The fist hits my cheekbone, and I let it sink in part of my face. I don't see the uppercut that follows. My rattling teeth get no rest, and her third punch loosens a few of my upper front teeth and an incisor. Then follows a rather sexily executed kick, and I feel several of my teeth pop free. I intercept the other foot going for my groin, as I do have my bottom limit, after all. And the limit is my bottom - both front and back.
I make sure to remember which teeth are mine when a sweeping kick cracks my jaw. Two of my molars land near a few of Rhea's chompers, so I make sure to keep track of where they land. I let the kick that follows crack a rib and block another fist going for a strike beneath the belt.
“No dick punching, that's just no coo-” Interrupted by a haymaker snapping my jaw shut, I barely prevent myself from biting off my tongue. I flop onto the ice bonelessly, the impact with the unyielding cold ground-rattling my bones.
“An entire month,” I hear a low whisper. “You left me in there for an entire month?”
“Now, see. I was under the impression that you-” The kick that sends me spinning skywards again also breaks my nose. I’m sure that I must make a rather pretty sight right about now. A bloody and bleeding figure of a man, spinning rapidly while my nose produces a gorgeous spiral of red. “That this was all under your own volitio-”
My downwards descend is halted by a rather well-placed knee in my stomach. Gasping for breath, I'm dropped to the ground. I keep my core clear, no matter how much I want to call upon certain aspects of strength and resilience. I stand up slowly, twisting my nose in the correct position with a sickening popping sounds that hurts both mentally and physically.
“I spent decades in that shithole, you know. My piece of shit cultivation base decided it knew better, so it went and did all of this useless shit.” Huffing with anger, Rhea is staring me in the face. She is looking as pretty as ever, probably even more so now that her cheek is slowly turning blue and swelling, along with the streaks of blood running from her mouth. I ignore those unbidden thoughts for now.
“Right. So, the next time you stroke my cheek melancholy with a tendril of your cultivation base, it means that I should assume you lost control to your own enlightenment, and you power-base has gone rogue? By the way, should we do something about that?” I point upwards, to the flickering and mutating tree of light that still has many, many tendrils of glowing fibre connected to the dragons around us. I managed to erase the trunk of the ethereal three by inhaling the massive amount of qi present, but the upper network of branches has eluded me so far. Also, my cultivation is having trouble with the enormous amount of alien qi, so I'm feeling pretty shit.
“Drew Liam..." I wince as she uses my full name. Not a good sign at all. "That was all I could do to prevent you from being assimilated in the network. It took me immense amounts of effort to prevent that tendril from taking over your brain.”
“Well, you broke the promise,” I reply petulantly. “And so what? It’s not like that’d have been the first time I’d be mind-controlled. I got free every time so far.”
“What promise? And no, you wouldn’t have been able to escape. I contro… It controlled the Flight through genetic handles.”
“The promise to stay in real-time. I’ve got withdrawal symptoms up the ass, you know. And you haven’t got my genetic information. Also, I made damn sure to erase any form of ancestral control or backdoor exploits from my own genetic code, thank you very much.”
“You didn’t break that one?” Rhea falters as she brings a slender hand to her bloody mouth. “So even when you… That was all real-time? Just now, also?”
“Of course. Breaking promises can be done, but you better be damn sure to have a good reason for it. Advancing while you are burdened and held back by regrets and bad karma like that is nigh impossible.”
“No, no, Drew. You are changing the subject again.”
“You are the one who brought up the geneti-”
“Well, YOU LEFT ME IN HERE FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH, YOU COCKSTAINED ASSWIPE!”
And here she comes again. I keep my eyes open, prepare myself, and try to counter her moves. I’ve got loads of experience in hand to hand combat, have practised all kinds of fighting techniques, and somehow or another, my disappeared heartcore still gives me a very decent combat instinct, but I can’t see through her moves. Each action she takes seems rather mundane and slow, but despite the fact that she is barely enhancing her body, all her attacks slip through my defence.
