Elder Cultivator 447

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The room was practically loaded with treasures, but instead of being enticing it seemed more worrying. Vari looked out into the magma lake to see various bits and pieces floating there. Even with the high durability of powerful items, some had partly melted even after being reinforced by the formations in the area. Even the best equipment wasn’t always prized for its durability.

“I have a question, if I may Great Everheart,” Vari said. She could see a set of metal legwear- greaves and sabatons- along with a breastplate and bracers arranged in a manner that indicated to her someone had once inhabited them and they remained where their previous owner fell. “What counts as one reward?”

“Good question,” Everheart nodded.

After a good ten or twenty seconds, Vari realized he wasn’t thinking about it. “Are you going to answer or…?”
“Nope. Have fun retrieving stuff. Though I suppose I should tell you it’s anything you can get out of the room… without tampering with the formations.” He eyed Catarina as he said the latter.

“I wouldn’t do that with someone watching!” Catarina turned up her nose.

Everheart snorted. “Good attitude.”

Everyone could feel the energy various pieces of equipment radiated. Even those buried within the magma could be felt because of their increased strength. Actually feeling details about them, on the other hand… that was a challenge. Extending senses towards the magma resulted in the tendril of energy combusting. Fortunately it didn’t propagate- but it did make it more difficult. Even the magma in a place such as this was not normally hot enough to ignite upper energy- the idea of that was ridiculous- but certain natural conditions and a bit of help from the formations made it possible.

Vari was the first to act, and she began by taking off her shoes. Before anyone could ask it seemed she had made up her mind to take a running leap over the lake of magma. In truth her previous footwear would have provided little protection, but it would still be something compared to bare feet protected only by energy that had already been shown to combust in the especially unnatural heat.

Her flight was only drawn out for a moment before she landed, her feet slipping into the footwear floating upright atop the magma. She sunk slightly as her weight was added, but the bronze footwear protected her from the heat instead of scalding her with stored heat. That was what she had determined before making the leap- she knew she wasn’t strong enough to directly face the heat. Even now she was barely resisting it, and she didn’t have to account for anything below the knee.

“Anyone else want something from the surface?” Vari said as she kicked her foot under the breastplate, sending it flying up to where the others waited. The bracers soon followed.

“I don’t think so,” Hoyt had only just begun to speak when two massive figures rushed past him on either side.

—–

“He said we can have one thing each,” Fuzz explained. “I don’t think there’s much here for me and you except…”

That,” Spikes nodded. Both wolves sniffed, smelling something beneath the flames and sulfur and general painful heat.

“Precisely,” Fuzz nodded his head. Spikes was slowly picking up that sort of humanlike habit, but Fuzz didn’t even notice he did it anymore. It was just what was normal. He barely had any memories before he was with humans.

“You will take it, then,” Spikes replied. “You are the stronger.”

“Don’t be silly,” Fuzz said. “We can split it. Besides, it’s too risky alone. The fires beneath burn like the heat of the sun.”

“What can I do?” Spikes asked.

“The same thing you did before. This is melted stone. It is not suited for swimming. You help clear the way, I protect us from fire. Though I think it will not be so simple as that.”

“Then we will take and… share it,” Spikes nodded. “Oh, the humans have already started!”

It seemed they had. The new one known as Vari was a decent human, if very confused. She seemed to be having no trouble with the surface however. Too bad what they wanted was deeper in.

“Let us go,” Fuzz said. “We must quickly go in and out, or no amount of training will save us.”

They ran to the edge and leapt in. Fuzz went first, blasting away the heat. When the two of them touched the magma, it only held them back for a moment before blasting apart, going everywhere but where they intended. Immediately, Fuzz could feel the fire trying to burrow into the two of them. Even his own energy wished to catch alight, turning to nothing. Even in relative strength, it made the heat from the last time he’d been in a similar situation seem quite comfortable. The great many-legged lizards had only lived among the sort of magma that could form in the lower realms, after all. The stones surrounding them might have been prized treasures in such a place, but here they were just natural cave walls.

Fuzz helped out by pawing at the ground, flinging the gooey magma away as quickly as he could, careful to not scorch his own undersides any more than required. Their goal was near the wall, and soon they uncovered it. It was barely small enough for Fuzz to fit his jaws around the narrow part of the great bone, but as he yanked on it to pull it away he found it was stuck. Fused into the wall.

Spikes quickly reacted, using her abilities to break apart the stone instead of worrying about forcing it free and losing some of their prize. As magma began to ooze into their quick hole, they were already on their way out. Fuzz focused on keeping Spikes free from the flames, as he had promised his protection in that regard. His claws dug directly into the wall as he brought along the bone that was as long as himself, climbing nearly vertically until he was away from the worst of the heat.

He knew his fur and pads were blackened, and his gums were burning from the remnants of magma clinging to the bone. But it would be worth it. Nothing that smelled so strongly and with such great power could be ignored. Though perhaps he should have considered his short-term combat potential when judging whether he could retrieve it.

