Elder Cultivator 282

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The city of Erygan was on the closest shore of the Niverlam Depths, and was the most sizable of the handful of settlements around the great lake. No cultivators troubled Anton and the others on the way, and no beasts or the like either. Of course, if there had been anything that severely impeded their travels the vast majority of the local denizens would be unable to go anywhere without fear of mortal danger. There were still certain places in the world that would be a danger for Essence Collection cultivators, but nobody lived there, except the most eccentric cultivators.

The entrance to the city had wide gates that looked as if they had never been closed. At least, not in a generation or more. Guards were passively checking travelers, but they didn’t interfere much. Since he had to start at some point, Anton casually began to ask questions. “Excuse me. We’re here looking for a smith…” An innocent enough question that might lead them in the right direction, if they were lucky.

“Then you’ve come to the right place,” the guard replied. “We’ve got boatloads of them.”

A large city should indeed have many smiths to take care of the needs of all its citizens. Anton tried a slightly different approach. “Well, we’re not just looking for any smith. We need those of a certain caliber…”

The guard looked them over, appraising their cultivation. The man himself was in Spirit Building, but didn’t seem particularly interested in Essence Collection cultivators appearing. “You need masters, grandmasters? We got some, like I said. Something about the lake draws them in.”

“I see,” Anton nodded. “Thank you.” Even if he knew more specific details about who they were looking for, asking too many questions in one place would become suspicious. And if there were many people who fit the bill, it wouldn’t even lead to much.

Obviously Swordmaster Rahayu had left out some details. There was no way he didn’t know that many smiths made use of the Niverlam Depths for their work. Unless they all happened to not make swords, but even that would be a stretch. A Life Transformation cultivator would undoubtedly know many details about the world around where they lived regardless of their particular interest in it. 

“It seems our search here will be a bit more difficult than we thought,” Anton said to Hoyt and Velvet. They were still looking for someone who had arrived in the last year or two, but that information was likely insufficient. Perhaps Anton should have interrogated Rahayu more thoroughly, though he’d felt the man had said all he intended to. 

“How many could there really be?” Velvet asked. “Even in a city of this size?”

As Anton’s senses spread out over the city, he avoided prying into any place with more than a token amount of resistance, usually formations set up for that exact reason. The caliber of a smith who could make weapons suitable for someone around the peak of Essence Collection wasn’t so common, but there had to be at least a dozen locations throughout the city that were possible suspects. And several dozen more atop the lake- which is where the majority of smiths seemed to be. 

Great stone wharfs extended from where the main streets met the lake, spidering over the surface in seemingly random fashion. Anton wasn’t quite sure what the particular placement was for, but it seemed quite a lot of effort to go in so many directions instead of having one larger wharf upon which all of the smiths rested. Then again, perhaps they simply didn’t get along.

His question was answered quickly enough when he sensed someone jump into the lake with a heated blade, diving deep beneath the surface. He followed them downward until he couldn’t anymore, a depth of at least a hundred meters. What he learned was that the bottom of the lake was filled with hollows that went much deeper than the rest of the lakebed around them. He might be able to learn more from up close, but that was the limit of what he could sense from out in the city.

—–

Of the three, Hoyt was not the one most suited to gathering information. However, splitting up would save them time, with each of them having to go to fewer locations. Hoyt also had the excuse of asking around for someone who could forge him a new axe. His was suitable, but felt a bit inadequate for a mid Essence Collection cultivator. He would be in mid to late Essence Collection for a significant amount of time even if his cultivation advanced smoothly, so it was worth the effort.

The Order had significant stores, but he’d found nothing that suited him. He could have commissioned something back home, but hadn’t found it important. But since they were here, he might as well take advantage of the opportunity.

Hoyt surveyed the weapons displayed by a woman in early Essence Collection. There were only a small handful of them, as most customers would want something made to fit them specifically. The fact that she was lower than himself in cultivation wasn’t a concern, but he just didn’t find the weapons fit him. Apparently he hadn’t been able to keep that look off of his face.

“I think you might do better somewhere else,” she commented candidly. “I’m more attuned to the chill nature of ice, and my weapons reflect it. I wouldn’t normally recommend him… but perhaps the hothead across the way?” she gestured to another nearby wharf where a large man could be seen hammering away at a billet of metal that would at some point become a weapon, or the core of one at least.

The way sparks flew wildly made it obvious why the wharfs were all made of stone. Even if it was rather simple for cultivators to put out a fire atop a lake, others would have more difficulty- and nobody wanted to walk on half-burned structure, wondering when it might give out. With a large number of smiths who were concerned about easy access to the lake, most of their forges were open to the world.

Hoyt scanned the wharfs for a way around, but they didn’t easily connect to other places. “Just go ahead and hop over,” the woman said. “Nobody minds. The wharfs are for wagons bringing in shipments of metal and coal, rather than the customers.”

