Rather than wait to see if there was some sort of issue, Anton contacted Matija to ask about. It wasn’t possible to go into much detail, but the very act of asking about Rutera’s star would have some implications. He trusted Matija enough to respond appropriately. If that ultimately meant sharing the information and the Ruterans taking offense, he would attempt to carefully release his connection to their star.
Rutera was much closer than anywhere in the upper realms, but messages weren’t as much faster as Anton might have thought. They could still take several days, despite being more than a factor of a hundred off in distance. Perhaps some oddity related to the difference between natural energy and ‘upper’ energy.
The response took somewhere more than a week- which meant it likely wasn’t immediate from Matija’s perspective. It didn’t say much. “No notable changes. Should there be?”
“I would hope not,” was Anton’s reply. “There was simply a possibility something would have happened.”
There was no particular response to that, which he took to be good news. He continued to exchange occasional unrelated information as normal in the following days and weeks.
Since he had to test it at some point, Anton took the time to test the limits of his connection to the sun. Traveling any significant distance through space was still unfamiliar, and Anton was hesitant to continue accelerating without end. He understood it didn’t feel like he was going faster, but reaching the sun within a day had him going at a truly alarming speed. The issue wasn’t that he thought he would run into anything- though there were indeed tiny particles of matter in what was otherwise empty void, he could withstand the impact. He was more concerned with what would happen if he left the influence of the sun and didn’t have the energy to turn around. The speed at which his energy regenerated was vastly different after reaching his current stage of cultivation, and he was also skeptical about how much natural energy would be in the void of space between systems.
There was a notable difference between his connection to the sun while on or near Ceretos and that when he was close to it- within a few solar radii- but his rate of regeneration and maximum power output increased by nearly fifty percent. However, after a certain distant the drop-off was sharp until reaching a point within a few percent of what he considered normal- and that remained true, very slowly reducing with distance until he was beyond the orbit of the most distant planet in the system.
He spent weeks exploring, carefully moving towards the limits until he felt a consistent if slow drop-off in his connection. He couldn’t be certain if it would continue exactly in that manner, but he felt if he doubled his distance his connection would dwindle to almost nothing. About the same as he felt to Rutera’s star, in fact. Perhaps the minimum. Either way, it wouldn’t get him to another system. Perhaps a tenth of the way at best, which made him quite hesitant to think about going further.
For the sake of curiosity, he placed himself on the trajectory to Rutera and found that the drop-off was slower despite the fact that the distance was far enough that between the two stars of home and Rutera he should reach a point far enough from both of them that they were insignificant. Confirmation would have to wait, though. He had no reason to risk anything at the moment, and showing up uninvited would be rather strange even if things went perfectly. And if it didn’t work, he might die in the void of space, which would be a shame because he had many things left to do.
Instead of immediately returning to Ceretos, he toured the other planets in the system. There were several large gaseous planets with many moons as well as rings of stone caught in orbit around them. The gravity he felt from them made him hesitant to approach too closely, but he didn’t feel any fluctuations of natural energy that would indicate anything living on them. Then again, he was only used to a certain kind of life. There were a few rocky planets, but they were not in a place that non-cultivators could survive even if they had atmosphere. Too hot or too cold- and likewise without any obvious life.
The moon was the most interesting, because Anton knew that it had something on it, and even where it had been. He was ultimately disappointed that the ruins of Everheart’s Tomb on the moon had undergone the same process as everything else- their futures held against their present, crumbling away to almost nothing. He did not perform an exhaustive search, but he was actually able to cover a surprising amount of the moon with his senses at once. He merely swept past vast emptiness, but without an atmosphere he could stretch a thin tendril of energy all the way around, and his omnidirectional senses comfortably reached for dozens of kilometers.
He found familiar shapes of structures that had once existed, but he could not find where the living creatures had dwelled in a forest. It was presumably underground, but Anton couldn’t say how far. It was amazing how much Everheart had done- even if he had been around for a significant period of time- but that was what reckless disregard for what was sensible got you.
It was years before considering himself Prospero Vandale no longer felt strange. There had always been small bits and pieces of memory with him since he reincarnated, without which he would not have survived. Even with them he had been exceedingly lucky. A well developed sense for danger only went so far on a place like Everheart’s Tomb. His early years of life were still unclear- he didn’t remember his parents, but he must have had them. He wasn’t certain he wanted to remember them.
Beyond the complications of adding new family, there were only a few options for them at the current time. Dead was most likely, but they could have also abandoned him. There was precious little else that was not some offshoot of those two options.
He slowly remembered more about his previous life. Who he had been, and who he had known. He was joined by the other members of the Order after some time, people he remembered mostly as promising individuals from what had been the latest generation at the time. That included his grandson.
