Chapter 205 - Manducate (5)

“How’s life, my man?” I need to shout the last part as another one of my quickly cobbled together rockets blasts off, leaving a burgeoning pillar of white vapour in its wake.

“Besides having to constantly run around my cunt-cursed city and kingdom, having to put out one fucking fire after another, barely able to catch a shit fucked wink of sleep?”

“Ah, I missed your eloquent way of putting things. Please contain yourself. We have a minor present, after all.” I keep covering Lola’s ears as the majestic man continues his colourful complaining. I just smile and nod as the obviously winded individual pours out a stream of profanities that would make a sailor blush. “Got that out of your system?”

“No. That would take a few more piss stained years.” The king of the human Shi-Eit kingdom seems to have calmed down enough to hold a civil conversation after only half an hour of constant vulgar ranting. I feel like I’ve got a pretty high resistance to coarse language, yet I think I learned a few new creative combinations.

I see the king eyeing my bottle of wine, but I refuse to give him a drink. The poor sod would probably die very painfully where he to even smell this bottle from my personal collection. Come to think of it, I make a new note, reminding myself to set up some distilling equipment on the poisonous planetoid in my core later. For reason unknown, the more toxic and hostile the environment, the better the alcohol that can be produced there.

“So, again, how’s life?”

The man has the gall to clearly and obviously lick his lips at me. I just smile and pretend I don’t understand what he's getting at. “I saw streaks of fire rising to the horizons, leaving thick pillars of clouds in their wake. As the most powerful person in my Capital, of course, I had to go see what that was about.”

“Right. It’s me, surprise! Now what?” We stare at each other some more. I happily refuse to read any of the social queues the aged man is throwing out, not offering up any food or drink, not even giving him a seat. I’m sure that there are all kinds of cultural things that require the host of a meeting to offer up some form of refreshments, but I just don’t feel like it at the moment.

“You absolute twatwaffel.” I just smile, ignoring the glare levelled at me. “Why did the food supply sto-” Cut off by yet another launching rocket, the king barely manages to keep standing.

I stand up and make my chair disappear into my ring. I’m only here to oversee this operation in case something went wrong, and things are going extremely smoothly. The drone deployment is running at a nice and safe fifty percent surplus while the rockets are doing their dumb tasks admirably.

“We only guaranteed food during the transition. The food supply lines had done their duty, and then some. The same decrepitude and rot was setting in. He who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence. And pestilence was breeding alright, both in your city and inside Tree.”

“Don’t you dare tell me that tosspot story! I only recently managed to recover from that immortality and infinity bullshit you put me through. Do you even know how horrific that was? To be numb and peaceful all the time? Neither immature fuckboy nor ass-wiping old geezer? You cunting fucknugget, I didn't do jack shit in that period of time. I could have done so much, but you shoved this idea of ennui down my throa-”

Happy to see the old chap in such a good mood, I give the king a wave and step into my core. Instead of physically stepping through a point in space, I sort of envelop myself in my own cultivation base. Tree’s dimension is still a separate dimension, but it now has an intrinsic, somatic, and nonmaterial connection to my cultivation base and thus my person, allowing me to shift between Tree and ordinary reality with ease.

Under normal circumstances, my braincore is still the same empty sphere as before. But now, instead of forcefully needing to shape that void of potential into something new and foreign, I can just choose to observe Tree. Like seeing your own nose, the entire dimensional plane is there all the time, I just don’t notice unless I pay attention.

Landing on my own grass, letting my soil take my weight, I can’t help but smile at the foulmouthed man I just left standing. I was worried that something bad had gone down, Database did have a few moments it didn’t process any data over the past two weeks. Something could have slipped through those cracks, no matter how unlikely. But, thankfully, the guy just wanted to drink booze and have someone to curse at.

I peer outside through one of the many drones and immediately feel my ears burning at the volume and speed at which paint curling curses are thrown out. The bearded and crowned gutcore cultivator eyes my rocket installation for a bit, looking at the drones that keep dumping rocket wreckage and stone bullets on the slowly growing heap. I dare him to try messing with my stuff, but he chickens out and starts climbing down the mountain. I take one last look at the majestic panorama visible from my chosen launch site. The sea stretches out towards the horizon, the silhouette of the human capital demarcating the edge between land and sea. The triangular dungeon monument of Peak sticks up from the mountain range to the left, and the faraway forests to the east are just barely visible.

