Elder Cultivator 250

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Keeping a careful eye on the captives had been important, though after arriving at the Frostmirror Sect it was unlikely they would be able to escape. The containment facilities provided were high quality, and the Sect had their own guards. However, someone needed to watch the ants.

Elder Tshering still wasn’t sure if they were a threat. Oh, they were certainly dangerous. But so was Fuzz, as well as any giant beast or one who could use energy. But even if it was possible to exterminate every dangerous beast, Tshering wouldn’t do it. It wasn’t just that they were useful for resources or training, but also that they deserved a chance to live. It was when they began to harm humans or damage ecosystems that they became a threat.

These ants had lived in Everheart’s ecosystem for a few centuries or whatever, but the fact that they hadn’t consumed everything there didn’t necessarily mean anything. All of that stuff was crazy and dangerous.

If the previous seasons of study had been correct, they had some ability to moderate themselves. But he needed to know if they would do that around humans, and especially helpless cultivators. Because one of the first things they’d done was try to chew on him. The fact that they learned that they could didn’t mean they understood they shouldn’t. If they weren’t a special creature, Tshering wouldn’t have even bet on them being able to understand anything to begin with. Most insects were too small to have a brain that really functioned like he would expect, but there were always exceptions. 

It might have looked a bit cruel to watch their prisoners to see if the ants would try to eat them, but he wasn’t going to actually let them do it. Once they took a bite, whoever was watching would stop them. But they’d been good so far. 

Elder Tshering sighed. There was no way to conclusively determine anything about them in a constrained environment where they knew they were being watched, but he wasn’t going to just let them wander free without being as certain as he could be. Especially after one had sort of attacked Anton. Again, it was hard to tell their intentions, and that would require more testing.

For now, though, they’d been determined ‘safe enough’ around the prisoners, and it was time to deal with the prisoners regardless. Hopefully they cooperated easily. 


Two Essence Collection cultivators and a half dozen others were all lined up in a seemingly random arrangement. Elder Tshering looked over all of them. It was a shame when the world came to a place that an old man like himself, who would have been happily dealing with beasts, had to take the place of an interrogator and executioner. But it wasn’t as if he were dealing with unknowns here. He’d seen all of them engage in the attack that was likely meant to kill them, or the equivalent. They would have an easy, straightforward choice. He just hoped most of them would make the right one.

Completely not-randomly placed at the far left was the most troublesome and annoying of the Spirit Building cultivators. He’d been a real pain, annoying and uncooperative at every opportunity. As Tshering ungagged him, a stream of profanities came out of his mouth, followed by unimaginative threats. “… and then we’ll tear you apart and feed you to your horses.” Then Tshering gagged him again.

“I need you to listen to me very clearly. All of you here are going to cooperate with us to find out who hired you, or you die. Is that clear?” He knew the man in front of him had understood his words, but he hadn’t acknowledged them. “I’m going to remove your gag, and if you do anything that isn’t helpful you’ll die, and then you won’t even get paid. An easy choice.”

Tshering removed the man’s gag, and the man spit on him. So Tshering kicked his face in. It was brutal, but he wasn’t going to shirk his duties as an elder and have one of the other members of the Order do it for him. And the spectacle would hopefully convince the others to be smarter.

He turned to the rest of the line. “I really don’t want to have to do this. I can tell you aren’t all fanatics like the Twin Soul Sect or Flying Blood Cult. You’re just mercenaries who made stupid choices. Really, terribly stupid choices. Whoever hired you doesn’t care about you. They might have paid you if you succeeded, or they might not have,” Tshering shrugged. “You’re all cultivators. You have a lot of life ahead of you. If there are threats to yourself or your family, we can help with that. You just have to help us.”

Second in line was the young man, but Tshering didn’t immediately go to remove his gag. Instead he went to the end of the line and removed them one at a time, ending with him. Everyone waited politely or fearfully, unsure what to do.

“I’ll make this easy. Anyone who wants to talk can do so. We want to know who hired you, and every detail you can give us about that.” Tshering’s eyes turned towards the one previously third in line. “You look like you have something to say. Go on. Everyone here will either be in the same boat as you, or dead.” That was one reason to have them all together at the moment.

“Umm, we were actually all hired through various mercenary guilds,” the man said. “We signed up knowing there was going to be a big job, but not the specific details.”

“See, that wasn’t hard,” Tshering said. “But we’ll need more from you. When and where you were hired, whether it went through official channels or a guy sitting in the corner. But you don’t have to blurt that all out now,” Elder Tshering almost smiled, and he might actually have done so if they had been fully cooperative. “And you, at the front of the line. You had something to say?”

“They told us we were going to kill a Spirit Building cultivator. With guards, of course, but she was the primary target.” The young man’s eyes drifted to the back of the room, where Kohar was standing. “It was her. I didn’t get a name though.”

A few of the others, realizing they hadn’t volunteered information yet, nodded in agreement. A few tried to speak, though one voice dominated. “Yeah, it was her. And the old man, if we could.”

