Chapter 221 - Interlude (2)

“The white devil is still here, foolish son. Now be silent and tend to your frogs.”

“But father, he sneaks out every night! I have seen him do it. He also keeps looking at your behind when you are not looking, and it makes me scared.”

Vox glares at the little shit as he keeps tattling to his dad. Why must the little guy be so perceptive? All Voxander wants to do is to chill and relax a bit longer before he needs to go out again, but all of the scrutiny the little twerp is bringing upon him makes this somewhat difficult. Secretly chewing on a well cooked and highly poisonous frog leg, the redheaded gutcore cultivator keeps pretending that he is entirely helpless.

Sighing deeply, in a metaphorical sense, he starts wondering how it got this far. He had been suitably miffed when Teach and Re-Haan pulled that stunt. There is no way in all the Dungeons that Teach actually went mad. And even then. Re-Haan’s acting didn’t fool him for even a single second. Landing inside a muddy swamp, suddenly separated from that juicy lumberjack, made him pretty angry for a bit. He had levelled a couple of dozen trees, using bright lines of light in an inspired attack, before he noticed that there were people nearby and that they were in trouble.

This had led Vox to investigate the nearby tribe, quickly scanning the immediate surroundings. He’d found a couple of villages, clustered on a relatively high ground in the otherwise endless watery swamp. The massive egg-like structure combined with the enormous dead tree he saw on the horizon let him quickly deduce that Teach and Re-Haan had dropped him somewhere in the massive swampland located below the Beastkin Kingdoms. Then he started sensing the qi appearing everywhere.

He had been too caught up in his evaluation of the entire situation, quickly stomping down on the worsts threats as they appeared using his extensive web of spiritual senses. The implications of qi suddenly appearing everywhere - and the reactions of flora and fauna - meant that he had been too distracted to notice the native tribes. From the little Vox has heard about the scouting mission Rodrick, Ferah, and that skinny guy went on, he didn’t really remember any reports of large tribes. Yet one had snuck up on him as he was meditating, tied him up, and brought him along on a long pole.

Alright, Vox admits to himself, he might have been too distracted by a certain tribal chief’s majestic ass. The large number of ropes that they had tied around Vox’s limbs also might have unlocked all kinds of feelings the redheaded cultivator didn’t know he had before. He had not expected to be tossed inside a large earthenware pot filled with chopped vegetables, though.

Honestly, Vox thinks that it’s a pretty sad attempt at cannibalism. He has had plenty of time to study the people and to get to understand the odd dialect they are speaking, and their hearts are just not in the act of eating him. The clay pot is of decent make, but it contains cracks that cause it to drain each night. A couple of the woman spend their day with filling it back up. The firewood usually takes a good hour to get going, with how damp it’s everywhere in the swamp. So by the time the village has done it’s nice little ritualistic song and dance of the evening and has gone to bed, the water is nice and warm.

Vox isn’t too sure why he keeps up the charade, but he’s having fun.

“Look, papa! He is looking at your behind again. It makes me get goosebumps!”

“Haha, no worries son! If the white devil could escape, are you not sure that he would have done so by now? The only reason someone would stay in that position would be if they were powerless, no? And someone capable of staying alive while being cooked, well…” Vox looks away as the chief casts a skittish glance towards him. “…they’d probably be able to kill us all anyway! Now come, we have danced and appeased the tree and the monolith. Time to let father night take over the world before mother day will grace us again.”

As the chief and his son retreat for the night, Vox uses a bit of qi to loosen the ropes binding his feet. Stretching his cramping calf muscles, he peers over the edge of his vegetable and herb filled bath. The town he is in is honestly a dump, if an atmospheric dump. Long wooden poles are rammed into the muddy ground, upon which wooden house are built. The town consists out of a couple dozen large structures, all of them built on and around a large earthen hill. Surrounding the village are large rings of alternating water and earth, narrow elevated walkways winding through the trees connecting the village to the outside world.

