Chapter 227 - Junction (4)

“So, what have you been up to?” I ask as I stumble out of Tree. Rhea is chilling on the front porch of my castle, sipping on some of my toxic booze while sunbathing. A familiar wooden table is next to her, drink and snack placed within her reach.

She lifts the band of cloth wrapped around her eyes with a lazy finger and looks at me. “Wow.”

I smile. I feel pretty good. Like I’m a lot lighter as if I just finished a detox cure, liposuction, and a deep tissue massage at once. It took a while, I feel drained, and my cultivation base is nearly empty of qi, but I made loads of progress.

“You look like shit.”

My thoughts crash to a halt as I hear the worry in her voice. I touch my face and feel hollow cheeks. “Did I lose weight?”

“It’s been a month.”

“It’s been a month? No way.” I plop myself down next to her, rubbing at my scraggly beard. “Time is starting to slip again. I need to start interacting more.”

“You smell. And time is slipping?”

I go through my active and inactive mental processes one by one. Most are offline, the more crucial ones delegated to Database. The few vital ones - threat scanners and people-important-to-me stalkers - are still running. I also notice that my breast measuring process is active, for some reason. I check it just for giggles and see that Rhea’s breasts are slightly larger than usual. Is she losing her confidence as a woman now that I’ve been spending most of my time inside a tree? I hide my smirk as I snatch some food from the table. Another set of processes I turn on again are my grooming and cleaning routines. They start using their maximum allotted percentage of qi immediately, scrubbing my skin, combing and trimming my hair, and repairing my clothes.

I also ask Database for a quick overview of what’s been going on. Nothing much has changed over the past month. The dragons have shown significant growth spurts, that’s probably due to the many, many near-death events Database logged. I check the administrator that disabled those warnings and see that Rhea turned them off. I also see that Rhea was the cause of these near-death events. “Wow, you are not kind to your kin. And time starts slipping through my fingers each time I work on my cultivation base. It’s useful sometimes, but to get the same result as I got over the past month, I’d need to spend another year in there. I need to interact with people, going on adventure, doing cool stuff and all that to prevent myself from getting stuck in eternal cultivation.”

“I just gave the lazy geezers a kick in the butt. And is that why my cultivation speed is stalling?”

“I wouldn’t call chasing them in dragon form, tearing off limbs, and sending massive monsters after them a kick in the butt. And yes, probably. You need to learn and experience new things, which you then should be able to use as inspiration and motivation to grow your cultivation.”

Rhea nods, stealing some of my food as I pull more dishes from my ring. I didn’t really notice, but I’m famished. I’m guessing being pressure washed with qi cleansed me of impurities, whatever that might be. I thus happily refill my impurities by scarfing down plate after plate of still steaming food. She licks her fingers clean, and I pause eating long enough to stare at the sight. It seems that I’m hungry for more than physical sustenance alone.

“I’ve done something apart from chasing my ancestors and sleeping. Here, take a look at these.” Rhea’s ring softly glows as she pulls items from it. The table creaks as it legs sink deeper into the ground.

Narrowing my eyes at the items, I start to get a bad feeling. “Eight? And I’m guessing that this one completes the set?”

With a heavy heart, I pull the super dense hammer from my ring and lay it next to the assorted set of dark tools. Three sets of three items, nine in total. It’s never good whenever that stupid number gets involved with anything. Why not just round up to ten? All systems based on base nine do is cause sums to become extremely complicated. 

“I found these on the excavation sites at the poles. Your drones found them at the deeper levels of the ice sheets. They’re about done, by the way.”

“They’ve finished excavating all that ice?”

“Yes. I helped, though. Those ice golems interested me, so I started experimenting with managing ice.” Rhea waves a slender hand at some dirt. “Look, I’m just telling it where to go. Managing something can be interpreted in a lot of ways.”

I stare at the vaguely bipedal dirt golem for a moment. She isn’t using any formations or animation spells, just a lot of qi and intent. She waves her hand again, and the qi comes back to her, the animated dirt falling apart. “Cool. You’re a summoner now?”

“Sure, I guess? So far it’s just utility. I’m still working on making it useful in a fight.”

“Have you read up on how generals manage armies?” I stand up and start sorting the black items. The crudest item is the hammer I found. It’s very simple, a round handle, the head made up of a spherical and a cylindrical end. The sickle and needle are of similar make, so I place all three tools in a group. The sickle is a handle with a curved knife mounted at an angle while the needle is rather large, and seems more suited for sewing leather than fine cloth.

