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Though Denitsa could not topple the pillar on her own, with the help of the entire squad it was dug out and knocked over onto the lakebed, where they then slowly rolled it through the sand and muck towards the edge of the lake. That took another day of work as it moved only a small amount at a time. Then they were out of the lake, rolling it along the road towards Shutoll.
Watching for approaching enemy forces was especially important here, as nobody was ever fully fresh to fight. It was good that the Harmonious Citadel’s advance had stabilized, partly due to the presence of Chikere, and the Scarlet Alliance shifting their tactics to respond to the sudden aggression.
Chidi felt the clods of mud sticking to the formation pillar as they rolled it along, as well as letting his hands brush over the various runes carved into it. He was becoming very familiar with it now, and he was paying attention to how moving it disrupted the flow of energy. It wasn’t as much as hoped, but if the grand formation was that delicate then it likely wouldn’t have worked in the first place.
Though he didn’t know what every rune did, he was beginning to feel the big picture from his interaction with the pillar. He might be making some wrong assumptions, but perhaps he could discuss with any formation experts in Shutoll. But even without understanding, they now had a target. Simply destroying these formation pillars would eventually provide a break in the formation- though whether it would collapse or leave a hole Chidi didn’t know.
The relevant difference would be whether or not the enemy knew the change happened. Most likely they would attack if they knew communications were restored, to press their advantage. But if they only took out a small hole, the information wouldn’t necessarily reach the Harmonious Citadel before reinforcements could be coordinated. And if Yaitis was on its own, then they could at least establish quicker communication among their own cities and fight back with better cooperation.
Chidi did his best to push the pillar along as his fingers traced over it, though he felt he was probably not that effective. Even so, they were constantly moving. This was real progress, as long as they could make it back to the city.
In’istra had one area where Anton did his best to take full responsibility, which was making sure that the souls of the Twin Soul Sect members didn’t make it to the upper realms. Unlike Everheart, he wasn’t able to set up a planet spanning formation to capture them all. Instead, he did his best. Some would slip through his fingers, but he had learned something about how the souls made their way. It was something like ascension, with traces of energy he could pick out. And an unbodied soul with no cultivation was rather easy to destroy, or at least dissolve. Anton couldn’t guarantee there would be nothing left for them to remember if they reincarnated, but perhaps mixed and muddled memories would be more to their advantage.
The more important activity came next, with what In’istra would be doing with their future. If they weren’t limited by spies, their growth over the next six centuries should be able to outpace any attackers the Trigold Cluster was willing to send for a single planet’s worth of resources. That growth would of course be helped along by Anton, who planned to introduce Assimilation when the time was right. Obviously he couldn’t be around for all of their growth, but he wanted them to be an example of a victory without reservations. Not a failed opportunity like the sibling planets of Shrenn and Tasun’a, and it was unlikely they could maneuver towards hidden prosperity like Xicil.
So they would have to properly achieve a victory. This time, at least, they had a full cycle- and with the removal of interference and the benefit of Anton’s experiences they could strike back against the upper realms.
The Sergeant couldn’t read quickly, both due to a matter of practice and physical limitations. Even so, she did her best to not waste the opportunities provided by her partner in crime. She also did her best to remember to take breaks, and to eat things that weren’t just natural energy.
So far, there hadn’t been anything with a convenient label of “Transferral” or the like. Learning about it was difficult, but they were making slow progress. Secret areas of the library were delved, and the Sergeant even began to pry into offices and private quarters. Those of Arzu, the head of the Northern Glacier Sect as well as those of Nurcan, the anomaly with Twin Soul Sect cultivation beyond Life Transformation.
Anishka carried her past such places, while occasionally providing distractions to draw people’s attentions away from small fluctuations in formations. The Sergeant was getting much better at chewing through such things, and she only had to fit herself through. It was quite a small area required, and void ant’s natural physiology aided significantly with preventing the hole from regrowing while she had mandibles piercing through.
So, what could she learn today? Where to look? There was a page atop the desk that was quite tempting, only half covered by another.
Ekict had finished their survey, and had picked a few prime candidates. At first they had planned to limit themselves to Ceretos, but upon determining the bonds of the Trifold Alliance, it was clear that an attack on one would be perceived as an attack on all three. If that was to be the case, they had to make it good. They needed to boost their own power enough that they could handle any incoming retaliation.
They had considered the Sylanis Cluster instead, but ultimately found them lacking. The history of the war between them and the Trifold Alliance came down to their lack of mobile cultivators, their ‘Worldbinding’ individuals being less able to enter other system than Assimilation cultivators. Though some of the latter were also limited, that just meant they weren’t good candidates.
Chief among those was Lev of the Grasping Willows. His power came from the sect itself, so even if it could be taken it would be pointless unless they could conquer Ceretos. That was infeasible at the moment, so they had to focus on others. Elder Vasu of the Million Sword Vault was on the borderline, having a connection to a desert. They were considering the risk of trying to relocate after Transferral, but the candidate’s relative isolation was appealing.
