Chapter 33 - Shopping
I retract my qi senses from around me. My vision shrinks back from an entire city to the nearest block. I prevent myself from laughing out loud, they all acted in precisely the way I predicted. I am rather mean with acting this way though. I don't want to attract any attention, as that would prevent me from freely travelling the lands, so I am using my conscripted disciples to cause some havoc. That should force the authorities to focus their investigations on them, allowing me to remain anonymous.
My students can remain inside the necklace to hide away. I don’t feel comfortable joining them for long periods of time, as that would leave my necklace out in the open. I don't think a lot of beings in this world have the power to really mess with it. It would still suck to jump back outside after a long time inside and find myself inside the digestive system of some random animal.
I peer inside the small pocket dimension and see Lola jumping around, playing with Tree’s golden qi. Tree must be gaining intelligence, as the glowing obstacle course is rather intricate. Lola is working hard as she twists her body around in the air, creating a perfect setup for the next jump. I can see that she is starting to learn to plan several moves ahead. I don't think she does it consciously. Body cultivators can do amazing things with just instinct and reflexes. They are the opposite of mental cultivators in that aspect, as I have to manually perform every single action.
Gutcore cultivators are in between the two, as per usual. The feeling of elation about the fact that I now have a brain- and a heartcore is still there. Every single step feels amazing, the dragon punch I did was done on an instinct. Instead of meticulously planning every single muscle contraction, I had an idea and acted on it. A flash later the dragon’s momentum was stopped by me and the big body laid crumpled on the tower. My mental side then told me that she would fall off in half a second, while my body cultivation side acted by pulling her on top of the jagged platform.
I break away from my ruminations because I have reached my destination. The gaudy mansion of that master Fellis noble guy looms ahead, framed by meticulously manicured gardens and trees. I need some money, and what better way to get it than from one of the richest people in the city?
I get some funny looks from the fancily dressed people that walk around here. I am still wearing my neat peasant clothes, brown jean-like pants with simple leather shoes and a nice feeling silk shirt covered by a dark buttoned jacket. I have a lot of fancy dress clothing in my ring, but they are all distinctly Asian in origin. A lot of those, what are they called? Changsoam? Hangfu? I probably misremember the pronunciation, they’re all those dragon robe type items.
Anyway, the people around here wear a mix of medieval nobles clothing, a lot of flowing finely embroidered cloth with ornamental decorations everywhere. I see some of the higher class women wear corsets while the men all wear multiple layers with fancy capes with fur and gold trimming. Those tights the men are wearing seem absolutely ridiculous to me though. The servants are wearing neatly pressed uniforms in what I assume are their houses’ colours. It takes some effort to keep my face blank as a pink and white clad butler walks past me.
If I were to dress up in a flowing dragon robe I would catch all kinds of unwanted attention, so with that let's resume my mission to gain capital to buy clothes with. I walk around the big estate, scanning everything above the ground level. I already know what's beneath the ground, no need to refresh those horrible memories. The mansion has a few storage places, so I concentrate on the one with the greatest guard density. Feeling shapes with my spiritual sense is easy, feeling what kind of materials are there requires some concentration.
I find that there is no need for me to concentrate that much. My spiritual sense feels a lot of chests filled with small disks in the vault with the most guards. Target acquired! The entire thing is hermetically sealed, no ventilation or air ducts anywhere. This is going to be a little more trouble than I initially assumed.
I find a park nearby and jump into a tree when nobody's looking. Making myself comfortable in the branches, I close my eyes and concentrate my focus on the vault. A large number of chests contain only coins, a few have irregularly shaped objects in them, those should be gemstones. Those would be hard to turn into currency, so I ignore them. I also gloss over all the bar-shaped objects, the few weapons hung upon the wall are ignored too. I try to make an eye from qi but only see darkness. Lighting the place up will possibly trigger an alarm, I’ll to do this by touch only.
The vault is placed on the second floor. That is two floors above the ground level, just in case you are using the wrong story numbering system. An attic is above this floor, filled with dusty furniture and paintings, followed by the roof. I make a rigid qi thread, as thin as possible. I stop and think for a bit. I was going to make perfect parallel circle cuts, cutting and rotating cylinders on the fault line to lock it back into place. That is needlessly complicated though, one negative aspect of being a mental cultivator is that all that thinking power wants to be used, all the time. I can open up holes by cutting them in a slight cone shape, that way I can simply place them back in the hole without doing anything complicated. With that in mind, I drag the long thread through the roof first, cutting a cylinder that is slightly tapered down. I cover my working area in ‘IGNORE ME’ qi while pulling the plug of roof to the side. I do the same with the treasury’s ceiling. I shape a complex pulley and rope system from qi, using it to haul the large chunks of stone to the side.
