Chapter 279 - Voyaging (4)

“Okay then, let me get this right,” I slowly intone while smacking another bird in the head. “You finally figured out that the sect was going to use you as either a breeding sow or a consumable cultivation furnace for some young master.”

Selis is surrounded by bloody water, with which she is barely managing to fend off a swarm of rather mean-looking birds. She nods furiously, her precious panicked expression partially turning into anger. “Yes! This arrogant prick of a young master came back after raping his way through the countryside. They called it something disgustingly noble such as guaranteeing the talents of the future generations, but that wasn’t it at all! His soul and aura smelled super foul.”

“So then you decided to follow after me,” I continue while split kicking two birds speeding at me from the side. I sweep my beating stick through the air, breaking the wing of a large bird with a blue underside.

“Did you just beat up that Waterblessed Round Eagle? That’s a Heaven Realm beast!”

I frown at Selis. I really thought I’d taught her better than this. “Don’t change the subject and don’t believe that propaganda. These oversized chickens are top Earth Realm at best.”

“No, they can kill a Heaven Realm practitioner!” Selis retorts while steering a few needles of ice into the paths of a flaming crow.

“Yes, they can, and it’s very shameful when that happens. But I taught you better than to stroke the egos of the fools that got killed due to carelessness. Calling the bird that killed you a Heaven Realm monster does not negate the fact that you're still a dumbass for dying to a hard-to-spot bird.” Deciding that I’ve had enough of this conversation and that we have to get a move on, I cancel the floating function of the sword. It drops from under Selis’ feet, who resumes screaming while falling at speed.

“MAKE A PARACHUTE FROM ICE!” I shout after her while releasing my grip on the air around me, letting me drop like a stone. The birds are all seeing their prey escape, and the attacks on Selis multiply. Letting out a short whistle, I gesture to Lola, who is chilling on the back of a ten-meter wingspan bird. She gives me a ‘are you shitting me’ look before flicking her ears at me and jumping off.

I only have time to glare at the insolent rabbit for a split second before I have to start laying down the law. I do so by introducing a lot of birds to the law of gravity by knocking them out and letting them plummet to the ground below. There are a few nasty ones that nick me here and there, but the top of the Earth Realm is the worst thing that I come across.

I do take a single second to appreciate the fact that I have a braincore and a heartcore now. I’ve been in just such a situation before, quite a few times actually. And I got out of it previously by meticulously crafting instant killing formations that cancel out whatever natural defense the flying beast has.

These so-called Waterblessed Round Eagles would have required me to measure their exact flight characteristics and behavioral pattern when attacking. Then, after taking in that data, I would need to start crafting a sure-kill qi packet. As far as I can figure, it seems to have some control over water. It seems to have very little physical resistance, seemingly more a magic casting bird than a physical reinforcement one. One solution would be a high-speed small projectile. Failing those, a small qi packet with an exploding charge, set to detonate near the roof of its mouth after being steered into its beak would do the trick.

Now, though. Now, I only squint at the sucker and bash its fucking skull in. I only have to vaguely check whether or not I can ready my stick for a new attack before the next bird strikes. But that’s all the thinking I have to do now.

Either a tedious plotting session combined with keeping track of hundreds of in-progress spells, or a beat-down fest.

“I LOVE MY HEARTCORE, WHOOOOOO!” escapes from my mouth as Lola and I put on a show of loose feathers. My beating stick turns into a blur, missing my pet rabbit by a hair as she zooms past me to kick a big flapping turkey in the gizzards. I smack Lola’s ass next, dislodging a flying fish lamprey eel that had latched onto her fuzzy butt. We plummet downwards, keeping the storm of air creatures away from Selis.

All these birds must have smelled Selis’ weakness; I muse while turning four insects in a row into a mist with a single swing. They never really swooped down on me like this, but whatever Selis did to get here must have taken a toll on the girl. Looking down on her screaming face, filled with terror and snot, I see bags under her bloodshot eyes.

Then the ground starts coming up to us a little bit too fast for my tastes, the flying creatures stop attacking, and Selis starts screaming for real the moment she looks down. Sending a strand of qi to the emergency landing protocol in the sword, it starts slowing down hard. Selis nearly falls off, but thinking that she's about to crashland at terminal velocity must have been enough for her to snap out of it. Plates of thin ice spring into existence around her, acting like a parachute and slowing her down.

She smacks into the ground at an awkward angle, busts open her lip on a rounded stone protrusion and slides to a halt with her face in a small puddle of dirt. I try to land with grace, but even my heartcore-powered sense of balance can’t compensate for Lola landing on my shoulder with all her might. Keeling backward, I fall on my ass, and barely manage to maneuver my fall to an indent in the smooth rockface.

