Wars between cultivators could vary greatly in time. With the ability for them to mobilize quickly it was more about who was willing to launch offensives rather than anything else. A length of weeks or months for a war between two factions was not uncommon, but neither were conflicts spanning decades- though obviously the former had more action.
In the Weos system, the war against the Twin Soul Sect was quick and bloody. Upon Kuchion, Anton and the others continued to press onward. To the best of their knowledge, they prevented any actual ascensions on the part of the Twin Soul Sect. Upon Bavore, the momentum also swung in the favor of the same side. Despite the prevalence of the Twin Soul Sect, they never intended to stand against the world alone. They were meant to be traitors on the inside, though their last opportunity had slipped away with the lack of the expected invasion.
Once they were discovered, the results were inevitable. Nobody would choose to stand for their goal, and those who might have entertained the thought certainly weren’t going to do so after they had been revealed. Even so, many people lost their lives- cultivators weak and strong, as well as others caught in the crossfire. In a way, everything was Anton’s fault… though of course something like this had to happen inevitably. If they had waited, it would have only been worse. Anzela, Rikuto, and all the allies they had been able to prepare had done what they could- anything more would have given a chance for the Twin Soul Sect to plan their response instead of having to spontaneously act.
“You look awfully grim for having just won a war,” Everheart declared. “And don’t say something stupid like it was all the people of Weos and you didn’t do anything or humble crap like that. We both know that’s not true. Without me, this would have all been pointless as the Twin Soul Sect members would be more or less alive still. At least the talented ones. Without you, a bunch more locals would have died. You care about things like that, right?”
“I just wish it didn’t have to result in so much death. If there was another way-”
“Then someone would have found it out long ago. But do you really think that there could have been a peaceful resolution? Don’t tell me you would have let the Twin Soul Sect live to save others.”
“Well… no…” Anton shook his head. “What do you want me to say, that I want to become some sort of supreme god that can control every little aspect of the world to be the way I want it?”
“Yes,” Everheart nodded. “Say it again and again and again until it becomes true. Though it’s gonna take you at least another millenium.”
“I doubt that’s what you really want. Wouldn’t that make us… competition? That seems more like your kind of goal.”
“Of course we’re competition,” Everheart declared. “We’re cultivators. And all of us, know it or not, wish to reach a level of unlimited power to do whatever we wish.”
“Nah,” Anton said. “I mean, more power would be fine. But I really just want to defend my home.”
“And what is your home?” Everheart asked. “Ceretos? The whole system? What about Rutera? What about here? When will it end?”
Anton pondered on that for a few moments. “You know, you make a good point. It would be easy to slip into the desire of controlling everything at that rate. I should restrain myself.”
“But… why?” Everheart said. “You could do whatever you want. Well, not quite whatever- because I’m sure at some point we’ll come into conflict and I’ll inevitably win that. But you could do whatever you wanted that fit with whatever I want.”
“… That’s a lot of words repeated over and over. I don’t know what to say except… I’ve accepted that my time will come. And I will be ready to embrace death when it happens. That’s what Fleeting Youth is all about, isn’t it.”
“Maybe. I just made it,” Everheart pointed out. “I didn’t practice it. You think I’m the kind of guy who could accept not ascending, not reincarnating if I die?”
“… I just realized we won’t be done with you when you die.”
“Eh, depends on if you do it right,” Everheart pointed out. “Just gotta tear up the soul.”
“Are you sure you should be telling me this?” Anton asked.
“Absolutely. If I have to go out, I’d prefer it to be at the hands of someone I respect. And that’s a short list.”
“I’d be interested in hearing who’s on it.”
“Well, it’s me- about a thousand times. Then you.” Everheart shrugged, “And almost everyone else is dead.”
“So there is someone, then,” Anton smiled.
“Maybe,” Everheart shrugged, “Unless they died too. Haven’t really been able to keep track.”
“I can’t believe you’re not swamped with messages from the upper realms,” Anton said. “You have to have tons of schemes there.”
“Yeah, but for me to be swamped… people would have to know I’m alive.”
“Only lunatics would believe you’re dead,” Anton pointed out.
“There’s a big difference between people knowing I’m alive and people assuming I’m alive,” Everheart said. “Nobody’s going to put together an army to hunt me down just because they don’t know where my body is. I mean, not another one. They already did that.”
“… Do you feel empathy for anyone who died?” Anton asked.
“No.” Everheart said bluntly. “Nor for those they left behind. Everyone dies, everyone loses people. That’s just how things work. And I certainly don’t regret what happened to everyone in the Twin Soul Sect. Everyone else?” Everheart shrugged, “Their souls probably still exist. Maybe they’ll remember a previous life, maybe it will be scoured completely blank. Doesn’t matter to me.”
“… You need to get friends,” Anton said.
