The ring-ship stopped in front of Anton and Everheart, though the ring continued to spin. Around the edges, Anton could see a distorted view of the stars. It was a strange image, brought about by the twisting of natural energy… and maybe something more.
“Well,” Anton said. “They haven’t unleashed another monster on us yet. That’s a good start.”
“It’s possible they don’t have the capabilities to do that consistently,” Everheart said. “So are we netting them now or…?”
“Not yet.” Anton waited, though he was not sure for what. If he felt a gathering of natural energy he was ready to respond with violence. If it came down to something like that, making the first move would be optimal, but Anton rather preferred not to start a space war.
For the moment, he couldn’t sense them doing anything. If he wasn’t mistaken, there should be multiple individuals upon the vessel, though placing them in a specific point inside was difficult. The barriers restricted his sensing, but they felt much more like cultivators he was familiar with than the individuals from Rutera.
A thin veil of natural energy began to expand towards the two, but slowly. Was it attempting to be stealthy, or cautious? Anton chose to believe the latter. Then, finally, he heard something.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice filtered into his ears the same way he was able to hear anything outside of atmosphere, through vibrations in natural energy instead of air particles. And… it was even in the common language. “Can you hear me?”
“I hear you,” Anton responded.
A sigh of relief, perhaps. “Good. That works at least. My name is Anzela Ranik, exploration leader of Weos… and we come in peace.”
“Oh yeah?” Everheart responded before Anton could. “What was with dropping that monster on us last time, then?”
There was a pause. No sound was transmitted- if there had been any at all, Anton could have heard breathing, the beating of hearts… the small movements of muscles even when still. Perhaps there was some discussion happening. Then, sound returned. “It was not our intent. We shifted our trajectory away from your planet upon discovery of the beast. We had not anticipated running into them in this place. It was our understanding that we minimized our fluctuations enough to not draw it out… were we incorrect?”
“It showed up right next to me,” Everheart said.
Anton’s eyes caught Everheart. By his own admission, the technique he’d used to stop had some possibility to attract those creatures.
“Then we are glad you have the strength and skill to defeat it unscathed.”
“Unscathed, huh? I’ll have you know I had to expend some life saving items to survive that creature’s attack. How are you going to pay me back?”
Anton found it amazing that Everheart could both extort someone and make himself seem weaker in the same breath. One of those could be useful, but the other wasn’t necessarily reasonable. Then again, it avoided them looking like pushovers. The woman inside the vessel certainly seemed friendly enough, but Anton knew it was easy for anyone to fake such a thing for a while. A few exchanges of words without even being able to see her face was nothing.
“We have no life saving objects to replace what you have lost,” Anzela replied. “However, given your apparent interest in formations we can offer you a powerful formation manual, the techniques derived from the work of a genius in the upper realms.”
Everheart did his best not to seem overly eager, but Anton could tell he was quite interested. “I suppose we can consider that sufficient repayment, given the circumstances of our meeting.” And probably something to do with Anton looking over his shoulder. To provide a united front, Anton was going with Everheart so far… but he had to be reasonable.
“One moment please.” After a few minutes of waiting, a door opened up on the outer edge of the ring, and Anton could sense someone inside, reaching their arm around the corner to shove something towards them. A book with only a few dozen pages formed from dense materials floated in their direction, taking its time to cross the several hundred meters between them. It was not a close, conversational distance… but it was well inside what Anton preferred as a combat range.
Everheart did something to allow the tome to pass through the barriers around him, then caught it. He flipped through it, grinning eagerly. Then he frowned. “Hey wait a minute. This is mostly just my methods!”
“They did call you a genius,” Anton noted. Fortunately the other man had the presence of mind to not transmit those vibrations back to the ship. “We should move on.”
“… Fine, whatever. Do your diplomacy thing I guess.”
“I don’t believe we have introduced ourselves yet,” Anton said towards the ship. “I am Anton Krantz, Sect Head of the Order of One Hundred Stars, and a representative of Ceretos as a whole. This fellow with me is Scholar Eulogius. What brings visitors from Weos at this time?” It was entirely possible that they had been through the system before he could sense them, but someone should have noticed them.
“For various reasons, it has become easier for us to travel between worlds,” Anzela’s voice replied. “We thought it best to meet our neighbors.”
“Neighbors, is it? Which star is Weos?” Given the direction they came from, Anton had a fairly good guess if they were one of the closer stars. It took a few exchanges for Anzela to find the right terminology to explain their origin, but eventually Anton confirmed it. Or at least, the system they claimed to be from. It was approximately twice the distance of Rutera from their own system. “I see. Have you encountered any other neighbors?”
There was a clear pause. “Yes,” she replied eventually. “Our interactions were not so peaceful.”
“Did you drop void monsters on them?” Everheart asked.
“We were not the ones who began the hostilities,” Anzela said with a defensive tone in her voice.
Everheart grinned at Anton. “She didn’t say no.”
“If you’re fighting anyway…” Anton shrugged. “Might as well make use of the available options.” To Anzela and the ship, he replied, “Where were these others from? So that we might be cautious upon encountering them.”
