Elder Cultivator 226

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A trail of blood slowly found its way away from the location of the first battle Anton had witnessed. The optimal choice would be to simply leave the area, but since Anton didn’t know any way to do that he was instead going to do his best to make sure no members of the Twin Soul Sect survived. 

At the end of the battle it hadn’t seemed particularly strange that Emma didn’t finish with a decisive thrust, instead letting her opponent faint from his wounds. It was logical enough, but she had neither moved to restrain or finish off the man. Another point he should have noticed. It might have saved him a huge sideache. At the very least, he might have gotten less impaled. 

Anton looked at the blood, seriously considering his ability to kill a late Essence Collection cultivator. A heavily injured one, certainly, but conscious once more. He had recovered his reserves of natural energy to about halfway full as he walked, up from around a quarter. Those reserves would allow him some mobility, but his opponent should have more energy left. Using energy properly while about to pass out from blood loss was difficult, but not impossible. Anton found it unlikely that his opponent had no healing pills of any sort, so he should be at least another step away from that edge.

He couldn’t really hurt the man unless he found him dying in a trap. That possibility might be sufficient, given Anton had no idea if he could leave. If he was going to die to someone, he might as well take someone else out. Or perhaps he was just growing a big head. 

As he breathed in, natural energy flowed into him. More than that, he made use of Fleeting Youth to try to replenish his reserves of the additional sources of energy. They lingered, not in his dantian with the rest of his energy but just out of his reach, waiting to be called upon should he need them. There wasn’t much of either, but he took comfort in the thought of using them. 

He decided to follow the trail of blood, on the theory that at least he knew the status of that particular foe. If the spear thrower got into a battle he might be able to sense it ahead of time. With no other hints as to if there was a direction out or how to get there, he might as well go somewhere new. Occasional drops of blood continued to lead the way, which encouraged Anton. Imperfectly closed wounds were a good sign. Even if it was only some remnants from a bootprint every ten or twenty meters, he was able to follow the trail. After all, against stark white corridors a little bit of red stood out sharply.  

He was in no hurry, chewing on some dried foods in his pack. He couldn’t afford to sleep, but eating would refresh him somewhat. If he had the time and a proper place he could cook up some tubers for a good meal, but eating them raw was… unpleasant at best. It made even the energy they contained indigestible.

His footsteps were quiet as he walked, from many decades of hunting and avoiding startling animals. As there were no sticks or leaves to crunch under his boots, he simply had to keep them from echoing off the walls. Muted senses or not, it was foolish to make extra noise. He kept his energy close to himself, not wanting to alert anyone he came across.

A few traps blocked his way, but some were already triggered and others avoidable. Anton smiled as he saw the tiniest drop of blood on the tip of a spike coming out of the floor. Every little bit helped.

He began to sense something as he walked. Something full of power. Energy. Whether an enchanted object, rare material, or special herb… Anton could be sure every cultivator wanted it. It was the sort of thing that could change a cultivator’s fate.

Really, the trap couldn’t have been any more obvious. Anton almost walked past the door until he saw it was slightly ajar. What caught his eye wasn’t the massive crystal, taller than a man. At least, that wasn’t the only thing. It was the source of comparison for the size of a man. The spear thrower.

Anton could just hear the man’s breathing from his location, which meant it was still pretty ragged. He had his whole attention directed away from Anton towards the crystal. Anton looked at the door. Would the hinges support him, or betray him? He didn’t want to make a bet on either.

His eyes moved to the floor. Scorch marks and other signs of battle damage traced a general path through the room. It seemed the man had been at this for some time, carefully picking his way through the room. He’d certainly triggered some traps, but he wasn’t visibly more injured. With a layout of traps like that, Anton would have a few more in strategic locations around the man. Which meant Everheart would have an absurd amount that had somehow not been triggered yet. 

Unlike the trapped hallway in the first tomb, Anton found that most of the traps had not reset in this place. So if he couldn’t count on that happening, there were a good handful of directions the man could take just on the ground if he was suddenly attacked and had to dodge. Anton considered them, and the angles involved with reaching him or the crystal. 

Ultimately, he determined that he would need to perform at least five simultaneous shots all capable of piercing through a late Essence Collection cultivator’s defenses. Or… maybe not with quite as much power, given the injuries. But the threat would have to be there to even make him consider dodging. 

Before committing to anything, Anton considered several options for the deathtrap he was currently in. First, it was possible that nobody would be able to leave. Everheart had saved him for a moment, but he hadn’t just brought him out of the area. Thus, even if he wasn’t the target Anton couldn’t bet on getting out. The second possibility was that one or a few people could leave. Maybe the top few would be allowed out, or maybe there was a secret to be found. Either way, Anton had to consider his chances of succeeding at either. Given the cultivations he had seen so far, he doubted it.

If nobody could get out, whatever he did wouldn’t matter. If someone could get out, he didn’t want it to be anyone from the Twin Soul Sect. That made his decision. He had to at least try. He needed simultaneous shots that were intimidating.