“Oh, thanks,” Hoyt nodded. “You weapons are certainly of sufficient quality…”

“I know that. But in your hands they’d hardly be useful, and that would make us both look bad. So hop on over there without concern.”

Hoyt nodded, looking down into the water below. He wasn’t concerned about swimming. That was trivial, even with heavy weapons and armor. But the very thing that made the lake attractive for the smiths was also a source of danger. Dense natural energy was usually connected to dangers of some sort, which meant a high probability of either creatures living in the depths or something else hazardous to his health.

Though if it was that dangerous, the wharfs probably wouldn’t remain standing. Anything that could affect Hoyt could certainly tear apart even sturdy stone, just as a side effect of whatever it was doing. 

It was only a dozen meters or so to the other smith’s wharf, so Hoyt indeed just ‘hopped’ over. He landed softly, but a moment later a glowing white bar of metal was thrust into his face. He stepped back defensively.

“Hold this,” the smith demanded.

Hoyt tentatively reached out to take it. It was hot. The sort of hot that would kill most people, since it was still uncomfortable even in his hands. As he was attuning more towards the fiery aspects of the stars, that was saying something. 

Yet the metal still held its shape, not melting and hardly softening. Though it wasn’t completely firm either, as the smith demonstrated when he grabbed Hoyt’s finger’s and squeezed them around it.

If he wasn’t so off guard by the man’s actions and the apparent lack of hostility he would have attacked at that moment. He wasn’t so careless as to just let someone get a hold on him most of the time, but the man moved so naturally it was hard to follow. 

A moment later he snatched the metal rod out of Hoyt’s hands and thrust it back into the fire, sending waves of sparks towards Hoyt, some of which landed on the lake and shot up gouts of steam. 

“Excuse me sir,” Hoyt tried to start the conversation. The loud clanging would certainly prevent a normal person from hearing him, but the smith had to either be deaf or able to protect his ears from the sound. From the way he talked, Hoyt presumed the latter. “I’m interested in looking at weapons.”

“It’s not done yet,” the man declared.

“I haven’t ordered anything,” Hoyt pointed out. “I can wait until after you finish whatever you’re making for your current customers, if necessary. But I was hoping to browse some of your previous works…”

The man didn’t seem to be interested in what he was saying. Hoyt understood he was focused on his work, so he glanced around the forge. Notably absent was any sort of storefront of any sort. There was an attached building, but it was just an empty room with a cot. Hoyt could sense it, because there were no protections at all. 

The formations on the forge itself were quite extensive. He supposed they would have to be, to contain that heat. Even with special materials there were limits to how much heating and cooling any material could withstand.

Once again the metal billet was thrust into Hoyt’s hands, now slightly different in form. “Jump in that one. As deep as you can go,” the smith gestured to Hoyt. “Hurry!”

Sometimes it was easier to just go with the flow. If nothing else, the man would owe him some answers after this, though there was no guarantee he knew anything useful. Being used as some sort of menial worker wasn’t exactly appealing, but he had to admit he was interested in the process.

He jumped into the lake, towards the indicated hole. He wasn’t sure what was special about that particular one, and thought at first that it was just the smith being particular. A sort of arbitrary favorite. But as he approached it Hoyt felt the weight of a mountain bearing down on him, an unfathomable solidity that was simply oppressive. 

Steam billowed around him as the lakewater flash-boiled, the billet being much hotter than even the first time it had been thrust into his hands. Hoyt had to focus his defensive energy to protect his hands and all of his front, until it became necessary to balance it all around him due to the pressure building up as he slowly sank into the hole.

He could feel the natural energy forcing its way into the metal in his hand, replacing the heat inside of it. Hoyt was quite certain more was going on than he could comprehend, but he didn’t understand it. All he knew was that his hands were still hot and that he was beginning to sink more rapidly.

Though the smith had said to go as deep as he could, Hoyt quickly became concerned that wasn’t an issue. The bigger problem would be getting back up. He spread out his own energy to slow his descent, carefully measuring the pressure around him and his own breath and stamina. Fortunately he felt the metal cool and the transfer of energy into it ceased well before he was nearing his limits.

He then began to swim towards the surface, wary of what felt like beady eyes peeking at him from the walls around him. The pockmarked surface of the hole hadn’t seemed like much on the way down, but swimming more slowly upward it felt like something was waiting to happen.

Yet he reached the surface without incident, pulling himself up onto the wharf. “If you could explain why I’m the one-”

The metal billet was yanked out of his hand and replaced with what appeared to be an oblong conglomeration of a few ingots, unclear in form. “That one,” the smith pointed. “Quick-like. Down and up.”

Well, if nothing else, being remembered as some guy who gave away free labor would be better than the foreigner that asked too many questions related to a certain smith. On that topic, Hoyt realized he hadn’t actually probed the smith on the surface. His instincts told him that the man wasn’t a member of the Twin Soul Sect, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

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