Chapter 87 - Absence
One thing I didn't really impress upon my students - nor Rhea, for that matter - is that anything can become an intent. The way a plant grows can change the shape of qi when put into a personal perspective. The way a tree grows would be different from the way a shrub, animal or bacteria colony grows.
Another example would be a nuclear bomb qi. Narrowing it further down, it would be nuclear explosion qi intent. Keep repeating that until you get to ‘a nanosecond after all the nuclear material has fissioned qi intent’.
I had three examples of this qi intent in my secret ring compartment. Now I have only two. I'm still sitting at the table inside Tree. All my students have wandered off, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
This is the first time in days that I feel safe and secure. I'm inside my own personal dimension. The nexus point of this dimension is a tree that I up-lifted from a life of eternal retard-ness, and Tree knows that. Aside from that fact, Tree does not yet have the presence of mind to conspire anyway.
The people and beasts around me - my students and all of our mounts - are several magnitudes less powerful than me. The predictive- and scanning processes I have running in my braincore would alert me to any potentially lethal danger, anyway.
So for the fir the first time in days, I feel like I can relax. And what does my treacherous mind do? It immediately finds the dark parts of my recent life and re-lives it, of course.
A small figure runs across the waves, his feet touching each watery tip with light pressure. He keeps an eye out on his surroundings, swivelling his head from side to side now and then. Behind him, massive clouds of smoke and an earthen tower shrink in the distance. The only direction he is not looking at seems to be directly in front of him.
After a while of running across the sea, an island becomes visible over the horizon. Instead of smoke, towering structures or plants, this island is covered in a dark gloom. A spherical, dark haze surrounds the black buildings and rocks. Not a single hint of green or life is visible.
The man slows down as his figure shimmers, the cloaking effect on his body increasing. A few hundred meters away from the shore, he stops. He closes his eyes and a different kind of shimmer burst from him.
The moment this shimmer touches the fog, things appear to go wrong. His bearded face twists into a grimace of pain and a single foot sinks through the water surface. The look of pain intensifies as he drops under the water surface, not moving an inch as the sea embraces him.
Please imagine the following scenario.
You're a person, living in a small village. You have happy days, sad days, maybe someone you secretly like or love. All kinds of shenanigans are happening, giving the village a lively feel.
Then, people you've never seen before come and kill most of your friends and family. You are then clapped in chains and, along with the few surviving members of your community, are stacked like firewood in the back of a cart.
What follows is an endless procession of being locked up in all kinds of new dark cells, little food or water and no chances to clean yourself. Maybe you watch that kind grandma from down the road being beaten to death. Maybe that kind older sister figure gets dragged out of the cage, only to reappear a few days later with dull, lifeless eyes, shivering at the touch of any male. Maybe she even shies away from you.
This is then followed by an eternity in a cramped, overpopulated hold of a boat. Now and then the drudgery gets interrupted by new prisoners being thrown down the stairs or the corpse guy carrying the dead out.
You don’t get enough food to live, but too much to die. The same for water. Nobody talks anymore.
Then you are hauled out of the boat by a big human in black armour. Any remaining will to resist is expertly beaten out of you by the stick the man wields. You see black buildings and grey streets. Even the sun has lost its life in the port you have arrived.
What follows another stay in an underground cell. Another unknown time later you are once again manhandled as you're dragged outside. You are placed at the back of a queue in front of a big, black pyramid. You see the people in front being hauled upstairs, placed on a black altar and killed.
The terror in your guts prevents you from walking, but the people around you are used to that, so you are carried upstairs when your turn comes. The knife slits your throat the moment you're placed on the glistening black altar and you feel your consciousness slipping.
Then you're hanging in the air. You look down and see your own body sliding down the pyramid’s backside.
This disembodiment is then followed by a million knives that start carving at your very being. Unseen winds send you floating across the island and you feel many others in similar states to yourself. It’s just a shame that communication is impossible. And the soul-searing pain is not something you can get used to.
