Within the space behind space, Anton continued to observe the synchronized cultivation of a planet. It was beautiful, really. And as far as he could tell, mutually beneficial to all involved. Perhaps some would benefit more than others, but this wasn’t more powerful cultivators drawing from the weak to promote their own interests.
Then after another few days, Anton got to see people in action. The circumstances weren’t what he might have wanted… but danger came to the world, and the world responded.
Anton almost didn’t notice it. In a way, it was more difficult to pick out the thing swimming through the void from this side. And when he looked at it… nothing was right. His mind refused to accept the distortion beast, more real here but still not something that made sense. It was lines and angles, strange shapes of muscle, and bone. Spikes and teeth and internal organs that he could feel both the internals and externals of at the same time. Long tentacles that seemed to bend but might have also been straight.
It was right on top of the planet when Anton noticed it, descending towards it by the time he was able to comprehend it.
He more felt than saw a streak of absolute cold rising into the sky. First one, but immediately followed by dozens more. Arrows of ice, from which cold spread in strange and disturbing ways throughout the creature. Anton would swear that some of the arrows that hit the front spread chill to the back of the thing, and he was almost certain that had nothing to do with the techniques of the archer. Almost.
The first thing Anton was certain of was that this archer was wielding power beyond Life Transformation. That was true even during the opening volley, after which the planet responded and he felt energy flowing to empower this individual. Ice arrows repeatedly struck the mass of the distortion beast, and seemingly locked in a physical position it was lacking one of its main threats. However, it was durable and continued to reach closer to the planet, extending tendrils dozens of kilometers long as it entered the atmosphere, continuously stretching without the mass seeming to come from anywhere.
The archer continued to attack the creature, especially its intruding tendrils. But it wasn’t going to be enough. When one fell, two more approached- sometimes literally, as severing the appendages of the creature didn’t always result in there being less of them.
Well, he hadn’t wanted to interfere… but Anton wasn’t the sort who could stand by when innocent people were in danger. Revealing himself might harm future prospects, or it might help- but Anton wasn’t considering either when he acted.
In this place, without direct access to his stars, his power was limited. But he still had Fleeting Youth and his alternate energies. Ascension energy was still within his grasp- if slightly muted- and spectral energy was not limited in any way.
He added his own attacks, solar flames burning away outstretched limbs. This wasn’t a battle for victory, as he was quite certain the distortion beast would perish regardless. This was to save every life they could. Hopefully the falling pieces of the creature wouldn’t damage anything important.
Spectral energy formed arrows aimed for the core of the creature. Anton knew it didn’t have a proper outside and inside, so he just focused on what seemed like it might cause the most damage. Organs that might be important, somehow, or anything that looked like an effective weapon.
The distortion beast quickly recognized the danger it was in, seemingly wishing to withdraw. But while it was easier for it to attack those already mostly in the same space as itself, it was also more difficult for such a thing to withdraw. Even as it twisted and turned inside out, its momentum suddenly reversed, Anton and the other archer continued their assault until the thing seemed to be dead. Anton stopped firing at the same time as the other archer.
Then he felt a gaze on him. It was familiar, even if he’d only felt it for a moment once before. So he had been spotted previously. Since he was fully revealed now, he politely flew over the city that this archer was residing in. And then… nothing. Did he want to go closer? Were they peaceful, or simply hoping to catch him somewhere he couldn’t retreat?
Anton first thought to write in the sky. Then he remembered that they didn’t share a language. So more for the sake of appearances than because it would actually make much difference, Anton stored his bow and flew slightly downward. He extended a prong of energy downward, intentionally making it easy to pick out. Something reached out in return… and he exchanged words.
“Sorry, I don’t speak the same language,” he replied after hearing more of the local language. “Do you happen to speak… this?”
A response in the same language. So he assumed not. What had he learned? No words that would help. He didn’t think he knew ‘peace’ or ‘friend’. What else could he try? He at least wanted to see who he was speaking to.
Ultimately Anton gestured towards a nearby mountain peak. It seemed to be uninteresting to the local cultivators. Then again, they seemed to have little in the way of natural resources or wild beasts, and the amount of natural energy wasn’t particularly impressive on the mountain peak.
He sat down, knowing the archer was watching. He gestured in a way that to him asked for someone to come closer. Hopefully it didn’t mean anything offensive here. Their body language was certainly different.
He watched the city with his eyes and senses, and soon enough a figure stepped out. In the broadest strokes, Anton was reminded of Kseniya- but only the basic description. An old woman, and an archer. If that was what defined a person, Anton and Kseniya were almost two-thirds the same. Though Anton personally thought Kseniya was closer to Chikere in temperament.
