Chapter 55 - Initiative
I make a mental status update. The boat's hull is finished and the internal construction is laid out with big, sturdy beams. We managed to scavenge enough wood from the broken trees to finish the internal structure and hull plating. The deck and floor above the hold still need to be finished, and there are no remaining trees tall enough to make decent masts from. So I have a massive wooden bathtub sitting in my Tree dimension.
I gave my students some nice food to aid in their recovery, their begging and pleading about the challenge being unfair didn't sway me and I gave them just enough food to recover. Maybe I should start giving some cooking lessons? Or maybe I shouldn’t sabotage myself like that... I will need to start refilling my store of dishes soon, I will just need to acquire a large amount of raw food stock first.
We continued travelling north a little while after the sun came up, and the massive mountains have been shrinking as we went. I kept picking up the pace to keep my students struggling, barely allowing them to keep up with me. The snow-capped mountains have given way to smaller peaks but there are still only mountains in sight.
I look up and see a minuscule white spot in the blue sky. I usually do the stalking, but in this case, I don't mind being creeped upon. I really hope that I am making an impression on her. If there is anything I learned about the art of courtship, it’s provoking any form of strong emotional response is a big positive. Okay, maybe seething hatred will not get you laid, but getting a girl angry heightens their emotional level, and any positive feelings you then provoke will be heightened in return.
Do not take this as sound dating advice though, I do not believe that my method of antagonistic flirting would go well in other situations. I did punch her in the face, after all, I hope she isn't too pissed about that. And I made her fight some scrubs. And I dangled knowledge and power in front of her like a carrot on a string. And I slapped, punched and kicked the shit out of her. I would be in handcuffs right about now if this was Earth...
I look forward again and see something weird sticking up from the hills and mountains ahead. I stop and wait for the rest of my entourage to catch up.
I sent out the drone twice and only now have I discovered a big design flaw. The image camera I put on the thing is rather simple and has a narrow field of view. It's a zoom lens meant for information gathering at high altitude. This means it can see directly beneath itself pretty well, but it has no ability to make wide area scans. Technically it can, by flying in circles, but I kept the thing as simple as possible, it’ll be harder to break that way. This also limited the space for complex pre-programmed behavioural patterns.
This is my excuse for not finding the massive fucking spike I saw on my jump earlier.
“Does anyone know what city is ahead? I think it's another dungeon city.”
Selis stops her panting as she deposits the ice she is controlling in a neat cube to the side. “That must be Kardel. *huff huff* But everyone calls it Peak City. Its dungeon gives a lot of building materials like bricks, rare stone and hardwood along with other basic stuff like furniture and tools. The entire Capital is built with materials from that place.”
We are to the west of the Capital, the sharp pyramid I saw peeking over the horizon must be the dungeon. “Does it give other materials than the Tower?”
She nods in return. “The Tower doesn't grace us with construction materials, mainly metals, weapons and food. Half this kingdom is built with Peak materials.”
So that’s how that works. The loot from the Tower was a little bit of everything, but mainly metals and metal objects. I wonder what the other dungeons specialise in? The pattern in which these dungeons are spread and the special materials they provide would be an interesting study. No need to hurry though, I got all the time I need. “Are there big cities without dungeons?”
They look at me weirdly again. Stop staring at my lack of local knowledge, I have that info but don't want to go look for it.
“Ah, the head maid told me that beasts are being put to good use for once. They farm for the smaller towns and villages.”
Bord’s angelic smile is hard to look at though. His answer is sort of correct because…
Angeta should explode in anger and kick him now, right? Why did only her ears twitch? Where is the slow buildup of anger that will explode at any second? She just looks at the fat boy with a bit of pity.
“Beastkin, you mean. Beastkin slaves are forced to the smaller cities to farm. Also, the Capital is without a dungeon.” Ket’s dry reply causes the fatty’s face to go through a predictable set of emotions.
First, there is vague confusion, Bord even touches his chin and looks up to the sky. Then his brows furrow slowly until the ‘O-my-gosh’ face finally appears.
That got dark fast, let's move on. I point at where the city lies. “Thanks for the info, do you guys think it is useful for us to delve this one?”
Ket replies. “No, Tree can grow all the wood we need and qi reinforced materials are stronger than anything from the dungeons.”
“Alright, let's keep going then.”
I jump away again and my students follow after some rather vocal complaining. The sharp triangle is clearly visible a couple dozen jumps later. Sometime after that, I get my first glimpse of the sea, the glimmering stretch of water peeking through the mountains is quite a sight. The city built against the dungeon comes into view later that day. This dungeon isn't light grey but dark brown. Its surface is a mirror sheen because I can see two big stripes of reflected sunlight surrounding the structure. Its base must be a couple of kilometres wide, the city is built alongside the south side of the pyramid.
And the pyramid’s base is triangular. For some reason. It looks really weird because it's the first time seeing a construction this shape. The city is built against the side, facing the mountains we are standing on. The city looks smaller than Tower City, but it has many more roads. Big carts pulled by a wide variety of beasts carry heavy loads away from the dungeon.
Nice view, let's move on. I need to find an area where a couple million tonnes of dirt will not be missed. I want to stuff another mountain worth of soil into Tree, is it more stealthy to dig deep or dig wide?
A dull thud brings my attention back to the real world. No alarms are going off in my head so it can't be anything serious. I turn around and see an unconscious Bord lying on the floor.
“When is the last time he slept.” My question receives no response. “When is the last time anyone slept? I have a braincore, so I don't really need to sleep. You guys do need rest. Not all of you, but even Ket needs some sleepy time now and then.”
They are only in the qi gathering realm after all. A lot of bodily functions become less necessary further on the path to replacing one's body with qi, sleep stays essential for quite a while longer than most.
