Chapter 147 - Modify
“Where would be best, though? I think we'll need a lot of space unless you know some space bending formations that we could install?” Tess saunters through the dark streets of Tower City.
The recent turmoil and general destruction caused a lot of construction jobs to appear. Every single mage capable of construction, and even those not capable, travelled back to the sea, exacerbating the workforce shortage. Some nobles and merchants even forcefully conscripted people from the streets, rumours said.
“My shack is sufficient. Space manipulating formations work through compression of an enclosed space. It would be easier and more cost effective to build a room in Tree and install it in a house as opposed to transforming an existing residence into one.”
“No, we are not staying in that hovel. You should feel ashamed for calling that stain your home. You’re lucky, ya know. I don't know any other girl that would be going out with you after seeing where you used to live. How about this one?” Tess jabs Ket in his side as she points at a partially destroyed dark warehouse at the edge of the poor district. One side is made up of charred splinters, and the small stretch of land surrounding it is rapidly becoming overgrown.
“Going out, are we? And did you choose this place because it has a garden? Other warehouses are properly structurally sound or have more space, but you chose this pile of splinters for some reason...”
Tess blushes and tries to take her hand back. Ket firms his grip and drags her behind him as they approach the half-ruined building. “We can’t just go in there,” Tess weakly protests. She looks around, but the streets are pretty empty.
Ket looks at her incredulously. “One, you are a sneak. That’s a synonym for burglar. Two, this is Runers territory. The markings are at least two weeks old. They abandoned this place.” Ket points to a small and weathered symbol at the bottom of the surrounding fencing.
“Well, those Runer guys are small timers, so I guess it’s okay to piss them off.”
“We're cultivators. That doesn’t mean we have to go look for trouble, but even the Royal’s wouldn’t be a match for us.” Ket pushes the crooked gate open and walks towards the warehouse's door. He starts pulling on the planks fastened to the wall, but stops when he fails to produce any movement whatsoever.
Tess steps forwards and starts pulling on the boards while casting a smirk in Ket’s direction, only to fall on her ass as the nails are pulled from the wood while they glow a glittering grey. Ket steps into the doorway as he is surrounded by shining metals nails, holding out a hand to her. “Ma’am, if I may?”
Tess grabs his hand without saying anything. They step into the building and see a large open space filled with empty crates, sacks, and detritus scattered everywhere. Tess walks over to the door on the far side while Ket inspects the large sliding loading doors on the side.
Tess looks into the piles of empty crates but only finds some stray kernels of grain or dropped small items like nails. Reaching the doors, she finds a narrow hallway and several locked doors barring her way.
“Ket! Get over here!” Ket stops messing with the large doors and walks towards the hallway. He finds Tess looking inside a sparsely furnished room. Several small faces are peering at them from behind a dirty bench and a fallen table.
“Why are you all hiding here? Didn’t I tell you guys to not enter gang territory?”
“Your shack vanished, so we had to find something else, Ketty!”
“Ketty is back!”
“Ketty, so clean! Where did you steal those clothes?”
Tess gapes with open mouth as the lanky boy is swarmed by the group of small children. “Call me Ket, who taught you that stupid name? Was it San? Did she teach you to call me that?”
The small group falls silent, allowing Tess to observe them properly for the first time. They are all dirty, covered in several stacked layers of soot and grime. Rags are wrapped around their dirty frames. She notices that they aren’t as skinny as street kids usually are.
“Is the old man still giving you food? He should have enough coin for a few weeks. Why are you all so silent?”
Tears appear in several of the children's eyes and some start sniffling. “San got recruited.”
“Who?” Ket asks with a deadpan expression.
“No, don’t tell him.”
“San went with them. She said not to come for her.”
“Force.” Tess sees Ket react to this name. The kids don't notice in any obvious mannner, but the man she started seeing as her boyfriends reacts in several ways noticeable to her enhanced senses as he hears this single word.
“We promised not to tell him!”
“Force, thanks. Tess, please take care of these guys for a moment, I’ll be right back.”
“No, don’t go!”
“Not Ket too, no!”
“Ketty, please don’t go.”
Tess stands there, frozen by the recent developments until the kids start running after Ket. Tess steps in front of them and smiles at them. “He’ll be back, I promise. Don’t cry, do you want food?”
