Chapter 164 - Protraction
Chatter enters Bord’s ears. The information is processed by his auditory centres before passing out the other ear. The people around him always talk, needing to express their never-ending opinions by flapping their mouths. Bord does not see the purpose of this. Why talk when things are so clear and easy to understand? Food is good, triangles are good, and when you want something, just want it, and you will get it!
Take Ket, for example. Always doing stuff in the most difficult way possible. And Angeta, with her plants. Bord does not understand. A vegetable will never beat a triangle, so why bother?
Contrary to popular belief, Bord does think quite a lot. In fact, he thinks about thinking a lot. Just because his conclusions are nearly always ‘not worth thinking about’ does not deny the fact that he does actually think. He mentally steps away from reminiscing about that one full-bosomed girl that cooks delicious food to listen to what his fellow students are talking about.
“-away your entire powerbase days before a large fight is just stupid, though.” Selis chatters at Ket and Vox.
“Nuh-uh. I’m only like a little bit less powerful than before. Doing it again is a lot quicker. Unlike some other things that are over within seconds the first time.” Tess throws Ket an odd glance, who visibly flinches.
Vox rolls his eyes. “At least it's better than not cultivating at all. Do you know what Ares and Danarius have been doing? Their levels haven’t risen at all over the past few weeks.”
It’s all pretty uninteresting to Bord, to be honest. But he knows that keeping up with gossip is what people are supposed to do, so he listens with half an ear, eyeing the voluptuous woman near the cooking area in the meantime. The way her slender hands turn tasty stuff into even tastier stuff is truly miraculous.
And then Bord is suddenly staring at a mud-brown wall that has cracks running through it. His location has changed in an instant. Blinking against the sudden light, he gawks at his surroundings. The robed people around him stare back at him. Bord blinks some more and looks behind him. The array of monsters towering into the sky, the kilometres of aquatic horror show startles him a bit.
But not as much as the sudden light show above him. A fat guy, eyes closed and a happy smile on his circular face the size of a small moon is hanging in the air, face down. Bord admires the guy’s physique and thinks about asking him what food he eats. Nobody gets fat from disgusting food, so this large guy must know some delicious eating indeed. The guy is dressed in a white robe that stretches taught across his belly, and he glows a majestic golden colour.
Slowly the guy’s arms move, his fingers twisting in some weird shapes as he does some stupid arm dance. His massive mouth then opens slowly. “Rejoice! Salvation is near.”
Reeling from the thunderous voice, Bord is suspicious. That image smelled like Re-Haan, but the drama looks like something Teach would do. The robed people around him are now all cowering on the floor, heads pointed upwards as they peer through their fingers. “Assist my disciples. Ambu Dala.”
And the big guy is gone with a flash of white light. Yeah, Bord concludes, that’s totally that dragon chick. Those last words where odd though, they reverberate through his very bones, one level below his physical form. A muffled instinct is telling the fat boy to obey her words, but Bord suppresses the annoying impulse.
The mages around him seem to be affected in a different way. One of the brighter clothed ones is grasping at Bord’s pants. “A-Are you a disciple?”
Flicking a booger from his finger, Bord looks down “Yeah, I guess.”
“Then what w-would you have me do?” Shaking and stammering, the mage seems to be suffering quite the internal battle.
“Ah, I know this one. What was it again?” Bord looks downwards and thinks hard. He is pretty sure that the mission description Database forced him to read contained some information about what to tell the mages, but he didn’t pay it a lot of attention. Giving up on exerting more useless mental energy, Bord looks around.
The floor under his feet is made from a dull brown material, reminiscent of matte sandstone. The faint outline of a fish, fins and all, is visible on the cracked surface. Around him, the drab and shoddy architecture continues, buildings that are slightly crooked and towers that tilt a bit too much for comfort form a hive-like warren.
Walls and defensive positions point towards the tumultuous sea, the original glossy smooth black of the dungeon is showing here and there, visible between vertical walkways.
Bord looks up and is reminded of what he is supposed to tell the mages. A white web of gauze - finely woven symbols, runes, lines and geometric forms - the size of the Mana Dungeon, unrolls in an apparently impossible manner. Supposedly having started at a single point, the round piece of fabric a kilometre in diameter is unrolling, softly undulating and dancing in the wind.
“Right! Send your mana to that thing,” pointing upwards, he instructs the mages.
“Obey the disciple! Send mana to that thing!”
“I listen and obey! Mana to that thing!”
“All our mana, to that thing!”
