Having received communications from the upper realms, someone had to deliver those in person to the Hardened Crown Sect. Somehow, Nthanda had been the one saddled with the task. Then again, this wasn’t diplomacy. She wasn’t intended to be involved with any negotiations. She was just going to hand over a recording of Sly’s message, and a device paired to the upper realms so that the effort wouldn’t have to be repeated.
As for why she in particular was chosen, it was a matter of safety. The bitterness of time could have changed the Hardened Crown Sect, and the other exiles might not be fond of a visitor. Nthanda was fully capable wherever she went, unlike many other Assimilation cultivators. And she had also let it slip that she wasn’t busy.
Though she was somewhat capable of traveling through space on her own, it was much more limited than someone like Anton. It was just faster to take a ship, but the rest would be remaining outside the system.
Nthanda’s presence was quickly noticed- not that she was trying to hide it- and challenged. A young-looking fellow was carried into her path by a large floating platform. It probably wasn’t fast enough to bar her way if she was really trying to go around, but in that case she would have already been away from the rotational plane of the system to begin with.
“Halt!” the fellow yelled towards her. “Who goes there?”
Nthanda didn’t keep much natural energy with her, so rather than extending energy she forced a burst of her own air towards the fellow. “I am Nthanda. I bring a message for the Hardened Crown Sect, from your own members in the upper realm.”
“You’re not one of us,” the young man said stubbornly. “You’re from Ceretos, aren’t you! You can’t fool me!”
With that, he charged directly towards her. Nthanda held out her arm… and flicked him on the forehead, sending him tumbling back dozens of kilometers before he could right himself and reorient his momentum. “I never said I was one of you, idiot. I’m just carrying a message. Your sect head Naamah should see it… or whoever is in that position now.”
“Of course it is her, still. None could surpass her.”
Nthanda shrugged. It really didn’t make a difference to her. “Then lead me to her so I can deliver it and leave.”
The man nodded, rubbing his forehead as he did. “… Aren’t you an archer?” he asked.
“You think an archer is supposed to have weak fingers?” Nthanda countered. “Good luck pulling a ten tonne draw weight string with weak fingers.”
“Is that… normal?”
“No. It’s only for me,” Nthanda said. “But someone else could do the same thing.” There wasn’t much more conversation as they landed on the floating platform, which the young man directed to bring them towards their destination. At least, Nthanda presumed so. “You aren’t going to send a message ahead?”
“Well, we don’t really have the uh… infrastructure to produce such things,” he said.
“Ah, I see. You were buying everything from us and never learned how to make good communication devices.”
“… That’s not really my department,” the fellow said sheepishly.
It took several hours for them to reach the lone life-sustaining planet in the system. As they approached, they were met by a number of others, though they were sharing the flying platforms. “Jonas! Why did you leave your position?”
“Someone came with a message for Sect Head Naamah,” he gestured.
“And you just let her come?”
“Look,” Nthanda said. “I understand the Hardened Crown Sect has to be stubborn. So let’s just get to this, shall we?”
“You really think you can take us all on yourself with energy like that, girlie? Come on Jonas!” said the leader of the new group.
“Actually Hovik she-” Jonas began to say something, but Nthanda was already using him as a projectile. He was thrown straight first into the one called Hovik, sending them both back into the second platform and leaving the rest of the group awkwardly trying to backpedal between their two destinations. “- she already took me out without effort, so you don’t really stand any chance,” Jonas finished.
Hovik stood up angrily. “What was that, Jonas? Flinging yourself at me? You wanna fight, huh?”
Jonas pointed to the two lumps on his head, the second and currently smaller of which was from his impact with the second guy. “Nah, she just tossed me. Pretty sure she was on the list of Assimilation level cultivators. So anyway, she has a message for the Sect Head. And we can either help her deliver it, or get out of her way.”
“You should pick one quick,” Nthanda said. “Also, you guys are terrible at receiving visitors.”
“In my defense,” Jonas said. “You’re literally the first person to show up.”
“You must not have been a guard long.”
“I mean ever. Since we moved here.” Jonas sighed, “Anyway, we’ll soon be close enough to contact the Sect Head. She’ll tell you where she wants to meet.”
Ultimately, Nthanda landed herself on the planet outside the claimed area of the Hardened Crown Sect. Every sect had significantly more territory than that had upon Ceretos, as Syrinx was actually more expansive. It just wasn’t as well developed yet, so it was mostly untamed land at the moment.
The atmosphere gently carried Nthanda down to the ground, with the influence of her control of course. She could influence it much like her own body. As she arrived at the gate, she was pleased to find that Naamah had been polite enough to come pick her up herself.
“I heard you have a message?”
“Yeah. It involves some guy named Sly yelling or something, so you might want to see it in private. And then it’s your job to keep in contact.”
