The safe choice for Devon was to go to Nidec. They were already open to negotiations. It would probably be easy. Vrelt, on the other hand, felt wrong. As they remained insular, they had been left alone… but plans for a proper infiltration had been put together. It simply hadn’t taken place yet, as such an attempt could backfire. It might result in an unnecessary conflict, if spies were noticed.
On the other hand… if they were actually hiding something, a conflict would happen eventually anyway. It would be better to try to find out something beforehand.
Though there was little actual danger from the single planet as far as anyone knew, little enough was known except that they did have some planetary defensive formations. Which was surprising, as it had only been around a century since the last cycle. Either they hadn’t been a target, had successfully fought back, or redeveloped with surprising rapidity.
Devon should go to Nidec. Except more mundane diplomats would likely be able to handle the situation there. His presence might be seen as something positive, or it might look like a threat.
The same was true about Vrelt. And he wasn’t an infiltrator, so he really shouldn’t even consider the option. But… he also wondered how long it was safe to leave a potential threat next to their borders- and in a quite inconvenient position for their journeys towards the upper realms.
He couldn’t stop thinking about it. Was it cultivator intuition… or just worry? And did it make a difference?
Ultimately he didn’t have any reason he should go. It was simply the case that he could. He didn’t have the qualifications to spy or anything like that. Some of this he discussed with various people. Ultimately, he couldn’t make a decision. Nobody was going to refuse him if he asked to join the diplomats dealing with Nidec, but they didn’t ask him either.
So he decided he would need to seek advice from the person who was always able to help him find the right answers, even if neither of them had the answers to begin with. It wasn’t a short trip, but a few months to not make a huge mistake of some sort was worth it.
“We’re getting quite busy here, aren’t we?” Anton said. “Looking to pick up a disciple?”
“I-” Devon had barely even said ‘hello’ to his grandfather when the suggestion came up. “Do you think I should?”
“I’m sure you have a lot to teach,” Anton said. “Though how much is applicable to others, that may be less clear. But I always think people should pick up disciples. You wanted to have an actual discussion, though.”
Devon nodded. “It’s a bit sensitive to speak about it long distance, and inconvenient. But something is drawing me towards Vrelt. I’m worried about the place.”
Anton crossed his arms and nodded. “It is a bit… complicated, to be certain. The desire for isolation isn’t inherently unreasonable, of course. Take Doruma and Xicil, for example.”
“True,” Devon said. “But I feel like even they have had more successful diplomatic exchanges.”
Anton chuckled. “I wrote messages on Xicil and looked for a response years apart. I’ve heard little apart from ‘please leave us alone thanks’.”
Devon shrugged, “I don’t think Vrelt even said ‘please’.”
“Well that’s a serious problem,” Anton nodded. “Should have said please. But enough of that. What’s your actual trouble?”
“I’m not sure if I’m much of a diplomat,” Devon said. “I did fine with a place that was already inclined to get along with us, where the other side was a proper professional. I’m not sure if I’m actually of much use outside of war. So I was wondering if it was a good idea to continue trying.”
“You can always pick up new skills,” Anton said. “That said, I prefer my own style of informal diplomacy. I could never stand the limitations of formality. Still, it’s a little difficult to just go up to some place and ask what they’re hiding. I have also changed my perfective on when snooping is acceptable.”
“And what do you mean by that?” Devon asked.
“Those same places are a good example. Doruma literally hid their system, cut off from everything else. And yet they were still kind enough to let me visit. Everyone on Xicil lives underground, though presumably they are out and about on the surface for work. When there aren’t powerful strangers showing up to send people underground.”
“Ekict invited me to visit very particular places. I should have looked deeper, into their system and into their people. Vrelt reminds me of that, but without the pretext of friendliness.”
“So you’re saying I should try to do something.”
Anton shook his head. “I’m saying someone should. Maybe it should be you. That depends on how effective you could actually be. Could you act the diplomat while looking for what it is they hide? Alternatively, could you find what you need from beyond the distance they would even know you are present?”
Devon sighed, “Neither of those.”
“Then I would let someone else do it or wait until you can,” Anton smiled and nodded. “But I’m often around here if you want to train your senses, at least. The diplomatic thing will require working with someone who knows what they are doing.”
“I suppose I shouldn’t rush into anything,” Devon agreed. “Adding some new skills to my arsenal might be desirable.”
“One warning,” Anton said. “I can’t properly teach you to pierce formations with your senses here. Given the complete and total lack of them on this planet.”
“It certainly is… open,” Devon agreed. “That’s quite a variety of styles you have here. I’d heard Ty was here but… I hadn’t expected him to be dealing with shin height individuals.”
“That one is Deep Purr. He’s the local captain of the guard. As you can see they’ve rigged him up a blade attached to his forearm. Not a preferable arrangement for humans, but for him it’s quite valuable. They can’t really hold a sword so an extendable weapon is quite useful. There are plans to make one that he can fold down, as currently it requires a long process of detaching and then sheathing the blade before storing it on his back to have one of that length.”
