It seemed almost a waste to travel all the way to Okloi only to leave after less than a day of actual activity, but Anton wasn’t in the mood to find out if they had some way to track him down and take him out. Even a couple Worldbinging cultivators away from their positions and a decent number of Life Transformation cultivators put together would be a threat- and hanging around their stars would give away too much information and initiative. No doubt they could gather sufficient forces to kill him if he simply stayed in place.
Thus, he was on his way back to Rutera- if they could track him, they would have to go far outside of their system, and the chances of them exactly coming across his path between systems was… extremely small. Everheart indicated their ships wouldn’t be able to make any significant adjustments during their interstellar travel methods, whereas Anton had enough leeway to aim himself at any part of Rutera’s system, and even a near miss would allow him the energy to pull himself back where he needed to be.
If he had a way to recover a significant amount of energy between systems, he could be much more flexible- but for the moment he still needed to conserve himself. Nothing that a few years of traipsing around the void wouldn’t fix. Anton had full confidence that practice would do him wonders.
He had just enough leeway to use his communication devices, assuring everyone that he was alright and that his personal missions had been successful to at least some extent. With nothing better to do, Anton repeated everything that happened in his head. Could he have been a little faster here or there? More precise, more powerful with his shots?
He also reviewed what he remembered of the Worldbinding cultivators, though he had little to go off of except their auras. He had the feeling they had been prepared to launch attacks at a few thousand kilometers, a fairly significant distance though perhaps only appropriate in space. Still, he far outranged them. He wasn’t going to count shooting a few hundred thousand kilometers when he only needed to hit a planet, but his reasonable attacks were sufficient to show he’d kept the advantage… against those two. Surely the Sylanis cluster had to have some long ranged cultivators in Worldbinding, and Anton wasn’t looking forward to running into them any time soon. Though at least he could be fairly certain he could match them one-on-one away from their domains.
Anton was quite certain that if he stayed to fight the two that came from the gas giant, even with the power of one and a bit stars under his belt, he would not have fared well. Their power… it was certainly less than Everheart, even in his current injured state, but it was far from Anton’s early Assimilation stage. By quantity of natural energy they could have been anywhere between fifty percent stronger or even double his own, and Anton wasn’t quite sure how far that would carry them. Certainly they’d had no concerns chasing after him.
To learn more, Anton would have to compare notes with Lev and the others. Granted, they all had the same couple decades of experience or less that he did with Assimilation, but they might be able to learn some sort of general pattern.
“You actually did all that?” Merve said incredulously. “W- you can’t just go off and die! You still have to fulfill your promise!”
“Already done,” Anton said. “Our rework of Angelic Providence is sufficient for it to be complete, and with your talent… I know you can Ascend, whether it takes you two decades or ten. And if I died, you would be safely transferred to Ceretos to complete that training.” Anton shrugged, “Actually, it would be faster if we sent you there. The natural energy is much more abundant.”
“I don’t wanna go!” Merve said angrily. “I don’t trust anyone else! I barely even trust you.”
Anton nodded, taking her shouting in stride. “Fair enough. Since I’ll be fighting out of Rutera for the moment, we’ll have to hold off on that. I do have another option for you, though.”
“I don’t know anyone in Weos, either,” Merve said.
“That wasn’t it. If you would like to obtain some manner of revenge and contribute to the war efforts on this side, having you work towards a rebellion in Okloi would be advantageous. I won’t make you, of course.”
“Why not just send someone else?”
“Because you’re a native. Your cultivation method will fit in, you won’t have any slight aberrations in your speech from being native to a different system, and because I could trust you.”
“Uh… thanks? But I really don’t want to go back there.”
“A shame,” Anton sighed. “I could really use an insider. Too bad they stomped out all sense of companionship in the place.”
“Nobody ever helped me. Don’t know why I’d help them.”
“See?” Anton shrugged. “I’m sure someone must have helped you, at least in small ways.”
“No way, I had to fight for everything. Even a basic cultivation technique, then resources, a place to train… everything. I’m not going to be grateful to people I had to beat down, or to those who arranged all of that.”
“Well there you go, practically a glowing review of the common man. You had proper resentment towards those in control all along.” Anton saw the look in her eyes. “You’re thinking that I am like them, aren’t you?”
“No,” she lied. “Of course not.”
“I’m not going to renege on our deal just because you express your opinions,” Anton said. “And eventually, you might believe that. I wish you would go to Ceretos… it really would be a great boon to your cultivation, and you could practice anywhere. You don’t need much else than time and natural energy, now.”
“… I still trust you a little bit more than anyone else as strong as you,” Merve said finally. “And maybe your Order has a few decent people in it.”
“I’d certainly hope so,” Anton nodded. “It’s a lot of work weeding through people for moral fiber.”
