Chapter 278 - Voyaging (3)

The deadzone bordering the mine where I found Green is just one piece of a larger patchwork of deadlands. That mine must also have been so successful because it was the one place for many, many hundreds of thousands of kilometers where useful cultivation resources could be mined.

Not that it does the current inhabitants any good. I did a quick scan of the buildings while on my way out, and the only thing they have going for them is that the cultivator made buildings don’t need any maintenance for a couple of thousand years yet. There's some kind of feudalistic society brewing there, with a single heartcore qi gatherer bossing everyone around. I didn’t see any evidence of atrocities or the like, so I just let the couple tens of thousand people be.

Now I’m flying through another dead-zone that didn’t used to be here. Some other previously barren place must be thriving due to the relocated qi flows, no doubt. Just goes to show that having assloads of qi be present everywhere isn’t everything. These deadzones are filled with the same oppressive quantities of qi as the holiest of cultivation havens. The difference in percentages of similar intent makes all the difference in the world.

I really need to check in or gather all the people I’m responsible for and find a place to do some experiments. Finding some way to sort, filter, or clean this useless soup of trash energies would allow me to do a lot of things. It has always been infinitely easier to just find a new source of workable energy. Working the energy the hard way never really seemed feasible to me, and as far as I know, there's nobody in the Cultivation World that has even tried to wash qi into a neutral state.

I do another corkscrew, tracing the salt desert I’m flying over with a finger. It also wakes Lola, who was still sleeping. I shift my position on my sword while trying to ignore the angry bunny now hanging from my nipple. This new wasteland was a shallow ocean or sea at some point, as it’s all dry salt flats.

Not quite as dry as my current dry spell, but as an immortal cultivator meant to be above all that stuff, that’s supposed to be normal. Going centuries without getting any, that’s what cultivating is all about. Taking a deep breath of salt-laden air, I try to recenter myself.

Unlike the previous deadlands, the sky above this one is filled with all kinds of flying things. The heat radiating from the pure white salt must make for great thermals. I swear that half of the sky lords of the Cultivation World are circling above me, eyeing me hungrily. I just glare back at them while zooming centimeters above the surface of the flats, kicking up a large white displume that only advertises my location more.

Flying any higher is a bad idea, though. Only plastering myself to the surface discourages the birds from diving, as a long line of dead birds behind me can attest to. I grip my beating stick a little tighter.

The one solace is that I think that the Dark Moon sect should be around here somewhere. At least one stereotype is actually correct when it comes to dark and light sects. Because the darker inclined organizations don’t tend to care for public opinion, they favor out of the way locations. After all, what good is it to be a holy religious light sect that seeks justice for all when there is no rabble around to see the good deeds being performed. Masses are needed when wanting to feed the masses, after all.

And feeding the masses is something that the Dark Moon sect isn’t known for. I don’t have a lot of information about his particular sect - as it literally is just one of thousands just like it - but they seem to fall into what I call the ‘edgy lurker’ category of sects. I’ve got a whole system for sect categorization that I won’t get into, but the main thing to take away from that descriptor is that they are just what they sound like. They are edgelords, and they lurk.

I’m fully expecting all kinds of fake dark stuff, and people holed up in basements while working on their dark, foreboding, and sinister rituals. Or freaks bathing in blood - probably ethically sourced - in order to impress their peers.

I’m sure there will be some actual horrible people there, but from the little I know about this sect, they’ll probably be all talk and very little actually-sacrificing-the-innocent. That’s who the warriors of justice always tend to go for, after all. While leaving the truly terrifying serial killer in their midst alone, because they control this or that vital resource, or some nonsense like that.

A scanning process alerts me to another suicidal bird, and I swerve to the left. A protruding rock nearly shatters my kneecaps. At the same time, a hundred kilograms, ten-meter wingspan beast smacks into the ground next to me. I look at the thing tumbling to a halt while speeding past, wondering why and how this species came to be.

I'm kilometers away when I see the heap of feather stir before it makes its way into the skies again, if in a wobbly manner. Rubbing my chin, I ponder that maybe the trail of dead birds I’ve left behind is less dead than I’d have thought. Swearing to myself that I need to wack these here birds harder as they fall past me, I resume flying.

