Elder Cultivator 328

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Despite the fact that Anton was completely uninjured, he knew the formation had done its job. He was completely drained of energy and would be unable to fight even an early Spirit Building cultivator. Even carrying his bow was a greater strain than expected, as he could not shield his body with even a small amount of defensive energy. The sharp edge weighed down on his thinly armored shoulder. Without any momentum behind it the cutting power wasn’t much, but he moved carefully to avoid jostling it.

Since Chikere had already walked straight into the following room before without issue, everyone followed the same trail as her. However, the area really did seem to be devoid of traps. But, around a corner they came upon an astounding sight. Six corpses with perfectly preserved equipment, unaffected by the ravages of time. As for the bodies themselves, five of them were little more than bones. The five bodies were arranged around the sixth in the center, which was still bound to them by translucent, nearly intangible chains. The body in the middle was… nearly perfectly preserved.

Nobody approached as people waited for Elder Vasu to arrive. Anton walked up next to Chikere, whose myriad of swords hanging in sheaths around her always looked rather clunky. Without the assistance of natural energy, he thought it should be difficult to move. “Aren’t those heavy?”

“A few swords will never weigh me down,” Chikere said with her arms crossed in front of her. Anton could see some strain just to keep the position… but he supposed it was a form of training. Even if a cultivator wanted to train using only their physical body, when they had natural energy it was almost impossible to not use it. Even in the best case it was used for recovering the muscles and encouraging growth, so Anton didn’t actually know if training fully without energy would be beneficial. It certainly wasn’t fit for him.

Elder Vasu didn’t take long to arrive, though it was clear he was being cautious entering the area. Everyone looked to him for what to do, but he didn’t seem to have a specific idea either. He slowly walked around the arrangement of people. “They do seem quite dead, even the fellow in the middle. One would wonder why they would do this, though. If he was an enemy, at the point he was drained of energy and bound he could have been easily slain. If a friend, I would wonder what the chains were for. Unfortunately, we have not found intact versions of the Chain Harmony Sect’s cultivation technique.”

Anton didn’t have much to contribute to that, as he agreed with everything Elder Vasu said. The body was preserved for a reason, but without any explanation they couldn’t be sure what exactly was intended. Furthermore, though the energy draining formation did not seem to be present around them, the area was also devoid of any traces of natural energy for anyone to absorb and make use of. Anton was quite used to enhancing his senses with natural energy.

Elder Vasu stepped forward to take a close look at the ephemeral chains, but as he did so they shattered. Every hand in the room went to a weapon- or more than one- but besides the links consecutively falling apart, nothing happened. Even the corpse held still by them was balanced well enough to remain in position. “Well then. At this point, I believe it would be acceptable to search the outer bodies.” As he said that, he stepped towards one and began the process. He carefully picked out the bones, laying them together in a single spot while separating the equipment. It seemed to be a full set of enchanted equipment. Armor was a given, though much of cultivators armor resembled clothing. Cultivators prized the ability to move easily over slightly more defense. There were only a few materials that were made into thick, heavy armor- and even those could do well enough in lighter configurations. Along with the armor there were boots, gloves, and various accessories that were clearly meant to enhance the wearers in various ways, though the exact details would have to be uncovered. 

Finally there was a pair of daggers- and as hoped, a storage bag. 

The others were all quite similar, though the exact equipment varied. The weapons seemed to be anything light, or perhaps the intention was shorter weapons. If restraining an opponent with chains, it would be a shame to entangle oneself in the process. That was what Anton presumed, anyway. As for the actual answer… that might be found within the storage bags.

Before opening them, the storage bags were studied carefully. Sometimes they had additional formations that were meant to protect them from theft. Most cultivators simply secured them with energy so that only a stronger cultivator could possibly take them away. Depending on the size and configuration, smaller sized bags could be worn under the layers of clothing and armor, though this made it harder to retrieve anything during a fight. 

Ultimately it was decided that they would be opened away from the area, when people had their energy recovered and could defend themselves. As for the body in the middle… it was carefully checked over to make sure it wasn’t simply a person in a state of near-death. It was almost crazy to think that someone might be alive after centuries without any form of sustenance, but with cultivators it paid to be careful.

By every discernable feature, the woman was dead- to the point that determining it had been a woman through the mummified features took some effort. At that point it could have been taken away, but instead Elder Vasu decided to be cautious. “I will stay here. I am not comfortable bringing this body out of this place.” He already had a writing implement in hand and was scribing on a piece of paper he’d retrieved. “Bring this letter back to the sect. Have them send whoever they deem necessary. No matter the origin of this corpse, it requires further study and great care.” Elder Vasu’s fingers twitched as he wrote, as if trying to keep up with the rate he was used to. “Everything else can be brought back.” He stood and gestured everyone towards the exit. “I will station myself outside of this place, since I don’t much care for the idea of remaining here long term.”

He was also little stronger than anyone else. Anton didn’t expect him to say that, even if the Million Sword Vault was full of loyal cultivators. Actually, Anton wasn’t sure if he’d bet on Elder Vasu or Chikere being the strongest without the use of natural energy. All he could say was that he was certainly not the strongest. Not without a more modest bow and some reasonable physical arrows. Even the black thorned arrows that were so special would simply fly less straight and true with no real benefits given nobody had a drop of energy in them.

