Chapter 15 - Horn
I always thought that becoming really super smart would be awesome. Solving mind breaking math problems with little effort, having a photographic memory, these type of things seemed really fricking cool to me. Then I came to the cultivation world and I could actually become smarter with the help of qi and an unconventional core location. Since then I’ve learned that having an absurdly high IQ isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
I think I went insane by the time I had cultivated to the, as I call it, third crunch solid core level. I remember that I once calculated my effective IQ, it netted me a result of around seven hundred. Earth's IQ system and tests don't scale that far, but I made some modifications that improved the system. I revelled in the fact that I could count all the blades of grass in a kilometre radius under a millisecond, got immense satisfaction from calculating the millionth digit of pi. I kept all that brainpower active and ready to be used.
I don't remember much detail from the couple of years after that, but by the time I accidentally got myself sane again half the sects in that world wanted me dead. I had so much thinking power that I couldn't imagine other people not being this smart. Somewhere in between all the numbers I was crunching and all the data I was analyzing, I lost the entirety of my emotional quotient. Stories of the rogue cultivator that miraculously won a tournament without lifting a finger and running off with the price meant for this or that chosen inner sect disciple circulated the mortal words for many generations after that.
I had started thinking so much I couldn't do anything else productive. All that mattered was the flow of data, other people were anomalies that didn't fit in my prediction models and got in the way of efficiency. My rescue came from finding out a way to automate things. Locking a piece of my brain away with a simple repetitive task ensured that my IQ slowly dropped until I started being able to think properly again. I guess by cultivating my brain I accidentally made myself a mini-singularity, my thinking processes ascended beyond mortal comprehension. By the time I woke from this stupor I had thousands of processes running, multitasking a million tasks a minute.
That's why I do regular mind maintenance and checks, to prevent myself from becoming too smart for the lower plains. It also explains why I never met another mind cultivator. They must have tried it in the ancient past, causing the practitioners to become insane. They then must have ruled that cultivating the brain leads only to madness.
So if I come across as a dumb retard that can’t see what’s in front of his eyes, it's because I don't want to become a raving lunatic out of touch with the world again. So I keep myself a bit dumb. Taking into account the fact that my solid core is minuscule, my total IQ would be nearing two hundred. I have a minimum of a quarter of my mind locked up in automation.
One of my favourite ways to remain sane is automated planning. I allow a large part of my mind access to all the information on a certain subject and let the process slowly figure stuff out. Money making opportunities, information analysis, potential enemy categorization, I have been doing these kinds of things since I reached the core forming stage.
That's why when Lola saved the girl I could throw the majority of my plans in the trash and had to think up a whole new set of plans. Significant and meaningful contact with the indigenous population this early was so unlikely and unwanted I hadn’t even started thinking about potential consequences yet. I have a choice to make, do I continue on my path of a one-person exploration team like the previous world or do I want more people contact. My plan making process told me to kill the girl. It was simply too early to bother with this stuff, it deemed personal strength and safety a much higher priority than a bystander's life. I disagree with this analysis and now I must stalk and kidnap more people for my new plan to work.
“Speaking of work, you did good on this level so far, but I am not helping you with these bosses. Figure out how to take them down safely yourself.”
Lola’s left eye twitches. Ha-ha, I can see through you, you simple creature. The tenth floor is a recap of all that came before, except for the weird gold level. Big racoon doggies, gnolls, bats and spiders, this level has them all. I don't need to lift a finger to handle these beasties, my murder fur ball takes them all down with commendable efficiency. She has figured out how to use the fur on her paws as a springboard by the time we are halfway to the exit. She now extends the fur on the bottom of her hind feet proportional to the extension of her limb. She’s jumping with telescoping stilts.
We are now in front of the boss room. One of each animal is standing in the middle of the room, each one has differently coloured stripes running over their bodies. The dog has a red line on its muzzle and head, like a racing stripe. Faint flickers of fire can be seen. The spider has shiny grey tipped legs, the gnoll has dark blue and lighter green stripes crisscrossing its body and the bat is a spotty dark and light brown.
“Kill the tall guy first, positive anger and recklessness seems a dangerous combination.”