His energy spread out, seeping into the room. It was the basis of Falling Stars, but the ceilings weren’t so high he could build up much momentum by relying on gravity. The intimidation factor of the ability came from Grand Elder Vandale’s own power anyway. He had to go with what he could do.

A half-dozen arcs of energy solidified throughout the room, forming into proper bows a moment later. The only thing that had stopped Anton from being detected- as far as he knew- was the massive presence of the crystal overwhelming his own energy. So perhaps his attacks would be ignored accidentally. That would be ironic. Still, a bit of ascension energy on the tips would make them feel much more dangerous. As for their actual danger, he couldn’t quite say.

The room was too small to fire sequentially and change the speed of arrows to match. All of them had to fire simultaneously, and Anton put as much as he could into the shots. A moment later the arrows were flying, but Anton was already nocking another half dozen arrows. He had some energy left, and he knew he’d need to use it.

In the end, the spear thrower noticed his attacks and reacted appropriately to the perceived threats. He dodged approximately in the direction Anton had predicted, an unexplored area of floor that might or might not have traps. It had half as many traps as Anton wanted, but a single trap spraying a gout of acid was sufficient to disrupt the extremely injured man’s energy. The next half dozen arrows pushed him one step further towards the crystal. Not a one of Anton’s arrows hit him, but of the dozen darts that shot out from the ceiling as he moved, one found its way into his shoulder. 

The wound itself wasn’t much. A slight puncture. But combing the amount of blood the man had already lost and the near guarantee of poison on said dart, any injury was significant. Anton didn’t let up, though he only had two more rounds of shots in him. If his opponent realized he lacked power and simply charged towards him, there wasn’t much Anton could do. Yet the man was taking his arrows seriously, so he once again aimed them. Six out of six arrows were dodged flawlessly, without stepping on another trap. Anton didn’t touch a hair on the man or his clothes. Unless one were to count the dart sticking out of his right shoulder, which was not his.

The dart snapped at the narrow tube on its front, only slightly shifting in the wound on the man’s shoulder. It hadn’t quite been the effect Anton wanted, since he’d intended the shock of his hit to tear the sharp point through the man’s shoulder, but it still did something. Specifically, it let blood out. Just a drop or two at first, but it was something. And another round of arrows were on the way, just three, but with a bit more focus.

It was too bad that he’d had enough, and swatted them out of the air with a spear in his hand. It seemed he’d figured out Anton’s attacks were all bark and no bite. Anton was standing visible in the crack of the doorway as the man stepped forward and threw a spear at Anton.

Even with a minuscule amount of energy remaining, Anton dodged to the side a half step before the attack reached him. Its accuracy was impeccable… but it wasn’t as if it could immediately change directions upon coming out the door. Like the others it continued straight onward into the wall on the other side of the hallway.

Anton could feel the way the man’s energy fluctuated wildly. He stepped once more into vision, taunting his foe with his presence. At this point, whether or not the man pulled the needle in his shoulder out he would bleed more every time he made use of his arm… and it seemed that he’d failed to consider how his forward step for throwing would affect his position among the traps. His hair had caught on fire, which wasn’t deadly by any means but he looked as if he could barely stand.

The spear thrower stepped back from his lunge to toss his other spear at Anton. It was clear he wasn’t thinking about much at all, since the attack didn’t even get half as close to Anton as he stepped out of view once more. 

Then Anton heard a silent thud, and several explosions following it. He waited ten seconds just in case before poking his head into the room. Just a charred corpse. He had enough energy to take a single shot with his actual bow and a physical arrow which went through one ear and out the other. If he hadn’t been dead before, he was now.

Anton sunk against the wall outside the room and sighed. “I’m done.”

“Aww, really?” a disappointed voice came from next to him. It was of course Everheart. “I wanted to see more of my technique in action.”

Anton shook his head. “I can’t. I’m all out.”

“You aren’t at least going to go in and loot his body?”

“Why bother trying?” Anton said. “It’s just stuff. And I don’t know if there’s a way out of this deathtrap.”

“I’m gonna be honest, it wouldn’t be a good deathtrap if I’d made a way out,” Everheart said. “But… I wasn’t just a psychopath who enjoyed causing trouble for the sake of it. I had a purpose too.”

“I hope it gets fulfilled,” Anton said, closing his eyes and slowly circulating his energy. If any enemy came upon him like this he would die, though he’d die without any energy regardless. 

“Hope is for suckers,” Everheart said. “Real cultivators make the impossible happen. Enjoy your camping trip.”

—–

“Okay,” came a voice in front of the increasingly impatient group. “Wait’s up. You can all go in now. Have fun collecting valuable plants and crap. There should be some fun beasts to hunt too.” Everheart looked at the group and waved his arms wildly. “Well? Go!”

Seeing that there would be no more instruction, they went- though one brave soul had gone on ahead. Despite their instantaneous reaction, they were not first into the forest.

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