Elder Cultivator 414

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Unsure what attempting to teleport Anton would do in his condition, additional forces were sent to Marvelous Rabbit Mountain to watch over him. Haste had been made to get Devon and Velvet there, but others had already been on their way before it was confirmed that he had revived.

At the current moment he was unconscious, but in a comforting way instead of how he was before. Among other things he was breathing, had a pulse, and had a healthy supply of natural energy inside him. 

Anish and Annelie were watching over him together. The Order only had so many people it could spare, and they didn’t want to make an even bigger deal of their people running off. The attack by the Soaring Air Sect indicated that information had leaked somehow, but not the method. And if they wanted to kill Anton, that meant his allies wanted him to live even more.

They made no immediate retaliation, but Kohar was drafting up a plan. She had the ability to achieve something real, instead of just lobbying diplomatic threats… but also minimizing the risk of a war. Because as much as it might be justified, a war wouldn’t be beneficial at the moment. If it was merely the Soaring Air Sect, they could be wiped out- but it was unlikely the Exalted Archipelago would allow that to happen, regardless of whether they supported this particular incident. But the accord ending the war had stipulations about what was allowed, and the Soaring Air Sect had blatantly violated some of the most important provisions. Financial penalties weren’t the most exciting result, but they would be a good start. Further retaliation could wait until Anton awoke, whenever that was. Though Kohar would be demanding their leader’s head on a pike, politely worded of course. Then they would back off to what they actually thought they could get.

—–

Catarina had an entire room devoted to sending and receiving messages. The Silver Sea Coalition was quite glad to provide her room for whatever she needed, as a formation master was a valuable asset. Beyond ascension there was another level of distinction available for grandmasters, but that wasn’t something just anyone could get their hands on. And despite being the ‘upper realms’, the vast majority of cultivators were not going to be ascension cultivators. Timothy’s presence was valued as well, but taking into account what he could do in his lifetime compared to what Catarina might be involved with that would last into later generations a skilled warrior was less important.

Not that Timothy cared. Long in the past he’d felt a sense of inferiority when comparing to certain people, Catarina included. He’d sense grown into confidence in his own power, and the practical understanding of what impacted the world as a whole. Any one of Catarina’s works had changed their home world forever, whether it was the communication between upper and lower realms or the teleportation formations. He couldn’t have that sort of impact… but he could keep her alive, and spending his life with the woman he loved was fulfilling. They didn’t spend all their time together- Timothy had to see to his own training and hobbies- but they were together frequently.

During one such occasion, they received more messages. That was fairly common, given they served as one of the main informational points for the lower realms and for Alva. There were, however, other individuals who they had not been in contact with- and receiving a sudden message from Hoyt was enlightening.

“Come look at this,” Catarina said. “Information on the Dark Ring! And Matousek!”

Timothy rushed over, reading it. “That’s… unexpected. How sure can we be that it is him?”

“Unfortunately,” Catarina shook her head, “I haven’t even finished the attempts at individual energy or cultivation style communication, at least not long distance. So anyone could have used the communication plates if they knew how. It’s honestly supposed to be simple. The way he mentions my name and contacting the Order at least means that they didn’t simply kill him and send false information.”

“I don’t know if torturing him to provide useful cover would be better,” Timothy said. “Except could presume he’s still alive.”

“Yeah,” Catarina said. “Though I’m inclined to just believe it. If the message said the Dark Ring was the one true force of righteousness fighting against the Harmonious Citadel it would be one thing, but saying that they’re fighting against the latter and it’s not as upright as they portray is… perfectly believable.”

“We’ll need to contact Alva, if that’s the case. Though we’d need to know our messages are secure. She ended up among the Harmonious Citadel, after all.”

“That’s right,” Catarina nodded. “The delay in messages makes this all rather complicated as well.”

“At least Alva found Chikere, though there are some mysteries there as well,” Timothy shook his head, “Now we just need to find Fuzz.”

Catarina smiled, “I actually have plans for that. I put all those formation markings on him… though I doubt I can track him from the wrong system.”

“That’s… not very hopeful, honestly,” Timothy said. “There are a lot of systems.”

“Not inhabited,” Catarina said. “Thousands, maybe?”

“And you assume Fuzz would end up in one of the inhabited ones that we can get to without being killed by either of the two large factions unhappy with the Order?”

“… This might be more difficult than I imagined.”

—–

Somehow, though they didn’t use words, Fuzz understood this other wolf almost as well as if they did. After some time at least, at least- though he supposed the snarling had communicated its own message clearly enough. But since she didn’t speak or write, Fuzz had to come up with his own name for her. Since she made stone spikes, she was Spikes. That sounded like a name humans would give, right?

Now Fuzz was acutely aware that Spikes was female. Up until now, Fuzz’ understanding of why humans interacted the way they did had to do pack cohesion. He understood why Timothy strove to protect Catarina, but he’d thought it was the same sort of thing as how Timothy protected everyone else. Fuzz wasn’t a cub, of course. He had lived longer than any wolf of his kind, so he’d felt the urge to find a mate. However, normal wolves didn’t appeal to him, so he simply dampened such desires by circulating his energy and it would fade. But now he understood, without even know much about Spikes.

