Atop the peak where the Order made its home, Anton felt secure enough to devote his attention and energy fully to a single task. It was something he had done before, but he now had a different purpose. Each meter he raised himself up with his own energy was one that he was closer to the worlds beyond, though in truth that portion didn’t go as far as he wanted. Even with a majority of his energy brought to bear creating a pillar beneath him, he was only able to raise himself a few kilometers into the sky.
It wasn’t flight, and extremely unpractical in battle for many reasons. Anyone could simple break the energy beneath him and cause him to drop down, though ultimately a fall from any height would not be something Anton was afraid of. It was also slow, and as Anton was focusing on increasing the distance as far as possible he took even longer.
A portion of his energy was still reserved for something else, and even though it was lesser it was much more important. It was only a thin strand of energy perhaps a tenth of his total instead of half, but that was far more than he would normally use for sensing. He wanted to extend himself to his absolutely limits away from the world.
The atmosphere was already somewhat thin around Anton atop the peak. Raising himself higher made some difference, but the majority of the distance was overcome by the tendril of energy, making his pillar almost pointless. It brought him at most a few percent further than he could have felt.
Beyond the highest mountains, air rapidly thinned around the world. The dominant effect became the power of the sun, beating down on the world below. Yet beyond that was what Anton was seeking. The flow of the worlds beyond had some connection to their world even now, and he had some sense of ascension energy beyond the world.
His senses could extend a hundred kilometers within the atmosphere, more or less. He could stretch further and be less precise. Without the air in the way it seemed like it would be easier, but he actually found that the direct power of the sun was more disruptive. But he held his energy stable through that disruption, reaching further. Ascension energy didn’t gather closer to the planet, but it also wasn’t terrible far.
He began to sense it only the tiniest fraction of the way to the next celestial body, though if it had been any further perhaps he might not have been able to reach it. When he touched it, he expected the free energy to ignore him like everything before. Instead, it attacked as if it had a mind of its own.
The energy tore along the tendril he had extended from himself, angrily reaching for him. He naturally recoiled, but he could only withdraw his energy slightly slower than the ascension energy trailed behind, gobbling it up. While the full extension of his senses had taken quite some time, it was only an instant before the returning shock hit him.
He reflexively coated himself in defensive energy, but as he was struck by the force of the incoming energy his pillar beneath him was easily sundered, the forceful waves of energy disrupting his control. The only thing Anton could do was guide the direction of his fall… away from the observatory to a relatively bare patch of the mountain.
The earth tore apart as he landed, creating a crater around him. He carefully checked over his body, grateful to find no serious wounds. His head and spine were fine, at least. Maybe a few breaks in other places.
“Fuzz, halt!” an order came from nearby right before a giant wolf might have leapt onto him. Alva was the one chasing after him, and at her command he came to a screeching stop. He did take a single step forward and lick Anton’s face, but at least he didn’t step on him. “What happened grandpa? Is it an attack?” Alva ran up, and it seemed that others had taken notice as well.
“No, I’m fine.” He stood up carefully, brushing himself off. “I was testing something. The results were somewhat different than anticipated.”
Anton had expected the free ascension energy to be difficult to control. That was a given. What he hadn’t expected was hostility. Yet it was all too easy to figure out the source. Something about Fleeting Youth had marked him. Just to be certain, he called upon a small mote of ascension energy away from his body, feeling how it was different. He had never been entirely clear on the source as it didn’t really seem to come from anywhere, yet it also had to. If he had to explain it, it would be reaching inside himself to draw it forth.
In fact, something about the technique said something along those lines. It simply wasn’t this self. Instead, it was one that might have existed. And something about the free ascension energy was not having it. That might not be the only obstacle to ascension, but it was one that he was now much clearer on. Perhaps if he could see how it reacted to others he could confirm it, but on some level he knew. Not that he had doubted Everheart. The man was a genius, able to create techniques that were nearly flawless without even practicing it himself.
Not actually flawless, but certainly quite impressive. And the practical advice for training Fleeting Youth had been basically nonexistent, obviously. The side effects had been well predicted, though, and Anton really hadn’t expected anything else. Everheart was big on consequences and sacrifice, which were one of the central cores of what made techniques forbidden.
Anton spent some time calming down others. He wasn’t going to try this particular stunt again. He wondered if being up in the air had helped or hurt, since having some time to decelerate was good, but in the end it hardly mattered.
