Chapter 38 - Non-essential

Chapter 38 - Non-essential

Wow, that ‘no food for a week’ threat must have lit a fire under their asses. We are at the seventh floor now, the one with the pigeons, bats and ankle deep water. We went from a nice and relaxed dungeon crawl to a speedy blitz.

Every time the corridor opens up into a new room, my students gather and discuss quietly among themselves. One of them then steps forward and proceeds to dismantle every enemy in the shortest possible time. They are improving at impressive rates, as they are now forced to pull the maximum effectiveness out of their budding fighting styles.

The third floor, occupied by bigger gnolls, was where their individual styles started to show. Bord rampaged through that floor until the rest caught up with him. They restrained him halfway through the level, stopping his spree of violence. He went from punching holes clean through the gnolls to tapping the beasts’ foreheads. This either shook their brains or shot small fragments of bone through their grey manner, just barely enough to cause death.

He also ran forward blindly, going the wrong way. I used some glowing qi lines to guide the group back to the correct path. They decided to take turns after that.

I had to start using my own movement technique to keep up with them. I’m still leisurely strolling along, it's just that every step propels me tens of meters. I memorised these kinds of techniques in a few different ways, and this way of moving around used to be a long, long list of specific muscles to activate and in what order and with what strength. It feels pretty good to just walk around using my heartcore instead of going through such a massive checklist for every step.

I don't think I will get bored of this double core system anytime soon.

Every student had markedly improved at the end of the third floor. The fourth floor was smooth sailing, the gnolls and pigeons being no match for the group of qi gathering cultivators. They are beginning to form their own styles, I think I will give them some basic techniques to ponder over at the tenth level. That way they have the beginning to their own path, and they can improve it using the specific and most optimal ways of walking and fighting that I can give them.

The fifth floor - the one with the disorienting golden stairs everywhere - threw them all for a loop. They had to switch from fighting soft flesh to hard metal. Their average room clear time shot up for a while until they discovered the controlling mechanism inside the puppet's chest. They no longer needed to beat the things into metal scraps after that discovery, they could punch the chest once and the puppets would flop over lifelessly.

The sixth floor strained my acting abilities. I know it's irrational, but I had to instruct Lola to keep any spiders away from me. I still get chills down my spine when I see any form of potentially poisonous insect. Stop thinking about poisonous insects.

And now we are here on the seventh floor, the floor where I cast my first ever local water magic. Selis pushes all the monsters inside a corridor back into the open rooms with a wave. She waves her hand and a wave pushes them back, haha. Puns are the best.

The group finishes discussing who is going next. They are using the potential food they can earn as bargaining chips. Angeta steps forward, plants coiling around her arms. She picked up a few of the weeds growing from the cracks in the first level. They began as small reedy things, but she is constantly pumping qi into them, and they have already grown significantly.

Her back is now covered with a tangle of roots, stalks spreading from that point all over her body. She bends her knees and I see the plants tightening around her. Then she disappears with a green flash and a gust of wind. I can hear her mumbling angrily under her breath while pummelling the pigeons. The birds are sitting on rocks jutting from the water and explode into bloody feathers one by one. Thin tendrils separate from her arms and legs, whipping at the flying bats. A blue striped pair of bats come flying low over the water, churning up a big wave behind them. She has disabled half of the animals in the room when the wave separates from the surface and launches towards her at high speed. The bats veer out of the way of their own spell.

Just before I get to find out what wet cat smells like, a web of vines weaves itself together, forming a round shield. She jump and tucks her legs in, planting roots and thick branches in the ground to anchor herself. Now hidden behind her shield, the high-speeded blob of water smacks against her. She gives off a roar while straining muscle and fibre.

Lola is hopping around, walking on the water as if it’s solid ground. She watches Angy fight for the first second or so before losing interest. Now she has jumped on top of the biggest bat and is enjoying the free taxi flight.

A sharp tendril of root punches through the bat, barely missing the fluffy thing. She squeals a bit while reorienting herself in the air, staring daggers at the beastwoman. Angeta looks like a hedgehog now, sharp bristling roots and branches pointing away from her. She throws a few more, finishing the last of the stragglers.

That took her four seconds or so. Though I wonder why she didn't make a cone shaped shield? Letting water smash against a flat surface is bound to leave some bruises. I try to see if she is injured, but her dense fur prevents me from looking at her skin. She is using the plants in a rather novel way though, she made herself an organic exoskeleton.

