To Anton, the trouble with the lions ultimately just meant killing a few beasts. Or people, considering their sapience, but in a way that made it easier to justify killing them since they made a real choice. To the growing alliance, however, it was a war in which they would be risking their lives and perhaps the very existence of their burrows, herd, and flocks.
There was no way Anton was just going to solve things for them… but he wasn’t going to leave them high and dry either. He was already teaching them everything he could, and he hoped that the difference between proper cultivation and undirected growth would be sufficient.
For the meerkats, he taught the basics of the One Hundred Stars combined with Aipra’s communal cultivation. Three Squeaks was learning fire, while some of the others had learned light techniques- light flashing in people’s eyes.
The warthogs got a version of the Hardened Crown Sect’s cultivation method and combat techniques. Given their shape, they were even more suited for a direct charge both offensively and defensively.
The eagles were learning a few things from the Soaring Air Sect. Since they had natural wings, they could skip many things which were building up to flight. There were techniques to maneuver in flight, and of course general energy control was useful. Echoing Cry had gotten more serious about learning archery, but it was unfortunately too late to begin real training in that regard… or to make a relevant bow modification.
As for Contented Grunt, Anton was teaching her some beginning water element methods. He was aware of more than a few hippo based sects in Ambati, but neither Crunching Hippo River nor the Desert Hippo Sect’s techniques were necessarily useful for one who was already a hippo. Contented Grunt was actually one of the few that Anton might suggest use a focused body tempering technique. It didn’t matter if a meerkat improved their physical strength by ten or a hundred times, but a proper hippo simply doubling in power or strengthening their skin would be sufficient. For the moment, however, he could only introduce her to the very beginnings of cultivation. Nothing that would lock her into a path, especially not with just a few weeks of training.
They couldn’t afford to spend too long preparing to deal with the lions, or they might return to cause further trouble. As it was, the meerkats and warthogs were more restricted in their foraging grounds. Contented Grunt was smart enough to not go too far on her own, either.
The eagles were mostly safe, especially since they hadn’t been seen as hostile, but they were still concerned about the lions finding them or their eggs edible. Their nests were meant to be difficult to reach, but it was not impossible for a lion to climb the cliffs they inhabited.
“I do not see what the point of this is,” Contented Grunt said as she trundled along, dragging a plough behind her. “I turn over some dirt and… tire myself?”
“That’s how training works,” Three Squeaks explained. “You get tired, you eat food, you grow more strong. Here, you can at the same time plant melons. They will be biiiig food!” Three Squeaks held his arms out wide to demonstrate.
“Really?” Contented Grunt said. “A proper mouthful, even. But not a tree? Trees don’t taste good. Or feel good.” Contented Grunt, as a hippo with some amount of natural energy, had the capability to eat almost anything she wanted to. She could probably even eat rocks. But that did not necessarily make anything nutritious or worthwhile.
Three Squeaks shook his head. “Not a tree. A melon. It’s a big ground fruit instead of a tree fruit. Because if it grew in a tree it would be too heavy.”
“How long will it take?” Contented Grunt asked.
Meep was the one who answered that. Slowly. “One… hundred… sunsets.”
“That is too long,” the hippo huffed as she rested next to the field she had just finished plowing. “It is not worth the effort.”
“Patience… is… worth… it. Food… very… tasty.” Meep handed her a couple armfuls of mushrooms he had raised underground. “Make… strong… two… ways…” Despite his body tempering and cultivation improving his body, the old meerkat still moved and spoke slowly. Perhaps it was too late for him to recover his full capabilities. Or maybe it would take more time- he wasn’t even at the second prime tempering, the fifth star.
Anton thought that felt a bit slow, except for the fact that nobody had even the slightest basis for proper cultivation either in terms of culture or prior generations refining techniques. And though he was doing his best, ultimately humans were different enough that he couldn’t perfect anything, especially considering he couldn’t actually experience the results personally.
A loud chorus of squeals and grunts came from the warthogs, and Anton saw Forceful Snort celebrating at a boulder he had cracked in half. It wasn’t a clean split, but as the thing was bigger than him Anton found it impressive enough still.
The eagles were flying up above- some of them serious about training, others playing, and others who were able to realize they could do both as long as they seriously used their natural energy for flips and spins which were not in the natural repertoire of the eagles. Their homes were still a good distance away- a handful of kilometers- but those who were going to be near the area anyway tended to join the training.
Echoing Cry was seated on a nearby branch, pouting about not being able to learn archery. But he had still been putting in effort to train his body as instructed, preferring to strengthen his talons for the upcoming battles… and potential archery following that. Anton wasn’t sure how much a bird could manage with a short reach and grasping appendages with little dexterity, but ultimately if it came down to it Echoing Cry could learn to make energy bows exclusively while fighting from safety.
As for the lions, Anton kept his senses on them as well. They were licking their wounds, hunting whatever prey they happened upon, and complaining about the foolish meerkats. No concrete plans were in the works at the moment, but Anton knew they wouldn’t wait forever.
