Chapter 03 - Camp
The woods are growing denser the more I walk. I’m strolling along a totally deserted mud road without seeing any indication of civilisation apart from some barely visible old tracks. There is not a single soul in sight. Taking a right was a good idea because the mountains have been growing less and less pronounced, sheer cliff faces giving way to sloping hills.
The road is surrounded by trees on both sides, giving me a pleasant shade to walk in. I see a light at the end of the foliage tunnel, and I increase my pace to see what the woods will give way for.
A truly breath-taking view greets my eyes. The road winds itself further into the distance, a little village visible a couple of hours walking down the road. Beyond that the grasslands stretch out into perfect flatness, the hills giving way for green grazing grounds with the occasional copse of trees.
A super tall spire is visible, sticking up from the horizon. That must be the first big town or city I will come across. It’s extremely obviously not a natural formation, the immaculately straight tower must be kilometres high. I think it will take me a few days of walking to get to it, at the least.
I slake my thirst on another stream I come across, but food is an issue. Then I remember my ring. Food is not an issue. It is filled with useless but interesting junk, which includes dishes from all over my previous world. With a slight tinge of pain in my heart, I think about the many treasures I had to sell or trade in order to collect the massive amount of lightning metals. There’s also a secret in the ring, but I won’t be able to access that part for a long, long time.
By the way, I’m know that the cultivation world had a name, I just never bothered to ask. I’m sure it's not much better than the unimaginative ‘Earth’. I gather a bit of qi in my hand and access the ring.
I can’t help but frown. Food is an issue; the qi I currently possess is just enough to bring out an apple. Then I’d be totally empty. My total qi has doubled since I left the cave, but even doubled it is of no use. Two grains of sand worth of qi is useless when you’re used to entire mountains of it. Rubbing my temple, I think of what to do.
Temporary setting up camp in the woods seems like a good plan, followed by some light hunting and a lot of stalking. Want a tip for blending in? Blending into a society that’s totally alien to you? A society that's built from the ground up on fundamentally different values and languages than those you’re familiar with? Do a lot of stalking.
When I first came to live inside the ten-year-old body of the previous owner, I did a lot of stalking. Languages where alien to my ears, it took me few years to be able to hold even the most basic of conversations. The villagers saw me coming back covered in blood and alone, and assumed trauma made me stop talking. I just blankly stared, trying to imitate shock victims from war movies.
It worked and they left me alone to integrate into peace. Since then I have picked up a few tricks here and there that should prove helpful in hastening this process for yet another world.
Woods spreads down the sloping hill on my left towards the village, my right is a rockier area where shrubs are the biggest plants. I set off towards these woods, to start a camp and begin my creepy stalker mode.
As I enter between the towering trees, I decide that I have just enough qi gathered to start some experiments. The most important trick I want to try is spiritual sense. Every sect used to have a different name for this phenomenon, but spiritual sense is the best descriptor in my opinion. Heavenly Sight, True Viewing, God Sense, it doesn't matter how you call it, it’s all about using the qi outside of your body to increase the range of your senses.
Deciding that I have reached deep enough into forest not to be disturbed, I separate a quarter of my total energies and guide it to my mouth through which I let it flow outside. A sphere a few meters in radius around me gets a slight qi saturation, allowing me to feel shape of all in its reach.
Closing my eyes, I stand still as the nostalgic feeling of absolute knowledge about the environment returns to me. The amount of qi you pump out determines the amount of feedback you get. For example; a scouting sense is as thin as possible, covering an immense area with little qi, but only allowing one to be able to sense vague shapes.
Studying artefact's requires one to saturate the environment around said artifact to the maximum. Some advances objects can only be truly comprehended by pouring absurd amounts of qi inside the object.
This scouting sense was the responsibility of a sectioned mind process previously, now I control it manually for greater effect. Shaping the energies into a beam two meters across and around 30 meters long, I swirl it around me, sweeping my direct environment. A flood of data surges in my mind like a biological radar screen, the shapes of tree trunks, life signatures of small animals and the outlines of dense undergrowth are all clear. As I keep the beam spinning around me I travel deeper into the forest. A few hours later I notice a burrow filled with a single fat rabbit.
The first stalking victim has been found! Slowly making my way over to the burrow, I focus my senses on the creature. I make note that this animal is the first one that seems normal to me. An ordinary, fluffy rabbit lacking any scales, feathers or other odd features. Other than that, on closer inspection the rabbit isn't fat, just pregnant. A tree next to the burrow seems slightly bigger than the rest and has slighty higher mana concentrations than its brethren; camping spot found! I’m on a roll, two objectives right next to each other.
