Chapter 281 - Factions (2)

"Also, where is your ring?” I ask of Ket, who is still clutching my hand like I’m a glass of water and he’s dying of thirst in the desert. Our entire thought-based conversation is happening at a faster than normal speed, and that’s without taking the time dilation into account. Ket and I have only been staring at each other for a few seconds at this point, so we have plenty of time to chat.

“Lost it,” comes Ket’s meek thought in return. “So after the Nexus assault turned to shit… did we win?”

“We kicked that moon’s ass,” I reply with a smug grin.

“Good to know. And Tess?”

“She’s fine. Pretty pissed, though. Has been doing all kinds of weird stuff.”

“You’re still connected to Tree? Any progress on standardizing the method of taking an entire dimension as a core yet?”

I mentally shake my head. “No. Ascend and then start over. That’s still the only feasible way that my current cultivation can be repeated. But I met with Selis and Green.”

“Wait, more? I wasn’t the only one?” Ket takes care to transmit some confusion into his reply.

“No. Vox, Ragni, and…”

“And?” asks Ket, the question completely devoid of any emotion.

“Rhea.”

“Damn. Who did it and how dead are they?”

“Look here, Ket. You will first tell me your story and then you will tell me what scam you are pulling here. Running over and calling me your master? I should slap you for dragging me into this shit.”

“Right. Sorry about that, Teach. One question first, please. Are you the Scheming Fox Demon?”

I reply with an exasperated expression. “Yeah.”

“Figured. That works out then. No mentioning Dre-”

“Wanna die?” I cut him off.

“Understood, sir!” he replies with clearly suppressed mirth. “Might I compliment you on your people skills, though. From the many stories I’ve heard, your interpersonal skills are worse than mine.”

“Ket…” I reply with a neutral tone.

“Yes, sir! I dropped in when the Flood of Fools just started. We call it the Flood of Fools because everyone knows this sect is going to shit, yet the mortals keep coming over in drov-”

“It’s been three seconds. Things are getting awkward,” I once again interject.

“I fainted because of the pressure the moment I appeared here. When I woke up, I was robbed. Lost all my metal, my ring, and most of my clothes. Applied for the test, did the spirit root testing orb thing and got low earth affinity. That got me accepted as a provisionary outer court disciple. I’m basically a gofer that’s saddled with all the work while everyone above me does nothing.”

“And the plan here?”

“The majority of the promotional tests are based on physical might. The initial tests are barriers designed to keep mortals and heartcores out of the courts. I passed that one easy. The rest, I can’t get past. There's no metal here, and the little that is present, I can’t get at. Or it’s super expensive. I’ve been saving up my cultivation pill stipend, as they are absolute trash, but I’m not getting anywhere. I can put everything I know about the tests and the sect in Database, but I don’t have my ring with me.”

“I’m not replacing your ring. I’ll hand you a medallion linked to Tree. So…” is ask, getting a picture of what he is planning.

“You’re my long lost master who taught me everything I know about cultivation! We are from a small unnamed village. You found me while wandering around and you saw my small talent. I call you Smart Wolf Fiend, the one with the elevated title of Teacher.”

“A little on the nose…”

“These people here don’t get that type of humor. It’s fine.”

“I know,” I grumble. “It’s still very much on the nose.”

“Yeah, I was under a lot of stress when I made all this up, okay? I can barely cultivate as is, and finding any qi that’s even willing to listen to me is a massive chore. Cultivating takes a massive amount of time, and I’ve only managed to make my entire head my own yesterday. There is no metal qi intent here at all.”

“Oh, wow. I’ve got my entire body under my control again.”

“Well, you probably didn’t have to beat off homicidal psychos the entire time, forcing you to be constantly wary, forcing you to cultivate furiously just to make it through the day.”

“Well… No. I did not have to do that constantly. So, the plan? What do you want me to do?”

“You’re my master. What power level are you at the moment?”

