Chapter 208 - Manducate (8)

“I’m giving up.” Lola, Tree and Database all look at me like I’m trash. “Fuck it all. I need to listen to Bord more. I want her back, so fuck everything. I’m going to get her.” This sudden epiphany comes at the end of a - in hindsight - rather sad month. I’ve moped around most of the time and filled the rest of my days with all kinds of nerdy projects.

Making rockets, launching the ever smaller projectiles into orbit, automating production lines, and setting up distillery processes are not activities that a normal person fills all their time with, right? “Ah, who am I kidding. I’m going crazy over here. I keep talking to a tree, a massive chunk of white rock and a flipping bunny. I need to get laid.”

Putting my words to action, I phase back into the real world. I will myself into reality, using the drone the nearest to the north pole as a focus point. I’d been making bigger drones, but they were just spotter earlier. The model I got the furthest north before it got detected by dragons and destroyed turned out to be a small crawling insect type bug that keeps low to the ground. No matter how much I armoured the large ones, they got worn down by continuous dragon attack eventually.

The moment I appear, I regret my rash decision. I’m largely immune to all environmental conditions on this planet at this point, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel cold. I can’t help but shiver as I grasp my shirt tighter around my frame. I also grip my sword a bit tighter as I send some qi running through the item. The warmth coming from the large chunk of metal banishes the cold like it was never there.

Despite the fact that I’ve been standing here for over a minute now, complaining about the cold like a little bitch, I’ve not yet been attacked. Even though there is a perfect circle of dragons hovering around me, they are holding at a distance of around four hundred meters, just far enough for me to not notice the slow flapping of their wings sooner. The perfectly rhythmical manner in which they move their wings seems to overlap just right, causing a general droning sound instead of the chaotic swooshing you’d expect.

I grip my sword tighter as neither me nor the dragons staring me down move. I’m the one to break first, but that’s just because I suddenly realise I left my sword inside my castle. I don’t have it with me, so what am I holding, then?

My braincore, which had zoomed in on my sword, only showing that object inside my head, goes back to its normal state of blank neutrality. The heavy item in my hand vanishes, and I feel a certain electric feeling leave my body. I stare at the dissipating particles of blue, black, and orange with a dumbfounded look on my face. I just materialised a physical object from qi? Traditional cultivation knowledge tells me that that’s not possible until much further into the path to immortality, usually at the part where stuff gets truly freaky. Sure, I can make an illusion of an object no problem, but the handle felt real, and it had actual weight instead of some trick that simulates gravity and momentum.

Suddenly, I think of the sandworm. Before I can realise what I’m doing, a small brown snake pops into existence and falls down to the cold ice. It looks at me accusingly for a few seconds, before it starts wriggling frantically, slowly turning blue. To my amazement, each and every movement the small little creature performs is copied in my braincore. I even feel the cold penetrating its sandy scales, along with the extreme confusion that comes from suddenly finding yourself in a completely alien environment.

I realise that the sandworm is actually slowly dying, and release the being from my mind. Inside Tree, the previously lifeless sandworm’s body starts thrashing around in the desert. Did I just become a summoner? I imagine my super comfortable chair, and low and behold, the majestic piece of furniture pops into existence right in front of me, my braincore now completely filled with the item.

Just when my butt hits the high-quality leather, the dragons attack. They do so without breaking formation, their flight patterns mechanical and graceful at the same time. The front row all open their mouths simultaneously, each large lizard head aimed at my locations. I stand up, feeling slightly uncomfortable at the rather large amount of vitriol aimed my way. A multicoloured radiance supplements the pale morning sun as the closest ring of dragons all start blasting their relatively simple breath attacks my way.

The previously seamless ring of flying bodies is split up in perfect coordination, forming several smaller concentric rings as they start rushing me. I’m pretty sure that my castle would be able to resist that kind of force, yet I’m not so sure I’ll be able to come out of this one unscathed. If I still had my heartcore, sure, I’d be able to manage all of this perfectly.

