Angeta looks at Vox with a very conflicted expression. ”This is it? This is how you’ve been spending your days?”
“Yep! There's some excellent stuff in here. I think this root has caused that rash to go away, and these berries give my skin a rather nice rosy glow.”
“So you've spent the last couple of months… being boiled into soup?”
“No, these guys are the worst cooks ever. Their tools are total trash. I can't really blame them, as there isn’t anything like iron to be found around here, the dungeon is a long way away, and to be totally honest, they don’t really seem all that bright.”
“You do know they can hear you? And as you can see, understand you?” Angeta actually feels a bit uncomfortable at the mixed stares of the villagers.
“Yeah, but that’s just because they’re all xenophobic assholes. It was either this or getting poked with stone-tipped spears all the time.”
“I thought my village was fucked up, but this is something else.”
Vox spits out the stringy remnants of the root he has been chewing on for the past five minutes. Eying Angeta up and down, he continues chatting in a rather relaxed tone. “Yeah, the weaver village. Valerius was using it as a cockroach supply point? You've got to explain that one to me again, as I didn’t really get it.”
Angeta sighs deeply. She looks around again, but as Vox said earlier, the multicoloured townfolk skirt around the central village feature by a large margin. Not a single one even goes within ten meters of the central pot. Wood is tossed towards the fire from a distance, the occasional piece of firewood hitting and chipping the pit Vox is sitting in.
If she thought that the village she was dumped in the middle of was bad luck, then Vox truly got to shortest stick. Rickety and ramshackle constructs are placed upon tall wooden pillars. These pillars stick out from the thick mud, the entire village situated in the middle of a damp clearing. The extreme levels of moisture in the air have already turned her tail into a frizzy mess, and she fears that even a full soap scrub behave won’t get her hair to behave anytime soon.
The air stinks, the people are walking around nearly naked, their tools are shit, and Angeta suddenly kind of understands why Vox decided just to chill. Uplifting these savages into any form of higher civilization would be a massive workload.
The grey-skinned people she was dropped amongst had been at a similar level of technological development, but her elevated position allowed her to make drastic changes with minimum resistance.
“Valerius was placed near a colony of insectoid beastkin. Apparently, all the legends and bedtime stories we are spoonfed as kids hold a rather real core of truth. Instead of evil incarnate, they are just a rather diverse race. They don’t steal kids who don’t empty their plates, but they do live in rigid hierarchies, queens giving birth to hordes of infertile worker drones. In the end, he ended up finding out that all those insect-kin despise sunlight. He showed them a glowing qi lamp and was immediately declared persona-non-grata. He kept hanging around the ant-kin queen though, and I think he’s secretly smitten with her.”
“Wow,” replies Vox.
“Yeah, and he claims to have shifted his cultivation base from seed towards insects? He said a lot about growing plants and insects, and I stopped listening after a while. Also, I don’t think he is near the foundation realm yet.”
“Right,” replies Vox as he hops out of the cooking pot. “Great story. Let's go there next?”
“That’s fine by me, but are you sure it’s safe to leave these schmucks to their fate?”
“Ah, they might not look like it, but some of these people have been cultivating diligently. There are a few villages a few kilometres out. They usually have to take care of the brunt of the yearly beast waves; they all took to cultivation like a fish to water.”
“And these guys?”
“They all think they’re in charge, but the truth is…” Vox raises his voice at this point. “…they are nothing but glorified farmers. Any hunter from the outer villages could kick everyone's ass here, even one so glorious as yours, village chief!”
“See daddy! The white devil is loose! He is speaking evil again, to arms, to arms!”
“And that’s his annoying little shit of a son. I think he might be genuinely slow. Or at the least, he has some form of mental disability.”
“You guys are messed up,” is Angeta’s reply.
Neither says another word as they ask Database to take them to Angeta’s village. They appear inside her hut, and the duo slowly walks outside without much ado.
“And this isn’t super messed up?” Vox looks around at the hanging village. “They are really into this, you know. When you described this entire gig to me, I was like, sure… They worship you, and love you, and would probably buy your bathwater, or something sketchy like that. But actually seeing these guys bowing like this is weird.” Vox has to shout to be overheard. The amount of fluffy praises that are being hurled at Angeta leaves him baffled.
“Tell me about it.”
“I just did.”
“Yeah,” replies Angeta. “Back to you, though. Which one are you going after?”
“No, we really should be focussing on this worshipping thing for a bit. Do you see how those guys are glaring at me?”
