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The first few days of sea travel were somewhat interesting, but after the novelty wore off it was rather boring. That was the best that could be hoped for, since it meant nothing problematic came up, but it really was boring. Even cultivating wasn’t easy, since there wasn’t enough ambient natural energy for everyone packed together on the ships.
People were still able to socialize, talking and playing card games or otherwise idly passing the time. Some were better suited to those activities than others. Anton and Elder Servaos from the Wandering Bush Sect happily chatted, not just about cultivation but about life in general. Chikere had already wandered around to everyone on her ship who wielded a sword, but since there was no place to have a proper spar there was little depth of interaction. Anish stood in awkward silence next to the pair of Alva and Annelie. In turn, Adelina and Sarka were placed on the furthest ships from each other to avoid them interacting, with Adelina in the front of the formation- the Azalea- and Sarka in the Skylark at the rear.
The first obstacle they had to overcome was completely mundane- a lack of wind. While the various ships had a number of crew who could row, it would be a waste of resources not to include the various cultivators they were transporting. There were some complaints, but ultimately following the orders of Commodore Visser relayed through the various captains of the individual vessels. Unless it was something directly harmful, there was little justification to refuse.
Anton found it quite fulfilling to sit at a large oar, making precise physical motions at a measured pace and specific power. Most of the others performed well, since something all cultivators were used to was moving their body as they pleased. Everyone was physically capable, even if they had to make greater use of energy to keep up, but that wasn’t the real problem encountered. The problem was people trying to do too much.
In the rear of the formation, one such problem was occurring.
“Slow down?” Elder Sarka flared up. “I thought the whole point of this was to go faster, why should I slow down?”
Captain Arendse sighed. She didn’t think that should need to be explained, but such was the way of things. “First, it’s important to keep timing. If you row as quickly as you can, using the most power, we veer to the side.”
“Just put more people on the left, then,” Sarka countered.
“Even if we did that, we can’t really improve our speed since we have to keep pace with the other ships in the fleet. Not all of them can go as fast.”
“Then stick me on one of them!”
“Do you want to sleep in a smaller cabin?” Captain Arendse asked.
That was basically the end of the conversation. Captain Arendse kept further sighs to herself, though she certainly felt them. It was unfair that a woman like that had a higher cultivation than herself. They were both around the same age, maybe a decade off at most. Either way, Sarka shouldn’t have been much later than in her sixties, which was on the young end of Life Transformation cultivators. But it should have been enough time to learn about ships, or at least act maturely in a new situation.
Then again, Glorious Flame Palace didn’t focus on thinking about mundane matters. They put plenty of study into cultivation, and how to make better use of it, but day to day matters weren’t their forte.
Arendse didn’t expect everyone to be an expert in her own field, but certain basics should be obvious to anyone who cared to look. Seafaring wasn’t a race, or at least not a sprint. Delivering goods in a timely manner was one thing, but it wasn’t something that could really be rushed. That was the sort of thing that got stupid captains run into razorshoals or waylaid by pirates, if they didn’t just sail headfirst into a storm.
When heading into unknown waters as they would be soon, it was critical to maintain control over everything. That included keeping the fleet together. If they weren’t carrying so many different cultivators the space could be filled with more experienced sailors, and then they would be able to go faster- but not by all that much. There were simply limits to what could be done.
At least they were getting things like this out of the way where it was safe. It would let her know what not to assign the admittedly very powerful woman to. At least she should be good at fighting, when it came around. Hopefully without setting the ship on fire.
Beasts had many different motivations for doing what they did, though they were often not that much different from cultivators. Survival, growth, and protecting territory- which got back into the first one. Different distinctions and subcategories could be argued all day, but the point was beasts usually didn’t just attack because they were bored. So it had to be one of those other reasons.
When a group of longnosed shipwreckers charged up from below, Captain Arendse didn’t much care why. If it was territory, they had no way to know. If it was food, the timing was awkward. If it was for growth, it was basically the same as food, but they were attacking because the cultivators on the ship were strong, not despite it.
The first of the creatures speared through the bottom of the Skylark at the same time as the alarm was being yelled. It was a big one, to be able to pierce through the solid structure of the ship. Had to be at least as strong as an Essence Collection cultivator. Most of the others were deflected, though some of them carved out a bit of the hull as they went.
Then everything was on fire. Captain Arendse was going to strangle Sarka, difference in cultivation be damned, except she realized that it wasn’t actually hot. At least, not where she was. The huge ball of flames covering the ship certainly seemed to be doing quite a number on the underwater creatures, however, and the water around the ship was instantly boiling.
A short time later, half-cooked fish were pulled up onto the deck. There was little point in leaving them to waste, after all. The big one had pulled out of the ship and retreated to the depths, but many of the others were not so fortunate as to survive even for a few moments.
