Elder Cultivator 458

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The main thing that Anton could say about Rutera was that it was different. Trying to keep track of everything going on was impossible, but it was mostly people going around their daily business. People worked, visited businesses, ate, found leisure time, and everything else that humans were expected to do. The details were different than Ceretos, but all were easily recognizable. 

It was different, but good. For the most part things were peaceful, though Anton had to restrain himself from interfering too much. His senses were quite expansive even when not directed to the extremes, which inevitably resulted in spying some crime. The Ruterans could obviously handle such things on their own, but a few nudges to make someone trip up didn’t seem uncalled for. If he thought they would notice perhaps he wouldn’t have done anything, but most of them didn’t have personal energy senses.

Some areas he could not sense into- though they didn’t seem made to specifically bar his inspection, they did seem to block him. Likely for the very same reason, but against their own techniques. No doubt he could worm his way inside if he pressed, but people were entitled to their own privacy, especially if they worked for it. Anton would pick up plenty of extraneous information anyway.

One shielded location was actually their destination- a grand tower that stood out from the others not by its size but by its separation. At ground level there were gardens, instead of simply more buildings packed together. These gardens were matched by additional plantlife on balconies. He thought he spotted some inside, but they ultimately descended atop the building, the majority of its roof wide and flat and clearly for this very purpose. Transportation was clearly much more dependent on vehicles for the Ruterans, instead of cultivators who generally relied on themselves- or occasionally powerful beasts, though the expense of finding one that would consistently remain ahead of a cultivator was difficult. 

Once inside the building, even without trying the vast majority revealed itself to Anton’s senses. He could tell there were lesser versions of the protective barrier on the outside throughout, but they were much less effective. 

The others were clearly just as interested in what they were seeing as Anton. This was just like the Ruterans visiting the Order, though personally Anton thought himself better at hiding his reactions if he chose to. Though showing an appropriate level of interest was best, so that the Ruterans knew that their intentions to impress had worked.

A flurry of people were introduced to them- representatives of different regions of Rutera itself, standing for their cultural differences. It was good to know that unity hadn’t completely subsumed individual expression- differences were required for the best learning to occur. Diplomat Nirmala was present, along with so many others Anton had to focus to keep track of them all. The most important was the President. The ruler of Rutera, though it seemed to be a temporary position. Aneirin Park was his name, and he appeared to be around middle aged. Determining his actual age was difficult without probing too deeply, especially given the way Ruterans aged being different from cultivators. Even those who didn’t have any significant energy seemed to reap the benefits of technology on their lifespans.

“Welcome to Rutera” was the phrase of the day, said by their guides to the president to all of the others. Important people, certainly. Some who Anton imagined gained their powers from wealth, but a few obviously of military background. They stood out not only from their posture, but also the greater internal power they had. Using certain aspects of Ruteran technology trained natural energy, regardless of them being aware of it or not.

Serving staff of all sorts did their best to stay out of everyone’s way, and Anton did his best to make sure he encountered them regardless. They were still human, and determining how such people were treated could tell him much about the Ruterans. He was overall satisfied. It was little different than Anton would have expected. Some didn’t treat them well, thinking those performing menial labor lesser. Others were cognizant of them being people, and acted as such. In this place at least all of them were quite well paid, though it took some time to determine that. Not that he expected less from such an institution. The embassy tower was quite luxurious, and even the least pleasant people understood that servants in such places had to be paid accordingly. 

With his ability to listen in on the slightest whispers, Anton could have delved into the depths of Ruteran politics… and while he noted the various interactions, he was more interested in what was happening outside of the embassy. 

Anton turned to the individual who was assigned to be his personal assistant while present, Koby. “I’d like to see the outside.”

“Of course,” Koby nodded. “We have a few spare moments, we could tour the gardens…”

“I’m sure that would be lovely,” Anton agreed. “Though I hoped to visit more of the city. Though I understand that it would be preferred for me to see everything in the best light.”

“Other excursions are planned for the future,” Koby admitted, “But it would be preferable to remain here for a few days while you adjust.”

“I suppose so,” Anton said. “And I might cause a commotion roaming the streets.”

“Most likely,” Koby nodded. “Though perhaps not for the reasons you imagine.”

“Hmm,” Anton thought briefly. “Obviously my clothes are quite different than what is here, but there is enough variety throughout the city that without weapons I might blend in,” then Anton grinned, “Though they do an excellent job of making people uncomfortable.”

“Most people have minimal interaction with weapons.”

“Perhaps that’s for the best, though when it become necessary, lacking experience in such things can be quite problematic.”

—–

Several days passed. There were only so many ways Anton could talk about his past without mentioning just how many battles he had been in, though some of the others were more open about those aspects. Perhaps they liked to see people squirm.

