Was it righteous to teach random beasts to cultivate? Should he even spend time on it? Were the meerkats in the right just because they were cute?
The answers to all of those questions were not straightforward, but ultimately Anton had no regrets for what he had done. Yet he wasn’t going to guarantee that the small animals being attacked by predators were in the right. There was a reason he hadn’t slain the eagles, after all. He was new to this planet, but finding one or possibly two groups of awakened beasts… was it a massive coincidence? Fate? Or perhaps there was another possibility, one Anton was currently exploring with his senses, spreading out throughout the plains and over a greater distance, picking out various places and creatures that he would more thoroughly inspect.
Because if it wasn’t a coincidence that he had ended up near multiple awakened beasts that had at least burgeoning sapience and language, then he had to consider that there might be more than just one or two kinds.
In addition to the eagles, Anton took note of a few sorts of insects. Picking out what patterns were normal and not for insects wasn’t necessarily something he was an expert at, but anything that spoke of greater organization was of interest. The ants… looked normal. There were some worms that were hooked together in strange patterns. Further away, he found a praying mantis that seemed to react to even the tiny amount of energy from his senses touching it.
But while he did that, he still was happy to demonstrate cultivation to his newest and tiniest disciple. From what he could tell the meerkats had names, and his disciple was three chittering noises. Or more formally, Three Squeaks. Anton could manage to replicate the noises to some extent, but he didn’t know if it translated to any sort of word. But when he made the noises his little disciple turned his head.
Anton had the feeling more of the meerkats would be interested in learning from him, but they were simply cautious of a new and presumably strange looking individual. And powerful, at that. Just because he seemed to be on their side didn’t mean he wouldn’t cause them harm. He could imagine they had some level of caution, at least. Though he had to say he was also assuming from how humans thoughts, and perhaps these creatures were less developed- or like the void ants just different.
Still, creatures without some amount of caution didn’t tend to survive. It would require great power, something these meerkats did not possess. Because even with the best of them having a cultivation equivalent to mid Body Tempering, their actual bodies were weak at a base. That wouldn’t matter much if they reached Essence Collection or later, but before that point the amount of amplification of a physical body was a significant factor in battle strength provided by natural energy.
Three Squeaks came over every morning and evening to train with Anton. Meanwhile, Anton was doing his best to pick apart the meerkat’s language. He might have a basis to begin speaking in a month or two, but that was only if he was embarrassed of failure. He could begin at any point. What were they going to do, make fun of him for chittering at them? Well, they might. But Anton wasn’t so emotionally weak that he couldn’t stand up to a little ribbing.
One evening Three Squeaks came up to Anton, catching his eyes with some noise. Then Three Squeaks pat his thigh and hip region, making the sounds of his own name. His arm waved towards Anton, and his head tilted in a way Anton knew was curiosity.
He was fairly certain he understood what the intent was. “I am Anton,” he said, pointing to his own chest. When Three Squeaks didn’t seem to get it, Anton repeated the gesture where he slapped his own thigh, approximately. “Anton.”
Anton was able to make the meerkat sounds with a combination of his voice box and a little flexing of natural energy, but the meerkat obviously wasn’t able to replicate human speech in return. Three Squeaks gave it a valiant try, going through a dozen iterations of attempting to make functional human speech. Finally he settled on a sound with a sort of buzzing hum or purr in it, vaguely reminiscent of the o in Anton. Vaguely.
Anton gave him a nod of approval. Though body language wasn’t fully shared between them, he could also project some his approval as an emotion, which did well enough.
Anton reached down, spreading apart his fingers. Three Squeaks watched carefully as Anton formed a string of energy between his thumb and forefinger, then the shaft of a bow attached to it. He had been thinking about how a creature without opposable thumbs or any actual fingers might fire a bow. His ultimate solution was to have an inset grip in the shaft that claws could stick through, instead of gripping. And if using Spirit Arrows, using claws to pull back the string would work just fine.
The little bow was dropped into the hands of Three Squeaks, who was very excited. Anton helped position his tiny paws. Three Squeaks pulled back the string, then stared with consternation as no arrow formed.
Anton made a little arrow of energy and placed it on his bow as he drew it back. The arrow went… wildly off course, hitting the ground just in front of Three Squeaks. But he still made excited and presumably happy noises. Then he looked at Anton.
Anton stood up, forming his own bow. And his own arrow. It took a little bit, but he finally communicated that Three Squeaks was supposed to try to make his own.
Even with Anton forming the bow and holding its integrity, the little Meerkat struggled to make an arrow. His natural energy lost form almost instantly when he tried to make it into anything. A couple times he got half an arrow shape, or something that would at least fling off of the string. But it took several more mornings and evenings before he managed to create a single good arrow.
