Chapter 203 - Manducate (3)
This is all very weird. I look at the bar of metal I have in my hand, and I know that I own it. I don’t just know that the physical object is in my possession. I feel it, I sense it, it’s as if the thing itself is telling me it’s mine. It’s very weird.
I drop the bar and pick up Lola. This little ankle biter is the only thing that still feels solid here, that feels like it doesn’t want to roll over and change it's very being and nature the moment I wish for it to be so. I think about tossing her up into the sky again, but as if sensing my thoughts, her little claws dig into my skin and clothes. Grinning at her, I just scratch her a little while processing the alien sensations all around me.
Tree is inside my head, and the rest of this little dimension is right there with it. “This is super weird.”
I feel a positive reply. Looking upwards startled, I sense Tree training its attention on me. It nods along with my assessment, agreeing that it too feels pretty weird. “Did we make a mind link or some… No, you’re somehow a part of my cultivation now?” The fact that I probably shouldn't re-cultivate anytime soon is both a bummer and a relief. I really should have tried out one of these fancy new ways of cultivating myself, just to experience them at least once. Now though, every single being inside my core would lose a lot were I to abandon my current base. I look at Tree again. They’d lose a whole lot…
I decide to stop having negative thoughts. All it will take is another ascension gone wrong, and I’ll get that opportunity, after all.
“Stop biting me already!” Lola shakes me from my dark thoughts, and the grass wraps her up as the ground curls up around her. Dropping all my thoughts into the void, I let go of my irritations instead of suppressing them. I let the blackness I’m imagining go, dropping that too. I repeat this until I feel alright again, the suns high above brightening as my mood improves.
Lola has her ears down and is laying flat on the grass. I immediately feel immensely guilty. Deciding that merely petting her a bit won’t be enough recompense, I imagine the juiciest and most delicious carrot I can imagine. Air rushes in as I change a minuscule part of my braincore into a superpowered, bright orange carrot. Lola nearly teleports herself to the thing and begins chomping on it like mad.
Super weird. I didn’t use any of my Will or augur just now. I didn’t break down water and carbon dioxide on a conscious level. I didn't combine the separated atoms into a complex structure, weaving in nitrogen and trace elements to make a living plant. But still, the cartoonishly orange carrot Lola is chewing on is a living plant, I think.
I’d only be certain of this fact were I to plant the thing in a garden, but I don’t think I can free it from the rabbit without losing a finger.
And instead of manipulating the atoms and molecules, I changed a part of my core. Super weird. Even Tree agrees with the fact that it was quite odd that I managed to make an entirely new strain of plant like that. And I know that trees can’t drool, but I swear I can hear the hungry plant salivate all over the place at the thought of having a plant creation machine like me at its disposal.
“I’m not becoming your farmers market. Go make your own cultivated strains of vegetables!” Tree doesn’t react to my comment and merely keeps its attention on me like some perverted stalker eyeing its prey. “And why are you spewing out my qi? And why is your qi still golden, but it has my fingerprints? And how come I can sense all the data flowing through Database, yet my mind isn’t melting? Why is this so weird. Where did my heartcore go?”
I flex my fingers, feeling the near liquid amounts of structural qi strengthening my flesh and bone. “Why did my heartcore join in? I was too occupied with processing all the new feelings and impressions streaming into my mind to really take note, but how come it suddenly decided to sacrifice itself to bolster my mental prowess? Where did… Wait, no way. I don’t believe that every single cell of my body now has a core of its own. That’s just stupid. Nope, come on Lola, I’m not believing that one bit.”
Feeling slightly stressed at the fact that I actually sensed a trillion little itty-bitty cores inside the cells of my hand, I pull a meal from my ring. Idly munching on the succulent strips of cow tiger mutant meat in cream sauce with steamed vegetables, I don’t look around. I just keep staring at Lola, as I know what is happening inside Tree by instinct now. My sight trained upon the happily chewing rabbit, I sense the thunderbird settling down on top of a rocky outcropping, calming down after the commotion. The puke coloured ball of acid and poison up above is also returning to an equilibrium, the newly formed flock of insectoid feathered mosquitos landing in one of the few remaining trees. Database up higher, nestled inside my jade moon is also doing fine, automatically gathering a large portion of the syphoned power that I’m importing.
