(Patreon) Elder Cultivator 208

-–Chapter Index–-

A single month wasn’t enough to teach someone to read, even if they weren’t occupied with other things. If they were willing to undergo repetition, adults or those close to it were able to learn to read more quickly than children.

Leo was focusing on his meridians for the second star and first prime tempering, which would generally smooth his cultivation and help him with energy control. That was something quite advantageous for his job, since he could send his energy into places that couldn’t be seen to find and clear blockages. 

Kit was studying to be an herbalist, a wise choice since her previous untrained interaction with herbs had been a problem. She had been a bit behind Leo in cultivation, but had now completed the first star and was going to temper the organs in her head. An increase in cognitive abilities and better eyesight would both be useful. She was still in quite the early stages of an apprenticeship, and was little more than someone sent out into the woods to fetch herbs. Her master was patient enough to let her learn things one bit at a time, even if she couldn’t read yet.

Their growth made Anton happy with his choices. While before circumstances had forced them into a difficult position, now they had the power to grow beyond where they were. The results had been quite good with them, but Anton hadn’t found others he was willing to take a risk on. There was every chance that Leo could have chosen to devote himself to a life of more effective crime, and that was the very opposite of what Anton wanted. Most of those he saw were only looking out for themselves, so it was difficult to judge how they might change if taught to cultivate.

—–

During the time he stayed in Cruhull, disturbing news came to Anton. Cultivators had gone missing, many later found dead. Lone cultivators and those in small groups were the targets, but unlike the standard incidents of bandits preying on other cultivators it wasn’t necessarily those who foolishly flaunted their wealth that were targeted. In fact, some of them were found with everything they had still on them.

The group from the Order was fine. Every sect that had traveled to the tournament in a larger group encountered no trouble, but some of the smaller sects lost their delegations. The patrols in Facraona had stopped several attacks, but they were unable to capture anyone alive. They either fought to the death or escaped. One thing that was consistent was that the cultivators worked in small groups themselves, but were Essence Collection cultivators for the most part.

Nothing else linked them together, including cultivation style or country of origin. No evidence was found on their bodies linking them to anything, except those who were known to be part of various criminal groups- bandits and evil sects. Yet the attacks should be related, because normally tournaments like the one in Facraona didn’t have so many incidents. With enough cultivators involved it was inevitable that some would get into trouble, and people did like to prey on small groups… but the risk seemed disproportionate to the reward. They weren’t just targeting people who wandered too deep into the wilderness, but people traveling on main roads.

Anton didn’t know what he should or could do about the attacks, but it made him consider either leaving for the Order right away, or waiting a bit longer for things to die down. Either way, he didn’t intend to travel alone. The same sentiment was shared among other cultivators, who would otherwise happily travel without any significant protection as long as it was through generally safe areas.

—–

Another two months. Both Leo and Kit completed the second star, and were in a stable enough situation that they could continue learning whatever they needed to on their own. Anton kept up his own training, of course, but he couldn’t train as efficiently in Cruhull. There was no guarantee he would have achieved the twenty-sixth star regardless, but he planned to make the final push once he was back at the Order. 

He invited Leo and Kit to come along with him, but they declined- either because that was their true desire, or possibly because they realized he really didn’t want them to come along. Anton had nothing against them becoming full-time cultivators, but he thought that it would be better if as many people as possible were cultivating but still fulfilling normal roles in society. He also didn’t want to drag two young people away from their home into an unfamiliar place.

He still didn’t find anyone else he wanted to teach to cultivate. There were many people working in the city that could doubtless benefit from cultivation to empower whatever they were doing, but Anton was still cautious about filling the area with cultivators of the Ninety-Nine Stars. He did speak to some small local sects about his ideas, but none were particularly enthusiastic about spending time teaching people to cultivate with no visible benefit to themselves. Still, they weren’t entirely against the idea either- and he told them to pay attention to Graotan in the coming years.

—–

Anton looked around the newest place Leo and Kit were staying. It was still quite austere, very little decoration and small in absolute size… but much more comfortable than their last place and somewhat roomier. It was likely that they would maintain the same living standard for some time, potentially even years. If they weren’t going out and risking their lives in battle with wild beasts, and they were not part of a sect, there was a limit to how much income they could bring in. 

Leo was starting to get a bit of a reputation for dealing with certain sorts of tough jobs- mostly in relation to sewer business. He was never going to be rich even if he somehow managed a dozen men’s labor, but he continued to learn. Kit was further along with her reading than him, due to both her prime tempering and how it tied into her apprenticeship. She would help him continue to learn to read, and they could consult Anton’s notes on cultivation. If they wanted to go beyond Body Tempering they would need more than he’d given them, but that should be years off still- especially if they were working on their own in a place with only moderate levels of natural energy.

Anton was with them to say his last goodbyes. “I’ll try to keep in touch,” he said. “I’ll certainly write, but seeing me in person will be more rare. An old man like me can’t cross a country every month, you know.”

“You’re better at that than either of us,” Kit pointed out. “By a long shot.”