As I stop patting myself on the back I notice that my qi reserves are slowly dwindling. Keeping perfect control of qi outside your body is really hard, and some leakage is unavoidable. The prospective momma rabbit isn't going anywhere, so I refocus my qi, gently sending it into the tree in order to have a conversation. It goes a bit like this:
*Bewildered feelings of confusion.*
“I know, I know, talking isn't something you're good at, right?”
*Vague feelings of indignation.*
“Hah, you got me there. I would absolutely suck at standing still all day and living on just water and sun. You're doing a much better job than I ever could!”
*Faint feelings of pride and… is that a bashful emotion? I swear this tree would be blushing right about now if it had capillaries in its woody visage.*
“You know what would be even better? Being hollow inside, it's all the rage with the trees in the next forest over.”
*More confusion and slight… disgust? This is one sassy tree.*
“I guess you're right; I don't think you could even do it. Only the oldest trees over there can accomplish it anyway, a shame.”
After I sensed an even bigger feeling of indignation, I knew I had the tree in the palm of my hand. A true lady… tree killer is what I am. As I continue to converse with the woody perennial, I coax and seduce it into following my plan, giving me a roof over my head. Using my qi, I show how sexy it'll be with the hollow shape in its trunk. I make up some impressive statistics and images that show the many benefits of sheltering me. The poor soul is quickly overwhelmed with my flawless reasoning, and I help guide it with my qi.
Sacred secret ancient art my ass, stupid Ancient Grove tree hugging hippy sect. Months of planning in order to break into their best-protected vault and the secret manual is just a shitty conversation guide.
While I'm sighing to myself, the bark slowly gives way as the power infused wood shapes into a small chamber, just enough to sit in. Ignoring the groaning of a four-meter wide trunk changing its internal structure, I wipe the splinters and dirt away. Temporary home found; let's first recover my qi with some active meditation while keeping an eye on the rabbit.
Human foetuses get a soul fairly early on in the pregnancy cycle, but most animals get a small one at birth. This highly pregnant rabbit should be the perfect subject for some research into the laws governing this planet.
An hour later the sky above me is turning various shades of pink and orange and mama rabbit settles down. Instead of fussing about with the fur-laden nest she lays down on top of it. I increase the amount of qi focussed on misses’ rabbit to half of my total, allowing me a faint glimpse of her soul.
The first soul I’ve seen in this world and it's quite a shocker. Pitch black; absorbing light like a greedy black hole, it sits in the rabbit's brain. My qi should not be quite dense enough in order to sense souls, but I get a vague impression of it anyway.
The world is usually all shades of grey, but this little bunny has a heart and soul blacker than pitch. The babies she pops out are naked, small, pink and blind. As they take their first totally independent actions a soul nestles in their bodies. A perfect balance of grey, as all new-born souls are. Neither evil nor good, new souls tend to just be. Once higher functions like instinct and will come online the colour should change to match the temperament of the creature.
At least, that's how it should be. The sickening amount of dark tinted mana in the air visibly corrodes the lighter parts, turning them darker before my very eyes, although extremely slowly. They should be completely black like their mom after a few weeks. This shocks me to my very core.
A quick inspection of my own soul realm assures me that my soul is still as grey as they come. The connection With relief in my heart, I settle my shaking body. Automatic soul adjustment to the darker side of things, this is immense. I don't know who is responsible for managing this planet, but they are doing an absolutely shitty job. Babies of sentient and self-aware species are grey until their teens when enough information and life experience have settled into the kids to allow them to make semi-well informed decisions.
Evil done in ignorance is not evil from the doers’ perspective, and perspective is all that matters in the universe. The vilest being I have ever seen had a soul as white as snow. Simple ignorance and a lack of knowledge about the world allowed this child to do horrific acts without a single blemish on his soul. Ironclad, unshakable belief in one's correct path and course of action is just as wrong as wilfully committing evil acts.
Still slightly shaking I ponder the meaning of this. Do sentient babies get their soul turned dark automatically too? A soul colour is not the main indicator of a person's willingness to inflict harmful and meaningless actions, but it's a good guideline.
