It was unfortunate for the first couple decades of his life that Chidi had access to a formation Grandmaster and barely capitalized on the situation. It wasn’t that he’d disregarded his mother, he just hadn’t focused as much on formations as he could have. He could have spent every waking moment learning from her and barely scratched the surface of what she was capable of. On the other hand, while his mother would have been happy to devote that time to him it was also the case she had other things she needed to do. But he still could have pushed for more time.
It was ironic that he had come here wishing for some sense of independence and a desire for achievements apart from his parents, and then he wished he had access to them. Including his father, though not for practical cultivation. It wasn’t that Chidi thought his father wasn’t worth learning from, but their styles weren’t particularly compatible. Shields just weren’t for him.
He did have access to Sithembile. The man was a formation master, and they’d worked together regarding the retrieved formation pillars. Or rather, Chidi had mostly watched and occasionally cut them into pieces. But as there was a war going, Sithembile was constantly called away for different projects. And while Chidi could definitely learn from him, this particular project might not fit within his area of expertise.
Chidi stood in a mostly empty section of forest. He remained near Shutoll out of necessity, but would have preferred somewhere more remote if the situation allowed. But he was safe here, and that was more important for training. At least at his current stage.
The first thing he did in his little clearing was rearrange things. Fallen leaves, a log, twigs, and then a bit of ‘pruning’ and shuffling stones about. He imagined it looked like a mess now, but that wasn’t important. What was important was how it felt, and the flow of energy. Natural formations in such a place had much less power than a proper formation involving expensive materials, being by their very nature fluid and changing. Only in exceptional circumstances could they match a properly constructed one in power, either by boundless luck or careful arrangement over the course of years, decades, or centuries.
But he didn’t need power here, and indeed it might be antithetical to his currents situation. He needed to be able to sense the flow clearly, and to change it with little effort. A weak formation was best for that.
Chidi went through a few moves, slicing, chopping, and stabbing. The flow of energy around him changed as intended, but not as he’d hoped. He was just carving runes and rearranging the formation with his sword swings. Could he possibly make use of that in battle? Maybe to some extent, as a form of disguising his efforts. But he wanted something more.
With each swing, there were ripples of energy from his blade as he cut through the flow, but they quickly faded like they were upon a windless pond. He didn’t change the flow so much as disrupt it. So he tried again a different way. And again. And again. This continued for an entire year, when he had time to train instead of being out on missions.
Then, at about the point he wondered if she would ever return, Chikere showed up. Without even a greeting she asked, “What are you doing?” Curiosity, at least, instead of condemnation for his admittedly awkward stance and moves.
“I’m trying to affect the formation here,” Chidi said. “Is that possible?”
“Well, I have a little bit of understanding about formations, courtesy of your mother. So if I were to do it it would be something like… this.”
With quick swishes and flicks of her sword, she made a carving motion around the general ring of the clearing. The tip of her blade traced along trees, and her final motion stabbed her sword into the ground.
The energy in the clearing ground to a halt. Chidi felt chills at the sudden change. But… “It’s basically just destroying the formation, isn’t it?”
The swordmaster raised an eyebrow, a small motion Chidi had gotten used to feeling. “Did you expect anything else from me? I severed its functionality. If you want something else, then sorry. I can’t do it.”
“I’ve… never heard you admit there is something you can’t do with your sword. At least without qualifying with yet,” Chidi frowned.
Chikere flicked her arm, her sword returning to its sheath. “What else do you expect? If you asked me to crush a pile of rocks with a sword, I’d say the same thing. Now, if you wanted them to be powder I could do it. But swords don’t crush. I am confident in doing anything a sword does, and no more.”
She was right, of course. A sword was meant to cut. To slash, to stab, to bisect, and to pierce. In some cases, it was meant to block or disarm, to break another weapon. But those were edge cases where the boundaries of swords got fuzzy. A sword was not meant for creating formations or redirecting the flow of energy.
Perhaps it was a foolish idea.
“Well, good luck with that,” Chikere said abruptly. “I wasn’t actually planning to stop by, but this was along the way towards a sword I wanted.”
“There’s a swordmaster this close?”
“Not for long,” Chikere waved. And then she was off, her blade slicing open the world itself almost casually.
That certainly disrupted the flow of energy. But he couldn’t do that. He was limited by both cultivation and insight. Nor was he certain that even if he could if he could disrupt the flow of energy in the way he wished.
But instead of discouraging him from his path, Chikere had said nothing. But she also didn’t know how to do it, nor that it was possible. Perhaps she supposed he would learn something regardless of what happened, even if it was a waste of time and effort. Or maybe she believed in him.
He chose to believe the latter. The grandmaster was not shy about her opinions. And wishing him luck was probably genuine as well. That probably meant she didn’t think it was likely to work, but as long as it was possible, he was willing to try. Even if he continued to have no results for another year.
