Sleep only occupied a small portion of Anton’s time. He didn’t sleep all that much before becoming a cultivator, and significantly less now. He could sustain himself with occasional meditation, but he still set aside some time for actual sleep every once in a while.
Fluctuations from one of his communication devices woke him up. He actually kept relatively few direct contacts- Catarina in the upper realms, Lev, Matija, a few others, and of course Everheart. Sometimes Everheart’s messages were meaningless wastes of time… but it was always worth checking them out at least.
“Something entered the system.” That was the full message. Anton quickly whipped up a reply asking for details, but he didn’t go find the man for a response. He couldn’t constantly monitor the man himself, as he had things to do all around Ceretos. Setting up more Tombs or working on continental defensive formations or even his own personal projects which Anton hoped weren’t going to lead to major problems later.
Anton’s feet left the ground. Flying through the atmosphere under his own power was still not his preferred method of travel, but away from the planet there was nothing that could carry him… except a few experimental ships. However, they were unnecessary and would take too much time and effort to commandeer.
Once outside the atmosphere, Anton relished the way his senses expanded freely in all directions. From hundreds of kilometers in a single direction to the same all around him, and almost limitless if he reached out in a specific direction. At least… enough to get a vague sense of the moon. That distance was only relevant for large, stationary things… or anything radiating extreme power.
A response from Everheart. “No upper energy. Fast moving. Single individual or group. No further information available.”
After hearing about the troubles between Rutera and Azoth, Everheart had set up some sort of formation around the system- very minimal, just tiny floating flags- but it could at least provide warnings like this.
If there were a ship from Azoth, Anton was prepared to begin with ascension energy, blasting right through its core. He wouldn’t give them time to adapt to anything, though word from the Ruterans was that they had some permanent resistance to different things. There was likely a limit to that, though- and they might not know that Anton was from this system.
Or it could be someone else. Anton realized that perhaps he did not have to hurry so much. The system was large. Even the interplanetary vessels of the Ruterans took time to fly to the edge of the system, on the scale of hours and days.
Since he was already outside the atmosphere, Anton stretched his senses around the planet to pick up anything interesting, reaching down to feel certain points of interest. The Grandfather Willow, Paradise, and the Scorching Mirror Desert. The other Assimilation cultivators… and of course Everheart. He was standing in the middle of a formation, waiting patiently.
Several hours passed with nothing happening, then Anton felt something from inside him. Not affecting him, but rather that was his connection to the sun. The feeling only lasted a moment, but he had the sense that something had passed near the sun… in the grand scheme of things, of course. Stars were massive, so even being within a few thousand kilometers was almost skimming the surface. Twenty minutes later, he felt something approaching Ceretos.
He was barely able to track it as it moved through space, a tight ball of power moving at shocking speeds. If its trajectory had been slightly different, Anton was prepared to open fire with a volley of light arrows, the fastest attacks he could manage. At such a speed it shouldn’t be able to dodge. But it wasn’t aimed quite at Ceretos, and it wasn’t slowing down. Then it suddenly turned, slipping around the backside of the planet and instantly changing direction, shooting towards the moon. As quickly as it entered his senses, it was gone.
Anton followed after it, following the trail it left. It was strange, how he hadn’t quite been able to make out a shape. The only thing he was certain of was that it used natural energy and had a very distinctive feeling. Nothing like the ship from Azoth, though that wasn’t necessarily comforting. He was quite certain they couldn’t create something so different, so this should be a new group. Knowing if they were enemies was the first thing.
It took Anton nearly a week to follow the trail out of the system. After looping around Ceretos and its moon, it followed a path through the planets that brought it close to each of them, then ultimately back in the direction it came from. There was little else Anton learned except the strange feeling of the trail it left- a stretching, twisting, shrinking, and somehow heavy feeling.
It was clearly a scout of some sort. Likely a cultivator vessel, but something had kept the information he received limited. And it was very fast. Almost impossible so, but the speed it moved within the system was less than the speeds the Ruteran vessel managed between systems. More importantly, slower than the speed of light which was a limiting factor in ways that were not fully understood just yet. But going that fast just next to the atmosphere of a planet… that was something concerning, as well as the way it instantly changed directions.
Planetary pride was all well and good, but Nicodemo really would have been happy to have a few cultivators slicing apart enemy ships. Rutera was managing to hold on to its position, but it didn’t have the manpower to launch a counterattack. Maybe once the researchers were done analyzing the enemy’s defensive formations. They got some interesting boosts from a scholar on Ceretos who had great insight into formations. They also got a lot of condescending lecturing from the man, but it was still good information.
If the Ruterans could incorporate part of those defensive shields into their own technology- which they were already doing in experimental phases- then they would gain a significant step forward. Though Azoth had to have counters for their own techniques. So far they’d mainly used those beams, but they worked well enough they didn’t really need to change offensive styles.
A few scouts had managed to report back from within Azoth, where it seemed that the people there had colonized more than just one of their planets despite only one being in a traditional habitable zone. Rutera could do that, but besides small science bases on their planets there wasn’t really much point. Well, now they also had detection stations to try to pick up incoming enemy ships, but the point was that making them livable wasn’t easy. For cultivators who could survive extreme variations without massive infrastructure, however, it made sense.
