Chapter 25 - Lure
Tess is confused. No, not confused, she reflects. She is weirded out so much that it can't be called weird anymore. First, this guy shoves some weird energy in everyone's body, gives a basic explanation that bordered on the insane and left. Then he tosses them out of the warm and weird space with the tree and they need to climb rocks. They talked a bit, but no explanations were forthcoming.
She just went to sleep afterwards, hoping that the world would make more sense in the morning. No such luck, as she was woken up by a voice shouting at everyone to get off their asses at an ungodly volume. She stumbled from her hut, nearly ripping the crude from its hinges with her unexpected strength. She then blinked a bit, because this super weird human shaped white cloud was the source of all the shouting. Then the white smoke cloud taught them these so-called numbers. Zero to nine, ten afterwards. She can't remember what comes after that at the moment.
She had desperately looked around at the other victims but found no sympathy there. They all ignored her and each other. The smoke cloud turned more corporeal as the day went on, slowly resembling the weird guy. Adding and subtracting were shoved down her throat and left her even more confused. Now he is just telling stories. Ah, the robe around the slowly solidifying figure of white mist is new! Looking at the slowly forming face, Tess decides to focus on what he is saying.
“And then there was that entire organisation that focused on water ripples. The Holy Water Inference sect or something, can't really remember their name that well. They started when ages ago some retard looked at droplets of water falling into a bowl. He liked the forming ripples so much that he stared at this phenomenon for the rest of his life. He made the basic technique of the clan, the Rippling Water Mysteries.
“It’s all based on how ripples interact with each other in a closed environment. Looking at these ripples should give you insight into the mysteries of water and how to apply them in combat. Their entire sect was filled with dudes staring at flat volumes of water. I would have been hilarious if they didn't take this stuff so seriously.
“I used that sect as a case study. Eventually, I could even recognise the shape of the bowl those guys used based on their fighting styles. Rectangular bowl practitioners developed their attacks in the direction of areas of effect. They concentrated their efforts on the art of spreading a single sharp ripple over a larger area. Round bowl practitioners were better at focusing all the energies of a single ripple into a single explosive point. There were even wars fought over what type of bowl was better, I couldn't stop laughing for a week when I read those history books!
“It's all so sad because they never bothered to figure out what causes these ripples. Instead, they put this simple trick on a pedestal and lived their lives around it. Here, watch.”
The monologuing spectre waves its hand around, leaving visible ripples in the air that shoot forwards. A tree tens of meters away explodes into a single point, causing a hail of shrapnel to rain on everyone present. Another wave with its hand splits the tree next to the previous victim in two. From top to bottom. A golden swirl of qi starts gathering all the fragments and chunks of wood while pulling them under the soil.
“If you understand the underlying principles, a simple visualisation tool like a leaking bucket and a bowl becomes worse than useless. This is what I'm trying to teach you guys while giving tools to help you advance in the meantime. If they instead had looked at the physics of flowing water or studied any type of wave they came across, they wouldn't have ended up as a lower tier sect.”
The weirdness is still there. Nothing the weird guy does is normal, she has to think about everything he says instead of shoving it into simple-to-understand categories. His motivation is even less understandable. Just picking some kids from the streets and randomly teaching them? Not even trying to curry favour with the ruling class? She scratches her head while focusing on the white figure again. She can see the beginning of eyes on the blank face now.
“So instead of focusing on something specific, try to take a step back and look at the bigger picture when developing your own stuff. Don't just look at a single flame, look at what causes this flame. Then you will find out that fire is oxidation, and every living being uses that concept to burn and digest their food, move their muscles, and more!
“Control over something that happens everywhere around you is way more useful than focusing on a single, specific instance of that concept.
“You can ask questions by the way, but you fellows don't know enough to know what you don't know.”
A troubled expression flashes over the white figure’s visage while he is scratching his head.
“Alright, enough fun stuff. I have business to take care of, so I will give you homework.”
Movement and a flash of light cause Tess to look down. A bench is now in front of her, laying on it a stick, a small knife and a white rectangle. Touching the white sheet, her eyes pop open.
“Is this p-p-paper?”
Visibly trembling, Tess manages to squeeze out these words.
“Yeah, don't worry, I can make loads more. Now here...”
