Checking out his body, Chidi still had two arms, two legs, and his head. The worst injury was his throat, but it would just make eating and talking harder until it healed. Other than that, he found he continued to be surprisingly intact.
He still couldn’t recall exactly how the battle had ended. Or if he’d really withstood two attacks. But Chikere had been satisfied with his efforts, and he couldn’t possibly be less pleased than she was. In fact, he found himself grinning.
“What is that?” a nearby voice growled, drawing his thoughts to his best friend. “You find a girlfriend or something?”
“Pfft.” Chidi snorted. “Yeah right. I went to fight someone, you know?”
“My parents fought when they first met,” Aconite pointed out. “It is quite common for cultivators as well.”
“Yeah, well. This wasn’t that sort of fight. I’d have to respect the woman for it to turn into anything like that. She’s just the goal the grandmaster set for me to surpass.” Chidi nodded to himself, “I actually managed to get in an attack.”
“Did you cut off her other arm? Nick her with a deadly poison?”
“Sadly, I did not have access to any deadly poisons,” Chidi shrugged. “And I don’t know if my blade actually connected. But the point is that I didn’t just stand there passively while trying not to die.”
“Good,” Aconite said. “I am glad your progress pleases you.”
“… Is your training not going well?” Chidi asked.
“It is progressing smoothly, if slowly,” Aconite explained. “I do not have a master, so I must learn things on my own. The Scarlet Alliance’s notes on poison are hardly complete.”
“I doubt you’ll find anyone here,” Chidi said. “But someone must be willing to teach you.”
“Teach a wolf?” Aconite asked.
Chidi shrugged. Why not? Humans weren’t any better. Though it would probably still affect her choices. But as he said, Yaitis probably didn’t have anyone, and even if it did finding them and getting their time would be difficult.
Anton was cautious approaching the system. Not because he thought anyone from either Tenoun’a or Shrenn would attack him, nor could they harm him without concerted effort given his bound star. No, he was more concerned about what he would say. Recent events filled him with an uncomfortable caution, but he didn’t necessarily want to infect them with his temporal disappointment with humanity.
On the other hand, he wanted to tell them the truth of the events that had happened. So he had to consider how to leave them open to future involvement, without biasing them for or against Ekict. In truth, they were practically neighbors. Anton had been inclined to introduce them, but he’d been glad it hadn’t been done. Though perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered. They wouldn’t be a valuable target for Transferral.
Either way, they were still dealing with their own internal matters. And as far as he could tell, the peaceful cooperation between the sibling planets continued. It had only been a few years, but they’d barely begun repairing the rift of bloody wars between them the last time he’d visited.
This time he found someone he recognized on Shrenn. Anton approached slowly as to not alarm anyone, but he was clearly noticed. In fact, Anton stopped by one of Shrenn’s moons first to meet a friend.
This time, the large man occupying the ballista just watched as he approached. “My job is a lot less eventful since you last visited,” Admetus said.
Anton shrugged, “Is that a problem? You can get in more training.”
“We ran out of orbiting rocks,” Admetus folded his arms over his chest. “And they won’t let me import more. But why should I care? We’re at peace.”
“Exactly,” Anton said. “And you should stay at peace with each other as much as possible. But I’m not the only one who could come here, you know?”
“Other systems,” Admetus nodded.
“Perhaps,” Anton admitted. “Or, in less than six centuries, you might be noticed by the upper realms. They could come back.”
“Not letting that happen,” Admetus frowned. “I don’t know much about these cycles though. Could they really show up on the next one?”
“I wish I knew exactly how they found candidates here,” Anton admitted. “So I could assist those affected.” Anton looked out at the stars. He’d gone all the way to Azun and In’istra in one direction, approximately east northeast if one considered the upper realms as ‘north’. Yet he’d only covered a tiny fraction of the neighborhood. He could have gone the same distance directly tangent to the galactic plane and not reached the edge in either direction. All he had visited was a tiny line.
Even if only a small portion of the stars had cultivators living around them, he couldn’t expect to impact even a reasonable fraction of the possible candidates that the Trigold Cluster might cause havoc among, even with six centuries. Not alone. And then there was the presence of the Exalted Quadrant in the other direction. They were probably less bad overall But they’d still broken their long term peace when they decided it suited their needs, when they thought they had a chance to fully take control of Ceretos.
“Well, I don’t know much about that,” Admetus admitted. “I suppose you’re here to talk to the leadership?”
“That was the plan,” Anton said. “If you could send a message ahead so nobody’s too startled.”
“Might as well escort you,” Admetus said. “Unlike last time, we do know you… but they don’t need me here either. Unless we get any pirates.”
Anton frowned, “Is that a problem?”
“Nothing you need to worry about. Some factions thought that peace was no good… or perhaps exploitable. But we’ll deal with them.”
