It was obvious to Anton that Devon was becoming frustrated with his lack of progress with regards to perception. It wasn’t that he actually lacked progress, but he would have difficulty observing a planet from any significant distance. It wasn’t a trivial thing, but multiple years of training made it clear reaching a sufficient effectiveness would take a very long time.
A single decade wouldn’t be too much from Devon’s perspective, though that was more than sufficient for some to reach Essence Collection from early Body Tempering. However, it could be even longer than that. It wasn’t just a lack of affinity for perception, but a disconnect between primary cultivation methods. Anton followed the One Hundred Stars, while Devon had his own method that had at most been shaped by outside guidance.
The whole situation was a puzzle that Anton intended to work out. Devon was family as well as his student in this instance, and he wanted him to be successful. Letting things fail halfway was unacceptable.
It came down in large part to his personality. Devon had never been much of a hunter, and his life had been vastly influenced when he was captured into slavery. That shaped him forever, his suffering at first defining him for better or for worse. He still carried his chains, but he would no longer let himself be bound.
Ultimately, Anton didn’t intend to attempt anything complicated. The only people he’d worked on extreme range perception with were archers, but Devon certainly wasn’t one of those. Attempting to make him think the same way was most likely a waste of effort, and could cause serious harm if forced. Cultivators naturally shifted into what worked for them- or found themselves at a dead end.
As with everything else, communication was key. Anton knew that Devon had difficulties advancing further with the current methods, but the exact details were unknown. So he could spend another year observing him… or he could simply ask.
“Devon,” Anton spoke to him after the daily training with the coalition, “What were your perception methods like before we started training?”
“You saw it,” Devon said. “Normal stuff, more or less.”
“I would prefer detail, if you could manage it,” Anton said. “What was normal for you?”
Devon shrugged, “At a base, listening for people with my ears and watching out with my eyes.”
“And beyond the range of normal senses?” Anton asked.
“I would just sense their energy,” Devon explained. “Anyone powerful enough you can just naturally feel from afar.”
Anton nodded, “Of course. But what about ambush situations? I am certain you had to deal with plenty of those. How did you sense your opponents?”
“Well, it was mostly Instinct,” Devon said. “I can’t really say how it worked. I must have picked up on little things. And in the midst of combat, I protected myself with my chains so people couldn’t really sneak up.”
That might be it. “Could you elaborate on that?” Anton asked. “Protecting yourself with your chains. Obviously you couldn’t fill the entire area between yourself and any hidden opponents.”
“Well, it’s partially about picking the right angles,” Devon said. “Head to chest is quite vulnerable, and random chain movements midway down mean that people have to sneakily dance through a field of danger. It doesn’t tend to work out for them.”
“How did that fare against illusions?” Anton asked.
“Quite well, actually,” Devon said. “At least when they could only fool senses they knew I had. The feedback from my chains is a bit more than some people expected. Sometimes they made it more obvious. Like, if they bumped into my chain I would simultaneously get the sensation of my chain moving overridden with the sensation of its aura remaining in place. There were some more dangerous opponents, but if I could focus on just one it’s easy enough to fend them off.” Devon paused, “I assume there is a purpose to this? It wouldn’t be just conversation or you’d have asked about something else.”
“You’re right,” Anton agreed. “I was hoping to gain some insight into how you worked. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to subtly rub your chains over a planet, I would imagine.”
Devon laughed, “I might be able to conceal myself through the benefit of distance, but I don’t think my chains will ever be particularly subtle. And distracting people with some won’t really help, since my presence would be revealed already.”
“That does seem like a problem,” Anton agreed. “I do have an idea though. I want to practice something with you but… not here. I would rather not disturb the entire population of Akrys.”
Ty sensed Anton and Devon leaving, flying away into the sky. Then he looked back down at his apprentice. Specifically Half Oink, since Deep Purr was busy with actual duties at the moment.
The warthog was much larger than she had once been, and that was especially true of her tusks. A combination of age, her genetics, and intentional body cultivation meant her tusks hung out of the sides of her head a good twenty centimeters on each side. Not the length of a full sword, but it was on both sides… and there were two pairs of tusks, one nearly horizontal and one curving vertically. Though their exact orientations shifted if she lowered her head to charge.
“What do you think that is about, Half?” he gestured to the two flying off.
The pig made some squealing and oinking sounds that were even less clear than what Ty was producing. He could half replicate meerkat sounds or warthog sounds, but Anton’s method of learning the language had been more effective than him. But he still understood enough under most circumstances.
“You do realize that I can’t understand you with a sword in your mouth, right?” Ty said. “And it’s completely unnecessary.”
Half Oink tilted her head, dropping the sword point first into the ground. “But Agom-”
“Has her own reasons she has to use a metal blade,” Ty shook his head. “She has no swords of her own, while yours are perfectly usable.” He was beginning to regret showing his disciples the trainee in the upper realms, but then again the simple images were encouraging for them. Knowing that there were others doing the same motivated them. There was a lot more happening upon Akry besides just sword training or cultivation in general, but none of that was Ty’s responsibility. “Anyway, if you want a constructed weapon I think you need to come up with a design that fits you. Holding a sword in your mouth just distracts your natural weapons.”
“Hmmmnnn…” Half Oink pranced about in a circle, thinking. “I can’t think of anything.”
“Inventions take longer than that,” Ty said. “And also, you don’t need it. You’re doing well on your own. Speaking of which, let’s test your latest training method.”
This was the part where Ty was allowed to speak the one language he knew the best. Sword against sword was simple and easy to understand. Ty had a wide definition of what counted as a sword, but the point still stood. Tusks and certain projectiles and the wings of his ship could all cut like a blade, so they all counted. Ty didn’t know when, but fighting was going to be important in the future… so continuing to train was the best thing he could do.
