Chapter 211 - Reciprocation (1)

“Sage Ket.” The man bows low, his swords and other assorted useless looking weapons clattering loudly against the expensive looking armour he is wearing. “Our noble young master is most thankful for the assistance provided by your esteemed self. Please accept this small token of our gratitude.”

Ket wants to scream. He is so sick and tired of these stupid games that he feels like killing himself. A sword through the gut is undoubtedly more preferable than watching these idiots prance around, pretending to be all clever and shit, right? This latest ploy is so transparent that he nearly suspects this all to be a big play to fool him. Then he sees the ornately dressed house slaves being led in, and Ket knows that these fools are completely serious.

Ket waves his left hand, indicating neutral agreement. He makes sure to keep his right hand entirely still, and that not a single finger of either hand touches anything. All of these randomly made up traditions and formalities had been fun to figure out at first, now it is just tiring.

He’d cracked the code a week after he landed here. All he had to do after that moment was observe and correlate. Ket usually would have loved such a complex puzzle to figure out. Out of all the puzzles he has been presented with so far, this one is the most intricate and has the most facets. Learning to navigate through this cursed town’s high society has been a true challenge to the black haired youth.

And it has been the least rewarding task he has ever undertaken. Nothing seems useful; every single discovery he makes just underlines how pretentious this entire society truly is. Which normally functioning society needs over a thousand possible permutations of saying yes? Which productive people need twenty years of extensive education before they stop cursing their grandparents with each involuntary movement?

Ket only accesses the horrible mess of a data structure when he absolutely needs to nowadays. He had made the mistake of wanting to be too proper in the early days, something that made the nobles only more wary of him. In hindsight, that also makes sense. The upper tier of society uses those small mistakes and faux-pars as currency. And seeing that the previous super powerful goldmine of valuable rumours and gossip suddenly has dried up into a someone that is merely supremely powerful might have been alarming. Instead of focussing on all the social mistake he had made, they could only talk about how he had absolutely slaughtered this or that massive monster.

So Ket has decided to do as little as possible. Instead of playing their game, he just sits on his throne in the central building. Whenever people come, he exactly and precisely shows them the minimum courtesies and not a single gesture or drop of wine more. He has started ignoring even the blatant movements of a request and has been enjoying watching as it drives the fops mad.

“Please, accept this token of our humble, most thankful and given out of gratitude, freely.”

Sighing internally at the blatant self-praise under the guise of humbleness, Ket waves at one of the simply dressed servants at his side. The slender woman keeps her eyes downcast as she moves over to the man performing a rather complex and uncomfortable looking bow. The woman gently picks up the ornate sackcloth from the bejewelled tray and retreats to her previous place, walking backwards.

Ket would be worried that the girl could trip, but as she is one of the most powerful braincores in the entire village, he doesn’t think that likely at all. “They were but a trifle, no need to worry yourselves about that small token.” Ket smiles as he downplays his own actions. Their young master, a spoiled little shit of a teenager, had injured himself in a sparring match, and none of the town’s terrible healers had managed to fix the injury. Ket had sent one of his servants over with one of Valerius and Selis’ earlier prototype general healing pills. The amount of gems that Ket senses to be in the small pouch is a clear indication the pellet has worked.

The man opposite Ket stands back up, gently brushing this icon and gliding a finger across that epaulette in more complex signals. Ket doesn’t bother reading them, though, and simply nods while smiling. “Would you join us for dinner?”

“Most gracious, but I fear that my services are needed elsewhere. Thank you for your hospitality, sage Ket.” The entire group bows on command, every single individual of the group bending over in a different angle and manner. Observing this simple ritual closely will allow a person to basically figure out the role of every single individual of the small entourage, but Ket decides that it’s not worth the effort.

The small group straightens themselves after a few seconds, every person rising at their own designated times, and retreats. The moment the door slams shut is the moment the atmosphere in the room changes drastically. “FUCK! Why are these people so immensely annoying? I just want to punch every single one of them in the fucking face! I never curse, but somehow I feel like the human king is pretty cool right about now.” Ket stands up from his ornate throne - the blasted thing still as uncomfortable as ever - and stretched his aching limbs.

“You did great, sage Ket.” Smiling at his reaction, the woman still holding the pouch tosses it to the side.

“Shut up, Shadi. I’ll send you out to meet them alone next time.” Ket walks over to the edge of the room, looking out of one of the many small windows he has installed in his otherwise completely windowless chambers. “Are they on schedule, at least?”

One of the simple dressed guards standing next to the door replies. “The BoneCarver clan tried to pull some stuff, but we let them sabotage one of the dummy works while speeding up the last critical house.”

