Chapter 63 - Probe
I breathe in the salty air as the wind messes with my hair. I look at the frozen figures around me as the ship rocks back and forth. Every single person not a cultivator is frozen by me, their molecular movement arrested by brute force. I’m sitting on the deck while guiding my students. I look at each frozen person on this ship, comparing their aura with what I perceive as their soul.
The small girl Selis picked up is a good example, the sphere I perceive as I pour qi into her brain is pitch black. The aura I perceive from her is untainted though, just very frail. The frailty comes from shock and trauma. A person that is focusing inwards, shutting themselves in their mind, doesn’t shine as brightly as a mentally healthy individual.
I retract my qi from her brain and peer inside Tree, looking at the fish from my experiment. The fish that are in a dense concentration of positive mana have very dark grey souls. They are very faint, as they barely have any thinking capacity, but it clears some things up.
What I see as a soul must be an indicator of what kind of mana type is most common in their environment. Whoever designed this world - and I don't believe that this planet is natural for a single second - has done a crappy job. I sigh a bit at the weirdness of this system and mentally move on for now.
I mark the little girl with a small light emitting formation above her head and move on to the rest. A third of the frozen slaves have nice-feeling auras. The rest are all in varying states of brokenness. The captain is an excellent example of a broken aura and should illustrate a good point.
You are what you eat, but you're also are what you do. If you break things often, that starts to reflect on you. Constantly breaking things like a person's will, marriages, families, lives and even things like virginities all leave a mark. The captain feels so wrong that I would not be surprised if he murders entire orphanages daily.
I do a cost-benefit calculation of letting the guy live, and come to the conclusion that this world is a better place without him. I have long since perfected the most optimal way of killing someone, so I recall the spell I have developed for this exact purpose. It is an extremely small formation; its only purpose is plugging up the communication channels between nerves.
There are microscopic little gates that allow one neuron to communicate with another in the places where nerve cells touch by sending salt ions through them. This little formation shuts those down in a specific area. Preventing any nerve communication from happening in the heart is a very cost-effective way of making sure it won't ever beat again. I don't want to spend more qi than necessary to kill people like this scumbag on pure principle.
None of the crew in rags or any of the soldiers are wholesome people, so I mark none of them. Bord stomps back on deck, carrying two stiff forms on his shoulders. He carefully lays them down on the wooden planks, making the neat rows of frozen figures a little bigger. I stand up as he walks back down the stairs.
I have been thinking about what to do with this collection of poor souls, but I think I have come to a conclusion. I’ll need to advance my schedule once again, but this quicker pace will also open up a lot of possibilities. A lot of things I have observed on this planet just don't make sense to me, and something is giving me the heebie-jeebies and an odd sense of urgency.
I pull my drone from my spatial ring as the students gather the marked slaves, leaving only empty chains behind. I stop looking at the growing rows and focus on the metal plane in my hands. I have been wanting to modify the camera for a while now, and have been slowly testing new designs in the background of my mind.
Making sure that a simple camera keeps focus over a variety of distances is a seriously complex engineering problem. I can start adding telescoping lenses and such, but I want to keep the thing as simple as possible for now. The camera is the simplest one I can make, a dark room with a pinprick to let light through to the back wall covered by a photosensitive film.
It works like one of those old disposable film cameras from Earth, a hermetically sealed room with a single, unmovable lens. The backplate is covered with a shitload of light-sensitive formations. I spent most of my crafting time on these things. I had to employ my newly gained augur to the best of my abilities to craft all these minuscule photosensors.
There are roughly two million light detecting qi formations on the backplate, giving me a two-megapixel resolution. It only produces a black and white image for now; making it this small and complex was difficult enough. There are fourteen hundred rows and columns, and every formation is only a couple dozen micrometres in size. The data is stored in long tubes, one behind every sensor stretching backwards.
The formations turn the light into small amounts of qi. This energy is then pushed into the tubes arrayed behind the backplate. This qi travels very slowly through the tubes, allowing me time to read and reconstruct the data captured within. A bit of qi takes an entire day to move through the length of the tubes, thus limiting the amount of time the drone can record. Letting the qi travel slower will pack the density changes too close together for me to read with any ease. It's an analogue process, so the only resolution limit is the number of sensors present and the clarity of the crystalline tubes.