I then grab the three things I recognise as weapons. A smooth spear, a bit short for my taste. Its head is wickedly sharp, I feel it bite into my thumb as I brush it. Then the bow, an unstrung piece of dark wood that has a string tightly wrapped around one end. The shield is the last weapon, a smooth circle made from unidentifiable metal, two thick leathery straps attached to its backside.

Then come the only items that have some form of decoration. A brush, a jar, and a ruler. All the items are nearly black, either grey or brown. They are also of similar size, the needle being the smallest and the spear the longest. All of them could be used in daily life, if not for the fact that they all weigh a couple of hundred kilograms at the least. The shield weighs half a ton at the minimum and the needle is just over a hundred kilos.

“This is super weird. Why are there tools intermixed with all those impossible things?” I complain out loud  a bit as I probe them all with augur.

“The most convoluted things are on top, while these were at the bottom of it all.”

“Hmm, so the items falling onto the poles now are super complex, right?”

“Yep. I tried to find out where they keep coming from, but even my most precise air lenses have too much distortion to get anything useful.”

“And any drones, observation platforms, or telescopes that get high enough are shot down,” I add.

“Yep,” replies Rhea as she closes her eyes again.

I keep glaring at the nine tools while snacking on some more food. They’re all made from over ten times compressed matter, and my Will training lets me see what materials they are made from. Wood, ceramic, simple iron, and some kind of natural fur for the brush tip. I grab the hammer again, twirling it through my fingers. Something tells me that this one is first, but I’m not sure why. Three sets of three, each getting more ornate and refined.

Am I just overthinking this? “Are there more?” I ask Rhea.

“Nope. The next lightest thing is a couple of thousand kilos and much larger.”

“Okay. And what shape is that item?”

“Honestly? A big pile of shit. But it’s a close one though. A triangular screw five meters long probably weighs about the same, but it’s in the middle of the south pole pile. The drone’s measurements aren’t that accurate.”

“So why are these things the only ones that are actually usable?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care. I studied it a bit, and it looks like useless junk to me.” She stands up and looks at me for a while. I glance at her, but the nine items laid out on the table regain my attention pretty quickly. Out of all the impossible, improbable, and impractical pieces of super dense junk on both poles, why are these the only ones resembling usable items?

“I’m going to explore Flight Mountain for a bit. Bye.”

“Oh, yeah. Bye,” I reply while probing the brush again. The hairs are rather standard, simple protein filaments of no special nature. The wood is formed from an extremely standard woodgrain, but not something I can immediately recognise. The jar is made from a rather fine ceramic, fired but unglazed. The ruler is also made of wood, an unmarked measuring scale carved with neat lines.

Looking up, I see that she really left. Thinking back on what she said, I feel like slapping myself. I just got out of a month-long seclusion, and the first thing I do is obsess over some random junk. Deciding that I will join her in her Flight Mountain exploration up next, I grab the hammer and pour in my augur. Mapping the entire thing is rather easy, as I’ve previously mapped items with more than four times its density.

I walk over to Tree, who is still streaming all of its power upwards through its trunk. The air above it shimmers with the outflow of qi, strands of thick energy raining down on Tree’s many acres of forest, grassland, mountain, and desert. I hold the hammer in the stream and send in qi.

The stream halts. Every single speck is immediately sucked up by the innocuous tool. I try to let go, but now that it has started sucking up qi, I can’t drop it. The passive qi reinforcing my hand is getting pulled in, preventing me from even opening my fingers. The qi inside my core - which has replenished by half at this point - trickles towards the hammer all by itself.

What the fuck?

The air around me starts swirling as massive streamers of ambient qi are pulled into the tool. Suddenly, I feel ashamed of myself. Even though I’ve made a fullblade using high tech techniques and modern materials, I didn’t really put my all in the creation of the weapon. The oversized sword even started a trend, forming a new group of students calling themselves fullblade wielders. Embedding the mana and ice crystals was a good trick, but the design is extremely inefficient.

“What the fuuuuuck,” I squeeze out between tight lips.

Then my core is empty, my head starts spinning, and all the qi inside my pocket dimension comes rushing towards the hammer still grasped in my hand. Realising that I’ve just been reacting so far, I breathe in sharply. I pull the qi inside my lungs towards my braincore with brute force, using every single bit of skill in qi control I’ve developed over the past month. I then ask Database for a status update, but my very own qi clone informs me that it’s currently too busy with handling requests to get me that information.