I try slapping away the straight punch coming at me, but she manages to plant her foot in my stomach before I can register how she got through my defences. The deceptively straight punch then reaches my nose, setting the painful piece of cartilage crooked again. “Are you crawling right now?” I ask accusingly.
“No,” is the only answer I receive before my feet are swept from under me. I manage to block a swift chop to my private parts before she roundhouses me to the other side of the ring.
“This is bullshit. If you want to play rough, so will I.” Glaring at the ungrateful woman, I bring up my sword in my braincore. I deny its materialization. Instead, I call upon the brute cutting power and its ability to move swiftly despite its unwieldy size. Red flames envelop my right arm at the same time as blue crystals cover my left. I assume a low posture, allowing me to jump into any direction at a moment's notice.
“Just accept your punishment.”
“No way. You accept your punishment. You enslaved an entire species, you psychopath.”
Rhea winces, and I use that opening to advance. I imagine the sword swinging around fiercely, applying it’s imaginary momentum the moment it swings perfectly forward on an upward swing. The ice turns to mist under my feet as I reel back my flaming fist. I slap her defensive kick to the side with an ice-covered left jab and smash into her gut with my glowing right hook.
I have but a fraction of a second to admire the precision with which she avoids my flaming attack before her other foot slams my head into the ice. I immediately pull myself free from the hole in the packed snow. “Fuck! How are you this strong. Are you sure you’re not crawling?”
“I said I’m not!”
“Okay then. By the way, are you sure we shouldn't do anything about that?” I once again try to divert her rage to the true culprit here. We are still surrounded by a rather impressive amount of dragons, all of whom are still sporting a fashionable thread of light that’s sticking out of their necks. The horrific mass of bright energy that used to be the tree of Rhea’s cultivation base is hanging there conspicuously still.
“No need. Drew, answer me truly, why didn’t you get me out of that thing earlier?”
“Because I thought you were training your path or some bullshit like that. I only ever read about a cultivation base going rogue once, and that was a text so ancient, it took me years to decipher the script. How come you are this strong?”
“I don’t know. I just know how to beat you with minimal effort. Why are your arms burning and freezing?”
“This is just one way in which I’m employing aspects of my sword. Why did you wake more ancestral dragons?”
“I didn’t. That thing did.” Here she points upwards. I don’t dare take my eyes off of her, though. “Where is Lola.”
“She’s fine. Didn’t want to come, I think. What is the exact premise with which you started that process?” I point upwards, but she doesn’t take her eyes off of me either.
“The deaths I saw were useless and unneeded. The Flight could win easily, they just needed to be more efficient. Why an entire month, though?”
I wince as I see the true pain in her eyes. “I… I didn’t know. You had stuff to take care off, I thought. I had stuff to take care off. And then I was sick of being alone again.” I avoid eye contact. “And I didn’t…” I stare at the small pile of dead dragons, one of them her uncle. “I…”
The conversation between us halts there. Looking at the frozen dragon, I fear that all my worst suspicions will come to pass. His entire belly is ripped open, the majority of his guts that should be inside nowhere to be seen. The back of his scaly head is also a mess of blood, brain, and bone. Putting that back together will be like reassembling a shattered hard disk drive. Sure, there will be some parts of the data intact, but in order to puzzle out all the damaged bits and bytes that used to occupy the broken areas, the entire file format needs to be understood first.
There is no way that just putting juice in a dead battery will work, right? Stuff needs to be fixed, and without a clear pattern or complete understanding, the end result will be an unholy patchwork.
I’m shaken from my dark mood as I feel someone fumbling around inside my mouth. With a rather painful twist, I feel Rhea shoving my front teeth back into my jaw. “You got those backwards. Here,” I tell her. I pull the two teeth free, turn them around, and shove them back in. Flicking my wrist, I pull Rhea’s teeth to my hand with simple applications of Will. I pry open her pursed mouth and put them back in their place, keeping the roots inside her bleeding gums until they hold.
