The dead planet caused Anton to make many assumptions, but he was glad to be wrong about one of them, given the circumstances. From what he understood the Trigold Cluster tended to be quite thorough with destroying records to reduce the ability of the raided systems to fight back during the next cycle. That was the case with everywhere they had encountered- plus the twin planets where they had gone a step further to attempt total annihilation.
Here, it seemed they had considered the destruction of life combined with shunting the planet out of the habitable zone to be sufficient. Anton didn’t see any cultivation techniques or anything that seemed to have value left behind, but they didn’t bother destroying everything. In a way, it made sense. If everyone was going to be dead, why be meticulous? They wouldn’t be able to fight back next time, because they would be dead. And the Trigold Cluster wouldn’t be returning regardless.
But that left records. Including a few Anton found frozen to the desks in front of several scholars who seemed to have been furiously writing until the last moments. He very carefully sliced away the ice freezing one of them to the wood and carried it outside. A simple application of fire would be enough to melt the ice, but he needed to not destroy the paper at the same time. It wasn’t anything Anton had specifically done before, but if he couldn’t manage something like that in the Enrichment stage perhaps he needed to study the basics of energy again.
It didn’t take long before he had the text in his hands and had read through it. His speculation had not been far off. Jinrisa had managed to fight back the cycle before their demise, but unfortunately had been weakened enough that when the retaliatory attacks came in greater force they weren’t able to resist. The power described was much greater than anything Anton had experienced, involving dozens of Augmentation cultivators. The same hadn’t happened to them, but there had been an abnormally short cycle. Perhaps that had made them unable to bring their full power to bear, or perhaps there had been special circumstances for Jinrisa specifically.
He began to scour the planet. Every scrap of paper, every book or carved stone was read by him. He pierced his energy many kilometers into the planet searching for hidden locations, and indeed stumbled upon a few- though they were not as well hidden as they might once have been with active formations.
It took him over a year, but he was able to piece together the reason. Such as the reason was. It seemed to come down to a certain member of the Tilki clan who had come to Jinrisa for ‘training’. The lass had been killed, obviously. But it seemed that she was either extremely important or the clan was extremely petty, and the Tilki clan influential enough to cause the planet’s extermination.
Anton hadn’t heard of such a clan, though he would admit to not having had long chats with anyone from the upper realms. It was unclear if this particular clan only dealt with planets closer to the border, or in a certain region or… perhaps these events had happened so long ago that they had died out. Though Anton was a bit iffy on that possibility. It wasn’t possible for him to precisely judge how long it had been, given how everything was frozen, but even in such a state things slowly decayed. Very slowly, perhaps, without bacteria or much in the way of weather- but the thinner atmosphere also allowed more radiation in.
Anton judged it had been a handful of cycles at most. Though that could still be as much as three millennia, he knew that many organizations in the upper realms had longer histories than that. Specifically within the great powers, because in the Scarlet Midfields there had been only a few that survived the destruction of the war between the Exalted Quadrant and the Trigold Cluster, and they only survived in name. The Harmonious Citadel might have been over a millennium old, but not much beyond that.
Looking at the state of the planet, Anton didn’t quite know what he could learn. If it was that standing up for yourself and trying not to die might still lead to death regardless… he could accept that as true with the caveat of might. But he wouldn’t lie down and take it. Especially since he found little point in living as if he was already dead and then dying. The survival of future generations was certainly something to consider, but at this point the Alliance couldn’t change its response even if they wanted to.
The fact that greater retribution might yet come wasn’t anything new, either. It just spelled out specific possibilities. And if it was only a few dozen Augmentation cultivators, limited by their presence in the lower realms… Anton thought that they could kill them as many times as they came. Furthermore, some of the formation experts had been working long distance with Catarina to actually enhance the drain from the swap between ascension energy and natural energy.
Ultimately it wasn’t them in the lower realms that Anton was worried about. The problem would be the upper realms. He had heard great things about the security of Xankeshan, but ultimately one planet alone wouldn’t be sufficient to stand against the forces of the great powers.
There was a reason Everheart wore different faces by default. It wasn’t because he didn’t like his own face. That would be preposterous. He was perfect, after all. All sorts of people looked fine when they were old. Like that Anton fellow. And obviously Everheart looked just as good as that. No, it was because literally everyone wanted to kill him. It was simply a question of whether they knew it or not.
And Everheart liked them to not know it until just after it was too late to actually achieve that goal. Currently he had made his way into the Trigold Cluster’s territory, to one of the main planets of the Slithering Serpent Sect.
Why them? Why not them. They had come to the Scarlet Midfields and completely ignored his system. Sure, he hadn’t specifically taunted them, but they’d come all the way out to whisk away one guy and hadn’t even considered dropping by.
