Chapter 165 - Stroll
“Noo! Teach, why? I wanna beat up those big monsters, not the small fry in there!” Selis pouts as hard as she can, wiggling her butt and even twisting her shoulders.
“You can totally beat up those big monsters, who told you you can’t?” I reply with a calculated hint of irritation.
Instead of picking up on my hint, she smiles at me and shoots off, ice snapping into existence around her with an audible pop. An ice spear five hundred meters long ends the life of a rather cute looking dolphin the next moment. Let’s ignore the fact that the dolphin is two kilometres long and has knives instead of the usual smooth skin for now.
“Be back in five minutes!” I shout after her. Turning to the rest, I look over my delving team. Ket and Tess are being disgustingly clingy, Vox is eyeing the nearest physically gifted heartcore, and Rodrick is looking around.
“Why does flying seem so be normal to you all, does it cease to be amazing?” asks the bulky beastkin while watching Selis dart through the air. There is also a green female stuck to his side, but I manage to ignore that waste of space. I looked it up, and that woman is seriously the most useless of my students. I hope that this delving expedition will beat some sense into that purposeless thief.
“Why does running cease to be amazing?” replies Ket.
“Flying is like sprinting, but worse ya know. You don’t sprint full-tilt everywhere, so why fly everywhere? It’s like flying becomes the new running? But then it becomes totally easier, and flying becomes the new casual walk, ya know.” Tess is looking oddly radiant and drop-dead gorgeous today. It’s just a total shame that she comes across as intelligent as a goldfish.
”Right… Thanks for the answer. I can’t wait for the majestic miracle of flight to become similarly mundane to walking for me.” Rodrick seems determined. Like someone waking up and deciding that today he will become and stay that better person. I hope he succeeds.
Shifting my attention back to important matters, I peer down the dark, suspicious hole that is the entrance to the Mana Dungeon. Rhea has relocated to the tower we were on previously, the largest and highest piece of architecture present on this oversized marble. She is coordinating the efforts of all of Tree’s occupants from there while supporting the defense effort. The stream of boss-level monsters - minimum size of one kilometre - has not let up yet.
Some next level mobs have been appearing. Although they are smaller, this new class has double or quadruple times the amount of mana at their disposal. This pattern is one I recognise from the decad-level system of the Tower Dungeon, so I’m pretty sure that the people or mechanisms managing this planet’s defence system work on the same principles as the dungeons.
I can understand that the dungeons need a steady rise in difficulty the deeper you go, but why does a defence mechanism work on the same base? If someone broke into my house, I’d want them dead or gone as fast as possible. I wouldn’t serve them with a perfect opportunity to grow stronger by slowly increasing the difficulty of my home defence system.
“Um, reporting that I’m here?” I stop mindlessly staring at Selis’s display of frozen violence and turn to the newcomer. The last member of this delving team has arrived. Ragni is looking rather dumpy, wrapped in at least ten layers of cloth.
“The wire formation is doing okay?” I ask.
She nervously nods, not looking at us. “Y-yes. It will hold as long as there is mana.”
I stare at her a bit more, wondering why she is looking so uncomfortable.
“Teach, back off. Only I can bully her.” Angeta’s voice comes from next to us. Her hands glow green as she works on the expanding row of plants. I was wondering why Rhea insisted on not letting her come along. The beastkin is working hard, turning the lower part of the dungeon into a large reactive trap.
“Not bullying. Why is she almost pissing herself?”
“Because the mighty and mysterious Teach is staring at her, no doubt.” She rolls her eyes, gives Ragni a slap on her ass and moves past us, carried by the growing mass of plants.
“No way, what kind of stuff have you all been telling the new guys?” This is the very reason I don’t enjoy being famous or being treated with much aplomb. It makes it a lot harder to get to know someone if they can hide behind formalities or are drenched in nervous sweat.
“That you’re not that great, but you disappear for like more than a week, and they don’t believe us when we tell them that you’re actually a total asshole.” Tess studies her nails while chewing something. Is that bubblegum? Where did she get that?
I shrug my shoulders and start walking down the hastily built stairs going inside the dungeon entrance. “SEL! COME!” I shout to the distant, rampaging girl.
