Chapter 299 - Spectating

Tree is sheer absolute chaos. Things have been slowly but surely escalating for a while. It all started when Teach pulled the two new people out of nowhere. Getting the father-and-son duo Teach imported from the Cultivation World stable and settled took a massive concerted effort.

Tree was barely able to contain all the hyper-conditioned qi that burst from the duo. All the braincores had thrown a hissyfit when everyone else followed Teach and started calling the decrepit form of energy ‘Ancient Qi’. Database actually showed some decisiveness here. A massive amount of mental resources were being spent on formulating the pro's and con's list of both names when Database cut through the issue. It claimed both were valid. The footnote of that update noted that Teach didn't care, but consistently used 'Ancient Qi'.

Then everyone had collectively decided to ignore the braincores and their semantic tomfoolery and kept working on solving more pressing issues. The impossible contrast of qi concentrations between the Cultivation World and the Magic World, for example, took more precedent.

Tree had nearly collapsed a few times under the massive influx of toxic power. It didn’t get better until it started handling the massive inrush through regulating it with a massive freaking tornado.

Even now, with the entirety of Tree and half of the Magic World spellbound with watching the Dark Moon tournament, Tree is shrouded in a constant whirlwind of thick ancient qi.

Back when the Cultivation World father-and-son duo had been pulled back from the brink of death and panic, Teach pulled another stunt. He had the brilliant idea to pull more people into Tree. The entire caravan ambush was a massive spectacle. The forces at play looked massive, confusing, disappointing, and frightening, somehow all at once.

The showdown of Teach versus the Lost Light Forger sect elder had caused Tree to freeze. Everyone had watched it, and you could have heard a pin drop during the final confrontation. Teach pulling the long-range artillery satellite out and unceremoniously ending the standoff was the reason for many a lost bet. And much discussion afterward.

The interest in Teach’s adventures waned after that. Watching him trounce through the jungle while beating up animals was less exciting than the massive city of Outpost Long Reach. The thing with the odd squirrel sect was only a footnote. Nobody dared talk about the episode of Teach walking through the ricefields of the Majestic Chanters of Divine Rice sect.

A small fraction of students in Tree did manage to make a highly successful recreational enterprise, however. The building only had to be soundproofed a grand total of six times before the effects of the songs and sounds stopped affecting people outside.

Influencing people through sound and song wasn’t made illegal. Influencing people without their express permission was made very much punishable. The few students that started the sound entertainment club claimed that isolating the sound was for the good of the general populace. They vehemently denied that they were pissed that non-paying students hanging around were getting high on the sound for free.

In the meantime, the human and beastkin population came into contact with a couple of interesting races. Initial contact with the underground insectkin was violent and brief. Then Valerius got wind of the altercation, teleported over, and things only got worse.

People started calling it a 'lovers spat' instead of a battle after that. The result of the conflict is still unknown. Valerius has only submitted the status update of ‘it’s complicated’, and nobody really knows what to make of that.

Some of the insectkin did start to show up around the Tree Portals, however. The carapaced creatures seem rather shy, and every single one keeps hiding their eyes behind massive sunglasses. This incidentally started a new fashion trend, allowing for a slow yet suspiciously easy integration of these new humanoids.

Then a small faction of students became excited to near madness when Selis came into view again. Teach leaving her behind had let that group calm down, also helped by the fact that Selis had access to Database again. This also caused a rather grumpy faction of aquatic beastkin to make contact with the students in Tree. Every single one of the gilled and scaled race refused to talk with anyone except for the blue-haired-one. The diplomacy with this new race was also set to ‘it’s complicated’ until further notice.

The dragons all kind of integrated with the humanoid society, somehow. Every single member of the Flight decided to lie low, a haunted and shell-shocked look to their eyes. One particular dragon seems on good footing with Bord, however. Public records on Database keeps refusing to acknowledge the existence of dragons among Tree’s general populace. Except for a few crackpot conspiracy theorists, the search for the Flight has largely died down. 

