It was almost surprising how many things Everheart had to restrain other cultivators. Anton paid careful attention, though everything he saw seemed like it could only be used on already incapacitated individuals. At that point, they could have already been killed. It was fortunate for Anton that the Worldbinding cultivators had chosen to flee in the direction of Rutera’s star. Had they gone elsewhere, they likely would have only suffered a few initial casualties and then escaped.
It was strange, actually. Anton had been able to sense what the two women were bonded to- could they not feel his connection to the star? He’d have to go over that with someone he trusted. And he supposed Everheart would be a fine enough option, since he already knew the important parts. Being able to feel Anton being bonded to a star wasn’t relevant when the man already knew it.
“So what did you say they attuned to?” Everheart asked Anton after the cultivators were properly restrained, not just with threats of imminent and inescapable violence.
“Followers, and these ships,” Anton gestured.
“Anything else?” Everheart asked. “Is all of it here?”
Anton closed his eyes, concentrating. Even without conscious effort his stores of natural energy were replenishing, but Anton was expending most of that recovery to circulate his energy and heal his wounds. Outside of himself, he reached his thoughts towards the two Worldbinding cultivators. “There’s… more. All in the same direction, and very faint- so I presume back at their system,” Anton declared.
“Stupid,” Everheart said. “Should have brought it all.”
“If it was really devoted followers and ships? I absolutely agree. They should have some reason not to but…” Anton shrugged.
“Anyway,” Everheart said. “I’m impressed kid. You took out two people higher than yourself in cultivation.”
“Only because they chose the wrong direction.”
“Did they, though?” Everheart asked. “Their ships thrive in sunlight. And I bet there’s more to it.”
“Not really,” Anton shrugged, “I just followed them until I was strong enough to do something.”
“In other words, you tricked them into entering your domain,” Everheart clapped, “I’m proud of you, kid.”
Anton looked at his hands. Yep, still wrinkled… and he was referred to as a kid twice in a single minute. Everheart was old enough to make that sort of statement, though. “I suppose I should accept your praise. It was much closer than it appeared, though.”
Everheart snickered. “You should know that it doesn’t matter who will win as long as someone knows otherwise. Once you convince everyone you’ve won, you have.”
“I don’t think it’s quite that simple… but I can’t fully disagree either.” Anton shrugged, “Regardless, I would like to ask you something. Can you sense what they’re attuned to?”
“Hmmm…” Everheart furrowed his brow in concentration, not saying anything for a good five or ten minutes. “The older one’s connected to the ships, and the younger to a few remaining people, right? Yeah, I think I got it.”
“So it’s not just me then,” Anton frowned. “Why couldn’t they feel my connection to the star?”
“First… it took me more than an instant to pick that out,” Everheart said. “Which means it’s not that easy. I’d imagine you being an Assimilation cultivator yourself is a significant factor there. As for you, I feel…” Everheart closed his eyes in concentration again. “The devotion of the people of Rutera. Or at least some powerful people near there. As for the star? It’s more internal. That power flows from the inside out, it’s a step harder to sense. Also, I get the feeling those two are used to being dominant. They probably didn’t think it mattered where you got your power from.”
“… Is there really that much devotion?” Anton asked. Certainly, when he tried to feel it there was a constant flow, but it wasn’t much compared to a local star. “I’d mostly taken to ignoring it.”
“I wouldn’t ignore it,” Everheart said. “But if you want to stifle your growth, go ahead and keep it up. Though for someone who says he doesn’t care about devotion, you sure do a lot to cultivate it with all that helping people.”
“If I’m going to receive any, it might as well be for something deserving.” Anton couldn’t help but think about one source in the upper realms that he’d never even communicated with directly. But apparently she was now happy with how things were going, so she could do whatever she wanted.
“Anyway I gotta get to interrogating,” Everheart said pulling out a huge pile of books and scrolls.
“Don’t cause any permanent damage,” Anton warned.
“… Including to minds and souls?” Everheart confirmed.
“Especially to those. We need to know what they know.”
“Me too!” Everheart said. “I need to know everything! It’s easy, I’ll just do a simple memory extraction and give you a copy of everything.”
“… Can you do that without turning them into mush?”
Everheart rolled his eyes. “Ugh. Sure, fine. But it’ll take longer.”
The Great Queen was quite pleased with her development. While she couldn’t exactly move freely beyond the atmosphere, she had developed a method to redirect herself by selectively negating nearby energy, creating a void everything would flow towards. It was a bit more complicated than that, but she should be able to explain it to her stronger subjects… or carry some along with her as she went.
That actually had little to do with her actual advancement. That had come in the form of consuming copious energy at the middle of a gas giant while her body was tempered under the pressure. In addition to that, the devotion of her brethren had empowered her, not just emotionally but with a tangible connection. It wasn’t natural energy, but it was something that accelerated her development.
