Chapter 60 - Commence
The boat is finally fucking done! It looks really nice, in my opinion. It’s sleeker than those fat trading galleons from the middle ages, more a rowing galley with some hints of modern fibreglass sailboats. I had my students stuff some common goods in crates and loaded up the hold. It’s filled with a nice variety of metals, weapons and trinkets. I pulled all the qi from the wood for those crates, no need to let that power fall into the wrong hands. Even passive qi can still cause trouble if one tries to mess with it hard enough.
Two masts stick up from the deck but I decided that sails will be too much of a bother. I created a simple and sturdy rowing mechanism that is able to extend and retract the oars at will. The oars are stuck on a ball swivel that has an invisible qi formation around it. I can steer the entire ship from the steering wheel, small unnoticeable buttons are used to control the various functions onboard.
I had to shrink the below decks by a bit, making the walls of the ship extra thick to allow for the storage of the foldable oars. A rudder is not necessary because I can control the rowing speeds on both sides independently, but I added it anyway. The captain’s quarters are in the aft, a small room on top of the deck making a raised position from which to steer the ship. There is room in the belowdecks for planned experiments. I want to do some tests on the nature of mana in this world, I can't really do those in my Tree dimension, the qi will get in the way.
I strengthened the entire ship with some additional passive qi, the hull is able to withstand a cannonball from short range. We also had some fun throwing dirt around, it somehow turned into a high-speed dirt-throwing fight. This was to make the ship look aged and worn, not because I wanted to employ some guerrilla tactics to beat up my students, of course. Lola was declared the winner somehow, her powerful feet producing shotgun blasts of soil that stung even my body.
I loudly protested and showed them the statistics that I had on the fight, but nobody paid my rock solid proof any mind. The smug bunny is now sitting on my shoulder again. I decided to make people focus on her, being known as the ‘bunny pirate’ has a certain ring to it.
“So, you all ready to move out?”
I get a variety of nods in return. We are all standing in front of Tree, sitting on our mounts and all dressed up as mercenary traders again. I pat my big blue bear on the back. It is even now breathing in big gulps of qi loaded air. The density in the atmosphere has decreased a bit, the small amount present thinned through being absorbed by me, my students, the small animals and birds. Then the qi is further thinned by the large amount of newly acquired earth getting saturated.
I look back and see Angeta sitting on her capybara, whose face and feet now have constant flickering flames dancing around them. Bord’s armor-plated bull is still as imposing as ever, Ket looks fabulous on his shiny metal horse and Vox sways gently side to side on his fur covered snakes’ back. Tess is sitting on her black feathered cat, both shuffling about uncomfortably now that they are not skulking through the shadows. Selis is sitting proudly on her massive, black… alright, that’s enough. I cast another glance her way and see that she is even slightly bobbing up and down with a smile on her face, goddammit.
“Don't let your mounts run wild, they absorbed some of the qi in the air and have become at least twice as strong now. It might sound stupid, but no need to attract too much attention, okay?”
They all give me odd glances again. I know that I have not been the picture of stealth and subterfuge since I arrived on this world, but I’m trying, okay? I see Vox cast a longing glance to the Tree who is busily using its qi tendrils to make the newly gained surface area bloom into life. A small fraction of the seeds and saplings I gave it are now growing in the garden, Tree can plant them in the wild when they start producing seeds or are big enough to take cuttings from. The big piece of jade I gave Vox contains a massive library of alchemical learning materials, both the original books and my analysis of them. Also some basic chemistry, no need to give him the knowledge to produce hyper-toxins or nerve gas just yet.
I look around one more time before kicking my bear in the flanks. He snorts a bit and walks towards Tree. I pull us through once we are close enough. Endless grasslands and distant mountains greet my eyes once I step through. I look up and see a small white dot again. I zoom in a bit and see a miniscule red dot floating in front of the dragoness held tight by barely visible coils of wind. She must be studying hard.
One by one, my other disciples also appear. I hang the necklace around my neck and we move out. We are walking north again, the rolling hills sticking up over the horizon slowly but surely coming closer.
