Elder Cultivator 471

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As much as he didn’t trust Everheart, Anton had a greater distrust for the Exalted Archipelago as a whole. The actual actions of Everheart that had affected him had trended towards positive- and when the dangers of his Tombs were counted as training, Anton couldn’t think of anything harmful Everheart had done to anyone living. Certainly, he was a terrible enemy to have and not the most pleasant of companions, but he was a single individual.

The Exalted Archipelago, meanwhile, had been around for generation after generation. Many cycles, though they would not say how many, as the Trigold Cluster’s repeated invasions intentionally erased the history of the world’s natives to keep them weakened. Though there was no evidence that they took active part in such activity, merely squatting upon their world was already too much. In fact, Anton might have preferred it if they had the guts to conquer everything, instead of being happy with their own portion of the world while the rest was allowed to be invaded and ravaged every cycle.

Anton understood that the ultimate decision makers were not present in Ceretos, but when the Trigold Cluster removed their restriction on interfering with the continents some of the sects pounced on that opportunity for personal gain instead of maintaining a status quo. What currently remained of the Exalted Archipelago was… tolerable. Some he might consider allies, some were neutral, and other factions were enemies until they could prove themselves otherwise. Anton continued his training in case his threats of violence should need to prove themselves again.

So far, nothing had come up after the incidents surrounding him reaching Assimilation, but cultivators weren’t so quick as to manage everything in individual decades. Surely some were plotting. But overall, the Exalted Archipelago was… fine. Even if the Exalted Quadrant above them was festering garbage.

—–

“Hey! Anton!” People ignoring his title and calling him directly by name never would have bothered Anton in the past, and it was likely because of the individual involved that it annoyed him… which was also definitely the reason it was being done. “I heard a fun story about you.”

Anton turned his eyes to Everheart, helpfully disguised as someone much younger… and with a fuller head of hair. After previous complaints about roaming about freely Everheart had begun to stick close to Anton ‘so you can see if I’m up to anything’ which was perhaps worse than having him roam free. “What did you hear?” Anton asked.

“You wiped out a bunch of sects!” Everheart exclaimed. Explaining his presence wasn’t easy, though Everheart did a good job of providing excuses for why such a powerful individual had not been previously noticed. At the moment, he was masquerading as an Assimilation cultivator- something that few individuals were qualified to disprove.

“I was involved with the war against the Twin Soul Sect, and those who welcomed them,” Anton admitted. “Your formations also contributed to that greatly.”

“Well, sure,” Everheat said, inviting himself to sit next to Anton. “But I’m not talking about that little deal on the moon, or any of that other stuff. Let’s face it, you only helped with that. I’m talking about wiping out those punks from the Exalted Archipelago. And don’t say you were merely a part of that too. The way I heard it, everyone else was just for show.”

Anton sighed, “I will admit that my growth in cultivation allowed me to have a more significant impact at that time.”

“And it was your choice to go to war,” Everheart nodded. “If you’re going to do something stupid like fighting people head on, then even with power like yours bringing along other people as a backup is smart. Things like that almost make me wish I had friends.”

“Almost, huh?” Anton asked.

“They’re liabilities,” Everheart explained. “They’re just gonna get killed or used against you or betray you.”

Even if Anton’s Insight couldn’t pick out anything particular in what Everheart said, he knew that Everheart’s attitude had to be influenced by his previous life. He’d mentioned ‘his woman’ once or twice, and obliquely talked about some individuals that should have been friends. But they were no longer around for one reason or the other, and while Everheart’s personality driving them off might have seemed like an easy explanation, Anton didn’t think that was most likely. When he wanted to, the man could be downright decent.

“… you should be happier that you wiped out enemy sects, no matter how you accomplished it,” Everheart said. “A timid attitude like yours will get you in trouble otherwise. Though it makes sense, I suppose. You’re barely even two hundred! Can’t believe you have a face like that already.”

Anton’s early cultivation career wasn’t a secret, but he didn’t like Everheart knowing things. Which was an issue, because Everheart clearly wanted to know everything. Some of it was curiosity, and some of it was for future blackmail. Or perhaps all of it was for the sake of both. “Well, that’s how it turned out,” Anton shrugged.

“We should see if we can do it again,” Everheart said. “Grab a few old common folk and teach ‘em to cultivate, see if they turn out like you.”

“Most of them would die.”

“So?” Everheart shrugged, “Bound to happen anyway.”

“They would need proper motivation.”

“So set up a dead family thing.” Anton narrowed his eyes at Everheart. “Oh, I wouldn’t kill them myself. Someone else would do it, obviously. But wait, if things go well then ultimately they’d eventually figure out my tangential involvement…” Everheart stroked his chin. “This is difficult. Sure, I could just wipe them out early, but then I wouldn’t get to see all of their progress.”

“Or,” Anton said. “We could just find people who have run into trouble and help them out. I find there are many motivations for growing strong, and youth isn’t necessary. Also, finding someone who actually doesn’t cultivate at all…” Anton shook his head. “That’s difficult.”

“Fair point,” Everheart said. “Can’t believe you really tried to teach everyone. This is good stuff though,” he gestured to some food pilfered from Anton’s pantry. “If I had time to sit down, maybe I could have put together something like your long-term plan to empower the world.”

“I can’t believe nobody else did anything like this before,” Anton frowned. “But it seems rare even in the upper realms.”

“That’s because people are inherently selfish,” Everheart said.

