With the crafting materials and other cultivation resources separated from the pot, Anton could take stock of what else there was. To him, it looked most like… noodle soup. Where both the noodles and broth were made of natural energy in slightly different forms. There were long strands of denser energy floating in somewhat less dense energy without any coherent form. The liquid was still quite dense, and it responded to Anton’s attempts to control it as he would expect from natural energy, though it was a bit sluggish.
After considering if he should be cautious and wait for appraisal of the pot, Anton decided he should do some investigating on his own. It shouldn’t be dangerous, especially if he was cautious. More importantly, he wouldn’t always be able to rely on others for appraisal of enchanted objects. He needed to be able to test things on his own.
He drew some of the liquid up out of the pot into his hand, keeping it separate from himself. Then he carefully dipped a finger into it. He wasn’t sure what he expected. There was a slight chill, but little else happened. He didn’t even directly distort the drops, because they reacted just like natural energy- including the property of being immaterial. The chilling feeling was from how the energy felt when touching his own. It didn’t seem dangerous, just strange. Very carefully he took just a single drop of the energy and started to absorb it into himself, ready to forcibly eject it if necessary.
As it circulated through his meridians it broke down, revealing it was exactly what it seemed to be. Natural energy, simply condensed into something like a liquid. As it broke apart it expanded into a density more like what he would expect from areas like the higher slopes in the Order, a density he could manage with effort. If he were trying to control more than a few drops he might find it difficult, but with just a single one he merely ingested a significant amount of energy. He thought the liquid would be useful for both training energy or recovering in areas with lesser density of natural energy.
Then there were the strands. They moved around in the pot as he adjusted it, almost impossibly thin strands that overlapped and twisted around each other. Unlike the liquid, they didn’t respond directly to his promptings for control. He found he could use his own energy or the liquid to move them just fine, but the strands themselves didn’t react. He carefully lifted a group out, separating a single strand to hang down like a thin blond hair that shone with light.
He retracted his energy, allowing the strand to touch his bare skin. Nothing, except he could tell it was in a way even more ephemeral than the energy. It had no physical sensation at all, though he could hold it between his fingers. On the assumption that it was a similar sort of thing, he allowed the strand to be absorbed into his meridian. The power he felt in it was significant, but not sufficient to combat his own energy. As long as he isolated it there would be no danger of serious repercussions. Or he was making some sort of gigantic mistake, but Anton doubted it would be that dangerous. Not with a very tiny, single strand out of the whole mess inside the pot.
Though the strands didn’t respond to his control directly, it easily enough slipped into the meridians in his left hand as he wrapped it in energy. Then he set about circulating it through himself, avoiding his dantian just in case it was problematic. The feeling of the Ninety-Nine Stars was warm and comforting, and as Anton was at the stage of improving Earthly Connection, he focused on thoughts of others subconsciously.
Cultivating the Frostmirror technique was cold and dispassionate, but in a way it also had the beauty of a frozen lake. A timely chill breeze could help resist the heat of a hot day and energy with cold properties could be used for many things. It flowed like a comforting ice through his meridians.
As it happened, Anton was aware of the thoughts flooding into him. He’d certainly never cultivated the Frostmirror technique, and as the moment passed he was aware he still had not. His energy still flowed through his meridians in the expected pattern, but he had just a moment of memory and insight. Not just random insight, either. If Anton was right, it was Marsen’s memory and insight. Anton stared cautiously at the pot, then sealed it. He wasn’t quite sure how he should interpret what had happened, but if things leaned a certain way he would much rather destroy the pot no matter its clear value. He would not accept stolen memories or insights, especially not those of his companions. He decided to remain quiet about what he’d experienced until they could get back to the Order.
Upon returning to the sect, the first thing that happened was an ambush. A large wolf and a small girl both pounced on Anton as he stepped into his home to set aside unnecessary extras.
“I did it!” Alva proclaimed. “I went on a hunt and fought beasts!”
Anton sighed internally, but smiled on the outside. He wouldn’t be able to change Alva, and he had no objections to her cultivating in general. It was just too early. A child should be given the opportunity to be a child. For Alva… that wasn’t fully the case. “The fifth star, congratulations. I see your energy is quite steady too.” Anton glanced down, “How’s your leg.”
Alva tucked it behind her. “It’s fine,” she said. “It’s almost healed. Senior Brother Oskar said it was normal to get injured a little bit.”
From what Anton could sense, it really was just a small wound. That didn’t stop his chest from tightening up, though. Far too many members of his family were embroiled in dangerous cultivation… but then again, it might be even more dangerous to not cultivate. “I’d love to hear all about it,” Anton said as he set his pack and bow down in the hall. He could probably put them away later. “I had quite some adventures as well. I wonder if you can guess who I met?”
“Umm…” Alva bit her lip. “You went to a big tomb with lots of sects and stuff, right? Then could it be… Annelie?” She was a smart one. Alva’s face lit up, “You saw her, didn’t you? Is she here?” Alva ran toward the door.
The two of them were a couple years apart, but as part of the family they had grown up together on the farm. Anton sighed, “She’s not here,” he shook his head.
“Why not?” Alva asked. “Where else would she be?”
