Chapter 153 - Variegation
I tinker with the qi formation some more while staring Lola in the eyes. “You ready, fuzzy butt?”
Her nose wiggles while she keeps staring at me. I start feeling slightly crazy - I’m talking to a rabbit while honestly waiting for a response - when she wiggles her ears a bit. Good enough for me.
I pull my arm back and launch her into the air. At the apex of her flight, I activate the qi formation. A small blue sun appears in the sky, lighting up the collection of islands in cold light. The light far above grows and turns into a rotating cyclone.
I take this time to really study the islands around me. The fort island I’m currently on is the biggest one, a roughly square shape with a small bay where boats are moored. To the south is the second biggest island, a longer piece of land filled with trees, fields and a lot of buildings. I see small figures scurry about in a panic as they swarm the boats.
Then there are a handful of smaller islands, most of them uninhabited or housing a few small homes and some canoes. A few of the closer ones are connected by a web of narrow bridges, one particular island containing a rather large house at the centre point of the network.
I bring my gaze upwards again and see a majestic sight. The large blue whirlwind has sucked all the moisture out of the air in a large radius, clustering the liquid and solid water around Lola. I manoeuvre a small flame around my finger, making sure to keep a grip on the fire element coursing through my sword. This means that Lola is now limited to the ice half of her cultivation base.
I have found that limiting her to one element allows her to actually control it with some precision. Every time she uses both at once, things go horribly wrong.
I clench my fist, and the water smashes towards Lola as the qi construct enters its second phase. Wings of opaque ice form as an entire dragon is crafted around the small bunny. The entire thing is glowing fiercely - imitating an actual dragon’s transformation process - but I manage to spot Lola moving around frantically inside the half solidified water.
I explained the entire process to her and had a small hope that she actually understood through sheer instinct and unconscious deduction. I observe her panicked flailing some more and realise that I should have known better.
The process finishes a few seconds later. A rather impressive mechanical dragon - made from ice and driven through a combination of physical force and qi formations - has Lola all wrapped up. Lola calms down as she starts realising that the form around her is under her control. The dragon looks like a spastic invalid, but Lola should have figured out how to control the thing in a few minutes.
It’s just a shame that she’ll have crashed into the ground at that point. I snap my finger and send the qi construct into its third phase, a pre-programmed series of actions.
Majestic, attention-grabbing roar; check.
The damping blue dragon starts falling downwards, its stretched wings leaving trails of condensed mist as it picks up speed. It opens its jaws, gathering a blue orb of supercooled water in front of its mouth as it scoops the air dry. Fifty meters above the island, its wings flap, halting its momentum, while the glob of water continues on downwards. It smashes into the middle of the fort island, immediately dousing any flames as a front of blue mist covers everything in rime.
Public display of excessive violence; check.
I grab hold of my sword a little tighter, using its heat to stave off the uncomfortable cold now surrounding me. The entire fort is covered in shades of white and blue. That should be warning enough for everyone on the surrounding islands, right?
Speeding up the general evacuation; check… Hopefully...
The mysterious entity pulling the strings behind the scene of this planet has surely already sent a large collection of mutant sea creatures to this spot. The amount of raw qi used here is sure to attract some attention.
I spread some of my raw qi around myself in the form of my spiritual sense. I spread it into a thin net, managing to cover all the islands and then some with only a fraction of my power. I nearly get a heart attack as I sense a sizable dragon in the catacombs below the fort. I can only chuckle nervously as I realise that the large reptile is Rhea. I wonder why she seems to be uncomfortable shifting around right now, but the step into the foundation stage is often an extremely personal and emotional moment. I also wonder why she seems to be whispering my name like it’s some sort of curse, but decide to respect her privacy. I ignore her complex and personal development splendidly and with all my might.
Lola is haltingly flapping the draconic ice wings about, barely managing to stay aloft. I grin at the bunny inside a dragon exoskeleton. Or is it a furry mech rider? Maybe an animal puppeteer? Her shame is only seen by very few, as everyone I sense that could see her - and isn’t locked or chained up - is running and sailing for their lives. There are plenty of vessels available, as the islands are pretty sparsely occupied.
Everyone inside this fort is dead or safely tucked away on Tree’s moon - not withstanding a certain dragoness - so I decide to scour the rest of the islands for interesting loot. It would be a shame to leave any potential humans and beastkin with affinities to be eaten by the large mana monsters I sense heading this way.
