As soon as they arrived at a location with direct access to the formation, it was obvious how much more powerful it was than the one at the Secret Realm. The first layer was basically the same, and that was where problems set in. There were layers of formation built up on top of each other, seven of them in total. Each was progressively more powerful. No matter how durable a wall was, determined attacks would eventually bring it down- but that wasn’t necessarily the case with a formation. In part, it depended on where it got its power from.
Dozens of sects gathered around, large and small. Their elders and formation masters took a position at the front, channeling energy from their disciples behind them. They simultaneously launched attacks at the direction of the formation masters, shattering the first layer of the barrier. Another attack, the second layer. Another, and the third. That was around the point where the first layer started reforming. The next barrage dispersed the reforming first layer while the fourth was merely weakened slightly. The subsequent fifth and sixth strikes shattered the reforming second and third layers while finally breaking through the fourth.
At that point, something started to become visible. The first three layers were more durable than when they had first appeared. However, the group continued battering at the barriers until they broke through the fifth layer.
Elder Rana, one of the preeminent formation masters from the Order, explained the phenomenon. “When the barriers reform, they seem to take on properties to protect themselves from the previous most effective damage! Prepare to alternate attacks!”
It took a few moments to organize people such that one group or another wouldn’t attack for a moment, but nobody was willing to stop to rest and let the whole barrier reform. It wasn’t the worst scenario, however. If the barrier adapted to the point that only one type of attack could break through they would be in trouble, since it would require six or seven different sects be able to break a full layer on their own. Instead it just required some people to sit out on individual layers while everyone else worked together to break through the next barrier. Then they could attack the one underneath that before the top layers began to reform.
After they broke through the sixth layer, Anton began to call upon the power of Fleeting Youth. It was energy he would never have, from future lives he might never live and the power beyond ascension that he would never reach. Why would he? He wanted nothing more than to make the world better for everyone. Leaving the world behind could hardly accomplish that goal, even if he managed to achieve what most people thought was impossible even for the best cultivators.
When the next attack struck, Anton felt his energy rebound violently. It pushed back against him, sending his energy into turbulent confusion. It refused to flow in its proper way, twisting through his meridians and dantian as it pleased and almost trying to break free. He had to stop contributing to the barrage and focus only on calming his energy. It was strange. The barrier hadn’t counterattacked against anything else- nor had he noticed anything happening to others on a larger scale. It was only when he used the power of Fleeting Youth that he provoked a response. Since he valued his life, he decided he wouldn’t attempt it again. In fact, he stopped dealing with the barrier at all. Nobody would miss a single cultivator’s energy.
After a good half an hour of continuous attacking, the final layer of the barrier broke apart- and the formation masters were able to prevent it from reforming any longer. The barrage of attacks broke through the ceiling into what appeared to be a fairly standard series of hallways, branching towards many rooms that could be felt in all directions.
Cultivators started dropping into the area rapidly, ignoring the possibility of additional traps. Anton approached more cautiously, more concerned about the original barrier- but he was able to pass through the area without difficulty. When they got down into the corridor they began a determined run towards a door further down the hallway that nobody was inside yet. There were dozens of doors nearby, and perhaps hundreds of rooms or more throughout the sprawling underground complex. Fighting with others over unknown benefits inside was pointless when they could freely obtain something else.
The first room was a small armory. Dozens of weapons and sets of armor filled the area, all enchanted. Yet as they began to obtain them, Hoyt shook his head. “It seems like most of the power has faded. At least the materials should be worth something.”
Timothy held up a shield, looking at it. “Is that right?” he wondered aloud. “I’m not sure if the power faded at all. It’s just… weak.”
“Why would a powerful group like the Luminous Ocean Society protect and bury things with weak enchantments?” Hoyt asked.
“I don’t know,” Timothy shrugged. “But it feels like this is all they ever did.”
In addition to the equipment there were a few rolled scrolls- they looked to be forging and enchanting manuals, but the archaic language made it difficult to be certain with a cursory inspection. Regardless of whether it seemed valuable, they took everything in the room. Their storage bags were practically bulging as they stepped out of the room, seeing other cultivators wandering the hallways looking slightly disappointed. “Were the things in the other rooms crap too?” Hoyt asked asked a passing cultivator.
The man nodded. “Weak enchantments. We’re hoping to get something for the materials, but they don’t seem like much.”
Weak enchantments. Uninspiring materials. It didn’t seem like a secret vault of a powerful ancient sect, but there were small benefits to be found. At least fights weren’t breaking out over the ownership of anything.
