Chapter 159 - Viewpoints
Re-Haan has her eyes closed, enjoying the warming rays of the sun while laying on a comfortable cloth chair. She had looked at it with utmost scepticism while Drew was showing her how the thing worked, but she had become a believer the moment she sat in it. An unwieldy rack of wood with cloth spun between, the thing has a joint that allows it to transform from a door-sized flag into a neat summer chair.
She is sitting in the front part of the boat, having removed the foresail to allow her to bask in the sun. Like sleeping, dozing in the sun is instinctually satisfying on a deep level for the transformed dragoness.
She has just returned from her daily transformation practice. Instead of lounging around in her human form the entire sail trip, she has been stretching her metaphorical and literal wings. She is slowly getting her cultivation base used to feeling comfortable in other shapes.
The fact that her overall effectiveness is sacrificed for versatility rankles her a bit. Each time she trains with other body types, the pool of power in her brain is a little less susceptible to her human form. So she decided to cheat and forced her pool to migrate while in her dragon form, using a pre-programmed qi construct to mess with her while she was in the liquid stage. As a result, her full dragon shape now has a tree spreading through her entire body, working like a heartcore and allowing her to wield a qi powered breath attack.
She stopped training in other forms when it became clear that a price needs to be paid for qi fluency in multiple shapes. Her slowly growing cultivation base - fueled by a steady diet of mana crystals she looted from Parduuk and the mana in the air - manages to keep up with the lessening efficiency so far.
The lithe woman stretches a bit, feeling Drew’s gaze roam over her curves as she wriggles around and decides to check on how her projects are doing. The sudden question whether she would be attracted to Drew if he transformed into a dragon jumps to the forefront of her mind, but shifting her focus on the myriad of growing fruits is enough of a distraction.
First, she checks the food project. She was quite surprised when that ball of frustrated anger calling himself the king came to them with the idea. She immediately saw a lot of tasty possibilities, especially when she learned that the dungeon in the middle of the capital can give out mana crystals instead of food.
All dungeons that she knows of drop a wide variety of items, from weapons, furniture, and raw materials to the occasional book. The capital dungeon was supposed to be the food-centric one, as opposed to the Towers weapons and armour and the Peak’s furniture and tools.
Wondering why somebody hadn't done so before, she set up a system of dungeon exploitation. The customary loot drops - piles of stuff dropping unseen when the tenth floor or decad boss is defeated - don’t happen at night.
Now each night a group of students sneaks into the dungeons, overseen by a core-former at the minimum, in order to train proper fighting. The groups will use the dark hours to get accustomed to actual life and death situations combined with low light conditions. The team will usually reach their limit when morning comes, allowing them to harvest the loot drops for that tenfold floor. Putting the stuff into rings then allows them to split up and exfiltrate the dungeon pretending to be bloody remains of a defeated group, a rather common occurrence.
Nobody has died yet, although some close calls were reported. The daily improvement of medical supplies outputted by Danarius and co are a large help in this. Getting them used to the qi containment field of their rings also takes some time and practice. Many students are surprised that their techniques that previously worked flawlessly are now being blocked by their skin.
This has a side effect of increasing everyone's qi spell efficiency, she realises. A spell containing unactivated qi is a spell that needs more control or optimisation, after all.
Selis had earned a substantial amount of points by submitting a report describing a way to force the dungeon to drop only certain items. The concept of probability manipulation that the weird things seem to operate on does not play well with qi-soaked space. Leaving holes big enough in the spiritual sense fields for certain items forces the dungeon to form these objects in the unobserved area’s. A steady stream of mana crystals and the occasional order of raw materials is keeping everyone in Tree supplied with raw stock and cultivable energy both.
The qi generating formation adorning Tree’s crown has been slowly growing ever since that steady supply of crystal was started.
The gardens surrounding Tree have grown from a patchwork herb garden to rolling fields of fast-growing crops. Tests on soil depletion and quality - a mission submitted and highly prioritized by Drew - had Valerius floating on clouds, so happy was he. Production per square kilometre shot up once controlled tests were run. That branch used the difference between qi soaked soil and powerless moon soil to form further theories that are being tested even now.
A sub-one-per cent production gain translates into a much bigger efficiency difference when performed in qi rich environments. This was one of the many discoveries that had the scientists and braincores chomping at their bits.
This growing stream of food is transformed into ready-to-eat foodstuffs by a large section of culinary enthusiasts. This is then exported through the capital portal, providing everyone with food at no cost. The management of the distribution of all this sustenance has grown a substantial new branch in Re-Haan’s tree in only a few days. Her tree - previously a sapling - now looks like a proper young perennial, no longer at risk of being stepped on and having its trunk snapped.
One thing is worrying Re-Haan. Most of these industries are based in a very limited market, have no growth potential, or are just temporary. No matter how crazy Drew's plans might be, supplying the food of an entire city is bound to get old fast. He's also all about new things, so she fears that parts of her tree will wither when his attention shifts. She makes a mental note to talk about that at a later date.