“That’s just because you're super pale. Their overlord goddess just showed up with some trash person, someone that's truly the scum of society. Of course, you are going to attract attention. But seriously, though. I think that you and he are meant to be.”
“Wow, this is really bad. Just because I’m light-skinned, they think I’m trash? That is surprisingly hurtful. And who do you mean? Rodrick or the village chief?”
Angeta stares at Vox for a long few seconds. “Which one did you just call by name?”
“And whose name did you not even bother to figure out?”
“Haha, no way. I’m not that shallow. He's not just a majestic set of swamp-trained buns for me. The village chief is called…”
Angeta motions for Vox to follow as she starts walking. Only when they enter a large hanging warehouse, filled with large stacks of neatly folded clothes, does Angeta resume their discussion. “I think it’s pretty obvious. One is just a physical feature for you. You bothered remembering the name of the other one.”
“But Rodrick isn’t even…”
“Did you ask him this?” The fact that Vox remains silent is proof enough for Angeta. “Help me get these orders delivered. We can do the closest ones by inscribing them with temporary qi formations, but just put anything beyond a couple of hundred kilometres from here in your ring. I’ll deliver then through Tree, as Re-Haan has loosened a lot of the Tree-related travel and teleport restrictions. The stupid scaled bimbo playing along with Teach like that is so stupid.”
Vox just silently rifles through the many stacks of clothing. He occasionally draws white symbols and letters upon an item of apparel, after which it slowly yet swiftly speeds off. The rest, he stuffs into his ring. A few of the grey-skinned humans pop in now and then, silently delivering more finished items. A few just gaze at Angeta with fervour, a few remain neutral, while a few look at Vox with disdain.
After the twentieth villager looks at him like he killed their mother, he’s had enough. A quick sustained qi illusion paints his skin a darker grey than even Angeta’s most inky patch of fur. The looks just shift from disgust to confusion and suspicion, though.
“Alright, so can we talk about the real problem now? I appreciate you helping with the menial stuff, but that isn’t really, really helping me,” Angeta speaks up all of a sudden.
“Sure. Let me recap just to see if I understand your situation properly, alright?” Without waiting for an answer, Vox continues messing with the cloth items as he continues. “This guy just enters your village commanding the very beasts you despise, right?”
“No, I found him while I was hunting those decrepit bugs. He first acts dumb, pretends not to notice any of the signals I’m giving off, but then he does this one thing that wins him back any and all-terrain he’s pretended to lose.”
“In a social and political sense, right?”
“Yes! That dull-eyed earth lover is too good at the game. Whether in politics, social happenings, or seduction. He just keeps blindsiding me. He hasn't left the village since he got here, and even managed to rope half the village into supporting his anti-ant campaign.”
“This is Valerius you're talking about, right?”
“Have you considered that that dirt-nerd is just so bad at romance and talking to people he comes across as extremely skilled? Maybe those inane comments aren’t mysterious and profound, but really just inane comments?”
Angeta stares at Vox for a long moment before bursting out into laughter. “No way. Let’s go see what he's up to, then you can see for yourself.”
Vox just nods at Angeta, and the two cultivators leave the dark hut at a leisurely pace. They walk across the densely woven hanging bridges, wooden sticks woven between fine vines and strong cloth. “The trees here look weird, but that's your work, right?”
Angeta nods as she hops down to a lower hanging bridge. “Yep. Pretty helpful when it comes to training my qi manipulation. Those old trees need a very gentle hand, else all the mana stuck inside of them will rebel, and they’ll die.”
“Right. I’m starting to feel like a slacker all of a sudden.”
“Don’t. Valerius hasn’t done a lot either. Look, there he is. I’m not going down there.”
Vox peers over the woven ledge of the swaying bridge and sees neat rows of crops. Now and then, things scuttle through the underbrush, but the fact that he is still rather high up in the trees prevents him from seeing clearly. A lot of the medium-high bushes block his sight, only allowing him to see patches of orderly farmland here and there.
“This entire thing has been insane, though. Little me, back when I was still daddy’s little princess in the beastkin capital, never would have even dared to dream of situations like this.”
“Oh, yeah,” replies Vox. “This is really bonkers on many levels. Teach is a massive asshole, though.”
“Meh,” shrugs Angeta. “It’s what men in positions of power do.”
“What do you mean?” asks Vox as he bends over further.
“When it was just the seven of us, you know, back at the beginning…”
“Tower City? That feels like decennia ago.”
