The Gates of the Earth had fallen. No doubt that information was more impactful to the locals. For Gabriela, it was just the next step in removing troublesome cultivators. She didn’t want to count this as winning the war just yet, but they could systematically eliminate the remaining Transferral cultivators. The only remaining issue was Otakar. He wasn’t unstoppable, but it was unclear how much more damage he would cause before they finally took him down.
Though in the latest battle it seemed as if the Wayfarer got away unscathed, that was only technically true. The battle had revealed how imperfect additions from the Independence would fail, and many of their generators were overstrained. Even if the barrier stood up to him, they were mere moments from him breaking through and attacking now more vulnerable internals.
Before anything else, the Wayfarer had to undergo additional repair and a replenishment of its energy. Gabriela wouldn’t be useful on that trip, so she was remaining at the Gates of the Earth to help with the inventory of resources and techniques. It had only taken a few hours of work for the formation masters to open the defenses cleanly, with nobody around to stop them. Gabriela was one of the technically weakest individuals qualified to look through the techniques for information on Transferral- which would be properly cataloged and almost certainly destroyed thereafter. At least anything involving the actual process. Information on its efficacy and more specifically weaknesses would be preserved for the future.
“General,” the one word set her on edge, despite it being from her personal assistant. It was the way it was said. “Top priority communication incoming from the Wayfarer. “
She nodded. “Patch them through.”
Her assistant angled a portable screen, as it seemed the communication would involve visual components as well. Was it a battle where they needed tactical advice? Could she even respond in time to do anything?
Then the image appeared in front of her, and she relaxed. Far more than she ever thought she could. “Hello, general,” grinned a mostly recognizable old man. He seemed to be missing the vast majority of his hair, though he was one of those with strong roots. “I was just making my way back and intersected with your ship, so I thought I would drop a message.” He stepped back slightly, revealing a dark band around his waist, and an otherwise completely bare body. “As you can see, I am missing a few things. I’ll have to ask someone to make me a sun-proof storage bag for next time.” Along with the darkness around his waist, Gabriela detected something odd about his chest. It didn’t look quite real. “I’ll say more when we meet in person. But I didn’t want to keep anyone waiting.”
Well good. Now she could spread the information that Anton was alive. She also understood why it was top priority, despite his casual tone. He was alive, but not entirely well. He’d been flung into a sun, but was injured. Was the only thing that burned his hair? And why would it burn but not his nails? She shook her head. Thinking about that too much would make her crazy.
“His identity was verified via energy scan before the message was sent,” her assistant clarified. “It seemed necessary considering the obvious light based illusions.”
“I hope someone gave him pants,” Gabriela said.
“I believe they attempted that before the message, but he found it more humorous this way.”
“At least he’s in a good mood.”
It was strange how much a few days could change a planet. Obviously Anton was aware that a planet could be scarred in a short time, but the actual planet was relatively unharmed. Just a couple handfuls of sects. It was most obvious because of the distinct lack of barriers in place. There were only a few more, and Anton could pick out Transferral cultivators hiding behind some of them. They would have to be watched carefully so they could not gather together.
As for Otakar… Anton couldn’t quite sense him. Though he had a method he could try if it was an emergency, it would absolutely alert the man to the attempt. So for the moment, he was content to make sure he wasn’t lurking around any of the new ground bases the Trifold Alliance had established in various sect headquarters.
The Gates of the Earth was most centrally located and notable, so Anton made that place his current target. But as he was getting closer, his casual senses caught some familiar figures among a larger number of unknowns. It was Anishka, trudging through the wilderness with a number of local cultivators at her side. It was fairly easy to determine their destination. He listened in just to make sure he properly understood the situation. They appeared friendly at first glance, and his more detailed investigation told him the same.
He was tempted to fly down and meet her, but even with his new pants it didn’t seem like a good idea at the moment. It was best to let her finish the journey on her own. Though he could go ahead and warn people that they were coming, just to remove the possibility that something went awry. It was always a pain when negotiations had to come after accidental combat. Well, if he was the one shot and he could magnanimously wave it off it was a different story. That was actually quite good- but attacking people of lower cultivation who wished to be your allies was never a good look.
Anishka stepped beyond the tree line first, followed by Grug and Ufoma. Then came the rest of the designated leadership from various ships. She boldly walked along the road and approached the gate, head held high. But she was constantly worried about Ruteran beam weapons or archers. But they made it all the way to the gates without trouble.
“Halt! Who approaches?”
“I bring local cultivators who wish to discuss peace,” Anishka said. “I am a disciple of the Fire and Ice Palace.” If she needed to she would mention her mother, but she didn’t want to rely on that too much. Those following along with her knew she was not from their world already.
“Anishka,” said one of the gate guards. “Your arrival was anticipated.”
“Oh. I mean, of course. Where should we go?” After receiving directions, she began to lead the others.
“Is… is that…” Ufoma was the first to speak as they approached the central area. “One of the ‘Assimilation’ cultivators?” he gestured not towards a person, but towards a general aura of energy.
