Chapter 139 - Awareness
“Don’t make it absolutely black. There are few places with perfect darkness. Moving shadows will only draw attention. A very dark grey with some stone pattern sowed into the fabric will probably work best. Maybe run some tests...” Re-Haan looks around, observing the small suns overhead and the dark blue that paints the rest of the sky. “...do some tests on the dark side of the moon. Or down below.” She points downwards, indicating the shadowed side of the massive earth pancake she is standing on.
A beastkin with a collection of pointed yellow bone plates for a mouth nods reverently. “Yes, miss. One of our members is a smith. He’s been making great progress with new materials. We can have a prototype… grappling launcher… as you called it before the day’s end. And we have not made any progress with qi-less communication. And these picture boxes… Honestly, we're not getting far.”
The feathered man falters and rubs his hands nervously. “...we've found blueprints and schematics that Database has available, but can't afford the cost. Maybe Rityn still has enough points, but I fear she has spent them on new experiments already. I’ll check in a bit, but I don't think that large amounts of progress has been made over the past few hours.”
Re-Haan waves her hand. “Report all new developments to my personal Database section. I've reserved a small space for news and cooperation. You can find the basic camera blueprint there also.”
The beastkin smiles while bowing. His humble demeanour vanishes moments later as he starts sprinting away, yelling at a few of the surrounding humans and beastkin. Valerius, the hems of his green robes stained with dirt, approaches her while cleaning his hands with a cloth. “Miss Re-Haan, I saw the notice. What kind of fibre do you need?”
“Hello, mister gardener. What types do you have available that can be grown on short notice? I need them for a soundless cloth of a darker hue. You’ve seen the new policy on going outside, so they also need to work without or with very little qi.”
Valerius stands there, frozen as thunder rumbles through his mind. “You could… Oh, my dungeon, why didn’t I think of that before. I could make the very weave a formula and inscribe… Ah, apologies ma'am, this braincore business has me distracted a lot.”
“New convert? How do you like the thinking capacity.”
“I was terribly bored at first, so I started studying how plants grow. Now I feel like I can’t do enough thinking in a single day. I’ve put that on hold for now though, let me show you the fibre crops I've been growing.” The green glow surrounding his head - only visible to Rhea because of her solid core cultivation level - dims as he puts processes on hold.
She follows him to the garden, walking over the newly laid paths. She stops for a moment when she sees a bloody form, surrounded by a bustling group of humans and beastkin. Re-Haan nearly intervenes as she sees one of the beastkin punch Angeta in the face twice. He then spits on her before leaving.
Fingers twitching and slightly curious, she watches as the old white-mana mage bends over the battered body, prodding and probing, a white glow around his fingers. She strides towards the group, grabbing a fidgeting Vox by the shoulder.
“Vox, what’s-” The startled redhead turns, slaps her hands from his shoulder and lowers himself in a combat stance.
“Tower take me, Rhea… ”
Vox distractedly starts touching Angeta, his hands sparkling with white flashes. “Hmmh, yeah. Eh man, don’t spit on patients, now I’ve got it on my hands. That’s just… Oh, bye Re-Haan!”
Re-Haan walks off, unwilling to get mixed up in whatever that was. She catches up to Valerius, who is still enthusiastically rambling about the pro’s and con’s of a braincore when it comes to his ability to farm. Musing to herself, Re-Haan thinks about what changed for herself and how she aims to use this massive boost in thinking ability she has been cultivating.
The shifted dragoness has found out that she loves thinking. And there is a lot of thinking to do. She had touched on this topic briefly while chatting with Drew, but the difference between knowing a fact and genuinely understanding that fact is enormous. She knows a lot of the information now available to her, accessible through Database, but she doesn’t understand the majority of it.
Electricity, for example. Her powerful mind had already scanned through the information available on that odd force. Some talk about Watt’s, voltages, and resistances. All the theories and formulas fit together like some grand puzzle, simple but infinitely complex in the way simple things fit together. It was an interesting topic she had let a process scan through, reading through a summary with her conscious mind.
