Chapter 201 - Manducate (1)

Chapter 201 - Manducate (1)

Circulating your cultivation base is a complicated way of saying that you're playing with yourself. It’s playing with yourself on a whole different level than just spanking the monkey or rubbing that nubbin, though. The basic idea is the same; making a repeated motion until you feel good. The pain, sweat, tears and sometimes blood that gets involved with the process are just side-effects. Rhea has been hoarding all the qi of the north pole to herself for a week now, and another pole of mine keeps interfering with my peaceful meditation. I want to keep petting my rabbit, but even that sounds dirty now.

Letting out a low grunt of frustration, I stand up and stop circulating my qi. The storm of leaves, grass, clumps of dirt, and insects comes to a gradual halt. Lola wakes up and immediately starts biting my ankles. I kick at the little shit and take in the fruits of my labours over the past week.

The very air in Tree smells of my power. There is this connection at the edge of my consciousness, and I feel like I could own every single blade of grass and speck of dirt if I would only reach out. Tree is basically born out of my personal qi in the first place, so using my own body as a qi centrifuge to paint this entire dimension in my fingerprints has been rather easy. This started out as my attempt to cultivate to a higher level of power, and although I do feel a little stronger and more capable, it's less than what I would have predicted. My heartcore needs time to let structural qi sink into my flesh, blood, and bones. My braincore is empty by default, only letting me store so much qi inside the thing before it's filled up. This meant I started processing qi half out of boredom, half to see what would happen, and half out of a gut feeling.

This also means that Lola has to work a lot harder now, though. Instead of only having to make the neutral qi her own, she now has to wipe my fingerprints from the power before she can take it in. She also started out with my own qi but has since diverged very far in her personal cultivation base. Also, I've been preventing her from going towards the icy mountain, the single place where she can power level easily at the moment. Instead, I have been forcing her to bathe in lava, and she hasn't been enjoying the experience.

I grab the ankle biter by the scruff of her neck and keep her struggling form pressed to my chest. I look up at Database, and sense that the large influx of power has finally allowed my qi clone to catch up with me. It was pretty powerful before, but the fact that it had absorbed power from all kinds of sources left it kind of muddled. I’ve done nothing but process all its energy. I also handled all the qi syphoned from the world, each crystal hanging above a town or city acting like a qi vacuum, causing a steady stream of mixed energies to emerge from Tree. I’ve been letting my heartcore settle more power into my flesh and bones while using my braincore as a high-speed power centrifuge.

The majority of the power I’ve processed, I've let loose into Tree. A small trickle went to my heart, and I sent a good quarter directly to Database. Just the fact that the near-solid mass of power that is an identical copy of my physical form is at a similar power level as I'm at is a great relief. If I’m ever completely empty of qi, about to die, or severely wounded, I can call upon the white copy to replenish my entire base. The moon encasing Database might get severely damaged and will probably lose a ton of data, but that's just the way things are sometimes.

“I’m not going to get her.” Lola stops ruining my shoes. We stare at each other for a bit. I swear I can see a lot of accusation in her beady eyes, but that might just be me. “What?” Lola doesn’t break eye contact. “What am I supposed to do then?”

I sit down again, this time not taking some stupid cultivation position. Instead, I slump towards the ground like a sack of rotten potatoes, squelching into a useless heap. “Got to let everyone explore their own path, right?” I feel the little rabbit hop onto my chest. “I hate your horn. So impractical. Every single animal that uses their nogging as a weapon or as a high impact tool needs a lot of extra stuff to keep their brains safe.”

I roll over, plucking her from my chest and wrapping her in my arms. “Woodpeckers have these airbags inside their skulls to keep their brains from jostling when they do their pecking stuff. Pachycephalosaurid had these massively thick skulls and curved spines to absorb the impact of head bashing. You’re just a flipping rabbit and do not need a forehead horn. Yet, I let you keep it, right?” Now letting the bunny dangle from my fingers, she somehow managed to prevent our staring contest from breaking.

“But that entire argument is built upon the fact that I have the right to take it away. I did save your life, give you the ability to reach unlimited heights of power, and have been keeping you as a pet since you were born, so in your case, my argument holds some water. Anyway, her foundation is already set. Letting her explore the strictly authoritarian side of management isn’t bad, right? She could do with a little despotism or totalitarian dictatorship experience. Being too nice isn’t good, you know.” I keep trying to avoid the massive amounts of accusation in her dark eyes, but the long lashes framing her moist orbs in the fields of white fur prevent me from looking away.