She pulls some random snacks from her ring in a panic. One child starts bawling, and she stuffs a random piece of confectionery Teach made in his mouth. The boy shuts up and starts snacking on the morsel with big eyes. Tess is inundated with whining children, all begging her for food.
Ten minutes later, the children are all sitting on the floor while stuffing their faces with all kinds of preserved delicacies. Tess has never felt more mental exhaustion in her entire life.
She takes in the room they are in for the first time. The walls are rough timber without any form of finishing except for some kind of dark stain. The floors are well worn and smoothed stone slabs. The remaining pieces of furniture are made from rough but decent stock timber. The nails keeping them together are handmade and irregular, a clear indicator that the previous owners didn't think dungeon-won nails were worth their price.
Tess slips out, using her stealth skills to evade the children's notice easily, and explores the rest of the building. The barn is relatively large for being built inside a city, but not larger than a decent house. The front of the building contains a small stretch of ground connected to the loading area at the side of the big doors. The back of the building is divided into several rooms and Tess recognises dark and light spots on the floors and wall that previously held large pieces of furniture.
The room the children hid in used to contain a kitchen if the food- and soot-stains are any indication. The single room with windows must have held some common room while another room still contains a half-demolished bed frame.
She returns to the kitchen area to find half the children snoozing while the other half are huddled into a corner.
“Ketty brought a girl along. She is too pretty though.”
“San always told us she was going to...”
“And she is too clean. I like her.”
“You’d follow a mutant if they gave you food. What are we going to do about her?”
“But Ketty and a girl? How? Did he pay her?”
The small gathering of children stares at Tess, who stares back at them. Absolutely lost and completely out of her comfort zone, Tess puts a large piece of green stone against her ring and against her forehead.
She connects to Database through her Tree-linked ring and desperately asks anyone who will listen for help. Ket had made some rough plans with her help, but they had nothing prepared for a scenario like this one. Too late Tess realises that the food she gave the kids contains qi.
Ten more minutes later, Ket re-enters the building, carrying a girl slightly bigger than the rest of the kids. He walks into the room everyone is in and freezes. “Tess, what are you doing?”
She turns to him with panic on her face, her hands full of qi crystals and chalk. The floor is covered with intricate and ominous looking formations, circles, and symbols. The children are placed on what Ket recognises are junction points, each brat sitting in a small circle while happily chewing on food. Food that contains qi, Ket notices. “Tess?”
Now she's the one with tears in her eyes. “I don't know what to do, help me, I never needed to take care of kids, why do I smell blood? Ket, why do you smell of blood?”
“Tess, I think there are bigger issues here. Why are you trying to form a soul binding contract with nine kids at once?”
“It’s the only thing I could find in Database! The connection is terr ibly slow, so this is the only thing I could come up with before they all start dying all over the place.”
“Tess, calm down.” Ket looks at the formation on the floor and drags his shoes across a single line. Every single connection of power fizzles and blackens. Waving away the smoke Ket, puts the girl on the floor and walks over to the nearest kid. He kneels and looks the boy in the eyes. “Ronal, I’m starting a gang. Wanna join up?”
The boy looks at the girl first. “San?”
The girl in question nods. “He’s super strong all of a sudden. The Forcers all got their asses kicked by Ketty.”
“Okay, then Ketty! I’ll join up.”
“Great. Rule number one of my gang is to call me Ket. Rule number two is that Tess is second in command. Rule number three is that San is third in command. Agree?”
Ronal nods firmly. Ket hands him a ring. Ronal stares at the thing with bugged out eyes. “Ketty stole not only clothes but also a ring? You said I couldn't steal and that only dirty scheming sneaks did that!”
Tess - having calmed down immensely - looks at Ket with a sharp gaze. Ket ignores her and walks to another kid. “Flor, wanna join up?”
The girl nods and puts the ring he gives her on her finger without questioning where it came from even once.
“I’ll join up too!”
“Why did you ask me last, Ketty?”
“Good. Does everyone have a ring? Now I want you all to promise me that you will listen to Tess and me and that you will not tell anyone else about what we will be doing in this building.”
