“It really feels different now. There’s much more to Tree than before. What really happened?” she asks as she stands on the balcony, rolling hills and lush forests spread out below her.
I keep looking at the rather lovely view. Looking away from Rhea’s ass, I admit that the majestic sight from my window is also nice. “Those are paths.”
“This is pure speculation, but as far as I can tell, those nine tools are what’s needed to get a basic civilization started. Basic paths of life - Daos, if you will.”
“Construction, agriculture, and clothing?”
“Those are the base needs. Food, warmth, shelter, rest, security, the most basic of stuff every human needs.”
“And the weapons?”
“What do you do after your belly is full and your house is nice and warm? You go and kill those evil people from across the river, of course! Keeping it in theme with the hierarchy of needs, we can apply those three implements to the securing of friends, intimate relationships, and a feeling of accomplishment.”
“And you need weapons for that?”
“An entire third of that category is dedicated to protection, you know. And I’m not sure how I feel about this, but the sword is absent. That should be significant, with the amount of symbolism that’s being thrown around here, but I can’t quite grasp it.” I let my eyes rove across Rhea’s form for a while longer. I know that I usually spout bullshit about loving the soul and personality above the physical form, but damn girl. The outer shape shouldn’t matter, but I've really got to find out if she has mind-reading powers. From her toned stomach that curves into long legs, her perky yet modest chest and narrow shoulders tick all of my boxes.
“I’ll bite,” she says with that smirk of hers, “Why is the lack of a sword important?”
“The sword is a human killer. You can’t hunt with it. You can’t defend with it. It’s just meant to signify that the wielder has a big sharp stick, and is willing to use it. It’s all edge, purely designed to kill other sapients.”
“So the fact that mainly hunting weapons - the spear and the bow - are present, along with a shield, is now giving you hope for the universe, or something like that. Am I understanding you correctly?”
“Yeah, sure,” I reply while unable to tear my eyes from her strutting hips.
“Ah, that’s for multiplication,” I blurt out.
Her face darkens, and for once, I have absolutely no idea why that is so. “Hey, what’s-”
“Why, multiplication?” she interrupts.
“Settled communities have a massive amount of time left. No longer needing to pack up and move all their shit, they can spend much more time on other pursuits. These other pursuits will be mostly farming in the beginning, but once they master the sickle, they will have time left over for other stuff, like making fancy clothes.”
To my great disappointment, she sits down. “And then what about the last three? A pot and two sticks?”
“Brush, jar, and ruler. I’m not sure in which order these come, but they seem to represent higher levels of civilization. I wonder which of the other super-dense items represents the internet. Is there a Dao path filled with nothing but dank memes? Man, I hope I don’t find it, because I would drop my Path of Nothingness and Infinite Possibilities immediately.”
“Are you done?” Rhea asks after I finish giggling.
“Great. Brush for writing, a jar for the finer crafts, and the ruler for higher mathematics?”
“That’s one way of looking at it, but I got a different feeling from the objects. Here, take a look and tell me what you think.” I pull the remaining seven items from my ring and place them on the nightstand next to my massive bed. The fact that the nightstand is the size of an ordinary table should be a clue as to how extensive I’ve decided to make this bed. I also lay the sickle in its place, as I find that I’ve been toying with it for the last few minutes again. I frown at the thing for a bit before placing it at the end of the row of super heavy tools. How do I keep taking that thing out without consciously noticing?
“I’m going to say that I’ve known you long enough for now. Just tell me what your interpretation is.”
I can’t help but grin as I move into a sitting position. “The brush is meant to symbolize the ability to transfer information through a semi-permanent medium. No matter how good a storyteller is, that story is going to get mangled after a couple of dozen generations. The ability to write stuff down - wether in stone, papyrus, paper, or jade - is indispensable for any growing culture or civilization. The jar is meant to represent the long term storage of items, food, inks, scrolls, whatever. The ruler is meant to signify the retaining of common measurement systems through generations. Basically, the third phase of a budding civilization is the fact that information is being retained in semi-permanent form.”
