Everything found in ‘Rainbow Lake’ were things they had already found. It was a dry lakebed with dirt at the bottom and a dry riverbed leading to it. They’d already followed that direction, and there was nothing more to see. In short, it was exceedingly suspicious.
“Let’s enumerate our suspicions,” Anton said as everyone gathered around. “First, it’s dry when it was just raining. That’s clearly abnormal. Second, there’s not a single plant in the area. Third, the flow of energy is ‘weird’. Fourth and finally, Everheart told us to come here. That last one is maybe even the most suspicious part about it.” He shook his head, “But I’m not sure what we can do. Catarina?”
She shook her head, “Still haven’t discerned if this is actually part of a formation.”
“Hoyt and Timothy?”
“The trees are tough,” Timothy answered, “But the surrounding trees seem about as normal as they can be here.”
Fuzz stuck his head out of hole. Alva answered for him, “We haven’t found anything. Just more dirt, even two meters deep.”
Anton nodded, “That’s something then. Elder Tshering should return soon with a count of the waterfalls, though I doubt it will turn up much.” He thought for a few moments, “I’m interested in seeing what it looks like if the river that obviously wanted to run this way connects to the lake. Anyone got a shovel?” He looked around. Apparently not. He should carry more practical stuff like that with him, then. “Hands it is.”
Truthfully, a cultivator digging with their hands didn’t find it that hard to do. Anton and Devon moved next to the river where it approached the dry riverbed, and were able to shape their energy into wide shapes to shovel quite well. It would have been better if there were an underlying structure to support their energy, but it wasn’t a terribly big deal. The actual expenditure was relatively minor- their muscles could move the dirt on its own, and their energy didn’t have to cut through anything.
“I’m surprised,” Devon said, “You used to have everything, Grandpa.”
“Well, it’s not like I don’t own a shovel. It’s just not here. I’m not used to being able to carry a whole shed around with me.” Anton flung a hunk of dirt past Devon’s head to a pile next to him.
Devon used both hands to scoop out a large section, flinging it right towards Anton’s torso so he had to dodge. Soon enough they were engaged in a dirt fight, though the silently agreed upon rules were that the dirt had to come from the trench they were digging. Soon enough they had a trench a meter wide and deep stretching from the dry part of the riverbed to just short of the actual river.
Anton looked down at the pot on his waist, pulling it out and looking into it. He pulled out a single strand, a dark yellow instead of a shining golden. It slowly sank into his hand as he carefully absorbed it. “Huh.”
“What?” Devon asked.
“I hadn’t thought this thing would deal with more… mundane insights.” Anton had learned more about how to use the Vessel of Insights. Specifically, if he didn’t care about it storing excess energy for the future, he could have it always active without draining his own reserves. The effects it had would be limited based on the quantity of natural energy in the area, but he really didn’t have a reason not to have it active. “On a different note, it seems we both have some ways to improve where our two hands meet.” Anton put his hands together in the shovel shape they were using. “See here, we’ve been treating it like two areas and it’s weaker where they meet.”
“Oh, I get it,” Devon nodded. “It’s not something that would normally come up for me.”
“That’s right. Your hands work independently. Well, most do- even if wielding a weapon in two hands.” Anton scratched his chin, “Should matter for a bow though. I cover the whole thing in energy starting from my hands.”
“So what was that about mundane insights?”
“Well, I know a bit more about digging now. Which likely isn’t that important, unless you’re on a strict timeline. Taking another scoop or two isn’t that big of a deal.” Anton looked towards the river next to them. “So, ready to open this up?”
“Sure thing,” Devon nodded. “Should we work from both sides?”
“I think so. It should wash away the middle if we get a good flow on either side. If not, we can still reach out. It’s not too wide.”
To reach the bottom of the trench without extending energy beyond their bodies, they would have had to practically lie down on the ground- it was a meter deep, about the length of an arm, more or less. However, they were both able to extend their energy so they only had to crouch a bit. Hundreds of kilograms of dirt were flung behind them within a few seconds and the river opened up. The water started rushing down the trench, some of it soaking into the dry ground. Then a few moments later the flow slowed… and the ground was once more dry. Where they had opened the river the dirt had sewn itself back together, and the rest of their trench was slowly closing itself as well.
“I guess that answered that,” Anton said. “But I don’t know what that means.”
Then it began to rain again. They watched as the water touched the dry riverbed and barely wet it for a moment. The two of them just walked back to Rainbow Lake where they might meet up with the others.
When the lakebed also remained dry, if they still thought the lake had naturally dried up, they would have been committing to being the most ignorant people in the world, or at least close. The chance that it was in no way connected to Everheart was extremely slim. If he wasn’t responsible, perhaps someone looking for the facility was.
As the rain began to let up, another rainbow appeared. Though there were some slight issues with it, like the fact that it split up into different colored beams going to different places around the lake.
Anton exchanged looks with Devon. “Which one is the seventh, then? Inside out or outside in?”