“KAY!” she shouts back, and we walk inside the dark entrance.
“Let’s have the new girl up front,” suggests Vox.
I decide not to meddle and keep walking. My relaxed stroll across the water surface is soon overtaken by the impatient bunch behind me. All the traps in the walls of the tunnel are either broken or fully depleted, and the still active ones are blocked by impaled dungeon monsters. The amount of dead elemental golems is so high that Bord ends up kicking a pile of them out of the way.
The room at the end of the tunnel is still the same. Two doorways, one a stairwell going down and the other a mass of whirling darkness. Ragni is nervously peering around but the nonchalant attitude of us all seems to be having an effect. We walk down the stairs and enter the peaceful looking grassy fields.
Plant monsters start to form, and Bord sneezes. Is he allergic? Let's hope not because the generated gust of wind is powerful enough to clear the entire floor. Not even the grass is spared. Patting the shredded leaves from my clothes, I start glaring at Bord. The sight of him trying to rub and pick his nose at the same time is enough for me to forget about the irritation. The soft tinkle of falling mana crystals is interrupted by my students gathering them up. We then proceed to cruise through the levels.
“So, what’s the real reason for all of this?” Ket asks me as we run through the desert of level twenty-five. ”It’s not the mana crystals. The amount we have harvested so far is completely inconsequential. Neither is it fighting experience. We can do a lot more fighting outside.”
The wire crown on his head whirrs, buzzes, and clicks as he lists off his reasoning. “Access to the dungeon core is also out. You already went to the hundredth floor of the Tower. Fun maybe? Seeing how far you can go now? Training Lola is a possible goal, but also unlikely. You told us that advancing got irritating after level one hundred fifty, so maybe you're looking for a difficult fight?”
“He went to the hundredth floor of the Tower?” Ragni whispers to Vox.
“He got his ass beat though. Nearly died,” whispers Vox in return.
I look at a large sandworm in the distance and consider throwing Lola at it. Ice won’t do much against sand, right? Fire might, but I think a molten glass worm is tougher to beat than a souped-up dust storm. “I wanna know why it’s projecting my qi into the planet.”
More clicking and whirring. “The Tower also started producing your qi. But we entered the Mana Dungeon before you. So the dungeons imitate the strongest signature they come across? Probably… More research? This is the first time mobs have started leaving the dungeons, so that is another anomaly...”
I can see sparks coming off his mechanical calculator now. Can a core wear down? Would he need to replace his components after a while?
“Teach wants to go to space,” Bord says.
Yep, that kid is totally an idiot savant. My students scoff at his comment, but I give a single nod. Ket’s clicking freezes for a full minute as we reach the end of this level.
Level thirty is the large spherical room filled with whipping wind. The crystals on the ceiling shine with a purple light, illuminating the wind constructs that form. The exit is on the bottom. How are normal adventurers even supposed to clear rooms like these?
Bord seems to have had enough of Ket’s questions and ignores the requests for clarification by jumping off the stairs. The dark red glow around him expands as he lands on the floor far below. Holding up his hands I see triangular structures flash upwards, pulling the roiling masses of clouds that are the mobs for this level downwards. I feel myself growing heavier even from hundreds of meters away.
Whistling at the display of finesse and brute power, I jump down too.
Ragni is finally losing her nerves. She had been terrified of the coming mission. Fighting literal waves of monsters on the sea? She had never heard of a better way to die extremely fast. The rumours that surround this Teach figure also didn’t help.
The hustle and bustle during the preparation were enough to prevent her nerves from building. The enormous task of having to weave a formation a kilometre in diameter was enough to keep her busy. When the formation was deployed, and the beam cannons proved enough to beat off the waves of monsters, that’s when she started becoming truly nervous.
She had seen Teach a few times, of course, and Angeta always talked in a slightly fed-up tone about the man, but that didn't stop the other rumours from having an effect. The guy is supposed to be responsible for snapping the Tower in half… Other stories told about stealing an entire mountain and robbing the mages blind.
To see this mythical figure playing with his bunny rabbit while joking around is an odd contrast, nearly funny enough to ease her worried heart.
“So, feel free to begin whenever...”
