Chapter 30 - Bird
So there is a dragon studying my qi-absorbing circle. It is spinning with a few thousand rounds per minute, but that shouldn't be a problem to magical eyesight, right? The dragoness holds out her hands, gathering some of the yet unknown energy. Now that I think about it, this is an ideal opportunity to find out what emotions I may have missed.
Quickly cycling through all the known ones nets me nothing new. Feeling some anger, love, worry, grief and fear puts up a pretty light show of swirling mana, but the dragon’s actions remain invisible to me. What am I missing here? Emotions are one of the more complex types of phenomena to describe.
I can tell you what something tastes like and you might get a pretty accurate picture of what I am trying to describe. Doing the same with emotions is inherently useless since there exists no way to accurately transfer feelings across to someone else. Any cultivator I knew that went it that sort of direction, the direction of emotional manipulation, went insane and died a few hundred years later. The brain is a tool that apparently does not like to be abused and manipulated in that manner. Maybe there were a few old monsters that mastered this art, but they were not telling anyone.
I make a list of all emotions known to me. I am still missing stuff that can't easily be defined, like surprise, amazement or desire. Is pain even an emotion? How would I even simulate being surprised? Loathing is also missing, but that’s more due to my nature than anything else. How can I truly despise something or someone without having lived their lives?
This gives me a few ideas though. Clearing my mind, I look at the dragon in female form, studying every detail. White straight hair that ends uneven around her shoulders, light brown leather vest and pants, with big, flat white scales protecting the important bits. Light skinned hands carry long white nails, her grey eyes have a slight flicker of light in the middle of their pupils. Her face is perfect. Whatever mathematical codes for beauty or fertility recognition are hidden in my DNA, they are all yelling at me that her proportions are impeccable. C-cup, some process I definitely deleted pops up.
I bring up a golden ratio analyser and she hits perfect marks. Every piece of her face is in a one point six ratio with another part of her face. I empty my mind of everything that isn't her, I leave my automation running, of course - I don't want to end up insane just when I meet a rather hot chick.
White strands form around her. Panic flashes through my mind, the world around me flashing dark blue for a second. The white strands have disappeared. Is that the colour of her mana? I thought my qi trap had broken for a second, but a quick check allows me to calm down. All the qi the Tower produces is still being sucked up by the circle.
Was that amazement? Admiration? What is the opposite of admiration? Despising someone? Maybe loathing?
I don't want to start despising her before having a proper conversation, so let's go with self-loathing for now. Here we go!
‘What kind of idiot made that circle like that? And must it be spinning? Totally useless, it might even affect the gathering process adversely. The anchors are shit as well. Absolutely disgusting, the creator must be a pathetic lowlife for sure.’
White strands with a sinister hint or purple surround the dragoness. As my thoughts turn more and more self-incriminating, whatever the dragon is doing becomes clear to my eyes. Air mana gushes from her hands, forming into a rapidly spinning object. Is she trying to drill inside the protective shield? Did she not see that I made this thing? Too many questions, let's try asking for now.
“What are you doing?”
I get splendidly ignored. This isn't the first time I am ignored by girls, so let's not get depressed. She just pours more power in the energy construct she is controlling. I decide to entertain myself with something I should have done a while ago, and that is seeing how the city handled half of a massive space pillar falling on top of their heads.
Pulling some qi from the circle, I spread it around and down the tower. The city is at the edge of my current reach, I will have to be careful not to lose control of the qi at that distance. Taking it slow, my spiritual sense reaches the building tops a few minutes later. I sit down and make a mental map of the city, observing what is happening beneath the clouds.
The first thing I notice is a deep hole in the ground. That must be the place where that splinter landed. I can answer one of my questions about the Tower, the hole is a couple of tens of meters deep and I see no trace of dungeon walls or the sort. Stairs to a next level inside the dungeon are going down, the Tower must be messing with space magic to pull that off without creating massive underground caves. Beyond the new pond in the central plaza, various noble houses have taken damage. A couple of mansions have crushed wings and a single tower lays in rubble. It's not the tower on which I sat when learning the language, that one is fine.
The population is unchanged, the only difference is that nobody is entering the dungeon anymore. A lot of people are gathered on the main plaza, all geared up and ready to go. The thing stopping them are the guards blocking the entrance. Any attempts at probing the door to the dungeon are met with the disappearance of my qi.
Something is strange though, my qi is slipping from my grasp at a few other places. Concentrating my focus on one such place, I find a bird. A bird that is greedily gulping up as much of my qi as it can get its hands on. Of course, flying animals could get to the qi before it touched the ground, I am feeling pretty stupid for overlooking this fact.