He might have accepted his eventual death, but he wasn’t suicidal. He wouldn’t try to touch the free floating ascension energy again without a very good reason. Yet there was something else nagging at the back of his mind. Some insight he hadn’t quite grasped. He didn’t want to repeat the process, as he had no way to guarantee it would maintain a survivable level of violence. Still, he couldn’t shake the thought. Maybe over the following years he would be able to understand it somehow.
Years crept by. Stability throughout the continent- and between the two- was not guaranteed. Individual sects still had grudges and rivals, despite having shared a common enemy for a time. Yet most people were focused inward, on rebuilding and growing. Squabbles over resources were inevitable, but as long as it was mainly posturing and not armed conflict things were well enough.
It was the vested interest of many to keep things stable, as outside conflicts might involve them if they grew too much. Mediators were able to work between the various groups to keep things relatively peaceful. For the time of a decade things were relatively peaceful. Then two, as children who had grown up without war became adults.
Yet the signs still remained. Barren pieces of earth. Sects that had once stood tall and proud wiped from the earth. Fewer than there could have been, but the damage remained. Those who had been working to restore the world began to reap the rewards of their efforts- improved natural energy in the bounds of their territory. Some were loathe to share it, once more creating formations to localize it to a single area. Others grew jealous of the prosperity of their neighbors. Yet peace was maintained on a whole.
Then a single ship made its way towards the western shores of Ambati. The style was unfamiliar to most, grand in design yet eminently practical. The speed at which it approached was a matter of concern, however, as well as the power of the cultivators on it.
Life Transformation. No longer so large a concern as they might have once been, but a coalition of five such cultivators represented a power similar to some of the higher ranking clans. Not those at the top, but it was unlikely that this was the full force they could bring to bear.
The protectors of the harbor gathered together, scrounging up two Life Transformation experts while sending messages to request backup. The ship did not slow as it approached, nor did it try to deviate from its trajectory. It only slowed at the last moment so that it did not collide with the docks, though all five of the Life Transformation experts leapt off before it came to a stop.
The forces arranged around the harbor took a defensive stance, the woman and a man who were only prepared to match a small force standing in front. Warnings should have come from the other harbors to the north or south. Was the ship so swift that they could outpace other communication or…?
“Who approaches Ambati?” the woman asked carefully. Despite the intensity of their energy, the five did not seem to be attacking, merely ready to respond.
“We come from the Exalted Archipelago,” a man at the fore declared. His words were understandable, but slightly awkward in intonation. He offered no more information.
The two from Ambati exchanged glances. They had heard of this group, though indirectly. If it were really them, they were responsible for a good portion of the knowledge that had been circulating in the last handful of decades. Yet it had also been said that there were many unfriendly sects among them.
“What are your intentions?” the female commander asked. “It is our understanding that there is an agreement of some sort preventing the Exalted Archipelago from attacking the continents… and to our knowledge there has been no offense from our side.”
The man at the head of the five nodded. “Good. You are sufficiently informed. Despite our looks, our trip is one of peace, though with a bit of haste. Being seen here at this time would be complicated, so we don’t have long. We’re only here to leave a message.” The man tossed forward a rolled scroll. “We thought that perhaps someone might like to know.”
“I’m afraid that is all we can say. Perhaps even too much, despite how many open questions it leaves. I trust you will be able to disseminate this information to those who need to know?”
“… Yes. We can spread word throughout Brogora.” The woman looked at the scroll, which was firmly sealed. “How do we open this.
“Don’t forget that other place. What was it called again?”
“Yes, that one,” the man nodded. By that point the ship had stopped next to the docks, though it had made a half turn to face out to sea. “You’ll need a formation master to open that scroll. We’d best be off. We have other things to attend to. Good luck, I suppose.” With that, they leapt back onto their ship, a wave of their combined energy forcing it to pick up speed almost instantaneously. Shouted questions after them were either unheard or ignored.
“I think…” said the commander, “That we have people to talk to.” They wouldn’t be far away, either. The fastest messengers could reach nearby groups within a handful of minutes, and if people took their call for help seriously they should have a response already on the way. Yet that was uncomfortably long to wait.
The scroll passed through dozens of hands in a short time, with people gathering together to try to make sense of it. Once the right group of formation masters got their hands on it it was easily opened, though there was little information to be gained. It was only a single word all by itself with no context.
Then the scroll incinerated itself.