Through observing many people over my lives I have noticed that only empathy gets influenced by soul colour in any meaningful way. A being with a pure white soul has a near-psychic ability to put themselves in the shoes of another. A perfect black soul has little thought of any other than themselves. This once again could be my biased views taking the forefront, I tell myself.
Soul measuring devices are a concept that contradicts it’s very self, as you need sentience in order to observe the soul. As there is no way for any sentient being to be perfectly impartial, empirical science is impossible on this subject.
Is it a self-sustaining process or a vicious cycle? Metaphorical powers such as light, darkness, good and evil usually keep themselves in check by constant attrition of the opposing forces. This diminishes the battling power of itself, so it usually balances itself out in the end. At least, that’s how it's supposed to work. This dark energy might just have started out as a slight imbalance that grew exponentially. I ignore the earth mana dancing around me as I continue to worry.
“This won't do. My beautiful and useful tree I'm sorry but I have to check something out.”
As I feel shock emanating from the brown and blue barked tree I stand up and walk towards the direction of the village that I saw earlier today. Standing in the same spot for hundreds of years and doing nothing but grow, only to have some guy forcefully start talking to you and leave right after must be quite the experience.
I walk away from the tree while worry gnaws at my guts, my emotions just not calming down after this discovery. Forcibly trying to clear my mind I focus some qi into my leg muscles, instantly running at Olympic speeds while zigzagging through the forest.
Half an hour later I observe a cosy village while trying to keep my lungs in my body. I have not felt these levels of exhaustion for a few hundred years but I'm thankful for the distraction. The treeline ends about fifty meters from the nearest hut. As I sneak through the underbrush, I thank the sun for creating lengthening shadows around me. I avoid the people walking around as I sneak towards the nearest house.
Keeping my breathing in check I spread my spiritual sense through the wooden wall. A single person is inside, cooking. Focusing on the person's head a ball of blackness stares back at me. Suppressing a shiver, I creep to the next house, only to find two adults and a child. Two pitch-black souls and a dark grey one. Are my senses fooling me? Are soul laws so different here that I’m simply interpreting things differently?
Realisation hits me. A total unknown phenomenon is staring me in the face and I’m worrying? I had trouble finding new things to learn in the previous world, so now something unknown hits me from left field and I’m acting like a worried pansy? I crawl through the entire village, scanning the inhabitants of every house. Around thirty wooden houses with an average of 3.5 inhabitants and one stone building with 7 people in it nets me only dark or black souls. In a daze I crawl back to the woods, walking through the forest back to my tree.
How did this happen?
An entire world filled with dark souls?
Are there even any gods here?
A massive black energy generation phenomenon?
A self-sustaining expanding imbalance?
Thoughts swirl through my head as excitement replaces worry. A new world to explore, new theories to formulate and new dishes to taste! I reach the tree and sit down. My excitement gets a slight damper as I notice momma bunny eating one of her young.
With a bloody cute little maw, she just munches on the legs of one of the naked pink creatures. The little baby bunny keeps on suckling, not having the energy to fight back. There are just three babies left; blood stains the only indication that there were more. As I force more qi into her mind I try to analyse what hormones are causing this behaviour.
My mood further darkens as I only feel a sense of laziness. Too lazy to move a few meters to eat some grass so she just eats one of her young? Normal bunnies do this too, but not often, and then its usually a result of neglect or dietary deficiency. This bunny is perfectly healthy, just too bored to bother otherwise.
As she finishes her current meal and starts nibbling on the second to last healthy young I feel my stomach churn a bit. Wait, no that's just hunger. Not having eaten anything since coming here I suddenly feel quite famished. It seems that this world is also one where might makes right. Let's exercise that right then.
Standing up I position myself above the burrow, focussing qi on my fist. I aim a lazy punch to the ground. The earth splits as the qi shoots forwards as my fist stops. A latticework of qi shaped into the form of a shovel shoots through the ground and I decapitate the fresh mother. I retrieve the bundle of qi and reach into the hole, gently putting the last young on its mother’s body. I pull the two warm bodies from the earth, leaving the head along with half a chewed up young in the ground as the hole collapses.
Standing there with a bunny corpse and a freshly born bunny baby I start thinking about what to do. I just noticed that the foundation of my new power base is rather unstable. Putting all my qi into a shovel shape and moving it outside my body was a lot more draining than I thought. I need to work on firming my foundations.
Also, I’m hungry and am holding a relatively large piece of fresh meat. I regain a bit of my smile as I think about how ethical it is to burn wood in a cooking fire while talking to a tree.
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