Everyone was able to feel the death of the saint of light. While much of the battle had been cut off from their senses due to Everheart’s self-formation, the aftermath had been pretty clear. For one side, morale increased greatly. For the other, it plummeted like a rock. Whether that had been a factor at all in Everheart’s choices was unclear. He no doubt understood morale, but he might not care.
The battle turned from a confident assault to chaos in a few moments. The first to turn away were the ships from the Exalted Quadrant. First a few of them, then every ship outside the barrier. Instead of chasing after them, the local fleets shifted their focus to the remaining Harmonious Citadel forces. However, the Harmonious Citadel remained firm for a few moments longer. With three Augmentation cultivators against two, they were still at an advantage.
That was until the Scarlet Alliance fleets began approaching… and Everheart turned his gaze upon the three remaining. The first to turn to flee was Eterna, the shield cultivator. She was followed shortly by the unnamed replacement for the morningstar saint. Abhilash the axe saint was just a bit slow… and in that moment he found his retreat cut off by Zazil and Tauno.
For her lack of bravery, the shield saint ran head first into Everheart. Unable to block attacks from all angles at once and already fatigued, he quickly finished her off. The other fleeing Augmentation cultivator drew Everheart away, but had no hope of outpacing him.
Abhilash knew surrender wouldn’t result in his survival, but he wasn’t able to put up a fight for long. He was brought down when the fleets focused on him- the rest of the enemy forces taking every opportunity to retreat. While they might have feared punishment by their own sect, that was only true if they weren’t guaranteed to die… and if the sect had a future. Without Augmentation cultivators, there was no chance of that. The most devoted had already given their lives in the conflicts, and the rest were happy to cut and run.
After Tauno’s spear pierced through Abhilash while Zazil simultaneously chopped his arm off, they gathered his body and the saint of light’s orbiting head, dropping through the barrier to help deal with the remaining forces inside. Including the dagger saint, who was being tracked by Catarina.
The calm after the battle was a time of exhaustion for all, but they couldn’t relax right away. While they were confident the enemy forces were fleeing, Everheart hadn’t gone far. Rahayu was still around as well, though he didn’t approach to speak with them.
The Scarlet Alliance’s fleets remained at a cautious distance when Everheart returned. He landed directly on the barrier, walking around in an odd pattern as he tapped on it with his toes. Before anyone could approach to ask him what he wanted, he left- Rahayu following. And this time, they were certain he left the system as the Everheart detectors picked up his trajectory.
Chidi lay next to his father in the emergency ward. Chidi personally thought he would be out of commission for a few years. He might not even be able to train for most of that. But what was a few years, compared to the vast experience of fighting such a battle? It wasn’t just reckless confidence that led him to assist the grandmaster with her bait. It had helped ease the pressure inside of Xankeshan’s barrier, preventing them from being able to effectively assault most of the important locations.
The one exception was where his father had gotten injured. He’d fought an Augmentation cultivator, apparently. The poison from her attacks was mostly dealt with, but he was unconscious now.
Aconite came into the room, sniffing her way around. Chidi would recognize that sound anywhere, and the clacking of her claws as well. “They would not let me in immediately since I was healthy… and they don’t know how to treat me anyway,” she growled her complaints to Chidi.
He reached out his hand, and the fact that she let him put his hand on her head meant there probably wasn’t poison in her fur at the moment. “Thanks for the backup. I couldn’t have dealt with all of those people at once.”
“Of course. I would not abandon you.” Aconite made her way around the bed, sniffing. Then she bit Timothy’s side.
She tore apart bandages and stitched together skin, reaching with her energy. Chidi could tell she didn’t have any ill intent, so he waited for her to finish and explain. Though when some black goop came out along with his father’s blood, the explanation was clear enough. A few licks from Aconite and some powder from one of her many pouches stopped the bleeding.
“A new poison,” Aconite said. “And it would not be good for the remnants to stay inside him, either.”
She curled up between their beds, and Chidi settled back to sleep.
Prasad and the One Thousand Palms Sect, along with the delegation from the Scarlet Alliance, escorted the Trigold Cluster fleet to the edge of Harmonious Citadel territory. From there, it was no longer their responsibility. All they could do was wait- and watch.
During that time, messages crossed each other. Responses to the incoming fleets came with news of Exalted Quadrant forces and the attack on Xankeshan. Ultimately everything settled down soon after that.
The spies set to follow the Trigold Cluster fleet reported only an approach to Rouhiri- including a short raid where it seems they captured the second saint of light. Prasad had no reason to stop them from leaving, and Hoyt and the others had to reluctantly accept the Trigold Cluster’s presence as they escorted them back out. While they would ultimately be enemies given the Trigold Cluster’s activities in the lower realms, starting conflict at the moment was unnecessary and foolish.
