During his attack, Anton had many things to process- where his attacks were going, what appeared to be tempting and expensive targets, positioning of enemies- but he noticed much more than he could act on immediately. The planet he had targeted hadn’t been defenseless, but piercing through the barrier even in a few small locations had been reasonable enough.
Anton had not been able to stay long because a powerful cultivator had been approaching- he didn’t yet want to test the might of a Worldbinding cultivator only a short distance away from a planet they protected. He did learn some valuable information. First, that particular opponent hadn’t possessed attacks with sufficient range to target him from his high position above and around the planet, and they also hadn’t felt his approach, at least not early enough to respond before his attack began. The latter could have been carelessness from lack of actual dangers, and he might be picked out if he made another attempt, but it was good to have at least some assurance that he could move stealthily against these cultivators.
Though the Worldbinding cultivator was certainly of note, as were the unfinished vessels that would doubtless be several times as powerful as the best vessel the alliance had gone up against before, Anton wasn’t focused on that. Instead, he focused on the people… specifically, the weaker ones. Those hard at work, not simply ‘supervising’. Anton couldn’t feel any enchantments binding them, but such was hardly a necessity when society accepted and enforced the role of slaves. And that was what they were, though it was unclear if they were officially called that.
It wasn’t really surprising. Such power structures were extremely common among cultivators- though it was more difficult to control other cultivators, they were also more valuable, and Ceretos had only managed to do away with the practice within Anton’s lifetime. Kohar was still fighting against the responses meant to provide the same effect by a different name. Ceretos was by no means perfect yet… but it was better than this.
The question in Anton’s mind was how to use this to their advantage. An organized slave uprising would be an excellent disruption to their enemy, but if it just resulted in oppressed people dying it would hardly be worthwhile. Anton was honest enough to admit that he would prefer the deaths of unknowns from the Sylanis Cluster to those of those in his alliance, but if anyone had to die he would prefer it to be those instigating all of the trouble- those in power.
If only it were so easy. If he could simply slay everyone in power, then they would win the war automatically. He hadn’t directly tested the might of the Worldbinding cultivator, but he had at least enough exposure to know the power was genuine… and that there were many more. Averaging somewhere around two per planet, if Merve’s information was correct.
The trifold alliance’s attacks on the other system did their best to avoid encountering Worldbinding cultivators, focusing on outlying outposts and occupied moons. As the news came to Anton, it appeared that not all of their attacks were successful… but also that not all of them were failures. That was good news, proving that the defenses of the Sylanis Cluster were fallible- though the population was still intimidating in its vastness.
Of the attacks that failed, some simply found barriers too difficult to penetrate through, while others were driven off. Of those that were exterminated, it was of slight encouragement that the one wiped out by an unfortunately present Worldbinding cultivator was able to pass along information. It showed that the enemy’s power was not unlimited in scope and unable to wipe out everyone at once. The minimal information only gave limited information on the martial prowess, but the presence on one of the moons meant either that was their binding location, or they could roam a significant distance while still maintaining enough power to slaughter Life Transformation cultivators.
It wasn’t ever pleasant to hear about losses, but Anton knew that was simply how war went. They merely needed the enemy to suffer proportionately more than they did and they could manage… a ceasefire, or something to that effect. Aiming for anything less than absolute victory was frustrating, but it was only sensible. Ceretos had, what, a dozen Worldbinding equivalents compared to over a hundred- and neither of their allied systems had any. If Everheart were at full power it might have been another matter, as he could easily count for more than five or ten or… Anton didn’t really know how strong an Augmentation cultivator was, but the point remained that Everheart probably couldn’t take on a hundred. Unless they came to him, but they’d have to be pretty easily provoked for that.
… That was a good plan. If Everheart was good at anything, it was provoking people. They could just lead them all into a giant trap formation and kill them all away from their seats of power. There was no way it would actually work, not on every single enemy at once, but maybe they could get a handful. That kind of loss might be sufficient for their enemy to think about negotiating. But that would be Everheart’s job, since he was the specialist.
Their raids provided much information. Anton hadn’t exactly gotten close enough to retrieve any materials, but some of the others had managed to walk away with interesting materials and enchanted items. They weren’t entirely unfamiliar, as the style of the Sylanis Cluster matched that of typical cultivators- and must have been influenced by the upper realms, though it was unclear to what extent. Along with materials, mundane records were retrieved, and while that seemed unimportant… simple things like warehouse manifestos or maps or historical information of any kind would fill in gaps in their knowledge, potentially opening up many new opportunities.
