Elder Cultivator 186

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Though the ruins of the Luminous Ocean Society were not within the purview of any specific agreements by the major sects, that didn’t mean people acted in an entirely lawless manner. Conflicts with the Quiet Shore Palace notwithstanding, conflicts between cultivators were fairly rare. After all, to risk their life in a battle where the benefits were unknown and the most likely outcome is a grudge didn’t motivate many people. Most of the time, only people with specific targets ended up in conflict. It was possible Quiet Shore Palace was after the very ingots that were found, though how they would have known they were there without simply obtaining them was another question raised.

As the group from the Order continued to explore, a pattern emerged in the various sorts of treasures they found. First, unless it was well hidden- or formerly well hidden- there were only ever random discarded or displaced treasures to be had. Old weapons that might or might not still be enchanted, scraps of armor, pills that for the most part had lost their efficacy. It was all below a certain level- even the Elders of the Order hadn’t found anything suited for anyone beyond Essence Collection. To be fair, equipment and pills suited for Essence Collection cultivators were still extremely valuable- but compared to what they estimated the Luminous Ocean Society once had they were quite rare. Most commonly there were pieces of equipment that Spirit Building cultivators would make use of.

Though they had an agreement with Masozi, Anton had highly doubted that pills would be scattered about in the sect just waiting to be found. He was right… sort of. There were more sealed underground rooms, behind what once must have been powerful concealment formations. Most of those the group found had clearly been broken open long before. It was difficult to count how many vaults they’d gone through to find them empty. At the current moment, they were breaking into one that was still sealed.

“A little bit more energy on the left,” Catarina guided. There was a weakness in the structure of the formation there, and if they broke through it should crumble apart. It wasn’t a difficult task, but sometimes it was hard to concentrate when being watched like hawks by nearby cultivators. If they could rush inside and get their hands on something before fleeing, they might be willing to take that risk. Some might actually look for a fight. It was better to try to deter them. “In a moment, we will pierce three quarters of the way through.” Formations weren’t like walls, where once toppled they were forever rubble. If the actual core of the formation- the various runes that made it up- weren’t destroyed it would reactive assuming its energy supplies allowed for it. Of course, that all depended on the formation.

The barrier in front of them wavered and then broke apart, and the group stepped forward after Catarina. Before anyone could try to slip past, however, Catarina threw down several flags to repair the damage they had caused. The barrier reformed. Then she frowned.

“Hmm.” She was focused on the outer edge of the room they had entered, but everyone could still feel how bare it was in the middle. “It appears this formation was broken through earlier and reformed. A shame.”

The only thing in the room was a slip of paper. The paper was in a now-familiar hand. “Welcome! It seems you are third. A shame, that. I was hoping to find something good in here. Have a consolation prize -E”

It didn’t tell them much they didn’t already know, though it sort of extrapolated some information they already had. Everheart had been here as well- but those who destroyed the sect had broken through nondestructively before that point. As for the ‘consolation prize’, it was just a few notes on the structure of the Luminous Ocean Society’s formation methods. Potentially valuable, but far from complete.

Masozi sighed, “I really thought there would be something in here.”

“Unfortunately, we’re a bit late. Those who came in first found everything easy,” Anton shrugged. “I suppose we move on to the next place.”

Before they stepped out, Catarina dismantled some of the formation from the inside. Permanent formations weren’t made from flags but instead carved runes and specific placement of materials with elemental or otherwise useful properties. Centuries of use weakened all portions of the formation, but some amount of material was recoverable.

A few curious cultivators looked at the group as they left, but even with the most efficient methods of sweeping things into storage bags it was clear they wouldn’t have been inside long enough to clear out the whole room. Certainly not enough to get into conflict over.

One of the most common sorts of buildings they found were dormitories, since everyone had to live somewhere. They found another one not far away, but it was more intact than most. There was a hole in the ceiling still, and the place was visibly flooded- but enough of the preservation formation remained functional that even flooded with salt water it was possible to make out the full shape of what had once been beds, covered in corals and plantlife. 

Entering was a bit more difficult than they would have presumed, because the hole in the top had sealed up with the formation. Most of the dormitories never seemed to have had anything more than water repelling formations, but this one had proper defenses. What’s more, they even had enough power for a counterattack. At least that was what Catarina managed to convey without being able to properly speak. She had everyone but Anton gather with her on one side of the formation, while she sent him off beyond a corner- where he could still see her. She held up her hand, then gestured like she was shooting a bow while making it obvious she didn’t actually do that often. Once more holding up her hand, Anton readied himself. He circulated his energy through his meridians, intent on being able to form a Spirit Arrow with full speed at any moment. 