I mentally roll my eyes. “As far as my physical abilities go, I'm at the top of the Human Realm. With my mental abilities, I wo-”

Ket interrupts me. “Good. That should get you a house or residence. Please let me sleep there, please! The dorms are the worst. People die there each night and there's these horrible group rap-”

I cut him off in turn. “Alright. Say no more. And don’t interrupt people. That’s rude and annoying.”  I send a grin his way to let him know I’m just messing with him. Then I send him a more savage smile. “I always wanted to go and rampage through a sect. Upset a few young masters, slap some faces, awaken some secluded meditating patriarchs by making a massive ruckus, steal some ancient sect treasures, go into armories and pick out the trash that’s really a precious item, all that good stuff. I’ll give you the Tree medallion in a second. Start spilling all the details on this sect.”

“No, Teach. That’s not what I meant at all. I’m sorry for interrupting you earlier, but isn’t that going a bit to fa-”

“Apology accepted, Ket! Interrupting people in normal conversation is rude, but it’s really terribly crass to do it mid-thought while conversing as braincore to braincore. Alright, people are going to wonder if we have something going on, with us staring into each other's eyes like this. Let’s do this!”

Ket continues to send thought packets and mental messages to me, but I ignore the desperate-sounding pleas. I calm the qi roiling through my head, breaking the shared crawl between me and Ket. I then pat myself down, pull my beating stick and a medallion from my ring, pluck a bloody feather from the stick, and lean on it with gravitas. I hide the small necklace holding a miniature silver model of Tree in the palm of my hand. “What are you doing here, disciple?”

“Oh, mas-”

The next thing I do is a masterwork in physical acting if I do say so myself. I swing at Ket with my staff but control my arm and hand muscles just so that I give his face a heavy shove instead of a bone-shattering stomp. Slathering bird blood all over his nose, I send him spinning. Gulping in a lungful of air, I wait for Ket to land and struggle upwards. He looks at me with an extremely bewildered expression on his face while clutching his bloody nose. I can sense him crawling at his maximum speed, but I just ignore the qi threads he sends towards me. Instead, I get up in his face and scream at him. “YOU DARE CRAMP MY STYLE?”

I hit him a few more times, making sure to only give him firm taps instead of the bone-breaking hits I present them as. I send more blood flying as I continue shouting at him. “YOU UNFILLIAL DISCIPLE! I save you from poverty, take you under my wing, save you from that job that would have been your death, teach you my wisdom, give you my food, and YOU JUST DISAPPEAR?”

I keep whacking at the kid until he is nothing but a shivering mess. At some point in our masterfully played act, I actually see the light in his eyes break. The realization that this is just another of my idiotic schemes he just has to put up with seems to do a lot of mental damage. I'm sure it would have caused him many visits to a psychiatrist or therapist if such a thing existed here.

“WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF, YOU SHAMEFUL EMBARRASSMENT? WHAT WOULD YOUR MOTHER SAY?” I finish the amazing performance by spitting on his black robes. I then wipe away the drool by kicking him a few more times. Lola is sitting bolt-upright on my shoulder, looking around at the ruckus that’s going on. Every single person here is looking at me, even the almost sleeping sect members standing next to the large gate.

Mission accomplished, I pull Ket up by the scruff of his neck and drag him behind me while walking to the sect entrance. I drop the Tree necklace in a pocket and tap on it once. “Who's in charge here?”

“Greetings, elder. I am Long Cioa Bai, outer court disciple of the Dark Moon sect. How can this one help you?” asks one of the gold-trimmed robes.

“You’re not in charge.” I imagine killing him a couple of thousand ways and push those thoughts into a small burst of qi. All the mortals around me turn pale the moment the wave of qi hits them, some falling to their knees. The fellow talking to me stumbles backward, a dark spot spreading on his crotch area. I look at the woman standing off to the side, but let my gaze glance over her. “Who is in charge here?”

An effeminate young man drops down from the top of the pillar. He wears the same type of robe as the woman, but from their interactions, I can see that the man is in charge. I hold up the sorry lump that is Ket in front of him, making sure to nonchalantly show him Ket’s backside. Ket’s face is bloody, but undamaged, something this man will surely pick up on. “Has this one joined your sect?”

“May I know your name first?”

“No,” I reply.

The young man nods grimly. “That one joined our sect over two moons ago. He is a provisionary outer sect disciple.”

