Chapter 96 - Promiscuity
“A shadow council? That’s rather cliche.” My remark is ignored.
“And I was being groomed for a position?” My gardener’s question does receive the old guy’s attention.
“Yes, they have this philosophy that people are easier to manipulate if you put them through a difficult time first. Talented mages use too much mana, the core forming in their brain turns them into objects of power without a conscious will after a century or so.”
I take a sip of spirit beer while thinking this over. We are sitting on the deck of the Ascent, enjoying the sun. Angeta is behind the wheel, Ket and Selis are fishing, and Bord is doing some dumb stuff on top of the sea. I hear him splashing about while muttering about geometric shapes now and then.
The rest of my students along with Rhea, my gardener, and the old man are all sitting around a table on comfortable couches. My gardener is called Valerius, and the old man introduced himself as Danarius. The last member of my weird troupe is sitting on my shoulder in her usual spot. She has the little pirate hat on top of her head and thus gets ignored by everyone. Rhea glares at her now and then, the only one powerful enough to ignore the stealth field.
Val is the next to speak up. “So I was being groomed for a position of true power by being held down and treated like a deadbeat without a future? How many of their potential recruits commit suicide?”
“Don’t know. I only found out this much after careful investigations after all my old friends kept disappearing.” Danarius then spits over the railing, his wrinkled face twisted into a scowl.
Rhea looks exceptionally bored by this entire conversation, so I surreptitiously slide a hand towards her. I cover it in the subtlest “IGNORE ME” field I can generate while keeping a straight face. I see her eyebrows twitch as I start feeling her up.
Something is bothering me, so I decide to ask a question. “How old are you?”
“Hah, don’t you know that it’s very rude to ask that question of your elders? I am more than a hundred and twenty years old.” Danarius now grins at me. He somehow misses the weird glances my students send his way in reply to his remark. I tsk a bit inside my head, today’s youth is too dumb to know when the guy they are talking down to has lived for nearly ten times their age.
“Where is this true leadership located? I was put on indefinite patrol duty at the mana dungeon, is that their headquarters?”
“I have not been able to find that information, but that’s my guess as well.”
I zone out the following conversation. Valerius and Danarius keep talking about possible headquarter locations and power structures. The gist of their talk boils down to fast-track career mages either die trying to gain more power or they end up being used as nexus points for the mage islands mana gathering formations. Control-focused mages are deliberately shat upon to mould their personalities to the will of the secret group of mages wielding true power. They also manage the island’s cores and engage in politicking to guarantee their stranglehold on the known world.
To me, it sounds like a lot of effort for minimal gain. I keep up an attentive face while waging my secret war with the woman sitting next to me. She is currently pinching me hard enough to leave bruises, which is not an easy feat thanks to my heartcore. I'm pinching her in an entirely different way.
None of the people present is powerful enough to see through the stealth fields we are both employing, so our vicious cold war goes ignored. Ares is now talking about some stuff, but Rhea is using her toes to try to break my foot, so I don't pay attention. A process is logging the entire conversation while giving me a simple summary.
I disable the pain nerves coming from my arms as she transforms a single fingernail into a needle. She is aiming for nerve clusters and is doing an admirable job of paralysing my roaming hands while inflicting as much pain as possible. I start using my other hand; it’s not much fun if I can’t even feel what I am doing, after all.
She is doing an admirable job of masking the physiological effects that my fingers are having on her body, but some symptoms are harder to mask than others. Now, should I start rerouting the nerves in my arm so she can't target them or is that too much effort for some fondling?
I stand up while my gardener is describing the mages that brought him up to see the smiling immortal, crouching while I do so. Rhea is now unable to disguise the shudders going through her body. I got to distract the others, or they will start thinking she is a pervert or something, so I pluck Lola from my shoulder, disable the stealth formation in her hat and drop her on the table. There, all eyes are now on the grumpy ball of fluff.
“I’ve got to do some stuff. Rhea, I will need your help.”
“Call m...” She bites her lips a bit while regaining control of her wobbly legs. “Call me Re-Haan, you stupid fucking asshole.”
Am I a masochist? Surely not, I can ignore pain, that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. Why do I enjoy riling her up like this, though?
“Sure thing, Rhea. Let’s go do some experiments.”
With that, I pull her to her feet, supporting her unsteady body with an extremely thin exoskeleton made from qi wires. I walk us both to the necklace and jump inside.
“What was that about?” Tess is standing next to Ket and Selis as they watch Teach escort Rhea inside the Tree dimension. Selis snatches for Lola, but the rabbit avoids the small hand with ease. She can't avoid the tendrils of water, so she ends up in the blue haired girl’s lap anyway.
Ket pulls a shard of jade from his pocket and rubs it between his fingers. “I.. um… have no idea.” Redness starts creeping up from his neck while he avoids looking at Tess. He shoves the green stone back inside his pocket and resolutely looks back at the fishing line he has trailing behind the boat. “Go away, Tess.”
Tess looks at him with a questioning gaze. Then she shrugs and sinks into the shadow of the railing, only to reappear lying on the couch Teach, and Rhea just left.
“So, when are you going to ask her out?”
Ket stares at Selis, who just whispered in his ear. Her big blue eyes stare at him unblinkingly, and she has a massive grin on her face.
“W-What are you talking about?”
“You almost never stutter. And when you do, Tess is nearby. It’s like your brain is too busy processing something else to focus on forming proper speech.” She pokes him in the side while grinning wider. “So, when?”
“Please don’t tell her. Or don't talk about it, please.” Ket is staring at his fishing line like it’s the most important object in the universe.
“Phah, you weak-willed human. Just drag her into the bushes, that’s what a real alpha does!”
