Chapter 35 - Reprove
Meh, I should have known better. I can't put weapons of mass destruction in the hands of children and then expect them to behave responsibly. One by one the group stumbles into the Tower, wet and exhausted. I scan their auras but it seems like they kept their promises. The first time someone makes a conscious choice to murder, something snaps in their psyche. The undeniable fact that life can be ended quickly, just like that, makes a deep impact on any healthy person. Auras are representations of one's true self, so a fundamental thing like that is easily noticeable.
I check my mortal injury preventer and see the ticker standing at five. I stick my hand through the black fog of the entrance, sensing the aftermath. No additional fatalities, a few hundred people got injured but none are in mortal danger. They did pretty well, the spectacle to fatality aspect ratio is praiseworthy. Not that I will ever tell them that though. I hold up my hand, all fingers stretched out.
The group stops slapping each other on the back to look at me.
“Two kids, a woman and two soldiers.”
I let some anger show on my face. Not true rage though, I shift my expression to irritation. Yeah, the look as if I just stood in a pile of dogshit, you know the one.
“Had I not been there, those five people would be dead by now. I would have had to hunt you all down, cripple your cultivation base and take back any power.”
I shake my head in irritation as their faces turn a shade paler. I walk towards the back of the reception room. As I walk over the immaculately clean floor, I hear the group whispering to themselves. I reach the first door and wait for them to catch up.
“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” They all look at me again. I see no recognition in their eyes, I guess that that saying is not known here. “Is something weak people say. I have enough power at my disposal to level this city. Should I?”
Let's have a small philosophical discussion before we start beating up some poor animals. “You guys have enough power to topple a large part of this city, should you?”
They look at me blankly again. Ket is the first to speak up, as expected. “No?”
Not the best answer ever, but it’ll do for now. I look at the rest, obviously waiting for them to speak.
“I forgot that I didn't have any money.” Selis puts her glasses back on while replying. The inn they went to, the Lycan, is an underground slave hub. I honestly want to praise her and Bord for making trouble for that place.
“They wanted to take me back to Fellis.” Bord chimes in with a complicated look on his face. He seems torn between two options. He doesn't address that fat fuck as master Fellis anymore though, that's a good start to independence. I see something I can't be bothered to analyse on his face. Something big must have happened to him.
“And, and when we couldn't pay, they wanted to take me away too. They called the guards, who called the local mage, who called the-”
I cut her rambling off with a chop of my hand.
“And your solution was taking control of the mage’s restraining water spell, and turn it into a hurricane?” I face away from them, about to walk into the left doorway. “I don't care if you freed slaves, gorged yourselves, ransacked the governor's private vaults, healed some injured or distributed food. The question you should ask yourself is; should you?”
I take a deep breath. Do really want to go spouting my personal philosophy at these kids? Then again, why not. It's better for them to know where I stand. “My way of life focuses around a single word. The word why. Why did you guys do all that? Why am I allowing this? Why is this city such a pile of shit?”
I turn around and look all of them in the eyes. “Why should I care about you guys in the first place? Why is this dungeon smothering any form of human progress by providing barbarians with highly advanced materials? Why are shops allowed to sell shitty versions of Tower dropped weapons to naive newcomers?
“It's all because I want to know. I want to know how you guys will develop. I want to know why these dungeons are here. I want to know why this city’s moral compass is so skewed. Honestly, learning new stuff is all I really care about. So just make sure you don't get in between me and the things I want to know.
“Learning new stuff will get a lot harder if the entire world is after me, so thanks for being a rather juicy distraction. The only reason I told you guys not to consciously kill, is because I want to know. I have read through a thousand thousand books in order to formulate the theory about the initial two realms being a formative period, so you guys are my test subjects.”
The words 'a thousand thousand' sound pretty cool, but I will have to introduce the concept of millions and billions pretty soon. I have found no words for numbers bigger than a thousand, and I will probably have to make them up myself.
“Don't get in between me and the knowledge I want, as that is basically the only way to make me really angry.”
There, now it's all open on the table. Only after reading through hundreds of thousands of history books did that theory form. I started to see a pattern, whatever the historical cultivation figure was doing in his initial two realms was indicative of his activities in the later realms. This is the first time truly testing it out, so I don't want my test subjects to mess up my experiment.
They all look rather bashful. Except for Vox and Angeta, they are just secretly grinning at each other. I wave my hand, as if to wipe the current mood away.
“That's enough serious business, let's go beat up some innocent dungeon animals. The last thing you guys should do before forming your initial core is fully integrating your new powers into a fighting style. You all have nearly enough qi to enter the qi condensing stage, you just don't know how to use it effectively yet.”
I turn around with a big grin on my face and walk through the dark doorway.
Tess feels a twinge of apprehension. The last time she walked through that dark portal almost spelt her doom. The one in a thousand chance that allowed her to live is not something she expects to happen again. As the weird guy, whose name she still doesn't know, disappears into the black fog, a cold hand grasps her guts.
She looks around, observing the state of the rest. Vox is staring at his hand, fingers splayed wide. Bord is… gone. He must have leapt into the portal when she was still pondering things. Angeta claps Vox on his shoulder and drags him through after her. Tess looks further down the line and her eyes meet Ket’s.
“I...” He begins to speak, but can't find the words.
“Yeah, I wanted to settle some scores. Thank the Tower that I decided to leave them alive.”
Ket’s troubled expression fades as he narrows his eyes in response. His mouth shows a vicious smirk. “I also left them alive. They won't be much longer though. It's not my fault they can't even escape from the sewers, right?”
