After several weeks of curiosity, Anton finally decided he needed to figure out what the strange fluctuations were. If things somehow fell apart with him gone for a short time, then clearly things were already far too strained to begin with. He didn’t think that was the case, but he could always be deluding himself.
Since he was now officially the Sect Head of the Order, he had to create a clear spot in his schedule. Most things didn’t actually require him, but people felt more important when they interacted with the sect head instead of someone else. There were rarely any new people he had to meet- everyone who had a reason had already done so in recent years- and his friends could simply wait if they wanted to see him. The only question was how long he might actually be gone- it would be at least a few weeks, and perhaps months if he could not immediately find a cause.
Flying was rather simple, though Anton felt he would need years of practice to elegantly make use of it in combat. He was just using raw power to propel himself upward and away from Ceretos, like running along with a giant boulder.
Though presumably he should feel weightlessness at some point, his efforts to accelerate himself far outweighed the effects of gravity- he barely felt the pull on him diminish, though once he actually thought about it he could notice that it was gone. His goal… the sun.
Looking towards it required a significant effort to shield his vision, despite the tempering of his body. The atmosphere of the planet filtered some of the power of the sun, and he was now beyond it. Beyond that, the experience was strangely empty. Points of light hung around him in the distance, and it was quite fascinating to have a nearly unrestrained view of the sky for the first few days- but ultimately, it was the same sky he could see from home, just all at once instead of rotating with the seasons.
As he got closer to the sun, Anton found himself having to shield his body from further effects. Despite being assimilated with its power, there were parts of it he simply couldn’t allow to affect him- a great intensity of power that dwarfed anything he had ever felt. He already knew the power of the sun, but it had been felt from a great distance or through a tiny channel inside him.
As he grew closer, the power of that connection increased to the point that Anton was almost certain he could draw upon more power than he could control. He did not test that, of course. It would be rather foolish, to incinerate himself attempting to wrestle power he had no need for.
His thoughts drifted away from the politics of the planet below- that would be waiting for him when he returned. Cultivation was a constant backdrop to his travel, as he circulated the energy within him to replenish the air in his body and to wipe away fatigue. He was uncertain if never sleeping again would cause trouble, but he had gone longer than a month without it. Only when he was busy- in general, Anton preferred to live a life taking advantage of the normal daily necessities of food, drink, and rest. It kept him connected to humanity, and without that connection he was unsure if he might drift away.
An issue came up when he drew closer to the sun. He had sufficient energy to protect himself and was able to constantly draw on more, but there was another matter. The great power of the sun made sensing anything else difficult, and the sun was… not small. The distance across seemed to be approximately one hundred times that of Ceretos, which translated into a total surface of close to six hundred times as large. In normal circumstances, Anton could sense hundreds of kilometers in every direction, but the restrictions of the atmosphere was nothing compared to the roaring torrents of energy the sun put out.
The only thing he had to go on was a vague sense of something in a small part of the sun. It took some doing to even get there, reorienting his movement without drawing too close to the sun. While he might be able to resist its power at a significant distance from the surface, if he was pulled into it he would surely be consumed into nothing in a matter of moments.
Fortunately, the phenomenon he was sensing seemed to be away from its surface, or not deep within it at least. He focused on the slightest fluctuations, maneuvering towards anything that didn’t feel like a natural part of the sun. He had a few false starts and nearly had run-ins with several solar flares, but eventually his trajectory brought him close to something. A miniscule source of energy, but highly visible for how starkly it contrasted the rest. He wasn’t sure whether it took days or weeks, but he managed to approach… slowing his movement relative to it as he did so. He didn’t want to zip past or impact whatever it was.
What he found was… a metal box. No, that wasn’t quite right… but neither was it wrong. Nor was its power something to be ignored. In comparison to the sun, perhaps it was negligible… but compared to a Life Transformation cultivator it was more powerful. Against Anton himself, the power stores were somewhat comparable as it resisted the heat of the sun. He could feel it sensing the area around it, focused on the sun. Searching for something.
As he got closer he could sense the working of formations, channeling energy without the direct input of a cultivator. The metallic thing made use of some energy to protect itself from the heat of the sun, and to maintain its position.
Closer, and Anton sensed people inside of it. A ship, but without sails. Or any of the more familiar pieces. The skyships Anton had seen were much like those that sailed on the oceans- and from the tales of those in the upper realms, so were the ships that sailed the stars. Similar, at least- though with certain considerations taken for the lack of air. Regardless, they were mainly made of wood, shaped in a certain way, and quite different from this metal contraption.
Even so, it was a ship, for it carried people. Cultivators of middling power, yet with equipment brimming with energy. They didn’t seem to have noticed him yet, with their focus clearly on the massive star in front of them. If he had solid reason to believe they were enemies he could strike them down before they reacted, but he wasn’t willing to just assume ill intent.
