Chapter 207 - Manducate (7)

All my musings about how the planet is doing bring me to the next issue. The general population of this planet is way too low. I can understand that the yearly mutant and beast tides ravaging the lands might have a negative impact on the general population, but I’m surprised that there are just a few thousand towns and villages in total.

Nearly all the towns in the wilder parts of the world, which means everything except the mage isles, the Shi-Eit Kingdom and the Beastkin States, are completely isolated. Tess’ village is a good example. Those humans have been separated from the rest of sapient society for long enough to be almost considered a new species.

Not a single principle or rule I remember from social logistics back on Earth or any population distribution I have observed back in the Cultivation World seems to apply. The major population centres seem to concentrate around the dungeons. The endless supplies of food, materials, weapons, armour, and other items keep massive populations adrift at the low, low cost of the lives of inexperienced delvers. This gives me a rather weird world, though.

Funny, how I never really thought about this. Because of the madness surrounding the beast hordes - which had been tapering off at the start of the mass teleportation - the majority of this planet’s population was inside city walls when shit went down. But, then again, any and all information and data I find about this mudball informs me that an absurd percentage of the population is living in urban conditions. Very few people are actually permanent residents of rural areas.

The beastkin territories seemed to have had this area of life handled in the best manner of all civilisations I have come across. A frontline of fighters at the borders of the territories kept the beast hordes out each year, fighting off the masses of encroaching animals led by mana mutants at the low, low cost of a percentage of the soldier population.

The human kingdoms or outlying territories just recalled all of their able citizens to walled cities or fortresses during the winter season. All the outlying tribes of near-humans appeared to have done the same, or they just never left their fortress cities. Tess’s dwarves is a good example of this strategy, as is the oddly well-developed city Ket is residing in.

I can’t help but get slightly excited about these implications. This entire planet appears to be on an eccentric orbit. Instead of having an axial tilt, which would cause opposite seasons on sides of the equator, this entire planet hangs closer to the sun for half a year. This causes a global winter and summer pattern. I’m still not clear on what connection the spike in mutants and distance from the sun have in common - and the fact that qi has been fucking over this entire planet for a while now doesn’t help either - but that is of lesser consequence.

What is important to my current situation is that those factors have caused a weird population distribution. I’ve got a little over five thousand high altitude mapping and surveillance drones flying through the atmosphere at the moment. The vast majority of these little mechanical beauties are stationed above cities, towns, and settlements. This means that this entire planet has less than five thousand cities, towns and settlements. This is a ridiculously low number.

The cities are rather large, though. Instead of the couple hundred inhabitant average that any normal medieval human civilization would gravitate towards, these places nearly all got a couple of thousand inhabitants. Limits of food, transportation, infrastructure, and sanitation used to put hard caps on less developed cities back on Earth. In the cultivation world, larger towns only sprung up around cultivators who actually gave a fuck about the mortal people, a rarity unless literally every inhabitant was a sect servant or slave.

So, this is quite the mysterious clusterfuck. Five thousand towns spread over half a planet. A population density that is both too low and too high. Too few cities that are way too large by any mundane statistical analysis. Ambient mana in the air did make the average person a bit stronger than normal mundane mortals would have been. The light and dark mana imbalance has been putting a rather large cap on that, though. Like animals, I have found that in order to passively grow stronger, humans and beastkin needed to absorb equal shares of dark and light mana. The sheer lack of bright mana put a large limit on this process.

Another process chimes in, this time it’s Database who is deciding it has relevant and useful information to present to me. I check the mental information package, and immediately agree with my qi clone.

All sapient life would have been killed off in a few thousand years. Extrapolating from a few data points, I have discovered that the mana imbalance would have literally killed everyone on this rock. The animals would have started mutating en masse, a feat that the sapients just couldn’t have kept up with. Even with a minuscule survival rate, the mana mutants would have overrun all civilised life within a couple of thousand years. Even the most optimistic estimate - which had the Flight joining the battle against the monster hordes - prolonged civilisation by a mere few dozen of millennia.

Half of this planet, the entirety of the continent where dungeons are set up to help sapients, contains a population of fifty million people. Ruins are everywhere, literally everywhere, Database tells me. Every single stretch of a couple of thousand square kilometres contains signs of a ruined civilization. It seems that boosting my own cultivation base, and thus Database’s power level, allowed it to take on a lot of the mundane and boring data analysis tasks that I have been putting off.

