Retrieving the bodies of the spiked rollers was almost as hard as the battle to defeat them in the first place. They could only be dragged with their legs down which was still extremely high in friction- just better than trying to drag them with the half-meter spikes on their back and sides digging into the ground. Nobody was quite sure what would be the most valuable about them, but most of the weight was in the metal parts, which definitely should have some value. The smaller ones could be carried by one person, as long as that person was Anton, Catarina, or Hoyt. The three of them together eventually lifted the larger one as far as they could go in a short burst, then relied on the others with them to drag the creature with ropes and the like for a while. They were just fast enough that stopping to cut down logs to roll the creature atop wasn’t necessarily going to be faster, since they would have to be close to the same size and individually strong enough to support a portion of the uneven weight.
Mervyn whistled, “Damn, that’s not something you see every day. Has to way more than a cow. What the hell did it eat to get so big?”
“Cultivator cache,” Hoyt explained.
“Really?” Mervyn’s eyes lit up, “Did you find anything interesting?”
Hoyt shook his head, “Not much. As it turns out… metals are very widely used. They’re strong but can be flexible as well. It seemed pretty old, and most of the non-metal things were broken down. Even with enchantments.”
“A shame,” Mervyn said. “Hope you got something of worth. We can’t afford to pay you what this deed was worth. Of course, you’ll get the top end of the combat pay we negotiated.”
“We’ll also talk to our contacts to try to get you a reward for protecting the road,” Ebba added. “
“Don’t worry,” Hoyt said, “We just couldn’t leave them behind to attack others.”
“That’s right,” Anton said. “Though we’ll gladly accept your help trying to get a reward. If nothing else, building up some favor here in Estary should be useful.”
“Letting people know what you’ve done shouldn’t be a problem,” Mervyn said. “And these things won’t go unnoticed. We’ll have to shuffle stuff out of one of the wagons to support them…” he frowned.
Anton could see the way he looked at the wagons. “Perhaps one of us should stay in the wagon to keep it reinforced with energy.”
“That might be best. The wagons are made for heavy duty work, but the uneven weight might be a problem. Can’t just chop them up into bits though, I imagine they’re worth more whole.”
In the end, supporting the wagon was delegated to groups of four earlier cultivators at a time. They rotated out throughout the day, but it gave them a good chance to test their endurance in a safe setting. Pete and the others were approaching the third star now, while Oskar and the faster of the miners were around the second star. Since all they had to do was distribute the effect of the spiked rollers across a larger surface that could otherwise support them, it wasn’t too difficult. Still, trying different things was valuable.
The same task could have been accomplished with a simple formation carved into the wagon, but that would only last for a short time if they didn’t use any special materials to augment the formation. The cost of a single wagon wasn’t terribly prohibitive, so if the formation faded and became simply scars in the wood it wouldn’t be too expensive to replace. However, since they were getting training out of the way things were it was better to just continue as they had been.
It wasn’t too much longer before they reached Southpoint, only a handful of days from the Estary-Graotan border. The Brantley siblings had no plan to cross the borders, and Southpoint was large enough that finding buyers for the spiked rollers there was possible. It was certainly simpler than buying their own wagons and work animals to continue transporting them on their own.
The Brantley siblings kept their word about finding them what rewards they could, and though it took them several days they soon introduced the group to a representative of the Misty Hill Palace, a local sect that had a good reputation. Sects with bad reputations didn’t tend to do well in Estary, but there was still a difference between neutral and positive.
The woman who was introduced to them was bent nearly at the waist. She showed her age with more than just her stature, with the exception of her skin remained only minimally wrinkled and spotted. She was at the very peak of Spirit Building, but instead of being intimidating her aura gave of the calming feeling of sitting atop a peaceful mountain. Then again, they were on friendly terms.
“I see, I see. You’re from the Order.” She smiled, gaps showing in her teeth. “Wish we got more of your kind up this way. It’s always quite a pleasure when I meet them.” Her eyes and senses carefully roamed over the three cultivators in front, but she also took in Fuzz and the others. “A strange group. Does the Order now accept those below the third rank?”