“Just swirl some qi through that, and…” I focus on healing my own teeth for a bit, activating my healing process, and other non-critical quality of life processes once more. I feel my shirt slowly repairing and cleaning itself as I work on healing my teeth and my fractured facial bones. “…you should be fine.”
I look her in the eyes. I immediately lose it. Her white hair is matted with blood, her eyes are darkly ringed, and her face is still swelling. I must have done more damage than I thought. The sheer fact that it isn’t healed yet is proof that I actually hit her really hard. I needed to get her out of that tree, though. Digging through the ice and taking all those hyper dense items into Tree took a lot out of me. I’m still feeling like shit, to be honest. All of that foreign matter inside my core makes me feel physically ill.
“What was the deciding factor, I wonder,” Rhea whispers softly. “Did you run out of stupid hobbies to mess around with, did Lola put you up to this, or was it this?” I fight to keep control over my body as she grasps a certain private place.
“That could very well be seen as sexual harr-”
“Shut the fuck up and fuck me.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I start pulling the foreign items from my core at the same time as I start stripping our clothes. I try to make a wall around us, but the amount of stuff I had to pull inside only amounts to a hobble a few meters high. I managed to squeeze myself through the ice the majority of the time, only needed to loosen and steal the most obstinate of objects. I start pulling on my qi, forming the beginnings of a dual circulation pattern just as Rhea finishes pulling off her underwear.
“Fuck me,” I whisper.
“I did,” is her reply.
And so she did. “You are one thirsty dragon, though. Have you ever heard of the term ‘shotgun orgasm?’”
“No, enlighten me.”
“You did just now. Multiple times. Also, why was your body so empty of qi? There was barely enough to keep you going in here.” Stroking her curves, I admire her leanness. Not a single milligram of useless fat or stagnant qi inside her body.
“That shitty tentacle tree had me trapped in a high-speed qi washer for a month. All useless and needless matter and energy did not survive.”
“So the constant stream of qi running through your body stripped away all the useless stuff?”
“Something like that, I guess.”
I mull this over a bit. There used to be all kinds of physical tempering methods. From caves where iron sandblasted you in the face constantly to qi concentration towers that put your cultivation base under pressure the higher you climbed. There is not a single case of mention I can recall concerning being submerged in a constant stream of power running through your body, though.
“It wasn’t all bad, though. I spent a couple of decades reliving every death I saw happening. And those were the very first deaths of people I cared about in my entire life so that was rather traumatic. Also, I could do nothing as something I inadvertently created stripped my very own family and friends from their will, using them as mechanical and robotic slaves. Also, I had to stare at my dead uncle all the time. And I couldn’t move a single hair on my body, no matter how much my nose itched.”
The silence hangs thick as we lay there on the ice, naked and covered in all kinds of fluids. “Not all bad?”
“I learned a lot. That's about it.”
“What did you learn?”
“Aha, wouldn’t you like to know?” And Rhea closes her eyes, resting her head on my chest.
“Yeah, I hate to interrupt your smug snoozing session, but what are we going to do about the fact that your kin are still enslaved, and are all staring at us. They have been staring at us the entire time, you know.”
“I'm so glad you asked,” is her reply. Oh shit, Rhea is back. Why did I want her back so badly again? I can handle a bit of physical pain, sure, and that beating was one I deserved in hindsight. There were other ways to get her outside of that pillar of light, I now realise. But the fact that all those dragons had suddenly become involuntary contortionist bricks in that wall had me slightly panicking. I needed to prevent those guys from breaking their necks en-masse, and kicking Rhea out of that glowing tree trunk seemed the most expedient option. So the beating, I can handle. The way she is sadistically looking at me currently, though? That promises a whole different type of pain.Previous Chapter Next Chapter