“I’m worried again,” complains Bord.
“Hey, Bord?” asks Ares. She crawls closer to the fat kid, who looks at her with a shifty expression. The firelight barely manages to cast the girl in shadows, the festive lighting only helping her skin complexion shine brighter. “I want you to be honest with me for a bit.”
“Do you have any food left?”
Bord lances away, unwilling to look the redheaded girl in the eyes. “Yes.”
“Do you have any food Teach made left?”
“No,” Bord nearly whimpers in reply.
“And are you really worried for Teach?” she continues.
“No. He’s fine. Just gone a bit crazy again.”
“Right, as I thought. Nothing to worry about, we can go get mo…” Ares freezes halfway to the kitchen. The smell of cooking octopus is rather thick, but she has forgotten all about getting more chow. “What did you say about crazy just now?”
“He’ll be done soon,” replies a sullen Bord. “And his food is just better.”
“Agreed!” bellows Keeneff. “These tentacles are tasty, but they lack salt and that black sauce.”
The villagers all smile awkwardly at the group of visitors. Ever since the large stone archway with the small green tree showed up in the middle of the northern village, things have been a bit weird.
“Really? Are you sure he is okay? I mean, I miss everyone something fierce, and I’m super worried about Vox, but… At least we have each other, right? Who is taking care of Teach?”
“He can take care of himself,” sais Angeta. “If you want proof of how he’s doing, just ask Database.”
Ares sits back down in her comfy chair. The group of original students, latecomers, dragons, and even a single child are warming their hands on the large bonfire in the middle of the northern fishing village. Everyone is clad in thick woollens, of remarkably fine make. Even the thickly furred beastkins are packed in many layers of clothing.
All around them, the village is a happy beehive of activity. Large fish, octopi, sharks, and other creatures are being turned into seafood and other dishes at a rapid pace. The festive atmosphere seems to avoid the rather gloomy group of visitors, though.
“Sorry, everyone,” begins Ares, turning around to address the villagers. “They’re not usually like this.”
“Oh, no problem, missy! Just wait until the dancing starts, we’ll get your friends dancing along with us. Don’t you worry yourself now, sweetheart.”
“Deary, no! We’re just so happy you brought your friends along!”
“No, Ares! No worries. We all have our bad days, don’t you worry about a thing now.”
“Here’s some more firewood, miss Ares! Please sit closer to the fire and warm yourselves now. The coldest part of the night is almost over.”
Ares just can’t help but smile at the genuine care that everyone seems to be showering her with. For some reason, ever since she landed and accidentally killed that massive black tentacle monster that kept harassing the village, they all started doting on her. Despite her attempts to get them to treat her like a normal person, nothing worked, and they coddle her like mad. It seems to be a village competition at this point, the winner whoever can coddle, spoil, and care for her the best.
“Alright, thank you all!” she smiles brightly at the happily working people around her. The deepest night in winter used to be a dark time, or so everyone had told her. Killing the tentacle thing had turned the darkest night into the most festive of holidays. She’d only wanted to see it better and had used her light affinity to get a good look at the massive monster chewing on the town shield. She really had not expected the darkness aspect squid to just burst into flames the moment she shone her light upon the thing. None of her protestations that it was all unintentional had worked, and she had basically become the town’s most beloved person after that.
Turning to the small circle of visitors, she drops her cheery expression. “They just won’t treat me like a normal person. Come on, guys. This is why I invited you all. I can never talk to anyone without them trying to do stuff for me, giving me food or precious items.”
“Right, and you think this is a problem?” asks Ka-Gaar, the stately dragon in human form slowly savouring a wide array of seafood. He also takes an occasional sip of the local brew, but a faint expression of longing always comes across his face when he tastes the weak alcohol.
“Well, nobody is willing to take me seriously.”
“Not a problem,” sais Bord. “Nobody takes me seriously, even though I keep saying things that are true.”
“They treat you like they should treat all Flight! I do not see your problem,” says Keeneff.
“I don’t really know why it’s bothering me so much.”
Tess is standing and pacing at this point. “Teach should be done, right? How long are we going to sit here, all depressed and whatnot? I know that time is supposed to go a lot faster, or something, but still.”
“What’s up with the poles, by the way?” Angeta shifts into a more comfortable position as she shifts the plant she’s lying on. “Have you guys been there?”
“Yeah,” says Bord. “Weird stuff. Teach didn’t understand, but that’s a mix between small, large and light, and large and heavy things. Really dumb that he didn’t understand that.”
“Oof, every time I hear Bord accuse someone of being dumb, I feel sorry for them for some reason.” Keeneff is sitting forwards, staring into the fire. “Anyway, this is too sad. I’m not made for this. Hey, lady, did you make this food? It’s almost as delicious as you are beautiful. And it’s extremely delicious.”
Everyone in the group follows Keeneff with their eyes as he casually tosses an arm around the blushing and giggling woman.
“That’s Salty Sally. And they are walking to her shagging shack, shouldn’t we tell him?” murmurs Ares.