Bord watches as the surrounding people all start raising their hands, faint streams of colour travelling upwards. The edges of nearby walls and roofs start crumbling. An especially crooked chimney breaks, showering Bord in a dust cloud as the chunk of disintegrating stone smashes on his unmoving hair.
“Except the earth mages,” he belatedly adds. The brown-robed humans look half disappointed as they stop pulling the Mana from the stones under their feet. Bord feels his entire body break out in goosebumps at the glassy eyes of the mages. He thus decides that he has done his duty and looks towards the sea.
Just in time for one of the kilometres high fish-faced lobsters to smash itself against the Mana Dungeon. The cloth had finished unrolling only moments before, the spokes running through the entire sheet glowing with absorbed mana. The multicoloured streams reach certain points, transforming into qi in highly intricate woven formations.
This means that the previously fluttering formations that need qi to function had activated moments before the gargantuan beasts impacted. The beast's scales are shredded by the cloth that has suddenly turned harder than steel. The entire piece of fabric has also started rotating, effectively turning it into a massive, spinning grater.
Bord has enough foresight to know what’s coming and is speeding across the water before the deluge of pulped sea creature lands. A good quarter of the Mana Dungeon behind him is suddenly bright red. Bord looks upwards, his eyes searching for the tastiest looking morsels.
Bright lances of power shoot overhead, one of them hitting the delectable looking octopus Bord was eyeing. The blue beam turns half of its protruding head into ice. Bord frowns as his treat falls back into the waves. A slimy looking crab in front of him explodes into goo as it is hit by a red beam. Dodging the splashes of black goop, Bord decides to stand still and wait for those dumb braincore guys. They should be done playing with their toys in a few minutes, right?
“Well done Lola, your power use is limited to only using four times as much power as you need. Great progress!” It hurts me to praise the dumb piece of fluff for that accomplishment, but limiting her power overkill from fifty times to four is pretty praiseworthy. The first few monsters she killed turned into ice entirely. Even the monsters she only kicked got turned into dice-sized shreds of crystals.
My drones have been reporting more and more underwater shapes travelling this way, so I told her to start rationing her power, promising her scratches for each beast she killed. Even this under-brained dumbass can reason that overkill means quicker power depletion and that efficient fighting means more scratches.
She nuzzles me some more as we look down. I’m hanging above the Mana Dungeon, watching the battle unfold. It’s quite a nice sight. I saw a lot of crazy shit in the Cultivation World, but this one reaches my top thousand impressive battles list, no problem.
Beasts are emerging from the sea, a circle a dozen kilometres around the black sphere this is the Mana Dungeon is filling with leviathans. These massive behemoths are then cut down by my students before they can even touch the defensive formation, a kilometre large piece of cloth.
Beams of scintillating light are now concentrating their diminished rays at the toughest enemies, namely the ones with thick armoured carapace. The qi power banks powering the impressive array of qi-cannons have largely run dry and are being manually refilled by meditating students. My original students are all keeping watch on a portion of the defensive sphere, but have done very little so far.
The stream of large behemoths is being supported by a steady flow of smaller mutants. These are being taken on by the rest of the students, fighting on the lower levels of the stone complex.
I have spotted Rodrick having an absolute blast, his axe a blur as every single mollusc, lobster and other horrors of the seas is turned into sashimi by his weapon. He seems to be in the middle of developing a certain type of cutting intent. Axe intent, maybe? Instead of the usual cold but elegant sword-like cutting power, he just wants to cut regardless of anything else.
The two fighting scientists both look beaten up and are timidly monitoring the status of their beam-cannon army. They are guarded by my students’ last line of defence, a ridiculous group of idiots wielding door-sized swords. They are calling themselves fullblade wielders, and I do not know who gave them that absolutely idiotic idea.
I squeeze my own sword some more while glaring at the ring of morons.
The purple lady and pale thin guy are also pretty effective. She is riding on his back while flinging knives as he kicks all the threats coming too close. They have been running around, followed by a small gaggle of absolutely terrified people.
Nearly all the special snowflake cultivators are useless though. Well, except for one kid. He is accompanied by a small black girl who points things out to him. He then goes and kicks the crap out of it in a highly incompetent manner, often getting gravely injured. I saw the little boy’s leg getting chopped off, but he just rubbed the wound while putting his leg back into place and moved on.
Ares has been trying to get them to leave, but the two kids refuse. She has compromised by giving the boy healing pills and salves when he gets injured. I need to keep an eye out for those regenerating bloodcore types. You don’t develop an ability to regenerate wounds without liking pain, I think.
