Though the mental pressure had brought Vari into a bad headspace, her automatic verbal responses were hardly as binding as they seemed at first. She said she would help betray her allies- but she didn’t want to. Her mind told her that she shouldn’t punch this woman in the face given her status, but she wanted to. Her energy circulated inside, fighting with itself. It was possible Vari could punch this woman who hadn’t even bothered to share her name, but perhaps that wasn’t the right solution to begin with. Though the rules hadn’t been enforced yet, Everheart was said to be quite serious about them.
So when the woman from the Harmonious Citadel turned around, Vari didn’t punch her in the face, kick her in the back of the head, or wrap her elbow around her neck and strangle her. She was almost certain she could have attempted any of those if she pushed hard enough. But she had something better. “One moment, sister. I need to keep you safe.”
She placed a barrier in front of the woman who was just beginning to walk off, causing her to run into it. She turned angrily to Vari. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Vari shrugged, “I’m just trying to protect you.” Barriers were easiest to form when flat. Making one or two was the easiest. Sustaining more than that was trouble, but she formed one between herself and the woman… then on either side. Top and bottom, forming a full box. It nicely blocked out the sound of her voice, the feel of her energy. That gave Vari a moment to clear her head.
It also slowed down the edge of the woman’s shield enough that when it came crashing through the barrier between them Vari managed to lean to the side and only have it cut through her ribs and one lung. Though that wouldn’t matter much when she died in a moment. “How dare you move against me! I don’t need the help of a lowlife like you.”
“Just get this over with so I don’t have to listen to you whine anymore,” Vari said. It was half defiance, half a ploy to maybe provoke her and control how she acted, and an infinitesimal amount of resignation.
The shield was returning. Vari was wondering what angle a barrier might best hold back the shield which was also a bladed disc. Maybe an angle? She wished her allies were around, but unfortunately they weren’t out in the training field at this exact moment. Kiran had also left ahead of her.
“I’ll destroy you!”
“You will do no such thing,” came an annoyed voice from behind Vari. She turned to see two hands clap down around the shield. Then it was crumpled into a ball as if it were made of paper instead of highly enchanted alloys. Everheart stood there, his eye twitching. “No attacking people is one of the few rules here.”
“This is the sparring arena, and she’s a junior in my sect. Tell him!”
The order pounded in Vari’s head. She turned to Everheart, who was waiting for her response. “I was raised in the shelter of the Harmonious Citadel… but I am no longer one of their disciples. She has attacked me physically multiple times and mentally many more.” Imprecise wording was a blessing, even if her body still fought against her saying she should do what was implied.
Everheart shrugged, “Thought so. Well, rules are rules and all that.” He flicked his arms out to the side, forming the image of an open book. His hand slapped together, closing the human sized book around her. When it faded, she was gone.
“… Thank you, mighty Everheart,” Vari inclined her head. “May I ask what will happen to her?”
“Normally, the sentence is death,” Everheart said. “But in the case of powerful factions, I often make exceptions. You know how things are.” Everheart began to grin, “They will simply have to pay appropriate reparations for her return.”
Vari gulped. She didn’t want to know what price the Harmonious Citadel would have to pay, but from the look on his face she felt it was actually a greater punishment instead of going easy. She didn’t need much training in insight to read that from the wide smirk he had. “I… see. I’m sure it will be very appropriate. Thank you once more.”
“If you want to thank me… make sure no more rules are broken! And make sure to donate!”
Actually, they still had a bundle of technique manuals from those they had defeated. While the others wanted to save some for study by their own sect, Vari was still given a portion. Studying those from outside the Harmonious Citadel wasn’t doing her much good, though she was interested in the deeper soul related ones- she had to remove this compulsion from inside her after all. “I will certainly find some appropriate things to donate,” she said finally.
After reading another message from Catarina, Anton smiled. Vandale reincarnated? That was unexpected. The cycle of reincarnation was only fuzzily understood- even the Twin Soul Sect’s techniques on Ceretos had only described one specific method, and it didn’t seem they allowed retaining memories on their own. It required something after their death to achieve proper results. Vandale only having a small portion of his memories was unfortunate, but given his death the fact that he had any form of reincarnation was a pleasant thought.
Another powerful ally in the upper realms waiting to happen was good news, but perhaps better was Catarina’s progress with the formation plate. Was it a coincidence that it had been placed in their world and was useful where Everheart had set up his Tomb? Hard to say, really. Even whether or not it was purposefully left was unclear. If anyone knew where it was, however, they’d had an adequate chance to retrieve it during the previous invasion. Nobody had been watching out in the middle of nowhere. But it might have even been more than a cycle since it was left behind. Curious.
It was unfortunate that Anton could not personally experience what was happening in the upper realms, but he’d made his decision long before he expected there to even be a possibility of reaching the peak of cultivation in their world. Ascension was just an unnecessary pipe dream. His perspective was different now, but in truth he only cared about the portions of the upper realms that might affect home- and the people who were friends and family.