I start looking through all the profound fighting techniques I remember, searching for something that might fit her. A bunch of long and pretentious titles flash by my mind's eye, but I can't find anything that would incorporate plants in the way that she uses them.

Gliding over the water with relaxed steps, I look at the more esoteric fighting styles, but nothing really pops out. I take a mental step back and try to look at the entire situation from another perspective. I really should compile all these miscellaneous spells and techniques into a coherent whole. There used to be no need to do this, why optimise a library if you have the ability to instantly search through everything at once? Sure, I analysed some to understand their base concepts, but analysing them all was immensely redundant.

I decide to do it anyway, so I disable my language process and limit the space my threat analyser and scanners take up. I fill the available thinking space with a new process, one that will go through every fighting style, move and spell that I know and extract the essentials. Combining all these essentials should allow me to compile a small library that contains all the most useful moves and styles.

I grin as I see ninety nine percent of the manuals’ contents being discarded. These manuals are massive in and of themselves, a main style manual is the result of millions of man-hours thinking about the best way to punch and destroy things.

Let's take the Dark Moon Sect as an example. A new disciple would receive a small spatial bag filled with their beginner cultivation technique and some pills. These low tier cultivation methods usually come in book form. They consist of text describing the core concepts and superstitions, followed by illustrations on how to circulate your qi. Then there are a few pages filled with basic fighting moves, some footwork diagrams and some mental meditation images. Then there is a lot of miscellaneous information. Pages filled with the best cultivation spots and times, calendars showing how auspicious dates can be calculated and a lot more relatively useless information.

All of this would fill a pretty thick book by Earth's standards. This information was suitable for a mortal to begin cultivating. The main sects used the same realm and stages as I use, but they divided each stage into nine steps. This book is good for the first step of the qi condensing stage. The first step is reached after the new cultivator has their first strand of qi in their body. The Dark Moon Sect did not give its sect disciples the manual for the second step until the cultivator in question could recite the entire thing word for word, and show a certain mastery over the fighting style and footwork.

That done, the disciple would receive another thick book for the second step. This would contain the slightly more advanced versions of everything in the first volume, but would be at least twice as thick. It would be even thicker if the volume contained new spells. If there was an award for lack of actual information in text, cultivation manuals would win that contest hands down. A lot of talk about the spirits of the earth, the guidance of the dark moon or random mythology, but very little concrete information.

I once found a beginner manual that was half filled with telling you to think certain thoughts in order to attract more qi, for example. I did some testing and found it to be complete bullshit. It had zero effect on qi, maybe it is applicable to this world's magic laws, but that's just stupid. Why use laws from an entirely different world? Another possibility comes to mind, was the cultivation world one that only had mana until a certain point? That is a theory I can think about, but I won't get any concrete answers at my current realm so I put it on my mental backburner for now.

By the time the second stage - qi condensing - is reached, the cultivator has read through an entire library. From the solid core stage on, writing all that information down would be impractical, so pieces of jade are used to imprint massive amounts of information on. If you think that those small memory cards have a high data density, you are wrong. A one centimetre cube of jade can contain a few million books worth of information. Those old monsters crammed every single molecule full of data they thought was relevant to the younger generations.

I have not even touched upon the required reading and studying cultivators have to do besides their cultivation manuals. Massive amounts of data about every single plant variation ever found, loads of mystical mumbo jumbo about the supposedly optimum way to forge artifacts. Massive buildings filled with data on pill forging, alchemy, mystical weaving techniques and more needed to be read to advance inside a sect.

It was basically mandatory to hyper specialise if you ever wanted to advance in any sect branch. I have met people that studied healing pills for thousands of years. Some people spent millenia on making one specific type of talisman. There were several millions talisman types, and these people spend their entire lives studying just one single aspect of them.

So, to conclude my rambling thoughts, cultivation manuals are massive, humongous piles of useless info with some workable tidbits of info here and there. And my braincore is a total cheat, because I can flip through a book quickly and analyse its contents later. I can then let my brain slowly percolate through this data and sift out the useful stuff.

I pull myself from my thoughts to watch the technique analysing process work. It’s blitzing through the available data at an acceptable speed, sifting out the useful information. Anything that isn't describing something concrete gets marked. All the mystical bullshit gets discarded and the leftover data gets integrated into the growing central web of techniques.

