Chapter 76 - Examinations
I kick the black, glossy stone. It shatters into sharp fragments, breaking like weak glass. The black stuff is piled up pretty high now, two meters thick at least. I know how to fix a wasp infestation, but I don’t think I can call a dragon exterminator. I don't think there are mouse traps the size of a house, after all.
First I would have to develop the phone, invest immense amounts of time, effort and money in rolling out the… You know what brain? Let’s stop that train of thought right there.
I dash out of the protective bubble and look over the edge of the Tower, seeing a partly charred city. Someone once told me that the true worth of a man is the effect he has on the world. My true worth seems to be random tornadoes and destruction everywhere.
I dash back to the circle just in time to dodge the next blast of lava plopping down on the shield above my head. Red hot molten rock pudding drips down the round shield, splashing everywhere and heaping up on the sides. The new layer starts cooling rapidly, turning black and glossy like the rest.
I start to fiddle around with the still spinning circle formation. I found out why it started screaming at me, by the way. The qi spewing from the tower got caught and divided into two.
In hindsight, hardcoding these numbers was dumb, but it worked. How could I predict that a trio of angry dragons would start to bombard the shield with such force? The qi inside the shield was enough in the beginning, but the rigid division of storage and containment lacked the flexibility needed to withstand the attacks. The ten per cent dedicated to keeping the bubble shield going wasn't enough to contain the qi and withstand the draconic barrage. It was about to collapse when I reached it.
I'm changing the circle to allow a free flow of qi between storage and shield. The shield was qi starved while the storage section got too much qi to be contained by the waning shield. Now, a permanent ten per cent of the total qi inside the entire structure is used to reinforce the entire structure. Attacking it will only cause some qi to flow to the shields from storage, preventing the near collapse state from happening again.
I look at the sun while fiddling with the circle some more. I finally admit to myself that I lost track of which day it is. I should feel bad about it, but I just can’t for some reason. Also for some unknown reason, I am grinning again as I think over the last few days.
I hear a plop behind me and Rhea appears, who immediately starts nagging. “What do you mean, the Flight was created? Don’t just leave in the middle of a conversation. I don’t know a lot about human etiquette, but finishing what you say before leaving is common courtesy, no?”
“You managed to get through the portal yourself, right? I was guessing you just needed some motivation.” The dragoness - who is still wearing my shirt by the way - blinks a few times as she takes in the lava cooling in a circle around us. A frown flits across her face as she looks up into the sky.
“Your current internal structure is a near-perfect human copy, your dragon structure is a mess.” How can I say with some delicacy? Telling someone to their face that their entire race is some rushed hack job from someone a few planes higher needs a gentle touch. “Your dragon structure looks like a god-level being copied and pasted his favourite animals together.”
She looks at me, blinking some more. “Then that being installed some shoddy transformation switch that runs on external energy.” I shake my head in disapproval. “The first rule of creature design is to keep everything internal. That lock inside your chest pulls energy from somewhere else, I don’t think you can transform inside the pocket dimension. Let’s try that now.”
I ignore the new wave of red hot lava barrelling towards us accompanied by furious dragon roars. I will take care of those ass hats in a bit. For now, I drag Rhea after me through the portal.
“Please try to transform.”
Rhea looks around the clearing. “I won’t fit in here.”
He smiles back at her. “Just try it, please.”
She frowns but decides to humour his request. She warned him, so when she inevitably steps on a few trees and buildings, it won’t be her fault.
‘Focus girl, just like they taught me. Still of mind, in the chest, release and let go.’ She stands there for a full minute. “Anything happening yet?” The voice shakes her from her concentration. Rhea’s perspective is still close to the ground, the total sensory blackout followed by a tingling sensation she is expecting was nowhere to be felt.
She avoids looking at him, unwilling to add his irritating grin to her list of things annoying her. “Let me try again, I have trouble changing sometimes.”
“Sure, take all the time you need.” The smug tone of the voice almost makes her mad. Don’t imagine the smirk on his face right now, stillness of heart, woman! She tries again, but nothing happens. The problem could be her mind, she has been feeling a bit off since this morning.
