Chapter 242 - Forethough (7)

Then, while I am distracted by watching the slow-motion chase scene of the small furry animal and larger insect, the Core starts sucking. A ripple of something shoots through my body. It ties my stomach into knots, but other than that, I can’t clearly identify what I’m feeling. It takes me a moment of silent meditation before I figure out that my qi is being pulled downwards all at once. A massive pull wants to tear my power from my every cell.

It’s not going anywhere, mind you, but it’s still a wholly alien sensation. The hammer did this too when it was guzzling up power, but not to this extent. That little tool just tried ripping at my arm and cultivation base. The Core feels like it would like nothing less than to pull every single speck of qi from my body right this instant, all at the same time.

Looking at the jungle around me, I see just that happening. The small mammal that was about to get chopped in half suddenly duplicates. A white ghost separates from its body. This perfect copy is translucent, its heart a shining core. The critter itself is slowly getting a wide-eyed expression but otherwise seems fine. Every single leaf, stem, clump of dirt, and animal gets their soul sucked out of them. A translucent copy of the jungle around me is torn free from its material anchors and sucked up by the Core I’m sitting on. The multicolored front of qi moves at a sedate pace, which means that it’s blindingly fast in real-time. I’m still looking at the world from a perspective sped up five hundred times.

The moment the qi from the closest animals and beasts touch and enters the Core, the twisting in my gut calms down by a fraction. I watch for a few minutes as the flow of brown qi from the dirt below peters out, while the intake of power from around me only increases. More and more power flows into the core. A thickening sheet of qi moves at high speed as the core sucks its immediate environment dry. I try to look at the jungle again, but my vision is obstructed by the massive loads of power rushing through the air.

Ten minutes of watching this phenomenon later, I mentally close my gaping mouth and make a plan. Never did I expect that this would be the effect. The Core is still as inert as ever, not a single atom or elemental particle changing position or charge. A quick look upwards while forming a simulated eyecore tells me that Nexus is still trying to get data down to me and that it’s still failing. The brightness of the blurry beam has increased somewhat, and that’s when I realize I fucked up.

I frantically pull one of the many, many woven formations from my ring, and immediately start pulling them upwards using thick bands of qi. The moment it starts spinning and unfurling, I pull another from my ring and set that one spinning too.

If the atmosphere is being stripped of qi - which it is, I feel atmospheric intent qi rushing through me constantly - then the transmissions of Nexus will get through again. My own skin is still flickering with the interference patterns, but the formations I was projecting in the air are long since sucked up by the Core. Only the training I did while sitting inside Tree allows me to pull the woven formations from my ring without the qi constructs being torn from me immediately.

I do some error checking, wondering why none of my processes signaled me of this possibility, and I quickly find out what’s wrong. I had offloaded the heavy-duty and resource-intensive analysis tasks to Database. The very Database that is still working at a sub-one percent efficiency due to its very body overheating and nearly melting.

I thank my lucky stars that I didn’t start speeding up my perception of time yet. The Core probably could have erased my vital parts from existence once Nexus got the proper signals through. We only injected a smidgen of qi into the thing last time, and it managed to start erasing a Foundation Realm cultivator - namely Re-Haan. No doubt it will be capable of much more now that the qi of contentment is slowly being sucked up by the thing.

I’m suddenly blinded by something other than light. Spreading my senses, I notice that the spinning formation above my head is taking a beating. Both it’s structural integrity, and my qi holding it in pace are fraying. Then I see that my core still has a faint impression of an eye, the fake eyecore not yet faded. Quickly wiping my core clean, the light vanishes, but the disintegration of my spinning protection continues.

I quickly root through the stocks inside Tree - Angeta and co have been using it as wholesale storage - and find a lot more large and complex woven designs. I start the slow process of pulling them through the dimensional link towards my position, but that’ll take entire real-time seconds, which is an eternity from my current perspective.

Internally groaning at my bad luck, I speed up the qi inside my brain until I’m crawling at a thousand times again. I then spend four respective hours of sample testing and ways to slow down the degradation. The now invisible data streams act like the super-bright qi-destroying level I came across in the Mana Dungeon.

I try to counteract it with sheer force at first, using my qi as ablative shielding. A small sample test and a small calculation net me the result that I’ll only be able to hold out minutes with my current qi stores.

Then, I try to set up qi repelling patterns, using threads of Will to create pattern disruptors and other long-shot solutions. They all work, but all of them cost a large amount of qi.

Then, out of pure desperation, I slowly and tediously set up a qi circulation pattern that simply follows the woven threads. Taking the rapid spinning into account makes it mentally exhaustive, and I think of ditching it until I check the results. For a fraction of the previous cost, I can slow down or even stop the abrasive effect of the massive data beam that Nexus is beaming down at me. I try checking it with a facsimile of an eyecore once more. I stop changing my core the moment I’m blinded. Clearing my core from everything but the spinning shields and the map of the Core beneath my ass once more, my vision clears.

I then muse that this solution must be effective because I’m supporting something that is already there - the weave - instead of trying to create something from nothing. I’m sure that there is some lesson to be learned there, but I don’t bother. Instead, I carefully lessen my crawl speed again. I make sure to keep stacking weaves, making the even numbers spin counterclockwise for good measure. I keep the map of the Core firmly in my mind, and my own qi inside my body.