Another small economy that she didn't expect popped up. She needed to do very little managing there, as the need for everyday stuff enhanced with qi seems never-ending. Re-Haan only started a communication channel that allows for custom requests and advertisements promoting newly developed items. Self-heating pans, workout equipment with an automatically adjustable weight, clothing that contains self-cleaning or visual effects, quickly built custom buildings, the requests and offers keep flowing endlessly.
The king was another unexpected source of commerce here, as well as in the weapons department. The royal coffers contain little gold, but the king’s wealth of mana crystals seems large indeed. The few citizens loyal to the crown, further culled by the king’s keen aura senses, all got supplied with enhanced armour and weapons. The bad ones were asked to leave, and were helped to leave when they inevitable protested. Missions to form cadre’s of royal guards or escort essential personnel are providing the students with another source of income and experience.
The fading influx of new blood got temporarily solved by Drew’s and her raid on Parduuk. The couple of hundred people Drew kidnapped from that wretched place are all running around Tree now, most of them passing the initial test with ease and starting their own path of cultivation. A few of them got sucked in by that stupid grandmother of Ferah, and Re-Haan glares at the withering branch representing that rotten collection of garbage people.
Most of the ones taken in by that old bat are of the same caste as that witch, or beastkin of lesser status without much brains. A braincore would undoubtedly fix those mildly retarded individuals, but not forcing people to do anything is one of the few rules Drew himself actually enforces. Any attempts at forceful labour, threats or even hints of slavery are crushed ruthlessly and with the utmost priority.
She asked Drew about it, why he tolerates all the other nonsense people are pulling but standing firm on the freedom issue. He talked a bit about how tolerant people can only be intolerant of intolerance, but it honestly didn't really click for the dragoness. She had even studied the section of information in Database about the paradox of intolerance with her conscious mind, but it still didn't really make sense.
She understood that unlimited tolerance was a self-destructive concept on a mathematical level, but that's it. She had come to the conclusion that this concept must be one of the things that she is unlikely to grasp. That selfless thought she had six days ago must have been something similar. She had shown Drew the image she had branded in her core, the foaming sea coloured by warm sunlight painting vivid contrasts with the menagerie of sea life. He had replied; “Wow, that’s neat.”
No other altruistic impulse had happened since that one. For the amount of inner turmoil it caused her, it seemed awfully anticlimactic…
Guiding her thoughts back into the previous path, she checks on the recruitment rates. Everyone has a few subjects they need a certain amount of proficiency in before they are allowed to do anything important. Each mission or role having its own skill priority list. Aura reading is high up on the list for any mission going outside Tree.
The general feeling inside Tree has been consistently happy, positive, and warm. Probably because Teach was rather selective in his initial recruiting. Each individual was - if not completely warm and welcoming - neutral at worst. Except for that bint of a grandmother…
This means that new students have only sensed neutral or good people when cultivating. This has a generally positive effect on them, except for their apparent horror when faced with truly bad folks. Some of the more sensitive students threw up when meeting rapists and murderers, covering their bodies in a film of puke that slowly seeped through their qi containment field. Those situations, Re-Haan would rather prevent, and not just for the cleanup needed after such events.
A series of mental exercises encourage a person to imagine the worst case scenario, only letting them pass when Database feels a sufficiently broken and dark thought or image coming through the mental link. This also allows people to more clearly recognise potential assets.
Back to the recruitment list, Re-Haan sees that the vast majority of people are now being supplied by students in the three largest human cities. Rescued slaves, abandoned kids or people left behind by their delving teams make up the majority of that group. A trickle of personnel comes from the king inducting his own people as cultivators while a fifth of all new students is composed of family members being recruited by ex-slaves on long-range missions.
And then there are the weapons. Re-Haan is not sure whether she feels physically, mentally, or sexually excited when going through the potential behind some of these weapon projects. Ripe fruits, burgeoning with destructive might, fill her mental vision as she inspects the arms part of her personal tree. The largest fruit - the qi powered beam cannon project - has split up into a few smaller fruits while the main one is obviously splitting into two.
She takes a closer look and instead of being sucked inside the project like she was previously, she now sees images, pieces of video, and an overview. Anti-personnel and siege classes. Tasty fruits indeed.
One fruit shimmers with a sharp intent. Another seems filled with explosive might. Okay, Re-Haan has enough self-knowledge to admit that this is getting her totally horny. Ignoring the rest of that beautiful, delicious branch, she opens her eyes and locks her gaze upon Drew.
I’m kind of bored. I’m standing behind the steering wheel again. Rhea sailed us through that semicircular ring of the way too excited sea beasties when we left Parduuk’s ruins, but hasn’t offered to take the wheel since then. She has been too busy changing into all kinds of freaky forms.