“She did pretty great with the sailing boat, remember? She controlled every single aspect of that production process, and the result was a somewhat uninspired yet very utilitarian product. Very useful and functional. Very quickly produced.” Lola’s innocently staring eyes are really getting on my nerves. I feel guilty for wanting to interfere with Rhea, and I feel guilty for not interfering with her at the same time. “Screw you. I need to do more cultivating.”

Tossing the rabbit towards the volcano, I resume the boring task of reaching immortality. The qi inside my braincore has settled down, so I let it stream outside. The steady influx of varied power coming from Tree - the result of the aforementioned network of crystals sucking up power from across the planet - has started polluting the air already. Breathing out my entire cultivation base at once, I send it upwards. Breathing back in, I suck up massive amounts of randomly mixed qi, all kinds of intents fighting, co-existing and influencing each other. I keep breathing in and in, taking in all the power I can handle.

As I half-consciously process the steadily growing amount of potential gathering in the small dimension, I take in the changes that have happened. Instead of a lively air, a bustling feeling of chaotic productivity, there is an odd form of calm present. It’s a little less than two months since Rhea, and I did our little playacting and mass teleporting, and the last traces of human civilisation are now overgrown. There are ruined houses and barns scattered throughout the forests, and all the places where wood was harvested and forests cleared are starting to fill in again.

The newly added regions and features have also settled. More and more animals have started adapting to the new desert region, giving that big old grumpy sandworm some much-needed company. The small toxic moon circling around Tree has also diversified, the bug queen and her workers no longer the main species. Smaller, normal insects have survived, and that one sickly looking deer has somehow found a mate. Small little sickly Bambi's are running around, nibbling on newly grown plants. Instead of being solely made up of the rather depressing grey green pallor, the ball is now sporting patches of purple plants and vibrant stretches of mossy grass.

I speed up the power centrifuge in my braincore, enhancing the process to keep up with the slowly yet surely increasing levels of power Tree is syphoning. The suns high above have also diverged from the static field of small lights that I made a long time ago. Instead of being merely glowing balls of power, they are true fires now, and I suspect that nanoscopic amounts of fusion are happening inside the things.

Suddenly gaining a flash of insight, I search for Lola. I find her frolicking in the snow, surfing on top of the avalanches she is causing. She is utilising her frost form again, the small critter having expanded into a dozen meter large blue ball of cool fur. Enforcing my Will and my control of the air around me, I send her shooting upwards. She immediately looks in my direction, screeching her big blue head off. I give her a loving wave and send her on a trajectory to the suns.

The couple dozen small balls of fire have started orbiting each other as they circle around Tree. I try to check whether or not they are following standard three-body physics, the but the complexity of the calculations makes me lower my numerical precision after a few attempts. Lola arrives by the time I’ve crafted a decent predictive model, accurate up to a couple of thousand years. Placing Lola, who is small and white again, as the centre point makes for a rather majestic sight. I form a mental process to keep tabs on her, but I harden my heart to her pathetic whines of complaint.

It takes her ten minutes of sad squeaking before she understands that I won’t budge on this. She then promptly wiggles around a bit, shaking up her fur, and goes to sleep. Immediately, I sense the heat and fire intent qi being drawn into the little bunny, slowly starting to balance out the frost overload she is suffering from. Satisfied that she is continuing to progress, I focus on my own cultivation again.

I’m still at a loss of what to do with my heartcore and braincore if I'm totally honest. My head is filled with a perfectly empty storage place for qi. I can change it into anything I want, but it's not really comfortable, and I always feel odd when forcing a particular shape. My heartcore is still the standard, largely subconsciously driven cell-based partition core. The entire thing feels a bit cobbled together, like I took concepts that aren’t truly mine, and twisted them into something that somehow works despite my actions, not because of them.

I’d start over again, but I’m not sure I can handle a truly novel way of cultivation. Even back on Earth, a lot of the stories and novels I remember reading talked about dantians and cores. The thousand years of roaming I did on the CUltivation World only increased this unshakable faith I have in the three core system.

Yeah, I won’t get anything truly original with that attitude. I focus on my breathing for a bit, upping the speed at which I process power once again. I keep pondering this issue. I feel like I could regain my current power level in mere weeks, if I do decide to start over. I'd just need access to plenty of easily changed qi. Then Tree comes with the first suggestion it has ever given me. From out of nowhere, it offers itself up.