—–

The two wolves spurred the others into action, as most had already picked out something they favored. Confidence in their own abilities didn’t mean that anyone would spend a second longer than they had to in contact with the magma. Carving into it and through it at maximum speed became their top priority.

It seemed nobody truly misjudged their own abilities, but now they had to consider if the prizes were worth the injuries. Recovering might only take a few days, but it was unclear if they had that long when seeking their current quarry. Perhaps the allure of the treasures was enhanced by the formations… or maybe they were simply so easily lured like other cultivators. 

Hoyt secured for himself an axe. Many of the treasures were already fire attuned, and this was no different. It seemed as if it were made of molten rock and metal itself, almost liquid… but solid nonetheless. Hoyt had thought that perhaps the heat it radiated was the result of its positioning, but in actual fact it was extremely uncomfortable to hold even once free from its confines. 

Timothy secured for himself a helmet that at first glance appeared black, but was actually an extremely deep purple. Not a metal, it seemed, but carved from some sort of gemstone. He was unsure if there was some function besides theoretically being a good helmet, but he would carefully test it before he actually wore it.

Catarina retrieved a handful of formation pillars- nothing like tiny plates or flags, they were each taller than a person and just as wide. Their retrieval had only been possible by sacrificing some of her formation flags to the magma. It was unclear if the value was greater, but at least she had something new to study.

Alva had gone for a quiver of arrows, but upon touching it found it to be merely a shell of what it once might have been. The entirety of it disintegrated, except for a single arrow which she snatched up and quickly brought with her.

The constant sound of the forge range through the area once more, inescapable and yet so easy to forget. So that they would not have to risk falling into the magma once more, they quickly made their way out. 

Vari ran into a bit of difficulty, as her progress was halted by an invisible barrier. She reluctantly tossed away the bracers, but found that was still not enough. The breastplate went next, and she managed to step through. She was worried that the footwear might sadistically count independently, but it seemed that was not the case. 

“Beasts aren’t allowed-” Everheart said as Fuzz and Spikes dragged the bone out of the chamber. “I guess that doesn’t count. Whatever.” He shrugged and kicked the breastplate into the magma.

—–

“It seems we have run into a great difficulty,” Fuzz said to Spikes.

“Truly, the strongest foe I have faced,” she agreed.

The two of them attempted to gnaw on the bone, but it would not break to allow them to get to the tasty marrow- or to consume it. Fuzz nearly broke a tooth when he tried to force it- and he was still considering pushing further. His human friends could help him regrow teeth if he needed it. Though it was probably a bad time to do that. They had a mission, after all.

That mission came after a break, however, and so Fuzz continued to gnaw on the bone of what must have been something very large indeed. It gave of a great power that he wanted to absorb, the tiny wisps of energy that could be gained through normal absorption being nothing compared to what it must contain should he consume it- or his share of it, at least.

“It smells like a person,” Spikes commented. “A fire-person.”

“People don’t grow this big,” Fuzz pointed out. “Though I can’t disagree. It’s not a person though.” Eating people was bad. Even if they were enemies, it was better not to eat them. That was what he had learned, and he wasn’t going to start doubting it now.

Fuzz couldn’t help but sniff. There was the bone, of course, but there was also something familiar among the scents ahead of them. They were no longer on the same route as the Twin Soul Sect, but he could still smell them. Maybe it was just all of the other familiar scents, or the fact that his nose had gotten dipped in magma. He couldn’t guarantee it was smelling right, and in fact he could guarantee it was a bit lacking at the moment. That made sense as both he and Spikes looked like black-skinned hairless wolves at the moment. They didn’t need fur, so he’d protected what was important- and barely was able to manage that.

—–

Ahead, a figure clutched his fist tightly. He hoped the tome would be worth it. Having people chase after him was not entirely on purpose, but if he was lucky the various groups would conflict with each other. He just needed to make it to the nightmare forest. That would throw off his pursuers… hopefully more than he himself was hindered. No, it should be. He had spent more time here than any of the rest of them. He knew the Tomb just like anyone knew their home. And yes, it was a terrible place to be born… but he could only say he was lucky regardless. He was alive, after all. And maybe he would be able to get something from this technique. Maybe Essentia Lockbox would turn out to be worthless for him, but as long as the Twin Soul Sect didn’t have it he could count it as a win.

Either way, he wouldn’t be staying for much longer. Not if he could help it. At first he hadn’t left the Tomb because he didn’t have the resources. Once he grew and learned- and remembered, he stayed despite the danger. He needed everything he could to get a foothold. And Essentia Lockbox might be the last piece. Or maybe it would get him killed. There were more than just a couple Life Transformation cultivators after him… and maybe some Integration cultivators. Maybe he’d been a bit too hasty, but there was no going back now.

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