(Patreon) Elder Cultivator 653

-–Chapter Index–-

Communication between Anton and the Trifold alliance became faster and faster the closer he approached, from months to weeks to days. Moving with his greatest possible speed, Anton continuously refined his technique. On approach to Ekict, he stopped by several systems to recover by bound stars. Either some he had decided to bind on the way back to the twin planets or along the second half of the journey towards In’istra. When he found a particularly large gap, he searched for a relatively interesting star, leaving him with six along the way. He also had four more stars he could bind, one of which would certainly be Ekict’s star. 

His arrival was more than a month behind the Trifold Alliance’s forces, but serious attacks had not begun in earnest yet. Anton knew that the forces were stationed in orbit around the system, outside of the greater formation barrier. The system rapidly came into view as he approached, reminding him of the hopes he had for it. Hopes that were now shattered as this system that had perceived themselves as victorious had been ruined far beyond the physical damage. 

He reached out for their star, and found the connection was reluctant to form. He’d bound Rutera’s star even at a great distance, at least halfway- but this one was different. Was it something about the barrier? The star itself appeared perfectly normal, but his senses were limited in detail because of the barrier. It was quite possible for something to be hiding beneath the surface.

Anton continued to push the connection forward. He was confident he could force it, even with something limiting his efficiency. It would just take longer. Maybe days or weeks, if they could not open the barrier.

It seemed he would not be destroying their star yet. Though he had already been planning to meet up with the alliance so they would have some sort of warning. He found his way towards them, finding many familiar faces. Then again, Anton was at least somewhat familiar with everyone who reached Assimilation, and many of those of great talent with lower cultivation. 

Formation masters were obviously present. Ingeborg was also responsible for directing the fleets of Weos, so their ring-ships could fight optimally. There was also Naid of the Worthy Shore Society, the sect long since fully part of Ceretos having directly cut off their ties to the Exalted Quadrant. They would be important for a proper assault.

There were many others of course, a large portion of the mobile Assimilation cultivators. But of most interest to Anton were two individuals who were trying to look calm and collected, though he understood his interest was because of bias for his family. Anton boarded the ship he sensed some of them on and approached Annelie and Gudrun. Annelie noticed his approach, and stated her mind before he even asked. “I am not losing my daughter as well.”

“She’s my favorite weird little sister,” Gudrun added.

Simple words reminding themselves of what they would fight for… but inside of Anton’s own head they stirred up a great deal more than he showed on the surface. 

Had he truly become such a reckless and foolish old man? He couldn’t even blame it on being forgetful- tempering his head during Body Tempering had made him almost young again as such things went, and he’d undergone many transformations since.

He would have remembered. Would have stopped himself in time. Anton told himself that, and he had to believe it. But… it wasn’t really fair, was it? He was fully prepared to destroy the star to save the lives of the alliance. It was still the correct call, if all he cared about was maximizing the lives of not only them, but people he cared about. 

His granddaughter came up to him. “I know when people are hiding emotions,” Annelie said. “It’s perfectly reasonable to be furious.”

“It’s myself I’m most angry at right now,” Anton admitted.

“It’s not your fault,” she said. 

He knew that was only partially true. “There’s more to it than that. What is… the latest word on Anishka?” He’d received information about her training with Ekict. It wasn’t detailed, but he was kept up to date on many things by Annelie while he wasn’t around. 

Annelie shook her head. “She was with the Northern Glacier Sect after training with the Enkindled Sun Sect for some time. Then this happened.”

Nothing more was said. There wasn’t more to say. They all knew that she had to be dead. Everyone was dead. Those who had been taken were the same. Yet somehow, Anton couldn’t help but hope.

