There were significant oddities with large magnetic fields that Anton hadn’t experienced when viewing it on a small scale. Before attuning to his latest star he had not encountered magnetism on a relevant scale to hinder or help a cultivator. Rutera had some experience with how they worked, as they were a source of power that did not rely on natural energy- Anton would have to study with them at some point. But for the moment, he remained on In’istra, training Varghese and generally looking for places to spread the anti-Twin Soul Sect techniques.
As promised, he was developing techniques Varghese could use. Instead of simply attracting materials along a path, with sufficient power other behaviors could be observed. That included odd behavior where all movement was resisted, though that generally affected large and regularly shaped materials. That didn’t mean he couldn’t apply the same effect to weapons, but it was more complicated.
The important thing was, if he could apply such a thing it would be a powerful way to resist most weapons in a way that couldn’t be directly overpowered with greater quantities of energy. Anton wasn’t quite certain yet, but the way movement was resisted more strongly the faster an incoming object approached didn’t seem to cause him to expend more energy sustaining the field. At least, not significantly. Instead, the object fought against itself. If that was true, he could greatly improve his combat effectiveness. At high levels of magnetism, more things were affected than casual observations would indicate.
Varghese wouldn’t be able to achieve such effects, not early at least, but any way to affect an enemy’s weapons or movements in general that went outside of the expected channels could be powerful. It only took Anton a week to provide a basic version either he or Varghese could develop later. It would serve him throughout Spirit Building, at least.
“Now remember, you almost certainly don’t want to draw attacks towards your body,” Anton said, halting a sword he was holding for the sake of training the young man. He felt the force pulling it closer, but did not let it move. “At your level, I would focus on a shell around you. That is the least likely to result in… critical flaws.”
Varghese nodded, “I’m trying. However, I can’t do as much as I would like throughout the day, with my energy otherwise occupied. You being here to train me whenever I want is already a miracle, but if I could get some of those lodestones for myself…”
“You want a permanent magnet?” Anton asked.
“I think it would be useful for my studies.”
Anton pulled out a bar of iron, reshaping it with his energy and then charging it. The internal structure was realigned to flow in a single direction, unlocking the material’s innate magnetism. “I’m not sure how long it will last,” Anton admitted as he tossed it to his student, “But it should suffice for some time. Don’t fret if you manage to ruin it while experimenting.”
Varghese touched it to his sword and found himself almost unable to pull it away- it involved sliding it to a point where it had less contact with the blade. “This is… quite strong. I can just have this?”
“Some things of great value to you are not worth so much to others,” Anton said. “All I ask is that you maintain your principles, continue your training, and pass on knowledge to others once you have a proper understanding.”
“All, huh,” Varghese frowned.
“You find that unreasonable?” Anton asked.
“Not at all. It’s just strange. Everyone’s holding tightly onto their scraps of cultivation knowledge, and here you are giving out astounding knowledge freely.”
“I will admit,” Anton said, “It’s not an entirely fair comparison. I am wealthy in knowledge. Nothing I do here can give anyone an advantage over me. So it is rather simple to provide whatever I see fit.”
“I suppose,” Varghese admitted, “But I have the feeling you would be doing the same if you were much less powerful.”
“Like anyone, I look out for family and friends first. I simply have the luxury of expanding the field of the latter.”
Varghese flipped the iron bar over in his hand, manipulating his energy to have it briefly float before it crashed into his hand, jolting his arm back. “Thank you. I can learn much with this and your technique manual.”
“Do keep it secret,” Anton said. “For your own sake, really. As you say, people are holding onto their scraps of knowledge. They would take that from you, if you are careless. However, I think you can trust the Iron Plate Mercenaries more than others.”
“How can you tell?” Varghese asked.
“Insight. And centuries of experience. I’m not going to tell you they are ultimate paragons of virtue who will never harm you. But if you treat them well, they will do the same in return. Captain Sharma recognized your potential, along with Vasudha- though she’d be less willing to admit it. Unfortunately, it is here that our time will have to come to an end, for a while.”
“What do you mean?” Varghese asked.
“I’ve traveled to other parts of your planet. The Twin Soul Sect infects it all. I must spend more time observing people elsewhere, to find others worthy of learning what they need to know. And then I have to return home for a time.”
“Where is home?” Varghese asked.
“There,” Anton pointed to a particular spot in the sky. Ceretos’ star was not visible from within the atmosphere, but he had a perfect sense of where all of his stars were. “Ceretos. If you are inclined to visit it… well, expect it to take some time. Probably centuries, for civilization to recover to a point you have hope. But maybe less, if you contribute to your planet’s growth.”
“That’s a lot of responsibility for just me.”
Anton shrugged, “You don’t have to. Just do your best. Work towards what you want, as long as it betters the world in some way. You know my guidance. I might direct others towards you, or I might not. But I can’t always be here.”
“I know,” Varghese sighed. “I’m also sure your other duties are important.”