For those like Ayotunde, who wore his scars proudly on his bare and strongly muscled arms, it didn’t take visible weapons for anyone to know he was a warrior. Elder Sudheer of the Silver Rhino Legion walked around in obvious armor as well, compared to Anton’s thinner and more mobile options. 

Anton paid close attention to the security around them. From what he could tell, it was increased significantly, some positions seeming bloated with guards. They always reacted to the presence of any of the cultivators, though Anton felt it was more appropriate caution based on what they had heard than an aggressive inspection. They should be around to protect them, though honestly Anton couldn’t see the individuals hired doing much against any Life Transformation cultivator. Nor any of the more military personnel, some of whom had sidearms that were not quite as concealed as perhaps they imagined.

It was not something Anton would call anyone out on, unless he thought them to have ill intent. Having weapons on hand was merely practical, and while relying on the defenses of those you were a guest to was polite, it wasn’t always safe.

One of those armed individuals was General Nicodemo, a youth by any reasonable standards. To have a position such as his at somewhere around forty years old seemed to be an exception, and he was the youngest of those in similar ranks Anton had seen. 

Anton found himself seated with Nicodemo at one of the meals. There was some polite conversation, but eventually they moved onto more interesting topics. “I hear the six of you are great warriors. Yet I am curious at how strong you can actually be, with outdated weaponry.”

Interested listeners all around tried not to look like they were focused on the conversation. “Outdated in what way? I find that our weapons are perfectly suitable for our needs.”

“Perhaps that is so,” Nicodemo said as he carefully took a bite. “But blades are only of use in a melee. I understand you are an archer, so you must understand that. Yet the range of a bow is minimal compared to a proper rifle.”

“Yet there’s a reason for every choice,” Anton replied. “Even you carry a blade.”

Nicodemo stiffened, “What?”

“Did you forget? Ten centimeters, strapped to your left thigh on the inside. Reinforced with some rather interesting alloys.” Anton smiled, “Don’t worry, nobody heard that part.” Anton released his hold on the sound around them, “Though our weapons may seem outdated, they are quite effective for our use of natural energy. Your weapons condense the energy for you, but with our individual level of control your firearms would most likely limit us.”

“I am not so sure of that,” Nicodemo said, externally appearing calmer than his heartbeat said. “Perhaps we will have a chance for a demonstration.”

“I am certain we can find the time,” Anton said. “It is a long journey, and we aren’t planning to leave immediately.” Anton was well aware that Nicodemo wanted to show off, and prove some sort of superiority. In truth, Anton was tempted to do the same. Being able to observe some of their better weaponry could be valuable, though of course he wished to keep things friendly. That was why Anton didn’t mention he could kill anyone in the room before a single guard could even think to react.

—–

If there were not a specific goal in mind for those in the upper realms, they wouldn’t have chosen to return to Everheart’s Tomb. At first it had been a convenient location to meet up, but upon discovering that the formation plate had some connection to it solving that mystery seemed to be important. There were simply too many dangers- both from the tomb and enemies, since that centrality of its location attracted all types. They had managed to survive so far, but there had been uncertain times for some of them.

Now they would be returning with Prospero Vandale, formerly calling himself Rouben. Having grown up on Everheart’s Tomb in his reincarnated life, he was still not fond of the idea of going back for no reason. “I hope that this excursion will pay off,” he said. “Revealing some great power and controlling it could help establish our position, but there are still few of us.” He shrugged, “Of which I am the weakest, at the moment, I admit.” Spikes was the only one not in the equivalent of Integration, though she had the potential to advance soon. Meanwhile, Prospero was still taking his first steps in Life Transformation. He was a bit more capable than just his cultivation level indicated, but he was a full stage behind. Yet an additional ally was a boon, especially one more deeply familiar with Everheart’s Tomb.

“You spoke of anomalies in the labyrinth,” Catarina said. “Of what sort?”

“In some areas, traps don’t function as it seems they should- whether making them more or less powerful than intended, it seems random.”

“Anything like odd gravity?”

“Not that I have heard of,” Prospero admitted. “That might have been some sort of specific action taken by Everheart. Which means we should do our best to avoid his notice upon entering now. Better for him to not have us on his mind.”

“I thought the same,” Hoyt agreed. “We can handle any incidental dangers or standard traps, but intentional moves by the fellow controlling a planet… seem dangerous. And he could learn too much.” They were never truly comfortable having such conversations, but they had not even landed yet. Which meant they were close to the last moments they could be certain their plans were secret- though they couldn’t exactly avoid conversing on the planet sometimes.

They could only hope that the various pieces of Everheart operated independently, which was the case as far as they were aware. The projections on Ceretos were only aware of each other because of knowing plans or learning about things like everyone else. There might be some communication, but the projections couldn’t share every tiny detail… or watch literally everywhere at once.

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