“Why don’t you put them in here?” Rhea asks.
“Because all that foreign matter not my own makes me sick.”
“So why do you keep producing drones that will get trashed anyway?”
“Because I’m still working out a lot of bugs and precision errors in my production lines. Half of Database’s thinking and processing capacity is taken up by revising and redesigning large swathes of the mass production facilities.”
Rhea looks at me again, squinting her eyes at me. “Facilities?” she replies, emphasising the plural ’s’.
“Look, I did more than just train my augur in the last month and a half, you know. Unlike a certain freeloader, who has done nothing but flirt with a certain energy construct.”
Rhea turns her eyes downwards, peering up at me demurely. “You are right, Drew. I’m sorry.” Not feeling reassured at her sudden meekness at all, I start edging backwards as she smiles at me. “I should have known better. Remember, Drew! We both agreed not to braincore crawl!”
Sweat beads on my forehead. Why does she remind me of that stupid promise now? Nothing good can come of this. My instinct is to go into a braincore crawl, spooling qi through my head in order to slow down my perception of time, but it happens before I can react. Suddenly, my qi clone is behind me. I step away and immediately notice I can’t move.
“I really wasted my time, you know. You did all the hard work of making your toys, putting qi inside your toys, all the important stuff. I just had to make sure no Flight died. I merely had to guide those couple thousand students of yours, give them information when they needed it. I only had to prevent a lot of uprisings and potentially lethal understandings.”
She comes closer to me, and I get a suspicion of where this is going.
“All that time wasted with just a perfect copy of your body for company.” Her smile is rather vicious now. She touches my chest the same moment I find a debilitating knot of power in my nervous system. Flushing the foreign qi with a focussed strand of augur does the trick, and I jump back. At least, I would have, if undoing that single knot actually would have let me move.
I fall backwards slowly, and somehow, Rhea grabs my belt and undoes my pants as I fall.
“No-one for company, and a lot of time to think. I really wasted my time.”
I pretend to be scared for as long as possible while I let Rhea have her way with me.
“That was something.” I whistle through my teeth. Rhea is out cold, exhausted after a few hours of vigorous exercise. Becoming a superhuman and needing less sleep is just relative, and with great power comes a greater ability to expend that power.
I leave her be, merely pulling a nice thick mattress from my ring, lifting her on it and covering the soaked woman with a blanket.
As I walk away, I set Database to repairing the small fissures running through its white crust. Jumping upwards, I start gliding towards Tree, taking the near black hammer from my ring and play with it. Despite the fact my heartcore somehow melted, my physical body is still reinforced by a large percentage of passive qi. The dexterity that’s synonymous with a heartcore is also still there, and I twirl the quarter-ton hammer through my fingers with ease.
Halfway to the majestically golden Tree, a random thought strikes me. I remember that I made a list a long time ago. The memory comes to me easy, my much higher cultivation level allowing me to recall even my thoughts with crystal clarity.
Let’s see, the first point - getting stronger - is getting there. I don’t think I’m even close to where I was when I ascended from the Cultivation world. I currently only feel threatened by an actual moon, that I call ‘Nexus’, so I deem that one partially handled.
I wince at the juvenile language I used back then. I literally thought the list in all caps, so immature. The second point - language - is also handled, as I know what these darn locals are saying very well.
The dark mana thing is still a little unclear to me. The average population of the planet seems largely normal. There are good and bad people, I think. I can’t help but think that the overabundance of dim mana is related to the Dungeons, and thus Nexus.
Then point four, exploring while being low-key and shit. One part I succeeded splendidly. I’ve mapped the entire planet, and even now, an army of high altitude scanning drones is increasing my map of this planet. Let's ignore the low-key bit, and call this one done.
And then point five, coffee. Total failure, I have not seen a single fragrant bean on this entire planet.
I remember making a second list from that initial one and cross-check that one too. Looking between the ice and lava mountain’s, I’ve got point ‘D’ well and truly handled. Both hot and cold sources are doing their job splendidly, both in providing a mana circulation and in growing plenty of precious herbs and plants that need those environments.