Actually, the low population makes a twisted form of sense. All that is needed is a minimal occupation of the dungeons. This planet seems to have been designed around those weird places, no matter how inept a design. Those are the true movers and shakers of this planet, those are the machines that turn potential into mana, thus empowering the Flight. In order to operate this planet optimally, a single population group per dungeon is needed, nothing more.

Running another quick calculation, I find that small Dungeon housed remnants of the Flight and the other civilised species could have held on for hundreds of millennia. They’d need to take shelter inside the massive structures, subsisting on the loot it drops, but they could have survived, if not thrived. The rest of the planet would have become a hellhole of randomly mutating animals at ridiculous power levels after a while, but civilisation could have held on for a while.

All of these sudden realisations shake me from my deep trance. Finding out that I didn’t really screw up anything important with my mistake of spreading qi across the planet is like a splash of cold water to my face. Instead of hiding behind the guilt stemming from the fact that I doomed an entire planet to qi cultivation, I now find out that I’ve merely subverted a worse fate.

Well, there goes my guilt-complex. Shit, I was using that to laze around...

My sudden bout of clarity coming from a large number of processes falling away sets everything in context. Yes, I might have involuntary spread qi throughout this plane of existence, but this planet would have become a wasteland in a couple of thousand years anyway. Yes, I might have fucked up big time, but I did so while making better futures possible. Can I call it a fuck-up then?

I shake myself from more theoretical nagging as I think of what to do next. All of the remnants of civilisation are being taken care of by my students, one way or another. All of the children I had inside Tree deemed too young to cooperate in any true manner are all placed under the careful tutelage of Selis, so that will not cause me any problems whatsoever. All the other people otherwise deemed unworthy, unwilling, or incapable of leading a settlements are also included in that hot and dry arrangement. Rhea and I actually had a pretty hefty debate about whether or not to place that blue haired girl inside the largest desert on the continent, but she vetoed my objections and told me to just do it.

I wasn’t, and still am not, willing to cross a dragon on items she is willing to spend her one veto of the month on, so I let it go. I assigned Selis to the desert, added all the otherwise disinclined to leadership to her charges, and have been receiving her daily death threats ever since. At least the girl can vent a bit using the dungeon sticking up from the rolling dunes, so there’s that.

Taking another mental step back, I call up the statistical analysis from the entire planet. Database has been distilling the masses of information it has been receiving and distributing down to more reasonable volumes of data, which I peruse at my leisure - trawling through neat summaries is much more pleasant than manually digging though massive archives of raw footage, after all. The amount of qi absorbed from the planet is slowly growing, showing the same exponential growth that Tree is even now experiencing.

I note that the amount of life lost is less than expected. Less than a single per cent of all sapient life on the planet has perished since qi started infecting everything properly. The crystals hanging above the towns are busily sucking up the qi inside all the enclosed structures, giving the people cultivating there a chance to reset the ambient qi inside their bodies. This entire thing is a continuation of my tests in cultivation. Ambient qi seems to interfere with a person’s personal qi in a major way. I’m still amazed at the speed by which everyone on this planet is cultivating, a feat I’m attributing to the lack of ambient qi.

The majority of the power I’m absorbing these days comes from the chaos continent, actually. The ordinary drones I’ve sent there are all destroyed by now. None of the relatively fragile flyers managed to survive the increasing amount of powerful flying creatures, animals and mana mutants over there. I’ve been putting the same drones as I placed on the south pole across that continent. The near-indestructible spheres of black metal are filled with three types of formations. First and foremost, the strengthening runes keep the items in one piece. The second formations suck up as much power as possible, while thirdly, small sensors allow me to keep an eye on the place.

The south pole is also a large source of power, but I’ve got that place covered in qi absorption formations to such an extent not a single ice elemental has managed to form over the past week. The amount of qi I’m syphoning from that place for my personal use rivals that of the chaos continent in sheer quantity, though. The super dense items scattered across the most southern area are helping in generating lots of juice and tasty power for me, so I’m oddly thankful for whatever being slapped this world together in that regard.

As far as the weird trash heap of mysterious items goes, I’m slowly developing theories, but I’m not certain of anything yet. The absurdity of some of the things I keep finding, and the fact that despite their complicated and convoluted designs they do nothing useful, are obvious hints in and of themselves. I’m thinking that the systems operating here are not used to a mundane universe at all and that all the esoteric and mystical laws that they ran on previously are not present.

