Further exploration of the surrounding region revealed no more groups in the immediate neighborhood, nor for the moment- though in some manner it was already quite crowded with seven or eight occupied systems. The eighth was kept secret from the general population, as its existence was more speculation than certainty, and if they chose to be hidden it was better to not simply reveal them to everyone. Yet in case they turned out to be a danger, Anton could not just keep the information to himself.
With the insights he gained from his time in the area, he was somewhat more confident in adjusting the tides of the world around Ceretos- and also more certain that it was not a project that could be accomplished alone.
Because of the concerns with causing greater trouble for their systems, Anton turned to unoccupied systems for practice. He didn’t want to draw more attention to Ceretos, nor did he want to simply conceal Ceretos if it brought risk to others in their alliance.
Even Everheart found little success manipulating the tides of the world, and his vast knowledge only managed to prove how different the process was from everything else. It was not strange, though. Anton would have a great amount of trouble manipulating actual tides as well, even in a small area. He could modify geography, but there was only so much that could be done with that, and the tides of the worlds were ever more indistinct.
Eventually, Anton found himself to the ‘north’, closer to the upper realms, the closest edge of which could be reached with a few months of concerted effort, if not for energy requirements. Ships would have to stop and refine fuel in various systems, and Anton had to stop for rest as well, turning the process into something closer to half a year. Everheart… seemed to have not traveled in a ship, but his greater cultivation and experience with travel made it reasonable for him to make the trip in a single go. At least from around where the upper and lower realms met.
Anton kept a full system and the space to reach it between himself and the upper realms. Even from where he was, he could feel the anger of the ascension energy. Except for how he made use of it through Fleeting Youth, he knew he was fully incompatible with ascension energy living inside him. Even just his vague ideas of reaching out far before were met with a pulse of rejection, all the way from Ceretos.
He merely took in the vast feeling of the world in front of him, full of more stars than he could ever hope to count, some impossibly distant while others surprisingly close. On a galactic scale, at least. No matter how much he increased his range of sensing and control of his energy at a distance, the scale of space rose so sharply that certain things could not be done. For example, he could theoretically hit a planet from its moon or vice versa, though even that varied wildly. Larger planets had moons ranging from a third of the distance between Ceretos and its moon to sixty times that distance. At that point his arrows couldn’t even reach, millions of kilometers of nothing seemed like little interference to his control, but it was in fact quite limiting. No matter how good his control there would always be some dissipation of the energy, and though he could send a regular arrow on a trajectory that would hit any large mass in a system without natural energy it was ultimately a pointless gesture. Nthanda could impart more force in that regard, though her perception of the motion of planets was less. Either way neither of them would hit a target smaller than a moon and certainly not any specific point on it.
It was a foolish notion to consider launching attacks into the upper realms, but beyond pure stubbornness Anton wanted to test the interactions between natural energy and ascension energy, specifically with the latter not in his control. He continued his attempts to not just launch arrows further, but into subspace, the insights he gained useful practice for anything involving interstellar travel regardless of whether or not his actual actions mattered.
Because the trip was so long, Anton wasn’t just going to turn about and go back home. The very fact that he had come already indicated he trusted the worlds back home and the people upon them to handle their own affairs. Enough time had passed that it was fairly clear the war with the Sylanis Cluster was truly over- and he expected that to hold for at least decades, as even now sects were settling their new positions as a number of the larger ones had left gaps in the power structure.
Spirit Arrows flew along the same path, something Anton was attempting to see if he could reproduce his results as well as hoping it might stabilize some sort of tunnel he could attack through. All of that was speculation, and all his efforts might turn to nothing but a bit more archery practice. But he could never have too much of that.
The Great Queen, escorted by Nthanda, found herself upon Gnadus. A steady stream of visitors was coming to the planet- and they took with them some of those who wished to leave. The Great Queen took stock of the surroundings. Ice and snow as far as the eye could see, except where it was hindered by frozen mists. Though they sparkled, it was the same sort of sheen as a spear being thrust into one’s body, not that of gems and other valuables.
“I… don’t want to have a colony here,” the Great Queen declared.
“I told you,” Nthanda said. “It’s pretty miserable.” Though she said that, she was not wearing any cold weather garments, only her traditional armor, the metal of which was quite capable of conducting the surrounding temperature to her body.
“The energy is too crunchy,” the Great Queen supplemented her words. “And I don’t think there’s enough to share with the locals right now. So it would be better to not be here.”
“Plus all of your youths would freeze to death if they even thought of coming up out of the mound.”
“I do believe, with the exception of the peaks, that underground or in the snowy depths might even be colder than the surface,” the Great Queen signed. “A horrendous situation.”
“Were you really thinking about it?” Nthanda asked. “It never sounded very appealing.”
“Should the local populace wish to transform their planet, they would need those able to attend to the small details. Void ants could certainly fulfill those roles, if they were amenable. However, I do not wish to place any children in a place that they would be both uncomfortable and unwelcome.”
