Elder Cultivator 128

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The rewards room couldn’t be compared to the treasury at the Order, but the latter was a sprawling complex of rooms built up over many years. In fairness, the room was quite full of varied rewards- and it shouldn’t be the only one of its type in the area. At least, Anton didn’t see any other entrances or additional people in the area, and he doubted they were the only ones to have passed some trial at this point. There were hundreds of people, after all. 

“Senior Everheart,” Anton didn’t think there would be any problems, but he had to ask. “What constitutes choosing an item? May we pick them up and examine them?”

“There’s no trick about it,” Everheart said, “Whatever you take out of the room. Or if you break something, but that’s not going to happen by accident.”

With his concerns assuaged, Anton set out examining the various things in the room. There were a few bows, but while he was interested in something he could use between his current bow and that bone bow he still wanted to try, he could get something better at the Order. It would be better to get something that the Order didn’t have. Anton’s eyes were drawn to some crystals. They were the sort that could be worked into equipment as a method of empowering them along with whatever base materials were used to form the object. While most crystals didn’t have any direct effects, they could allow something to store energy of their own and lighten the burden on the user.

There was a pretty clear outlier among the crystals, and indeed it stood out in comparison to the rest of the equipment. The powerful energy it radiated was nearly twice that of anything else. Anton picked it up, feeling the power of a storm wash over him, wind whipping in his hair and lightning shaking him. The feeling didn’t completely encapsulate his senses, and he felt fluctuations nearby. He turned towards Firdaus, seeing the desire plain on his face. “You want this?” Anton held up the crystal.

Firdaus only hesitated a moment before nodding. “It would be very useful to me.”

Anton smiled and placed it back on the shelf. “It’s quite something, but I don’t know if it would be of particular use to me. Go ahead, if you want it. Just make sure you give everything a once over. I’d imagine there are some hidden treasures as well.”

Weapons and armors of various sorts were placed along the walls, but most of them were nothing special. It would never be inappropriate to have more armor, but even the best quality armor would limit mobility past a certain weight or bulk. Anton was not without armor, though he was finding the limits of some equipment in Spirit Building. 

There were other objects that didn’t all have clear purposes, rings and necklaces that certainly were enchanted but the sorts of enchantments weren’t always obvious. “It’s hard to know the value of things here,” Anton mused, holding up a pair of gloves. “It seems inappropriate to choose something just for fashion.”

“Wyvern leather gloves. Good for protection and enchanted to improve manual dexterity.” Anton glanced over his shoulder to see Firdaus clutching the crystal in his hand. “You’re primarily an archer, correct?”

“That’s right,” Anton nodded.

“There’s an undershirt on the shelf there,” he pointed, “Tendonvine strands, covers the torso and arms an stabilizes and fortifies the muscles especially in the back and shoulders. That leaves the hands themselves, but it should improve your efficiency by a decent margin. A few percent, at least.”

Anton moved over to the indicated shelf, unfolding what had just looked like a square of cloth to his eyes. It had an interesting texture, but not an unpleasant one. It was a strangely stretch material but he determined it was still reasonably tough. Not relevant to consider as armor, but it wouldn’t be damaged in casual use. As for its effects Anton couldn’t be quite sure without trying it on. So he did. It was only a few moments before his torso was bare and then he slipped it on. He could immediately feel the effects as it tightened around his muscles. Even so, he was still able to move as he wanted and in fact he felt his movements supported. Just to make sure he held his bow and felt the effects as he pulled back the string. It was just a bit easier. Utility items of the sort were usually passed over for flashier items, but Anton liked it. “Are you an enchanter of some sort?” Anton asked Firdaus.

“It would be inappropriate to say that with my experience,” Firdaus shook his head. “I’m just an apprentice.”

“Is that so. I’m certain you will do well when you’re officially an enchanter. I don’t recognize your sect…?”

“Cloudtop Summit, from the southeast.”

“I see. I have not travelled that far just yet.” Anton once more flexed his arm, feeling the undershirt’s effects. “Thank you for your recommendation.”

“I should note that it will not have the highest market price. But I do believe it will be the most beneficial to you, unless you intend to acquire one of the bows. It seemed you rejected them, though.”

“They’re not sufficiently better than I could get elsewhere,” Anton agreed. “And I have no desire to accustom myself to a different bow in the middle of all of this,” he gestured vaguely around them.

“A reasonable conclusion.”

During the time Anton was choosing, most of the others had chosen an item of their own. Timothy acquired an armor made of green scales of some creature Anton didn’t recognize but Firdaus said was a lesser dragon. Catarina took a formation flag made of material even Firdaus didn’t recognize. It was a single piece and not part of a set, but Catarina was quite firm that was what she wanted and Anton had no basis to try to convince her otherwise. Hoyt took another crystal with a fire type energy, though it wouldn’t immediately benefit him. 

