The wild power of Azun would easily tear apart Anton if he were not bound to it. The rare phenomenon of a mixed pulsar and magnetar was always worth returning to for additional study, though his study was quite different from the way a scientist would perform the same. Instead of concrete data, he was more interested in the feeling of the thing. The flow of energy in all its ways, from the condensed heat far beyond the scale of the other stars to the burst of radiation to the absurd magnetic fields and gravity… each of these taught Anton something.
He could still only use the smallest fraction of a star’s power, but he seemed to have stumbled upon a particularly effective Assimilation method. The fact that he had nearly died to achieve it wouldn’t deter any other cultivators from trying, especially considering what he could wield of a star’s power when he was directly proximate to one.
The next step was still far from his grasp and intuition. But as his cultivation improved, he expected to develop further insights. And if it turned out he was unable… he wouldn’t be too upset. He was quite content with his accomplishments throughout his lifespan, from simply when he lived without cultivation to his time after.
Considering his ambitions, Anton focused for some time on the radiation. It created beams that could be detected even from as far away as Ceretos, and while they were not damaging there… they were easy to pick up and entirely unintentional. Though Anton could say that the lack of intention was true about everything involving stars. At least as far as he was aware, there was no godlike being going around making planets and stars. Regardless of their origins, their current existence was just the continuation of a process, and no stars Anton had encountered had any sort of active intent. With no living components, he wasn’t sure if they could. Energy on its own was merely that.
Returning to the beams of radiation, they passed so far merely by virtue of great power and not active intent. So if Anton were to ever complete his wild thoughts of sniping into the upper realms, he found it a good area to focus. Though there were logistical concerns to be considered. His senses could stretch a vast distance, but they didn’t even begin to bridge the gap between the closest systems. Without using his energy senses as a guide, targeting was impossible. Not to mention the impossibility of his attack arriving in a timely manner. Even if he were able to attack through subspace, was an attack any good if it arrived weeks or months late? Certainly not.
But that didn’t stop Anton from using the principles to shoot holes in floating asteroids that were trapped far afield in Azun’s orbit. The first few he exploded into chunks, and while it was more visibly impressive that was the opposite of the control he wanted. If he couldn’t maintain pinpoint precision within the bounds of a system- a small part of one system, really- then how could he ever hope to meaningfully impact anything outside of one? Just like the pulsars passing over a planet and doing little more than exciting technological sensors.
Focus. Speed. Control. If he could improve, then it would be a waste not to do so.
He wished he was in closer contact with Prospero. He did have communications with the man in the upper realms, but messages were quite slow and lacked the nuance of in-person communications. It seemed they had developed similar techniques, in some way. Specifically, Flowing Lines and his magnetic archery style vaguely fit what Prospero had learned to do with his Falling Stars, and catching them in an orbit around himself. Maybe Anton would get lucky and a young genius from the One Hundred Stars would come about, able to provide additional insight.
What was next? Anton decided to test the maximum number of arrows he could have in flight, and under his control. It was impractical in a real world scenario because he wouldn’t have more than the bare minimum of control, but it was still useful.
Arrows flew out by the hundreds, this close to Azun taking on a native blue hue. They rotated around Anton as he added more and more. Somewhere in the low thousands he couldn’t both keep the form of his arrows and control their trajectories- but long before that they were individually too weak to even be a threat to any higher ranking cultivators. That included Life Transformation, or particularly sturdy Essence Collection cultivators. And Anton couldn’t see a scenario where someone could easily handle just one or two hundred projectiles aimed at them and not a thousand. Better to focus on a smaller number and just hit.
Gravity. If he wished to, Anton could influence gravity locally- but it was certainly not his area of specialty. Weos’ star had some interesting effects in that area, abnormal for its size. Against cultivators directly, influencing gravity was perhaps less useful to Anton then attempting to shove them around with unattributed energy. Unless they happened to be throwing real asteroids at him.
Maybe he needed to get in contact with Nthanda. She could probably do that. But before he went back home, he had to finish up with In’istra. Or at least, the current stage of In’istra’s development and recovery.
The scale of a single planet was so small. Anton was constantly amazed by how he felt that, when his whole world had once been Dungannon and the surrounding forest and still seemed massive. But such was perspective, and his was more than a little bit skewed by now.
Water was an annoyance, a dense blocker that limited his senses and attacking ability- but not so much he couldn’t stay well over the underwater horizon when watching an enemy base. Currently, he was waiting for a signal. It would be slightly delayed, but as it was still the fastest form of communication on In’istra it didn’t matter. Anton would like to introduce more to them, but he couldn’t really explain where it came from. He wasn’t a formation master. Someday, when both sides would be comfortable, he would reveal his origins to the world as a whole instead of just a select few people.