“So basically what I said.”
“Yeah, basically what you said.”
“Good to know. What are you doing here?”
“Just shooting the shit until I can properly kick this hibernating hornets’ nest. Why are you not freaking out more?”
“Oh, I am. At times, I’ve had over fifty percent of my processes dedicated to controlling my stupid humanoid needs for expressing my feelings. Why do you hang out with me?”
“Why would you ever hang out with me?” I reply in response. “I get that there is some clumsy genetic call to follow the strongest, but you should have been able to overcome that a thousand times over by now.”
“Because I like you.”
“Well, I love you.”
“Maybe I do too?”
That shuts me up for a long while. “Wow, I do not like this new power-dynamic we just created.”
“You feel like you spilled too much? I thought it was rather nice and candid, just asking each other our truest and deepest fears like that.”
“That’s part of it. The like-versus-love thing is just putting me in a bad spot, though.”
“I did say ‘maybe’?” is her sultry reply. My mind, which had been in a total state of focus just a moment ago crashes back into base instincts. The areas that I was using to analyze social dynamics just give up. The statistical-analysis-coalescing parts of my mind throw in the towel, while any social overview process has enough intelligence - by default - to recognize a losing game. The way she rolls her hips should be illegal.
I give up trying to determine who is the winner or the loser, and just decide we both gained some ground as she nears.
“We really should get back to the serious stuff now,” I say with pain in my heart. I really should resume planning things, and busying myself with all that kind of dry tedium. I also should continue training my augur, but I don’t feel like it just yet.
“Yep, I agree,” she replies while nuzzling into the crook of my neck.
Instead of following up on my threat, I nod sagely and lay there for a long while. Staring at the wooden ceiling, I find my mind calming down and gaining an odd form of perspective. Looking back at the previous year and a bit of my life, things just don’t add up. I used to spend decennia doing only one thing in the cultivation world, letting years pass me by. That seems not to be an option here. There’s always some threat looming above my head, some new thing that needs doing, or some new task that I want to procrastinate on. “What are your long term plans?” I suddenly ask.
“As in weeks, years, decennia, or millennia?”
“Whatever,” I shrug.
She hums softly for a bit, idly drawing images on my chest. I try to follow what she is tracing, but find that it’s just more crude penis drawings again. At least she isn’t purposely using her nails this time and carving them in red lines on my skin.
“Sleep,” she replies lazily. “Or at least, that used to be it. I always found some pride in being the one dragon that didn’t want to sleep, but that was because I wasn’t content with the type of sleep I was getting in Flight Mountain.”
“I’ll bite. What type of sleep do you want?”
“Very safe sleep. I want a place where I can be totally sure that I will wake up in ten thousand years. I want a dragons den that will keep out an exploding sun.”
“I said alright, didn’t I? I’m not going to let something stupidly simple as a supernova get in my way.”
“And you?” she shoots back.
“I want to see the last black holes of the universe implode into nothingness like dark frozen fireworks. I want to see beyond the lines of sight of all else.”
Her drawing stops for a few seconds before she resumes at a slow pace. “Is this that heat death thing?”
“Yeah. I want to see the universe die and crumble. I want to see if the big bang is followed by a big crunch. I want to see if this entire multiverse is just a single heartbeat of a being an infinite amount of dimensions sideways larger. I want to observe the last photon disintegrate into nothingness.”
“I guess you better get me that super safe bedroom then. I’m looking forward to it already.”
“You got it. I’ll make sure to get you a neat space station around a brown dwarf.” I only get an affirmative grunt in reply before her breathing slows. Laying there, I feel the fact that I’ve been awake for months now thug at my eyelids, and I also let myself fall asleep.
Luckily, I wake up without having dreamt anything.
I quietly sneak out of bed and make my way down to Tree’s mana gathering circle. As I wait for the wood to shift to let me gain access, I check how far my building project got. The information I get back from Database makes me grin, as there is a veritable mansion woven throughout Tree now.