I keep standing in the doorway, enjoying the show while Lola prepares. I sense her with some qi and see that she is circulating her own qi through her legs. She suddenly disappears when she has three-quarters of her total qi infused in her hind legs. Taking the strengths and weaknesses of all involved into account, this should be a tough fight for Lola.
Keeping an eye on her I look over her progress. She is starting to move her qi along with her movements. The moment her feet leave the ground she jerks all the qi forward, giving herself a little extra speed and readying her noggin for the coming impact. I barely see the gnoll dodge. Lola flies over his head, flips herself in the air and smacks into the opposite wall. The other beasts start moving too, the bat charges without finesse, the spider's legs start glowing grey and the dog catches completely on fire.
I make a mini qi tornado in my brain and the world slows down as my brain speeds up. The dog snarls in slow motion while Lola has jumps towards the ceiling. The gnoll is waving a staff around, gathering two-toned streams of mana. The bat… receives a kick. Lola is spicing things up! No longer a head-butt maniac, I’m truly proud of… Hmm, I can now see that the kick was an accident. The ceiling was too smooth and Lola couldn't find any grip. She basically slipped and fell from the ceiling, accidentally kicking the bat into a pulp while flailing about.
The gnoll is now spinning his staff around, streaks of blue and green following the gnarled wood. The hottest new item, the dog on fire, has done nothing so far except for spreading a pleasant barbeque scent. The spider skitters towards the tangled up bat remains and a certain rabbit, grey tipped legs now leaving a small trail of glittering dust.
The bat explodes into a fine mist. Lola’s fur is standing straight up again. She slims down just in time for the spider to reach her. Four sharp spider spikes are dodged by a narrow margin. Make that margin bigger next time stupid rabbit, one spider leg grazes a fluffy ear. Small grey sparkles are now clinging to the furry appendage; they seem to be turning her fur into metal somehow. Lola jumps away but the graze distracts her enough that she took her eyes off the dog.
A bark and a whooshing flame sound later, half the room is on fire. Dark red flames lick the wall, roasting the bats remains but not phasing Lola at all. Fur isn't just a good shock absorber, all the air trapped in between those hairs prevent any short-term heat damage. Luckily she saw it coming, closed her eyes and lay her ears flat. So far she managed to kill everything here in one hit, how will she react to something that can fight back?
She gets pissed, it seems. A white glow shines through the dissipating smoke.
A high and piercing yell cuts through the din of battle. I take a step to my right in order to dodge the flying flaming dog. It has a really big dent in the side of its head. I look back just in time to witness an angry rabbit exploding through the abdomen of the spider, pulling a spray of black and grey ichor behind her. The spider drops immediately, the missing half of its body oozing goo. The gnoll has finished waving its staff around and has gathered an impressive amount of magical mojo. The moment it opens its mouth its head disappears. I barely catch the action and replay it in my mind a few times to catch all the details.
Does this rabbit insist on pissing me off? She somehow grew a glowing horn ON HER FUCKING FOREHEAD. I have to spend quite a bit of effort to keep my face neutral. I do allow a frown to form as I direct my gaze towards Lola. Her eyes have a fierce glow, reflecting the shining light of her FUCKING FOREHEAD HORN. Standing amidst a few piles of scorched meat and various liquid sprays, the bright fluffy creature looks like an otherworldly being. Instead of just reinforcing her head, she is using qi to form a construct. Similar to the spear I conjured when killing the wasp, it has a triangular structure and is half the length of her body.
“Are you a uni-rabbit or something? That horn looks ridiculous, keeping it out only wastes qi.” Her horn fades in a sparkle of glowing particles.
“Don't pull that thing out in front of me, it seriously pisses me off.” I grab the stupid rabbit, haul the unconscious girl with me and walk to the exit on the opposite side of the room’s entrance. “You did good though, while it looks retarded, that’s a good finishing move you made!”
Lola’s qi reserves are near empty again. I walk into the last tunnel while scratching her between the ears. She will need to figure out a better way to gather qi, her lungs just don't have enough volume to gather mana efficiently. Finishing a fight empty of energy is asking to be killed when you are going solo. Heartcore cultivators are pretty bad at external techniques, and she wasted a lot of power just keeping the horn materialized. On the positive side, she is a lot better at fighting while empty, she has a much larger percentage of her qi reinforcing her body.
