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On the scale of an Augmentation cultivator’s lifespan, one year of waiting was practically nothing. Tauno had been waiting in near isolation for much longer than that, so when he heard that things were going to come to a deciding point ‘soon’, he expected it to take somewhere around a decade. It was nice to spend the time somewhere with more upper energy, as that made training easier- though at Tauno’s stage the greater limiting factor was insights into his cultivation style and the universe rather than sheer quantity of power.
Then the opportunity came. The Bow Saint, Tisiphone Tassaiades, had shown herself on a nearby world. That wasn’t a random coincidence- the alliance’s spies had known the Harmonious Citadel was interested in the area.
Thus, Tauno and a number of others readied themselves on ships both familiar and strange, preparing… and waiting for one particular message.
In her hands, Vari held Luminous Heartpiercer, the weapon of the Spear Saint. That was an extremely strange position to find herself in, both because she had not spent her life training with the spear, and because the current spear saint was supposed to be in possession of the weapon.
“… Did you steal this?” Vari asked.
“No,” Everheart flatly denied.
What an odd response. Usually, he was quite happy to admit to any form of shenanigans. “Really?” Vari frowned. “I would understand if you did, considering the factors…”
“I didn’t. Your aunt specifically bequeathed it to me.” He sighed, “I should have known something was off. She said she was going incognito, then… well, you know.”
Vari did. Sort of. Something about Damjan killing Silvija and Kullike, but without the details. Maybe Everheart didn’t have them, or like to speak of it.
There were further questions to be asked. “How can this be here and also in the hands of Damjan?”
“I think the answer to that is pretty straightforward. One of them has to be fake,” Everheart pointed out. “Also, first names, huh? You close to that guy?”
“Obviously not,” Vari retorted. “He doesn’t deserve a respectful title, is all.” Taking a look at the spear in her hand, she would be hard pressed to call it fake in any capacity. It was simply impossible to deny its power. “This should be the real one, then. But what point is there in placing it in my hands?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Everheart asked. “You’re bait.”
“… You mean the spear?”
“I am significantly less on board with this plan,” Vari grumbled.
“What are you worried about? With that weapon in hand, you can’t lose to anyone below saint level.”
“I don’t use spears!” Vari exclaimed. “You know that.”
“But you can,” Everheart said. “And it’s a very good spear.”
“I don’t suppose there’s another version of the plan?”
“Don’t worry,” Everheart said. “The spear guys will rush after you once you appear with that but likewise the other branches will either stay away or get in conflict with them. Because it would be a shame if someone else was responsible for returning that to its ‘rightful’ place.”
“What if they work together?”
Everheart furrowed his brow, as if he hadn’t even considered the possibility. “I guess you toss the spear and run.”
“You want me to just throw away my aunt’s spear?”
“It’s not important. Besides, I thought you didn’t like spears?”
“That doesn’t mean I want to throw away my only connection to family!” Vari retorted.
“… This is why I don’t work with people,” Everheart sighed. “Look, it’ll work out. Just make sure to lure them to Ye’sin.”
“I also have concerns about going to the most toxic planet in the Scarlet Midfields.”
“It’s not the most toxic planet,” Everheart said. “Just the most toxic planet people know about. Which means people have survived there before.”
“If I die because of this I’m going to haunt you.”
All Vari had to do was go to a particular well trafficked planet, challenge a prominent disciple to a duel, drop a leaf of the Purifying Moonflower behind her as she fled for her ship and obviously set course for Ye’sin.
The plan went smoothly until the completion of the first step.
“… Where the hell is Marnis?”
Everheart’s information was usually reliable. Which was weird, because he wasn’t good with people. How did he get it? Vari didn’t know. Some sort of special spying capabilities or something.
The problem was, this planet was huge and asking people… well, it wasn’t that useful.
“You want to know where Marnis is? Good luck with that.”
“Marnis? What, you think you’re worthy to speak her name?”
“… You mean my pig?”