Anton just stood with Annelie and Gudrun. Of the many children she had with Anish, several had ascended. Others reached Assimilation, like Gudrun- though Gudrun in particular had only reached that point in the last decade. A hundred and fifty years was not poor for such a thing, but it was not among the most rapid. Whoever remained no doubt also cared about their younger sister Anishka and the war, but they would likely be involved with the defense of Ceretos and the Trifold Alliance’s territory. The Sylanis Cluster still appeared to be inactive, and Ekict shouldn’t be able to get any ships out of the system… but they would be ready just in case.

“I have an option,” Anton said with a measured voice. “It is not… something I can decide on my own. I will need as much council as possible. Feel free to speak your true mind about what I suggest.”

“You know me,” Annelie said. “What is it that is so big that you think I would not say what I feel?”

“Let’s sit,” Anton said. “I haven’t sat in… months.”

Interstellar ships did not have abundant space for comforts, but the three were able to sit together in a multipurpose mess hall and gathering room aboard the moderately sized ship. Food was provided- Anton had no complaints, but it was far less luxurious than meals for an Assimilation cultivator could be. But there was a limit to what ingredients could be brought along with the fleet, especially with an indefinite duration of the excursion.

Forming a field around them that would prevent others from overhearing the conversation, on purpose or accidentally, Anton clearly stated his idea. “I can end the war in a single stroke,” Anton said.

Annelie looked him over carefully. “You haven’t yet reached Augmentation, I think. Even then, it might not be quite so straightforward. So how is it possible?”

Anton nodded slowly, “I can destroy their sun.”

Both women took him very seriously, thinking for a moment instead of expressing immediate doubt or outrage. Though both would have been appropriate, in Anton’s opinion. “How?” Annelie asked finally.

“If I bind to it,” Anton said. “It would be fairly simple. I have never done it, but I am certain I could accomplish it.”

“This is an awful idea,” Gudrun said. “How can you…? Everyone would die.”

“That would be the point,” Anton said. “They have integration cultivators. Nobody has come up with a good explanation for that and the abductions except that they steal cultivation. And while we might have been able to forgive such a thing if they were honest about using those techniques on the Trigold Cluster…” Anton shook his head. “Doing so to us who only ever offered a hand in friendship? They might be even worse than the upper realms. But do believe I don’t suggest such a thing lightly.”

Gudrun sighed. She had taken after him, at least as far as archery was concerned. “I only had a small role in the war with the Sylanis Cluster,” she admitted. “But was such a thing ever brought up with them?”

“Not seriously,” Anton said. “But I was both less certain about the possibility… and I find the situations quite different. They were warmongers, but they never offered a fake hand of friendship.”

“I don’t believe that anything can justify what you suggested,” Gudrun said.

“Perhaps you are right,” Anton agreed. “Annelie?”

“We will lose many lives fighting them. Most critically, Assimilation cultivators. Preventing those deaths on our side…” she shook her head. “But first, a matter of practicality. Would it destroy their planets?”

“Not all of them,” Anton admitted. “Only the inner ones. However, that would include their most populated homeworld.”

“What about their Integration cultivators?” Annelie asked. “Could they react somehow? If they have warning, they might use Nicodemo’s stolen cultivation against us as well, out here. And The Independence.”

“They most certainly will,” Anton agreed. “I could perhaps guide the explosion to cause greater damage than even that… but there would be some conflict regardless. Though our fleets should significantly outperform theirs.”

“Then, as a matter of practicality, I don’t know if we can accept those results,” Annelie said. “It’s simply not good enough, if we consider the lost resources of many planets. Also,” Annelie took a deep breath, ice coating the area around them as she continued to speak. “My daughter is still there. I won’t let you kill her. Or did you already forget about her?”

Anton grimaced. “If I thought she was alive… I don’t think I could bring myself to do it.”

“I survived,” Annelie said. “Alva survived, as well as Devon. I can’t believe you’d give up on any of us. Especially not her. She’s my… my youngest daughter.” Her last daughter, and last memory of her husband as well.

“I would never wish to give up on any of my family or loved ones,” Anton said. “You know that. But… can I place my own family above that of many others?”