I keep tracking the king while he runs away, and spot him slipping into one of the many ruins that dot these mountains. I already went through them but found very little of import. From the way some of the remaining walls drooped and sagged, I could tell that there had been a lot of dragon involvement in the demise of whatever lived here. Or they somehow managed to melt their own stone walls for reasons I can’t fathom. Hairline cracks in other walls indicated more rapid temperature shifts, more proof of a breath attack induced end.

I’m guessing the stories and myths of a kingdom razed by dragons because they changed their language stem at least partially from this place. The desert to the south is also rumoured to hold the remnants of a dragon razed kingdom, but I’ve noticed very little evidence that this myth might hold any water.

I check the rockets one more time, and observe the systems working perfectly. There are a couple dozen more batteries of the one-time use items ready to fire, and I’m randomly changing the frequency at which they are being launched to gather more data about the satellites reaction speeds. I’ve had the last few launches deviate their trajectories seconds before they got hit, and the rounds all hit off-centre. Slowly but surely, I’m getting usable estimates about the number of satellites and their assault capabilities.

The next batch of rockets is being made right now. These will be smaller, at half the size of the current ones, and will go a bit faster and be more nimble. They’ve got greater control surfaces to allow for better atmospheric manoeuvrability. I’m also adding small patches of armoured hide, just to test what kind of damage mitigation works best. The amount of times I’ve had to withstand high-velocity attacks from projectiles a hundred times their normal mass is a grand total of zero, so I’m testing this from any and every angle I can imagine. I failed in the one case in which I was being shot at with these bullets, and I don't plan on letting that scenario repeat itself.

Content that all is well at my launch site, I look for a comfortable place to sit. Suddenly gaining a little bit of insight in the way the dimension of mine is situated inside my braincore, I will the entire place to shift. The next moment, I’m standing on top of my newly constructed castle, overseeing the clearing around Tree and the surrounding forests from a crenellated tower. To the side, I see some ruins explode. Blinking at the suddenly growing cloud of dust throwing the remains of a barn and a few stone huts around, I wonder what’s that about. Then I realise that I know what that’s about.

Everything inside this dimension is my personal property. Instead of merely saying that I own everything in this place, I know on a deep level that every single atom and elemental particle exists only on my sufferance. I know I control each speck of matter here with the flick of my mind. The couple hundred bullets I’ve collected so far, all the projectiles shot at my rockets, are not included in that collection.

Shifting everything here a hundred meters to the left and a few dozen up, just so that I can save myself a little walk, caused those items to remain in place. Instead of laying in a heap, they suddenly found themselves occupying the same space as solid ground. This entire situation resolved itself explosively, thus helping the destruction of a few ruined structures along.

I rub my chin as I will my dirt surrounding the projectiles to bring them to me. Cleaning them off, I put them in my ring, unwilling to have foreign matter that I have no control over inside my cultivation base. I keep one in my hand while pulling the one I found inside the sandworm from my ring. Studying the two, I see minimal differences. An exploratory thread of augur tells me that they have similar densities. I’m not sure how I never noticed that the stone projectile I recovered from the sandworm has way more atoms than it should. I just hope that the defences in my clothes are enough until I manage to neutralise the moon. There is no magic more insidious than mind manipulation. Another reason I really want to know how Nexus operates is in order to figure out how it is manipulating minds. Influencing a complex structure made off trillions of parts requires at least partial understanding of those trillions of parts, and thus requires a more complex computer or program.

I slap myself, forcing my mind into the world around me. Actually, the world around me is also me, as it is my own core I’m walking around, somehow, but…

I slap myself again, forcefully waking up from my mental musings. Wandering the Cultivation World for a thousand years has left its marks on my psyche. I just keep discovering what those many thousands of years of subjective self-enforced solitude have done to me time and time again.

I need to be ready. I need to have a plan in place when I go back to her. I need to be able to serve this planet on a platter, just in case. I need to be able to tell her, with certainty, that there is a future that doesn’t include a level five overreaction from automated security systems. I need to make sure, with more than a hundred percent guarantee, that I know what the fuck I’m doing.

I stop pacing around, finding that the otherwise neatly tiled top of my castle’s observation tower now sports a deep circle through which I have been pacing. I blink a bit at the comically deep depression and take note of the fact that I can employ cartoon physics with ease inside Tree. Neat.

