If anyone asked, everything went exactly as Everheart predicted. He arrived at the exact intended place at the exact intended time to head off the city. He was perfect and could make no mistakes. Unrelatedly, Everheart was busy doing some calculations on whether he was early or late or too far in one direction when he sensed the city. Exactly on time and when he expected it. He hadn’t been waiting an hour or anything.
He approached closer through the gales of the gas giant Bavore, dealing with occasional solids and wild swings in temperature. Lightning from such a massive storm had much more interesting places to go than through him, but he tried to avoid getting close regardless. There were limits to what it was reasonable to withstand, no matter one’s cultivation. And Everheart was trying to limit himself to reasonable actions. Goodness knows he couldn’t afford another struggle with a strange archer at the moment.
His first task was to get close enough to determine that the floating city was, in fact, the correct one. It would be an expensive move to knock the wrong city out of the sky, and wouldn’t put him high on anybody’s list for non-enemies. Or temporary allies, or whatever he might count as at the moment.
The structure was as described, and upon determining with certainty that there was a sizable population of Twin Soul Sect members present Everheart prepared the crystal in his hand, and tossed it.
Winds carried it forward, but on the local scale it was much easier for Everheart to predict than chasing a floating city around swirling, planet-sized storms. In fact, they took it right to where he wanted it to be. The crystal slammed into the barrier exactly where he intended it to- which was to say, anywhere at all. The fragile crystal shattered, releasing energy in a gentle puff.
It was entirely possible for the cultivators within the area to dismiss what had happened, though they should take note that there was a larger than normal amount of energy in the area. The city itself was quite happy do drag the puff of energy along, but it did nothing to shatter the barrier around the city. In fact, the formations happily drank in the calm energy, slurping it up like hot soup.
The process continued as more and more energy was drawn in, faster and faster. Everheart was filled with confidence, as his methods weren’t known to fail. Yet for a good half of an hour nothing happened as he trailed along behind the city.
Then, with a pop that could be heard even through the gale force winds of an eternal storm, the formations gave out. Not just at one point, but many all together. Because of that instead of a gigantic explosion the energy just spewed out in all directions, blanketing the city. Then it began to feel the pull of gravity, falling away from Everheart into the core of the planet. If everyone worked together they might be able to hold it together, but with the formations providing the barrier gone their little atmosphere was ripped away and so were the weaker buildings and individuals who weren’t prepared. Some would last better, but that wasn’t Everheart’s problem. Enough would perish, and enough of the rest would be caught away from safety and people from Weos could deal with them.
If anyone cared about whatever wealth was on that thing, they could salvage it from the depths of the planet. Or not, because Everheart really doubted anyone could deal with the pressure there. But that was their own problem, he didn’t really care. Another good deed accomplished. Or whatever.
Too far away from Kuchion to technically be in an orbit, a small fleet of ships vaguely maintained their relative position from the planet and each other. Some were under repair, as much as could be done away from a proper dock and stockpiles of resources. At the very least, holes could be patched up and the weaknesses they caused hidden.
Discussions about the information that had been found were held. Oluchi was able to make some positive statements about which cultivation techniques had been involved in attacking some individuals they knew were against the Twin Soul Sect. It wasn’t difficult to also include those they had fought against in their brief excursion, either. If anyone opposing the Twin Soul Sect had the energy to put up such a fight they would have already been well on their way to removing them from the planet- or at least keeping in communication with Weos itself.
Anton was confident in that assessment, as all of the small details fed into his Insight to keep him in agreement. Of course, he had believed that from the moment they were attacked. Otherwise, he would have found himself regretting his actions. It was far too late in his life for him to avoid killing, and the only way to do otherwise was to lay down and die. But if he was going to kill, he needed to make sure it was for the right reasons. They attacked ships that they should have believed were their companions… or at least… sector allies? They weren’t even planetary siblings or anything, but it seemed that the whole system generally considered itself one thing, simply with sects and other factions looking for their position in it.
In an attempt to read Anton’s mood, Oluchi attempted some sort of reassurance. “You did great,” she said. “Far more than we could have expected of anyone else.”
“I am aware that I was effective,” Anton smiled. “But at my level, you get stuck in a strange place of having to react immediately while also carefully considering anything you do. I have great power to influence the course of things, and I would just like to not make them worse.” Anton shrugged, “But I’ve been in wars before. And it would be a disservice to my allies to fight at less than maximum effectiveness.”
“It was… quite impressive, Senior Anton. I know I’m not an archer like you, but I prefer to attack at range if possible. Can you teach me anything about that?”
“Of course,” he nodded. “It’s all about tracking or predicting your opponent. Horizon Shot begins with the methods for sensing opponents at such distances. If you’d like to practice, I can go hide out in the void around us. After we discuss my methods first. And yours.” Despite what she implied, Oluchi was already quite capable of absurd ranges. It could merely be an issue of sensing that restricted her most of the time… in which case Anton was interested in how she controlled her spear at such distances. In the heat of battle, he hadn’t much gotten to study her methods.