The last one was a non-cultivator resident of the world. Vari quietly advised not advertising that name for the near future.
With things like this, she might just stab the next person she came across out of frustration.
Actually, wouldn’t that help the plan? Not literally the next person, but if she went around dueling various spear wielders… well, it was better than nothing. And she didn’t exactly have anyone she could ask for advice.
So she did that, finding the first Integration spear user she came across. There was no way anyone in Life Transformation would accept a duel, nor would it mean anything to anyone if she won.
The man had a large build, which was basically meaningless. The amount that muscle power contributed to a combat at their level was nearly insignificant, especially in styles that didn’t continue to temper bodies beyond the basics.
Speed was more important anyway. Vari had to admit that holding Luminous Heartpiercer made her feel powerful, so she didn’t mind taking it for a spin. The duel started with a simple stab. She returned in kind, intending to knock aside the tip of her enemy’s weapon and drive past. Instead, the tip of her spear cut into the man’s, and as she continued to push forward it split it in two down the middle. Her motion stopped with the point of the spear by the man’s throat. She wasn’t exactly the sort to be merciful to disciples of the Harmonious Citadel- especially not those of the Glorious Harmony Technique- but he could hardly spread the word if he perished. And she wasn’t interested in bringing a manhunt down on her for killing her ‘fellow disciples’.
“That’s the power of Luminous Heartpiercer,” Vari said truthfully. She would have won anyway, but the way it happened was totally unreasonable. She wondered what it could do in the hands of someone with the right focus.
Apparently the disciple she challenged had been a big shot in the local area, and she was soon swarmed with challenges of her own. However, Vari only accepted those from other spear wielders. She could defeat the others, of course, but her current persona was one ‘pursuing the mastery of the spear’.
Subsequent duelists were more cautious, fortifying their weapons with more upper energy. That kept their weapons basically intact, but Vari was still quite capable of countering their moves, understanding them quite well and having specific counters. Technically if they incorporated Citadel’s Downfall into their styles any of them could improve, but Vari wasn’t planning to teach any of them. She liked having known weaknesses, and these had lasted for a good few centuries. Seeing them exploited for a few days wouldn’t suddenly make everyone overcome them.
At the end of a week, Vari was finally approached by Marnis. Vari recognized her from portraits and descriptions, having never previously interacted with her.
“So you’re the one who claims to be wielding Luminous Heartpiercer?” Marnis said, somehow looking down on Vari even though they were the same height.
“That’s right,” Vari declared. “I want to challenge you to a duel.”
“I see.” Marnis looked around at the group who came with her. “You do, huh?” She lowered her spear. “Look, I don’t really believe you’re wielding Luminous Heartpiercer. But saying you are is just admitting to a crime. That belongs with the Spear Saint. So just peacefully hand it over.”
Vari shook her head, readying her own spear. “I can’t do that.”
“Then… everyone, attack!”
Vari should have anticipated that. Even without being prepared, her reaction was sufficient to do something. However, something took over her body. Instead of breaking out of the encirclement, kicking through someone like she intended, she held her ground. As over a dozen attacks came towards her, Vari’s body twirled Luminous Heartpiercer in a way she’d never moved before. Her energy extended beyond the tip of her spear, the pointed blade slicing into the jugulars of everyone surrounding while deflecting their attacks. Only Marnis remained, having leapt backwards.
“You… you…” Marnis stammered.
“Me what?” Vari asked. At least the words were her own.
“You won’t get away with this!” Marnis turned and ran away. Vari’s body tried to throw the spear into her back, but she managed to stop it this time.
She watched as the woman ran. Then she remembered what she was here for. “You’ll never catch me!” Vari shouted after her. “There’s no way you’d be able to find me on Ye’sin!”
Well, that was it. Plan ruined. No way anyone would believe that. Leaving behind a Purifying Moonflower, rumored to be the only thing that could counter the toxins of Ye’sin, was now just a token gesture.
