Standing on one of the taller mountains at the edge of the desert, I watch the sun come up. The road stretches towards the horizon below me, the blazing rays of sunlight illuminating the way from which I came. The patches of sunlight slowly begin touching the ambush spot, and I get to see a rather interesting light show. The reason why this entire place is avoided during the day becomes obvious immediately.
Large scorpions, their backs covered in shining crystals emerge from the sand the moment the sun hits the places they are hiding. The bright light reflecting and refracting inside their shells hurts my eyes even from where I’m standing, a dozen kilometers away. They all scurry towards the road, aiming blinding rays of sunlight at each other while they speed over to the corpses.
On the one hand, I really want to go and research how these beasties manage to make such intense blasts of heat from normal sunlight. On the other hand, they are tearing the Heaven Realm elder's body apart with ease. I mark the road on my map of interesting places to visit later and decide to continue moving with all haste.
There’s a massive range of nearly impenetrable mountains further north, beyond the habitable area that houses the rest of the villages and farms. This border area is relatively densely populated, as a lot of food is being grown here, from mundane grains to more specialized cultivation fruits and plants. Shielded by massive mountains on one side, and sect territories on the other, the low amount of beasts and monsters roaming these valleys makes for decent mortal farming conditions.
I have little interest in these villages, though. I’m willing to recruit more people as students, but I’m not going to actively look for people while the massive quantity of nauseating unusable qi in my core is still making me sick. Tree is managing to keep a rather unstable equilibrium going, but only barely. It’s winning slowly, but adding more people containing more Cultivation World qi would do a lot of damage.
My first priority is thus to get my own cultivation base back in order. Then, I’ll be able to start helping and cultivating inside Tree actively. The quickest way I see this happening is through using and abusing the wind affinity I got from Rhea. The reason I want to do this is that I want to pay the people in Tree back for all the mental legwork they’ve been doing. Also, that super annoying mage going by the name of Taran just came up with a theory that I should have seen coming ages ago. He committed a single line of text to Database like it was nothing but an afterthought that just happened to come to him.
The little bastard submitted the idea to reduce qi back to mana.
I belatedly put a lot of the events that happened before I made Database inside its databanks. My experiences just after I got to the Magic World must have made it in too, thus including the very first qi I ever made from combining mana. So the little twerp must have come across that information. He then submitted the idea of reducing the qi from the Cultivation World back to its energetic mana-based components before recombining it again. Database must have recognized that single stupid suggestion as the genius idea it really is. Now the annoying guy is one of the richest students when it comes to Database points.
I keep contemplating the odd twists and turns that fate can take sometimes. The fact that this happened even when I technically have everything in Tree under rather strict surveillance also says a lot. What exact lesson I should learn from this is unclear at this point, but this feels like one of these important and impactful moments.
Shrugging off that odd premonition, I take a relieved breath, as I’ve finally managed to reach the foothills of the mountains to the north of Outpost Long Reach. Looking back, I see the trade route bending off to the east after emerging from the patch of desert. It’s completely abandoned, and the patch of road on which the ambush happened is stripped clean. Two dozen cultivators, their levels varying from the Human Realm to the Heaven Realm, now nothing but scorch marks and scorpion shit.
Trying to ignore the sick feeling in my head and in my stomach, I stop looking at the city still visible on the horizon and resume running up the hill. The flowing scrub brush is interrupted by dark rocks piercing the ground until I’m traversing pure jagged rock. Lola bites my neck after the fifth parkour flip, so I feel encouraged to do more acrobatic flips.
As I continue running up the steep rock face, my heart starts pounding at an increased speed. I take another deep breath while wall-running and jumping between steep cliff-faces. Lola is chewing on my collarbone again, but the combination of my increasing physical constitution and the fact that she is still recovering from the fight prevents her from doing any damage.
As I keep running away from the fight and all of its implications, I keep my energy senses trained on the general composition of qi in the air. The overload of charcoal and smoky flavored qi coming from the ambush is fading with every step I take, and I start smelling a whole new smorgasbord of interesting energy flavors.
The fact that the percentage of wind qi is rising the higher I go does prove another theory of mine.
Then I spend a few minutes reminiscing over how I spent millennia in this world but never paid attention to certain aspects.
No, that’s not right. I did take note of things like qi intent and the light-beam-shooting scorpions, but only after those topics were no longer useful to me. Or I used them all as small bits of data, noting them down to grow my information-based cultivation base by a few more pages. And to be honest, it made sense to not bother with that data back when all I was doing was collecting data. It also makes sense for me to take note of those things now that I’ve got a large number of people that can make use of this information.
Do as I say, do not do as I really feel inside, I guess.
I stop running up the mountain as I have run out of mountain. Panting heavily, my weird existing-yet-not-existing heartcore is doing all kinds of weird things thanks to the full hour that I just spent running up this sheer mountain face. I turn around and lose the rest of my breath.
My mind is long since blank from exhaustion. The only thing fitting in there is the best way to reach the next ledge or flat piece of ground. Now, my mind fills with a mad appreciation for this massive, cruel, unthinking, ancient, and stagnant world that I’ve once again found myself in. The scale of this entire planet is just different than anything I’ve ever experienced. Neither Earth nor the Magic World is anywhere near the insane scale that this place is. The mountaintop I’m standing on is around five or six kilometers higher than the road I was traveling on previously. This peak is just a foothill to the rest of the mountains. And this peak is about as high as the bigger mountains in either Earth or the Magic World.