Seeing the entire community work together is fascinating. The hunters go out and skewer small reptiles, fish, and other animals with long spears from the safety of the high walkways. The foragers wade through the bog surrounding the village, farming the land in a totally natural way as they plant saplings and harvest tubers. Vox has not yet found out how they can defend against the yearly beast hordes, but he suspects that the sheer difficulty of traversing the bog prevents that from being a problem. And in the worst case scenario, they probably could just climb up into the trees that cast everything in shadow.

Looking at the slowly dying campfire while stretching his stiff muscles, it suddenly strikes him how weird this all is. Born into a noble family, he was abandoned in a forest when his beastkin blood came to light. The scales on his belly that appeared just before puberty would have caused his entire family to suffer immeasurable shame, no doubt. Then, when he finally managed to put together a life in Tower City, he was caught and put in chains. Then Teach freed… no, kidnapped him from prison, and forced him to become a cultivator. The rest is history, and what a history it is!

And now he is here, sitting inside a cookpot, pretending to suffer at the mercy of multicoloured savage tribes. And then there is the sneaking out at night, scouring the immediate environment for dangerous beasties, finding all kinds of interesting plants, animals, and ingredients. And there is the secret alchemy lab he has created under his cooking pot. Operating the complex setups during the day has allowed him to make massive leaps and strides in training his qi control and chemical expertise, but it’s still really fucking weird, it suddenly strikes him.

At least his skin has never looked better. All the vegetables, herbs, spices, and other aromatics they keep putting in the water is doing wonders for his complexion.

Looking at his pale, pale arm with a twist to his lips, Vox sneaks out of the water. The ropes supposed to bind his arms and legs into immobility split open at his mental command, tying back together as he drops from the large earthen pot soundlessly. A slight trickle of light escapes from his mouth, and he breathes it towards the place he was just occupying. With a bit of mental effort and a slight twisting of the formations he has been carving, an illusion of himself appears. Looking himself over, he makes sure that his red hair is correct, his pale face looking serene in the pale light of a partial moon. Nodding at his handiwork, he pushes enough qi into the complex characters engraved in the pot’s bottom to keep the image going for the night.

Looking at the single house that still has lights on, Vox winks at the yellow face of the chief’s son peering through the crooked shutters and sneaks off. Chuckling at the girly squeak coming from the lad, the light affinity gutcore cultivator starts speeding off.

“Database, new message. Hey, Selis. Weekly check-in here. I’m still nowhere near any foundation whatsoever. I just can’t grasp what direction to go, you know. Sure, I’m fast…”

Vox stops mumbling under his breath to jump off the rickety wooden walkway he has been sprinting across. Moments before landing, his entire body flickers as he disappears in a dim streak of light. The stars and moon high above shine through the sparse canopy, their light reflected off the wet ground and rippling water. Those reflections blaze with muted brilliance as Vox speeds past, leaving twirling leaves and agitated ponds in his wake.

“…and I’m finding all sorts of new ways to be faster…”

Bright brilliance lights up the dark woods for an instance as Vox goes full speed for a split second. He actually has been doing more than just staring at the chief’s ass during his time in the pot. The ritualistic cooking implement is located in the middle of the village square. All the sunlight beaming down at him during the day refracts in all kinds of interesting ways when it hits his bathwater. He isn’t sure how to put it, and none of the scientific principles on light that Ket showed him seem to apply, but Ket can now partially refract himself across a larger distance. It requires a lot of energy, and leaves him rather exhausted, but the speed at which he can move in straight lines is immense.

“…and I can heal people, I guess, but that’s it. Chemistry and alchemy is fun, but Danarius and Ares became way better at making healing concoctions than me. Sorry to disappoint and push back your plans, but I’m not anywhere near making my own foundation. Sorry, Sel.”

Landing in a tree, Vox keeps running. He has been keeping track of the surrounding villages and sensed some trouble brewing a couple of hours ago. The patch of swamp he has found himself in I located between a large lake and a small mountain range. These two geographical features made a safe haven where humans of the multi-colour skin variety managed to settle down at some point in the past. He has made some trips to range further out, and has come across more villages scattered through the endless stretches of swamps. All of the other villages - a combination of human and  beastkin - also have a student of Teach present. It seems that a lot of planning had gone into this entire clusterfuck, and also explains the sudden new student hiring and recruiting freeze that had come out of nowhere back then.

