Chapter 85 - Lesson
“Hnnnnnngh” Beads of sweat appear on Selis’s forehead as she spreads her arms. The water surface in a circle around her starts to sink, forming a half sphere with a level floor. The seven passengers let out appreciative murmurs as they sink through the water surface, the smooth watery walls giving them a perfect view of their surroundings.
Bits of chopped up aquatic fauna skims across the half sphere, leaving red trails in its wake. They sink quickly, and another wave of the small girl’s arms causes them to rise towards the diving bell structure containing the stairs going to the next level.
“Now that we all have calmed down let me say a few lines. I decided to take things a bit more seriously. So I want to make some plans from the future, feel free to butt in with any suggestions.” I make eye contact with everyone one by one as they walk past me down the stairs.
Bord raises a hand, and I nod in response. “What happened to your face?”
I drag a hand across the subject in question and feel my patchy and scruffy beard. That ball of fire qi I stuffed inside the volcano must have done more damage than I thought.
‘CUT, BLADE, THE BEST A MAN CAN GET.”
Sliding a qi clad finger across my face leaves it baby smooth.
‘GROW YOU FUCKING HAIR, MAKE DAT STRATIFIED SQUAMOUS KERATINIZED EPITHELIUM’
A glorious new beard grows from my face as my follicles go into overdrive. I do some slight trimming and present it to my audience.
They all look weirdly at my impromptu barber trick. Selis is staring at me with especially big eyes as she rubs her hand through her short hair. She scrunches up her face as her hair starts glowing blue while it slowly turns in a wild mop. The brightest smile I have seen from her yet appears of her face while she strokes her fingers through the blue locks.
“That was one of the first things I tried.” Angeta pulls a long, grey and glossy tail from her pants, a rare gentle smile on her face as she too starts running her hands across it.
“This is a good example of what I want to talk about.” All attention goes back to me as I continue talking.
Ket is totally ignored, along with the grand total of five facial hairs that he managed to grow from his face. He pulls them out while wincing, tears forming in his eyes. I want to ask if those tears are from physical or emotional pain, but decide not to. I see Tess hold back her laughter and decide to spare the boy by changing the subject.
“I never had a chance to do this in my previous world because of entrenched, ancient, power hungry and powerful existing authorities, but I want to start a school. Qi is pretty much omnipotent, I want to see what happens when I create a society where qi and cultivation information is freely shared and built upon.”
Ares is looking at me like I'm crazy, the rest has doubt clearly written across their faces. I sigh and rub Lola under the chin. She is the only one who truly understands me.
“Let’s get a move on first.” The next room turns out to be from my half of the dimension rift, the ceiling is completely bare of crystals. I jump down and walk towards the exit. Soft thumps followed by a short scream sounds out behind me. Ares must not have liked the fact that Vox jumped without informing her. A decent walk later, we are all gathered inside the resting area between level thirty and thirty-one.
I weave a protective web of qi, forming it into a slightly glowing ball of thin strands. Grabbing my necklace, I hang it in the middle of the stone room. “You guys go first. I have something to discuss with Ares.”
Everyone casts glances between Ares and me. Bord is the first to touch the floating piece of jewellery and disappears. The rest follow soon after until only me, Ares and Vox are left behind.
“Anything I should know about your sis?”
He looks around nervously until I see him making up his mind. “No, please let her join us.”
I stare him in the eyes for a good ten seconds. He does not look away, so I nod and motion for him to move on. He casts one last glance at the nervous girl before joining the rest inside Tree. I turn my full attention to the fidgeting girl. “Any affiliations?”
She startles and looks at me. “Affiliations?”
“Yeah, I picked those kids for two reasons. They have some sort of affinity inside their bodies that I was unfamiliar with and they didn’t have any strong attachments to this world. You have the light affinity in your body, just like Vox. But am I going to find out that you have sworn some soul oath or something like that?”
Eyes wide, she starts talking quickly. “No, no, only master mages have responsibilities that tie to them their factions permanently. I barely qualify as a journey mage. Nobody would miss me. My parents practically sold me to Wave when they found out that I have a connection to the light. I didn’t even have an official master back at Wave Island, only an old man that was kind to me because of my positive outlook, I was only allowed to read the primer dungeon book on light magic.”
