Chapter 44 - Struggle

Chapter 44 - Struggle

“GATHER ROUND!” One by one my now official disciples walk towards me. The moment the last one has reached the clearing, I continue.

“So I found at that fighting at night doubles your rewards at minimum. I think it keeps count and then rewards you in one lump sum when you kill a boss during daylight, observe!” I can't help but perform a flourish as a long stream of items starts to flow from Tree. I mentally ask the quickly growing perennial to clear a large piece of the forest where I can put the items down. Golden qi pours towards the opposite side of the clearing and starts moving trees around. I put the items down in the cleared space, separated in rough piles.

“I just beat a boss on level ninety after it became day. This was the result.”

They all look at the never-ending flow of various items coming from Tree with open mouths. It will take too long like this, so I speed it up. A minute later the entire pile is transferred, piles of glistening weapons, armour and tools glistening brightly.

“I almost forgot to give you guys these.” I pull the low-grade spatial rings from my pocket. I truly nearly forgot about them. I throw one to every student.

“Those are spatial rings, they come with the disciple job. Just stuff some qi inside to see how they work. I want you guys to load up on a complete armour set, including a full face coverage helmet. We might have to leave the dungeon by force after all. Not that it will do a lot of good, but we can at least pretend, no? You guys can also use this stuff to craft something if you want. Have fun!”

They are still looking at the pile of stuff and rings with open mouths. Nice fish impression, guys. I give them a wave and jump back into the desert. I pick up Lola and walk towards the exit. I have to clear a few tonnes of sand before I can start climbing down. I reactivate combat mode once I reach the end of the stairs.

Floor ninety-three now. Enemies are getting exponentially stronger. This one tiger has capability to wipe out entire previous floor. Dungeon core defence? Dodge swipe, avoid tiger that is on fire. Notice pattern. Attacks come in pairs. Bonded couples? Kill one. Form qi spear and throw. Other tiger goes berserk. Bonded couples. Check sex to be sure? Male and female pairs, confirmed.

Eliminate berserk tiger first. Prepare lunge, land and execute. Punch tiger with half of full force. Middle section evaporates.

Project growth of animals until floor hundred? Need full power past level ninety-nine. Proceed anyway, have only used brute force and simple tricks so far.

Deal with flaming tiger now. Bonded with wet tiger, seems contradictory. Excite air molecules in opposite direction. Guide generated electricity. Wet tiger down. Throw wet tiger to burning tiger. Both are now paste, no need for full strength yet. Lola kicks tiger my way, intercept. Throw back her way. Spend ten minutes playing catch with big yellow tiger corpse.

Floor ninety-six, filled with guinea pigs and stick insects. Combination is more effective than it should be. Fighting them is more fun than it should be. Get distracted briefly by rodent name, forgot whether it is guinea pig, cavy or cavia… Either one is fine, focus back on fight. Rip insect legs from latest victim. Make sharp with qi edge, throw to closest cavia. Jackpot. Throw other leg to other cavia. Relocate to latest victim. Grab guinea shish kebab, spear second cavia. And third. And fourth. Shish-kebab full, discard. Intercept shadow stick insect, prevent Lola getting stabbed.

Note to self, put Lola in Tree after next level. Can't guarantee her safety above nine nine percent from then on.

Kick off wall, grab next insect. Use as battering ram. Ineffective but fun, acceptable fighting method. Continue battering cute critters. Smash last cavia towards Lola. It is earth element, should be sturdy enough. Another ten minutes of playing catch.

Ninety-nine now, massive difficulty spike. All previously encountered beings are present. Level is an endless white plane. Lola is in Tree, she would die within four dot two eight seconds in current situation. Avoid gold puppet. Avoid metal spider web. Not possible? Push big dog in its path, safe.

More qi to brain. Perception slows down further. Spot teddy bear in distance. Size is… multiple kilometres high. Avoid wind blade barrage. Attach qi thread to flying boulder. Jump, sweep boulder around. Crushed three hundred animals, not enough. Spotted rope snake. Idea, intercept. Grab snake by fangs. Force venom from teeth, control and spread in mist. Push mist over animal horde. Projected casualties a thousand, not enough.

Projected horde size… Bigger than sight limit, expands beyond horizon. Last stand resistance of dungeon? Irrelevant, projected horde size is multiple millions. Projected outcome? Calculating. Fifty-fifty.

Fifty-fifty is acceptable. Survived worse odds. Focus back on surroundings. Use snake to sweep small fry. Snake disintegrates in hands, see its ribs pierce through multiple mobs. Time before pulling out tricks becomes necessity?

Result; only when halfway through current mobs. Show smile on face, this is fun after all. Grab spider, fear of poison is irrelevant now. Break off legs, avoid mandibles. Attach qi ropes to legs. Start spinning. Pierce spider skull with own leg. Spinning spider legs similar to lawnmower. Blood and organs flowing in the wind like freshly cut grass. Stop poetic process, can't spare brain space now.