“Great. Shall we, then?” Ket is rubbing his hands while walking back to his chair.

“Are…” Shadi stops talking as every single person in the room except Ket throws warning glances at her.

“Let her talk, you guys.” Ket rolls his eyes as he tries waving the heavy mood away.

“Are you really leaving, Ket?” Her voice sounds rather small, and despite the earlier looks, all the people present start looking at Ket with similar begging gazes.

“Just for a little while.” Concentrating on moving his cultivation base in the proper patterns, he seats himself on his chair again, not noticing the extremely complicated looks everyone in the room is sporting. “I’m about ready, I think. Could you please start?”

Every single person in the room smiles, their faces lighting up like blossoming flowers. Gone are the sullen frowns as they receive tasks to perform. Ket forbids his face from showing anything, but he is not happy about any of the worshipful gazed that are being cast his way. Every single person in the room bows, waves, or does another display of greeting or thanks before leaving. None of them walk through the front door, all of them taking the many secret entrances that are now present in his quarters.

“I… I will also go.” Shadi bows low, hanging forwards a little bit too long, showing off a little too much of her ample bosom. “See you soon.”

Ket nods impassively at her as she retreats. The moment he is alone, he activates several formations, encasing his throne room in several layers of protective shielding. “Ah man, Teach, you bastard. You’re still a dick for pulling that move, but I think I understand now…”

Ket slouches in his chair, instantly transforming from an aloof figure, not concerned with mortal affairs, to an exhausted young man. Ket has been having a very tiring couple of weeks. It’s been around two months since Teach teleported everyone around the globe, and Ket has sort of started to understand why he might have done so. Being involved with the day to day affairs of a large group of people is extremely tiring, after all.

During the day, the beleaguered full braincore cultivator has been playing the high society social game. He has learned a lot, especially when it concerns topics like what battles to pick, but it has taken him an immense amount of effort to get here. The discovery that he can choose his own way of dealing with social situations, as opposed to following all the rules, has been rather enlightening. Playing without knowing the rules is nearly impossible, and it is only when you have a certain mastery of those rules that you can choose not to follow them.

During the night, he has been transforming this entire town into a cultivation resource. His innate affinity with metal has not done him a lot of good here outside of combat. Being able to influence metals with his mind is a mere party trick when it comes to politics, so Ket has been trying to affect different things than metal. And he thinks he might have succeeded. Somehow or another, he slowly but surely has managed to impose the ease of pushing and pulling that comes with all metallic objects on other concepts as well.

This night, he plans on putting this to the test. The last pieces of the complex puzzle he has been creating in the background are being put into place. The last house will be modified quickly, the construction happening out in the open for the first time. Up until now, all the changes to the town’s structures have happened hidden away from the major houses. Each changed shack and restored street had to happen on the down low. It has worked pretty well so far, none of the parties in the upper crust of society even hinting that they've caught on. That will change this evening, but Ket will be far away at that point.

The steady trickle of qi enters the biggest room in the quarters assigned to him slowly. Brick after brick, wooden beam after wooden beam, the complex formation he has been orchestrating takes shape. In the outskirts of town, hidden by the waning light of the setting sun, the last pieces of his city spanning formation are being put into place.

Then one of his processes informs him that something is not right. Just when he was starting to contemplate the true meaning of pulling and pushing on things, he notices a small crowd forming in front of the central government building he is stationed in. By the looks of it, there are soldiers and guards from all houses mixed in the growing crowd. Ket frowns deeply as he stands up, observing the gathering mob through his spiritual sense. His frown deepens when he starts to analyse the people that are gathering.

“Really, now?” For some reason or another, Ket has found that he has been talking to himself more. He is unsure where this habit has come from, but he is too busy to really bother analysing the change in personality closely. The cause for most of his worries is gathering in front of his abode, for some reason. All of the most influential and irritating houses are gathering in a rather rare display of solidarity. At first, ket thinks that it’s nothing special. Then he sees the house head’s softly conversing off to the side, and his worries go through the roof. Nothing good has come from those people so far, and Ket doesn't think that a gathering of those most troublesome personalities will make his life any easier.

Ket decides to ignore the group for now and sits back in his chair. He lets his cultivation base run across his brain in a near sensual caress. Instead of the liquid he had before, he has managed to compress the rather large amount of fluid qi into a single grain of sand a while back. Instead of growing that grain of sand, he decided to split it up into even finer pieces. Now he has a slowly growing cloud of dust running through his brain, enhancing his conscious and subconscious thinking capabilities.

