The forces on the metal ship eventually identified themselves as part of the United Ruteran Order- Rutera being their home system. They had recently developed to the point they were exploring other realms, and as Anton had already learned they had come because of changes to the sun that likely involved him. Their presence told Anton it was possible to move between lower realms, though he wasn’t certain if it would be wise for him to do so himself. Even so, it opened up possibilities previously unavailable.
“I am certain you are eager to return to your world to report this interaction,” Anton said. He pulled out a pair of communication plates. “These should allow us to keep in contact, though it will require the injection of some energy. You will have to translate on your end, since it uses our characters.” He wished he had better ones, but he didn’t normally carry around extras. This was the only one he was certain would work at distances greater than planetary.
“… This doesn’t look like any communication device I am familiar with,” Matija commented. “Specifically, it seems like it’s missing the most important parts. Like a transmission method.”
“The formations are intertwined with each other to function at any distance,” Anton said. “There will be some time delay depending upon how far your system is, but it should not be too onerous. Days, at most.”
“Are you sure? The distances between systems are… vast.”
“It would be able to communicate with systems in the upper realms, which should be further away if we are truly neighbors.”
Premysl was muttering to himself, something about comparing it to their faster-than-light communications. He probably didn’t think he could be overheard, but it didn’t matter much either way.
“Now then,” Anton said. “I should be going home. Perhaps we shall arrange for a visit at some point… but I would avoid showing up uninvited. We’ve had incidents with others that people would react strongly to.” Then there was the matter of the Exalted Archipelago. They might not be happy with such communication, and even if their lower realm counterparts were he wouldn’t wish too much information to reach the upper realms.
Soon enough he found himself outside the ‘airlock’ and returning towards home. It was much too far to sense- and though he knew the approximate plane it was on even with unlimited range it would be a stab in the dark because of slight variations. However, Anton wasn’t so easily lost. He knew the relative locations of stars throughout the year, though in truth he could have navigated by the connection he had to the planet. That allowed him to affirm his direction was correct, but if he were to go exploring he would have to get used to a lack of terrains or landmarks. Especially outside of the system, though once again he was unsure if that was smart. The sun was a great source of power for him, and the intensity of that connection might wane with distance.
Inside his pocket, a few test messages came in from Matija. He responded, confirming that it worked. They had recorded how each letter matched the sounds and their devices seemed to take care of the rest.
After what he had learned- and what had been revealed to them- Anton imagined both sides would have plenty to think about for quite some time. Even if he didn’t learn how to do any of it, simply knowing there were methods like theirs for controlling the world’s energy was a great revelation. He would have conversations with many people about this. Including Catarina, though that would be slow and unfortunately not as detailed as he would like.
Within the Scorching Mirror Desert, Elder Vasu took in the whole of his surroundings. The sands evoked a healing of light and heat, but there was more to it. Natural energy was abundant despite the lack of visible flora and fauna. Various cacti and succulents survived in the harsh desert, though it could not be said to be overflowing with life. Likewise, creatures other than humans were present but rare. All such life was powerful, however.
There was another aspect to the sands as well. Vasu took it in along with the power it held. Sands would typically become rounded from their friction with other particles, and this was true of the Scorching Mirror Desert as well. However, around the headquarters of the Million Sword Vault there was an anomaly. Instead of rounding, some grains would not only retain their size but grow into something more similar to actual pieces of mirror, sharp shards that could cut. Like tiny swords.
Elder Vasu wished the best for the Chikere and others of the Million Sword Vault who would be ascending, but he planned to remain where he was. He quite liked Ceretos, but was unwilling to give up continuing his cultivation. In times past he might have had to accept losing one or the other, but recent times had revealed new options.
The sands of the desert swirled as he exerted his influence over them… and in turn, allowed them to gain a modicum of influence over himself.
There was a large variety in how library bounties for Everheart could go. There was the matter of whether or not an individual was still on planet- none of the group wanted to go chasing people to new worlds, and especially not breaking into their sects. However, not all of the bounties required the individual in question. Some just listed who had taken what, but didn’t concern themselves with whether or not anything happened to the ‘criminal’. Others had explicit instructions that people were to be brought back.
Taking precautions in such work was necessary for those who tried to uphold a moral core. While Everheart’s words could be trusted to the point that the individuals took what he said from his Library, that didn’t necessarily indicate people had done something wrong. Certainly, not more than Everheart himself. The vast majority of what he possessed was no doubt already stolen or pillaged from others- the distinction being perhaps less important to the man himself. The point was, members of the Order of One Hundred Stars knew that cultivators inevitably looted things from others, but the method through which people came into conflict was important. Competition over resources didn’t have to end in death, even if it often did.