“Come in, then,” Naamah said. The two of them went to a private sitting chamber, where Nthanda handed over the device with the recorded message. Naamah watched in silence until it was over, and then yelled at it. “What do you even know? You were in the upper realms!” Then she looked at the crushed device in her hand. “Uh…”
“I’m supposed to make you promise not to destroy the backup communication device,” Nthanda said.
The other woman’s eye twitched. “Who predicted that would happen?”
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Nthanda shrugged. “Maybe that dude in the upper realms, maybe someone here. Anyway, I feel like that Sly guy has more reason to be mad at you, for getting him stuck in some sort of prison for a century. And you didn’t even do anything.”
“I see why they sent you. You don’t pull any punches.”
“On the contrary, I held back a lot. Otherwise your subordinates would be paste.”
“… Since you’re already here, interested in a training spar? I promise no lasting harm will come to you.”
“Yeah. Why not.”
In the sterile offices of Engineer Uzun, Chikere once more sat in a meeting with him.
“We already told you, we aren’t just replacing your whole body.”
“Yeah okay I get it,” she said. “But if you did, could you at least leave some blood in there? Actually, could you include it in the arm I already have?” she wiggled her fingers.
“… It seems to be the only thing I can use right now,” she admitted.
“I will ask once more… why?”
“I dunno. Can you do it or not?”
Engineer Uzun shook his head. “The value of such a feature will change significantly depending upon the actual properties you require. In short, until you can tell me why you want that in detail, we couldn’t begin to design something.”
“Ok but if you did you could replace-”
“We’re working with Doctor Escarra and the prosthetic teams in the lower realms to produce muscle and tendon repairs, among other things. But we would need some assurance that the expense would be worth it. So I either have to find your words convincing, or you have to have a sponsor who does.”
Great. Where was she going to get something like that? Chidi didn’t have that much wealth yet, and his mother and father… were currently letting her ‘sort things out on her own’. Or something like that.
There was one issue Engineer Uzun had brought up that Chikere had to consider. Her good arm- which was to say her replacement- might not stay good forever. She didn’t understand all the intricate workings of its design, but she did understand that it was part of her. And she could sense her own injuries.
Chikere was reminded that though she hadn’t felt pain in her arm… that didn’t mean it couldn’t. It had been a decision at some point to turn that off, to provide her a place of freedom. Subconscious, perhaps, but a decision nonetheless.
Turning the pain back on as she investigated the components of her arm, she was met with a sudden assault of overwhelming feelings. The structural components of the fingers weren’t far from snapping, even if externally they looked solid. Strained wires rubbed against each other inside, having been pushed beyond their limits, damaged by her opponents in battle and her own imperfect usage of energy in battle.
Her arm felt like she was being stabbed with a million swords all at once, but rather than turning the pain off… she felt like she should accept it. Until, she fixed it, of course. It wasn’t a proper living arm, but to be fair she didn’t understand how any of that worked either and could still heal it. So as long as what she did made her arm feel better- if it didn’t involve breaking the pain sensing parts- should probably be good, right?
There was a lot of recovery to do, which gave her a lot of time alone with her own thoughts. She wasn’t really happy about that, but that was how it was.
The things she thought about were many. First, her blood wasn’t good enough to be a sword. But it was also the only bit of a swordmaster she had left inside of her. She loved swords, but now they made her sick. That wasn’t something she chose. If she had her way, she’d go right back to the wonderful feelings she had when collecting swords.
Was that the problem? That she lost her swords? But she’d broken swords before. Most serious battles came with that consequence. Why was the battle with the Limitless Edge any different?
She’d lost before. Faced overwhelming opponents. But it was true she hadn’t really failed to understand why before. What was it that the Limitless Edge had? A perfect sword, and a flawed style. But the former might not truly exist, and the latter… was clearly better than what Chikere had been making use of.
A curious dichotomy. Did this mean Chikere had to learn to use a sword from the beginning? No, that was no good. She couldn’t even pick one up. And there was only so much she could use her own blood. A difficult situation.
At least her arm was healing. Now that she thought about it, it was always supposed to be self-repairing to some extent. Had she simply been denying it the necessary energy or attention? It had been functional, so she hadn’t really thought about it.
She’d put in so much work tracking down Dubet’s Heart. Then she’d given it up, and ultimately ended up back in the lower realms for the invasion. She got a fancy arm, and she thought she appreciated it at the time. But now that the rest of her was worse, she needed it more and realized she’d not taken very good care of it.
Giving up Dubet’s Heart meant Chidi existed, so she didn’t really regret that either. But she’d probably taken better care of him than her own arm. Her style of training might be difficult, but it was meant to make people stronger. And to not end up with any permanent damage along the way.
But look at her now. Not only was her body in such a state, but her head was filled with a bunch of gunk getting in the way of doing what she wanted. Which was… something. She was fairly certain she still wanted to be strong, at least, or she wouldn’t be putting all this effort into recovering. If she just wanted to walk around, she could puppet her own limbs just fine.