“WHAT THE FUCK!” I scream, now backing out of the small cave in Tree’s trunk. That turns out to be a bad idea, as the qi black hole in the shape of a hammer is suddenly separated from the steady stream of power Tree has been providing it. Then suddenly, I am slammed back into Tree the moment I stop my scream. I do a one-eighty in the air, and see Bord standing in the cave entrance as my back smacks into the wooden wall.

“WHERE’S LOLA!”

“Hey, Bord.” I wave at him with my free hand while holding the hammer right above the now fiercely glowing formation. “I DON’T KNOW!”

“Oh,” he replies. “I thought you were hiding her, or something.”

I’m just about to reply to that stupid statement when something in the air makes me dodge to the side. I see a flash of black hair and a muted glint of metal. The wood of Tree itself starts forming into spears, suddenly shooting towards my neck. I decide to break my promise with Rhea then and there. I care about my mental sanity, and spending years alone in my head while the world outside is frozen isn’t healthy. What also isn’t healthy are the rays of deceptively slow light shooting towards my neck.

The qi I spin through my brain does a single rotation, and the world slows down. I’m about to breathe a mental sigh of relief when the sheer suction force of the hammer pulls the moving qi from my brain.

“SERIOUSLY!” I manage to scream while twisting my body into a pretzel. I land and unfold like a snapped tension coil, narrowly avoiding Bord as I dodge a shotgun hail of metal pellets. The hammer starts pulling on my passive qi with gusto once more, and I know that I will definitely die if I lose the copious amounts of structural reinforcement in my body. Flipping my legs up and over, I land after making an ungainly flip. I initially skedaddle upwards, kicking off Tree’s trunk in an attempt to reach the lowest branches. I give myself half a second to look around, and immediately wish I hadn’t done so.

“WHAT THE FUCK, GUYS?” I scream upon observing my students coming for me. As if that wasn’t enough, I also spot multiple dragons approaching. Not the small and weak humanoid forms, no. A gaggle of full-sized ancestors is quickly approaching. Their maws open wide and elemental colours flickering in their throats.

I kick off against Tree’s bark again, this time seeing sluggish tendrils of green barely missing my feet. More rays of light speed past, impossibly fast while going slow enough for me to dodge. I look ahead and see a sudden fog form. Shards of ice crystalise from the opaque cloud, and I swing the hammer forwards out of reflex. The ice shatters, and a small drizzle of mundane water starts falling down to the ground as the cloud of blue power is sucked into the hammer.

Ah, I have the ultimate cultivation base depleting, technique destroying, attack absorbing weapon right here! Why am I running awa-

Deep red light suddenly surrounds me, halting my thoughts in their tracks. That, and the fact that I’m suddenly plummeting towards the ground at impressive speeds makes me take note. I swing the hammer around, and a bit of the burgundy red power is sucked up, but not enough for me to be able to counteract its massive downwards force completely. Willing the air to thicken only allows me to slow down to speeds where the landing won’t hurt. Then a blue wave of power turns the air into something that has no friction at all, and I speed downwards again.

I try rolling upon landing, but my legs sinking into suddenly liquid dirt and grass wrapping me up to my neck in thick foliage sort of puts a stop to that. The earth returns to normal soil pretty quickly, though. The long grass stays long and grassy, but the constricting grasp stops the moment the leaves lose their green glow. Brandishing the hammer around me, I climb out of the pit and take in the scene as multicoloured qi is sucked up by the tool.

Holding up my hand, I pull my sword from my ring. I let it fall towards the ground slowly and dramatically, sending up a spray of brown earth and green grass as it lands.

“So,” I begin talking as I eye my students one by one. “It’s finally here then. The time when the students kill the master?”

“Nope!” chimes Selis, “Leave him alive!”

“Sup,” goes Ket. “Sorry man, gotta do this.”

“Lola?” asks Bord once again.

“I will eat your liver,” growls Angeta.

“I’ve got to thank you for a certain teleporting incident,” smile Tess while fondling a dagger.

Vox looks around for half a second. “Peer pressure, I guess?”

Then Ares pops into existence between my position and the row of original students. “Alright, I’m here…” she says sadly. “I don’t wanna waste the points, but you guys told me, so here I am,” she continues in her miserable tone.

“Hey Ares,“ I wave at her, my mind churning at furious speeds. “Vox, take heed. Your sister is a great example of peer pressure. You’re just an ass-”

My voice is cut off as the attacks of a lot of dragons hit my position.

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