Chapter 47 - Mounts
I put Lola down and turn to thepale-facedd group of disciples. I try to speak as casually as possible. “Let me give you this before the mount search starts.”
I pull out five more shards of jade and copy the technique list into them. I throw one to each student. “Put it to your forehead. You can choose two, or one with two weapons. Ah, whatever. Just choose what you like.”
Tess, Ket and Selis seem to have sensed something from the jade, they put them to their foreheads as soon as they catch them. I have to think fast as Ket throws his back immediately. I read it as soon as I catch it and see two options that glow with a foreign, grey qi. He chose the most basic style, a truly vanilla form of fighting. And secondly, he chose the most attack focused method possible.
I pull up both techniques, the first one is named ’Punch & Kick’. That is the boring one. The other is called ’Suicidal’. Both are truly fitting names.
I mentally call up both basic beginner techniques and shove the mental images and data into the jade before throwing it back. Ket catches the adroitly, puts it to his forehead and throws it back at me. This entire bit of teaching didn't last more than a second or three, I can get used to quick students like him. I look at Bord and Angeta. One is licking the small green stone and the other is sniffing it with suspicion on her face. I shake my head a bit.
Ket walks off and slowly approaches the horde of animals. Every animal looks at one of us, most are still staring at me though. I glare back at them until Tess interrupts my staring contest.
“‘Low Profile Sneak’ with dagger and sword please.”
I praise the naming sense of the creation process in my head. That is a good name for what comes down to an advanced version of stealth crawling. I take her piece of jade and load it up.
“I put spear in there too, sometimes it's wise to have some distance.”
She smiles after taking a quick look. “Thank you.”
I nod slightly. “No problem.”
Selis’ timid voice sounds out next. “Can I have ‘Dumb Heavy Smash’? With greatsword and flail please?”
Then came the longest and hardest staring competition of my life. I couldn't look away from those big, blue, shimmering eyes who were innocently looking at me. That small cute face filled with harmless expectation.
“You don't want Flowing Water or Wave Fist?”
Those big blue eyes blink slowly in response.
“Hydro Speed Skater seems suitable for you. Speed and heavy hitting attacks. You don't want that one?”
Big blue eyes slowly sway side to side as Selis shakes her head. We continue our staring contest as I touch the jade she is clutching in her hands. I try to salvage this situation by also including the rapier basics. I didn't even realise that there was a flail among the dungeon weapons.
She walk off while clutching the jade even harder. There seems to be a savage undertone to that harmless and cute smile somehow.
“By the way, remember what you are practising yourself. I really, really don't care about these techniques, so just ask me for the other parts if you have fully mastered your current level. The end goal is mastery of all styles, so switch it up sometimes.”
Vox hands me his jade piece and I pour in some augur. Touching it to my forehead is not necessary that way. He selected two basic techniques, both different branches of agility defence and avoidance. ‘Precision in Position’ is as it sounds, good for extremely tight dodges. The other one is ‘Rapid Swift Speed’, which also speaks for itself.
Swapping between these techniques when necessary will make Vox really slippery and difficult to hit. Both styles are seriously lacking in punching power though. I look him in the eyes.
“Go inside the Tree and give every type of weapon you can find a hundred completely unique swings.”
I put his piece of jade in my ring and cross my arms, making sure that my necklace hangs over my forearms. He looks me in the eyes for a few seconds before giving in. He disappears after touching the small embedded tree.
What emotions did he show there? It was like some old and big and painful thing cast a shadow over his face. He disciplined himself pretty quickly though, before I could really read what was going on from his expressions. Hmm, we all have problems.
Angeta is next, she gives me her jade piece, it has green qi blobs around the words ‘Jungle Swing & Spring’. That is ‘Spring’ as in springboard and as in the season. Double meaning, I somehow love these names. I loathe those pompous Chinese names but like my own creations? I silence the hypocrite alarm process in my mind and prepare the piece of jade.
Her qi control precision is really good, that marking qi is very finely done for a dantian cultivator. She marked the hammer and longsword options. She grins at me while putting it back into her ring. She is already eyeing the many animals around. She seems very pumped for some reason.
I take the slightly damp piece of jade from Bord while trying to suppress my facial expression.
“‘Curve of the Earth’ aaaaaand *burp* ‘Stampede Trample Step’”. Bord scratches his ass while looking at me with a limp smile on his face.
I can't take it anymore. I have a small breakdown while laughing my ass off. Those two fit him in a way I had not anticipated. ‘Curve the Earth’ is built around rotational force in any direction. The ‘Trample Step’ specialises in bouncing from place to place, using your entire body like a pogo stick. The image of a furiously spinning fatty bouncing all over the place has me in uncontrollable laughter for a good half minute.
I mumble something about laughing with him instead of at him while giving him the styles he wants. I do not include any weapons, that would ruin the chance of seeing my mental image in real life. I clamber back to my feet, still chuckling a bit.