Plans for their next move on Kuchion revolved around gaining a foothold for reinforcements to be able to join them. Having a concrete location instead of ‘somewhere in space vaguely near Kuchion’ would benefit them greatly, though it might also give their opponents a distinct place to attack. If they could take over somewhere with defenses, however, it would be difficult for enemies to approach with someone like Anton available. Most people would prefer not to run hundreds of kilometers through a hail of arrows before getting a chance to attack- and even if it was guaranteed only a small portion of them would die, nobody wanted to risk being the one who did.
“With minimal surface cities,” Oluchi said, pointing to a location on a globe. “This is our best location. Assuming it still exists.”
“What is it?” Anton asked.
“An old military base. It was never dismantled, so its defensive formations should be something we can activate again. It’s buried at the base of a mountain to protect from above, and didn’t have any connections to the larger tunnel system. If it’s not there…” she shrugged, “We can at least take shelter without the formations.”
“What if it’s compromised?” asked a captain of one of the other ships. “Attacking a fortified position…”
“Won’t be much harder than anything else we’ve already done,” Oluchi shrugged. “The problem would be not making it obvious we’re approaching. Smashing through the atmospheric barriers would draw people in from around the area and make it difficult to set up there. They should know we’re coming in some fashion, and I’d really rather not face more organized groups.” She paused for a few moments, “Besides, if there’s no resistance here, we’d do better to keep them contained than trying to wipe them out. At least until things settle elsewhere.”
Anton nodded. “Blockading a planet would be difficult, but with enough resources it would be possible. The real problem is if they strike out before we can contain them. So far they’re likely still on the back foot from being suddenly revealed, but…” Anton shrugged. He didn’t really know what else to say on the subject. The Twin Soul Sect was ultimately outmatched here, but underestimating a cornered tiger was dangerous.
As it turned out, managing a planet wide formation wasn’t easy. Somehow Xankeshan had enough power stored somewhere to keep going for as long as it had, but even as Catarina was repairing parts of it, it was growing unstable in others. Unfortunately she couldn’t be in many places at once. She wasn’t even sure if she wanted to try anything like Everheart’s projections.
But Catarina, unlike Everheart, was not alone. Many of the others were taking care of the basic aspects of making Xankeshan functional as a planet- things like plant and animal life. No doubt they’d screw up some ecosystems on accident as they threw things all over, but the chaos of Everheart’s Gardens was only technically self-sustaining to begin with. Some more care would probably make things better. It was just that it had already been years, and despite Xankeshan being on the smaller end of planets and Hoyt himself being able to sew a field in seconds… it was still a lot of ground to cover.
But their numbers continued to swell, from people fleeing the oppression of the Harmonious Citadel to many others from the region, generally coming through the Dark Ring. The biggest trouble was keeping control of things. Only a small number of people had actual access to control of the formations, and Catarina kept the plate on herself… but it was always possible for someone to attempt to seize power. Some of those from the Dark Ring were higher in cultivation, mid or late Integration. No doubt they felt uncomfortable with early Integration stage cultivators running things.
And despite them being allies, they were still cultivators. The Dark Ring had plenty of good things going for it, but surely some of them would be tempted to wrest control, one way or another. Not that they would have done so before, but none of their group neglected their training.
Catarina’s training wasn’t just her work on the formations, adding in subformation details that most wouldn’t be able to perceive. Her own cultivation had to advance, more stars inside of her lighting up. Personal power was safety when all else failed. Timothy would of course protect her if anything happened, but he couldn’t just always be by her side. Which was pretty unfortunate, because she loved her husband. Still, if they could gain long term security for a bit of discomfort now, it would be worth it. In a way, Catarina finally felt like an adult- her responsibilities on Ceretos had grown with her cultivation, but not to the same degree. She’d always managed to stay ahead of the curve.
Hoyt was training with his sort of younger grandfather. It was easy to see Falling Stars used by Prospero or Hoyt at any random time, as long as one was vaguely in the right geographical location. Prospero was certainly weaker due to his cultivation, but his experience with the technique showed a significant gap between the two still.
Then there were the two wolves, who were both at the Integration level… or some equivalent for beasts. Fuzz had of course reached that level through ascension, but Spikes managed an impressive transformation that seemed to overcome the slump those who didn’t actually ascend sometimes dealt with. She was able to grow mountains almost at will, or at least it felt like it. Even if they were small mountains, she was excellent at shaping terrain.
Then there was Vari. Her own training was perhaps the most important not because they needed her individual power, but because it benefited all of them. No matter how much anyone said she should focus on herself, there would always be devotion flowing from her to the others. Nobody was quite sure how much of what she was stealing back from the Saints and others had been hers to begin with, but there was no doubt someone would notice eventually. It was merely a matter of them being ready for any of various enemies that might attempt a real attack on Xankeshan.