Chapter 155 - Lattice

Chapter 155 - Lattice

I am worried. I’m worried about something important for once. In what direction am I going to develop my core?

My heartcore is a bog standard normal core, divided into a couple of trillion sections. Each section is linked to a cell in my body. Don't ask me how this makes sense, because I don’t know. I have multiple processes running - both in my core and in Database - that are trying to figure out this thing from various perspectives, but no dice so far.

Any animal of sufficient size has more bacteria, viruses and fungi in their body than native cells. They all form an incredibly complex process, working together to digest food and do all kinds of fancy chemical things. None of these ‘foreign’ cells gets a heartcore section. None of my blood cells gets one. No sections for my white blood cells nor do the short-lived cells of my immune system get parts.

My skin and all the linings and mucous membranes in my body do get linked portions. A large part of my heartcore is ever-changing as my stomach lining and skin is shed. These cells die by the truckloads, new ones forming continuously. A mortal’s body dies fifty billion deaths each day. My body has slowed down significantly, the ageing and multiplication process is slowing now that I’ve got loads of qi supporting my physical form, but it’s still happening.

And my problem is that my heartcore is the core I understand the best.

Because my braincore is just an empty space. No, that’s not right. It’s not even empty space. Vacuum still contains loads of loose molecules, photons, neutrinos, and it contains actual three-dimensional space. My braincore is completely, totally, and perfectly empty. And this has me worried.

Rhea told me about her foundation. I was resting while scanning through the last of the smaller islands, kidnapping anyone interesting when she descended from the sky. I gave her a drink, and she enthusiastically told me about a fever dream and a tree in her head. There were only a few people left on the islands, mostly prisoners who deserved their cell, so we returned to our boat while she elaborated on all the parts of her tree.

Her roots feed on data and her trunk transports this data to her leaves, which represent all her subordinates. These people then turn the nutrients into fruits, the products of their labour. I actually felt her managing my students. Among the defeated library infiltration party were a good few that took their failure hard. She saw this as a rotting fruit and did an after-action report.

Database informed me of a significant uptake in both general productivity and mood when she was done. Tree also, noticed and the necklace around my neck buzzed with positive energy. I also suspect that Tree is getting awfully close to Rhea for some reason. Still, it’s a tree. I’m not going to feel jealous or be suspicious of a tree.

So, she’s doing great. And just with that short description, I could think of a hundred ways for her to grow.

I can't think of a single way for me to grow. And that’s my problem.

Except for gathering more raw power, of course. But that’s also a problem. An unguided explosion is going to lose to a guided and shaped charge in terms of high-level killing power every time. A kilo of TNT will kill a lot of unarmoured targets, sure, but it wouldn't do shit against a tank. You need a way to apply the force of that TNT into a single point to get through that kind of armour.

Just gathering more raw power isn’t going to work… Not unless I can deduct the most optimal way of applying that raw power for every single scenario I can come across? But that’s what I’ve been doing all this time, though.

Then again, that’s also not true. My previous core was made up of information and data. From a word to a book to a world filled with libraries. The best solution for a situation was always there. I only had to find it and execute it. Now my core is just empty space.

But then again, I’ve already found that I can change my braincore into anything I want. And I have a heartcore. People are not going to suspect me of being a physical powerhouse when all I’ve shown them is mental prowess and spells.

But the very malleability of my core is a jack of all trades situation. I can change it into pure speed, but will lose to someone who has their entire cultivation focussed on speed. But If I were to change my core into a defensive one, wouldn’t the speed guy be useless against me?

So I should train that changeability… How can I train that anyway? I’m usually all for testing everything, but I’ve not tested any limits yet. Maybe I need to go do that. Then again, I had no need to test it. Like at all. I love that all the fights here have been easy mode, but it’s making me lazy, I think.

Testing my empty core, let’s focus. First I need to lay down some categorisations. And how do we do that? That is a question that has been answered by librarians, luckily for me. The Dewey Decimal System to the rescue!

I can ignore a couple right off the bat. History, geography, literature, social studies and recreation are subjects that I will put on the lower end of the useful spectrum. I’m sure that I can come up with some form of a weaponized thesis on the history of emancipation in a magical world after a lot of work, but there are easier ways to kick ass.

The basis should be the zeroth class; computers, information and knowledge. That’s Database. Next!

Philosophy, psychology, religion, language, science and technology are left. I spend the next few minutes mulling over these concepts and how I can apply them to myself.

