Going soft is usually something that comes with old age, but I’m only past my thousandth birthday by a few years. Yet the time in the Magical World must have done something to me on a fundamental level. That scene in the plaza won’t leave me alone, and I somehow can’t relax.
My room is rather simple; the interior design is austere and serene, forgoing the opulence of the mortal world. It is rather swanky, as wood paneling on the walls is very luxurious for the average cultivator cave. The qi in the air is slightly less sickening here, the formations woven throughout the entire building help tame the energetic chaos slightly.
The cultivation mat I’m sitting on has all kinds of soothing and anesthetizing effects. It generates a steady stream of white noise, helping relax the mind, and it has a slight paralytic and numbing effect, helping relax the body. I want to do some cultivating and do some testing on how to handle the insane qi pressures here, but I can’t concentrate.
With a deep sigh, I pick up Lola, who has woken up and is bugging me for attention. Scratching her under her chin, I start walking to the window. The sun has set at this point, and there must be some curfew in effect. The streets are abandoned, the only people out and about are a few patrols. The view is really nice, the sheer size of the town in combination with the impossibly high mountains giving the picturesque scene an austere and larger-than-life quality.
I tear my gaze from the mountain-ringed sprawl and start to inspect the room and windows itself. The room is spacious and open, a shimmering sheen of qi powered shielding keeping the worst of the wind out while letting a breeze bring in new air. Normal cultivators of the Human Realm won’t be able to go through these fields without much effort, but I am far from normal, after all.
“So, cutie. Wanna go and help some people?” I put Lola up to head-hight and stare into her eyes. She just sniffles at me mutely, so I nod at her while grinning. I pull a fresh set of robes from my ring at a relatively great qi cost. I put Lola on the floor and dress. “I knew I wasn’t the only one that dislikes this entire shindig. Let’s go!”
Walking over to the empty window frame that holds the protective shield, I study the intricately produced formation. I thread a trickle of Will into the environmental control part of the installation, mapping out its inner workings at a leisurely pace.
Lola hops on my shoulder and settles into the crook of my neck. I barely notice at this point, but the lessons I have learned from the Weaving Webs of Threads have a massive impact. The Dao-crystallizations that I have made my own are still nested in the back of my mind, working their way through my subconscious abilities and qi control.
I use a few other fine-tuned tenets from other Dao objects in order to quickly and succinctly disable the formation. I reroute the streams of qi while using techniques I learned from a Dao I could describe as The Flowing Fields of Forceful Fiddling. I suppress backlash of the power spray with a bit of Dampening Dao of Downy Diffusing. Then I hop through the window, retracting al the power I have nested inside the framework of Will with a smart application of Running Retreat with Rampant Retrofitting.
I stand on the air using nothing but my affinity for wind, and the sudden drain of Will shakes me from the trance of Dao-enforced productivity. I quickly copy the outside ambient qi inside my body before I start lowering myself slowly. I feel several webs of spiritual sense travel through me, not a single one showing signs that the practitioners have detected my passing. I even feel the qi of a single Heaven Realm cultivator spread around the town.
The fact that I manage to recognize this energy surprises me for a moment. Then I realize that it feels the same as the power emanating from the many, many bones I’ve stored and drained.
Filing away that tidbit of interesting information, I land in a crouch while dampening all sound with a firm hold on the air around me. Lola gives off a squeak of indignation as I stumble, and suddenly I’m breaking my fall with a controlled roll. I quietly pat the dust from my robes as Lola hops on again, her nails digging into my flesh.
I swat at the annoying bunny and start skulking through the streets. The streets are abandoned. The sky is dark as it ever gets around here, dark clouds blocking most of the light. I can still see shining cords of formation script and random flashes of protective enchantments beaming through the clouds at regular intervals. The brightest area of these mystical effects is one of the moons, and I can easily determine its location, even through the clouds.