Several large sharks, octopi, whales, crabs, and other aquatic fauna have just entered my sensory range. They lose speed and focus the moment they enter the qi field around me.
That is worrying. I was hoping that the entity sending them at any qi emissions didn’t have a direct link to the beasties. The fact that they faltered when entering the area that I am scanning with active qi is a clear indication that the mutants have a direct link to whatever is sensing the qi - which is myself. Them milling about without any clear direction is also an indication that they can’t sense the qi themselves, as Rhea is emitting waves of the stuff at the moment.
So the big bad guy only senses where qi is present, and not how much? I scratch my head in puzzlement. I have run multiple tests, but they are not helping me with painting a picture of what I might be up against. I decide to shelve the problem away for later, worrying never solved anything.
I spot frozen and burned corpses here and there as I start hopping through the fort towards the evacuating islands. This will be the first time I'm doing any form of large-scale extermination on this planet. The only other death on my consciousness since coming to this planet was that pirate captain. Ow, and that entire mage island… But that was self-defence, so that doesn’t really count.
Others may have died indirectly due to my actions - when the Tower cracked, the trio of dragons attacked it, or that noble convoy got trampled - but these people here are victims that I directly caused. I take a deep breath of frosty air as I jump over the outer wall. The excuse I gave to Re-Haan was just that, an excuse. I had to channel the anger that welled up in me when reading that Database report on the island fort somehow.
A cold and mechanical storm of calculations, angles, and forces aimed at figuring out how to eliminate all those fucking, dirty motherfu... bastards as fast as possible seemed a good use of that energy. Saving the relatively few inhabitants and the larger amount of slaves that didn’t stink of utter corruption and darkness was a nice side benefit.
I thought I managed to leave that all behind. Even I can see that the cultivation world left some heavy scars on me. Good and evil, and all that jazz. Arriving into a ruthless world from with modern, 21st sensibilities caused a lot of friction, you know. Adjust to the Cultivation World was already pretty hard, you know.
Taking another deep and calming breath, I start running towards the now nearly empty islands. Let’s see if there are any interesting people left.
“I’m afraid of going inside. It feels like there is something horrible waiting for us.” A slightly ruffled Tess hops from one foot to the other in a nervous dance as she stands in front of their recently occupied and repaired barn. All the wood in one corner of the building being a good few shades lighter than the rest of the building is a clear indicator that some hasty repairs have recently been made. Ket puts a hand on her shoulder and pushes her towards the door. The Tower Dungeon is visible from their position, it's reflected light shining illumination upon Tower City before the sun properly rises.
“I know. Let's just get it over with.” Ket looks equally dishevelled, his previously neat clothes now containing a few smears and cuts while his hair is more messy than usual. The duo puts their hands on the door and push it open. They push it open once again when their first attempts fail to open the door more than a crack.
“Oh, dungeons above Tower save me,” Tess mumbles as she turns green. She shoves her shoulders against the door, slowly opening the door while dragging something heavy across the floor. She puts her head through the crack and immediately vomits all over a pile of dark shapes.
“Uuuhm, what smells nice?”
“Who's that? Are we finally dead?”
“Aaaah, I’m in heaven. I stopped shitting.”
“I see light at the end of the tunnel. I want to go there.”
“Ketty. Have thou forsaken us?”
Ket takes a deep breath, puts two small metal objects in his nose, and shoves the door open while the door’s metal parts glow a soft grey. He steps over the groaning and complaining pile of kids and walks inside the building, dragging a heaving Tess behind him. He claps his hands once, causing the single crystal hanging on the ceiling above him to light up.
A horrible sight greets them. Nine kids are covered in a combination of piss, shit, black sludge, and fresh vomit. They lay against the door that’s covered in handprints and smudges, a clear sign that a desperate struggle has taken place.
“We need Selis. I’ll go get her. We also need supplies and food and cleaning materials and a lot more help. Cya later!” Tess starts running towards the door again, only stopping as glowing lines appear on the walls. The formations they both drew on the walls spell out complex symbols and scientific notations describing strength, sound dampening, and containment.
