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During certain times, a clan or sect could come upon certain powerful resources that might catapult them forward. However, the fortunes of many were more difficult to change than that of an individual. In short, spreading out rewards rarely had a drastic change for any individual.
The defeat of the Overlord was a significant accomplishment, and the following feast was absolutely beneficial to the Temitope clan, but it wasn’t as if all of their members skyrocketed to the next rank afterwards. It helped with their recovery after the battle and would have lasting effects in their continuing cultivation, but the sudden changes were limited. The circumstances shifted in their favor, however, as the other two clans still had to pay their mercenaries with only whatever minimal gains they had gotten from the area they were searching for the beast overlord.
The tubers he had been both consuming and guarding were an extraordinary variant, to be sure, but even though the portions they saved could be replanted, growing into more of the same, it would take time for them to grow. The plants would feed off of natural energy that might be used for special herbs or other crops. That didn’t make them not worth the effort, of course. The purity of natural energy they were able to hold was quite something. If they were left for the longer term, they could also increase the quality of the soil around them- and eventually the quality of natural energy in the area. It was the same principles as other farming by energy cultivators. It would just take time before the results were obvious.
Even so, Anton was happy to have a small bundle of his own. He’d helped advise the Temitope clan about how they should treat the plants, given his own experience and what he’d learned from Elder Howland. Most cultivators who knew plants specialized in poisonous or medicinal ones, not those more closely resembling standard crops. The Temitope clan had farmers, of course, but their cultivations were generally lower. Anton understood why things ended up that way, but he thought it was an area that deserved as much recognition and respect as smithing or combat itself.
After one week, the mercenaries hired by the other two clans had already gone on their way. The chances that they would try for another attack on the Temitope clan were low, especially since they had to take some time to lick their wounds and recover. The group from the Order could be moving on at any point, but they stayed another week. Enough to be friendly, but not to overstay the hospitality of the Temitope. Though it wasn’t as if they didn’t contribute, either. The Temitope wouldn’t make mercenaries or guests work in the fields, but nobody could stop Anton.
Then there was the matter of the Vessel of Insight. There were a few interesting strands in there from the feast and battle at the walls. Anton was starting to be able to pick out who the insights came from before absorbing them, and these included insights from Elder Tshering and Matriarch Afi.
Previously, Anton had thought it would be useful for other cultivators to absorb the insights directly. However, when he’d experimented with the others… they hadn’t been able to take the strands of insight. It might have been possible with certain applications of energy, but so far they’d only managed to destroy a few smaller strands instead of practically being able to absorb them. It was likely that only the currently attuned owner of the Vessel was able to properly interact with the insights. In fact, Anton had the feeling that changing the attunement would result in the destruction of much of the insights. They were already an intangible made semi-real, so he wasn’t surprised when they followed obtuse rules.
At his current rank, Anton wasn’t sure about absorbing Essence Collection insights. Instead, he stuck to the noodly strands that were more appropriate to his current cultivation. The Temitope clan had many spear cultivators, and Anton supposed if he wanted to take up spear and shield he would now have a head start. He was more interested in a bit of the Western Steel Body that Ayotunde practiced, but he didn’t have the context to do much with it. Perhaps as he approached the next stars and worked on his body more. He was still focusing on that spirit-body connection.
As usual, Anton did his best to help others by advising them on his perspective of the insights. Not everyone would want to listen to a random old man, but he discussed with anyone who was willing. Whether Anton’s thoughts or the originator of the insight were more correct, discussing their thoughts helped both of them improve. Sometimes they explained things Anton had missed, while others he was able to add to what they learned. He thought he was getting better at things like that, though he knew he was still far short of many cultivators in the Order. But the more powerful ones didn’t necessarily have the time to individually interact with all of the others, so what they could teach wasn’t always better.
When the Order finally left, everyone was eager to visit again in the future. They were planning to stop in on their return path, of course, but they were more invested in the Temitope clan, Tailoga, and the region by the time they left. It was good to be able to help Ayotunde in return for his previous aid, even if they were both getting paid at the time.
The terrain shifted from open grasslands into jungle as they neared the region where Everheart had indicated. They had briefly split up to search for information in the surrounding towns. Now that they were gathered back together Anton looked at the instructions he had in hand. If he didn’t know better, he might think that it was as clear as it could be and that Everheart simply couldn’t precisely point out a location. In short, he knew enough about Everheart from what people said and from interacting with the projections he had in the tomb that he was just messing with Anton. “What the hell even is the ‘seventh waterfall’?” Anton shook his head. “He should know that terrain changes over the centuries.” If he didn’t believe that at least the facility in question existed, he’d just give up. “Did anyone find anything about Rainbow Lake?”
“I did,” Catarina said. “I had to search old records for it. Turns out it’s been a dry lakebed for hundreds of years.”
“Hmm, that might be a problem,” Anton commented. The instructions weren’t vague enough that they had no hope. In fact, Everheart had named several cities around the area and directions from them to the region they wanted to search. Most of those cities even survived under the same names after two hundred years. “We’re supposed to follow the river that feeds into it to the seventh waterfall. At least he didn’t mention a specific tree or rock or something. Those are probably all long gone.”
