Elder Cultivator 333

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A myriad of lights arrayed itself in Vandale’s consciousness. Each of them was a potential point of attack, and he chose all of the best ones. His power gathered and was propelled down from heights above the area, releasing their energy in an explosion at his whim.

It was a small scene that Anton encountered containing only a minor insight by Life Transformation standards, but it triggered other memories of the man. They were friends, and despite their gap in cultivation and actual age they had a similar heart. Vandale had the most potential to ascend of any member of the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars in his same generation. He didn’t fail because he didn’t have the talent or the will, but because he could not bear to leave those he cared for behind. 

He was not the only one the Order lost during that time, the number of Life Transformation cultivators dropping from twenty to thirteen. Only now was it finally recovering, though nobody could yet match Vandale. 

The Order had not lost its stability, despite the setbacks. Other sects lost similar numbers, and the war with the Twin Soul Sect and Flying Blood Cult had practically eradicated their presence on the continent. Now it seemed they were nearly expunged from the world. There was some uncertainty about the Exalted Archipelago to the west, but the limited contact with them had indicated they understood the threat of allowing the Twin Soul Sect to remain. Ayotunde and those with him had been convinced that at least those they talked to were genuine in that regard.

Anton was not at ease though. He knew it was not his job to go into an area and solve all their problems, but issues of the Twin Soul Sect were a problem for the entire world. If he could at least know enough about the situation to determine for himself that they had eradicated them or at least were working on the issue, he would feel better. 

He was not the only one with the same concerns. The Order and other factions were not satisfied with the results of the previous expedition, and the people of Ambati were most concerned about the possibilities. As Ambati extended to the western coast they were some of the first who might run into trouble, should the invaders gain a foothold in the Exalted Archipelago. 

It was decided to send another group. They had to be of sufficient power to broker some respect without being so strong as to seem like an invasion. Even if the general desire of the Archipelago was to be left alone, some minor intrusions of their privacy would get the people out of their hair more quickly. Though it was much preferable to simply find groups more open to the exchange of information. It was the uncertainty that was the issue.

Anton volunteered to go, of course. Catarina quickly signed up as well. She had not been present with Anton for the first expedition to the Aicenith, and with her current studies completed she wanted to go. Of course Timothy would come along with her. Hoyt and Velvet were eager to join as well. Devon hoped to participate in something new. Alva was the last member of the Order, unless Fuzz was counted.

Glorious Flame Palace and the Frostmirror sect sent disciples as well. Anton didn’t have any deep connections to the cultivators from the former, but he did know Marsen from the latter. As for the two he was most familiar with from those sects… they were staying behind. Anish and Annelie had responsibilities to their sects, though even if they didn’t… they would still be staying behind for the sake of their children. Anton suspected they might even have another one underway. 

Perhaps they weren’t as quick as they seemed, given it had been more than a decade, but Timothy and Catarina still had no children, though Anton was fairly certain they wanted at least one. If they were normal people Anton would have been concerned that they would miss the opportunity, but besides being aged almost fifty now they still had the youth of someone in their mid twenties. Even if they suddenly stopped cultivating they would likely live to a hundred and fifty or even two hundred years old just based on their current attainments. Thus, they were still young.

Beyond all of those there were the cultivators from several prominent groups in Ambati. The Temitope clan that Ayotunde had taken service to was one participating, partly due to their familiarity. Ayotunde would be returning, and Matriarch Afi would be going as well. The growth of the Temitope clan in the last decades meant that her presence was no longer necessary for the clan’s stability, and she wanted to take the chance to see a new part of the world.

The others from Ambati that Anton was familiar with to some extent were several members of the Ghameita Tribe that had been briefly encountered while looking for the Clear Lake Sect. The nomadic tribe was not deaf to the changes in the world, and they offered some of their younger members the chance to experience more of the world. 

Then there was the Desert Hippo Sect. Devon had an encounter with them in Everheart’s final tomb. They fought over over the berries of a particular bush, but they did so with honor. In fact, when the Desert Hippo Sect won the majority of the matches, they still allocated a portion of the berries to Devon and his temporary allies instead of monopolizing them. Anton remembered hearing the story when Devon asked him to help cultivate the berries. With Elder Howland’s help they had come up with a good method around the same time as the Desert Hippo Sect. As promised, both sides shared the information- which allowed them and the Order to both produce healthier bushes. Now the berries were a favorite of many disciples of the Order… as well as a clan of special deer in the nearby forest.

