Chapter 145 - Developing

Chapter 145 - Developing

“I knew you liked trees and nature, but isn't this a bit much?”

“WHA!?” Angeta keels backwards from the tree trunk and faceplants. She immediately jumps upright and faces Selis. “No, I was trying to save the tree. Rodrick told me.”

“You were hugging it. And who?”

“The big guy with the axe.”

“Ah... Let me get that for you then.” Selis walks closer and gestures to the shard of ice sticking through the wood. It turns into liquid and flows towards her hand. “Cold stuff but good practice. Anyway, you’re all better I see?”

Patting the leaves and branches from her clothes, the beastkin faces the blue-haired girl. “I’m physically healed.”

“HAHAHA! Physically healed, the little miss says. That’s a good one.” Selis yips and jumps as a large and muscled beastkin walks past them, laughing. “It took me a long time to realise that it is very important to choose who to hate. Life isn't long enough to hold certain people in such high esteem.”

A green skinned woman drops through the foliage, landing at the big guy’s side. “You are going to the moon, can I come?”

“Yes. that old hag is trying to make everyone as miserable as she is.” Rodrick puts the axe on his belt and strides off.

The woman turns to Angeta. “It was some human noble who raided my village. They sold my sister in a beastkin port city... Okay, wait up Drick! I’m comiiing!” And she darts off, running after the big guy.

Still playing with the blue opaque liquid, Selis quirks an eyebrow. “What was that about?”

Angeta rubs her eyes. “Nothing. I had to do some thinking. Hey, do you wanna spar for a bit?”

Selis smiles widely at the beastkin. “I thought you’d never ask. This way!” And she sprints off.

Angeta crouches down, her hands glowing green as she starts weaving intricate boots from the grass around her pawed feet. Her past simple over and under weaving can be recognised faintly, but only on top of flat sections of skin. Branches are interwoven with braided leaves, forming rigid yet flexible support structures.

She hops back and forth for a bit, testing her creation. She crouches and jumps. Angeta nearly shrieks as she shoots through the forest canopy, the leaves she dislodges in her tumbling flight are getting sucked towards her armour by green mist. Her boots grow as more and more greenery is woven into the living fabric.

As loud splashing, cracking and splintering sounds start echoing throughout the forest, a bundle wrapped mummy rolls to a stop in front of the still semi-frozen tree. The layers unwrap themselves until a curvy and fuzzy figure emerges. Ragni pouts with lush lips as she looks around. “Database, you liar! She isn’t here!”

A bright flash of blue and green light followed by cracking and ripping sounds causes her to jolt, wrapping herself in the long stretches of fabric in reflex. A dark shawl extends from the bundle like a snake, pushing the warmly wrapped female up above the treetops.

The display of a large green giant fighting with a small blue glowing figure surrounded by ice shards and swirling globs of water causes her to gape in amazement. “Okay, let’s not challenge her just yet. I need more training and cloth...”

Ideas spinning through her mind, she decides to stay and spy on her rival for a little bit longer.

I admit, when I said that I saw two plausible possibilities to power up Tree’s and my students' qi levels, I forgot to take note of one other path. I only used the two mentioned after my big qi-stirring speech - inciting Tree’s dimensional will and churning up all the static qi - and put a mental lock on the most effective one.

On the one hand, I didn't want to influence this entire dimension into that direction. On the other, I desperately want to believe that people are and know better. I know it’s willful ignorance and lying to myself, but leave me this little hope, okay?

I have a love-hate relationship with the Dao of Cooking, after all. The path of salt and savoury, sour and spice. The wonderful alchemy of tasty things and gourmet eating. The irritating, drooling faces of all my students as they smell the fragrance produced by my cuisine.

The large animals I slew all contained a surprising amount of raw mana in their bodies. Almost the power per pound equivalent of mana crystals. So I managed to gather quite a bit of power while chopping them all into bits. I gathered mana in all colours of the rainbow and need to turn that into qi with my own fingerprints.

Cooking is the third major activity I did after getting to this place - behind messing with energies and killing a rabbit - so it’s a very effective way to grow the foundations of my cultivation base.

It’s just a shame that my faith in sapient creatures is being crushed into powder as I do so. I tried to entice everyone with rewards, materials, lofty goals, the opportunity to save their friends and next of kin, extended lifespans, and more!

None of those higher ideals managed to get them as riled up as my stir-fried elephant trunk in a sweet and sour sauce. My deep fried octopus-bear rings with Mystical Garlic dipping sauce has caused them to be more motivated than the potential end of the world. I lament as I watch the people around me working like mad to earn points to buy this latest batch of Heavenly Grain and six-legged deer lasagna.

