Chapter 137 - Severance
Angeta brushes a few leaves to the side, her fingers probing under the forest cover for something. She pulls a dirt-covered seed from the ground, inspecting it before a flick of her wrist makes it disappear. The next seed she finds gets tossed deeper into the woods, as is the next one.
She needs to resupply, after all. That wonderful act of mass vandalism that caused all of Luzden’s walls to come tumbling down didn’t merely take all of her qi, it also took the majority of her stocked and qi infused seeds.
The speech Teach had given was decent as far as speeches went. Angeta had seen better and worse. None she had ever witnessed had that kind of impact on the environment, she begrudgingly admits. Some powerful warriors and beastkin mana users have the ability to rouse energies through their voice, as she had seen plenty of times in the beastkin capital, but Teach… The qi in that dimension acted like hyperactive kids, running about and being all enthusiastic when Teach talked.
Angeta had made some nice progress in terms of cultivation, and she understood some of what he had talked about, but let the majority of the speech go in one fluffy ear and out the other. She did glimpse bit of something more significant, though. Growing... Instead of the fast and hard raid that had taken her position away from her, the idea of slow yet unstoppable growth seemed… appealing. A gradual takeover, an inevitable change of ownership. Like a tree, working unnoticed yet able to crack and pulverise rock.
Other than that, what she had focussed on was her mission; taking revenge on the humans. They had taken away her position, her servants, the peasants that she was to rule over, her birthright… Angeta shakes her head, remembering all that she has lost always makes her angry. Angry at the things that had been done to her. She had let that goal get out of sight lately, having been distracted by all the new and exciting things happening around her. No more, though.
Teach forcing her to act like a demure slave had been the tipping point. That was a stark reminder of what she had to do. She tried not to think about Teach too much these days. He might be just another human, but he’s from another world altogether, so less responsible for all that is wrong in this world than most. Teach did pick her up from that barn, one of the many. The only one worthy of being shown the wonderful power of destruction that is called qi.
But Teach is weak, allowing her to walk all over him. She has been testing the boundaries, trying more and more stuff and grabbing more rights and freedoms for herself, waiting for the shoe to drop. Even shouting in his face went without reprisal. Angeta smiles as she recalls the image of her spit speckling his face. A greater insult doesn’t really exist in beastkin culture, smearing someone’s facial fur with your own saliva. He only blinked and looked at her stupidly.
Smiling to herself, she considers new strategies to wrap the guy further around her finger. She only needs to be wary of that slutty dragon, but they are both braincores, so it’ll be fine.
Looking around, she sees an abandoned village. Half-built houses, partially tilled fields and stacks of drying lumber are sprinkled through the clearing. Teach had brought the old pointy eared hag back to life after Ferah zapped her into unconsciousness, and then kidnapped everyone to Tree’s moon. Angeta does wonder why Teach and Rhea took her back to this place. The mystery of why she is singled out from the rest worms its way into her consciousness, but she decides that matter to be of no consequence and doesn't waste too much brainpower on that question. She has more seeds to find.
“So Angeta. How are you doing?” Teach has wandered closer to the foraging beastkin, the dragoness clinging to his side.
“What? Looking for seeds.” Angeta barely glances at the man while probing the topsoil for fallen nuts.
“Okay, that’s great.” Angeta glances at Teach. Why is her tail getting goosebumps while slowly growing in size as the man talks? “It’s nice to just think about where you stand in life sometimes, you know? For example, seeing back in time and observing the changes that happened and who to be thankful to.”
Barely listening to yet another rambling speech, Angeta looks at the border village again. The simmering anger in her heart roils around in her gut as she thinks about what she overheard. Did her father really get sent to the border to die or get enslaved? If so, his superiors must have been scared of how competent he was, wanting to rid themselves of a potential threat, she concludes.
“Don't you agree, dear?” Teach now addresses Re-Haan, who nods.
“Quite so, quite so.”
Angeta stops feeling around the loamy earth and looks at the duo, who are now staring off into the horizon like some wise assholes. Running some qi through her furred hands, she cleans her digits from any dirt by swaying the fur back and forth at a frequency optimal for small particle removal.
Looking back in time? All Angeta can see is how much had been taken from her, how she must fight to get it back. The sheer volume of injustices done to her is enough, for now, her attention needn't be focussed on anything else.
“Arrogance and self-importance need be earned and backed by true power lest they flee in the face of adversity.” Rhea serenely smiles at her as she monotonously delivers some more nonsense.
