Given the location, Vari expected everything to be a deathtrap. However, she thought common courtesy was that within the Everheart system it would mostly be the planets that tried to kill her. Or at least the other visitors. At the far end, she could see it being reasonable that deathtraps would begin at the outer limits of the system. That was why she’d planned to disembark her ship outside the system and make the rest of the trip solo. She had very little reason to believe she would be safe, but she at least had a few points in her favor. Coming on official business, a speedy ship of the Scarlet Alliance had carried her to the outskirts where it was promptly pulled out of subspace by a distortion beast.
The ship had somehow limped away as Vari wrestled with a creature that seemed to be made only of various sized spines- from large ones that could have been hollowed out to make a tower to microscopic ones that dug into upper energy and latched on, slowly burrowing inward.
Vari was still shedding her outer layer of defenses as she fled the scene, now resting on a lone asteroid upon which she hadn’t found any traps. Rather than presuming it was a safe place to rest, she was more worried than ever. If she didn’t find any traps, then she simply wasn’t cognizant enough.
She clicked her tongue. “All I needed to do was find Everheart. Or a piece of Everheart.”
Her sort-of-uncle had previously shown that he probably wouldn’t kill her. That was the unfortunate reason she had been selected as the delegate sent to him- or rather, why they had even considered sending one at all.
Vari looked down at the asteroid beneath her. Was it growing over her, or was she sinking into it? Perhaps the difference was purely academic. Either way, she kicked her legs to break away, throwing herself away and into a trajectory she hoped wouldn’t run into anything of note in the near future. She needed a short break to recover her energy. As far as she was from the Harmonious Citadel’s territory, she could only rely on the upper energy and less on devotion. That made her consider that she had to come up with a new source at some point- but she wouldn’t be upset about losing some power after achieving a long time goal of revenge. She’d put so much effort into furthering their goals to not be acknowledged, and that was before she knew that her disregard was not just apathy.
So while it would be slightly inconvenient when the saints were gone, she didn’t consider that future an actual problem. What would she even need so much power for, once they were gone?
Over the course of a year, Anton was made aware of several more underwater bases. Various individuals were responsible for revealing them and the connections to them, but the one Anton recognized most prominently was Derpy.
The giant flounder had a knack for finding people, and none of the cultivators bothered to take note of his presence. He wasn’t terribly good at communicating- at best Anton managed to wrangle out whether people had overall entered or left a location. But Derpy could lead Anton to specific individuals outside of the base, or at least where they made land. That let Anton track them down and follow them thereafter.
It seemed the Trigold Cluster’s spies had taken the extermination efforts seriously. Even with that ongoing, they had managed to set up a fairly complex system of drop points and indirect communication, all while gathering the materials for their formation master to set up formations in several disparate locations.
They were aided in part by the growth of local beasts. A coincidence, as far as Anton could tell. It should have been expected, really. With human cultivators limited in number and the overall natural energy levels of the planet increasing, of course the wild beasts would go stronger. It simply hadn’t been an issue on Ceretos because even after the wars their numbers had not dropped so precipitously, and they were already managing the globe just fine.
Anton wondered if the spies knew this would happen. Surely the Trigold Cluster had previous experience with the same, given their invasions of other worlds. That hadn’t been a matter anyone had been interrogated on previously, but it was now of note. He would suggest the topic to others, though it was of lesser importance compared to making sure they rooted out all of the invader spies.
The sharpness of the blade in front of Chidi was almost sufficient to cut him in two, despite it simply being displayed in front of him. He had to admit, Rakiya had good taste in swords. Her blade ranked along with the highest of his master’s blades, even after Chikere secured Grandmaster Smith Sadiq’s blade in the combined tournament and trap so many years before.
No, nor her blade. The blade she had carried. Chidi was uncertain if it had ever truly belonged to Rakiya, but at minimum it was his now. His blade. The first one he’d taken for himself, instead of receiving from someone else. He still appreciated the weapon Chikere had picked out for him, but it had been set aside for this one. Unlike her, he used a single blade at a time. Though he had been considering adaptations to his style that might incorporate two, any more than that was simply impractical. Grandmaster Chikere might manage it, but she was only focused on the flow of energy she used directly to attack, and not what it meant with regards to the flow of energy on a wider scale. She didn’t make use of formations, just the straightforward essence of blades.
Every time Chidi trained with his mother, he understood to a greater extent his imperfections. The formation markings he had carved into himself… well, they were not yet perfect, but neither would he consider them flawed. Instead, if he was unable to take advantage of the core he had formed for himself, that was an issue for himself in the current time.
Strangely, he found his style shifting more towards that of his swordmaster even as he learned more about formations. The simple fact of the matter was, he didn’t need to affect the flow of energy to generate a formation if he could defeat an enemy with a few simple moves. Against his mother, it would rarely work- though that didn’t mean he never tried. After all, how could it be training if he didn’t push himself to grow?