All my students wander off, skittish at first, but they quickly gain confidence while striding among the passive animals. I sit down and just breathe for a bit. Then I try to sense for the disciple contract connection, and only get a vague sense of direction after a good half hour of focus. That’s fine by me, I don't want any direct connections to them in my mind as a result of the disciple ceremony and contract.
Vox appears before me the moment I stand up. He is soaking with sweat. He looks tired but calm. “I dislike this one the least.”
A naginata appears in his open palm. The curved katana blade is stuck to a long pole. He looks at it with a slight confusion on his face. I want to joke about the girly-ness of that weapon but the mood isn't right. I silently hand him the jade to which I added bladed spear styles for both fighting techniques and he walks away.
There, another teacher-like thing done. Now I can only hope for them to come back with acceptable animals.
Yeah, I totally jinxed myself. Selis comes along, riding the biggest black co… rooster I have ever seen. I cover my face. I need to teach them English soon.
Tess is feeling at peace. Growing up as a street rat required permanent vigilance, best friends stabbing each other in the back over rotting food was a daily occurrence. But the moment she saw the massive tide of beasts cramping up the clearing, her danger sense broke and shut down. There is still a small voice in the back of her mind telling her to run, shouting at her to hoof it. Instead of doing that though, she just starts petting a grass covered shark.
It has tiny legs on its belly and is covered with long, flat, purple leaves. She rubs it under its chin and it makes a soft whistling sound while tilting its head up to her. Her peaceful smile grows wider and she slowly walk on. She steps over rock covered legs and dances through some fluttering long hair.
The big animals around her block most of her view, she hears some talking and animal noises now and then. The sense of isolation should have caused her to become hyper vigilant. She lays herself down on top of a feather covered frog instead. She rolls around in the luxurious down while the animal slowly breathes in and out. She falls off the side of the animal, only to bounce off another.
Standing up while rubbing her side, she looks at the smooth goat she landed on. Skin like thick rubber, she decides that this specimen does not need her immediate attentions and walks further into the horde. Although she is lost in a blissful state, she does notice that the more predatory animals occupy the centre of the clearing. Herbivores and their hunters are freely mixed in this crowd, but plant eaters move out of the carnivores’ way more often than not.
“This seems like a weird sort of holy land...” Talking to herself, she decides to see what type of animals are occupying the centre. She looks down at her hand while walking. She rubs the ring and a green fragment of jade appears in her hands. She puts it to her forehead while leisurely strolling onwards.
Slowly her movements change. Instead of a normal walk, she starts slinking through the masses. Her centre of gravity drops the further she walks, her form swinging low over the round. She gets further lost in the application of the fighting manual she just received, looking through the visual diagrams with assorted moves. She looks at the mental images presented in the jade, following the connections between stances and moves.
She does not notice a five meter long, pitch black cat that has started walking besides her. Her footsteps are now impossible to hear, but the cat’s steps seem even quieter. She only wakes from her walking trance when the line of animals around her ends. She blinks once and immediately jumps into a tree.
“Where is it, I think something was stalking me?” A branch above her head creaks, and she looks up.
“AAAAAAHGG” She jumps by reflex the moment she sees the big cat sitting on the branch above her. While she soars through the sky, her eyes narrow and she flicks her wrist. A single dark flash later and the cat and girl are rolling on the ground.
“Thought you could sneak up on me?” Oblivious of the fact that this beast had been sneaking up on her for the last ten minutes, she pounces at the tiger. The animal is covered in pitch black fur and feathers. Tufts of light absorbing plumage sprouting from its neck, tail and the outsides of its joints. The cat jumps back with great dexterity, only to be tackled by the teleporting girl. She grabs the massive animals around it waist and sweeps it off its paws.
Instead of fighting back, the cat simply lets it happen. Its two meter high frame gets tossed around like a ragdoll, rolling on the ground. It then proceeds to lay down and turns its eyes and ears away from her. Tess looks at the big cat, when her face lights up with a brilliant thought. She jumps to the massive animal and quickly touches its nose. The startled cat looks at her.
“You are the hunter, so do your job.
I am a thief who you must stop.”
She then runs away, hiding behind the trees. The cat sniffs the air and starts slinking over to her position. This starts a cat and mouse game between girl and cat.
Twenty minutes later, a slightly sweaty girl riding on a slightly sweaty cat walk back into the clearing. She is scratching the beasts feathered ears and its chest rumbles a little in between every step.
“Are you sure you want that animal as a mount?” Big blue eyes stare at me, like an enlightened queen, looking down over her lands. They blink slowly.
“Look, that might be a good mount, but...” How do I explain that she is currently riding a dirty joke? The large and dark rooster between Selis’ legs seems like a pretty cool mount, but I at least want to try convincing her to choose something else.
