Chapter 31 - Hunt
Re-Haan Ra-Lush-Neer Hu-Ungu Le-Fetsun is a proud dragon. Her long name a testament to her many feats and accomplishments. Gaining the ability to change into a bipedal form before her tenth millennia is a great feat in and of itself. So imagine her wroth when some random lower being, some insignificant mortal ignores and insults her.
The punch to the face did not tick her off. If a being can punch a dragon, more power to them. The blatant disregard he showed her after that did start making her angry though. The interruption when she was telling him her own glorious name was rude. But the transgressor is only human, so his ignorance is forgivable. He then proceeded to just stand there, ignoring her wind-calling completely. He then wanted to talk to her, so she cut that off as fast as possible. The Root that is spiking with unknown energy fluctuations is a bigger concern.
The transparent dome surrounding the massive energy signature has withstood anything she threw at it. She was already ticked off at this entire situation, she was taking a ten-year long nap, being woken early by an alarming wave of mana did not put her in a good mood. And then this small pathetic creature just walks through the barrier, puts something in the middle of the circle and vanishes. She tried very hard not to explode and bring ruin to the city beneath her, but she had to fight for it. She even felt a flicker of nature mana in the air, her anger so towering that it overcame her natural air mana disposition for half a second.
She vented her anger by exponentially increasing the power of her attacks, the last one she performed was able to put a small crack in dungeon stone. Just as she was about to unleash an attack that contained half of her total might, the rude human reappeared. And he brought friends.
This instance of distraction was enough for the magic she was holding above her head to explode with wild abandon. This resulted in her smacking against the shield with tremendous force. She felt it, all her bones rattled around and she was dizzy for a moment, but the tower and shield managed to ignore the violent impact without a single bit of movement.
Re-Haan does not know a lot about humans, just enough to intimidate them properly, but she is pretty sure of the fact that humans can not duplicate within such short timespans. Nor do they have the ability to change the gender or weight of said impossible duplications. There was also one of those animalistic humanoid offshoots from the east in the group, and those two ethnic groups never mix well.
A second later, however, these thoughts were swept away by the fury coursing through her veins. She lost control of the air around her completely, the beast girl now giving off a green glow in her eyes. Now that she thinks about it, she really lost her temper for a moment there, wildly flailing, punching and kicking the smooth barrier stopping her from committing revenge on its inhabitants.
Her memories are a bit fuzzy from that point on, the only thing sticking out in her mind was the happy wave goodbye the human gave her. She completely lost it at that point and spent at least half an hour in a furious frenzy, hammering the shield in all kinds of novel and interesting ways.
She does regret that slip of control now, as she is now entirely empty of mana and her muscles are hurting a lot. Her total state of exhaustion did bring back some clarity, and Re-Haan is now contemplating her place in the universe and existence in general. The fact is that she has started to understand and remember bits and pieces of what the human was talking about. The voices were extremely muffled, but being an air attuned dragon - one of the most mana sensitive races to begin with - allowed her to get the gist of what he was talking about. She does not want to admit it to herself, but she is thoroughly shaken. The fact that nothing is going her way, combined with her seemingly powerlessness in this situation is not helping either.
I want popcorn. The show in front of me is worthy of some delicious popped kernels, half salt, half sugar. Only the thrill of not knowing whether the next tasty morsel will be sweet or salt can make this situation any more entertaining. The bird is wiping the floor with all my disciples, of course.
Bord is just running at it like the dumbass he is - or seems to be - but the rest isn't doing any better. Ket is the only one that has come close so far, the intricate and strong qi webs he made a testament to the power of a mental cultivator. This intrepid group of young folk theoretically contains all the power and ingenuity of mankind - I use a rather loose definition of mankind here - and they are all being outsmarted by a bird. A colourful bird that can be seen from miles away, it is not even camouflaged. A bird that has only a fraction of the qi that they all possess.
It should be said that the important factor here is the qi to body weight or body size ratio. Birds are rather light and don't have a lot of useless meat on their bones. The already fast flier is now zooming through the air with speeds reaching… a quick calculation tells me the thing is flying at something like three hundred kilometres per hour.
Ah, I almost forgot, I should check its core location. I don't want any mental cultivating animals walking around, they get way too intelligent way too fast. It's kind of creepy. Scanning the colourful streak with some spiritual sense tells me that it is a body cultivator. I scan the other birds still in the Tree and notice a fifty-fifty split between dantian and body cultivator birds. I release another specimen of the colourful species that has a dantian core. Let’s see what the difference is.
“That bird is a body cultivator, I will also release a gutcore cultivator. Maybe you guys have more luck with that one.”
It is really hard to stop myself from giggling like a schoolgirl at the end of my little speech. There are now two birds flitting around my little spatial dimension, six figures dashing after them and still failing spectacularly to get within a meter distance of either of them. This will be some good path prediction training for them.
