It was impossible to say that the trifold alliance had good intel on the Sylanis Cluster with just what surviving scouts had reported, Merve’s information, and the thoughts and memories gleaned from people’s heads after the attack on Ceretos, but they were at least aware of some things.
Enough that Anton was planning an excursion of his own, with the intent to take out key targets. Shipyards, refineries, and anything else that fed into the constant stream of people that seemed to pour out from the system. Being part of the first real attacks was a risk, but it was also an opportunity. Up until now the Sylanis cluster hadn’t really suffered the consequences of their actions. Anton couldn’t say that he would actually manage to make them reconsider, but if he could harm any of their leadership or even just anything profitable… it might be worth it.
So far, the Sylanis cluster had been throwing away resources for little to no gain. Even drawing upon the wealth of three systems, occasional ships successfully raiding Rutera and returning wasn’t of more value than what had been destroyed- and all the salvage from the battles ended up in Ruteran hands. The recent, more serious attack had resulted in more enemies successfully withdrawing with some manner of prize, but it should still be a net loss. Yet according to Weos’ experience, that would only encourage them to strike back harder.
Anton and the others were well aware that the response to them actually initiating any attack on the systems of the Sylanis Cluster couldn’t be fully predicted, but sitting passively wasn’t much good for anything. They were aware that overcoming them and their hundred or so Worldbinding cultivators was impossible… but if they could strike and retreat, causing more efficient damage… then they might make them more interested in defending then attacking, and at some point the war might be called off. Or they would get wiped out by mobile Worldbinding cultivators, but if that was possible it was likely inevitable.
A small fleet of ships from their alliance were heading towards the system they knew as Azoth, mainly from Rutera and Ceretos. Weos’ ships were faster, and would be more effective on their own. They went towards the third system- Aphuna- which was slightly more distant, but most accessible for Weos. As for Okloi, it was the furthest, which was why Anton had set out first.
Before his practice expanding the range of his power, Anton might not have been able to manage the journey. Even flying directly between two systems he was connected to, there was a large void of nothing where he had only the slightest power to draw upon. His training had increased that minimum enough for him to feel comfortable accelerating to high enough speeds- and altering the world around him to go beyond the normal limits- to achieve the journey in a reasonable time.
Somewhere upwards of a month, compared to years. As he drew close to Okloi and was able to draw upon his power, he was ready to decelerate himself- and even turn to flee, at the first signs of trouble. In the worst case, within his storage bags he had crystals filled with energy he could draw upon.
Anton could have brought others, but not to disparage any who could come with him… they would have held him back. If there was trouble, he would be able to retreat faster than any of the ships, and keep himself safer. Bringing along others would only spell their doom if they could not handle themselves- and frankly, Anton wouldn’t have been willing to sacrifice allies, harming himself as well.
His journey was also an experiment. Would Okloi’s twin stars provide him a greater power, or would he simply have a wider area to roam? Experimenting with such things when there were others along with him only increased their chances of being spotted too early. Once he was cognizant of what to expect, he might bring along others… but until then, they would be focusing on the other systems.
As he felt the power of Okloi’s stars, Anton was initially cautiously optimistic. Certainly, he felt no trouble drawing from both stars together, though he was still at the far edge of what he could consider the system, where his actual draw was barely more than the void between systems.
He entered the system at an angle from the orbital plane, not by intention but simply because that was how it had to be. Okloi was tilted with respect to Rutera, bringing him in at an angle from the top… or perhaps the bottom. He was unsure what the local perspective on that was, though it hardly mattered.
Anton adjusted his angle of approach to bring him between the two stars, where there should be no enemy presence. If they had a sensory formation around their system Anton had either not noticed or not yet encountered it- but since even Everheart hadn’t been able to track the ships from Weos their whole journey, Anton was unconcerned if they were aware he had touched their system.
The twin stars orbited quite some distance from each other- both had planetary bodies orbiting them individually, and there was a significant distance between the outermost of such. The distance between them was more than twice those orbits, but that was still less than what Anton would consider ‘out of the system’. As he placed himself between them, he took some time to familiarize himself with the power flowing from them.
Even with the distance from both, Anton found himself in a similar state he would expect on Ceretos. Perhaps marginally weaker, but that was of little concern. If the two stars actually transferred energy between each other he would be in the optimal position, but he was actually in one of the weakest positions he could be within their influence. Drawing closer to either star empowered him more than what he lost from further distance from the other.
With some foreknowledge of their orbits, and a keen eye, Anton could pick out the orbiting planets, around the individual stars and even the few that took the longer path around both. Though he couldn’t clearly make out the smallest planets or some of the moons, even a normal human could make out the larger planets with the naked eye- he didn’t need telescopes to do any differently. But he had some just in case… though without a proper location to attach them, they were more like powerful spyglasses.