“Hmmh, it is as I thought. The organ beneath your heart unlocked, but the energy needed for transforming does not come from within you.” Rhea looks up and sees a disapproving frown on Drew’s face as his hand rubs across her sternum. “The energy request can’t get through the dimensional wall. Before we go outside to try again, do you have anything planned for the annoying trio? They keep attacking my circle even though it is obviously not working. Dragons must not be great problem solvers.”
She narrows her eyes for a bit. Was that a veiled insult? “It’s an enforcer squad. They are the problem solvers among the Flight. And yes, I have to admit that usually, dragons solve problems with brute force. If that doesn’t work, more brute force...”
“So do you mind if I rough them up a bit?”
“Why would I mind?”
He stares at her for a bit. “Aren’t they technically your family?”
“Yes, what does that have to do with anything?”
“Hm, very little weight is given to familial ties then. How do you normally deliver reports?”
“Dragons can fly, stupid,” Rhea replies.
“Damn, that means no dragon telephone network I can piggyback of off,” he nods to himself. “Let’s go then.”
And he is gone. Rhea walks over to the Tree where Drew just disappeared and puts her hand on the bark. She closes her eyes and tries to will herself through. She feels the spot of weird space inside the trunk, an infinitely small dot that also feels very massive. She pushes against it, trying to force herself through but some resistance is stopping her.
Frustration at this entire situation starts to bubble up inside of her. She was having a great life, sleeping all the time, occasionally terrorising a kingdom or two. I was maybe a bit lonely, but the ostracisation she experienced during her youth accustomed her to the feeling of alienation anyway. More happened in the last few weeks than in the last couple thousand years.
How did she do it just now? She was getting angry at him again, he left just when the conversation got interesting. A vein starts to become visible on her forehead as she thinks of the general situation she is in. She is constantly being played with by that weirdly alluring and infuriating human.
The next moment she is outside. Turning back, she sees the white blur of the formation spinning through her chest. How did she do it this time? She was distracted again and didn’t pay attention to the portal process.
A thud shakes her from her ruminations. She turns and sees a large, red and scaly body bounce to a halt in the still cooling lava surrounding the protective sphere. Drew lands on top of the heap of scales and fangs, another grin on his face.
“Hey, wake up you big red doofus.” He slaps the dragon’s head around a bit. Those seemingly weak slaps knock its entire skull to and fro. “Please stop attacking the Tower. Or Root, whatever you guys call it. This formation is stopping the entire world from going to shit, so I would appreciate it if you left it alone.”
He kicks the dragon's chest, a ripple going through the scales. Rhea feels an arm around her waist as large chunks of metal and earth smash into the place he just stood. The red dragon whimpers as some scales crack under the barrage.
“No offence, but you dragons are a nasty lot. You don’t even care about friendly fire.”
Rhea knows the words ‘friendly’ and ‘fire’ but has never heard them used like that before. Possible meanings flit through her mind as she thinks about the phrase. The majority of possibilities point towards receiving damage from allies, and it fits in this situation.
Rhea freezes. She just came up with a couple of thousand possible answers in under a second. Since when did her mind work that fast? Then she feels the two centres of energy in her chest and head and she understands. It's all a bit much to take in, but overhearing Drew’s life story gave her a nice primer on cultivation.
“Let me make some room. Then you can try to transform again. Be prepared to stop the process immediately though. I don’t know how that weird energy and qi will mix.”
And he is gone again. Her waist feels a bit cold now. ‘No, focus girl. Stop pining over him like a forgotten harem member who hasn’t spawned an egg in centuries.’ She slaps her face and looks up just in time to see the red dragon going flying, a big dent in its side.
He is looking at the flying dragon, tumbling through the air while dusting his hands. “That should give us some time. I’ll take care of them later. Rhea, try it now.”
He waves a hand and the protective dome expands. The black rock stuck to the Tower splinters into dust as the invisible forcefield forcefully enlarges to cover the entire plateau on top of the dungeon.
