Chapter 39 - Solutions

Chapter 39 - Solutions

Selis is too good-hearted for this world. She dried everyone with a single gesture, even the instigator - Lola - has her fur completely dried. As a result, her fur poofed up, so now there is a literal ball of white fur hopping over the water surface. Everyone is sending dirty looks my way, but I just chuckle and walk on.

Bord gets a chance at fighting the flying beasts next. He walks over to the middle of the room, ignores the bats and pigeons pecking at his head and rubs his belly. I can see where this is going, so I speed through the room at maximum velocity. I grabbed Lola on the way, no need to let her suffer too. The group of five students look at me as if I am dumb or something. Bord looks at Angeta, grins and speaks a single sentence.

“I’m warning you.”

The moment I reach the opposite hallway, a shockwave of sound hits me.

*brrt KA-BOOOOM*

If the concussive blast didn't kill the poor animals, the stench will. Or the fact that they all crashed into the ceiling and walls at high speeds. It’s one of those cases where the cause of death has multiple factors. I decide to walk onward at a brisk pace while petting Lola’s fur down. I have no desire to get involved in that mess. Telling them that qi enhanced already present processes might have been a bad idea. Who knows what kind of other gross bodily function he will weaponise.

I hear a lot of fighting sounds echoing through the hallways, but splendidly ignore them. Catlike yowling is interspersed with fleshy smacks. I even hear some retching sounds. I could have warned them, but they need to learn that the world can be a cruel place. I decide to leave a glowing qi trail that shows the way.

I have been waiting at the stairs going to the eighth level for a good while when I see a bedraggled group stumbling through the corridors. They have spent larger amounts of qi fighting each other than they spent in this dungeon so far. This will be another lesson in power preservation. I almost rub my hands together at the delightful scenes that can unfold from this. Nothing like a bit of sadism once in a while to keep myself sane.

I smirk but say nothing while walking down the stairs. Bord actually has bruises? Wow, that is impressive. I didn't think that Angeta had that kind of strength. But it could be a concerted effort from all five? I also see whip marks on Bord’s skin. I don't even want to know.

The stairs end in a narrow walkway, solid wall on one side, dark abyss on the other. More bats and, oh god, spiders again. I hear shuffling behind me, and I feel them sitting down on the last stairs. They are not coming any further. They are just casually silently chatting with each other, ignoring me completely.

“Why are you losers sitting down?”

I continue to walk as I start taunting them. “Ket has never even been past the twentieth floor. I want to know what is at the bottom of this thing. You guys are falling over after a few floors already?”

I pat the single wall for emphasis. I snap my hand with my other finger and execute my scanning technique. Lola gives a squeak of surprise. Why does she dislike that spell so much? “I heard that nobody has ever made it past level forty? I plan on going past level one hundred at the minimum. And I am too lazy to fight until then.”

I show them an arrogant sneer. I could bring out the threat of withholding food again, but that is getting old by now. If they are too weak to fight through some tiredness, they might as well give up now. “None of you require much sleep anymore.”

This is a blatant lie of course, only braincore users can go without sleep for years without side effects. Bord especially needs sleep. Ket will hold on for a month or so. A sudden realisation stops me in my tracks. I have a heartcore now. Does that mean I will have to start sleeping again? I really, really don't want to though. Once per year might be acceptable, any more than that is not pleasant. I move on.

“So I see no reason why you should have a rest. Or are you babies tired already? Is it a fact that even though you all possess qi, an energy immensely more powerful than mana, you all are still weak? Ask yourself, is that physical or mental weakness?”

I spit on the ground. “Pathetic.”

There, that should motivate some of them. I know I am being hard on them, the first time a new cultivator expends all of his or her energy is extremely draining. But the longer they go on now, the more potential they will have later. Making a cultivator fight on while they are running on fumes is one of the better training methods I have found so far. Their bodies are normally filled with qi, which is constantly repairing and reinforcing their cells. Stress testing these cells in the early stages will allow their subconscious to notice what can be improved in the body in terms of chemical fine tuning. And a good way to stress test is to force the cultivator to keep on trucking while they have no qi repairing any damage.

