Seeing the rays of light filtering down through the water and dancing upon the sand and various structures filled Anton with a sense of wonder. It was like he had come to a whole new world full of bountiful flying creatures. But of course, they were swimming not flying. The difference was… what? One was in water and one was in air, he supposed. But fins were not so different from wings. Flying was simply more difficult because air didn’t support as much weight.
After everyone finished filtering into the area through the outside barrier, the formation masters keeping it open stepped through. They let it slowly close behind them. Elder Rana explained what she knew to the gathered disciples. “It should be possible to leave the formation under your own power, if necessary. It is mostly meant to prevent intrusion. Even then, it appears to be disabled in many places.” She gestured towards the beasts outside, “Others will have found or created alternate entrances, so be wary of their presence. It is better to stay clear of other cultivators instead of getting into conflicts.” She stepped forward along with some of the other elders, “We will be going towards what we perceive as the center of the sect’s ruins. The closer you are to us the safer you will be, but there will be no guarantee of finding anything beneficial. Current reports indicate much of the area is empty, but we know there were at least a few valuable finds by certain cultivators.”
Anton and the others gathered to discuss what they would be doing. “I am interested in what information will be found about what caused the destruction of the Luminous Ocean Society,” Anton said, “But we don’t necessarily have to be there to find it.”
“I’m interested in studying the formations around the area,” Catarina said. “There are many of them. Or at least… remnants of many of them. They are much less whole than the Secret Realm.”
“There might be some minor formations concealing leftover equipment or materials,” Hoyt mentioned. “Even things considered less valuable by the Luminous Ocean Society or those who destroyed them might be of some use to us.”
“I have no objections,” Timothy said. “I doubt we’ll suddenly start taking odd risks now, so I’ll support whatever we decide.”
“There’s also Masozi,” Velvet reminded them. “We should keep an eye out for him. Though Anton will be the best able to recognize him.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Anton agreed. “With no way of knowing where he might be, however, picking anywhere is fine.” He looked to Catarina, “Where are you being led?”
“There are holes in the outer formation nearby,” Catarina said. “I’d like to take a look at some. It’s unclear to me from here if they are the result of natural decay or direct damage. It’s mainly an illusory formation to begin with. Thus the light not passing beyond it.”
With that, they picked a direction and set out. That involved stepping out of the nice, air-filled entryway into the water of the ocean. Anton had expected more bare sand, but there were various plants and small animal life of various sorts. Beyond that, there were strange rocks that seemed to be growing on the outside of the buildings. Not the barnacles- Anton had learned about those on the ship. Instead there were colorful rocks. He couldn’t ask any of his companions though, at least not without using up some of their air. From what he had heard, speech didn’t sound quite right underwater anyway.
Anton kept his eyes open for threats. None of the sea creatures swimming above or walking on the sea floor seemed to be dangerous at the moment, but he had a sense of further off beasts and cultivators that might become a threat.
He had to make consistent use of his energy to keep them clear of saltwater. He was likewise keeping it out of his ears and nostrils. All of those were accomplished by redistributing the pressure over his whole body- and the rest of the group as they maintained a sort of formation. Theoretically Anton could have let some of the pressure through to his head. He was moving towards the twenty-first star, which for him would be the Spirit Building tempering of the organs in his head- placing them under strain as he cultivated could help him temper them. However, only his eardrums and eyes would really be affected… and he wasn’t sure he wanted to risk damage to them at the moment. Perhaps if they had extra time towards the end of the excursion he would try it.
The formation surrounding the area was quite visible from the inside. In addition to there being regular pillars to serve as the core of the formation, outside of it was only the normal amount of light that would reach the ocean floor. A couple hundred meters below the surface like where they were had only a small amount of light -enough to see by, but not for a significant distance. Where there were holes in the barrier, bright light poured through lighting up a portion of the ocean around it. He hadn’t noticed them from the other side because of the way the light diffused and bent in the water.
Of the several Anton could make out, it was soon obvious which one Catarina was heading for. She kicked off from the ocean floor, using a bit of energy to increase her buoyancy as she went about a dozen meters up from the ocean floor. The others followed behind her as she looked at the cracked pillars surrounding the hole. Anton was never going to be a formation master, but he still paid attention to how the energy flowed and what parts Catarina took special interest in. If nothing else, he could confirm those were critical points of some sort if he had to destroy a similar formation.