Vox thinks about the facts of life some more as he sneaks into the small community. This one is made for a larger amount of smaller houses, all of them placed on long wooden poles. Some are built around still living trees, while others are made from thick bamboo-like stems. Vox sneaks towards the biggest hut, the single house with all of its windows and doors open. The conspicuous lack of guards makes him smirk. These people might be superstitious as can be, they at least know something good when it hits them in the face. More and more does Vox spot the normal animal and plant motifs being replaced by all kinds of circulation patterns and delicately drawn and carved crystals. Even as he slips into the house filled with nearly dead people does the light of the crystal hanging high in the sky reach him.

Once inside, the smell and sounds of nearly dead people don’t even phase him. He was pretty used to these sights back in Neutalinn city, with the Tower Dungeon producing more than enough wounded people. Now he only notices new chances to learn, new opportunities to practice his arts. Willing the spikes and flashes of light not to appear takes more effort, but is once again an excellent opportunity for him to refine and improve.

The reason he went to this village first, usually the last of his nightly route, is because a particular mommy snake spawned a particular nasty set of baby snakes. The mother had not been one of the many beings that went mad with the qi, but has instead focussed the power into her fangs. Luckily for all involved, the mother had been a paralytic snake to begin with. Taking care of the poisons in the bodies - three women, a male, and five kids - takes him a relatively long time. Instead of just flushing it out with light based healing qi, Vox takes the time to study the workings of the venom.

This takes him half the night, as the snake turned out to be evolved to kill a particular type of prey. Vox suspects, after hours of quiet study, that the prey animals have rather odd muscular receptors. This might also be why the venom is less than lethal to humans, only causing a slow onset paralysis. Healing the other sleeping wounded is easy in comparison. He leaves a particular woman alone, as she keeps getting wounded in the same rather stupid and obviously self-inflicted manner, and Vox is sick of her shit.

He then puts the newly appeared food in his ring, left there by a couple of worried parents that have been very carefully spying on him as he worked. “Right, and the white devil is off again. You know, eating babies, seducing everyone to my wicked ways, and spreading death everywhere I go, as your legends say!”

Cracking his back, he walks out the door and speeds off again. Vox is also getting sick of this entire routine, if he is totally honest. Just sitting in a warm bath is nice, but the water they pour in in the morning is cold and takes a while to heat up. At least it’s better than having the entire village come after him with obsidian tipped spears and stone cudgels again. That was a pain in the ass, to be sure.

As he makes the rest of his rounds, taking care of the few badly mutated swamp monsters while he’s at it, he thinks over his position some more. Animals and plants can go down two routes, Vox has found. They either incorporate the qi in some manner similar to ordinary cultivators, making a certain aspect of their body or behaviour a core, or they go mad. When they go mad, the qi goes wild, making them rather strong in the short term, but ruining any form of growth potential forever. A quick powerup or a slow yet steady growth. He finishes his usual round, healing people secretly, taking out bad beasties, and gathering all kinds of interesting herbs, mushrooms, fruits, and other alchemy ingredients.

Then, as water is poured over his tied up form while the main village does their usual ritualistic chanting and dancing, it hits him. The light coming from the sun is usually extremely fast. Faster than he has ever even been able to observe. One moment it’s here, and the next it’s over there. But when it hits the water now splashing around him, it’s a different story. Now and then, he has been able to catch a glimpse of light, the sheer difference of speed as photons travel through water barely perceptible to the young man.

And so Vox steps into the Foundation realm, a bright light inside a cooking pot as he blots out the sun, going neither fast nor slow. Not a single worry enters his mind, nor does he once again think of how nearly all the others are already ahead of him. Just the sheer joy in finding that speed is actually always there, that there is no difference between fast and slow except for what there is to perceive. And isn’t all of that stuff in the eye of the beholder, anyway?

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

WeirdWhirl's Thoughts

Excuse the delay! Regular posting will resume now. Thanks for your patience! <3