Everheart made a face. “Eeeugh. Don’t say things like that.”
With the civil war in Weos over, Anton was able to get some rest. He hadn’t quite realized just how far he’d pushed himself while fighting on Kuchion. If he’d gone a little too far- and there had been any enemies nearby- he would have been vulnerable. Once he was out of energy, he could just… be killed. Like anyone else. Since natural energy was required for both offense and defense, pushing his offensive capabilities to their limits had been risky. Sure, he had the advantage of attacking from far beyond the range of most people, but if even one assassin had been concealed among allies and he’d burned himself just a bit harder? That would have been the end. It would have been a waste.
Then again, every person Anton was just in time to save could easily be someone amazing in the future, someone priceless the world couldn’t afford to lose. Anton didn’t believe that most or even necessarily any of those he had saved would be like that… but just thinking about how he’d affected things on Ceretos told him that amazing people could come from anywhere.
Take Lev, for example. He had been at best a slightly above average disciple in the Grasping Willows, good enough that a Spirit Building elder had taken him under his tutelage. Not that Spirit Building was anything impressive by Anton’s current standards. Regardless, Lev had been nearly dead when they first found him. He hadn’t seemed like anything impressive for a while, eventually joining the ranks of those with great talent. Then… he was the second person on Ceretos to achieve Assimilation. And for such a thing, second wasn’t bad. In fact, perhaps it was even more impressive than being the first in some ways. He hadn’t tried to force Anton’s methods into his cultivation style, but came up with his own path once he simply knew it could be done.
Anton sighed. This was perhaps the curse of being a cultivator, his brain being able to think more swiftly also found itself going down rabbit holes more often. His mind would resolve itself… but he wondered if old cultivators ever got over this. He didn’t have many examples, but it seemed that people tended to become entrenched in one manner of acting and stick with that. That wasn’t necessarily bad, but he needed to be certain that his was the right one.
With Weos’ matters settled, Anton would have liked to get them and Rutera back in the same room talking about what they would do with Azoth- or whatever Weos called them. Who wouldn’t like to add some old enemies of enemies onto their team?
Unfortunately, while it was likely they would be entering into some talks, Weos probably wasn’t eager to jump into a war. Revenge on Azoth might be enticing, but would it be worth it? Could they trust Rutera, or Ceretos for that matter? Anton would answer those as yes, probably, and definitely if he had anything to say about it. But convincing people of that was another matter.
Anton realized he also didn’t know much of anything about Azoth. They attacked Rutera and Weos, which he had positive opinions of. Did that immediately make them bad people? Yes. Anton could say that with full confidence. Unless both systems were lying through their teeth about what had happened, in which case they’d done an exceptional job of convincing everyone Anton had talked about that Azoth had begun hostilities without any attempts at communication. Even starting off with some sort of demand for people to hand over a planet or resources would have been something.
Still, he should look into it. He was friendly with enough people from Rutera that he could get information that way, but he also thought to look into things for himself. Though he wasn’t sure if going in person was a sensible idea, he could still list that as a potential option. If he could even travel between systems on his own, which he still hadn’t attempted. He needed to do that. Even if he failed, he should only waste a few months at most.
It really didn’t make much difference to Anton how many planets Azoth had- or how many non-planetary orbiting bodies they had outposts on. Ultimately that was important to know for military matters, but the thing that stood out to him the most was the top of the report. Azoth: Single star system. By itself, it wasn’t that interesting. In fact, it was kind of disappointing. But the fact that it came up in a report reminded Anton that there were other options.
Binary star systems existed. That was something that had been confirmed by his own eyes (and telescopes) before Prospero Vandale died. There were even systems with more stars. While this was interesting from an astrological perspective, it wasn’t exactly new. It was just suddenly more relevant to Anton in the past couple decades.
What would such a system mean for his power? Unfortunately, he couldn’t know quite yet. There was a binary star system nearby- uninhabited, as far as Anton was aware. But for Anton to truly know anything, he needed to wait at least until he reached his next star, perhaps two if he were going to travel to Azoth. At the current moment, he had one available star he could Assimilate with. He might be able to bond with both stars of a binary star system at once, or he might need two available. If he didn’t have two available, it might kill him. Rather, it was more likely to kill him than trying something new was anyway, and Anton had to admit since nobody else had traversed this same road he was relying on some intuition. Cultivator’s intuition was amazing, but not always correct.
Anton grumbled to himself. Why couldn’t Azoth have been a binary star system? Then he could have gone through some training and experimented there. If he collapsed their stars in a horrible accident, it wouldn’t be too bad. At least it would deal with a problem.
Anton frowned. He was going to have to go back to Rutera. He didn’t want to shove his way into a conflict… but he also didn’t want to just leave it alone. He’d have to find the right people to talk about for that- both on Rutera and back home, since it also affected Ceretos to have him gone.