One by one, a myriad of scrolls and tomes with the techniques of Ekict passed before Anton’s eyes. The ultimate goal of the Trifold Alliance was not to rob the system blind- though people were hungry for some form of recompense. Thus, the majority of the techniques would be remaining with the planet, to be distributed to the remaining sects. Hopefully that would lead to them standing on their own, not necessarily as an ally of the others, but not a lasting enemy either.
But there were certain things that they could not be allowed to keep, like Transferral. And a few other things that were currently under review. As it turned out, large sects that were willing to use something like Transferral had no qualms about collecting other forbidden techniques. Including ones against the very codes of conduct they were supposed to enforce. Collected to keep out of the wrong hands, obviously.
Anton had no qualms destroying the vast majority. Some had small parts kept- to come up with counters- but only the necessary portions. Then of course there were the sorts of forbidden that Everheart liked the most. Particularly effective techniques that could be harmful to their owners. Those… didn’t necessarily need to be forbidden. People could make their own decisions. But anything that involved a sacrifice from other people, whether it was in the form of life, pain, or fear… those would not exist.
Then there were the techniques of the Observers of the Beyond, which were dangerous to the point that Anton was surprised they hadn’t destroyed any planets yet. Then he thought of the ring around the sun, and supposed that wasn’t necessarily true. This was the group that Anzela Ranik semi-intentionally infiltrated. They wanted her abilities for their sect, and if they had succeeded it was likely they could have made significant use of Distortion Beasts. Which was foolish and completely unacceptable. Distortion Beasts had caused half of the downfall of their sect, along with Anzela and the void ants sent with her.
Anton wished he could un-learn some of the information he now had in his head, but at least he could say he wasn’t tempted to use any of it. Perhaps if it had been authored or at least refined by Everheart- the man wasn’t always clear which parts he ‘borrowed’ from other techniques- then he would be tempted. But nothing came with so much power that the moral or physical damages would be worthwhile in Anton’s estimation, and if they had been he was quite certain he could have resisted. Which was why he was one of those fulfilling that role.
Anton burned several holes in a scroll. “More on Transferral.”
Choosing how much to keep could have been hotly debated for decades, but Anton generally erred more on the side of removal. Transferral had truly horrific consequences for some, but its main temptation was the ability to go beyond Life Transformation without ascending. And in the context of Ekict, he could see why it had been desirable. They had opponents with higher cultivation that they could convert, and they hated the upper realms enough to not ascend. Which was fairly reasonable, if insufficiently thought out. Anton thought that having people there to influence the goings on was probably the best option available, instead of just huddling in a single system. But fear had led to far worse choices in the past.
The haste of an approaching cultivator interrupted the perusal of those cataloging the techniques. Though people began getting messages before the running individual arrived.
Otakar. At the Northern Glacier Sect, even. He was proactive this time, not waiting for them to be engaged in battle. So he was confident, or desperate.
The target made sense. The Northern Glacier Sect was the most remote, relative to everything else, of the sects where they had forces stationed. They were there for the same reasons that Anton was surveying things at the Gates of the Earth- the techniques and resources. Moving a large sect’s library was not a simple task, so performing those efforts in place was the most logical option.
And now Annelie was in danger. Anton could have considered the rest of the people there, but frankly it didn’t matter. He would probably fly to their aid if they were the only factor, but as protecting Annelie would have the side effect of protecting them they were simply not considered.
Ten thousand kilometers was a bit far for Anton. If he had to deal with atmosphere the whole way, of course. But beyond a few hundred kilometers, the effort required to fire his attacks above the atmosphere was outweighed by how much his attacks would be restricted. The same was true for his senses- and in fact his senses were one of the major limiting factors for Horizon Shot.
He knew exactly the region he had to target, so his shots were fired before his senses were even focused on Otakar. No doubt it would be much easier for the man to dodge or block his attacks, and some of the energy of his Spirit Arrows would be consumed redirecting the attacks… but he wanted to contribute as soon as possible.
Something odd happened. As soon as he began to attack, Otakar’s draw through his conduit increased. It could have been a coincidence, but it was too simultaneous to not be related. His attacks arrived shortly, predictably dealt with easily, but Anton was more concerned about the first part. They shouldn’t have been within sensory range.
