When the time came that the country of Vochaye called upon the Order of One Hundred Stars to help defend themselves, Anton couldn’t pretend to not exist. As the sect head, he owed it to his disciples to ease their burdens. He would fight for the country as required. But he lied. He lied so very much.
He’d even lied to his own sect, technically. He gave them the same explanations that he was currently giving to the young fellow in command. “Horizon Shot is named that because it lets you shoot as far as the horizon,” Anton said. That was a total fabrication, of course. Even from the very conception of the technique, Kseniya had intended for it to shoot beyond the horizon. But the most powerful cultivators in the local branch were still in Spirit Building at the one decade mark, so it was easy enough for them to believe that the horizon was the limit instead of the starting point.
“Interesting,” said the young general Elling. “Can you demonstrate?”
“Of course, sir,” Anton said with actual respect. Elling might have been from a powerful local sect and definitely seemed too young to be in charge, but he at least treated even the smaller sects with respect. Thus, he was entitled to have it in return. “Where would you like me to shoot?”
“How about that tree on top of the hill?” Elling suggested.
“Certainly,” Anton said. He made a proper demonstration out of it. He pulled out his bow- a much less valuable backup weapon- and slowly formed the Spirit Arrow. It was glacial by his current metrics, at least. For early Essence Collection which was his stated cultivation, it was quite fast. He pulled back the string to his ear as the Spirit Arrow formed, took a moment to ‘aim’, and released. He rode with his arrow, not for need of guiding it for accuracy, but nearly the opposite. He made certain that he did not hit exactly the center of the tree as was his instinct, nor did he allow his energy to penetrate all the way through the sturdy tree. “You will be able to see if you approach.”
“It did look like it hit from here,” Elling said. “But I should be able to see it with some concentration.”
The young man shifted his stance, and with it came the jangling sound of chains. Dangling from each wrist was a chain with a heavy ball at the end. Though heavy was relative to cultivation, of course. Elling’s cultivation was only a bit further along than Anton’s stated cultivation of early Essence Collection, though the Austere Chain Palace had elders in late Essence Collection. And one Life Transformation cultivator nobody was supposed to know about. It hadn’t taken Anton much effort to accidentally find the man, however.
Elling’s legs were bound similarly. The heavy chains were a method of training, weapons, and a reminder of the sect’s creed. The weight of responsibility weighed down upon all. It was a bit too literal of a metaphor for Anton’s personal taste, but that was about the worst he could say about the sect. Which was to say, he liked them. Which was why he tolerated them taking charge.
The young man finally nodded. “I see it. Punched a finger width hole half a meter deep!” He nodded seriously. “We’re glad to have you on our side.”
They should be. Though Anton had no intention to say that. He was keeping a lower profile now, with the intention to make big moves later. But he wanted to build up some trust first.
“I will be on the same battlefield as my disciples, won’t I?” Anton asked.
“Of course,” Elling nodded. “We’re not so crazy as to break apart the teamwork of the sects. Nor do we want to mess around with the chain of command.” Elling looked over at a portion of their army with a frown.
“What is it?” Anton asked, knowing perfectly well the man’s concerns.
“I wish we didn’t have to recruit non-cultivators. But Stauso has drafted many of their citizens. We have to make up for the numbers this way but,” he shook his head, “I pity them.”
“There is an easy solution for that, you know?” Anton said.
“And what is that?” Elling asked.
“Have them become cultivators. Even a month or two of training and a single step into cultivation will drastically improve their success.”
“Could they even learn anything?”
“You’d be surprised,” Anton said.
“Well, the Austere Chain Palace isn’t likely to take them on as disciples. Nor would any of the others.” He looked to Anton, “Unless you are volunteering the Order?”
“I don’t know if that would go over well with anyone,” Anton said. “And I do have certain standards I must verify before they could join. However…” Anton grinned, “I do have a basic technique I am willing to share. It does cover all of Body Tempering. And I hear it is easier to transition to other cultivation methods compared to some.” Which is to say, it had been developed specifically for that purpose.
“And what is it called?”
“It is the Ten Step Body,” Anton said. “I wouldn’t mind instructing that company.”
“Hmm,” Elling frowned. “It is certainly tempting, but they also need to learn how to handle a weapon. I’m not certain if they have time for both.”
“That is the beauty of the method,” Anton said. “It smoothly integrates with other training.” Personally, Anton thought that any method that strictly required individuals to sit in meditation doing nothing else for a long period was likely flawed, with few exceptions.