Tree still looks the same from the outside. Ther’s just an entrance and a few balconies sticking out of its rough bark exterior. The front entrance is a simple stone door, a carved imitation bark pattern making it barely stand out. The balconies look like natural branch stumps, thick rings of healing bark making railings, while shorter cut off branches make for larger terraces.
I do a quick scan of my direct environment and see that the internal rooms are all done; they just need furnishing. I also spot the dwarf still sitting next to Tree. That reminds me…
Striding out the front door, I enter a beehive of activity. The direct area around Tree is fairly empty, but the large clearing as a whole is packed with people, items, and activities. I ignore all that and make a beeline for the still meditating dwarf. His new cultivation base stabilized a while ago, and the old geezer is just napping at this point. I thus feel no guilt as I rip the hammer from his grasp. I still can’t quite access it, meaning that the guy really did make the tool his core.
Well, we can’t have that now, can we? I found… Rhea found it first, after which she gave it to me, and I’m not willing to relinquish it just yet. I look around and see what I’m looking for rather quickly. Next to the slowly waking dwarf lies a nice-looking hammer. The head is simple metal, well made, and without internal faults. The handle is…
“Hey, wake up,” I tell him while kicking him in the side. The old man snorts awake, looking around blearily. His dull eyes quickly gain too sharp a glint, and I realize I need to be quick here. “Where did you get this wood from?”
“Ket?” is his questioning reply.
“Why is that a question? Are you asking me?”
“No! Ket,” he replies firmer.
“Great, so Ket gave you a Tree branch, then?”
“Yes,” he nods.
“And you just decided to throw it away for this?” I spin the heavy hammer through my fingers, and seeing his reactions is actually really entertaining. His face doesn’t really turn green, but I can see that me randomly swirling his cultivation base core through my fingers is not a great feeling for him.
“Coul you ple-”
“I will do as I please. I’m taking this back, by the way. Your body is all cleaned up now, so get back in this one already!” I put the super dense hammer on my belt while waving the mundane hammer in his face. “How dare you abandon a branch of Tree like this! I will not stand for it! This is your punishment.” Recalling every single tip and technique about acting I’ve ever read, I make myself as imposing and threatening as possible.
I then start using my Will as I glare down at the little guy. Instead of finding some smart and tricky way of doing this, I just pour all my mental and mystical might against the problem. This dude has anchored his cultivation base in the wrong hammer. I don’t like that. We are in my core. Let me repeat, the very space the little shit is sitting inside of is MY CORE! MY RULES!
I feel the minuscule smidgen of Will the dwarf has melt against my might as I continue pressuring the old guy.
“Again?” he squeezes out. “Flight fuck me up to the ass, alright. Here we go again.” The moment he mutters those words, his core comes loose. I nearly mentally stumble at the sudden lack of resistance that I’m feeling. To my amazement, his entire cultivation base just floats away from the super dense hammer. “Just give it here, putting it in a hammer is kind of stupid anyway.”
The dwarf then sighs deeply before inhaling. The thick strands of mist that represents the anchor of his cultivation base enters his nostrils. I stand there for a bit, mutely blinking at the short guy.
“Heartcore! Wow, this is pretty good. I do want that back, though.”
Not even feeling up to formulating a reply, I just mutely hand his normal hammer over. His fingers lovingly caress the Tree wood handle and cleanly wrought head. “My apologies. I did not mean to take possession of your hammer. I now see that the implementation on your waist is a very good starting point, but it'd have prevented me from going anywhere with it. Please be careful of following rigid information like that without questioning. My people are a prime example of following a limited set of texts to the detriment of all else. Thank you for your guidance, Teacher.” He then bows and leaves.
I scratch my head a little while watching him walk away. That was a speech and a half...
The sounds in Tree’s clearing also start picking up again as people stop staring at our short-lived battle of Wills. I just pat the hammer on my belt, put it in my ring, and walk back into Tree.
Taking a deep breath, I sit down in the middle of the glowing gathering circle, pull out a twenty-five times denser projectile, and start working again.Previous Chapter Next Chapter