A mass of energy sufficient to level a mountain descended towards the planet surface, building up speed in a manner that made Prospero Vandale almost jealous. The defensive barrier bowed inward in an alarming manner that concerned him, because despite not needing any of their mountains and perhaps even being able to replace them the attack succeeding would merely encourage further action. Then the bundle of energy began to slow, then stop… before rapidly flinging back in the other direction. The vessel and all of those upon it who contributed to the attack were annihilated, which was a shame because Xankeshan could really use its own fleets. It seemed they would have to take a more active role defending their sovereign territory if they wanted to capture anything.
It had to be admitted that despite not being brought back to full functionality, Xankeshan’s defensive formations were quite impressive. Prospero didn’t understand them in great detail, because despite some training in formations in both his lives, it was not sufficient to tackle formations on the scale of a grandmaster or… whoever had to have constructed them in the first place. Perhaps an Augmentation or Domination level cultivator.
A fine rain of materials was drifting down towards the planet’s surface, apparently not taken as a threat by the formations. They were rather efficient at that, not wasting energy where it didn’t need to be spent… though Prospero was concerned about where the power it did use came from. He understood that it drew partially from the living ecosystem of the planet, but besides some megafauna in the Gardens there really wasn’t much life. Catarina said something about the formations drawing upon something deeper, but all power sources had to be limited somehow. He couldn’t help but worry about that, but the younger-and-stronger individuals that had once been juniors beneath him didn’t seem particularly worried. Hopefully, they were right- and it wasn’t as if they were sitting around idly.
The population of the little planet they’d somehow snagged the reins to was still small, considering they had to have some level of trust for anyone that was brought inside. The total fighting force was many times what the Order had once had under Prospero’s leadership, but that was in the ‘lower realms’. Here in the upper realms, the array of dozens of ascension level cultivators was just a start. And then there was Prospero himself…
What could he say? Even if he was managing more than a star per year it would still take him a few decades to reach the Integration stage. Having previously traversed the path made it smoother, while having to wrangle upper energy added speed bumps. Even so, he was confident he could manage it much more quickly than his previous life- and actually break through instead of hovering on the edge. Until that point, he was little better than a disciple with an overabundance of life experience. He wished he was back on Ceretos hanging out with Anton, even if he were at his current strength. It might be quite interesting… especially considering Everheart’s presence there. That had to be interesting, though Anton might regret passing up the chance to kill him. Though he was able to make his own choices, even big ones that affected many people.
Just a handful of years prior, Nirmala’s status as a diplomat was mostly ceremonial, and generally still only around because of her role in keeping the various regions of Rutera united. They’d had a unified world for a generation, but it wasn’t so easy to keep it in place. Nirmala hadn’t particularly expected to get involved in actual foreign relations. After all, what were the chances that adjacent systems had planets that could sustain similar life? Not that high. And it being human life?
Well, at that point it was no longer a coincidence of any sort. It seemed that Rutera was an oddity in that they didn’t follow the ‘traditional’ cultivation paths. Perhaps whoever had settled the planet long in the past ran into some issues. Maybe something monumental change, but if so it was before their current records… which went back quite some time. Either way, traditional cultivation wouldn’t have served them as well with the lower level of natural energy that Rutera had compared to Ceretos- or even what it was said that Ceretos had a century earlier.
The point of Nirmala’s thoughts was that she now found her job to be more practical and her life to be much busier. Especially since she had to visit Ceretos and now was being taken to their moon. Without a ship. There was some risk to that. Not that she thought Anton would allow her to be harmed, but he had admitted there was the potential for everyone to die at the meeting. Then again, if that happened perhaps all of Ceretos would be wiped out so it would hardly matter. A reminder to Nirmala that she was dealing with individuals with power far beyond her comprehension- and she tried, but any time she sensed the natural energy any of them had it sent her head spinning. But perhaps she simply needed more training. Apparently it could extend her youth, which she was not opposed to in the slightest. And fitting in with the locals was an excellent excuse to train often.
It was actually quite beautiful, flying through the stars with no ship blocking her view in any direction. She could see Ceretos, its sun, and its moon. Clear stars in all directions- not a view she was used to on Rutera because of the light pollution. They managed to keep the planet environmentally stable, but light pollution was simply a byproduct of large cities and the ability to light up the night.
Nirmala returned her mind to the upcoming task, and to those around her. Along with Anton there were others embarking on the same journey. That included others of concerning strength. There was Scholar Eulogius, a brash but highly intelligent man. It was strangely hard to find any history on the man. Then there was Vasu, head of the Million Sword Vault. He had a few others with him, but the bigger thing that Nirmala noted was that he was also bringing a desert. Or at least a few dunes worth, though the mirrored texture of the sands provided a strange image, like a mirage.
The first positive sign was the ring ship from Weos arriving on schedule and landing. It was alone, which didn’t mean it was no threat- but when the doors opened and cultivators began to descend down the exit ramp, Anton found himself relaxing. He recognized Anzela’s aura close to the peak of Life Transformation, walking next to a man whose aura was entangled with hers in a complementary manner. He was somewhat weaker, but still around mid Life Transformation.
