When faced with a decision between helping achieve a significant victory for Rutera and keeping his maximum power concealed, Anton hardly hesitated. Even if the enemy figured out exactly how his power worked, there was little they could do about it. Would they abandon their main planet and its defensive formations just to make him personally weaker? Certainly not. So when General Gabriela asked him to pursue the Independence and the thief of Nicodemo’s cultivation, he happily complied.
As he approached his sun, his speed and acceleration both became greater as his power and rate of replenishment both increased. He arrived not far behind the other two ships, which were maneuvering a significant distance from the actual sun. Both were able to draw in energy from that source, but as he got the Independence within his senses, Anton cut off the flow to its narrow portion of the sky. This was his greatest domain, and he could even turn the ship to ashes with little thought.
Instead, he moved to board it. Slipping through a distorted hangar on its side was trivial, though the airlocks inside made him pause for a moment. He could easily melt them or tear them apart, but Rutera would rather reclaim their first flagship intact. Or relatively intact. He could easily force the doors apart with magnetism, but it would be the same as any other method. But he did have some understanding of the possibilities. The door was held closed mainly by physical and technological locks. But a strong pulse should… shut everything off.
Anton just underestimated how much power he could wield here, even calling upon the features of Azun and not the local star specifically. An unfocused wave of magnetic energy disrupted the electronic components of the whole ship- hopefully not causing permanent damage. At least it didn’t seem to have extended in any significant measure to the Wayfarer.
At least his excess made things easier. He easily flicked open the internal locks, and then moved down the corridor towards the most powerful individual. Along the way he was accosted by numerous individuals and groups, but neither they nor the ship could stop him. He found the woman on the bridge, along with a number of other cultivators. This time, Anton made certain to restrain himself- but not in power. Instead, he just made use of Anish and the former Glorious Flame Palace’s techniques for burning only what he wished. In short, he avoided melting the bridge itself while plasma arced off of him as he was surrounded with flames.
The first weaker cultivator to attempt an approach died halfway to him- and the bridge wasn’t of an inflated size. Only the woman who had Nicodemo’s cultivation was actually able to approach, charging towards Anton with a blade in hand. He felt the power behind the swing, but instead of dodging brought his hands up to catch her wrist and the blade together.
“All this power,” Anton shook his head, “And you don’t know how to use it, do you? What a waste.” Anton wanted to turn her into a pile of ash, or at least char off her hands. Instead, he only burned away her external energy and just enough of her flesh that she could theoretically recover. Though she would die soon enough, he wanted the others to know he could be fair. “You will all submit to capture or die. Those of you who have not engaged in cultivation theft may ransom your lives.” Calling it ‘Transferral’ was too generous, though he could understand why anyone who wanted to use it would have chosen the name.
A few people either didn’t believe him or thought he was bluffing somehow- perhaps they thought he used up all his power stopping their leader, or that she could still fight. She did technically still have energy inside her, but any time she tried to put it to use it would melt away. Nicodemo was below Anton in cultivation to begin with, and with the Independence out of commission the bond was weak as well. Top that off with her not being familiar, and she simply couldn’t match up. If only Anton could get the rest of the Transferall cultivators to come fight him here.
“Look what you did to the ship,” Gabriela shook her head as she idly pressed buttons on the command console. “Nothing. It’s gonna need all new wiring.”
“I can melt it down for you, if you want,” Anton grinned.
She rolled her eyes. “Obviously not. Thanks for getting it back… mostly intact. And for catching her,” Gabriela referenced the woman who was taken away in the highest quality restraints. They managed to get her name first, Eyvor, but Gabriela wasn’t feeling to polite as to use it. “I imagine we can learn a lot.”
“I hope so,” Anton said. Some successful interrogation techniques had been developed, much more reliable than simple torture. While it was impossible to get detailed information such as a cultivation technique, it was at least possible to learn general overviews of how things worked. Especially if there was a line of questioning that could be answered. “You’re right, it does seem as if they don’t inherently come with the same proficiency to go along with the power.”
“And I have suspicion of something else. That Aoibhin, she was a big problem, yeah?” Anton nodded along, prompting general Gabriela to continue. “Well, I’m not saying I could take her on anytime soon but… I have the feeling she wasn’t that great, yeah?”
“What do you mean?”
“How long have you been cultivating for? Three centuries now?”
“Two and a third,” Anton said. “I didn’t start till I was a hundred.”
“Right, that’s the number I was thinking of. And you’ve been in Assimilation for, a century or so.” Anton nodded. “You’re said to be quite talented, but we can at least use you as a comparison point. Along with those in the upper realms. Assimilation and Integration seem to grow stronger at similar rates. What I’m trying to say is… she took some Trigold Cluster fool’s cultivation, right? Must have been in Integration or she would have to have ascended, plus otherwise the effort wouldn’t have been relevant. So there was already a start there, add on another couple centuries, since that was the last full cycle as far as we know. And Aoibhin is still… just trouble for the Wayfarer. You get what I’m saying?”
“You believe her cultivation was stunted. Slowed or stopped.”