Finding myself seated in a rather comfortable position, I lean back and sigh deeply. “Selis, what the fuck, dude?”

She bolts upright, the combination of baggy and bloodshot eyes, bloodstained clothes, and mud smeared face making her look like a downright horror. “No!” she shout-whispers. “No. What the fuck is up with this world, Teach?”

“Right?” I nod to her while inspecting my staff. I beat up so many beasts, some of them having talons, beaks, spikes, and scales known for their unparalleled toughness and sharpness. The arrow shaft doesn’t have a single nick or dent. Squinting at the thing, I take the few beast cores that are stuck to it and stuff them in my ring.

“It’s like they’re aliens! They are just pieces of the larger whole, you know. Not a single one actually feels like an individual. I talked to the Holy Water Inference sect master. Everything he said and did was just a caricature! I thought I was going crazy.”

Seeing that Selis just needs to vent for a while, I nod and say “yes, yes,” while keeping an eye on the sky. The birds that I knocked out are only now starting to fall down, so I weave a thin web of qi wires a couple of dozen meters above me.

“I talked to a cleaning lady. All she does all day is clean. And that’s all she is! She didn’t want to tell me about her hopes and dreams. She was just the cleaning lady.”

“Wow, crazy,” I mutter.

“And then I spied on her, just to see what she does in her spare time. And she spends her spare time gossiping about me! And she said horrible things. Teach, she really was the meanest person I ever met. And I really wondered why this kind and nice cleaning lady has such a foul aura. She acted all prim and proper in public. But the moment the door shut behind her, she started spilling such vitriol, oh Teach!”

“Damn,” I reply while the first bird hits my net. I can see that Selis is in a rather fragile state right now, so I guide the unconscious bird behind a rock. I form a solid wad of qi into its beak and wait for it to suffocate.

“And then there’s the Dungeon-cursed and Flight-abandoned dead people! It’s as if once people die, their words suddenly become more important! Like, there was this elder that everyone hated. The constant butt of jokes. He visited me once, and it was all smiles and bowing and giving compliments. Then the dude died in an incident somewhere, a scuffle about some Lost Light or whatever people are blaming everyone for losing some disciples. It got violent, and that elder died. People that were gossiping about him the same morning were all like ‘man, he will be missed,’ and ‘wasn’t he the greatest, he was a true asset to the sect’ the moment we heard he kicked the bucket!”

“Yeah, I agree. That really is crazy,” I reply while thinking about how to best skin a dead bird without seeing it. The pile of unconscious birds ready for the slaughter is growing at a steady pace, and I want to get to them before the blood becomes difficult to remove.

“And each novel thing is the new big thing. Is something new, but shit? Then it must be way better than the old but high-quality thing for sure! And nobody ever expresses their opinion. They all just meander around the topic, and you just have to guess what they really think. AND THE FUCKERS ARE NEVER ON TIME! Want to meet me at noon? Then don’t show up a full hour after noon, you simpering FUCK!”

This catches my attention.  I suddenly remember a certain craftsman. “Yeah,” I reply while standing up. “If something is going to take a couple of years, just say that! Don’t tell me to come back in a week every time I visit to ask if it’s done yet. And don’t say it’ll take just another week again when I visit a month later.”

Selis nods while she tries to wipe the mud from her face again. “Yeah! And there was this one gathering I went to. Instead of talking in small groups, there was just one person talking while the rest listened! It was like I was being tutored all over again, sitting in a big circle.”

Selis takes a moment to sniffle, wiping at her face some more before continuing. “And don’t get me started on standing in line. Instead of forming up in a neat row like normal people, the sect’s monthly pill handout turned into a free for all brawl!”

I circle around to the rock outcropping behind which I’m stacking all the birds.  I totally get where she is coming from, though. Culture shock is real. “Yes. The moment there’s no immediate consequence attached to an action that people here don’t want to take, they don’t do it! Cleaning up after yourself or making a dangerous spot safe? Why bother, right? There’s no immediate benefit.”

Selis is nodding back at me, her hair bobbing up and down. “Yeah, and then they curse at others who do the same. And people here just see anyone with authority, and they basically become that person’s slave! I don’t want to be someone’s lackey, at their beck and call, just so they might grace me with some of their stupid cultivation techniques or life lessons. I’d rather find out that out for myself without having to clean your Dungeon-abandoned chamber pots!”