Also, they were quite conveniently located a mere couple dozen lightyears past the border. And they had a nice storehouse full of poison that he needed to make one of his planets more toxic.
Everheart checked his belt. Extra capacity storage bags. Formation flags. Bribe money in case he got spotted. And of course various other utility things like weapons. Then of course there were the pre-written notes telling them where all their stuff had gone. He couldn’t carry everything they had no matter how big he made his storage bags so he really would prefer they bring some of it to him.
Then he walked through their front gates, feeling just like one of their disciples for all their senses could tell. And unlike some places, that was good enough. Honestly, Xankeshan kept actual track of everyone who was supposed to be there. And they could pull up the information instantly using their fancy ‘technology’ stuff. How was he supposed to steal all of that if he couldn’t regularly get down to their planet? He would have to wait until it proliferated more widely to keep ahead of these scoundrels out here.
But he was getting distracted. He had to reach his goal. First, past the snake pits. He took a good look, as there were some fine snakes in there. Maybe he could snatch a few, set up his own farm. Probably that big one… it looked quite nice.
Better to do that on the way out, though. He passed the slave pens, next to the snakes for testing purposes most likely, and continued on towards the storehouse, where he produced a letter that someone had kindly put together for him in exchange for his life. “I’m here to retrieve a few things, sit,” he said to the elder in charge.
The woman frowned at him, but he just smiled back. On the inside he was recoiling at being polite, but on the outside he was just a disciple getting supplies. “Rows 15, 23, and 6,” she said. “Go on.”
“You aren’t going to escort me?” Everheart said, legitimately surprised. “I don’t really know my way around-”
“No. I don’t have time for people like you. Now get moving. And you know better than to touch things you shouldn’t.”
Well. That made the specific things on the list much less important. He wouldn’t have to stumble, have them all crash together, and create a deadly gas that would incapacitate his escort silently. When the doors closed behind him, he felt her senses fade away. Probably counting on the formations to take care of everything.
Just in case there were hidden layers he wasn’t expecting, he did walk around to the aforementioned shelves- while internally criticizing their layout. Some of this was a disaster waiting to happen! Sure, he had been intentionally planning one of those disasters, but they really didn’t need him if someone was a little clumsy. Then again, average disciples shouldn’t be walking into this place unsupervised.
He made his way around and determined that he understood the formations well enough. He had scratched a few markings along the way, and pulled out a couple formation flags and planted them. Then he reached out to start swiping things off the shelves before the formations raised the alarm for not having theft. A simple reversal of the logic in the systems. Easily exploitable. Which is why the elder was supposed to escort people in the warehouse.
Disaster almost struck when an actual disciple came around a corner, so weak that Everheart hadn’t even sensed their energy. Of course, that same weakness that allowed for surprise also meant that when Everheart’s fist reflexively hit them in the face they were knocked out. Without any energy involved, even. Everheart paused for a moment. He understood why someone with his cover could be here. He had a letter from someone important. Why this chump?
“Ooh, that’s a lot of stuff in your pockets for a crappy disciple,” Everheart said. Then he went back to sweeping everything off the shelves. After that, he walked out. There was only one moment where the elder’s senses flashed into the room that she could have sensed the unconscious disciple or cleared shelves, but she just glared at Everheart on his way out.
Lovely woman, really.
The locks on the cages were extremely easy to open. Amateurish, really. Sure, the formations were solid but the locks themselves were pickable by babies. Though not enough cultivators learned to pick locks for some reason.
Either way, once he got the first one it only took one second for each of the following ones, so by the time the first cage swung open and someone poked their head out, Everheart was nearly gone.
“… Are you helping us escape?” the man asked.
“Am I? No, quite the contrary,” Everheart shook his head. “But the opportunity will be there if you can seize it. No, you’re helping me escape,” Everheart said.
The warehouse was bound to have someone go in soon. Frankly it was surprising there weren’t a dozen people in there. Why even have it if it wasn’t in constant use?
So around the time the alarms would be raised there, the slaves would be escaping. And of course… Everheart looked into the snake pen. Yes, he’d take exactly those two. He jumped in, grabbing the large serpents behind the neck and shoving them into a bag, specially made for living things. It didn’t come with more air, oh no. It slowed the metabolism of everything inside so they wouldn’t do anything during the wait. And enough air to survive. Everheart did grab a bit of food as he scurried out the pen doors followed by dozens of serpents. Hundreds and thousands of more would be released in a few moments.
Everheart came to a screeching halt. He almost forgot to leave the note. He carefully pulled one out and tossed it into a prominent location. Then he changed his look as he walked around the corner and yelled. “What’s going on? Why are there so many alarms?”
With that, he became part of the confused mob until he managed to work his way out of the secure locations to his concealed ship. He might hit up another couple places since he was in the area, but for now he should get out of this particular one.