Despite having the greatest freedom he’d ever experienced, Anton was feeling a bit tied down. Visitors from another system had him thinking about visiting neighbors in turn. He was planning to test the effects on his power as he went away from Ceretos’ sun. There was still the matter of making the trip in a timely fashion, as making a journey to even neighboring systems required faster than light travel through one method or another. Catarina had studied some of the ships traveling between planets, but it wasn’t simple for her to transmit large quantities of technical information. It was being done- just not directly to Anton. That would be pointless, since he wasn’t a formation master.
Even if Rutera had been willing to share their technology- and they hadn’t asked- Ceretos had no basis for all of the other pieces that would lead up to their ships. That was something that would take longer, though he heard formation masters were very excited about some of the ‘simpler’ devices they had been shown.
The reaction from the Exalted Archipelago had been minimal. Anton was hoping to speak to someone from the Worthy Shore Society on the topic to get the most reliable information he could. It was unlikely they didn’t care about the Ruterans at all- but whether they would do anything was a different question. Anton still didn’t know how many lower realms the Exalted Quadrant had their fingers in.
Anton looked through the telescope, enhancing his eyes to pick up details of the Ruteran’s star. There was little special about it except for it hosting what he hoped would be friends- or at least neutral neighbors. He subconsciously reached out towards it, cognizant of the great distance between them. Yet without fully meaning to, the connection was formed. Anton could feel something stir within his hundred-and-first star. His actual power… changed not at all. But he was quite certain he’d done something similar to what happened with their own star.
That was why he hadn’t actually been trying. Now he’d have to apologize to the Ruterans. Hopefully nothing noticeable would happen, with him being so distant. Though now the idea of visiting was more appealing and also more problematic, since if it didn’t do anything with him here he could guarantee it would react when he got closer. Sure, he only drew upon the tiniest portion of a star’s power… but they’d been able to sense fluctuations with a star a system over- how much more effective would they be in their own system?
Just for the sake of curiosity, Anton focused on his ninety-ninth star, as well as one of the other closest stars that should be in neighboring systems- still a very great distance away, but closer than the others. Consciously trying to form a connection did nothing. The same held true for other stars. It seemed only the hundredth and beyond had the ability to connect to other stars, which was quite reasonable. He was glad not to have to think about connecting to a hundred stars… especially without permissions of those who lived near them. Technically that was also the case in this system, but he was one of the residents so it was fair enough. And he was fairly certain others could do the same. The sun should be able to support other cultivators… though there weren’t exactly a large mass of individuals clamoring to attempt Assimilation.
Throughout all of Ceretos Life Transformation cultivators numbered in the high hundreds, perhaps the low thousands. Recent advancements in cultivation efficiency had approximately doubled those on the continents, but ultimately most of them still wouldn’t reach the peak of Life Transformation, and of those even fewer would ascend- or follow another path beyond. Though they were a huge step up from their previous rate of once a decade at best.
Out at sea, on the back of Paradise, Erin took in the great power of the turtle. Paradise allowed the disciples to use the natural energy in his ecosystem, though whether or not he recognized how they contributed or simply found them beneath concern was unclear. They weren’t enemies, though- Erin had seen what happened to them.
The next step would be much easier if Paradise could talk. It was risky to even try, but then again so was everything that involved new branches of cultivation. It was just also risky because outside of blowing herself up it might happen from something external. She’d seen how the Ponderous Turtle Clan got a reaction from Paradise.
So to avoid potential collateral damage, she slowly walked down to the top of Paradise’s head. It was underwater, as usual, but he was not moving particularly fast at the moment so sticking to him was trivial. She stood between two small mountains that were the bulges of his eyes- though it was a relatively small change from the bump of his skull, at such a scale they stood out.
She carefully pat the head beneath her, sending energy she hoped would be soothing. She wanted him to be aware of her so he could react at the earliest possibility. She was well aware of how quickly he could respond when threatened, so perhaps he would still destroy her at some point… but she hoped to let him react with something less extreme. If he showed discomfort or dissatisfaction, she would give up on her attempt.
Paradise was an island, but he was mostly a turtle- one that was growing, if only at a very slow rate. For the purposes of cultivation, however, he seemed to be both. Paradise had an ecosystems of plants that resonated with natural energy, but he also had his own internal energy stores. In battle, he called upon both equally.
Erin attempted to tap into both. She knew she couldn’t control such large amounts of energy on her own, but if Paradise would synergize with her she could direct a small portion of it for her own use… and perhaps more efficiently than city-leveling balls of water. At first, she was uncertain if Paradise noticed. He didn’t even respond to her extended energy. Then she felt a wave wash over her- water and energy. She was sent swirling away, but no follow up attack came. And if Erin was correct, it wasn’t really an attack. That might have simply been the response she was hoping for, but with the usual subtlety of Paradise. She resolved herself to make another attempt. This might be a long process instead of something instantaneous, but not all cultivation had to take great leaps. That was the sort of thing that left you a burned out husk that was lucky to survive. Erin slightly envied Anton’s power, but she knew it was better to be practical. So, another attempt. Once she managed to swim back to Paradise, since she’d been shoved quite a distance away.