The alliance that the Immortal Berserker Sect was a part of had gathered together many people. Obviously they wouldn’t be completely unnoticed by others, but any other group of significant size would have already figured out most of the details about the Bicentennial Conflux anyway.
There were members of the Immortal Berserker Sect, the Order of Four Winds, the Crystal Palace, a few people from the Fourth Eye Seers, and many others. Most groups had nearly a hundred of those at late third tier, with the Immortal Berserker Sect having fewer.
There were also a few handfuls of sixth tier cultivators, only one of which was from the Immortal Berserker Sect because of the particular timing of the event. There were also some seventh tier cultivators there to escort them along the way… just in case. It wouldn’t do to have something dangerous happen to so many promising young and not so young cultivators. Master Hykel would be going as well, though he wasn’t at the point where he could advance just yet- he was still considered early sixth tier. Even the fastest cultivators would spend nearly 23 years going from sixth to seventh tier.
Along with those from his sect, Barrett recognized Lamont, Reina and Aurelia- who had been in Barrett’s squad during the ‘war’-, Shanta, and Nilima. It was often said that talented cultivators came in waves, and while Barrett hadn’t been around to see how it worked previously, he knew so many people who kept at the top limits of cultivation speed. Though all but Aurelia had ended up in the excursion in Temperpine forest, only Barrett, Reina, and Lamont had actually been from nearby. The others just happened to be training in and around Etron over the same handful of years. Even so, Barrett felt a special connection with them… or maybe that was just friendship.
After taking in everyone present, Barrett approached Nilima. “No Mistress Joshi?”
Nilima shook her head, “No. Next time I meet her, I’ll be fourth tier.”
Barrett grinned, “That’s the spirit! We’ll overcome anything that gets in our way!” Nilima nodded somberly. Since Nilima didn’t seem to have anything else to say, Barrett went to find Reina. “Fifteen years ago… would you ever even have considered we could end up here?”
Reina laughed, “Of course not. We barely even knew cultivators existed. All it took was our worlds being turned upside down.” Reina closed her eyes for a few moments, “Tell me, do you think you would be happier if things had been different?”
Barrett considered. “At this point I would probably be… well, maybe I would be running Durham. That would be… so frustrating. I know enough about people that I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted… what’s right. Hopefully those would be the same thing, but it doesn’t matter if people prevent it and you have to settle for something less.”
“There is nothing wrong with compromises,” Reina sighed, “But not all of them are acceptable. It seems like having strength is the only way to get things done, but even that doesn’t really work. On the other hand, I’d rather have strength than not… and knowing I’ve worked to retain my own personal freedom is… comforting.”
Barrett agreed, but couldn’t help but think about those who were unable to protect themselves. What had he done for them, besides a handful of people he was actually close to? Even his hometown he’d just made marginally better than left to its own devices. Did he have to give up his own freedoms to help others? That was a big question he had no answer to… and didn’t need to think about if he died in the next few weeks.
Instead of going through Ruclua- which might have seemed like a provocation- the group travelled around to the west and through Nospor. The terrain was more difficult, though for a group of third tier or higher cultivators it didn’t make much difference. Even the magic users who had made it to that point were at least physically fit- and some people rode on mounts. Nospor was mostly highlands which gave an advantage to those who knew the terrain- and that combined with lack of many resources besides grazing land made them an uninteresting target for Ruclua to expand into. Nospor had their own cultivators as well, and though the country couldn’t compare to Stredo as a whole, they were at least more battle ready than Sashor.
Nothing could really stop such a large group of cultivators- at least without entering a danger zone- so soon enough they had passed through Nospor and around into Mostrea. That brought them into desert terrain. Barrett had heard that Mostrea used to be fertile land before it was cursed by someone- he wasn’t sure if that was true, but the climate had changed at some point. While being able to curse a whole country seemed like a crazy thought, he’d also been to the Tornado Plains, and while they were smaller than Mostrea they had indeed been caused by cultivators- and The Tornado was maintained just by a lingering spirit. In that way, reducing rainfall seemed less intensive than maintaining a tornado, though he would have to actually try some calculations to know for sure. Sometimes things weren’t intuitive.
Normally it might have been problematic for such a large group to move through the desert- it required large amounts of drinking water or knowledge of where to find more. However, as cultivators they could bring much with them in magic bags, and they could pull water from the air with magic- and there was more moisture in a desert than most people realized. They could also stop at oases, but too many people at once could cause issues with rationing water there.
Barrett had an opportunity to practice more Pure Body Tempering… which was the nice way to say he was suffering from the heat and tried to retain as much moisture as possible while still cooling himself down. Finally, they found themselves out in the middle of the desert where they took camp atop a seemingly arbitrary sand dune. There, they would await whatever the Bicentennial Conflux had to bring.