One by one, I seek out all the qi infected animals. This might make for a good teaching moment about how qi influences living creatures. I tie a qi string to each animal and pull. Around thirty birds start flapping their wings wildly while being pulled upwards. I tied the strings to their feet, the sight of birds flapping upside down is pretty humorous to me. I expand my spiritual sense further downward, trying to cover a larger area. I find no other infected animals, but I do find qi loaded bird shit.
Here I am, a thousand-year-old world travelling cultivation expert, trying to think of the best way to clean up bird poop. I decide to grab onto the qi inside the shit, no need to get my metaphysical hands dirty. As the birds are being carried higher and higher, I methodically erase any scrap of qi from the city. There is a chance that other qi infected animals have left the city, but that shouldn't be a big problem. There is no qi in this world besides mine, so they will run out of energy eventually. A cultivator needs a solid core to start generating his or her own qi, and in the beginning, it's a paltry amount.
I think of Lola and her mana breathing technique. She needed a lot of prodding and teaching before understanding that mana can be turned into qi. Let’s just hope there are no cultivation geniuses with a heaven-defying constitution among the birds that did get infected…
I pull the birds the last few hundred meters upwards, keeping a solid grip on them against the wind. I float them before me in a neat row, inspecting my catch. They are a mix of breeds, with none that I recognise. A few are pitch black with white pinstripes on their feathers. One has green spikes jutting from its spine, while another one has… How do I even describe this thing? It has down covered tentacles? Three squirming protrusion stick from its sides and rear.
Without touching any of them I stuff them inside my necklace, creating a qi cage around each one. I place them in the crown of the Tree, chaining them to the branches with more qi threads. That done, I stand up and walk towards the spinning circle.
I ignore the stare of a certain rude dragoness and walk through the barrier she has been pounding on for the last few minutes. Taking off my necklace, I place it in the centre of the circle, willing it to hover in place. I observe how the dense load of qi starts getting sucked inside by Tree. Ignoring the sound of explosions coming from behind me, I observe how the necklace stabilises, the fine chain slowly moving with the rotation. I take a breath and push myself inside it and appear in the clearing.
My danger sensing process takes autonomous action, shoving a large portion of qi inside my brain. As the world slows down around me I take in what is happening.
Projectile aimed at me? Speed is near mach one. Take qi from the air, form solid shield around self. Sphere constructed, reinforce with submolecular bonds. Brace for impact in 3 milliseconds. Analyse situation. Toxic gas in the air? Higher methane concentrations than average. Source of projectile is… Angeta. Projectile is Bord. Impact now.
Bracing myself I weather the collision. The sight of a hundred kilos of soft tissue rippling on impact with my shield is a mesmerising sight. My feet are shoved back a few centimetres as I try to figure out what is happening here. Angeta is now rushing over, fury written all over her face while she covers her nose. Various plants are wrapped around her arms. Yep, those clues are enough for me to understand what is going on.
I gather qi in my vocal chords and shout.
The world around me slows down. It takes me a slight moment to adjust to the fact the world is slowing down instead of my thoughts that are speeding up. I retract the qi from my mind and observe a few leaves hung suspended in the air. Everything in a circle around me has frozen in time, the fatty stuck in place a meter above the ground, the beastwoman stopped mid-stride.
This is another benefit of being a body cultivator, every part of my body can now be weaponized. I once heard of a body cultivator who could piss with such force, that he could cut through meter thick steel plates with ease. How would other bodily functions work if the power is cranked up a few thousand or million times? I create a small process to explore this question. So far I know about talking, pissing and farting. Let's hope the results that this process comes up with are a little less juvenile.
“Everybody farts Angeta, no need to get so pissed about it. It is commendable that you can utilise plants in such a way though, keep it up!”
I turn to face the slowly undulating blob of fat.
“Please do any bodily excretions inside your hut, I suspect that our furry friend over here has a nose that is quite sensitive.”
I snap my fingers and the world around me starts moving again. I cover my face to protect me from some wooden shrapnel that comes flying at me. A good number of trees are in pieces, victims from the flatulence induced violence. I smile at the Tree as a wave of golden threads starts cleaning the area.
Angeta stumbles and falls on her face, her roaring shout ending with a face full of dirt, branches and roots flying everywhere in her fall. A quick check tells me that the rest are hiding at either the edges of the clearing or inside their own huts. Bord smashes to the ground and gets up immediately. He has this whiny expression on his face as if the entire world has wronged him.
“I was stuck in the air, how else...”
My fierce glare shuts him up. Right after that bit of intimidation, I pick up Lola who came running the moment I appeared. While petting the fuzzy cutie, I address my sorry group of disciples.
“I am going to teach you guys one more lesson, then I will kick you out for a bit. Gather round!”
Putting Lola on my shoulder, I pull one of the bird cages to me, grabbing the white cage that comes flying. I take out the bird, a sparrow-like beast with the colouration of a parrot. I tap my foot a bit as I wait for the rest of my students to gather. Ket is one of the first to come walking up to me. He has a glint in his eyes that I don't like.