“Wow, did that happen?” I ask while grabbing one of the birds from behind the wall.

“No, but I overheard the elders joking about teaching me just so they could make me clean their chamber pots.”

I raise an eyebrow. “You do know what they actually were alluding to, right? They all really wanted to take you in th-”

“YES, I KNOW THEY WANTED TO FUCK ME!” screams Selis.

“Right, just checking,” I say while taking another step back. Damn, these feathers are hard to pluck. I should save some of the bigger ones for arrow fletching.

“So, Teach. I’m sorry. I know I messed up. So I came to help you. I added a lot of information to Database too. We can search for the Dark Moon sect guy together. I also brought clothes, as I noticed that you only wore rags previously. And now you’re wearing new rags, I see…”

I pause while ripping the bird’s gut out. “What now?”

“So, I brought clothes for you!”

I think about biting the bird’s head off. I would like to make a point, but I fear that Selis will miss the meaning I intend if I don’t say it out loud. Instead, I pull out a knife and start cutting the bird’s head off. “Tell me, how did you come here?”

Selis pauses with taking clothes out of her ring. “Oh, I used the sect’s teleporter. I snuck out and used it after convincing one of the elders to tell me how it worked.”

I look her up and down. “Right. So you just casually used a teleporter. Here, on the Cultivation World?”

“Yeah. Sneaking in was pretty hard. It’s located in the most heavily guarded place of the sect, somehow. I don’t really get why, but you know, there’s more stuff here that’s stupid.

I stare at the girl as she holds out a rather fancy blue shirt in front of me. The little brat has no idea, does she? “You have no idea, do you?”

“Idea about what?”

“The cost of your teleportation here.” Eyeing the large bird carcass I’ve been cleaning, I conclude that it will be very good eating indeed. I toss it into my ring and pluck another creature from the pile. Looking at the slimy feeling thing that I’m holding, I see that I’m currently grasping the eel thing that was munching on Lola’s butt earlier. I toss the thing at the rocks with all my might, where it explodes in a satisfying splatter of dark red ichor. Picking another nicely feathered bird from the pile, I continue my prep work.

“What cost?”

Selis does look kind of adorable like that, big eyes open wide and innocently tilting her head to the side. I think she’s around eighteen, but even if she was ten years younger, that still wouldn’t stop an influential sect elder. She has come a long way from the kid I kidnapped from that jail cell in Tower City. She has filled out nicely.

I slap myself. Go away bad thoughts. Ignoring the blood dripping from my face, I continue plucking the bird. “The cost that’s associated with teleporting anywhere here. Do you feel the molasses of qi in the air? Yeah, you gotta fight that.”

“But they had this teleporting station all set up and ready to go. They made the control panel so easy to use. I thought everyone could use it. I could target the sword I gave you with just a few button presses.” Selis now looks down while tapping her ornamental shoes on the floor, the clothes she got for me forgotten to the side.

“Only permanent portals can provide cheap transportation. Those are everywhere in the central area, but not here on the outskirts. No, you teleporting all the way over here was very costly. That machine had to fight against every single scrap of ancient qi in the way to your destination.”

“What?”

“The sheer amount of power that I felt that was being used was on par with a couple of thousand years of spirit stone intake of an entire sect. That must have been an emergency teleport meant to get the patriarch to safety or something. I think you might have bankrupted the Holy Water Inference sect with that move, my dear.”

“Whaaaaa?” Selis begins to sound like a yowling kitten now.

“I’m guessing that the area you went to was forbidden? And that it housed other mass destruction or protection deterrents?”

“Eeeeeeeh?” Selis’ head is now tilted so far to the side; it’s starting to look creepy.

“The sheer energy in all those ripples I felt was probably enough to get around a dozen mortals to the ascension realm. Every single sensitive cultivator for a million kilometers around felt that, Sel. They are going to know that the sect that took you in and cared for you is now without its main trump card.”

I finish gutting and decapitating the third bird. I really should have taken out a knife earlier. Why did I even rip those guts out with my bare hands earlier? Kind of dumb. I look up at Selis and see that she is throwing up, right into the shadowy chasm that we are standing next to.

“Anyway, want to go and visit some spiders? No? Too bad. 

You’re going to check up on Ragni because I don’t want to. Here, I don’t need this anymore.” I hand her the blue sword. I’ve reached my current goal, and flying around on such a garish item is just not my style. I think over the plan of getting rid of Selis by making her do my dirty work again, and conclude that the plan is flawless.

Selis is still making all kinds of confused noises when I put her on the sword and send her off.

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