Then Green became the drama queen of the ages for a while, constantly lamenting her fate and the fact that she was poor again. Well, not poor. As one of the frontrunners of the bonecore path, as well as a Cultivation World dweller, she could be counted in the top one percent of power and wealth in Tree. Still, that did not prevent her from complaining and lamenting all her lost wealth constantly.

In the beginning, the large lumberjack known as Rodrick could constantly be seen by her side. A week later, he disappeared from the public’s eye. Ferocious chopping and cursing sounds could be heard coming from Tree’s deep woods after that point.

At this time, the young boy from the Cultivation World had started integrating himself into Tree’s society. His father and he were released from the impromptu hospital when their bodies were stable again. The amount of stagnant qi that had to be extracted from their physical forms was honestly shocking. A few new ways of measuring qi concentrations had to be devised to measure the absurd levels.

Then, while the caravan people were still recuperating and while their grasp of the local language was still horrible, they were kicked out of Tree. They were guided to Tower City and told that they could come back into Tree when they managed to withstand the pull of the Tree Portal located next to the Tower Dungeon.

After being taken to a cultivation school type building outside the city limits, the two humans were left to their own devices. Being cleaned out of qi, the biggest hurdle for the two to overcome was their non-existent qi sensitivity. Used to being surrounded by staggering concentrations of the stuff, it took the boy a week of frustrated meditation before he managed to cultivate.

“Just imagine there’s a single pinch of flour spread across this entire plaza. Gather that flower and put it in your heart, head, or stomach. Or anywhere else, really,” the boy tried to explain to his father, afterwards.

The next moment, every single person in Tower City felt the qi being disturbed. The people inside Tree were all pretty much speechless when the father-and-son duo showed up the very next day. They were in the Qi Condensation stage, usually miles away from mustering up the strength to ignore the Tree Portal's pull. Yet they were easily able to ignore it and kept asking people why they were looking at them funny in their still stilted tongue.

When the caravan people got released, they basically did the same. This opened up a whole new field of study, and all the Cultivation World people became very rich test subjects shortly after. Many new theories on why Teach manages to stay ahead of even the best cultivating student are still being revised, and brute force qi control is now being trained with much more enthusiasm.

The stream of people entering Tree from the Cultivation World dried up, but the number of students entering from the Magic World was growing exponentially at this point. Some people thought this might cause trouble, but Tree’s growth was more than keeping up with the increasing population. Towns were being kept together, while geographical features were growing or sliding apart at a speed nearly visible to the naked eye.

The original students were keeping order as best they could, but accidents started happening with increasing regularity. This is where the previously little-known mage going by the name of Taran somehow worked his way into the upper echelons of Tree society.

While Tess was doing an admirable job of sitting inside her qi pressure cooker, Bord was just lazing around with his clique of tigress ladies. Angeta initially tried to get her own qi pressure cooker but decided that guiding and training with the people she knew from her village was a better way to spend her time. Other well-known characters such as Rityn and Bassik continued doing what they were already doing, research and chatting with people respectively.

Taran, on the other hand, actually seemed to be taking Tree, its development, and its population seriously. Nobody liked him - everybody had a lot to say about the dead-eyed ex-earth-mage - but everybody listened to what he said, and they still do. Having taken over roles that used to be handled by Ket, Rhea, and Teach, the braincore spends his days just roaming the sect. He just so happens to chat with people at the right time and in the right place all the time.

He’s also taking care of the spectacle that every single person on Tree and the Magic World is watching right now. Every soul in Database’s sphere of influence - outside of the few on the Cultivation World - are staring at the Dark Moon tournament.

A couple of groups of students are raking in massive amounts of points by selling snack food to the enraptured crowd. Others are either selling or renting comfortable chairs, selling duo-seats to couples. One person has the guts to present Bord with a massive round bed, large enough to fit him and his retinue. Bord waves the man away at first but feeling Fifteen’s fingernails dig into his arm all of a sudden, he reluctantly buys the thing.