One moment Anton was moving to see carvings in one of the pillars up close, the next his bow was up and aimed towards the hole in the barrier. An arrow dug through the water towards a strange creature that seemed to be mostly fishlike, but with a spear-like nose. His arrow pierced into one of its fins after it deflected off of its scales and defensive energy. He’d sensed the aggression as it approached the opening in the barrier. His single arrow had been meant to kill it, but the water hindered his attack. The creature, however, wasn’t slowed by the water at all.
It shot forward rapidly towards Anton, only to be deflected by Timothy’s shield, stretched to the limits of his reach as he swam upward. The deflection forced it to swim past before it turned around. Anton fired another arrow, focusing on piercing through the water resistance. With the level of energy he was sensing from the spearfish it was unlikely to be able to break his defenses- but letting it make the attempt would be foolish. His arrow managed to sink into the side of the creature about a finger, but it mostly dug just under the scales instead of piercing deeper like he intended.
Hoyt was in position to swing his axe, while Catarina simply held her sword towards the creature point-first. It made sense- if it was difficult for her to pick up speed, she could simply use the opponent’s speed against them. The slowing of the water caused Hoyt to miss as the creature passed by, though he avoided its attack. His axe left a trail of heated bubbles that would have certainly still scalded the creature if they connected. Before the spearfish reached any of the others, it was suddenly stabbed from both sides.
Velvet appeared in the center of all of them, her arms raised to stab twin daggers at an angle into the creature. The force of its own momentum drove them half their length in, but after that she was able to use her power to pierce through it, not relying on the speed of her weapons but instead the leverage of her arms against the creature. Blood clouded the area as the creature perished.
With a few exchanged glances and gestures, the group swam and walked back towards the nearest building with active formations to keep out the water. Once inside, they discussed what they had experienced.
“The force of the water is stronger than I expected,” Anton admitted. “Especially on the bow itself. I won’t have much more range than the rest of you here. Though any amount isn’t insignificant still.”
“It’s difficult for me as well,” Hoyt agreed. “My axe won’t be much good. I have other weapons but I might do better without. Depending on how much the sea creatures are concerned about boiling water.”
All of them had seen the sorts of attacks that worked, and discussed what they might do. Catarina and Timothy had to choose between using higher quality swords only for the purpose of stabbing or using the longer reach of a proper spear but with lesser enchantments and materials. The potential need had been known to them already, but it wasn’t the same until testing it out against a proper opponent.
“I saw what I needed to there,” Catarina said. “That area, at least, was just normal decay. The Secret Realm doesn’t have the same tidal forces the actual ocean has, and thus similar forms of decay didn’t happen. There are a few more small buildings like this around the edge that we can hop between while checking out the other holes, then I suppose we should move more inward. There will likely be more interesting things there, but also more dangers from cultivators if nothing else.”
The next break in the barrier was similar to the first, but the third had an entire pillar missing, with no indication where it could be. Perhaps it was buried under many layers of sand, but none of them could sense it. As they moved along it seemed that more than half of the buildings were flooded with water, but they stopped once more to talk about what they had seen.
“If the pillars weren’t so large, I’d be interested in taking them,” Catarina said. “They should have valuable materials, but it’s not practical to take much of it.”
“I’ve noticed something odd,” Velvet said. “Outside and even up on the island, most of the traces of buildings were buried. Here, while there’s damage to many and some have collapsed they all remain solidly in place atop the sand.”
“Ooh,” Catarina grinned, “That’s an interesting thought. I just assumed the formations that still worked here were mainly for keeping out water, but you’re right about that. We should take a look.” She looked down at the floor which was put together out of large stone slabs. “This… might take a bit of work.”
Pulling up each stone took quite a bit of work. In addition to the weight, simply getting a grip of any sort was difficult at first. They finally resorted to cracking a few stones and pulling out chunks. Yet even that took more effort than they thought it would, since the formation protected the structural stability of the building. As for the original purpose of the building they were in, it was unclear- but given the needs of a sect, it was probably for housing like many others.
After lifting up one layer of stones, there was another- but this one inlaid with formation runes. “Not just carving, but inlaid with metal?” Catarina grinned. “We have to get some of this.” She bent down to look at it carefully. “It shouldn’t have any dangerous reactions to remove it.” She stabbed her sword into the stone and pried out a shape of reddish metal. “Aha-” was all she managed to say before the water rushed into the room and swamped them. Catarina tried to hide the look on her face, but Anton read it clearly as embarrassment. Well, destroying the formation might make it harder to do what they were doing- but if they could salvage some metals able to be part of a formation for so long, it should be worth working while covered in water. But before they did the same in any other building they were going to more thoroughly make sure there wasn’t anything they’d prefer to keep dry.