I crane my neck to looks at Selis. “Hmmh?”
“When… When I control water, there is this blue glow in my body?”
She tilts her head as she asks this question. Or is it a statement? “Yeah, so?”
My brusque reply causes her to falter for a bit. Then she pouts and frowns. “What is it?”
“Good question, I don't really know.” I give her a big smile.
Her brow creases further. Vox chimes in. “I have these odd flashes of white light running through my body when using my qi, is that what you mean?”
She nods at the redhead. “I can't really see them, but feel them out of the corner of my eye?” Her head tilts the other way this time.
“Ah, I got those, but black.”
“Mine are grey.”
We now all look at Bord, the only one that hasn't said a thing yet. He slowly pulls a finger from his nose, looking around startled at the attention. ”Triangles?”
Ket slaps a hand to his face while muttering to himself. It’s something about instinct, but I don't really bother to listen.
They are now all staring holes in the back of my head. Alright, I give in. “You guys were the only ones of a suitable age and position in the entirety of Dungeon City that had these. I think they have something to do with affinity, but honestly, I made you fellows my disciples to find out. And I don't think an eighty-year-old guy or a baby would appreciate me kidnapping them from their family and forcing them to learn to cultivate.”
“You told me affinities don't exist?” Ket asks me.
“They didn't back in my previous world, I had to look really closely at you guys to even catch a glimpse. Have you all compared ease of elemental control?”
Ket comes up with the necessary data. “Selis can control water with around ten per cent more qi efficiency, her volume is a lot larger. I can't even get plants to listen to me, Angeta seems to do it without the required knowledge about cells. Vox, I have no clue. Something with light. Tess...”
He looks at Tess with a blank expression on his face. “I can’t even find Tess half of the time, so I have too little data. Bord, also not a clue. I can propel metal with double the efficiency of anyone else. Only some metals, iron works very well, I can't get a proper grip on aluminium and copper.”
I nod a bit before replying. “I think it has something to do with the way dragons use magic. From the little dragon magic I have directly observed, their elements are so in tune with them they need only call out to them to get them to perform certain spells. I am not sure how a mana affinity system is transferred over to qi, but whatever.
“I think that training will have an exponential effect. Selis will have a small advantage with pure water control now, that will grow a lot bigger at higher levels, same with the rest of you.” I turn to Angeta. “Have you experimented with all kinds of organic materials?”
Her furry eyebrows raise up into the air, so I elaborate. “How alive must something be for your control to work? Does it work on dead grass, for example?”
She plucks a blade of grass from the ground as she studies it. It grows a bit and forms into a glove around her hands. Neat, but not useful right now. Selis also plucks a blade of grass from the ground with a strand of qi. She strokes it with a finger, pulling the water from the green leaf, turning it a pale brown. She hands the shrivelled strand to Angeta, who concentrates on it.
“What if you end up in a desert without any plants around? Or what if you get trapped in the void of space with only crumbling trees that turn to dust when you touch them. Or in the middle of an ocean of acid that eats away anything it touches?”
These are all scenarios I have come across, thus my strict refusal to grow in any specific single direction. “I’d rather be a jack-of-all-trades than a more powerful single element user. This is my path though, you all should find your own.”
Silence reigns as I listen to the muted footsteps of our varied mounts. Angeta continues to stare fiercely at the shrivelled blade of grass in her hands until she incinerates it with an irritated snort.
I have to pull on my bears’ reins more than once to keep him walking at a sedate pace. I pull a compressed wooden ball from my ring and hold it up to Lola who is chilling on my shoulder.
“Catch.” I throw it into the distance, briefly rooting myself to the ground to prevent her jump from throwing me back. She hops back half a minute later with the ball between her teeth.