Teach speaks again, his voice rising in volume as he monologues, the words demanding Angeta's attention somehow. “Repeating oneself while expecting different outcomes is insanity. People who allow this are thus also insane. I don’t feel crazy though, do you?” Rhea emphatically shakes her head. “Thought not. Gut-punching does not work, asking nicely does not work. Showing a better way does not work. It’s a real shame that we sometimes have to revert to savage methods in order to enlighten an enlightened mind. Where’s your tail at?”
“Where’s my tail at? A dragon ate it, how am I supposed to get it back? Order Re-Haan to go do that. And what’s that noise?” Confused by the strange topic, Angeta waits for an answer. What she did not expect was for Teach and Rhea to start floating upwards. Nor did she expect the following silence to be filled by a soft rumbling sound while the ground starts shaking.
“Ah, no. It’s your tail, you know. Your responsibility. Needing someone else to go and retrieve it is like having someone else wipe your own ass. Or having another person spit in someone's face. You can come back when you’ve retrieved it.” Here Teach pauses, but Angeta is just confused by the weird change of topic and the growing hum in the air.
Teach looks between Angeta and Rhea, his mouth in a pensive line. “I shouldn't be saying this, discovering things on your own is more powerful, but for fuck’s sake; go experiment. I mean, even Bord has developed more creative applications of qi than you. All you do is grow trees and cover yourself in leaf armour. And not even good leaf armour. At first, it was a single layer, now it's just stacked layers. Separate layers that aren’t even interwoven.”
The frustration fades from his face, replaced by a smile. ”I’ve said enough, bye now! Have fun, alone with your anger.” Then Angeta realises what was scaring her. Teach is smiling with his eyes. Usually, his smile only adorns his mouth, but this time, the joy also radiates from the top part of his face.
Angeta pales as the rumbling resolves itself in the stomping of feet and vegetation being crushed. She glances upwards, only to see Teach and Rhea float off, their backs turned. Her guts twist and turn as dread sets in. Oh, wait. That’s just her panicked reaction, her gutcore spinning her qi at high speed.
The ground starts shaking beneath her feet as she expels a burst of qi in a panic. The ring around her finger glows green as the field around her body blocks the qi from exiting her mouth. It flows back in, choking her. Coughing and sputtering, she pulls a seed from her ring. Throwing the energy-enriched kernel to the soil, she rides the tree as it bursts from the ground.
Pumping activated qi into the tree; she doesn’t let up until the fast-growing sapling towers over the surrounding forest. She immediately wishes that she had spent the energy in running away. Teach and Re-Haan are now a small dot on the horizon, below them the same massive horde of large and small beasts. The horde that is ignoring Teach and is heading straight for her position.
“You are worried!” I accuse.
“I’m not!” Rhea denies.
“You're totally worried. You still suck at keeping your emotions from your face.”
“Why would I, a majestic dragon and member of the illustrious Fli-”
“Just admit that you are worried about that stupid furball. That’s not like you, have you started developing a concept?”
“How did you… Yes actually.”
“That’s really awesome.” I actually feel a bit giddy. Rhea’s solid core is nearing completion, the solid part having nearly filled all the space available. The first major mental hurdle in cultivation - now that separating your own qi from the ambient qi is not such a hurdle - is what image or concept to build your foundation with.
This step can technically be taken as soon as one has a solid core. Size does not matter here, but starting it with just a fragment of solid core is similar to building a foundation with a few toothpicks. “Want to tell me?”
“It’s just an idea.”
“Explaining something can be very clarifying.”
Rhea hesitates for a bit, looking across the long stretches of forest, field, and mountain we are slowly floating over. “Okay. We all breathe air, right?” I nod. “So everyone works together to turn good air into bad air. Oxygen and see-oh-too, or something like that. Everyone works together, dragon, bacteria, and humanoid. I want to guide this force of cooperation.”
“That's… not something I have ever come across. A Dao based on management and delegation? Wow...” I’m speechless. This is the opposite of what cultivation traditionally represents. Normally the path a cultivator walks takes the energy of the heaven and earth for themselves, claiming it so it becomes entirely their own. Using this energy in order to spread power around is just…
“Go and do stuff with it. I have zero experience with such a path, but now I'm super curious about what can be done with it.”
“Go and do stuff with it? I’m a dragon. I don't even have actual social skills, I just run simulations. I’m good at sleeping, flying and sleeping. I want to use this weird thing called cooperation, but how?”