Though maybe he could summon some ascension energy. But looking at the corpse, Anton knew that might be a bad idea. Despite the state it was in, he almost felt as if it could come back to life… and he wouldn’t give it that chance. He didn’t get the feeling that five people sacrificed their lives binding an ally.

—–

Leaving the island wasn’t quite as simple as it seemed. Though the eruption had ended- and even the fires that caused- the beasts living on the island didn’t suddenly stop existing. It seemed that most of them had survived, in fact. Some of them were quite interested in trying to eat the rare humans. But even without Elder Vasu, they were able to cut down their foes. He had not been necessary before, but Anton found it was nice to have the fallback of someone stronger than oneself. That was why people brought sect elders along to places that were estimated to be far too weak for them. Security for their disciples.

But it wasn’t as if Anton could expect to have elders watching over him anymore regardless. He was hardly a weak disciple that needed escorting everywhere. This particular place just happened to be an exception to the level of danger that was most common throughout the world. 

Other than a somewhat harried escape from the island, which already had new plant growth springing up from the charred landscape, the trip was rather simple. Once on the boat moving away from the volcanic islands, they carefully looked through the storage bags. Each of them had at least one copy of the Chain Harmony technique, along with other useful writings, equipment, and a small amount of wealth.

Though the technique was very different from what Devon did with chains, having the technique of an ancient sect to study would certainly help his advancement. Anton was going to try to keep one of the originals, but if not he knew the Million Sword Vault should at least allow him to make a copy. The difference was… original versions had a sort of insight woven into them beyond just the words. It went beyond just the form and function, and though it didn’t guarantee that someone would learn a technique more efficiently it provided that chance. Either way, it was much preferable to just scribblings copied from page to page.

—–

It wasn’t long before they returned with more people in tow, including Elder Wardah and another elder from the Million Sword Vault. In addition, there were some trusted allies to provide their varied expertise.

Anton returned as well, more out of curiosity than because he thought he could provide anything in specific. He was also interested in the training applications of the formation, though it was now clear it was intended for more.

If the Million Sword Vault had been a bit more ruthless they might have discovered what was beyond that point previously, but in the time since they had uncovered the area nobody had volunteered to stay until they ran out of energy. It was understandable that people didn’t want to die, and while the Million Sword Vault wouldn’t hesitate to kill their enemies, they also weren’t the sort to use them as a sacrifice. The others who knew about the discovery were of the same mind, so several decades had passed with nobody deciding they needed to push themselves to the point of determining what would happen. 

Though Anton supposed it was possible some disciples had fully exhausted themselves on accident and just didn’t realize it. They could have thought they just barely made it out in time and that was all. 

The study of the corpse began slowly, merely observing the sitting figure through sight. Sometimes that was from quite up close, but that revealed little more. Finally it was decided that little more could be learned where they were. Without energy to sense the structure of the cultivator’s body, all they could really tell was that they had skin, which was hardly revelatory. 

Before moving the corpse, every piece of equipment was stripped, replaced with simple clothes for modesty in case it was a person worthy of respect. There was also a magic bag on them, which was a subject of much enthusiasm. Then every Life Transformation and Essence Collection cultivator on the scene left the area, gradually recovering their energy back to their full stores. It was more than a week later that a group of four disciples carried the body out, passing through the formation. There was no reaction, as expected. 

When the body got beyond… nothing happened. It was just a corpse, after all. But the cautions felt very justified to Anton. Shortly afterwards, he found there was something he was uniquely qualified to contribute. “If you would, Anton,” Elder Wardah gestured. “We are fairly certain this was an ascender. If you could gently provide such energy, we would like to observe the reaction.”

Anton nodded, “Of course.” He stepped forward, gathering energy carefully. He knew that if this person was suddenly going to wake up, this would be the time. However, a single strand of ascension energy wouldn’t give them much to work with. 

Instead of anything overly exciting, he was able to observe an interesting reaction. His energy easily passed into the body as it would any other object, but the strand of energy he was using seemed to almost want to cling to the body. “Can I try something?” The various elder agreed after Anton explained. Carefully, Anton left the strand of energy in the body. He slowly let it leave his control. In normal circumstances, it would violently break down. Even if it was a very small amount of ascension energy in the grand scheme of things, that could cause serious damage to an inert object. But the body of this cultivator seemed to be more solid than most… and where he placed the energy in the palm it seemed to settle down.

It definitely wasn’t being absorbed into the cultivator, but the body seemed to be a stable home for ascension energy. That solidified one thing, at least. After watching for reactions over the course of a day and finding no change, Anton was encouraged to add a little more in various places. Even if he used his full amount of ascension energy there was no chance for it to be enough to be a real danger with several Life Transformation cultivators around. Not much else of interest happened though- and eventually Anton was called upon to withdraw the energy. But since he couldn’t store it in himself, he had to let it fade away in the atmosphere around them.

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