I didn't even bother to put a lens in front of it; I just added a raster of light-absorbing material that only allows perpendicular light through. I will have to modify this system to allow for wide-area scans. And I want to set up a manufacturing line inside Tree. Mass production with qi is a cheat. I will need a volcano a lot sooner than I originally planned.
Grinning, I allow myself to be distracted by thinking of how much lava I should kidnap along with the mountain itself. Or, I realise, I could just steal a lot of lava, and make the mountain myself. Or maybe I should go and find some sort of fuel source and heat a shitload of stone with that? Perhaps a nice oil or coal deposit? I will have to keep my ears open for rumours of tar pits and such.
I start humming a song as I pull some sand and other trace minerals from my ring. I order some qi to deconstruct into pure heat, which causes the sand to melt. I shape it into a thin lens and use my augur to force it to solidify into a single even crystal. I rip the mesh from the front of the camera and form the metal around the lens. I do some more checks and find it has an acceptable focusing length.
The resolution of the entire thing is not that high anyway, so there is little need for extremely precise focusing. I strip the qi from the storage tubes and point the camera at the ship. I hold it still for a few seconds and check the data storage with my augur. I can reconstruct a decent image from the data I pull from the analogue storage tubes.
It still has a rather narrow field of view, but it’s a lot better for general surveillance than the laser-focused system it had before. I program it to fly in a long loop away from my current position, climbing higher the further away it gets. I want to start generating a rough map of the sea around me. Any maps I have found so far turned out to be horribly inaccurate.
I’d describe it as programming, but that’s honestly too fancy a word. I put the instructions inside slow travel tubes similar to the camera’s storage. These then get executed when they emerge in the control centre at their designated times and locations. Looking the entire thing over one last time, I throw the done into the air and watch it zoom away. The inscribed engine tubes on its side start churning air, and it speeds off silently. Soon it is a speck in the sky, and I return to what’s happening on deck.
I step around a frozen soldier and walk to the helm above the captain's quarter. I climb the stairs while avoiding more people who are frozen in place. I have fifteen minutes left before my head will start pounding like a drum because of the strain, I will need to do this quickly.
I grab Lola from my shoulder. “Knockout on my signal, kay?” She wiggles her nose once, and I take that as confirmation. She jumps from my grasp and starts hopping around, pirate hat stuck between her ears.
Leaning over the lying figure, I study the mage closely. The robe is truly gaudy, gold embroidery with a ton of gems and precious metal buttons sewn into the luxurious fabric. The mage is a middle-aged man, his expression stuck in a slack-jawed version of boredom. Now, what is the most optimal way of doing this?
Selis stopped shaking a little while ago. She now realises in what kind of environment she grew up. She thought that she had it pretty tough, being ignored and ridiculed constantly. Talking is just talking though, how can a chat about what noble to gift her to or how she should be kept hidden from the neighbours compare to being locked up in a dark hold for weeks on end? How can some overheard gossip compare to wallowing in your own shit and drinking your own piss because of thirst?
‘Teach is right, it all depends on perspective.’ She didn't understand what Teach did. He got mad but then just froze everyone with a hair-raising burst of qi and walked upstairs, only saying something about bringing up the ones with lights. Then small embers started glowing above some heads, the girl Selis picked up one of the first to be lit up.
So Selis picked her up again and carried her up the stairs. Underway, she discovered that only the flesh was frozen, leaving cloth and hair free to flap around. So now she is using the girls' frozen state to power washing the shit out of her.
A high powered jet of saltwater strips reddish and white fur clean of filth under the blue-haired girl’s ministrations. A wave with her hand leaves the small form clean and dry. She ignored Teach, who is messing with that weird flying triangle again, and continues down the growing line, cleaning each frozen yet still very smelly shape.