Vulnerable women aren’t really my fetish, but this is kind of cute, I guess? Seeing her all insecure, without the veneer of a wise old dragon does things to my heart. “Re-Haan, I hereby give you a quest. Go to the human capital, find the royal library and bring me all the data therein. You can skip the dungeon books. I want all the handwritten data you can give me.”
She looks at me like I’m some sort of weirdo. I’m not weird!
“But you're not allowed to step foot in the city or use qi while performing this operation. Find people, develop tools, design strategies and create plans. Do what you did at the library.”
Her baffled look slowly turns into understanding and then an enthusiastic smile. She kisses me on the mouth and disappears into Tree. I follow her with my senses and observe as she jumps towards the moon and starts conscripting some braincores. What follows is a flurry of instructions, quests and objectives to be met. She then jumps back towards Tree and starts recruiting heart- and gutcores.
She’ll do fine. Let’s hope she really won't use qi, though. The horde that should be trampling Angeta right about now went towards her position after I used a decent amount of qi to transport everyone inside the village into Tree. I’m suspecting that any form of qi usage that isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon will attract stuff like that. Something seems to be guiding these wild mutants and animals.
I look upwards while thinking about matters of high importance as I float onwards.
“She lost her tail again.” A dark shadow giggles while observing a beastkin getting beat up. “How are we going to get that back, though?”
“I’ve tagged the animal. It got eaten by that pink crab. Uuuugh, sitting in the darkness still sucks, even with a solid core.” A second voice escapes from the shadow covered cliff. The rocky protrusion sticks up from the forest a kilometre from where the trees are getting trampled by hordes of mutant animals.
“Don’t you dare throw up again. I smelled puke every time I shifted through the shadows for days after. I just cleaned up, and you’re not making me smell puke for the second time today!”
“You don’t sound like you’ll manage though. Wow, she nearly got bitten in half!”
“Buuuuuuugghh… Why can’t we just let her die?”
“Okay, she's one of the originals, but only Vox even slightly likes her. She has too much baggage, her life before she became a slave was too good to appreciate all of this.”
“Tess, admit it. You were a sneak, Vox and Selis got freed from prison, I was a baggage carrier and Bord was a pig being fattened. Angeta? She was some noble’s daughter before she got captured in a slave raid.”
“Ket, why are you like this all of a sudden? You really want to let her die?”
A large intake of breath can be heard, followed by retching and coughing sounds. The largest shadow on the cliff suddenly expands, and Ket flies out, flopping on top of the rock. He takes deep breaths as he covers his pale face with his hands.
“I… I was angry that we got interrupted.”
“It’s just juices in my head. Only chemicals and hormones... Come on, think it through... The shadows made it worse. It was all a bit too much.”
“You thought that...”
“Yes... I’m an adult already. Five years ago I was the only slum kid who'd never gotten any. Then you happened and suddenly we need to go babysit Angeta.”
Tess appears from darkness besides Ket, laying a hand on his cheek while looking at him with barely contained laughter. “You thought we were going to… going to do stuff after returning from a corpse-filled… This would be funny if it weren’t so macabre. You've still got a lot to learn, Ket.”
Ket’s face regains colour as Tess’s face comes closer. He suddenly puts his hands on her, pushing her to the ground. Tess also goes red, but before she can react, Ket stands up and pulls a shining needle from his ring. Glimmering grey fog starts swirling around the thin piece of metal as he hangs it suspended between both hands.
The needle spins with extreme speed and is suddenly gone; leaving a faint trail of rapidly disappearing fog between him and a large animal far in the distance. The targeted beast - a massive pink crab - freezes in place, its claws penetrating a thick wooden protective shell now stopped mere centimetres from an exhausted, bleeding, and half-conscious Angeta. The small hole in its carapace is the only indication something had happened. Ket looks at Tess, a smile on his face. “Good chat, we’ll finish it later.”
He bends down quickly, kisses a startled Tess and jumps, scattering metal fragments behind him to push off of as he careens away. Tess sits up, her face now beet red, while she touches her lips. “He learned a trick or two. Guess I’ll have to show him I’ll not be left behind.”
Tess jumps into the air, pulling a long and thin sword from her ring as she dives towards the forest floor. She disappears into the shadow of a fallen tree trunk, emerging at high-speed dozen of meters away as she speeds off towards the fight.
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