Chapter 88 - Convert
“Why is he staring off into space like that?”
Tess stops to ponder this question for a few seconds as Ares looks at the single person still sitting at the table, a bearded man. “Ket also does this, too busy with thinking to be around us.”
“So he is just thinking?”
“Uuhm, how do I say this. Ket tried to explain it to me… They make stuff in their mind.” Tess nods firmly at the last part.
“Make stuff in their mind?”
Tess shifts a bit while rubbing her stomach. Dark qi can be seen wafting from her as she releases her cultivation base into the atmosphere. A sphere made of white contains the dark qi.
“They can have libraries inside their heads. It’s like having access to all the pens, paper, time and books that you could ever want. Their cores are in their brains.” Tess becomes a bit green as she releases even more structural qi from her body and core. Holding a hand to her mouth, she swallows and breathes out power again.
“They are bookworms.”
“WHA-” *hurk* *COUGH* *GULP* “...That’s really rude to say.”
Ares looks even more surprised than Tess at the remark. “I didn’t mean to say that, it just came out.”
“I never knew you had such a foul mouth, sis!” Vox grins widely as he walks by. Ares goes red in the face as Vox lays his hand on the barrier made of light. “Tess, you sure this is going to work?”
“I can just change the intent and suck it back in again, turning the free qi into my own takes too long.”
“Are you sure this isn’t blocking your breath?” The red-haired boy looks at the seated girl with worry in his eyes. “I’m pretty sure this barrier only blocks qi but we haven't tested that. You could suffocate from lack of oxygen.”
Tess looks up at Vox with dark eyes. “Oxygen? What are you talking about?”
“This. It’s filled with medical stuff, but Teach put a lot of knowledge around it.” A green egg appears in the boy’s hand. “I needed to learn about the basic elements to understand why some plants healed. I then learned about some physics, aerodynamics and some mathematical stuff in order to project this field.”
Vox pats the dome around Tess with love in his eyes. “It’s around ten times as strong as before I learned those things. Knowledge really is power.” Every pat of the redhead’s hand causes the barrier to glow a little brighter until Tess is barely visible inside.
“That should do. It will hold for at least a day.” He throws the green piece of jade inside the dome.
“Catch. That way you can do some reading while you expel your qi. I’m going to study some more before rebuilding my own core. Cya, sis.“
With a wave, Vox saunters towards the Greek temple library. Tess starts cursing him in a very colourful language, and Ares just sits on the grass, staring at Teach with a contemplative look on her face. She is broken from her musings as Teach suddenly stands up.
“Tess? Where… Let’s see. Over there.” Teach points to the black and white dome after closing his eyes for a bit. He then walks over and taps on the glowing shield. Only for his crooked finger to slip through the surface without any resistance.
“Qi containment mode, that’s clever. Vox is learning, I see. Here Tess, see if you can sense something from this, catch.”
A black skull appears in his hand, causing Ares to back away quickly. It leaves a shadowy trail as it flies in an arc into the white and dark sphere.
“AAAAUW. What the flip!”
Tess stumbles out of the opaque dome, skull clutched to her chest. “Why is everyone throwing stuff at my he… EEEEEEEEEEEK.” She jumps into the air as the skull goes flying. “WHY ARE YOU THROWING SKULLS AT ME?”
Teach lands back on the ground after catching the flying noggin. “I think it has to do with shadows. And I think the shadows dripping from it are kind of cool.”
“Yeah, it’s oozing with shadow mana, mainly negative.” Replies Tess as her face twitches from bored to unsure. “What does coldness have to do with it?”
Teach just shakes his head a bit. “I can only sense that this… thing has a lot of mana in crystal form. And a sort of passive maliciousness? To me, it feels like a really evil guy who has retired.”
Tess gingerly holds out a hand. “Let me see.” She receives the item and peers into the place its eyes used to be. “It feels alive, somehow. And it’s- WOW”
She drops the item with a startled look on her face. She stares at the glistening piece of glass with a horrified fascination. “It tried to absorb my qi. Its pull was super weak though.”
