Chapter 23 - Fall
I don’t have the time to faff about with inefficient and complicated qi constructs. I decide not to make another complicated and convoluted plane, so I pump power through my body and jump over mountaintops. A simple wing suit stretched between my arms and legs lets me glide between the mountains and soar across the valleys. Now speedily shooting over the mountains range, I look ahead to my goal.
The top part of the massive white pillar is crumbling as it tilts further, large splinters flaking off while breaking into smaller parts. I sense little qi coming from these fragments while they disintegrate. I analyse the shattering behaviour and notice that the smaller parts vanish relatively faster. Did the dungeon build the tower from pure mana or is it somehow actively disintegrating the falling pieces?
The entire thing seems to collapse in slow motion. A massive splinter separates and begins falling faster. It is falling to the north, the noble district if I recall. White smoke pours out of the broken top like a chimney. I feel that all of that qi is mine.
I want to distract my mind while travelling the distance so let me explain about qi fingerprints for a bit. I kidnapped kids and stole a newborn rabbit in order to stop this habit of talking to myself. I do have enough self-knowledge that I tend to rely on old habits in stressful circumstances, so I’m fine with talking to myself for now.
Natural occurring qi is like crude oil. There is a shit-ton of potential energy trapped inside but it's hard to get to. It has a variety of hydrocarbons in the mix, is hard to set on fire, has unpredictable behaviour, etcetera. Cracking it into usable fuel takes time. Body cultivators need heavy fuel oils while mental cultivators like me thrive on lighter stuff like kerosene or jet fuel. This process of refinement is what cultivators spend most of their time on.
Giving qi to another person works but ultimately undermines the receiver’s cultivation progress. By receiving qi from a non-natural source one will learn to change, for example, gasoline into diesel. Instead of learning how to crack and distil crude oil into something usable this cultivator thus develops a skill for making qi lighter or heavier, so to say. I don't think it is a problem in a world with no natural qi at all, my students will have to make their own fuels from compressing raw plant matter. Mana is plant matter, if you are still following me in this analogy.
This process of making the qi your own leaves fingerprints. It is a sort of smell, an intangible aura. The qi I gave to Lola has been transformed into a heavier version more suitable for internal muscle use and she has left her bunny paw prints all over it. If I were to take back my qi now, I would need to refine it all over again by circulating it through my body or circulating it inside my core. This analogy, however, breaks down when discussing affinities, you don't really have shadow or fire flavoured gasoline.
I try very hard to keep my qi neutral. This means that I can do anything pretty well, but a fire affinity qi user will make bigger and better flames with way less effort than me. The upside is that I can do everything that affinity users can do, I’m just not as good at doing it. This way I can use all affinities, I prefer utility over raw power any day.
Another upside is that my qi is way easier to accept into one's body than qi from clashing elements. A water user will spend so much energy cleansing fire qi that the water user wouldn't have any gains, and might even lose power by absorbing this type of qi. Healers, therefore, must have an affinity that everyone has innately, like blood or life, but those were so rare in the cultivation world that they weren't even recognised as viable cultivation paths. I can stitch someone's internal organs back together using my neutral qi as threads and allow the qi to release from my control when the injury heals.
I am getting off topic though, the reason for my rambling is that every single being and creature that can control qi has its own signature fingerprints all over their own energies. And all the energies I see and feel spouting from the tower are mine.
For as far as I know that is impossible. Even storing your own qi in crystals or other battery like artefacts changes the qi near instantly if not over time. The very structure of the storage item forces a certain change in the nature of the qi. This can be taken advantage of as, for example, a lightning crystal changes the qi inside to have a more lightning-ish feel and smell. But objects generating qi that match someone’s exact fingerprints is absolutely impossible, the most that objects can do is change the flavour a bit.
That’s why I am so worried about the tower somehow generating massive quantities of qi with my exact fingerprint signature all over it. There should be only one place where that amount of my qi is gathered, and that would be in my core. This does confirm my thoughts on whether or not the dungeon is a living being. Qi can’t be generated by beings without the spark of life, now the only question left is how intelligent said life is.