‘Nearly enough’ is not ‘entirely’ though. The little remaining nervousness is now feeding upon the current situation, turning into a wall of dread as it grows. The dungeon floor in front of her is made from soil. A roiling sea of churning and moving dirt. The occasional stone appendage sticks up from the evermoving earth.
How in all rolling hells is she going to beat stone with cloth? Ragni is wrapped up in all kinds of experimental and interesting pieces of fabric, from common roughspun to woven steel alloy, but the fact that she is up against stone constructs is freaking her out.
“A-alright. Here I… go!” she weakly exclaims. Why didn’t she take action before now? The previous floor was made up of soft looking water jellies bouncing around in a large rubber room. She could have cut the things in half no problem.
She sends a hopeful glance towards Rodrick, only to see the big man chatting with Teach. Then an idea strikes her. Didn’t one of those smart guys hand her a piece of jewellery? It was a braided necklace studded with what the guy claimed were the hardest objects they had managed to make, synthetic diamond. Digging around her waist, she pulls the item free after a good minute of searching.
Guys are giving her stuff pretty often, something she doesn't quite understand the purpose off. Taking a large breath, she doesn’t notice the sight of all the men attracted to her bust. Except for Vox, who is too busy looking at Rodrick’s behind.
She spins the necklace around her finger, rotating it rapidly. A large stone fish jumps at her, and she uncoils a shawl in reflex while jerking her hand forwards. The necklace cuts through the stone with a jarring howl and the resulting fragmented stone fish shoots under her as she jumps upwards. Stunned at the apparent ease that the fish died, a small kindle of hope and confidence lights up.
Unwrapping more glittering items of clothing, she tests the wide variety of embedded pretties. Some shatter, but the clearest stones do a remarkable job of smashing the moving sculptures to pieces. She once again ignores all the gazes on her form, blissfully unaware of her now largely revealed state.
I watch the beastkin with admiration. She looked pretty uncertain, but that must have been some form of remaining doubts. Her strategy of using hard gemstones against normal rock is working out great. I hear a slap behind me and see Ket holding his face while Tess holds her hand.
“Don’t defend yourself with your crown thingies!”
“Don’t slap me then!”
I ignore the arguing duo and turn to Bord. “Bord, how are you manipulating gravity so finely? Even some of the sect masters specialised in gravity cultivation didn’t have your fine control.”
“I just do...” Bord replies.
“Gravity is the force pulling us down, right?” asks Rodrick.
“Yes. With around ten meters a second per second. Each second you speed up at ten meters per second unless some other force like the floor is holding you up.”
“No, I just do!”
“Okay, I get that that’s the way you perform the technique, but how did you figure it out? What principles do you use?”
“No!” Bord is almost shouting now. “All those stupid and dumb brain guys also bothered me with this stuff. I just do!”
“Could I, for example, embed gravity in a strike of my axe?” aks Rodrick.
“Stop being stupid! I just do. I want it, and that’s it. You all want to know so much that you become stupid. No stupid rules and no dumb tests.” Bord is looking angry now, frustrated at our supposed dumbness.
I start chuckling as the kid walks away angrily, but then I think about what he said. He just wants it. And it happens. Shit…
How do I grow? I must just want it.
How do I find out what is going on? I just need to want it badly enough.
I did it in the past, no problem. I wanted Rhea, and I got her. I wanted to make a dimension all for myself, and I got it. I nearly died when compressing Tree, and a spatial project of that size should have been impossible, but I really wanted it. And I got it.
The path forward can be filled with all kinds of technical bridges and helpful theories, but I need to want it first.
It’s not like I suddenly grew to understand the mysteries of the universe, but something as single-minded and simple as a firm desire is something I felt I lacked lately.
I cast a glance towards Bord, who is jumping across the waves, as light as a feather due to the auburn glow surrounding him.
Then I remember another piece of knowledge I nearly forgot. Heartcore cultivators rarely even made it into the foundation realm in the Cultivation World but were immediate powerhouses when they did. Sharpening my senses, I notice that Bord is developing a strand of augur and has started expressing his will upon the universe.
I despair slightly. Who knew that coalescing and exploring a dao can be done through stubborn, pig-headed insistence instead of communing with natural law.
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