Elder Cultivator 337

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The library of the Worthy Shore Society continued to draw Anton’s fascination- and he wasn’t the only one. Reading through complete cultivation techniques confirmed something simple but important about ascension. It required a large amount of energy. That wouldn’t be a surprise to any cultivator, but there were two general categories of how it was accomplished. The first method was similar to what happened at Black Soul Valley. A large ritual to gather ‘lower energy’, human sacrifices optional. That would allow a cultivator to forcibly ascend, after which they would in theory find themselves automatically attuning to the ‘upper energy’ from the world above. Attempting something similar before reaching the peak of Life Transformation inevitably resulted in the cultivator exploding when unable to handle the energy, which obviously resulted in their death. 

The more ‘correct’ method was to form that connection and then make use of the ‘upper energy’ to make the final step. That would be similar to what Swordmaster Rahayu did. Cutting someone in half vertically was optional, and in fact any sort of attack wasn’t strictly necessary. Even so, the expression of individual cultivators seemed to be relevant to exactly how the connection was achieved.

Anton was in another camp. His connection to ascension energy was indirect, through the concept that some version of himself would or could have ascended, and he was taking the energy from that. There was no mention of that in any of the records, but that made perfect sense. It wasn’t a proper method to ascend. Anton was inclined to believe Everheart that it would actually make him unable to take that step. If he formed a bridge to ascension energy, he would suddenly find himself unable to control something he thought he was familiar with. At least, Anton could envision that situation. 

But thinking about ascension was pointless for other reasons as well. The coming invasion was one, and the fact that he hadn’t even stepped into Life Transformation yet was another. He was studying above where it suited him the most.

The methods provided by the Ninety-Nine Stars clearly worked, and Anton didn’t find them radically different from the completed cultivation techniques. The theory was solid, he was just finding himself stuck at the moment. He was supposed to attune himself to a source of energy. This wasn’t the same as the distinction between ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ energy, but closer to elemental in nature. Anton had no problem with making a choice, but he hadn’t been able to find the right circumstances. Something was lacking, either in his ability to seek out a suitable area or his own insights. 

Anton knew that spending a year or two dealing with that step was not uncommon, and in fact if that was all the time it took him he would be considered to have surpassed the step quickly. Even five years was speedy. Ten years was the point at which people began to doubt their ability to cross into Life Transformation… but Anton heard tales of those who had taken a full century to make the step. They didn’t advance much further into Life Transformation after that point, but it still came with a significant increase in strength merely for crossing the threshold.

—–

It was probably a bit rude to scan their hosts to determine if they were members of the Twin Soul Sect, but it was risky not to do it. The Twin Soul Sect was patient, and they could easily wait several weeks to lure people into a false sense of security before destroying them all. Anton had only one reason to suspect them, but being so straightforward about secrecy he felt a little bit bad. Ultimately neither he nor the others found anything, and the Worthy Shore Society straightforwardly declared that they and all of the established sects in the Exalted Archipelago were opposed to the Twin Soul Sect and would not allow them to infiltrate. Knowing about them was most of the way to prevent them from intruding, and they weren’t lacking in knowledge or techniques.

After more than a month staying with the Worthy Shore Society, Anton finally received a response about records involving the invasion of ascended cultivators. He was the one who initially proposed the question, but all of the highest ranking cultivators were gathered to meet with some of the elders- and the sect head. 

The sect head was a woman named Margriet Gelens, with a cultivation near the peak of Life Transformation. She was also… young. No signs of age marred her body, which indicated her cultivation had been swift and smooth. Anton found it a little bit hard to judge, but he determined her to be significantly younger than himself. For someone in early Life Transformation that wouldn’t be particularly impressive. Catarina was only fifty years old, after all. However, it was still anticipated that she could take another seventy years to reach the peak of Life Transformation. That meant the sect head should have talent matching or exceeding the best that Anton knew.

It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, but Anton still found himself thrown off guard. He’d subconsciously been believing that his companions were the best the world had to offer, with himself barely managing to keep pace. Logically there should be someone who was better, but he’d so far not run into them. 

Cultivation speed wasn’t the only thing about a cultivator that mattered, but the strength radiating from the woman indicated she hadn’t cut any corners. The good news was that it felt something akin to friendly, if serious.

“Welcome, guests. As I’m sure you were apprised, I am the head of the Worthy Shore Society. I have brought you here to let you know that, unfortunately, we are unable to reveal information you are seeking. However…” she drew out the word for a few moments. “We can offer you certain assurances. During the upcoming invasion, no danger will flow over to you from the Exalted Archipelago. It is also the case that the sects of the Exalted Archipelago have entered into a pact that we will not be the aggressors in a war with the continents.”