I don't need to worry about losing sight of them, the birds mostly stay above the treetops and the crashing sounds along with the occasional deluge of wood fragments keep me informed where everyone is. I see vines flashing into the sky, making a cage. The dantian bird is unable to break through and is about to be trapped when the bodycore bird casually sweeps its wings through the reaching plants.
Selis comes running into the clearing, dashing over to the pond and dives in. A pillar of water shoots up into the air, the blue-haired girl now standing on top of an undulating transparent water snake. She then proceeds to shoot bullets made of the water under her feet at the birds. I also see some shiny things flitting around. Pouring some qi into my retina and lenses shows me that Ket has finally started using his metal affinity for something useful. Looking closer with my spiritual sense, I see that he is floating metal balls in front of his chest while using his arms as magnetic rails to launch them at high speeds.
My grin grows wider, a human railgun, how fucking cool is that? Bord is totally exhausted by now. He either needs to go on a diet and get in shape or learn about energy conservation. The single leftover pillar with the red band should have taught him that, but he hasn't managed to get on top of it yet.
I then see a black knife spinning through the air. I quickly predict its trajectory, but see that it will miss the birds by a wide margin. Then Tess appears behind the spinning dagger in a dark flash, right in front of the birds. She manages to touch the dantian bird, but the heartcore flyer takes a sharp turn, its reflexes too good for Tess to keep up with.
“Score one for Tess!”
Bord crawls over to Vox, and after a few words, the redhead places his hands on the big guy's body. White pinpricks of light flash all over the duo, and Bord dashes after the birds, not three seconds later, full of energy again. I had put a small booklet with medical and anatomical diagrams on top of Vox’s pillar, that should allow him to utilise that light affinity a lot better. The manic look in Bord’s eyes could have two reasons though, either he is hungry or Vox managed to find and stimulate his adrenal glands.
Angeta has a short conversation with Ket, and the combination of mathematical perfect qi nets and a load of controlled plant life is enough to let them catch the dantian bird. The bird flashes with a blue light, its panicked eyes glowing fiercely, and the plants binding it are stripped of their water. Ket attempts to keep it chained inside his grey qi construct, but the bird manages to escape anyway.
“Angy and Ket, half a score each!”
I see Angeta’s ear twitch in irritation as she hears my new nickname for her. Angeta is just such a mouthful to say.
The water magic the bird just performed is another reason animals and qi are a dangerous combination. Instead of drowning in its panic like a normal human would have done, the bird simply used its newfound control over the water mana in the air to its advantage. The group of disciples of them try to cooperate, but the birds have grown too quick and agile to catch.
Taking a look around I see the desks and blackboard still standing in the clearing. A closer look tells me that Ket and Tess managed to solve every problem I gave them. I want to slap myself as I see that nobody used their pencils. I think I should have explained to them how to use the things. Ket’s answers are meticulously printed, each number a perfect copy of my examples. He must have used his qi to burn the answers in the paper, or something. Tess used a brute force scribbling method, leaving barely legible answers in shallow relief. I pick up the papers to take them away and see that Tess used enough force to leave the answers marked on her desk. Okay, it might be a good idea to explain some stuff - like how to use and sharpen a pencil - once in a while.
I pull the wooden blackboard and school desks back into my ring, but I see that I’m missing some items. Tess’s knife is gone and Bord’s pencil is chewed to a pulp. All the metal screws are gone from Ket’s table and chair, causing them to fall apart as I pull them into my ring.
Five minutes later, I have had enough of the show. A single wave of my hand snatched both birds from the air, the creatures totally helpless against my power of two stages higher.
“That’s enough, come back now!”
My qi laden voice travels through the entire space, and a few seconds later I am greeted by a divided crowd, half smiling broadly at their success while the other half frowns. I put Lola down, having been stroking her soft fur the entire time, much to her delight, and jump down. I motion for them to sit, and seat myself in the soft grass, just in front of their semicircle.
“Now, imagine that nine out of ten humans are bedridden because of qi poisoning, and the rest isn't doing much better. Maybe one in a thousand sapients will be able to instinctively form a core and is just learning how to control qi. That is if they haven't all been killed by a power-hungry family pet.”
I look each of my students in the eyes, forcing them to show me they understand.
“Do… not… leave… qi… lying… around...”
Should I tell them about my theory of the energy hierarchy? Qi seems to be a semi-heavenly energy in this world, but I decide to let them figure that out by themselves.
“Unless you want to invoke an apocalypse of course, then go ahead. But please be prepared to be hunted down by me personally in that case.”
I give them all a rather toothy and predatory grin. Angeta must have been thinking certain thoughts, as I see her face pale under her layer of fur.
“On to a more happy topic, who has directly killed someone here?”
I get blank stares in return to my question. Tess seems to be fidgeting a bit, while Vox is playing with some grass.
