Elder Cultivator 332

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Coming up with improvements for something named Paradise wasn’t within Anton’s capabilities. The great turtle seemed to have an ecosystem that was as good as it would be, at least without the skills of a more experienced expert involved. Anton doubted if there was anything that could be introduced without disrupting the balance. He just wondered if it was intentional or happenstance that things ended up that way.

Though everyone was quite happy to stop for a time on Paradise, they were also in the middle of a journey. Paradise didn’t move quickly, but it was technically heading in the wrong direction. Anton and the others on the same ship bid Erin goodbye, though the rest of the Island Tenders had kept to themselves.

Then they were back to the journey. Anton couldn’t wait for the day the trip could be done with a quick teleportation instead of a longer journey. He had the patience to wait, but he was constantly aware of more important things that could be done with his time. A couple decades felt like no time at all.


Seven more years brought Anton to the peak of Essence Collection. The fifty-eighth star was the boundary with Life Transformation, a threshold only two members of the Order had crossed in the last twenty years. That was out of over two hundred Essence Collection cultivators, some of which had been at that verge the entire time Anton was part of the Order. It was presumed that they would not surpass that point after such a long time, at least without some sort of fortunate occurrence. 

Anton had felt the gap between stages deeply over the last year. He did not find himself aimless, but it wasn’t a smooth transition either. He had one last method before he would have to seek out some sort of enlightenment. He knew he was extremely fortunate to even have his current option, because the Vessel of Insights was a potent and irreplaceable object. Anton didn’t brag about having it though. It was better if everyone forgot about it, since Everheart had given it out to Spirit Building cultivators. Anton wondered if there were more like it. Perhaps. 

He looked at the insights contained in it. Every strand from Essence Collection and lower had already been absorbed by him. It would still pick them up during his travels as he trained with various people, and Anton made sure to provide people at least as much as he learned from them. Usually more, since most of their techniques weren’t applicable for his use. 

Of the others, he still had strands of insight from Vandale and Kseniya. Other Life Transformation cultivators were included, and Anton considered himself ready to absorb them. All but one of them, anyway. He shuddered whenever he looked at one in particular. That would be the insight from Swordmaster Rahayu upon his ascension. It was more radiant than the others, and Anton knew it would destroy him to attempt to absorb it at the moment. Even Life Transformation insights would be difficult.

He knew that at best they would be somewhat incomplete, but Anton had the confidence to absorb at least some of the information- and to do so safely. He started with a strand from Elder Sarka of the Glorious Flame Palace. It appeared quite incomplete. Sometimes they were half an insight at best, as the Vessel of Insights was by no means perfect. During large battles it struggled to pull in everything it could, but much was left wanting. Anton wasn’t sure when he’d come into possession of that particular strand, but absorbing it should provide some context. In most cases, anyway.

He picked it up gingerly and let it flow into him. The strand of insight wormed its way through his meridians into his dantian where he began to refine it, breaking it down into something useful. It was hot. Burning. Both the insight and act of absorbing it. Rather than risk damaging himself, Anton allowed it to flow out of him. Even so, he held on to what he safely could. Flashes. Fire and water. Things that burned and things that did not- and the selective burning of things that were reluctant. 

And tentacles. It was part of one of the kraken battles. The incomplete nature to begin with and the lost pieces didn’t tell him which one. As for the usefulness of the insights… he at least comprehended a bit more about fire. That was part of the reason he picked it. Stars were more or less fire, and the Ninety-Nine Stars was able to make use of the fire element when they chose to. He’d practiced it in the past, but he generally found fire was unnecessarily wasteful compared to the pure natural energy like the basic form of Spirit Arrows. It was more suited to wide area attacks, far outside his specialty. Still, he learned something. Perhaps later it would lead to something larger, and perhaps not.

The next strand. Anton didn’t recognize the cultivator. As for the memory, it was chaos. Yet a chaos that Anton recognized. It was the battle against the Whispering Watchers, from in the thick of the action. All he absorbed were whirling movements. Spinning, twisting, almost dancing around. When he finished absorbing it, he couldn’t help but practice a few. Most were impractical for him, as it required a flexibility beyond what he’d been able to achieve. But he still found parts he could incorporate into his movement. Marginal improvements, but that was the majority of cultivation.

Anton found another strand. Apparently he had been wrong about having no Essence Collection strands of insight left. It simply had felt on par in some ways, yet he knew this one was not. That was because he recognized it as coming from Chikere. 