I choose a chest filled with the largest variety of coins and lift it from the floor. Lifting stuff with qi directly is rather ineffective, so I form some more structural qi ropes running over qi pulleys stuck in the walls. Controlling the heavy chest becomes a breeze this way, and I quickly lift it through the ceiling and roof. I cover it in more concealing qi and float it over to my tree. I use a stilt system, creating an invisible pole of qi under the chest combined with qi threads that span between buildings and trees. I give it a slight tilt so the chest will fall in my direction, preventing me from having to exert a lot of effort. I slow it down when it reaches the canopy I am hiding in. I grab it with both hands the moment I can reach it and break the lock open, the mundane metal no match for my strengthened body.
A sea of diverse and glittering coins greets my eyes, and I recognise some of the currency that they use in the shops and markets. I pull the chest into my spatial ring and think about robbing some more. The damage to the mansion has already been done, why not make full use of it? I spend the next ten minutes lifting each and every money filled chest from the building, robbing that Fellis guy blind. Other chests are filled with a single denomination, one is filled with thick gold coins while another is stuffed full with thin strips of silver, just to name a few. I recognise most of the gems, a few diamonds sparkling amidst a sea of rubies, topaz, jade and more.
I decide to finish the job by pulling the metal bars out one by one. Half is gold, while the rest is a mix of silver, steel, and there is even a single platinum bar. Two glass jars filled with mercury gets liberated too. I leave the weapons covering the wall alone, not interested in those wall decorations.
Finally, I carefully put the round stone slabs back into place. I carve out spheres in the middle of the cuts I made, rotating them so they keep both slabs locked into place. The cuts themselves are a few molecules wide, small enough to be practically invisible. The only way to find out what I have done is to exert enough force to break the rotated plugs. I have no glue on hand and heating up the stone to melt them back into place will take too long and be very obvious.
The day is not over and yet I already did so much good work. I can be proud of myself! I immediately walk over to the crafting district, since I want to buy some more crafting materials.
The first shop I enter is a smithy. Medieval tropes tell me to expect a showroom with the smithy in the back, but that is not the case. The open back of the building looks out over a small courtyard, filled with a wood and coal storage. Some training dummies stand beside a small stack of covered metal bars. The smithy itself has a round forge filled with smouldering coals. Various tools hang on the wall and three men are pounding glowing metal on their anvils. One of them look at my clothes, scoffs a bit and goes back to work.
I am content with being ignored, it allows me to take a look at their smithing methods. The youngest is creating metal nails, while the other two are working on swords. I walk over to the only display rack in the shop, it is filled with glossy and dangerous looking weapons. The bottom is filled with spearheads, above that is a nice collection of swords. The size range goes from one-handed short swords to a single huge zweihander. I put a single finger on one of the swords and push some qi inside to check the internal structure.
I manually lock up all my muscles. The wave of rage permeating through me at this disgrace is threatening to make me do things I will regret later. A few seconds later the trembling stops, and I walk out of the door panting. I prepare my mind for the worst and scan the pile of ingots in the courtyard from outside. Yep, those bars are perfect steel. Just over half a per cent carbon by mass.
I breathe in deeply. That sword looked pretty from the outside, but the internal structure is the worst junk I have ever seen. Did they melt down the steel while mixing in charcoal? I don't know how those smiths could ruin perfectly fine material like that otherwise. The carbon content of that sword is nearing pig iron. Any properly strong person that swings that sword has a large chance of getting half his blade stuck through his face when it rebounds after snapping in half.
This world is not only being held back by magic, I realize. The dungeons must be guilty of stifling any form of scientific progress. I would not be surprised if this world has been held in this exact state of technology for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years. I start to feel a bit stifled in this city. I just want to find out what is driving this dungeon and then go and explore again. I did start exploring again, nearly passing the mountain range to the north-west. Then the Tower exploded and that got me stuck here for a little while. The qi absorbing circle will hold out for a few weeks at the very least.
The fact that I have both mental and body cultivation cores should allow me to travel at great speeds. The barrier preventing me from zooming around the world is the speed of sound. I need to be at foundation level at the minimum to overcome that limit without spending a massive amount of qi. At that point a cultivator gains, what I call for a lack of a better word, a domain or will. These people don't need to spread their qi around to sense the world, they have such power at their disposal that the world simply bends to their will in a limited fashion.