“So if I understand you,” Devon said. “We’re playing hide and seek.”
“I suppose you could call it that,” Anton said. “But it’s timed. I need you to find me fast enough.”
“That should be pretty simple, I think.”
“Maybe,” Anton said. “But you have this entire planet to search.” The system had more than just the planet with the sapient beasts, though the rest seemed uninteresting currently. This particular one was basically just a small rocky planet with no life. “You’re to keep your senses contained, and then I will hide myself. Give me ten minutes, since this place has no atmosphere to speak of.”
Devon nodded, shutting his senses inward. He supposed that he might actually want to try to pick up traces of Anton as he moved, but since it was specifically forbidden he didn’t think that would be beneficial to the training exercise.
Once he determined sufficient time passed, he opened his senses once more. Obviously he couldn’t sense Anton. Which meant the only thing to do was begin searching. He spread his senses out as wide as he could and began to fly around the planet. He was glad it was somewhat smaller and lacking an atmosphere, because he wasn’t as good at flying as his grandfather. He was quite mobile near the ground, however, as he could use his chains to push off of surrounding surfaces.
Devon was prepared to systematically search the planet, sweeping around it in curves until… he came across Anton. Just standing there, out in the open. “You know,” Devon said. “I thought this was supposed to be a challenge. I don’t know if it counts if you’re just standing out in the open on the exact opposite side of the planet.”
“Oh really?” Anton raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t it?”
“I mean, I did find you. And I know this isn’t some illusion.” He poked Anton with a chain- there were often spikes growing out of his power, but this one was just the rounded end.
“You make it sound like you think you passed,” Anton said. “I told you it was timed. It took you twenty minutes since you started moving. That’s too slow.”
“But that’s how long it took me to fly here,” Devon complained.
“You could have gone faster,” Anton said.
“Not while sensing a wider area,” Devon pointed out. “But I guess… that’s what this training is?”
“Is it?” Anton tilted his head. “It might be.”
Devon sighed, “I prefer you when you’re not being mysterious.”
Anton grinned. “Sorry. But this is actually about you discovering what works best for you. Any method you can find me quickly is what we want. And I have my own methods to do that, but it’s not necessarily going to work for you.”
“Fine. We try again, right?” Devon asked.
The second time, Devon sped for the opposite side of the rocky planet, but Anton wasn’t there. Of course not. It took him another rotation to find Anton… just out of reach of his senses along that same path. “This is both extremely informative and annoying,” Devon said. “What if I had stretched my senses further in this direction?”
“Do you do that?” Anton asked.
“Sometimes,” Devon said sheepishly. “I’m not as good at it as you. I’d probably miss you. Though that does give me an idea.”
The third time, Devon swept his senses over the surface of the planet as far as he could stretch them. He flew about, sweeping around himself in a circle. His third attempt was the slowest yet, as he only found Anton after several hours… floating about a hundred meters off the ground. He didn’t expect his grandfather to keep to the same method of ‘hiding’, but how did he always anticipate what Devon was going to use?
“… You haven’t moved after we started have you?”
“We’re not at that stage yet,” Anton replied.
That was both annoying and a relief. “You’ll tell me?” Devon asked.
“Indeed,” Anton said.
“And I can use any method to find you?”
“… Short of destroying the planet, yes,” Anton said.
Devon shook his head. “It’s not that easy to do something like that.” Though maybe he could? He certainly couldn’t punch it apart, but it was small enough he might be able to wrap his chains around a good portion of it and… squeeze? But there was no point to that, and in most circumstances he would just scar the landscape, such as it was.
His times finally went down again over the next few tries, as he tried not to do anything that could obviously miss an area. He had to have a wide enough angle of perception that he could find Anton in the air or on the ground, while reaching far enough to cover area quickly.
Then he finally did it. Just after beginning one of the ground- partly due to luck, partly due to noticing small signs of movement along the way, Devon found Anton after five minutes. “I did it,” he said. “That has to be good enough, right? Five minutes? You’re not going to just say I was lucky, right?”
“Hmm,” Anton frowned. “No, you certainly found me properly. But it’s a little slower than I wanted.”
“Fine. How fast do you want me to find you?” Devon said. “Four minutes? Three?”
“I was thinking it would be more appropriate for it to be… five seconds or less.”
“I-” Devon held his head in his hands. “You’re serious?”
“I’m not hiding my aura,” Anton said. “And with the lack of atmosphere and distractions, plus the relatively smaller size of the planet… I think it’s quite reasonable for an Assimilation cultivator.”
“If we’re comparing to you in cultivation? Sure,” Devon shrugged. “But that’s basically asking me to cover the whole planet at once.”
Anton shrugged. “I’d at least like to see something more.”
Devon nodded. He’d already learned some of the lessons he was having tested now, but there was something Anton was going for. Or maybe not. Anton certainly believed that some personal inspiration was required, but if he had an actual method he would most likely just tell Devon. He was an excellent instructor, able to explain complex cultivation topics while letting people reach their own insights so it stuck.
So maybe that was what this was. Was there something specific he was supposed to realize, or did his grandfather just believe he’d come up with something? Either way, he didn’t want to disappoint him.
They took a break, and Devon tried to think of what he might do. But aside from what Anton had been teaching him about cultivation, he mostly knew combat techniques he’d developed to make use of his chains. He could flail them around to try to hit Anton, but they wouldn’t reach all that far. And the further they went the harder it was to control them. Certainly, he doubted he could sweep the whole planet with them. And in just five seconds? Maybe that was the ambitious goal, but a few minutes was still impossible as well. Devon sat in meditation, pondering what he could actually manage.