Looking up the mountains I’m going to climb in a bit. I see dozens of kilometers of raw, sharp, uncaring, and unyielding rock waiting for me. Nobody has set foot in these mountains for thousands of years. I can just smell it. The main routes, both the mortal and the cultivator ones, are off to the east, leaving this area free of any traffic whatsoever. And this entire world is filled with places like this, massive stretches of wilderness that is untouched by human or humanoid hands.
I try wiping the mad smile from my face as I start jumping down. The next mountain face going up is around a kilometer lower, and half a kilometer ahead. Why did I see this entire place as bad before? There is just so much potential here! So much ground and resources to conquer and civilize. To be sapient is to make the world in your image, and I start seeing more and more soft, moldable clay all around me.
Instead of resuming my almost insane streak of giddiness - undoubtedly caused by the thinning air and high altitude - I rein in my thoughts. First, I need to get to a place where the wind is strong, and I think I can see just the place for it. Three mountaintops in and two to the left is a large cleft. Either two mountains grew together, or one large peak got shorn in two sometime in the past. I can hear the wind howling and rushing through the narrow gap from over here, so I’m suspecting that some wind-related stuff is going on in there.
Lola seems to sense what I’m planning and crawls into my robe. The scholar’s outfit I’ve been wearing all this time is only slightly worse for wear, the few small scorch marks barely noticeable. She curls up in one of its many pockets, and I feel her breathing slowing while I keep moving.
I time my arrival rather well, I have to say. I don’t think I’ve given my body a workout this thorough in the last half millennia. I stumble the last couple of hundred meters with sweat dripping into my eyes while my lungs scream at me to stop. My legs seem to have given up the ghost a while ago and are now just unfeeling lumps of jello that barely hold me upright.
I flop on my back, barely able to withstand the screaming wind as I reach the cleft. The bottom of the gorge is luckily nice and smooth, no doubt worn flat by millennia of wind rushing through it. I spent the first ten minutes of my meditation just lying there. The amount of physical exertion I just went through was honestly just something that I felt like doing right at that moment. I can come up with all kinds of reasons to justify my physical exertion, no problem. From purging my body of ambient qi to improving my physical condition to preparing my mind for a long cultivation session.
The truth is that I kept thinking about the woman that carried the knives on her belt. I just killed more people in a few minutes than I did in over two years of adventuring in the Magic World. Even back on the cultivation World, even back in this terrible place of majestic beauty and the ugliest that sapient life has to offer, I rarely slaughtered or killed my way anywhere.
Eleven daggers I snatched from her waist, while she was choking on her own broken throat. I used those obviously handmade daggers, enchanted by a hand even less talented, to kill her sect mates while she lay dying. Then she got eaten by scorpions.
And why did that happen?
Because some idiot decided to rescue a-
I slap my cheeks and sit up straight. My stomach muscles complain loudly, my heartcore boosted physique already having put them in recovery mode. The delayed-onset muscle soreness of their healing process is kind of painful, but not in a bad way. I poke at my stomach and legs; each light ache more feeling satisfying than anything else.
Then, I take a deep breath. Much to my satisfaction, at least a percent of the power here is made up of air-intent qi. Mixed among the massive amount of other intents, like a beach that contains nothing but unique snowflake grains of sand, is a high amount of qi I can work with.
I take in a deep breath, only to breathe out with force right after. Steadying myself against the constant pressure of the raging wind, I turn around slowly. Only when I am turned one hundred and eighty degrees, my face into the wind, do I take another breath.
Then, I imagine a tornado in front of my nose, a large inverse cone of air that splits into two before entering both my nostrils. All the air in the world is in that tornado, every single breath that's ever taken, every single gust of cool air and blast of scorching summer heat.
I breathe deeper, forcing the air around me to push away all the other needless powers. Then, in a flash of clearheaded bliss, I spot the different types of qi that are all around me. The affinity of a toad, ancient beyond belief, and wise in all the poisons of the world is rejected. I let it flow past me. The ozone smell of a crane, struck by lightning one fateful summer day, spitting in the face of Heaven as it survived, I push its qi away. The majesty of a Moon Tiger, the need for a fancy name never occurring in the Heaven Realm predator’s mind, is also unneeded and discarded. The massive blade that formed the very gorge I’m sitting in right now, swung in righteous anger at the Devil Cultivator it slew in a single strike, I reject that grain of kernel power too.
Instead, I embrace the last breath of the three-hundred-year-old mouse that died the day before yesterday. Its final exhalation flowing on the wind. I take it for my own, and grief for its lost life a little.
The flowing contemplation of one particular promising sect cultivator, this strand of power expelled while practicing the third form of the Serenity of a Thousand Flying Buddas, I accept it greedily.
I hesitate to accept the fart of a Gorging Flame-horned Cow Beast for a moment, this particular strand of qi intent barely fitting within the parameter of ‘wind-related.’ I then decide that I can be ashamed and disgusted when I’m dead, and breathe in the small spark of power.
The entire universe around me reduced to a couple of million fragments of qi intent at a time, I carefully filter the qi that will empower my flesh, blood, and spirit for a good long while.Previous Chapter Next Chapter