Chapter 138 - Incoherent
I think it's about time I started thinking about the future. I've done some long-term planning, but nothing truly substantial. It's really easy to give the cultivation world the blame for this one, so let’s do that. Back then, I prevented myself from having any plans that took longer than a single year. Being constantly on the run and not being able to stay anywhere longer than a month forced me into a mindset of the here and now with short-term gains and goals on the forefront.
Still, that’s no excuse. I have processes running with the task of extrapolating certain potential situations hundreds of years in advance, so that’s not it. Maybe it’s because I’m still waiting for the big secret shoe to drop? I somehow feel that the moment when the planet’s self-defence mechanisms will finally kick in is just around the corner. Maybe it will crack the crust, forcing me to evacuate to the moon? Perhaps it will cause a local annihilation event, some obscure fail-safe reacting to the presence of a foreign entity like myself. Just give me a little bit of time, and I can find a trillion scenario's in which I am at fault of genocide every time.
I shake myself free from these ominous thoughts that creep up on me whenever I’m alone for extended periods of time. Rhea is busy somewhere, probably ordering the many new students about while the rest are all busy with other stuff.
Actually, it’s pretty nice. I didn't really notice, but I’ve had constant companions since kidnapping those kids in Tower City, and Lola before that. Compared to the centuries of solitude back on the cultivation world, it’s quite the difference. Now that I’m not distracted by students or Rhea, I have some time to work through issues that have been piling up.
Like poop. The forest I’m slowly floating over is just so peaceful and quiet that all these thoughts only now managed to catch my attention. All my students can use qi to convert food into energy and sustenance, but only a foundation realm expert has zero need to poop. Where does all of it go? I suspect that Tree has been digging the stuff up, and is composting it or something, but I’m afraid to ask.
My qi clone will contain qi that has been extracted from poop. People do shit while they’re on the moon, right?
And what about pregnant women? Will qi contaminate a fetus? Will the placental blood barrier prevent the energy from seeping into the fertilised egg? Won’t the first generation of children born inside Tree have a horrible handicap? That first qi-soaked generation will need to perform the arduous task of separating neutral qi in their bodies with the qi that’s their own. That very process takes a very, very long time and was the main point why not every single mortal was cultivating back on the cultivation world.
And then there are the changing lifespans. From all I have seen, the human population on this planet lives to be seventy on average. I've observed that the dreadful state of hygiene and medical science causes a rather high child mortality rate, but people that survive their childhood have a good chance of becoming eighty. The initial stages of cultivation adds just a few decades here and there, the foundation realm is the first big jump with average lifespans of around half a millennia.
And then there is that conniving grandmother. I’m marking my own words here. I wouldn't be surprised if she is currently working very hard to undermine any form of authority I hold over Tree’s inhabitants. I nearly wanted to leave her behind, but Ferah wouldn't have it. She’s just got this aura about her, like a politician.
Also, the qi levels inside Tree are rising again. My speech generated a new portion of qi, but the primary cause of this effect is all the stagnant qi that I roused. You can leave a bit of ordinary steel in a qi rich environment for a few thousand years, and you’ll end up with some mystical metal. The qi in Tree had started seeping into every rock, drop of water, and leaf of grass, I just shook it up for a bit. I’ll start stockpiles of crafting materials in a year or so, I first want Tree to settle and grow a bit more. Any qi that’s locked up in some precious material is qi not circulating in the qi generation process, after all.
I decide to take immediate action on this one and formulate a quest-generating-process that allows people to suggest possible recruits. A steady stream of good - well, at least not purely evil - new people will be great for Tree’s development and slowing the qi enrichment down a bit. My qi clone is still pulling in all the power that comes near the moon. It is not near my own power level yet. Once it reaches the lofty heights of power that equals my own, it will split the power between it and me, supplying me with a steady stream of easily cultivatable qi, probably in a few weeks.
Angeta crosses my mind, but I gave Ket and Tess a rather lucrative quest so she should be fine. I can already sense the horde of massive animals coming closer to my position, due to the minuscule amount of qi I have been expelling. I think I've got a good grasp on how sensitive the detection mechanism of this planet are. Something has been guiding this group of beasties and the groups of dragons I have come across so far.
I’m floating upside down, spread-eagled, as I bob about in the breeze. Honestly, I don't want to think about the future and the potential threats I could face. Wouldn't it be nice if things could just stay the same? Is that not the reason why so many people sought power in the cultivation world? They all strove for the most static thing a person can wish for, eternal life. Immortality.
Things can come and go, places can change, and people shift and change. But your own life is the only real constant. From the perspective of the observer - that would be me - the self is the most important. I never understood those weird people that wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, to have people sing stories about them. Nah man, I want to be the person singing stories and stuff.
