The warm glow of Poriza’s star filled Anton’s heart with joy. Though it was still a small star, it was much more than it used to be. Its former glow was almost nothing in comparison, even with the planet further away to compensate to some extent.
Seeing the changes the empowered star had wrought for the system over just the past few years made Anton more than content with the way events resolved- and obviously his advancement to Enrichment was worthwhile as well. But he wouldn’t want to have others work on his behalf for no benefit to themselves. Mutual benefit was best.
Anton currently found himself at the local branch of the Order, discussing the future with Aykorkem. “What do you think people need next?” He already had his own ideas, of course, but there was always something to learn from what conclusions people arrived at given specific circumstances.
“There’s so much that happened…” Aykorkem shook her head. “Perhaps what we need most is… nothing. No more introductions to a wider galactic community or changes in our star.”
Anton nodded. “A reasonable plan. A long period of steady growth might be the best for everyone now.”
“Plus everyone is still getting used to how bright the days are. There’s also been a large increase in disciples interested in light and fire so we need to manage that as well.” That wasn’t surprising, considering all of the previous inspiration had been so much less potent.
“I can help with that for a while,” Anton said. “Before I move on for a while.”
Aykorkem sighed, “I wish we could have you here at all times, but that wouldn’t really be fair to others. And we don’t want to always rely on you.”
Anton agreed. “You’ve been doing well operating independently,” Anton said. “But not calling upon friends and allies when they can help isn’t necessarily a strength. It’s possible to go too far the other way.”
While Anton had a solid understanding of fire, he rarely made use of it with his archery. An arrow made of flame was only good circumstantially, just the same as if he were using light. They would lose out on direct impact for the advantage of secondary effects.
Sometimes the speed of light arrows had a great impact, slipping past defenses, but if not they were weaker. Light also had its uses for more indirect methods of attack such as blinding foes- even causing them to blink for an instant could provide an opening.
Likewise, flame arrows required either a flammable target or something that would have trouble from heat building up. At closer range, however, fire was useful for defense. Anton could create a perilous field of flames around himself with the power of his stars. And if he was extremely close to one of his stars he could directly attack with its flames, though that wasn’t likely to come up frequently. Especially not if anyone was anticipating facing him in particular.
Nasima practiced techniques involving light, though she tended to fight at much closer range than Anton. Travel time of attacks was less relevant, but bursts of light to blind foes were still effective. And greater quantities of natural energy could be added to a held melee weapon compared to what Anton could manage through creating a single arrow. Combined with the thrusts of Nasima’s spears, and they might not be able to see any of the attacks coming. Even if they were using their energy senses, a burst of power could disorient them for a moment. That seemed to be one of Nasima’s best techniques.
“I feel like I could learn even more, if I had an even brighter source of light,” Nasima said.
“You could go visit another system soon enough,” Anton replied. “Or simply get closer to this star.”
She sighed, “Nobody will fly close enough to matter.”
“In that case, I can at least help you out once or twice. It won’t help for the sake of long-term training, but you might get some immediate insights.”
“Despite how often I see you fly, I often forget you can just do it anywhere,” Nasima admitted.
“I’m not actually very efficient,” Anton admitted. “At least within the atmosphere, I’m only a mediocre flier using more energy than I should. Outside, there isn’t much to hinder me so I’m able to do much better there.” Especially after adding some principles of gravity into Star Steps. “You’d probably be able to fly in space, if you could regulate your air and temperature.”
“About that… it will be a little bit difficult to focus on anything but not dying…”
“I suppose I could bring some air along with us. Enough for a short trip, at least.” Normally the power of a star would rip away loose air a cultivator brought along, but Anton could suppress those effects for a time. “Though it would be a bit unfair to only bring you.” He could probably bring all of the light element cultivators from the local Order in a few groups. But the fire element cultivators would also benefit. And then there would be all of those who could gain a sudden appreciation for such things if they only had the opportunity.
Perhaps he should set aside more time for that than he initially considered. Without access to the same ships as back home, more manual work was required. Not that Anton minded spending more time with disciples, there were just always more things he could be doing.
The freedom to move about was important to Devon, because while only a small portion of his current life span had been spent in captivity, such a thing had a strong influence on his growth. As far as Assimilation cultivators went he was far from the strongest, but he was not restricted by his own location. He liked to be secure in his own safety, so that was an important requirement for exploration. Not that he was much of an explorer himself, instead going where the alliance had knowledge of something particular.
In this case, he was heading to Udre to improve relations and the overall flow of communications with them. On the galactic scale they were not far to the southwest, and they were both closer and easier to interact with than the others that had been encountered to the north.