For the sake of laying low, he had been directed to a small, backwater planet- Zethea. There weren’t any particularly appealing resources, but it had a reasonable level of ambient upper energy and had regular enough ships passing by, including those from the Dark Ring. Even though his grandson had joined up with them on some level, Prospero still had some reservations about them. Not that he thought they were hiding something- they never claimed to be a righteous sect and simply wanted to fight against the Harmonious Citadel because they were trying to take over.
Having grown up on the Tomb with information of all sorts flooding into the area he knew they weren’t bad, but Prospero still thought that they could do better. Either the Dark Ring, or someone else making their own sect. Saying that the Order of One Hundred Stars- which he was very pleased with the progress of- was a sect in the upper realms would be going a bit far, with only a half dozen members. But there was the potential to expand. The others even had the intention to create something of the sort, though how was still somewhat in question. Such things took time.
Finding time when Hoyt was alone was simple on Zethea. Interrupting another’s cultivation was rude, but Prospero didn’t even have to wait for Hoyt to come out of his meditation when he got close. “Do you need anything?”
Prospero wondered. “I just want to talk, I suppose. I’m not sure if I was a good grandfather.”
“Maybe not,” Hoyt shrugged, “But I didn’t really give you the chance. I wasn’t a terribly good grandson either.”
Silence held the majority of the conversation, but it wasn’t entirely uncomfortable. “I thought allowing you to forge your own path was the best. Especially with the results I saw.”
“It is what I wanted,” Hoyt agreed. “It’s hard to say if it was ultimately better, but I appreciate it nonetheless.”
“I wanted to be closer,” Prospero explained. “But after the loss of your parents, I didn’t really know how to approach you.”
“I understand,” Hoyt said. “I don’t feel any resentment. I respected you greatly as a cultivator and as a person. I just don’t think we were much of a family.”
“And you found another grandfather.”
“What can I say?” Hoyt grinned. “Anton naturally became everyone’s grandfather. At first I was just amused by an old guy working so hard in the fields, but when I realized he was new to cultivation it was a great surprise. He was so easy to get along with because he was just a person. He’s still that way, actually- though the cultivator mindset has certainly changed him somewhat.”
“I’m glad he’s still alive,” Prospero nodded. “And forging a new path of cultivation. I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ll have to work hard to surpass him. Can’t let myself be outdone by someone younger than me. That includes you as well,” Prospero noted. “Even if I was dead for some decades, I’m still much older than you.”
“Go ahead and try,” Hoyt held his back straight. “I’m not going to make it easy to catch up though.”
“Good! Exactly as it should be.”
“… it still feels weird to use it,” Hoyt said. “I spent so long trying to not be you, but in the end it’s a really good technique.”
“I didn’t even know you’d studied it at all,” Prospero said. “Did Anton teach you?”
Hoyt shook his head, “No. I just watched you. You didn’t even use it very often, but I always paid close attention.”
“You’ve got great talent,” Prospero said, “And of course, I don’t mind if you use it. The Falling Stars might have been made by me, but it was meant for the benefit of the Order as a whole. Though it seems that not many were suited for its use.”
“You saved many lives with it,” Hoyt said. “So I’d say it did its job excellently. Anyway, when you get a bit stronger we should spar sometime.”
“Why not do it right now?” Prospero grinned. “Afraid of something?”
“Hardly,” Hoyt said. “Though we really shouldn’t, if we’re trying to remain on the down low. Not when your attacks can be seen and felt from two counties over.”
“I bet yours can as well.”
“Only partly,” Hoyt laughed, “I usually don’t make images high in the sky. Speaking of which, how is it to have two eyes again?”
“It’s great,” Prospero said. “Being young is amazing. I’d say I’m not going to waste away my youth this time and make something better of myself, but I honestly think I did quite decently last time. Maybe there will be a few less distractions on the way.” He slowly stood up. “Well then, I’ll leave you to your cultivation. I’ve got most of Life Transformation to find my way through again, though it will mostly just take time. I’m basically just planning how to Ascend. Or… attain the Integration stage.”
“Good luck with that. And don’t hesitate to ask for advice. I do have some practical experience in that regard. Though I’m not quite certain if you can actually Ascend properly in the upper realms.”
“It does make things difficult, doesn’t it?” Prospero stroked his chin. “We’ll definitely have to discuss all of that, but for the moment I just need to bring in as much energy as possible.”
Prospero walked away feeling much better. While they might not be proper family, at least he confirmed they were on good terms… perhaps better than when he had previously been alive. He resolved to learn more about how he retained his memories… especially with how it related to the Twin Soul Sect. And hearing about how there could be another invasion in just a short couple hundred years or less, Prospero knew that shifting the odds in their favor as much as possible was important.