“Nah, don’t bother. But are you saying that those things that came from Nexus are weird? Because I remember Ket complaining about the distribution of those items.”
Two braincore beastkin perk up at this talk. They are both thickly wrapped up, sitting next to the fire, their thick blankets nearly smoking. “That’s probably caused by two reasons,” one begins.
“First, the smaller items are all found at the bottom. The layer around them is actually the most advanced.”
“You forget to tell them important information, as usual. We suspect that first, the size of the items increased as they crash-landed onto the poles.”
“And only then the density. But those large and super dense items that came last…”
“Crashed through the lighter top layer. Thus Teach’s initial and subsequent wrong conclusions that those items are layered - based on complexity - from bottom to top, and then top to bottom.”
“And why should I care?” asks Tess, who is sounding pretty annoyed.
I decide to interject. “You really shouldn’t.” I step over the circle of logs arrayed around the central fire and sit down. Bord immediately starts looking at me with superpowered puppy-dog eyes, even going as far as ignoring Lola on my shoulder. I decide to take pity on the poor fellow and take some snacks from my ring. I’ve plenty stocked up now. This is the first break I’ve taken from my week-long, one-man-one-rabbit crafting and mass-production session.
Bord looks like he just got handed his most fervent wish, and starts inhaling the food. I know it’s wrong, but there is something deeply funny about seeing fat people eat voraciously. At least he won’t have to worry about heart disease or clogged arteries. From the foundation realm on, people’s appearances starts getting influenced by their image of themselves. The rest of my students have all been changing in subtle ways, but Bord hasn’t lost a single pound or changed even a single line in his face.
“Done? Can we go?” asks Tess. I take a moment to observe the sharper cast of her youthful features. She still has that roundness of the young, but her face is growing into a vaguely similar noble caste as Rhea.
“No. Give me another few months.” I stand up again, not really comfortable with just sitting around a fire and doing nothing. The village is doing nicely, I see. Sending Ares here was a gamble, but pitting her light affinity against the corrupt shadow affinity that a few of the more menacing predators around these parts had back then paid off.
The portal into Tree is also working out fine. This town has two clearings, and the hunebed’s qi sucking effect can be felt from over here. The three stones with the Tree sapling on top might be colloquially known as a Tree Portal, I will keep calling it a hunebed, and I;m sticking to it. Looking at the other clearing, I see large rows of seats and benches circling the towering portal while the houses directly next to the new construction are now obviously empty and partially demolished.
Tess is standing at this point and is looking at me oddly while coming closer. The rest stay seated, only that old ancestor dragon that was one of the first to drink alcohol stares hard at me.
This town is basically developing according to Rhea’s plan, I see. The crystals that sucked up power from all enclosed spaces was honestly an improvised solution. Rhea had come up with this new system after having some scientists specialized in number theory and cultural development take a look at it. They had surmised that making artificial qi deadlands would provide the same benefit of combatting the detrimental effects of excess ambient qi, while also discouraging strong predators from going near the settlements. Cities would then develop in large rings or circular strips around the central qi absorption point. All in all, this seems to be working great. “Good work, everyone. Here is something to celebrate!”
I plop down several barrels of the weaker wines and alcoholic distillates I’ve made over the past week and start walking off.
Then I feel something tugging at my sleeve, and I see Tess’ dark eyes boring into mine. “When?”
“Not good enough. What if someone has captured them?”
I frown at the girl. “Captured them? So what?”
“What if they are all…”
I manage to shut her up with my stare. I’m not sure what is going through the girls’ mind, but I didn’t think she was one to insult the people that got taken by Nexus like that. “Why are you insulting them like that? You know what, I’ll speed up the process because you asked so nicely.”
With that, I step into Tree again. Tess starts protesting behind me, but I don’t really want to hear it. I am greeted by massive piles of random items. From exploding talismans to masses of iron arrows to massive stacks of boxed snacks to highly complex replacement parts or prefabbed units. The amount of stuff I had to make in order to satisfy the qi pull of the last three items was honestly a bit insane.
I did learn some things, though. Nothing magic or supernatural, no. Every single item I produced can be made by mundane means. These crafts are all excellent starting points for making items through magical means, however, which is exactly what I am planning to do now!
Turning around, I see another massive pile of stuff. Orbiting around Tree is a solid clump of superdense items. I don’t want those things anywhere near me, as Tree is still my cultivation core, but I also didn’t want to leave those things just lying around on the poles. I’ve ordered the now largely useless armies of drones that excavated them to bring them inside Tree. Sending a portal stone into orbit, and ordering the drones to push the superdense items through after cataloguing them allowed me to get a clear overview of them all.
What those two scientist beastkin said about the differences in size and densities is totally true. Assuming that my nine tools smashed into the poles first, the following items seemed to have ballooned in size despite being around the same weight. Then the most recent items landed, which are the heaviest, and they made the biggest impact, breaking through the crust of lighter items.
And then there are the satellites! Database kept track of where they all crash-landed, and I sent another wave of drones around the world to retrieve those. They are also in the pile, their volume rivalling that of the heaviest polar items. I haven’t even dared thinking about making one of those mine, as they overshadow even a Dungeon Core in terms of weight and size. Instead, I order one of the lightest and smallest items from the pile towards me.