And Tree. Tree is doing great. Its mind is slightly muddled, as the separation of its rather underdeveloped ego and its physical form wasn’t conducive to its mental wellbeing. It seems content, though. I try to question its decision once again, wondering if it was truly right for it to give up its own autonomy to become a cornerstone of my cultivation. Before I can even start to form the inquiry, it shuts down that train of thought with a firm hand - or rather branch. “Right, right.”
I decide not to get worried about the fact that it somehow has access to my surface level thoughts now. I did absorb it’s entire mind into my own cultivation base, after all. I also wonder why I start to feel the outer edges of my meal. Any food I eat is slowly absorbed and infected with my qi, that is normal, but even the wooden plate in my hand is turning into my personal matter slowly.
Squinting at the little bit of the remaining meal, I will it to become mine. It takes a slight bit of mental effort, but the food is turned into my own stuff within seconds. Taking a tentative bite, I find out that eating your own matter is a lot less satisfactory than eating foreign matter. Like masturbation and sex, the fact that there is an uncontrollable outside factor present adds to the whole experience.
Willing the meal to vanish, it disappears in a faint smoke of dust and qi. Turning around, I take in my direct surroundings. The area around Tree is looking as naturally beautiful as ever. A small pond, reeds artistically dotting the edges, is located beneath its roots. The thick trunk is framed by slender bushes and thick brush, a network of natural paths giving access to the areas around Tree. A slightly overgrown yet still rather neat herb garden is located to the left of Tree, fields that are slowly becoming wilder stretching into the horizon on its other side. Remnants of waving fields of grains and ploughed rows of vegetables are still present here and there.
Further to the left are vast swathes of grass, occasionally cut through by paved streets and slowly collapsing buildings and barns. Cordoned off storage fields are still holding piles and piles of rusting metals and rotting fabrics. To the other side are the few buildings that are still intact. The seven houses of my students have somehow retained their integrity. The ruins of my castle, now a neatly preserved foundation, are also conspicuously clean. The mud and stone wall surrounding the large clearing around Tree is mostly gone, the few parts that are still intact are mostly overgrown by creeper and moss.
The forest beyond is an interesting sight. In the tumult of the last couple of days, many a massive chunk of dirt and tree got dislodged from the ground as Tree and I lost our grip on gravity. As a result, entire stretches of the overgrown wilds have been dumped back in their place at all kinds of exciting slants. Massive trees toppled, while others got buried, and some are now thriving while growing at forty-five-degree angles.
I crack my knuckles and stretch a bit. Let's try having some fun with this. I somehow know that this entire dimension is mine to do with as I please, as it's external qualities are now under my internal control. I turn around quickly, pointing both my fingers at the place where my castle used to be, imagining a rather majestic bastion of sleek lines, white stones, and elegant balconies. The image first forms inside my core as I use all the core shaping training I have been doing lately. The building snaps into existence with a thunderous boom of displaced air, sending out a shockwave that kicks up dust. I cough once, and all the dust settles with a low implosion that reverberates between both mountains. A flourish of my hands adds crenellated walkways and narrow bridges that connect towers, adding a moat for good measure. I walk towards my new abode, shifting the walls between straight-up neatness, outwardly sloped menace or inwardly slanted defensibility.
Letting an automated process form the complex network of chambers, rooms, secret tunnels, majestic hallways, and luxurious stairwells that such an awesome structure needs, I turn my focus downwards. Nestled between the roots of Tree is the mass production assembly line facility I set up to produce my drones. Each platform carved with movement runes, every single changeable area where I can apply temporary formations, and each drill bit set into enchanted frames is immediately clear in my mind’s eye. I shift the entire thing, willing it to be under my castle, turning the entire basement into a lab that would make any mad scientist jealous.
“Come, my loyal minion. I will now tell you my plan to take over the world!” I know Lola is hopping after me, her little body forming an odd emptiness inside my braincore. For the briefest of moments, I peer inside my braincore. There, I see a miniature replication of the environment I’m in, myself included. Inside that miniature me's head is also an ethereal braincore, and another even smaller me is inside that one. I try to find an end to the endlessly recursing madness, but it goes far beyond the sixteen smaller versions of myself I had set up when I went to fight with the mana dungeon’s core.
