Chapter 246 - Interception (3)

“IT WORKS!” shouts one slimy scientist.

“IT’S ALIVE!” shouts a hairy one.

“It’s not alive, you idiot!”

“It very much is, have you seen those unexplainable patterns in the feed grid? There must be something…”

The sudden outburst garners some attention from the busily working crowd. Seeing as the ones that are shouting at each other do so all the time, they continue ignoring the two.

“Shut up, you two,” comes a serene voice from above.

“All hail the Learned Flight!”

“Yes, miss Re-Haan. May the maker guide us.”

The duo looks at each other for a single second. Then one accuses the other of being a stuck-in-the-past traditionalist, while the other starts hurling insults that touch upon the ancestry of the first one.

Re-Haan, who just stepped out into the outside world - everything inside Tree is basically done - finishes the argument with a soft “I mean it.” The two shut up again and quietly resume their tasks.

Re-Haan nods once, before dropping the stoic mask and starting to rub her forehead. “Drew, you could have told us there were thousands of these, you moron.”

Alluding to the massive amount of perfectly similar defensive satellites in orbit around the planet, she calls up the constantly updated planetary map. “This makes no sense. Hey, you dumb-asses over there!”

The two bickering labcoat clad beastkin stop trying to slap each other and look at Re-Haan with dear-in-the-headlight expressions. They both make an inaudible questioning sound at the same time, barely even able to make sounds as they choke each other.

“Stop flirting and take another look at this. What are we missing?” Re-Haan waves at the projection of the planet, her face filled with irritation and annoyance. “These orbits make sense,” she motions to the lowest layer of circles around the planet, nearly all of them greyed out, “but you add in the second layer, and they become extremely unstable.”

“This is canceled by the moon’s gravitational attraction, as I have proven by my extended mana-reach theorem,” starts the hairy one.

“And every single test you performed, when repeated in a contaminated qi environment, gave widely different values. You might have been correct for once, were it not for the tertiary layer of satellites, which act erratically even in your model. My theory is that there is a series of invisible satellites orbiting us. That would explain every single deviation we have come across so far.”

“Bord would have sensed their gravitational warping already. I’m still going with the non-euclidian theory.”

“The one about weird geometry?”

“Have you seen those things? They do not look normal, so we should not assume them to behave normally.”

“Let me get this straight,” Re-Haan speaks up. “You guys don’t know how many satellites there are?”

“No, we do not,” replies one.

“So Teach does not know how many of these artillery platforms there are around us?”

“I would assume so,” replies the other.

“Then what about the constant stream of super dense unknown items that keep crashing at the poles?”

“What items, now?”

“The poles?”

“I’ve got to make a rule that braincores need to be accompanied by heartcores at all times or something like that. Neither of you bothered figuring out were those superheavy tools Drew has been messing with came from?”

Both beastkin shake their heads emphatically. Any trace of their previous levity is now gone, replaced by sincere attention and willingness to obey. “No need to go through such drastic measures. Please point out our flaws. We will strive tirelessly to fix them.”

“Yes, ma’am. Please indicate how we can improve. An overseeing committee, especially one made of heartcores, will do naught but hamper progress.”

“Please, please, oh mighty Flight, mistress Re-Haan, tell us-”

Re-Haan holds up a hand while keeping her temper in check. The duo shuts up, and one of them starts frantically waving at the approaching people behind his back. The improvised train of gifts that he has been furiously putting together scatters.

“Just take a look at this data. There is more, but we don’t know where.” Re-Haan shows them where to access all the data on the topic of the superheavy items scattered around the poles. They immediately lose themselves in studying the new trove of information and forget about Re-Haan immediately.

The dragon in question walks away, knowing better than to interrupt braincores when they’ve found something new to sink their mental teeth into. Looking at the chaos all around her, she knows that while the inside of Tree might be all orderly and running smoothly; there is a lot that can be improved on this side. So she gets to it.

The first thing she does is gaining some perspective. She knows that Teach is across the ocean and that he is sitting on top of a Dungeon Core. He is somewhere on the other side of the moon, which hangs low over the horizon. So Rhea goes the other way, as chaos usually reigns when he is near. She doesn’t want any of that while coordinating an assault on an orbital defense grid, thank you very much.