Anton nodded. He wasn’t planning to solve all problems. Just provide a push so that people could accomplish anything they couldn’t do on their own. But if he came across some pirate cultivators while he was around, he wouldn’t mind dealing with them.
Anton looked upon Shrenn below, pleased by the presence of Admetus. As he was from Tenoun’a, it was a big step for them to let him be around, and it would help them coordinate more in the future if they didn’t keep thinking of each planet as the other. Now how was he going to warn them without making them paranoid or more insular? He shouldn’t downplay anything, but he had to temper his words with wisdom and hope.
Along Anton’s route to Azun, he had reached the last stops where he knew of cultivator civilizations. He swept along a slightly different route on the way to the magnetar, but didn’t find anything spectacular. He still made notes of various planetary arrangements for the astronomers back in the home systems. They would want more, of course. Pictures and samples and everything else. But he couldn’t properly fulfill their wishes and do everything else he needed to do.
He was constantly reminded that he was just one person. As the scope of the Trifold Alliance expanded, that became more and more obvious. No matter how quickly he moved, he would take months to return home. There was only so much he could do. He couldn’t defeat an army of Integration strength cultivators alone, and if there wasn’t anything on that scale… the home systems wouldn’t need him to contribute. It wasn’t that he felt useless, but rather that he was finally finding his limits.
And that was okay with him. They just needed to get a few dozen more people- or preferably science and exploration groups- to slowly work their way through the neighborhood. They were already observing several systems Anton had nothing to do with, but contact was still a touchy subject for the moment.
Azun was slightly past In’istra, but Anton didn’t want to drop by for only a few moments. He also wanted to spend some time around his star, so he went there first.
It was still tiny. Small enough that most people wouldn’t even consider it a moon, if it were rocky. Anton had seen a significant number of asteroids larger than it. It was, after all, around ten kilometers across. For an entire star! He’d seen stars that were literally millions of times the diameter. And bound one, too. Shrenn and Tenoun’a shared a blue supergiant that made Azun seem completely inconsequential.
Until anyone actually took care to pay close attention. Because the mass of such a star was only a handful of times that of Azun. The density of power was on a completely different level. Not that Anton didn’t gain anything from the other star. It was quite useful for diversifying his power and it had personal meaning.
But Azun was something special. Anton slowly approached, feeling its gravity. And of course, its intense magnetism and the beams of radiation. It was just so much in a tiny little package. And thus he found it the most valuable to study at the moment. Especially as he was trying to develop his techniques. Magnetism was quite useful, as it was extremely unlikely to find cultivators that had nothing even slightly magnetic on them. And for the most part, those were the dangers. Anton almost wished that he could be worried about beasts or some other non-human threat, but that wasn’t the case. As long as there wasn’t a sudden uptick in the activity of Distortion Beasts. But there was nothing he could do about that, nor a reason to believe it would happen.
His feet settled on the surface of Azun. Heavy. Hot, too. Impossibly hot. Anton would not even be a pile of charcoal if he had no connection. He would be less than that, because charcoal would imply any matter retaining any sort of form and not being subsumed into the star without ceremony. And he would be both far beyond the level of burned charcoal and without anything that could be properly called a form at all.
He wondered if he could use the heat. It was exceptional, certainly, but that came strictly from energy density. There was only so much Anton could do with that. He already knew that denser energy was usually more effective, and his own arrows matched a sun well enough. To replicate that in particular, he just needed more power. Perhaps reaching Augmentation, or rather the next stage of Assimilation. He could imagine doing that in a century or two. But more likely, to properly touch upon such unfathomable power he would need to be equivalent to Domination, a level so rare that it was unclear if either of the mighty Exalted Quadrant or Trigold Clusters had any. If they did, they were few indeed.
In’istra seemed much as Anton had left it. That was good, in a way, even though the damage from the invasion just a few decades prior still lingered. At least it was not worse.
Anton landed, not feeling any Twin Soul Sect members on Aspin. Good. They’d maintained that, at least. Unfortunately, one island-nation was hardly the limits of the world. Unless they’d been exceedingly effective in their eradication while he was gone, he doubted that they were gone worldwide.
But Anton was here to help with that. Not directly, but he could at least help them seek out any particularly difficult to reveal pockets of invaders. Or locals who joined up with them. Anton knew there were far too many who found the thought palatable for a bit of promised power and another life. But he wouldn’t take any number of lives if it meant living under the banner of the Trigold Cluster or the Twin Soul Sect.
Varghese seemed healthy as well. Good. Anton was tempted to drop down right on top of the young lad, but he was currently guiding some disciples in the One Hundred Stars. His insights were… adequate. Though Anton was going to have to correct some errors. Still, he wouldn’t begrudge the young man. After all, he had done his best. No doubt Anton himself was making as many little mistakes. He just didn’t have anyone around to point out his own flaws.