“I’ll go to red,” Devon said. “You head for the other end.”
Some of the others were around the area still and had noticed the clearly unnatural rainbow as well. The only way the rainbow would look normal was if they were… well, far away from the lake. Like the last time.
Anton couldn’t remember what the purple at the other end was called, but he could see where it split off from the main beam. He reached it shortly before Catarina got to him. “What is this?” she asked.
Anton shrugged, “The seventh waterfall, maybe.” It was still raining slightly, and the water was split in a way to create the different beams. He wasn’t even sure how one might begin going about that, and he had a pretty good sense of how energy flowed now. With nothing better to do, he started shoveling the dirt at his feet, where the beam met the ground.
Elder Tshering appeared moments later. “I counted the waterfalls!” he declared, “But I’m betting that’s pointless now. This seems to pretty well indicate we were looking for this the whole time.” He bent down and reached out with his hands. Then he stood up, a ball of dirt the size of a person in his hands. He tossed it to the side and repeated. Instead of shoveling he was clamping oversized ‘hands’ around the dirt. It wasn’t necessary to do so much at once, but his enthusiasm spread to Anton.
Meanwhile, Catarina was grumbling about Everheart. “…just how good at formations was he? I can barely even make it out with it active like this.”
Following the path of the violet part of the rainbow, they dug a full ten meters into the ground before they finally uncovered a staircase with some sort of barrier keeping the dirt out. At that point, they made sure to gather everyone around.
“As you can all see, we’ve found some sort of underground place,” Anton gestured. “Though just because Everheart directed me here we shouldn’t assume it is safe. I should probably go first,” Anton looked over at Elder Tshering.
“You’re right about that,” Tshering admitted. “You’ve got the right senses for traps, and Everheart might not appreciate someone at my level entering first.”
Velvet looked like she wanted to say something but decided against it, and nobody else had anything to say. So Anton began to make his way down the stairs.
The map and instructions he had might not be anything but just that, but Anton made sure to keep them at the ready. The stairs didn’t continue far, and soon Anton found himself in a well-lit corridor with six other stairways leading to it.
“Tch,” the sound of a tongue clicking came from nearby. “How lucky.” Anton turned to see what looked like a young boy in an oversized robe, but had the same feeling as Everheart’s projections. “Welcome to the Seventh Waterfall, I guess.”
“Thank you,” Anton said. He gestured with the instructions he’d gotten. “Senior Everheart, I presume? I was sent here by a projection in Floelor. He said there were notes on improving the basic cultivation level of people on a large scale. I was hoping to get access to those.”
“Really?” the young boy asked. “That’s what you’re looking for?”
“Yes. Is it not here? Is it already taken?”
“Let me see that,” Everheart said, not bothering to get Anton’s permission as he flicked a hand and took the section of scroll from him. “Yeah, that seems like something I’d do. What else did he say was here?”
“Nothing.” Anton clarified, “He didn’t mention anything else. Just the notes. He offered me the location of that or Fleeting Youth, but I chose this one.”
“Ahh, I get it now,” Everheart nodded. “Makes all kinds of sense.” He looked down at himself. “Ugh at least I can stop looking like this.” His form shimmered as he grew into the nebulous age of young adulthood. “Good enough. Shouldn’t have to conserve power anymore.”
“Does your projection being smaller conserve power?” Anton asked.
“No,” Everheart said. “I get efficiency from not liking the form.”
“… how does that work?” Anton asked.
“You can get something from anything, if you know how.” He tapped the side of his head, “You said Floelor, right? I should have preserved anything there with something pretty clever.”
“The future of all unclaimed resources, I believe.”
“Yeah, that sounds like what I was thinking of. Rainbow Lake is my favorite, so that’s why things are so awful up above,” Everheart shook his head. “About time someone got here. I’ve got trials and crap. Well, trial. Most of them I kinda decided weren’t any good. Can’t really rebuild them now,” Everheart shrugged. “So how do you feel about swimming in acid?”
“Uhh…” Anton narrowed his eyes.
“Oh wait,” Everheart snapped his fingers, “That was one of the stupid ones.” Everheart frowned and looked over his shoulder at the single corridor behind him. He put on a serious face. “I’ll be right back.” He walked the way only cultivators could- a relaxed pace that somehow resulted in great speed. He didn’t return until ten minutes later. “So. I might have destroyed all of the trials.” Everheart tapped a finger to his lip. “So you have to wait here while I make a new one.”
Ignoring that he previously said he couldn’t, Anton nodded. “How long do you expect that to take, Senior Everheart?”
“Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Decades. Depends on when I get a good idea,” Everheart nodded to himself. “So you just wait here until then. I’ve got an energy gathering array back there where you can cultivate. Make sure not to disturb me while I’m thinking.” With that, Everheart wandered off again.
Anton shared a look with the others. “… Let’s hope for days, shall we?” Everyone nodded. At least they could cultivate. That was something.