With a worried eye on the shattering Tower, I skim over another mountaintop, using a sphere as qi like a massive translucent skippy ball. I check my necklace while I’m soaring through the air and see all my seven disciples sitting or sleeping in their own spots. I will have to find something for them to do soon, maybe invite some of the beasts in the clearing over? Would they retain that reverent attitude to qi users when they themselves have qi?
I mentally shake my head, the mountains zipping by under me are growing smaller and I will reach the grasslands soon. Focusing my attention forward I feel that the qi the tower keeps belching out is spreading rather slowly. I will have a few more minutes before the front of advancing energy reaches the city, maybe half an hour before it starts reaching any animals outside the city walls. Wait, it's a medieval type city, animals are everywhere…
Animals grow stronger quickly when absorbing higher energies, I need to increase my pace. Scenes of little girls being slowly eaten by their cute puppy that suddenly got stronger than a grown man flashes through my mind. I rub my necklace and pull Lola out.
“Go and absorb all the qi, don't let it reach the city! I’ll be right behind you.”
While Lola is still looking sleepy I pull my arm back. Wind resistance of a big potato, air density similar to Earth, still kilometres away. Optimum angle is half a corner, forty-five degrees. Lock arm. Inject qi in pecs, bi- and triceps. Anterior flexors and posterior extensors? Lock them down, focus on big muscle groups.
Calculations done, I mentally press the launch button.
The white ball of fur gets launched like it’s being flung from a trebuchet and I speed up again. Stuffing some qi in my retinas and lenses I keep track of the suborbital bunny. She will land just at the base of the tower if my calculations are correct, her small size and fur will leave her unscathed, she could survive landing at twice the predicted speed.
Jumping over the last mountain shows me nothing but flowing hills and grasslands stretching ever onward. I land and sink through my knees, tensing every muscle in my body in preparation. I construct a snug aerodynamic shell around my body in a split second and jump. A thunderous boom follows me as I break through the sound barrier, leaving trembling ground and a cloud of dust in my wake.
I can't help but smile as the grass becomes a green blur not a meter away from me. Although I prefer cruising with a leisurely speed, mixing it up with going all out in terms of speed once in a while is pretty fucking cool. Every time I get bored or pissed of at something related to cultivation I just reminisce about my memories of Earth and how living as a mortal was. Comparing the mundane slog of everyday life with the superpowered living with qi never fails to put a smile on my face.
I eat up the distance between me and the city at a very rapid pace. I slow down to just beneath supersonic speeds when the city walls become visible.
‘IM A CLOUD, A NICE FLUFFY PIECE OF WATER VAPOUR, NOTHING TO SEE HERE’
A mental shouting barrage at my qi barrier adds a slight concealment function. When the city walls are half a kilometre away I land my feet on the ground again only to jump up using the last of my qi. This is a risky manoeuvre as I am left nearly empty but time is running out for the city now below me.
‘YOU ARE MINE, COME TO ME BITCHEEEEES!’
The enormous qi bubble spewing from the tower starts getting pushed upward by my mental command as I soar towards the Tower. This qi is without any conscious control, influencing it is rather easy for me. The question of what caused this phenomenon is bothering me enormously, can I somehow communicate with the dungeon?
I snap my focus back on the tower, it's increasing in size rather rapidly now. Looking at the base of the tower I see a small crater and Lola jumping as high as she can. All the qi in a few meters around her gets sucked in through her mouth while the rest gets… headbutted upwards. Is that even possible? She stopped the bottom of the qi sphere from touching the busy plaza in her own special way, good girl.
I do half a flip and pull some qi in through my mouth and into my legs. I smash into the tower while going around fifty kilometres per hour. I feel the muscles in my legs tearing as I try to evenly distribute the force. This is going to hurt for a bit.
