At a glance, Anton’s activities upon Akrys didn’t seem important. And indeed, Anton thought that the argument could be made that he was wasting his time- but not because he was aiding meerkats. Rather, it was because they had a relatively small population. Any thinking creatures should be valued as humans, and Anton was simply defending and empowering a village. Its inhabitants just happened to be smaller and furrier than most of the villages Anton knew about.
And he didn’t intend to limit himself to one village. He was beginning to pick up the rhythms and flow of the language, shared at least locally between beasts. He listened to the meerkats, the eagles, the warthogs, and some gazelles. Obviously their ability to vocalize was quite different between each, but there was a similar pattern of sounds that could be picked out with time.
The current state of things on the planet was far too chaotic for Anton’s tastes. Unthinking beasts could live in the wilds and kill each other, as that was their baseline state of being. But when sapience came into the picture, slaughtering and being slaughtered no longer fit. If every species had heightened intelligence, there might be problems- carnivores had to eat, after all- but there were plenty of non-sapient individuals for them to consume. And while Anton was currently biased against the warthogs and eagles, he still hoped for them to have their own growth and prosperity. Just so long as it didn’t involve eating the wrong things. Though he also understood how much more attractive thinking creatures were as food, as they were more likely to have a greater cultivation.
Anton began to roam a larger area, making his presence known to the inhabitants of the local area. Anton found that while he always planned to leave people to their own devices, once he saw issues he thought he could fix he would always act. And beyond uplifting the lifestyles of the creatures dwelling on the planet, he was surveying to figure out the mysteries of how it came about. Life did not spontaneously arise- at least not life that shared familiar creatures. Humans must have some involvement with the planet, but he could find no trace of them.
The meandering path Anton found himself on took him close to the leader of the warthogs. Anton had the thought to avoid that individual, but ultimately decided there was no point. He understood he was in the warthog’s territory now, so if it felt like attacking him he would leave it unharmed. That might teach him something, or it might not. But Anton hoped there might be something more.
The warthog was stubbornly standing on its injured leg, the tendons still in the process of recovery. Though that was far better than would be expected of an unintelligent beast. Either consciously or subconsciously, the warthog must have used his natural energy to encourage the healing process.
The large hog took a few steps away from the edge of the pool where it had been resting as Anton approached. It squeaked and squealed, but Anton managed to pick out a modicum of understanding. At least, he thought so. “Kill.” No, despite the aggressive stance, the sound seemed more questioning. The warthog repeated the noises. “Here… kill?”
Anton shook his head. The gesture might not mean much, but he did his best to replicate some sounds. He hoped it sounded like some equivalent of ‘not necessary’. Then he demonstrated, shooting an arrow off into the distance where he let it fade away.
The warthog snorted. “Strange shape. Strange energy.”
Whether it was him or the bow that was a strange shape, Anton agreed. While the meerkats stood upright, their form was quite different from a human. And Anton hadn’t seen monkeys or apes around which might be somewhat similar to humans. “I am human,” Anton answered, though since they didn’t have a word for ‘human’ he said that as he normally would. They also didn’t have the word for cultivator so… “One of energy.” The beasts seemed to have a word for that, at least. He had the most practice replicating meerkat speech, so he wasn’t certain if he was getting everything across.
“Normally I sound like this,” Anton said in his normal voice. Then he swapped back to his facsimile of the language, “But this speech is new.”
The creature tottered forward. “Speak with eagles bad.” He probably meant that the deal was a bad one. Anton presumed the beast’s grammar was better than he was understanding, but that was the limit of what he could comprehend.
“Eagles too… hungry,” Anton agreed. He didn’t know a word for greedy, so that would have to do.
“Fight not worthwhile. No more fighting.”
“Good. I am happy,” Anton said. He thought the guy looked a little hungry, so he pulled out a bundle of carrots. “Eat and recover.” He set them down on the ground and let the warthog approach them.
He sniffed, then bit into them. “Much energy. Good.”
Anton would have loved to tell him about growing crops, but he simply didn’t have the words. “Special food,” Anton said.
There weren’t any other words for them to exchange, so Anton continued on his way.
At some point he intended to speak with the remaining eagles, but he needed a more developed vocabulary to get the answers he wanted. They were staying far away from the meerkats, but just because they weren’t immediately doing anything Anton disapproved of didn’t mean they’d actually learned any sort of lesson. Besides don’t go against him in particular, which was not Anton’s ultimate goal.
Among the various responses Anton got to his discovery the most relevant was from the Great Queen. “I need to see it. Paradise had no input and likely couldn’t come anyway. Except my arrival in several months.”
Anton couldn’t exactly tell her not to come. For one, she was likely already on her way by the time the response arrived. And he trusted her enough to not cause too much trouble. Besides, they could have a discussion in person about whether or not the void ants should make a colony here, though Anton’s initial reaction was that they shouldn’t. The void ants could easily be disruptive, and their ability to communicate was limited simply due to their size. They couldn’t control natural energy, so they couldn’t replicate sounds either.
