Ultimately, asking Everheart to assist with formations upon Ceretos meant keying him on important information like the teleportation formations. “Why not key me in on this stuff earlier?” Everheart asked Anton. “I could have saved so much time walking.”
Anton shook his head. “The point was to have you sit around for a few years so nobody would conflate your arrival with… well, your arrival. I’m not the only one who noticed a powerful individual suddenly reach our planet, and I don’t just mean the Island Tenders.”
“Well, I’m not infirm,” Everheart said. “I can walk around and do light activities like formation work.”
Most wouldn’t consider formation work light activity unless they were really taking their time, though Anton supposed it didn’t have to be done quickly. Though from what he saw, Everheart didn’t take his time with anything. Except this teleportation formation.
“Hmm. This formation is specifically keyed to reach specific others?” Everheart asked. “How inefficient, though I suppose as a security measure…” he mumbled to himself, but any cultivator worth much of anything would still be able to understand him clearly. “No major flaws. Oh! Is this the work of that Catarina?”
“Among others, yes,” Anton nodded.
“A smart one, that. Tricked me out of secret formation information. Or maybe I let her have it?” He frowned. “Hmm, obviously. Nobody could actually trick me.” He clapped his hands together. “Well, let’s go through!”
“Are you sure that’s safe?” Anton asked. “It’s not really meant for people with upper energy.”
“It’s fine, I’ve been converting back. And it shouldn’t slow my recovery.”
There was a certain minimum threshold of power required for a teleportation formation to work- and that was before taking into account the mass and personal energy of what was being transported. This is why there was a minimum number of individuals being transported at once, or a greater price for those in a rush, unable to wait. Travelers were always required to provide a portion of their energy- to reduce the effort of moving them if nothing else- but the requirements were harsher for small groups.
As the head of the Order Anton didn’t have to personally pay for moving around through the teleportation formations. The Order still provided a nominal fee, but only enough to cover necessary costs.
Transporting just two cultivators would normally be quite expensive- because of the minimum energy required to power the formation. However, this time the two would be powering the formation with their own energy, no excess required to fill in for them.
As they powered the formation, the two old men kept careful track of each other’s expenditure. Everheart was the sort to never trust anyone or lower his guard, and because of that Anton didn’t trust him to ever be actually safe. Either way, both of them filled the formation, though the greater effort was providing the excess power to match what was required to move their remainder.
The world shifted, and then they arrived. Anton found it disconcerting mostly because his senses could not be spread out during transport- any excess energy outside the formation would simply be cut off. It took only a moment to return to his normal sensory distance, but it was still odd.
“I heard that the upper realms has more efficient teleportation formations…” Anton gave Everheart a side eye. “Know anything about that?”
“Well, I- of course I know all about that,” Everheart couldn’t admit to not knowing anything. And he liked to brag. “Had things set up all over my tomb. Unfortunately, it requires upper energy to function.” There was more he wasn’t saying, but Anton believed he was honest with what he had said. Maybe Everheart was that good of a liar, but if so Anton’s frequent attempts to read him would eventually improve his own ability and he could catch him on something important. Though he wasn’t sure what he would do about it. “Huh.” Everheart looked at Anton. “It’s always interesting to see that.”
Presumably he was referring to the way Anton’s energy was refilling. With a constant connection to a star, his rate of energy recovery was phenomenal. That part of him had improved more than anything else upon achieving Assimilation, though his maximum output was also significantly higher, allowing him to outpace the recovery rate by a significant margin if he needed to. At first he had restricted the flow around Everheart, but he eventually figured it out anyway.
Their current mission was to patrol around the edges of Brogora, so Everheart could create continent-wide defensive formations. He had to know the topography to achieve the best results, and that meant seeing things with his own eyes. Everheart wasn’t going to be working on these things alone- not because Anton thought he couldn’t achieve it, but because he didn’t trust him anywhere close to as far as he could throw him. Everheart’s ability to achieve what they needed and his actual willingness to do so- and without making it completely under his own control- were different things.
So he would be watched. Anton just hoped that the pieces of him that had been stuck on Ceretos for centuries liked the place and wanted to see it safe, instead of resenting it. Or at least didn’t want all that work going to waste to have it inevitably destroyed less than two centuries hence, which might be close enough to caring about the world.
Everheart clicked his tongue, “Ugh, formations that use lower energy are so restrictive. There are so many things I can’t do. Can I even set up a proper energy draining field? No wait… this is actually an advantage…” It wasn’t clear to Anton if Everheart knew he was speaking aloud. Maybe he did, and didn’t care- or maybe it was a deception. Anton hated having to think about that at every waking moment. But at least some of it was going to be his true thoughts. Everheart grinned. “I don’t have to exclude anyone from a formation that only drains upper energy! That makes it a hundred times simpler! Yes, that should do it. As long as nobody notices before it hits critical capacity it can drain them dry.”
