The initial presumption of Anton was that he would be receiving synthetic muscles, but as Doctor Escarra went over his preferred options it became clear they would be doing more to regrow organic muscle.
His bone wouldn’t be regrown, not because it was impossible but because the procedure for the muscles was actually reliant on an underlying structure. It was much more sophisticated than the ceramic ribcage that had been whipped up for him on the Wayfarer. It fulfilled all the proper functions of a ribcage- specifically protecting his vital organs, providing structure for muscle, and to some extent producing blood.
But the layer atop that was fascinating. There was a complex structure that Anton couldn’t begin to replicate, one that absorbed materials from various liquid vials and steadily released a sort of goopy mess.
Which was to say, Anton had been lying on his back basically unmoving for weeks as the mess of vitamins and minerals and proteins were used by his cells to promote growth. It also came with some living material which he had to imprint himself upon, these being replicated stem cells that could transform into any part of the body. But of course, left to their own devices without instructions cells were rather limited in that regard. Especially when he was missing all of the adjacent bits.
“How is it going?” Doctor Escarra asked as he entered Anton’s room.
“Slow, still,” Anton admitted.
“Sorry about that. Your body is already old, so the process can only go so fast. Your active intervention is just enough to keep it on pace.”
“I would be careful about offering this treatment to anyone else,” Anton said. “It sometimes doesn’t know how to grow, and it needs constant guidance. Even sleeping for a reasonable few hours at a time might wind up with someone going far off course.”
Doctor Escarra nodded, “I’ll make a note of that. We also intend to have machines managing the details for the general populace, but this is our first proper attempt. It would actually be easier to grow new organs, as they have more defined limits. They could be grown separately then freely implanted.”
“I see why it would be difficult,” Anton said. “Tell me, have you studied Nthanda?”
“Every chance we get,” Doctor Escarra said. “It is impossible to replicate her body through any known methods, but watching how her muscles developed into an ascension-class body temperer is amazing. It did allow us to come up with the techniques to form more than just fresh, new muscle.”
“Yes, I see this has already been tempered to a reasonable standard,” Anton agreed. “It’s a bit tricky as each layer grows further from the lattice, though. And it seems to have high risk of infection.”
“We’d thought of some of that,” Doctor Escarra admitted. “For your case, leaving things uncovered gives it the necessary breathability and you aren’t exactly going to get sick from anything.”
“Not if I can help it,” Anton grinned. “I’ll immolate those bacteria and viruses.”
“Exactly,” Doctor Escarra agreed. “Actually, we already have many ideas for the next step. It would probably include another layer as a shell that expands with the growth, to provide the room but keep things sanitary. And it would allow working from the other side.”
“Shoulda waited for that one,” Anton grinned.
“Well, it will likely take years to develop it anyway, and that’s with your data helping us.”
“Technology sure takes a long time to begin working…” Anton said. “I could create a new cultivation technique faster.”
“But other people wouldn’t be able to use it for much longer,” Doctor Escarra said.
“I wasn’t saying it was bad. It’s just funny that some aspects of cultivation are relatively quicker. But I understand the value that can be provided by things that run primarily without the use of natural energy.” If nothing else, the Ruteran methods were focused on making anything that did use energy much more efficient, because their planet originally was lacking in natural energy. Now, it was a practice they maintained intentionally.
It wasn’t odd that an Integration cultivator could fight everyone at once. Chidi understood how much stronger they were compared to Essence Collection cultivators- there was still the whole gap of Life Transformation, after all. It was just disheartening to have it done so easily. Still, Major Sibylla took the task seriously and wasn’t just playing around with them. She stopped short of injuring people though- or at least seriously. And she didn’t push the envelope on what would be a serious injury, unlike Chikere.
In a way, it was actually relaxing to get thoroughly defeated by someone else but not be covered in injuries afterwards. Yet he also felt that he learned less. Chikere wasn’t exactly the best teacher, but she was still effective. For those who could handle her, at least.
He was looking forward to continuing that training for a while. So obviously that wasn’t going to happen.
“Hey, you’re coming with me.” Chikere showed up and declared to Chidi. “I found her.”
“Who -?” Chidi asked as he was suddenly dragged away.
“Rakiya, obviously,” Chikere said.
“What does that have to do with me?” Chidi asked nervously. He couldn’t sense anything around them but air. Chikere wasn’t exactly flying, but instead leaping in great bounds, which brought things to the point Chidi could perceive them only occasionally.
“Everything. You’re going to fight her.”
“I’ll die,” Chidi pointed out. “It’s only been five years. It was supposed to be twenty-five.”
“I shortened it to twenty,” Chikere helpfully reminded him.
“That’s still way more than five.”
“Well, yeah. Obviously I don’t expect you to win. Just survive two attacks.”
“… What if I don’t?” Chidi asked.
“Then you’ll be dead, obviously. But that won’t be a problem unless you’ve been slacking.”
They touched the ground briefly. There was a moment of stillness before they were off once more. “I haven’t been but… I’m still only in Essence Collection. I don’t have the energy to resist her attacks.”
“Obviously you’re not going to take them head on. You need to use finesse.”