This is, of course, all theory, but I have gathered enough circumstantial evidence that I heavily suspect it to be correct. I also suspect that a lack of training like this will limit cultivators at a later stage. You can supercharge an inefficiently working body with qi, but it will always perform less than a super fine-tuned beautiful machine of a body working on the same amount of qi.

Let me phrase it this way, if you don't allow something to break down, you will never find the weakest links. A single process on the cellular level could hold back an entire organ. I personally went through a phase like that, I think. I didn't know jack shit about cultivation back then so I didn't bother to pay a lot of attention to details like that. This was before I got my braincore. Now the perfect opportunities to prove these theories are standing up from their sitting positions.

The abyss next to my walking path gets ignored by me. I know that below is a shortcut to the next level. I know that we could avoid all the spiders that way, but I am being hard on them. The least I can do is be hard on myself too.

Yeah, that sounded so cool. Truly what a wise teacher would think to himself.

I am overtaken before I can reach the first room. Surprisingly, by Bord and Selis. Ket is next, while Selis and Vox support an exhausted Angeta. An exhausted Angeta that is simmering with rage. I don't even need to feel angry myself to feel her influencing the nature mana around us. Tess is… a black dagger flies by, suspiciously close to my neck. Yes, show some fighting spirit, you babies!

I start grinning as they decide to ignore my rules, they all pile into the big open room. All the bats and spiders are dead half a second later. They send defiant looks my way, I answer with a widening grin. I pick up my pace and follow them.

We progress through the floor smoothly after that. They are starting to learn how to best conserve qi, a necessity in drawn-out fights like this. Halfway through the floor, I feel someone pulling on my sleeve. I look down and see Selis looking up to me.

“Ca...” She takes a deep breath and tries again. “Can I have my cup from my hut?”

I smile and pull a delicate porcelain cup from the necklace. This was on top of her pillar. The only way to open the force field keeping the cup in place was to surround it with water, something she figured out pretty quickly by dousing the pillar with the contents of the pond. I hand it over and she darts back to the rest.

It's an enchanted cup that cools the air inside of it. Any moisture in the air then condenses and starts filling it. She carries it around, giving her teammates a sip of water now and then. She herself uses it to grow the sphere of water floating above her. That cup can even produce water in a desert, so it seemed a fitting training tool.

Angeta is the next to come to ask me something. “Tea?”

“What tea?”

She starts to snarl at me but schools her face into an impassive mask. “Can I pl...”

She also takes a deep breath. “Give me my tea pl.. please.”

She nearly chokes on that last word. I hand her the tray without saying a thing. If only Bord had climbed his own tower, then they would be in fine shape in no time. Super compressed sugar and protein candy is exactly what they need by now, but Bord spent too much time crying in his hut. The tea will help though, it is similar to jasmine tea in the smell. It allows the consumer to think clearly, uninfluenced by emotion or fatigue. It also has a slight invigorating effect.

Angeta hands the set to Selis, who starts brewing with a flame that Ket provides. I hear them agree on letting the one to clear the next room drink a cup since water is a limited resource now. They have reverted back to the single person per room system it seems. Six rooms later, they all had drunk a cup of tea and various animals lay murdered on the ground. Slain by all sorts of creative and innovative ways. The bodies once again vanish the moment the last person is around a corner. The students' complexions are much better now, the tea and water doing wonders. They really went all out on each other after Bord used his… unconventional room clearing tactic. Now that we are talking about mental invigoration...

They don't need any supervision and I just got an idea that I want to check on. I motion Lola over, and I get ignored. I snatch at her with a qi thread, but she darts away. Insubordination! Has she finally decided to play out the old killed-by-own-disciple cliché? A single thought sends thousands of threads swarming towards the fluffball. They snake around her as if alive, each following their own small bit of programming, wrapping the struggling bunny up like a mummy. I grin at the bunny that comes floating closer. Who knew those lessons about object-oriented programming can be used in such a way.

I shout at my disciples: “Just continue on and ignore me.” while grabbing the neat package from the air.

