“So,” Devon asked. “What are ‘the mines’?”
“I’m surprised you don’t already know,” Taalay said. “You seem to have seen… much.”
Normally, Devon should leave the talking to others- but with war upon them, tactical expertise was required. “I’ve heard people talk about mines, but I didn’t see anything in particular. I’ve noticed some mines around here, but I don’t know how that would lead to a plan of attack on you… and the rest of those who aren’t upper realms lackeys.”
“It’s quite simple. A large quantity of them are connected, deep underground.”
“… Why?” Devon asked.
“Because it was useful as part of the structure for our planetary shields. Such formations take a lot of space, so why not combine the work with resource extraction?”
“Seems pretty risky, though. Leaving hidden pathways into your territory.”
“Well…” Taalay shrugged. “It made enough sense at the time. There was an accord regarding them. Nobody would try to attack through them, or be set upon by the others. Because… we can collapse the tunnels and shut down the planetary barrier. But given that our primary enemies seem to be local already…” Taalay frowned.
“It’s okay if you’re thinking I told you they would come through the mines so we could shut down your planetary barrier,” Devon said. “It’s a logical train of thought.”
“You’re either an excellent liar or a terrible one,” Taalay said. “On that note, how did you know that Anchoring would likely keep souls in the lower realms?”
“Lucky guess,” Devon said. “Well, not entirely. But I know names have meaning. We met some people who practiced Worldbinding… and while it’s likely different in some ways, it sounds quite similar. Since nobody practices a reincarnation technique quite like the Twin Soul Sect it hasn’t been tested but… it’s certainly theorized that it might work that way.”
“I really want to hear about Worldbinding… and Assimilation…” Taalay said. “But I suppose I should get around to warning people. It’s not as if we must preemptively destroy the tunnels. In fact, I would much prefer to do so with an army crawling through. I just wish we could trust the mirror crystal to be secure…”
Devon was glad that it sounded like Taalay trusted him. Then again, it would be a huge gamble not to do so. Now Devon hoped that the attack actually happened, since he wanted to be reliable. Perhaps he should spend more time observing… though he did need some time to rest, so he could only manage a limited amount of time per day. There was one matter he could help with, however.
“Aerona,” the woman startled as he said her name. She’d been nervously following along, and didn’t seem to have expected inclusion. “How many spare communicators do we have?”
“Well… probably only a dozen.”
“Does that include the support ships?” Devon asked. “Also, holographic ones would be preferred.”
“Communicators?” the sect head asked.
Devon pulled out a palm sized device and pressed a few buttons… which caused Aerona to pull hers out. Small images of the other popped up above the devices. “It transmits sound, and some can show an image of the person.” The sound of his voice came out of Aerona’s end- but they were made to prevent echo and feedback, so it ended there. “Obviously they’re more useful at a longer distance.”
“How far?” Taalay asked.
“Anywhere on the planet,” Devon said. Which was true, if not all of the truth. It would be a very short response time anywhere within the system, and it could send recorded messages further. But that wasn’t necessary to say. “So basically like those mirror crystals, except not locked to a position.”
“I suppose it’s not that outlandish,” Taalay admitted. “After all, you travel between systems, so your communication methods would have to be somewhat more advanced.’
“Anyway, the point is we could loan you some and teach you how to use them. It would keep your communications out of enemy hands, unless they know far more than they’re letting on.” And if this single planet in the lower realms had cracked their security without even getting their hands on a communicator, the Trigold Cluster as a whole would have far more. But Devon didn’t believe that.
“Avoiding their ability to spy on us while still retaining rapid communication will be quite valuable,” Taalay admitted. “But…” he looked at Devon.
“I’m not going to say we can’t,” Devon replied. “Just that we won’t. And that we’ll be fighting on your side,” he patted his arm- or lack thereof. To be fair, that didn’t prove that they wouldn’t be backstabbed later- but it did go a long way towards solidifying a short-term alliance.
“Me too,” Aerona interrupted suddenly. “Um, I mean, I can fight. I know I’m only in Essence Collection but…” she looked at Devon’s arm. “I can at least support or… be intentional bait?”
“I would have expected you to take your space ships away from here,” Taalay admitted. “Are you certain you wish to fight?”
Aerona nodded. “I can’t speak for the other envoys. They might want to be evacuated. But the Lower Realms Alliance is on your side. Those of us who are present here should support you until there are sufficient forces to be picky.”
“I’m not fond of the bait idea,” Devon said.
“It would be much more effective if we did it on purpose,” Aerona said. “Though I’m not sure if they’d care about me now…?”
“It’s your job to convince people of things, isn’t it?” Devon asked. “So convince them you’re a threat. That you’re as important as you are.”
“Am I important?”
“To Udre, yes. They wouldn’t keep you in your position if that wasn’t true.”
“I’ll admit I haven’t heard about her outside position,” Taalay said. “What is it?”
“Elected representative,” Aerona said.
“Empress,” Devon followed up. “Though it is an elected position, that’s her proper title.”
Taalay chuckled. “Humility can be good. But you should be confident. Your entire planet would fight for you, I imagine?”
“Well… not if I was at fault for something. But we’re part of the alliance, so we’ll be supporting this war as we can.” Though Udre was further and weaker than the other planets, so perhaps their contribution would be small. She didn’t say that part out loud.