“And from there?” Elder Tshering asked. “The facility is…?”
“Behind the seventh waterfall, apparently.”
“Aha!” He said, “All we have to do is search behind waterfalls then. Easy enough.”
“The region isn’t that big,” Hoyt admitted. “Combing it thoroughly might take several weeks, but it should be possible.”
“Yeah!” Alva said, “We get to go exploring!”
There weren’t any particular comments from Timothy, Devon, and Velvet. They’d already agreed to come along and support Anton and hadn’t suddenly changed their minds.
“Then,” Anton said, “We should find our way to this Rainbow Lake. We’ll have to search from there.”
They considered getting a local guide, but the expense wasn’t what stopped them. Instead, it was the desire for secrecy. Assuming this facility hadn’t already been found, it should have valuable information and resources. Beyond the promised notes, of course.
Just as stated, Rainbow Lake was a dry lakebed. So dry, apparently, that nothing grew in it. That was strange, as the area in general was quite wet. However, all of the rivers flowing around them followed different contours of the land and simply didn’t get to Rainbow Lake.
Anton checked the notes once more. “Nothing on direction from Rainbow Lake. Just ‘seventh waterfall’. Perhaps we should try finding where the inlet was and go from there?”
In a wide open, empty area, it wasn’t actually that hard to spot the inlet and outlet. It just took a bit of investigating to determine which one had been which. Then they began walking.
“It’s weird,” Catarina said. “I don’t like it.”
“I feel something strange as well,” Anton said.
Everyone concurred, but nobody could quite point to what it was. Fuzz was very frantically sniffing the dry river bed, but came up with nothing of interest.
Eventually they came to the first river in the area, where a bend turned it away from its previous longtime flow direction.
“Upriver, I suppose,” Anton gestured. “That’s where I’d expect the waterfalls to be.”
To even possibly accommodate the idea of seven waterfalls, the area had to be quite hilly. In fact, it was just the right sort of area for that… and thus the worst sort of area for traveling. Sudden cliffs where the waterfalls were had to be climbed, and even walking alongside the river was difficult because of all the different plants growing alongside it.
Most of the plants weren’t dangerous. Many of them were. Poisonous spores, spines, traps… everything they could imagine the plants had. Fuzz almost dove into a pool of water inside one particularly large specimen, but Alva pulled him away. When she pointed out how it was going to try to eat him if he did that, Fuzz looked as embarrassed as a wolf reasonably could, his nose down in the soil below. That one wouldn’t have been much danger for someone with help, since it was made for animals to fall into and drown, to be slowly digested. Others were more immediately dangerous.
As they travelled upriver, they found three falls. Perhaps there was a fourth at some point, based on how they thought the terrain might have shifted. Certainly never a fifth. The spring from which the river flowed was at one of the highest points in the area. Not the highest point though. Perhaps one of the other rivers was the one they actually wanted, and the flow had changed more than they thought.
Two weeks. Two weeks going through the jungle dealing with plants that wanted to kill or incapacitate them and the beasts that lived within. And now it was raining, again. In all fairness, it was not a terribly abnormal two weeks for a group of cultivators. However, they weren’t out in the jungle for the express purpose of training. It was still somewhat useful, but they had a specific goal they were trying to reach, and no progress towards it.
Taking shelter from the rain was pointless. Alva was the weakest among them, but she was still easily able to withstand a bit of water. None of their gear would be damaged. It was still an annoyance, though. A reminder that the jungle continued as usual, raining buckets nearly every other day. Just because they could traverse mud didn’t mean they wanted to do it all the time.
Anton looked towards Rainbow Lake, or what had once been Rainbow Lake. “How the hell is Rainbow Lake dry?” he asked.
Timothy shrugged, “Well, that river doesn’t flow to it anymore… so…” even as he spoke, Timothy frowned. He seemed to have nothing convincing to say.
“I didn’t think about it,” Elder Tshering admitted. “Dry lakes are dry. That’s all.”
“We should go investigate more,” Catarina said. “It should at least have been a little wet. It rained the day before.”
“Maybe it just dries fast,” Hoyt conjectured. “Look, the rain’s almost let up. The plants here won’t look like they were soaked within a couple hours, and the drainage there might be even better.”
“It could be,” Anton admitted.
As predicted, the rain did clear up. It even came with a large rainbow, streaking throughout the sky. That was nice, but by the time they got to Rainbow Lake, it was all dried up. That… was clearly something strange. But determining exactly how things should be was difficult.
“Needs more investigation, it seems,” Anton frowned. “Do we just look around here or…?” Anton kicked some of the dirt. He found it to be surprisingly tough, instead of creating a gouge like he expected. That was even stranger. “Perhaps we look closer at Rainbow Lake, and set aside the waterfalls for later. It’s our only concrete lead, and it’s… like this,” he gestured down at the dry, light brown dirt. It wouldn’t have been out of place in the grasslands, but even when the other parts of the jungle were dry they were a dark dirt full of decayed plants. There weren’t even an abundance of leaves blown into the lake. Something worth investigating, indeed.