When trying to determine how to contact them, Anton noticed a porthole on the rear. A window. His senses found several more about the ship, not quite glass but instead something dark, barely translucent. Most were completely sealed with an additional layer, indicating that nobody was attempting to see anything at the moment. But the one in the rear was open, if dark.
The people inside seemed to be in another compartment, but Anton made his way over to the rear window and prepared to knock. Before he touched the vessel he did his best to sense for defenses that might take issue with that. He settled for pulling out an old bow, fortifying the defenses around his body and ready to heighten them and propel himself away, while keeping the minimum amount of energy around the bow to prevent it from combusting. Then he tapped the window a few times.
Only one of the people inside seemed to react, turning slightly. Anton waited for a few moments, then did it again. They fully spun around, alerting some of the others… though only the one individual made their way towards him. Anton could vaguely make out a room with strange contraptions inside of it, the light around him and the dark window making it difficult. But he could focus power to his eyes enough to see a human- or something extremely close- entering the room. Anton waved his hand in front of the small window. The person looked around the room once more. Anton tapped on the glass again, then waved once more. Eyes locked on his… and the person inside nearly fell over in their fright.
Armed with new knowledge, Vari wondered what to do with it. It was like someone had handed her a sword. She technically knew how they worked, but figuring out the best way on her own seemed impossible. Yet she didn’t have anyone to guide her on what she was doing. The others could help her with general cultivation advice, but they practiced a different cultivation technique… and had gone about ascension completely differently.
Not that Vari was planning to ascend. She wasn’t even sure if she could, already being in the upper realms. They spoke of calling upon upper energy, breaking through the barriers of the world to do so. Of suddenly empowering themselves. That simply couldn’t happen, as it was already her norm to use upper energy. Though she was aware that her cultivation speed might increase if she had items infused with lower energy. She was not privileged with such rarities, but she knew the practitioners of the Glorious Harmony Technique received opportunities such as that. Arrogant jerks.
The speed at which her thinking about the Harmonious Citadel flipped on its head was somewhat concerning to Vari, not because she felt as if her current mental situation was incorrect but because it had been so far removed from her even considering it just a few years before. She was pretty sure her mind literally wouldn’t have allowed it. And that was why she was swinging so far in the other direction.
She had already memorized the differences between the older and newer versions of the techniques. The Holy Harmony technique had still been meant to drive devotion towards those practicing the Glorious Harmony technique or the saints, but it was missing some small tidbits that likely made its practitioners more susceptible to certain kinds of mental influence. Vari was trying to draw herself away from those parts, but reworking her cultivation was not simple.
She did her best, but she couldn’t keep slamming her head against the same ideas forever. She needed a break, though the only thing she could think to do at the moment was look up unarmed and grappling techniques. Just because the Harmonious Citadel felt they had no place didn’t mean that fighting style was worthless. Vari understood that a sharp blade had a multiplicative effect when determining how much damage it could cause, but she felt that it was a completely valid approach to deprive her enemies of such things instead of trying to get one of her own past their defenses.
As she rounded a corner, she felt the impact of running into someone- skull first. She hadn’t felt any sign of them before the impact. “Watch where you’re going! Sneaking around like that.” The Harmonious Citadel had taught her to be kind, and while she still at least thought there was some merit to that, she wasn’t in a good mood.
“I could say the same for yourself,” said a large man with medium brown skin who loomed over her even while crouching down. He reached out his hand towards her. Vari pulled back but… the hand just lingered.
When she finally realized it was being offered to help her up, she reached for it. “Sorry, I think it’s the Library screwing around with us.”
“I would not discount it,” the man said as he pulled her to her feet. A completely unnecessary gesture. He remained half crouched, returning to his browsing of the nearby shelf.
A trickle of moisture on her lip alerted Vari to blood running from her nose. “What the hell?” she said. Most cultivators walked around with at least a minimum amount of energy defenses, keeping their clothes from getting scraped up and the like. She should have been able to run full force into a brick wall and come out uninjured with little more than her tempered body.
The man turned towards her, standing slightly. “It seems our impact was more severe than I imagined. I was anchored in position. My apologies.”
Now that she thought about it, the man hadn’t moved at all. She found herself knocked back, but the instant he appeared her nose was smashing into his forehead. The complete lack of absorption apparently pushed her past her limits. Kind of embarrassing. The blood was stopping already, and she was wondering if she needed to reevaluate her body tempering. “It’s alright,” she said. “You’re forgiven, if you had any fault. How did you get so… solid, though?”
“That’s the Hardened Crown Technique,” he said, “And I was anchoring myself so that I could maintain my awkward position.”
“Interesting,” Vari nodded. She realized that the light she had been following had stopped, not as if it was waiting for her but as if it was done. Indeed, this was the section she was looking for. “Hey, you believe grappling is a valid fighting style, right?”
“Of course,” the man said, extending a massive hand. “I am Kiran, of the Hardened Crown Sect. It is good to meet you.”
“Vari,” she nodded. “Of… nothing, for the moment.”