“There is a big bunny over there, excellent riding material...” I ignore Lola who is nibbling at me ears again. I wave the attention seeking bunny away.
“Or how about that hairy scorpion over there?” Selis does not even look at the animal I’m pointing at.
She softly strokes the nearly black, dark blue feathers with a smile on her face. “I like him.”
I give up. So be it. I am sure that one day, I will look at the girl sitting on her mount without my mind going to the gutter. I feel a big shape coming closer and turn to see Tess riding a big version of Felix the cat. It is light absorbing black, with white paws and belly. I can at least accept that type of mount.
“And you guys are sure that these type of mounts are normal?”
I already know the answer, but decide to ask anyway. Selis just nods while Tess replies with a “Yeah”.
The animals have slowly cleared away, making an empty space around me. My students have started making their way back to my location, converging on me like they planned it. I see Ket riding a glossy silver horse and spot some light yellow hair fluttering in the wind. That is Vox riding a fur covered snake. I wave them over and they approach.
“Now we are only missing Angeta and Bord.”
As if on command, both come into sight, slowly travelling through the sea of beasts, side by side. Bord is riding a bull thats is covered in bug chitin. It is dark brown with black seams and just as round as Bord himself. Angeta is riding a… capybara. The dumb looking face has dark grey scales, the colouration changing to red on its feet near its eyes, ears and nose.
I stare at the mount Vox is riding. The snake has a long mane coming from its back, the rest of its body is covered by short pale yellow fur. I expected its belly to be really dirty from sliding around all day, but the air disturbance around the beast tells me that it moves like a hovercraft. It expels air from its belly fur, preventing it from touching the ground while it slithers over it.
I look back through my visual memory, and most of the ridden beasts I have seen here so far were horse-like in nature. I saw one person in the Tower city riding a hawk-like thing, but the rest were all riding quadrupeds.
“Are you all really sure we won't catch any unnecessary attention with these mounts? The only reason we are here, as far as I am concerned, is to become less conspicuous. I am not sure that these riding beasts help.”
Vox opens his mouth, but doesn't say anything after looking at his snake. Ket is silent as well, he pretends to be busy with running his hands through his mount’s mane. I close my eyes at the bright sun being reflected from his mirror-like horse. I think these riding animals will end up being very conspicuous, but I will let my disciples handle the consequences.
“Alright, whatever.” I throw my hands up in the air as if giving up. “You guys can handle all the attention we will be getting.”
I scan the entire grove of animals with my spiritual sense. The strongest beasts are in the middle of the tornado where the mana density is the strongest. I measure the ambient mana again, and my previous expectation of the tornado lasting for only a few weeks is wrong. I think that the presence of all these animals is strengthening this weird energy abnormality. I focus my attention on the centre of the clearing and see a familiar face.
The big blue bear is sitting in the exact centre of the clearing. His four eyes are closed, the big sabre tooth fangs sticking out of his mouth are digging in the dirt with his every breath. The missing ears give him a streamlined look.
I tie some bands of qi around his waist and start lifting him up into the air. He startles awake and flails wildly. He stops the moment he senses my aura and becomes quiet. I let him gain some speed and drop him at my feet. He doesn't move, just lies there looking at me. I look the massive blue bear in the eyes.
“You will do, I guess. Now pay attention! Here is what works best for me, if you find another method, please tell me.” I spit out some qi and form a small portion of it into a symbol. I create a nice four-eyed cartoon bear face and look at my students.
“Animals can also have cores at three places. Do NOT, seriously, DO NOT let any animal create a braincore. It’ll become the only sentient example of its species very quickly. Their instinct starts fighting their conscious mind, and that is a recipe for a suicidal animal. I advise everyone to place this symbol in your mounts heart.”
I then use the bigger part of the qi to shape an open book. I form this symbol around the bear face, surrounding the face with a much bigger representation of me.
“Think of a symbol for your animal and yourself. Put the animal symbol inside your own symbol and make the beast a lot smaller. Then just stuff this inside its heart.” I do it as I describe it. The bear shudders a bit, but settles down after the symbol gets absorbed by its beating heart.
“This is a weak form of a contract. It works on animals because they don't have much logical reasoning ability, so they can't say no. They won't start cultivating without available qi or your instructions. You can even force your mount to adapt to your own qi, pretty bad idea but it's possible. Please do so now.”
I pull some leather from my spatial ring and craft some gear for my bear. I use qi to quickly cut out shapes and use spider thread to sew the entire thing together. I see my students making a wide variety of shapes in the air as practice while I clad the big blue bear in riding gear. I grab some dirt and rub it over the pristine leather, making it look worn. I also stuff some trade goods in bags and hang them on leather straps. I saw this type of gear everywhere in the city, so adapting it to my own mount is rather easy.
I start creating leather gear for the rest of the animals as my disciples perform their own contracts. With this, we can finally go travelling for real!
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