Once again, nearly out of my control, my braincore changes into my castle. Instead of materialising the object like previously, I feel my flesh strengthen, my skin hardened, and my bones gaining structural strength. The waves of fire, ice, wind, water, and more washing over me fail to do any severe damage as the ice melts from under me. I keep my eyes open, blinking at the wild storm of mana, qi, and natural forces that buffer the fortress that is my body. I don’t even feel like I should close my eyes, not even when chunks of ice shatter against my lashes and fire licks my eyeballs.

This is insane. I’m sure I could have withstood this with some clever manoeuvring back when I still had my heartcore, sure. But I know for a fact that I could not have just stood there, unmoving in the face of a couple of hundred dragons blasting me with their elemental breaths. I have not moved a single micrometre, unmoving like a fortress.

I’m literally unmoving like a fortress…

My entire braincore is filled with my brutish castle. I try searching for another item, wondering what else I can do with my brand new and improved cultivation system. I’m still looking around Trees’ little dimension when I notice a break in the assaults hammering my body. As I look at the devastation caused by the continuous dragon attack runs, I find a simple coil spring lying in a random heap of parts, somewhere in the mass production part of my core.

The rigid solidity off stone fades from my body as the spiral of tempered steel takes front and centre in my head. Then things go very fast. The first wave of dragons has turned around and is about to attack me again when my braincore snaps into its new shape. I think of meeting the rushing front of scaled beings, and the next thing I know, I’m soaring through the air. Like a spring under tension that just snapped, my speed goes from zero to Mach one in an instant.

The next thing I see is a rather sizable dull blue dragon head. I kick it in reflex, and feel my leg snapping against the large visage, flinging the entire dragon downwards with a foot-shaped dent between its eyes. I’m tempted to start spooling qi through my brainpan, but the promise I made with Rhea still holds. As long as I don’t break that promise, nothing truly bad can happen to her, right?

Shaking away useless thoughts, I think of another aspect that would be great to have right now. I’m soaring up into the sky, my foot stinging from the slapping kick I just landed on that water dragon’s face. To my relief, the lethality analysis and prevention process - which is still running after all this time - informs me that that particular winged lizard will have a mighty headache at worst. My upwards momentum reverses at the same time as I notice the change in tactics. Instead of strafing me with a continuous barrage of fire, the controller of this draconic horde commands them to just float there, aiming their open maws upwards.

Leaving the single spring behind, I continue scouring Tree for interesting items. I come across all kinds of exciting things, from decaying plants to half-finished construction prefabs and stacks of metal plates. I skim across the mass production lines and the wilderness outside the decaying walls surrounding Tree, only halting my focus as I come across my experimental rooms. Far below my castle and its production halls is a well-protected vault. This armoured room hangs below Tree, dangling from the disc of earth and water with but a few thin roots. All the items I deemed not useful, too experimental, too dangerous to leave lying about, or too volatile are gathered in that single super strong lockbox.

One of the items that ended up in that place is the uselessly strong anvil I forged my sword on. Most of the large masses of experimental mana crystals are there, as are most of the other potentially explosive and experimental items that I came across when cleaning up the labs scattered across Database's white surface. My arms spread wide, I fall towards the icy flats below, my skin gaining a dull black sheen as I feel my mass increase and my flesh turn rigid. Their open maws start spewing rough elemental attacks the moment I come into range, but not a single stream of mana and qi manages even to scratch my darkened skin.

Seconds before impact, I realise that a dragon that's barely a cultivator probably won’t survive a solid block of metal the size of a human falling into - and probably through - its mouth. I copy one of Lola’s tricks and kick the air. I swing my arms around, barely grazing the dragon I’d likely have fallen straight through with a finger. The force I transferred to the dragon I kicked allows me to get a proper feel for the force needed to knock a Flight member out, so I apply that power and a little bit more.

I kick the air again, sending myself on an arcing trajectory that will bring me close to the most dragon foreheads I can reach. Each floating lizard receives a gentle tap containing the force of a freight train, the sheer mass and rigidity I feel residing inside my flesh, joints, and body making it both easy and a chore.

Then the big brown one is blocking my way. The biggest one I’ve seen so far has just arrived, and his open maw will both swallow me and tear up a few of it’s smaller brethren if it continues its current trajectory. I drop the anvil from my mind, and immediately feel my body lighten. Shamelessly stealing this idea from Angeta, I let a single blade of grass take residence inside my braincore. I swerve around the massive gaping maw coming my way with willowy ease, gently and smoothly wrapping my bending limbs around the gigantic teeth of the largest dragon I have seen so far.