That lighting comment Drew made, that was the trigger between the desire to know and the desire to understand. Re-Haan has loads of tests planned and is especially eager to test the interactions between electromagnetism and qi for herself.
“...the walk outside was quite refreshing. I understand why Teach has made the moon now, too. Use any qi up there and poof, it's gone. It’s great training for outside. I’ve been trying to get plants to hold on to their qi up there. So far, only some fruits and nuts manage to keep their power.” Valerius keeps talking, his habit of talking to himself still going strong.
“So, the fibres?” asks Re-Haan. The green-clad mage has been standing there, waving his arms about at the edge of the garden, unmoving while talking up a storm.
“Hah! Yes, this way. I tried to grow a few of the seeds Teach provided at first. One was called ‘Sky Spanning Evergrowth Threads’ or something like that. Terrible stuff. It grew like weeds but had the strength of wet paper. I suspect that the qi levels here are too low for many of the plants Teach brought with him. The ‘Fierce Lions Traversing Shallows’ seeds grew into some sort of mushy paste while the ‘Eight Octagonal Pillar Plant’ kept falling over. I’ve had some success with a strain of local flowering weed though. I remember having to pull the things out by their roots because they would choke out the onions. The onions we grew behind the barn so the neighbours wouldn't see, of course.“
Waking from his anecdotal daze, Valerius pales as he sees an irritated Re-Haan staring at him while tapping her foot. The fact that her tapping shakes the ground with every inpatient stomp compliments her scowl nicely.
“Here they are. Only Bord managed to break the rope I made from these plants. It’s really strong, and any braincore can make a fine yarn when it's dried.” Valerius turns back to the fields he is showing off, sweat dripping down his back. Small blue flowers adorn an area of otherwise dull weeds.
Re-Haan waves a finger and a purple blade of wind cuts a small bundle of plants free. She sends a small wave of purple power through the weed. The thin green bark is stripped from the stem as the leaves detach one by one. Water drips to the ground as she pulls the fibres from the dried stems. Squinting her eyes in concentration, she directs her qi with her entire mind as she weaves the thin strands into fine cloth.
“Yeah, this will do fine.” She pulls on the small square of fabric. It stretches, but she's unable to break it easily. “I’ll hand this off on the moon, see if the qi sticks. For now, begin mass production of this crop.”
“Don't worry about that. I’m growing more fields in the back. The demand for clothes has gone way up since the mutant rain incident.”
Re-Haan is not sure how to react to that, so she just nods in thanks and jumps upwards. Shortly after, she lands on the moon. A few figures rush over. One pale, thin man begins to talk immediately. “Miss Re! Thank you so much! My wife has been busy with the picture machine plans all morning. Finally some peace and quiet.”
Again not sure how to react, she falls back on a tactic she has seen Teach use a few times. She nods sagely and makes a question of what she just heard. “Any progress on mass producing those imaging machines?”
Here the pale man falters. “She told me that purchasing them from Database was not a good option. The uuhm… fotosens… things are too small to make easily. She has a few people trying to recreate them, but from all the swearing I've heard, they’re having little success.”
“The other items are being worked on. I've read the mission description, wouldn’t some sort of climbing claws be of more use? I’ve only been to a big city once though.”
Another person speaks up. “It’s an infiltration mission. We should make some darts.”
A neatly dressed beastkin with slick skin pushes crude glasses up his smooth nose as he waves a finger about. “What if we could become invisible, though. Spreading qi with a stealth intent won’t work now that Teach has forbidden unactivated qi usage outside of our bodies, but there are some formations that we could adapt… Not everything need be done through intent, you know...”
“I totally disagree. There are multiple datasets clearly indicating that channelling qi through a clear intent is a more effective usage of provided power.”
“Did you take the restriction into account, you buffoon? Activated qi needs an unactivated carrier, or the efficiency goes down the poop chute!”
“You slimy piece of shit, I’ll throw you down the poop chute! Giving the qi momentum inside the body before expelling it totally eliminates that point, and you know it. Just don’t talk if you can’t bring any good ideas to the table, your suggestion for the picture machines was equally terrible!”
