Everyone was gathered for a council, though it could also be seen as a test or challenge. What choice would people make, when faced with the possibility of swift and definitive revenge? And for Anton himself, how would he influence the situation? He knew his own opinion would affect others, intentionally or not. And he wasn’t truly a neutral party. Perhaps the very act of bringing it up meant it was truly what he wanted… or perhaps he wanted to be told that he shouldn’t.
He presented it in what he thought was a neutral manner. An opportunity to remove the system with less fighting. There would be ripples, of course. Side effects. Losses. But ultimately the numbers were in their favor. If It was strictly a matter of the lives of their own citizens, it seemed like the obvious choice. But things were never so easy.
Anzela Ranik was the first to speak for Weos. “If we can confirm that the captured Assimilation cultivators are already dead or… turned, somehow… then I will support the proposal.”
For such a thing, normally the president of Rutera would participate- but as a purely political figure, it was unsafe for the current individual to come to the battlefield, so far from their systems. One of their representatives spoke. “I don’t think Rutera can support such a thing in any circumstances. An entire star, and effectively the system… that’s not something that can be replaced, or calculated.” If he had been present, Ty Quigley might have had a different opinion. However, he was defending their home system with the others.
Ingeborg, Weos’ formation master, gave her own opinion. “We must consider things on a lower level as well. Do not forget our visiting disciples.” Anton hadn’t. He knew Anishka’s current status was still unknown. “We should not easily sacrifice them, assuming they cannot be saved.”
There were many others, though most had reservations. As they should. Eventually, things came to Paula of Marvelous Rabbit Mountain. “We simply do not know enough. Who of ours live within their system, or if they have perished. And likewise, we know too little of Ekict itself. Who among them supported this course of action? Was it every major sect? Are they even aware of the reason we now surround them? Certainly, several dozens of supremely powerful individuals are at fault. But beyond that, we are ignorant.”
It was hard for Anton to think anyone was innocent, in a world of traitors- but of course, there were those too weak to affect things. It was a sad state, but the world always had those who bore lesser responsibility. Though individuals whose combined powers could overwhelm those in power still had fault if they knowingly allowed evil to prosper.
But… Anton realized it was true. They knew too little. “We have all had a chance to speak our opinions. Now it is time to vote. Knowing that our intel is insufficient, we can postpone the vote or decide on a course of action to be taken at the earliest opportunity.”
It was not a simple majority vote. Kohar had been quite influential on many areas of their alliance, including voting. Even in the case of binary options, people might not truly support one or the other. Here, they could not afford for a choice to be counted as the winner simply because it was the most popular of a split. Thus they tabulated the support for each option. Though ultimately, it was clear that a sufficient number of people were outright against the possibility of destroying the sun in pretty much any circumstances. Some might want to wait for more information, but in general it would have to be their last resort.
And strangely, even if Anton knew that would simply mean the same number of enemies dead and more of them, it was more palatable than heedless destruction. Thinking back to Vandale, the most admirable trait of the man was that his widescale power also was used with precision. Anton had that capability too, and while it would be more difficult to affect the whole system or even one planet at a time with proper precision… it felt right.
Besides, taking the ‘easy’ way out when there were less extreme options barely explored was too much. Though that depended on what they would find.
The first order of business was breaking through the barrier. They would also have to determine what they intended to do after. Anton did try moving near the barrier himself, to see if anyone might come to attempt negotiations- but either they did not think him isolated enough, or they had no intention to try.
Did they think they could survive this, Anton wondered? They had to believe that. The exact number of Assimilation cultivators had been a secret, so they could have easily been underestimated… but if every captured individual led to the enemy having one more Assimilation cultivator, there would be trouble. The only thing they could rely on was more effective ships, preventing coordination between enemy planets. That might be enough.
His temper slightly calmed, Anton had a proposal for the formation masters. If they could open the barrier and allow him to bind the star, they would have many options. Whether any of them would work was another question. He assumed Everheart could accomplish anything asked, but sane formation masters would have time and material limitations on what they could actually accomplish.
Three individuals that appeared to be two arrived on the northern shores of a continent Anishka didn’t even know the name of. Had she been so ignorant, or had Ekict truly been so protective of their information? She looked over to Patka. “What is this place called?”
“I don’t know precisely where we have landed,” Patka admitted. “Nor do I know much geography.”
“… I suppose your education was rather more focused on survival. But you might know the continent, at least?”
“Esea, I think,” Patka grimaced.
“Where would they have a starport?”
“The capital? Maybe.” Patka shook her head, “Sorry I dont know more.”
“It’s alright,” Anishka assured her. “Your world clearly did not make things easily available. We will have to discover it for ourselves.” It was odd, comforting someone older than herself. “While we are here, we should have a cover. Something we can stick to.”
“You’re a wandering master, and I’m your disciple,” Patka said.
“But I’m clearly younger.”
“You just look younger,” Patka pointed out. “Act older. Maybe be vague and mysterious. Or just go with some of that guidance you had for me.”
“… Sorry I was a confusing instructor. I hadn’t considered the basic lessons here would be so…”
“You said everyone in your system is a cultivator, right?” Anishka nodded. “Hard to think of, here. Only the cultivators are rich enough to move between planets. Everyone else is stuck.”
“You’re a cultivator now,” Anishka reminded her. “Though we certainly aren’t rich at the moment. Can we somehow earn money without revealing ourselves?”
“Stealing is more likely to get us caught. But if we’re careful, we can enter the cities.”
“Everyone will know our faces and energy signatures!” Anishka said.