I hold up my hand to stop the waterfall of words coming from her mouth. “Any reasons why I should let you join us?”
I have been slowly ramping up the amount of aura I'm releasing. Similar to back when I made those stupid kids disciples of mine, I'm gradually ramping up what I allow her to feel. It seems to be having an even more significant effect on her. She does not even have a core formed yet. I think I won’t let out my vicious aura, for now. Heart attacks are not funny.
Alright, a small sliver then. She grows even paler as she senses the slight amount of killing intent I start releasing.
Tears start to form in her eyes and I can see her starting to break down. “I don’t know. I was so happy when I saw Voxander standing on that ship. He changed so much and acted completely different, but I still just knew it was him. Since then it was total chaos all the time, and then I became sick, and there is a beastwoman, but nobody treats her like a slave, and that bunny should be killing us all, but it’s just acting cute all the time. I was just getting used to the way I should act in mage society, and now it’s all completely different again, and then I got sick and… and...”
At this time she starts blubbering uncontrollably while tears streak down her face. I made a girl cry. All the emotional baggage I saw behind her eyes is now flowing out. I retract my aura and kneel by her side.
“There there. Let it all out. Come on, let’s not keep the rest waiting.” Student-master contracts don’t take that well on mortals. The qi doesn’t have a cultivation base to grab onto, so a lot more power is needed to reinforce it. This then limits the amount of qi the mortal can absorb by themselves.
It’s a great way to keep a lot of mortals in check, not so great when you don’t intend to exploit the mortal in question. I grab her by the arm and guide the snivelling girl to the necklace. I weave a qi repulsion net around her head to stop her from being qi-poisoned again and pull her after me while entering Tree.
Lola jumps from my shoulder and goes to greet Tree. I leave Ares behind as she looks around with bulging eyes. I walk to the group of students. Vox runs towards his sister, but I grab him by the scruff of his neck and haul him behind me. I throw him next to the group of students as Selis returns from inspecting the garden.
“What happened to my ship?” I point a finger to the sorry vessel lying at the edge of the clearing while asking the question in a rather biting manner.
They all turn slightly pale at the viciousness in my voice. I liked that ship. Now its pristine and sleek lines are interrupted by black areas of charred wood and deep tears.
“It wasn’t in such horrible shape when we left it.” Ket’s reply is immediate. He must have prepared a list of excuses to say in advance.
I pause for a bit. I don't look them in the eyes while replying. “Uhm, hehe, then who did all that? It sure as hell wasn’t me. No way that I would damage my own ship, right? Right?”
Ket looks at me with suspicion as the rest look down. “I left the stealth field on. The mages could not have found it.”
“You are truly an idiot sometimes. Of course, they are going to find something with the number of ships floating around this place. Just because it’s sort of invisible does not mean it’s not physically there.”
I throw my hands up. “Whatever. You guys will fix it. I finally got a volcano, so there will be plenty of qi to go around to do it. Anyway, I wanted to tell you guys to find a comfortable seat. I am going to tell you some proper fundamentals. That should allow you guys to stop being so weak.”
Angeta looks slightly pissed off as she plays around with some strands of grass. “We managed to fight against the combined mage factions. I think we are pretty powerful already.”
Ares is finally done gawking at the environment and ambles towards us. She jumps up into the air as I start laughing uncontrollably.
“HAHAHAHAAAAAA OH GOD. Wait, you were, hee hee, serious? Let me laugh, HAHA, even harder. HAAAHAAAHAAA”
I double over as that absurd statement electrifies my funny bone. Her self-confidence is good. It’s just so misplaced it’s hilarious. Slowly, I calm down. Crawling back up, a steaming beastkin greets my sight. “Heheee, oh goodness, I know it’s rude to laugh in your face like that. Let me show you why though.”
Motioning towards my castle, my qi clone floats out the front door. Having another completely white version of me floating there is slightly creepy, so I weave some qi into a blank faceplate mask. I fiddle around with it some more. The qi has started to solidify, making a perfect copy of every cell of my body. I then limit the crap out of it. Eyeing Angeta, I set the limiter to the exact amount of qi that she has, both in her core and in her body.
