Chapter 176 - Fulmination
“Corl, sit down! Stop playing with knives, give me that. That’s dangerous. Willa, you really need to keep an eye on him! Flor, stop brushing your hair and pay attention. Now, we went over the multiplication tables yesterday, and I hope you practised them because here’s a test.”
Ares stands in front of a large black rectangle that contains white writing. A group of kids is seated on chairs and behind desks covered in papers. A stack of printed sheets lifts from the teacher's desk and spreads among the kids, one in front of each child.
“Stop using qi, that’s not allowed here! And you can start everyone, turn over your papers!” Keeping an eye out for the expected antics by the class’ troublemakers, Ares starts strolling through the rows of benches until she stops at the single person that sticks out like a sore thumb.
“Uuhm, miss Menrah? Please do the test. Look, even Ferah is doing it, it’s not that hard...” Ferah is sitting next to her grandmother, the girl’s legs bouncing continuously as she writes down answers at speed. The aged woman is sitting on her chair without moving, her arms crossed and refusing to acknowledge anyone and anything.
“Please miss, I receive points based on how well you are all doing, and I only need a few more to get a large bonus. I really need to be able to buy those glass jars in order to store all the medicine we've been making. Please just do the test...” The redheaded girl is now nearly begging the old beastkin, who just shoots her a withering glare before continuing to do nothing.
“Re only said I have to keep her with me, to prevent her from doing bad stuff. She didn't tell me that granma needed to join in with classes though...” Ferah looks up from her paper briefly before continuing writing.
“But now she’s already registered, and I can't just remove you from my assigned class without a really good reason. The ‘old age’ option isn’t even available. I also can’t use the ‘heartcore’ option because that would label you as an idiot for the rest of your life… Please just do the teeeeeest!”
Other kids now look at their whining teacher. Ares is basically begging the single oldest student assigned to her to cooperate. Her point gains have tanked since the old woman got dragged into her class by Ferah.
“I will not cooperate. This system is absurd and will self-destruct soon enough. I would run away if I were you, 'girl’.” That last word is laced with as much venom and disgust as Menrah can possibly muster, the look on her face as she glances at Ares like looking at rotting shit.
“No dessert for tonight granma! I get double pudding, nice. Stop being mean to miss Ares.” Ferah smiles while wiping away some drool as she continues writing. The few braincores in the class are already done with the assignment and are now peering at the developments happening between the old beastkin and the young light mage.
Ares just slumps her shoulders and goes back to the blackboard, keeping a watch out for any tricks from the rest of the students. She is conducting her assigned teaching duties from the moon, in one of the many newly built classrooms.
There have been many discussions on what to do with the children that arrived inside Tree. The age at which people are considered adult varies from race to race, the number being a bit higher with the civilisations that enjoy more advanced levels of technology or magic support, but a general consensus had been reached eventually. In this new ruling, it was decided that each and every child beneath the age of fifteen was to be put inside a classroom with fellow children of similar age and education. These classes will meet a few times a week to socialise and follow a set plan of lessons. Ares had signed up for teaching duty as she has always had a soft spot for children.
She thought she had made great strides in assertiveness and self-confidence. The light mana element is easiest manipulated by content and overconfident people. Ironically, these forced and trained feelings of overconfidence prevented Ares from developing a true sense of self-worth and confidence, which she has been working on.
All the progress she had been making crashed back down into an unconfident mess after Ferah dragged her grandmother along with her. She registered the old woman as a student, and the old bint's stern refusal to join in is tanking her teaching scores. Ares holds back her tears as she thinks about the unfairness of it all.
Re-Haan had assigned a rather lucrative mission to Ferah. The dragoness had visited the girl in class and asked her to take on the mission personally. Ares’s mind still hurts when she recalls how the conversation went.
“Hey, Ferah. Listen, did your grandmother ever teach you anything?” was the line Re-Haan had asked the girl all of a sudden.
Ferah had jumped a bit, but turning around she had started a rather happy spiel on the many skills handed down to her. This included gathering herbs, working cloth, spotting mana mutants, hiding from mana mutants, butchering and skinning mana mutants, and more.
“Great, that’s because Menrah is really good at those things and has been at it for a long time, right?” Receiving enthusiastic nods, Re-Haan had continued. “Now then. You are the one that has a lot of experience with cultivating and being inside Tree. So what you now need to do is teach Menrah how things go around here, you are the expert in this, and she doesn’t know anything about it. So be a good girl and be your grandmother's teacher in this, okay?”
It had taken Re-Haan some more twisted logic to convince Ferah to take responsibility for the old badger, but take responsibility she did. She then took the old woman everywhere, even taking care to equip her with a qi-repulsor field whenever they went down to Tree. Ferah hadn't gone on any outside missions after that, only dragging her stoic and stubborn sole remaining family member along.
