Chapter 54 - Brawl
‘Omygosh, I want more of that delicious steak, let's beat this woman up! WATER-WATER-WATER-COME-TO-ME. WATER COME TO ME. Nice, let's punch the shit out of this- WOA, woah, I just barely dodged her kick, she is stronger than Bord and faster than Vox!
‘Let's put some water on my fist and… HUAH, FIRST HEAVY PUNCH. Oooh, she dodged, she is fast. Let’s try to kick her now. Put water on foot and HUAH. Sorry grass, your sacrifice was for a worthy cause.
‘Ket wants to start bossing us around again, but I JUST WANT FOOD. Let's do combo number one. One PUNCH, two KICK, three and spin KICK, four PUNCH, WHOA, roll away, water shield! She punched right through, but now she is wet, WATER STAND STILL… owwww, she moved anyway, that hurt my head a bit. Jump, water under feet, FINAL COMBO, DOUBLE FEET KICK.’
By the time Selis climbs out of the crater she created, the fight has moved on. She glares at the water on the ground until it comes under her control again. She then jumps on top of a water globe and bounces off, diving back into the fight. The female they are all ganging up on sees her coming and backhands her into a tree. The tree splinters and bends while Selis smacks to the ground. She wipes her dirty face and runs back to the fight.
The other students also throw themselves at the tall statuesque woman with thin armour, but she manages to keep them all at bay for now.
If Selis’ parents would have seen her in this state, they would probably suffer from a shock-induced heart attack. That is because Selis was born as the third child and second daughter from a small merchant family. Her parents already had the heir, her brother, and a nice daughter to marry off, so Selis got sort of ignored. The fact that she hardly ever spoke and seemed not to recognise people only exasperated this semi-isolation.
Bad eyesight is not common, and the minor merchant family didn’t want to waste money by visiting a doctor. Especially not for an unplanned third child that seemed to have something wrong with her head. In hindsight though, Selis realises that her Teacher would have never picked her from the masses of Tower City if it had gone differently. If Selis had learned to backstab, negotiate and betray like her two older siblings, her aura would have been different.
Selis does not really understand auras yet, but she has started to trust the feeling in her gut that she has been getting while looking at people. The bandits on the road felt wrong to her. They felt like their insides were dirty. All her fellow disciples have whole insides, unbroken and somewhat beautiful to be around. The lady she is now fighting also has a certain wholesomeness about her, like a polished gemstone. She also radiates a certain savageness that tells Selis she is prey until she proves otherwise. Teacher’s aura is an entirely different story, his aura feels vast and alien to the blue haired girl. She can imagine that her parents and siblings, shrewd merchants not above taking and giving bribes or making someone disappear, will also have this broken feeling to them.
At home, she was mostly left to her own devices, so she listened. People always talk if you are silent enough. And if people think that something is wrong with your head, they loosen their tongues even further. Being silent while keeping her ears open allowed her to learn the basics of the merchant trade. It also allowed her to learn that her parents blackmailed or were blackmailed by half the city. They made a mistake however, they tried this trick with a noble that didn't take it lying down. So their caravans started to disappear and her parents’ small fortune dwindled. It also let her overhear a discussion about whether she should be given to that noble or not.
Her parents concluded that no matter how brain-impaired their daughter might be, she still came from good stock and had a pretty face. But appearances had to be kept, so Selis got arrested on obvious false charges. She lingered in the prison for a few weeks, refusing to agree to anything and not talking. Then she got kidnapped, and now she is using a brute force fighting technique alongside water control to try and beat up a woman.
But Teacher asked this of her, so she willingly leapt to the task. She touches the water floating in front of her face for a second. The first time Teacher put the metal contraption with glass inside it on her nose was a literal eye-opener. The world went from a hazy blur that she didn't really belong to, to a crisp and clear image. Those rimmed glasses were nice, but keeping the water floating before her eyes all the time allows her to feel the blue shimmer inside of her own body. Since she felt this blue shimmer, water has felt more like another limb to her when infused with her qi. She now also understands why Teach gave her that self-refilling cup, he must have noticed the shimmer too.
Life is strange sometimes, concludes the girl while surfing on a stream of water under her own control as she rushes over to punch someone she doesn't really know in the face.
So my entire pocket dimension is being trashed. The woods just started to develop a nice undergrowth, but large holes now decorate the small stretch of land around me. The Tree feels slightly upset, so I walk over to the golden giant and pat its bark a bit.