All this thinking of futures leads my thoughts to some thought experiments I have running. Those processes are thinking about what would happen if I were to be stuck here for a couple of millennia. And the results are… interesting. The pictures I get from the extrapolated data points is headache-inducing.
Would I need to teach to advance my cultivation at a certain point? Who would I steal stuff from at that level? Cooking food? Ah, having sex, now that one I can do. Gathering more qi has diminishing effects after a while, only the mind can be developed further after maximum qi saturation has been reached. That’s another true bottleneck, similar to the step from a solid core to a true foundation.
Training animals… That one might also work. I could do some animal training and domestication. Brawling… Near-ascension level brawls will crack this planet like an egg, that's not happening anytime soon. Wait a minute… No, I got my solid core really quickly. I got here, made qi, did some stalking, killed a bunny, saved a bunny, did more stalking, killed a wasp...
That reminds me, I need a weapon. I don't like relying on crutches like that, but punching animals that weigh dozens of tonnes is not effective at all. I put all my power into punching those stupidly strong and large mana mutants, but it did rather little. So I need a weapon. And I need to break this stupid ingrained thinking process. There are no near-immortals on this world that can peer into my spatial rings and take what they want. A habit a thousand years old is hard to break...
A weapon, let’s focus on that problem for now. What materials do I have available? What weapon do I want? A spear would be the most effective. A sword would be cool though. A large sword. Like one of those stupidly large and unwieldy door-sized slabs, a fantasy sword that's all kinds of ornamental, glowing and covered in mystical runes. Oh man, how cool would that be?
I’ve got loads of pure chemical elements stored under Tree, it’s still processing right now. Some sort of fibre strengthened alloy would work. Tungsten for its tensile strength and hardness, titanium to prevent the sword from shattering and to make it corrosion resistant. Maybe chromium for its hardness? That might make it too brittle, though. The brittleness could be solved through an inlaid and interwoven carbon tube mesh. Then I could cover the thing in more carbon, structured in a three-dimensional lattice. Just cover the thing in diamonds, yes… Yes indeed.
The qi would need a good foundation of symbolism, maybe put a tree motif in the middle of the blade? One edge molten red, the other icy blue cold, representing the two mountains to strengthen the bond with Tree. Maybe not, that would probably look a bit too… Nah, these people have zero exposure to fantasy art, I can totally pull that off.
Now the most important question, do I go for curvy and tribal, or straight-edged and stylish? Do I want a frozen flame made of fire and ice or a massive razor blade? I think I’ve still got some ancient smithing techniques laying around in my mind somewhere. That should be enlightening even with all the useless mysticism stripped out.
Okay, I’ll admit that that mysticism was a lot more useful on a planet that had millions of years worth of supportive Dao development. Not that those stupid coagulations of meaning ever reacted to any of my experiments… The smell of rotting flesh and old fire wakes me from my rapidly derailing thoughts.
I've arrived. Maybe I should pay attention to that instead? Below me is a ruined village. Every single barn, house and fence is burned to charcoal or half molten slag. Let’s get an expert on the scene. I check inside Tree and notice Rodrick standing around doing nothing. I put my hand inside Tree - messing with the dimensional portal has become so much easier since reaching my foundation - and pull him out. He freezes, his body rigid and eyes darting about. His hand flies to his axe but stops when his brain processes what he’s seeing.
“Teach? Should have guessed. Is that… Yep. That’s Treefields. What’s left of it, anyway.”
“Treefields? That’s about as original as Goodsummer. Are all beastkin towns and cities named so imaginatively? No, don't answer that one. What needs to be done?” I start floating downwards, searching for a landing spot clear of decomposing corpses.
Rodrick closes his mouth again and thinks for a bit. “In terms of…?”
I roll my eyes. “Do we let them rot in the sun?”
Rodrick's face gets a stern cast. “No, I would appreciate it if they could be buried.”
I drop the big guy to the ground and land myself. I pull two simple metal shovels from my spatial ring. “That reminds me, put this on.” I throw him a standard issue Tree ring.
“These are thousands of points?”
“And it prevents your qi from spilling everywhere.”
He nods and walks off. I look around and sigh. I see dark shapes lying everywhere, large patches of darkened grass and earth painting stark contrasts to lighter fur and feather. I don’t even need to scan and process to understand what happened here. The debris is scattered in a pattern from which the direction of the attack can be easily read.
The walls and buildings on the east side of the village are totally gone, only blackened foundations and charcoal remain. I try not to look at the way most of these people were cut down from behind. Or the way this particular form of humanoid charcoal has a rather large trail behind it, clear signs of crawling evident in the tracks. I immediately assume that that shape over there is very burned, ignoring the smaller skeletal structure.
I could use qi to bury everyone immediately, but… That’s just so…. It feels wrong to me. I sigh again as I start dragging the first body I come across. This is going to suck.