“You all remember my trusty qi clone, right? I limited his power levels to the amount of qi you possess.” I wave my arms around a bit. “And now it has the same amount of skill as a standard sect disciple of your power level. Try to beat him up, if you're so great.”
Grass swirls around the beastkin, covering her fur in a plant exoskeleton. She sways like a leaf, imitating the leaves wrapping around her as she uses the fighting style I gave her. My white clone just stands there, unmoving. She jumps towards him with a loud roar. A single punch later, the plants fall from her body as she vomits up her lunch.
“The reason I'm so dismissive about all those sects is because they severely limit potential. Those fighting techniques are many thousands of years old and have long since been perfected at the lower realms. I dislike them because they force their students on paths not their own. This is helpful if you want a lot of medium power fighters but destroys any end-game potential.
“Forcing someone down a well-trodden road allows them to speed on through the beginning stages. They will grind to a halt later on. The sects blamed this slowing down of cultivation prowess on talent, affinity or aptitude. Making your own path is a slower route in general, but allows you to continue on long after those pre-made-path idiots ground to a halt. The only way to not get stuck between an unsuitable foundation and your own path is to learn from someone elses road, not copy them verbatim.”
Ket seems to understand what I am talking about, Tess has a thoughtful look on her face, but the rest doesn’t seem to get it. I look back and see Ares standing in earshot of my little lecture.
“Time for a practical example, I think. Ares, come here and sit down in a manner that you find comfortable.”
She timidly walks over, eyes still puffy from crying. She calmed down a little, and she seems a bit more at ease now.
“Starting your cultivation is a rather important step. Organisations and sects in my previous world taught people to imagine patterns, scriptures and things related to their way of cultivation when forming their qi gathering core. The prospective cultivators were then supposed to shove all this stuff, alongside with the qi they were absorbing, in their core location. The ripple sect example I told you guys about a while ago is a good example of this.
“I formed your cores by shoving a perfect image of your physical bodies in the location that responded best. This then forms a fairly neutral starting point, not great at any specific thing and a bit weak, but great for finding your own path.
“By the way, don’t be afraid to destroy your current cultivation base in order to try something new. I restarted a couple of dozen times before I found a path that I really liked. Not all of them were by my own choice, but that's not relevant right now.”
I see some of my audience shivering. I control my breathing as I reign in my murderous thoughts.
I then touch Ares, sending some qi streaming towards her gut, heart and brain. My entire mind fills with a high-detail scan of her body. Her brain feels… flat. Her heart has a nice response, but I get the same from her gut. The heart it is then, that should prevent some of the diarrhea, and it will be temporary anyway.
I shove the clinical scan of her body inside her heart while I make sure to have no stray thoughts. My entire mind is filled with the physical structure of the poor girl next to me.
“There, I just saved you a couple of months of work.” I smile widely at her as she clutches her chest. I remove the qi repulsor around her head, and she touches her throat. Vox runs towards his sister and is about to try healing her. I once again grab him by the scruff of his neck and throw him backwards.
“Don’t interfere. She just had her core formed.”
“You okay, Ares?”
*Cough cough* “Uuuhm, yeah. I feel fine. Actually, I feel great!”
“This is what I call a neutral core. You all have a neutral core. It’s a great starting point that is okay at everything, but not great at anything.”
I let that sink in for a bit. Ket seems to understand, but he has a braincore, so that’s to be expected. “Yes Angeta, what is it?”
“How did you really form our cores?”
“I shoved a perfect scan of your bodies inside the core location that felt the best.”
“Right, so all braincores give answers useless to us normal cultivators. Got it...”
“I welcome you to try it yourself. You all have a good grasp on what you want out of your cultivation by now. Simply release all of your qi and keep doing that for a few hours. You will feel a snap and then you'll feel horrible. It kind of sucks, losing the support of qi, but it allows you to customise your cultivation from the start.”
“Why would we want to do that?” asks Selis.
