Chapter 66 - Fishin
Tess has her eyes closed. She is attempting to become one with the world at this moment. She is focusing all of her qi enhanced attention on the singular most important object. There is only that object. Nothing else matters. It is all. Its her entire universe.
“Got another one!” sounds the happy voice of a girl whose head is covered with short blue hair. Tess’s eyebrows twitch as a new vein pops up on her forehead. Become one with the universe, girl, ignore all that is earthly.
Tess is attempting to ignore all mortal things because she is fishing. The wooden stick in her hands has a thin rope that trails behind the boat. On that rope is a colourful, wooden item that Teach called a float. Beneath that float are several metal weights keeping the line under the water’s surface, followed by a viciously barbed hook holding a shred of mystery meat.
Tess ignores Ket, who is now hefting a wooden spear, it’s sharply carved barbs shining. He throws the weapon into the water with a casual toss. The rope following behind it seems too short, but Ket pulls the spear back the moment the line runs out. Water sprays from the line as he pulls the entire ensemble back up. Skewered on the wooden tip is a beautifully coloured fish, a meter long.
“Hah, eat that Selis. I’m ahead again.”
One with the world, Tess thinks. She is trying to remember the simpler times when all she had to worry about was sneaking through the dungeon. Back then, all she needed to do was keeping her back covered in case somebody wanted to backstab her. Such simple times, when a single gold coin would be a risk to carry on the streets. When she could be left behind for dead because she had a piece of bread someone else wanted.
“Thirty-three! Even again, Ket!”
Because in those simpler times, she could control her own fate and wasn’t dependant on how “MUCH SOME FUCKING FISH WANTED TO BITE, RAAAAH!”
Silence spreads across the rear deck of the Ascent after the black-haired girl stops yelling. Selis asks with a worried expression “are you okay, Tess?”
She smacks the wooden pole on the deck with a crack. Seeing the infernal thing undamaged, she stomps on it a couple of times for good measure. “Have fun fishing. Seems it’s not for me.”
Selis and Ket are completely deaf to the sarcasm dripping from her voice and happily continue with their fishing. The massive wooden tubs behind them are currently filled with all sorts of fish. Tess angrily spits in one, venting some of her anger as she stomps down the stairs. Her hands twitch as she hears another jubilant yell behind her, but she continues walking.
She abuses the stairs going down to the below decks by stomping on them with all her might, standing in the wooden hallway breathing deeply for a little bit. She then takes an extra large breath and shakes her head. “Happy thoughts, girl. Smiling is free, after all.”
With a refreshing smile, the girl walks forward to the place where her Teacher is at. She sees him puttering around some wooden bowl that has weirdly glowing stripes and markings on the outside. “How’s it going, Teach?”
The bearded man looks up startled, and Tess sees his muscles tense, ready to spring into a fighting stance. “Tess. Should have known it was you who was sneaking up on me.”
Tess frowns as she was most definitely not sneaking at the time, but decides to let it go.
“Anyway, the fish are doing fine. I think I finally figured some stuff out.”
Tess steps when she hears the word fish, a brief mix of fury and disgust on her face. Teach looks at her with a weird expression. “Well, I think it’s interesting, no need to recoil at how boring you think my experiments are.”
Tess stands there hopelessly for a bit. That is not what she meant at all. “No, I meant...”
“It’s fine, the path of a scientist is often a lonely one.” Teach looks off into the distance with such a melancholic expression on his face, such a peerless aura, that she bursts out laughing. She clutches her stomach, trying to get herself under control.
Teach stands there with a single eyebrow raised as her laughing fit peters out. “That’s not what… Doesn’t matter, I wanted to talk about something else.”
“What is it then?” The bearded man takes one last look in the bowls scattered around the small room before turning to the girl.
“You talked about mana and emotions, right?” Seeing a nod in return, she continues; “I think I know what attracts dark mana.”
Excitement spreads across Teach’s face. “I was just about to do some cooking, come and explain it to me while you help.”
‘COOKING COOKING I CAN MAKE THAT FOOD MYSELF IF I PAY ATTENTION.’ Tess reigns in her boiling excitement and shakes her head to clear it of those kinds of thoughts. What was she talking about again? “I was cycling through emotions, trying to really get a feel for them, but I noticed nothing even if I was seething with anger.”
