As the counterattack plans were currently on hold as the existence of Worldbinding cultivators was made known, Anton was working on alternate options with Everheart.
“It is possible to set up a formation around the system…?” Anton asked.
“Anything is possible,” Everheart said. “But we’d need to dismantle a few of our planets, or perhaps those of Weos. Plus rip a reasonable chunk off of that star of theirs to keep it running. If you want it to do anything, anyway.”
“Didn’t you make an intrusion detection formation around Ceretos?”
“Sure,” Everheart nodded. “And I just recently updated it to pick up on this thing that the Sylanis Cluster is doing, tests pending. Speaking of which, snag me a few of those ships will ya?”
“… I’m sure we can find some excuse for the esteemed Scholar Eulogius to get some time with some vessels.”
“Yeah, anyway… without me in a system to keep track of things a sensory thing like that won’t do much but let people know that something showed up. Doesn’t help track them further or pick out the target, so it’s just barely relevant with what they already have.” Everheart stroked his chin. “I need to get more of their technical manuals. Moving more of the burden to the construction techniques instead of expensive materials or quantity of natural energy is intriguing.”
“You don’t seem particularly concerned about anything that’s happened.”
“What’s there to get in a fuss about? The Twin Soul Sect got all chopped up in Weos. These Worldbinding cultivators can’t do crap to me if I don’t go to them first.” Everheart cleared his throat, “I mean, I’d still kick their asses, obviously, but that’s such a pain.”
“What, you wanna go again?” Everheart gripped his hands into fists. “Come on then, you young punk!”
“It seems inevitable that this group will come for Ceretos. They’ll weaken us…”
“You mean they’ll kill people,” Everheart countered. “You guys have gone decades without much actual war. People could use the experience. Overall, you might come out ahead.”
“Or we might not,” Anto said.
“Bah, Ceretos already has a continental defense formation, and those Archipelago guys can handle their own crap. What are you worried about?”
As always, Everheart was basically right, and annoyingly so. But ‘basically’ was not ‘completely’. “Our allies need to cause enough damage that the scenario goes in our favor. If they’re just sending what they can spare now, perhaps there will be an endless tide.”
“They’ve already got planetary defenses on Rutera itself. Nobody will let me work on it though so they’ll have to handle it how it is. If they want me to toss up another formation, I need time and materials. They’re handling everything great as it is.”
“Unless the enemy gets serious.”
“Yeah, well,” Everheart shrugged, “What are you gonna do about that? Defending for so long might make them amp up their attacks… or maybe they’ll just keep a nice steady stream of combat experience coming in. Maybe they’ll stop if a counterattack happens… or maybe you’ll have poked the hornet’s nest.”
Anton continued to hate it when Everheart was right. “What are we supposed to do then?”
“Personally I prefer setting the hornet’s nest on fire,” Everheart replied. “I just assumed you didn’t want to rile them up.”
“Maybe you could-”
“I’m not being part of any sort of assault unless you offer me an entire planet. And not one of the crappy ones.”
Anton would be keeping that idea for later. They really didn’t need to start some sort of crusade… but just sitting around waiting for the enemy to come to them was a potential sign of weakness as well.
Outside the meeting room Anton found Merve right where he’d left her. Of course, he’d kept his senses trained on her just in case… but he couldn’t leave her alone, nor did he trust her with knowledge about Everheart. He was almost certain that the man had no enmity with this Sylanis cluster… but if they had ties to the upper realms and the information somehow got to them? That would be a problem. Anton didn’t believe Merve would betray him intentionally, but it was possible to be wrong. If she never had a chance, then it wouldn’t matter.
“… Why are your private meetings with Scholar Eulogius more secured than with the general and president?”
“If I told you, that would undermine the whole point,” Anton answered. Merve might have been defeated in battle by Rutera and confused about her own place in the world, but she certainly could ask questions that got straight to the heart of things. A spy? But she hadn’t been particularly cooperative, and there was no way they would have known she would survive and Anton would single her out. There was no way they could train enough people to make a random sampling probable without giving something away, either. So… wasted potential.
“Thank you for answering,” Merve said. “Instead of… yelling at me.”
“That doesn’t provide solutions,” Anton said. Sure, Everheart yelled at and derided people- but whenever he did so he included pertinent information why. Not that he was a good leader, but he could at least coordinate people how he wanted.
“It… didn’t,” Merve agreed. “I’m still working through your alterations to my cultivation method. They’re… good.”
“But not flawless,” Anton extrapolated. “I haven’t ever practiced it, you know? Want to explain what I got wrong?”
“Well it’s, uh…”
“I can’t fix anything unless I know. I think I likely did well enough for you to reach the peak, maybe Ascension, but if you found flaws one of us has to fix it.” Anton shrugged, “Could be you, if you’d prefer.”
