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Everheart was known for many things. Many of the things he learned ended up frustrating large sects and stealing resources from them. Among those things, large scale teleportation was not commonly known. At the very least, Anton hadn’t heard of it. Any sort of teleportation was exceptional, including the portals to transport people into secret realms like the Luminous Ocean Society had once maintained. Yet this was on a wholly different level from what he knew to be possible.
Even if done through a formation, there had to be a huge power source hidden somewhere. Though as Anton looked around what he was fairly certain was the surface of the moon, he realized perhaps he was standing on it. Certainly, he couldn’t measure the amount of energy beneath his feet in any of the scales he was used to thinking in. Even the whole of the Order’s defensive formations paled in comparison to just what was immediately around him.
Everyone else was still in their same positions relative to Anton himself, so he turned to his companions and smiled. “Well. The moon. I’m quite impressed.”
“Yes yes, everyone’s properly amazed. How exciting, et cetera.” The lone figure between all of the teleportation points was clearly Everheart, and of course a different form than any other. He looked like a teenager, casually leaning against a statue of… probably himself. “You have no idea how boring it gets up here after a couple centuries. So dull. But I had to be here to direct you and stuff.”
Everyone waited patiently as he stood there. Silence hung over everyone for a good minute, before someone timidly spoke up. “Umm… senior Everheart?”
“What?” he frowned at the individual who spoke up.
“Weren’t you going to direct us?”
“Sure,” Everheart said, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb. “That way. I’d hoped someone would have figured it out on their own though.
Indeed, that was the only direction that had buildings beyond the circular teleportation zones everyone had arrived in. But nobody had wanted to move and ignore important instruction from Everheart. Important instructions that were seemingly not going to happen. Nobody said anything further, but just began moving slowly.
Just as Anton was starting to be impressed by how many things Everheart built, Anton noticed something. The design of different buildings and even different parts of buildings were different… and somewhat haphazardly connected. Surely things could have flowed more smoothly if it were intentionally done, but it didn’t seem to be the case. Though Anton didn’t think he was qualified to critique architecture on the moon.
As Anton walked, he felt strangely light. That wasn’t discongruous from what Grand Elder Vandale had speculated, based on his own calculations and others before him, but as far as Anton knew nobody had actually experienced it. Even cultivators who could fly stayed close to the planet, the thinning air above the mountains making it impossible to survive in the void between planets.
He could feel that, above him. There was air to breathe all around him, but not far above the effect of a formation ended and there was just… nothing. Nothing at all. Not even air, which was usually what was in a place where there was nothing. Anton had an ominous feeling, but he couldn’t tie it to anything in particular.
As thousands of cultivators were pressing forward into one of the exceptionally large buildings, Anton found the time to get a good look at people. The groups he recognized were expected. This was the sort of thing everyone wanted to come to, though it wasn’t actually everyone who came. In addition to limited space, sects didn’t want to just abandon everything they had. There were missions to do, unresolved conflicts with foes, and some simply didn’t trust Everheart.
Anton didn’t blame them. Everyone could have been dead just now, with very little they could have done about it. But with some understanding of his motivation, Anton trusted that he didn’t intend to just kill everyone out of spite.
Ahead of them in a large hall was the same teenage Everheart. Anton’s senses had never left him, but suddenly he was standing leaning against that particular wall. Not that his changing places was particularly shocking, given the situation.
“The first test is to pick a door,” Everheart gestured to the wall behind him, which had hundreds, maybe thousands of doors all along it- layered in rows on top of each other, even. “Those who are unworthy fail, or whatever. You have… I dunno, a minute? That seems like plenty.”
At the arbitrary and casual mention of a time limit, some people began to panic. Reasonably it wouldn’t take long, but they couldn’t spend much time considering either. Anton took a quick look at Catarina and the others. “Any ideas?”
His own senses were scanning the doors, but he couldn’t spend even a second on each of them. Not that he could feel much with so many different energies reaching out and disrupting him.
“Let’s just start moving forward,” Timothy said. Everyone was edging closer to the doors, but only a few people had broken away from the crowd. Nobody really wanted to be the first to pick, but they also couldn’t afford to wait.
“They all seem the same to me,” Catarina said. “The room is the problem. We have to hurry.”
Even as she said that, Anton understood what she meant. It should only take cultivators at their level a few seconds to run across the grand hall and reach a door, but those who were out front were showing clear signs it wasn’t that easy. It was something that wasn’t unfamiliar either, but more like an old friend. Increasing levels of energy pressure bearing down as people moved further into the room.
It had already been ten seconds before the group broke into a half-run. They quickly slowed down as they went from normal atmosphere to surpassing the top of the peaks in the Order to something akin to the top of the tower in the secret realm. They were able to continue forward, especially since they didn’t have to fight directly against it, but their movement slowed.
