Though he wanted to put on a strong front for the sake of morale, Anton also didn’t want to make his allies overconfident. Thus, he informed everyone who needed to be aware of his injuries. He received more than a few offers to give him miraculous medicines that would probably help. But while he expected many of them could indeed accomplish the task, most would be an intense experience that would put him out of commission for a time. Even if it was only a few days, now was the most critical period.
For those who wanted more details, he showed them his chest without any visual illusions, horribly damaged with muscle and bones charred away. And while most of the offers to assist him were cultivation medicines, Gabriela had another option for him.
“Your biggest problem… well, I guess I can’t really say what part of that is worst,” she shook her head. “But there’s something we can provide a short term solution for. Replicating the damaged ribcage and sternum would be pretty much trivial. We could stick some flexible metal in there and you’d hardly notice.” She shrugged, “Except for how you’d have to stop your body from rejecting foreign materials. But that’s got to be easier than hardening energy to replace bones. You’d have to go meet up with the Wayfarer though.”
“It would be nice,” Anton agreed. “But could you make it out of something different?”
“Like what? You have special materials?”
“I was just hoping for a ceramic.”
“Sure, we have that. Though I’m pretty sure we solved all of the problems with leeching.”
“It’s just an issue of things being magnetic.”
“We have non-magnetic options,” she assured him.
“How non-magnetic? Does that include at the level of a neutron star? Because it’s very important.”
“Uh… I think you’d have to talk to the doctor about that,” Gabriela admitted.
“I would be glad to consult,” Anton said. “But will this take long?”
“We can throw you to the top of the line. And making a sturdy mold shouldn’t take long with our functioning equipment on the Wayfarer. We have to be able to provide most major medical services, so simple prostheses and replacement bones are fairly easy. Especially if it’s only temporary.”
“I would like to speak to one of your doctors, then.”
Among cultivators, glasses were rare- and everyone from their systems were cultivators to some level. Body Tempering was the first step on the path, so seeing someone with glasses was uncommon. But here he was.
“I was almost completely blind,” the man said before Anton could do more than look. He tapped his glasses, “These fix up the last vestiges, and have some additional features.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything.”
“But you thought about it. It’s my job as a doctor to make sure patients are comfortable, so I’m good at reading people. And I really don’t mind this. Besides, people constantly come to me with worse. I’m Gareth, by the way.”
“So I was informed,” Anton nodded. “I need some replacement bones.”
“Alright, that will probably involve some surgery and- oh. It’s pretty accessible, huh?” Doctor Gareth stroked his chin. “We’ll need you to go through some scans. And uh… if you could contain your energy to a minimum, at least within or in front of the area. The machines can be pretty sensitive. They’re not really made for Assimilation cultivators.” The process was actually rather swift. Anton put his body in the tube, and came out ten minutes later. Gareth was looking at a screen. “Alright, so you’ll need a replacement here,” he circled his fingers on the screen. “The blue ribs are the parts that are missing or severely damaged. We’ll try to cut out the minimum amount of healthy bone.”
“Would it be easier to just chop off an extra centimeter?”
“I mean, we really couldn’t…”
“I’m going to have a long process to fix all of this anyway. I’d rather not have to come in and out as you make adjustments. And the less time you have to spend on me, the better.”
Gareth nodded, “Fine, I get it. But we do need to make sure what we do is functional. The muscle… it’s going to take a lot longer to help with that.”
“I will handle that myself,” Anton said. “If you can provide a basis of proper bone structure, it will significantly recover my combat effectiveness. I do have some stipulations, though.”
“Unless you have top tier materials, we don’t have access. Even for you,” Gareth shook his head. “Sorry.”
“I just need something non-magnetic. And not just low on the charts. But something that wouldn’t tear apart if you put it near a neutron star. Specifically, a magnetar. Or at least… many times more than the largest magnetic fields normally experienced.”
“Oh, I see,” Gareth nodded seriously. “We’ll take a careful look at the specs then. You’re right, most metals that are considered non-magnetic still have a very real interaction. So not even paramagnetism…” Gareth frowned. “We can at least get something equal to or less than the human body. Actual complete lack of it requires purity levels we can’t achieve.”
“That will have to do,” Anton said. “I do have control, but I would rather not have to consider potential harms to myself. The whole point of this is to free my energy to do other things.”
“Great,” Gareth said, adjusting the parameters on the screen. “So these red parts will be overlaps. We’ll have to make surgical cuts to remove bone…”
“I can do that,” Anton said. “It is my own body, so if I have clear guidelines…”
“If we had the luxury of time, I’d push you towards accepting regular surgery.”
“How long would that take?”
“Hours,” Gareth said. “Probably just a few.”
“During which I would be completely incapacitated.” Anton held up a hand, “It’s not that I don’t trust you. But I might be needed.”
