There wasn’t much time between the auction and when the Crystal Caverns would be opening. Just enough to stop by the Tenebach clan and do some research. John already remembered the basics since it was famous enough… but he hadn’t expected to actually go, either the him of now or the previous inhabitant of his body. His uncle Aydan knew more, but reading the records was better than just going off of information sticking around in people’s heads.
Aydan nodded as he read over the information. “These reactive zones it speaks of… much like the mines we control, they are areas where disturbances in energy might set off chain reactions. In short, those beyond a certain level are in danger if they enter- unless they do not summon large amounts of spiritual energy. However, Foundation Phase cultivators like myself would prefer not to weaken ourselves to be similar to Spiritual Collection Phase cultivators. Whether you enter a reactive zone yourself is up to you. I won’t be able to protect you, but there won’t be many stronger than you who can make use of their power.” Aydan held out his hands in a shrug, “There are often treasures that are the cause or effect of such reactive zones, but sometimes they are just dangerous areas. We would do best to start with safer areas before we attempt anything else.”
John nodded. “Of course. I will have to see one myself before I can judge whether it would be safe to go in. It does make me feel better about going myself instead of giving my position to someone like father or mother.”
“Quite right,” Aydan inclined his head. “And while there might be some inefficiencies involved with including a member of the younger generation, many clans will be bringing their young potentials. You already saw the Boyce and Roldan clans will be participating.”
“Is there anything else of which I should be aware?”
“Just that darkness will likely be less useful than you anticipate. The Caverns are not deep and dark in all sections. Crystals reflect and disperse light… and some of them emit it as well. That said, clever uses of darkness can still keep you concealed if necessary, and there will still be darkness in the wider caverns you can use to assist you.”
John nodded. He wasn’t sure if he could feasibly use earth at the moment without a spiritual totem associated with it, but he did have enough practice that he might be able to throw someone off with it, since they likely wouldn’t expect it. The biggest problem, though, would be dealing with others who had higher tier spiritual totems than himself. Kasimir and Gastone should have at least third tier spiritual totems, and the Order of the Amber Heart had to have at least one disciple with a fourth tier. Instead of competing directly it would be better to avoid conflict.
Just approaching the Crystal Caverns he could feel them. Even before John and Aydan reached the entrance, they walked over them. Beneath their feet were at least hundreds of meters of dense stone, but strong earth elemental spiritual energy still leaked out of the caverns. That was even more true towards the entrance, leading them straight to it. Of course, so did their guides and the road.
They were of course being escorted by members of the Order of the Amber Heart. There were so many Foundation Phase cultivators among them… but then again, that was to be expected. Fortkran would have been at the Foundation Phase already if he hadn’t pushed himself too hard, and even John could have returned to that stage if he just wanted to push his cultivation forward. But he wanted to be strong. So he was taking a slightly slower path. Hopefully it would pay off. Otherwise… well, most people didn’t get a second chance at life to begin with. At least he was trying not to squander it.
As they all gathered at the entrance to the caverns, John saw a surprisingly large number of Order of the Amber Heart disciples at the early Foundation Phase. Wouldn’t it be better for them to have stronger cultivators and then those with the best potential before Foundation Phase? Then he smiled to himself. Just because he had to pay for a slot didn’t mean the Order had to limit itself to a small number of candidates. Considering they could send literally all their disciples and elders in, they were already being conservative. There were a few hundred cultivators totals- mostly from around the Stone Conglomerate but some from further away who had managed to obtain a spot. If the Crystal Caverns weren’t so massive, John would have been concerned that there were too many people. As it was, though, he was more concerned that the quality of those around were too high. He had to be able to get somewhere first to get anything… or defeat them and take their treasures, but that was the risky for political and personal safety reasons.
Johannes Dalen, the head of the Order of the Amber Heart came out personally to open the entrance. Before he began, he turned to the gathered cultivators and gave a sort of speech. John could see the influence of many decades of cultivating earth energy, his skin having the tone and texture of granite… and his steps being heavy, though his movements were agile. “Welcome. The Crystal Caverns possess an immense bounty, but also immense danger. Even you fated entrants may not come out unscathed. However… it is quite unnecessary for deaths to happen. Be cautious… and courteous to your fellow cultivators. I am sure there will be conflicts… but do remember that this is for the benefit of all.” Strangely enough, he sounded like he meant it. That also included the next part. “Now then, prepare for what fate has in store for you.”
John had thought that Johannes would be working with the gathered elders to remove the overwhelmingly powerful barrier he felt over the entrance, but instead he reached forward with his bare hands and entirely without aid tore it asunder. Was that power… beyond the Soul Expansion Phase? If he had reached Consolidated Soul… the Order of the Amber Heart would be gaining even more power in the region.
“Go now! Enter!” the man gestured… and people began to move.
John caught Ayden’s eye, and the two moved simultaneously, Ayden keeping pace with his slower ward.
Crystals of all sizes, shapes, and colors filled the caverns, glittering in the sunlight. The floors were covered with loose pieces of crystal that had gotten dislodged from the walls and ceiling. There were stalactites and stalagmites as well, covered in layers of crystal with various thicknesses.
Each chunk might contain as much energy as a spirit stone from the Tenebach mines, though not nearly as condensed. If John just wanted to cultivate with earth elemental spiritual energy, he could have sat down in the entrance of the caverns without a care in the world. However, settling for that when he could have more was pointless. He could cultivate and carry out an entire armful of crystals and it would still not be worth the price of a single one of the slots to enter. They needed more.
Swiftness was key. As the young master of the Tenebach clan, John was responsible for picking the direction they went. He had asked Ayden to inform him if he sensed anything in particular that he wished to see, but everything good would be deeper in the caverns. Even their map from the previous time only showed about half of the tunnels in the same place, so it was doubtful that anybody had an advantage. The way the energy slowly stirred into motion indicated not even those of the Order of the Amber Heart had been in the caverns recently.
He couldn’t have followed them even if he wanted to. With powerful earth all around them, cultivators with that affinity moved swiftly, the ground pushing them along with each step. John had to go for a more conservative approach, using as much energy as he could replenish as he moved along. He wasn’t the only cultivator that wasn’t primarily cultivating earth, and tunnels went up and down and split so many times he had to be able to get somewhere first. Thus, he avoided tunnels where he sensed others.
Without light from the surface like the entrance, only the occasional glowing crystal lit the tunnels they were in, but neither John nor Aydan needed that to see. That said, their eyes were adjusted to the dark… so when they came upon a brightly lit cavern, they nearly blinded themselves.
Even with his eyes closed, John found it too bright… and what’s more, he could see the source. It radiated energy, powerful light that seemed as bright as the sun. Aydan quickly stepped forward, grabbing a fist sized crystal in his hand- and placing it within a box. The sense of powerful energy was cut off, leaving only the remnants. John could see that there were many smaller crystals emitting lights in the area, though their intensity combined was nothing compared to the single crystal. Neither he nor Aydan could use the crystal they found, but they could trade it or sell it later. Still, they weren’t deep in the caverns yet. There had to be yet more exciting things to find… along with the expected dangers.