The loss of life from Otakar’s final moments was unfortunate, as the power had burst from him. But it was far preferable to what would have happened if he had continued his rampage, or otherwise been successful in forming a more stable bond with the sun.
Instead, he attempted to use Anton’s- and giving it to him had been his downfall. Anton wished it hadn’t come to that, not because he particularly had sympathy for Otakar but because of the consequences to himself.
At least he had successfully accomplished an experiment he never wanted- that of what would happen if he gave up a connection to a star. He survived, which was good. But his cultivation dropped one rank, from the one hundred and twentieth to one hundred and nineteenth. That represented at least five years of effort, maybe six or seven.
Anton simply felt wiped out. Without a proper connection to a star in the system, he was left with recovering energy like a Life Transformation cultivator, plus the greatly reduced connections to his other stars. He would survive, and he would have gladly given more if it was necessary… but with the results as they were he just wanted a break.
He would be returning to Ceretos for some time, once issues with Ekict were rounded up. The major dangers were gone, but Ekict still had Transferral cultivators and others who had been involved with the attack. Even if they were gone, simply leaving would leave the system destabilized. The remaining sects might fight over the scraps of the larger ones, further weakening the system. If it left them open to an invasion when the next cycle came, it would be the fault of the Alliance- because they could help. Hopefully, Ekict could work with them for the sake of the reason they had seemed like great potential allies to begin with.
Those who would remain were just people. It was impossible to say whether there would be anything but negative feelings between the systems in the future. Even those from smaller sects who chose to work with them might not feel like they had a choice. But that was something only time could tell.
Another war continued, far away in the upper realms. Instead of having any sort of decisive action, it had turned into something of a longer term stalemate. But it was uncertain how long it might remain that way.
Yaitis was still contested on the edge of Harmonious Citadel Space, but the communication jamming formations were being systematically dismantled. There was still the matter of the Harmonious Citadel currently controlling access from space, as their fleets had maintained a greater level of communication… but Yaitis was no longer in its isolated state, and more than just crazy swordmasters were willing to make the approach.
“I’m going to kill all of the saints,” Catarina declared.
Timothy grinned, “That is our goal, but if it was so easy I think we would have already done it, would we not?”
“Not at all,” Catarina countered. “Because never before have three of them stayed on the same planet for so many years, wrestling with us and keeping us from getting to our son.”
“I don’t know why you’re in a rush now,” Timothy said. “We’ve finally gotten clear news. He’s alive and well… and likely to stay that way.”
“Unless Chikere’s plan works,” Catarina pointed out. “In which case the sword saint will be showing up and killing everyone. Or Chidi will be fighting an Integration cultivator in early Life Transformation.”
“I’ll admit to having a high estimation of our son’s abilities,” Timothy said. “But that’s a bit much. Still, we should have plenty of time before that. He’s only been in Essence Collection for a few years. It should take him at least twenty-five.”
“Unless Chikere decides he should fight this person while he’s still in Essence Collection.”
“That…” Timothy frowned. “I wouldn’t expect her judgment to be that far off. But I certainly agree we can’t afford to wait for that limit. Still, a few more years-”
“I finished,” Catarina declared.
“Finished what?” Timothy asked. “Plans for some grand formation?”
“Of course not. The plans were in place long ago. No, I intend to cast the Harmonious Citadel’s so-called saints into the void.”
“And how will you do that… without destroying the planet?” Timothy asked. “Because do remember that the Scarlet Alliance wants to hold this position afterwards.”
Catarina nodded slowly, “I am aware. We will require Tauno’s support. I was hoping that Prasad and the One Thousand Palm Sect might draw some of them away, but they’re not exactly eager to jump into the war.”
“I imagine old fellows like that think they are being quite hasty already,” Timothy pointed out. “Some of them will be three times our age.”
“Humans are not suited to live so many centuries,” Catarina said. “Through the generations, cultivators lose perspective on the fundamentals of the world.”
“Regardless of why, they would likely prefer to draw things out for a decade or two before launching any sort of real attack on the eastern part of the Harmonious Citadel’s territory.”
Catarina clicked her tongue. “What is the point of Augmentation cultivators if they won’t do anything?”
“Tauno is quite active,” Timothy pointed out.
“But he’s new… and he was still hiding in isolation for some time.”
“So. This formation you’ve set up. If it’s finished, can we just activate it?”
“We’re missing some information,” Catarina said. “As it is, we might draw all of Torthunes into the void. Or worse, nobody. We need to provoke the saints to battle to properly attune it. And no, I couldn’t have done this during the previous battles since it wasn’t ready to attune.”
It was quite amusing to see a large box plopped down in what was clearly meant to be a large open square. Of course, nobody would acknowledge it for what it was. Obviously it was a plan by the saints, perhaps with plans to reveal entirely new statues.