He of course continued his efforts in the army as a scout, but that would only continue for a short time. Yaitis would be fully in the control of the Scarlet Alliance soon, and Chidi would have to consider where his future led from there. Defeating the Harmonious Citadel was still his wish, but the way he would contribute to that was unclear.
Of important note was whether or not he would be going with Aconite wherever she decided. She was seeking out practical training with regards to her poison abilities. Chidi couldn’t help with that directly, but he knew having someone around to support her could be useful. So it was less a matter of whether he intended to go, but instead if she wanted to bring him. Perhaps he might hold her back in some way. If they did separate, Chidi would miss her- but he knew that as long as they both survived they could meet again. Whatever Aconite decided was best he would go along with.
In just a few short years, Anishka would have spent the same amount of time living with the people of Ekict as she had her family on Ceretos. This place was just as much a home for her, though she didn’t plan to stay indefinitely. The same was true of Ceretos. While there was likely a limitless amount of information to learn within a single system, the rate at which such learning could be accomplished diminished with time as more was covered. She still had the same ambitions that had fueled her early cultivation, even as she now understood it was impossible. But she didn’t need to know anything. The pursuit of her goals was what mattered.
“What do you think, Sergeant?” Anishka asked the little void ant. “They’re not doing so bad here now.”
“This is a fine place,” the Sergeant agreed, wiggling her forearms and antennae. “Should the people wish it, I would suggest to the queens that colonies be established here. However, I understand that would best wait for another human generation.”
“It’s not so easy for people to forget,” Anishka agreed. “Though for many, the changes were welcome.” She gestured in front of them, towards a series of formations that channeled the heat of the sun into a contained area.
“Such a dangerous place,” the Sergeant said. “I don’t understand how you humans subject yourself to that.”
“Do you mean your training isn’t dangerous?” Anishka asked.
“Of course not. I merely have to deal with dense natural energy. Perfectly safe. And tasty, sometimes.”
“For us, that is less dangerous,” Anishka gestured to the area in front. “But since the heat isn’t sustained by natural energy itself, it’s certainly a more significant threat to you.” Anishka believed the Sergeant continued to underestimate herself, but she also didn’t want to push her friend further than she felt comfortable. At least she was willing to admit she existed as an individual now. Admitting she might be strong seemed like it would take longer, even if intentional training was making it ever more true.
The current location they were staying was the former home of the Enkindled Sun Sect, currently occupied in part by the Vermillion Inferno, along with half a dozen other fire sects. After all, the facilities that still remained intact were much more than they had access to in their own sects, and it would be a shame to not use them. As for working out how to share, it wasn’t terribly difficult. Oh, the process had taken years to fully iron out- but the sects had naturally been managing just fine before they had official details.
In a century or two, the plan was for the training grounds of large sects to be mostly irrelevant. Ekict was on a course to improve the natural energy of the system, just like the Trifold Alliance had done.
Anishka saw Celina approaching. “I can’t believe you’re already in Life Transformation,” the woman said.
“You will be soon enough,” Anisha replied. “Don’t sell yourself short.”
“Only because the Vermillion Inferno got access to good cultivation methods to study.”
“Are you saying that the Fire and Ice Palace’s methods aren’t good?”
“Then it’s not strange at all. I just had access to good methods earlier.”
“I suppose so,” Celina nodded. “Is it true you’re leaving?”
“Not forever,” Anishka said. “But people have grown uncomfortable with my presence. We were just at war, and even if those who live here wanted to take down the larger sects… you also aren’t fond of outsiders.”
“We should have focused on what we actually knew. The Trigold Cluster is… well, you know. But we should have at least tried to understand not everyone was like that.”
“Lessons of the older generation that reach the young,” Anishka nodded. “Though I doubt they wanted to be that lesson.”
“I imagine not,” Celina said. “And now we’re far behind where we could be. We’d have some Assimilation cultivators by now, I bet, had the war not happened.”
“And we were perhaps too trusting,” Anishka said. “If we had been on guard, showed no openings… would those sects have launched the war?”
“I think not, but ultimately it got rid of them. And that’s probably for the better. Just as long as others come to accept your people,” Celina said. “I understand that not everyone shares my opinions.”
“And that is why I will be leaving. I don’t need to seem as a threat. And of course, the Sergeant will come with me.”
“Most people don’t understand how much that should make them relieved,” Celina grinned at the little ant. “Since those who survived didn’t have to fight void ants.”
The Sergeant signed in response. “It is unfortunate that we had to battle at all.”
Everyone agreed on that. But the influence of previous generations- both successes and failures- inevitably influenced those who came after. It was impossible to have a perfect result, and for the cultivators of Ekict death and wars had just been part of life. Even if it didn’t have to be.