The kids all promise, some at the same time while others need some prodding. Only the biggest girl - San - notices that their rings glow slightly when they do so.
“Why is there a small tree?” says a girl that’s studying the thin black ring on her finger.
“Because my teacher loves trees. Not sure why. Here San, eat some of this food.”
“Ow, wow. This is super tasty! Not only did you beat up twenty guys, stole clothes and a girl. You also stole food?”
“No San, I didn’t steal food. Now you all need to make a decision. Do you want to do a lot of thinking, a lot of moving or some of both?”
Selis stands above a beaten Angeta, gloating for all she is worth. The duo is surrounded by a large amount of wet, frozen, and pulverised greenery. “Try harder next time, you angry furball. Go and play in the snow some more.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’d be absolutely screwed if I would have to fight an ice specialised monster or cultivator. Thanks for the spar.”
Selis falters. “Huh? Who are you and what did you do to Angeta?”
Angeta looks off into the sky. “A lot happened, okay? I’ll be angry at you later. Bye...”
“Alright, no… problem...” Selis watches the timid beastkin walk off while she scratches her head. A small transparent fish emerges from in between her blue locks and nudges her cheek. “I don’t know either. She has issues.”
The ground shakes as Bord smashes against the forest floor not two meters away from Selis. Fish go flying everywhere, and the large heartcore cultivator is covered in long green strips of a slimy plant. “Uuhm, making stuff light is so hard. Hey Selis, can you freeze these fish? Lola turned the last bunch I brought to Teach into powder.”
The fat boy slaps at the small fish that is ineffectively spraying streams of water at him. Selis does a little dance and causes all the fish to float in front of her in neat rows. A dramatic wave of her arm later, she drops the frozen animals in front of Bord.
Glowing a deep red, Bord sucks in a large breath. The fish tremble on the ground and start rolling over to him, clinging to his form as if magnetic. “Thanks, Sel. Cya!”
“Yeah, sure Bord. Bye.”
Selis starts cleaning up the destroyed landscape a bit, pulling the scattered puddles of water to herself and shoving many splintered bushes and trees to the side. Not a minute of diligent cleaning later she is interrupted again.
“Hey, Vox. How’s life?”
“Actually, you went to the capital recently, right? I asked the guys that went with Re-Haan, but they didn't have any news...”
“News?” Selis asks with a tilted head.
“About my parents and family. Did you hear anything about the Brighntin family?”
Selis jumps up a bit and starts furiously pointing at Vox. “You… you're a Brighntin? What in the flipping fuck?”
“And that’s why I didn't tell any of you before. Did you hear any news?”
“You… you’re their heir that died! That was big news a couple of years ago. And then their daughter got picked up by the light mages. No, that was totally expected, to be honest. So that’s Ares, I get it now! They must have dumped you in the forest because of your beast traits, small as they are. It was a big scandal when they lost both their heirs, you know. But no, I haven’t got any recent news for you. Isn’t there any data on Database?” Selis stop talking to herself and addresses Vox again.
“There’s lots of information on Database, but none about news in the kingdom. Who would have submitted that?”
“Ah… yeah, it’s just us, Teach, Rhea and a bunch of slaves here. The old mages are still on the moon… You should go and visit them. I did, and it was wonderful to see them. Really satisfying!” Selis smiles with the radiance of a sun. Vox somehow feels shivers running up his spine when he sees her so happy.
Some of that malignant joy seems infectious as Vox suddenly has a few really good ideas. “You are right. I might just do that. Thanks for the advice!”
“No prob!” Selis waves him off and goes back to messing around with the water in plants. She nearly lost to Angeta’s greenery creations and only her decision to switch to ice-based water saved her ass. The switching between vapour, liquid and solid water is still taking too much qi for Selis’s liking.
She's still mastering all water-related information in Database, even now running a few processes to summarize the data for her conscious mind. She tries observing the six-sided pattern that ice is supposed to form, but hasn't had much success yet. The theory that ice crystals forming inside cells tend to rupture cell-walls and thus destroy living tissue was very beneficial in the fight just now.
Then an idea strikes her. Snow is six-sided, she remembers reading. A manic smile on her face, Selis goes into an ice-shuriken creating frenzy.
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