Despite the fact that stars were basically just massive explosions, on some scale they could be considered stable and unchanging. Anton had significantly more experience than others with what the inside of a star felt like- both from his bonds and now literally being inside one. So he was quite concerned when the flow from the center of the star increased. If he hadn’t fallen all the way inside, he likely wouldn’t have noticed it for a significant time. Or perhaps ever. But experiencing its personally and then detecting a change… that bothered him.
The flow of energy increased. Did that mean Otakar was now in battle? And if so, should Anton cut off the flow? Could he?
The answers were not quite the same. Even if he could, of which he was uncertain, he didn’t know if he should. With perfect knowledge, he would make the attempt should he think it would significantly impact Otakar. However, he knew nothing of what was happening outside. And making the attempt might have negative consequences. Otakar would know he was still active- and if he was successful at all, that he could affect that flow. Anton wasn’t going to make the bet that Otakar couldn’t survive inside of this star to hunt him down and finish him off.
First, he would study this phenomenon more thoroughly. Inspect it closely without poking and prodding. Among other things, Anton felt the flow was smooth and consistent. That was entirely possible in battle, but Anton presumed otherwise. If used to empower attacks, he would expect there to be spikes and troughs or at least an increasing and decreasing rhythm on some level. This was a consistently heightened flow like he would associate with replenishment. Another good reason to cut off Otakar, if he could. But before he even made the attempt, Anton needed to be in a better state to fight, either physically or metaphysically.
For that, he focused on his physical body first. The wounds on his chest weren’t something easily recoverable, though the fact that his body still remained intact was promising. In the worst case scenario, he could do something like Lev- though their situations were arguably quite different. The vast majority of Lev’s body was intact, except for critical nerves. Meanwhile, Anton was missing more structural muscle and bone, including most of his sternum.
First he had to test if he could draw and fire his bow at all through normal methods. He could certainly pull back the string with just energy, but the loss of muscle power would be troublesome.
Weaving some energy through his chest to hold things together, Anton slowly went through the motions. Fortunately, much of archery involved the shoulder and back muscles. The chest was of secondary concern, except for the important structural elements of the sternum and how it completed the ribcage. His pectoral muscles still twinged with pain from simple movements, but Anton adjusted his stance to use them the least amount possible. It would take some practice, but beyond that he wanted to promote healing in the most critical areas. He might have to concentrate on rebuilding individual muscle strands and regrowing bone, so he couldn’t expect to finish in any reasonable time period.
So before getting too far into that, Anton resolved to find a temporary solution replicating the muscle and bone in the area with natural energy. He wanted to return to battle as soon as possible- but going early would only get him killed, and perhaps create risk to others who would rely on him or try to help him. Thus, Anton was a bundle of focus, hurry, and patience. He just needed to make it through the war, then he could take time to recover properly afterwards.
The alliance forces could not afford to delay. They split into two forces, one heading for the sect that called themselves the Gates of the Earth, and one for the Northern Glacier Sect. There, they expected to find Aoibhin and Nurcan- or if not, remove their basis of power. But the individuals in question were the main target, and any destruction of buildings or deaths of disciples would only be secondary.
There was a limit to how many ships could effectively assault a location at once, and they were generally beyond that- except where the initial bombardments were concerned. Once they had people landing or flying over the area, keeping too many people involved would result in an abundance of friendly fire. Thus, a portion of each were also assigned to patrol the surrounding areas keeping watch for reinforcements. In theory their attacks would be swift, but it was impossible to predict how a battle would go. They might spend time attempting to draw them out and find that they were not present. And unfortunately, the enemy had successfully mobilized much of their forces- reinforcements might arrive quickly at the site of an attack.
The Northern Glacier Sect was cold and harsh, lacking even the semblance of life of the old Frostmirror Sect. At least they had the possibility to descent from their location to a reasonable environment. Instead, the Northern Glacier Sect had supernatural cold in all directions.
In short, Annelie thought she could have organized them much better if she was in charge. But she wasn’t planning to be. She was coming to finish them off for what they attempted to do to her daughter. And her as well, though their official sect head had died for that already. But a one-for-one exchange was only appropriate in the exchanging of goods and services, not when seeking revenge. In such a case, multiplicative retribution was appropriate.
So, logically it would be best to completely eliminate the Northern Glacier Sect. And if she had never been reunited with her grandfather, then perhaps a naive view of logic combined with the Frostmirror Sect’s emotionlessness would have made her make that choice. But even from a pure logical standpoint, it might be best to not completely eliminate them. Ekict could have been a valuable ally, and might still become such… after Transferral was eliminated from the system.
And though she could be heartless when she needed to, Annelie very much had a core of empathy and compassion. The responsibility lay solely on the shoulders of the strongest… or at least significantly enough that they could not pursue all tangential wrongdoing with regards to the attack on the Trifold Alliance.