It didn’t take much to guess what it was. At least on some level, things went two ways. Anton could sense Otakar’s draw through his conduit, and Otakar could sense the flow to Anton. It was likely not a coincidence that it had happened while Anton was idle- though perhaps Otakar didn’t consider Anton an important factor anymore. He would only know Anton survived indirectly, and even if he somehow learned more it would be that Anton was injured. Otakar was as well, but the man was still in a higher stage of cultivation.
That was why Anton didn’t even think about killing the man alone. Or with just Annelie and those at the Northern Glacier Sect. No, the goal was to draw things out so that more could arrive.
Anton felt his body flex around his temporary sternum. Bones didn’t feel much to begin with, unless they were damage, but as a cultivator Anton had a stronger sense of that, and his mind was reminding him there was nothing alive there. But it was still a good place to attach some faux muscles so he could keep shooting his bow as he flew up into the sky. He would be more effective closer.
It seemed Annelie had sensed the man coming, and had barricaded her forces in some sort of ice palace. It was once an important structure for the Northern Glacier Sect, and it would be rubble in a few minutes. Not that the sect had been pristine since they took it over.
Anton felt a tug. Not on his body, but on his heart and soul. Or rather, something beyond those. It disrupted his flow for a moment, but Anton didn’t think Otakar could actually draw anything from him. Not right away, at least. The connection was there, and cultivation made many things possible… it was just a question of whether or not Otakar’s path made it possible.
Soulstring twanged as Anton continued to fire his bow. He would have had little he could contribute had he lost the weapon, at least as far as top level battles were concerned. He was glad Everheart had given him something so durable so he could shoot the man with it if he ever came back. In the most appreciative way possible, of course.
Anton felt the ice palace tremble. Then, just like that, Otakar left. But just because he fled the Northern Glacier Sect didn’t mean Anton and the others wouldn’t track him down. If he fled into hiding, they would know where he went. There was nothing else to draw their attention now.
But instead of attempting that, he merely approached a large city. Anton couldn’t discern his purpose. He simply cut through its protective barrier before he threw a series of powerful fireballs upon the city itself. But why? It was not a city that had been conquered or that contributed in any way to the Trifold Alliance. They were his only people.
Anton couldn’t figure it out, and the whole time he kept up his bombardment of attacks while trying to vaguely keep up. It was hard for them to catch up to him directly, but he had to stop eventually.
At random points, Anton tried to throttle the flow of energy to Otakar. It seemed the man was ready, but the technique was still effective at limiting him. And though Anton didn’t know why he was doing it, he tried to limit his attacks on friendly cultivators.
From sect to city to clan, Otakar targeted everything. Was that it? He knew he had lost and just wanted to burn the world down so no one else could have it? Certainly, Anton felt bursts of emotion from the attacks, but something told him this wasn’t just the whims of a petulant child.
Then he realized. Fear. Fear was a form of devotion, and while it was unlikely Otakar was close to breaking through to a higher level of power… he could make use of that energy to help heal, and to keep himself going. The attacks on occupied areas were as swift as anywhere else, and even with people on alert many people fell.
Fleets were converging on Otakar, but would they be able to stop him? What they really needed was as many Assimilation cultivators as they could field, but they had to arrive simultaneously. Nobody could defeat him alone. Even closer to the sun, Anton had barely been able to do anything.
So this was what he wanted. To cause as much damage as possible to them. Or to string them out. But fortunately, people had caught wind of what he was doing and strategized. While many were chasing, the great thing about a globe was people could approach from all directions- including above. Otakar could fly to space but he would doubtlessly be attacked breaking past.
The flow of energy from the sun was occasionally tightened- both by Anton limiting Otakar’s conduit, and by Otakar disrupting the flow going to Anton. It was a constant wrestling match, one Anton knew he would lose.
Ships began to fall, including their pilots and loose flying cultivators. The fastest knew they could do little but slightly hold Otakar back, but it was impossible to condense all of their forces into one place- or if they managed it, Otakar would simply leave, faster than the majority. Similar to Anton’s own tactics, but Anton relied more on range. At least Otakar had to be in the general vicinity of everything he destroyed, everyone he was killing.
But he was drawing in as much power as he used. They couldn’t wear him out, not in any reasonable amount of time. And the damage that would be caused before then would be immense. Assimilation cultivators were already being cut down, along with a moderate sized sect’s worth of sub-ascension level cultivators. Not everyone died instantly… but if Otakar could continue like this, it didn’t matter if they ultimately brought him down.
