Chapter 260 - Landing in Rubble (5)

Lola sits on her laurels for a little. She seems rather sated, and content with her gains for now. The bone she has been draining of ice power has a much-diminished aura and no longer radiates a chilly intent. She then hops over to another skeleton, sniffs it, gets visibly annoyed when it fails to act like she is expecting, and bites it.

The bone cracks, as it looks rather ancient, and a green mist exploded from the rotten item. My sense of danger basically explodes as it tries to tell me how incredibly dangerous the minuscule trickle of green mist is.

“FREEZE,” I command her.

She performs something equivalent to a sneeze, and ice explodes from her little frame. The overload of ice type qi in her system is obviously preventing her from any fine control, but it does the trick.

I speed over, careful to avoid all the hanging vines, and pick her up. She is entirely covered in a layer of clear ice, and I can see the shocked expression on her face. The bone she bit into is also covered in a glass-like layer, obviously way colder than normal frozen water. From a minuscule crack on the bones’ surface, a glowing wisp of green gas is in the process of escaping, its movement arrested by the layer of frost.

It radiates a menace and feeling of a slow yet certain death. Looking at the skeleton, I recognize lizard-like features and two long fangs folded into the jawbone. I quickly put the frost-covered bone in my ring, not willing to risk exposing myself.

I first thought that the Blood Willow just wanted to get rid of the skeletons to create a more attractive meadow. A clear grass field is suspicious as hell, but having multiple skeletons lying around is basically a guarantee of dangerous fuckery. Now I realize that the tree just wants to get rid of these hard-to-digest time bombs. I look at the long green branches again, and see small red thorns poking from the smooth bark. Even the green leaves seem to have red rows of glinting spikes on then, now that I take a better look at the thing. I carefully put every piece of the toxic bone in my ring, handling them as if they’re made from the finest and most fragile of porcelain.

I turn to Lola, who is slowly melting. “You stupid little shit. Go and find a fire skeleton to fix that imbalance. And no biting!”

I send her running with a slow kick, and she runs off a little more demurely than previously. I focus my senses on the bones around me and feel that they all contain a certain highly specialized intent.

The toxic lizard feels like it hunted by biting something, and then following its trail while its acidic venom slowly melted its victim from within. The goat-like skeleton Lola pulled all the frost type qi from still feels faintly of an animal that lived on the highest of peaks, weathering ice storms and snow flurries with ease. Other skeletons feel like sharp metal, constant gusts of air, or suddenly exploding hails of shrapnel.

Lola finds the exploding sharpness rhino skeleton at the same time as I do, opens her mouth, looks at me, and closes her mouth again. Instead of biting the bones filled with natural fragmentation intent, she sullenly climbs inside the large ribcage. Once there, she starts breathing in slowly, a soft red power with golden flecks entering her nostrils.

I put the last bones of the corroding lizard in my ring and start on the ice ram. Storing the entire ram skeleton takes around the same time as one lizard bone. The much lesser amount of qi inside the osseous objects really makes a difference.

As I sit myself down next to the air intent remains - a feline skeleton with long and thin hollow bones sprawling from its shoulder blades - I index all the skeletons I’ve found. There is not a single thread of earth, blood, flesh, plant, or eating type of intent amongst the lot. I again look up, my mind wanting to scream at the hellish sight of the ocean of teeth and fleshy tentacles. Let’s not think about where all those beasties went, then.

Instead of continuing to freak myself out with ever more horrific body horror thoughts, I start pulling at the air qi inside the flying cat skeleton. Nothing happens at first, until I focused all my attention on one of the smallest wing bones. A minuscule thread of purple-gray color flows towards me, like sluggish smoke trailing from a burning incense stick. I breathe in, and the smidgeon of power explodes into my lungs.

The opposite feeling of suffocation grasps my entire chest into an unyielding grip. My lungs feel like exploding as they fail to contain a metric shit-ton of air, an entire blimp worth of oxygen suddenly shoved into my bronchi and alveoli.