Having to move this close to the ground, I fail to see the terrain change before it’s too late. I swear I only closed my eyes for a single second, and the next thing I know, I’m flying above another muddy lake. I immediately steer the sword I'm sitting on upwards, and I feel the two sharp edges digging into my buttocks precariously.

Then I am surrounded by a fine spray of saltwater, the moisture evaporating nearly immediately, showering me in a fine mist of salt crystals. Lola continues showing her displeasure at my sudden acrobatics, but I don’t dare shift my current position. Taking a small peak downwards, I see a toothed maw filled with horrific teeth gaping below me. A combination between a jellyfish, a shark, and a lamprey eel tries eating me with a thunderous closing of its circular mouth, missing the trailing end of my shirt by centimeters.

I level off my flight path, now once again caught between terrible teethed monsters lurking below and speedy flying daggers above. Looking around, I see that this dead salt lake stretches on for a good while. The impossible blueness of that water below me gives away that this part of the wasteland must be some kind of deep sinkhole filled with water.

Keeping myself entertained while moving through these empty dead zones has been easy, though. I once more sink into a light form of meditation while opening my energy senses. Lola’s claws sink into my shoulder, and I move out of instinct. I turn ninety degrees to the left, bank sharply upwards from my perspective, turn a hundred eighty degrees, and bank even sharper. I also lash out with my stick, sending the black rod careening into and through the skull of the flaming crow that just tried to eat me.

Rubbing my ass and complimenting myself for that perfectly executed set of ninety degree turns, I look at the frothing patch of red water where the bird landed. That done with, I rub Lola on her cute little head and resume sensing for whatever tragedy made this place.

Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible for there to still be any habitable land left on this god-forsaken of a planet. This dead sea, for example, has the unique ancient qi smell of a spitefull plan, combined with a dash of cold revenge. Filtering out a couple million of qi intents that smell familiar, I try to narrow it down to the ones that are unique to this region.

I get a hint of an underwater empire, a deep-sea city of wonders. The most potent of energies here have a feminine vibe, the harsh and cold edge that comes with successfully-taken revenge saturating this entire area. I haven’t found any information about this area at all in any of the many, many libraries I raided. That makes sense, as the unique energy smell here feels at least a hundred thousand years old.

So something bad happened here a hundred thousand years ago that reduced a thriving underwater empire to a dead sea, saturated with salt and filled with horrible monsters. I’m sure that both the salt and the wildlife are relevant to the tragic backstory here, but investigating it will take a lot of time. I don’t think there was an ascended-level incident at play, nor do I sense any of the extremely abstracted concepts that come with immortals.

I file away that information and open my eyes. The water below me is still an almost black blue, the horizon is still filled with more wasteland, and I still have a long way to go. Once again careful not to slice my ass off, I reposition myself on the sword and start fiddling with a few toys I'm working on. I've been doing some light crafting to while away the time, and have been designing and creating some items I suspect I'll be needing.

The sea is replaced by more salt desert after a couple of hours. I’m forced to lower my speed while skimming the dry surface, the many flying creatures in the sky taking potshots at me once again. Also, the amount of available air intents is lower this close to the ground, further hampering my speed.

I trudge along, Lola falling asleep a couple of times. The terrain slowly roughens up, the occasional salt pillar becoming more prevalent while the flats change into rolling hills. Then comes a set of small lakes, each one a miniature oasis in the no longer salty desert. I fly through a glowing expanse of ruined suburbs for a while before that changes to a smoking collection of hot springs and unpredictable and lethal geysers.

Each area has their own unique reason why life is hard there. My mind traces along the edges of great tragedies and greater victories, sensing the slowly decaying and mutating energies of amazing works and immense accidents.

Then the rounded wind polished mountain range I’m flying through suddenly is interrupted by a massive trench, and I know that I’ve finally arrived. I slow down and coast to a halt, touching down in a small valley next to the pitch-black line cutting through the rough terrain. I get off my sword and do some stretches, letting an unholy combination of popping sounds echo through the wind-worn rocks.

Peering down the out-of-place narrow crack, I see two distinct features. The first is that it’s dark down there. And not normally dark either. The shadows look like they are made from actual solid matter, and I see occasional wafts of darkness being blown out of the ragged trench. Secondly, there is the fact that the broken rock is trying very hard to be as sharp and edgy as possible.