He still follows each curve of his grey matter with care, making sure to evenly stimulate his brain unless he wants to stimulate a certain part of his body. Rushing the solid qi through the back of his brain, for example, allows him supernatural eyesight and extreme visual analysis. Even going over images he has already seen, either picking at details or searching for something, goes a lot faster when he stimulates the back of his mind. He has been forming two small swirls of qi just inside and above his ears anytime he needed to deal with the nobles. His language comprehension and memory skills seem to be located there. The downside for that method of qi circulation is that he always feels slightly off afterwards, his emotions flaring at unexpected times and events. So unless needed, he has made it a rule only to enhance his entire brain instead of just parts.

The moment the many workers in his employ put the last brick and metal symbol in pace, Ket notices. The stream of power pumped into the room he is sitting in no longer just diffuses around the entire space. Instead, it is being guided to concentrate on his throne. Spreading his qi through the entire town and the surrounding lands, he feels the effects of the formation he has been working on for two months now. Mana and qi for miles around is pulled towards the city. The streams are channelled above the houses, guided into bigger streams that all converge towards Ket’s location.

The macro effect of the circle truly starts when the entire thing is complete, right about when the group of people in the central plaza start moving. The flames and magical stones illuminating the streets flicker at the sudden increase of power, and Ket starts breathing deeper. The qi levels on the planet, in general, might be rather lacking compared to the amount of qi that was hanging in the air inside Tree, but concentrating all that thin power for many kilometres around makes for a hefty stream. Ket breathes in deeper, taking in the power, guiding it to his brain, and making it his own.

Then his door is kicked in. The building he has been assigned to is the central government building. This is basically the neutral ground where the major families and factions of the city do all their bickering and fighting. The opulent building is rather pretty on the outside but is not built for defence at all. Ket’s chambers are located in the side of the building, right next to the servants quarters and storage rooms. Ket is sure that he should feel offended at the relatively paltry rooms that were given to him, but he has come to enjoy the simple and austere mood of the building. So it pisses Ket off that his door, thick wood with simple iron bands, is kicked in with such force that it cracks and splinters the entire thing.

“Sage Ket, we have come bearing gifts!”

“Come, let us drink some wine together!”

“We should discuss life!”

“I am here to introduce my second daughter, as promised!”

“We need to discuss the trade routes.”

“Sage, it’s time for the yearly gathering!”

The small group of opulently dressed man all stare daggers at each other. Keeping his face straight at the obviously contradicting opening statements, Ket is pretty sure that every faction head had assumed they would begin negotiations. But then again, judging from the mass of well-armed guards, soldiers, and other fighters in full battle regalia backing the small group of leaders, this is more meant as an attempt to strong arm him. The small group of leaders all try to enter through the doorways first, kicking away the splinters of the broken doors.

Then inspiration strikes. All of these people want something, obviously. Ket quickly tallies the amount of resentful, grateful, and mean glances that each important figure sends to the others. This allows him a vague image of what is at stake here. The leaders of crafting factions send negative signals to the heads claiming to want to discuss social events or happenings. The service-oriented faction heads send withering glances towards the people claiming to want to talk about marriage or trade.

Ket smiles beatifically as he continues to breathe in the steadily growing stream of power pouring into the room. He is pretty sure even the most novice of cultivators would be able to sense the increase in power caused by the recent completion of his grand power gathering design, but none of the leaders even bats an eye. Looking over the nervously fidgeting soldiers standing in the hallways, Ket sees that only the pompous bastards are this oblivious. 

“Welcome to my humble abode. Please, what can I do for you?” Ket pulls on them. He is not sure how to describe the feeling, but as he once explained to Tess, he can somewhat push or pull on the individuals in front of him. Seeing the obvious divide between the crafter and service factions, Ket decides to push the crafters, while pulling on the others. The people responsible for running the various aspects of the town smoothly have been annoying, sure. But Ket is less willing to forgive the people that have been actively blocking and sabotaging his construction efforts.

The results are immediate and rather drastic.

“What do you think you are doing, boy?”

“We are merely here to offer our services, sage Ket.”

“You will stop sowing dissent in my crafters, one way or the other!”

“We were hoping that you’d grace my second daughter's name day celebration.”

“Stop flooding the market with your inferior products, you scumbag!”

“Our humble house was hoping that you’d accompany us on a hunting expedition.”

The fact that one half of the bustling group now sports flattering expressions, while the other half nearly explodes with anger is not a result Ket expected, at all. Suddenly, things make sense, though. His whirring mind speeds up as the finely ground dust of his qi trickles through his brainpan, following each curve of thinking stuff and fold of interwoven neurons. The people that he had a bad impression of, retained that bad impression. Not a single person he had initially perceived as a scumbag changed their tune later on. Instead, all the people that he somehow liked for one reason or another turned out to be rather sympathetic.