I keep telling myself that shape does not matter. Each time I embrace the woman I forcefully steer away from the fact that I saw this lovely lady change into a monstrosity with spider legs and at least a hundred penis shaped tentacles. Yep, form, shape, and whether or not she has one or many, many penises does not matter.
I thank all that is holy, right,and good in the multiverse for her change in behaviour. I sensed her directly useable powers lessening each time she came back from freaky shape practice and spun her a tale. I told her that potential usage takes energy, the power to use power in many ways takes power, leaving less for direct use. I might have rambled a bit.
But it seemed to have worked because I have only seen her change into her dragon form for the past few days. I have been cursing my eidetic memory though. Come on Drew, always look on the bright side of life.
I’ve been trying to overwrite those memories, the one where she was a collection of nothing but tooth rimmed gaping maws especially, with pictures of her sunbathing. She used to lay just anywhere on the ship, her back slightly melted and shining as she lay there. A beautiful woman with a glowing, melting backside is also not great visual stimulation. Thus the hastily designed and constructed beach chair.
So yeah, I leer at her curves once more, observing each slender line and valley of flesh. I burn her half-lidded eyes framed by white, floating hair in my memory. Her bikini - actual cloth instead of textured flesh at my insistence - emphasises her curves rather nicely. I can feel my sanity points returning slowly.
It’s just a shame that I need to spend them again. I sit back down, holding my foot on the steering wheel, and resume my chores. The influx of students is great and completely according to my plans. It’s just not great that I failed to understand some intricacies of my plans. Like the fact that I need to make a couple of dozen new spatial rings a day.
I have the construction line under Tree - ran by Database - making rings by the hundreds. The simpler enchanting work can also be done automatically, that's just a matter of printing the silver in a detailed shape. The critical features need to be done by hand though. Forming a unique small storage sub-dimension, linking it to a corporal form and shaping the metaphysical connection from the small silver tree and my actual Tree can’t be automated.
Usually, sects would give out spatial rings only to promising individuals. Making a storage ring was something sect-elders did on occasion, when they needed favours from someone or when they were strapped for cash. I - for some dumb reason - decided to give a spatial ring to every single shit that ends up as a student of mine.
So here I sit. I once again pull a ring from Tree’s storage area. I pour out a bit of my augur and form it into a hollow sphere next to the ring. Imposing my will upon the mental construct, I collapse it into nothingness slowly. I let the air seep out but keep hold of the space. The space around it bends along with the image I keep firmly inside my mind's eye, forming into a singularity as I press it through reality’s fabric.
Keeping hold of the newly formed pocket in space, I sense it disconnecting from the local area and universe. The only link between that newly formed sphere of space and this universe is my mind. Keeping that thread going, I focus on my necklace. Grabbing hold of the blazing connection to Tree’s dimension, I pull a small strand to the ring’s embedded Tree. I will the small silver inlay and Tree to merge slightly, letting the small strand snap into place. I then guide the small pocket to the ring and make it land.
My very first attempt at spatial rings comes to mind. I somehow formed a portal ring, disappearing the top knuckle of my left pinky finger into somewhere unknown. My lack of experience and need for scientific understanding had led me to create a one way portal inside the simple piece of circular jewellery. I never retrieved that piece of my pinky and had to grow a new one.
That was a lesson I am still having trouble with. Not everything needs to be understood through dissection of basic principles. Messing with space seems to be one of these fundamentals that work better when done through feeling instead of trying to impose one's own understanding upon it.
I sigh as I check the ring’s intricately written coding one more time. I test the containment field and feel its principles cover me. The tracker spell is also functional. The size limiting function will keep the spatial pocket in check, not allowing it to grow beyond a certain size. All the other features also check out, and I put it into Tree’s storage area.
One done, a couple hundred to go.
What feels like hours later, my mind is numb, and my augur is largely spent. It’s great training, but it feels like I just ran a hundred marathons with my thoughts. I check the storage area inside the moon and see that a few more drones are ready for launch. Happy to do something less soul-draining, I start programming the little flying wonders.
I have launched the last drone, waving it goodbye as it slowly climbs upwards while going in an as of yet unexplored direction, when I sense Rhea stirring. I sensed her communicating with Database at a rather impressive pace, and that just stopped. I double check the directions my newly launched pretty’s are flying when I feel a chill going up my spine.
I spin around and grab my sword, only to see Rhea smiling at me while licking her lips. I look up and make eye contact with Lola. The bunny shakes her head once and retreats into the little crows nest. I always knew I couldn't rely on that yellow-bellied dumbass when shit got real. I take a deep breath and start pleading.
“Loo-” I am pounced before I can get a single word out of my mouth. A flushed and heavily breathing Rhea starts touching me all over with her hands that were rotating, slimy, multi legged… She starts doing stuff to me as I try to suppress certain memories. Good thing I reinforced this ship during our travels.
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