Knowing what terminology made sense to Anton, she was able to provide a quicker answer. In truth, star systems weren’t so closely packed together that there could be many systems they meant, at least not that could be termed ‘nearby’.
“Is that what you call the system? We have a different name… and for themselves, they have a third.”
Anton nodded, though he was unsure if that could be seen. “Yes, we have had some… brief encounters with them.”
“What was the result?”
“Conflict.” Anton didn’t want to admit he was unable to take down one of their vessels, not because he was concerned about his own image but because Ceretos needed to seem strong. “They were forced to withdraw.” At the very least, he had killed some crew members, so it wasn’t as if there was no damage. And he might have injured or killed someone important, but it was hard to tell.
“Based on our interactions, I would not expect encounters with them to go any differently. Though the war is over now, we’re not on good terms. Have you encountered anyone else?”
This would be the time for Anton to mention Rutera… if he trusted them. If Weos were actually enemies with Azoth, then Rutera would be interested in contacting them. But if they were some sort of allies probing for weaknesses, or even just a neutral party that might be interested in taking advantage of a system already embroiled in war, Anton didn’t want to mention them specifically. “We have encountered others who were much friendlier.”
“Wonderful. Where are they?” After Anton didn’t respond for a moment, Anzela spoke again. “… You don’t trust us. I understand completely.”
“You did speed your way through our system the first time, and then you left a monster the second.”
“It was unintentional. But for that reason we came more slowly this time to have no chance of that happening. Still,” Anzela’s voice was firm. “It is a reasonable caution for our first interactions. I doubt we will get much further in trusting each other at the moment. Can we meet again? Perhaps somewhere more comfortable?”
“If you show your face,” Anton said.
Her delayed response made it clear she had to think hard about that. And she should, because unless Anton’s judgment was quite mistaken any of the cultivators on the ship would be vulnerable outside. Especially with individuals like Anton or Everheart around.
“I will be willing to meet in person as long as you guarantee my safety. Perhaps somewhere… neutral?”
“Everything in the system is ours,” Anton said. “But we could set up something comfortable on the moon. If none of your people attack us, then I can guarantee you will leave the meeting unscathed.”
After that, there was some discussion about who should attend- and when they should meet again. Without Everheart’s teleportation formations reaching the moon was outside of most individual’s capacities, but Anton could bring people with him without too much issue. And he knew he should not be the only one to be involved in diplomatic relations with Weos. Everheart most certainly didn’t count as a second there, because Everheart shouldn’t be involved in any interactions with people of any kind whatsoever, for the good of everyone. Sadly, they probably needed him.
In the end, they arranged to have a formal meeting in two months- local months, of course. That would give Anzela time to return home and make whatever preparations she and her people had to do, and it would give Everheart time to plop down a building and fill it with too many formations. He had to have something comfortable, right? If not, Anton could arrange for something, and of course gather those who needed to go.
Given that he trusted Rutera, at least more than he trusted Weos, he also planned to contact them to inform them about the situation. They could make their own choices about what they wanted to do, or wait for results, but keeping their somewhat friendly neighbors in the loop seemed like the right call.
When arrows still kept flying through space towards them, Velvet was concerned that it was not Kseniya. But it was starting to be hard to deny the energy signatures and the style. But before Kseniya was threatened with counterattacks, she stopped and began to fly her way towards Velvet as the others from the Dark Ring began to converge. “Hey. Figured I’d get you some practical training.”
“… usually it’s better if people agree to such things first.”
“Nah,” Kseniya shook her head. “Then you would never take it seriously. No matter how much you wanted to.”
That might be true, but it was still not a normal thing to do. But it was also very much like the woman herself. Seeing that there was no active combat, the members of the Dark Ring accompanying Velvet arranged themselves around the two, waiting.
“This is who I was looking for,” Velvet said. “Grand Elder Kseniya, meet the Dark Ring.”
“I heard Matousek joined them. You too?” Kseniya asked.
“We’re just allies. Is this place yours, by the way?”
“What, you mean this gas giant? Or this empty point in space where I’m standing?”
“Either?” Velvet shrugged. “They want a location like this to use as a base.”
Kseniya shrugged, “Fine with me. I’m done with it. As long as you lead me to somewhere else interesting. It’s a pain to get between systems.”
“You need a proper ship for that,” Velvet explained.
“Need isn’t the word I would use. But a good technique could definitely make it a shorter journey.”
“Is that what you’ve been doing this whole time? Going between systems?”
“Just once,” Kseniya nodded. “And then I spent some time practicing archery here with nobody to bother. Seems as I am now, it’s impractical to shoot around a planet this size.”
“I’m… honestly glad that’s the case. Have you gotten the messages we sent, at least? Did you hear anything about Xankeshan?”
“I saw something about that, yeah,” Kseniya nodded. “Wanna take me?”
“That was the plan.” Not that Velvet had been there herself yet. As it turned out, the galaxy was big. Or even just the small sliver of it between the Exalted Quadrant and the Trigold Cluster.