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Atop the highest peak in the Order of the Ninety-Nine Stars two men, both advanced in age but of vastly different years, looked down upon the world below. “I do not fully expect you to be able to make use of the technique at your current cultivation,” Grand Elder Vandale noted. “It is designed for those with higher cultivation. As for actually understanding it, that is up to you… and to me. You will forgive me if some of the insights are difficult to comprehend. I’ve not often taught it to anyone. It was developed as my own personal technique, but as it draws on the Ninety-Nine Stars cultivation technique, it should be usable by anyone. In theory.”
“Has anyone actually learned Falling Stars?” Anton asked.
“Not successfully. It was not appropriate for some, and others didn’t have the capability.” Vandale held out a single hand, a burning ball appearing over it. “Forming energy next to the cultivator is simple enough. A task everyone gets used to.” Another ball appeared in the sky above, streaking downwards before dissipating above the ground. “Forming one at a distance is more difficult. Most importantly, it doesn’t do well inside restrictions or the area controlled by another cultivator. Even if I successfully created one right in front of you, I wouldn’t benefit from the acceleration due to gravity.” He tossed the burning ball in his hand down the backside of the mountain, once again dispersing it in the air. “We will practice both creating a proper density of energy as well as acting further away from your body. Combining the two will likely be difficult, as well as controlling the descent to keep it accurate.”
It didn’t take long for Anton to create something resembling one of the stars that Vandale used, but he knew it was significantly different. His was more akin to a hollow shell instead of a dense ball of fiery power. As he tossed it forwards down the mountain he felt it quickly slip out of his control. He was used to fighting against gravity and not allowing it to take control. But he repeated his attempts, achieving some small amount of success with letting it accelerate under gravity’s power while still keeping his own control over how it moved.
As he made each attempt, Vandale guided him on different elements. “The density is more important than the size. Small beads will be more useful for you at the moment, I believe. Simply allowing it to be affected by gravity will be sufficient with the same amount of energy.” His ability to articulate his points in a clear and helpful manner made him a much better teacher than Elder Kseniya, though he could certainly learn much from both of them. “You might notice different arcs on your attempts compared to my demonstrations.”
“I did notice that mine tended to crash directly into the ground, yes,” Anton nodded.
“That is the expected outcome. Redirecting that momentum into the horizontal plane is an important step to really take control of the technique. I have a few tips for that, besides repeated practice.”
Several days passed as Anton continued to practice. Each day he would climb up to the peak, since he couldn’t very well practice anywhere else. The rear side of the mountain had one of the few bare slopes available, and he wasn’t so certain in his technique that he guaranteed he could stop something that veered out of his control. Unlike Spirit Arrows where he had to focus somewhat to keep their form, energy condensed into a ball happily held its form unless specifically unravelled by his control- or by impacting something. The same principles of controlling energy applied to both cases, but the exact uses were new… and he had to practice. A few dozen attempts was all he could manage before needing a break, but he repeated throughout the day until he had hundreds of attempts each day, totalling well over a thousand total. For something like archery that would be just the beginning, and it wasn’t much different for Falling Stars. But he at least had enough of the basics for Vandale to start guiding him in other areas.
“Good. You’ve become adept at smoothly redirecting the energy to keep whatever angle you want without crashing into the ground or overcorrecting, allowing the attacks to constantly accelerate.” Vandale nodded as he held his hands behind his back. Then he raised one up. “Next is controlling energy away from your body. I want you to take it one step at a time. This factor and energy density are things you have little hope of replicating perfectly at your cultivation, but you should still learn them.” He demonstrated how he spread his energy out over a large area, suddenly condensing it into a denser form. The way it was spread out evenly but rapidly became a solid point made it more diverse and harder to predict.
Anton already had experience with spreading his energy for the sake of sensing and the like, but over any significant distance it wasn’t good for much else, certainly not the power required for attacking. They started with something simple, creating a ball an arm’s length above his head. Anton was quite easily able to summon energy from within himself and raise it to that point, but pulling the energy around it into greater density was something unfamiliar. At the distances involved it would always be more efficient for him to raise an arm for the energy to originate from, but then he would be ultimately limited to just that. It was quite reasonable when in Spirit Building, but increasing the diversity of his abilities would provide significant value.
They gradually increased the distance, until about ten meters was the ultimate limit Anton could condense energy in, if he wasn’t focused on one direction. If absolutely necessary he could condense a ball of energy a hundred meters away, but the way his energy all flowed in that direction it would be exceedingly obvious. Even if he could create an attack from anywhere along a long ‘arm’, it was nowhere near the diversity of attacking from anywhere in a sphere around him. Of course, just condensing energy didn’t make it into an attack. Anton had a long way to go before he could even slightly replicate the true power of Falling Stars, just based on technique alone.
“I’m impressed,” Vandale said. “You grasped the basics very quickly.”