So when a being appears that can hear you, what would you do? You, who constantly feels more agony in a single minute than you have felt in your entire living life, what would you say to this unknown stranger?
You, reduced to a conscious battery, start to scream, of course.
The moment my scanning qi touches that filthy black fog, a single voice wails in my mind. This startles me a bit. I start retracting my qi, but then ten voices are screaming at me. I get a few more thoughts off, but the wave of qi I send out was a bit too thick to retract with speed.
I try to pour qi into my mind, but a thousand voices are making it quite hard to concentrate. Every single one of them seems to have a few lifetimes of agony on their repertoire, and they somehow feel the need to inform me about this.
The cloud of qi slips my grasp as the chorus swells to ten thousand. I lose count around a hundred thousand, and I feel myself sinking through the waves around a million. My head is now filled with countless voices all screaming their psychic, agonised hearts out at me.
I watch in mute horror as my entire brain gets filled with these voices, using my qi as a medium to transmit their message. The amount of brain space my consciousness occupies becomes less and less as the outside pressure starts rising. Shit shit shit once again.
I decide to flee. This might sound cowardly, but I know when I need to make a tactical retreat. I could fight off this wave of wailing where I prepared, but I didn’t even have a psychic scanning process going. I shore up the small portion of my mind that is still under my control and try to keep a grip of my sanity.
I look on with a detached feeling as my brain gets battered by the endless waves of complaining. What the fuck is happening?
I retreat again, this time fleeing outside of my head. The world becomes black and white as I lose access to my senses. I see myself surrounded by water, slowly sinking. Shit. This is another serious situation. How come I end up nearly dying once a week on this low-level planet?
I move my small bit of awareness towards my ring, the only thing nearby high-level enough to house my consciousness. Running away from the thundering sounds of pain behind me, I dive into the dimensional space.
Darkness surrounds me, the perfect black only interrupted by items suspended in time floating here and there. A lot of food, actually. Plates, pieces of meat, vegetables and more. Using the ring allows me a mental bird’s eye view of its contents, it looks entirely different now that I am floating in the middle of it all.
I am distracting myself. The mental screams are now reaching me here too. I back away further, hoping that the qi connection will break quickly. This is not going well. How could I know that there was a near infinite amount of mental attackers inside that fog? Who does such a thing…
I make myself as small as possible, trying to escape the notice of these tortured souls. I can only feel the pure pain coming from their screams. I have not recognised a single coherent thought coming from them. I back away into the darkness, fleeing away from that horrid sound.
Tree is a living being attached to a dimension, my disconnected consciousness loose from my body does not have enough power to invade that space. All those stories about grandpas guiding young heroes from their ring-shaped confines? That’s because a powerful cultivator can inhabit anything that has a lot of power locked up.
I'm distracting myself again. I decide to focus with the little mental prowess I have left. I float further away from the cloud of items suspended in space, looking around for anything. The sounds grow louder still as I feel something.
It’s like a soft piece of space. Like there was a hole here, and someone plugged it up with gum. The screams are eroding the little conscious energy I have left at a rapid pace, so I push my entire being against this space. I smash my will against the soft spot like my life is depending on it.
With a goopy *PLOP*, I'm through. The sounds lessen once again, and I pause to gather my thoughts. I am in a smaller space. Slowly, I try to remember what this might be. Thinking is pretty hard at this point.
The secret compartment in my ring! Visiting the spatial area with my mind instead of scanning with qi or augur allows me a much clearer view. My body is vulnerable in this state, now only an empty shell, so this is not a technique I do for fun. That’s all in the past now though, let’s look around.
I spot a few piles of glowing cores, some random contraptions and three white pillars. Each pillar holds a black orb under a thick glass dome. I mentally grin as I stretch my metaphorical hand out. One of the domes shatters as the black orb under it follows my command.