I can also sense the many, many people that were tailing me. They are all waiting around the entrance of the Overlook Inn, sitting behind bushes and walls just out of sight while meditating. I just walk past them, allowing all the webs of qi and spiritual sense to flow through me. They might notice a disturbance in the shape of my braincore, but with a planet as old as the cultivation Wold, weird shit is happening all the time.
Hoping that there isn’t one of those rare and elusive cultivators here that have heavily trained their spiritual senses, I make my way over to the plaza in the living district I was at earlier. The patrols on the streets are harder to avoid, as they at least keep their eyes open. Keeping my eyes and ears open is enough for me to hear the bored cultivators coming. Not a single one of them uses anything like a silent walking technique, and most of them are sect rejects. But even the most talentless of cultivators can live a good life in the mortal world, which most of the guards are doing.
Running over rooftops at night is a great way to activate all kinds of nasty protective formations, so I just skitter through the streets. As I return to the endless mortal quarters, the road changes from qi-wrought cobblestones to packed dirt. The buildings lower to three stories at most, as the decorations and illumination slowly disappears.
While hiding from the few patrols that are actually trying their best, I finish my disguise. The new robe I’m wearing is a cut above average. Although the decorations are pretty and look very mystical, they don’t have any actual use or function. They do look impressive, which is their actual purpose for now. I also stuff some scraps of cotton-like material in my mouth, changing the shape of my jaw. I finish the look with a nondescript cloth skullcap, pulling it far over my head, is slight rim partially hiding my eyes.
By the time I’m back at the plaza where I watched the disciple give his speech, the roads are completely dark, and the houses are wooden shacks. I quickly spot my target, the man that dared to ask if the taxes could be lowered. I walk to his side in an imperial strut, suddenly giving off the airs of an arrogant sect disciple. I poke the dark heap with my foot, sending a small thread of Will into the fellow, and sense that he is still alive.
The stupid light show didn’t even manage to kill him, only leaving deep and painful cauterized wounds in its wake. I glance around, but I don’t see a single person keeping watch over the guy. I do spot a bright pair of eyes staring at me from around a corner, though. A pair of big eyes that peer at me from a rather low angle. Ignoring the small figure, I grab the man’s dirty shirt and start walking away. I start strolling back the way I came while keeping my ears open for the scuttling of feet behind me.
It takes my non-too-proficient stalker a good few minutes of clumsily following me before they gain enough courage. “H-hey!”
I stop dragging the nearly dead man behind me and turn around. A young boy of interminable age stands behind me, his features set in a grim cast unbecoming of his youth. I keep a level stare at the kid, not blinking or reacting in any way.
“Immortal, can you leave him?”
“Please, sir.” The number of emotions playing across his face aren’t supposed to be there. He can’t be older than ten or twelve, but he has eyes older than many adults I know.
I sigh. Play-acting in front of people that I don’t really care about is easy. But when a little kid like this puts his life on the line, there is no way I can keep doing dumb stuff. “Alright. You carry him. He’ll die at dawn if we don’t do anything about it.”
I put the man down, the way he doesn’t even unconsciously try to protect his head telling of his severe state. I start walking again, not willing to show more weakness and emotion for now. The kid knows he has no choice in this matter, and a small chance is still better than certain death. I hear footsteps approaching not too long after, their pattern matching that of a boy. At this point, the game is set, and I can’t do anything but go with the flow of things.
An hour later, and I am re-evaluating a lot of things. The boy is still following me, the dying man on his back. I knew that the sheer amount of ambient qi in the air did all kinds of things to nature, warping, and exaggerating certain aspects. I never really thought about the fact that normal mortals are already way stronger than they should be. Qi - even the ancient and decrepit ambient power around me - wants to be used. It seems to want to affect the universe, and thus create more qi in the process.
A normal boy really shouldn’t have been able to carry a fully grown man at my rapid walking pace for this long. The kid is sweating, for sure, but his breathing is only slightly labored. If we keep walking like this, it shouldn’t take us more than half an hour to get back to the Overlook Inn.