“As I thought, none of you have directly killed someone with your own two hands. Keep it that way for now. The way the path of cultivation works is as following; everyone starts in the qi gathering stage. This is the stage you are all currently at. This stage is all about learning to control, contain and use qi. Once your core has formed, you can fill it up with gaseous qi. The moment your core is full and your mental strength is sufficient to compress the gas into a single drop of liquid, you enter the qi condensation realm.
“Just gathering qi isn’t enough, you will need to make it yours. The difficult struggle of separating natural, wild qi from your own seems to not be an issue here, so be glad for that. You will be ready to enter the next realm, namely core forming, by the time your entire core is filled with liquid qi.
“Compressing this liquid filled core into a solid material will allow you to enter the core forming realm. This stage will consist of gathering more qi while growing your solid core. Only people that have formed a full solid core can truly call themselves qi cultivators, and your power will once again multiply many times over. So look forward to that. You will all need to figure out what comes after the solid core stage yourselves. This is the first realm, the second realm will be up to you guys to figure out yourselves. You can grow your core by filling the empty space with liquid qi."
I purposely remain silent about compressing solid cores and crunching them to a higher density, that took me a lot of effort to find out. I’m willing to give away the basics, but some stuff they will need to learn by themselves in order to appreciate the information’s value.
“I think there were names for each step and stage in between these realms or stages, and each stage should have something like nine steps, but I never bothered learning those. It doesn’t matter whether you cultivate your dantian, heart or brain, the realms and stages are the same. Only the application and qi consistency are different between those methods.
“Now, onto the murdering aspect. What you do in qi gathering and condensation has a large effect on your later journey to power. The manner in which you progress in these two initial stages is formative for where your quickest cultivation methods lay once you are beyond the solid core realm.
“To put it simply, if someone crafts items while in the initial two stages, that person can get massive power boosts by creating better and better artefacts in the later realms. If a cultivator fights a lot in the beginning, only the thrill of a truly dangerous battle will allow him to progress. If someone farms or fucks a lot in these... you understand the point, right?”
I wait until they all have nodded at least once, before launching into the meat of my small lecture.
“Now if someone murders a bunch in this beginning period, they will be stuck with slow cultivation speeds until they kill a number of other people or beings on the same level as themselves. This wo… continent has no other cultivators, so there are just two routes this murderer could go down. Either they massacre the entire planet and are then stuck on a dead ball of dirt afterwards, or they start their own sect. They then must wait for their disciples to grow up to their power level and then kill them.
“Both methods guarantee a path of destructive cultivation, they would need to destroy an immense amount of potential for a small power gain. If there were more cultivators here, this would be balanced out by warriors of justice that cannot proceed easily until they kill a certain amount of evil cultivators. But what are the chances that you will survive a thousand thousand battles to the death with people of your own strength level?
“Anyway, I hereby forbid any of you to kill someone with your own two hands until you reach the solid core stages. By that time the basics of your cultivation have solidified, and are a lot harder to change. My advice is to do what you like in this period before your solid core forms.
“When I was exploring the dungeon at night, I found Tess on the eighth floor, almost dead. Lola here…” I give the little bugger a good head rubbing. “…saved her by forcing some of her own qi inside of her. By the time I found Tess, taking away the qi would’ve killed her. Instead of killing her or letting her die by qi poisoning, I decided to take preventative measures against this entire world becoming a beast paradise without any living intelligent sapients. And thus I searched for people with special constitutions or affinities. It takes only slightly more effort to take care of six kids than it is to educate a single one.”
I have no idea if this is true in the mundane world though, never had kids. But from my cultivators perspective, this is very much true.
“I know I kidnapped all of you, but I at least made sure that none of you had any permanent ties to Tower City. You can go back to your previous lives if you want, but you must and will leave any qi behind if you decide to do so.”
I don't speak for an entire minute. Nobody interrupts the silence. Even Bord and Selis have serious expressions plastered on their faces.
“I have some stuff to do in the outside world, you should use that time to think about what you want out of life. If you decide to stay, I would like you to gather information about what is happening in the city and the kingdom. Any information about what the ruling classes are doing in reaction to the Tower break or any info on the army that is marching here would be greatly appreciated.”
I stand up and rub my spatial ring, handing Tess a covered plate. I give Ket and Angy a covered bowl each. The rest are staring at the dishes with extreme focus. I sigh and give in, dropping a large plate of snacks in front of them.
I turn around and walk over to the Tree, keeping an eye on the rising tensions behind me. Tess is the first to react, she flicks her knife to the side while grabbing a few snacks from the big plate, disappearing in a dark flash, taking her food with her. Angeta is staring daggers at the rest, the grass around her waving as if inviting anyone to near. Bord gives a qi loaded shout of “MINE” which causes some of the snacks to shoot towards his opened mouth.
I sense the pond stirring under Selis’ control while Vox explodes in a flash of light, blinding the group. A moment later, I hear Vox’s footsteps while he sprints away, arms full of qi rich finger food. Ket is staring around with dull eyes that contain a hint of despair at the developing situation until he is drenched by the water Selis just lost control of. I just chuckle and push myself outside.
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