Anton was almost entirely focused on Otakar and the sun, but he felt something in the empty void of space as they were hurtling by. Anton also found himself getting a sense of Otakar’s timing, and redirected himself slightly. Anton was on a direct impact course with an asteroid… but Star Steps allowed him to move around it in three quick bursts, just as Otakar moved.
Either he didn’t detect it or he didn’t care, as he smashed directly through it on his way to Anton. Anton had hoped for something like that, and focused on creating a link between Otakar and the metals in the asteroid. They were like invisible chains that he dragged along, slowing him slightly. Anton still barely pulled away, then darted off towards the next one.
Despite popular depictions, the next one was perhaps one percent of the remaining distance to the sun… but Anton wasn’t certain he could reach that far alive. So he had to make use of this small asteroid belt that might have been a planet.
The battle turned into a sort of meditative state for Anton. His mind was filled only with his suns. The local sun provided him power, Azun provided him style. Magnetism, but that was not all. Anton launched bursts of power, concentrated radiation that Anton was fairly certain would have melted any other cultivator he met. And though they sometimes dropped off, Anton continued to create the links of magnetism, thinking of Devon as he did so. These chains weren’t in any way tangible but they still worked, forcing the man to draw along with him more and more chunks of ore. Melting them did no good- in fact, it shed them of the less magnetic components and left only molten boulders of metal that continued to chase after him..
Every mote of energy Anton drew from the sun and more went into hindering Otakar, and it was working. At least, Anton had not died yet. He wished he had a few others with him, but those who could have helped most were either not mobile, protecting their home systems, or an important part of the assault currently happening on Ekict’s core planet.
Each time Otakar jumped forward through space, the magnetically connected asteroids followed. This clearly caused greater strain for Otakar himself… but the same was true for Anton. He had to maintain the links, and this Augmentation cultivator had to drag them around.
The arc of the two continued around the sun, about halfway between it and the core planet where the thin asteroid belt existed. Except now it was looking more like it would be depicted. Nobody bothered to make accurate representations because it would just look like empty space, but here the rocks were bashing against each other, or liquid ones clinging to the surface of others as they tried to coalesce around Otakar. He continued to blast them away with his attacks, but he could only force their momentum away from him briefly as destroying their structure did nothing to stop them.
Anton looked for a particularly large one. The volume and mass of gathered asteroids was far more than negligible, and if he could manage to entrap Otakar, Anton envisioned him being stuck beneath the surface. With all of it attracted to him, it would gather around him- so digging his way out would be impossible, at best shifting the material about. And Anton might have enough that gravity would be on his side, helping to crush the man.
That was the plan, but as he danced around his target with Star Steps, Otakar appeared in front of him. A flaming sword struck down, and the only thing Anton could do was force himself and the blade to have matching magnetic poles. Despite the magnitude of the repulsion and his typical defensive energy, Otakar still cut his chest open, his blade not reaching but extended energy covering the significant gap.
Anton was knocked away, but at the same time he felt another source of energy- that of the Wayfarer. His hazy consciousness saw Otakar’s image erased by a several meter wide beam of energy. Anton hoped it killed him, but it was at least a direct hit. That was good. But he had to think of himself. His chest was aflame and his own energy uncontrolled. He had to…
His consciousness faded as he fell, his subconscious fighting to protect his most vital parts. And he continued to fall, somehow.
Flames. Searing the outside of his chest, but also coming from inside him. Both experiences were familiar in their own ways.
It hurt. Anton wondered when it would be over. How long had it been? A second? An hour? A day? He had no idea. No rational thought passed through his mind. He wanted to live. Pain. He wanted to die. Heat.
He fell. He fell until he was no longer surrounded by the void of space. He dove into a pool of flame.
He continued to fall, until he could fall no more. His consciousness flickered, his body aching… but while the pain did not relent, it no longer increased.
Light. When he came to, there was too much light to see. Even with his eyelids closed. Opening them was… impossible. Moving his arms and legs was likewise. Weight pressed down upon him, but rather than being uncomfortable, it was pleasing. Like being under a heavy blanket.
Except it was also inconvenient. At least he could check out the status of his body. Despite being conscious, Anton was quite surprised for his energy senses to find that his body was still there. He could have easily been turned to a pile of ash, though in such a case his consciousness would not continue on, would it?
No. Reincarnation would not occur for him. Not in such a manner, at least. So he was alive. But the shape of his body… really made him question that. On the other hand, his internal organs had been worse. He was scorched, but not nearly charcoal like when he first achieved Assimilation. His chest was… missing most of his sternum and a good portion of his ribcage, as well as muscle being burned away. It should have hurt more to move his arms, but perhaps the nerves were dead.