“Wonderful,” Elder Tshering said. “You know what, I see a lot of eager people. Why don’t we take you all aside so you can each talk freely.”


Interviewing people who had been hired to kill her was not a common experience for Kohar. Usually in the past she had escaped such situations or whatever guards she hired had killed them. It happened once or twice, though, and she knew what questions to ask.

“Where were you personally hired?”

“Who hired you?”

“Was someone sent to coordinate everyone?”

The answers were different for the first two in most cases. That was because they had eight individuals from a larger group, and they’d wanted a lot of people fast while drawing from the nearby area. Because of course Kohar hadn’t particularly advertised her presence back in Ofrurg. She was a bit stronger now, but given what she had seen the people who wanted her dead had a lot of resources, and they’d had time to think.

Nothing she had learned yet actually directly connected the groups she knew were responsible to the attack, but that was an exercise for the future. The mercenary guilds who hired them would talk eventually. It all depended on how quickly they needed it. Kohar had ways to get licenses revoked for hiring people to kill someone without a legal bounty on their head. A couple people had been hired more from the underworld side of things, knowing they were going to be doing something criminal. 

Their contacts would be harder to track down, but the Frostmirror Sect could help with that. They could just show up somewhere and start freezing people. It would be quick, efficient, and brutal. The problem was convincing some of the people to give up locations because of concerns about retaliation. 

There was still the Glorious Flame Palace to name drop. Kohar wouldn’t call upon them first because if they were directed to a black market bounty area everyone would probably just end up piles of ash which weren’t good for getting usable information, especially that would hold up in court. She didn’t need everything to be resolved in court, but systematic changes would require some victories there. Otherwise they’d just have to kill everyone until they listened, and that required taking over the country. That was not feasible for a number of reasons, and probably immoral to some extent.

Kohar entered the next room. Standing in front of someone who could absolutely kill her made her nervous, despite the fact that the man was bound and guards were watching for any sudden movements. Without the ability for the large man to use energy Kohar might even prevail on her own, but she still felt fear. She wouldn’t let it stop her though.

So far, the man who had been swinging the hammer was uncooperative. Unfortunately, as an Essence Collection cultivator he probably had more useful information so they hadn’t immediately killed him. Perhaps he was counting on that, though she couldn’t see how he expected to get out alive without cooperating. She had plans to go a different route now. “So. You had the hammer, right? You might think that the Order would be favorably inclined to just let you live because you technically didn’t attack any of them.”

Kohar shrugged.

“You might be right about that, actually. But you made a mistake. You know where we are?”

“Frostmirror Sect,” the large man mumbled. Maybe he wanted to appear at least minimally helpful to improve his situation, or maybe he was just tired of sitting around. Either way, he at least responded with an answer he knew they both knew.

“That’s right. And while you didn’t try to kill any of them, either, you did damage a bridge. It’s not technically in their territory, but they have feelings about people who damage infrastructure. Or should I say, things they do to people who damage infrastructure that they follow through on without feeling anything at all.”

“They wouldn’t torture me for breaking a bridge,” the man said. Kohar just sat in silence, looking at him seriously. “… would they?”

“That depends on whether they thought it would deter others in the future. They might just kill you. It would depend on how memorable they wanted it to be. But that bridge is pretty important to people who live in these mountains.”

The large man just turned his head, “I’ll probably just get killed by you guys anyway.”

“I could write you up a contract,” Kohar said, “Or have someone from the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars swear on their honor. You have to have heard about them. They’re the real deal.”

“Maybe I believe you. Then what, you go kill whoever gave me the job?”

In Kohar’s profession, nothing was more useful than her ability to read people, or at least it was equal with the ability to think quickly and having a good memory. The point being, she focused on that aspect of her cultivation much more stronger than improving a few steps of cultivation so she could hit people better. “So that’s what you’re worried about,” Kohar said. “We can include others as well, on certain conditions. We’re after people at the very top, or perhaps at the very bottom of a deep hole. Regardless, our offer could be extended to others, like whoever it is you care about so much, Mister…” she looked down at some papers in her hand she had already memorized, “… Sarto.”

He tensed up when she said his name. Kohar was glad that the Frostmirror Sect was incentivized to keep track of as many Essence Collection cultivators as possible. There were thousands that they knew of in all of Ofrurg, but various details had allowed Kohar to narrow things down to this guy. Or another couple hammer users, but he didn’t have to know that she sort of guessed.

“What do I need to say?” Sarto asked. “I can’t ruin… someone’s life.”

“Tell us who that someone is so we can find them quickly, before anyone finds out the mission was botched and you were captured. Then we can promise to keep them alive, and even offer some benefits if they have exceptionally useful information.” Kohar shrugged. “Or you can wait for us to figure it out, if someone doesn’t silence them first.”

Kohar saw the moment the man’s resolve broke. He was willing to die so that a loved one could live, but the very real possibility that they would be harmed anyway was something he couldn’t pass up. And though Kohar had no proof that someone would be looking to silence people, she knew enough to have sincerity in her voice when she’d said it.

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