“As long as you can manage the right precision…” Gareth said, “We’ll have to accept that. Stronger cultivators usually get involved with their own health directly anyway. I’ll have someone go over some things with you, just so you don’t miss anything.”
Less than a day later, and Anton had something resembling a fully functional ribcage and sternum. The muscle overlaying it was still just as bad as it had been, and he was encouraging the more functional parts to attach to the fake bone. It wouldn’t be a good long term solution for many reasons, but it would last for some weeks or months. It was at least as strong as his tempered bones- for most cultivators, that didn’t really change much after reaching Essence Collection. It not being his own flesh would slightly limit his ability to infuse it with energy, but it was still a step better than dead bone or nothing at all. Anton was glad his internal organs had remained mostly intact, and he had accepted medicines to promote general internal healing. These relied on augmenting his own energy to fulfill specific purposes.
He had been pleased to learn about the Wayfarer shooting Otakar, and he hoped Otakar’s injured were at least as bad as his own. However, sensors from the Wayfarer had been unable to receive detailed enough information about that, even when he came to attack them. The only thing that was certain was that he was weaker. And that the connection in the sun was definitely to him, and Anton could influence it. Probably somewhat less from here, but if he could also attack the man at the same time it should be worth it.
Or he could attack basically anyone on the planet. It might involve a bit of flying around in space, but nothing could stop him. Except Otakar, who they were having trouble finding. Perhaps that should be his job instead. Though finding the man or drawing him out could happen in parallel to targeting troublesome enemy cultivators.
Much of the next few days involve escorting local cultivators around- whether or not they knew he was doing so. The amazing thing about technology was that they could share information easily, so planning routes for them that should take them only through territory that was relatively safe was easier. But who could say what would happen if ships were brave enough to move around, or someone on the ground set up some sort of trap or artillery. Not that the large sects really knew what was going on- the aforementioned lack of ubiquitous communication- but no doubt someone had spotted ships flying as they weren’t supposed to.
Anton wasn’t the only one doing the same, but he was capable of covering the most distance. He could shoot down both attacks and attackers if something came up- and he didn’t even have to truly concern himself with the time for his attacks to arrive, as he could mainly use light. It was a bit weaker, but for the vast majority of cases it would be sufficient. Basically unless Integration cultivators showed up, in which case he would personally approach and take them out, along with any other members of the Trifold Alliance in the area.
As Anton roamed about, he came to a conclusion. Otakar was nowhere on the planet. No, that wasn’t quite right. Others had postulated the same, but he’d still shown up to battles. In that case, it should be said that he was nowhere on the surface of the planet. Even just a few dozen meters or dirt or stone blocked most people’s senses, and it didn’t take more than a couple hundred to stop even Anton. So as long as the entrance to wherever he was didn’t happen to take up an obscene amount of space, it would require luck to stumble upon it. Or some sort of guidance. Anton might be able to sense all sources of natural energy within hundreds of kilometers, but that didn’t mean he knew where every pothole and worm was. He would have to focus on a tiny area to get the fine details.
Someone with Otakar’s power seemed like they should stand out like a sore thumb- or a burning star in the sky. But that wasn’t the case. Either he was an expert at concealing his energy when it was out of use- clearly not the case when he was active as he revealed himself hundreds of kilometers away to normal senses- or there were formations helping conceal him. Or perhaps both.
If they could get him to appear a few more times, they could triangulate possible positions. But Anton didn’t want to wait for him any longer. It was unclear if he would be able to recover from his wounds quickly- but it hardly mattered. It should take at least weeks, and though they could be gone by that point, that would be asking for him to put the whole system under his heel more directly- possibly killing anyone who had accepted peace. And then they would have to worry about him showing up in their own systems to cause damage. Assuming that he was only able to create a conduit in a single star was not ideal. No, he had to die. The sooner the better.
So they were going to either draw him out with the next big move, or if they were lucky they would complete their assault on the large sects and then Anton would use the conduit in the sun to try to track him down through that connection. He might be able to resist that, but if they could spot him for even a moment that might be enough.
But Anton was also worried about something else. If the connection went one way, could it go both? As far as he could tell, he couldn’t do anything but stifle the flow of energy to Otakar’s conduit, however it was formed. Sensing where it flowed was basically the next step. His Assimilation applied to the star as a whole so he doubted Otakar would be able to exert any sort of restrictions on him in reverse- but he had to consider that. Just because the man hadn’t tried yet didn’t mean he couldn’t or wouldn’t. And he had been quite interested in Anton’s effects on the sun. So in the case Otakar could influence the sun as a whole, what was Anton going to do? He pondered that question, and didn’t particularly like the answers he came to. But at least none of them involved destroying the sun. Unless things got much worse than he could possibly foresee.