“Great. So when are we leaving?”
“I first must experience the particular cold here for myself,” the Great Queen said. “I should be sufficiently durable to power through it, but if I find myself in such a place without having tested it and coming up with counters or developing myself further, I would regret it.”
“I’m pretty sure I won’t have any issues here.”
“This doesn’t count,” Nthanda said from the bottom of a sinkhole opened up in the ice and snow. Her weight made her sink through the more malleable layers, and even some of the sturdier parts did not do well with her directly upon them instead of spreading the weight out. She leapt upwards, arcing out of the hold but once more burying herself more than head deep in the snow. “It’s not as bad as being in a gas giant.”
The Great Queen could not respond in any relevant way, because vision was useless more than a couple meters apart, and that distance only because both parties had enhanced eyes. Even so, they kept tabs on each other- the Great Queen making her presence known by devouring some of the energy in a particular pattern. She still thought it quite crunchy, the energy itself almost solidified. Yet it also flowed well enough when it needed to. Overall, she found it quite uncomfortable. If she were a normal ant she would likely freeze, unable to manage her own heat. As it was, she frequently found her way back to Nthanda, a pleasant beacon of warmth in the otherwise tragic landscape.
In the upper realms, things were much warmer- especially for the trio of Fuzz, Hoyt, and Prospero. They were training together around the former forge, one of Xankeshan’s rare volcanoes. It was an odd planet to begin with, much of it constructed or modified by human hands in some manner- even the former ‘garden’ which was the closest thing to wilderness it had. It wasn’t just the work of Everheart alone, but the people who had occupied the place before him, ultimately to be torn apart by their enemies.
“Still no kids, huh…” Prospero said to his sort-of-older grandson. “I’m disappointed.”
“What, are you Anton?” Hoyt shrugged. “Some cultivators give up the pleasures of the flesh in their pursuits… I simply haven’t found any I was interested in.”
“Yeah, whatever. And what’s your excuse, Fuzz?”
Fuzz tilted his head.
“You’ve got a nice lady,” Prospero Vandale pointed out. “You spend more than enough time together, but I haven’t seen a single pup.”
Fuzz performed something akin to a shrug, writing his answer on the ground. “I don’t know. We haven’t been specifically trying to produce offspring.”
“It should be quite a bit more difficult for powerful beasts to reproduce,” Hoyt conjectured. “Or if it happened easily, it would be likely you would have ‘normal’ offspring. But the two of you, while wolves, are quite different in many ways. Any children will likely be rare, but I would guess them to be powerful if they come about.”
“I suppose it’s the same with humans, to an extent,” Prospero sighed, “Though definitely less so. High amounts of energy from powerful cultivators will simply reduce the likelihood of offspring without some intent. Though humans aren’t generally born with innate power or anything of the sort,” Prospero shrugged. “There is something to say for cultivation talent being an inherited trait, though much of that is also due to simply having resources, techniques, and teachers.” He looked at Hoyt, “Even you had access to the Order.”
“Then there is Anton’s family…” Hoyt frowned. “A grandson and three granddaughters of different generations reaching Ascension or Assimilation.”
“And yet,” Prospero pointed out, “Catarina’s mother has not reached such a level despite being more closely related. And there were many others who advanced no more in cultivation.”
“Wouldn’t that sort of counter your point?” Hoyt asked. “Since Anton made himself available to guide them all.”
“Perhaps. Or their lack of conviction prevented them, natural talent or not. Not all were Devon, Annelie, or Alva.”
“Too bad the other two didn’t follow after us,” Hoyt said. “Though I understand both choices. Annelie has an established place to maintain, and Devon had no intentions to cultivate from the beginning. It was all for a purpose, to gain control. Would have been nice to have them for the war, though. Think we could snatch them up for a little bit? Since people can descend from the upper realms…”
“An unexplored area, as far as I am aware,” Prospero shook his head. “You’d know as much as myself. I would suppose it possible given Anton is a specific exception, but the journey would not be easy. And why would they help?”
“If our position is well established here, it will be easier for us to go back to help them there,” Hoyt shrugged, “But it was mainly an idle thought. The war with the Harmonious Citadel is just a little too… close. I have the feeling this might just become a continual blood feud instead, with nobody ever making progress. The Dark Ring wouldn’t be pleased at that, but it wasn’t like they could make any progress alone, either.”
“With nobody happy, that’s how we know it’s a proper war,” Prospero agreed. “Only time will tell… and unfortunately I can’t contribute on a significant level with my current cultivation. Time, unfortunately, continues to exist and thus I can’t suddenly reach Integration.”
“I could say I wish the war would continue like this until that point, but one more Integration cultivator probably won’t matter… and several decades is a long time to wait.”
“That number’s already an optimistic projection,” Prospero sighed. “But I could have Ascended at one point, so I should be able to do things properly with all of my extra experience and a new life. I hope.”
Fuzz just nuzzled his way between them until the end of their break, when they would get back to dropping the sky on each other.