Chapter 40 - Talk
Long story short, I jumped inside the necklace while Lola kept it safe for me. I then stood in the middle of the clearing for a few hours, moving my entire body in horizontal circles. I will talk about that later because I asked Lola to let me know when the group reached the tenth floor. The incessant squeaking I now hear coming from Tree should be her.
I cast a last glance around the pocket dimension. I spot my white-faced qi clone in the corner of the field. I need to do something about that thing soon, it is slowly disintegrating now that the constant stream of my signature qi has stopped coming in from the Tower.
I appear above Lola, who immediately jumps away from under my feet. Animals with qi are not really smart, but I swear they can read minds when talked to clearly enough. Their instincts get a massive boost through qi, giving them supernaturally good senses. Lola will understand me if I talk to her while showing everything on my face. Complex stuff will not get through though, so I won't bother with math lessons for the bunny. I unwind the necklace from her body and put it back on.
I take stock of my environment and see the small room I remember from the tenth level. Two doors, one with stairs going down and one with a dark swirl, fill the back wall. The dark rock walls are smooth with rounded ceilings, just like the rest of this level. The room itself is the size of a bedroom, a little over five meters wide and long, so thirty square meters. Big enough for a little break.
My students look horrible. I see burn marks all over them; the flaming dog must have given them trouble. Ket is smiling, the metal affinity spider must have been easy for him. Or maybe the dungeon switched things up since I went through here? It’s irrelevant though, so I stop thinking about the subject.
I switch my focus to my student's bodies. They are still running on qi fumes, a close up internal inspection shows me torn muscle fibres and a general lack of stored energy in all of their bodies. Bord is in the best shape, and I did not expect anything else. He is not showing any signs of slimming down though, his mental image of himself must be a fatty.
I take a moment to search through my spatial ring and pull out an entire dining set a second later. A thick and sturdy Shining Moonwood table with complementary chairs - big enough to seat ten - appears in the room. I sit down at the head of the table as I pull out some food. “Have a seat.”
They each slowly find a chair and start plopping down. Lola hops on my lap but I put her on the table. The first thing I do is pull out some qi loaded grasses for her to munch on.
I will give the rest enough food to refill their energy levels, but rationing the amount of qi inside the food will be crucial here. I want to feed them barely enough qi to completely repair their bodies. This will allow their subconscious to fine tune things on a cellular level and fix any chemical imbalances. I will repeat this until no more changes are being made, this being an indicator of a fully optimised physique.
I place wooden plates and cutlery in front of each participant, floating the items through the air using qi strings. They all sit down, looking at me expectantly. I look through my ring, pondering on what food to serve. They need high calorie, low qi food at the moment, so I pull out a lot of snack food. Mundane animal sausages with a few per cent high-level beast meat inside, various kinds of vegetable tempura and a few jugs of light fruit juice. The feast starts the moment I make the food appear. The battle that immediately starts is even fiercer than the one they had previously.
I sit back and enjoy the show. Bord is punching at any techniques coming his way, Selis guides a large portion of the fruit juice directly into her mouth and Ket is surrounding his food with high-speed projectiles. It is a good thing the table is stronger than steel, even I am currently not capable of leaving a scratch in the thing. A minute later they are all eyeing each other suspiciously while zealously guarding their own foods and munching furiously.
“Alright, now that that storm has passed, what have you guys learned so far?”
I pour myself a nice spirit wine while looking around the table. I see Vox and Tess exchanging glances, and Vox speaks up. “I think Tess and me might be opposite elements, but we don't suppress each other unless we want to. We have instead found a few tricks to boost our strengths while cooperating.”
I see Tess nodding her head. That is a good starting answer, but I want to hear more about it. “Why?”
Tess speaks up at this point. ”I need shadows to move around, and it is too dark here for that. And we found out that alternating light and shadow attacks do a lot more damage than using a single element.”
Vox replies again. “Darkness becomes more obvious if it is surrounded by light, and light becomes more obvious in pitch blackness?”
I nod my head in praise. “That’s called contrast.”