“It’s not too different from archery,” Anton contended.
“Tell that to Elder Kseniya. She’ll disagree.” Vandale grinned, his one eye squinting slightly. “But any ranged attack will have certain commonalities. The most important one is density. For now we’ll be focusing on the densest energy you can create.” Vandale held up his arm, a ball of fire the size of his head floating above it. Anton was able to watch as more and more energy poured into it without greatly changing its size. Vandale flung his arm, sending it into the air where it exploded. “Energy under pressure wants to be released, but if done right…” Vandale did it again, creating another ball quite similar to the first. Anton could feel the flow of energy was quite different, and a notable visual difference was that there was no flickering of flames. It was more of a pure yellow-white sphere. Vandale dropped it, and it crashed into the ground, breaking apart rocks under their feet and digging a hole several meters deep before it came to a halt.
Anton did his best to replicate the technique, holding his arms in front of him, hands apart on either side of where he formed the ball of energy. Even as he created it he felt gravity trying to drag it down. It grew and grew, but the density wasn’t increasing much. Anton forced it into a tighter configuration, much like he used for Spirit Arrows. However, as he pushed himself beyond his limits and the ball gradually shrunk, he found it pushing back. It was all he could do to toss it away from himself before it exploded.
A gentle blanket of energy surrounded him, making the explosion like a warm puff of air. Anton looked to Vandale and bowed his head, “Thank you. I usually don’t make mistakes like that.”
“Hmm. That’s where you’re different from me. You’re more prone to figuring out your limits and properly expanding them. I used to just push them as far as they could go, regardless of the consequences. When I miraculously survived, I learned my true limits. Go ahead and try again, without restraint. I’ll protect you.”
Anton didn’t need to express any concern for Vandale. The idea that he even could injure the man was laughable. The man was practically eighty stars ahead of him, five times his amount- and they weren’t all just equivalent in power but increasing as they went. It could take a hundred of him to cause danger to Vandale. And… while he knew the Grand Elder was conserving his energy, the small amount he could trouble him should be nothing to worry about.
That said, he wanted to at least have the sort of caution where he was able to tell what went wrong. Thus, he focused both on condensing the energy and seeing what fluctuations caused it to explode and slightly less on preventing that from happening, at least until he understood a particular problem. It was much more tiring than any of the other activities, and after a few attempts he had to rest. Several repetitions later he’d made more than twenty attempts, with visible improvements to his technique- though more visible flaws.
“Good,” Vandale said, “But I know that’s not actually the highest density of energy you can gather. During the battle I sensed something else.”
Anton nodded, “Well, that’s true. But it’s barely my energy.”
“Anything you can control is your energy. And I’m sure you’ll want to use it regardless. I understand if you would like to keep that technique a secret, however.”
Anton shook his head, “No, it’s not that. I just can’t use it much.” He closed his eyes, concentrating. “The source is that technique from Everheart, Fleeting Youth. I’ve managed to reach the initial level of success in drawing upon the power, but the absolute quantities I can use are limited and it requires more of my own energy to draw it out. But, it is certainly the most dense energy I can handle.”
Similar to before, Anton held out his hands across from each other. However, the initial ball that formed was smaller. The energy of Fleeting Youth drew on the future that would never be fully reached, primarily the power of ascension and reincarnation. Making repeated use of it pretty much guaranteed he wouldn’t be able to ascend- though that was not much different from most cultivators in the world. As for reincarnation… perhaps if he reincarnated, future versions of him would be unable to use energy at all. He hoped to at least make the world a better place for them to live. Not himself, because that reasonably wouldn’t be him. At least, in his opinion.
The smaller ball of energy still had the energy signatures of the Ninety-Nine Stars, despite Anton not having held it in his dantian and converted it from natural energy. But mixed in among it was raw power that didn’t seem to be from any cultivation technique, but likewise wasn’t incompatible with other energy. A ball the size of his fist contained more energy than previous attempts of him, and he continued to add even more. The process only took a handful of seconds- far too slow for most cases in battle, but he was focused more on stability than speed at the moment. With the energy naturally being denser, it seemed less prone to pushing back against him- though he had compressed it to the point it was straining somewhat. There was only so much power he could call upon and control at once, and he reached that limit. Normally he made use of the energy in smaller portions, while currently he held about a total of a third of the energy he could gather from Fleeting Youth all at once.
He attempted to fling it forward, driving it with his energy, but it sank like a stone, crashing into the mountain right next to them. It didn’t so readily break through solid stone as Vandale’s, but it had a solid impact and held its shape for a few moments.
“Interesting,” Vandale said. “If properly formed into an attack, that’s enough to give some Essence Collection cultivators cause for concern. At the very least, they couldn’t just ignore it.” Vandale nodded, “We should focus on making use of that. You can use a bit less and get used to controlling it in this form, then we’ll work on the distance exercises. There’s a lot of potential with that.”