Ares sighs deeply as she watches over her assigned class. More and more students put their pencils down as they finish the test. There had been heavy debates about whether or not requiring handwritten tests are usefull. The scientific community then did some experiments and found out that knowledge learned from Database or jade imprints vanish from memory rather quickly. Only when the knowledge is used daily for a week does it stick in the average brain.
This series of tests has led to a rise in library popularity, the half-abandoned and dragon-remodeled white building near Tree suddenly filled to the brim. More tests with kids and teaching methods had formed a new baseline in education. Database is now used as a personal tutor that keeps track of skill levels instead of the end all be all educator it was considered before.
This educational revolution had happened a few weeks ago, and its fruits are showing already. The general education went from a long series of remembered facts to true understanding in a certain scope. Ares herself has started focussing on the structural strength of the body instead of healing. She has found a new passion for learning about muscular structure and the way bones are constantly changing. The way tendons flow into bundles of myofibrils is fascinating to the timid girl. The calcium cycle is even now in her idle thoughts.
Keeping an eye on the class, the braincore girl takes up her book again, studying the diagrams depicting skin layers and the cell division that replenishes the epidermis layer constantly. The students who are done with the test see this as a signal also to take books from their desks and start reading.
The cluster of suns above shines down through the large windows of the classroom. In order to promote good concentration amidst distraction, the educational building is placed smack dab in the middle of the moon’s city. The large windows provide an excellent view of the happenings outside, sound dampening formations engraved in the glass and walls keeping out the hustle and bustle. The peaceful atmosphere and sounds of scribbling pens and flipping pages continues as the last students finish up the sheet of sums.
Then streaks of red light bloom across the moon and Tree’s many acres of forest. Menrah stands up, a knife suddenly in her hands as she slides the blade across her own wrist. A crazed grin is on the old woman’s face as her blood glows and starts flowing upwards. “FINALLY! Yes, finally there shall be order. Even though I needed to cooperate with the mana fiends and savages both, THERE WILL BE ORDER. MWAHAHA”
“Granma, stop that! Hey, granma! No, Re-Haan will spank me again if you make a mess. Stop that!” Ferah is up from her chair as she smashes her small fists against her grandmother. Each strike is warded off by a red glowing shell that has formed around the maniacally laughing woman. Her blood has stopped falling to the ground and is now floating upwards in a large ball. Streaks of red light come in from outside, connecting the sphere to others in the distance via glowing crimson beams.
All across the moon and Tree’s forests red glowing orbs emerge. A formation many kilometres in size has sprung into being in but a few seconds, freezing everyone in place. An acrid metallic smell flows from the red lines while all movement grinds to a halt.
Ominous chanting starts creeping through the air. Menrah pulls a blood red stone from a fold of her robe and puts it to her forehead. Tones and vocalisations that sound unlike anything a living being could produce come from her raspy throat, filling every ear with sounds that grind against everyone's sanity.
Then a malicious feeling stops every single being from breathing. The feeling that a wounded rabbit would have when confronted with a full-grown wolf strikes fear into everyone's heart. The red formation that has formed between moon and Tree shimmers as something unnatural tries to claw its way through.
Then another wave of stillness puts time to a halt. Whimpering animals, chanting fanatics and scared children all stop breathing once again, their blood frozen in their veins and their breath stopped in their throats.
“For fuck’s sake. I close up for a month, and this happens? Okay then. You absolute, moronic retards obviously can't handle this much freedom. I tried it the nice way, let’s just go down the despotic overlord path then… Fuuuuck.” Another voice spreads through moon, Tree, and void. A slightly bored grumble that contains a lot of disappointment and sounds extremely fed up.
“Well, if I’m going down the evil path anyway… Might as well act the part.” Just when everyone sees the floating figure that hangs above Tree, its aura changes from absolute still neutrality to an overbearing will that must not be trifled with.
“IT’S GOOD YOU FOUND THE GAPS, YOU FOOLISH MORTALS! I WONDERED WHEN SOMEONE WOULD BE STUPID ENOUGH TO GRASP THE BITS OF RITUALISTIC FORMATIONS AND BLOOD MAGIC I LEFT ACCESSIBLE. Wait, so this is entrapment? No, the predisposition must have been present… It’s not blackmail either. Is there a term for leaving a clear route to criminal activity open while having the ability to prevent other people from taking it?”
Not a single sound is heard for several seconds as the entire dimension holds its breath.
“Anyway, thanks for setting up the formation. Only a few tweaks are needed to transform it into slavery collars. Wait... you guys didn't even set this up properly. You would just have formed a blood demon from the gathered blood. The soul part is wrong here and there, which would have left you all with an insane and quickly multiplying plague of cursed beings… Stupid ass… This is why only highly qualified beings should mess with souls, like me...”
