The one thing Velvet definitely had to avoid was rushing into anything. She only had to get stupid once and make a mess of things for her time to be over. Leading pursuers on a grand chase all the way back to the Scarlet Midfields was a nice thought, but that wasn’t the sort of thing that could happen again and again. And unlike the incident with Chikere, it was just Velvet alone.
So the fact that it had been over a year and she basically had nothing of use grated on her, but she kept strong. And she wasn’t quite without valuable data. Her brief interactions with the Limitless Edge had been rather informative, though mostly in the way she now knew they were to be avoided at all costs. There was something dangerous about them beyond their martial capabilities. Among other things, they absolutely couldn’t be allowed to infiltrate the Scarlet Alliance, because their ability to pass along information such that Velvet was recognized was concerning.
But she looked different now. Not something flimsy and vulnerable like an illusion, but more practical changes. Encouraging her hair to grow, restyling it, changing her outfit to be drastically different… these were the most effective things. She wouldn’t hide, because anything hidden let people know there were secrets to be had. At most, she kept her cultivation subdued… but that wasn’t terribly suspicious, as long as she didn’t try to erase her feeling entirely. And underneath that low profile was another layer of deception, making her appear to be part of the Citadel of Exalted Light.
People were quite willing to talk around her, but unfortunately she hadn’t heard anything secret. Trips to this or that planet for training or missions or the like would only be useful if she came across an abnormal pattern- which required knowing the normal patterns first. Nothing was on the borders anyway, so it hardly mattered.
But speaking of borders, Velvet had plans to continue slowly to the ‘west’. Her eventual intention? Determining the actual limits of the Exalted Quadrant’s territory. That would give their alliance a better understanding of their total combat strength- and though they were quite certain they could be overwhelmed, knowing the numbers would still be useful. Such a behemoth couldn’t afford to send all of their forces after a small threat. They would hopefully have other enemies… and if not that, internal instability.
Both were important goals, though Velvet didn’t realize how relevant her small report on the Limitless Edge would be to one individual.
“Yes, that’s it!” the declaration caused Chidi to turn his attention from his own training to his former master watching nearby. She didn’t do much except linger nearby, but that was significant progress from how she was before.
“That didn’t feel like anything special to me,” Chidi said. Wasn’t it just a normal swing? He repeated it just to make certain. It was definitely practical, but he didn’t find it worth exclaiming out loud about.
“Not that,” Chikere shook her head. “Well, that… but also everything else!”
“I will need more information to understand,” Chidi said.
“This is why I have to do everything,” Chikere said, holding up her communicator.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Chidi shrugged.
“Right,” Chikere stroked her chin. “Umm, basically Velvet said that a Limitless Edge disciple recognized her without ever meeting her.”
“Okay… that’s bad, right?”
“No, it’s good! Because it explains why they do everything wrong!”
“… Does it?” Chidi tilted his head to the side for effect.
“Obviously. Because they have to do everything! Don’t you see, perfection is attained through understanding every possible move. Even the bad ones. The worst ones. And it doesn’t matter if they die as long as someone remembers what they did!” Chikere nodded seriously.
“So what you’re saying is… the Limitless Edge Sect selects which movesets are optimal by the disciples that die?”
“No no no!” Chikere waved her arms wildly. “That’s not it at all. I guess the dying thing is part of the process. But it’s all about sharing the knowledge.”
“How?” Chidi raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t know, don’t care. I’m not joining them. Their sword is stupid anyway.” Chidi was pretty sure that was an overreaction, especially considering her previous insistence that it had been a perfect sword. But he wasn’t going to interrupt that. “I just have to do that.”
“Start a sect that does every move?” Chidi asked worriedly.
“Perform every one myself. I thought they were doing it, but now I’m certain.”
“That’s an impressive goal,” Chidi said. “But I’m pretty sure there are infinite possibilities, if you consider small variations in motion something different. And that’s just for one specific size and make of blade. So it’s impossible.”
“Infinite, huh?” Chikere took a step… and suddenly her face was next to Chidi. “Do you think that will stop me?”
“I don’t know,” Chidi leaned his head towards her as well. “Will it?”
“It won’t be impossible once I succeed.”
That might technically be true, Chidi supposed. And if someone was going to manage the impossible it might as well be her. Though that also gave him a lot of his own ideas.
Chidi thought there would be more postulating or some meditation or Chikere going off on her own to try something. He didn’t expect a mist of blood to suddenly tear its way from her body and begin to form into blades. He didn’t expect it… but he absolutely reacted to it.
His blade worked with his own internal formations to redirect the energy in the area, negating her attack. Immediately his mind went back to times of training when he was younger. Except now he was stronger. And Chikere seemed weaker.
However, that was necessary because while he could track the trajectories of her attacks, he couldn’t anticipate them beforehand. It was like he was being attacked by a hundred psychopaths who didn’t know how to use swords… and who could also overlap positions with each other. It wasn’t just that Chikere didn’t hold the swords in her hands, but as the blades made of blood crossed over each other, they moved through each other seamlessly. That was in a way the most impressive part, as the physical and energy components somehow didn’t clash.