“Damn right!” Anton nodded, “I haven’t seen my latest grandkid in years now.” Anton grinned, “And of course there are likely other worlds similarly situated to your own, around other stars.”
“How many?” Varghese asked, looking at the stars.
“Who knows?” Anton shook his head. “In this region of space? Hundreds, at least. Perhaps not all were devastated by invasion for one reason or other. Perhaps they simply had nothing of value, or hid themselves, or perhaps they even managed to resist. But I want everyone to be able to develop and grow. I won’t stand for this oppression from the upper realms. Especially not when they’re weaker than they think.”
“… How so? They completely devastated In’istra.”
“I know some who could do that alone. And they grow weak here in the lower realms. If I manage to advance to the next stage… I don’t think anyone could match me. Perhaps a domination cultivator who would be willing to risk themself by being here.”
“Once one surpasses Life Transformation, the first step after Ascension is Integration. Then Augmentation, and finally Domination.”
“And that’s the peak of cultivation?”
Anton shrugged. “How should I know? I haven’t even heard a single reliable report of Domination cultivators with names, not in thousands of worlds. It might be the end of that path, but perhaps there is more.”
“Of course. As you can clearly see, I am here. Not ascended.” Anton grinned. “If I don’t return to tell you about Assimilation in a century or so, maybe try to find Ceretos. Someone there can help. But having the information available to you now wouldn’t help your cultivation.” Anton paused for a moment, thinking. “Once you are secure in Spirit Building, I give you permission to instruct others on the One Hundred Stars. However, you must test them first.”
“For cultivation talent?”
“No,” Anton strongly refuted the answer. “That hardly matters. Test their character. Rely on your judgment, perhaps after training Insight. I don’t care how strong the people you teach become. I just care that they won’t misuse whatever strength they get.”
“I will take this responsibility seriously,” Varghese said.
“You don’t have to spread,” Anton reminded him. “Oh, and if you find others practicing One Hundred Stars, do try to get along? You don’t have to join up into one sect, but as long as they maintain reasonable principles you don’t have to worry about other details.”
“Of course,” Varghese said, his face turning down. “You will train others.”
“Hey,” Anton caught his attention, making him look back up. “Don’t forget you’re still my personal disciple. I chose to train you. And training others is just basic math. Even Vincent, our most prolific recruiter, only pulled in some hundreds of individuals. You’ll hardly get a world-spanning sect in any reasonable time if it’s just you.”
“A world-spanning sect…” Varghese said dreamily.
“Or multi-world. If we weren’t so far, I would happily consider you a branch. And perhaps some day, if the reach of both of us expands, we will unite. Or stubbornly refuse to agree because of the color of drapes we prefer.”
“…What?” Varghese frowned.
“Look, kid, sometimes sects break up over stupid crap.”
With that, Anton really did need to get back on track. It was a long journey back home, and he did want to sow more seeds along the way.
Watching a wolf puking its guts wasn’t particularly fun for Alva, but Aconite was the one who chose to recover ‘on her own’. Alva was of course going to monitor her- stopping Fuzz from butting in was difficult enough. Spikes was willing to go along, as the stone wolf came from a background forged in trials. Not that Fuzz exactly had things easy. He was first found nearly dead, and then unable to control his own body for a while.
“So,” Alva said to her nephew. “What did you learn?”
“… That’s I’m not ready for a hunt.”
“Pick something else,” Alva said.
“… Don’t chew poisonous plants?”
Alva laughed, “Hey, I’m pretty sure you knew that one already, unlike someone.”
“I don’t know,” Chidi said finally.
“You’re supposed to say something about teamwork.”
“More like being saved by someone way stronger,” Chidi sighed. “We couldn’t do it.”
“You think so?” Alva raised her eyebrow, a gesture Chidi might not pick up. The kid was good at sensing movement, but despite how much it seemed like it sometimes he still couldn’t actually see. “Because I didn’t scratch that boar. That was all the two of you. I delayed it for a moment… mostly to remind you that I would support you. Just to be clear, I was watching the whole time and I thought you were doing fine.”
“We almost died.”
“That’s how you grow,” Alva shrugged, “In my opinion, you were always on the side of things where you were going to live.”
The newly named Aconite grunted in response. Alva had learned to understand Fuzz and his kin- how could she not?- but nothing understandable came out of the young wolf. Well, young by the standards of a wolf with cultivation. More than a decade would put her well past adult age, if she were simply a normal beast. But the intelligence developed by her parents caused her and the other pups to have different growth. Aconite had the physical maturity of and adult wolf, and she likely surpassed them mentally- but with that intelligence came all sort of other problems. Like coming up with ideas to use poison by coating her own fangs with it. That was a move of desperation, but even coating her paws had let some seep in through her pads and the skin beneath her fur.
Alva shook her head. The wolf was now named, and perhaps appropriately. Because while locally aconite or sometimes monkshood were appropriate names, back on Ceretos Anton had introduced it to her as wolfsbane. And given how the wolf almost killed herself, what name could be more appropriate?