It was fortunate that Fortkran had liked to win bids but didn’t like to spend more than he had to. Thus, there were some pretty good memories to work from. Now all John had to do was consciously execute a plan based on them. This was one of his first public appearances in his new life, and while he wouldn’t directly interact with everyone he knew they would be watching him. Somehow, that made the whole thing almost as nerve wracking as a fight to the death.
Yet treating it like a battle allowed him to apply a certain vigor to it. He scanned the crowd, taking in his opponents. This was a free-for-all, but he didn’t have to worry about being swamped by lesser opponents. Only the strongest mattered. At least Fortkran’s memory wasn’t so faulty as to miss out on members of rival clans. Gastone Boyce was more than a year younger than Fortkran and from a rival clan in the area. They would certainly be interested in securing slots to the opening of the Great Crystal Caverns as earth cultivators. It wouldn’t be so hard to secure just one… but John needed two. It would be a huge risk going without a guardian, since in the depths of the caverns if he got in a conflict he could disappear and nobody would be able to point fingers at anyone in particular.
John started with an aggressive opening, driving up the bid quickly on the first slot. He locked eyes with Gastone, taunting him to keep up. Soon others dropped out of the race, leaving only John, Gastone, and one other bidder. Kasimir Roldan, from another powerful clan in the area. The price was pushed higher and higher. John kept being aggressive but nobody backed down. He called out a final price with pain on his face… and Kasimir outbid him. Nobody else seemed willing to pay more, and the first slot went to the Roldan clan. John sank back into his seat, but firmly stood up again as the second auction began.
It wasn’t just numbers he called out, it was attacks on the other two clans. They needed the slots as well, and couldn’t let themselves be outbid so easily. The speed of his bids was the clashing of weapons. He had to restrain himself from actually putting too much spiritual energy into his voice. The second bid climbed higher, reaching the same point. Once again Kasimir outbid John… and John looked towards Gastone… taunting him. His gambit paid off, and Gastone placed one higher bid, securing the first place for the Boyce clan.
With six slots, the three competitors could easily share among themselves… but anyone would want to bring along three or more members. It wasn’t long before the third slot went to Gastone. For the fourth slot he seemed content to stay more cautious with bidding, but Kasimir was matching John point for point. John carefully watched his opponent, pushing towards the highest price he had bid. Then he took a gamble, increasing his bid by nearly a third. His face remained confident and Kasimir looked as if he wouldn’t bid… until the auctioneer caught his glance. A single bat of her eyelashes and Kasimir outbid him once more… and John sat down.
Now… he had to hope he was right. Gastone’s timidity in the fourth round indicated he didn’t have much left to spend… so it was important that John made Kasimir overspend. Was it enough? John let each of them bid once before jumping to just slightly over half the final price of the fourth bid, the most expensive yet. This was the point that mattered most. Because while he’d thrown out huge bids in previous rounds… he didn’t have to pay any of them. He could have, but he would have spent most of his budget for the most expensive one. His assumption was that Gastone and Kasimir had similar budgets… and when neither of them outbid him he found himself justified. The fifth slot was his… and the sixth…?
Each of the other two bid once, then outbid him once more when he jumped to the same price… but when he made another confident increase they backed out. John smiled internally, then externally when he had two slots secured and a quarter of the budget left. He wondered if he might buy something else… though he didn’t know of anything he was interested in.
John finally bid on a darkness attributed treasure. It was a small pot, though its uses were unknown. The Tenebach clan had many of those that passed through their hands, but they also used most of them. Having one more would be good, and he might be able to use it to improve his cultivation. He couldn’t break through to Foundation Phase without ruining his plans, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t grow stronger. If he found it wasn’t useful to him, another clan member would love to have it. Neither Kasimir or Gastone bid on it, since they had little use for darkness attributed things- and it seemed their guardians were sternly looking at them from behind.
Elemental treasures contained spiritual energy much in the same was as spirit stones and the like, but they could have other uses. Absorbing their energy for cultivation was one thing that could be done, and while it could contain quite a significant amount the treasure would be destroyed. That was useful when necessary for a breakthrough, but trying to find other uses was better. The pot certainly had enough darkness radiating from it, but upon opening it John found nothing special inside. The auction hadn’t said there would be anything inside, but he’d hoped there would be profound symbols or something he could learn from. Many techniques were developed from treasures found in the world, either natural or created in ancient times.
Besides the energy, it just seemed to be a pot for holding things. What specific sort of thing John wasn’t sure, but it seemed powerful enough to contain quite a variety of volatile objects. Perhaps it would be best to keep it for some time to see if he could store something in it. Maybe a treasure from the Crystal Caverns. It might do to conceal its energy, making him less likely to be targeted. Though he had secured a second slot- and thus would be able to bring his current guardian and uncle Aydan along with him- that didn’t mean there would be no conflict. Indeed, as long as nobody was killed most tactics were considered fair game. A Foundation Phase cultivator could guarantee at least he could escape, and so both sides would have the courtesy of leaving the others alive. Fighting a Foundation Phase cultivator to the death if they could prevent him from escaping would leave them open to others who might want to take whatever they found.
John’s thoughts went to the Crystal Caverns. The Order of the Amber Heart were the keepers of the caverns and spoke of fated entrants and the like… but he figured the reason they auctioned off slots to enter the caverns was because of the dangers. If only their own disciples entered they would bear all of the risks. Auctioning off places was guaranteed income, and the fact that they gave others the opportunity meant that nobody rose up against them for monopolizing such a powerful place. The Order of the Amber Heart could take on two or three large clans with the power they had gained over their centuries long reign, but they certainly couldn’t handle the entire county going up in arms.
The Crystal Caverns were basically an extremely large spirit stone mine… though with more dangers and less actual ‘mining’ going on. Taking the time to tear apart the stone walls was wasteful when natural treasures might have been created every decade. It was said they hadn’t been fully explored, either, though the tunnels near the entrance were quite well mapped out. They changed slightly with each decade, but mostly in width and crystal formations within. The crystals themselves were constantly growing, but incredibly difficult to extract quickly for the amount of earth energy they contained. Finding those that had already broken off from time was quite a benefit, but most important were the treasures. Even the creatures that inhabited the caves had valuable bodies, various creatures ranging from diamond shelled turtles to giant moles with claws sharp enough to burrow through rock to creatures of stone and crystal itself- which was the same material as the caverns but free from constraints, as long as they could be slain.
Apparently the time when the caverns opened up was actually the safest time, where the spiritual energy was least volatile and the inhabitants were more docile. Without that, it was possible the Order of the Amber Heart might have been interested in just mapping the whole place themselves in a consistent fashion, taking everything that was within. John was excited about the possibilities… but quite aware of the dangers as well. But he’d already died once, so he might as well move forward with confidence. He’d rather not end his new life with a whimper of giving up.