The hole in the ship was quickly patched. Broken wood didn’t usually go back together, but it could be plugged. Perhaps one of the cultivators had the right technique to actually repair it good as new without replacing a set of boards, but they likely weren’t on this ship. They’d ask the rest of the fleet. At least it was easier to transfer cultivators away from port- they could hop over a significant distance and nobody needed to get the ships too close.
Now they just had to make sure that thing didn’t come back for some sort of revenge. They couldn’t afford too many holes, and it wasn’t as if they could just stop by a port for some repairs. They were capable of doing the work themselves, but the supplies were limited. It wasn’t like they could just use any random tree, and even if they stumbled upon an island with exactly what they needed, properly turning a log into part of a ship was an involved process, even for cultivators. It wasn’t just chopping something into shape.
Commodore Visser addressed the fleet as they stopped at an island. “Here we are at Greatleaf Island. The last stop where we know what we’re getting into. We plan to gather up some fresh food for the sake of a little celebration, and we’ll fill up on water so we don’t have to have anyone do the work of purifying it. After our little party, we’ll be heading out into unknown waters, with the only knowledge being there’s not much of significance within a week of here. Based on old records, we expect to take multiple months to reach any significantly sized landmass, and those only if we navigated correctly. Sadly, our star charts out this far are hardly up to date.” He shrugged, “But it’s not like we’ll starve. Plenty of fish and large beasts, and we can filter water. We have that going for us, at least. So as long as we don’t find anything dangerous enough to wipe us out, there’s little cause for concern.”
His speech wasn’t exactly inspiring, but it wasn’t really meant to be. It was just a statement of where they were, and where things were going. Uncertainty and danger weren’t the biggest concerns in a cultivator’s life, and with the gathering of powerful cultivators they had there really wasn’t too much cause for concern. At least not for most people. Not all battles would be resolved in a handful of seconds, though at least for most they would have a bit more warning than charging fish with spearlike noses happened to give.
Anton never slept much, and while he’d been getting more than the absolutely required few hours of sleep each night, some of that was shifted to the morning. That allowed him to spend more time looking at the stars, which was quite interesting considering that this was the biggest change he’d seen from his usual location. Roaming around through the various countries he noticed some differences, but he hadn’t exactly gone a week out to sea.
He saw Commodore Visser paying close attention to the stars as well, though for very different reasons. The other man was using them to navigate, though as he admitted that wouldn’t necessarily be good forever.
“Need any help taking measurements?” Anton asked. “I can at least keep accurate notes.” While Graotan was landlocked, Grand Elder Vandale had also possessed an interest in navigating by the stars, which he shared with Anton. It wasn’t as necessary on land, but an interesting practice regardless.
“Might as well,” the man said. “I’d thought to make new charts. A straight line journey isn’t exactly the best way to gather information, but if we do it right we should be able to at least keep ourselves on relatively the same heading. Can’t guarantee that the compass will stay accurate, and it doesn’t exactly help us find our way back to a known point unless we manage to avoid any drift due to sea currents. Which is… extremely unlikely.”
Anton nodded. Normally such a project was done over a long course of time, and preferably from stationary points. But if they could quickly take down locations of stars at a certain time and match them the next night, they could at least get a passing picture of how the sky changed. That was a place being cultivators was quite handy, as it allowed them to rapidly and precisely mark things down, even on a swaying ship.
They wouldn’t be entirely creating new information, of course. The intent was to stay mostly along the same line of latitude, which meant they would see the same stars in the sky, except for the difference in timing throughout the night. After all, both they and the season were moving at the same time.
Anton learned quite a bit from Visser, who was glad to share what he knew. Getting some actual practice was good as well, since Anton had never really used the theoretical knowledge he had. Anton imagined he could have been a good sailor, but then again he likely could have handled any job. As long as he felt like he was getting actual work done, of course. Anton liked to see tangible results.
“What do you think we’ll find?” Anton asked.
“Hopefully… a big mass of land.” Visser shrugged. “I’d be quite happy to encounter some new islands. If we can plot their location then even if this expedition has to return for some reason, we’ll make measurable progress. I know that the various sects would be disappointed at that, but sometimes flinging ships at things just doesn’t work out. And we haven’t even run into real danger yet.”
Anton didn’t say anything, so as to not invite bad omens, but following the Commodore’s eyeline he found it wouldn’t have mattered. Dark clouds were on the horizon, and he didn’t have to be a seafarer to know that meant storms. The only question was whether or not they would be too much for them to handle. Of course, a single storm would not take out such a well equipped fleet- but it was possible for them to get worn down little by little.