Elder Cultivator 252

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The great queen knew she had made the right choice, though her brash actions had caused a bit of concern. Even if her daughter would live on after her, it would be better for her to live on. Biting the exceptional energy had been instinct, impossible to resist. It was tasty, delicious, nutritious. But it had also not been intended for her. 

A mistake. Humans were hard to read, but if the great queen had hesitated for a moment she would have realized the siren’s call of that energy was tainting her reasoning. Of course it would be perceived as an attack by the humans. Especially as they were engaged in combat at that very moment.

Though their emotions and intentions were difficult to parse without proper pheromones or antly behavior, the ant queen found herself properly chastised. Restrained, but given a chance to show she knew how to behave properly. She had been hesitant to feed on the energies of those with her in the confinement, but eventually she determined that was what she was supposed to do. And the humans didn’t kill her, so it had to be.

Now she was free once more. Under watch, but unrestrained. It was different in many important ways. One of them was that the humans- specifically the one with the tasty energy- had been interacting with her in a pleasant manner. She was being fed bits of energy.

She understood the matching energy signatures that denoted a group of allies. They had been the ones watching her, and the man with the special energy was one of them. Yet he rarely smelled of that particular form of energy. Even so, the great queen had determined that she might be able to work in concert with this group. She did her best to please. 

She was smart enough to not just eat their energy, delicious as it might have been. She would allow them to pick her up and move her without protest, and the same allowance was communicated to her royal guard. Delectable energy was within her reach, but she allowed it to remain.

When a small morsel of it had rested in front of her, separate, the great queen hesitated. Was it a trap? A test? Bait? Or an offering. The first three were more or less the same- indicating she should not take it. But the way it was nudged close to her, she had to try. She nibbled on it, and when it wasn’t withdrawn she consumed it. The movements of the large humans suggested no adverse reactions. Offered, then. But for what? 

As a great queen of a colony of ants, she was brought food to meet her every need. But even in her position she knew that nothing was offered freely. A queen had a duty to the colony to produce future generations and to lead wisely. The offering of energy was unlikely to be without intent. She just had to parse it.

They wanted something. Perhaps it was her servitude. Feeding on the energy of others would make her useful to these humans. They had other creatures that worked for them, though few were intelligent. The creatures that pulled the wagons seemed to care for little beyond food and being taken care of. A reasonable life, for an animal. The large fuzzy one was different. It was full of boundless curiosity, and interacted in a way with some of the humans the great queen could only guess was friendly.

The creature was terrifying, as it could crunch her and her royal guard between its teeth. She doubted it would be possible to chew through it, so even if it swallowed them whole they would be dead. But fortunately it seemed to prefer larger prey, as it merely sniffed them and then left them alone. Or perhaps it obeyed the wishes of the humans, who at least for the moment didn’t want her dead.

Servitude. A great queen reduced to that would be humbled, but if it served to the benefit of her colony perhaps she could stomach it. But she would much prefer if she achieved some sort of alliance. Humans were the biggest threat to her survival in the long term, and that of her colony. They might be able to spread, but it had been passed down through generations that humans had once tried to exterminate them entirely. 

Then they had been taken into captivity for many, many generations. That was where they had lived for many years, thinking perhaps they might never see a human again. When they arrived, following one was the risky choice. But the limited bounds of their domain was unacceptable, and she had made the choice. She had already determined that they were now in an unbounded world, or at least one many times larger than before. It should have been where they were from before.

And after they were found, they weren’t annihilated. But just because one group didn’t do it didn’t mean another wouldn’t. Thus, an alliance would be beneficial. 

The great queen was pulled from her thoughts by something extraordinary. A bubble of energy in front of her, smelling sweet. But she had learned, and she carefully took stock of it. The human had summoned it, and let it rest on the table away from him. If this was like the other, it was an offering. A most delicious one. She once again poked it, looking for a reaction. It seemed to encourage her, so she devoured it.

It was excellent. The future generations she produced would be strong. She herself was growing in power as well. Later, she would share some of the energy with her royal guard- it would not do to have them fall behind.

For the moment, she would study the humans to try to figure out their strange behavior.


“So,” Elder Tshering said. “We’ve at least managed to make her not eat energy attached to us. Now we just need to teach her not to nibble on the Frostmirror Sect.” He shook his head, “We might have messed that up, with the whole prisoner thing.”

“At least she recognizes members of the Order?” Anton didn’t sound sure about that at all. “Reading what an ant thinks is quite difficult. It’s also obvious she had a preference for ascension energy. On that note… I would bet that was why Everheart kept them up there.”

“A weapon, you think? It’s a shame we couldn’t retrieve everything else.”

“Some of them might have just been to fill out the ecosystem,” Anton shrugged. “But these seem like they had a specific purpose in being preserved.”

“They’re still kind of weak though,” Elder Tshering said.

“Maybe,” Anton agreed, “But there’s something to them. WIth the ability to eat ascension energy, they’re a powerful tool for the upcoming war. At Everheart’s Tomb, people received various memories. Upon comparing them, there was something important. I’m sure you were told about that?”

“Yes. They can’t regain ascension energy while they are here attacking,” Elder Tshering said. “That’s… actually very important. Now if only there was a way to teach these ants to attack everyone with ascension energy except for you.”

Anton sighed, “I’m sure we’ll figure something out. We have time. But no matter how useful they might be in such a battle, we need to make sure they’re safe. They’re obviously very hungry, but they’re not ravenous devastators like some insects.”