Those who had been leading the pack weren’t the first to reach the doors. Just as everyone was beginning to realize the hurry, someone was already there. From out of the crowd, bowling over people between himself and the doors. It didn’t seem the man had any intention to harm anyone, and indeed it had to be said if he wanted to he could have easily done so. He was a good eight feet tall and nearly half as wide, a mass of muscle and flesh… but also possessed of significant energy. Life Transformation, and not just the early stage of it.
With the promise of information about ascension, any number of Life Transformation cultivators appearing wasn’t even in the slightest bit strange. The man from Crunching Hippo River seemed to completely ignore the pressure along the way and chose a door straight in front of him, not stopping to inspect them.
As the door was opened, Anton could see a swirling vortex of light. The man stepped through, and then there was nothing except a solid wall. He and his companions shared glances, then began to move all the more quickly. It seemed that each door might only allow a single person through, and given that they were already on a time limit they couldn’t afford to take their time.
The crowd rushed forward, and Anton realized as everyone was moving one particular instruction missing that Everheart previously had in place. No mention of a prohibition on fighting. It seemed others had realized this, because they began throwing attacks at each other as they ran. Of course, those attacks couldn’t be as serious as in a real battle. Nobody wanted to anger the whole crowd around them, or find themselves surrounded by a vengeful sect. But if they could push people away and back some people didn’t hesitate.
The next cultivators through the doors were once more Life Transformation cultivators. Though many had a duty to defend their sects, there were some with more than necessary to keep their younger cultivators safe… and some who simply found the information about ascension too tempting to wait. There was a silent discussion among cultivators from the Order, which ended in Kseniya waving her hand to signal that the other elders could move forward.
Anton and the rest had been in front of the pack, but now they were struggling to keep ahead of some of the early Essence Collection cultivators. But even as doors began to be used, there were still a myriad more. Anton was more concerned with simply getting to a door in a timely fashion and uninjured instead of specifically beating others there. They raised their energy, at the border to Essence Collection or just beyond it.
Their group pushed through the pressure more or less in the middle, not finding a lot of time to spare. Hoyt was first through a door, then Timothy, Catarina, and Velvet jumping through doors above and around. Anton was about half a step behind, and he found the most convenient doors were already taken. “Excuse me,” he gestured to Everheart. “May I?”
The teenage Everheart rolled his eyes and moved off of the door he was blocking. “Whatever.”
“Thanks,” Anton said. He didn’t want to have to jump up a handful of doors to swing one open, and he wasn’t sure of those had been opened or not. He had the hope that his door might be special, but it was not. Even so, nobody saw him come out the other side.
“Alright,” Velvet said. “That’s all of us. Umm… where’s Anton?”
Everyone else had come out in a large circular room. Instead of having multiple layers of doors stacked up, they simply went around the whole perimeter of the excessively large area. Even with hundreds of people around, meeting the particular people they were looking for was easy.
“He was right behind us,” Catarina said. “I’m sure there were more doors nearby.”
They all looked at each other for a few moments. It couldn’t have taken Anton long to just run parallel to the wall to find another door, even if he was having trouble. And more people were appearing. Yet as they waited another ten or twenty seconds, suddenly the flow of people stopped.
They recognized others around them. Chikere hadn’t been with the Order to begin with, but she had made it through. Lev was only in the middle of Spirit Building, but he and several others from the Grasping Willow sect had come through along with a good portion of others from the Order. There was nobody in particular that they actually noticed was missing, besides Anton.
Everheart once again stood in the middle of the room. “Wow. Seriously. I can’t believe you people want to survive with a crop like this.”
A quick glance told people that less than half of the doors had been used, which meant that most people simply didn’t make it in time.
Everheart continued, not really looking at anything in particular as he spun around. “At least all of you are worthy, for whatever that’s worth. We’ve got a few more tests to put you through before I bother gracing you with my knowledge and all that. Time to get moving.” He gestured to a small seam in the wall, which turned out to be a long hallway leading out of the room.
Catarina ran up to Grand Elder Kseniya. She had intentionally lingered behind them and some of the others, coming through at the last moment. She should have seen what happened. “Grand Elder,” Catarina inclined her head politely. “Did you perhaps see what happened to my grandfather?”
“He went through a door,” she said.
“But… he’s not here,” Catarina felt around once more. “Do you think there are other exits?”
“No,” Elder Kseniya said clearly. “I am certain this is it.”
“But… he’s just as worthy as the rest of us.”
Elder Kseniya nodded, “According to my understanding of Everheart’s standards, that should be the case. But perhaps he chose a wrong door. By my count, others are missing as well.”
“So that’s it?” Catarina said. “Just because he randomly chose the wrong door out of thousands of identical ones, he’s out?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Grand Elder Kseniya said. “If you have complaints, I would keep them limited. Everheart is not fond of them. Your grandfather should be somewhere safe, if nothing else.”
Anton was somewhere he didn’t recognize. He couldn’t sense anything around him, though it wasn’t the same as the vacuum of space he had only recently become acquainted with. Instead, his senses were blocked. He wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but it made him feel anything but safe.