“Ah Ket, you should learn about automation first. I don't want you going crazy on me. If a single person gets too much thinking power, they will start to see the world in only numbers. You should overlay any calculation on top of the world, not have it be your world.”
I let my words sink in a bit. Ket’s eyes shine with understanding a few seconds later.
“Take any task you do manually, such as spreading your qi around to sense stuff and shove it in a part of your mind. This will give you a slightly less efficient version of that task that runs without conscious effort. It will also limit the amount of thinking you have to do per second, then you can stop doing sums all the time to prevent all that boredom.”
Ket closes his eyes and I sense a surge of energy focused on his head. A second later he opens his eyes again, a much calmer look in them now, the beginning madness gone.
“Maybe teach those basics from the beginning?”
“Nah, you guys need to figure this stuff out for yourself. I don't want you guys to become copies of me, you should find your own ways to progress. I only told you this because I had to find this out the hard way.”
The rest of the small group has gathered by now. I see some of them wanting to begin speaking but I glare at them until they give up. Let's begin the lesson. As I open my mouth I think about the dragoness up top. She might need information like this too, the way she is handling the barrier covering my circle is rather juvenile. She could do some serious damage if she tinkers with my construct the wrong way.
“Cover yourself in qi and sit down, it is pretty cold and windy where we are going.”
I pull the entire group along with myself through Tree as soon as we all have sat down. We appear inside the protective bubble of the formation, the spinning circle to the side. Gasps are heard as the group feels the biting cold, Bord the only exception. Slightly coloured hazes start to cover them instantly.
More gasps follow as they take in their surroundings. Tess touches the cracked floor with trembling fingers and I sense Ket spreading his own qi around to feel what is going on. He stops half a second later and retracts his qi, he must have felt the dungeon stealing his power. The dragoness is… hugging the sphere? What can that accomplish? Ah, and she is back to bashing on the shield again, the jiggling that’s caused is nice to look at but the sound is rather annoying. I make a small modification to the shield surrounding us, muffling any outside sources of sound. I tell it to smooth out any incoming air, turning the fierce whipping wind into a steady breeze while letting any sounds from outside go outside.
“As you can see, the Tower had a slight mishap. I’m not sure how this happened, but I have my theories. I went into the dungeon a while ago to check it out, as I had never seen one before. Whatever is running this thing…” I pat the floor. “Must have tried to take my qi and attempted to create his own. I saw the tower snapping in half from the top of the mountain you guys were climbing.”
I look at the cages bird I am still holding. Dissolving the cage, I put it on display for the small group. Grabbing it around its wings, I hold it out in front of me.
“Normal people, even mages, don't know what to do with qi. I helped each of you to form a core, allowing you basic control over the energy. People that don't know what qi is will fight it and die within a week.”
I lift the bird up, allowing a portion of the qi the tower is putting out to flow around the creature.
“Now animals, like this little one here, don't think about what to do with qi. This allows them to absorb and use it naturally. Qi only reinforces what is already there, so this bird will become better at what it already does, namely flying and pecking stuff.”
I look at the group and they display quite the range of emotions. Angeta is smirking, happy about something that humans rely on has broken, I assume. Ket is just thinking very hard while Tess is looking at me with horror in her eyes. She looks like she is about to burst into tears every time she looks at the broken floor. Selis is staring at the horizon with wide eyes, did she even listen to a single word I said? Vox is looking down, also thinking. Rhea, the dragoness, is about to explode. She seems to be screaming her head off, wildly flailing against the transparent shield bubble. Bord is picking his nose…
“So now that we all know what is at stake, take a look at this fellow. This bird absorbed some qi when the tower broke. I managed to keep the flow of qi from the city but forgot that birds fly… I was thinking so much that I couldn't see what was right there in front of me.”
I glance at Ket but see no reaction from my words.
“This means that this bird had a little bit of qi a day ago and I am only allowing it to fill itself up now. We are going back inside in a moment and I want you guys to fight this bird. You have been inside of a qi rich environment for quite a while now, and your qi exposure is much larger than this birds. Thus it should be easy to win against this tiny animal that’s only recently exposed, right?”
Ket glances at Lola with doubt written all over his face. Angeta is staring at the bird while licking her lips. I wave goodbye to Rhea and pull all of us inside the medallion again. I stand up and take a big leap over to my little castle, still holding the bird. I sit myself down on top of the tower, it sticks up over the treeline, giving me a good vantage point from which I can enjoy the show. I take a deep breath and shout.
“ALRIGHT, you all have a basic grasp of qi. Show me what you can do. The first to catch or touch the bird gets some good food.”
They don't seem that interested until I speak the word food. Their heads snap up in my direction. With a big grin on my face, I release the bird, which flaps away immediately.
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