I did come across a few patrols now and then, but a single icy stare at the small groups has been enough to dissuade them from starting trouble so far. Instead of continuing the pattern matching camouflage, I’ve resumed cultivating. I’ve got one of the cat’s leg bones in a relaxed grip at the side of my body as I slowly drain it of power.
By the time we are walking towards the entrance of the Overlook Inn, the bone is half drained, and the boy is panting heavily. I see a few veiled looks of disgust cast my way as I make my way towards the elevators, which I splendidly ignore. Using mortals as slaves isn’t really frowned upon, but you tend to get raised eyebrows if it’s done in a very public manner. None of the people staking out the front entrance look my way twice, giving me a confidence boost in my disguising skills.
The boy doesn’t even hesitate as he walks into the Inn after me. I wonder if that’s due to bravery or just exhaustion, though. Unguided qi might reinforce mortals to a certain extent; the kid did just exert a lot of effort after - I’m assuming - not sleeping for a long while. He does hesitate while getting on the elevator platform, but that might be due to simply not knowing what an elevator is.
We get to my room without anything of note happening. The moment the door closes behind me and the privacy formations activate, I drop my shoulders and let myself fall down on one of the couches. I spit the wads of cotton from my mouth and take the ridiculous cap from my head, glad to be free from the annoying disguise. Then, I turn to the boy, whose knees are shaking something fierce. Lola hops out of my robes and starts sniffing at the boy. “No, Lola. No need to do the same thing you did with Tess. I’ll take care of them.”
Lola’s ears droop as she backs away, the shining white glow on her forehead dimming. I stand up and prevent the nearly dead man from busting his head open as the boy falls to the ground. I lay the skinny, wounded and unconscious man on the cultivation mat while trickling threads of Will into his being. I slowly map out his wounds, continuously amazed at the sheer amount of filthy qi that’s settled into his frame. The stuff inside his cells feels ancient, way older than he possibly could be. I stop myself from getting lost in this particular mystery and start repairing his vital processes. As I do so, I turn to the boy. “Who is he?”
“Your situation. Be brief.”
The boy blinks rapidly but manages to gather his wits about him after only a brief moment of visible confusion. He frowns while looking down, staring at the floor as he starts talking. “Mom was a maid at-”
“My mother and siblings died when the mountain next to our farm blew up. Father took me to the big city, and we’ve been trying to earn enough to live since then.”
I nod grimly. “Are you willing to move again? I can save your father, but things will not improve if you stay here.”
The immediate acceptance of the boy only makes me feel worse. I don’t feel bad because of what I’m doing, but just the sheer fatalistic attitude that seems to emanate from the kid is pissing me off. I sit on the meditation mat, placing the wounded man in front of me. I use the last bits of my qi reserves to pull some leafy greens and root vegetables for Lola from my ring. She grabs one of the leaves and crawls in my lap, chewing slowly. I moved to the area next to the unconscious man and looked at the boy. “Good. Sit here.”
The Inn should let me stay for a couple of weeks at least. The amount of money I made from the sale should be public knowledge at this point, so the Inn manager must know I’m good for the money. I then place a hand on the boy’s head and the other on the man’s chest.
Then, I sink into my cultivation base, looking for the ethereal and purely symbolic link to Tree that is now a core tenet of my power. I have not found a single Dao-item that can help me with this, much to my relief. The pure usage of magic, without any physical help, seems to be an uncommon thing. I know it’s slightly stupid, but I can’t help but enjoy the fact that I have not found a Dao-item that lines up with my preferred way of doing things. Sure, I can use aspects of those paths, and they are kind of helpful, but only in a utilitarian way. They provide me with small tricks and tips to improve my techniques. I’ve fine-tuned a hundred ways of manipulating qi and Will thanks to those items, but not a single one has caused me to learn new fundamentals.
Shaking away these useless musings, I turn back to the task at hand. I sink further into my braincore, tuning out the fidgeting boy, ignoring the slowing breath of the wounded man, and just focus inwards while slowly closing my eyes.
Inside Tree, in the core of Database, I open them again.Previous Chapter Next Chapter