Ares is part of the medical corps, together with Vox and Danarius. They are running around and distributing their healing products.
The kid with the spoon is useless. Some other people went down the external core route, but only a single human man is effective. He has been pouring all his qi into a gun he bought from Database and has been shooting nonstop. Some other students have supporting roles, but they aren't really useful here. This situation is basically a tower defence scenario, no tactical support needed.
I look at Rhea, who is floating in the air next to me. She has her eyes closed while faint white lines flow downwards, from her head. Her qi is thick in the air, a clear sign that she is keeping watch on everything. Lola and I are taking a break from beating up the several megatonne massive boss monsters.
That’s because those way-too-large monsters swimming here are actually dungeon bosses. The other continent has inverted, inside-out dungeons, with circles around the dungeon core demarcating the level increase. It totally makes sense that some of those dungeons are underwater.
Here is where it becomes speculation, but I think that land-based dungeon bosses remain in their area more often than large aquatic bosses. The dungeon then needs another boss, and because willing water into non-existence costs much more energy than air it’ll probably modify an already existing dungeon mob into a new boss. And thus a new deep-sea leviathan is born.
And all of these large suckers are travelling this way. I totally welcome them, they might be big and contain a lot of mana, but they can’t fight us underwater. They end up using their mana to stand upright, leaving little available for long-range attacks. The lowest remaining structures on the Mana Dungeon are a hundred meters above sea level, so they need to emerge to attack anyway.
I wonder why they don’t simply blast us with mana attacks while sticking only their heads above the water? Then again, the true reason they are attacking this area is still unknown to me. I get that detecting foreign energy signatures is bad, but why keep sending half-controlled forces if previous attempts have proven unsuccessful?
Once again, I welcome them because they bring loads of balanced mana with them. Each large beast that dies here releases a few hundred kilograms worth of manacrystals. And it's good training. Rhea has been sharing the progress of my students with me, and they are advancing at impossible speeds.
A sect master from the Cultivation World would sacrifice his entire sect to have students as talented as this bunch.
Lola nudges me again. “Okay, you fuzzybutt. Rhea, you got this? I want to find out what’s going on.”
She cracks open an eye, and I see the white branches extending from her body fading a bit. “Yep. Who are you taking with you?”
“I’m thinking the originals? Maybe Rodrick.” I look downwards again, my eyes effortlessly peering through the finely crocheted kilometre large doily covering the Mana Dungeon and its occupants. That entire thing is a work of cooperation between Angeta and Ragni, I learned to my surprise. Ket did a lot of the designs, calculating them using his external wire computer thing.
“Leave Angeta and Ares. I need them. Ket and Tess won’t do you much good though.”
“Wrong, Ket and Tess are nearly at their previous combat strength. It’s just different this time.” Rhea looks at me with a dubious expression, but I just shrug and grin. “You sure you don't wanna come? I’ll be lonely...”
“You’re just afraid I will outpace you. I’m catching up to you.” She quirks an eyebrow and closes her eyes again.
The thing is, she is correct. I'm still a bit more powerful than her, but this massive coordinated defence effort is seriously building up her foundation. The next step after your foundation can be literally anything. The first few stages are dictated by natural law as observed by sapients; gas into liquid into solid is just plain science and should hold up in nearly all universes we sapient minds can comprehend. I could go on about dark matter and the universe being nearly entirely made up out of vacuum and stars, but that’s just not how the average intelligent being experiences life.
The foundation is just that. Here the body and mind are saturated with enough controllable power to start building into a more conceptual sense. The first step into foundation is important, but once a foundation is built it can be used for a different building of the same shape. Like a cinema that can be built upon the foundations originally meant for a hospital.
I give her a quick kiss and start floating to the edge of the enormous tablecloth beneath me. I’m thinking about which students to take with me into the Mana Dungeon entrance when a sudden, terrible and terrifying idea comes to mind.
Re-Haan has started her foundation as a tree. Odd, but acceptable and kind of understandable. But the next step she took was to transform her solid branches into a translucent white. Now she is stretching the branches longer and longer.
I float back and hug her fiercely.
She grunts as I squeeze the air out of her lungs. “Wha? Drew?”
I look her in the eyes. “Please promise me to stick to a tree?”
I squeeze her shoulder firmly while staring her in the eyes some more. Actually saying it would put the possibility out there, something I want to avoid at all costs. I give a solemn nod and float away again, praying that she won’t stretch her branches into a spider’s web.
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