Chapter 18 - Snatch
Looking over a horde of animals peacefully coexisting and chilling is weird. The lamb will lie down with the lion, am I right? The group of animals in the clearing has grown, and now more than half the space is occupied by weird animal bodies. Starlight shining from above further enhances this surreal sight.
Shaking myself free from this biblical scene of peacefulness I measure the faint mana vortex. My prediction was pretty spot on, it will be gone in a little over two weeks. A few of the beasties have noticed me and are staring at me again. On a whim I extend a qi thread to a buff looking bird with hedgehog spikes, touching it between its eyes. I send it a mental question mark. Open-ended questions work best in situations like these.
Not expecting an answer, I shiver a bit as I feel a predatory mind trying to communicate with me. A feeling of awe and reverence flows through the temporary connection. A feeling of being higher?
A thunderbolt strikes through my mind. I was about to ascend to a higher plane when I got bitch slapped to this place. The fact that higher planes exist must mean that there are lower planes too. My mind races and I come to the conclusion that I must have descended. First I thought I ended up in a sidegrade, instead of going higher up the totem pole I thought I moved sideways on the same level. Those bitch ass gods must have slapped me to a lower tier world. My qi must be to mana what true divine essence is to qi, a higher form of energy.
Maybe Earth was an even lower level than this current world, no mana, or at least no usable energies would indicate this. This hypothesis would also explain why mana is limited to emotions and fairly easy to control. Qi was a bitch to learn to control at first and I had to spend many years improving my qi manipulation skills. The fact that I have mastered controlling this higher energy to a decent level explains why I could sense mana after relatively few tries.
Still in a daze, I retract my qi, storing it in my core again. Gods descending to the mortal cultivation world was taboo and almost never happened, so I don't know how bad this is. Dumping massive amounts of higher level energy on lower levels worlds is a recipe for disaster. The humanoid population wouldn’t know what to do with such a potent power and nine out of ten people would die from qi poisoning. Animals do all this by instinct, so the last remnants of intelligent life would be wiped out by the animals that are growing stronger while the humans struggle and die off.
I have been careful about not letting my qi lying around, but it has become priority number one as of this moment. Worry seeps into my heart as I think about the disappearing qi in the dungeon. I pull a sleeping Lola out of my necklace and start petting her to distract myself. She wakes up for a moment but goes back to sleep after looking around a bit.
I forcefully stop myself from thinking about it as I imagine myself in a world with empty cities and rampaging beasts. The balance of this world is fucked up enough already, they probably don't need me initiating an apocalypse.
I slap my face. Stop thinking about that stuff. I check on my radar and overwatch process and keep my overactive mind busy. My scanner tells me that there are a few hundred gazes on me. Giving one last look at the colourful and busy clearing I turn around and keep walking towards the city. I feel them staring at the back of my head until the forest blocks their sight.
I decide to swing by the inn on my way back. I’m curious why such an establishment would be placed relatively close by the city gates. I keep sending interesting plants into my necklace, roots and all. I find a few flowers and some plants that seem to utilize mana in some way. I will need to study these specimens at a later date. A few big rocks take my fancy and in the necklace, they go. A cool breeze flowing along my chest tells me that the tree must have absorbed a lot of air too, I didn't feel any pressure change when going in.
I reach the inn in the dead of night. Four stories high is rather big when compared to the average building in the city. The barn next to it makes no sense either. My automatic scanner picks up a slew of life signatures from a kilometre away. I manually send out another wave of qi, trying to get a feel for the place. The ground floor of the main building is filled with a podium and a lot of tables and chairs. The bar is filled with various bottles and separates the kitchen and a storage area. The upper floors are rooms in various sizes and states of gaudiness.
The image of a peaceful storage place is smashed when I scan the barn. Various humanoid figures are laying around on the floor. I sense something around them. Focussing my attention, I notice that they are cages. Yep, this world is pretty dark, I feel around ten humanoid figures in the structure and they all seem to have chains attached to them. Scanning every sleeping figure in range I find another being with a weird affinity. I focus my attention on the individual that has green flashes running through their body. Trying to focus on them makes them disappear. It's like I have to look at their body along the corner of my eyes, direct observation does not show anything unusual.
First, the dungeon only cleans up after breaking line of sight and now this affinity thing doesn't show up under direct observation. Schrodinger would have a field day here. It’s a shame that Schrodinger told that cat example to illustrate how ridiculous the Copenhagen interpretation was. I’m sure he is rolling in his grave over the fact that the general populace now takes his stupid story so seriously.
