Upon return to Akrys, Anton found the coalition was fending off a bacterial infestation in one of their rivers. It most likely wouldn’t have lasted forever on its own, but they would have had to give up using that resources for some time. Instead, they were already figuring out how to deal with it, with only a modest amount of information from the void ants.
“I’m glad you let them resolve it on their own,” Anton told Ty.
The swordmaster shrugged. “It’s not like I could have dealt with it. At most, I could throw pills at it. Or chop everything into pieces…” he smiled as he held out his sword. “And I know they will have to deal with much more in the future.
Anton had a small amount of medical training, but in actuality it would be easier for him to resolve the issues through another method. It wouldn’t be much different than what they were actually doing- boiling the water- but it would be more targeted and at the same time more widespread. Though he couldn’t guarantee that the water sources would be better off without any bacterial presence, most of those that got along well with other life lived inside them in the longer term.
“Regardless of the methods, I’m glad it’s being resolved. I’m far too used to living among those who have fully completed Body Tempering or in cities with full filtration methods. Ancient problems have become… less remembered.”
“Yeah,” Ty shrugged. “Though some of these guys didn’t get sick to begin with. And I don’t just mean the stronger ones.”
“Oh?” Anton raised an eyebrow.
“The warthogs. And some others. If I think back to my schooling…” Ty scratched his chin. “I’d say it’s the biological differences that makes some of them potential hosts and others not. It’s not just humans down there, after all.”
“Diversity is an advantage… though I would hope it wouldn’t make them numb to the suffering of others should their majority not be affected by future issues.”
“That’s a problem of empathy. And your sect, at least, will have no trouble with that. Back to the bacteria,” Ty pointed. “They have another method as well. Primitive filtration, maybe, but there it is.”
Anton saw that some of the river was diverted into what he could only call a mess of algae and clams. But regardless of how the system looked, Anton could tell it was effective. And it should be relatively cheaply scaled, since it used living things that could replicate to fill larger areas. For the moment, it only filled a small pool that the local area used to gather water.
“Who came up with that, I wonder…” Anton probed around, “Ah, I should have expected. Meep. He’s found value in all sorts of fungus and plants before. And I think he has some others interested in his methods.”
“It’s interesting to see,” Ty admitted. “It’s already turning into a very different place. Different thinking and availability of options.”
Anton nodded. “It would have been a mistake to force them into a mold that fit for humans. And if more of that is valuable later, they can adopt it as necessary. It’s an odd balance, between assistance and letting things progress naturally.”
“Indeed,” Ty replied. “Though I have the feeling that most of what we can do here has been accomplished already. My disciples need to grow more on their own to benefit from much more instruction. The differences in body, and the gap in cultivation…” he shrugged. “It’s too much. And I’ve probably spent too many years here already. Good thing I can maintain my own ship. Though I could always force you to bring me home.”
“I could do that,” Anton admitted. “But I’d rather not. Especially with my new travel methods.”
“I did notice an odd feeling as you approached,” Ty said. “That related?”
“I would assume so,” Anton said. “I’ve been improving my speed bit by bit. For any serious increases, however, I think I need stars bound to me. I have some ideas…”
“You’re already the fastest thing in the lower realms, as far as long distance travel goes,” Ty pointed out.
“But it’s not enough. Imagine I got a call for help from somewhere. I couldn’t possibly show up before anything but a long term invasion was resolved. And I am in the Enrichment stage. I need to improve my techniques to match.”
“A fair enough point. Well, good luck with your star hopping. I won’t be here for much longer, except to return occasionally.”
“I do appreciate you watching over them.”
Ty shrugged. “Hey, it was only partially a favor for you. Most of it was for Chikere.”
A sword dangled out of the side of Agom’s mouth, as she spun and twirled. The wolf was only as tall as Chidi’s knees now, but rather than her positioning being a hindrance to her she took great advantage of being able to so easily attack the lower half of her opponents. Humans were too used to fighting things like themselves or large beasts, and most weren’t prepared to cope with a threat like her.
Not that Agom was a large threat to anyone just yet. She was still young and early in her cultivation journey, after all. The small-toothed wolf might soon reach the equivalent of Essence Collection, but that still put her far below fighting on an interplanetary scale.
“This is good,” Chikere nodded. “The world is better because of me.”
While that might technically be true, Chidi was the one who had trained Agom. And someone in the lower realm had trained the other sword cultivators. On the other hand, she had convinced them to do it, so she deserved a bit of the credit. And she was once again out of Chidi’s reach, so she could get away with more. Not that he thought that was a problem. He was much more uncomfortable when Chikere was barely functional and seemed like a viable opponent. Perhaps eventually he might match her, but it was too soon.
“Don’t forget to challenge yourself,” Chikere said. “Training like this is good, but your parents and I didn’t reach our current levels without strife. And not everywhere in the Scarlet Midfields is so safe as our Alliance. I am currently restricted in my movements, but that doesn’t mean you should remain static.”
“I understand,” Chidi agreed. He didn’t intend to wander around making enemies of every sword sect like Chikere might, but he could certainly find something worthwhile that still involved conflict. Plenty of worlds were filled with strife, often caused by those with power and with a minimum of foresight or altruism. Foresight, because no matter how much power they gathered to themselves, they would ultimately end up alone regardless of having or not having underlings.