“Greetings,” Anton said as the group approached the small compound that had been set up. Formations provided air, and Anton waved his hand to clear some of the dust on the path between them. “This is our first time to meet properly face to face.” Anton began introductions, starting with himself. He wasn’t sure if he actually considered himself most important, but he was the strongest- with the potential exception of Everheart, even injured. But he came after Sect Head Vasu, and before any of the Life Transformation individuals present. That included Treloar of the Worthy Shore Society, though the man was showing signs he might not remain as he was for long.
“As I’m sure you recall, I am Anzela Ranik, captain of the exploration vessel behind us. This is my husband, Rikuto, and a man more adept with his words than myself.”
Rikuto bowed slightly. “I apologize for my unexplained presence, but this was a matter of concern for Weos as a whole. I am more familiar with what information we can offer, and what diplomatic promises we can make.” He bowed more deeply, “I am honored to meet the prosperous sects and clans of Ceretos, and a representative of Rutera is a pleasant surprise.” The man seemed inclined to ask something, but thought better of it.
Anzela stood next to him, cautiously surveying the gathered cultivators. She had a clear question in her eyes, and Anton was willing to provide the answer.
“We call this stage Assimilation,” Anton provided. “We have found it to be an acceptable alternative to ascension.” That answered the question, though doubtless raised many more. And just knowing an alternative existed wouldn’t necessarily allow them to achieve it. Unless Anzela, her husband, and every member of the crew behind her were extremely adept at deception they had no understanding of such a stage… and thus were not a threat. Not as individual cultivators, at least. The ability to draw out void beasts- intentionally or not- was an area of concern for another time, and spoke of the power of Weos as a whole still being significant.
The rest of the day mainly involved getting settled in, with Everheart having provided luxurious ‘backup palaces’ for part of the compound. Nobody would recognize the origins of any of the goods since they had come from the upper realms, though because of his familiarity Anton could sense faint traces of ascension energy within some of the structures and furniture.
Anton much preferred the casual meeting he’d had with Rutera and Matija especially, but it wasn’t always possible to have things his way. The group from Weos hadn’t arrived somewhere where the only person associated was Anton. Technically all of Ceretos had significant business in whether or not anyone was prying about the sun or trying to destroy it- but Anton was the one who had been able to get there and do anything. And he wanted to knock on the door to say hello.
Here, likely due to some connection to the upper realms known or unknown, Weos already spoke their same language. They had shown up directly around Ceretos as well, so things sadly had to involve more people and maintain a level of formality. That even meant including the Exalted Archipelago… though not many of them.
It took many days and many more words to get to the things that Anton thought were important, but with so many people around to speak their minds he had to be patient. But finally, after assuring people that they were interested in at least being neutral if not immediately friendly, they got to the topic of Azoth.
“Anzela has a better head for history than I,” Rikuto explained, “So I will defer to her for the explanation.”
Anzela nodded, taking a moment to prepare her opening. “Approximately half a century ago, cultivators from Azoth entered our system. With little warning they began attacks on our outposts on or around the various planets. Fortunately, we were prepared for… another anticipated conflict and were able to quickly mobilize. Even so, the conflict dragged out for years before we finally managed to drive them off.”
“What of this other conflict?” Anton asked. “How did their attacks impact it?”
“Actually…” Anzela frowned, “It… never happened. Which is odd, because we were momentarily weakened from the war.” She turned towards Rikuto, who had elbowed her. “What? I’m not saying we’re weakened now. We could take… Azoth at least.”
“Interesting,” Vasu was the one who spoke, “It was not long before that when we, too, were preparing for a conflict of our own.” Some people liked to beat around the bush. The Million Sword Vault was not one of those sects. “But we kicked the ass of the invaders from the upper realms and sent them packing.”
“That…” Anzela blinked. “… You’ve had trouble with the same as well?”
“Repeatedly,” Anton said. “They attempted to scour our history so that we would not remember.” For the moment, the Exalted Archipelago was being kept as a separate topic. At least most of them simply chose to dwell in the same world and weren’t troublemakers. Most of those were dead, now.
“That was similar to what we experienced. We managed to keep some records from the last war.” At this point it was obvious the cat was out of the bag, so Rikuto just shook his head as Anzela spoke. And ultimately it was information useful for them to trade.
“We had much trouble with the Twin Soul Sect beforehand…” Anton sighed. He noticed the slightest intake of breath from one individual. “I’m going to make some sudden movements now,” he said calmly. “Do not be alarmed, and understand that it will be explained to your satisfaction.”
The individual Anton had sensed almost turned to run, but not only was he too slow to do anything, there was nowhere for him to go unless he could operate the ring ship himself. Anton had a hand on him, suppressing his energy to nothing so that he could not move or do anything, including harm himself.
Anton tossed a technique manual he was lucky to still have on him towards Anzela. “You’ll want to learn this before you go back. And let’s talk about the Twin Soul Sect more as well.” Anton could see Everheart’s eye twitching, as if he had a compulsion to kill the man Anton was holding. And he very well might, if he’d given one to a projection and it had merged with him. Anton still didn’t fully understand that situation.
“I know how to make a soul destroying formation,” ‘Scholar Eulogius’ said unprompted. “For when you want it.”
“I don’t, uh…” Rikuto looked at Anzela, who was significantly stronger than him- but she shook her head. “I suppose we will listen to your explanation.”
That was a good choice, because if they knowingly harbored the Twin Soul Sect Anton was going to have harsh words for them, and significantly more arrows. And if they didn’t know about them, then they were going to need some assistance.