Anton avoided approaching anywhere near the planets, rotating ‘up and over’ Okloi’s first star. Indeed, his draw grew until he reached the far side, after which point the effect decreased. That was all he could expect, as he drew further from both stars at once. In short, his power would be greatest if he were between the two stars… but he could function more or less as he would expect on the far side of either- and maybe he was a bit more powerful. If he could manage to reduce the dropoff with distance, however, or when actively pushing his limits… he should be more powerful in this system. That was something nice to confirm for certain, instead of just assuming. It was also comforting that he had not ‘wasted’ one of his potential connections.
Even if he was at one of the strongest points, however, Anton had no intention of fighting a Worldbinding cultivator. Even in the optimal situation where he managed to win against presumably stronger and more experienced cultivators, the battle would drain him and perhaps delay him long enough for another to come. He wasn’t going to assume they were limited to small enough areas on one planet or even single planets, because if he did and learned differently, it would lead to his death. And he still had all sorts of stuff to do… like this whole war.
Checking his communications, his week or so of puttering around testing his limits within the Okloi system was coming to an end. The ships were approaching their targets, or more properly had already reached them given the communication delay. That meant he had to hurry, because if the enemy’s communication speed managed to surpass theirs he didn’t have long.
All he had to do was pick a target.
The shipyards of Cubimia took advantage of the planet’s small gravity and relative lack of anything else interesting going for it besides it being the central planet that orbited their star. That meant materials could come from either direction without much difficulty, depending on orbital positions, and outgoing ships could do the same. Mainly what they had was the low gravity, land, and people who had no other options but to work for them.
It was a cushy job, if lacking in advancement opportunities. But what was Baltasar going to do? He had no hope of Ascension or Worldbinding. Not at his age, with his talent- no matter the resources that came to him. So he managed some shipyards, though all of the work fell to his subordinates. At most, he had to hassle people who were late with shipments of materials, threaten them with offending whichever sect wanted something this time.
There were ships of all sizes, from the smallest craft that could barely carry anyone between planets to the interstellar capable battleships to the luxury battle-yachts meant for large sects and clans. There weren’t many of the latter, and they took years to construct even with low gravity and many workers, but they were profitable. Most of those profits didn’t go to Baltasar, but he had enough to maintain his level of comfort. Food, drink, and women were all plentiful enough even on Cubimia.
Baltasar shot bolt upright in his chair when he felt a disturbance on the planetary barrier. What kind of idiot forgot their pass tokens and ran into the barrier? Honestly, what a pain. Somehow they would be blaming him for this, even though they were the ones who forgot. But even if it was some rich young master, with the power of the Goldenglade Merchant Company behind Baltasar he could manage.
Then it happened again. He rushed outside to see what exactly was going on. There wasn’t supposed to be a meteor shower for another week. Some debris of a battle?
Motes of light struck the barrier, one after another- sharp points that he could only make out from their power and not any visual indication. He couldn’t even suss out an origin, but they certainly didn’t seem to be any sort of accident.
Something in Baltasar’s pocket grabbed his attention. Of course, some idiot who thought he didn’t notice the freaking barrier being messed with. He looked at the message regardless- it could be just some client wanted to check on progress. Oddly enough, despite it not making any difference if he replied the same minute or the same week, some would be offended.
“Let’s see here… the barriers are broken above sectors 3 and 17. Damage to construction facilities, ships, the Ultimate Phoenix Sect’s newest vessel…” Baltasar grumbled to himself. “What kind of prank is this?”
The barrier above him cracked, and so did the fog over his mind. Who… who would attack this place? So many factions worked with the Goldenglade Merchant Company, nobody would stand for this. Baltasar was going to give this stupid rogue sect or whatever it was a piece of his mind!
The building behind him caught on fire, as well as a ship made out of Eternal Heartwood not a hundred paces in front of him. It caught on fire, as if it weren’t more durable than steel. That was impossible, it had to simply be a blanket of fire that would soon burn out the oxygen supplies and leave the ship undamaged. The atmosphere was thin enough the only thing that could sustain such a reaction was if… if the Eternal Heartwood actually caught on fire and began off gassing its internally contained stores.
Flaming arrows struck the ship, piercing through layers and catching even more of it on fire. Then it exploded, a situation that should absolutely never come to pass under circumstances that Baltasar could foresee.
He had to do something. There were more messages coming in, but he ignored them. He drew the sword from his back, looking at it, and then up into the sky through the barrier. The Defender would be dealing with that already… which meant Baltasar was unoccupied. He looked back down at the sword, and plunged it into his own guts. No way in all the hells would he be explaining what happened. He just wanted a comfortable life, and he preferred a swift death to what he expected would happen.