Ket jumps into the air while twisting his body around at the sudden snarling voice behind him. “Angeta, since when did you stand so close? Don't scare me like that! And it’s not like that!”
“Don’t make such a big deal out of it. Suppressing your emotions and desires makes the head too full to live life. It’s just sex.” Angeta shrugs her shoulders, pulling on a vine connected to the steering wheel to make a small course correction.
“Is that why you are so angry all the time?”
“No Selis, I am just honest. You, humans, are always so dishonest to everyone around you by not showing what you truly feel.”
“Ah, that explains a lot! I need to change some theories.” Selis then turns back to her own fishing pole and half-closed her eyes. Her eyebrows twitch now and then while a stream of water starts circling her head like a crown, cooling her hardworking cranium. Lola jumps away from the zoned-out girl, towards the sea, and starts splashing seawater at Bord.
“Stop thinking in company!” Angeta glares at the now silent girl, only stopping when Ket hands her the piece of jade from his pocket.
“Just look at what’s inside. It’s not just sex, you know.”
The beastkin puts the stone on her forehead. Her face twists into an unpleasant expression a single second later, only for the skin visible beneath her fur to drain of colour. “All the hells... and dungeons... and gods. That... could have happened? It was just some fun with the guard captains son...”
Ket is looking towards the horizon with a gloomy countenance. Selis stares blankly at nothing while steam starts wafting from her head.
“...transmissible diseases? What? Is that even physically possible? And the new smith, but that was nothing serious. Oh, all the hells… Never again. I should memorise the Everlasting Celibacy Chant, good gods, never again. Thank the sun... only did that with... ” Angeta is holding the jade to her forehead while huddling next to the steering wheel with ever-increasing amounts of shock and horror on her face, mumbling under her breath.
“Do you have any long terms plans?”
I'm giving Rhea a massage while we are sprawled out on the grass, letting the breeze cool us. “I would love some input. I have some short-term goals and a single massive, nearly impossible to do long-term goal. I don't have anything in between.”
“Living the good life is fine and all, but we all need something to work towards, you know. All this potential power and no goal is a recipe for disaster.”
“I will stop the massage if you don't answer me properly. Do dragons do long-term planning?”
“Hnnh. We just sleep a lot and wait for the Return.”
I keep rubbing her back with several tonnes of force as I wait for further explanation.
“The Return is the return of the creator.” I can hear the difference between the words, one capitalised and one not.
“That explains a lot, thanks for crystal clear explanation,” I mumble some more complaints while using my elbows to put some serious force on her spine. Having a heartcore is great and all, it’s just that deep tissue massages need to be done on an industrial scale to be felt. A mortal could pound her back with a sledgehammer, and she wouldn’t really feel much.
“In the deep caves, there is an indestructible slab hundreds of meters big. Only the All-Father is allowed to go there, but I snuck out one time to take a look when I was young, a dozen centuries or so back. It contains three images.”
She only continues talking when I stop putting in any effort.
“The first is a barren rock, grey and brown and dead. The second image is a vibrant green paradise of a planet. Blue seas and vegetation. Towns everywhere, indicated by massive buildings. The third is barren once again, the buildings in ruins. There is a swarm of dragons flying away from it, going towards something like a bright light or a sun.”
I start rubbing her legs and calves with the power of an industrial forging hammer and hydraulic press.
“Don’t talk about this with anyone. They will kill anything and everything if they suspect that this information got out.” She lazily turns her head to look me in the eyes, a severe look on her face.
“What do you guys think it means?”
“The creator made…” She thinks for a bit, looking me up and down. “...or brought life, and when the time is right, he will bring the Flight with him to a better place.”
“Why would that information be dangerous? There must be loads of apocalypse or rapture type legends and religions on this planet.”
She shoves me off her back, sitting up to look me in the eyes. I never saw such a deadly serious look on her face as the one she is using to stare me down right now.
“Dragons never stop growing. And they never die unless they're killed.”
My eyes go wide. “How many dragons are there in total and how long have you guys been on this planet?”
“What did I tell you before? A couple hundred thousand years? That’s what the dungeon books say. Flight Mountain has a lot of caves, and they get bigger the deeper you go. We have a legend that the first dragon is sleeping in the core of the planet. And it is told that he makes up half the mass of the planet.”
“So those three that attacked us...”
“Are whelps still. I am considered to be a mere child. Even the All-Dragon isn’t older than a hundred thousand. If a true, proper dragons wakes up... they could scorch the entire planet with some effort.”
“I really want to get off this rock. God damn...”
“Thankfully, the older a dragon gets, the more they sleep. I don't know if they lose interest in life or if something else is going on.”
“Do dragons produce mana?”
“What? No, we eat it.”
Rhea nods. “We don’t need to eat. We grow from inhaling mana. Or at least, I’m not sure what effect qi has on that aspect.” She stares at her hand, a faraway look in her eyes. ”Those crystals I brought with me are just a fraction of a fraction of the true wealth of Flight Mountain.”
“Thanks for telling me, I was planning on making a trip to Flight Mountain.”
We stare at each other for a long while. I slowly nod. “Okay.”
So that strikes one thing off my list. And it clears up quite a few others. Current theory: this planet is some sort of incubation or mass soldier producing facility. The dungeons produce mana. The dragons eat it to grow. I look at Rhea, a coy smile on my face.
“What percentage of mana could go missing before the Flight takes action? And when would one of the ancient monsters notice the lack?”
“Percentage? As in a single area or continent?”
“No, as in what percentage of mana from the entire planet could go missing...”
I can see the thought processes playing themselves out inside her head. She has the background information to know what I am aiming for. Her eyes flash with puzzlement, followed by incredulity, shock and finally amusement.
“Let’s find out,” she says.
I grin back at her.
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