Myles of the Pink Pollen Sect was a decent candidate, being on the eastern edge of Brogora. Annelie of the Palace of Fire and Ice was also appealing, though the central location and power of the sect brought more risk. They also had the potential leverage of her daughter to force her to hesitate at a critical moment.
From the Order of One Hundred Stars, the wandering recruiter known as Vincent was a good candidate. Outside of Ceretos, Rutera had Ty Quigley. If he could be found alone, then he would be another good option. There were others throughout Weos, including a married pair of the Ranik family who seemed to be on the weaker end of Assimilation. That was unfortunate, but it would also make them easier to subdue than waiting for them to gather greater strength.
Aoibhin and others who had already undergone Transferral would provide support for their new candidates. The efforts would require much coordination, but the benefits should be vast.
The sudden arrival of Patka at the Northern Glacier Sect was a surprise Anishka was not ready for. “What are you doing here?” Anishka asked. She did not mind seeing her friend and apprentice, of course, but she was quite unexpected.
“I simply came for a visit,” Patka said. “Can I not?”
“No, it’s fine. I just didn’t think you could.”
“I know I’m not deemed as that important with just a Spirit Building cultivation, but the sect here was kind enough to allow me an opportunity to train with their disciples,” Patka explained.
“And what about your livelihood?” Anishka asked.
Patka smiled, “I couldn’t afford to pass up the opportunities here. Though I will need to put in some effort to obtain training resources, I think it is worth it.” She reached out her hand to Anishka, “It is good to see you again.” When their hands met, Anishka felt cold energy swirling in her palm. “I hope to show you how my talents have advanced.”
“I look forward to it as well,” Anishka said, looking at her palm as Patka stepped away. Thin ice was frozen on her palm spelling out a simple two word message. ‘Be careful’. Of what, Anishka didn’t know… but if Patka came all the way here to pass along that message, Anishka had to do her best. And she also had to find an opportunity to speak with Patka in private, so she could get more information.
She’d found it. The Sergeant finally had in her mandibles the information she had been searching for. The papers on the desk were just stupid business stuff about trade, but poking into the desk she’d found a diary. Locked with deadly energy, but the burst had been targeted for someone with a human bodily size. The density of the energy wasn’t sufficient to do more than crack the Sergeant’s carapace, and it didn’t rip a hole in the office.
It would be… a little bit obvious when anyone checked inside. But nobody had come running to the door, and the Sergeant had frantically read every bit of paper she could get her eyeballs on. It did involve some tearing of pages in her haste, and certain bits were probably out of order, but she got a good couple paragraphs talking about Transferral in good words. From a first-hand practitioner, even.
“The time has finally come. The Northern Glacier Sect has chosen me as a candidate for Transferral, and we have captured an enemy Integration cultivator. She should be as compatible with myself as possible, but I have to be ready. The bindings will weaken her, but there will still be a struggle.”
“It’s over. The horrified look on her face as my hand tore into her dantian was second to none. These traitors deserve every ill that can come to them, and the pain was just the start. No doubt she thought the worst I could do was destroy her cultivation, so she was not ready for me to begin the Transferral. Pulling her cultivation into myself made me feel sick, as if I were about to burst. But the rush of power, and the knowledge of how I could take from those who have taken from us was enough to help me push through. And the look of emptiness left on her face afterwards, having lost everything, that I will think of fondly every night as I go to sleep. I will enjoy killing her sect mates with her own power.”
Nothing told the Sergeant how Transferral worked, but knowing what it did was sufficient. The Sergeant fully agreed that invaders from the upper realms deserved everything that came to them. Keeping such a thing secret seemed unnecessary, though it was perhaps a bit cruel in execution. Void ants generally killed with dispassion, out of necessity for food or survival.
This was good news, though. It meant that Nurcan was not truly a member of the Twin Soul Sect. Ekict should be free from the influence of the upper realms. That also meant Anishka’s safety was less in question. It would still require some debate among the queens if hiding such a thing was acceptable, and how an alliance might proceed, but it was all good news she couldn’t wait to tell Anishka.
This time Anishka wasn’t waiting outside. That was too suspicious, and nobody knew how long it would have taken to find something. So she would be performing her normal routine. Returning to her room took a while, but at least the ceilings were safe to scuttle along. Though when the Sergeant got down to the doorframe, it was strangely hanging open slightly, unlocked as well. Inside… everything was normal as far as the Sergeant could see. Except for traces of energy, both Anishka’s and members of the Northern Glacier Sect. Not just a casual taste of their passage, either, but raised energy as if they nearly engaged in combat.
That wasn’t good. Disagreements between future allies would only make things more difficult. Anishka had to be found both to make sure she didn’t end up with a grudge of some sort, and to explain the wonderful discovery.