Elder Cultivator 286

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Battle was all about movement. It started at the bottom of the body with the position of the feet and how the legs could propel a person. That remained true even for cultivators, as natural energy was most efficient when augmenting something physical. It became less necessary with higher cultivations where energy was the dominant force, but if one were trying to get every scrap of power out of themselves to fight at maximum efficiency, it had to be considered.

Chikere watched Swordmaster Rahayu move, how each step seemed to take him a dozen meters- which was practically an infinite distance as far as melee combat was concerned. The energy around his legs augmented his speed, but he also flooded the area ahead of him to ease his movement. That wasn’t always a reliable prediction of where he would go, however. More often than not he used it as a feint, making her think he would move to a specific position when he went elsewhere. Even just a single step to the right or left could render her attacks useless. He controlled a large domain around himself, so the concentrations of energy were either for teaching her or throwing her off, which were the same thing.

Some people didn’t pay much attention to the core of the body. Many people understood that the upper torso had muscles that affected the arms which of course were used to swing weapons, but the lower portions were important as well. The abdominal muscles provided balance and stabilization, important when making precise moves. 

Arms swung and directed weapons. Their muscle power did contribute to attacks, but it was often better to make use of proper weapon positioning to maximize momentum gained from other places instead of just trying to shove a sword faster. Or other weapons, but Chikere didn’t know why people would use those. Sure, at a low enough level different weapons had advantages in strength and reach, but the sword had versatility in motion that remained effective even in higher level fights. 

The head was also important. Watching your opponent with your eyes was the easy one, but other senses mattered too. Hearing them move when they were out of your sight could save you, and the way people flexed their muscles could be heard even when the movements weren’t visible on the outside due to clothing covering them up. Smell was useful too, it could reveal all kinds of information. And taste… was usually best not deployed. If you could detect a poison with your tongue it might already be too late. 

Swordmaster Rahayu happened to use a single sword, while Chikere had long gone down the path of using as many as possible. The one held in her hands ways always the best, but there were limits to how many opponents could be fought off at once with a single blade. That’s what she told him, and he generally agreed.

“With this sword in my hand I could parry or block attacks from a dozen worthy opponents, but there could always be more. Of course, if I cut down that many then I no longer have to count them among the numbers of my enemies,” Rahayu smiled widely. “That’s something you seem to understand.”

Chikere nodded. “It has been in my best interest to win quickly.”

While they talked, they continued to spar. At the current moment Swordmaster Rahayu was making use of different weapons. He was not as adept in their usage as he was a sword, but he was certainly more than capable of picking out the hardest moves for Chikere to deal with. Wide sweeping attacks that would break her guard if she blocked and force her into a disadvantageous position if she dodged. Long range thrusts with spears that forced her to try to slip past them to get a moment to attack. Close ranged attacks with daggers that made it difficult to bring her sword to bear- though those were basically countered by her additional swords striking from other positions. It didn’t matter if she got a little cut along her arm or side if she impaled her opponent.

Not that Rahayu ever got injured. So far she hadn’t even touched him, or even nicked his garments. There was nothing crazy about that given his cultivation was at the peak of Life Transformation and she was merely in mid Essence Collection. He had much greater life experience than Chikere, and her specialty in swords became a disadvantage against him. It showed her how far she still had to go, but she still found it disheartening. For one moment at a time, until they crossed swords again and she found her insight growing.

Then Swordmaster Rahayu stopped. “We’ll take a short break here,” he declared. “Make sure to stay ready to fight.”

That was strange. Normally he went until Chikere passed out, but she could still keep fighting. Couldn’t she? Sure, she’d run out of energy to carry her other swords and they’d dropped into the ground, but she still held onto her primary weapon. At least, she should have been holding onto it… but there it was, resting point-first in the stone. But it was closer than it should have been. Oh right, she had fallen to her knees at some point. … Maybe she really did need a short break.


Aser had moved to the top of the list. Anton and Velvet were keeping eyes on him separately, though it wasn’t possible to safely watch him all the time. There was too much potential for something to go wrong. Anton had the advantage that he was capable of observing from a much larger distance, and if he was only using his eyes he wouldn’t draw attention to himself. Unless the man looked straight at him, standing on the shores several kilometers away. 

But that hadn’t happened yet. Either he wasn’t paranoid about people watching him- which seemed strange for a Life Transformation cultivator- or simply didn’t think anyone could learn anything important from so far away. Or perhaps it was a matter of practicality. Even Grand Elder Kseniya’s attacks from this distance would take some time to arrive, giving him a chance to react. Long enough, at least. Constant tension wouldn’t do anyone any good.

Anton had to admit, the man didn’t look like he was hiding anything. People came to him with a request, and he made them a weapon. Just like all of the other smiths he made use of the particular properties of the Niverlam Depths to quench the weapons or otherwise draw upon the different properties. He made weapons and armor of many different styles, small and large weapons as well as armor ranging from small bucklers to full suits of armor for the cultivators who made use of such. Anton preferred his lighter but still quite effective armor. He thought back to the days that a partial diamondsilk undershirt had seemed remarkable. Now it seemed hardly better than paper, but it had been useful until late Spirit building at least.

The variety of customers that came to Aser also wanted weapons enchanted in different manners, generally making use of some rare materials they’d gotten, either a particular bit of metal or part of a beast that naturally leaned towards a certain set of features. Fire, ice, lightning- all of those were common. There were even quite a few who simply went for the best durability and cutting edge that could be obtained. 

Any one of those customers could have been a member of the Twin Soul Sect, though the most frequent were members of his nominal sect, the Blue Forest Mystery.. Unfortunately, Anton couldn’t get close enough to confidently probe the man. The customers though… Velvet was watching for them, and they were fairly confident they could detect what they were looking for without being noticed. Even if someone took offense, they would at most be in Essence Collection- and it would be hard for Aser to find an excuse to join in battle if they weren’t a member of his sect. Thus, they should be relatively safe.