It was a nearly incomprehensible mess of swords moving around. Anton actually recognized it as from the same battle. Being up close and in someone else’s head made it a completely different experience than his own and the previous pieces of insight. Specific things were seldom recognizable regardless, as it focused more on the memory of the technique involved. Anton wasn’t going to suddenly become an expert with the sword, but Chikere shared one feature with himself he could hinge on. Using multiple weapons at once. Hers were physical blades compared to his own made out of energy. She merely used her energy as hands to control the weapons. The way she synchronized her weapons was quite satisfying to experience, and though it wouldn’t apply directly to a different weapon form, Anton made sure to absorb all he could from the insights. Interestingly enough, she acted more like all the swords were a part of her and she simply had additional limbs. 

In truth, Anton had been considering making use of more physical bows at the same time- but it was even more awkward to carry extra bows than swords. He had a couple in his storage bag, but pulling them out mid-battle was only for emergencies- or if he had a spare moment and one was significantly more suited for a specific task. The only real difference was with the sword-bow, which he couldn’t cause not to form blades. 

After one more strand, Anton found himself with enough thoughts to digest for the day. Or maybe the week. Either way, he made his way out of his home- now all to himself as Alva had moved into her own place nearly two decades before. She still lived nearby, along with Timothy and Catarina as well as Hoyt and Velvet in their own places. Anton casually searched for them and found something unexpected.

He didn’t find himself comfortable at the peak of the mountain where the Life Transformation experts dwelled. It was still possible for him to cultivate higher up, but for everyday living a more moderate level was preferred. Though even where he lived was actually more inundated with natural energy than it had been when he first arrived at the Order. The power in the area was gradually increasing with the care and dedication of Elder Howland and others in the Order. And the changes around Edelhull and more distantly the rest of the country, of course.

He gradually made his way towards the unexpected change, specifically Formation Master Rana’s workshop. But that was not the woman he was seeking.

“Oh, grandpa!” Catarina stepped outside as he approached. “Good news! I just came back from the intercontinental teleportation formation. The upgrades were a success!”

“Is that so?” Anton nodded. “I’m glad to hear that, but is that it?”

“Umm…” Catarina tilted her head. “Oh! I just heard from Rana that I’m going to be taking over as the head formation master of the Order. That’s still a secret though.”

“I’m not surprised,” Anton said. “But… were you ever going to mention breaking through to Life Transformation?”

“Oh, that?” Catarina shrugged. “I guess that was important too, yeah. I had an idea when I was working on the formation.” She held up her arms where the faded remnants of temporary tattoos could be seen. “So I threw something together. And then I broke through.” She shook her head, “And no, I don’t have anything to offer you on the subject. I don’t think the same method would work for you.”

“A shame, but I understand we are very different people.” 

Catarina pondered for a few moments. “I mean, I probably could actually… but if you don’t do it yourself I’d probably have to be there at every moment you wished to cultivate. It’s sort of a dead end. I just adjusted my body to be more in tune with energy, but it’s not automatic.”

“Doubtless something that a lack of understanding would cause more harm to have than good,” Anton smiled. “Well, congratulations on your breakthrough. Have you told Timothy the news?”

“Uh, I was just told about the promotion,” Catarina said.

“About the breakthrough?”

“Oh. Nope.”

Anton rolled his eyes. It wasn’t that she didn’t care for Timothy. He knew the two were quite happy together, but she would also see him later in the day at home. And the improvement in her cultivation really wasn’t the important part to her. Even though now she was one of sixteen in the whole Order.

Anton left encouraged. While his personal cultivation wasn’t going so simply as to smoothly break through to the next stage, another powerful cultivator- and especially one he could trust- was absolutely a very important thing to have to deal with the coming invasion. Anton wondered if their entire group would be able to break through to Life Transformation. That would be an anomaly, but from what he understood there was a strange swell in talent among their peers. It could be a coincidence, but at least they had all achieved this point. If it took them another five or ten years, it would still be considered fast.

Anton truly hoped he didn’t take that long himself, but given that he had first touched cultivation at a hundred years old it was a miracle he made it through Body Tempering. In a way Spirit Building had been easier. Perhaps that was part of the reason he was finding it difficult to advance. It was difficult for everyone, of course, but Life Transformation was connected to the body in various ways. It involved attunement towards particular sorts of energies. Catarina attuning to pure natural energy was rather atypical, but it made sense from the perspective of a formation master who could then weave it to function as she willed. 

His legs carried him further up, towards Grand Elder Kseniya. Her cultivation path was similar to his own, though they had already diverged significantly despite his core being her own technique. She might have some advice for him, though she was also the sort that wasn’t good at explaining things. She might not be aware, but most of the copies of Spirit Arrows in the sect library were written by himself to guide future users. The originals remained for the sake of posterity, and so people could compare with the original author.

He smiled as he walked. Whether or not he ever grew in cultivation again, he knew the world was heading in a good direction.

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