Rutera had picked out a few potential targets, but launching any attacks now would basically be a suicide mission. They didn’t have the cloaking technology required to get close unnoticed, not on larger combat vessels, so even if they had the manpower it wouldn’t be used efficiently. So at the moment it was a war of attrition and development… and perhaps of whether or not Rutera would be willing to call upon their new neighbors.
Even though Nicodemo wanted their help, he didn’t exactly trust Ceretos. Anton? Sure. That guy felt like a tough-as-nails grandpa and was probably as trustworthy as they came. In relation to that, his Order of One Hundred Stars would be a good ally. But the question was whether they could afford their help. Even a fellow like that wouldn’t help entirely for free, and it was more than just monetary prices but also technological and social. Nicodemo wasn’t equipped to handle most of those.
But he sure would like to have that friendly mobile artillery station back in the system. It was tough to invite him for a visit in the middle of a war though. Sadly, Nicodemo wasn’t the one calling all the shots, even in the military. He could only train and lead and hope people would be ready when Azoth came at them with something more.
Dodging lasers wasn’t really something you could do visually. It required something of a sixth sense- or tenth or whatever. Another one, which was the point. And not just the ability to feel where everything was with energy. Ty Quigley wasn’t quite sure how to explain it, but he just knew when someone was trying to gun him down, and where to be for that to not happen. Like when Elder Intan tried to cut him in half, but he actually had time to react.
To lasers. Not that guy’s sword strike. That guy had cut him apart and sewn Ty back together more times than he could count in a single year. It was the sort of training that no sane person would participate in.
Before that, Ty had thought he was a pretty normal guy. He was fascinated with the military and weapons new and old. If he’d been asked if he liked swords the answer would have been yes… but not in preference to any other weapon. Now he was almost considering sneaking a sword into his flight suit somehow.
He twisted the controls, altering the momentum of his fighter. Managing a fighter’s momentum was important, but the ship wasn’t actually weightless at the moment. He was what, at least ninety percent of normal gravity out here? There just wasn’t any real atmosphere to mess with him, and the basic momentum of the ship was vaguely in orbit. And if that momentum was messed up, there were hundreds of kilometers before he had to make a correction.
Turning his head, he attempted to get visual on the enemy ships. One good thing about fighting these weird sailing space ships was they weren’t particularly mobile, not compared to an actual fighter. Still had to watch out for the individual cultivators ready to fling weird attacks from them, but strafing enemy ships was easy enough.
So far, Ty hadn’t managed to convince anyone to give him flat bullets. He would have settled for cross shaped ones, but the barrels wouldn’t handle anything but round. So he had to add the sharpness on his own. Using his energy to empower his shots only lasted an instant- both speed and distance quickly lost him control of his energy. Yet it didn’t matter, because by the first fraction of a second he had already hit or missed.
He was glad nobody made him fly in formation. He was attached to a unit and had to respond to orders of his commanding officer, but the exact manner that he worked on a target was up to him. Which was good, because he would hardly be effective if he had to fight like everyone else. A few others were developing their own styles as well, but most people stuck to the basics. That was fine, but… their shots were more distraction than anything else.
Ty narrowed his eyes as he approached a ship from behind. There was no ‘main’ mast, the ships having radial symmetry in four directions, but even so the crews tended to favor one over the others. In relation to that, there was always one with a bit less care to protecting it. Their shields were generally even in every direction, but Ty could sense weak points. A flurry of conventional bullets were propelled forward from his fighter, inheriting his speed and accelerating. As they went, he added sharpness.
They cut through the shields, which rarely had time to get adapted to his tactics, but one fighter simply wasn’t enough. He gouged the wood of one mast, but it wasn’t enough to break it apart. When he came back for another pass, he’d barely cause any damage. But bullets weren’t the only weapon Ty had… nor the most appropriate one.
At least he’d managed to convince the techies to reinforce his wings, and they were already ‘sharp’ to save on material. He twisted towards another mast, since he knew the adaptive shields took a second to adjust to the entire vessel. First his nose punched through the shield, then his wings cut into it. The ship spun away from him as he tried to slice through the mast, but he still sunk his wing into the hull, cutting a few meter long slice into it before pulling away. Maybe if he were Elder Intan he could slice a ship clean in half, but he’d have to settle for a deep gouge opening the ship up to space. Their fancy formations were all throughout the vessel anyway, so he probably got something important.
A burst of fire surrounded his fighter, but the standard shields handled it. Other counterattacks from the crew targeted him, but he kept insane speeds the other fighters couldn’t handle without energy-improved reaction times, even with computer assistance. The only thing Ty was worried about was the main cannons of the ship, but he knew how to avoid those.
Behind him, the ship tore apart- not directly from his own attacks, but rather the bombardment of other attacks finding its way through their shields in the holes he punctured and instability he caused. And some good shots by others, of course, but Ty knew he played a major part. Now if only he could do that more than a couple times per day he might actually swing things in their favor.