While that goes on, collective shouts and mass intakes of breath sound out from the lounging crowd. Teach makes his way through the tournament without much aplomb, but he takes up very little screen time. The majority of the projected images show the fights around him, fancy techniques and bloody injuries being shown en-masse.

The amount of amazed gasps and exclamations dies down rather quickly, however. Instead, a low murmur of comments, complaints, and frenzied discussions starts to sound out. The previous excitement is partially replaced by worried talk, more so inside Tree than in the mortal cities.

“That technique is just a simple corkscrew punch. Why does his face look like he is having the biggest shit in his life?”

“Elegant Shadowcrane Centrifugal Heel Impact? It’s just a scissor kick with a very simple qi fractal qi circulation.”

“Flowing Wild Darkness River Sword sounds cool! What will that move… Even a five-year-old can do that blade infusion!”

“There’s no way that these are the elites of the sect. Wait, these are just the lower rungs of the sect. The best disciples are seeded higher in the tournament!”

With that last student’s exclamation, the rowdy group of Tree elites watching the tournament calms down a bit. They start speculating about the upcoming fights, making wild guesses at how people got to those sheer levels of incompetence.

Then Teach is suddenly done, the last unfortunate sap that was his opponent dropping through the seamless trap to the level below. He stands at the center of the massive black arena, the few remaining contestants mere shells of their previous selves.

Teach looks equally dead. He is splattered in all kinds of gore and viscera. Only a fraction has come from his own fights, the majority of the bits and bobs covering him originating from the battles around him. Silence descends, both in the arena and inside Tree. The view solely concentrates on Teach, and seeing the near-mythical figure covered in blood stirs a wave of unrest through the crowd.

The braincores then collectively state - through a Database-housed public news bulletin - that none of the blood is Teach’s. The consumption of popcorn, other snacks, and comfortable sitting arrangements resumes with gusto after that news breaks.

A little downtime follows. Like a pause in a movie or a break in a play, people wake up from the trance of entertainment. They move around, go get more snacks, or use the restroom. The latter only happens outside Tree, as every single person that managed to get through the Tree Portals has immense control over their bladders.

Except for a certain father-and-son duo, that is. As if the rather harrowing trip to the northern end of Tree - where the massive plant itself is located - wasn’t bad enough. Many leagues of rough wilderness had to be traversed. Tree's planet is no longer covered in neat bands of desert, poison swamp, frozen mountain, and other dangerous terrain. Students used to be able to walk through one biome and earn their right to visit Tree itself. Now, the planetoid is twisted, making spiraling bands of the dangerous terrain, like a highly unpleasant compound screw. So people can either walk their terrain of choice for a very, very long time, or travel every single terrain there is.

Then came the rather dangerous forests, infested with lethal beasts and flesh-eating plants. And now, after having survived that arduous journey, they have to suffer more. Not a single toilet in sight. And Tree isn’t keen on letting his brethren be pissed on, they both soon discover.

A few people keep an eye on the screens. Dark Moon sect elders give pompous speeches of many words yet little meaning. The fanfare that Teach has so far missed resumes in all its boring glory.

And then Teach continues to make a rather massive fool of himself. Two groups emerge among the watching students. The ones that have actually come into contact with the now mythical figure of Drew all cover their faces in either shame or exasperation at his antics. The rest all reel back in horror at seeing the deific figure act like that.

And then the braincores once again interrupt the entire thing.

A group has been tracking the rather odd series of earthquakes that Teach has been experiencing. Their preliminary conclusions point towards events that vary from 'bad' to 'cataclysmic'.

Another group has been analyzing the metal arena Teach and Ket have found themselves in. Their initial report hits the public around the same time, and their news is even worse.

Just inside the growing urban ring that’s quickly developed around Tree, a certain black-haired girl also reads these reports. The qi pressure cooker she is still sulking inside suddenly explodes.

“TEACH!” she screams. “DO THAT THING OR I’LL GET OVER THERE AND CHOKE YOU WITH YOUR OWN GUTS!”

In another universe entirely, separated by distances impossible to measure, a thousand-year-old world-hopper suddenly gets the cold shivers while wallowing in despair.

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