“I can see that. How do I get him out?” I ask while making a show of being exasperated.

“Death.”

“Just death? Well, then. I hereby would like to join this sect." I glance around, making it obvious I'm looking at the mass of mortals that keeps trickling in. "I am sure that we will join this sect for the rest of our lives. This place is doing great, I can see. Let’s join up and serve the glorious cause that this sect is serving!”

The young woman is now standing behind the young man, and I see a series of emotions play across her face. The anger and resentment she doesn’t manage to hide flow into an odd form of grim acceptance at my gesture. I then face the man and see that he is genuinely smiling at me. I do a double-take and look back at the woman. I see her anger at my obviously mocking words turn into wearisome tiredness.

The man smiles widely at me, his eyes brimming with rather flat happiness. “Yes! It pleases me that you recognize the greatness of my Dark Moon sect. Please come over here, this line is for the mortals. Here is the way for the ones already on the Path.”

I just stare between the two for a bit, not sure how to take this situation. The woman rolls her eyes and gestures to the left side of the massive gate. The line of people has been staring at my act this entire time, none of them making a sound.

“As my junior brother so wisely said, this line is for the low folk. Please use the testing stone on the other side, fellow Daoist. My name is Jin Yu, while my junior brother over here is called Jin Lashi.”

I nod at the duo, pretending not to have seen the wince of mental damage that the young man suffered each time Yu called him ‘junior brother’. I step past the disciple that’s still laying in a puddle of his own piss and walk to the stand set up to the left side of the gate.

The road moves under the thick black gate, which is an oversized ceremonial monstrosity with too many decorations and curved roofs. Just in front of both pillars are small stands holding large round spheres. The right side is surrounded by waist-high stone fence barriers forming a complex and convoluted queue. The left testing sphere is a lot cleaner, not a single post or fence in sight. The road lowers steeply after moving through the gate, disappearing into the black mists that haunt the cliffs all around me.

Instead of paying any attention to the slight seed of nervousness rolling around in my gut, I study the orb while walking to it. Lashi happily walks in front of me, smiling at me while rubbing his hands. “You surely have come across these before. These are testing stones, advanced cultivator tools that will shine a color depending on the affinities hidden in your flesh. Provisional Outer Court disciple Ket, tell us what affinity it detected in your constitution.”

“Minor earth affinity, honored disciple. It glowed a faint brown,” replies Ket. His voice drips with insincere politeness, clearly faking any form of servitude he is playing at. Lashi doesn’t seem to notice, but I catch Yu sending a glare Ket’s way.

“Might we know your current stage on the path, fellow Daoist. I sense qi radiating from your constitution, but I can’t seem to get a grip on your stage and level,” Yu probes me while we approach the crystal ball.

That question grinds my current train of thought to a halt. I did a lot of things since coming to the Cultivation World, but I never did get a disguise gutcore in place. The fact that she is sensing qi from me at all is admirable, as Human Realm practitioners are rarely capable of detecting energies from a higher realm.

Sending my senses wide, I scan for everyone's level here. Everyone here - except for Ket and me - can be classified as a mortal or a Human Realm practitioner. The disciples hanging around the gate are all in the Qi Gathering or Qi Condensation stages. Only Ket and I have stepped into the Earth Realm and formed our foundation.

Ket’s cultivation base might as well be non-existent though. He is only technically in the Earth Realm. His entire system is so compressed, that it doesn’t really do anything for him. I do sense a rather unstable and shitty core forming in his stomach, which must be his way of trying to cultivate here.

The two pretty Jin disciples that are standing behind me are both at the solid core level, the woman barely there, while the man feels like he’s been there for a while.

“My apologies. My master does this occasionally,” I hear Ket mumble softly.

I stop staring off into space like a zombie and start examining the testing crystal. The moment I send out a thread of Will in order to scan the thing, I know I’m fucked. I immediately crash into combat mode and open up my link to Tree. I feel Ket joining in behind me, but he’ll take a few minutes in catching up with his time dilation.

While waiting for all my data connections to steady, I start theorizing how to avoid getting the attention of this Immortal Grade Empyrean Realm artifact that is disguised as a talent checking pillar.

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