I open my eyes and take in the golden behemoth. “I’m not sure that’s a great idea?”

It waves its branches at me in a noncommittal shrug.

“I mean, that would be pretty cool, but would you remain yourself? Would anything here remain their own thing?”

Tree waves some more branches, showering me in a golden rain of its weirdly geometric leaves. The amount of love and surety I feel radiating from the big bastard is making me tear up. Denying it now would just be slapping it in the face, right?

“Alright then. Let’s give it a shot.” Closing my eyes, I do as Tree suggested. Instead of keeping my braincore blank, I start crafting a copy of Tree. Beginning with a rough outline, I form the core inside my brainstem into its thick trunk. Then Tree’s golden qi invades my mind, and I nearly shit myself. The stream of power actually touches my core, something I had thought impossible. Other people can mess with your cultivation base, sure, but it is limited to crippling or sensing it. The non-material nature of the energy system inside my body had me believing that only I could truly interact with my base. Noticing that my defences are still in place and nothing dangerous is happening, I continue the process. The now golden shining Tree inside my braincore is rapidly transforming into an atom-perfect copy of the real thing.

I open my eyes and see the actual physical Tree shining brighter than ever. We both continue working on the three-dimensional projection inside my mind, crafting leaf and stem with automatic ease and meticulous precision. The image snaps into place the moment we both imagine the last sap vessel and fibrous strand.

Then things go quickly. Around its crown, I feel the air. Around its roots, I see dirt. My braincore is filled with Tree. It’s majestic bows and branches fill the entire space inside my core. Then the rest of its dimension grow around it, forming the dirt I’m sitting on and the air I’m breathing in - blades of grass form by the millions, without my input. The entire thing grows out into my brain, escaping the edges of my braincore, growing out of control. I feel something other than qi rushing into me, pouring into my head as the entire process fails to overwhelm me.

Ruins are scrawled into my brain, alongside with every single bug, bird, beast, and being inside the dimension. Spreading outwards from that single Tree in my core is everything else. It takes a while, but the rushing front of air, dirt, plant and beast eventually reaches both mountains. Massive quantities of magma and enormous sheets of ice are sucked inside my mind. I feel a slight headache coming on when the outer sea is added. It’s swirling eddies of floating water barely fit inside my head.

I feel like I'm drunk. Way too much stuff was just crammed inside my noggin. To my rising astonishment - the lack of any fear slightly surprising me - the feeling continues. Around Tree is a massive shell of air, which encompasses all the planetoids orbiting the overgrown plant. The many cubic kilometres of gasses are also added, the wind affinity gained from Rhea allowing me to feel this process easily. Then the closest orbiter, the ball of toxic acid, comes into reach and I feel like this might have been a bad idea. The alien nature of the acid and toxin based ecosystem clashes with the rest of my cultivation base, fighting it on a fundamental level. It all becomes a bit much, and the edges of my vision turn dark.

Then my heartcore joins in, the kernel of solidly compressed qi melting into nothing. I feel the structural qi inside my body starting to drain as the wave of wholesome power from my heart joins up with my still expanding braincore. The pressure fades like it was never there, and the rest of the dimension is rapidly added to my mind.

Lola and the suns spinning around her come into reach last, and I gently pick up the little ball of fluff. The hesitation I feel from her is somehow heartwarming. I take the air in her lungs and the sweat on her fur but leave her outside. All the animals in Tree are included, but those beings where mine already anyway. I wonder why I don't think of Lola as a possession of mine, but that thought fades quickly.

The last and final bit of atmosphere is copied and transported in my braincore, and I sense all.

The power of my heartcore floats throughout the entire dimension, and I feel all.

The power of Tree is woven throughout the entire place, and I have received all.

Database is there, both up in the sky and inside my head, and I know all.

I sit up with a gasp. Blinking against the suns that shine way too brightly, I spot Lola looking up at me. That stupid horn is on her head again, the thin strand of red no longer threatening to disappear entirely. I hold out a hand, and feel the entire dimension move with me.

Feeling distinctly uncomfortable at the sensation, I clear my mind. The double-layered feeling vanishes and the world around me returns to its comforting mundanity. I don’t look at Tree, as I know how it feels. I don’t look at the grass, as I know the way it waves. I ignore the lighting bird in the sky, the acid bugs up higher, and the desert worm down below, as I know they exist. I hold out a hand to the one element here that is unknown to me, and she proceeds to bite my ankles.

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