When Catarina finally gestured towards him, making a hooking motion with her arm, he understood the idea. If the formation was going to counter, he simply had to attack from a different angle. He formed an arrow and shot it well off to the side of the building, looping it around to strike the side of the building almost as if he were shooting from the next corner over. The formation responded by sending an arc of lightning back along the path of the arrow. Not the angle at which it had been hit, but actually following the true path. Fortunately, the lightning dissipated rapidly and by the time it struck Anton- who had readied his defenses and moved- it was only enough to send him reeling backwards without breaking through his defenses. At least his efforts had been enough to draw energy away from the part of the formation Catarina was working on, allowing her to open the door. Anton followed after the rest to get inside, finding a strange thin layer of air between the inside and outside water.

Inside the dormitory were a myriad of bed-shaped masses of life, as well as a few things that should have once been dressers and footchests. A moment after they were all inside, a crab pinched at Anton. Not a giant crab, but instead one whose larger pincer was merely the size of a fist. But he had almost not sensed it in time, and even when he sensed it and rapidly pulled back his leg a slice of bone was cut off of his shin. A moment later the crab was halfway across the room, having already attacked Hoyt.

The first thing Anton and the others did was push off of the ground, but the crab leapt from floor to ceiling and back to take a swing at people. The speed of its claws cut and sliced bloody lines into the cultivators as they tried to counterattack. Anton found it hard to get a lock on the creature as it moved about swiftly and the others barely had time to start swinging their weapons by the time it was already past them. The heat from Hoyt’s abilities didn’t really seem to faze it, though it was only next to him for an instant as it attacked.

It was strange to find such a small creature with a cultivation that rivalled someone at the Essence Collection realm, but that was the situation they found themselves dealing with. The crab had power and speed, and even when their weapons managed to touch it its hard shell and energy resisted the blows. The only factor in their favor was that it was unwilling to strongly commit to attacks, making most of the wounds it caused superficial as it darted away the first instant someone responded. 

Catarina began to throw formation flags about the room, but they were nearly instantly removed from their position by the scuttling crab, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Everyone gathered together to try to defend each other, brandishing their weapons where they expected the crab to attack from. It somewhat worked, allowing them to deflect it while it attacked. Anton pulled out his twin axes, turning the blades towards where the crab was moving. While he couldn’t track its movements, predicting it wasn’t all that hard. It was fast… but not particularly tricky in its movements. When one person stepped forward, they were immediately the target.

Anton gathered some energy on the axe in his left hand and then tossed it forward. He hadn’t been certain about what would happen, but the crab rushed past, carving a gouge in the blade. It was painful to see that happen to his weapon, but it inspired the others to distract the crab with other things. 

Masozi extended a strand of his energy towards one of the ruined chests around the area, covering it in an aura like his and holding his spear behind it. The crab rushed past, and miraculously he managed to catch one of its legs, taking it off. 

With the creature slightly slowed, others began to land blows of their own, though usually not so significant as an entire leg all at once. The final blow was managed when Timothy slammed his shield into the ground, stopping the crab in its tracks- though it managed to cause quite a dent in the shield as it ran into it. Masozi’s spear pinned the body to the ground, and though surprisingly the crab wasn’t dead while a spear took up the whole center of its body, it was unable to counterattack or move. Its blood filled the area before it eventually died.

Once it was confirmed to be deceased, they looked around the room for further threats. They likely would have encountered them during the battle, but they wanted to be cautious. Then they quickly began looking for something of value. They couldn’t sense any energy indicating powerful pills or enchantments… until Masozi tore open the top of one of the still-intact chests. He reached his hand inside and pulled out a little round ball, about the size of the tip of his finger. He showed it to the others, smiling.

There were another few unopened chests, each with several pills that still radiated energy as well as a few old books and an enchanted spearhead. Upon making sure that was everything to be found, the group moved to a building with air to properly inspect their spoils and get a fresh breath.

Catarina set up a small privacy formation, since openly eyeing their loot could draw other cultivators over and cause trouble. Masozi displayed the first pill he’d found. “It really is a duality pill. Good for soul and body enhancement at the same time. This one is just like the one I got a portion of.” He shrugged, “The outer layer is a bit damp, but it seems intact.”

In total they had enough of the same duality pills that everyone had three, with a couple spares being split among them in pieces. The spearhead showed no signs of damage from being in saltwater for centuries, though it wasn’t clear if it was the materials or enchantments that allowed that. The books were of the most interest. The wording in them was old, because even though an abundance of cultivators tended to homogenize language as they travelled about it still changed over time. Language would still be quite different a few countries away, but cultivators were quick to pick up new speech. Though they were a bit difficult to understand, the books were clearly combat techniques. There was one exception, which appeared to be a journal. The enchantments and waterproofing on it were not quite as strong as the technique books, and soggy pages had bled out some of the ink- but there were readable passages. Perhaps they might find some actual record of what had happened, though that depended on whether a random disciple knew about what would be happening ahead of time- and whether they thought it worthwhile. For the moment, however, it was being carefully dried so as not to tear it apart while flipping through it.

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