And his aim was atrocious. Anton knew that was partially a lack of clear instruction and partially the differences in body. He was going to have to adapt many things for the little guy.
The first thing to approach was a single eagle, flying high in the sky. But Anton knew that wasn’t all. He hadn’t been watching them over the last week for nothing. He knew where they nested. Where they hunted- specifically animals Anton was fairly certain weren’t sapient- and what they had been doing.
He had seen them journeying to a nearby watering hole, and negotiating with the creatures therein. So when three warthogs began to stomp through the plains, he wasn’t surprised.
He was, however, annoyed. Perhaps he had been too merciful to the eagles. They were hardly even participating in their own revenge, with another small group flying off in the distance, approaching behind the warthogs.
The meerkats soon noticed the approach of the warthogs, and everyone scurried inside. Instead of standing outside, the meerkat guards kept just inside their burrow, but they were obviously prepared to fight.
The lead warthog pushed his snout into the dirt, tossing up a large clod of dirt. He grunted and squealed. The meerkats responded. Apparently, not to the creature’s liking. Or perhaps there had never been any sort of actual discussion happening to begin with. Either way, the lead warthog began the charge, the others not far behind.
Three Squeaks popped his head out of the hole. His head turned, his eyes catching Anton’s directly, even all the way on top of the hill. Anton thought he heard him say Anton’s name in a pleading manner.
Well, obviously he wasn’t going to just leave them to begin with, but now he really couldn’t. He didn’t want to just solve everything for them either though. They would grow soft and weak, and get devoured when he left.
An arrow impacted the dirt in front of each warthog. One swerved to the side, the other trailing individual circling around and dashing off the other way at the sudden bolt of energy in front of it. But the one in the lead continued on without fear, with only a glance towards Anton’s hill.
So Anton shot off one of his tusks. And then when the warthog seemed unwilling to even consider slowing down on his own pierced through one of his legs, damaging the tendons and causing it to topple forward.
As the warthog began to crash to the ground, the leader of the meerkat guards was already leaping out of the burrow. The sudden change in momentum required him to perform an awkward hop to reach the warthog as it skid to a halt, swiping down his claw on the warthog’s nose.
The eagles were already swooping down, and Anton was tired of them. So he pierced the heart of the one who had come around first, and that had already been warned by some feathers being shot off. But that was where he ended his contributions to the battle, the predatory bird crashing to the ground.
The lead warthog was too heavy to prop itself up on three legs, and the combined assault by the meerkat guards quickly covered it with wounds. The secondary trailing individual charged towards them to try to stop them, but Three Squeaks bravely leapt onto its head. And then, he formed an arrow. It fell out of the air with nothing to support it, but held its form well enough for him to clasp it between his two paws and stab it repeatedly into the creature’s skull.
Halfway through causing any real damage he had to make a new one, but his assault caused the creature to swerve into its larger brethren.
The remaining eagles were met with angry claws as the meerkats worked in teams to attack them as they swooped down. The sharp claws of the eagles wounded several of them, but they tore away feather and flesh, forcing the creatures to retreat.
Seeing them flying away, Three Squeaks tried to make a bow. He got about ninety percent of the way there on his own, but his string didn’t attach nor had he replicated any of the necessary material qualities, like the amount of bend and snap that went into things. He did manage to toss the thing and clip a couple tail feathers, though.
The leader of the warthogs seemed quite tough, and managed to stagger to his feet. The meerkats hissed and chittered, and the beast staggered away along with the other with its cracked skull. Anton wasn’t quite sure if they understood each other or not. Or rather, whether there was one shared beast language that each species replicated or more than one which they ultimately learned.
The only actual death was the eagle that was the catalyst of everything. At the conclusion of the battle, Anton watched as the meerkats slapped mud on the talon wounds. It was sort of attempt at medicine, at least, and Anton didn’t sense anything harmful in it, so he didn’t try to provide alternate options. They could probably use some stitches, but the claylike mud should stop the bleeding at least.
Then Three Squeaks dragged the body of the eagle towards Anton up the hill, using his claws and teeth to latch onto what he could. Birds were rather lightweight for their size, but it still wasn’t a simple task.
Three Squeaks presented it to Anton.
What was he supposed to do with it? Eat it?
Anton decided to accept it, and he would dispose of it later. He wasn’t willing to eat things with even burgeoning levels of higher functioning intelligence. It was a bad precedent to set. Though he was at least glad that the meerkats didn’t eat it either- though that might have been because it was out of their usual diet.
Anton wondered when he would get back to exploring the border regions. The presence of more than a couple awakened animals indicated this place was special and worth investigating, but he also had other duties to fulfill. Ultimately, he would work out the details as the days went on. He’d hardly been on Akrys for a week.