Chikere was swaying on her feet as the blades ineffectually tried to cut down Chidi. They were a certain level of serious combined with strange incompetence.
“Hey, uh… are you alright?” Chidi said as he danced around the area. “You’re looking pretty unsteady. Did you use too much blood…?”
“Did I?” Chikere grinned. “Don’t be silly. I have so much blood!” Another explosion of bloody mist came out of her… and then retracted back into her as she sank to the ground. “Okay, that was too much actually.”
The blades floating around Chidi lost their shape, turning into indistinct blobs that floated back towards Chikere and coated her arms and face in red- and then everything else- before it disappeared as if nothing had ever happened.
Chikere fell onto her back, Chidi could feel the grin on her face. “How many was that?”
“… Sword moves? Maybe five hundred or a thousand,” Chidi said.
“Ugh. That’s not even like… halfway to infinity.”
“That’s because you can’t-” Chidi sighed. “No. It’s not even close to halfway.”
“I need more swords,” Chikere said as she looked up at the sky.
“You should be… careful with that,” Chidi said.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I will be. How am I supposed to reach infinity if I die along the way?”
Anton had truly hoped that the tides of the world would bring him somewhere close to Akrys, though in some other way that would have been the worst result. He didn’t really want whoever seeded life there to return and fulfill whatever plans they had for it. He couldn’t even be sure if they would be from the upper realms, he just kind of assumed that as they were prone to extremes. Either way, he intended to ensure that the people there would be able to stand up for themselves. Although he was aware that empowering the world would make it a more attractive target, if they were going to be targets eventually he might as well make them grow swiftly and intentionally- so they could be ready if something should happen.
Ultimately, the path took him a bit to the east, which shouldn’t have been a surprise. It matched up to not be all that far from the upper realms planets that had been occupied to prepare for invasions.
Anton extended his senses, trying to feel into the systems there… but his natural energy broke down. No, it was destroyed through a reaction of the ascension energy. He didn’t really expect much different, except the first time he’d tried it he simply hadn’t been able to reach far enough to elicit a reaction. The upper realms were forever impossible for him to reach. He had no regrets about that, since he’d needed the power of Fleeting Youth. Even now, the ability to draw upon ascension energy in the lower realms was a great asset.
Anton pondered, considering something he’d tried before. Now was a fine time to get in some practice for a situation that might never come up. And if nothing worked, it would still be cathartic.
He drew ascension energy through the connection within himself, and felt the reaction of the upper realms lightyears away. His arrow flew straight and true, covering impossible amounts of distance in a relatively insignificant time. It was a journey of days for even the fastest subspace travelers, so reducing that to hours wasn’t bad. It was obviously a bit awkward for an attack… and if he wanted to attack deep into the upper realms, this was not and would never be the right method.
Because as his stolen ascension energy came into contact with what existed on the edges of the system, it began to mutually annihilate. Soon enough, his arrow was gone almost as if it had never existed. Except for the explosion in the area, which anyone nearby wouldn’t have been able to ignore.
So it was no good for attacking into the upper realms… but someone on the border… it might not be that bad. It could be quite useful for taking people out before they even properly entered the lower realms. Anton was quite pleased with the results, in the end.
The cries of eagles let the Lower Plains Coalition know there was trouble afoot. Well, not necessarily trouble… but what else could it be when there were lions approaching? They’d had a good streak of seasons where they were able to thrive, so it seemed inevitable.
Three Squeaks wanted to call Echoing Cry to carry him, but that would ultimately be a net negative to their combat power. Not because he couldn’t fire his bow from up in the sky, but because then Echoing Cry wouldn’t be able to. He was actually getting good at archery now, which kind of meant anyone who couldn’t fly literally could do nothing to him. Except the few archers that existed, but all of them were in their coalition. Though there were probably some things that could toss rocks or trees, if they were strong enough.
Three Squeaks did manage to catch a ride on Contented Grunt. Not that she was any faster than himself, and definitely not more maneuverable… but it was a lot of effort for him to scurry along at the same speed the hippo plodded naturally. “Who do you think it is?” Three Squeaks asked. “It has to be that Upper Plains guy, right? He seemed like he was going to cause trouble eventually.”
Echoing Cry replied from above, “I don’t know, but I see four of them. One is quite large… and familiar. I’m going to get closer.”
“Be careful!” Three Squeaks called after his airborne ally.
If they were actually under attack, then the three of them probably wouldn’t be enough. Then again, they were in Spirit Building. Was that enough to stand up to lions surpassing them in numbers? Three Squeaks would have said yes almost any day, until he began to sense them… and realized that the lions, too, were in Spirit Building. The big one in the lead was barely in Spirit Building, but that wasn’t reassuring- because that wasn’t on the low end, but the high end. If he practiced the One Hundred Stars, he’d be at a full twenty-seven or twenty-eight.
“Just be prepared to stomp back towards the others quickly if we have to, okay?” Three Squeaks said to the hippo underneath him.
“Yeah yeah. I like living as much as you little ones, you know. But we do have to see what they want first.”