Ket murmurs something to himself about missing legs, too soft for her to hear properly. Tess had seen Ket before this entire discipleship started. The melancholic youth had placed himself on the lowest rung of society, he was a baggage carrier for diving teams. Tess’ position was just above his, being a sneak is a slightly less shameful profession. She is sure that quite a few high ranking adventurers won't be alive by next week.
‘That should teach those arrogant assholes a lesson.’ She thinks to herself, the slight feeling of glee wiping away her previous fears. She flexes her body a bit, feeling strength surge through her every fibre. She has come into contact with drugs before, the one time she joined in is a hazy fog filled with bliss in her memories. She can't think of any form of drugs that would be as fulfilling as this cultivation business though.
Now in a much better mood, she steps through the dark mist.
I pull Lola from my necklace and place her on the ground.
“Only help the rest if they truly need it, okay?”
She twitches her nose, puffs her chest up a little and turns around, facing the dark cave stretching ahead. How can a rabbit give off such an air? It is almost as if she is a spoiled little lady, huffing in annoyance at her overprotective parents. It's a good thing I don't believe in corporal punishment, else I would have given her at least ten minutes of tickling for that small insubordination.
My danger sense process takes control of my legs, moving me forward one step. Before I can even bother to figure out why a loud smack resounds. I see Bord bouncing off the wall. I check the process’s settings and turn the intervention threshold up a few notches. No need to get out of the way of attacks that can't even hurt me, right?
I walk forward as Bord struggles to get up from the uneven floor. The first pair of glowing eyes have appeared in the tunnel, so I dash forward and punch one of the racoon dogs in the face. Its face explodes, showering myself and the cave around me in small bits of gore and wet fur. This is why practice is important, not to become stronger, but to control my strength with precision.
The next dog gets his skull caved in by my adjusted punch. I have a good feel for the power of my arms now. I try kicking a dog, but my foot just ploughs through its midriff, cutting it into two. Leg muscles are quite a lot more powerful than arm muscles, so the spray of intestines was to be expected.
Braincore cultivators have to calculate everything. In combat situations, I used to have a good quarter of my brain occupied with solving muscle tension requirements for planned movements. I could plan one or two moves ahead, but the complexity of simulating a complete skeleton with muscles took up too much power to plan more. That’s the shitty thing about this method of movement. It took up a quarter of my brain power on every realm. Calculating the force necessary for a mortal to jump upwards would be like adding one and one together. Calculating the same move with the power of the foundation realm is like adding a few thousand to a thousand. At my previous pre-ascension peak I was adding up numbers that had hundreds of digits, and the complexity of the moves meant I sometimes had to multiply or divide these numbers. The more power I had, the more power it took to calculate the necessary amounts of force that needed to be applied to each separate muscle. Now, however, I can relegate the calculation of movement to my heartcore, it will accept a simple command like “go there”, and execute it with optimum efficiency.
The fourth dog gets all his ribs cracked by my kick. I use my braincore to calculate the necessary force and let my heartcore do the physical work. I sense a few ribs splinter off and slice into the beast's heart and lungs, just as planned. I can't help but smile at the massive improvement I gained. Battle used to be a slow-motion slog of hellish math. Every move needed to be planned, simulated, refined and then executed. I had to spend the entire battle with a large portion of my qi flowing through my brainpan, just to be able to calculate everything fast enough. This also meant that truly dangerous battles took years from my perspective.
Now I can roughly plan hundreds of moves and possibilities ahead, and leave all the tedious movement to my heartcore. Fine tuning punches against weaker enemies used to take me a few dozen tries, refining my algorithms after every attempt. Now I am fully tuned up to fight against these weak dogs after just four hits. I look back and see the entire group looking at me with pale faces.
I quickly wipe the grin and blood from my face. I laugh a bit, embarrassed.
“I gained some strength recently, I needed to fine-tune my use of force. You all should do the same. Use the least amount of force to inflict a lethal injury, don't waste your power uselessly.”
I nod to myself and turn around, walking deeper into the cave system. I snap my fingers and execute my area scanning technique, blue lines in a grid shortly flash into existence.
The layout has changed? I compare the current map to the first one I still have on file. The main branches seem to be similar, their details and small branching paths are not. Does the dungeon generate a new floor for each party?
“Why is the layout different from last time?”
The group that is busily stepping over the smears of gore halts for a moment. Selis stumbles a bit and falls. She throws her hands in front of her face, trying to soften the fall. Her momentum gets stopped while all the blood on the floor gets shot away from her, covering the rest of the group. Blood is water, after all.
She looks down with red cheeks. Ket plucks a piece of skull from his face and walks on. “The main tunnels remain the same.”
I can always count on Ket to give me short and concise answers. I compare the two maps again, and he is right. The paths have different bends and twists to them, but the main intersections are similar. The room layouts are also the same, not in shape, but in function.
Bord bumps me aside, muttering an apology as he waddles on. A new group of dogs is visible in the gloom ahead, the deepening dark behind them an indication that an open space is coming up. The heartcore cultivator rushes ahead, a grim look on his face. He turns the first dog he reaches into a pancake. A large spray of blood bursting from the flattened canine in a circle pattern.
Should I tell him to preserve energy again? I watch him pound dog after dog into a fine paste, who knew that a spoiled little brat like him could grin so savagely? I will snap him out of his bloodlust before he can get lost in it though, blood-drunk body cultivators are super annoying. I decide to let him figure that stuff out by himself. Even the world's most valuable lesson needs an active listener.
I decide to do something useful in the meantime. I pull a bar of steel from my ring and slice it into small workable chunks. Every new sect disciple in every xianxia story I ever read got a complimentary welcome spatial bag or ring filled with goodies upon joining the sect, right? I hum a tune while immersing myself in the crafting.
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