“Back in the cultivation world, the standard way to begin cultivating involved a lot of chanting, mental images, spells, movements and all sorts of nonsense. Each method had its own quirks. Your current cores have none of those specialities.
“Selis, you should release all the qi in your body and focus on the spot you want a core in while thinking about what you like the most about your current skills. If you spend that time thinking of going fast, you will become the fastest being in the universe at your power level. Think of controlling a single aspect of water during your initial core forming, that single aspect will be under your command without any effort.
“It’s like qi itself.” I spin a small sphere of qi over the palm of my hand. “This is neutral qi. Pure, untainted potential. It has a lot of utility, but not a lot of applied power. I can do some water and fire tricks, but turning all my qi into fire attuned qi will make my flames a lot more powerful. My water control would get shit though, so I like to keep it neutral.”
Ares is moving her arms, a blissful expression on her face. I look at Bord, he hides the feeling of pleasure while moving well, but he never stands completely still.
“Ares, run as fast as you can.”
I don’t say anything else, I just jump at her, flooding the poor girl with murderous aura tinted qi. She pales and bolts immediately. I speed after her, catching up a second or three later. I grab her and drag her back to the group.
“You all saw how fast she went?” My disciples nod with dumbstruck faces. “Great.”
I grab my experimental subject even tighter, pulling on the qi I left to coalesce inside her heart. It still has my fingerprints all over it, Ares’ subconscious didn’t have the time yet to overwrite the control I have over the qi. Ares pales even further as I gently rip the energy from her body and heart.
“Now watch what happens...” I keep the dazed girl aloft while beginning the core forming process all over again. “Speed, fast, quick, momentum, blitz, pace, really really really fast, quickness, fastness, alacrity, velocity, just really fucking fast.”
Under the effect of my mumbled words and the guided qi, her heartcore reforms. I grin as I present the girl to the group of observers. “She is now a heartcore cultivator again. You all heard what I was thinking about while forming her core. This is a core formed with the aspect of speed. Observe!”
Ares barely has the time to come to her senses as she feels that terrifying horror again. The muddled thoughts spinning through her brain get replaced with one single message.
“RUN RUN RUN RUN OR YOU’RE DEAD RUN NOW HURRY FOR FUCK’S SAKE RUN RUN’
So she runs. The freshly formed heartcore inside of her body just finished linking to her cells, and it uses her instincts to squeeze as much speed out of every single muscle fibre as possible. Trees flit by as her eyes fail to keep up with her rapid movements.
All the information her touch-sensitive nerve endings register rush through the new core as it uses each scrap of data to fuel her speedy retreat. The terror in her belly makes her do some impressive tricks while running away.
It’s all for nought though, as a hand grabs her collar. The terror is gone at once, allowing the muddle-headed girl to take stock of what is happening.
“See? She was at least twice as fast. Her movements were different because she has less strength with this core setup.”
“What happens if I were to think of body reinforcement while re-forming my braincore?” asks Ket.
“You’d become the worst body cultivator in the universe, I think.”
“Can I control dead plants and wood by reforming my core?” asks Angeta.
“Sure, you can think of manipulating matter. Limiting yourself to only wood is a bit… narrow-minded and limiting, I guess. You would be the best wood manipulator ever though. You guys want another demonstration?”
“Please let my sister go...” begs Ares.
“Hell no, I finally get to confirm so many of my theories.”
Ares feels the glowing warmth in her chest being sucked away again. Her clear headedness disappears as she sinks into a stupor.
“What do you guys want to see next? Maybe a strength focused heartcore?”
“Make her be good at triangles.”
“Bord, what does that even mean? You know what, I’ll give it a try.” Silence reigns for a while as Ares struggles to make sense of this situation. “Triangles, lines, two lines where three points meet, three edges, three vertices.”
The warmth gathers at her chest once again. The first time it felt nice. The second time it felt fleeting. This time it just feels weird. Ares wants to cry as her head clears up once again. She glares at the horrible man, who is still holding her by the scruff of her neck.
He dodges her clumsy punch with ease and she falls on her face. A triangular tear runs down her cheek as she decides to just give in to this super weird situation.
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