Release spinning legs at points of maximum effect. Legs pierce through over fifty animals, not enough. Rip water from blood on ground. Send at high speed to approaching teddy. Teddy melts on contact. See massive yellow rabbit. Kick at full power. Rabbit plows through thousands of small fry. Effective, might be enough. Target earth affinity beasts for cannonball duty. Calculate optimum use of nearest big earth dog. Execute.

The group of students had gone slightly crazy when Teach left. They had all ran towards the glimmering piles of treasure as soon as they discovered that the black rings in their hands could store stuff. They had seen their teacher pull things from thin air multiple times, and now they held that mystical power in their very hands.

Only Selis did her own thing and ran to the forest, but came back disappointed after finding out that only a single tree log fit inside. She wanted to bring back more wood in order to finish up the log house she was building.

The rest appropriated anything valuable they saw lying in the heaps of stuff. Pretty soon, however, their rings were full and they realised that there was little need to start hoarding the items. So they started sorting everything. Bars of metal were stacked in one corner, food-related items piled in another while weapons and armours got sorted by type. They discussed what armour to wear and what weapons to wield. They put on full sets of plate mail with mail shirts underneath. Pretty soon they also realised that moving around with that amount of metal covering them was not really heavy, but made a ruckus with every step. They ditched their armour and continued sorting through the treasures.

Then Ket frowned and walked over to the Tree. He put his hand on the softly glowing bark and focussed.

“Guys, come over here now!”

So, in front of Tree they now sit. They are seated in a curved line, all looking towards a mental projection. Ket had learned a lot from his time in the library, and he applied this knowledge by creating a qi eye. He had pushed this photon receptor through the portal and is projecting what he sees on a qi screen.

Ket had made this world's first surveillance system and turned it into this world's first cinema. They watched their teacher punch his way through level after level, at speeds sometimes too fast for them to follow. Snacks where gathered while they watched the chaotic battle. Selis cheered every time Lola did something cool. They started betting food on who would win the games their teacher and his pet played. Lola joined them after level ninety-seven was blitzed through, and Selis immediately called dibs on petting her.

Now all seven are watching their teacher fight endless hordes in an endless plane. Ket manoeuvres his qi eye around, trying to catch most of the action. The crown of water circulating around his head, held in place by Selis, is proof that this effort is both good training and at the edge of his abilities. They watch Teach grab a rope-like snake and start swinging it around like mad. It disintegrates in his hands after just two rotations. The swirl of spider legs on qi ropes that follows is dizzying to watch. They all quake in their boots when the kilometres-big bear comes in sight. Selis gasps at the speed at which water gets extracted from the blood. The rest also do so after the bear starts melting.

Lola gives off an angry squeal as the massive yellow rabbit gets kicked like a football. Angeta can't help but smile at the trail of destruction the sturdy earth affinity beast leaves behind in its wake. They sit there entranced for hours as they observe the most epic sight they have ever encountered. The hordes of animals seem endless, their teacher’s stamina bottomless.

Halfway through the incredible hoard of animals, their teacher starts to mix things up. Instead of just using qi threads and his own limbs, weird techniques start flying everywhere.

A lightning orb forms above his head, striking only beasts with blue colourations. A ring of water forms around him, parts separating at high speed every time red or fiery beasts come near. It douses their flames and seems to sap their fighting spirit. A bigger circle of rocks forms around their teacher’s body, rotating with ever-increasing speeds, chunks speeding off towards any beings that have green spots or stripes. Flames bloom into existence around any grey coloured beasts that stray too close.

“Water kills fire, plants come from the earth and metal can melt.” Everyone looks at Bord, who just mumbled those words. Their gazes linger on him, casting odd glances. Exasperation is seen on the groups' faces, as if Bord just told them that the sky is blue and expected it to be a great revelation. They focus their attention back to the spectacle displayed on the screen pretty quickly.

Anything with even a smidgen of yellow gets kicked so hard the beasts and constructs clear hundreds if not thousands of small fry in their tumbles. Teach continues to punch and kick like a madman, but every fist is now followed by a massive explosion that kills thousands or a gout of flame that burns even more. Every direct kick now punches through the first beast and continues far beyond them. Sweeping kicks cause entire groups of beings to fall apart into two pieces.

Many hours later, it is suddenly over. Teacher seems slightly out of breath, but he suddenly starts laughing. He waves a hand and the elemental shapes around him disappear. He stretches his body around a bit, looking around for something. He opens and closes his mouth for a little, then looks at the qi eye.

The entire group of disciples reels back at his blood covered smile. Ket startles and his projection falls apart.

“I...” He tries to form words but can’t even say a single sentence.

“Don't even know what to say?” Tess gets a single nod in reply. They all continue to do their own thing, but the enthusiastic atmosphere from before is dampened significantly. It seems like they all have a lot to think about.