I touch the snoring heartcore cultivator with a qi thread and pull him inside the Tree. I dump him in front of his house with a well-aimed throw. Tess, Vox and Angeta look at each other and go to their own beds one by one. Ket seems fine, but Selis is planning something. The way she fidgets screams that she is convincing herself to action right now. My analysis is proven right when she looks up at me with big eyes.
“Can I visit some shops?” She glances at Ket, who gives a barely noticeable nod. Her eyes go back to me.
“You want to go visit some shops?”
With a nod she replies. “I want to visit some shops.”
I stop my hand from scratching the back of my head in time. I really want to know what she is up to. “Let's go visit some shops then. Lead the way.”
She glances at Ket again before taking a sudden fast leap, low over the ground. We land near the city, behind a large chunk of rock. The terrain here is half ground with little grass and half barren jagged stone.
“Be right back.” Selis steps through the portal and Ket follows. It's kind of awkward that they have to touch the necklace hanging around my neck when they go in on their own powers. Connecting to a portal with a qi thread and pushing your entire being first through the thread, and then through the portal is kind of hard. Can't be helped easily for now. I can build easy access terminals, but that would remove a good training opportunity, some things don't need to be automated. The portal is a lot harder to infiltrate if I keep it simple.
I stand there behind the rock, waiting like a dumbass, so I pull my nice chair from my ring and sit down comfortably. I then proceed to peek inside Tree with some qi to see what my bunch of disciples are doing.
I catch Angeta throwing Bord on his bed. This seems kind and nice of her at first glance until you realise that there is a roof in the way. The shacks I built are made of dirt, I simply packed some soil in the shape of a one-room house and squeezed. This compressed the walls to a stone-like hardness. A hardness Bord smashes through face first. He wakes briefly to scream a bit but falls asleep as soon as he hits the rock hard, but straw covered bed.
The perpetrator then walks into her fat tree house and flops on her bed, snoring seconds later.
Tess and Vox are still standing by Tree, watching this all happen. They look at each other and both recognise the exasperated look on the other’s face. They walk to their respective houses and are asleep minutes later, leaving only Selis and Ket.
The duo has their heads together and are messing around with something. This is the first disciple-side idea ever, so I don't want to spoil it for myself. I can know all about what they are saying later, I record everything around me.
And that’s because I am a walking ‘Big Brother’. I record everything happening around me in an abstract millimetre resolution. I can remember every word ever said around me, but it needs to be looked up consciously. Like a file cabinet.
My security process will alert me if they perform dangerous actions. I have seven live character analysation threads running in my braincore, one for each person I can sense and thus record. They would alert me of weird or potentially harmful behaviour. So I can relax while enjoying the show later. I really want to know what Selis and Ket are up to.
Should I add another one for Lola? I take a peek inside the ring and see her sleeping soundly. I decide against it.
I settle further into the chair. Aah, this lumbar support is absolute heaven. I take my ring off and roll it idly through my fingers. I spin it on the tip of my finger and then I look at it closely. There is another dimension hiding in the shadows of the main storage area. I just can't access it anymore.
There is one thing you should know about the cultivation world. If you meet another cultivator more than two realms above your own, absolute obedience is required. Any order from a much higher realm adversary will likely yield instant death upon refusal. It was a crude and brutal political system, basically a pig pile of interconnected slavery contracts across many realms of power.
If an immortal meets you and he says “Do that”, you go do that. If he says “Give me that”, after he scanned all your spatial storages for interesting items, you give him that or he kills you and gets all of your stuff anyway. Privacy did not exist, so I made this small stealth dimension extremely hard to detect. It is filled with the little true treasures I had left after buying the lightning iron; emotional items and a bunch of qi crystals. There is a decent pile of low-grade beast cores inside, I sold everything bigger. And lastly, three small little things for when shit is really hitting the fan.
These beast cores were previously useless to me, looting them from the monsters I killed on that world happened through an automated process. But right now those almost worthless shards of crystallised qi will be very useful. I just can't get at them. I hid the dimension too well, I can't sense a trace of it. I lost the connection I had with it when I plopped down on this world, a thousand years of energy buildup suddenly stripped from my being.
My heart cries a bit in frustration, those cores are equal to a few hundred years of the Tower’s current output. By the way, I made a tiny process that keeps watch for Selis and Ket. It will give an alert and self-delete after they approach the Tree with intent to portal. This is relevant because it just went off.
Selis and Ket appear just as I put the ring back on. She is now wearing some middle-class clothes. In this world that means that you can pay for a seamstress, but not for the best cloth. A nicely cut but drab dress adorns the girl, her head covered by a brimmed hat. Typical housewife.
Ket is in light armour with a jacket. Is he going for the casual dungeon delvers look? The fine and light chain mail seems like normal iron, but I have seen Ket working on this in his spare time. Those rings are harder than diamond, and the qi infused leather pants can rival composite armour.
Both seem to be of similar social standing and can, therefore, be seen together in public. I am still dressed like a well-off but modest person. Leather, dark silk and nice stitching.
I got to remind myself later to tell Ket that the materials used in leather and cloth do not really matter. My armour is made from the softest and most comfortable material I could find. I then crammed every speck of available space between each molecule full of a crystal qi reinforcement structure. They still feel soft as ever, despite that fact that a foundation realm cultivator’s worth of qi is stuffed in each fibre. It is in a passive, constructive form of course, and I want to leave it that way.
Good clothing choices from all around. “As I said, lead the way.”
Selis and Ket glance at each other. “As we discussed?”
Ket nods with a small smile. “As we discussed.”
Selis looks down at her feet and takes a deep breath. “Let's go.”
With that, we walk towards one of the many gates in the walls of Peak City.
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