“That’s how it is,” Anton shrugged. “Now, once you feel comfortable, I give the two of you permission to teach others how to cultivate. Or not, if that’s what you want,” Anton shrugged. “It’s one area that’s not liable to produce consistent results across all people, and without proper guidance people can get hurt.”

“It’s the same as any trade or craft,” Leo said. “It’s just… people are less likely to explode from the inside doing other things.”

“Unless they take the wrong herbs,” Kit smiled. “I do sort of wish we could take care of some of the other orphans, but we don’t have that much for ourselves yet. I certainly can’t be responsible for anyone else.”

Anton nodded. They were still just barely adults, after all. He wouldn’t expect them to suddenly start up a sect all on their own. “When you get the chance, pass my charity along in whatever way you see fit.”

—–

The cultivator mercenary hall was busier than it normally would be, at least by Anton’s estimation. Yet a good portion of those in the area weren’t actually mercenaries, but simply cultivators looking for a group. It didn’t take long for the rumors of danger to spread and cultivators to begin clumping together. Anton poked around, looking for the right group.

He eventually came to a group that was just about ready to leave. Mostly young cultivators, talented enough to be below thirty and already in mid Spirit Building. “Going west?” he asked.

“That’s right,” answered a tall man. “But we’ve already hired a guard.”

“Just looking for travelling companions,” Anton said, “Not pay.” He could tell which one of them was the mercenary, since he was older and stronger than the rest. Somewhere in late Spirit Building, probably fifty or sixty, maybe a bit more given how cultivators aged more slowly.

“In that case,” the tall man said, “We’d be glad to have you. I’m Caeus. He’s Hein,” Caeus gestured to the mercenary, who had puffy eyes that made him seem to be constantly squinting. “We also have Gustav, Printza, Stojan, and Nkiru.”

“I’m Anton,” he introduced himself. “You planning to head out today?”

“Right now, actually. Are you prepared?”

Anton nodded, “Got everything.”

—–

As a lone cultivator it was important to stay on alert at all times. People were bound to get ideas if they thought you were an easy target. And sometimes no amount of swords would convince anyone otherwise. Chikere shook her head as she sensed two cultivators coming. Like her, they were in early Essence Collection. Doubtless they thought they could take her on. Maybe they were right, but did they really think she wouldn’t take one of them down with her? 

That was the weakness of people working in groups. They thought that long cultivators had to be the easiest targets, but Chikere wouldn’t be alive if she were so easy to rob or kill. It was unfortunate that her accurate display of her abilities might have looked like she was overcompensating. Ten swords was a lot. 

She wondered if she could run, but they’d caught her on both sides at a narrow part of the road. She could move through the rough terrain to either side but she would be slowed. So the simplest way was to just continue moving forward. If she killed the woman in front of her quickly enough, it would basically be two one-on-one fights which was much easier than two-on-one. 

She suddenly switched from her relaxed walk to a burst of speed, at a distance she hoped they weren’t expecting her to have noticed them from. But they had made a simple mistake in their concealment- they had swords. And Chikere could sniff out a sword from a kilometer away. Not literally, of course. Swords usually only smelled like metal, whether that was their normal materials or the blood staining them. But a sword cultivator could sense the sharpness of a good weapon as it called to them.

That was how Chikere immediately knew something was wrong when a dozen cultivators ambushed her from either side. They certainly had swords, but yet she hadn’t sensed them. So much for surprising her target with her true skills. She had to pull out all of her swords, deciding on a nice two handed grip for her main weapon. Sword number ten still got to participate, floating around behind her back while two-through-nine flanked her on either side as two pairs. 

Chikere didn’t have time to waste on the trash coming at her from either side. Their exact cultivation was hard to sense, but that didn’t matter when their technique was so sloppy. Limbs and heads flew everywhere as she charged towards the woman in front of her. 

A battle between cultivators with equal cultivation could take a long time as they whittled each other down, looking for a perfect opening. Or it could take exactly one swing. Chikere knew that if her movement had been off by even a few millimeters she might not have survived the exchange, but she didn’t have time to waste squabbling with someone. A nice confident attack with only a token defense was plenty if she parried the enemy attack in the same motion as she killed them. There was some sort of black fog that tried to block her attack, but that was why she’d put extra energy- to make sure she could slice through anything in her way.

What a waste of a good sword. This cultivator having it, of course. She didn’t destroy it. It was going to replace number ten! As she turned around and saw no bodies on the ground, Chikere realized that the dozen extra attackers had simply been an illusion. Maybe she should have seen through it, but did it really matter when she could just defeat them?

The remaining Essence Collection cultivator was definitely real, but he seemed uninterested in continuing the attack. Chikere certainly wasn’t going to chase him down the road, so she set about looting the one she’d killed, ignoring the trickle of blood dripping down her left arm. She wondered where these people were even from. It wasn’t any of the usual grudges, but the magic bag wasn’t as full as she would have expected for a bandit. Certainly not lacking, though.

-–Chapter Index–-