Point 'E’, the teaching of my students, is pretty much done. There is only so much I can cram into their brains before they need to start finding their own paths. I became a pirate and roamed the seas, stealing skulls and getting booty. Check that one.
Why the general population of sapients and animals all have black souls is still a mystery, but it seems like the sheer lack of any higher laws on this plane makes all my experience with the subject highly subjective, so let’s ignore that one. Then there were points about mana research, getting mounts, the birds in Tree, and visiting the Tower to gather the qi. Also, it says that I should avoid dungeon cores and let Tree grow into its own.
I stop for a moment. I did not avoid Dungeon cores - and nearly lost Rhea - and I did not let Tree grow into its own - as it is now shackled inside my cultivation base. I can’t help but swallow hard.
The mana research went pretty well, I think. The most interesting part about those experiments is still that glass fish Selis carries around everywhere. We all got mounts, who are now all my core-bound beasts. Except for the few students who ordered theirs through Database’s mail order pet and mount teleportation, like Tess. And there are even more birds here now.
All in all, I’m still working on a third of that list, have completed a third, and completely fucked up the rest. On average, that’s not too bad.
Finishing with my list, I sense that I’m hanging still in front of Tree. Dropping to the floor, I put a hand to its rugged trunk. I feel its bark, noticing for the first time that the grooves in its thick wooden hide have stayed the same size, despite the trunk growing many, many times larger. I stare up at its waving branches with a dark suspicion. “Have you been spending qi to look good?”
It very conspicuously does not change the way it’s rustling its branches.
“Right… I’ll just ignore that. Anyway, help me get better at this stuff. Can you help supply a part of the qi? Getting sucked dry each time I map one of these is just annoying.” Looking around for a place to sit, the faint splintering and groaning sounds of wood makes me stop. I stare at Tree’s bark deform, a dark doorway opening inside of it. I shrug my shoulders and just decide to walk inside.
What greets me is a barren semicircular room, bare wood with a floor decorated by a golden red pattern. “Hey, are you sure that exposing this is a good idea? At least it’s properly attracting all the elements now, the darkness, light, and air symbols fit in nicely.”
Tree once again doesn’t answer. I just shrug my shoulders again and sit down. The moment my butt hits the floor, I am shocked by the massive torrent of mana that is flowing through the wood. The symbolic way in which I have been linking Tree to everything - from all the spatial rings to all the crystals that I’ve hung above all the cities and towns - has been about intent. This intent then translates to something happening in the real world, and the actual mechanics of those links just never really struck me up to now. Database is completely capable of handling all the information requests, as I’ve put a large limit on the bandwidth everyone gets, but Tree is pulling in all the qi. It pulls the qi from all the houses and enclosed spaces from a couple of thousand towns. And there are some pretty big towns there, averaging a couple of thousand buildings at the very least.
I did sort of hack this system together. I have to admit. There is plenty of evidence that neutral qi settling into someone's body acts like blocking mud, preventing qi from flowing smoothly. Ideally, a cultivator just has their own power in their body, unimpeded by all energies not completely under their control. Thus a sort of energy vacuum system turned out to be very useful, cleaning people and items from loose qi that gets in the way. Not willing to let all the towns my students take care of get mired in mediocrity with slowly clogging cultivation, steal all the qi from inside enclosed places just seemed like a perfect solution.
The amount of power Tree has been pumping inside my pocket dimension - I should start calling it a core dimension, or something - has been slowly increasing. And the majority of it is just absorbed by all the matter inside Tree, a smaller portion of it going towards the slowly cultivating animals everywhere.
The fact that the stream of power doesn’t have my fingerprints is an issue that might crop up, as this is still my core. Still, I somehow get the feeling that I can force the qi here to become completely mine with but a slight application of my Will. I shiver in anticipation of what this path of cultivation might bring me. Blazing a new trail like this is fraught with unknowns, but coming across issues like this is exciting as heck. Much better than just combining circulation patterns with overengineered fighting techniques.