“‘Camera’ is a great name, ‘picture machine’ sounds like a toddler named it. And building the photosensitive plate at a large scale before ripping each molecule apart while keeping the structural integrity will work, I’ve simulated it over a dozen times now! Your undigested furballs have more societal merit than your brain-dead ideas.”
“I’ll skin you alive and roast your legs, you-”
A terrible and sharp feeling of dread, doom, and general unpleasantness silences everyone on the moon. The group of cultivators surrounding Re-Haan was already dividing into two camps before they froze like deer caught in headlights. Multiple pulsing veins visible on her forehead, the dragoness in question is tapping her foot again, radiating murder and irritation by the bucketloads.
“Are you all...” Her voice is silent, making everyone involuntarily lean forwards. “...DONE WITH YOUR ARGUMENT?” Only for them to fall backwards as Re-Haan shouts her frustration into their faces. Teach had caused her plenty of irritation and frustration over the past few weeks, but never in her life was she ignored by mere, lowly, and near powerless humanoids like that.
“Why make a complicated machine that takes pictures? Teach put those in his drones because he wanted to automate the mapping process, right Ket? You guys are just going to record a lot of books, so record the data in pieces of jade.” Tess’s voice breaks the quiet scene. All eyes snap to the dark haired girl who is standing hand in hand with Ket. Suddenly getting self-conscious, she lets go and starts scratching a place that wasn’t itching.
“The qi containment field will wrap around flat objects placed on the skin. I did some tests while you guys were arguing.” Ket’s ring glows grey as small sparkles are visible on his skin. He puts a coin-shaped piece of dark green jade to his arm. Everyone leans in as they observe the sparkling field cover the stone.
“You got what you needed?” Ket asks Tess, who nods. “Okay, let’s go.” And they walk off. Ket makes a grab for Tess’s hand, but she avoids it. Re-Haan, slightly curious, uses a bit of qi to follow the two around a building. She senses Tess grab Ket’s hand the moment they are out of sight.
Her mood now slightly better, Re-Haan focusses back on the still frozen crowd. “Now, I want updates on the quests I put out. Single sentences, keep it concise.” She checks Database and finds the smith that’s supposed to be working on her grappling launcher in the crowd. She points at the pale-faced man. ”You, go.”
He stares and drops a metal object. “Yes, ma'am! Here's the prototype ma’am, I can make five an hour, more if someone else keeps the fire going, ma'am.”
Nodding with satisfaction, Re-Haan starts her first serious round of management, delegation, and coaching.
I drop the shovel to the ground and sit down against a tree. Burying all those people was not a physically draining task, but mentally I feel entirely spent. The rough bark feels nice against my back as I look across the rows of fresh dirt mounds. Rodrick sticks his shovel into the grassy ground, burying the blade entirely. I look at him as he pulls a cloth from his pant pocket. “You ready to talk yet?”
Rodrick looks at me, a pondering smile on his furry face. “I was wondering if that was the reason why you singled me out.” The big beastkin keeps cleaning his dirt-covered hands with a piece of dirty cloth, but he’s only smearing the grime around at this point. I snap my fingers, letting my skin vibrate in such a way that the dirt slides off. Rodrick looks at my hands, shakes his head and also snaps his fingers. The bones in his hand glow slightly, and I hear a slight hum coming from his hands. He tucks away the dirty cloth with his now clean hands and sits down against a tree near me. I shift a bit, facing him partially.
“Its...” He starts but falls silent as he looks around. I see rows of graves, and skeletal remains of houses and barns reflect in his eyes. “Getting sent to the border is...”
I pull a flask of wine from my ring. It’s a pretty good bottle, to be honest. Something-something Thousand Herbs Shaoxing Yellow Wine; pretty famous. The sect I stole it from was pretty loaded. I pull two pieces of ornamental crockery from my ring and crack the wax seal. I pour Rodrick a cup and take in the scent.
“They were everywhere, so the border was not something you talked about. Ever. Fucking stripes on yellow and white. One mention of the border and off you went, reassigned to some village that’s raided once every ten years at the minimum.”