Maybe I should stop all the mental processes that are testing ingredient combinations for maximum tastiness? Maybe I also should stop wafting the cooking smells through the entire dimension?

Nah. It’s fun to experiment with such a large variety of meat textures and tastes. A lot of the normal vegetables from this planet have started adapting in curious ways to qi, so that’s interesting too. I really should thank Lola for scattering globs of highly condensed ice and fire qi everywhere. The amount of new hot and cold mutated vegetables, nuts and herbs are really fun to cook with.

“Lola you terrible waste of space, heat that oven evenly. A toddler could do that better with some damp wood and a broken lighter. And you freeze-dried the fruits again. No don’t burn them, I can turn those into powder.”

I stop Lola from turning the sublimated strawberries into ash while wagging my finger in her face. I grind the dry fruits into powder and stuff them into my ring. That stuff is great for adding flavour to sauces or making ice cream.

I check on the large pot of stew bubbling away, tasting it by pulling up a droplet of the fragrant sauce using a qi wire. Needs more salt. I add some and put the lid back on. Now then, what to make next? The large metal wok is nice and hot again, and Ferah is done with the last animal.

I pull another chunk of an animal from my ring and place it on the area I designated for butchering. Ferah huffs and puffs as she starts examining the frozen whale with legs. I was kind of worried about letting her do butchering work, but she insisted on it. She claimed to be pretty good at preparing hunted game, and she has not disappointed me yet.

“Wow, this one is all fat! What are you going to make with it? Heat it and help me turn it over, let’s begin at the legs!” The little furball starts commanding the surrounding people with fervour. She really is her grandmother’s grandchild, after all. A human man starts running his hands across the rubbery frozen skin as steam wafts from in between his fingers. Others stack the remains of the previously butchered animals in neat piles.

I put the prepared meat and bones in my ring. All the hooves, feathers, fur, leather and even some poisonous parts are left in ordered piles to the side. Crafters pick stuff from the collections now and then, all transactions facilitated by Database.

One particular group of body cultivators - heartcores and some gutcores - keeps taking the poison sacks and organs identified as toxic. The hue of their skin is different each time I see them, so I got a pretty good idea what they're doing with the stuff. I never liked poison cultivation, but I’m pretty curious what they'll come up with.

“Teach! Make stuff with this, please! It’s great!” Bord arrives, laden with green slime. He plops the large bundle of shining goop down on the floor, splattering some bystanders with seaweed muck.

“Great, that stuff contains a lot of monosodium glutamate. Good find Bord.” The large guy is not listening anymore, he’s just staring at the meat I’m roasting.

“I’m not allowing you to cut in line anymore, go over there to buy more.” I point at the area where a few students are now packaging and selling the food. They kept eating it all at first, so I had to do some ass whooping. The line is growing longer even now. I can barely keep up with demand. I might have to increase the size of my pots and pans again.

Bord looks at the line with squinted eyes before shaking his head and turning away. He leans over a small intimidated woman, whose shaking knees nearly prevent her from taking up a spot in the line. An odd dark red glow surrounds Bord, and he starts half floating, half falling as he speeds away, heading to the cold side of Tree’s lands this time.

“BRING ME SOME FISH!” I shout at the guy. He spins in the air and gives me a zero gravity double thumbs up. I throw the wok in the air in order to return the gesture. Catching the heavy cooking implement with one hand, I take the top part of a large steamer from the stove. I dump the prepared rice in a basket while dumping the wok’s content on top of the steaming white goodness. The basket is hauled off towards the packaging department by hurrying cultivators. From the corner of my eye, I spot a new delivery of wooden containers while I throw the whale fat in the wok to start rendering.

I give Lola a kick - she was snacking on the ingredients again - and shout at her a bit to increase the heat. I taste the stew and deem it done. I send it off to the packers along with a pile of steaming potato-like tubers. I put on more water, refill the rice steamer and tell the preppers to start chopping a wide variety of vegetables into small pieces for soup.

I’m about to start my next task but realise that I need to wait before continuing . I stop and take in the environment for a bit. The large crowds have largely vanished, replaced by a variegated collection of tables, chairs, and benches. People are enjoying food at some and carving wooden containers or chopping vegetables and meat on others.

I check Database and see that the generation of points and quests has skyrocketed. The amount of people re-cultivating a different method is also rising sharply. Rhea put some quest generating processes in play, and those are working overtime.

“Teach, you got a minute?” I turn and see Tess and Ket standing nearby.