Well, hopefully that thing worked as advertised. Anton would just have to make sure it wasn’t ultimately affecting him or those like him.
Spikes was… strange. The other wolf always had thoughts that Fuzz didn’t understand, but her method of using energy was weird. Right now, she was just sitting in place. She’d done that for the last week, but she wasn’t doing nothing. Fuzz could feel the constant flow of energy, though he couldn’t see any changes moment-to-moment. Over the course of a week, however, the wolf was sitting atop a small hill now.
Fuzz had half a mind to tell her that nobody was going to sit around for a week to have a hill grown over them, but he was pretty sure she already knew that. And also that she wasn’t paying attention. He could walk right up to her and circle around her and she wouldn’t even open her eyes. If she didn’t seem safe and healthy he would try to drag her out of her thing, but this seemed like some sort of proper cultivation meditation thing. Everheart really had a lot of weird books in his collection, to even have things for beast cultivation. Fuzz wondered if he killed some great beast king for it. The other option was stealing from some clan that worked together with beast companions- Fuzz heard about those existing.
One week later, the hill Spikes was on was about twice as tall. The week after that, it doubled in height again. The week after that it was a mountain. Maybe a small mountain, but Fuzz wasn’t going to belittle the effort that had gone into it. Fuzz imagined in a few more weeks the mountain would meet whatever standards Spikes had and she would be done. Except… the next week, the mountain was gone. It wasn’t good enough, apparently. Or maybe Spikes wanted flat ground.
Ultimately, he had to conclude Spikes was indecisive. Because instead of making a new, better mountain she made a canyon. After a couple weeks Fuzz could barely even see her at the bottom of the canyon, and he was concerned about the bits of rock tumbling down from the sides. Though realistically none of it could hurt Spikes, he kept an eye out.
He also wondered if she was hungry. Usually she should have eaten a couple of those jungle elephants the Gardens here had. They were tough on the outside, but crunchy on the inside. And they had a lot of meat. Maybe he should go get her some? He didn’t want it to go bad, but he could dry it or something. Humans had other preservation methods, but Fuzz knew how to do that one all on his own.
When Fuzz returned, everything was broken. The terrain was sticking up every which way, stone jutting wherever it pleased until it got too heavy to support its structure and collapsed. The field of stone was large enough that Fuzz couldn’t even see Spikes from the edge, though he could still feel her energy, and her scent suffused the area. Picking his way through the toppled pillars of stone, Fuzz found his way closer to the center where Spikes was. He had to go around some things because the elephant wouldn’t fit, but he got there soon enough.
Spikes still didn’t react to him, even when he cooked tasty elephant in front of her. Fuzz was smart and already ate one out in the Garden so he wouldn’t be tempted to chew on this one. It was going to be less tasty when dried out, but that was better than it going rotten. He left it in front of Spikes for whenever she woke up.
The next day he woke up to the ground trembling. An earthquake. He’d felt them before. When he was little he found them frightening, but as he grew older and bigger they didn’t bother him so much. When they came naturally, he knew there could be damage to buildings and things like that, but he didn’t care about those. Just the pack. When they weren’t natural, however, they were the sign of a battle.
Fuzz didn’t know who Spikes was fighting, but he sprinted from the temporary den he constructed nearby. There shouldn’t be anything that could challenge them, but Spikes was actually one of the weakest. He could feel her energy, strong but not quite strong enough. Powerful, but flagging with fatigue.
Strangely, he couldn’t find an opponent as the earthquakes grew in magnitude. Mountains of stone crashed around him as he charged towards her, some reaching sharp peaks while others were wide and hard to dodge. He was battered by stones in his haste, but he didn’t care.
He felt Spikes atop a mountain, one that was growing rapidly- to the point that even as he began to climb it she was almost pulling away from him. Perhaps the mountain itself was the enemy? Some great beast of hidden power, dazing Spikes and now trying to swallow her up? Maybe Fuzz shouldn’t have let his nose off her.
Yet when he reached the peak, he found Spikes sitting peacefully, certainly not being attacked or consumed. Then the earth trembled once more, in a final shiver… and he felt a pulse from within Spikes. A pulse of strength, like what Fuzz had. He crouched, ready to leap after her… but as the other pack members said, it wasn’t really possible to ascend when people were in the upper realms already. As Spikes collapsed into the pile of elephant jerky, Fuzz felt the core of her power changing. She should be actually unconscious now, but she would recover soon. Until then, he would keep watch over her. And the jerky. Hopefully she didn’t take long or there would be less waiting for her.
Author’s note: It’s weird to have Everheart around in the flesh and actually vulnerable to the consequences of his actions.