I stop when I realize that the image of Conan I used previously is part language, art, literature and history. Subjects I just classified as less than useful. Should I look at this problem from a different viewpoint? The Dewey system is based around professions and disciplines. Maybe I should focus on a science-based classification? Physics, chemistry, and biology might be better bases from which to train my braincore.

A process kindly informs me that all low priority pings have been ignored and that a threshold has been crossed. It thus decides to interject itself into the forefront of my mind as per its own directions. It further informs me that I should stop thinking in circles and get out of my head. I rub my eyes and take a deep breath.

I'm on the sailboat, cutting through the choppy waves towards the north. The wall of churning foam made up of many mana mutants ahead is coming closer at a harrowing speed. Rhea is standing behind the wheel, curiously testing the finer points of aquatic navigation as she provides her own sailing wind. Lola has frozen her ass to the steering wheel and is happily flopping back and forth as Rhea steers.

I grab my sword and swing it. Before Lola can react, I take control of the ice and send a stream of it forwards. The sea freezes in a long streak ahead of us as the blue wave of power steals all the warmth from both water and beasts. Lola gives me one look of betrayal while she plops on the deck, the ice stolen from under her.

She is about to squeak indignantly, but I grab her at the scruff of her neck and throw her forward.

“Melt us a path, you useless furball!” I shout after her. I keep hold of the icy flows that ebbs from my sword, and watch in glee as Lola explodes in flames. Her irritation is forgotten quickly as she jumps around the frozen landscape, smashing, melting, evaporating, and burning us a path to sail through.

“Lola just became a subject! Because she is helping me maybe? Her leaf has a little bunny face on it!” Rhea smiles while sailing around a floating whale carcass.

“Did you try taking the fruit from your tree? Maybe you can make use of the products directly?”

Rhea holds her hand out, and a flaming apple spins into being. I feel my mouth falling open. The flames are identical to the ones coursing through Lola and my sword. Rhea smiles even wider as she drops the apple and sweeps her hand out to the side.

A monstrous item, a combination of steampunk and mystical runes, pops into existence and starts belching out a concentrated stream of blue power. I follow the beam and see the sea freezing where it hits. Rhea nods to herself and freezes the beasts that managed to escape my wave of cold. The cannon seems to be powered by a simple construct similar to the mana canons, only using qi as a power source. I start studying the thing, but before I can really get started, Rhea waves again and makes the item disappear.

Another wave of her free hand causes a small round object to fall into her palm. She looks at it with interest, pulling on a ring with her other hand. I see a metal piece fly off and freak out. “Throw that thing away now! What the fuck are you doing, you crazy woman! Don’t go pulling grena-”

I am cut off when the small object detonates in a rising pillar of misted seawater, and I thank all that is holy for the fact that I managed to toss the thing just in time. We both stare at each other for a long moment. I hear Lola squeak a question mark at us and see her looking towards us from on top of a large carapace covered goldfish.

“Please don't… Just...”

She sheepishly nods and goes back to steering. “Ah, those guys are pissed now. Maybe I shouldn't take away their prototypes all of a sudden?”

“How are you pulling that stuff out of nowhere anyway?” I question her.

“Tree seems to be helping me,” she nonchalantly replies.

Tree again… What is the plant version of bestiality? Surely that big golden piece of wood won't steal my girl? But Rhea has a tree in her head now? So she is part tree maybe, and Tree is sensing that? Is this revenge for never giving the bastard a name? Gods, I am suspicious and jealous of a plant… Where is the closest certified psychologist?

I decide to stop thinking about that for now and focus back on easier to answer questions, like in what direction should I grow my own cultivation base…

Valerius frowns deeply. He was happily weeding the garden in the golden glow and shade of Tree when this Vox guy came up to him and started yammering about mass producing food. The way the redhead kept staring at the hulking beastkin standing next to him causes shivers to run up the earth mage’s spine.

“Food. Please stop bothering me and give me a quest. My pa told me to do what I love, but he never told me that I need to do it for free.” Valerius feels good as he smiles smugly at the frowning Vox.

“I put one on Database. Re-Haan agreed.”

“Ah, Database… Could you give it to me in writing? I don’t do that stuff anymore.” Valerius turns back to his shovel, ignoring the trio that is now staring holes in his back.

“Has he fallen to her clutches?” asks Rodrick.

“He doesn’t look that dumb. Only slightly,” interjects Green.