Angeta is pretty sure she is dying. The shivering stopped a while ago, the coldness it was ineffectively keeping at bay now creeping further up her limbs. She used her last infused seed to grow a protective shell around herself, and that shell is cracking. The large pink claw that nearly decapitated her is frozen for some odd reason, but she has lost too much blood to be able to focus clearly.
“I really don't see how nearly dying will cure bitchiness. How long can you keep them at bay?”
The only thing keeping her from bleeding out is the ring on her finger. The field preventing her from expelling raw qi is keeping her power infused blood trapped in her fur. It slowly drips through the field as the qi is stripped from the warm liquid drop by drop.
“Maybe he means to give her some perspective? And we got some time. These beasties don’t do well with mental interference.”
Now Angeta is hallucinating. Her obsession with taking the humans to task must be messing with her mind. Images flash before her eyes, the story about recalling your life before death seems to be partially true. Her images focus on one thing and one thing alone. Humans...
“Do you mean actually mental interference or metal spikes in their brains?”
How her father was sent to the border to guard against humans. She now recognises the look of hopelessness and dread in his eyes as he told her that it was a promotion, that things were going to be great... How everyone in the village seemed like they didn't want to be there, but stayed anyway. How the human mage didn’t even give them a chance, their scouts failing to raise the alarm before a large chunk of the town was up in flames, flaming debris raining down everywhere, hitting her father...
“Combination of both! Who knew that those giant insects are the smartest ones? They keep shrugging off the electrical interference I put in their heads. You've got her?”
How they shackled her while laughing. How they had the gall to be angry that her village’s warriors managed to kill a few of them. The absolute humiliation, for one born in the largest beastkin city in the world, of being enslaved, chained and shackled. How everyone she had ever known was killed or taken away.
“Yeah, she’s too weak to take through my shadows. Let’s use the temporary portal.”
She barely registers the hands that grab her, pulling her limp form from the crumbling wood as the enormous animals surrounding her barely move, looking around with glassy eyes. All she can think about is the fact that humans took away everything from her. Unjustly. Why else would a being from another world pick her from a barn filled with other slaves? That was simply the universe showing her a slight smidgen of justice.
“On it... There you go.”
But that smidgen is not enough, oh no. Luzden was just the beginning, she rambles to herself. Those filthy humans will learn their place. How dare they lay hands on her, one born from a noble lineage. Her forefathers were so great, their blood so awesome and pure that even the Flight had shown them favour. And even Teach, as the human he is, will learn of her wrath. How dare he compare her to that brainless fool Bord. The gall, daring to tell her that she is uncreative with the use of her qi.
“Ket, Tess, she’s in a horrible state. How did this happen?”
New voices surrounding her fail to penetrate the fog of blood loss, pain, and righteous fury that Angeta is now cloaked in. The qi in the air hesitantly travels through her lungs and her blood, where her empty cultivation core sucks it up voraciously. It spins and turns the power until it has Angeta’s fingerprints on it a few seconds later.
“Dunno. Teach just told us to keep an eye on her… She won’t die, right? Oh, hi, Ares.”
The green qi then rushes through her body. She barely feels probing fingers on her skin as a foreign, white-tinted, and human-stained power starts probing her wounds. And she will not have it! She pulls her qi from her wounds and starts fighting the invading force with all her remaining mental might.
“Why are you bothering with her? You can feel her aura, right? She hasn't changed at all, been an ignorant city-spoiled daddy’s girl all her life. Don’t bwaste your time om her.”
The white power retracts. Her qi, now free to start attending her wounds, clears her head little by little. Each broken and painful breath brings in new power, she can even feel it soaking through her skin, so power starved is she.
“Hmmh, what’s your name, young beastkin? No matter, I’m a healer and so I heal. Who and why I care not. Ares, bring me one of the drafts we just made. And a few coagulation pills. This bone is broken, so some calcium supplements too. And have Valerius and Vox tested the knockout gas sufficiently yet?”
That voice, she knows that from somewhere. Wasn’t the voice that spoke earlier one of the maids in her fathers employ? And the old sounding geezer was named Dee… something. Danar?
“I really don't see why you would bother. But I won't give up an opportunity to punch the bitch, here!”
Definitely one of the maids. Angeta hopes that she has at least learned some form of healing arts, that way she wouldn’t have to keep fighting the power of those fucking, disgusting naked faced-
A furry fist breaks her barely healed nose once again. Pain explodes from her face as the back of her head is buried into the dirt.
“Can I punch her too? The uppity bitch.”
The voice was another she recognised. That was the smith’s apprentice. He was of decent caste so she had had some fun with him. Opening her eye a crack, she sees his chiselled jawline and handsome fur patterns staring down at her with disgust. She is about to ask for help - they seemed happy to help in the past after all - when his fist knocks her lights out.
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