“Right then,” Taalay said. “If you can get me communicators as soon as possible… we need to coordinate as we can. I’ll send the fastest birds on the safe route…” he began muttering to himself. “And I need to promise rewards to those who can be swayed by money… the Precious Palm Sect already seems to have a leg up there…”
Aerona interrupted, “Might I suggest pointing out that they can support their native planet and get all of the Precious Palm Sect’s money at the same time…? Or remind them that their true name is the Poisonous Gold Sect, not known for actually paying their debts… or at least not in a way that ultimately benefits people.”
“Can I borrow some of you to help me draft letters?” Taalay said. “That would be greatly appreciated.”
Things were in motion, but as he wasn’t really part of the local sects Devon didn’t have much direct involvement. He was giving what help he could- information on massing troops in various locations should be helpful. Even if Taalay or the rest of the planet didn’t fully trust him, they couldn’t ignore him either. And when everything proved to be accurate, he would have greater trust. Though he didn’t exactly feel untrusted at the moment either. For example, as busy as he was, Taalay had sought him out a few times in the last couple of days for conversation concerning cultivation. Thought that might have also been a test, Devon was honest and he perceived Taalay to be as well.
“So Assimilation is… connecting to a place or concept?” Taalay asked.
“Or multiple places. Or people, occasionally,” Devon clarified. “Many of us continue with traditional ascension as well.”
“Really?” Taalay asked. “It seems a shame to lose such people.”
Devon shrugged. He didn’t want to say too much. Like the fact that they considered themselves to still be part of one larger thing, just physically more distance. “Some wish to challenge themselves in a certain manner. And it is often… more straightforward.”
“It could be said like that,” Devon shrugged. “But it’s not quite true. At least, if you wish to perform an ascension well. There is a difference in quality to be had.” Going much further would head into the territory of mentioning they were in frequent communication still.
“Well,” Taalay nodded, his floor length beard waving as he did so, “You were basically right about Anchoring. It ties us here. We had thought ourselves shielded from the upper realms, but clearly we were too… optimistic. I also have some doubts.”
“What sort?” Devon queried.
“I know that some of the sects involved here were responsible for the development of Anchoring. I already knew there were flaws, but now I fear some were intentional. Or perhaps there are intentional ones I haven’t even seen, yet.”
“Well, I’m not the best to ask about that,” Devon said. “I’ve got a very personal style. My grandfather would be a good choice, though. If there’s a chance.”
“Your grandfather?” Taalay asked. “Given your strength, he must be a great figure.”
“Well…” Devon said. “That doesn’t directly follow. It would be quite possible for him to be nothing impressive. My parents never even considered cultivation. And my grandfather started… late. But he is pretty amazing, so… there’s that.”
“I see,” Taalay nodded. “I suppose someone as important as him wouldn’t want to risk himself in a war. So I shall have to hope to survive and beg for his guidance afterwards.”
“Oh no,” Devon said. “He’ll be coming. I just don’t know how quickly things will happen here. And given what I know about you… he won’t be shy about sharing some insights, either.”
“I see. Your grandfather cares for you enough to risk his life?”
“He does,” Devon nodded, recalling images from so long before. Over three hundred years now, in fact closer to three hundred and fifty. Though Devon rather doubted Anton would be at much risk, in this case. If this planet didn’t even have rapid space flight, how could they even hope to get close enough to scratch Anton?
Spinning around stars wasn’t good enough. It was still faster, but Anton couldn’t accept his pace. Unfortunately, he was coming to a certain realization. Or perhaps it was something good, in the long run. He had some idea of how to go faster, but he would need bonded stars. It always came down to that. There was fortunately a single one of those between Akrys and Vrelt- to make the path to Ceretos feel less lonely. Bound stars were a much better place for him to stop and rest compared to any typical system. Though ‘stopping’ wasn’t really something Anton intended to do.
What was the point of being an Enrichment cultivator if he got tired out from any number of days of travel at top speed? His connection to all of his stars was much greater, and the replenishment effect he felt even in the void between systems was nearly as great as being home next to one of his stars in the previous stage. He was still capable of pushing himself past his limits and exhausting himself, but there was little point for the extremely marginal increases. And more importantly, he needed to be in fighting shape when he arrived.
Nobody was going to mess with his grandson and his woman and get away with it. Though Devon hadn’t admitted to the last part, Anton had met Aerona once and seen the determination in her eyes. A good woman, the sort who wouldn’t give up on what she wanted. And Devon could certainly use someone. Anton hadn’t been interested as he’d lived a full married life, but sometimes people wanted companionship beyond that of friends.
When he arrived at his bound star, Anton went directly towards it with no funny business. He didn’t loop around the outside, but instead went straight through. Its gravity pulled him in, but he didn’t let it drag him down on his way out. The replenishment and acceleration… well, they might only save him a few hours compared to other methods, but that meant if he had a dozen along the route he could save multiple days. He just needed another hundred or so years of cultivation to connect to that many stars. After that he might add a few more along the route to In’istra, though he did have ten along that route already, not counting places of interest.
Anton hoped Devon was alright. He knew that the way cultivator wars could go, everything could have been over before he got the message. A few days was more than enough for a couple dozen Assimilation cultivators to sweep through a few sects- but only if they were willing to risk themselves. If they had to march an army, he should have more time. But he didn’t intend to linger anywhere.