In the lower realms, Anton received information as it came. The war was finally over, after many decades. But while he was relieved, he knew that peace couldn’t reign forever. At the very best, the lower realms would have until the next cycle. And their cohorts in the upper realms would have to act before then. But that was an awfully long time away still, more than five centuries. So many things could change before then. There being no other conflicts would either be a miracle, or mean that they stood by and watched wars happen without interfering. And while that was sometimes the correct option, Anton knew there would be many more conflicts.
But still, for the first time in half a century, both the upper and lower realms were at peace. Or at least the little slice that contained the One Hundred Stars and the cultivators ascended from their little region. The Trifold Alliance… and a few from the Sylanis Cluster that chose to join them. Now if only the state in the lower realms would ever move beyond reluctant trade partners. But perhaps Anton shouldn’t desire anything to come about with haste. If it took another century, so be it.
The time came for Anton to return to In’istra, but instead of making the trip alone he was joined by a coalition of others. They were headed to many disparate locations. First was a delegation to the twin planets. Though the alliance was rather distant from them, it was still less than an eighth of the distance to In’istra. Xicil was left alone, given the clear isolationist intent of the desert planet. Though Anton did drop by to check that things indeed continued to go well for them.
The main group of ships continued on with Anton but was not going to visit In’istra. Instead, they were taking the lengthy trip to visit two separate locations. These were not expeditions taken lightly- despite Anton having traveled the path several times, it was a serious commitment of time and resources for most to go so far.
First was a small group that wished to study Azun up close. Pulsars were of great interest to the scientific community, after all. The fact that the neutron star was also a magnetar made it of even greater interest. Matija was leading a team that planned to study it for at least a few decades, which required special preparations to sustain the crew without being able to stop for supplies, except in some cases fuel. Though they would not be lacking in natural energy, as long as they could avoid being overwhelmed by the star even at a distance.
Then there was another delegation heading for Aipra. If they could manage to actually reach the planet, Anton would introduce them. Based on the information Anton had brought them, they gathered various techniques- and pieces of simple technology- that might allow improvements for the lives of those situated there. In return, all they wanted was the opportunity to study a rogue planet within subspace. It was a bit of a risk, though the language barrier should at least have been solved. There was simply the question of whether the sudden presence of outsiders would cause strife. They might have to leave immediately even if they managed to find it. Then there were the ‘natural’ dangers of the distortion beasts.
Shortly after Chidi was discharged from the hospital- his health was stable and as a cultivator he could function well enough even with his injuries- Chikere came to find him. It was both expected and unexpected. The grandmaster was sort of a hurricane.
“I’m not really in a state to train right now,” Chidi said.
“I know. I don’t know if I can teach you much else anyway. Not with our styles as they are,” she grinned. “You need to grow on your own for a while. But I’ll be back.”
“… Back?” Chidi asked. “You’re going somewhere?”
“Yeah. I’m going to study the styles of the Exalted Quadrant.”
“But isn’t that enemy territory?”
“They don’t know that. And even if they did, they couldn’t all know that. It’s a big place!” Chikere held her arms out wide, gesturing with two swords as she did so. “They won’t notice one more person.”
“You think people won’t notice you?” Chidi laughed.
“They will eventually. But they might appreciate me, you know? It’s not like I’m going there to kill them. I’m just going to train with their sword cultivators and we can learn from each other, exchanging pointers.”
“Until some sect gets mad at you and you kill them all.”
“Please,” Chikere shook her head. “I wouldn’t kill them all.”
“Unless they all attacked you at once,” Chidi said. “Which they might, if you’re on sect grounds. I know you wouldn’t hunt them down if they left you alone, but…”
“It’ll be a good experience,” Chikere said. “Fighting so much against the Harmonious Citadel… I’ll get rusty, you know?”
“At least bring a communicator. And pay attention to it!” Chidi demanded.
“Sure,” Chikere shrugged. “But I don’t know why you’d need to say anything.”
“That’s the point! There might be an emergency. We might need you. Or you might need us.” Chidi frowned, “Also, stay away from Everheart. I know Rahayu’s with him for some reason but-”
“Grandmaster Rahayu and I are on good terms,” Chikere said. “But being apart will be good for the next time we meet and train together.” Which was the polite way to say trying to kill each other, Chidi imagined. Chidi had only heard about the former master-student pair’s interactions, but they weren’t known for holding back. And that was from the perspective of someone who had almost died to Chikere’s training while she was holding back. “I don’t know what he intends to get from that guy, but I’d rather not have competition at the moment anyway. The galaxy is large enough for our paths to diverge for a while.”
“When will you be back?” Chidi asked.
“If I make it back, probably after Augmentation,” Chikere said confidently.
“No more than a century or two,” Chikere said.
Chidi just shrugged. What was he to expect? He’d barely lived half a century himself, but cultivators often turned out like her… at least in superficial ways. Time didn’t mean much to them. At least when she came back he should have had enough time to reach Integration, but he would still be a stage behind. Chidi definitely didn’t miss the if she came back part. She was going there to advance her cultivation, or die. And he really didn’t expect anything different.