“Sure, what’s up?” I ask while cleaning my hands with a damp cloth. “Lola, don’t burn that fat. Keep the temperature steady when the bubbling dies down and bread turns brown in ten seconds.” I follow the duo to a quieter place on the fields surrounding Tree. “Why are we hiding behind the library?“

Ket is the first to speak this time. “Because not everyone enjoys being the centre of attention?”

Tess elbows him in the ribs. “Be nice. We are about to ask him for help and advice, remember?”

Ket grumbles but does not speak further. Tess turns to me. “We are planning on taking on one of the big ones. The Tower quest.” She nearly stumbles over the sentence.

So cute! This will be a good test for their relationship. Got to be stern now, focus. I look at them both while sagely dragging my forefinger and thumb across my beard. “Good, good. That will free up a drone from overwatch duty. What are your concrete plans?”

Ket speaks up. “Acquire a building at the edge of the slums. Start recruiting based on a few factors. We’ll pretend to be a for-profit organisation by taking a large percentage of loot in exchange for equipment. Good equipment, I’ll make the iron stuff, Tess or others the leather and miscellaneous and we’ll add some hidden extras. Once they've proven themselves worthy we’ll introduce them to qi and Tree.”

“How will you determine worthiness?”

Tess replies. “Good faith at first, based on aura. Then if they haven’t stolen the stuff, sold us out, or betrayed us otherwise after a period of time.”

“Good luck finding trustworthy people. It might be more productive to raise some kids yourself...”

“S-shut up Teach. Come Ket. We’re going.” A flustered Tess drags an equally red Ket behind her. I wave at the duo as they jump towards the moon.

Walking back to my rubble heap of a castle kitchen, I adjust some quest rewards for bringing in new people - making well documented and tested recruits a lot more profitable than randomly kidnapped people. I also put some restriction in place that should discourage anyone from snatching strangers to fulfil the recruitment quests.

I’m feeling pretty good about this setup. Rhea generates large batches of quests, covering a wide amount of topics. I swoop in and patch any loopholes or vulnerabilities in the system.

I check a metadata process in Database and see that things are going in a pretty good direction. This process compares effort and specialisation against quest rewards, giving me data in the form of effort per rewarded point.

A lot of students are running around like headless chickens at the moment, performing the easy and straightforward beginner quests. Those manual labour and unschooled types of work will be fulfilled pretty soon though. People will need to specialise in order to earn the big bucks. The top earners are the few people showing the most innovation and initiative.

A human heartcore and braincore duo is at the top of the theoretical science earners and two constantly bickering braincores are top earners in innovative manufacturing. Ares and Danarius are top earners in the applied science field, namely the medical branch. Valerius is basically running the garden at this point and is swimming in points now that the vegetables, fruits, and herbs are being utilised at high speed.

To my great surprise, I find that Selis is the top earner in combat innovation. She has developed some ways to manipulate water that even I think are pretty interesting and new. The rest are all the top earners in more narrow fields, like gravity manipulation for Bord, advanced applied metallurgy for Ket - when not taking my own position into account, the sword I crafted put me at the top of a lot of lists - and the top spot of the fabrics category is taken by Ragni? Interesting…

Rhea doesn’t really need any points. She has near administrator-level access to Database. Tess is undisputed in all things stealthy and darkness. Vox has changed to a gutcore and is making great headway into applied healing, using the creations of Ares and Danarius as supplements. Angeta is… also fabrics? Ah, applied weaving. Ragni takes the theoretical cake in that category, but Angeta wins in the practical department.

Lola wins in terms of creative and applied multi-elemental usage. I see some more interesting outliers, but decide to continue exploring the meta-data at a later point. I’m back at my cooking station, and all of these frozen and pre-cooked beasties in my ring aren’t going to turn into food on their own after all. Also, I am still gaining power at a steady pace. The mana inside the meat is coming out slowly, saturating the air around me with a colourful mixture of different energies.

Its still slow though, a mere trickle compared to the ocean of power I need to advance a major step. I could rebuild my cultivation base halfway to ascension level with access to enough power, but slow and steady progress like this is good for laying a stable foundation.

Not like Lola, that rabbit is a metric tonne of fire and ice plastic explosives stuffed into a small package. I need to take constant action to prevent her from burning my kitchen or freezing my pans and pots to extreme brittleness. I’m about to start cursing at the little shit some more when I sense Rhea returning. I wonder how her mission went?

“Drew! Trouble! You need to hear this!” She yells the moment she steps inside Tree.

“Where the fucking shits in all damn damnation am I? What the flying dungeon fuck is this? What the fucking shit is that?” shouts a certain king in black clothing

Why is she hauling that foulmouthed discount ninja with her? I sigh as Lola jumps on my shoulder, having sensed trouble brewing.

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