This base was for him alone. Or perhaps just him and Derpy, if the building sized flounder decided to show up. There weren’t really any plans Anton had shared with the fish, but he lived around here and did tend to keep tabs on the spies.
Silvery spectral energy sparkled on Anton’s fingers, ready to pierce through the seas and the barriers of the base. If he couldn’t crack the barrier in that manner, then he would resort to brute force.
The message came in. The strike was underway. In that case, he too had to join in. Better not to bank on catching each and every last individual fleeing the area if he could just stop them before they got to that point.
His first shot circled around the area for a few moments before hitting something. The concealment barriers were still in place, and for obvious reasons Anton hadn’t tested the exact limits to which they distorted space. Simultaneous shots from different angles picked out more details of the barrier’s construction. Anton had a fairly good estimation of how he should shoot to be most effective, unless the barrier was actually an absurd shape.
He rode upon the wings of a spectral spirit arrow, piercing through an outer barrier to find himself inside. He was able to maintain the connection and control, but it was like swimming through murky waters. He focused on looking for something important to break. He swiveled into some runs that he knew affected the flow of energy. Whether they were a control or simply part of the energy storage system he didn’t know or care. Both would greatly hinder the base.
There was no external response, except for a few flashes of lightning where his arrows struck. Anton hoped that continued, as it would use up their energy without ever tracing back to him. Just a dozen kilometers was far beyond what these cultivators could reasonably expect. No doubt they would have picked out his locations because he couldn’t hide his energy during battle, but there was a serious question of whether they could reach him.
But before they could make a decision, Anton intended to burst their bubble. The crushing pressure of the sea would at least hinder them somewhat if they charged at him. He slipped in a couple Ascension energy shots, battering different sides of what he perceived as a dome… and he was justified in his understanding when it began to crack, the spatial distortions fading. The formations were actually quite high in level to be more than just a visual illusion to begin with. Anton was impressed.
Just about that point, Anton felt something coming. No, two somethings. Or rather, one something followed by a large number of others.
In the lead was Derpy, followed behind by a large number of sea beasts. Anton wondered when he’d become a leader… but only briefly. The details of such a straightforward situation wouldn’t elude him for long. No, the beasts were led by another creature. A lionfish, a creature covered in envenomed spines not dissimilar to the snack Anton had fed Derpy when the first met. Except that one had been without toxins. This one was of course much larger than typical- half a meter was the large end for a standard creature. Instead, it was closer to five from end to end, spike length included.
Derpy skuttled along the ocean floor, while a swarm of diverse sea beasts chased after him. Whether it was because he felt Anton or because the base was now revealed, the gigantic fish altered his trajectory, running directly into the center of things.
Chaos broke out. Human cultivators that were worried about Anton suddenly had to deal with a swarm of beasts, about half of which chose to focus on them rather than continuing the hunt after Derpy. The leading lionfish continued to keep pace, however, catching up slightly where Derpy was slowed by pesky cultivators who thought to stop them.
Anton’s hands never stopped moving. His goals hadn’t really changed, just how he would accomplish them. Fewer cultivators were directly focused on fleeing or charging towards him, though he kept his senses open for that. Instead, he watched the balance of the fight with the sea beasts.
Derpy made three partial circles through the compound before darting off vaguely towards Anton. The lionfish was quickly gaining, and Derpy was looking tired. Of course, even without such a clear plea Anton still intended to help his fishy pal. He first aimed for the fish’s eyes. It seemed to understand that they were weak points, and the beast’s cultivation was even enough to protect them with defensive energy- but Anton had some tricks for that.
Forming arrows of pure light, his arrow struck forward. They would be partially hindered by the defensive intent of energy, but while he might not puncture the eyes he could at least cause sudden flashes of brightness. At the same time, Anton focused his energy bows on some of the crowd following along, various creatures that didn’t all swim at the same rates. They were weaker than their lionfish leader, and were quickly deterred from the chase with just a few injuries.
The lion fish slowed. Anton expected Derpy to continue retreating… but instead the fish flipped completely over backwards and slapped the lionfish into the seafloor. The majority of the spines didn’t pierce into him. It had to be partially defensive energy, maybe a bit of something to do with slippery outside. Either way, it seemed like an instance and desperate maneuver. On the other hand… maybe it was just Derpy being himself.
The fish didn’t hesitate to take a chomp out of the stunned lionfish, not even when spines began to get in the way. Maybe Anton had been worried for nothing.
Then Derpy slowly drifted to the bottom of the sea, paralyzed. So it wasn’t a brilliant maneuver so much as an ignorant one. Anton supposed he was going to have to help with that. He didn’t have any giant fish-sized medicinal pills, but he could at least help pull out some spines and hope the creature recovered. Though he also had to make sure no cultivators got away, the marine life based chaos was doing a good job of keeping them occupied.