Early in his career, Anton had the good fortune to obtain a vessel of insights from one of Everheart’s Tombs. He had long since passed that off to the Order for use by promising disciples, but over the course of centuries various replicas had been constructed. They were both better and worse than Everheart’s version. That one was indiscriminate and required constant empowerment of the vessel and the good fortune to be around someone as they gained insight.
The version he now had for Varghese was more generally useful. It allowed fragments of insight to be created and repeatedly experienced. There were some negatives to it, of course. It required the contributor to understand what would be useful and correct. Then again, the same was true for Everheart’s version on the side of the owner of the vessel. They had to discern which insights were correct or not on their own. For Anton’s purposes, these new ones were quite useful, as they relied on the understanding of the teacher. And he thought he was getting quite good at that job.
Varghese had found himself drawn to magnetism before Anton began to use it on a large scale- though he had bound himself to Azun before they met. It was likely impossible for Anton to train in every aspect of every type of star, but he still found it valuable to experience as many of them as possible. Azun had been one of those, powerful and interesting but one he was uncertain of its practicality.
To avoid overwhelming his student, Anton started with the more moderate insights, including the feeling of Azun from afar. Attempting to impress him with the full power of the star might prove to be a great encouragement, or it might lead him to despair about the gap between himself and the power he could never hope to achieve. Well, never might be a strong word. Anton understood that with cultivation, anything might be possible eventually. Though he only judged Varghese’s talent as above average instead of some sort of genius, his assessment could be faulty- or the right event could change things for better or worse.
Unlike himself, Varghese wielded a sword, though he was not strongly tied to that particular weapon. At the current time, he would use anything that was mainly metal. At a base, that meant weapons like swords where a metal blade made up the majority of it. He had experimented with polearms, and found that a wooden shaft and metal head could have interesting implications for his magnetism, but a fully metal shaft was more comfortable. This sword was what he had the most familiarity with and was of the greatest quality, a longer example meant for use in two hands, almost a polearm itself.
He swung the blade, forming and modifying magnetic fields as he did so. Anton saw that a general field did much the same as all powerful magnetism, creating a slowing effect. That was never what a cultivator would want for their own weapon, so that was to be avoided at all costs. But with the right configuration he could pull his blade in a particular direction, accelerating its momentum. However, the effects shone the most when facing an opponent with metal weapons or armor- the most commonly used.
Anton felt the tug on his own blade. He was not a master with any sort of melee weapon, but he could more than match Varghese with barely a decade or two of experience. That was even without using his greater power. But for the sake of his disciple’s training, he limited himself. He sliced out at Varghese, finding his sword blade sticking to the young man. He twisted, making use of the attachment to maneuver his weapon around to a position he could thrust, controlling the young man’s positioning with his own power. But Varghese reversed the polarity on his own blade, pushing them apart as Anton attacked and opening up the path for his own attack.
“Good,” Anton said as the blade poked into his chest, hovering above his heart. Defense was one area he had no reason to hold back. If he let him, his student could injure him. New muscles and ribs or not, his body still had its limits. And Anton had no trouble admitting when something would have been a telling blow. “Next, we should both make use of our own magnetism. You won’t run into many opponents who will make use of something similar but… it would be a shame to be defeated by your own style.”
“Of course,” Varghese nodded.
The two exchanged blows for some time. Anton didn’t make it easy on him. That would simply be impolite, and a waste of time. Instead, he used every trick he could think of. From rapidly changing a field to creating multiple fields around himself and his blade, Anton forced Varghese to reach his limits.
Anton was never the type to focus all his efforts on a single individual forever. And in the case of In’istra, even if Varghese grew rapidly into a prominent position they would have trouble. Because the planet was covered in a large majority of water. There was no less land than Ceretos or other planets, but the same amount of land was instead spread through numerous smaller landmasses. Aspin was just one example, a moderately sized nation among the larger landmasses.
In the current situation where they were recovering from upper realm invasions, their communications methods and willingness to coordinate were both limited. Because of this, Anton intended to continue his efforts upon some of the further locations. The planet wasn’t well unified, so he wanted to push for that first. And of course the eradication of the Twin Soul Sect- or other upper realms spies. They still had more than five and a half centuries for the next cycle, but that time could slip by quickly. If they didn’t deal with the troubles in their midst soon so they could focus on growth, they might not be able to develop Assimilation cultivators in time. At the current moment, Anton didn’t feel comfortable teaching anyone about Assimilation. Not if the enemy could easily come to have it.
If the upper realms were going to learn about it, they were going to have to bleed and die to obtain that information. And then Anton would smile as it was useless unless one lived in the lower realms. Their spies might make use of it, but in a way that could also reveal them. Better to not let it happen at all, but Anton couldn’t control everything. Not even if he limited his scope to just himself and a smaller group of individuals he cared about.