“How?” Patka asked.
“Well, uh… transmitters?” Anishka frowned.
“Do all cultivators have those?”
“Yes?” she tilted her head. “Though much of the functionality is… technological. Surely you have bounties here, though.”
“Watch out for posters, then,” Patka suggested.
The Sergeant managed to get their attention by nibbling a bit on the surrounding natural energy. “Will they be looking for me?”
“Even if they are…” Anishka said. “Would they find you?”
“Then I should look for these posters.”
“Fine. When we get to a city, we’ll have you scout ahead.”
“It’ll take a day,” the Sergeant cautioned. “I’m not fast.”
Though she said that, when they actually arrived at a city, it only took her a few hours to approach and return. Anishka watched her skittering along the ground, and despite tiny legs she made a significant pace. It wasn’t all physical motion, either, but the tiniest bit of natural energy manipulation. Anishka only noticed that on the way back, and she’d caution the Sergeant against it as it could be noticed. “Someone might spot it, and then you,” Anishka said.
“Manipulate natural energy? I don’t think I can do that,” the Sergeant said.
“Are you sure? It looks kind of like the Great Queen. You’re not flying, obviously, but it’s vaguely similar.”
“Oh. Of course you must be mistaken,” the Sergeant said. “My capabilities don’t resemble hers in the slightest.”
“She is the Great Queen, and I am just a Sergeant. We will never be the same.”
Anishka nodded, “Well, perhaps. But surely you could become a Royal Guard?”
“Oh no,” the Sergeant shook her head. “I am much too small for that. Small and weak.”
“You’re definitely small,” Anishka admitted. “But you’re much stronger than you were before.”
“Are you sure?”
“If the princess says so, it must be true.”
Patka had been waiting patiently, but finally could not avoid asking. “So were there wanted posters?”
“Oh. Right. Sergeant?” The Sergeant shook her head. “Looks like no,” Anishka said. “How did the two of you… coordinate?”
“Oh well,” Patka frowned. “The Sergeant brought your hair… and moved around globs of ink to write.”
“It is difficult to write,” the Sergeant said. “Even harder than reading.”
Anishka was amazed she got out. The fact that the two had more modest capabilities just showed how hard they worked. Even Patka, despite not risking her life or carrying bits of food many times her size, still remained in dangerous territory, obtaining supplies and a boat. Those supplies were low now, but food was not too hard for cultivators to get. They just had to get something profitable but not too noteworthy. Hopefully, they could manage that. They would need money later anyway, since Anishka was the only one with any idea how to use a spacefaring vessel, and that didn’t necessarily translate to Ekict’s ships. And very few craft were made for individuals, even in the Trifold Alliance.
They all steeled themselves as they approached the city. They couldn’t avoid other people forever, and if they could managed to sleep anywhere even vaguely comfortable after the trip over icy seas, they would do their best to achieve that result.
“It might work,” Ingeborg said. “With a great amount of power to override the formation’s functionality.”
“And not for very long,” Naid added. “It will take the two of us coordinating to give it even a chance.”
“What would it do to the barrier?” Anton asked.
“Well, once we break through… the fleet should be targeting formation nodes,” Ingeborg said. “The formation should greatly weaken with even a small hole. The quality is fine but it’s not…”
“Or Catarina levels,” Ingeborg nodded. “Maybe another century and the rest of us will catch up to where they were when they ascended.”
Oh right. Everheart being Scholar Eulogious was still technically secret. And he’d minimized some of his contributions, at least in the eyes of the greater public.
Ingeborg continued, “Anyway, it also depends how long it takes you to control the star. And channel its energy. At least we have notes for when Scholar Eulogious worked with you in Weos to eradicate the Twin Soul Sect. Dammit, why couldn’t that have been Ekict’s problem?”
“Maybe they’re still influenced by them…?” Anton said with little conviction. Duplicity was definitely the Twin Soul Sect’s bread and butter, but they generally tried to avoid painting a target on themselves. Anton shook his head, “Regardless, it shouldn’t take long to bind the star without the barrier. An hour or two, perhaps.”
Naid Conaire nodded, “Gives us time to set up the changes. Then you can yell at everyone.”
“Speak to the system,” Ingeborg said. “Hopefully. You won’t get many words. We should plan them out carefully.”
“What should I say? A call to surrender?”
“Maybe. And an explanation for all of this. It’s not like it’s a secret. But we don’t know if everyone here knows what’s been going on. At worst, we waste the time,” Ingeborg shrugged. “And if everyone in on it, I don’t mind cracking the planets one at a time.”
“I thought you were against the star thing,” Anton said.
“We’ll first scour the planet for our allies. If we attack with overwhelming force, they’ll have to show people to us, either to use as hostages or use as bargaining chips for mercy. Which is basically the same. And if they don’t have anyone… it’s easier than going to each and every city with deadly formations. Though I don’t know if we can actually tear a planet in half.”
“Coordinated? Absolutely,” Anton said. “We have dozens of Assimilation cultivators. Everything is quite fragile without natural energy protecting it. But obviously we’ll have to overcome their forces if they come attack.”
“That, at least, we can deal with,” Ingeborg said. “I just don’t want to bet on their individual formations being mediocre. Far too many people die in assaults on fortified locations when proper tactics could produce better results.”
Anton just nodded. He was still thinking about the sun thing. He wouldn’t do it against the wishes of the leadership. But it still concerned him that he would have followed through if it was supported. That was a path he would find difficult to justify to a younger version of himself, for good reason.