A few of them have determined glints in their eyes. Why would he make them his disciples if he didn't want them to reach his level eventually?

That was pretty fun! My predictions were rather pessimistic though, that was not a fifty-fifty situation. I now calculate a mere five per cent chance of lethal injury, I did not expect that combining spells with my improved physical prowess would be that effective. My new favourite is a roundhouse kick that releases a thin blade of wind. It cut through the hordes like butter. Now I have to find the exit.

I look up at the small bundle of grey qi floating over my shoulder only to watch it disappear in a small puff. Ah well, I hope they learned something at least. I turn around and am greeted by a pristine floor. I turn around again and every single corpse has disappeared. My students looking at me fighting must have kept the dungeon from making all the remains vanish. I look down at myself and find my body completely clean. That at least saves me a shower. I grumble a bit about the lack of loot, but I have a feeling that nobody was supposed to get this far. I do wonder why the dungeon was able to vanish material that was touching my skin, but decide not to ponder about it too deeply. Complicated questions like these will take years to answer at my current level, I suspect. I just need to wait, grow in power a couple of realms and the answer will become easy to understand.

Going all out like this did wonders for my physical tuning. I feel a lot more comfortable with my body cultivation now, I truly feel in control of every fibre of muscle. I also integrated my braincore with my nervous system for a bit. The old-fashioned way of transmitting signals through axons and dendrites and such was getting too slow. My body is now capable of moving faster than my normal nervous system can support.

So I connected all the important muscle control nerves to my braincore, allowing a big part of my nervous system to be constantly flooded with qi. I then manually improved the nerves connecting to each muscle group, upgrading my nerve conduction velocity. I had to turn quite a bit of qi into passive qi in order to facilitate this improvement, but as the battle shows, it was worth it.

Now I have an exit to find. Level ninety-nine is completed! No bigass pile of loot in sight though, maybe there is a boss on level one-hundred? Spreading my qi around shows me nothing but a flat plane. I jump a few hundred meters into the air while gently spinning, but I only see more empty plane.

I give a mental shrug and start running in a random direction. I stop because that was a pretty stupid idea. I start running in the same direction again. Why am I running again? No obvious external threats are detected, so my danger process is not acting up. I stop again. Why do I feel like I am being influenced anyway?

I frown with narrowed eyes. Something is fishy here. I almost start running again but stop myself at the last moment. It was as if that was the obvious thing to do. Like a normal reflex or reaction. The urge comes over me again, but this time I know what to look out for. I start walking towards the opposite direction.

The thing influencing me doesn't want me to go that way, so that way I go. I decide to jump again, focussing my attention on the direction I must not go. I see something I really don't want to see, a hole in the ground. I don't want to go there so I step forward.

Is the dungeon limiting me? It feels as if I don't have as much freedom here, like I'm being boxed in somehow. I truly do not like it, so I start running. This goes against my better judgement, and I really should stop. I speed up while my mind howls at me to not take another step forward.

I reach the bad place, no way am I going in there. I look down, and do the dumbest thing possible, and take a step down the stairs. Walking down these steps is truly the most retarded thing I ever did. Reaching the bottom even more so.

Two doors again, one a swirling black and the other is bad. Bad idea to go into the left door. The least I can do is go through the right door’s black mist as fast as possible. The left door is instant death? So against all my common sense, I walk to the left door. Fuck you, whatever is influencing me, I do what I want.

Looking through the left door is monumentally stupid and will be lethal, guaranteed. A room is visible, I must NOT look at the box. No way can I ever peer inside the room, so I take a look with trembling muscles. I force my body to obey and see a black form in the middle of a large room. I start to pour some qi inside my head to figure out what is going on, but it is gone the moment it leaves my core. This sets my danger sensor off, causing it to take action. More qi flows out of my braincore, only to disappear the moment it does.

Shit, this is bad. Yeah, coming here was incredibly dumb. Looking at the black shape even dumber, so go back and leave. I am not wanted here. My thoughts somehow get limited? All the possible thoughts I have are being eliminated until I can only think a select few.

Stop thinking about stupid stuff like that, focus on going away. I really should focus on going away, yes. I want to take a step back but find that my muscles have no strength. Flashes of light begin to streak over the pitch black rectangle in the room. Activate combat mode.

Combat mode active, analyse threats. I am the threat? I should leave? Go away, go away go away away away?

The rectangle starts lighting, stars sparkling underneath its surface with increasing frequency as I try to retreat. Vision getting darker, braincore depleted. Heartcore also draining. Structural qi is fine? I must leave. I expect the world to slow down around me as I try to pour more qi into my head, but it slips through my fingers.

Light from cube blinding now. I try to remember how long I have been standing here but I can't reach the thoughts. Most of my thinking disappears before I can realise I'm thinking it. Go back, not wanted here. I am a Root, this not public place. Keep the small ones happy while pulling energy through. Odd thoughts flash through my mind. Darkness creeps in from the edges of my vision and I black out.

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