Velvet was the only one who had yet to make a choice. She was looking between two daggers in an almost desperate state. One had a blade of blackened metal, and the other white. She held one in each hand, looking back and forth between them. She moved to set one down, but couldn’t seem to let it go. “Can someone- no, nevermind…” Velvet hung her head. “Senior Everheart. Is it possible to complete this trial again to get a second item?”

“No, it is not.” The current projection stood nearby, not as towering as the first one but still taller than was reasonable.

“What about if I did one of the other trials. Could I come here for my prize instead?”

“I’m afraid that is not possible,” Everheart said.

“What if I did all of them?” Velvet gestured around her with the two daggers in her hands. “There has to be a way.”

“One item from a specific area per person who passes the trial. Those are the rules I have set.”

“So I can’t have both of these?” Velvet sighed. Then she muttered to herself, “Maybe if I coerce someone into getting it… no, I shouldn’t… but what if…”

Everheart snorted then burst out laughing, his well groomed demeanor finally breaking. “I’m not opposed to such methods. However, the risk is your own. But I’ve had enough for now.” He moved down in front of Velvet, taking the daggers into his own hands as if she didn’t have a grip on them. He held them up next to each other where the differences were most pronounced. One was longer, the other with a broader blade. The hilts were decorated and shaped differently, and with one purest black and the other an unblemished white they could hardly contrast with each other more while still being the same type of weapon. “I put these on different shelves for a reason. I hadn’t expected someone to actually put them together so quickly.” He tossed them back to Velvet who automatically caught them by the hilts. “They’re a pair. That counts as one item. I’m not so crazy as to separately require people get a bow and a string.” He tapped his chin, “Unless they’re part of that Heavenly Lion Sect or whatever.” Everheart looked around at the people listening and glared. “Just remember that I’m an impartial arbiter. Got it?” His face distorted and his hair popped up as his rough motions tore a seam in his sleeve.

Nobody dared to say anything, instead slowly filing out of the room. There was in fact another room nearby for training. They wondered how that might work. They were all genuinely interested, of course. But it was also a good excuse to get away from that mood.

Everheart appeared in front of them, hair properly coiffed and clothes perfectly in place. “This training room is sufficient for nine individuals at a time. Do take care to stay within the marked boundaries. It is possible to choose the element and intensity of the natural energy in each area, though I would advise that nobody attempt the highest setting.” Everheart sighed, muttering to himself. “Not even a single Essence Collection among them…”

The room was nearly bare and empty of ornamentation. It was simply a square room, with paths criss-crossing between nine clearly marked square areas. The entire room had a higher concentration of natural energy than the rest of the tomb, but it didn’t seem to be active at the moment.

“Should we make use of it now?” Catarina asked.

“Senior Everheart,” Anton made sure to maintain the formality to get the best reaction, “You said these rooms could be used for one hour per day. I assume we have to repeat the trial every time, correct?”

“Of course.  I’m not going to just hand out optimal training locations.”

“There’s the answer, then. We use these now unless we want to go back through that with no real benefit. If we’re doing it again, it might as well be tomorrow.”

Everyone moved into the room, picking styles of energy that best suited them through a series of stylized pictures on the floor. Anton, Catarina, and Velvet all chose a neutral mix of energy, either preferring ‘pure’ energy or not having chosen any particular element to focus on yet. Timothy chose earth, Hoyt fire, and Firdaus lightning.

Anton looked over the options for quantity and power of energy, choosing one two steps below the top. The top was for Essence Collection cultivators, so the next would be something like late Spirit Building. He was just on the edge of mid Spirit Building himself, so the next choice should be appropriate. As he finalized his choice, the area around Anton was flooded with energy. It was a violent torrent that threatened to overwhelm him, and while its density was less than on the peaks at the Order, it was difficult to work with.

Merely as a defensive precaution Anton immediately began wrestling it to be controlled, absorbing what he could where necessary. It was a constant back and forth wrestling match where he nearly exhausted himself constantly while also being refilled at the same pace. When the hour was over he was sweating and exhausted, but quite satisfied with the results. The precise combination of factors combined to be very efficient training, though he wouldn’t want to attempt to do that for more than a single hour per day.

“Well then,” a voice came from the nearby Everheart that didn’t have the same affectations they expected. It didn’t fit the look at all. “It’s time to announce to everyone the real goal here. All of you will be staying here for a month, and the one who makes the most cultivation improvements will receive the grand prize! There are rewards for many others of course, but only one person can come out on top. Your sects outside have been informed of this arrangement, of course. They’re having a wonderful time discussing the implications.” Everheart clapped his hands, “Now get busy!”

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