“Guys, let’s not talk bad about him where he can hear it. He can't help it if he’s dumb,” shushes Vox. The redhead glows slightly as he pulls out a sheet of paper. His finger produces stark rays of light that burn black letters on the stationary. “Here Val. The mission and its details.”

“That’s not my name, please call me Vale- oh, this is nice paper. Even better than Dungeon won stock,” murmurs Valerius as he takes the presented sheet. “What? You guys know that the king is only keeping power because he has that dungeon, right?”

“Do you know that that dungeon can also give out mana crystals?” deflects Vox.

This genuinely surprises Valerius, but he hides it well under his bored facade. “Then do you know that the king has been losing grip over that dunge- ah… Ah, I understand. Alright, I’ll talk to that big pile of data for once.”

The gardener reads the sheet of paper once more. The mission paints a situation, asking for help in an open-ended manner. Valerius raises an eyebrow at the realisation that this mission’s description is completely different from what he saw before. He decided to abstain from using Database because of its severely limiting nature.

The mild-mannered man had been told what to do - and what not to do - his entire life. He had grasped this opportunity to change his life and start living for himself instead of being a small complying cog in the machine. He had taken a firm decision to limit communication with Database when he felt its extreme approach to absolute information. This new way of formulating a mission actually gets his creative juices flowing.

The paper paints an interesting picture. A certain organisation is keeping an entire city in a stranglehold thanks to a near complete control of the food supply. Many slaves and peasants are being used and exploited in this scheme. How could the school and their students set up a system that relieves this organisation of this power?

There is some more information about the actual location and groups involved, but the initial parts of the mission are purely theoretical problems. Valerius decides to take a closer look and hesitatingly puts a piece of jade to his forehead. The hated feeling of absolutes and rigid structure flows into his mind, but the ex-earth mage grits his teeth and requests the relevant mission.

Vox, Rodrick and Green awkwardly stand there as Valerius puts the piece of jade to his forehead while looking like he’s having the most painful shit of his life. Then the drably dressed mage opens his eyes. The trio take a step back as the man’s eyes start sparkling with yellow fire.

“Mass producing food, no traces of qi. Those nobles tell people what to do, no? Let’s kick ‘m down. Telling other people what to do. I'm sure that there is a boy out there that only wants to become a farmer. And they’re stopping him! Unacceptable! EVERYONE! We're mass producing food now! Tree, I’ll need to clear a large stretch of forest, my excuses in advance! Get those tater cuttings from storage. Is that grain growth test done yet?”

Valerius walks off, yellow power billowing off of him in sintering waves. The people in the field - mostly beastkin with flat teeth - all stand upright and start running as soon as they receive orders. The neatly maintained rows of herbs, grains, fruits and flowers reach to Valerius as he walks through the fields to the treeline. Golden tendrils of power come down from the sky, gently pulling trees from the ground and ferrying them off into the distance.

Valerius reaches the freshly churned soil left behind by the deforestation action and starts waving his hands. The ground drinks up the yellow qi with great thirst as the rough earth is turned into neat rows at great speed. The other workers come running, gently holding small plants or sacks of seeds and start planting.

The trio closes their mouth, stunned at the sudden transformation from dull gardener to a god of horticulture. “I… think we can trust that the food supply is taken care of?” Vox hesitatingly states.

“I think so...” Rodrick slowly nods.

“Alright! Let’s go to the good part, we need to get it cooked! Oh-my-dungeon, if those guys setting up that kitchen are half as good as Teach, I’ll die of overeating. Come on, guys!” Green starts marching to the remnants of Teach's castle. A few heartcores are hauling the last remains of the ruin to storage areas while a small community of culinary enthusiasts has started congregating around the growing kitchen.

“It does smell a lot more fragrant after that cooking spectacle,” says Rodrick as he sniffs the air.

“Thanks for helping me out. I gotta do some stuff, cya later!” Vox waves at the two bonecores before running into the forest.

Rodrick is about to follow him but is stopped by a pouting Green. “Okay. Look here, big boy. I would have thought twice about trying to ensnare you had I known you were a pole dancer, but that doesn't mean that I’m regretting it. Anyway, thanks for not pushing me away or anything.” Green smiles with a hint of sadness as she darts off towards the food area.

“Pole dancer? Green, come back here! What do you mean!?” Rodrick glances at the forest line where Vox disappeared before sighing and following the green woman.

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