“I see,” Devon said. “I would still call it a sword like that, though. I can see why Ty would train him. But then there’s the other one.”
A somewhat larger Half Oink was running around with great enthusiasm, swinging her tusks at Ty’s shins. Every time she charged at him, his blade came down and drove her away, no matter what angle she came from.
Anton shrugged, “What better swords than natural ones? I’ll have you know her tusks were much smaller when she first found her enthusiasm. Her focus on bone tempering allowed her to speed the growth of her tusks, and they’re more developed than the males her age. And if you pay close enough attention…” Anton gestured, as sword and tusk clashed. “It really is like having a pair of swords sticking out either side of her head. Of course, a large portion of Ty’s expertise is wasted like this. Every sword form was made for a human. But an Assimilation cultivator isn’t so easily stopped by such small matters. That sharp energy style… extremely deadly in the right hands.”
“I see,” Devon nodded. “I’m not sure if I’d be interested in having a student, but most of the individuals here don’t seem like they would necessarily fit. Perhaps the larger warthogs.”
“What about Contented Grunt?” Anton pointed out the hippo, somewhat further away. “Though she’s working on a water style, there are a few other hippos in the coalition. And maybe lions eventually.”
“Lions?” Devon asked.
“Over that way, some handfuls of kilometers,” Anton pointed. “They’re not strong enough that most would register on your senses from this distance, I think.”
“Hmm, I might sense something in Spirit Building?”
“That’s about right. There’s stronger elsewhere on Akrys, however. We’re just taking our time starting from here. On that note, someone could probably use a status update.”
The message took quite a while to resolve. It was a full video, after all, even if it was lacking some of the more luxury features. Like anything beyond visual and audio. Chikere didn’t care about tastes and the like, but she was having to project her own assumptions about the lower energy involved onto the scene. But she was still inspired by the scene of a meerkat facing off against a warthog in a spar.
If only she could see it herself. Or better yet, get Agom involved. Alas, she’d already had to recruit Chidi to teach the pup. Actually, he was partially recruited through Aconite, but Chikere had also encouraged her former disciple to train the wolf. As for why he was her former disciple… well, it wasn’t an official thing. It was just that she couldn’t teach him anything right now. Someone who wasn’t a master couldn’t really have a disciple, now could they?
Beyond observing sword training, which almost made her want to do it herself, she was working on her own body. She had more or less healed her body as much as it was going to be able. It was no trouble to walk around, and moving normally didn’t bother her. But any time she put in some effort even vaguely approaching what she would want in combat, things got rough.
There had been another meeting with Engineer Uzun. It didn’t matter if Catarina would pay for whatever needed to happen if he was unwilling to actually try anything. Chikere had toned back her requests, partially because of his earlier rejection… but she also had grown to respect her own body more.
“If you just replace some muscles and tendons, I should be functional,” Chikere explained. “But there’s a thing there. And in this arm,” Chikere held up her fully artificial one. Ruteran technology was highly advanced, and it was actually able to recover the damage that it had taken with time and her upper energy. “I just feel like it’s missing something.”
“And what would that be?” Engineer Uzun had asked.
“Even this replacement arm is very nearly alive. But shouldn’t it have… blood?”
“Blood.” The word was a simple statement.
“Yes, that’s what I said. Blood.”
“Because~” Chikere drew out the word. “It should.”
“And why is that?”
“Because blood is related to the flow of energy, along with meridians. And I’m trying to have more blood but it’s difficult with a whole limb without it,” Chikere explained.
“You’re… trying to have more blood.”
“Yeah, that’s why I said.”
“Well I can’t just use blood as a weapon if I’m going to run out!” Chikere frowned. She probably wasn’t supposed to say that part.
“We’ll consider your request,” Engineer Uzun said, his face difficult to read. Then again, Chikere had never been any good at reading what anyone was going to do unless it involved imminent combat.
Since that had been the end of that conversation, Chikere had left. Which left her in an odd position. It wasn’t a direct rejection. Which might mean that he was actually going to think about it. Or it might mean that he wasn’t going to actually consider anything Chikere asked for. Maybe if she passed some sort of secret test, but she obviously didn’t know what that test was.
So she could only continue doing what she was doing. Which was of course trying to make herself have more blood. Her initial attempt had been very unpleasant, and ultimately she didn’t want to vastly change the volume of her body… but she knew that many things were possible with cultivation. And she had access to a huge library of techniques. She honestly hadn’t imagined that there might be so many about not-swords. And honestly, she generally preferred to learn through more practical means even in the area of swords. But she had a lot of time to read since moving always felt bad. And she was slowly coming up with better ideas for how a good technique that didn’t make her feel sick might actually work.