As it travels through the void and into the thick shell of atmosphere surrounding Tree, I take a moment to check in on my own satellite network. I’ve been slowly saturating the solar system with my own brand of qi-enhanced, Tree linked, solar-powered satellites. I’ve replaced all the artillery platforms with my own at this point, creating a complex network of orbiting spying units.
At first, I thought that setting up an entire orbital network would be a lot of work. The fact that my launch vehicles are no longer being shot from the sky by superdense stone projectiles helps a lot, though. I’ve got the planet covered at this point, and a swarm of experimental orbital vehicles are being launched on heliocentric orbits on the hour. Seeing that my grasp on the solar system is slowly firming up, I let Database continue executing the deployment plan.
I hold out my hand, and a complex geometric ball of yarn drops into my waiting grasp. The moment I touch it, I feel an odd sort of affinity. I check the method in which these items are categorized and see that this is just one of the many, many items in this size and weight category.
Staring at the complex and super heavy sculpture of thick flowing ribbons and complex knots, I wonder why. The mental notification that Tess wants to talk to me coming in through Database sinks to the background as I think it over.
After the nine tools, there is nothing even close to being that simple. The next category that Database sorted the things into is made up of everything that’s much larger than the tools. These things are at least a meter in circumference and starting to weigh several tonnes. There are thousands of items of this relative size and weight, making up a large part of the superheavy clump orbiting Tree.
I take a deep breath and start mapping the large clump of complex geometry with liquid Will. A smile explodes across my face as I recognize the feeling of familiarity. The reason why there are so many items also immediately makes sense.
“What comes after developing a base civilization? The ability to cultivate!” I shove qi into the thing, and immediately have to struggle to keep my cultivation base from being absorbed. Ways to fight, build, defend, and harvest while using threads flows into my head. The data flowing from the object is no longer indistinct like it was with the nine tools. No, this feels like a coalescence of a million-million people that have travelled across similar thread-related paths of magical life and combat.
I sit down and form thick bands of qi. All the power around me is torn free, but the power with which I am testing the techniques shown to me is untouched. “And of course, like there are similarities between starting a civilization, there are similarities in living with qi.”
I’ve been using qi threads for along time, combining my use of a widespread blanket of spiritual sense with dense limbs of pure power. And yet, the ways to employ these threads encompassed in this very superdense item are on another level. I’m familiar with all the base principles, but I quickly find that I’ve been using them wrong.
Database later informs me that it only took a few hours to make the item mine. A large part of the grass around Tree is once again ruined. I didn’t just destroy plants this time, though. While practising all the ways to employ qi threads that I learned from the thing, I also made abstract art, perfectly straight buildings, and precise furrows of perfect gardens.
Looking at the darkly transparent clump of spaghetti in my hand, I now feel what it truly is. From the first person in all of existence to realize the utility of tightly spun bands of qi to the latest immortal to ascend on a million of strands of qi, this is the Dao of Wire Proficiency.
I immediately realize that that’s a stupid name and that it really should be called the Road of Razor Rope. Or maybe the Crevasse of Cutting Coils?
The sheer limited nature of the language I’m using leaves me stumped for a bit. When I was immersed in the Way of Weaving Wires, it seemed so clear and obvious. I can still conjure up the exact feeling, the clear knowledge that all in the universe is possible with just a twist of wire and an application of narrow binding or cutting force. But now that I’m forced to put a label on that concept, nothing fits.
I drop the thing on the floor gently, letting it sink towards Database where it can join the rest of the Dao Distillations. Looking upwards, I form a strand of power so sublime, so perfectly controlled; it requires but a fraction of the power and concentration that it used to.
Brief images of my ruling over all, binding the entire universe to my Will using this Road of Ravaging Rope flash through my mind. I then carefully laugh at the ridiculous image, not even daring to entertain that lonely path of tyranny.
Ignoring that brief flash of ridiculousness, I look at the next item on the list. It’s a cloud a little shy of a meter wide, two thousand kilos in weight, and softer than cotton candy. I breathe in deeply, letting my Will and Qi recover as I study the thing. Tree feels denser again, more real in a hard to describe way.
I quickly order the hunebed gates to slow down the absorption of earth and air. I was initially planning on slowly taking the entire planet into my core, but the fact that taking on these Dao’s increases Tree’s - and thus my cultivation base - strength opens up a new path. A new plan slowly unfolds, and it’s one I like even better than my old one.
Spreading my Will through the super heavy black cloud, I start working on making this Street of Sensing Steam my own.
No, that sounds stupid. It should be the Dao of Discerning Darkness.
That’s even worse. How about the Guideway of Gleaning Gloom?
Shaking my head, I stop thinking of stupid names. Instead, I start using my power in accordance with all the lessons contained in the heavy item. Then I start practicing how to spread my power through the unseen places in order to feel, influence and own the world around myself.Previous Chapter Next Chapter