“Not just cultivation talent?” Merve asked.
“I’d rather have one trustworthy Body Tempering cultivator than a dozen Spirit Building cultivators I can’t count on. Frankly, stronger people who might work against you are a net negative.” Anton shook his head, “I’m not saying Ceretos is all sunshine and rainbows, or even the Order of One Hundred Stars… but it’s not bad.”
“Maybe, but I’m still not going without you.”
“That’s fine,” Anton said. “You’re young enough that a little bit of delay in your cultivation shouldn’t hold you back too much. I’m not sure how long this war will be, but… I can’t imagine it at less than a few years.” Unlike previous conflicts, traveling between systems had a serious delay associated with it- people could be moved anywhere on Ceretos in a matter of a day, if there were no expenses spared. Rearranging an army across a continent would be much swifter than sending even a few ships to another system.
Coordinating multiple systems to work together was difficult, even if messages were transmitted faster than people. The delay could have been so much worse- weeks or months instead of days- but the lack of simultaneous communication was obvious.
General Nicodemo interpreted the results from the various groups, and their following actions as the intent to wait upon the response from the Sylanis cluster. There was little way for them to get information of enemy movements before they arrived, because even if they left scouts all along the enemy ‘border’ they would barely be able to detect anything, and that was assuming they took the most direct routes between systems. General Nicodemo had studied for such warfare, of course, but it didn’t make it any more comfortable that they basically had to rely on a large formation they didn’t understand and their sensors around Rutera and their outlying bases.
Even though the results had been decent- at least they showed they could manage attacks into enemy territory and avoid a complete wipeout- the president wasn’t happy. And frankly, Nicodemo couldn’t blame him. Who would be happy during a war with only a slight success? At least the people were somewhat encouraged by the results. Finally being able to declare anything but a defensive victory was rather nice, and morale was important.
Other than that, of course, materials were key. Ceretos and Weos were providing some materials, but even if they could afford to give up everything there was a limit to how fast Rutera could produce ships… and upgrade them to keep ahead of those stupid barriers.
Nicodemo watched a short clip that had returned from the war. It was video taken from the inside of a certain pilot’s fighter, and while the whole scene was rather chaotic it showed a series of buildings collapsing as the closest one’s main supports were sheared in two. This was the sort of success that Nicodemo was supposed to praise in his interactions with his soldiers, and he did. The part of the video not shown to the public also made him want to strangle Ty Quigley.
That part showed a first person view of a space fighter flying directly into the walls of several structures, slicing through the barriers and bursting out the other side before once more breaking through a wall. Along the way several of the weird sailing ships were run through. Then it showed the fighter popping open his ship to cut apart an incoming beam of energy. That last part didn’t seem like it should have been possible, and couldn’t have been necessary. The ship had shields for a reason! But the following view of collapsing buildings was pretty good.
Somehow during that whole escapade Ty Quigley got his hands on a pile of enchanted metal and was asking for his ship to be refitted with that. Nicodemo wanted to shout at him that that wasn’t how war worked and resources went where they were needed. Then the cultivators from Ceretos had decided it was a good idea and somehow thrown together upgrades for the guy’s fighter.
Cultivators were crazy, and Nicodemo said that knowing full well he was becoming one of them. The worst part was that Nicodemo had to figure out how to convince everyone that was the best use of resources… because while it might have been, counting on a small portion of their soldiers and turning them into battle icons was… ridiculous.
Nicodemo was also going to have to explain that Ty Quigley was not his friend, just a valuable soldier and a sparring partner. Though he supposed showing that whole video would do a pretty good job of making people shut up, once they realized how much property damage the man caused in their short raid. Though he couldn’t say quite what it equated to in local currency, ships didn’t come from nowhere. And if they could count how many cultivators they killed, they could mark them off of the estimated tens of thousands of high cultivation enemies.
Anton had expected a serious response from the Sylanis Cluster. That was the risk they had taken, but everyone was ready. And when ships started lighting up Rutera’s sensors, Anton knew the response was not just halfhearted. And yet… he hadn’t thought it would come with such impulsive behavior. Anton felt not one, but two Worldbinding cultivators, even as they were nowhere close to their approach to Rutera itself.
He wondered if the response was the same in the other systems. Ceretos… well, it was actually probably the safest of the three. Even without Anton, they had the only Assimilation cultivators in the alliance, and they’d been preparing for an invasion already. They had just been expecting it to come in a century instead of right away. Weos… had withstood the attacks before. They’d have to manage this time.
For the moment, Anton had to focus on where he was. First on the agenda was determining whether the Worldbinding cultivators he was detecting would be able to fight at full power, or if it was diminished. He hoped everything else could be handled by Rutera and the allied cultivators diversifying their forces.