The current environment I’m in is made from bare rock, shaped by eons of wind into flowing organic shapes and swirling curves. Running right through this maze of rolling rock is a dark crevasse. It looks like someone just sliced right through the earth, leaving a trail of darkness behind.

Coming closer to the gaping chasm, I sense that this is likely precisely what happened here. Taking in a deep breath through my nose, I feel my nasal cavities sting from the sword intent, still emanating from this place. A deeper piercing feeling of pain shooting through my nose lets me know that there was at least one spear attack involved. The darkness comes from something else, though. The thick shadows aren’t natural at all and could have come from the being that was being attacked, from a special technique overlayed on the attack, or it could be a later addition.

The little that I do know about the Dark Moon sect is that their sect lands are located within deep cliffs that are known to be dangerous. Living inside a massive canyon structure seeping with darkness and sword intent is just the thing that a group filled with edgy lurkers would do.

Looking both ways, I see that one side of the trench is slightly wider. Keeping an eye on the sky, I step on the sword and fly directly upwards while trying to get a better look. I quickly spot another trench intersecting the original one a couple of dozen kilometers further on. I quickly swoop higher, and spot that I’m currently at the edge of the dark sword-slash canyons. After the second slash, I see many more dark streaks forming a dark network of black lines. The horizon is pitch black that way, the darkness wafting from the canyons blackening the sky.

A gut feeling, a qi-carried screech, and Lola digging into my shoulders with her nails tell me of oncoming danger. Sending qi spooling through my brain, I enter combat mode, and immediately sense that I’m screwed. A massive bird, blue feathers covering its underside explaining why I didn’t see it until now, is a fraction of a second away from me.

A few scenarios shoot through my head, but with its talons aimed at my heart and only an instant away, my options are limited. My beating stick might knock it out, but that won’t negate the momentum of the razor-sharp talons and beak shooting towards me.

Then I remember that I have a literal sword under my feet. Checking where it’s pointing, I give it a nudge before opening the qi channel feeding the complex propulsion formation to the max. The blue sword explodes from under my shoes, taking a layer of my soles with it. It then punches clean through the entire bird, horizontally splitting its chest cavity in two while neatly slicing off its feet.

Staring at the bloody sword escaping the cloud of feathers it just made, I wonder how I’m going to get it back. It should run out of qi in a bit, but who knows where it’ll end up.

Then, I feel a ripple running through the land. A concept of water, a thought of a capillary wave so profound and powerful it can cross a million miles. The moment the blue wave of power touches the sword above me, the world freezes for an instant. I watch with an open mouth as an immense wave of power explodes onto the scene, every single iota imploding towards the sword.

I taste blood, guts, and feathers, but don’t even spare the time to spit out the bits of bird that fall into my mouth. What is happening here is on the level of a sect guardian artifact. The sheer amount of power suddenly appearing here must have been gathered over thousands of years.

Then more ripples start forming, but instead of forming concentric rings growing larger, these all focus on the sword. I see flaming birds, sky manta rays, floating cloud beasts, and lightning sparrows fall from the sky, stunned by the opulent display of blue magic.

Then the entire thing comes to a halt, too quickly for my crawling brain to keep up, and I am blinded by the momentary second sun shining an impossible blue.

“Hey, Teach! So, let me first say that I’m really sorry about blabbing about you. But as I could see that you were going here anyway, we can beat up the slimy Dark Moon whatever guy together!”

A soft voice comes from far away, barely audible over the sound of the wind rushing past my ears. I start having a very bad feeling all of a sudden.

“Wait, Teach? Why am I THIS HIGH UP! TEACH WHERE ARE YOU? WHY IS THE SWORD ALL BLOODY? AAAAH!!”

Selis’ bubbly speech turns into a horrifying scream within seconds. Then my vision fully returns, and I get to see quite the sight. Selis is clinging on to the sword that’s hovering a couple of kilometers above the ground. Bits of minced bird is dripping onto her face, staining an unfamiliar intricate blue dress and ornaments. She barely has time to scream a second time before the birds around her attack.

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