Anton shook his head, “No, but the Body Tempering technique can be freely disseminated. Most of those who join learn the technique in their own villages. These all are former slaves, and I knew a good number of them before… that happened. I’m quite invested in their ability to defend themselves, among other things. Some of them may later choose to join the Order.”
“Interesting. They all seem to be advancing quite well. But I shouldn’t pry too much,” she slightly nodded her head, “I go by Elder Byrne. I do believe the Brantleys have already told you we wish to purchase these spiked rollers, and reward you for their defeat.” She waddled her way towards the wagon that carried them. “My my, that’s a big one alright. A strange mix of colors, too.”
“They found an old cultivator cache,” Anton said. “It’s hard to say what sorts of things they ingested from that.”
“An old cache? Any markings?” Anton shook his head. “Find anything good?” She held up a hand, “You don’t have to say. Just curious. But I can appraise things. It’s one of my jobs.”
“Actually,” Anton said, “I found a strange thing. It seems to be a bow, but has no string and is impossible to bend.” He pulled it from a wagon, where it was sitting among other good simply wrapped in cloth. He held it out to Elder Byrne for her to inspect.
She carefully unwrapped it, squinting her eyes even as she put her face up close to it and looked along its length. She very carefully ran a trickle of energy over it. She also made a few attempts to bend it. “I see. I can’t say for sure out here but… I think you’re just not strong enough.”
“What do you mean?” Anton asked.
“From what I can tell,” Elder Byrne said, “It should be flexible. It is just that the point at which it starts to bend should be greater. It’s a four, maybe five tonne draw?” she gave a small nod. “Though that won’t do you much good without a string. Something’s odd about that too.”
“Five tonne draw…” Anton shook his head. He’d used a seventy kilogram bow before he was a cultivator, though mostly when he wanted to show off. Such a high draw weight wasn’t necessary for hunting in most cases. But tonnes? He’d have to be as strong as a hundred men. “When could I even be that strong…” Anton pondered, mostly to himself.
“A young, strong cultivator could probably do something around early Essence Collection,” Elder Byrne answered his casual question. “Probably later, if you rely purely on the strength of your body. I don’t know the inner workings of the Ninety-Nine Stars, but I’d expect somewhere around there with a mix of body and energy.”
It would be years, then. And by that point, it might not even be worthwhile. Heavy draw weights weren’t the only factor in whether a bow was good. Plus there was the matter of the string. He couldn’t just get any random string, it had to match the bow.
“Now, about these spiked rollers,” Elder Byrne returned to the subject. She handed over a weighty sack, “This is for defeating them. Misty Hill Palace benefits from Southport’s prosperity, and people need to be safe to travel for that. For the materials, I can offer the same again. I’m also willing to appraise anything you found there- or elsewhere- if you’re interested. That bow is likely worth more than the same amount. Possibly much more.”
Anton used his energy senses to count the coin. Getting an exact amount would be difficult, but being within a few percent was easy enough. It was, once again, more money than he’d ever had. Even splitting it, he had little in the way of financial worries if he intended to free more people. Since he shouldn’t be heading into Ofrurg in the near future just in case, maybe he could even offer a mission. The only problem would be getting the right people- he had some details to give, but strong dark haired young men sold to work would likely not be the only ones in a particular area. He didn’t mind buying the freedom of more slaves except for who the money would be going to. But still, being a cultivator was clearly extremely lucrative. He was several times stronger than he had been when farming and during The Hunt, and the few spiked rollers they had fought were honestly a similar threat than the whole of the beast attack on Thuston, just compressed into a few creatures instead of hundreds.
Since half of the point of transporting the spiked rollers was to sell them, they accepted the offer. It was within what they had been expecting, maybe even a bit more. Hoyt seemed to have a better idea for what cultivator prices were like, though he also admitted to it being guesswork. The important part was the reputation of the buyers. Elder Byrne representing the Misty Hill Palace would be offering a fair price. Anton could feel that much, at least. And he very much wanted that bow to be appraised. The other objects they’d found were nebulously owned by both Hoyt and Catarina, but of the three of them obviously Anton had first pick of the bow. Even if it couldn’t be used, he wanted it.