Dropping my personal and super comfortable chair from my ring, I spend a bit of will to make it mine by force, and sink down on the heavenly piece of furniture. Then I start going through the things that are happening in the outside world. I’ve got tons of processes keeping track of all the cities that are scattered across the single massive inhabited continent of this planet, but taking personal stock is required if I want to be aware of potential issues before they crop up.

First, I check the beastkin capital. I carefully take note that not a lot has changed there. The single most powerful force inside the city is made up of three entities. First and foremost, there is Bord. The heartcore cultivator with a love of food and triangles is spectacularly failing in influencing the city in any planned manner. I’m pretty sure that the fat kid is just living the life over there. He’s cuddling the world’s most dangerous assassins by night, letting himself be punched by day, and chowing down on the food produced by the most prodigious and revered restaurant in the entire beastkin collective in between.

The dragon who is in charge of the region, some lion-headed fellow naming himself Keeneff, is stumbling along splendidly. He keeps looking for something I have not yet been able to determine with my general spying methods, but some task or obsession is keeping the fellow busy. And then there is the restaurant. The waiters, cooks, busboys, hosts, and bookkeepers employed in the building now basically rule the entire territory. The restaurant owner has managed to keep things together, brilliantly playing the various factions against each other to maintain the current equilibrium. I see a bright future for that feathered lass.

Tess is also doing brilliantly. She ended up in one of the largely isolated communities, many leagues of hostile terrain preventing them from contacting the outside world frequently. The short and stocky people she ended up with… Alright. She landed in a town of mountain digging dwarves. She is the dark and shadowy princess of the dwarf fortress, and I honestly love the entire concept she has going on.

She claims to hate Bord in all aspects, yet she is copying him to a blinding degree. She sits on her ass most of the time, ordering people around. Bord orders chefs and waiters, Tess orders leaders and shapers. Then they both eat at prodigious rates. Bord, because he can, and because they let him. Tess, because this is the single most optimal way her shadowy gutcore sees forward, and because she is slowly realizing the power of command and control alongside that of contrast. But then again, power difference is a contrast, so yeah.

Where Bord does nightly raids to acquire himself more food, Tess orders her cohorts of dwarfs to craft better traps to ensnare more powerful prey. Both are totally unaware of the effect they are having on the societies they oversee at large, but both are having an equally drastic impact.

Just when I’m about to discover some proper good reasons of why we are here, and why we are alive at all, several subconscious and offloaded processes interrupt my train of conscious thought. Warning bells and signs flash their importance at me, severing any form of universal awakening or spiritual enlightenment I might have been undergoing at that time. My supernatural thoughts and concepts of higher planes of existence are forcefully interrupted as I am woken from my transient daze by the everyday facts of the mundane world.

The mundane world where a single shitty fuckwad of the Leporidae family is ruining thousands of man-hours of work. “LOLA YOU SLUT!” Furious at the fact that all the tests that launched since I stepped into Tree are useless, I grab my sword. I immediately place myself into the real universe once again, stepping into the material plane as I start looking for a certain rabbit.

Lola is squealing her little head off. Riding on top of the Big Sticks That Go WHOOOOOOOOSSSHHH is the best fun she’s had in a long time. Then, moments before her little lungs fail to take in sufficient amounts of oxygen to keep her hyperactive body going, she jumps off, warned by her instincts. The rocket explodes seconds later, and the little rabbit is followed downwards by a swarming hail of bullets. She tried to stay up there a few times, but the increasing danger she felt coming from above forced her downwards each time.

Closing her eyes against the blasting wind, she digs her nails into the relatively soft steel of the nose-cone, her ears flapping in the wind. Her fur nearly vibrates as she is pounded by several MACH’s of air pressure, and she barely manages to keep her head lifted upwards against the supersonic shockwave.

Then, just as the first twinges of danger start coming from above, a sure sign that the streaks of fire are on their way down, she feels utter dread coming from below. Fighting the absurd forces with nothing but her dumb mind and brute force, she manages to look down to the ground. Her nails dig deep trenches into the smooth rocket hull as her ears flap straight down. She barely manages to see a small silhouette of a man standing amidst dissipating clouds of smoke and vapour.

Even from high up in the sky, where it's getting hard to breathe, and the clouds make a white patchwork below, Lola feels icy claws of dread grasp at her tiny mind. Blue ice crystallises around the large slab of metal the man is holding, she sees through distortions of heat and pressure. All of a sudden, the highly dangerous streaks of superheated plasma and stone coming at her from above don’t seem so dangerous anymore.

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