Anton knew little about the others involved, but they were vouched for by various parties. Thus it was that in his thirtieth year of cultivation, Anton found himself once more on the ocean, heading to a group of people he hadn’t even known existed. Yet the very fact that the knowledge had been lost meant it was important to reconnect. It couldn’t have been an accident that many details about other groups of people had been lost to time. Otherwise there would have been more information available, even after widespread destruction. Cultivators could be quite covetous of any sort of knowledge.

—–

The previous traversals to the Exalted Archipelago had not encountered the same sorts of difficulties with ocean beasts as the other ocean. There were certainly some attacks, but nothing on the scale of the kraken. Likewise, no island sized turtles had been encountered. It was expected that a creature like Paradise would be a rarity, and even if more existed it simply might not be on the route to the Exalted Archipelago. For one thing, the route curved to the south resulting in a slightly warmer climate. A majority of the Exalted Archipelago ended up further south than the southernmost part of Brogora. As for why the group left from Amabati, it was to avoid a series of nearby islands that were famous for great, destructive whirlpools forming between them. It was simpler to just take a longer route, and the currents and winds near the continent had been known to be favorable. Now it was an established route, despite it only having been traversed a small handful of times in the last decade.

One good thing about being over the open ocean was not having to worry about hitting anything. With the ships, or anything else. Specifically, Anton appreciated the ability to shoot off into the distance where he would at most disturb the surface of the water. Some fish might be spooked at the detonation of energy, but he wouldn’t cause any major harm.

Some of his arrows instead fizzled out in the air. Anton chose arbitrary targets for himself, but hitting inanimate points was trivial. Even so, he could choose to target a particular piece of sea foam or a bit of kelp. The most important part was to continue practice. It might take him ten thousand arrows to see a tiny bit of improvement, but if he didn’t shoot those arrows it would never happen. But ten thousand was not that many compared to what Anton had already shot. He might take another hundred thousand or a million before there was any noticeable difference, and even then it would take an expert like Kseniya to pick it out. Yet it was a way he could improve himself beyond advancing his cultivation to Life Transformation, a goal he felt no closer to after another year.

—–

Fuzz had decided that he did not like being aboard a ship. It was much too small and cramped. When he was up on decks, people seemed to think he was in the way. They never appreciated when he tried to help with the sails or anything else, though perhaps that was because the sailors themselves hardly did anything. Most of the time the wind and weather didn’t change so suddenly that the sailors had to be active at all points.

Since he didn’t like being on the ships and people thought he was in the way, he went in the water. There were all sorts of interesting things beneath the surface he could catch. He wasn’t that good at swimming, but he found that his energy helped make up for that. He could even make fins like a fish to propel him forward.

Fuzz liked to catch the various little creatures. Some of them had a lot of teeth, like the ‘sharks’. They were interesting because they were crunchy but their bones were not like bones. They were definitely better food than the rations on the ships though.

When Fuzz came back onto a ship, people complained about him being wet. When he dried himself, they complained about that. Fuzz wondered if humans ever did anything but complain. At least Alva understood. She apologized for there not being much space. Fuzz was happy to put up with the various difficulties to stay with her- and the other members of the pack.

It was unfortunate that Alva couldn’t ride him around. She weighed basically nothing, but he found that he missed her presence on his back. Eventually he coaxed her to get on even though they couldn’t run around. When he jumped in the water she was surprised, but didn’t really complain. As he dove underwater he found that it was extra hard to swim with a person on his back. On the surface of the water, he was not very fast. 

That was until Catarina and Alva worked together to teach him something interesting. He could use his energy to stand on top of the water! It wasn’t exactly stable, and would throw him off balance based on the shifting of the waves- but it allowed him to run around. That meant Alva could probably hang out on his back, and they got to run around, circling the ships. 

Some of the cultivators joined them as well. While the ships could only travel up to a certain speed, cultivators at “Essence Collection” were able to support themselves on water and keep up with the ships. Most cultivators quickly got bored, but Fuzz thought that was because they didn’t know how to enjoy the best things in life like running. Or eating anything you could catch in your mouth. 

There were a couple problems with being out on the very big lake called an ‘ocean’. One was that the water wasn’t very drinkable. It was salty, which was tasty, but it only made him more thirsty. If he wanted to drink it he had to filter out the salt, which made it taste like fish. The second problem was that it was hard to smell stuff underwater. If he took a sniff water tried to get into his lungs. It was a lot of work to avoid that. Overall, though Fuzz enjoyed the ocean, he would prefer it when they were back on land.

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