Anton couldn’t catch him. But the coordinated efforts of the Trifold Alliance’s ships brought the Wayfarer to him from above while others came at him from the sides. He could attempt to cut and burn his way out in any direction, but he was still ultimately just one man, and still injured.
A tug. Otakar wanted a greater flow of power. A squeeze. Anton called up on all his power from Fleeting Youth, ascension and spectral energy alike, trying to stop Otakar. He tried to squeeze the conduit, but he felt himself shoved away as Otakar slashed into the spatial distortion fields of the ship carrying Ingeborg. A section of the ring melted, greatly weakening the effect. But Otakar just wanted to cause damage, and continued past, never engaging anyone for more than an instant.
Unless he could get more power. Then he would. A tug. Otakar didn’t have a true connection to the star. Or at least, it was different than Anton’s. But he tried to pull upon it. How many times had he tried? Fifty? A hundred?
Anton felt a trickle of power drawn from the sun. It still didn’t come from him, but it surpassed the flow Otakar’s conduit should have been capable of.
His hands stopped, he let the faux muscles on his chest fade. He had to focus on the most important thing. The outer battle mattered less than this. The fearful devotion Anton could not stop, but he could handle the sun.
Otakar wrestled for control over Anton’s connection. He didn’t have a proper connection formed inside him, so at most he could divert more energy through his strange conduit. That increased not only his recovery of energy, but based on what Anton had seen also his maximum output- the rate at which he could kill and destroy. People were dying, and it seemed as if Otakar didn’t care whose they were.
Another tug made Anton clutch his chest. He couldn’t win the fight. Although… he did feel something. Devotion came not just for Otakar, but for others. Including himself. It wasn’t just those of the alliance, but also many from Ekict. He hadn’t intended that result with his previous worldwide appearance, but it was a nice side effect.
Everyone on the planet was watching, or would be soon. Anton wondered if attempting to inform them would help or hurt Otakar more. Morale was tricky like that. Ultimately, he couldn’t help but attempt a soothing message. He pulled away from the solar struggle for a moment, drawing on some of that energy to boost his voice once more. “Don’t worry everyone. We’ll take care of this. Don’t be afraid.”
In truth, Anton couldn’t tell if he reduced the fear of Otakar. The general flow of devotion continued to increase, though perhaps that rate was less for the fear.
Unfortunately, Otakar had continued to wrestle for solar control. When Anton focused on it again, the man was firmly tugging it towards him. Not only that, but Anton felt him attempting to form a deeper connection. It was a familiar feeling. Anton was unsure if he would actually achieve proper Assimilation- if that was even possible with an Augmentation cultivation. But he had to do his best to stop it.
He held on desperately, grateful for every shred of devotion. It would be most effective to slowly improve his cultivation, but for the moment he needed every spark of energy for this.
He felt his grip weakening, wishing there was something… anything he could do. If Otakar increased his power, would there be anything that could stop him?
Once more Anton almost lost his grip. And then, he did. Or rather, he let go. After giving the power a proper shove of course. It was the only thing he could think to do. And like Anton expected from a sack of potatoes, Otakar stumbled under its sudden weight.
The connection was formed. Power flowed through it, exactly like when Anton had achieved Assimilation. And that was why Anton did it. A huge step forward in power. But Anton had been very careful how he went about it. Otakar… was in a more desperate situation.
Nobody could quite describe what happened after that. The timing fortunately found Otakar above an ocean, and the shockwave of power that exploded out from him was diffuse enough that more people and ships were shunted away than instantly melted.
Senses and scanners were overloaded for a few moments, and then there was only a tiny mote. The only thing that was truly certain was that only the tiniest portion of a sun’s power had gone through Otakar at that moment. Not a single percent, or tenth of a percent. Even that would have been enough to destroy the planet, instead of simply boiling away part of an ocean. No, it was a very small portion of the sun’s power indeed. The tiniest sliver. Far more than Anton had ever wielded, and of course more than had been sufficient to turn him into charcoal.
And it didn’t destroy the sun, which was a plus. If anyone asked, Anton would assure them he was completely certain about the results. Which was only partially untrue. He had at least been certain it would cause Otakar more harm than good for a few moments.
The mote of light that remained was later determined to be a solar heart. Not from any information Otakar carried, but from the underground palace he dwelled in that they eventually found. Anton was both extremely annoyed and relieved that his was not the only storage bag with inestimable value lost to Ekict’s sun.