“I’m significantly more wealthy and influential than I would have been if I tried to hoard resources all to myself,” Anton pointed out.

“Well… that’s because you’re a mediocre wealth gatherer,” Everheart said. “Though I must admit you’ve put the world in a much better state for any sort of resource snatching operation. It’s a good thing you figured out that Assimilation gig or you’d run into the danger of a power imbalance taking you out.”

“It still might,” Anton said, unconcerned.

“Ugh, I can’t believe you actually practiced Fleeting Youth. That was a stupid thought I had on the side.”

“On that note,” Anton drove the topic, “What do you know about reincarnation? Especially what the Twin Soul Sect was doing.”

“Me? Oh, not much. That’s all top secret crap,” Everheart shrugged.

“… Why didn’t anyone warn the upper realms of our development before the invasion?”

“Who knows?” Everheart looked away. “Maybe they were stupid. Or maybe someone trapped and annihilated their souls. Hey! Who said that?” Everheart’s eyes dashed around, then he coughed. “Ugh, can’t believe my stupid projections…” Everheart grumbled, but Anton knew the basic gist of it. He saw them shove their way into his head. Everheart might have become his own biggest enemy, though it was unclear if the mental damage was worse than that to his cultivation.

“Was that the one on the moon who got me out of that trap?”

Everheart laughed, “I hadn’t thought my own technique would look like the Twin Soul Sect and their allies. And hey, I didn’t have to get you out of there!” Everheart clapped his hand on the table, “Remember that you owe me your life!”

“In that case, we’re more or less even,” Anton said. “Though I didn’t start the conflict with you, so you still owe me some.” He wasn’t going to push that, of course. If Everheart just stayed around to make things harder for the invaders and did nothing else, he would be satisfied. He wasn’t sure if the man would actually stick around during the invasion, risking his own life. Maybe he could play up the potential wealth they would bring? They’d have to send people with better equipment than before, if they wanted to not get entirely annihilated. Ceretos had grown considerably.

“Even? After all the benefits you reaped from my Tombs?”

“I passed the challenges to get the rewards,” Anton shrugged, “Unless there was something about those that was supposed to be a favor to people?” Anton still believed it was meant to build up the local inhabitants to be stronger- beyond just the moon thing explicitly calling out invaders. But Everheart didn’t like to admit to doing anything ‘helpful’.

“Yeah, whatever,” Everheart crossed his arms in front of him. “Maybe I should have learned to channel stars like you. Imagine blowing up the star for an enemy’s system!” Everheart laughed, “They’d never see it coming.”

“That’s not only excessive, but also would damage my own cultivation.” Plus Anton doubted he could do that even if he wanted to. He didn’t really control either star he was attuned to, just siphon a tiny fraction of its power. 

“If you’re not willing to rip out parts of your own cultivation to destroy a few planets, you’d never get anywhere in the upper realms!”

“Did a lot of planet destroying, did you?” Anton asked.

“Plenty,” Everheart said. Anton was fairly certain it wasn’t that much, though. Because even in the upper realms actually destroying a planet couldn’t be something common. Besides the waste involved, it would also be excessively difficult. Though on the other hand, Anton did hold evidence of it occurring sometimes on his back. He did believe that Everheart wasn’t actually involved with that one, though. He still wanted to replace the Grandfather Willow bow. Did Everheart think just throwing a powerful bow at him was a good apology? More likely, it was a trap, but Anton hadn’t determined it to do anything besides function as an uncomfortably powerful bow.

—–

On Xankeshan, the former location of Everheart’s Tomb in the upper realms, the population was multiplying day by day. Which was to say, it had gone from five or seven to several hundreds. The Dark Ring and Chikere’s group always had a ship or two full of people stopping by. Some took up more or less permanent residence, using it as a refuge as they tried to keep a low profile for whatever purpose. 

People weren’t allowed to just do whatever they wanted. Only those from the Order and Vari were attuned to the formations. The others were merely guests… and there were many jobs for them to take care of. Even with Xankeshan being a relatively small planet, there was no way for their group to manage everything about the planet. Even so, the thing easiest on a wide scale was setting up the ecosystems. Outside of the Gardens, plantlife was scarce. In the Gardens, it was generally hostile. Useful if they wanted the planet to be a deathtrap, less so if they wanted to live there. So with Hoyt’s guidance, they began farming.

A Life Transformation cultivator or Integration cultivator could cover vast swaths of land on their own, though there were limitations due to not having suitable tools. A cultivator could use a standard iron hoe indefinitely if they properly protected it with energy, but it wasn’t the same as having something custom made for greater jobs. On that note, scavenging the remnants of the Smithy was helpful. Most of the equipment and the great forge had been ripped away as Everheart fled the planet, but not everything. There were lesser forges that hadn’t been brought along, and though none of the members of the Order present had the right smithing skills, they could hire out for that.

Hundreds of people still made the planet effectively bare, but trying to grow too fast would risk control of the planet slipping out of their hands- even if they retained control over the formations, if millions of others who did not care to listen to them were already inside the defensive barriers, it hardly mattered.

That was why they were trying to gather more they trusted from Ceretos, with the eventual idea to perhaps include others who ascended from the lower realms. Some people were from the Order, including Velvet who had yet to actually be present upon Xankeshan. She had ways to communicate with them, but the recent events had scared people away from the planet, at least for a few years. No doubt when they returned there would be conflicts to overcome, proving who was actually in control. Hopefully, they would be ready.

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