Floating inland, she looks around. A steady stream of rockets is still being shot upwards, their oxygen and hydrogen engines leaving thick bands of white dissipating in the sky. More and more iron-clad people are flying upwards, and the stream of wounded iron-clad people going back down also increases steadily. Finding that all in her direct environment is going as well as can be expected, she goes over the rest of the planet.

She spreads her roots once again, the sheer fact that everyone is cooperating in some capacity is all the excuse she needs. Everyone is cooperating in some fashion or another, so she brings them into her management root network. Branches touch upon nearly every person she can see, information running through the capillaries of her cultivation base like sap and sugar would in a plant. Then she hits upon the human capital and finds something odd.

The foulmouthed king has been up to something, and it takes Re-Haan a while before she recognizes what it is. The food dungeon that’s inside the royal capital is now open to all, and a thick flood of people is continuously entering and exiting. What surprises her immensely is that both streams are roughly the same size. Using the crystal hanging above the city to attach more and more branches to the stream of people, she also finds that there is an odd pattern of power levels.

Then she spots the king, and she suddenly understands. Every single strong person is surrounded by six weaker ones. Even the king, one of the most powerful cultivators that are not explicitly part of Teach’s school, is surrounded by six people an entire stage lower than him. In the exit stream, nearly all the weaker people are severely wounded, while the few more powerful people have only scratches.

“The son of a bitch. He copied Drew! Six students fight their hardest, while a teacher only intervenes when absolutely needed.” Shaking her head in a mix of disbelief and admiration, she connects herself to the entire capital. Making the connection is rather easy now that she knows the system through which they are all cooperating.

 Then Re-Haan hits a snag. The amount of data running through the crystal hanging above the capital suddenly gives a lurch. Blinking her eyes at the super weird sensation, she pauses the rest of her managerial tasks for a moment to figure out what just happened. Trying to worm another branch through the human capital crystal is met with a resounding failure. She can only conclude that the information link running through it is at capacity. “This won’t do, Drew, you got any ideas?”

The fact that it takes him an entire three seconds to reply to the mental question she sent his way means that he is very busy with other stuff. When opening the small package of thought, she is met with a surprise. Drew seemed to have predicted this problem and had tasked Database with coming up with a solution.

Re-Haan flips through the list of possibilities, but from the moment she saw the first one, she knew that she had to choose it, no matter what. “Drew can use the qi. I think that he’s going to need all the help he can get. Prep work for option one is nearly done anyway, so let’s do that one now!”

The human king is not in a foul mood for once. Truth be told, he isn’t really happy about that. The one thing that had set him apart from everyone else was his perpetual anger. Now that his reasons to be angry are disappearing one by one, he is afraid he will become just another noble. Just another idiot only looking to further his own gain while ignoring the plights of his people.

The nobles have long since fallen out of power. Their honed minds were trained from a young age to scheme like the best, to stab their allies in the back for the most amount of profit, and to take all they could without being caught.

For some reason, the qi that had invaded the entire planet all at once - smelling faintly of blood, pain, and even a hint of partially digested food - did not seem to appreciate these talents.

Simple and hardworking folk were able to make more progress cultivating in a single hour than any noble could during an entire day.  The king is pretty sure that a certain guy that likes to call himself ‘Teach’ has a lot to do with that. But, the perspective of infinity forced upon him by the very same person also let him realize that this might not have been a conscious decision on Teach’s part.

The reason for this phenomenon is less important than the results, though. His teachers in court politics at least managed to pound that dubious virtue into his foulmouthed skull. The result might just be worth the means to get there, in some cases.

A long and tedious story short, the king had managed to push some extremely severe reforms through the noble court. He had done so through nothing but force of arms.

Drew had the decency to put him in his own city when the entire teleportation incident happened. The quick journey to explore the source of the mysterious pillars of smoke emerging from the nearby mountain range had been the only time when he left his capital, and it shows.

Forcing a free access policy on the Food Dungeon had given his kingdom and country a new breath of life. Forcing a mentoring policy had been met with fierce resistance. Initial trials showed a mortality rate of nearly zero. It used to be fifteen percent on normal delves, so the general populace had quickly accepted it. Now, thousands of people enter the Dungeon daily, and they nearly all come back out more powerful and more wounded than when they went inside.

