Elder Cultivator 319

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“That’s great then,” Catarina nodded. “It works.”

They had teleported from outside the Order to the main headquarters of the Glorious Flame Palace. Without anything in the way of real fanfare, they departed and arrived.

Despite the lack of official fanfare on her part, there were excited cheers from all around them. Anton didn’t have any real part in putting the whole thing together and just happened to fill in the numbers. He found it exciting, but some of those who had been more closely involved were much more enthusiastic. And the members of the Glorious Flame Palace, who were always quite expressive in their actions. Annelie also happened to be present, giving a fairly subdued but honest round of clapping.

“I’m impressed,” Anton said to Catarina. “I didn’t really expect it to fail since you were confident, but I’m still surprised. Teleporting like this seemed like the sort of madness that is exclusive to Everheart.”

“It’s not, though. There were traces of similar formations found in the Luminous Ocean Society’s area.”

“I never heard about that,” Anton admitted. “Though it wasn’t really relevant to what I was doing.”

Catarina nodded, “It was long after you went. They also weren’t immediately recognizable because they seemed to have been intentionally destroyed- likely before the attacks.”

“It does seem to be a security hole,” Anton admitted. “If anyone can just use these…”

“It’s not quite that simple,” Catarina said. “But we have to assume the invaders would be able to activate them. We thought of that, and these are designed to be disassembled easily.” Catarina pointed out a few stones sunk into the floor that could easily be removed, without which the formation would be missing critical functions. “Those keystones can be removed safely by anyone.”

“What happens if you try to teleport somewhere that has done that?” Anton asked.

“Nothing,” Catarina replied straightforwardly. “Except likely a waste of a significant amount of energy. The test of doors Everheart had is actually a better representation of what is happening. They’re more like portals that you just happen to be across the threshold of when they activate. So if they don’t activate, they’re nothing.”

“That’s comforting to know,” Anton nodded. “Though I worry that agents of the Twin Soul Sect could just replace the sections that were removed.”

“It would require them being in control of both ends and able to coordinate their efforts. And in the event of an invasion, the plan is to destroy the keystones, or perhaps more.” Catarina shrugged, “Though keeping them out of important areas is also the best precaution. This one… was mostly meant to be temporary. Though the Glorious Flame Palace liked the idea of convenient travel to Graotan.”

“How easy are they to use?” Anton asked.

“The process is simple. However… I should note that we had set up energy stored ahead of time for this test. If we were to activate even this small formation we would require the expenditure of the majority of ten Essence Collection cultivator’s energy stores.”

“That’s not too bad,” Anton admitted. “Especially if it could save weeks of travel between continents, for example.”

“Unfortunately, distance is also a factor. From the shores of Brogora to Aicenith is several times the distance of this formation, requiring markedly more energy. A few dozen Essence Collection cultivators couldn’t transport much more than themselves. There is a minimum amount of energy required for activation, and more based on the amount of stuff transferred. More or less.”

“What about storage bags?”

“They only seem to care about the outer portion, which is insignificant. However, there are some calculations still to be made. Earlier tests had anomalies in energy required that we estimated to be inversely proportional to the beast’s fatigue levels. The same might apply to humans.”

“Which means…?” Anton understood all of the words, but her explanation was insufficient for him to do more than just guess what she meant.

“Higher level cultivators will likely have to exhaust themselves to travel through. Natural energy seems to be one of the factors of total quantity.”

“That makes it a bit difficult to use them to send reinforcements… but helps with security issues.”

“Except invaders could simply use objects storing energy. It’s ultimately inefficient since most cannot be restored, but war is a time people accept inefficient.”

“I feel like you’ve had these conversations with other people already,” Anton admitted. “Sorry to make you catch me up when I don’t really have anything to do with them.”

“It’s fine,” Catarina smiled. “They’re all valid concerns.”

“So about going back home…”

“We walk. Or fill it up with energy and teleport.”

“I think the latter is ultimately more efficient,” Anton remarked.

“That’s right. First I have to talk to those working over here though,” Catarina gestured towards the red walls around them, and the people cheering and waiting nearby.

—–

The world was changing so much Anton had a hard time keeping up. He wasn’t sure if that was true for everyone, but having gone from not being a cultivator to witnessing lost techniques like teleportation formations be reacquired and put into effect he didn’t know how to react. Plus there was re-establishing communication with the rest of the cultivator world, connecting more people together. It was all so much and felt too fast… but also too slow. Or perhaps, too late.

Anton wondered what Everheart was thinking. If he had an accurate time of the invasion, why not give it? Along with that, if he could have given a few more decades or a century… how much more progress would they have now?

The tomb of ascension even caused significant damage to the Twin Soul Sect, catching some of their members in a trap. It was a shame it hadn’t gotten all of their highest ranking members, but no sect- even a distributed one like the Twin Soul Sect- would send all of their members to one place together. Especially when others could take the risk and ultimately give them the information they sought anyway.