“Ah, no, Tess. We are in this one together. I already asked Selis to come as fast as possible. I also asked her to bring clothes and food. You clean the girls. I’ll do the boys.” Ket smiles sweetly at her as he shuts down her excuses to leave one by one. Tess slumps her shoulders as she looks at the stinking pile of kids. She dry-heaves some more, expelling bile, while Ket starts dragging the half-conscious kids from atop one another.
“They have not abandoned us!”
“Hail Ketty and Tess.”
“I think I shat my guts out.”
“I’m crying again. Why are my tears black?”
Ket and Tess work in silence as they lead the kids towards the back rooms, leaving a trail of stinking goop in their wake. “Ronal, what did you do with the weird feeling? You’re the cleanest one here.”
The kid is still shaking and hasn't said a word since Tess and Ket arrived back at the building in the early morning. Ket suspected that the amount of qi in the food Tess gave the kids in combination with his speech would have them go through some of the early cultivation pains. The amount of power radiating from the kids and the amount of foul gunk expelled from their bodies have lead Ket to conclude that he might need to adjust his common sense.
As far as any of that sense is still left to him…
The food produced by Teach’s recent cooking frenzy has many times the energy content of the food initially given to the original students back in the day. Ket closes the door behind him, shutting him and six stinking kids inside the room that used to be a bedroom. “Alright. Please get rid of your clothes.”
The boys just stand there in a daze, unresponsive. Slightly resentful, Ket decides to look at this as a training opportunity. A glittering stream of fine iron sand flows out of his ring, swirling around himself and the kids in a grey mist. Every single scrap and smear of dirt, cloth, and muck is scraped away by a high speed and higher precision storm of metal particles.
“So?” Asks Ket.
The boy Ket addressed startles awake. “Ah, Ketty! It was horrible! The old man always told us that a man's most precious thing is his crotch, so I put all the power there. I woke up in the middle of the night, and it burned, and this black stinky stuff dripped out. Am I still a man? Can I still become a man?”
“Ronal, shut up, you dick,” another boy says with anger on his face. “I had black stuff running from my nose and eyes. You only pissed some.”
“Corl, what did you do with the tingling feeling?” Ket asks while handing out simple clothing a few sizes too large.
“I put it in my blood. That’s what you told me is keeping me alive.” Corl holds a pair of too large underpants up with one hand while studying the faint blue veins on his wrist.
Ket shakes his head in irritation. “That is technically true, yes. What nonsense did the rest of you do?”
“I put it in my head. You did so too,” one kid states with absolute certainty.
“I shoved it inside my spoon. Now my spoon is awesome! I can’t let go of it though.” Another holds up a slightly glowing spoon with a clenched grip.
“Oooh, I can punch harder!” The vacant smile on that one is enough for Ket to diagnose him with a heartcore.
“I tried becoming a mutie like that awesome horse with a horn the mages killed last year. But nothing happened, and now my head hurts.”
“Flight help us. One peniscore, bloodcore, braincore, external spooncore, heartcore and… mutantcore? Flight fucking help us.” Ket looks at the bickering kids with great despair. He turns and opens the door with exaggerated slowness, and comes face-to-face with an equally depressed Tess.
“Haircore...” Tess pulls a girl wearing an improvised dress with literally glowing hair to the forefront.
“Skincore...” This time it’s the bigger girl, San, who has flawless skin.
“And… mathcore?” The last girl, Kosie, is shoved forward, an oddly distant look in her eyes.
Ket is about to unload his own cadre of misfits to the front when a girly voice reverberates through the entire building. The formations on the wall start glowing as they attempt to prevent the sound from entering. “Hey, guys! I’m here! Wow, this door won’t open. HYA!” The symbols and lines on the walls flash with blinding brightness before they die, as the front door is kicked in. A blue head of hair is visible in the morning light.
“Wow it’s dirty in here and what smells so ba-” And Selis vomits on the floor, adding to the pile of filth and sludge already there. “Yeah no. I’m leaving. Bye!”
Ket and Tess stare at the retreating girl. They look between themselves and the kids. “You know...” Tess begins.
“Yes. Teach would love to see these interesting cases. Would give us more time to...”
Tess blushes red as she puts a few strands of hair behind her ears. “Yes, yes. Let’s dump these brats and return to that inn.”
Ket visibly swallows and starts commanding the rowdy troop of kids towards his old shack, holding tight to Tess’s hand.
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