She accidentally splashes some water now and then, the fact that these jets hit the crotches of the crew is entirely accidental, of course. She stops herself from doing any permanent damage, but some of the crew is going to be sore when they unfreeze.
Selis realises what Teach is doing by now, only people who feel nice have a small light floating above their heads. She sprays down another small form as Ket and Bord drop four more slaves down on deck.
“That was the last of them,” Ket replies. He looks over to Angeta who comes up behind him, carrying someone wrapped in a cloth. “I thought I got them all?”
Angeta replies with a timid voice. “Found her by smell, we walked by the room she was in when… we were escorted down to the hold.” She says no more and gently lays the figure down. Selis sends some water down the fabric, eyes flying open at the state of the figure beneath. Through the water, she can feel the bound hands and broken bones. Her expression flickers with something dark, but she decides to focus on washing the filth from the covered figure’s fur.
Meanwhile, Teach has walked over to the place where the three big shots are still staring off into the distance. He has been looking at the seated mage, rubbing his chin while pondering something. Selis decides to distract herself from the broken figure on the deck by walking up to him. “Teach, watcha doing?”
He looks up, swivelling around until he can look down at her. “Thinking.”
‘Stupid Teach, that much even I can see.’ Her internal thoughts must have displayed somehow, as a self-conscious smile flashes across his face. “Who or what would a mage respect or fear deeply?”
She is silent while mulling this question over in her mind. “The Flight?”
Teach’s eyebrows raise. He mutters something about sexy and lizard, but Selis can't hear it that well. He nods and takes a step back. He motions to the rest of the students who have also clambered up the stairs. “Move behind him, no need to confuse him more than necessary.”
Selis walks towards Lola, stretching out her hands but the little bunny slips through her fingers as her big black eyes keep looking at Teach. The blue haired girl recalls a previous scene, one with a certain unfortunate bandit, and lets the rabbit be. She plops herself down on the railing, behind the seated mage, waiting to enjoy the show. The rest of the students also gather on the steering deck and seat themselves behind the mage. Bord pulls a bowl of fruit from his ring and starts snacking.
Teacher then closes his eyes. One moment he is an average guy, the next moment his aura billows into the heavens. Faint wings made of shimmering grey form behind him as a fierce aura whips his simple clothes around. He holds his hand out dramatically while stepping closer to the mage. The richly dressed victim starts moving slowly, eyes opening wide as Teach steps closer. “Report, you insignificant mortal!”
The sneer on Teach’s face is perfect, an immaculate blend of arrogance and indifference. Selis wants to clap at the performance. She feels only a fraction of the pressure Teach gives out but already has goosebumps cover her arms. The gaudily-dressed guy drops his staff as his eyes open wide while he inhales sharply. Unfortunately, he was eating something, so instead of spilling his guts, he starts choking and turning blue. Selis also wrinkles her nose, the wet spot forming near his crotch clear to her senses.
The feeling of awe and worship flowing through Selis pop like a burst bubble. Teach moves his hand a bit, and Lola turns into a white streak, knocking the mage out cold. He then covers his face with both hands, mumbling about gods and damnations. “Selis, can you clean him up?”
He walks over to the slumped figure, a bruise in the shape of a paw print slowly forming on top of its bald head. Teach then slaps the slumped figure’s back, a piece of food launching itself from the mage’s mouth. Teach performs a smooth dodge as the morsel of food lands in the water. Selis forces the wetness to dribble down the unconscious figure’s legs while making a disgusted face. The sphere of yellow water is quickly collected and launched into the sea even more rapidly.
Teach then stands in front of the mage again, aura rising into the heavens once more. He slaps the mages face with a thick strand of qi. “REPORT, you insignificant mortal, what has been happening in this area?”
The mage pales for the second time, but this time his intake of breath doesn't bring any food along. Selis once again wrinkles her nose, and an even fouler stench starts to waft from the richly dressed figure. It all seems to be a much for the poor wielder of mana, and he faints, his eyes rolling into the back of his head.
“I JUST WANT TO ASK A FEW QUESTIONS, for fuck’s sake!” Selis uses a hand to stifle her laughter as Teach vents his frustration.
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