A small vein wants to pop up on her forehead again, but she takes a deep and calming breath. “At least, until I tried to feel extremely bored. Nothing happened until I got bored of feeling bored. Like I was alone on an endless grey plane, nothing to do, see, hear, smell or anything.”
Teach keeps nodding his head, encouraging her to go on. “Then when I truly felt like killing myself to escape the boredom, I saw some dark strands floating around.”
Teach stops halfway up the stairs. His eyes dim and the light leaves them completely. His expression goes slack-jawed, and he starts looking like a dead guy. “Teach?” No response. “Teacher? What are you doing?”
She starts freaking out when he just stands there for half a minute. When she is about to gather up the courage to slap him, he jolts awake again. Then she feels powerful hands wrap around her waist and carry her upstairs.
Then the world starts spinning. Her legs go flying as Teach whirls her around. “Hahaha, thanks Tess, I noticed some dark mana!”
He plops Tess down on the deck, who stumbles around with legs made from jelly. “N... No problem.”
She stumbles to a railing and starts dry heaving, suppressing the urge to vomit with all her might. Teach is still beaming at her. “I was wondering what the other emotions would be, but couldn't find the specific emotional wavelengths to create a mana connection. Who knew boredom is a primary emotion? This world is really fucked.”
Tess stumbles back from the railing as Teach continuous spouting semi-intelligible gibberish. “No.” *HURK* “No problem, just don't...” She wipes the cold sweat from her forehead. “Never, ever do that again please.”
“Never say never, now let's do some cooking.” Teach then waves his hand, and a huge table plops into existence. The entire boat shudders as the object crashes on the deck. Everyone except for Teach and Bord goes stumbling about as the ship settles in its new draft, half a meter lower than previously.
“Ah, that table is supermassive, almost forgot.” He shrugs his shoulder as he continues to pull a wide variety of things from his ring, from knives to spice racks to a barbeque. “Come, Tess, you can help me and do some taste testing.”
Her mood immediately improves and she walks over to the impromptu kitchen area. “I know how to grill meat, but that’s all my cooking experience.”
Teach waves his hand. “No problem, cooking is rather easy. I saw you fishing before, go get some of your fish.”
The bearded man continues re-arranging his equipment but looks up after not receiving an answer for ten seconds.
Calm, Tess, calm. One with the world, the world is one. Breathe in EXPLODE “I FISHED FOR HALF A DAY AND DIDN'T CATCH A SINGLE ONE! THEN THOSE TWO...” Tess viciously stabs her finger towards the duo who are still hauling in large fish, one after the other. “...COME OVER AND START REELING THEM IN, WRAAAAG!”
Silence reigns once again supreme until a single brave soul breaks the silence. “Did you ask them how they do it?” Tess focuses her entire attention on Vox, who is lying on the deck without a shirt. “Maybe they use some trick?” Asks the redhead as he heals another sunburn. He mumbles about how impossible it is to get a tan with his skin.
Tess then stomps over to the fishing duo. They stopped, meter long fish in hand when Tess exploded for the second time today. “HOW THE FUCK do you guys do that?” Her glare is hot enough to melt steel.
“I ask the fishes to come over?”
“Scan using minimal qi grid, extrapolate the fish’s movement vector, compensate for water refraction and execute throw.”
These two answers, each as incomprehensible as the other, are the breaking point. Tess just crumples into a heap and starts to suck her thumb. A big black cat peeks its head out of a deck hatch, and seeing its rider lying depressed in a heap, walks over, licks her face and lies down next to her.
Tess is acting weird. First, she comes up with this genius dark mana theory, I thank her, and she reacts weird. Then I ask her to bring over a fish, and she explodes. Now she is making baby noises while lying against the railing as she cuddles her mount.
Whatever, I am not a psychologist. “Bring some fish over!”
I stand ready, knives in hand as Ket sends the first fish flying. I punch it back into the sea. “Highly poisonous, next!”
Another one comes flying. I also shove a thread of augur in this one. “Inedible, highly venomous. Those spikes are filled with nerve poison.” I punch that one back into the sea, the spikes shattering against my fist.
