Chapter 09 - City
I think Lola might be bored. So far something exciting happened every day since she was born, and the last few days was nothing but walking. To combat this I played with her. Actually, it's a thinly disguised training session for both of us. No, actually it's just kids games. We played tag. I couldn't think of anything else, so we just chased after each other.
The worst part is she is winning. I’m a solid core cultivator. A being that has gathered, compressed and crystallized a higher power. Lola is still a mortal animal, but she is getting faster than me. At first, I beat her easily. Pump some qi, do some steps and I won. In the past day, she has started to get a grip on her own cultivation. She has her core inside her heart, the best place to send qi from to the body. I have to manually guide qi through my veins, she can just release it from her heart and it will flow into the rest of her physique perfectly. Her body is starting to increase blood flow to intensively used areas. When she is sprinting full tilt the majority of her blood flows to her hind legs.
Every time she feels tired she comes whining to me, rubbing herself on my legs and begging for some caressing. I then praise her and pet her with qi infused fingers. Now she is looking up at me with big puppy eyes once again, but I don't fall for it. I feel for her power and sense that she has plenty left in the tank still. She isn't running away even though I am currently it.
“Stop pretending you shitty rabbit.”
I give her a kick and she goes flying. She rolls around a bit after landing, swivelling her head around. Then she sees me and sprinted back to me, now hopping around wildly. That starts our second game, the flying rabbit.
When her qi is full I kick full force. Or is it called launching? I don't really kick her, she sits on my foot and like a catapult, I sweep my foot forwards. She has had days to integrate the qi in her body, which includes her fur. Qi laden fur is the best shock damper in the universe. With my knowledge of science, I never managed to make a more efficient shock absorber than qi charged fur. So when she is full of qi I can kick her nearly a kilometre before the landing will start doing damage. She is also a body cultivator, so this is perfect training.
It's not like I find it funny when I send her squealing into the distance. It truly isn't hilarious at all. She then comes sprinting back and I send her flying again. Not funny at all.
It is now getting late on the fourth day and I see a road. It is just a dirt road again, crossing my path diagonally. I decide to follow the road, logic telling me that it should merge with the main road that will end up at the city gates. I pick up Lola and put her in my pocket again. She grew a bit and could probably beat up any normal grown man, but she is technically still a baby.
“I can see some people coming this way, rest for now. We can play later again, okay?”
Lola closes her eyes and falls asleep immediately. The only thing keeping her awake was her enthusiasm at playing and her qi reserves. Body cultivators tend to need to sleep a lot more than other practitioners. I don't need to sleep anymore, but it helps with information processing. My body’s strength is inferior to any other cultivation path but the lack up sleep is a necessity in any hostile environment. My ability to remain awake has saved my ass more times than I can count.
A cart with a couple people in ratty clothes sitting on top passes me by. The beast of burden is another misremembered artistic impression of an animal that I know. It resembles a horse while it has a few darker zebra stripes on its grey hide. Its hoofs are replaced by… duck feet? They don't resemble duck feet at all, but it’s the closest approximation that I can come up with. The driver shouts something unintelligible at me but I just keep walking. Their clothes look and smell fairly horrible. Not crusty hobo levels of filth but I’m willing to bet they haven't seen a bath or shower in a month. All four people have brown and black shades of hair, one woman and three men. I scan them with a thin wave a qi. Two men and a boy. Their cart is half empty, just a few bags of grains and spices. Must be farmers coming back from the market or something. No, there are no farms here. Hunters maybe?
I encounter a few more people walking or riding various beasts on the path until I reach an intersection. It merges with a bigger gravel road. This one looks to be in decent shape and I can sense faint traces of anxious earth mana. Earth mages must be the magical construction forces around here. This road continues to cut through open plains with a few more people travelling back and forth. The most advanced thing I see is a carriage with two lizard-like bulls in front. It reeks of anger and anguish. This either means people can have two elements or people work together on these things. It looks pretty nice with gold symbols adorning the sides. I get totally ignored but some of the peasant-like folks shoot me weird glances. I might have to roll around in the dirt a bit in order to blend in.
My clothes look simple and only a close inspection would reveal their superior materials and make. Grabbing a hand of dirt from the side of the road I use qi to smear it on myself. The thin layer of dust and grime on my face and clothes gives the impression of a man many days on the road. I don't enjoy being dirty but enjoy close scrutinization by authorities even less, so my hygiene is a worthy sacrifice.