The fleeing to her ship part was real, though. It turned out a large number of people took note of the event, and while they were mostly not dumb enough to get in her way… if they actually decided to swarm her they would doubtless win. Even with that weird spinny spear trick.
When she got on her ship- a personal sized one- Vari tossed aside the spear. Luminous Heartpiercer or not, she didn’t want anything controlling her body. Sure, it helped but… it wasn’t pleasant. She was going to have to have a talk with Everheart about that. If he even showed up as planned.
Anton looked at the vines growing around ‘his’ abandoned building. They were a variety of Western Creeper, complete with energy-piercing thorns. Sufficient to keep people from snooping too much, and a decent challenge for Varghese to get past. They would also eventually provide a net benefit to the area’s supply of natural energy. The same was true for various things he had sold to local markets, seeds or whole fruits and plants specially tailored to catch people’s interests. Of course, they would probably do the typical cultivator thing of putting them in a little formation controlled garden and making them grow big, strong, and with maximum potency- and not let them spread their matured energy elsewhere. But it would be a start.
Another thing Anton had to get the ball rolling on was dealing with the Twin Soul Sect. He’d been watching their movements, but if he wasn’t going to eradicate them all himself- something he could have already done, if he thought it was the best move- he had to get others learning. Varghese was too weak to do anything relevant even if he learned. Sadly, one of the best candidates Anton knew of was Captain Sharma. He was also looking into a few sect heads and the like, but he had no trust built up with them.
Technically, Anton hadn’t meant Captain Sharma either… but he was about ready to introduce himself. The man was back in town after a mission, so now was the best time to find him.
Instead of approaching him normally, Anton decided he should make a big impression. He wasn’t going to leverage his full power, as that would just cause problems, but he didn’t have to hold back so much as he leapt from his building and strolled down streets towards the man.
“I hear you’ve been taking good care of my disciple,” Anton declared without any sort of introduction.
Captain Sharma turned. “And who is…” a somewhat annoyed expression softened and then shattered. “Who might that be, senior?”
“Varghese. Obviously. Can’t you tell?” Anton displayed the feel of the One Hundred Stars clearly.
“Of course, I was simply surprised. He has spoken of you. I thought he must have been exaggerating your stature, but clearly I was incorrect. What can I do for you?”
If Captain Sharma actually wanted to do things for Anton, things might have been different. Instead, he clearly just assumed Anton wanted something and that it was better to do it than… be disintegrated, or whatever he thought would happen.
“I don’t need anything from you,” Anton half lied. “As I said, I heard you were taking good care of my disciple. Challenging him and letting him get in sufficient trouble to grow is just the right thing.” Anton didn’t want them to suddenly coddle Varghese. That would be pointless. “As a reward, I came to offer you this technique. Nothing particularly mysterious, and perhaps it will never be of use to you. However, there are a certain group of individuals who pose as members of other sects. Individuals not to be trusted. This can reveal them, should you practice it.” Anton casually tossed him a copy of the scroll. “Do try to keep your group clean. You can even trade that to others… just make sure you know who they are first. Wouldn’t hurt to practice it yourself.”
Captain Sharma opened it and looked it over. “Where did you come across such a thing?”
“In truth, it was made to lessen the impact of the invasions from the upper realms,” Anton sighed. “Unfortunately, it was not available.” Because he hadn’t come to this world yet. “I know your company is clean of this particular menace, and I would prefer it stay that way. Do make sure to practice it. Oh yes,” Anton said, pretending something else was an afterthought. “And for you.” He produced a scroll of spear techniques. Not the very best he had- but it would be hard to explain where he got something combining upper and lower realm techniques. Either way, it would be better than Captain Sharma’s current learning. Hopefully, that would also encourage him to spend the time learning what Anton actually wanted, indicating it to be of similar value. Though Anton thought it was actually worth more.
“Thank you, senior. I will studiously learn these gifts.” And the man meant it- at least at the moment. People could always change their minds.