I move my hand through the air while releasing a cloud of white qi. “This has little contrast. I can punch someone with a qi covered fist, but it will not do a lot of damage. Now if I introduce more contrast, like forming a spiked gauntlet, for instance, the vague line separating the cloud from the air becomes a lot clearer.”
I do as I say, and form a wicked looking white gauntlet over my hands. Long spikes jut out from my knuckles. “Contrast is just an increase in obvious separation. Dark on top of dark is good for hiding. Light on top of light is good for discovering and healing. Neither is really excellent for fighting, you need a little bit of both in order to maximise damage.”
I nod to both of them. That contrast speech has another reason though, shadows make for great disposable weapons. The weapon that was on top of Tess’ challenge pillar is an abstract concept given physical form. It was the shadow of a normal dagger that I poured a shitload of qi in during an experiment. I wanted her to struggle a bit, but she flashed under its shadow and was the first one to get to her pillar’s top. That weapon should have been great inspiration for her to start forming her own shadow weapons, but I haven't seen her do it yet. Let's hope the hint was obvious enough this time.
I look to the rest of the group. Bord has a glint in his eyes, and he proceeds to speak while spewing crumbs. “I’ve got to want *gulp* it myself.”
Wow, he understood that point this soon already?
“I got...” He shifts around a bit, sliding his jiggling ass over my chair. “I got angry, and the thing I wanted to be able to do became a lot easier.”
He performs a few phantom jabs while continuing to eat.
So it was an accidental discovery. Now, do I explain it or do I let the others figure it out themselves? I rub my beard a bit while thinking about it. Will and desire are at the root of cultivation, after all. I decide to let Bord try to figure it out first. Why? How?”
He is silent for a while longer, everyone now peering over at the munching meatball. Then his eyes light up in understanding
He seems content after saying that one word. This is good enough, so I nod at him and look at the last three. Selis is messing with her floating water glasses while nibbling on a piece of fried vegetable.
Ket looks over at Bord with a complicated look on his face. “I realised that there are some things that numbers cannot hold.”
He must have met his first statistical anomaly. The real world is the real world, after all, any abstract method that represents the real world with just numbers is bound to have blind spots. Ket needs some more lessons in statistics if the sudden change in Bord’s behaviour caught him off guard. Maybe I should allow them to read some of the basic sciences books in my ring? I begin designing a small and cosy library before I stop and refocus on the leftover two.
“Controlling blood felt really gross, so thanks for warning me about that. Pulling the stuff from the blood so I got water was really hard in the beginning, it felt like there were a lot of small things that did not want to let the water go? As if I was compressing wet dough in my hands, only to have it squeeze through my fingers. Hmmh, these sausages are the best, so good. Do you have any sauce? Anyway, I also learned that water wants to flow, so I am now guiding it instead of demanding it. That’s how it feels anyway, a lot easier that way. Wow, this green and yellow thing is so crunchy! Hmm.”
She seems content after that waterfall-style speech. I don't know how to respond to that, to be honest. Fluid dynamics are incredibly resource-intensive to calculate, a lot worse than calculating wind flow. She seems to be on a correct path, anyway. Water just isn't my style, I will let her read whatever scientific stuff I have on hydraulics and aqua-dynamics. Is that even a word?
Angeta is looking at the plants around her arms. She must be thinking about something really deeply. The rest continue to nibble on the leftovers while she ponders. After an entire minute of thinking, she softly speaks a single line. “I don't need a forest, all I need is a single seed.”
So she glimpsed some of the potential that qi holds, great! Now that that's done, let's have a nice chat.
“Ket, could you give me some estimation on how the city would fare if the dungeon won't be accessible?”
I interrupt his discussion to ask this question. I am curious how a local braincore user would answer this. My estimation is that the city will be largely abandoned in a month. Maybe even deserted within half a year. Ket looks to be thinking hard, the only reason his head isn't heating up again is because he has expended most of his energy.