“Let them play, I will find more earth and water for you later, kay?”
The feeling I get back is… large amounts? Okay, okay, no problem! “I will make sure you get twice as much as you currently have. Not including the snow-covered mountain, of course.”
I get a feeling of agreement in return. Do I detect a hint of smugness in its reply? Yeah, it feels like the tree is rubbing its hands together while smirking. I just grin back, atta boy.
Bord smacks against the soft shield I set up around the important bits of this dimension. I see his squished face grimace in pain while he slides down. A footprint shaped indentation is present on his forehead. Rhea seems to be putting up quite a fight.
That reminds me, I pull out volume two and three of ‘aerodynamics for illiterate dummies’ and look them over. The lines flowing across the gem in the second volume are twice as thin as the illustration of the first book. I pull half a gemstone from my ring and feel it with my augur. I replicate the security system that adorns the first two books and imprint it into the sparkling gem. I place it on the third book and connect it to the leather using my augur, sinking it in the cover while threading flammable thread in a repeating formation through the entire book. I carve lines across the cover, automating the simulation of wind flowing across the gemstone. I smile at the result and immediately add myself and Rhea to the accepted personnel list.
That done, I return to the ship I was building. It’s around thirty meters in length and the basis for a lot of other projects. There are still plenty of prepared planks I can stick to the sides, so I busy myself with that.
I will myself to ignore the chaos outside while bending more wood around the ship’s skeleton. Rhea’s face, when I pulled her into this pocket dimension, was hilarious and I let out a small chuckle. This all falls under the ‘don't talk about me’ clause, so I have no problems with showing off a little. Her open mouth, when she popped into a nice and cosy clearing, was pretty funny. The weird assortment of buildings didn't get a second glance from the dragoness, but she kept staring at Tree.
I put a small spell around her head just to be certain. Well, spell… I still don't know if I can call shouting at an energy cloud a spell. I shouted stuff like ‘NO WAY, JOSÉ, AIN'T GOING, IN THAT AIRWAY, JUST ACT FROZE(n), IF INHALED THROUGH THE NOSE(n)’. Bad rhymes seem to have no effect of this type of casting, so I use it whenever I feel like it. This little qi construct forms an invisible film around her head, prevents her from breathing in any qi and dying from qi poisoning.
But then again, she is a dragon. She might just start forming her core instinctively like most animals.
I freeze in my tracks. I have forgotten about something again, haven’t I? Shit, just because I won't enjoy the task does not mean I can just forget about it. I turn my gaze to the luscious crown of the Tree. Leaves cover what's inside, but I know what is in there. My mood takes a small dip as I remember the birds that are still in their qi cages.
I walk towards the Tree while dragging my feet a bit. I sigh and decide to get it over with. I jump and fly through the branches, dodging leaves and twigs on autopilot. I kick off a branch or two before reaching the area where the cages are. I see the white qi constructed cages stuck to the main branches and count thirty-two birds. I see that some golden threads of power have woven their way through my qi constructs. I pat the branch I am standing on.
“So Tree, should I let them roam around or cook them?”
Neutrality is the response I get. Tree doesn't really care, it seems. Then I give each bird a thorough scan to see their cultivation progress. I shake my head as I see the results. Animals have it easy, they just keep absorbing qi until it compresses itself into a liquid, they have no need for headache-inducing squeezing. Nor do they need to practice or perform complicated and esoteric techniques. About half are at the qi condensing realm already.
I then realise that killing these birds just because they inhaled some qi is pretty dumb. The trees, bushes, grass and dirt I let the Tree take in all had various living beings inside it. From worms to woodlice, ants and other bugs, even bacteria and fungi in the soil. They all have started to absorb qi in minuscule amounts. This is also why the Tree has such an easy time of speeding up plant growth, the enhanced animals in the soil have sped up the natural circle of life quite a bit.
Tree buries any broken trees and trampled plants underground, where the bacteria and insects make short work of it. This releases the various nutrients back into the soil, allowing the Tree to use these in speeding up plant growth. I look the birds over and check their beaks. Some are nut and seed eaters, a few are insect eaters and I even have a single bird of prey present.
Then again, I haven't done any thorough ornithological studies, so beak shape might not indicate diet on the planet. I break the neck of the single bird of prey without alerting the others. I suck it into my ring, it would just starve or attack my disciples without any small rodents to prey on.