The thick qi inside the wine is kept contained by the scribbles on the cups, preventing the pungent wine qi from escaping along with the alcoholic fumes. The warmth spreading through my body at the first sip is pretty welcome as I try to forget what Rodrick and I just spent a few hours doing.
“It’s always a fight, the Tooth against the people. He will bribe some, kill some and send away even more. The human king took it as a mantle of powerlessness. The current Tooth uses the Flight’s protection as permission to do what he wants. Has been doing it for years now, long enough for us to forget that he got that position for a reason.”
My mind starts to swim as the alcoholic qi starts to permeate my body. I need to keep my qi perfectly still in order to let it affect me, any movement on my part will cause my heartcore qi to start fighting it. Rodrick takes large gulps of the wine and begins to hiccup softly.
“So my boss - I was part of a rather influential soldier and guard caste - decides that he won’t willingly escort some people, knowing fully well that they will either die or live miserable lives once they arrive at their destination. Next thing I know, he’s bleeding out, five slashes across his neck and we are all being handed promotions.”
The world starts gently spinning as I refill my cup. This is some pretty good shit, I must admit. It has the tart dryness of wine combined with a spicy bitterness. It feels both cooling and causes the slow ramping heat that comes with oil-based capsaicin. Rodrick seems content just talking things out, so I take another sip.
“They split us up perfectly. We were an elite force, small but highly trained, skilled and well equipped. One person per village, to ‘increase border security’ as those fucking scaled long snouts put it. They full well knew that we fought best in groups, shields overlapping. Splitting us up was a guaranteed way to get rid of us.”
He laughs bitterly while looking around. His face flushes more while he empties his cup. He holds it out to me, and I oblige by filling it again.
“And I got knocked out by the first horseman I saw, letting the slaving scum do as they please. And the worst part, I can’t even bring myself to hate those soldiers. That mage, yes. I could have wrung his neck without a speck of guilt and a smile on my face. Those footmen though, I know full well how it is, having to obey men you lack any respect for.”
Okay, that’s enough whining. The bottle is half empty, so I put the large cork back in. A bit of qi turned to pure heat melts the wax, sealing the jar. I put it in my ring and turn to the near crying burly beastman. “So, what are you going to do about it?”
“Do about it?”
“Why do the people on this planet show so god damn little initiative? People sometimes take the initiative, sure, but it’s like they're afraid to leave their own little bubbles… Is there something in the air?”
Rodrick wipes away his drunk tears and turns to me. “It’s the hordes.”
“Nothing is permanent. Everything you build outside thick walls will be trampled in a year. The humans are beholden to the mages, who keep their walls whole while defending them. We beastkin are dependent on the few lines that have pure enough Flight blood in their veins to allow for mana control.” His animated speech tapers off as he stares into the distance. We just sit there for a few minutes saying nothing.
The bit about Flight blood was interesting but not unexpected. I’m not the first person to get freaky with a dragon, it turns out. I sort this new data into Database, finding more and more connections as I do so. While that is keeping a part of my mind occupied, I check on the state of the experiment I'm running.
I’ve been channelling qi to a spot a few kilometres away from here, letting it out into the open slowly. One of my drones is flying overhead, and Database just informed me of movement. The large horde that has been bothering me for a while now is moving towards the qi contamination, not towards me, the source of the qi. Good to know.
I pull the power back in, but the horde keeps going. I flare some qi on another spot a few kilometres away, but the horde keeps on going straight. Only a minute later do they slowly correct their course to the new location.
I feel the ground starting to rumble slightly, so I stand up. The big guy unsteadily comes to his feet. “Let’s go. I’m sure that little green-skinned thing is worried about you.”
He snorts in laughter and keels over. I raise an eyebrow and look at him, but he’s just snoring slightly. Hmmh, I might have seen this coming. That wine is strong enough to get me, a foundation realm, buzzed. He drank as much as me, but only has the qi levels of a qi condenser.
I sigh, drag him inside Tree and toss him towards the only other bone cultivator present. I ignore her complaining about alcohol stink and go towards my little castle. I’m sick of that horde and need a large fucking sword.
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