“It really looks retarded though...”
The tunnel ends in a small room with two doors. One contains a set of stairs going down while the right doorframe is filled with blackness. I’m guessing that it's a portal to the lobby. Pushing qi through it disconnects it from me. I don't feel like walking all the way back up again, I would have to run my arse off to get there before daybreak.
Blindly jumping into any kind of portal is a really stupid thing to do, but luckily I am not the smartest person around. I stick my hand through the inky door. I pull it back and my hand tingles like it's asleep. It’s completely stripped of qi. This could be a problem.
I breathe out the majority of my power, focussing it in front of my face. Compressing it to a point gives me a white marble. I touch it with my ring and place it inside. Putting Lola to my chest, she gets sucked in the necklace around my neck. Shifting the girl over my shoulder again I step through the door.
I nearly faint when I step into the spotless lobby. There is not a single shred of energy in my body. It’s like I freshly arrived here all over again with one single difference. My solid core. Breathing in deeply, I rip the mana from the air and gather enough qi to operate my spatial ring. Five breaths later I have enough and use it all to retrieve the white marble. I need to hurry up, I feel the girl’s heart rate dropping fast. I pop the white pill in my mouth and suck on it. It releases its contents at the closest place to my core I can get to, the back of my throat.
My dizziness fades as my core space fills with power once again. The moment I have some to spare I shove it into the girl over my shoulder. The core prevention rune I put on her is gone too. I remake that along with a sleep rune, a simple array of three ‘Z’ letters getting smaller. I set it to make her sleep for two days after some quick math. I mentally shout a bit at the qi to heal her. She should be all fixed up by the time she wakes up.
I walk out of the dungeon and make my way through the dark streets. I recall the data I have gathered on this city, my mental processes have been processing it this whole time. I check a certain mental storage space and look for convenient hiding places. An abandoned attic with a swivel window in the trade district comes up as number one. It’s on the way to the south gate, so I start walking.
I sense a wave of power coming from the necklace. Lola has finally figured out that you can use qi for more things than attacking or creating god damn fucking horns on foreheads, and is now sensing the environment through the necklace. Body cultivators have a harder time using their heartcore to control qi outside of their bodies, but they can do it after some practice. I pick up my pace as my core gets partially filled again, the marble in my mouth slowly growing smaller.
The attic windows doesn't even have a lock. As I hoist the bonelessly flopping girl through the opening I take a look at the interior. Dusty as hell, it seems to be used a storage for old furniture. I lay the sleeping form on the best looking couch after sweeping the dust away with a gust of qi. I then form a small circle made from power. I clear my mind and begin mentally shouting at it.
‘THERE IS NOTHING HERE, NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MOVE ALONG PEOPLE, MOVE ALONG’
I place the qi ring gently on her sternum after channeling my best cop impression for a minute. People can now sit on the couch and not notice the sleeping kidnap victim. Looking over the entire scene, I use some qi to spread the dust evenly, wiping away my footsteps and covering the couch in a fine layer again. I jump through the window, letting it fall shut. I nearly land on an early rising group of people, making myself unnoticeable just in time.
While leaving the group murmuring about that strange gust of wind, I make my way over to the gate I entered the city through. While walking I spread my spiritual sense though the entire city. I’m looking for more people that have a similar affinity to the sleeping girl. It takes a while as I slow down to a leisurely walk. I have located a few hundred people with odd energy signatures flitting through their bodies by the time I reach the city gate. The guards on duty all look at me and I do an admirable job of ignoring them.
I decide to stretch my limbs a bit, so I bring Lola out and look at her. Without saying anything I pump qi through my legs and start running south. With the wind whipping through my hair and Lola sprinting here and there I start thinking about what I need. First I need more qi. I can make mana tornadoes, but that is conspicuous as hell. I don't believe nobody sensed those power up moments of mine. Second is an item I can make with just about any object as a base. Third is… kidnapping people! This is going to the first time I will willfully commit such a crime. I can't wait.
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