How was he supposed to answer that without making Alva feel like her cousin didn’t care about her? Personally, he couldn’t blame Annelie. The Frostmirror sect had freed her from slavery and offered her safety and stability where he couldn’t. She had advanced into Spirit Building and seemed quite adept at their cultivation style. It wouldn’t benefit her to change to the Ninety-Nine Stars, and it would just uproot her life again to do so.
Perhaps as her great-grandfather he could have pressured her into making that choice, but thoughts of what the Frostmirror sect might think of that were secondary to her own desires. She chose to stay. Since he’d at least been able to teach her how to subdue her emotions rather than just sever them his biggest concern was assuaged. Her fellow disciples would take care of her as well as he could. Perhaps better, since he wasn’t exactly a stable, ever present figure anymore. While he could bring her along with him, she should be able to make her own choices. Though she was still young, both she and Alva had been forced to mature past their age.
“She’s not going to be staying with us, but if you continue to carefully progress your cultivation I am certain you can meet at future events.” A deflection and a promise all in one, but it was the best he could do. At least Alva seemed to understand well enough, despite her obvious disappointment.
“This is quite something,” a wrinkled old woman said as she returned the pot to Anton. “If you would like, the Order would pay a generous sum to buy it from you. Though I suppose I should first tell you about what it does, and what that would entail.”
“Thank you, Elder Siekert, that would be appreciated. I noticed some details, as I said, but I wasn’t able to full tell how it operated.” The old woman worked with elder Evan, but more on the appraisal and creation side instead of storage and distribution.
“On that point, we are not entirely unmatched,” she nodded slightly, “It’s a most potent vessel indeed, but also difficult to identify. I can, at least, assuage some of your worries. First, it seems safe to use. Second, it does not steal memories or insights from people around it. It simply replicates small snippets of nearby cultivation progress. It would be immensely valuable if it seemed capable of assisting those at the Galaxy Construction level, but it seems aimed strongly at Essence Collection cultivators. It should still be usable by you at your current level, of course.” Elder Siekert sighed, “Many of us could use something like that, but that’s not the end of it. First, it is already attuned to you. You did not mention making such a decision, but it is likely that Everheart forced that upon you. Severing that connection would be detrimental to you, though if you were willing the damage would be something we could compensate you for.”
“So the insights are copies? How fascinating.” Anton was concerned they were obtained by stealing them from others, but if it was simply that. “How does that work?”
“If we knew,” Elder Siekert said, “We’d be the most powerful cultivation sect in the world. Because while those insights don’t give you actual progress in other cultivation methods, all sorts of insights into the nature of cultivation are greatly beneficial.”
“It would also allow me to better converse with others on those topics,” Anton nodded to himself. “I’m quite capable of guiding people in the Ninety-Nine Stars, but I’ve started encountering many others.”
“That’s where the limitations come in,” Elder Siekert said. “It is limited to insights gained in its presence. More than that, a warning. I would expect it to be quite dangerous if you attempted to use it to absorb anything significantly beyond your level. Along the lines of permanent mental damage, if you’re lucky. So safe is relative to that point. Doubtless you will find other peculiarities to how it functions over a long time of use, but I thought that a week of study on my own part sufficient to declare it appraised.”
“I think I shall keep it for now,” Anton said.
“Before you go, let me give you the first offer to purchase it. Though I have the feeling it won’t matter.”
Grand Elder Vandale sat around with several of the other Grand Elders, not in a formal meeting but a casual state instead. “If there was any doubt before, these are times of change. Whether Everheart anticipated this before his death or merely chose a random time, his actions are precipitating change. Though I do believe some of our new disciples would have that effect regardless.”
“Are you jealous that your grandson is being overshadowed?” Matousek inquired.
“Why should I be? He is the one who chose his own path… very specifically different from my own. And it’s not as if he isn’t involved with things.”
Ivarsson had comments to make as well. “It speaks highly of Anton that his first actions were to organize wider ranging training exercises. Focusing on those lower in cultivation than himself, in particular. This may still benefit his own cultivation, but interacting with those stronger than himself would be most beneficial to his rapid growth.”
“I wouldn’t expect any different,” Vandale responded. “His focus has become quite clear. I don’t doubt that he’ll be traveling around Graotan soon enough as well, spreading seeds of growth. It is a shame that the results will take so long to manifest, even if they properly take hold.”
“He’s still that same type, though,” Matousek sighed. “He’ll draw trouble whether or not he seeks it out.”
“Did any of us get where we are without mountains of trouble?” Vandale asked.
“No. But that doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it. And it had to be Everheart, of course,” Matousek shook his head.
“You think he died?” Ivarsson asked.
“Of course,” Matousek retorted. “The man wasn’t able to lay low for more than a few years. And even this isn’t a big deal compared to what he got up to.”
“That doesn’t mean he’s dead,” Vandale noted. He slowly looked up to the sky. “There’s the other option, after all.”
“Ascension?” Matousek frowned. “Even the founder wasn’t sure that was possible. You’ve all seen what happens to those who try. Even you yourself said it was probably impossible.”
“Impossible for me, yes,” Vandale nodded. “But in general? It’s hard to say. It’s not like there aren’t those with more talent than me in the world, striving for their chance.”