A few had rather easy solutions. There were rare individuals who had vileness inherently woven into their cultivation, empowered not just by death but by gratuitous violence for its own sake. Murder, torture, and the like. Cultivators weren’t usually so easy to judge, but they had chosen some of the bounties based on exactly such factors. There were temptations to go after a disciple of the Twin Soul Sect, but beyond being unsure of her presence on planet, they wanted to avoid obvious conflict with larger sects. Just because they had rooted them out of their world didn’t mean they were stronger than them, especially with just a handful of people and two wolves- no matter how exceptional any of them were.
Then there was the situation with Yarros. There was no bounty on the man himself, but they managed to track him down. He was a brave one, perhaps, traveling alone. They moved in from all sides, Timothy blocking him from the front. “Are you still in possession of ‘One Thousand and One Noodle Soups, first edition’?” It was a somewhat ridiculous thing to say seriously, but the points were worth it, somehow.
Yarros was an older man, and as he found himself surrounded glowing tomes popped out of his rucksacks, swirling around him in a whirlwind. “You’ll never get my- wait what did you say? Noodle Soups?”
“That’s right,” Timothy said, holding his position with his sword at the ready and his shield half raised.
“Well, I made a copy of that but…” A book popped out of his rucksack. “Oh.” Another followed it. “I think I forgot to put back the original.”
“Everheart put out a library bounty on it.”
The man solidified his stance, “You still won’t take me, no matter your reason.”
“We’re just here for the book,” Timothy said. “The bounty isn’t on you. Though it does call you out, so some people might not care.”
“Are you certain?” he said as books formed into rows like walls around him, inside the whirlwind.
“Absolutely,” Timothy said, holding up the bounty. “Book return required. Nothing else.”
“In that case, maybe I should take it back myself for that reward.”
“You sure?” Timothy raised an eyebrow. “Just because he didn’t specify anything for you doesn’t mean he won’t decide you should get punished if you happen to be there.”
“… your words are quite persuasive,” Yarros admitted. “Take it,” he tossed the book to Timothy. “But do try to get it returned quickly so I don’t have to deal with anyone else.”
They had, partly out of respect for the man and partly because they had to seek out information on their next target, and gathering places like the Library were the best place for that. Despite the fact that nobody could enforce any laws and violence was often encouraged by Everheart, most encounters between cultivators didn’t involve conflict of any sort, and killing was a step rarer. If everyone fought, then in no time at all nobody would be left alive. If the odds were close to even, even a handful of battles would almost guarantee an individual’s death. The victors of a battle weren’t actually random, but knowing when to not engage or to withdraw were both important lessons.
The Thousand and One Noodles Soups had been carefully scrutinized by the group on the way back, but no signs of code or hidden messages could be discerned. It really was just a large number of noodle soups. Everheart didn’t like being stolen from, of course, but the price was too great for that. There were many others where he had a lower price or demanded the body of a thief for the reward of lesser value. So perhaps there was something more to it, or it was a joke of some sort… or Everheart really liked that particular book. Because that was always possible.
Everheart took the book off their hands with barely a glance, but he likely wasn’t actually careless. “You now have sufficient points to reach the third level. It will require significantly more to reach the fourth level.”
“We are aware,” Catarina said.
“I would not mind letting you there right now…” Everheart said slowly. “If you could give me a copy of that technique I mentioned earlier.”
For a person who loved causing trouble, Everheart was actually being somewhat circumspect. “I’m afraid we don’t have it.” That was true- though Catarina could likely produce a copy. Candle Wax was a simple enough technique that she’d previously memorized it, fit for use even by those in Body Tempering. She just didn’t want to admit to having seen it, because that would let him know they were from the same world. That might have benefits, but it might be a terrible idea. It was already uncomfortable that he suspected them. They couldn’t even assume any of their conversations were private, though Catarina was getting better at picking out his formations.
“Move on, then,” he waved them past.
Back at the Order of One Hundred Stars, Anton conferred with Zajoc and Fodor, along with the other seven Grand Elders. “Traveling to other systems may be a bit hasty when we have not conquered our own, or for the most part even left our planet, but it is something to consider. According to the information from the upper realms, we could craft such ships with only minor differences from skyships.” Both took significant amounts of energy, and interestingly enough the lack of resistance outside the atmosphere meant that even accelerating to much greater speeds was not as much more expensive than one would envision. Reaching speeds that could swiftly travel between systems- any faster than a handful of years- was another matter.
“Regardless,” Elder Fodor smiled, “Peaceful contact with others is something to celebrate.”
“Indeed,” Anton nodded. “We will be keeping this information secret, except for the highest leadership of our longstanding allies. That includes other members of the Order. Once word is out, it is impossible to conceal it. If someone could be allies against invasions from the upper realms, we don’t want there to be any warning.”
All of the Grand Elders agreed. They didn’t have to, and Anton specifically wanted them to disagree when they had a reason. Having a bunch of cronies who just did what he said would make it pointless to even have a council. If he wasn’t going to listen to them, he could just be a tyrant like some people made him out to be. Mostly those from the trampled sects in the Exalted Archipelago.