A third one comes flying. “Filled with heavy metals, not good for consumption. Are there any edible fish around?” I walk over to the big wooden barrels as the third fish splashes back into the sea. I look some of them over while Ket and Selis shuffle nervously like kid whose summer projects are being graded publicly.
Then I see it. It looks nothing like a tuna, but its flesh has nearly the same consistency. I pull the small shark from the water while breaking its spine. I paralyse it by scrambling its spinal column, preventing acid buildup from spasms in the muscles. It looks rather disgusting, covered in warts and pustules, but that doesn't matter if the flesh is tasty.
I look at both barrels and notice a pattern. Selis’ barrel is filled with the ugliest fish of the sea, Ket’s barrel is filled with a mix of normal and ugly fish. I stare at the blue haired girl with suspicion but decide to let this fish discrimination go.
“Don't judge a book by its cover. This baby will be delicious.” I drag the flopping mess behind me over the deck but stop as I see the horrible slime trail it leaves. I decide to hold it out over the railing as I cut off the gross bits, leaving me a beautiful white fish skeleton filled with gorgeous pink flesh.
“That means, don’t go and make conclusions based on appearances alone, you unread and uncivilised barbarians.” I slap the thing on my workbench and start cutting filet’s off the carcass. I taste a piece and tears fill my eyes as the heavenly taste of tuna melts in my mouth. Oh, how I missed you. Sushi recipes tumble around in my head. I shall first fry some delicious steaks before freaking out my students with raw fish and rotted soybean sauce.
Angeta timidly walks over, her half human-half cat ears lying back against her head. “Uuhm, I was one of the best butchers in town, can I help?”
She is fidgeting like a nervous girl asking out a boy. What is going on? Ah, I might have flown a bit off the handle back there in the slave hold. Should I fix this? I decide to test the waters by giving her a big smile.
“Sure, can you handle fish?” I see her ears wilt further. “No problem, meat is meat, after all. Here is a knife. Slice me some juicy steaks by cutting here, here and here in this manner, see?”
She timidly grabs the knife, but her aura shifts the moment she holds the tool. Her stance becomes confident, and she expertly handles the blade, slicing with precision. There are truly hidden talents everywhere!
I gather some spices and seasonings and start to heat the grill stones. It’s not a true barbeque, just a big slab of stone on legs that I heat as needed with qi. I pull some vegetables from my ring and from Tree’s garden. A few of the more common vegetables have sprouted beautifully under Tree’s careful ministrations.
I show Angeta how to chop the plants, and she reduces them to cooking ingredients with ease. She mumbles something I don’t quite catch, so I ask her a question. “What?”
“What are you sorry about?” She gives me a weird glance. “Don’t look at me like that, I don’t know what you are apologising for, please explain.”
“I’m sorry about...” Her sentence peters off into nothing as she halts her knife work.
“Are you apologising for the way you were raised?” She remains silent as she slowly starts chopping again.
“Or about the way the culture you grew up in works?”
I take a wok from my ring and start stir-frying the veggies, adding some sauce and seasonings. I rub a tuna steak with some salt and pepper and slap it on the heated stone grill. I let the scents waft around the ship, sending about half of it straight up into the sky.
I take a deep breath and release it slowly. “Children are the product of their upbringing. You just happened to hit one of my sore spots, so I got slightly irritated.”
We continue to cook in domestic bliss for a bit longer when she starts speaking again. “I think I get it though. I just saw a soldier. You saw a sentient being.”
I think about those words while funnelling more smells high up into the air. “I assume the best of everyone until they prove otherwise. Racism is a childhood disease that can be found in any developing country or culture. Just don't stuff people in little boxes the moment you meet them.”
The talking stops when all my other disciples have gathered around, drooling at the growing mountain of food we are preparing. I prevent them from eating, the guest of honour isn't here yet.
Half an hour of cooking later, I start stuffing meals in my ring to keep them fresh. I’m just about to grab a second fish when I hear a thump behind me. I turn around and I see a lovely image, who happens to be drooling slightly. I hold out a single hand.
“Care to have some dinner, Rhea?”
“Call me Re-Haan, stupid human. You sent the smells up there on purpose, right? Those air flows are not natural.”
“I am sure I have no idea what you are talking about. More importantly; there is good food to eat.” I grab her hand, a wide grin on my face as I lead her to the table while pulling out plates and chairs.
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