One thing he did know was that despite him saving her from the frost cats, Spikes didn’t like him. He wasn’t sure why. He hadn’t done anything to harm her. It would be quite easy if he intended to, since Spikes hadn’t crossed the threshold of ascension yet. Fuzz… didn’t actually know how that would work here. This was already the upper realms, so would Spikes go to the upper-upper realms? Would they remain here? Would they go to some other part?

Complicated. He didn’t know. Either way, Spikes was not as strong as him yet- but still Spikes refused to stop attacking him. Claws and teeth were insufficient to threaten Fuzz, and the stone spikes molded from the ground were interesting but not quite enough even when they could be used. There was also the issue that Spikes was still recovering and thus not fighting at full capacity.

Fuzz did his best to fix that. At first the two of them had feasted upon the frost cats, but their meat would not last forever. Spikes retreated to a den nearby, and was overly serious about not letting Fuzz inside. Yes, it was her den, but so what? It was shelter. It was cold outside, but Fuzz found that hollowing himself out a nice snow drift worked alright. If he really needed he could just make fire to warm himself.

Spikes stayed in her cave to recover, and Fuzz hunted and brought her food. Every time he approached with something she would attack him. Spikes didn’t want charity or pity or whatever the word humans would use was. But Spikes also couldn’t turn down help while wounded, and the food eventually found its way into the den to add onto the pile of bones- though those bones only added up so much. If Spikes was anything like Fuzz she knew that bones were crunchy and tasty, they just took a while to chew through. Not that Fuzz had found many bones lately that were tough to him.

Though Spikes tried to drive him away, Fuzz was fairly certain Spikes didn’t mean it. And if she did, he didn’t really care. Spikes was the only companionship he’d had on this world, since he wasn’t going to hang around humans. 

Speaking of which, he still hadn’t found any signs of his pack- though there were more people down the mountain. And according to Spikes, they might hunt giant wolves. Which was all the more reason they needed to stay together.

—–

His eyes flickered open slowly. He felt the warmth of the sun beating down on him, and wondered if he’d dozed off by the fields. As for which fields those might be, Anton’s brain took a bit to sort out. Not the fields of Dungannon. Those were long gone, though now replaced by others that were unrelated to his current life. Those of the Order, then. Yes, that would be it. He quite enjoyed working in the fields with Elder Howland even though he was an unnecessary factor.

As he stretched his arms and back, however, more memories came back to him. Memories of danger and pain… but also recovery. He looked down at his hands, tinged pink as new skin began to grow among blackened burn scars. He was also inside, but he was correct about the sun. The blinds were drawn, but the warmth of the sun still filled him. It was just from the inside instead of the outside. 

He minimized his movements because his body was still damaged and began to circulate his energy inside of himself. The internal damage was possibly greater than the external- though both had clearly been horrifying to behold. Now, however, Anton could feel recovery in progress. Lingering medicinal energy made him quite certain he was being cared for, if the bed hadn’t said enough. But circulating his own energy, he was able to empower the cracked and dried skin, muscles, bones, and even his meridians. The process of healing accelerated, and though the damage was deep Anton hadn’t found anything that couldn’t be recovered. Not with as much likely expensive medicine that had already been pumped into him, at least. And there was one more thing. The sheer quantity of energy he had.

It was at least triple what he had before he formed the hundredth star. He might not be able to call upon it all at once, but he was connected to a seemingly endless fount of energy. Even the tiny connection had to the sun was great, and if he could improve it… he had no idea quite how much power he might have.

“Anton!” Idalia burst into the room, followed by several others. Anish, Annelie, Devon, Velvet, as well as a few people from Marvelous Rabbit Mountain waiting outside, if he recognized the energy correctly. “You’re awake.”

“Of course,” he said. He remembered waking up briefly some time before. “I told you I was just taking a nap.”

“It’s been weeks,” Idalia said.

“Longer than that since I’d slept, I think,” Anton said. “Let me tell you, if anyone says cultivation can do anything you imagine, give ‘em a good knock on the head and let them know to think carefully about what they try. I nearly turned into a pile of ash.”

“But you didn’t,” Devon pointed out.

“But I didn’t,” Anton nodded. Anton looked wistfully off into the distance, his energy senses working. “Where’s my bow?” he asked.

“Back home,” Velvet said. “You sort of dropped everything when you decided it was time to do… that,” she gestured to Anton as a whole.

“And now I’m under the care of you, Idalia… and Marvelous Rabbit Mountain?”

She shrugged, “I guess we should explain how you got here. And what’s been happening.”

After she finished, Anton stroked his chin. It hurt, both his hand and chin, but he didn’t care as they were on their way to recovery. A few months, a few years? He didn’t know nor care about the exact time frame. “The Soaring Air Sect, huh? They’d better be careful where they fly.”

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