I continue to play catch with her for a little longer. Ket steers his horse besides my bear and we talk some advanced math. We talk a bit about funny or weird number patterns, like the prime number sieve and I introduce the golden mean to him. He finds some fractal patterns and we compete with drawing out the most complex shapes. It amuses me to no end as he attempts to draw the Mandelbrot set. He keeps getting stuck on infinite loops, so I just tell him to limit his cycles to ten before calling it infinite. The rest have fallen behind a long time ago, some disciples rubbing their heads in pain as they attempted to keep up with us. Braincore master race, I think with a grin.
We have reached the hills now, our animals are not walking very fast, about the speed of a running mortal, but they barely need to rest so we eat up the distance pretty quickly. Sandy patches have started showing up between the grassy hills, indicating that the sea is getting near now.
“Teach, why do you only give us the extracted data?”
I widen my eyes at Vox’s unexpected question. He has the egg-sized piece of jade in his hands, he must have been studying and comparing my analysis with the source materials.
“Why do you think?” No answer comes as I give a really cheap reply. I can see the sea between the sand dunes when he answers.
“So we come to our own conclusions?”
“Nope, so you can form your own opinions.”
Ket frowns deeply at this for a minute before replying again. “A lot of symbolism is lost...”
His sentence trails off into nothingness as he loses his confidence in his answer. I decide to explain myself for a bit. “We all observe a lot of data. Sight, smell, touch and more. The brain then filters and abstracts this data until only the necessary information is given to the conscious mind. I do the same with every book and lesson I come across. You don't see every single blade of grass when looking around, do you? You all can count the hairs in my beard, but is that relevant to this conversation?”
Ket nails the subject perfectly when he talks. “Books are data, the lessons we learn from them are information.”
I nod while replying. “Yep, I have already done a couple of steps for you guys to allow better information retention. Learned information is also known as knowledge.”
I raise my finger here, to better illustrate this point. “Data is the world around us. They are the undeniable facts. We record it as information, from which we can acquire knowledge. It’s just a shame that all of this is so dependant on perspective. The most precious and valuable books in the universe are just fancy fire making tools for an illiterate person.”
I see that I have lost nearly all of my disciples with this little rant. Ah well, I hope that at least some of it will stick. “Enough boring talk, we have reached the sea!”
And indeed, the sea is stretching before us. We just crested the last hill and are greeted with a nice sight. Dunes stretch for a couple of hundred meters before us, followed by a beach, followed by the dark blue sea. I kick my mount in the flanks to make it speed up a bit, I want to go and explore the mage islands already. I see no boats on the horizon, only an endless blue expanse of water.
I dismount when I reach the shore. I dip a single finger in the cold waves and taste it. Not quite as salty as the oceans on Earth, just as I suspected. I jump back on my bear and urge it forward to deeper waters. It snorts loudly, clearly nervous about entering the dark unknown. “Stupid bear, you are entirely blue, why are you scared of water?”
I kick it some more in the flanks until it musters up the courage to take its first steps, over the crashing waves. It flounders a bit, unsure of what to do. I curse at it a bit more. Lola hops off my shoulder and lands on the bears head. She starts stroking the big bear between his missing ears as if to console it. She then jumps in front of the bear, clearly demonstrating her water walking technique. The bear learns it even faster than she did. It better, it is entirely blue!
I hold it back as it starts frolicking, chasing the small rabbit around. I jerk the reins, forcing it to a halt when we are past the surf. I hold out a hand and pull the boat from the Tree. It lands with a massive splash of water, the thirty-meter long vessel bobbing up and down on the waves. I grab a bottle of wine from my ring, making sure it is the worst vintage I have on hand. I throw it against the hull, causing it to shatter and splash the wood with red stains.
“I hereby christen you...” I pause for dramatic effect. “The Ascent!”
I jump off the bears back and land on the deck, immediately walking over to the steering wheel on top the captain's quarter.
I press some hidden buttons, and with a manic grin, I watch the oars extend themselves. The rest of my students all stare at my actions from the shore. Selis has jumped off her rooster and is running after Lola and the bear, who are now splashing each other with water as they run over the waves.
Let’s go and play pirate, yo-fucking-ho.
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