Then my heart starts beating faster as if sensing the power. It seems to sense the qi that’s just waiting to be transported through blood and veins. My pulmonary veins start thrumming with power, and I can somehow feel a small storm blowing inside my chest. The entire thing feels overwhelming, but I quickly attribute that due to the novelty of the feeling. The sensation of wind blowing through my chest is just wholly alien, and it takes me a while before it stops freaking me out.

The overabundance of breath quickly turns into a steady corridor of wind, and a tight knot of wind affinity power starts gathering inside my heart. It flows through my nexus of physical power slowly, yet at a steady trickle. It’s still extremely slow, and only a slight trickle of usable power starts to flow out of my aorta. The main point is that compared to the horrid mix of random affinities that’s all around, it’s a million times faster.

Each new stream of power sinking into my flesh starts driving out the foreign qi. Normally, cultivation is a pretty satisfying thing to do. Comparable to runners high on steroids, or a super drawn out and toned down orgasm, the body knows that good things are happening, and gives rewards in the form of good feels. This is happening, but the feeling of having these foreign dregs of qi pushed out of my very body is a whole other level by itself.

Qi that has taken thousands of years to gain a certain intent is going to take a similar amount of effort to turn into something else. Changing a specific air intent into general air intent is something that takes less  effort. This is the reason why certain hotspots and resources are so precious. They contain a certain intent that makes it really easy to absorb or turn into something usable.

Qi that is randomly floating around is going to contain all kinds of weird stuff. The sheer amount of time and effort it takes to gain ownership of that power is one of the main reasons why not everyone on this planet is an immortal already.

The qi I made, and all the qi inside Tree and the Magical World is less than five years old. It, therefore, is a piece of cake to turn that into something else, which is one of the reasons why all my students are cultivating so fast. I had not given any serious thought to potential downsides of such a pure way of layering qi on top of an otherwise mundane world. The obvious consequence is that the ability to withstand high qi pressure is not something that my students and I are capable of without much effort.

I think I’m pretty lucky that I trained my body in letting qi through, as I could very well have been literally compressed into a ball had that not been the case. A lot of tests will have to be run before I’ll even start thinking about pulling students over here.

I shake my head free from the random thoughts and pull my attention back to the present. I’m still cultivating under the lethal vines of a Blood Willow after all. I can let my mind wander when I’m safe. Not when the only barrier between me and my imminent death and digestion is the fact that a tree vouched for me. I will have to have a stern conversation with Tree later about talking to strangers. Especially when those strangers turn out to be age-old flesh-eating tree horrors.

Looking at the winged cat skeleton I’m siphoning; I see that I’ve gotten halfway through a single wing. Already, the structural qi inside my body is double what it used to be, and I feel much better. A large portion of the ambient qi inside my flesh is gone, and at this rate, only the ambient qi that’s already sunken into my body will stick. That is going to take some work to remove, but I’ll be able to flush that after some work.

The connection with Tree is also stabilized, as it no longer needs to use its own power to keep the link alive. There’s enough heartcore qi in my body to keep that thing going now, and for the first time in days, I feel like I’ve got things under control.

Then there’s just the fact that someone is poking my face. It’s a bit slimy and warm. Is Lola once again bored? Has she eaten all the ice and fire bones under the tree yet? There must have been dozens of those things. Surely she hasn’t…

Teeth and tongue fill my vision. Licking my face, a collection of white fangs and roiling flesh tries to get very intimate with me. Along with the physical ministrations comes a thought.

‘Clean fields and a welcome meadow. No people and no scary rabbits. An idyllic place to relax and take a nap.’

I think that Lola might be onto something, freezing like a statue and never moving again. That’s pretty smart, come to think of it. Pretty fucking smart.

I send a single thought back.

‘YES GOD YES AGREED AND YES’

The fleshy plant protrusions retract, each of them leaving a wet trail of slime in their wake. Slowly but surely, I start moving. I check the processes that are paused inside my braincore, load up the cleaning one, and supercharge it.

I do retain the presence of mind to take a sample of the slime. For some reason, it avoided my eyes, mouth, nose, and ears. I’m guessing there is stuff in this spittle that might be interesting. The cleaning process saves a single drop of the stuff, and I slowly put it in my ring.