The system was comprised of several small stars, and no doubt Anton would have liked to see it. But ultimately he had not visited due to several factors. Among other things he didn’t want to disturb people with his cultivation, and he also wanted to leave more of the local diplomacy to others- like Devon, ultimately.
Two inner stars- one orange and one red- orbited each other, with another red star orbiting both at a distance far outside of the three planets. The closest to the center was the inhabited planet of Udre and its two moons, leaving only a small icy planet and an even tinier rocky one.
They had managed to maintain stalemates during the last two invasions from the upper realms mostly due to worldwide cooperation, and they’d managed to hold onto that unity. While martial sects were always influential where cultivators were concerned, they had a worldwide government that managed the various interrelations between them. That was a great benefit for those who had first made contact with them, as there were actually people able to speak for them as a whole.
Devon knew his arrival had been anticipated. He arrived along with the necessary crew to fly and maintain the ship and a number of aides to keep him on track. He had expected someone to be waiting, but not their empress. And though it was an elected position, it was still important.
Aerona was young, truly young given that she was not terribly impressive in matters of cultivation. She was in her late thirties at the oldest, and her cultivation was merely in late Spirit Building. Not that Devon would look down on her for that, and the much stronger bodyguards would dissuade anyone from doing something stupid.
“It is a pleasure to meet another member of your alliance,” she bowed her head an amount exactly calculated for optimal politeness and formality. “I am Empress Aerona.”
“I have seen your likeness,” Devon replied. “I am honored to have you grace me with your presence.”
“The same is true in turn,” she said. “For we have no cultivators who have surpassed LIfe Transformation here. It is a unique opportunity to meet one such as you.”
Devon didn’t feel particularly special, but that was most likely true of everyone with a balanced ego. Just because he was around all sorts of others of great power, however, didn’t mean he couldn’t admit that he was still among a rather exclusive group. “I have heard impressive feats about how you fended off the invaders from the upper realms,” Devon said. “Stages of cultivation aren’t everything.”
It was almost impossible to have cultivators meet and not size each other up to some extent. So at the appropriate time, Devon wasn’t surprised to feel the guard’s senses scanning him and his companions. In turn, he used a technique of his own. It was habit to check for members of the Twin Soul Sect, regardless of how long it had been since he last encountered them.
Interestingly enough, he recognized something familiar. Not with the technique. He wasn’t the first to meet people from Udre, so if its upper ranks had been tainted by the Twin Soul Sect they would either have been spotted already- or better at hiding themselves. No, it was something familiar about that very same act. Maybe not for quite the same purpose, but something similar.
“I am told that you practice a unique cultivation method,” Aerona said.
“It was a matter of circumstance,” he admitted. “And maybe being a bit too stubborn to change to another option when I got the chance. But it seems to have worked out well for me.”
She nodded, then waved him along. “Come, we shouldn’t stand here at the edge of an open field. Let’s get inside.”
Udre had been rather occupied with their survival to end up developing flying ships of any sort. But an open field was good enough for specialty ships like the one that brought Devon to land. It also didn’t require specific fuels, but was designed to be powered by nearly anything available. They were often used for exploration or scouting, so they were hardly luxury vehicles.
Devon was brought to a lavish room, with sufficient comfortable seating and refreshments for all involved. “This may be rather impatient of me, but might I ask what the reason of your visit is?”
A straightforward question, though she should already know the answer. Perhaps she just wanted to test Devon to see if there was something more. He didn’t mind responding honestly in either case. “Lately, we’ve been trying to welcome more members into the galactic community of the lower realms. Establishing communication, mutually beneficial trade, and the like. Isolated systems are the easiest for them to pick apart,” he explained.
“So you wish for us to join you. In what manner?”
“As neighbors, if nothing else. We might become allies at some point,” Devon said. “But that would depend on the circumstances. You seem to have been quite capable of defending yourselves. There’s no trouble if you wish to keep to yourselves.”
“That might change if our borders collide,” she commented.
Devon shrugged. “The galaxy is a large place. For us in the lower realms, at least there are plenty of resources for all of us. And most of us are still busy filling up our own systems.”
She began to ask questions about the alliance. Devon knew what he was authorized to speak on, and what he was not. The existence of groups outside their alliance could be admitted to, but the details and especially locations would be kept secret until a longer time had passed. Nobody wanted a repeat of what happened with Ekict, after all. It was unlikely, but there was no harm in a bit of caution.
It was clear to Devon that the questions were partly honest curiosity and partially social maneuvering. Udre knew very little about what was outside their own system- beyond purely visual information about stars. All sorts of things could be shared with them eventually, but for the moment they were still managing the opening moves. One step at a time was best.