A large black rectangle flashes into existence behind the white figure.
“…is all the stuff I taught you this morning. Next to it, I will write down exercises.”
White letters fade into existence. The numbers and math symbols she recognises, the rows of them combining to make up a dense block of random lines on the right side of the blackboard.
Is he controlling light or just creating something that creates light? Maybe he just changes the surface, making it look like white symbols? The board was filled instantly, not allowing her to get a glimpse of the writing process, but she thinks that she can understand some parts of how he wrote that down.
Looking over at the sums, she recognises what to do, but is at a loss of how to accomplish it. Numbers and symbols spin through her head, not making any sense.
“I’ll put some food down in front of you, you can get off the chairs when you finish all the sums correctly.”
Then the weird man, no, the devil, pulls out a massive covered dish, opens it and wafts a good cloud of heavenly aroma in their faces. Tess tries to stand up to go eat anyway, but white bands keep her stuck in the chair. Looking around she sees the other struggle. Bord especially is using all his strength in attempting to stand up, white bands cutting deep into his generous figure.
Maybe he can't help being that size too? Normally only the rich can get so fat. Tess pushes thoughts about her pitiful aunt away. Her aunt ate the same as the other family members, but only she got so big. That is all gone now, so she refocuses her attention on the white sums artfully drawn on the blackboard.
Five minutes later she looks away, the swimming numbers not even once making sense to her.
I look at the forest down below with longing. The clearing is just a pinprick from this distance, but I know what is down there. Nice and cool walking paths covered by shadows. Much better than sitting on top of a tower in the cold wind and blinding sun.
I ended up spending the entire night on this blasted Tower, I spent the rest of yesterday breaking through and cultivating while teaching my disciples throughout the night. Basic math first, I’ve got to ease them into the more abstract concepts. It will be pretty cool to talk about advanced algebra or calculus again.
I planned on making a clone of myself anyway, I just brought that plan forwards a bit. I will be stuck here until I figure out what is going on with the dungeon under my butt. Using the mass of qi to teach relieved my boredom and allowed me to do some training.
Clones can be made in a lot of ways. Bleeding a lot and using that blood to make a clone is a quick and dirty method, for example. I decided not to go that route, the clone will look like a flayed torture victim the first few weeks. I searched for other lone creation techniques, but they all need rare resources, live sacrifices or long rituals. I decided to make my own. Pumping enough qi into a figure of myself seems to work so far.
I’ve got the skin layer done and I’m now working on forming the skeleton. It is sitting beside me, slowly coalescing a face from its bumpy white surface. I can get started on individual cell modelling in a week or so. Making something from pure qi is energy intensive, but I got all the power I need right here.
A glance at both my cores tells me they’re doing fine and are slowly growing. The two crystals fill half the available space, the liquid qi around them forming new crystal over time.
In retrospect, this is the fastest I‘ve ever cultivated. I’ve landed here not even a week ago and I’m halfway to the solid core stage already. Disciples usually spend a month in the qi gathering stage, learning to control their own powers. The qi condensing stage where they compress their qi into a single drop of liquid used to take years. Core forming - the stage in which a core filled with liquid is compressed into a small crystal - was rarely accomplished under the age of twenty. The solid core stage starts the moment when your core is filled with solid qi. That’s the first realm, from then on, the true fun can start!
Each continent and region used to have their own stages after that. All agreed that the second realm is called the foundation realm though. The other stuff like spirit severing, dao seeking, saint realm, and more made up terms like those are all nonsense in my opinion. Cultivators beyond those levels have so much power at their fingertips that they don't need physical crutches like cores to contain their cultivation. Nor do they need to follow a pre-set path. They nearly all did though.
I experimented a lot and found out that everything past the foundation realm where just loose guidelines. They weren’t the god written rules everyone made them out to be. You can, for example, increase the density of your core before building your foundation. Forcing solid qi to compress another level packs it in a tighter crystal lattice. I can manage up to four crunches, as I call them. Instead of using my first solid core to carve out my foundation, I pack it all tighter together to give me more to work with when I start my foundation.
I got both my cores at the first crunch now. I will have to ask my students for better names when they get to that level. My hatred for pompously long names stops me from coming up with good names myself.