Did I really think that training inside Tree, controlling qi strings while sitting inside the qi stream was hard? Sure, I did continue making those high-density stone projectiles mine, but that was a piece of cake compared to what I suddenly need to deal with.

All in all, it goes about as well as can be expected. That nap I took did wonders, and I’m glad I took it. Had I not done that, I don’t think I’d have been able to hang on for this long. Nor would I have come up with solutions to these dumb-ass problems.

The Core I’m standing on doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon either, and the amount of qi shooting into the thing is getting ridiculous right about now. One more eyecore check tells me that Nexus is also fully focused on my current position. The fact that it’s using pure entropic contrast to wear down both physical materials and my qi makes me suspect that this time, it’s actually trying. My enemy’s blasters are firing at a hundred and twenty percent, and I can handle it. I allow myself to feel smug for an entire real-time second before I stop it - no need to jinx something that’s going well, after all.

Finding that all is going relatively well, I start to sit down. My body is still unable to keep up with my speeding mind in any significant way, but as I’m slowing down slowly, I might as well get comfortable.

By the time my crawling time dilation is down to a hundred times, I risk sparing a bit of mental capacity to check-in on Rhea. I focus my sight inwards and observe my core. The majority of my braincore is filled with the stack of twenty spinning qi circulation patterns. I leave those alone, as they are the only thing between me and everything going to shit.

I focus beneath those and use a tiny portion of my core to take a peek inside Tree. The majestic perennial comes into view, and I see many figures running around in slow motion. One particular draconic winged individual hangs in the air, a veritable network of information lines suspending her in space. Instead of looking like something that’s caught in a spiders web, Rhea is rooted in place as she commands the world.

Massive loads of stocked rockets are escorted outside of Tree, to be installed at their designated launch sites. Massive and ornate weapon platforms are strapped to large hover drones, while crews of cultivators fill massive crystal cartridges with specific qi intents. I see two scientists in white lab coats running around, cursing each other out with all kinds of terrible names when they aren’t busily innovating new ways of destruction and protection.

Neatly packaged armor suits are airlifted to areas where teams are assembling, Ket tossing them with pinpoint precision. Selis is doing something with a large portion of Tree’s water that I don’t really understand, Angeta is just stroking plants, and Tess is talking with Bord’s harem of shadowy tigers.

Entire cadres of young mages are working together, creating all kinds of fire-and-forget qi structures. The older generation of mages haven’t managed to keep up as well as the rest, and most of them are just practicing their qi control in a dark corner of Tree somewhere.

I do a double-take on those last few observations.

To be honest, I’ve largely been ignoring the relatively fresh students. I know that I inducted thousands of mana wielders into my ranks, but for some reason, they just don’t really interest me all that much. They all took the mass teleportation trick I pulled on them in stride. At the very least, unlike my initial students, none of them have been sending me daily death and torture threats.

But nearly all mages managed to get their assigned towns, areas, or villages through the qi apocalypse without many losses. The beastkin and colored savages also did pretty well, but that was something I expected.

In sheer numbers, the mages are actually grossly overrepresented. I don’t know how, but a lot of the stigmas, prejudices, and tribal behaviors I had been afraid of didn’t really happen. There are still no lynch mobs between differently colored humans or between humans and beastkin in general.

If anything, most of that kind of negative behavior has been happening between beastkin. The entire hierarchy based on length of tooth, scales, and fur is not flexible at all. Low-caste herbivore beastkin gaining more power than high-caste predators is one of the persistent causes of strife and violence between my students.

I’m tempted to go over a few more data points, but checking in on the system of self-policing that has been forming inside Tree can happen when I’m not this busy with fighting a moon. Seeing that everything inside Tree is going as well as can be expected, I check Database and immediately see what Selis is doing. She’s sitting on top of one of the biggest lakes inside Tree, the one holding all the melting runoff from the frozen mountain. The bottom of the lake is in absolute turmoil, as there seems to be a drilling shaft made from water tunneling itself downwards, carving into the still settling bedrock of Tree’s small planet. She’s totally going to flood the factory floors on top of Database’s surface, but it seems she’s willing to make me pay that price. I ignore the gleeful smile on her face and the evil giggling coming from her mouth.

Pulling my focus back to my direct environment, I try to feel for Rhea’s distinctive aura. One part of Database that isn’t melting yet holds a simple mental process, a collection of tagged countdown timers. They vary from ticking away their last seconds to several days, indicating the varying levels of readiness of the various groups.

A lot of the potentially lesser options are due to complete soon - suiting up everyone in inscribed metal armor and crafting heavy duty long-range weapons. Then there is the mystery countdown that’s put there by the human king. I stare at this one for a long while, not feeling comfortable with someone as potentially competent as that cursing foulmouth setting up secret projects.

I sigh before moving on from that information. Taking a deep mental breath, I think up a few more doom scenario’s. Thinking up how things will go to shit will mean that stuff won’t go tits up in that exact way, right?

Well, I bloody hope so.

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