‘How does he control that many separate threads? I can control fifteen separate objects now, with my training speed I would need an approximate… carry the five… there is that weird curve again, I see it in a lot of sums I make!’ Ket is thinking furiously.

Any fledgeling mathematician would recognize this curve as a parabola, something his teacher had not bothered to explain to him yet.

‘Subtract fifteen parts of the hundred… around fifteen hundred years? I would need over a millennium to control that amount of objects simultaneously. Probable speed increase being limited by a bigger training difficulty is taken into account, perfect.’ Ket thinks that word a lot lately, perfect. He's wrong though, mental training speed scales exponentially with realm, not something he is taking into account.

The world used to be a murky place for Ket, filled with slightly incomprehensible things happening all the time. People acting in ways he could absolutely not understand. There was this disconnect between him and the real world, it was basically as if he was looking at his own life through a dirty window.

Instead of getting angry at the incomprehensible place, he just learned how it worked. People acted in a certain way, so that would have to be enough reason for him to act that way too. There was a limited success though, the way other kids talked to each other, the manner in which his peers’ actions and reactions changed as they grew up, it was all a bit much to casually remember and act out later. So in the baggage carrier’s social circles where he ended up, he was misunderstood a lot while he understood even less. Instead of continuing through the murky swamp of social interaction, Ket became silent and sullen.

Then he was kidnapped and shown the light of numbers. Now Ket praises numbers daily, he swims in them, he loves them with all his heart. He figured out how to apply statistics to large volumes of data two hours after being shown this wonderful number system. He was passively observing what the hell was going on when he woke up, not from the insides of his cheap hut, but from inside another world. Then his wonderful teacher cursed at him for a little while and punched him in the gut. His mind went weird from that point, and he could recall every single moment and thing that happened, he could leaf through his memories like a book. He absorbed the basics his teacher lectured and thought about them a lot.

The next morning, a black rectangle appeared from nowhere and his… his teacher - Ket decides to call him that for now - his teacher showed him these symbols. And then he showed him what they meant. How they can be used and combined for bigger and bigger numbers, counting past a thousand suddenly became trivial. Then four more symbols used to modify these numbers with each other caused his brain to spin into overdrive. He overclocked his own brain through braincore usage for the first time while he was learning numbers. Ket does not know about imprinting theories, else he might just look at his number obsession in a different light.

That morning, he had been feeling rather foggy, unable to focus fully on a single thing. It was as if he was extremely bored while just thinking, but all of that was gone after learning about numbers. The world suddenly made sense. Simply observe what happens on all levels and note down the measurements and numbers, then analyse and predict. That entire process is now applied to everything he does. Every single data point is analysed, its history traced and its future plotted. And he loves the structure he has. He finally feels in control.

So he proceeds to analyse the movement of the threads of qi his teacher is using to catch his pet rabbit. Such power and technique, used in a game. Ket is doubly amazed, once at the skill on display and once at the casual use of such profound magic.

A thousand possible answers come rushing at the question Ket is asking himself; why is his teacher whispering in the ear of his rabbit? Why is his black tree necklace tied around the bunny now? More possibilities, old memories are dredged up and used for reference. He is not happy with the shitty memory resolution of his pre-braincore period. More questions and numbers, more things to check keep tumbling through his mind.

Every social interaction he experienced is recorded and analysed, he is currently using the largest part of his thinking capacity to analyse social rules. His brief sojourn through the Tower city let him record a lot of these small conversations. He sees his own social faults every time a new social norm is identified and proved with evidence. Every awkward conversation and every time someone called him a creep, finally he understands the ‘why’ of them.

Ket breathes in deeply, looking at the five other kidnap victims. He isn't sure that he will suddenly turn into a social butterfly, talking a lot still isn't his thing. But he can make sure that none of his fellow disciples will start hating him for reasons he does not understand.

But one anomaly sticks out, his teacher does not follow any of the conventions he has learned from observing ordinary people. But now he sees a path, a way to unravel the mysteries. Through numbers, he will understand.

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