“Ares, do mages of a certain power level disappear?”
The girl wilts a bit under the bearded man’s direct attention. “Wha… Yeah, high mages never really travel. And one high mage per faction gets chosen to be that faction’s guardian every ten or twenty years. Other than that... No news about the upper echelons of the mages ever reached us, the students.”
Teach nods to himself as he rubs his chin. “That thing was at Absence Island. Under it, to be precise. Precisely in the middle of the protective fog bank clouding that shitty place.”
Tess and Teach stare at each other for a bit. Then they both look at Ares.
“Did you get the heada...”
“Did the mana core sta...”
“Ladies first.” Teach replies with a wink.
Tess rolls her eyes. “Did you start forming a mana core in your head yet?”
“Mana core?” asks Ares.
Tess and Teach look at each other again. “High mages have formed the core, right? I think that this skull...” Tess tosses the black skull around a bit. “...is the final stage, maybe?”
“Yeah, I think so too. It’s insanely shadow mana conductive. I think each island has one of those as the basis for the mana attraction formation. It would also explain where all the top level mages go. One every ten to twenty years, so they must be used up somehow?”
Tess nods in affirmation at Teach’s speculation.
Both look at the source of that sound and see Ares staring ahead, face white and shock in her eyes. “Master... he… he will be promoted to protector of Wave Island in a few weeks.” She stares at the black skull in horror.
“Honestly, I think I can do some pretty nifty things with a full set of crystallised mage skulls. I think we should go and catch them all.”
Tess raises an eyebrow at that remark. “Catch them? What did you do at the shadow faction island to get that anyway?”
A nearly imperceptible shadow flashes across Teacher's face. “Nothing important. Damn, I wish I knew about this before blowing up that volcano island, I would have two skulls to examine.”
The skull in Tess’s hands suddenly starts spewing large clouds of black mana. Teach quickly grabs the thing and stuffs it in his ring again. “And now I've proven that there is some remnant consciousness inside of that thing. I think I made mister shadow high mage angry.”
He then turns to Ares, sitting in the grass with horror still stuck on his face. “Did that master of yours focus on both negative and positive mana?”
“He also trained bright mana, yes.”
“Dark mana is...?”
“Alright, bright and dim, light and dark, potato, potah-to. When is that master of yours getting his promotion at the earliest?”
“A week or two? I lost track of time a bit.”
“A week and a half, then. I’m guessing that light - or Wave Island - is on the opposite side of the currently absent Absence Island?”
Ares frowns a bit at that wordplay but decides to let it go. “Yes.”
“Let's say three days in the boat, need to make some speed upgrades then. Left with a full week. Alright, plan made.”
Ares looks on in confusion as Teach breathes in deeply. Tess hurriedly plugs her ears and motions at Ares to do the same. The light mage just looks on in confusion but decides to follow her advice. Moments before the redheaded girl's fingers reach her ear holes, she gets blown over by a sudden shockwave.
Ares picks herself up from the ground as she wiggles a finger in her ear. “Maap. Maawp.” Ares looks weirdly at Teach, who is now giggling to himself.
One by one, the rest of the students converge on the clearing. Ket looks even worse than usual. Bord is licking his fingers, Selis is carrying a struggling Lola, Angeta is covered in wood splinters, and Vox is carrying a book.
“I see you all have found something to keep yourself occupied.” Teach observers with a crooked grin. “I’ve got two things I want to tell you all. First, we'll stay in this dungeon for a week. I advise everyone here to reform their cultivation bases a few times while testing them out inside the dungeon. Either me or Lola...” Teach pauses briefly to catch the rabbit flying at him. “...must be present when you all decide to go deeper, ‘kay?”