The void ants might be able to cultivate a balance, but the planet already seemed to be in a state of equilibrium. It had likely been in the same state for centuries at minimum. Probably much longer, for life to have spread to every corner. Unless whoever brought the life carried vast quantities with them to begin with, which Anton found somewhat unlikely.
The balance of animals was just one factor in Anton’s understanding of the planet. The other important factor was all of the herbs he spotted- a wide variety of them all used by cultivators. They were known to grow naturally so it could have been a coincidence, but Anton kept circling back to things. Either all of the familiar life was brought to this place, or had come from this place. The latter seemed quite unlikely, however, given the lack of humans and the obvious remnants of humans.
More likely was that someone had seeded this place with life, intending to settle here. And then they simply… hadn’t. If they had been waiting for the tides of the world, Akrys should have been at least one or three centuries settled. It would have been in a similar state any time within the last few centuries, that Anton was certain of given the ages of certain trees.
But ultimately, Anton didn’t think he could know for certain why this place was as it was. The only thing he might be able to ascertain was why there were more awakened beasts than he would expect. Any amount was already rare, and while Anton could think of one crazy individual who had more than once filled out ecosystems nothing spoke of Everheart’s work like the complete lack of any and all formations. Or deathtraps of any kind. Or particularly exotic creatures.
Anton also had the feeling that the awakenings were more recent. He didn’t have the capability to ask about the long past yet, but the beasts were intelligent enough he would have expected them to develop their cultivation abilities more if they had been around for a large number of generations. Though there was something to be said for the assumption that cultivation only grew from devouring others with natural energy.
Then again, Anton had found stronger beasts elsewhere, the feeling of their cultivations more intentional than simply being gorged on natural energy. Yet even if some actively cultivated, that continued to support his theory that it was a recent development- or one group would have likely grown to dominate the area. But of course, recent could be a few centuries. It wasn’t known when humans had first begun to grasp the concepts of cultivation, but based on the cycles in the lower realms going from a basic practice with techniques destroyed could result in Life Transformation cultivators or beyond within six hundred years.
There was a significant difference between having cultivation methods stolen and destroyed and losing the very knowledge of cultivation. Which ultimately led Anton back to the idea that this was a new beginning, though it could have been taking shape since before he was born.
If Anton had to pick a likely culprit for strange happenings on a planet, he would choose either the terrain and planet type in general… or their star. And while he knew he was biased towards stars, he still found that a viable candidate for study.
Three Squeaks was upset when Anton told him he wouldn’t be around for a while, but it was an important step in the process. He wanted to explore more of Akrys… and he wanted to see if the meerkat colony would be safe without him showing himself. It was likely that the meerkats could handle an eagle attack, but they would likely lose some of their members without his aid. Anton would prefer there wasn’t an attack though.
He wasn’t planning to just go to different parts of Akrys either. Soon enough he had to at least explore the nearest systems, as he wanted to eventually patrol the border. There wasn’t a set timeframe for that, but he didn’t want to let years slip by either. A couple months, though, he could spare quite easily.
“If you leave it is dangerous,” Three Squeaks said.
Anton leaned down and gave his disciple a pat on his tiny head. “Danger before, danger after. You are a guard for a reason. But I have something for you.”
Part of his days Anton had spent looking for just the right materials, combining with what he had in his bags already. Eventually he’d found materials just good enough to produce a tiny bow. The draw weight was barely a couple kilograms- but that was more than the full weight of a meerkat. It was about the heaviest Three Squeaks could manage at the moment, at least without involving his natural energy to empower himself further. Which was the whole point of giving him a physical bow, letting him focus on just the arrows.
Anton dangled the bow from Three Squeaks outstretched paws. Another reason it had taken him some time was he needed to modify the design for non-human use. He also needed a string that could remain in tension pretty much indefinitely, as at the current moment unstringing the bow would be impractical. The string also had a protector in the middle, given that the meerkat’s surprisingly sharp claws would be pulling on it. There was also the special grip for the shaft so he could push against the bow with his other paw rather than gripping. It still would have been difficult to draw and string an arrow, but that was where Spirit Arrows shone.
Three Squeaks just stared at the weapon for a few moments, his eyes sparkling. Then he slung it over his shoulder, using a small bit of natural energy to make up for not being able to grip. “I can use it on the target?”
“Of course,” Anton said. “You must be safe while alone.”
Three Squeaks was clearly excited, but he took the time to acknowledge Anton. “Safe practice first. I will learn much.”
Anton almost wanted to see what happened if the eagles tried to return. But Anton knew there were better ways for Three Squeaks to demonstrate his proficiency. Anton saw him shoot down a thumb sized beetle once. Not impressive in size, but it was a pretty complex task for a beginning cultivator to form bow and arrow and aim.
Anton trusted Three Squeaks and the other guards to do their best. But just in case… he would only be going out of sight for an extended period, not actually away from where he could aid them.