Ares frowns as she looks at the faraway figure. “What’s going on?” she manages to whisper. The kids around her shift slightly as they tear their gazes away from Tree. Ferah continues pounding on the red shell protecting Menrah, who is looking awfully pale beneath her fur.
“Okay, that should do it.” His voice and silent cough sound across all things once more. “ALL SHALL KNEEL! BE HAPPY, FOR YOU WILL AID ME BY FEEDING ME YOUR QI. I SHALL SET YOU FREE AND ASCEND. I AM TEACH, AND I SHALL TEACH NO MORE, AS IS YOUR WISH. BECOME MY QI BATTERIES AND BE BOUND TO MY SOU-”
“NO, YOU FIEND! I, RE-HAAN THE MIGHTY DRAGON SHALL STOP YOU THIS DAY.”
“HAHA! WAIT, YOU’RE SERIOUS? LET ME LAUGH EVEN HARDER! HAHAHA, RIDICULOUS.”
“How ridiculous is this then?” Re-Haan’s relatively silent voice contrasts with the pompously shouted bravado from before, shaking everyone from their stupor. What has been happening was just like watching a horrific accident. Terrible stuff was playing out in front of everyone's eyes, but no one was able to look away.
A white flash with a purple tint later, a massive dragon hangs between Tree and moon at the nexus point of the still glowing red formation. She flaps her wings once, sending out waves of air that shake foundations.
What happens next only takes microseconds. First, the portals housed on the opposite side of the moon wink out. The large and much-expanded gazebo transforms from a multitude of doorways to many places across the planet into a hollow structure with loads of loose power.
The red formation blinks out of existence, its gathered power also snatched by the flap of Re-Haan’s wings. The spheres of blood start falling to the ground as the red power holding them up pops. The moment the front of air has reached everything inside the dimension - except for the small suns high above - a massive, complicated, and intricate white tree appears. Translucent branches flow from Re-Haan and get a golden glow for but a moment. Each branch touches a single person, including the still bleeding group of beings that instigated the entire thing.
The power of the portals is then sucked up by a rather large branch and redistributed through the golden glowing tree. Small portals appear around each person, whisking them away until none remain.
Ares blinks once before she drops the small bit of chalk she is holding. She is standing on a narrow gravel beach, salty wind whipping her red hair into her eyes. Rocky, grass-covered islands are surrounded by rough seas as she looks around. Turning on the spot, she sees a rather large pyramid peeking over the horizon, the sun illuminating a towering structure that suggests four sides instead of the three that would indicate Peak City’s presence.
A glow on the ground wakes her from her stupor. A small stone with intricate runes scribbled on it starts spinning rapidly as it rises in front of her. Only now, Ares sees the port city, its nearest buildings not a hundred meters away from her current position.
Numbly, she observes as the glowing stone shoots towards the harbour city where it hovers a hundred meters or so above the city’s centre. The intensifying glow and resulting dome that encompasses the entire town fail to wake her from her daze. Only when she feels a familiar presence far away does she react. Looking upwards, she senses the presence of Teach. Barely, she sees a streak of light that grows blinding for a single second. Then it just disappears.
Blinking quickly, she starts walking towards the city in a wooden manner. The silent town has started becoming lively as beings notice the glowing stone and the shimmering shield surrounding all buildings. The feeling of power above her continues to spread from where the streak of light just appeared. Looking upwards, she sees birds swoop through the odd cloud of power.
The way the animals seem to be flying faster each time they move through that piece of sky worries the girl for some reason. She speeds up a bit, now jogging towards the city. She tries to contact anyone, anything in the meantime. The piece of jade she has woven in her hair fails to react to any mental probing. The knowledge she stored inside is still there, but Database fails to respond.
Looking at her ring, she sees the small inlaid model of Tree. Instead of its previous near lifelike lustre, it’s very obviously just a piece of intricate metal now. She pulls a communication earring from her ring and clips it on. It still seems to function, but she fails to receive any response at all.
Instead, she gets an odd feeling each time she looks at the stone hanging above the city. Now running, she jumps over the walls.
Pulling out a large amount of paper, she forms a qi construct and flaps the white wings. Flying with all her might, she manages to produce enough uplift to reach the stone. Huffing and puffing from the physical and mental exertion, she pulls herself upwards and presses her forehead against the rock.
“I managed to get everyone away from the madman. I’m not sure why Teach snapped, but I’m going to find out. In the meantime, he activated some form of a qi-spreading system. I can only give you a shield that will absorb qi from all enclosed structures and my best wishes. If you think mana mutants are bad, just wait until you have qi-beasts scratching at the city shields. That’s all I can manage for now. I think you all should go and develop a school unless you want to fight off loads of qi-empowered animals by your lonesome.
Ares drops to the ground, absolutely bewildered and unsure what to do as a cautious crowd starts surrounding the descending girl.
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