Chapter 14 - Ecosystem
In order to properly explain my current predicament, I'll have to talk about something I call energy ecosystems. Energy ecosystems describe everything about an entity that is not its physical molecules. It contains all the mystical crap that comes with magic and qi.
When two cultivators fight, who wins depends on a lot of factors. Crudely described a duel goes like this:
Cultivator A thinks: ‘My Floating Dragon Thunderstrike is perfected by my ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years. It is truly the best way to achieve my Dao. With this extremely rare shock iron sword, I can bring all of its power to bear on my opponent!’
Cultivator B thinks: ‘Even though my Cloud Piercing Heaven technique is just a couple of tens of thousands of years old, I have better armour and weapons. Along with my secret Thousand Blossom Storm techniques, I'll be sure to win.’
The cultivator with a stronger belief in their own ecosystem combined with the sheer power supporting that system usually wins. These single-person ecosystems are supported by bigger systems. Everything that can be described as a ‘thing’ has its own ecosystem, for example; rocks, rivers, cultivation manuals, houses, treasures, etcetera. A rocks’ ecosystems usually doesn't have much impact on the greater picture, but it is a part of a myriad of other energy ecosystems.
The two cultivators are supported by the ecosystems of their equipment, their immediate friends and families but also their clan, their country, their planet and their universe. You can see it like this: the physical form is like a planet, the energy is like the air and water around said planet. They both exist together, influence and affect each other but are completely discrete from each other. You will get mud and sand storms but these are just emulsions, not a true blending of materials. A planet can exist without air, oxygen and hydrogen molecules can float through space without a planet but combined they make a greater whole than the sum of its parts. Any part influences any other part, the only difference is the amount of influence.
So when I say that the energy ecosystem of the girl lying in front of me is royally fucked, I hope you understand what that means. She hasn't had qi in her system for her entire life, and now it’s coursing through her veins. This is like dumping a moon-sized amount of water on a barren planet. It usually ends catastrophically when done haphazardly or without a professionals’ help, which in this case would be me. This is also why I worry about releasing qi into this planet's ecosystem. Without a proper manual to guide the energies qi poisoning is a lethal phenomenon.
Cursing at the dumb rabbit that caused all this I grab her by the neck. Glaring into her eyes she just swishes her ears around and twitches her nose. I keep repeating to myself that she is not a week old yet. She is acting suspiciously cute and innocent though…
Dropping Lola to the ground I grab the girl and throw her over my shoulder. She is covered in loose-fitting clothes so her lack of weight comes as a surprise. She must be malnourished with how little she weighs.
Walking down the stairs I scan the bundle over my shoulders thoroughly. She doesn't have a shred of energy in body left, her superficial fat stores are non-existent and her intramuscular fatty tissue is all gone. She must have exhausted herself over the course of an entire day to get in this bad a shape. I shove some more qi in her and put temporary fixes on some of the worst issues I find. She has a lot of stab wounds in non-fatal areas that have barely started closing. I don't want to know how she got this good at getting stabbed in places that will allow her to survive.
I slide a small ball of qi through her body, trying to find the best place for her to form a core. Qi is lethal to people that don't know what to do with the stuff, if I don't do this now she will die before the end of the week.
I first try her brain. The qi just sits there, not even moving when I release all control. She isn't a mental type I conclude, feeling a tinge of disappointment. Her heart starts beating erratically when I let the qi sphere touch its outer edges, so I slide it downwards to her stomach. Of course, it settles in the most boring place possible. I mentally apologise to the girl for what is about to happen to her. I can postpone the true core formation for a few days, so I give the ball of qi a spin. A small rune in the form of a rounded arrow forces the qi to keep moving, preventing it from forming an effective core. She shouldn't notice anything wrong with her body except for a slight improvement in her physique.
I reach the end of the stairs and am greeted by perfectly square tunnels. Growling noises and barely audible ultrasonic screeches come from further ahead. Dogs and bats in this level?
“I don't want to fight right now; you take care of them. Thanks to you I have to change all my plans so take responsibility!”
A pair of round, black, moist eyes stare at me. I grin and wave my hand dramatically. Lines snap into place as I cast my scanning spell. Lola jumps away from a line about to go through her. I grin wider at her and wave her forward. She warily eyes the glowing lines around her, but the spell has filled the entire level by now and winks out of existence. Looking down the tunnel going towards the exit, I see glowing eyes once again.
Squeaking once, Lola gives me one last look before sprinting forward. What follows is a truly impressive sight. Instead of going for the throat like another rabbit I know, she just strategically rams into anything in her way. She seems to be learning fast, her first hit is without any qi. The two-meter high racoon dog stumbles but stays on its feet. The next impact caves in its chest with a white flash.
When we are halfway to the exit Lola comes hopping towards me. She shuffles around a bit, seemingly mentally prepares herself and looks me in the eyes. She opens her eyes further, making them bigger. She must be begging for a qi petting; her core is nearly empty. She must be using more qi taking down these bigger fellows. I must resist this cuteness; she should work on gathering qi herself. One of her fluffy white ears slowly droops to the side and she slowly tilts her head.