This is all theoretical, of course, and I will need to start looking into this with a bit more seriousness once I can manage to do more than a surface level scan of the hyper-dense trash. Now is not the time for that, though. Instead, I should be going to the north pole and get Rhea back.

Right, there I go again, thinking like she is a possession that I should just go and retrieve. This is the exact thought-pattern that I despised and spend a full millennium running away from and avoiding. Let’s not go down that path, right?

Instead, I should work on my own skills some more. You can't be frustrated and hurting when you’re too busy to realise the futility of existence, right? I start thinking of ways to design better drones, but quickly realise that all I can do at the moment is to over-engineer the things. Adding any additional complexity will just make the production time skyrocket. The balance I’ve got going between production speed and design is pretty good, so I abandon that avenue of distraction.

I pop outside a few times, checking what the density of the stone bullets is as the drones gather the bits and pieces of the rocket barrages. I’m sending a couple of thousand small rockets skywards every hour now, netting me excess of twenty thousand new projectiles an hour. The density is around thirty per cent at the moment, and I fear that it might be plateauing soon.

Forcing the double density gold to become my own matter already took half of the qi inside my cultivation base, and thus inside Tree. There is no way that I’m going to be able to manage to make matter that dense mine anytime soon.

I end up spending most of my time setting up distillery equipment on the newest celestial object inside my cultivation base. Lola pops in now and then, screeching at me whenever she sees me puttering around on the purple mud ball. I just wave at the worried rabbit, assuring her that I won't go bald anytime soon.

Placing a working setup on the muddy ball of toxins and acid turns out to take way more effort than I initially thought it would. The traditional copper vessels all start corroding within seconds, and the first few items I install turn into goop within minutes. It takes me at least a day - I sort of lose track of time at this point - to make something that won’t melt or corrode eventually.

The ceramic solution I come up with instead doesn’t transfer heat properly, requiring me to bake the heating, control, and condensation formations into the clay itself, using trace metals and different types of finely ground minerals. I first think that not a single yeast bacteria could possibly survive in the toxic swamp, but the bubbling vapours coming from some of the boggy parts prove me wrong rather quickly.

I work together with Tree for a while, slowly letting a wide variety of fruits, grains, and herbs adapt to the teeth-melting conditions on the toxic moon. Slowly but surely, I manage to piece a working process together, letting the juice from the least gross looking adapted fruits ferment before running it through the pristine white distillery equipment a few times.

Tree and Database both give me plenty of hints that I probably should be focussing on something a little more productive as I spend my days tinkering with my latest project. I know better than to listen to the whining of my own cultivation base and qi clone, so I persevere until I'm satisfied with the entire process. Once the booze that drips out of the extremely corrosion resistant spigot at the end of the entire distillation process is spicy enough to burn away my nose hairs when I smell it, I’m satisfied.

I then spend some more time automating the entire thing, setting up defensive perimeters to keep the annoying bugs out in the meantime. Only when the large storage cellar I made inside the planetoid’s core is slowly filling with small gold plated glass barrels - the only combination of materials I found corrosion-resistant enough to survive more than a week - am I truly satisfied.

“There, that should be good, right?” Lola just looks at me. “It’s nice, though? Right?”

The entire production line makes for a rather impressive sight. Large pristinely white fences surround the small farm, keeping out the bugs, deer, and other sickly looking animals. Gold covered drones harvest and feed the plants to the booze production process. The resulting dregs are slowly fed through a complex industrial plant, the white pipes and shining vessels making a complex weave of tube and frame.

“Something to be proud of, right? So, what has been happening in the outside world?” Lola keeps staring at me. She must still be pissed that I ignored her for a few days. Projectile density is around ten times ordinary matter. Getting there, but still too thick. Yes, Tree, I could have spent this time researching those necromantic tomes some more, but it’s not like that will help any, right?”

Tree remains silent.

“I mean, I know I could go there and just get her back, but what if…” Worries that I've not thought of in days keep cropping up now that my most recent project is done. “She has known him her entire life, right? What if…”

Lola licks my cheek. Her tongue sizzles as the residue of the toxic mudball dissolves the upper layer of her pink organ. I push her away, but she keeps licking my cheek. “I’d be furious if some asshole told me he could resurrect my family member, and my loved one turned into a shambling mess of a person. I would start resenting that person, that’s a fact. What if she starts hating me, Lola?” She keeps licking my cheek as I wipe away the tear streaming from my other eye.


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