Teach waits until everyone has nodded. “We will be going on an errand for Ares afterwards… Okay, I want to see if a theory of mine is correct, but it’s also for Ares’s sake...”
He coughs once while avoiding all the gazes locked on his face. “Vox, that shield was a good idea, by the way. Capturing the qi you are releasing in order to change and reabsorb it is a quick and dirty way to test out different intents. You should not, however, use that system when you have decided on a long-term or permanent system. Release and cultivate naturally when you want to keep your cultivation base for a while.”
“Good question, Vox. Secondly, I'm developing a learning system I want you guys to help out with. You can see it as an interactive library, like an online university.”
Heads tilt all around as more difficult words get thrown around.
A hand covers the only bearded face present. “Please use it to study something you find interesting. And please, please learn at least some English. That way you guys can actually understand what I am saying half the time.”
Seven green gems appear in his hand and every student present gets thrown one. “That’s a starter. It’s a more well-rounded version of the addition to the alchemy library.”
Vox looks at the small rock with gleaming eyes. “Is there information about light in here?”
“Yeah, it also includes a primer on electromagnetic waves.”
“Thanks.” Vox immediately walks back to the library.
“Alright, meeting over, I guess.” Teach strolls off towards his castle as the rest of the students disperse again.
A bright sphere, one-third of it hidden under grass and dirt, is filled with the purest black. Tess sits in the middle, holding her breath. She suddenly breathes out, and the murk inside becomes blacker still. She plops backwards, her head now sticking outside of the containment field.
“Vox, up please!” A weak voice escapes from her mouth as she tries to shout those words while gulping for air. The sphere lifts a meter into the air and Tess clambers to a sitting position with effort. She then stares at the mass of dark qi with her full concentration.
The only thing that changes is the feeling of the sphere. Ares, sitting nearby, has her eyes open wide at this effect. Her eyes slide over the thing as she somehow loses track of the two-meter glowing sphere filled with darkness. She shifts around a bit as the sphere suddenly seems incredibly heavy. This is followed by a feeling of speed, strength, another type of speed, and lastly nothing.
“Can’t do triangles, huh. Releasing all my qi really sucks.” Mutters Tess with tired eyes. The aura the black qi gives off steadies into an unremarkable kind of fleetingness. She stares at the intent-filled qi for at least a minute before opening her mouth again.
“Thanks, down please!” Suddenly surrounded by the sphere of qi, Tess doesn't notice a clawed paw appearing from the now shadowed grass. The small feathers on it shift around as a single wicked talon extends.
Instead of striking immediately, the feathered appendage seems to hesitate for a moment, as if unsure what to do. It jerks forwards, only to stop a few centimetres from the now defenceless and powerless girl. It then slowly retracts as it disappears back into the shadows.
I retract my senses back into my body. The cat sitting on a branch just under me has a troubled look in its eyes as its paw emerges from a shadow. I grin and drop down, putting my hands on the beast's head and back before it can react.
“Who’s a good kitty? Who’s a good kitty who decided not to follow its instincts. You are! You are a good kitty that did not kill its rider while she was weak. Very smart and good kitty.”
The big cat is petrified as I furiously pat it. Its ears are laid back, and it starts yowling in submission. “Now scram. Don’t think you can get uppity just because the limiting contract faded for a bit. It will be back when she has qi in her system again.”
I want to kick the stupid cat but decide to let it slink away. I rub Lola between her ears with a qi loaded finger.
“And who’s a good rabbit. Such a good rabbit, warning me of bad kitties.” I scan my surroundings once again, making sure none of my students are nearby as I continue to play with the rabbit. A new process is humming away in my brain, keeping track of all the mounts and other animals inside my dimension.
All the dirt, rocks, sand, water, and plants I absorbed inside Tree brought along a lot of animals. A few insect queens have started cultivating, they should mutate into all kinds of interesting fodder. The birds are also getting stronger as they absorb more and more qi.
I start thinking of ecosystem development plans as Lola and I play tag.
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