“A week. The nobles would bail after… three days. If they do it silently without sounding the alarm, the first commoners would begin to starve within a week. Maybe two weeks until the entire city is abandoned.”
Oh, okay. A bit worse than my own predictions.
He looks at me weirdly, running through my exact words to decipher the meaning. “Around half, no nobles or people with influence.”
I really should leave the dungeon in working order, got it. I still think it's weird though, why doesn’t this city have a backup food source? “Do you know the concept of farming?”
Angeta replies with “humans are too lazy for farming, they think it's beneath them. Their holy dungeons give all, after all. The goat-tribes are the best farmers in the entire world! One farmer can feed himself and three others. They have mastered the seasons and can feed entire villages with their fields. That’s also why humans raid them so often.”
That is below medieval level farming efficiency. I can vaguely remember some information about how twenty dark aged peasants could feed themselves and eighty others. That comes down to one farmer feeding five people in total. “Do the beast people not have access to dungeons?”
“The humans would have a hissy-fit. Our Guardian told us that humans need dungeon because their weak.” She snarls a bit every time she says the word human.
I hold in my laughter, the thought of a racist cultivation god is incredibly funny to me. If we all ever reach the higher realms, I hope that she will still be the same. She will be such a pain in the ass to all those stuck up immortals, absolutely hilarious. I decide to continue my questions. “So… Anyone want to tell me why you all had entire armies chasing you?”
The silence stretches on for a while. Just as I am about to speak up again, I notice a missing rabbit. When did Selis kidnap Lola? Her water glasses are now dark spots on her clothes, so entranced is she with petting the content rabbit. The white fluffball is radiating happiness while lying stretched out on the blue-haired girl's lap.
Vox and Angeta have been whispering to each other, so it does not surprise me when Vox speaks up.
“There are, no, where a few establishments in the Tower city that have met with some setbacks. A rather large group of oppressed people have now regained their freedom.”
So they freed some slaves and beat up some scumbags, good for them. “Why the army though?”
“We might have put skills on display that only a full mage can pull off. And we might have caused a big alarm, causing the air mages to transport the elites of the army ahead.”
That at least explains why I saw no air attacks, only fire and water. The air mages must have been exhausted after transporting a large chunk of the army. “What happened to the people you freed?”
“Why? They are free?”
Angeta jumps in with a snarl. “If they can't keep their freedom, they don't deserve it.”
I reply. “If you hadn't freed them, they wouldn't have needed to?” I lazily sit back in my chair. “I wonder how much worse they are treated now, as runaway slaves? I don't think they could have made it far with an entire army marching to the city. Is there a big difference in treatment between good, hardworking slaves and ones that have run away?”
I see Vox pale, while Angeta is very silent all of a sudden. I turn to Tess. “What about you?”
She knits her brows. “I was just walking on the street when a group of guards came and arrested me! I went along with them to see why, and I got accused of robbing Lord Fellis! They accused me and any other dungeon sneak they could get their hands on of raiding his private vault. They even asked me if I went into his cellar as if I would ever enter that disgusting place. So I beat up that fat prick and caused a distraction by having a fight with the guards so the other sneaks could run away.”
She looks mighty pissed now if her furiously dismantling a piece of fried vegetable with her cutlery is any indication. I am partly responsible, so I will say no more. I rub my spatial ring as I look at Bord, suspecting that he might know more about the basement.
“Selis and I were eating. She showed me the place. But I didn't have any money, I never needed money!”
He sounds like a whiny child, all nasal tones and whimpering. I guess that he has recovered from whatever shock he went through. Fighting for your life does tend to put things in perspective, I call it combat psychology. Depression and mental issues are less important when you have to beat up tiger sized beasts with your bare hands.
Selis is burying her face in Lola’s belly, who is loving it. Her paws are stretched out while she enjoys the pettings. I can’t break up such a blissful scene, so I leave her alone.
The food inside my student’s bellies is doing its work, I see signs of their cells becoming healthier and gaining efficiency. I put a bowl of qi chips on the table and they all grab some. We chat some more while I wait for the qi to finish repairing their bodies.
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