“There’s not much I have to compare to…” Merve admitted. “And maybe I’m the one who’s wrong. You’re a Worldbinding cultivator, after all.”
“And if that made me perfect, we’d all be exactly the same strength,” Anton said. “I can throw some reference material at you.” He had complete techniques for more than just the Hundred Stars. Even if he didn’t provide those of allies, there was everything from the Exalted Archipelago- those given by the Worthy Shore Society and those taken during the conflict. The rest of the Exalted Archipelago had already moved into the locations the expunged sects occupied, and had at least crowded those of sects merely weakened.
There was something that should be interestingly compatible, at least for reference. It was rather difficult to transmit anything so complicated as a cultivation method to or from the upper realms- words weren’t enough, the inspired writing required more behind it to truly work. And based on what he had heard Anton wouldn’t recommend the practice of either the Holy or Glorious Harmony Techniques, but they could provide some insights.
Everheart was aware of the group that had somehow managed to trigger the old formations on Xankeshan. He should have seen it coming, injured or not. His projections… had. And if he had done his due diligence converting everything to his whims in secret, he might have had reasonable sway over the planet even now.
Instead, he’d chosen to rest… and to draw people in to provide him with more materials and a steady flow of whatever he might need. Captured miracle pills had helped multiply his recovery speed, and the thought of hiding in plain sight tickled him… but maybe it had been the wrong thing to do.
Then again, either option could have been correct- his failure was he had not done either well enough. He was most upset with this formation master he had in mind, furious at what she’d learned from him. If he weren’t leery of going back to the upper realms at the moment he might seek to kill her. Though she also happened to be his favorite not-apprentice, because damn had she pulled off some good tricks. Pretending to take rewards for herself given his rules and then just distributing things as she pleased? Weirdly unselfish, but defiant. He liked it.
In a few centuries, when he was all healed up and she’d had proper time to develop into some sort of monster, they’d duke it out on a battlefield of formations. But for now… they were working together to improve messaging between the lower and upper realms. This was a unique situation, with Everheart being so familiar with how the upper realms worked. He was impressed at how she’d managed simple, textual communications at all- even through interference of upper energy and other distortions. Even his own formations hadn’t been enough, though to be fair Everheart had never meant to make them entirely insurmountable. It was more fun that way.
The current talks about spatial distortion and ascension as well as returning were quite interesting. There were even talks of sending material goods… but that was not something simple. Everheart of course carried things with him from the upper realms, but travel was not as easy as he made it seem- and his connection to the lower realms had been required. Perhaps if they had anything valuable enough to exchange that it would warrant an individual spending years traversing the vast distance between them it might be looked into, but otherwise that method was out.
But sending messages with sensory information wouldn’t be impossible. Images of a person, perhaps even seeing them stand in a room. Would that provide anything useful? Did Everheart care if it had utility? These were all important questions. There would still be no method to have instantaneous communications. Everheart doubted there would be a way to break space apart thoroughly enough to allow for such- certainly not at a price people would be willing to pay. Still, a few weeks- double that round trip- was of little consequence to the man. Even the younger Catarina was old enough to not concern herself with such delays.
Stars filled Anton’s eyes. One, then another- flipping between the two as he wished. Rutera’s telescopes were immensely impressive, and with just a little bit of tweaking and enhancing his own eyes, Anton could see Okloi- and its stars. The planets were admittedly lacking pertinent details, though there were occasional blurry blobs that could have been lights from cities. Perhaps a small increase in clarity would allow them to spy on their neighbors… albeit with years old data. Anton wondered if they might do the same in reverse. Certainly, there should be visible signs of human habitation on Rutera.
Through Matija and others she knew, Anton was able to get access to all of the information on Okloi that they had. There was another name, of course, but Anton preferred not to mix too many at once. Knowing what the people inside it called it was best, and Azoth retained its name out of habit.
The fascinating thing about the binary star system of Okloi was the orbit of the planets. Depending on the threshold, there were between three and five in each possible orbit- directly around either star, or in a larger path around both of them.
Anton watched with anticipation. It would be a short time before he could Assimilate with two additional stars, and while the versatility of two systems seemed like a reasonable option, the potential power of one system was far too tempting. And if he were to be fighting older, more established ‘Worldbinding’ cultivators? Anton was going to need as much power as he could get.
Until that time, he would familiarize himself with the system. Perhaps knowing the stars better would ease his transition. Besides his first Assimilation it hadn’t been particularly difficult to connect himself, but he thought he might need to attempt to connect to both at the same time. That was a cultivator hunch. Perhaps it would be wrong… but if he missed an opportunity to achieve a preferred outcome because he wasn’t willing to spend some time, Anton couldn’t forgive himself. Anton really didn’t want to risk dying, now that he was aware of the increasing magnitude of local threats, but he couldn’t exactly choose to remain stagnant in cultivation. Sometimes, risks had to be taken to learn and grow.