How long had it been, Chikere wondered. Except before she began cultivation, this might have been the absolute longest she had gone without engaging in sword combat. Or any combat. And that included weeks of traveling between systems sometimes. She wasn’t certain whether to count the part where they were fleeing- after they got through the Forest of Death and out of the Exalted Quadrant’s official territory, specifically.
Either way, it was the longest. Too long. But even if she wanted to, she literally couldn’t fight. And not wanting to fight was awful. Though she still kind of did, but she didn’t know how.
A message came from Anton. Those were always important. Furthermore, he’d gone through the effort to send a large amount of data. What was it, some special recovery technique he had discovered in the lower realms? She was filled with anticipation. But in the end, all she got was an image and an attached message.
“I have nothing to say that will make things better so here is my meerkat disciple.”
There she saw a little not-quite rodent posing with a funny little bow. Chikere trembled. In her moment of desperation, this was what Anton sent? She could hardly believe it. But there it was. A simple picture of a cute animal.
How did he know? Even she hadn’t known something like that could make her feel better. Then again, she wasn’t an experienced grandfather. Or any kind of father or mother. “I want one,” Chikere declared to herself. Not a bow, of course. Nor was she thinking about keeping one of the meerkats as a pet. Too much trouble. But as a disciple…? Yes, that would make the world a better place somehow.
There were only two problems. Okay, there were more than that. But two things made it completely impossible. First was that she was in the upper realms, and she was in no state to travel on her own. She would probably find it difficult even if the tides of the world were just right. The other was that she couldn’t sword right now, which made it quite difficult to teach swordsmanship. And she couldn’t really teach anything else either.
So she pondered. And considered. And thought. And contemplated. It was a good distraction for a week before finally she came up with a solution. Yes, that was how it was going to be. She would need to call in some favors but… she sent a message to Ty Quigley explaining the situation.
She was not able to have a disciple herself. But someone like him? It would be very possible. And maybe, if she saw a meerkat holding a sword she would be inspired somehow. Though now that she thought about it, there were a bunch of perfectly good wolf pups around at frequent intervals.
Explaining the situation to Spikes was… difficult.
The wolf growled a response. “So you are saying… to promote your healing… you need to hold a sword near one of my pups.”
Chikere shook her head. “Of course not. I couldn’t hold a sword. They would be the one holding the sword.”
“And this would help, how?”
Chikere tilted her head. “Psychology, maybe?”
“Well, if you simply wish to look, I will retrieve a sword from somewhere. But only because Chidi likes you.” Soon enough Chikere found herself and Spikes back in the den- if it was even correct to call it such, given how it was basically just a specially made house. “Big Jaws! Come.”
A wolf pup with a comically oversized head waddled into the room, sniffing around.
“Take up this sword,” Spikes demonstrated- though the hilt rested between two of her teeth instead of dangling out the other side of her mouth like it would for her smaller sized child.
Big Jaws waddled over and looked at his reflection in the sword. He licked it, fortunately not slicing his tongue. Then he walked away.
Before Spikes could comment on the situation, a little runt with patches of silver fur ran between her mother’s legs, grabbing the sword in her mouth- in the middle. She almost toppled over at the weight of the weapon, and barely made it another step before Spikes’ teeth closed around her, locking the cub in place with Spikes’ head turned to the side.
“Drahp iht,” the large wolf commanded with her mouth full.
The wolf cub complied reluctantly- the perfect silver sheen of the sword suddenly marred by a slight trail of crimson.
“You’re not supposed to be out here, Agom.”
With a little bark and whine, the pup replied. “Inside boring!” Chikere took note that there were only underdeveloped fangs inside her mouth.
“Inside is safe.”
“Safe boring!” Agom barked.
“Agom…” her mother growled.
“Excuse me…” Chikere said. “But this one seems willing to hold the sword, at least. If you could get her to do it… somewhat properly… I could stop bothering you.”
Spikes sighed. “Fine. Agom. You are allowed to grab the sword. But!” her paw blocked her daughter who was lunging for it. “Only by the hilt, where it isn’t sharp.”
“Not sharp boring!” Agom said. But she wasn’t going to give up her chance to grab the new toy.
She fumbled around, first trying to fit the hilt into her mouth lengthwise. Ultimately she grabbed it from the side, lifting that end up with the tip on the other end resting on the ground.
“There. Happy now?” Spikes asked.
Chikere nodded. “I am quite pleased.” She saw something good. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Which was really disappointing, because she kind of just wanted to be fixed. Why was it so difficult? “You should probably catch her,” Chikere suggested.
Spike’s head whipped around. Then she began sniffing. “Agom! Get back here!”
Things holding swords might still be good. Chikere didn’t hate it, at least, which was a huge step up. But even if she liked swords again, her body was still a problem. And she didn’t know what to do to make it better, because she didn’t think she could and Uzun wouldn’t do it for whatever reason. Still, at least she had things she could attempt. It was good to have something to do besides sitting around.