And when he had gotten things running correctly, every single beggar and orphan now more powerful than the nobles that used to spit on them, he’d given himself certain freedoms. The freedom to go and search out a few new lady friends, to begin with. He also had begun practicing the art of archery, as that had been an old dream of his. His family had access to the most advanced mana fighting techniques available to humans, sure. Any attempts to translate these near-heretical manuals into qi techniques had been met with failure after failure. His disillusion with these supposedly powerful techniques had been the push to drive him to learn all about the bow and arrow.

So the king had gathered six of the best archers in the land and had started an adventuring party. These six first had taught him well in the ways of the bow. Then the king had taught then the physical arts well, and he’d taught them cultivation well. These six then started their own parties, teaching them to cultivate the path of the bow.

The king still remembers the inciting incident to this day. His father, may he join the Flight in their rest, had once taken him to see the beast hordes being fought off from the capital’s walls. The sky darkening from a volley of arrows and the super-scary horde of mana mutants falling under the dense fire was an image that has stuck with him since then. This image is also basically responsible for the fact that nearly everyone in the Shi-Eit’s kingdom capital now wields a bow.

And when the king learned from Database that Drew had asked them to assault the moon, also known as Nexus, the king knew he had found his calling. His rule straightened and his fighting prowess sharpened from that day on. All in preparation for this day. All in preparation for returning a small bit of aid.

And so it is that the Shi-Eit king commands his troops to gather. Standing on top of the massive ring-shaped castle, he lifts his bow. Every single person strong enough to wield a bow is gathered at his request. And the king will lead them in helping the cause.

Having seen the rockets blast off, and understanding why Teach had made them after studying Database for a long while, the king has decided to help. “TODAY!” he screams at the gathering crowd’s int he streets below. “Today, we shall help him, who put our destinies into our own hands!”

The crowd roars, filling the entire city with a sound that can split the eardrums of a mortal. Double-checking the information in Database, the king once again confirms his plan.

He has waited. Teach had indicated that the satellites around the planet are his biggest enemy. The closest satellites were felled with ease, pulled down to earth extremely quickly. Now there are just a few left, ones that are near impossible to get to. The fat kid, working together with the redhead and one of the beastkin girls, had taken down a lot of them. Then his citizen, a metal wielder named ‘Ket,’ had taken down a lot with the help of his shadowy girlfriend, another Tower resident going by ‘Tess.’

A concert of advanced long-range weapons had taken care of many more, and the king had patiently waited until the hardest to reach ones were being taken down. The sixth layer of satellites is nearly gone now, orbiting at heights rivaling the moon itself. The seventh layer is also nearly taken down, but these ones require either immense precision, nearly impossible to get with anything mechanical or remotely guided, or a blanket of fire that is sure to hit.

And this is what the king has been training for for the longest time. Being unable to do anything to the enemies right in front of him had made him idolize those who can take out their enemies at range.

“READY ARMS!” he shouts at the top of his lungs. Only four satellites remain now, the rest all struck down or about to smash into the planet. The king raises his longbow, a precious artifact that has cost him millions of points to procure. Made from Tree wood, and inscribed by the latest and greatest scientific principles, the enchanted compound bow feels like it’s made for him.

“NOTCH!” he bellows to the entire city. A small bit of chaos happens in the largest plaza of the capital, and he spots the cobblestones tear apart slowly as something emerges from the ground. Unable to cancel the momentum of an entire city, he decides to get on with it.

“DRAW,” he shouts while pulling back. Three of the satellites are already targeted. One is being bombarded by a swirl of super high-speed metal objects. One is being targeted by enormous plant fiber nets that will tangle it. Another is under constant barrage of burning white light. The king takes aim at the last one. He pulls his bow back, aiming in front of the thing while pouring his entire cultivation base into the arrow. His last strands of power seeping into the drawn projectile, he commands his people to do the same. “POUR!”

The king notices that someone wants to talk to him, as his connection with Tree keeps lighting up and poking him. Sensing around himself, he feels that every competent bow cultivator in the city is aiming alongside him. Fixing the invisible satellites, so incredibly high above in his sights, he takes aim. “RELEASE!”

A stream of color explodes from the entire city. Every single arrow shot right that moment contains a large amount of power. Every single arrow is shot in the same direction as the king is aiming. A multicolored and blinding beam of power explodes from the capital, shooting into space at impossible speeds. The gathered intent of a city strikes far beyond its range, the entire planet holds its breath.

Then it hits, and an even worse hell breaks loose.

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