Okay, enough distracting myself. Let’s face the facts, this being is a furry. A female furry. I flood her with qi that I put in passive mode by shouting ‘LOOKY LOOKY NO TOUCHIE’ at it. My scanning resolution increases dramatically and I take a good look at her. She is covered by a ratty blanket, wears heavy sets of manacles and seems underfed. I would guess her age around 20 after a good look at her bones. They are fully grown but don't have a lot of wear on them. Her clavicle still has a growth plate and the state of various bones tells me that she is an adult. I know that I am using human anatomy on something furry, but it should give me a good estimate.
Her back has whip marks and I sense deep tissue bruising in a myriad of places. She has broken her leg once, but the rest of her skeleton is in pretty good condition. A lot of healed hairline cracks on her ribs indicate that they didn't go easy on her though. No other signs of abuse on a physical or sexual level. Compared to some of the other slaves I saw in the city she is in tiptop shape.
Other than that, she has slight feline traits. Her ears are pointy and on top of her head, she has a stub of ragged tail sticking from her backside and she’s covered in a fine layer of fur.
The other people occupying the room are all aged around twenty to fifty years old. The lack of children is a small mercy. I make my way over to the barn. There is nobody keeping watch. Two people in the inn are still up but they only have eyes for each other, if you know what I mean. The door is locked but an opening just beneath the roof gives me a convenient access point.
“It's about time you start earning your keep. Keep watch, I'll be right back”
While whispering in her ear I put Lola down and jump through the opening, landing in the middle of the cages. Qi muffling my landing lets everyone sleep on peacefully. I make my way over to the beast woman and take a good look at her. Qi can tell me a lot, but sensing colour is really hard, so I am surprised by the general human colouring she has. Coffee with milk is how I would describe it. Short fur covers everything I see, it’s like she is human but has a full body beard. I pull my Tree amulet free and reach through the bars of the cage. I touch her and send three Z’s into her brain, keeping her asleep. It’s a very soft and smooth full body beard, I note...
I guess my plan can accommodate another talent. I shout at some qi to ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP’ and cover her entire figure. Sending her into the necklace happens in a flash and her chains and blanket tumble soundlessly to the floor. I manually manoeuvre her onto the soft grass around Tree using some qi strings. As I jump back out of the barn I think about my life. A thousand years and then some and I’m kidnapping people while they sleep.
With a deep sigh, I pick up my bunny and keep walking towards the city. Petting Lola only makes my mood worse. I'm a creepy uncle, right? Messing around with kids, not even a century old. Killing off a rabbit because she was hungry and kidnapping her only remaining offspring. Spying on and stalking an entire city for a day and half a night. I think about my thought process and decide to not continue this train of thought. Instead, I challenge Lola to another sprint.
I got beaten in a sporting competition by a week old rabbit so I cheated in the second sprint, picking her up with some qi threads and leaving her flopping around in the air while I took the second matches victory. It saved my pride but hurt a lot in other areas. Dignity should be coming with age but I can't see it yet, I’m too busy keeping my laughter in.
When I approach the city I jump over the wall. I don't care whether they see me, I will be leaving this city pretty soon anyway. I quickly make my way over to the attic where I left the dungeon girl. Some more jumping around and I now have two kidnapped females in my possession.
I check up on both of them and spell them with some more core forming disruptors. I want my charges conscious when they form their core. I suspect that receiving qi when you’ve never been exposed to the stuff kick-starts the cultivation process. I know that Lola does not have an amazing talent or rare constitution, my qi only made her the best version she could possibly be. It also helped that I gave her my qi willingly. Receiving an already tamed dog from someone else is totally different from finding some random dog in the wild and forcing it to do your bidding. The dog in that analogy is qi by the way.
My next kidnap victi... apprentice is located in the noble’s district. I need to get him first because the fatty has busy days learning stuff and is woken early. What kind of stuff? He is being groomed for a noble as a slave. The noble has a wife but doesn’t touch her and all his maids are men. Aren't I saving him from a life of misery this way? Yeah, that's the perfect justification for my actions! I’m actually a hero.
While running over rooftops the target mansion comes into sight. All I can say about its design is that it’s ostentatious. Baroque has nothing on this monstrosity of a building. The architect probably crammed as much useless decoration into each nook and cranny of the building, only to have the noble order twice as much. My target sleeps in the servant’s quarters, a couple of wooden shacks surrounded by dense hedges and ornamental trees keeping them out of sight.