Anton heard something down the hall, then looked at the others. He did his best to direct his voice only towards his companions. “Someone mentioned technique manuals. Those, at least, have to be valuable if they’re intact. Let’s hurry further down the hallway.”
It was impossible to determine the value of a technique at a cursory glance- some people liked to judge them on their complexity, but Anton was of the firm opinion that more complex techniques weren’t necessarily better. Just harder to learn. A good technique would allow anyone to learn it to a high level of proficiency and still be effective for its purpose. In short, the version of Spirit Arrows normally available in the library and not the version directly written by Elder Kseniya.
They did find a room full of books, a veritable library. Their arms were full of scrolls and tomes and weapons without sheaths even as their storage bags were overflowing with things that fit more nicely inside. But though the rewards were overflowing, the cultivators were sort of sadly walking around in the halls. It didn’t take long for hundreds of rooms to be looted- even moving in groups there were thousands of cultivators after all. Not a single weapon with high tier enchantments was found, and people had started looking through the techniques. Their complexity was low, and though they were hard to understand it was clear they were highly situational. It was simply a large number of techniques- and many copies of the same ones- describing how to combat one style of energy. Probably from a sect that didn’t even exist anymore.
“What a letdown,” Hoyt said.
“Mhmm,” Anton said as he dangled a scroll in front of him. “I was sort of hoping for something…” he frowned as he looked at the technique. It would require some ‘translating’ to modern language for him to fully understand it, but there were odd familiarities.
When they met back up with the elders, who generally had larger storage bags, their arms were blissfully freed of their abundance. But most of the Order was looking only slightly pleased at best. Even the weakest people who came wouldn’t get use from any of the enchanted equipment, unless they had nothing to begin with. With the surface level only having rare and waterlogged equipment, the haul was rather disappointing. Though they could have expected even less of value to be left behind after a sect was destroyed by another. Usually the whole area was picked clean to the last speck of dust. Unless there were things simply below the notice of the attackers.
Anton thought about the pills and spearhead, all highly valuable to someone in Spirit Building and probably even useful in Essence Collection. They might have even been more potent before. No sect would just ignore those… would they? Perhaps they had just gone unnoticed somehow.
Another week passed before everyone was quite certain that the entire place had been cleared- the only things of interest were the remaining formations and archaeological and architectural details. Not something the majority of cultivators would be interested in. The Order merely left behind those elders and like-minded disciples who wanted to stay, bringing the rest away.
Back up on the surface the area was teeming with boats. Cultivators wanted to leave and didn’t want to swim across the ocean, and every boat that could was packing them to the gills where they could. The Order certainly could have gotten one of them, but instead they decided to be conservative, waiting for several days for space to free up. With people leaving, the area had sufficient natural energy for at least the lower disciples to cultivate- and that included people like Anton, who were still significantly weaker than those at the top. A single Life Transformation cultivator would take up energy that could be used by dozens of others.
Anton wasn’t quite ready to try a duality pill. He was instead puzzling over some of the techniques he had available. They were all sorts of things, sword stances to specific combat techniques, archery and elemental control and everything… but they were all weak. The Luminous Ocean Society had to have had better. People had found a few manuals elsewhere that were good. But the vaults behind the seven layer formation… were full of crap. Maybe it was just meant to be a slap on the face for raiders, but it was a lot of effort to go to for a prank.
There was also the focus on dealing with a certain type of energy. It never said it directly, but as Anton felt out how some of the weaker techniques would work he could feel them clashing with Fleeting Youth. Not all of it, but specifically the portion related to ascended energy. He had no way to confirm his theory until he had more information, but what he found was highly suggestive.
No disciples were without any reward, but most didn’t even get so much as Anton and the others- specifically the duality pills and the like. Actual remnants had been scarce outside of the vaults. One important discovery, however, had been some proper histories. Once again they weren’t written in modern language so the full details couldn’t be gone over in a week but it should shed light on the situation with what happened to the Luminous Ocean Society… and if it could happen again.
That was the most important thing. Sects fell all the time, but learning why it happened was important. Sometimes they were simply too overbearing and offended too many others, or one much more powerful sect. Yet the Luminous Ocean Society had been wiped out so thoroughly that nobody had records of them existing, nor of who wiped them out. Anton hoped it wasn’t related to The Organizers. They had enough trouble with mysterious sects from Ofrurg right now, and there was no doubt there would be more of that in the future. The Order wasn’t just going to accept the recent events and roll over. Nor would other parts of Ofrurg who found mysterious interference a threat to their power.