Chapter Forty-four: Cultivation
Brandr carefully watched over the changes in his dungeon and its creatures. But for a few small indicators, one would not know that a posse of adventurers had stomped through his halls. The autonomic systems of the dungeon did a good job cleaning and repairing his domain. Foreign materials were absorbed and broken down, same with the carcasses and untaken loot. With the bodies of his creatures automatically breaking down to reveal the loot in question, a useful feature considering how limited most of the other functions were when outside parties were nearby.
However, it was not just viscera and artefacts that were cleaned up. All traces of adventurers did as well. Anything the dungeon recognised as a foreign change was wiped away. For example, the footprints and trail markings of his inhabitants remained but those of the adventurers vanished as soon as they got a couple dozen metres away. It had puzzled Brandr at first. He understood why things like environmental damage resulting from battles were fixed and supported the speedy reconstruction of the Blightwasp Nest among other things but even trivialities like stomped on grass were not exempt.
He soon came to consider it an immune response. His creatures were considered part of him and so any change they made to their surroundings was recognised as legitimate but those of invaders, even things like leaving hair stuck on the brush, were considered an unauthorised modification that triggered the automatic self-repair functions unless he intentionally stopped them.
A few creatures scavenged the dwarf’s corpse under his watch. He let them, hoping to test a hypothesis. Beside these scavengers were three of the badgers that made the kill. Each of them stood, bloodied but alert. It only took a cursory glance and some foreknowledge of how they looked before to see the change that had taken place. They stood taller, looked fiercer and exuded a predatory air. All this from killing the dwarf.
Brandr cold recall the scene in his head. The jolt that went through him when the coward died and the sudden rush of essence and life qi that came from it. It flowed through his halls, adding to his reserves and at the same time, pouring into the badgers responsible for the deed and enhancing them in turn.
He had not noticed that happening with the ones fighting the blightwasps but then again, they died just before or at the same time as the wasps themselves. It had, however, happened to the snake. When the man it bit died, he had detected a not insignificant amount of his essence rush into the snake despite them being separated by several metres. All of this notwithstanding, he had just seen conclusively proved that his creatures, much like himself, could grow and be enhanced by the death of others. Thorn had told him but experiencing it for himself was something else. All that remained was to see if they too could break down foreign matter. There was still a lot of essence and life qi stored in the dwarf’s flesh. Something that Brandr having absorbed all the others could attest to.
After his test subjects had eaten enough, Brandr dismissed them and absorbed the corpse. Later, he would check on them to see just how much they obtained and how well they did so. In the meantime, he put himself in a meditative trance, eager to consolidate his earnings. A stray thought flitted through his head, perhaps this what they meant when they said ‘making a killing’.
Seven adventurers had died in his caverns, each of them middling around the beginning of the foundation establishment stage. Brandr gathered all their essence, life qi and soul force and used it as recovery fuel. Slowly, his soul healed allowing him to fully access the strengths and limits of his current self. It was not his first time attempting this. There was a lot of damage to repair and constant reassessment and progress were key. A cursory examination told him what he already knew. His cultivation base had shattered. His daos while still a part of him, could barely be actualised due to his lack of power. His soul was tattered and the only remains of his old body were the streaks of gold — remnants of his divine core– in his new body.
Brandr had been keeping it secret from his inhabitants but he had been having serious trouble with his cultivation. It had even reached the point where his output barely sufficed to run the myriad functions and modifications to his domain. That was why he remained in near constant closed-door cultivation. He required all his power and essence to run and optimise his domain. Honestly, he was grateful to the adventurer for coming when they did or he would have had to explain to the sprites why their aggressive expansion had to stop. The reason being that he could barely generate the essence required. The creatures helped but his growth was tied to theirs and there simply had not been enough time for them to have a significant impact.
It pained him to admit but he had tried everything with mixed results. Cultivation? Overcoming his situation with a breakthrough? In his current condition, he had better chances of simply reappearing back in his immortal estate with his killers arraigned before him. Healing himself? How? The power required to restore a Daolord back to his peak was far beyond anything he had encountered in this world. His current state was all thanks to his dungeon core. If not for the core’s ability to store essence, he was sure what little remained of his divine essence would have drained away long ago. Why not maximise his growth as a dungeon? Kill two birds with one stone by growing and using that growth to fuel his restoration?
He had tried that. It was the reason for his current status. His elite and guardians were designed to kill as many adventurers as reasonably possible. The formations he created were there to accelerate the growth of his creatures as well as to boost their fertility. Ironically, it was the formations that had backfired. Somehow, the concept of being a disembodied realm floating in the ether and anchored to Tignar by his entrance did not register in his head as well as if should have. Formations worked off ambient world essence. Unfortunately, there was no world essence in a dungeon, only his own. With their creation, all Brandr had succeeded in doing was locking way a significant portion of his powers.
Yet, he did not dismantle them. The potential rewards from boosting his early growth were too great to ignore and if there was something his millennia of living had taught him, it was the importance of patience and long-term planning. Besides, if he could just cultivate normally, that would not even be an issue and that was the crux of the matter.
Brandr could not cultivate!
Not going to lie, I was tempted to name this chapter Complications in reference to the infamous HoGW Chapter that had people either loving or flat out dropping the story. In the end, however, I decided not to. Still, this title is rather lackluster so if you have an alternative, do let me know.