Matriarch Afi took a moment to speak. “A pact… with who? How is it enforced?”

“That we cannot say. But be assured it is enforced vigorously.” Sect Head Gelens continued, “Even so, we recommend you to limit your visits to the Exalted Archipelago, as it is possible for the terms to be interpreted in different fashions. At least in the territory of the Exalted Archipelago, you could easily be declared as attackers by those with ill intentions. The group of pirates led by the Sea Tiger might have used that excuse… or they might not have cared. It wouldn’t have stopped us from eliminating them for other reasons, but we were unable to find the chance.”

Anton wondered about that. For a sect this powerful, taking care of a group nearby shouldn’t have been terribly difficult. Yet the displeasure at their existence seemed quite genuine. It could be some sort of unfortunate politics at play.

“It’s difficult to believe you with just words,” Catarina admitted. “However, the hospitality of the Worthy Shore Society makes me inclined to take it. I assume we would not be able to learn more elsewhere?”

“Others might even be significantly less civil about their rejection of your inquiries,” the sect head nodded. “I truly would like to explain, but it is not worth the consequences.”

“We appreciate you informing us in person,” Catarina admitted.

—–

“And so…?” Catarina asked after they were in private- with some precautionary anti prying formations. If nothing else, it would let the Worthy Shore Society avoid overhearing anything accidentally. “What do people think?”

“There is much to learn from how she said that they could say nothing,” Matriarch Afi pointed out. “I believe that the terms of this pact are enforced by a powerful sect. Possibly a coalition throughout the Exalted Archipelago. However, I would not understand why there would be terms relating to war with the continents. Especially since they would seem to have an advantage.”

Anton nodded. “Do you think it would be an issue to request information on the other sects in the area, so we can get a better picture? They should at least understand we aren’t intending to invade them. But maybe that would change their mind.”

“That could be good,” Catarina admitted. “Knowing about the other sects could be useful if we plan any sort of future interactions. However, if we don’t… I think we have everything we need to know.”

“Forgoing the potential of future interaction would be a waste,” Elder Chifuniro of the Desert Hippo Sect commented. “Especially given the wealth of knowledge a single sect possesses.” He looked to the other elders from Ambati, “Don’t you agree?”

Matriarch Afi nodded. “Of course we would not give up on that potential just because of a small risk. The Worthy Shore Society is friendly enough in their own way. If we don’t specifically ask for strengths and weaknesses but simply the relations- even just to the Worthy Shore Society- we can likely get some picture. They must have the insight to understand what else we would want, and we can accept whatever choice they make on the matter.”

Nobody had anything better to say on the topic, so after some details were discussed the meeting was concluded.

—–

There was no long debate about providing information this time. The request was made and later the same day an answer was provided. They were willing to provide information… for a service. As for that particular service, it was a box.

With a single look at it Anton knew he would be of no help, not that he would have been able to stop Catarina from snatching it away regardless. The head sized cube was loaded with tiny inscriptions making a complex formation, and while Anton could follow Catarina’s direction for purposes of breaking a large barrier, fine details would have to be controlled by her alone.

“Where did you get this?” Catarina asked Librarian Jala, who had been the one to deliver the device. Even as she asked she rotated it, looking at it from all sides. 

“Golden Star Island,” she replied matter-of-factly. “They could be considered… rivals of ours.”

“Did they make this?” Catarina asked. “Or just find it?”

“It is believed that they found it. They have skill in formations, but we do not believe it is so great as to create something such as this.” Jala shook her head. “Any progress you can make with opening it would be greatly appreciated.”

“Got it.” What sounded like an acknowledgment came with a click, as the box split open. “Ooh. Another box.”

“Oh, that… already?” Jala’s eyes were wide.

Anton shrugged, “She’s a formation master, after all. She’s been picking apart some of Everheart’s best stuff, so I’m not surprised.”

“This one is difficult,” Catarina said to no one in particular. “It doesn’t want to open. Seems like it’s holding…” There was a click and a loud thud. “… Something bigger inside.”

A two meter square cube now stood in the middle of the courtyard, and Catarina began inspecting it from corner to corner. It seemed to be the real challenge of the strange box, as by the end of the day she still hadn’t made any progress, despite getting help to shift it over onto a new side every once in a while to reveal the hidden bottom side.

Anton was standing around to watch for a while, but he had something else to do the next morning. The Worthy Shore Society was already satisfied with Catarina’s results, and began providing information. They simply hadn’t expected something so significant right away, and thus were taking time to compile it. Perhaps they were still holding out, but they were already revealing tantalizingly concrete details about the strength of various sects over the course of time, and their relations with each other and the Worthy Shore Society. The information mostly indicated that it would be suicide to fight them… but also that they were far from unified, despite all being part of Exalted Archipelago.

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