As for other occurrences, she was now able to compare the taste of phoenix and phoenix cultivators, neither of which she had previously tasted. The former was better. The energy was more pure, and it tasted like chicken. The cultivator just tasted like a foul human, and human was something that the Great Queen had no taste for. What she really liked was ascension energy, but that was in hard supply even when Anton was around.
For some reason the humans had ignored her as she dug her way through their ship towards their leader. She couldn’t have been the most subtle, tearing through the barrier and chewing through some of the hull, but they’d just ignored her. If they’d simply used their eyes and ears, they would have seen her. And even with her advancement, she was fairly certain a proper cultivator could cut her in half if they managed to slash a decently made weapon towards her. Specifically, one that was naturally sharp and durable- since enchantments and augmenting natural energy were mostly pointless, except as they accelerated the blade itself.
Speaking of people who could crush her with their bare hands, she needed to return to Nthanda. The woman hadn’t been quite finished with her advancement or death when the Great Queen had, so she’d had to leave her behind. Even if Nthanda did break through, it would be rather difficult to climb out of a gas giant without control of natural energy- through one method or another.
When the last handful of phoenixes fell from the sky, Erin watched as Paradise swam at an alarming speed towards them. He gulped the first one out of the air, and caught the next two near the surface of the water. Then Paradise dove after the last three, Erin taking direct control over the formations that kept the sect and everything else from being torn away as he dove under. For an island sized turtle, Paradise was quite agile, snaking his neck around to snatch the last few in his jaws. Then he returned to the surface, twisted his neck around until his head was over the island, and slowly opened his jaws.
Six waterlogged phoenixes plopped into a pile, and Erin assumed there was a purpose. If they just didn’t taste good, Paradise could have just spit them out into the ocean. “What do you want us to do with these? They’d be good materials, I guess.” A wave of disapproval. “Not that, huh… then what?”
Paradise’s energy twisted as the collars on the phoenixes snapped, then were crushed into a single ball of scrap.
“Ah. You mean to free them? No… you want to take care of them?” Definite approval. “Alright so… what does a phoenix eat?” Erin frowned, wondering what they might have. “I guess the answer will have to be fish.”
Aside from Ceretos, which had more than its fair share of Assimilation cultivators- and apparently a particular void ant queen- nobody could claim overwhelming victories. Solid? Absolutely. Only Weos had any enemies able to retreat- but Rutera took too many losses for it to be comfortable. There was a critical question of whether or not the Sylanis Cluster could manage another attack. One Worldbinding cultivator dead and two captured was a not insignificant blow… but if they could bring the other ninety-seven, or even twenty of them working together to dominate each system one at a time… then, there would be serious issues.
Though with Everheart present, perhaps Ceretos would survive. Even if the man thought things were dire and chose to flee instead of participating directly, the continental formations would be sufficient to balance the tide. But that was assuming no more than twenty Worldbinding cultivators, and all somewhat weakened. Given what they had seen, nobody was willing to swear they didn’t have the capability to send more. Except-
“Here’s a list of all the Worldbinding cultivators,” Scholar Eulogius said without prompting at a meeting of Rutera’s top brass. “Okay bye~!”
Anton had felt him coming, of course, but he thought the man would at least stay for… any amount of time at all. He was the one to catch the almost carelessly flung booklet, and he took it with him to his position next to General Nicodemo. “It’s more than just a list,” Anton said upon opening it. “Names, locations, affiliation, presumed cultivation level… binding method. It’s almost like someone put this together with the intention of military action…” Anton could tell it wasn’t Everheart’s interpretation of information- not once did it call anyone ‘dumbasses’ or otherwise insult them.
“Why do you think that?” asked President Aneirin Park.
“Any number of things. Including that I feel like the Sylanis Cluster might be ready to go to war with itself.”
“Really? Do you think we can make that happen?”
“Before just now?” Anton shrugged. “We had barely enough information to even guess at the internal politics. Now… we have shot.” Anton felt momentarily bad for not caring if Everheart had avoided melting his captive’s brains to get this information. He wouldn’t mind killing them, but some things were unnecessary. All of this, though… Anton hoped Everheart had kept his word, but he really couldn’t complain much if this was the result because he didn’t.
“If we have a chance… what do we do?”
“We read through all of this and come up with a strategy that our alliance can actually implement,” Anton said. He had read through it all in a few moments- it was more than a few pages, but it was just information. After studying Everheart’s learning techniques, that was simple. Applying this information would take some teamwork… but Anton was slightly distracted by ‘Scholar Eulogius’ standing outside waving what Anton could sense was a very shiny scroll in a manner that was confident Anton was still watching him. Was that… was that a Worldbinding method? Actual concrete instructions for breaking through… or perhaps how to advance upon reaching Worldbinding? Anton had to know.
No wonder Everheart was obsessed. How could anyone just leave the secrets of the universe unlearned once they realized how far they went? Anton just hoped that the Sylanis Cluster’s methods didn’t involve sacrificing babies, but he wasn’t really confident that it would be much more pleasant than that. Though theoretically they had at least two.