“As you see, my dear Lola, we have a few things to do first.” I'm snapped awake by the little rabbit bumping into my legs. I immediately resume my tour as we walk into the grand hallway, finely patterned marble arches decorating the grand stairwell that is the first thing you see upon entering. “It’s been a while…” I quickly check with Database, and I’m honestly quite shocked to learn that an entire week has passed since my last little conversation with Lola. “It’s been two weeks now since we left Rhea to her own devices, and we have stuff to do before meeting up with her again.”
Truth be told, I’d love nothing more than to rush over to the north pole right now, beat the shit out of everyone standing in my way, and wake her up. But, live and let live, we all have our own shit we need to work through. Instead of wallowing in my personal discomforts, I pick up Lola and start stroking her fur like any proper villain should start doing the moment they reach their evil lair. Pressing a few buttons in a random order, I order the secret trapdoor to fall open after I’ve punched in a sufficiently complex combination. Stepping onto the platform, we start to lower slowly, the patterned walls rising ever faster around us.
“You see, I don't like getting my ass kicked. And this stupid fucking piece of shit Nexus of a fake moon has been beating me down time and time again. First, it messed with Angeta. Actually, I’m sure it messed with everyone at some point in time. Then it started messing with all the animals, mutants, and big mutants. The straw though, the motherfucking straw that broke the mother fucking camel’s back…”
I pause as the wall vanishes in a blur, shooting upwards at high speed. Descending into the middle of a very large open area, lit by many glowing formations on the arcing ceiling, we have arrived into the production facilities that Database and Tree have been overseeing and developing. Massive piles of homogenous powder are piled to the side. Hoppers that hold hundreds of tonnes of raw or intermediate materials are placed in endless rows, all of them filled to the brim with refined metals and other resources. The many, many assembly lines look like empty walkways at the moment, but that’s just because only a single of the mass production facilities is being used.
“…is that Nexus dare to attack Rhea three times now. I can understand that people have beef with me, I’m a mighty annoying guy at the best of times, but how dare that asshole of a white floating ball of bullshit stone ever dare thinking about…”
The lights flicker, causing eery shadows to dance through the piles of prefabricated blocks of alloy. The many transportation holes in the sides, all of them lined with qi powered rails, look like dark pits to the abyss as their illumination fails with my anger.
“…hurting her, Angeta, others, indirectly ruining this entire planet by shooting my guts throughout the solar system, and who knows what else. Also, turning the north and south pole into a dumping ground of failed items and experiments is just a dick move in general. Clean up your own trash, for fuck’s sake.”
The platform we are on slows down gently, the rushing wind kept at bay by inscribed lines of runes and simple formations, powered by a single qi crystal and the ambient power that hangs thick in the air.
“So first, we need more countermeasures to this planet’s defensive and attack systems. I think you’re too dumb to be influenced by that white asshole up in the sky, but as it has proven time and time again, us qi empowered mortals seem to be rather sensitive to it.”
The nearest assembly line - a glowing strip of circulating qi surrounded by a rather malleable material which can be inscribed with ease - is currently slowly churning out drones. I forgot what version number it’s currently on, but comparing the current model with the very first one I designed and made by hand would be like comparing a cut and paste paper prototype with a finished masterpiece. The unibody design makes it rather slow to produce, though. Each step needs to be preceded by all earlier steps, disallowing any form of mass part production. The tests and products I have in mind now have no such limitation.
I snap my fingers the moment the lift platform I’m standing on clicks into the landing dock. Walking down the three-step stairs, I observe as a dozen or so assembly lines start to glow something fierce. The malleable metal strips of alloy lining the qi power strips - made from silver, tin, and other trace elements - start taking on the designs Database has been working on. I quickly check them over and make some inspired improvements here and there. Large hoppers filled with materials roll themselves to the beginning of the production process. They start pouring their contents onto the designated areas the moment they arrive.
These materials are then heated through brute force qi usage, the central qi strip of those lines buzzing with activity. The heated globules are transported down the line, complex arrays and rows of runes and formations shaping the materials as they cool.
“But to develop countermeasures, we first need to do some more research.” I’m pretty sure I’m grinning like mad now because I sense Lola looking between me and the suddenly bustling production lines with worry in her big black eyes. “Mass producing rockets that I will then launch into space to test the defensive satellites. Destructive research is my favourite type of science, after all.”
I can’t help but start cackling my best villain laugh as I start up some more assembly lines. I keep stroking Lola as I watch my arsenal grow steadily.
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