Rhea closes her eyes, already getting used to the weird spectacles that seem to surround him. She clears her mind and opens her chest. She feels a small trickle of energy pouring into her body, and she falls on her face.
That would've happened, were it not for the groping hands guiding her to the floor. She wants to scold him for taking liberties again, but not a sound comes from her mouth. Instead, she coughs up some white glowing slime.
“Whoops, this is worse than I thought. Let’s first close that nasty piece of shit.” Rhea feels the flow of energy cut off suddenly as a painful jolt goes through her chest. More glowing white goo dribbles from her mouth as she is laid on her side.
“There, there, don’t worry about the fact that all your internal organs have liquified. Just don't breathe or cough too much. You are lucky that qi is keeping you alive right now… Cores stay in position regardless of liquefaction, interesting.”
Panic starts to bubble up as more bright white slime runs out of her nostrils. A faint feeling of something spreads through her chest as if an extremely fine layer of water is seeping through her body.
”Hmmh, this seems like a sidegrade of qi? Not true divine energy, more like a cheap knockoff. Let’s see, it's programmed to… hmm… liquify? That’s it? Hmmh, is this a multi-phase design? Shit, then I just stopped it halfway into its sequence. Let's open it up again.”
Panic starts to set in as Rhea begins to suffocate. Breathing does nothing, coughing does nothing, it is like her entire chest is just filled with goop now. This time she does not feel another painful jolt, but she does feel the energy beginning to flow again.
“Okay, liquefy is stage one. What is the condition for advancing to stage two? Let's fake it, pull liquefied matter into a ball and separate from… Let’s not do that. A dragon’s internal organs will not fit inside her humanoid chest. Forcefully revert it? It came from… up? Yeah, must be planetoid based transfer stations or satellites.”
Just as her consciousness starts to fade, the feeling reverts. Her lungs come back to her and she takes a deep breath. She feels the slime on her face retract back into her mouth and down her throat. Sitting up wildly, she takes big gulps of air.
“Found the directional bit! Who uses a true binary sign bit in such a manner?” Drew sounds actually mad now.
Rhea coughs some more as all the slime retreats down her throat. “What in all the hells was that? I didn’t understand half the words you said, you madman!”
Dodging a punch, Drew explains. “Someone messed with this world. The mana balance is out of whack and there is a shoddily engineered race of magical dragons guarding the mana generators.”
Rhea freezes. The Roots do indeed provide mana to this world, but it should not be visible. She overheard her uncle talking about it once. The Roots pump mana into the earth where it naturally disseminates.
“The lock in your chest is just an energy receptacle. It liquefies your current form and allows you to be rather clumsily reshaped into an alternate form. It’s like someone got super powerful and decided to build an entire race from loose parts, even though they still only knew how to build with sticks and mud.”
His explanations are not really helping, she concludes. He has said a lot but not a lot she understands.
“This entire planet feels like a freshly ascended’s pet project that got abandoned after a couple of thousand years. Do dragons keep history?”
Finally a question she understands. “Yes, my uncle gathered some records. He told me that dragons appeared around a hundred thousand years ago.”
He nods while rubbing his chin. “This planet is pretty young, the oldest mountain I have seen is not even a dozen million years old. They are still way too jagged.”
He is looking up to the dragons now, still muttering to himself. The red dragon is slowly rising as he favours a single wing. The punch that knocked him off the Tower must have hurt. Rhea unconsciously rubs her own side. The brown and grey dragons are still high up in the air, keeping out of reach.
“I’ve got a deja-vu.”
With a tired expression, Re-Haan faces him. “What's a deja-vu?”
“The feeling like you have done this before.”
She backs away in suspicion. “What have you done before?”
“Throwing cute things at dragons. Don’t worry, this will be good exercise for you.”
Alarm bells go off in her mind - that grin means trouble. Her clumsy attempt at escaping does nothing. She feels arms wrap around her and then she is flying, straight towards the dragon duo high overhead.
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