I grumble to myself while rubbing her head with a qi loaded finger. “This is a cuteness overload. It is unfair that this vixen can already manipulate me like this. You are one dangerous rabbit and will someday make a buck either very happy or very scared.”
She tilts her head further under my ministrations and starts rumbling softly. After petting for a while I stand up and give her a kick. “Your qi was full ten seconds ago, you shitty rabbit. If even one hair on my body gets bothered by these mutts, I won't pet you for a week!”
Shouting after the disappearing fluff ball, I keep walking. I kicked her with a slight angle, so she reaches a wall the same moment a bat flies by. She kicks off from the wall and plunges headfirst into her next victim. That was a coincidence, of course, she needs to figure stuff like wall jumping out herself. I did not wish to see a wall jumping rabbit, no, no, she needs to learn this herself, yes, yes.
Done deluding myself, I focus back on the girl over my shoulder. I caught traces of a faint unknown energy in her body a while ago but I can't seem to get a grasp on it. She has some sort of power flitting throughout her body but it seems to escape direct observation. This reminds me of pure shadow qi. Instead of containing multiple elements at once, this type of qi is formed purely out of elemental darkness particles. A particle of normal qi and shadow qi are the same size, same energy capacity but they are of a wholly different flavour. It seems to elude observation by its very nature.
It makes sense to me, you don't see shadows, you see a lack of light. A shadow is not directly observable; it is just a gap in a light stream. I can't gather shadows but I can gather light. I think this also has to do with the fact that one can only see the surface molecules of an opaque object. All the other particles that make up the object never directly bounce back light unless you fracture said object.
So closing my eyes for a bit I retract all my focus from the girl's body, just passively looking at her through the small connection I still have to the qi inside her. My eyes open wide as I recognize the flow. It might be an energy I don't know about but the way it flows through her body is a dead giveaway for a shadow affinity. I already suspected that the emotional mana is just a first layer. I already knew that there had to be more to this planet's energy ecosystem than just emotional linked mana types.
With this in mind, I make a decision. If I can find more of these affinities, I will have to try my plan out after all.
I retract my focus from the girl and passively make some plans as I look at how Lola is doing. It seems like the accidental wall jump gave her some ideas. She is bouncing around the tunnel like a maniac. As we reach another open room I see a rather magnificent sight. A white blur bounces from bat to dog to bat and so on. Within a few dozen seconds the group of a few dozen beasts are dead and done for. Lola hops over and looks at me again.
“Want me to praise you? I'll start praising you once you don't waste qi like that. Do you know how inefficient it is to just bludgeon things with non-physical energy? I don't think you do so let me tell you: it’s extremely inefficient.”
Looking down at her I decide it's time for the next lesson. Putting the girl down I crouch beside the little rabbit. “Here, feel your fur moving?”
I put a finger on her back and fuse some qi into her fur. “Instead of just throwing out qi, use it on your fur.”
I make some patterns in her fur. I did not write temporary obscenities of course. A rabbit with a big ‘fuck u’ on her side isn't funny at all. Making the fur form a beard and moustache isn't hilarious either. I cough and go back to serious business after I stopped giggling. Putting my finger between her ears I gather a lot of qi in the fur of her forehead. She seems intent on continuing her head-butting habit, so I might as well teach how to be better at it. “When you hit someone with your head just pulse this right after impact, okay?”
Feeling for the roots of her fur I use my qi to make all the hairs stand up at once. A microsecond later her forehead poofs up to thrice its usual volume. I lay it flat immediately after and command it to jump upwards again. “Try it out now.”
Blinking a few times, she sits still for a little while. She then disappears with a poof. A white sphere of fur is now acting like a bouncing ball, rebounding at breakneck speeds around me. Scratching my head, I think about how this rabbit never does anything the way I explain it. I pick up the girl and walking on.
Lola’s new attack strategy becomes apparent when we reach another big room filled with dogs and bats. She stops in front of me and pushes against my foot.
“Alright, I'll stay here and watch you go to town.“ Talking to rabbits is healthy right? The way Lola is progressing should allow her to understand human speech in a few years so it's preparation for that okay?
Any further thoughts are swept away at the sight of a white cannonball obliterating the horde of monsters. If she was a bouncing ball before, she now looks like a hyperactive flubber on steroids. Not even ten seconds later the ball deflates and Lola begins stumbling about. Unsteady on her feet, she wobbly makes her way over to me. I smile wryly as I notice that she has used a fraction of the previous qi. With this, the basic rabbit education has been completed. From qi assimilation to basic abilities, body cultivators don't use fancy techniques, they just need to train in order to control their bodies.
I’m sure all the tamer sects in the cultivation world would be coughing up rivers of blood at my work ethic. It was taboo for the general public to inject qi into infant animals. The top families and sects had to find some way to keep their position of power, using public opinion to keep the common man weak is effective after all.
I pick her up with my free hand and walk on. There is no big boss on this level and that was the last room. Looking behind me at the twisted remains of the dungeon monsters I decide that maybe having a pet isn't so bad after all. Let's go and see what level nine has in store.
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