Then, I continue cleaning up the place. The process is going a lot faster now that I’ve got a decent source of qi. I keep thinking that my cultivation process is super slow, but I get the feeling that the sheer density of qi here is skewing my perception a bit. A single drop of water is easy to take note of in a desert. In the middle of the ocean, not so much. And I’m not in an ocean, no. I’m in a deep-sea trench surrounded by massive pressure on all sides.

I also think that any top-tier cultivator here would be able to crack the Magical World open like an egg. The sheer overload of qi is getting in the way of actually using the stuff.

All in all, it takes me around an hour to go around to all the skeletons and put them in my ring. Space was getting kind of cramped in there, but using up nearly all the explosives made a lot of room.

Lola also helps with making some of the remains easier to handle. Her forehead lock is slightly more red than blue now, and she feels a lot stronger overall. I’m guessing that she is nearly back at half her previous strength and that I’m at around a tenth.

The amount of qi I wield at the moment is a couple of hundred times the maximum amount I ever wielded back on the Magical World, and it’s messing with my perception of the universe, life, and everything.

“Come, let’s go. Thank you, freaky sad blood tree. Please stop licking strangers.” Lola hops on my shoulder, and I step through the curtain of thorned willow branches again, into the unknown.

Gao Nuofu is having a pretty bad time. His first loss of a limb in his life is already leaving him with a heart devil, he can tell. The experience of finding out that the frozen finger lying on the ground was his is turning out to be extremely harrowing. He managed to save his hand through some quick thinking, thawing the flesh with a basic flame technique meant to light incense.

A vigorous circulation of the secret Flesh Invigoration Bloodflow Solidifyer technique - used by old men to get some vigor back - had prevented his hand from rotting. His dominant hand is now swathed in bandages, the freezer-burn blisters covering his hand hurting constantly.

He had picked up the frozen ring using a bit of mortal chain and carried it until it thawed. When he pulled the sword from the ring a few hours later, nothing happened. The sword did not speak to him. It had still felt a bit cold, but the reason for its sudden frozen state had eluded him.

This pained him a bit, but having heard that all sapient treasures are extremely discerning, he had not given it much thought. How could a simple cultivator with an ordinary bloodline and heritage like himself ever catch the eyes of such an elevated being like a sword spirit?

He had decided to speed up his travels, using one of his precious transportation treasures. Recharging his flying fan treasure will cost him a massive amount of money, but it allowed him to reach civilization once again. The priceless treasure safely secured with the chain around his neck, covered in the rest of his bandages to isolate himself from the sudden icy flare-ups of the artifact, Nuofu approaches the outpost.

Little more than a border village initially, it had become a staging ground against the Scheming Fox Demon. Slaying the vile creature, that enemy of all civilization and mankind had come at a high cost. The ancestor Patriarch of his own sect, a revered sect elder that had reached the half step immortal stage, was rumored to be slain by the evil and loathsome creature.

That is why Nuofu killed young master Gao. This is why he had snatched the sword. That young buffoon would have paraded the thing around, guaranteeing it would get stolen. No, from all the rumors he had been overhearing, the Dark Moon sect will need a new trump card if they are to survive.

Canceling his Ghastly Shadow Steps technique, Nuofu comes to a halt a couple of dozen meters from the outposts main cliff entrance. Even though the entrance is nestled in cliffs a dozen kilometers high, it fails to impress him. The guards all snap to attention and try staring him down. Sneering at the pathetic clowns, the inner court disciple pulls his identity jade from his ring. “I have urgent business, get out of the way.”

His imperious act fails to have any effect, much to his surprise. Gao Nuofu’s stomach rumbles as the delicious aroma of cooked meat enter his nose.

“Non-alliance Daoist, entry is two-spirit stones,” says one guard.

Sputtering at the fact that they increased the price again, the harried cultivator thinks about making a scene. Then he sees that all the guards are staring at his chest. Nuofu looks down himself, and sees that he is burning. His eyes go wide as the pain hits him, the flaming ring around his neck melting the iron chain into his skin.

For the second time in a single day, Nuofu screams like a little girl.

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