As for where he was… well, he was simply in the star. Obviously he could not survive the heat of a star- but this was his star. It would not kill him, even as his consciousness lapsed. Indeed, it had likely burned away the infernal flames trying to consume him. Anton was surprised he had lasted to reach it, as it would have taken at least several minutes even if all his momentum had taken him directly towards it.
What was he to do now? Anton felt his dantian brimming with energy, but he was reluctant to make use of it. He certainly couldn’t go out and fight like this. So… he needed to recover. He seriously doubted he could properly heal, but he could at least make sure his condition was fully stable. He allowed the star to burn away necrotic flesh. Having open wounds here wouldn’t be a problem, since he couldn’t get an infection. He couldn’t get anything, really.
Anton wanted to take some medicinal pills, but there was a slight problem. His storage bag was gone. Well, everything was. The sun might have not burned him, even while he was out, but clearly he needed conscious control to say the same for his equipment. The only thing that remained was his bow. Worldheart and Soulstring, apparently durable enough to survive. Though Anton directed the heat away from them as he did not want to push his luck.
He meditated in place, setting his body down the path of healing, or at least scarring over. He wanted to fly out and stop Otakar, but in addition to being unsure how long it had actually been, he understood he wouldn’t be much use like this. His energy might be recovered, but he would not be able to properly draw his bow with everything going on with his chest.
Anton’s perception drifted, extending out from the sun. He sensed nothing. Neither the Wayfarer nor Otakar. No, not quite. He found the remnants of the Independence, so his senses worked. And the clump of asteroids he’d made remained bound together by the minimal gravity they produced. No sign of Otakar, but no space debris indicating the Wayfarer was destroyed. Then again, the fight could have gone elsewhere so he couldn’t jump to conclusions.
His perception drifted back inward, to the area immediately around him. A place of massive pressure and heat, but there was also something else. He felt the flow of energy into him- or at least, the gentle pressure that had built up as he was now filled. But he also felt something like where energy would flow out of the sun.
Did he do that? No, he didn’t think so. But just to check, he expended some of his energy pushing himself around through the depths of the star, fighting against its odd properties. He formed a sort of platform of energy, mostly to use it up but partially to orient himself. The pull of gravity was minimal, since most of the star was pulling outward.
He drew upon the energy of the sun, and as he thought it came from the star as a whole, not its core. Nor did the flow from its center change.
“What did you do to our star?” the indignant accusation of Otakar returned to Anton’s mind.
Was that the right question? Perhaps, except Anton should be asking what they did to their star. Or was it just Otakar?
Strange. He hadn’t felt like the sun empowered him. Very odd indeed.
“There has been no response from Anton in a day,” general Gabriela said, looking at the others. “Our scanners tracked him falling into the sun, and we’ve verified that the communications devices are not responding to pings.”
“He’s not dead,” Annelie said.
Gabriela shook her head. “You know I would never wish for that, nor would any of us bet on it being true. But it is also clear that he is not here. And seeing these images,” Gabriela showed a still image of the attack, the clearest image they had showing the damage to his chest. “We can safely say he is not healthy.”
“If he’s injured…” Ingeborg seemed about to suggest something. “No, I don’t suppose anyone could aid him.”
“Rutera has not yet made functional sun-divers,” Gabriela said. “And even our attempts are not present here. So we will have to agree that regardless of his… status… none of us can do anything about it.”
Naid Conaire nodded. “The Worthy Shore Society is well aware of his history. He would want us to continue on without hesitation. What of the wounds to Otakar?”
“Inconclusive,” Gabriela said. “But unless he suddenly felt like sparing us for no reason, significant. Because he would most certainly be able to defeat the Wayfarer without our fleets based on our first encounter. Even with our adjustments to his energy, our barrier wouldn’t hold long without support fleets and cultivators. And he didn’t immediately return to the core world to attack our forces.”
They only had a few frames of him, and most of those were not clear because of the continued weapons fire attempting to take him out. Lasers and particle beams were not good for video, additionally when paired with conventional weaponry. While most of the area was empty, everything was focused on the man himself so they could only judge by his energy levels as he fled. The Wayfarer was unable to pursue.
“Then we must act while he remains out of the picture,” Annelie said. “Press our advantage. We must at least take out Aoibhin and Nurcan, as two of the most prominent remaining figures among their forces.”