Sneaking in is easy, only a few guards standing in front of the gate and a single three-man patrol does not make for a tight security system. The kid I’m looking for has the oddest body constitution I've seen so far. The noble seems to be feeding him normally, not enough to explain the blubber around his waist. Maybe the noble is a feeder?
Anyway, the odd thing about this kid is that his blood, bones, muscles and skin seem more than normal. I can't explain it in clearer terms but it feels like there is too much kid occupying his space like his entire body has an extra layer of thickness. I’m willing to bet money on him forming his core in his heart.
I open the hut quickly and I pull him from his bed into my necklace, letting the pile of blubber plop down next to the other two sleeping figures. His room smells funny but I ignore it for now.
I send my spiritual sense into the mansion, focusing on what seems to be a study. I was too far away to get a proper look at the documents in said study when I was learning the language, but I’m only looking if this noble has a better map than the rudimentary things I managed to find so far.
A massive table seems to have a relief carved into it. Creating a small spying eye just above the table allows me to look down and see a gorgeous detailed map of the area I’m in. Dungeon city is located on the south side of this map, some sort of empire or kingdom stretching further north. Further south is just illustrations of trees, mountains and monsters and the table ends after that.
A big city is illustrated many kilometres to the north, bordering sea with a smattering of islands on its coast. Smaller towns are dotted here and there, a third large city next to a mountain range to the north-west. Some rivers run from the southern mountains to the sea, avoiding this city completely. Integrating the map with any maps I already found, I exit the mansion grounds.
My next kidnap victim is a lanky guy. He has a sort of metal affinity. I found a few people with these silver-grey glitters in their bloodstream, but the others were too old or too young to start cultivating with any success. I guess his age around seventeen, he is a baggage carrier that nobody seems to like.
Creeping into his shack was the easiest so far, the guards in the slums are just as likely to mug you as to help you. It’s truly a shack though. The fellow has a gloomy aura I can feel from outside his hut and the dark and dank insides of his domicile only further boost this depressing feeling he projects.
My last two targets are both conveniently in the town prison. I walk a bit north from the slums and see a small fort diving the poor part of town from the rich district. At first, I felt conflicted about kidnapping these fellows but then I overheard that they were on death row. One is in the brig for hiding his nature, the other is the victim of a conspiracy, I suspect. Hardly anyone comes out of the normal prison alive, let alone the cells where they put the execution candidates, so I can feel pretty good about snatching them both.
Getting into the prison is the hardest so far. I can either break in with brute force or hover the Tree to the correct place and do a remote collection. I decide to do both. The guy that is on death row for hiding his lizard scales is sleeping in a cell overlooking the slums. I sneak through the dark streets, walking past sleeping bums, smelly houses and piles of trash in order to reach the edge of the stone building. Powering up my arms, I bend the bars to his cell and slip inside.
Fair skin and red hair can't distract me from the faintly dangerous feeling I get when I look at the only light affinity holder I can find in the city. Shrugging it off I send him into the necklace after spelling him to sleep. The last person I want is on the opposite side of the hallway, about four cells to the right.
I sit down and focus. I lift the medallion up into the air and bunch up the chain to prevent it from snagging. Closing my eyes, I lift the thing through the small door window, slipping it through the bars. Extending my qi threads further, I swing the medallion forwards like spiderman, making new string attach to the ceiling ahead and breaking the ones behind. A carefully calculated swing launches it through the correct cell door and I bring it to a stop above the sleeping figure inside.
Huddled up in a corner of the cell is a bald girl with blue eyebrows. She spasms a bit in her sleep. Stuffing her into the necklace from tens of meters away is harder than I thought. My Tree senses me struggling and decides to help by pulling the girl in and laying her next to the other sleeping forms. Initiative is a great sign of blossoming consciousness, so I send some proud and warm feelings to Tree.
Swinging the necklace back into my cell I cast the same disruption and sleeping spell on the baldy before exiting the cell. Bending the bars back into place is easy as pie and I make my way to and over the city walls.
Now, what type of character shall I play? I really like hamming up a role, truly getting into it and acting out a personality. Shall I go with the wise old man template? Maybe harsh drill instructor. Otherworldly saint seems like a good fit for this situation. I look at the sleeping bunny in my arms and decide to just improvise when the time comes. In the meantime, I have some building and preparing to do.
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