“Something like that,” Gabriela said. “And while we don’t have Aoibhin here, we can still ask someone who might know if that’s a feature. I suppose we can also find what happened to Nicodemo, but I assume if we’re lucky he’s in a hole in the ground, properly buried. Can’t imagine anyone surviving, or keeping them around if they did.”
Anton nodded. “Let’s hope we can find something useful. Though it may not come into play before the assault. Until then… I could push this ship into a nice orbit around the sun, if you’d like.”
“You can? That would help immensely. I was trying not to think about how we’d nudge it around with fighters and the like. Because we can’t just let it drift off… or fall in.”
“It is within my power,” Anton said. “Especially here.”
“Gotta get me a sun,” Gabriela grinned.
“As long as you don’t mind being charcoal, go ahead and try. Though I can’t say the results will turn out in your favor.”
“I’m not a fire cultivator anyway,” she admitted. “Nor am I a… capital ship kinda gal. I don’t think I could ever be Nicodemo.”
“Maybe bond to a whole fleet, then. Ships or people, whatever makes more sense.”
“I-” Gabriela blinked. “I hadn’t seriously considered that. How much does a consultation like this normally cost?”
“The life of a loved one, I guess,” Anton shrugged. “But you can pay me back with two more Assimilation cultivators. Or some equivalent. Either way, I don’t think you’ll have a chance before the assault. Don’t rush it.”
She nodded, “You’re probably right. But it’s nice to see the potential paths open up. How’d you know that?”
“I know everyone above Life Transformation,” Anton said. “And I know Vincent better. He bonded with a great portion of our sect, and could likely guide you in better detail should you proceed down that route. And don’t worry, the only real payment I want is you doing your best to improve the general standard of life. Help others. That sort of thing.”
“No wonder you’re not the richest man in the whole Alliance.”
“Not sure about that,” Anton said, thinking of his bow. Though Everheart hadn’t been great for the sect’s finances, without even considering his contributions to the war this particular bow might have been worth it. It was basically a bribe to stop mutual destruction when they first met, but Anton still treasured it. And if the guy ever came back he was going to be punched in the face or shot with the bow. Or both.
Leaving the warm embrace of a star drained Anton, even if in truth he was only returning to a more reasonable level of power. But power was only valuable if he could use it, and Anton couldn’t launch attacks from anywhere in a system yet. Even if he could, it might lose potency as it left the star’s proximity, even if he himself remained there. A question to resolve at a higher realm of cultivation, he supposed. But he wouldn’t have to think about that for a century or more, so he put that aside.
For the moment, he had to deal with the immediate future- which included retrieving Annelie. His monitoring of the situation at the Northern Glacier Sect found her still alive, but he couldn’t do much more than that with the barrier in place. But with recent victories, the confidence of the Trifold Alliance was high, and they were willing to commit to greater moves. There were many others than just Annelie to get back. While they had noble intentions to sacrifice for others, the complements of void ants should have let many of them retain their lives instead. It was only appropriate, given how Ekict hadn’t intended to follow through on their end.
There was a tingling thought at the back of Anton’s mind about that. It was odd that so many had gone through with it… but it was what it was, and at least they could try to save as many as possible still.
This time Anton wouldn’t be passing through the barrier. They didn’t intend to let it close up anyway, since they were planning on a speedy retrieval, but he would feel more comfortable remaining above. And what was a few dozen kilometers of atmosphere to him anyway? Yes, better to simply attack from the far side of the barrier and contribute to keeping it open. The formation masters were confident it wouldn’t be able to manage their simultaneous attacks, though it was unlikely they could permanently topple the barrier today.
When the time came, Anton started off with some Ascension energy. On its own it was not enough to break the barrier, but he had dozens of ships and Life Transformation cultivators with him, as well as Naid Conaire. The formation master was not him for the sake of combat prowess, but because the Northern Glacier Sect held one of the key points of the global formation, and the chance to weaken or destroy it was quite valuable.
The barrier bowed then tore open as Anton sensed others around the planet doing the same. Ships and cultivators tearing through the barriers. With the barrier opened, they were free to move.
Anton immediately got a clearer sense of things. The Northern Glacier Sect had their own barriers, but they were hardly relevant. “I don’t sense Nurcan,” Anton informed the others. “Strongest opponents should be Life Transformation, but maintain caution.” While Anton very much wanted to kill the woman who was one of the coordinating efforts, he was more interested in retrieving Annelie first.
She seemed to have sensed the incoming attack- along with literally everyone else. Anton felt her power flare, and- morbidly- focused his senses on her to make sure it really was his granddaughter. He breathed a sigh of relief to feel her face, and the little pockets of nothing that signaled the companions sent with her. It took no time at all for her to break out of the prison area she had been staying in for whatever reason… and then she was heading towards other buildings. Not a treasury, but… a library. A good head. Anton was going to have to direct someone with storage bags towards her position, though.
As for helping her along the way, she was quite capable of dominating most opponents. But she would eventually grow tired, so Anton took the opportunity to snipe about half of those on her path, and others who seemed to be thinking about interfering. He continued to keep half his attention on her while he aided the rest of the battlefield and occasionally launched attacks at the barrier trying to repair itself.