Adding a few more things to my to-do list, I get back on track and pull out a stone projectile that is just over ten times denser. It pops out of the folded space inside my ring with a slight displacement of air, and I settle into a comfortable position as I concentrate. The item’s very presence is like a minuscule stain on my soul. The feeling of having a stone in my shoe, but then applied to my cultivation base, haunts me. I can make normal matter part of my core and cultivation base by just exposing it to the loose qi. A normal stone cylinder would have become part of my cultivation base by now.
I’ve discovered two ways of making these items mine, so far. The first one is rather disastrous for the rest of Tree, as I require me to cover the thing in a layer of qi that is dense enough to spill into the spaces between the compressed molecules. The strongly overlapping fields of atomic electromagnetic repulsion prevent my qi from entering, so the pressure coming from the compressed qi needs to be immense to overcome this. I would need to use all the qi in my physical core, and all the potential inside Tree to overcome it, leaving none for Tree’s lands, the toxic moon, Database, and the suns. Total havoc would ensue, basically.
The second option is to pave the way with augur. If I can cover every single piece of the item with liquid Will, I can just slide qi throughout the entire object using the Will as a transportation medium. The downside is that leaving a single speck out will bring back the massive repulsion force. This will then explode my qi out of the object with a vengeance the moment my augur control slips.
The downside of this second method is that the qi drain is significant. I need to saturate the entire thing with enough qi to counteract the strain the compressed atoms give off; else it will just explode when I retract my Will. Luckily for me, it seems to want to suck this qi in by itself. Not so lucky for me, the suction force is pretty substantial. The main problem I had with training my Will while I was syncing Database, my qi clone, and the moon - all basically the same thing at this point - was the qi drain.
With gusto, I spread my augur into this latest piece of dense stone. It takes me but a minute to smooth out my augur, a perfect atomic map of the entire object appearing in my mind. It’s a slight bit of a strain, but not really hard. The couple quadrillion atoms and molecules are mapped in a simple dot system, and I slightly marvel at the absurd number of data points I’m holding in my mind.
I quickly analyse a few sample areas and learn to spot the difference between the various silicon and metal compounds the item is made of. I then trickle in a bit of qi, and it immediately becomes a small energy black hole, wanting to suck in my entire cultivation base. Tree must be sensing something, as the absurd stream of mixed qi appearing inside its trunk is briefly diverted to the small stone cylinder.
I drop the thing to the floor, now completely aware of where it is, what it's made of and it’s entire condition. I then pull a slightly denser example from my ring and restart the entire process. Slowly but surely, using a bit more of Tree’s stream of qi each time, I raise the precision and detail at which I can sense stuff with my augur. Oddly enough, the strain in my mind that comes with the quickly growing atomic maps only increases slightly. The projectiles themselves grow in atom count by sizable percentages each time, but my capacity to hold such information seems to increase at nearly the same pace.
I’m straining while holding a fifteen times denser cylinder in my mind when Rhea enters Tree’s little cave. “Hey, this is new. Wow, that looks creepy.”
I look up and see what she is talking about. I used my blood to make this circle initially, and some of that intent must still be present. The circle is glowing red, the qi flowing through it into the projectile in my hands. I twist my face into a grimace while leering at her. “Muhaha, welcome to my evil lair. Let’s discuss how to conquer the universe, shall we?”
She throws me another of those stares. Instead of leaving, like I expected her to do, she sits down and studies me for a bit. The fifteen times projectile is quickly saturated, and I pull a fifteen plus a little bit piece of stone from my ring.
“Drew, what was the cultivation system in the Cultivation world like? There are lots of techniques, but core knowledge is missing.”
I snap my head up at her. “No way. There’s a reason why I sealed that shitty information away. I’m not telling you.”
She raises an eyebrow.
“I don’t want my students to get bad ideas. The entire thing is really stupid.”
“Well, I’m asking because I’m not sure how to evolve my cultivation base. The information tree thing is working, but I’m not sure how to take it further.”
I take a good long look at her as I map the densest piece of stone so far. With a deep sigh, I decide I might as well tell her.Previous Chapter Next Chapter