My language process has run through all the voice recordings I made before, my greatly enhanced mental capacity burning through the task with speed. My local language data file is pretty much complete. I will keep a process running to add in any new words and phrases I come across. I found a few books when recording all that talk, those will be my next project.
What else did I do? I stroked my bunny a lot…
Besides that, I fixed up my own Treehouse. I made a small stone castle using mountain rocks. It looks rough and medieval from the outside but is a cosy love-shack on the inside. The few pieces of furniture I still had, along with some rugs and paintings now adorn the inside. I even put a little moat around it, drawbridge and all.
And then there is the huge massive army coming this way, did I mention that already? They are little figures just on the horizon at the moment, but a few thousand marching people are making their way over to the dungeon city.
The tight formations and banners flapping from their spears are a pretty good hint that they are military. I check my map and try to cross reference some landmarks. They should have left the closest city a few days ago before this massive tower had a hissy fit and decided to collapse. Did something happen to the animal horde in the clearing? Maybe they think a beast wave is coming?
And I saw a dragon. Let me repeat that, I SAW A DRAGON! A proper western, four-legged and winged dragon! Not one of those overgrown snakes with legs from Asian mythology or the cultivation world, no, a proper dragon!
I’m pretty stoked. I can withstand a nuclear barrage with this source of qi at my feet, so I’m not worried about some breath attacks, I’m just really pumped. I always wanted a dragon mount, letting the wind whip through my hair as I settle in between the scales, so awesome.
It left before I got a proper look though, even my enhanced eyesight couldn't get a good look, just a silhouette against the sun. Likely it was on a scouting mission. I hope it will be back…
I thought this world would be boring with its dark mana and darker souls everywhere. Now we have exploding dungeon towers and real dragons, pretty nifty stuff.
A war is waging in a dimensional pocket. A war of the mind against the flesh. Bord especially is an avid fighter in this war, struggling non-stop to reach the heavenly smelling food just out of reach. Another figure is also mightly struggling in her bonds, Angeta joins Bord in the roaring and snarling struggle as they attempt to get free from their chairs and desks.
A gloomy guy with dark eyes is looking Bord in the eyes while slowly eating.
“LET MEE GO I’LL KILL YOOOUU, REEEEEEEE! KEEEEET!” Bord’s spittle flies everywhere as he stares at the eating boy with crazed eyes.
“Just hand him a piece, I can't think like this,” asks a distressed looking girl. Glancing back at the paper only causes her to flinch back. Two answers have been written down and they are both very, very wrong.
“I’m worried about fuzzball here.” Ket points at another cursing and fighting blur. “It's not that hard.”
“HUUMAN SET ME FREEE SO I CAN KIIILLLL Y...” Ket waves his hand and a thin grey mist covers the furry and fatty both, muting any sounds. They keep trashing about in their bindings, unable to move towards the food even a single millimetre.
The dark-eyed fellow smiles a manic grin at his hands, he seems to whisper things like “cool” and “truly awesome” under his breath. He focuses on Tess and walks over to the strapped down girl.
“Focus your eyes, command your qi.” Tess looks down again. “Maybe shove some in your head?” Ket asks while turning to walk away.
Just as Tess is about to respond, a single coughing sound booms throughout the entire place, making the Tree sway and disrupting any techniques. The white bands stay in place.
“Ahum, look at this!”
A vortex appears in the clearing, made up of white energy with a glowing point in its centre. After swirling around for half a minute, it disappears. Next, a glowing haze appears, shrinking back into a ball at great speed. A blinding light causes everyone present to close their eyes the moment all the energy is compressed to a point. The two distinctly different displays of white light leave the majority puzzled and scratching their head.
“That was all,” rumbles the voice. Silence reigns supreme again.
“YOU FIIILTHYYY HUUU...”
Ket sighs and waves his hand again, muting the two loudmouths. He seems to understand something. If there are two ways of doing the same thing, there must be more.
He walks away while talking to himself again. Tess sighs in exasperation and rolls her eyes. Looking to the sides she sees the redhead snoring loudly, while Selis’ head hovers a few centimetres over the paper. Tess just sighs, trying to find that smile she never could go without. With a shrug, she pours some qi in her head and looks at the paper again. A minute later the sound of her pen scratching against the paper can be heard, the slight green tint on Tess’s face a clear sign that she really wants to be free.
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