Not knowing how many members of the Twin Soul Sect passed through Erygan regularly, and knowing how touchy cultivators were about being inspected, Velvet kept herself restrained from checking everyone who passed her by. But whenever she determined someone was going to the smiths they were observing- Aser might have been the most suspicious at the moment but the others were still important- she tried to pick out if they were part of the Twin Soul Sect. So far there had been none.

Velvet wasn’t sure what that meant. Maybe there really weren’t that many members of the Twin Soul Sect in the area. Maybe they’d heard about what happened at Blackstone Harbor and decided to lay low, in case this very thing happened. Or maybe they had the wrong people entirely. It was entirely possible whoever had worked here had already moved on before they arrived. Maybe they were an unremarkable sort, making the sword for Elder Lestari and slipping away before anyone really registered them. 

That was the problem with observation missions. You couldn’t be sure of anything until you were making great progress, or maybe even fully finished. Sometimes all you needed was a single bit of information to know what was necessary with sufficient certainty. In this case, they’d need more than a couple Twin Soul Sect members going to a single smith. After all, they could just have a preferred person unrelated to the one in question who undoubtedly made things with a specific flare.

Well, undoubtedly to certain people. Velvet wasn’t going to disparage Chikere’s connection to swords, having seen how it worked in action, but she certainly had nothing the same herself. Daggers were just convenient weapons for what she did, not her identity. 

And what she was doing was blending in. She wasn’t sure if she could seem like a natural feature in a city, but perhaps she would seem like an extension of a building or an awning. That sort of thing would be odd for anyone who saw through it, but they likely wouldn’t bother with her if she wasn’t looking for them. And statistically, she wouldn’t be. 


It was hopeless for Chikere to suddenly be able to injure or defeat Swordmaster Rahayu after a few weeks or months. He likely had an entire century of cultivation more than her, perhaps two. Just because she learned quickly didn’t mean her energy would suddenly grow to catch up to him. Well, not that fast. She had broken through to the next rank in her cultivation after the first week, but the next would probably be several months away at least. Half a year, even. That was still rapid compared to the year she would have expected on her own, but that growth couldn’t continue indefinitely. And while fighting wasn’t just about cultivation, Rahayu had everything else that mattered there too.

It hardly mattered that Chikere was a whirlwind of blades. They weren’t spinning and slashing randomly but with purpose, yet he always found a way through, untouched by her in the slightest. She couldn’t even cut his hair, and he would slice or impale her as he pleased. She didn’t care about the injuries, except that they made her spend time recovering.

At the moment, she had a sword stabbed through her shoulder, moving straight down through her ribcage and vital organs. She could only marvel at how it had avoided slicing anything important, weaving its way through her and shunting aside vital organs. It was even more remarkable because it was obviously not Rahayu’s normal methods. If he used serious attacks, she would find herself cut in two from head to toe, or in any conceivable direction. Probably multiple of them all at once. He yanked his sword free, and Chikere set about closing up her wounds. It wasn’t difficult, but once again she knew it could have been if he had the intent.

“That’s enough,” Swordmaster Rahayu stated.

“Enough… what?” Were they done with training for the day? She was still able to stand and hold her weapons. She did a visual check just to make sure, but she was still standing and decent on energy. Or was she supposed to leave herself injured for some sort of test?

“Enough training,” he said. “I have other things to get to.”

“When will we start again?” Chikere asked. A few hours of rest and contemplation wouldn’t hurt.

“Never,” he said. “We’re done now.”

“… What?”

His words hurt more than any of the wounds he’d caused to her up to that point. More than the mental attacks where she knew she could be cut in half, and was able to clearly visualize the damage. 

“I’m done training you,” he said simply. “You’ve seen everything I can show you. Everything. You’ll figure it out.”

But she was still learning a lot! Even if she might digest everything he’d shown her eventually, the rapid pace her cultivation had been increasing was addictive. “You can’t stop now! What do you need?” Chikere begged. “I can help you get it. I know I’m not that strong compared to you, but please… I’ll do anything.”

“Yeah?” he raised an eyebrow. “Can you push me to ascension? Because that’s literally the only thing I want now.”

“Oh.” Chikere couldn’t really respond to that. She couldn’t ask him to put his own cultivation behind hers. And she couldn’t help him ascend. She hung her head. “I can’t.”

“Obviously not,” Rahayu said. “The number of people in this world who have that capability are… extremely limited. At least individually. Your friend had a good idea though.”

“Who? Anton?”

“Yeah, the archer,” he nodded. “You can come along if you want. I’m heading to Erygan. I’m sure the journey will be good for you. You should really fight someone that isn’t me. You might notice a difference.”

“Okay,” Chikere nodded. At least he wasn’t completely abandoning her. And she really hadn’t given him anything, so it wasn’t fair to complain about him declaring the training over. She just wanted it to continue forever. “What’s in Erygan?”

The air split in two as he looked to the north. “Enemies.” The declaration was once again terrifying, as if she would die as a mere coincidence should she get anywhere near him when he was serious. It was like blades cutting into her. “And while I don’t know that the ones there will matter, eventually they have to send a challenge.” With that, he stepped off the edge of the little pinnacle he lived on. Chikere almost didn’t react fast enough to keep up with him, but she dropped down behind him, landing and rushing to keep up with his quick movement. She knew he could go much faster and was holding back for her, but he sure wasn’t holding back that much.

Chikere didn’t even notice the single strand of hair, only a finger length long, that had settled to the ground during their last exchange. A hair that wasn’t hers. Instead, she was far too busy absorbing the insights she had and moving her legs as fast as they could go.

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