And if Velvet believed that, she would never have been any good as an infiltrator regardless of what stealth stills she had. It only took a bit of digging to get people to admit that it was definitely not vandalism, and if it was it certainly wasn’t caused by Everheart. She would have had to be as indoctrinated as Vari had once been to not understand that. But the Harmonious Citadel had a pretty successful history with that indoctrination, so Velvet simply had to assume that whatever people believed was wrong. But of course, not everything would be the opposite either. No, that would be too easy.
Not that she intended to trust her interpretation of rumors as the final source. What she wanted were documents. Some of them had to have the truth, or at least something closer to the truth. Otherwise a large sect like this would never last. They might be secret, but if they were going to be anywhere Velvet imagined some of them were in this place. The central hub of Rouhiri, where the eight towers of the saints stood. Because they definitely still had eight saints. The bow saint and spear saint dead? Clearly vicious rumors. And anyone who had seen it firsthand just happened to be shipped off to the frontlines to die for the cause. Sorry, ‘gain favor’.
No doubt this wasn’t the only place with sensitive information, but they must keep some things. If she was able to actually get in and out of the tower alive and free. And while it was tempting to just give it a shot, it only took one failed infiltration for her career and life to be over. She’d spend long enough getting to this place, a couple more years wouldn’t hurt. Maybe a decade or more, if she was honest. She needed perfect circumstances- and to know what those circumstances would be and when they would happen.
The Everheart System was beginning to look good, which was to say it was taking on its proper role as a giant deathtrap. Everheart even had some time to pop in and out to check on what the kids of the Scarlet Alliance were doing. He did want to bring some more justice to the Harmonious Citadel as a whole, but he hadn’t found any particularly vulnerable locations to rob. He also wasn’t interested in getting swarmed by a half dozen Augmentation cultivators. The spear saint Damjan was dead, so his main grudge had been settled. He just had a long list of other grievances with them to get to.
But no, they didn’t matter. The Harmonious Citadel was a problem, certainly, but compared to the others they were small fry. The location of his tomb had been well known- intentionally placed directly between the Trigold Cluster and the Exalted Quadrant. His treasures had interested people but the two places had also truly believed he was dead. Thus, because of their little agreement to keep the area neutral they had mostly not sent anyone of note.
Revealing a long term location now would be premature- especially as his chosen system was out of the normal routes, with nobody to notice armies flying. It would be better for later, if anyone wanted to attempt to siege him, but until the system was completely done instead of just basically functional it was a risk. He would probably do well to stall for another century, but knowing himself he couldn’t actually wait more than a couple decades. Besides, an interesting opportunity was bound to pop up soon enough.
Food. Food was one of the most important parts of life, especially for cultivators below the higher ranks. But even Life Transformation cultivators and Assimilation cultivators needed to eat. They could just get by with more varied options, if they didn’t want to get anything but pure subsistence out of it.
A month ago, Anton had been carrying a wondrous selection of seeds from all kinds of crops. He never knew when he was going to want to set up some local populace with something new. But… all of that was gone. It could be replaced, of course, but it wasn’t a short trip to Ceretos and back. He would miss out on an entire season if he went himself, an entire season that Ekict was behind. The war had really put a damper on their planting, disrupting the lives of even non-cultivators.
So Anton was going from place to place helping out with both work and advice. Three centuries of personal experience proved him to be a great asset in both sorts of cultivation. Perhaps it wasn’t his place to decided that Ekict would have everyone cultivating like his home systems, but Anton saw no reason to let a system of inequality maintain itself. And just as the weaker cultivators had felt oppressed by the large sects, so too did those who could not cultivate compared to any others.
Today, Anton found himself in wide open plains. Perfect land for farming, if not for the scorching heat. But that simply meant a different selection of crops was preferable. This was the land of the Vermillion Inferno, a group that had been massively beneficial to Anishka. Though they found each other by coincidence, they chose to help in her time of need. They had also helped her with following plans.
“I just don’t know why I’m here, swinging a damn pick,” Haroun grumbled.
“You’d better not be swinging a pick,” Anton said. “We’re hoeing.”
“Don’t they have… fancy ploughs for this?”
“Do you have any?” Anton grinned.
“No. But also, I didn’t sign up for this.”
“If you’re going to be here, you’ll do work. Or you can wait for my guidance at a later date. Or if you don’t like my style, strike off on your own and figure out Assimilation in fifty or a hundred years.”
“Yeah right,” Haroun said.
“I think you could, now that you know it’s possible,” Anton said. “No guarantees you don’t get yourself killed though.”
“I’ve yet to hear any useful advice,” Haroun complained again. Though his protests were token at best. He kept doing the work.
“That just means you should have been listening better. Now then, as we feel the heat of the sun and the ground beneath us, we are preparing plants to grow.” Anton knew that Haroun’s style of cultivation wouldn’t match Anton’s own, but it wouldn’t hurt him to hear some of those things. Or to appreciate how much plain and beneficial work an individual would do. He would still receive personalized guidance, as promised. And resources, once they arrived. But those were barely relevant compared to the knowledge.