This woman had silvery eyes. Possibly blind, thought with energy like hers it barely mattered. Her bow looked to be formed of something black, or at least dark enough to have no visibility outside the lights of the city. The woman felt cold, much like her arrows. Though unlike Anton, they were physical things- the tips of a similar material to her bow. The bow dangled loosely in her hand. Not on guard… but not stowed and incautious.
Anton put on his best grandfather smile, though he was most likely younger than this individual. As she slowly walked towards him, he pointed to himself and spoke once more as their energy met. “Anton.”
She stopped, then pointed to herself. “Nalini.”
A name, probably. Based on Anton’s experience here, more likely for an individual, but he wouldn’t put it beyond being a style.
The woman approached slowly, and Anton began to wish he had some Ruteran technology. They had translators, even if they mainly spoke one language. Their speech was different from the majority of cultivators, whatever that meant. Whether it was only the influence of the upper realms or something more that kept language similar between disparate systems, Anton still didn’t know.
Ultimately, their interaction devolved into the one language Anton knew they could speak. He very carefully began to draw out the shape of a bow with his energy, so as to not spook Nalini. He pointed off into space, before taking the energy bow in his hand and firing. He had seen her shoot around a good quarter of the planet, but he wanted to know if that was her limit. And he was willing to show off first.
At some point, Anton had discovered their moons- nearly devoid of natural energy, and not reflecting any significant amount of light. His shot went past one before fading away completely- his attacks weren’t much good at such a distance, but that was about the limit of controlling any sort of energy. It was quite significant.
Nalini’s shot didn’t quite make it to the moon, at least not with any energy on it. The arrow did in fact hit the moon, as she had a physical component underneath… and nothing was going to stop the momentum unless it was acted upon. Anton couldn’t be fully certain if that was her limit or she was holding back. Without any real communication, determining trust or deception was difficult.
Anton held a little bit of sunlight in one hand, pointing to the vague images of stars back in normal space. This was what he cultivated.
Nalini spread out her palm and showed… nothing. But a quite cold nothing. She gestured broadly around them. The near absolute zero of space, perhaps.
Anton carefully reached out above her hand, watching Nalini as he did so. He felt no aggression from her, but he didn’t want to get hurt on accident either. Rather than suddenly feeling cold, instead he felt the heat drawing away from him as his hand got closer. That would explain how the pieces of the distortion beast had frozen so quickly. As it almost had to be for a high tier ice ability, it was an active freezing rather than a passive. A drawing in of heat, instead of simply having an area of cold that would have to chill surrounding areas based on their thermal conductivity. Cold had an absolute limit, after all- so there was also a limit to what it could do in normal circumstances.
Heat had no such limits, but that was also what made it dangerous. Anton was quite certain his body could have handled a few hours near absolute zero before he achieved Assimilation, but he’d almost burned himself to a crisp. Actual absolute zero was another question, because matter itself started to break down at extremely low temperatures. He didn’t study it as much as he did heat, but he understood some of the details.
Anton was glad to finish the interaction without anyone getting attacked. He felt that Nalini was cautious, but ultimately friendly. And in this place, she should be significantly stronger than him. That was without considering allies. Would she be alone at her stage, or were there others like her?
Anton pointed to himself, and to his ears and mouth, gesturing at the cities around them. Could he continue to stay to learn the language? Or should he leave? Nalini was slow to respond. She reached out towards his energy bow, slowly squeezing it out of existence. Anton didn’t really fight that. Nalini dusted off her hands and nodded to him.
Right, so he could probably stay. But no violence. That was perfectly acceptable to Anton.
Anton could have left and returned later- perhaps with some Ruteran translation technology. But he couldn’t be certain to find this place again. It was on a fairly understandable trajectory, but if he was even a tiny fraction off in his estimates and more than a few days passed it could be gone forever. No, he thought it was best to make sure he took the chance while he had it. And while it might not help people directly, the knowledge of this place’s existence would be of great interest to many.
Then there was the possibility that they were trapped here, and if so Anton could help. Having to face distortion beasts, it wasn’t like they were living in some sort of idyllic paradise. Had they chosen to be here? Did the current generations have that same choice, and share the same opinions? Just because they had made themselves able to live on with what they had didn’t mean this was how things should be.
Every ‘day’, he felt the same flows of cultivation, from the smallest villages through the towns and into the large cities- and then back, filling the people. The plants were nourished less directly, but Anton couldn’t say his understanding of how to raise crops translated to a planet such as this. So he wasn’t going to even attempt to touch them until he could speak to people and ask them about it.