“Yes!” Annelie said, slamming her palm on the table and instantly coating it in shimmering ice. “That’s why we’re cultivators! And if we’re not good enough, we’ll get stronger!”

Anton smiled, “I wish I were strong enough to never consider the easy way.” He shook his head. “I won’t suggest this to the others.”

Annelie’s face returned to a state of calm. “No. You have to.”

“Even though you’re opposed?”

“The logical part of me is more conflicted,” Annelie said. “But all of me also says we need to know.”

“Know what?”

“What we, as the Trifold Alliance, are willing to do,” Annelie said. “It is all well and good to say we will not do something when it is not possible. But when we truly have the option, can we resist? If we defeat Ekict, we will end up with their cultivation stealing techniques. Will we use them as well? We haven’t spit in the hand of friendship… but we’ve continuously been on a side with power. We were threatened, but not the same way as this,” she gestured around them. “Strange that fear might be what brought them into danger,” Annelie shook her head. “But either way, I think the offer must be made. Though as the one who would ultimately be in control, I would not offer it if you are unwilling to accept going through with it.”

Gudrun was sitting with her arms crossed. “I… also think you have to bring it up to a wider council. It sounds horrid and almost impossible to justify, but so is letting our people die. I feel like our lives are worth more than theirs, but is that true?” she shook her head.

Anton didn’t have much more to say. So he had to consider carefully, now that he was really here, if he could go through with it. If he should. If it was morally acceptable… or morally acceptable not to do it.

He missed being a simple farmer, but the world would never allow him to return to that life for long.


Navigating through ice floes was difficult, but not as impossible as it seemed. They didn’t really know where they were going, but Anishka and Patka could take shifts guiding and protecting the small boat along the way. When something blocked their path, they had several options. Anishka could melt a path through, or they could navigate around. Both options were used depending on what seemed most achievable. 

Anishka was slowly recovering from her captivity, eating a little bit more at a time to let her body get used to food again. They had enough food for a couple weeks, which might not get them anywhere useful. They weren’t even sure where they could go. It was unlikely the Northern Glacier Sect would just forget about Anishka, and Patka would likely be noticed missing. But they were able to supplement their food with fish. The cultivators could dive into the icy water and retrieve some food, and they could cook it as well. It was good for them… and for the Sergeant, who also needed solid food. Just less of it. Though Anishka was fairly certain the little ant ate like a hundred times her weight per day. Which was still just a thumb’s worth of food, but rather alarming to see. Was it alright to eat that much at once after starving?

Anishka shook her head. “Where do we go?”

“Off planet,” the Sergeant said, leading them to look up towards the stars.

“How?” Anishka asked. “Ask nicely?”

“I can’t fly like the Great Queen,” the Sergeant admitted. “But perhaps we can steal a vessel, like this.”

“Interstellar ships are guarded much more closely than dinghies,” Patka pointed out. “Given that they’re probably worth a million times more, minimum. Even just one that could go between planets would be… difficult to get.”

Anishka sighed. She’d gotten far too used to everything being provided for her. Even when she came here, the Sects took care of pretty much everything. “Sorry that you gave up your business to come die with me,” she said to Patka.

“I don’t believe we will die. Because if you were going to, it would have already happened,” Patka said. “Your power is not insignificant, regardless of your age.”

“Still have tens of thousands of people stronger than me in this system…” Anishka sighed.

“That’s… a small fraction of the population,” Patka pointed out. “And I believe you are wise enough to figure something out.”

Anishka looked up to the stars above. Was she wise? Or even reasonably intelligent? Or talented? Anything of the sort? Or was she just a rich kid who had been able to do whatever she wanted, with access to resources that just let her take the easy route. Her eyes returned down to the boat. Maybe it didn’t matter. She had two reasons beyond herself to be whatever she needed to be, even if she hadn’t been as much as she should have before.

-–Chapter Index–-