The initial attack shattered the barrier surrounding the sect- it had been done once before, with fewer forces. Instead of attempting to level the whole thing, Annelie led elite forces to land atop a fancy palace of ice they had, a monument that only served as some sort of ceremonial hall.
“The fault against us lies on the head of your leaders,” Annelie declared. “The rest of you will be spared. We have no intention to wipe you out completely or drive your sect into poverty… but knowledge of Transferral- the stealing of cultivation- will be eliminated.”
A quiet fell over the sect, a calming of energy. Then it began to stir once more, as disciples of various strengths prepared for battle. Ah well, at least she tried. The next step would be to topple their palace… except that not everyone came for them. Instead, a small portion of individual formed up with each other in groups, striking at any elders they could find.
They were hopelessly outnumbered by the other disciples, but had waited for an opportunity. They would have a few moments, at least, before other disciples turned back to fight them. If Annelie would sit down and do nothing, anyway.
“Come on then,” she said to those around her. “We strike those who stand against us, and support any who stand with us.” Annelie didn’t know if these particular individuals had been persuaded- directly or indirectly- by her daughter’s actions, but she liked to think so. Or perhaps they were the brave or cowards- the distinctions between those who would betray their own and for what reason were quite complicated.
Annelie flipped the icy streets over one group. They were just a hodgepodge of Essence Collection cultivators and a couple Life Transformation. Ice cultivators she understood deeply, and those of her sect around her were the same. She had the strength, wrapping enemies in layers of ice and snow and leaving them to be finished off by others.
A core group followed her in her wake of destruction, wandering as she pleased until a minute in when she finally sensed her target. A thousand spears of ice flew from the sky towards Annelie, launched of course by Nurcan.
Annelie simply leapt onto a nearby building, letting the spears follow her and destroy the local buildings. It was up to Nurcan if she wanted to pull her punches or put her sect back together afterwards. Of course, any that would have gotten too close she deflected with her own abilities. A flashy opening, but ultimately inconsequential for Assimilation cultivators. Except Nurcan wasn’t that, but simply an Integration cultivator.
Waves of ice crashed against each other, spikes of ice flying everywhere and the ground itself being used as a weapon as the two began their clash. Nurcan tried to direct the fight towards a central square, but Annelie refused to follow her pace. Mostly, she was preparing for backup to move into position to stop the woman from fleeing. They could ignore everything else but this woman.
“I’m not impressed,” Annelie said. “Why not use your true cultivation?”
Nurcan narrowed her eyes, a sweep of her arm sending ripples through the ground- pillars of ice attempting to fling Annelie in the air bursting out from underneath. She allowed one to do so, just to see how Nurcan would react. “This is my true cultivation,” she said. Beneath Annelie, a rift opened in the ice.
Annelie fell towards it and then… stopped. “Is that really the best you can do? Shouldn’t you be bombarding me with illusions?” Perhaps it was happening… but no, the words had been said with too much conviction. Nurcan glared at Annelie. “What? Am I not allowed to fly simply because I cultivate ice? At my stage, it’s not unreasonable.” She was nowhere near as good as Anton, who freely moved through space… but she could at least handle herself. “I suppose you haven’t fought any true cultivators.”
“I slew several Integration cultivators among the invaders,” Nurcan retorted.
“Weakened individuals. And one of them was the one whose cultivation you stole, I presume. Stealing the cultivation of thieves to practice your arts instead of developing your own cultivation to a greater level… a bold idea, but foolish.” The woman certainly displayed the energy of the Northern Glacier Sect- with the hidden Twin Soul Sect component underneath. As the latter had to be able to emulate pretty much any style, it wasn’t odd that she chose that of her original sect.
“You speak as if it is so easy.”
Annelie shrugged, “While I am not the first to develop Assimilation among our people, I am still in the first generation.”
“And yet you would not share it with us, keeping your secrets.”
Annelie laughed. “You were mere years, perhaps months away from having these secrets shared with you. Had you treated my daughter well, I would have personally guided your sect head. But now, she’s dead.” Annelie suddenly moved, leaping off the air towards Nurcan. “I thought glaciers were supposed to be patient.”
A spike of ice drove through her from just in front of Nurcan. “We are,” the woman said.
“I disagree,” Annelie said from behind her, letting the icy replica shatter. “Have you ever studied the fire arts?”
“Of course not,” Nurcan said, waving her arms to cause the surrounding buildings- themselves made of ice- to crash together.
Annelie’s voice continued to speak. “Not at all? With your stolen cultivation you had the best opportunity. And if not, you should have at least known more about reflections and mirages.” Annelie grabbed the woman’s shoulder from the side, tossing her towards the rift Nurcan had opened- and then stomping on the ground to close it herself. Just once wouldn’t be enough to kill a woman like that, of course, but Annelie let the icy rift rebound open, only to slam it closed with even greater force… again and again. Until the only thing that was visible was a thin line of red visible atop opaque ice.