“She has like a century of experience more than me!” Chidi protested. “I’m sure her finesse is greater.”
“Good point,” Chikere said. “We need to get in some training along the way.”
Well. This was how it was going to be. Chidi resigned himself to that. He hoped that Major Sibylla would be informed why he was gone. He doubted Chikere followed any official procedures for that. “Why do I need to be tested now?” he asked.
“Simple,” the grandmaster said. “You should be close to a critical point, and I need to keep provoking her or the sword saint will never show up.”
He forgot about that aspect of things. The sword saint was a proper Augmentation cultivator, so he would be on an entirely different level. And Chikere wanted to fight him. “Why are you so determined to fight him now?”
“I don’t want to do it now. Just soon.”
“Because if I defeat an Augmentation cultivator I’ll be in Augmentation.”
“I’m not sure if it works that way,” he said. “But the general idea works. Shouldn’t it take another seventy years though?”
“Pfeh. I’m not waiting that long. The war will be over by then and I’ll never get the opportunity.”
“I don’t think that’s a good reason to commit suicide.”
“It’s not suicide if you expect to get killed by someone else.”
“I… think it kinda is. Also, you expect to get killed?”
“Sure. One of us has to die. So it’s even odds me or him.”
“I don’t think that’s how that works.”
Much later, they landed. And actually stopped. Time for training, it seemed. “I’m going to show you the two opening moves I expect from her,” Chikere said. “Get ready.”
Chidi readied himself. He had to treat this like a fight to the death. And in a way, it was. Unless he took it that seriously, he probably could die.
Truthfully, her attacks were simple. And that was the scariest part of it. A simple vertical and horizontal slash. They seemed to come simultaneously. Was that one move? Chidi wasn’t certain. All he knew was he sensed the intent and motion, and reacted accordingly. His parry barely pushed the attacks off track, but he forced himself away at the same time. When he stopped, he kept himself ready. That was good, because she quickly followed up.
“Next~” the grandmaster said. Her thrust was like a lightning bolt, followed by a draw cut. Then, a slice at his neck. He barely managed to anticipate the last one as he felt his head toppling to the ground. Fortunately, that was not what actually happened. He did lose some hair though.
“That has to be at least three, maybe five!” Chidi protested. “I thought you said you would do the two most expected opening moves.”
“Those were officially pairs of moves, you know,” the grandmaster replied, holding her blade in one hand- just as Rakiya would have to do. “And obviously the most likely moves are the ones you’re least ready for. So you’d better brush up on the entire library of the Harmonious Citadel.”
Chidi was glad for Citadel’s Downfall, because in addition to Chikere’s specific insights it provided a balanced way to counter all of their moves, based on pretty much any pairing of weapons. The Everheart guy who made it was a genius. But apparently he wasn’t a great guy. And as far as swords went, he was a good bit less talented than Chikere.
Somehow, he remained standing through an assault by every move in the Harmonious Citadel’s book. Twice. And some that definitely weren’t part of it. Sure, everything came in pairs of moves, for some definition of that, but even with Chikere using just one sword, she wasn’t holding back enough.
But he survived. He did need a lot of sewing together, though. Fortunately, the grandmaster was good at that part. She controlled a myriad of tiny needles like swords, putting him together from the inside. Then wrapping him up in bandages like a mummy. And then she picked him up and flew off again. “Now’s where you sleep!” she informed him.
He thought there was no way he would sleep while being carried like a sack of potatoes, and he was right. Until after the second round of sparring, when he was pretty sure he passed out in the middle of a counter. He wondered if it hit. Or rather, if it at least touched the grandmaster’s defensive energy.
“Snatched up by an Integration cultivator?” Sibylla said, looking sternly at the group in front of her. Captain Tiras was translating for the wolf. Aconite.
“Not just any Integration cultivator. Swordmaster Chikere.”
“Never heard of her.”
“Assuming she’s famous, I just ascended, you know?” Sibylla grinned. “Or maybe she’s not.”
“She certainly is. Shouldn’t you have at least heard about her in reports?”
“Oh, she’s that swordmaster,” Major Sibylla nodded. “The one who showed up without warning, and who disappears without it.”
“There’s a reason she isn’t in charge of how things are run here,” Denitsa explained. “Besides not wanting to do it.”
“As long as she shows up to battle… and leaves our scout with us to train sometimes,” Sibylla shrugged.
“As far as we’ve been able to tell, most of the time when she is away she’s attacking enemy forces,” Tiras explained. “Occasionally she makes reports, and it’s not uncommon to find bisected enemy squadrons.”
“I see,” Sibylla nodded. “Well, I can try to maneuver around that. At worst, we can count it as if she’s not part of Shutoll’s forces in particular. What are the chances of her showing up to protect her disciple if he’s in danger?”
“Unclear. Maybe none,” Tiras admitted. “She did save him previously, but if she thinks he should win a battle… I think she would just let him die.”
“Is she that harsh?”
Tiras shrugged, “I can’t truly claim to know her thoughts. For the most part, she’s the one who causes him the most physical harm. Though I can’t say that it hasn’t been good for his swordsmanship.”
“He does seem quite competent for his cultivation… and age,” Sibylla agreed.