If that had all happened a century before… actually, Anton could think of plenty of reasons why it wouldn’t have gone well. If it weren’t a time of crisis, there could be wars between the continents. And if the Twin Soul Sect had been weakened a century before, there would have been a century for them to rebuild and develop countermeasures. Anton wasn’t willing to say that Everheart was right about everything, but he could at least understand there were reasons for what the man did. Ultimately, there was no way to say what was right, since only one course of action could actually happen.

At the current moment, Anton was taking a break. He wasn’t the sort of person who could just sit around and do nothing of course. He still cultivated, and he was actually living with the Rileys in Carran. Catarina’s father and mother didn’t need him to work on their farm, but they also couldn’t stop him. Nobody had ever been able to, but now at least they couldn’t say he was too old. He was older, but cultivation allowed him to remain active.

“These are some good looking chickens,” Anton complimented Jasper on his work as they fed the chickens in the morning. “That rooster… I feel like you don’t have to worry about foxes breaking in with him on guard.”

“That’s right,” Jasper nodded. “They’ve grown big and strong. Had to upsize the coop for them. But it also takes more work to keep them contained…” he shook his head. “They can peck through wooden fences eventually, and seem liable to wander off if we don’t keep a watch on them. And while foxes might not be able to challenge them, some of the bigger beasties out in the forest might find them a good snack.”

Anton nodded. “I hear Timothy’s father has been keeping down the beast population, right?”

“Him and the hunters. The problem is, they’re attracted closer to town now. Greater concentrations of natural energy and all that.”

Anton nodded. That was one of the risks that hadn’t been initially obvious, but it should eventually stabilize. And though the total number of those fully devoted to cultivation was not all that much higher, those who practiced the profession of a hunter could handle the local areas. It was the same sort of risks people always had to manage.

“I’m amazed at how these crops have changed,” Jasper looked out over nearby fields. The Riley’s farm had expanded over the last two decades simply because of their prosperity and ability to work more land. Everything they planted now thrived in an environment high in natural energy. Some of the plants had been developed in the intervening time while others had been taken as they were. Most of what the Rileys grew were still suitable for people who didn’t cultivate, or only cultivated a small amount. Some had larger concentrations of natural energy that required a cultivator to process. They ate some of those themselves, and sold the rest. 

If they hadn’t begun to cultivate under Anton’s guidance, the couple would have been at the age where they were considering retirement- or at least cutting back on the work. Catarina obviously hadn’t taken over the family business, but they knew that would be the case two decades prior. Now they were both in Spirit Building and felt younger than when Anton had first met them. They wouldn’t impress anyone with their cultivation speed, but at their current rate of advancement they would still be outpacing their aging for a while. Time would eventually catch up to them, but it got everyone.

Anton was aware of that for himself, but he was pretty sure that the invasion would get him first. He couldn’t sit out of it even if he wanted to. He knew anti-ascension techniques, and Everheart had insinuated that the invaders would be looking to wipe out anyone who knew them. Though he could be lying about that just to spur people to action. That… actually sounded quite plausible. Nonetheless, it would hopefully motivate those who thought passivity might save them. Anton supposed that individual lives might actually be spared that way, but that wouldn’t protect the world’s advancements. 

“So…” Anton asked. “How ‘s that queen going for ya?”

“I’ll be honest,” Jasper shook his head. “It’s weird. Flora is actually the one who interacts with the ants the most. They can’t communicate much, except we can tell them to stay out of certain places. Seeing them wandering around the house is weird, but they clean up crumbs and the like. They help clear the fields of waste, too. Hardly have to worry about other bugs, though locust are still a threat.” He shook his head. “What are they for?”

“Do you really want to know?” Anton asked.

“Maybe not,” Jasper sighed. “They’re a defense against cultivators I guess. So we appreciate that.”

Anton nodded. “That’s the general idea. It’s pretty safe here, but you never know what might happen.” It wasn’t favoritism for them to have some of the ants, either. Not entirely, anyway. They had been cautiously allowed to expand over the years, but their higher intelligence and ability to communicate on a small level eventually won out. While most of them seemed slightly less intelligent than the first queen that still liked to hang around Anton, they all understood the same things. 

Moderation in expansion and cooperation with humans. They were specifically aware that if they made humans angry they might get wiped out. While it wasn’t necessarily the best basis for a relationship… it was true. And while the ants were a threat in some ways, they were actually more of a threat to cultivators. If they chose to, they could attack and kill a cultivator. Perhaps a handful, before people caught on and wiped them out. The same was basically true of normal humans though. One colony might kill a few. And it also included, in theory, ascension cultivators. The risk of a few people dying- which hadn’t happened at the hands of the ants a single time in more than a decade- was very easy to weigh against the mere possibility of taking out an ascension cultivator. Calculating with human lives was callous, but possibly necessary.

And again, they understood that cooperating with humans was better. People liked dogs even though dogs could kill a person. Besides, no matter what happened they probably wouldn’t be a bigger threat to humans than humans were, so letting them live in peace was perfectly reasonable. Though Anton hoped that when the right time came, they would understand they were no longer supposed to be peaceful.

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