Catarina slapped a map on the table, though it was little more than a blank piece of paper with a few points, except for the very edges. “The Bloodsoaked Nebula. We weren’t expecting anything from where Chikere formerly searched, but the area has indeed been cleared of Dubet’s Heart.”
Timothy nodded. “Which leaves a lot of area still to search. It’s unlikely to appear anywhere outside of the nebula, I assume?”
“Unless our information is wrong, it needs the history and continuation of violence. Which means it’s not really something that can be farmed… not by ethical means, at least,” Catarina clarified. “Which is a shame, because it could do so much good. Artificial prosthetics are all well and good, but… they can’t fix everything.”
“And it takes a similar expense to handle specific cases,” Timothy agreed. “Chikere was rather lucky that her damage was… efficient.”
“Right,” Catarina nodded. “Anyway, I believe that if we manage to obtain more… we should be able to avoid anomalies like what happened before. We can’t just bet on things turning out… as well as they did.”
“And we finally have time…” Timothy said. “Maybe soon, the world won’t need us.”
“Hah!” Catarina laughed. “As if attacks aren’t already being planned. Whether it’s a few decades or a few centuries, Xankeshan will need us. But we’ve done pretty good managing things so far.”
“You more than me,” Timothy shrugged.
“I know you’ve done more than you make it look like. Planning the defensive coordination to work with the formations being just one thing. But anyway… Dubet’s Heart might not be our only solution. But I don’t think we will find too many things of similar quality anywhere but the Bloodsoaked Nebula. The concealing aspects of it mean it’s less thoroughly explored on a wider scale. And being outside of our normal area of influence will be a better challenge.”
“I do need something to push me further,” Timothy admitted.
“And I’m not planning to rest on my butt just past the threshold of Augmentation,” Catarina smiled. “You think Alva or Fuzz would want to come along? Hoyt?”
“We shouldn’t pull away too many people. But we should certainly invite more than just the two of us.”
A group powerful enough to challenge the Exalted Quadrant on any level was not something that could be underestimated. And so, even though Velvet found that at least some subset of the western barbarians was happy to fight under the name of the Chaotic Conglomeration, she didn’t intend to discount their cognitive abilities. That was why she’d spent so long coming up with a good cover story… which ultimately involved a number of half-truths she could tell involving prior conflicts with the Exalted Quadrant.
Then she found her way to the battlefield under the command of the Citadel of Exalted Light. She was part of the reinforcements to one of the contested border worlds. Velvet had plans for a grand sabotage, after which she would immerse herself among the ranks of the enemy… but a decent opportunity came when she was on a simple scouting mission.
It was a simple mission- check on a mine that hadn’t reported back in a few weeks. She fairly quickly determined that it was occupied by the enemy, and she could have returned. But as it turned out, she was not the only one with orders related to the mines. She wasn’t sure if it was a lack of coordination or an intentional action on the part of some other commander, but she noticed a small army approaching the occupied mines.
Said army was primarily composed of Essence Collection and Life Transformation cultivators. It wasn’t as if Integration cultivators were so common they could fill out an entire army on their own, after all. Spirit Building cultivators sometimes participated in larger wars as well, but at a certain point it would only take a halfhearted effort by a powerful expert to wipe out an entire battalion of low enough ranking cultivators so nobody bothered. Might as well wait a decade or two for them to be more useful.
Judging the balance of forces from what she had observed, there was a slight advantage to the attacking cultivators, even if she were to assume that the occupants took over control of the mine’s formations. The cultivators involved were mainly from the Flowing Fog Den, a sect that previously had some presence on Ceretos as well. Obviously their abilities in the upper realms were more refined, but ultimately it involved stymieing their enemies’ senses to gain the upper hand in battle. That was valuable on an open battlefield, but less so in confined corridors where they had limited directions to come from. It seemed the occupying leader recognized that, because as soon as the rolling fog approached they were already in a defensive position inside.
Velvet felt the battle beginning, but she only cautiously approached. She didn’t want to get too far into the battle and be taken as a foe by the locals, regardless of the fact that she technically wasn’t their ally.
However, she found a good opportunity as one of the Flowing Fog leaders stayed back. It was reasonable, given their advantages. Keeping a watch on the battlefield was good. It was just… there was a problem. Maybe it was her advanced age, but Velvet didn’t feel the woman was doing a good job of watching her back as her own forces attacked.
Just so that she didn’t end up in any sort of ironic double ambush, Velvet carefully scouted out the area, making sure she wasn’t being followed herself and that the commander was indeed effectively alone. A handful of meters to the next person might not seem like far, but in an ambush situation it could be a deciding factor.
Her dagger pierced through defensive energy into the woman’s spine, the difference between the woman’s cloth armor having a high collar or not proving fatal. The reaction from the others was near instant, but Velvet was already fading away with a bloody dagger. She wouldn’t count on the fog to conceal her against its own originators, but she was plenty comfortable wandering around a battlefield unnoticed.
Before the battle was over, she intended to get both daggers bloody. She wanted some recognizable work to help her easily ingratiate herself to the local group, while pretending to be part of their ‘Conglomeration’ but separated from a different division. It was going to be tricky, but she had put in the legwork to get this far and wasn’t going to back down. They knew things she needed to know.