The growing underground resistance of builders, construction workers and other craftsmen and women are all people that seemed sympathetic at some level. All of those people are working for him, even now. Thoughts explode inside Ket’s mind as he realises what he has been doing this entire time. Even the maidservant that came to deliver the message around a month ago while on her period is a shining example of this bias fulfilment. He had felt sympathy for the woman. He had sent her secret messages after those events, and through the qi powered communications they had had, she had basically jumped ship. Now she is his most staunch supporter, and he has been having a hard time ignoring the obvious signals that she has been giving him. Looking at the door Shadi has left through earlier, things suddenly make sense.

Has he been doing this all the time, already? Pushing and pulling, that’s how he described his metal control to Tess. Has he been exerting this attraction and repulsion force on others this entire time? The amount of self-fulfilling prophecies Ket has seen fulfilled is vast, he suddenly realises. Each and every person he judged as good or bad, those snap decisions have turned out to be entirely correct. Shadi had initially just seemed another pawn of high society. The small spark of pity he had felt allowed that mask to fall away. He had even given her a personal gift, for fuck’s sake.

“I am sitting in the chair that you all have given me, this great honour that is bestowed to me. I would love to visit sometime soon, your bathes and masseuses need no further introduction. I have not sown a single seed of dissent in your rank. I would love to come, but tasks of lesser importance but earlier making have my attention, alas. Show me a single product of mine that is inferior to a similarly priced product of yours, and I will give you all my stocks of those items. I would love to join your hunting expedition, but unfortunately, lesser but earlier tasks bind me.”

Ket pulls out all the stops. The people he found the lesser of two evils earlier, he now sees as his best friends. He pulls them into his bosom, embracing their generous natures and welcoming spirits with open arms. He shows them all the proper signals of brotherhood and comraderie, both in minute gestures and in the cadence of his voice. The leaders that shouted at him in anger are now less than dirt, so far below his notice that becoming angry at the cretins would be giving them too much honour. Then, in a flash of inspiration, he delivers the final blow. “And concerning the division of power in this wondrous city, I believe that an outsider like me does not have a clear enough image of all the factions. I fear that my meddling will only make things worse.”

Then Ket bows, angling his hands and head at the aspects of servitude, lowering himself even though he is located higher than the people standing in front of him. Then Ket pushes their will to fight. The desire to let go of inhibitions, to just punch your problems in the face, he wills it higher.

Ket sits back, pondering the mysteries of cultivation. The leaders devolve into a brawl shortly after. Ket carefully takes this newly discovered ability of his, the power to just push and pull on anything, no matter its physicality, and examines it closer. He observes passively as the crowd behind the faction head’s joins in, starting a second and larger brawl. Ket pushes down the desire to kill until even the thought of striking to kill is no longer possible in weak minded people. He drives the will to fight nonetheless.

Observing the resulting chaos, Ket gives the signal to his people scattered in the city. What had once been an unlikely contingency plan goes into effect - specialized groups of infiltrators, trained by material delivered by Ket himself, spring into actions. Mansions are robbed, the people living in them none the wiser. As the highest people in power smack each other about, their fortunes and power bases are stolen from under them. The soldiers and guards employed by the houses have long since fallen behind the common cultivators, their tendency to depend on their superior gear and fighting techniques preventing them from cultivating with all their heart.

The crystal hanging above the centre of the city will give everyone a very small connection to Database. Even though the connection has been pretty spotty over the past few weeks people have managed to learn the basics nonetheless. The crystal hung dull and lifeless for hours at a time now and then, initially giving Ket quite the scare. The message that all is well, and to expect more brief interruptions as the owner and administrator of Database goes through their own troubles had put a rest to that snag in Ket’s plans.

The rest of the evening is rather uneventful. The fight eventually winds down, the relatively weak constitution of the leaders, soldiers, and servants not letting them fight for too long. They all slink away one by one with their tail tucked between their legs. Ket is pretty sure that there will be hell to pay in the morning when everyone has slept on it. Luckily for Ket, he won’t be around by then.

Surrounded by people that are dancing to his pushing and pulling will, employing the suction force of a city-sized energy attraction formation, Ket manages to build his own foundation. The second he feels the last piece of the puzzle slide into place, he calls up his own connection with Database. He will explore the definition of attraction later. He isn’t even sure whether this pertains to mere magnetic attraction, or whether the social rules he has been learning have evolved into something more, but he will find out later.

Selecting ‘YES’ on the prompt that Database displays inside his mind, he passively observes his point total deplete nearly entirely. Then, he is gone. The cost to teleport himself to Tess’s location might have been steep, but Ket is sure that that’s where he wants to be.

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