(Patreon) Elder Cultivator 482

-–Chapter Index–-

A group of six individuals carefully made their way through one of the recent Tombs to open up. There had been a dry spell of almost half a century, and now a new generation of cultivators was being introduced to the perils of such a place. Even if it was considered ‘safe’ in relative terms, injuries and death were still possible. Yet it was worth it, to be one of the groups that stumbled upon something amazing. There were tales of equipment packed into a room so deep one could not see it all, treasures unimaginable ready for claiming… if the trials could be overcome.

So far traps, tests, and puzzles had hindered the group’s progress, but as they stepped into the next room they saw a projection of Everheart himself. Was he there to introduce a new trial, or was this actually the end?

—–

Everheart looked at the bright eyed group before him. He liked to keep his trials fair, but the definition of fair could vary wildly. “Good, you’ve made it. Go ahead and show me what you can do.” He settled into a stance, waiting for them to make a first move. Though if they didn’t act within the next few seconds, he wouldn’t mind being the one to start things.

The first to act was a spearman, brash and swift. He thrust towards Everheart, only to find another longer spear pointed at his chest. To his credit, he avoided impaling himself upon it, though his attack failed to reach Everheart.

Nearly but not quite simultaneous came an attack from a swordsman. He began with a textbook thrust, into a standard sweep. Nothing bad, but using those moves he’d never beat Everheart. He wrote that style, after all. And it was… fine. Everheart still used his own sword two disarm the man, an extra arm flickering into existence holding the weapon. He was comfortable using the best weapon for any situation, but in a situation like this… he could just use whatever was most humiliating for his opponents. Which was basically their own weapons.

Fire surrounded him, as two cultivators attacked simultaneously. Another one of his techniques- though he had to admit that the modifications he’d made to put his name on it had been minimal for this one. His fists stretched out, sending the flames back at the two individuals.

The fifth carried a hammer and shield, but didn’t have the strength to keep himself from being knocked across the room to be buried a half meter into the wall. Perhaps the move was excessive, but Everheart was trying to limit himself to a reasonable power and the sixth enemy was actually smart. They came for his kidneys with a pair of twin daggers while he was occupied, or at least that was likely the plan. Those same daggers found themselves lodged in the attacker’s gut, and it was their own fault if they didn’t happen to have an antidote for the poison on them.

The remaining individuals were quickly defeated, but there really wasn’t any other avenue for them. They were a group from the Tomb Seeking Sect, after all. They used Everheart’s techniques and thought to even touch him? Not even with the vast amount he held himself back.

Of course, they might have done better if he was a projection, since their abilities were even more limited… but every once in a while Everheart had to really test the challengers who came to his tombs. Plus, he was slightly concerned about leaving projections around for a long time so he had to regularly replace them. At least the way they absorbed into him was a good way to get information about how things had been going. 

Everheart left a pile of crap on top of the bodies of the group. He didn’t say they had to win, and frankly the garbage was just taking up space in his bag. Sure, he had a lot of that but castoff weapons from his time in the Smithy were plentiful. He always thought to have that projection melt them down to make something new, but there had been much better materials he could practice with. So his old crap was getting left here. Someone might realize that most of the materials weren’t from Ceretos, but what did he care? Everheart was always mysterious and unknowable to begin with. Let them think whatever they wanted.

—–

Somehow, Anzela actually contacted Anton. Not that it was difficult, he just expected by this point they would have already given up. Either they had already been compromised by the Twin Soul Sect or they didn’t care or trust what Ceretos had to say. But there was a single word. “Soon”.

Unhelpful and mysterious. Were they going to attack Ceretos, and it was a warning? Anton considered it, but whatever preparations they would make for that were already underway or finished. It would be unfortunate to get into a war with their neighbors, but it would be a decent experience. Anton hoped it was something else, though. Perhaps they were unsure if the communications were secure. They should be, because the designs were made by Catarina and approved by Everheart, but perhaps they didn’t believe it. 

Either way, until he had more information he could not act upon it in any useful manner. Those who should have that very limited tidbit of information would get it, and the rest would continue on with their lives without being disrupted.

—–

Anton looked at Nthanda, who looked back at him… and neither had anything to say for a time. The woman was one of Anton’s best archery students, though her path had strongly diverged from his own. She continued to practice body strengthening techniques in priority to anything else, leaving her with energy that felt more akin to an Essence Collection cultivator than someone in late Life Transformation. 

“Could you repeat your request?” Anton asked. “I don’t believe I heard it correctly the first time.”

“Throw me into the sun, please.”

Anton nodded. Apparently he had heard it. “No. And if you try to do it yourself, I’ll drag you back out. If you want to die, there are easier ways, and I couldn’t really stop you.”

“It’s for training,” Nthanda clarified.

Anton had assumed as much, but since she hadn’t clarified… he wasn’t quite sure. She was difficult to read, as she had more control over her body’s autonomous functions than most cultivators. There were ways to override such things with energy, but that usually let on that something was happening if not what. Nthanda’s body seemed to do nothing she didn’t order it to. 

