhea doesn’t reply. I check the information I’ve gathered about this planet and cross-reference it with the newly detailed map Database has been building. Yep, that’s Luzden. Goodsummer should be on the opposite side of the river, near the ocean quite a bit north from here.
Half an hour of riding later, I realise why it has been so peaceful. Angeta has run off towards the city. I can see her doing something near the walls while Ferah is whining and pulling on her sleeves. I stop my mount and decide to wait for them.
I swing a leg over my mount and slide next to Rhea. “What is she doing? Some sort of dance?” Rhea asks. I smoothly throw an arm over her shoulders as I observe Angeta’s antics.
“Looks like some sort of tribal ritual. Maybe a rain dance?” The view is pretty nice. Tall mountains with bases hidden partially by atmospheric perspective frame a forest, which in turn frames the stone walls on the horizon. The river is not visible from this position, so it looks like the city borders the woods.
Are the walls shrinking? Ah, no, trees are growing around them all of a sudden. Angeta is laying across her mount - I think its name is Hotfeet? - and is now hurrying back here. Ferah has to hold her to prevent the beastkin from falling to the ground.
“A growth dance, I guess.”
“Probably revenge, no?”
“Yeah, Luzden is a slave raiding base. Makes sense that she has some issues with the place.” I smirk to myself. “She is not a core former yet. I’m looking forward to seeing her planting immortal trees everywhere as a cultivation method.”
“Can she even get that far? A lot of documents from the cultivation world talk about natural limits.” Rhea asks.
“Did you even listen to my speech? Everyone can become immortal if they follow their own path.”
“Aren’t we all following you? Can I make people follow me or guide people without putting them on a path not completely their own?”
I laugh a bit. “Don’t underestimate the stubbornness inherent in any sapient. Changing someone elses' mind is not an easy thing to do.”
She pokes me in the side, making me jump. “Then what about all the data in Database? That has your path of neutrality written all over it...”
“Nope, that’s just information. It’s like reading a book. What we did when you were injured, that’s pretty dangerous. I now have to follow a bit of your path while you will follow a bit of mine. That’s an equivalent exchange, so it works out. I set Database to remove or sanitise any data uploads and contributions that contain a lot of personalities and personal paths.”
“Hmmh.” Rhea is still and lays her head against my back, and is off to dreamland again. Curse her dragon constitution. I wish that my cultivation speed would triple anytime I went to sleep. I sigh deeply. Maybe not, though, not unless I could guarantee not to dream.
Lola has jumped to my other shoulder to prevent being crushed by Rhea’s head. We both look out at the trees sprouting from the ground, trashing any buildings in their way. The city comes to life as yells and ringing bells sound out across the plains.
“Let’s go Teach. I’m done.”
I look back at a half-conscious Angeta. She looks exhausted, is utterly empty of qi and has a broad smile on her face.
“Feel better now?”
“I really want to stay and watch them fight off the beast hordes, but it’s fine.” She drags herself behind Ferah, hugs the young girl and also falls asleep.
“Shall we go then, fellow bed?” I ask her.
Ferah pushes Angeta’s head to the side, dodging the extending strand of drool. “Forward! We are not allowed to sleep on the job!”
I can’t help but grin at that. “The snuggle is real. At least we have mounts, not a carriage. We’d wheely get way more tired.”
She blinks a bit, smiling at me after a few seconds. She then gets a mischievous smirk on her face. “My first time sleeping with someone, and it's a threesome.”
I sputter. Where did she learn those things? “Rhea’s so good at sleeping, she does it with her eyes closed.”
Ferah laughs as we continue to exchange bed-puns. I faintly hear the sounds of terror-filled screams and crumbling walls coming from far away, but ignore it.
The rest of the trip was quite uneventful. Hotfeet and my blue bear - whom I really should name one of these days - are exceptionally comfortable mounts. My bear is a core former while Hotfeet is at the apex of qi condensing, their speed and stamina comparable to a car. Angeta and Rhea slept through the rest of the day and the entire night.
Now it is early morning, and Luzden’s broken walls are far behind us. The sun is shining down on us as it climbs its way over the mountains to the east, it’s light reflecting off the calm river.
“Yes, near this bend. Could you, um, put on some furry ears maybe? And a tail? And do Re-Haan also.”
I start forming an illusory qi construct on my body, “That reminds me, why are scales seen as bad when dragons are scaled?” I could cover myself in a film of ‘NORMAL BEASTKIN, NOT A HUMAN’ qi, but the fine control needed to model individual strands of fur moving in the wind is a good method to retrain my qi manipulation skills.
“Lizards are failed dragons. There are no dragon-scaled people, only lizards. And not that caste, they are the trash people.”
I frown at the girl. “But this race has fairly pointy teeth? That's... racism? Caste-ism?” I lift my gums and show her a racoon's pointy chompers.
“You’d get in so much trouble. They are everywhere and take all the things that are thrown away. Nobody knows what they do with it. They are a dangerous bunch.”
No way, racoon mafia? This world might be pretty cool after all. “How about this race then?” My black-ringed eyes and grey-white sideburns turn white and orange with black stripes.
“Stop scaring me! That caste is all assassins. No, wait, they don't exist! Tell everyone they don't exist, that way they won't kill you. They won't kill you because they don’t exist, but...” Ferah strokes her suddenly voluminous tail back into its sleek form while looking around in a slight panic.
“Do these… castes have names? Like the animals they are based on?”
“We aren’t based on animals! The animals started to resemble us because they were jealous of our intelligence and beauty!” Ferah rubs her hands through her orange fur while sticking her chest out. “Just turn into someone like me.”
I nod and turn my fake fur orange and white. “How do I look?”
She covers her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. “Like a woman, phhhaaahahaa!”
I sigh. “What should I change?”
“Why? You look pretty.” She shows me her teeth as she grins while laughing. “Wider snout, longer teeth and longer fur.”
I make changes to my disguise until she is satisfied. I smile at her and she nods. I look at Rhea, who is still clinging to my back. I cover her with a cloak. She can disguise herself through transformation later. Simulating the wind ruffling through my fur already takes a sizable chunk of my thinking capacity.
Ferah nods and wilts, her smile turning into a blank expression. She must have been trying very hard not to think about what’s on the other side of the river. I see tracks everywhere on the opposite bank, but not a single one that’s new. This riverbed must have been quite busy not too long ago.
“Let’s go then.”
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