Anishka nodded. “That would be the formation master Naid Conaire.”
“And the other one?” Grug asked. “Like a star.”
Anishka actually hadn’t noticed that one, because it was weaker. But once it was pointed out, she easily recognized it. And it wasn’t exactly weak, but instead restrained. Though she thought he also felt weaker as well. “That would be the sect head of the Order of One Hundred Stars. Anton the sniper. And also the voice from the sky.”
Ufoma gave her a knowing nod. Perhaps he had spoken to Celina and learned about the connection there. And she was definitely going to meet him, but first she had to deal with the rest of this.
Except, of course, both the formation master and Anton found their way to the very place she was directed to.
“Welcome,” Naid Conaire was the one to speak first as the group approached a lavish meeting chamber- recently in the hands of the Gates of the Earth. “We are glad to receive any interested in negotiation.” Along with him and Anton, there was general Gabriela and a number of other important figures.
It might seem like a group gathered to intimidate- but they could have done that well enough with one alone. Instead, Anishka thought it was meant as a sign that these people would be taken seriously. Hopefully they would interpret things the same way.
Anishka avoided seating herself centrally- though she was responsible for bringing these people, she could not speak for them. There was some silent posturing, and somehow in the scramble Grug ended up being in the central spot.
“We don’t want to fight you,” Grug said. At that, people stiffened around them as such a conciliatory phrasing opened the negotiations- from the clearly weaker side.
“Same here,” Anton said smoothly. “I am sure that you have heard some of our explanation for how things turned out this way- otherwise you would not have come. But I would love to hear your current understanding.”
Grug had spoken first, and no amount of glaring from his sides was sufficient to make him understand that others didn’t want that. Which might ultimately have been the best possible outcome. “A bunch of the top sects attacked you guys and stole people. Then you were mad at them so you came to kill them.”
“They stole people and cultivation,” Anton clarified. “Through a process called Transferral.”
“Stealing cultivation isn’t a transfer. It’s stealing,” Grug said. “And that’s bad.”
Anton nodded seriously. Anishka could see something weird about his hair, but she wasn’t sure what it was. “You’re right. It’s bad. Though if it had only been cultivators from the upper realms… well, that was the common ground that led towards what we thought was going to be a prosperous relationship. But we did nothing to harm anyone from Ekict before the attack upon us. Would you like to see?”
“See… what?” Grug asked.
“Some of the attacks.”
“I’m not really a fan of violence,” Grug said.
“That’s fair,” Anton said, but made sure to sweep his eyes over the rest. “Just be aware that recordings of many of the situations are available for viewing, should you desire proof beyond our word. Or that of the local records,” Anton added. “While you think about that, I can offer our terms. They are simple enough. You don’t have to fight for us. Just don’t fight against us. This extends to your sects as well. We can get you in communication with any of them if necessary. It also covers the common people. In fact, it would apply to everyone… except of course the large sects who started everything have already gone far beyond what is acceptable.”
“… What if some of us fought you?” asked one of the other cultivators. “Some of those from my ship had sectmates who fought in earlier battles.”
“Did anyone actually choose to fight us?” Anton asked. Though he wasn’t the only individual qualified to speak, it was also nice for the experienced grandpa in the room to be delivering all of their information. He held up a hand, “It doesn’t actually matter. We are prepared to offer blanket forgiveness to anyone not part of a specific list of sects. Obviously the Gates of the Earth were one of those, but we can give you the full list if anyone wished to raise objections to any of their blacklisted statuses.” Anton went through them all one by one. Nobody had any objections. Except… “You seem to have something you want to say,” Anton called out one of the others. “Please, make your case.”
“Well, uh,” a middle aged man who seemed comfortable in his shadowy corner obviously hadn’t expected to speak. “I don’t know about all of them. In fact, I think this stuck with me because it was an exception. But there was someone from the Night Island Gang that helped me out against a beast. Didn’t ask for a cut or anything. Seemed nice.”
“That is a point in their favor,” Anton agreed. “If anyone has similar tales, feel free to mention them later. We’re not interested in wiping out your system’s cultivation or combat strength. Unfortunately, we can’t abide by anyone practicing Transferral, especially as they were willing to turn it on us while we were friends.”
“Yeah,” Grug said. “They aren’t good allies.”
With that, they covered various other points. Mostly practical things, such as how they would return people to their sects- without making them targets for other natives of Ekict. Once they got some momentum behind them with a majority of smaller sects agreeing to remain out of the war and secondarily to protect each other’s interests in that regard, then they wouldn’t be so vulnerable. But at the moment, many sects were split up under the leadership of the greater sects- and they weren’t all fortunate enough to have successfully taken over ships. Some hadn’t tried, fearing the consequences, and some had failed. Outside of ships, they simply wouldn’t be mobile enough to participate in the war- so they only had to deal with being yanked back and forth and marching day after day.
Though nobody would be required to fight against their own people, it would be beneficial if the Trifold Alliance could have the direct support of local sects. But that was for another time. Not one terribly distant given the current pace of the war, but perhaps it would be brought up in a day or two.