Anton’s eyes flared with fire, then he held out his hand. “If you are able to hold onto me for one minute, I will consider your request.” Even as Nthanda stretched out her hand, Anton channeled fire through him. It was a strange thing, the power of a sun. Each small piece was quite powerful, yet also… insignificant? His hand lit with fire, powerful and lasting… but not directed like a proper attack would be. It would attack Nthanda without malice or purpose, but the danger was there.

As she grasped his hand, Nthanda immediately began sweating. That was the natural reaction, but it was too quick to be fully natural. That was just how her body would best be able to shed excess heat. Even as the droplets formed on her body, they began to evaporate- nearly evenly, despite some of them being further from the source of the flames.

Her face was determined as she held her grip on Anton’s hand, and he wondered if he had been holding back too much. The actual sun would be much worse. But before thirty seconds elapsed, he saw the beads of sweat begin to form more slowly- and not because Nthanda was becoming used to the heat. Instead, her skin began to crack and dry. She managed to hold on until forty-five seconds, after her skin and hair caught on fire.

The instant she let go, Anton retracted his flames. Nthanda sighed, “I suppose I shall have to make do here.”

“Good,” Anton said. “Because even I can’t pull you out of the sun. That would be… a serious issue, actually.”

“I hadn’t considered that,” Nthanda admitted. “I was merely looking for a harsher environment to train in.”

“Can’t find anything good here? I’m sure someone can set up a formation or something…”

Nthanda shook her head. “It’s not the same. I want to fight against a powerful natural environment with just my body. I have traveled around Ceretos, from volcanoes to the depths of the sea. Some provided sufficient challenge to help me advance to this point, but I am seeking something more.”

“There are options better than the sun, you know,” Anton said. “If you want pressure, a gas giant will do. Probably best to start with a smaller one. You also might want to have me stick around to make sure it’s… viable? You have to consider your equipment as well. If that gets destroyed and you have no way to contact anyone, it will be trouble. You’re not exactly capable of flight, and there’s not much to eat there.”

“… A problem I had not considered,” Nthanda hung her head. “Could I ask your aid for this?”

“Absolutely,” Anton said. “Just be clear on what you want. What you’re trying to accomplish.”

“I want to complete Life Transformation. And then…” Nthanda shook her head. “I have the feeling if I push my body far enough… something will happen. Ascension, perhaps, but not through the typical routes as I understand them.”

Anton wondered if Everheart could help. He had techniques for everything, though of everything Everheart practiced body focused techniques was not one of them. Not beyond the normal level a cultivator trained to, where the body was strong enough to not hold them back and little more. Anton’s recent learning after going through the Ten Thousand Scrolls also didn’t tell him much. Then again, Nthanda already seemed to know what she needed.

“Very well, we’ll try a few things in the near future.” Anton had the feeling that Nthanda might throw herself in too deep if he let her. Not because she was particularly reckless, but because cultivators at the edge of Ascension were… determined. Even if not all of them were successful. The recent uptick in that was encouraging, though Anton also hoped enough remained around for the invasion. Though he wasn’t going to ask anyone to hang around for a century or more if it was going to hold them back.

—–

Nthanda was not the only archer Anton was helping. Well, he had dozens of individuals who learned from him personally and many others who learned from his current and previous students… but there were also a few that received personal attention. 

Like another little granddaughter with some number of ‘greats’, Gudrun. Okay, so she wasn’t exactly little anymore. But the frosty archer was still one of those individuals who had as much access to Anton as they wanted. As a cultivator she was in her prime though her actual age put her over fifty now, her cultivation in early Life Transformation. 

She was the fourth child of Anish and Annelie, out of… well, almost a dozen now. For the first handful of decades they had been rather conservative in a way, averaging close to one per ten years. The last couple had gotten away from them, though, and they’d had one every five years with another on the way. They, at least, were quite set on staying- though they hadn’t yet come up with a method of advancing their cultivations beyond the peak of Life Transformation.

Gudrun took after her mother, at least in her general cultivation. She practiced the Frostmirror Sect’s techniques, including the ability to subdue her emotions… and she seemed quite content to do so most of the time. 

There were only so many things a cultivator like Anton had been able to teach her. Ice was far from his area of expertise, though he wasn’t incapable of using it. It just wouldn’t be very effective in combat, since it both didn’t match his cultivation technique and was relatedly short about a century of practice. 

Gudrun took up a stance to demonstrate to Anton what she had learned in her own practice. Her hands moved with great speed, forming icy arrows and drawing back her bow to create a shower of arrows. Anton calculated their trajectories as they flew and the way they struck the ground in a pattern, blossoms of ice growing from them and directing an unseen enemy in a masterful display. The ice blossoms would be not only dangerous as they grew but remained as barriers that restricted movement. 

Anton nodded. “Very good. I am proud of you.” Arrows of ice were more difficult to fling over long distances- and perhaps Gudrun found herself less adept at Horizon Shot than some others- but she still had significant range and great potential inside shorter ranges. 

She was one of many Anton would be fighting for, and no matter how many people ascended there would always be more- as long as Ceretos could weather the coming storms. He hoped they would, and that he would be around for at least one more. But he wasn’t quite sure. Either way, he would do his best before that time came.

-–Chapter Index–-