I see two main techniques get stripped and analysed. I snicker to myself as I realise that these belong to two rival sects that had a mutual kill-on-sight policy. Strip away the useless fluff, and both techniques are practically the same. They were fighting over what manual was better, and it turns out that they are both pretty much the same without all the useless shit.

I let the process do its thing while I observe my own disciples. I have no desire to let these kids rot away in a small room, meditating on their forcefully dictated way of life.

Selis seems to be up next. The two disks of water hovering over her nose have steadied a lot. They wobbled all over the place at first, causing her to close her eyes every time she moved her head. I feel you girl, glasses with the wrong prescription are seriously headache inducing.

Instead of rushing into the room like the rest, she stretches her hands out while standing still. Five seconds later all the bats and birds drop dead. I stealthily spread my qi around the sinking animals to see what she did. I can't find what is wrong at first, but then I notice a higher contrast in blood cell distribution around the beasts hearts. I push some more qi inside a pigeon to take a better look, and see a sphere of clear water inside the being's heart.

Wow, I did not expect her to take that route. She extracted water from the blood inside the bird's bloodstream, forcing it to a standstill inside its heart. I must have scared her with my blood mage question, and this is a rather creative way around that problem. It is rather slow still, but we are not done with this dungeon by a long shot, so she has a lot of time and opportunity to improve.

We all speed over to the next big room. A large group of pigeons is flapping about, making a ruckus. Vox is up next, it seems. He crouches down, his skin glittering with small beams of light. Then he turns into a flashbang, causing me to put some mental shades on. Please tell me in advance if you are going to perform such fireworks in a dark environment! With a much dimmer view of the surroundings, I see Vox’s legs shining brightly. He zooms over to the closest pigeon in a straight line, speeding ahead like a laser beam. Then his fist makes contact with the big pigeon, and a big chunk of its chest just evaporates. Light can give life, but it can just as easily burn you. He could tone down the fireworks a bit though, in no way is he suitable for any form of stealth operations.

He lands back on the water after punching every bird he can reach, downing a third of them. He pulls his fists back to his side and moves into a horse stance. Then a rain of punches that shoot out beams of light take care of the rest. It looks really pretty, like a flower blooming while raining death. All the beams come from a single point of origin, creating a mesmerising fan shaped wave of transparent white beams. I push a mental stopwatch button and see he took about two seconds to clear the room. An impressive improvement in my book. I have no idea where he got that weird stance from, maybe he observed some adventurers fighting in that manner?

Ket goes next, but he just snipes everything with high speed metal fragments. Bord is vetoed from participating a few times because he did half a floor by himself. Tess is the slowest of them all, her shadow constructs are not that powerful without a direct source of light. She can teleport around really well, but it takes her a few seconds to jump to a new location. She ends up running around, breaking necks with black tendrils wrapped around her forearms as she pops in and out of shadows.

“No good, Tess, that’s too slow. Work with Vox for your next room clear.”

Tess and Vox look at me and then at each other. They start talking about light and shadows, and they soon realise that one cannot exist without the other. They have all figured out the biggest flaws in their fighting style by observing each other and implemented the most necessary fixes. Nothing forces understanding like cooperation, though. Angeta walks over to Selis and they start whispering too. Bord is just picking his nose, looking bored again. I know something big happened to him, but his mental resilience must be better than I thought for him to act this way again.

Lola has attentively observed every fight so far, and I see her trying out the techniques of the others. Her horn turned into a small beam of light for a second, before she shook her head. She also bothered Ket for one of his metal spheres, but after nibbling on it for a few seconds she lost interest. Angeta is actively avoiding the water-walking bunny. Lola was eyeing her plant covered form rather hungrily, so I totally understand.

Now she is stomping the water she walks on, making waves. She stomps on the water once more, but sinks through the water surface with a big splash. I shield myself from the spray as the fur ball sprints away, drenching half the group. She starts zigzagging, kicking the water away from herself to make sharp turns. Selis distractedly catches the incoming water and drops it on top of the white bunny. This starts a mini splashing war between the two. I secretly funnel water to the ceiling while the entire group devolves into a childish water fight.

I declare myself the winner after letting several tonnes of water drop on everyone, drenching them all.

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