I set a timer on the cages of the rest, giving them freedom in a few hours. We will be outside and travelling again by that time. I used to make complicated computer-based timers but later realised that a burning fuse works just as well, without the added complexity. I connect these fuses to a central point in the cages, it will release the qi back into the air when the smouldering fuse reaches this node.
I talk to the tree a bit before leaving.
“Tree, please prevent any animals and other beings from going through your portal. Only allow me and my student's free access, anyone else must be accompanied by me.”
I get a vague but indifferent feeling of acceptance back.
That done, I go back to boat building. Crafting with my hands is meditative in a sense. Focusing my entire attention on the process in front of me allows me to clear my mind, the cathartic process giving my thoughts some rest.
I wake from my trance when a massive burst of wind destroys about half of the still intact ground.
“HUMAN, I HAVE PLAYED WITH THESE CHILDREN FOR LONG ENOUGH. GIVE ME WHAT I CAME HERE FOR!”
Whoops, did I go too far? I turn around and see Rhea wreathed in wind, hanging in the void. A quick scan shows me that my disciples are alright. They are bruised and glaring fiercely at the dragon in disguise, but have no permanent injuries. They are licking their lips unconsciously while drilling holes in the woman with their fierce stares. She knocked them downwards, so they are now stuck on the mountaintop hanging below the ground. I see Selis pulling Bord from the snow while she creates a staircase from ice.
Ice is just water, so she can control it rather easily. The stairs she creates are rough but functional, but Angeta, Vox, Tess and Selis herself start sliding around the moment they step on the thing. Ket and Bord have their own ways to keep their balance, Bord through his enhanced instincts and bodily control and Ket via brute force calculations. I see Ket wave his hands around a bit, a grey blur blitzing across the steps as they get a pitted appearance, giving the others a bit more traction to walk on.
I make my way over to the edge of the intact soil. The debris has started to form rings around Tree, making for an impressive sight. I grin at the floating woman and pull both books from my ring. They start to smoke immediately, and I realise that I forgot to add my students to the acceptable people list. I quickly do so and reconstruct the charred edges by pulling the smoke back and reversing the oxidisation process with my augur.
“Here you go, thanks for helping my disciples out. This is all I have on pure wind, advancing any further will require you to study other facets of science, like general physics and thermodynamics. Ah, that is the way momentum and heat works.”
I throw the books over to her. She snatches them out of the air and stuffs them under her scaled armour. Then she sort of hangs there awkwardly. I decide to start a conversation. “You got any plans?”
“I should go and report to...”
I smirk. “Report on the Tower snapping in half?”
She looks me in the eyes with a deadpan expression on her face.
“But you made a promise to a human you thought you could easily break?”
The expressionless stare continues. I shrug my shoulders.
“You are free to talk about whatever you want, just don’t mention me.” And by extension, she can't freely expound about qi, my students, this pocket dimension and the books she is carrying. Leaving out a central figure like me would create a massive hole in any report.
We continue the staring contest for a while. Damn, she is really beautiful. Her physical form is not the only nice looking part, the aura I feel from her is wild and unrestrained. It feels like a tiger’s aura, imperial and fierce but without malice. Physical bodies begin to lose their attractiveness after a few hundred years of living, the thing that matters to me is the feel and shape of a person’s character and personality.
She breaks eye contact and floats over to Tree. She puts her hand on its bark and shudders a bit. That must be the first time she’s ever felt a spark of consciousness inside of a plant. She stands there for a while but ends up looking over to me in frustration. I walk over and put my hand on her shoulder. I pull her through the portal and we appear in the cold. The horizon is starting to light up, it should be day in half an hour.
“We’ll be going north. Keep stalking me, if you wish.”
Yeah, there is no way I missed her dragon form hovering over me since a few days ago. I give her my most winning smile, wink and jump back through the portal. I focus on the outside the moment I land in the clearing. I hear nothing for a while, but then a massive roar causes a few avalanches. Even though the roaring sound should be inhuman, I swear I can hear a large portion of frustration and anger in the bellow. I hear enamours wings beating, the sound quickly growing more distant.
I focus back on the clearing and see a really sorry sight. A few buildings and a single big Tree with a garden to the side are floating through space, surrounded by clumps of dirt and splintered trees. The last of my disciples clambers back on solid ground, almost slipping and falling again. They all have bruises and depressed looks on their faces. Lola comes hopping towards me, her white fur stained with dirt. What a mess.
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