I decide to move on, I want to buy some disgui- I mean, clothes. Yeah, having something to wear over my simple outfit will allow me to blend in more. I walk down the street and look around for clothing shops. A weapon shop a few blocks onwards catches my eye. A katana hangs above the door, and it is the first I have seen. I have no desire to swing such a piece of steel around, but maybe this world has other people from earth?
I enter the store, a tinkling bell announcing my entrance. I see racks and racks of weapons lined up in orderly rows. Each weapon type has its own place and the walls are covered with random armour pieces. I walk over to a rack of spears. Touching one, I examine it closely. The craftsmanship is impeccable, I can't find a single fault with this weapon. The shaft is perfectly round on the nanometre scale. The iron is one single crystal. Normally that would make this item brittle, but the crystal isn’t uniform. Instead, it has a curved lattice, the warped crystal adding extra strength in the needed directions. It has iron, point six per cent carbon and some trace elements I don't recognise without a reference. It's all perfectly mixed. This is a marvellous piece of engineering perfection.
Why is there such a difference between this piece of perfection and the pieces of scrap I saw in the smithy? I look over to the man behind the counter, a thin reed of a person, wisps of grey hair sticking out of his face haphazardly. He catches my gaze, and with a single look, I see him dismissing me. He wouldn't have dared to act like that in the cultivation world, there were a lot of hidden monsters that liked to dress up like a mortal, me included. I shrug it off and walk over to another rack. I push my qi into a falchion and reel back. That is another piece of shit sword, the finish is nice but the structural integrity is horrible. The one next to it is another piece of engineering perfection. I am starting to notice a trend here. They must not do a lot of destructive testing.
I walk over to the counter. Half a minute later I cough politely to get the old geezers attention, but whatever he is doing seems more important than me.
“My master had send me to buy a few weapons for his son to try out, could you recommend me something a fifteen-year-old can defend himself with?”
I let a single silver coin tinkle on the table. Most everyday produce on the market is being sold for coppers, but I noticed a few large orders that cost silver. Showing him silver should get his attention without raising any ‘rip me off, please’ flags. The sound of money catches his immediate attention.
“But of course, my good sir. How may this humble servant help your esteemed master?”
Isn’t a single silver kind of cheap for the everlasting loyalty you seem to be expressing right now? He is a merchant for sure, able to flip his entire aura at the drop of a hat, or coin in this case.
“Just show me some of the better weapons you have.”
“Yes, right away.”
He bustles from behind the counter, leading me to the end of the store opposite the entrance. He motions to a rack filled with a smorgasbord of weapons.
“These are our finest Tower arms, what particular type is your young master interested in?”
Alarm bells go off in my head. I touch a falchion and it is a piece of pretty shit. I touch another one and it’s a piece of crap too. I grab a short sword and swing it around experimentally. The weight is perfect, the balance sublime. The only thing keeping it from being a superb weapon is the internal structure and the crafting. The sword in my hand has various internal faults running through it. It seems to be a bad patch job that has been polished to a mirror sheen.
At least I have my answer about the quality disparity; the perfect specimens must have come from the dungeon. I quickly check my knowledge library that I built while analysing the local language. It confirms my suspicions. These crappy weapons are being sold as genuine Tower loot, and they are then pawned off to new adventurers for a lot of money. I really should build my own query database, but I tried that in the past. It caused the process to crawl to a halt, it has to do too many things one after another to be practical. The brain is basically a parallel processor, telling it to do one thing after another negates this advantage completely.
My mood takes a steep dive at these shady as fuck business practices. It is an efficient system though, considering that any suckers that buy these weapons have a high chance of dying in the dungeon, and thus; no complaints. The risk of kicking the bucket is rather high if your sword breaks in the middle of a fight. I plaster a smile on my face and turn to the salesmen.
“Thank you so much for your assistance, I hope you have a day as great as you are.”
I quickly exit the store, leaving the old guy to figure out the true meaning of my words. Let's not enter any more armour or weapons shops. I still need to buy clothes and I want to see if these kinds of practices are also applied to other dungeon diver essentials. I want to check if this world has something similar to mana or health potions, but the data is sure to be surrounded by a large number of suicide-inducing facts.
I check the katana hanging above the store with my spiritual sense and see that it is a perfect blade. It is folded a few hundred times, the metal layers perfectly parallel. That shifts the mystery from a possibly summoned other-worlder to the Tower.
With a rather sour mood, I make my way over to the tailor and miscellaneous crafts part of this district.
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