“This is going to be a lot of work,” Elder Tshering said. “Though worst case scenario, we keep them contained in a formation in the middle of a volcano. If it fails, they die. And if the ascenders are coming, we can pull them out and chuck them by the fistful.”

“Straight to volcanoes, huh?” Anton asked.

“They’re very useful,” Tshering commented.


There were some important differences that Kohar had to remember when in different courts. In ‘normal’ courts each side would present evidence and counter arguments in an orderly fashion. Most of the time. In situations involving cultivators, however, the rules became much more loose. If nobody was quite willing to enforce the rules, the courthouse became more of a battlefield.

But as long as it wasn’t an actual battlefield, Kohar could adjust. She was ready for anything at all to happen after Jan was brought up for testimony.

Kohar had a bundle of carefully written notes. Too bad she would only get to use a few of them, but it was better to have them than not. “Now for our next witness.” He was quickly sworn in. It was unfortunate that nobody trusted anyone else to create some sort of compulsory force to go along with the declaration of telling the truth, but it was procedure that should be followed, and the consequences of false testimony could be significant. Courts were very inventive sometimes. “So, sir, is it true that the Adamant Chain hired you to help organize an attack on members of the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars as well as myself?”

Jan looked decidedly unhappy to be present. But he kept his back straight and determined, even as he glanced over his shoulder towards a particularly cold looking woman. “That is correct. I met with one of their regular contacts, who I had previously made arrangements with. They paid in advance, before I understood the true nature of the job.”

Kohar was quite certain he was stretching the truth on that last part. But she felt no desire to call him out on that. “I see. Do you know why they might have hired you?”

“Presumably to stop you from bringing this very sort of legal action against them.”

“That man is a liar!” declared the advocate of the Adamant Chain, Izabel- a rare example of another woman in the same profession. 

“Which part specifically do you mean to refute with that accusation?” Kohar spoke calmly. Impassioned words were useful for swaying opinions in the short term, but keeping a professional demeanor would ultimately allow her to make the right choices. If she said something hastily, it would weaken her position.

“All of it!” the woman said proudly.

“I see,” Kohar nodded. “That also includes the previous business he alluded to?”

“That’s right, we’ve never sent a representative to meet with Jan.”

“I see. Yet you knew his name without me introducing him.” Kohar smiled. Sometimes, it was nice when people just talked. “What do you think of that?” she turned to Jan.

“I do believe they’re trying to pull back after setting me up for a fall. I stand by my statements, as well as the written testimony of specific times and dates.”

“That’s no good anyway,” Izabel interrupted. “You can’t force a witness to testify, and we know you captured him two weeks ago and forced him to be here.”

“That is true,” Kohar admitted. “Forced testimony is inadmissible evidence. I must admit, your people must have been just short from silencing him to know when we captured him.” That was speculation, but it wasn’t really possible to deny Jan’s testimony was obtained via force. Sure, he had accepted doing it because immediate death was the other option, but he was only barely maintaining a neutral face. 

And now he was looking a bit pale. Because he might just get killed, if the deal didn’t work out. There were a few awkward moments of silence where it was clear he wanted to speak, before he finally managed. “… Am I still needed here?”

“You may go,” Kohar said. “Unless they want to ask for a refund?”

Izabel frowned. She knew she’d messed up, as her own statements could lead to reasonable suspicion even if Jan’s testimony was no good. But she said nothing, and Jan was taken out.

Kohar knew he would probably try to run. However, they might want him for later. Still, just because his testimony was no good didn’t mean that he hadn’t upheld his end of the bargain. That didn’t mean he would be getting away clean… but the promise not to kill him would be upheld. 

Kohar slapped a pile of documents on the table. “Now then, after your formal declaration you had nothing to do with Jan, it’s time to present every documented instance of that happening.” And another pile of papers, “And here is every time your representative performed official work for you in exactly the same fashion as he did with Jan.” Kohar began to read. 

To be honest, the piles of paper in front of her were slightly inflated in size. Yet there were so many details- including just one of the Adamant Chain’s representatives unlocking the back door to his office with a key to enter pretty much every day.

Kohar had asked the Ears of the Fox for every detail they had on a few people, but she hadn’t been expecting so much. The man in question was just an early Spirit Building cultivator in an administrative position, and the details stretched back to long before the point she’d asked for dirt. It made her wonder if the Ears knew what she had for breakfast the previous week.

As for the price of the information… with everything she asked for, the fees were quite substantial. And yet she also knew they were greatly discounted. Someone important working for them had an axe to grind with at least a few different slaver organizations. Though it wasn’t as if they were losing money on the deal either. Kohar wasn’t paying for it, of course. That price was coming from the coffers of the Order and some other sects.

At the end of the day, Kohar was exhausted. It was hard to prove their information was entirely accurate, but they had enough different things to overwhelm Izabel’s prepared defenses. That was another nice thing about cultivator trials. Not all of her evidence had to be prepared in advance. That went both ways, but she was prepared to deal with a bit of spontaneity. And she did more than just declare something was made up, but provided reasons for it. Like signatures not matching. 

It was unfortunate that ultimately only about half of the case would be decided on the merits, with the other half being based on who bribed the judge enough. Though the worst offenders in that regard had found themselves occupied with various troubles that prevented them from presiding over the case. Like being arrested, or out of town to later be declared ‘missing’.

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