I put my hands behind me and push against the air. Now firmly footed on the vertical surface I extend a thread of qi down to the plaza and snatch Lola from the air.
“Good job, everyone below would be dying slow deaths if not for you.”
She nuzzles my hand while I beam a smile at her. I put her on my shoulder and strap her in with bands of energy. Sinking through my knees again I go up and away, using the abundant qi in the air to create big sheets of air resistant qi to kick of from. About ten jumps later the jagged end of the spire becomes visible. As I kick myself off the air and over the broken tip I get my first look at the faultline. The pillar looks to be made from an opaque white stone, a horizontal section with a jagged shard sticking up as if it is the biggest and most uncomfortable chair in existence.
I expel the last of my qi and flop down to the ground. I push it away and through the qi bubble around me, letting it mingle. Then I pull.
The wave of qi converges on me. I thank my lucky stars for the fact that my fingerprints are all over this qi, handling this amount of raw qi would probably kill or cripple me. With that sobering thought in mind, I start breathing it in, making the sphere of qi surrounding the jagged end smaller and smaller. By the time it has reached the diameter of the tower, it starts fighting back seriously. I could fill my core many times over with the amount of potential energy that is swirling around me.
“Lola and Tree, start absorbing this. Lola, you should step into the qi condensing stage. Just gather loads of qi, make it yours and squeeze it.”
She settles down beside me while I keep the mass of power under control. Sweat starts beading my forehead as I measure the flow of qi shooting out of the structure I’m sitting on. I can hold on for a few hours, but by then the flow of qi will become too big for me to hold together. A look at my brain centre tells me I need at least a week to fill my spiritual cavity with solid core material.
Doom scenarios start flashing through my mind again. I know of a way to fix this but it will be very dangerous. The thought of unleashing my entire mind to control this qi terrifies me but hopefully, I will be alright if I imprint a single task in my mind… I hope…
On the other hand, I could destroy my own cultivation base and get a full solid core by re-cultivating. The process of compressing liquid into crystal allows for a sudden growth of solid core. The looseness of the crystal when it’s freshly made should allow me to grow it at speed. It’s only when core crystals have had time to settle that growing then starts taking time. That might actually work, now that I seriously consider it. Restarting my cultivation - for the hundredth time, it feels - is very much possible. People don't tend to do it voluntarily because it feels pretty bad and why would you? That's like throwing away all your hard earned money just for the joy of earning it again. It does make one more proficient at earning money, but there are few short time benefits.
I sink my focus inward and check my core. I have various processes running such as; a scanning radar, a cartography process and more. I see that the bug analysis thread is still running, let's get rid of that one first. What else is there? Automated threat assessment, I leave that one going. Then there is the automated mana to qi converter, I can get rid of that one too with all this qi around. Breathing in mana in order to turn it into qi right now would be similar to making iron from ore in the midst of a steel warehouse.
I feel my mind clearing up and speed with each process I remove. I can leave the scanning of interesting plants in Tree’s capable branches, away it goes. My language analysis is still running, it hasn't worked its way through all the recordings yet but that can be done later. That where all the big ones, the rest don't even take up a percentage of my mind. Why is there an automated bust size scanner in here? It's pretty interesting to know that the average breast size in this city is a bit larger than the cultivation world's average, but it is far from essential. With a slight twinge of pain in my heart, I cancel that one too.
I imprint the few running ones in my memories. A few minutes of actively remembering my current, bare-bones setup later, I cancel everything except for the cultivation idea I want to test. This should allow me to reinstate the processes with ease when I’m successful. My mind immediately floats towards more esoteric concepts. The material words seem less and less important with each strand of thinking power I free. Resolutely, I mentally grab the small crystal in the middle of my brainstem and make a qi vacuum around it. I breathe in deeply and grit my teeth. This is going to hurt.
With a mental twist, I start shattering my core slowly. A nuclear detonation of pain overwhelms my head and my vision blacks out.
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