The orb and my perspective meet halfway. I cast my senses inside the small sphere and it seems to be in fine condition. I flip a switch inside, and it starts glowing faintly. I grab the qi drifting from the thing, using it to weave a small propulsion formation around it.
It zooms away from me and tears through the small hole between this space and the main storage area. I can feel it leaving my ring just as the wave of screaming catches up to me. The last bit of my will fades under the oppressive front of wailing, and I truly faint.
A black marble the size of a small fist pops into existence besides a drowning man’s hand. It starts floating upwards slowly, gathering speed as it travels towards the surface. It leaves a small cloud of mist in its wake while breaking through the waves, flying towards the dark island as it gains speed.
The projectile sails through the air as it nears the dark island. It flits through the murky haze without interference, landing in the middle of the piece of land.
Black and yellow striped lines form, visible to all. They circle the entire island, both the mountain and the inhabited pieces of flat land. Big, red letters flash in the sky. Black-clad people everywhere stop what they are doing as the peer upwards.
None of the island’s inhabitants, voluntary or otherwise, recognise the flashing words. None realise that those black and yellow stripes represent warning tape. None realise that those words spell: “WARNING - Evacuate the demarcated area - WARNING” in perfect English. The words flash and change.
“WARNING - This marked area will be evaporated in twelve seconds - WARNING”
Angry shouts now fill the air, people demanding to know what is going on.
“WARNING - Everyone should leave - WARNING”
Multiple instances of the bright words guarantee that every inhabitant that can see the sky can see them clearly.
“WARNING - Seriously, shit is about to explode - WARNING”
They flash once again.
“WARNING - Why am I even programming this shit in here? - WARNING”
“WARNING - Nobody here can actually read English - WARNING”
“WARNING - Ah well, three seconds to go, by the way - WARNING”
Dark magics are now being flung into the air. All kinds of fancy magical constructs try to tear at the projected warning signs.
“WARNING - It’s not my fault that there could still be people inside the taped off area - WARNING”
“WARNING - I hope you will have a pleasant disintegration, please come again! - WARNING”
The entire world goes white for a split second. There should be a massive shockwave following this spectacle, but nothing happens. The only sound is the sea that rushes into the formed gap.
The entire island is gone, the half dome of cleanly cut rock quickly filled by the sea. The smooth bedrock of what once was a small mountain is swallowed up by the waves rather quickly. A tunnel going down into the earth in the middle of this unnatural bowl also disappears, visible for a single second.
Minutes later, a bearded figure breaks the surface, taking a big lungful of air. He looks rather bedraggled, wet clothes and a wild look in his eyes. He pulls a leg out of the water and stands on the surface. He sits for a few minutes, letting the swaying waves calm him down.
He then stands up and walks to where the island used to be, a grim look on his face. He rubs his temples as he breathes in deeply. A shimmer once again spreads around him, the wavering field propagating a lot slower this time. A few more minutes pass while his blue-grey eyes peer into the depths.
Then he is gone, only leaving a small splash behind. He swims downwards with powerful strokes of his arms, each movement propelling him downwards with more speed than physically possible. The smooth hollow bowl of stone sitting underwater is reached quickly. The figure shivers in an obvious manner, grits his teeth and swims down further.
He disappears into the dark tunnel. Thirty seconds later he swims back up, now speeding towards the surface. Jumping out of the water like a dolphin, he touches down on the waves with an uncharacteristic gracelessness.
He grimaces once again as he looks at the object held in one hand. A black crystal skull - dripping with shadows - gets bathed in the sunlight. It lacks a lower jaw, and the structure of a brain can be vaguely seen glimmering inside the dark glass.
The hand tightens around the back of the skull as small cracks start to spread from his fingertips. The bearded man then shakes his head slightly while peering into the smooth, empty sockets. A flash later it disappears inside the man’s ring. A splash later and the man is gone, running across the waves once again.
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