The sun is painting the sky in a gorgeous display of pinks, blues and oranges while it hangs low above the grassy plains. The city’s walls are a black line just above the horizon now, I should make it there by the next morning. I come across a building on the side of the road when the sun starts disappearing. It must be an inn, it has four stories with a barn to the side. Still no farms to be seen. I entertain the idea of scanning the building in order to continue my language analyzation but I sense just a few inhabitants. Why did they build an inn this close to the city? My first thought is that the people here are dumb, but that is just my own preconceptions doing the talking.
lola wakes up after a few more hours of walking. Her eyes flash with qi for a second, she picked up the retina enhancement trick pretty fast. I let her down and we start running around the road.
“I’ve got another good play idea, look here.”
She looks at me while I start to glide across the road. I set up a qi emitter on the balls of my feet. A simple spot of qi saturated skin along with some mental shouting of ‘BE QUIET’ nets me a simple stealth technique. The gravel does not crunch under my feet anymore and Lola seems to notice the difference. I switch the enhancement off and on a few times before she seems to get the point. She takes a single step and launches herself into the stratosphere.
Her squeal disappears into the sky while I start laughing like a madman. That was simply too funny.
I fill both legs with qi and take a giant fifty-meter leap to where she will come down. After catching her I try to stop laughing but the image is too ingrained in my mind. I feel a punch to my stomach and I double over. Lola is standing a meter away from me with her twitching nose in the air. I grin widely and take another leap. She reacts in time to avoid my hands, but I jump after her immediately. Third game found.
It takes me a few minutes to realize that this is just tag again. Ah well.
Half an hour later I stand huffing and puffing with a miffed rabbit in my hands. Luckily the roads emptied out some time ago, I don't really want any weird rumours going around.
“This is how you walk silently, you dumb rabbit”
I set the rabbit down and hold my hands in front of me. I clap both hands once, startling the white-furred beasty. After applying the stealth enhancement I clap again with a total lack of sound. Lola stomps the floor a bit, producing small thumping sounds. I switch the enhancement on and off while clapping in between to let her know the difference. A foreign but familiar cloud if qi covers my hand, startling me. She truly learns way too fast, she is already using her own qi in a rudimentary scanning system. Body cultivators tend to only use qi internally but scanning with spiritual sense is such a simple trick that anybody with a smidgen of power can do it. Ten minutes later she seems to get the trick and her thumping feet become silent.
I suddenly jump at her and start petting her all over. Positive reinforcement is important. Yes, that is why I’m doing this. I put her down while coughing a bit. I then smile at the rabbit and silently sprint away sensing the bundle of fluff speeding after me.
We will reach the city well before morning with all the sprinting about, so I look around for some trees. A small patch of forest stands a few kilometres from the city walls. Is it for firewood or other purposes? Doesn't matter, I call Lola over and point to the trees.
“First one there wins”
Her eyes light up while eying the shady copse.
She just keeps staring at the trees.
We both speed away at the same time. I keep up in the beginning, but her body adapts to the situation seconds later, increasing her leg strength to the maximum. Halfway there she zooms past me and reaches the trees first. No, wait, she hits the trees first. She smacks face-first through a bush into a thick trunk. I wince while catching up. By the time I get there, she is groggily stumbling around the base of said tree. A small indentation in the bark is a testament to the shock absorption abilities of her fur.
I chuckle while petting some more qi into her. Nothing is broken but she has some tissue damage. She whines a bit and cuddles up to me. I was planning to train some more, but this is also a fine way to spend some time.
I use said time for two things. The first one is growing a beard. Sending some qi to my face and shouting ‘GROW YOU FUCKING FOLLICLES’ makes my face itch like mad. I don't scratch but stop immediately when a centimetre of black hair has sprouted from my face. I trim it a bit, shouting sharp things on the with coating my finger. The other thing I do is infuse more qi in my body. I have a process in my mind that is passively absorbing qi. Any excess that cannot be stored is pumped back into the bloodstream, slowly strengthening my bones, ligaments, muscles and organs. This is rather slow though.
Thinking about how much this is going to suck I syphon of some liquid qi in my core. Using the sluggish power externally can be done, but only with extreme inefficiency. Internal use is difficult but doable. I send it all to my bones. Cleaning out your bones is one of the most painful steps of cultivation. The impurities have nowhere to go, so they just seep into your flesh. Qi usually enhances cells by integrating into it. Bones are made up of non-living matter, so it needs to be broken down and remade stronger, the living marrow gets infused normally. Breaking all of your bones one after the other only adds to the pain of impurities flowing into your flesh. Gritting my teeth I stop myself from shivering as I crush my skull bit by bit. My jawbone follows, after that the atlas, axis and all the other vertebrae. Tears form in my eyes and I twitch uncontrollably as my nerves are shaken. I take a deep breath and infuse qi into the worst of them all, my pelvis.