Though the other groups had retreated after successful or unsuccessful attacks, Anton wasn’t done yet. Okloi was now on high alert, but that was exactly the reason he needed to test them further. Would their planetary barriers work like their ships? He’d given little chance for anything to react to his previous attack. More importantly, he was interested in how Worldbinding cultivators might respond. Would they follow him into space? Would they fly on their own, or use ships? Just because Anton didn’t have any that were worthy of carrying him didn’t mean those didn’t exist- some under construction at that shipyard might have reached that point, when complete.
His current route was taking him towards the other star, and another planet currently on the inside orbit. It was a large gas giant with at least a dozen moons. His trajectory took him to one of them, only for him to barely even slow down as he whipped past it. He still peppered it with hundreds of arrows as he passed, but he didn’t try to cause any significant destruction. Instead, he simply watched as people scrambled to respond- but he was already on his way somewhere else.
He swung around to another moon, then another- doing no damage to anything important as he went. On the surface it might have seemed as if his attacks were pointless, but not only was he observing what he could as he passed by… attacks that didn’t cause any damage were necessarily worthless. Defensive barriers were forced to activate, and on a planetary scale they burned through natural energy like miniature suns. That was the plan, at least. Everheart had studied the enemy ships and determined that while active their barriers used up energy whether or not they were being damaged, and quite a significant amount. Everheart had then gone on to brag about how his formations were more efficient and only had a marginal flat cost for being active, but Anton already had the information he needed. Now that he got to test it out, he could feel the significant flow of energy. If he was lucky, he would permanently drain a few decent crystals, or at least cause some wear and tear on the whole system. He also learned that these barriers hadn’t adapted to his energy, at least not yet. Would they? That, he was unsure of.
Another very useful thing Anton learned was that he could feel angry Worldbinding cultivators from a very large distance. Despite having a hundredish of them between the three systems, there were nowhere near enough to have them on every moon- but Anton did sense a couple down in the gas giant, and now approaching rapidly.
But Anton was already on his way out, having flung himself around and now past the gas giant. He did allow himself one small indulgence. Concentration on drawing ascension energy, Anton utilized his prototype technique that may or may not eventually fire all the way into the upper realms. It was kind of a stupid idea, but it was a simple expansion on Horizon Shot… though significantly less flexible. If he wanted to hit the ‘nearby’ gas giant, he had no hope of doing anything but firing a straight shot with all his might. It was a more significant distance than between Ceretos and its moon, so that was really all that he could manage.
As two angry figures came towards Anton, he was already accelerating away from them before he let the force of his shot push him even further. Usually, he stabilized himself so that the power of his projectiles wouldn’t move him where he didn’t intend. Now, he was perfectly happy to have his arrow go one direction while it pushed him further in the other.
The arrow itself, despite moving at nearly the speed of light, took nearly five seconds to reach the planet- flying past the two approaching cultivators as it did so. Anton wasn’t sure what he hit, but either it was important or the two seemed to think it was important. Or perhaps it was merely slipping an attack past them. Either way, the aura from them increased as Anton continued to accelerate towards the second sun.
He didn’t force his trajectory to bring him straight to his destination- while that might indeed be the shortest and quickest route, pulling himself up and over intervening planets and testing his opponent’s mobility was also his intention. He was concerned to find that they had been gaining on him, and they continued to do so even as he shifted his trajectory- but even with that, he revealed important information. The pair were bound together, most likely making use of the same vessel. Otherwise, if they had any sense they would slightly adjust their individual trajectories to try to cut him off or flank him.
The chase was not a sprint, but a marathon. Anton’s earlier advantage in speed meant even surpassing him his opponents were taking hours to catch up to him, and as Anton drew closer to his target star they maintained the same acceleration and turning ability, while his own was increased.
Anton cut close to the star, making use of his domain to keep track of his opponents as he pulled away, around the far side. He considered trying to fight- but even if he was able to kill this pair, letting on the true core of his abilities so early in the war seemed like a mistake. Instead, he looped around the sun several times- tracking their movement until he was quite certain they had lost him. After all, the star was nearly the same size as the distance from the gas giant upon which they dwelled to some of its moons- more than some, even. And while Anton could make use of it to track them, its vast power did an excellent job of masking anything else around it. Perhaps they might pick up inklings of how it matched him… but they wouldn’t know his true control of it unless he displayed it openly.
After another loop, he propelled himself out of the system, wishing he could do more but knowing he had already endangered himself enough. He could accept dying if it wouldn’t hurt those he cared about, but beyond the merely emotional his combat ability was necessary. He wasn’t going to do anything too foolish- and what risks he had taken were deemed worthwhile.