“Back then, he could pay attention to all of us. A slight shift in attention wasn’t even noticeable. Now, though. He seems to have taken up responsibility for thousands, probably millions of people. A slight shift of his attention will make a thousand hungry, while a thousand flourish. Him forgetting one little thing can doom tens of thousands, or uplift just one. Small stuff like that is just massively amplified when you’re talking about massive numbers. It’s all balance, after all.”
Vox tears his eyes away from Angeta as he resumes peering towards the ground. “Wow,” he replies.
Pale boy and beastkin girl stand there for a bit, listening to the rustle of trees, the cries of birds, and the bustle of the city above them. One more sound is rather distinct, but it takes Vox a while to recognise it. “Is that… bugs?”
“Yep. Thanks for reminding me. Hey, you know what? This was fun! I’m sure that Teach has something planned for us, now that he’s had his hissy fit. We beat him up, he beat us up, he nearly killed Tree with that weird-ass hammer, a lot of fun was had. Now we can only wait for his next idiotic stunt. So I’m going to be taking care of a few things around the village. Val is down there, and I’m not going there for all the gold in the world. Bye!”
Vox follows Angeta’s lithe form as she weaves her way up the trees. Shaking his head, he clears the weird thoughts from his mind and jumps from the walkway. The dirt flying up from his landing is still in the air when he is surrounded. Large glistening bugs stand all around him, their oily carapaces shining in the muted light. Vox feels a scream bubbling up his throat, but he manages to hold it in. “H-hello?”
The bugs feel him up for a bit, their large antennas ticking him before they get back to their tasks. Their occupation seems to consist out of rutting around in the dirt, occasionally snapping up small weeds with their large jaws. The redhead decides than that he might as well find out what is going on, and starts sneaking towards the sounds of talking. He makes his way through the dense hedges of underbrush, blitzing through the denser hedges to avoid unnecessary contact with the large scuttling beasts.
“But wise Valerius, she loves me," Vox hears someone lamenting from beyond a dense patch of jungle ferns. "Her parents just find my skin too pale.” Vox peers between the leaves and sees a barely dressed villager talking to the earth mage. Valerius is reclining on top of a large beetle.
As if in answer, the rather normal-looking cultivator plucks a head-sized bug from a low hanging branch and holds it in front of his face. “Look, I have the darkest skin of everyone! Haha, so primitive, these savages. Just go and roll around in the mud first!”
Vox rubs at his eyes, as he fails to see how the long row of people doesn’t immediately leave at that super insulting comment from the relaxing man. The villager in question indeed looks furious, but obviously holds himself back as he retreats.
“Wise man of the bugs, my eyes can no longer see the thread, and I fear that the path of the weave is just not the one for me. I have not managed to break through a stage for a month now.” This time it’s an old lady. Vox focusses on her, and she indeed seems to be stuck on the highest level of qi gathering.
“Why do you want to see threads that small? Here, let me see…” After some rustling around in his robes, Valerius pulls out a round object. “This is a magnifying glass. Come on, people, ask some good questions!”
Vox follows the old woman with his eyes, who takes the trinket with shaking fingers. She takes one look at the thing before Vox feels a slight undulation in the ambient qi. He then senses the woman's aura rising rapidly, her eyes wide in understanding. Blinking a few times, Vox wonders how the ex-mage managed to make that woman step into the next stage with just that.
The next person addressing Valerius is another young man who implores the mage to give him work. Valerius sighs deeply and tells him to go and stand in the field, or something. The young man does so, and much to Vox’s surprise, he also enters a new stage shortly after.
The next person is a young female and Valerius very obviously hints that he wouldn't mind getting to know her better. He ignores her question - she asked whether they should follow him or the fluffy one - and the woman leaves disgusted as Valerius keeps ogling her chest.
The people that come all ask mundane questions and the way Valerius handles them stumps Vox for a long time. Half leave disgusted, furious, or just disappointed. The other half all make great progress in their understanding or cultivation base, as of some ancient master just gave them the exact piece of knowledge they needed.
Slowly Vox understands. The long isolation with nobody but bugs for company obviously did a number on the bedraggled earth mage. The sudden fame of being the second most powerful person in the entire village, and have a lot of ground to farm, obviously went to his head. Vox spies for a bit longer, but can’t make up his mind whether Valerius is a genius or a moron.
Then Vox’s ring starts to glow, and Database informs him that Teach has called a general meeting. Wondering what kind of things Teach is up to now, Vox moves off, leaving sparkling flashes on white in his wake.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
I'm going to be posting 5 chapters a week for a bit, see how that goes.
Please leave a comment!