I think I remember Rhea talking about the one. She referred to him as a recently awakened ancestor, if I recall.

That gives me an idea. I sway and swoon my way to his head, clambering across his ridged neck like a leaf in the wind. Once there, I imagine myself as Rhea. I don’t have her inside Tree, but I've got a pretty vivid picture of her in my imagination. My body shimmers a bit, and I watch with curiosity as my skin smoothens out as my nails elongate. Then I reject the physical part of the wondrous woman and focus on her current state. I then command the massive earth dragon below me to flap its fucking wings.

The thin white tendril of meaning protruding from the back of its head snaps and a web of branches surrounding everything becomes visible for a split second. Each dragon has a white line attached to their skull, I note. My core, now a shining beacon of the rigid and forceful greater good that I sensed Rhea enacting when I left her a month ago, has substituted the connection to the big boy’s brain with one of its own. I command it once again as I try to keep my chest from physically changing, ordering it to turn around while avoiding the densely packed dragons all around.

My death prevention process has been going apeshit the moment I saw the ancestor appear, and I use the thick qi in the air in combination with the air affinity I got from Rhea to prevent the worst. I’m forced to shove a couple of dragons out of our flight path, using up a bit of my Will as I forcefully clear the path my ride is barreling. It takes a rather large effort, but the worst injuries suffered by the draconic masses are a few snapped wings and broken ribs.

Then I’m soaring through the air, standing atop the biggest dragon here, mind controlling it through means I have not even looked into yet. The fact that I’m having a super creepy copy of Rhea inside my head isn’t great for my mental health, so I fight the wind as I clamber forwards. The scales I’m gripping nearly pop free from its leathery hide, and only a reduction of air friction prevents me from pulling the rigid brown plates free.

The moment I stand atop the big fellow’s forehead, I drop the illusion of Rhea from my core and bring down my fist, enhanced by a braincore induced materialisation of the biggest block of steel I can find. I can’t help but grin fiercely as I drop the solid mass of hard steel on top of its head. The massive cube turns to fading particles the moment I let go. I just discovered I can imitate the properties of an item in my physical form while holding a copy of said form. I make sure that the big guy isn’t dead once again. I feel slightly guilty as the large brown sapient crashes onto the ice, barely conscious after my brain shaking attack.

Looking around at the large piles of useless stuff inside my core, I find a pile of discarded weapons. A good portion of these came from dungeons, while others are the work of students. I find a thin rapier that is still in perfect condition and grab hold. For my body, I imagine the swiftness and fleetness of that weapon. Then I imagine myself cutting through the wind, slicing it apart while letting both halves join again behind me without so much as a single disturbance.

Seconds later, I’ve left the big dragon to recover from a severe concussion, and I’m speeding towards Rhea. The ice and snow below me starts to gain black spots here and there, a sure sign that I’m rapidly approaching the central area where all the junk keeps landing. I’m briefly baffled by the scope and scale of the super dense item pollution that is apparent. The amount of dumped mass must rival the planet at this point, right? The briefest of calculations tells me that that is most likely nonsense, but I can’t help but feel like I'm underestimating the entire problem somewhat.

The patterns and structures all seemed extremely alien to me, except for a rare few. Here and there, I could almost recognise some of the more esoteric and ancient runes and formation elements that I’ve come across. Certain parts looked like they could entice laws, other areas seemed tailor-made for gathering and containing different complex energies. I both fear and anticipate that the ice caps flying by below me are equally covered in mysterious items that I can study.

First, I got to get past this particular wall of dragons, though. It seems that I gave Rhea too much time. I wanted to get a feel for the strength of the dragons back there, thus my rather relaxed way of handling the ring of attackers. It seems that I messed up by spending too much time there, though.

From the ice plate below to the edge of the atmosphere high above, the way forward is blocked. Dragons of similar size to the ancestor are all slowly moving, their massive bodies ponderously getting into position. It seems like she woke some more of her forefathers - such a diligent girl. I’ll punish her later.

Because first, first I’ve got dragon ass to kick.

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