I wipe the tears from my face as I continue petting the little sleeping bundle of fur on my lap. By the time I reinforced and infused all the important bones, namely the skull, spine and core, I spend half of my liquid qi. It is a stupid and inefficient way of doing this, but other methods need too much time. I haven't seen a lot of potential dangers yet, but the city will be different. As long as I can keep my skull intact I can survive anything.
Lola won't though and I don't want to carry her everywhere inside the city, so I send some qi into my ring. Looking at the myriad of seeds, tools, materials and various other trinkets, I find the necklace. A flattened dull black sphere on a black chain appears in my hands. I put it on and send some qi inside. I feel a sucking sensation and I direct it to the bunny in my hands.
Lola opens her eyes with a startled look before she disappears. This necklace is one of the few objects of value I kept. It is something of my own making and would make any tamer green from envy. A small spatial ring area is accompanied by various quality of life enhancements. It’s an animal carry case, cultivator version. Lola has full control over her body in there. The gravity is bound to the necklaces local coordinates, so I could club someone over the head with it and she wouldn't feel a thing. She can train all she wants. I take a closer look and see the necklace absorbing mana at a slow pace. I was worried it would only let qi through, but Lola seems to be breathing in mana just fine. I take a couple of hands of grass and leaves and send it inside the necklace. Spending the next hour gathering food for her I stock the necklace with enough fresh greens for a couple of weeks. The food storage contains a weak time stop, so it's preserved until needed.
The most important part of the necklace is that it's a teaching tool. Lola can send her qi through it to see what's happening outside. She can also observe visually when I don't cover it up. It allows the bunny to see everything, inside the city without any danger or inconvenience to me. Truly a stroke of brilliance on my part. Done patting myself on the back, I sit back down and start cultivating till morning.
The city gates are truly impressive. The dark grey seamless stone walls imprisoning them even more so. They tower above me, reaching at least forty meters into the sky. The gate is twenty meters high and about eight wide. The double doors made from wood and bands of iron swing open soundlessly, the rattling of chains the only indication that is isn't a fully magical process. Guards in iron breastplates and swords on their hips come marching out and take position on the side of the grand entrance.
A group of people are just now arriving from the road. Did they come from the inn? The guards inspect any cart and receive some coins from the drivers. No other people seem to need to pay in order to enter the city. Good news, I don't have a clue what they use for currency here. My vision isn’t quite good enough to see what is exchanging hands yet. Ah well, I will learn that all in time.
I walk away from the city under the cover of the trees, not wanting to alert the guards that I had been sitting in the forest. I make a big loop in order to come back to the road where I join a few other people walking towards the city. They are dust covered and dirty, just like me. Their clothing is either rough spun or leather. When we reach the gates we are not stopped. At first, I only see shadowy streets, when I cross the wall my eyes adjust and allow me a view of the city.
It’s a typical middle ages city. Honestly, I'm slightly disappointed by the bog standard cobblestone road caked with dirt and shit. The stone and wooden houses further fuel my disappointment. It is as if I just stepped into a normal dark aged city. No sewer system, shit and piss and animals everywhere. As I keep walking on the main road I start to notice some things. The amount of peasants is much lower. There are what seem to be groups of adventurers here and there mixed in with the lower classes. A few noble looking fellows are being carried on litters or ridden in carriages. I keep my head down while scanning the surroundings with qi.
LMy mental map tells me I am reaching the middle of the city now, the streets are busy but not crowded so progress is fast. I look up and see the tower. It is truly massive from closer up. I am not even guessing how massive the base is until I see it from nearby. The houses and stalls on either side of the road fall away after a brisk half an hour of walking. A plaza surrounding the tower greets my eyes. A dark foreboding starts to bubble up in me.
The tower seems to be around half a kilometre width with a slight taper going upwards. That might just be a trick of perspective though. The base attracts my eye and confirms my suspicion. There is a stately entrance surrounded by pillars and a grand staircase. Groups of all types walk in and out of there, carrying big bags when coming out. Most groups are five to ten people big, their clothes a clear indication of their profession. Bulky men in plate walk along slender figures in leather with daggers everywhere. A woman with long robes is surrounded by heavily armoured and armed figures. Some people sport bows and crossbows, smaller figures following along carrying big backpacks. Excitement fills me as I realise that this world has dungeons!
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