“Well, I don’t mind you trying,” Elling admitted. “As long as you can manage your sect’s integration into the greater army as well.”
“Aykorkem can manage our squads just fine, and I will be within shouting range regardless. If you could introduce me?”
Anton planned to poach at least a few of these individuals for the Order, assuming they were interested. Offers would be made without regard for talent, but after just a few days he could determine much about this group. Watching them train with spears, a standard battlefield weapon, he learned about their temperament and attitude. Though some other sects would doubtless be interested in some who had decent talent- it was easy to miss people who simply never had a chance to prove themselves, and a few hundred individuals was nothing to sneeze at.
Battle came, as was inevitable. Anton found it interesting how he had fought wars on a much grander scale with fewer participants on particular battlefields. But with Poriza’s lower natural energy things were all scaled down towards a level where those without cultivation could still contribute. Or in the case of their particular army, those with little cultivation. Anton made certain that everyone had a chance to achieve at least basic success, strengthening their body and having some amount of natural energy, even if they could only use it to deflect a blow or two or augment a single attack. Time was the limiting factor there, as well as the planet itself.
The battle began, and Anton had difficult decisions to make. Many, many difficult decisions. It was unfair for him to have to make the choices, but it was also unfair for him to have the power he did compared to anyone else. But ultimately, Anton had significant control over everyone who lived and died on the battlefield.
He wasn’t going to let any disciples of the Order die. They would get injured, yes. That was part of battle, and coddling them by keeping them completely safe would only increase the danger they were in later. Some might even nearly die. As for others, Anton intended to leave the proper sects to fend for themselves except as he was directed to aid them. It would be complicated for him to interfere with them regardless. No matter how subtle he made his energy, out of hundreds of people something would eventually be connected to him.
That left the drafted members on their side… and also those of Stauso. None of them chose to be here. He had come to know their own side, and while it was only a shallow relationship he still wanted them to live. Even the worst of them. Anton could easily assume that the enemy would be the same. So he would do his best to keep them from dying unnecessarily, but not at the expense of their own side.
As for the enemy sects… it was absolutely within Anton’s purview to be targeting their leadership, and he didn’t mind that at all. This war was completely unnecessary. There was enough space for everyone, and enough land for producing food. But people always wanted more than they absolutely needed. Even Anton was like that, but he preferred to just find ways to improve productivity.
Elling fought well. Each limb’s shackles were also weapons, spinning flails attacking his enemy with every spin and twirl. An entirely impractical fighting style if one did not have natural energy, as the rebound of a chained weapon would inevitably strike the wielder eventually. The spinning as well, because half the time he had his back to the enemy. But instead of being impractical, with the aid of natural energy and cultivation senses it became quite an effective fighting style. Though Anton could see some flaws, that was exactly what Elling would be training to improve. Nobody would be perfect immediately, even with a perfect technique to study.
One of the primary opponents in this particular battle were the Wandering Tiger Cult. They used claw weapons, unnecessarily vicious and prone to tearing rather than slicing properly. They emulated none of the ability of beasts, but only their savagery. Anton did his best to limit their chances to make use of it, within reason. A few visible shots at a time and however many more were necessary came from hidden energy bows at a great distance, making use of light to attack instantaneously.
Anton made certain to get a couple obvious shots in around the more skeptical local sect members who thought it was inappropriate for him to be all the way in the back. But he was an archer, and frankly it was quite valuable to have him not only able to freely shoot but also made the enemy hasty to break through their lines once they realized the threat Anton was. Which in turn got a good few people taken out in their own rush.
Of course, Anton paid the most attention to the disciples of the Order, including Nasima. She had taken well to combat, which was not unexpected given the passion she had shown. How she would react after her blood cooled down at the end of the battle would be another matter. It was often a traumatic experience to kill someone for the first time, even if it was necessary.
Nasima twirled her spear, thrusting forward with great force. Her opponent leapt backwards, but that was not good enough to save him. A shaft of light energy extended beyond the head of her spear, stabbing into the man. She was not much for archery, but ever since she had seen Spirit Arrows she was interested in more pure forms of energy rather than weapons. But it was still easier for her to focus such an ability from a weapon she was carrying, such as the spear. They were always valuable for their reach, and in her hands it extended another meter or two at opportune moments.
Anton was actually a little bit disappointed that none of the Salim family became archers, though it was ultimately better for them to choose something that suited them rather than trying to simply emulate him. But at some point, he wanted to find some good candidates to continue the legacy of his archery style locally. He was a fine teacher for a wide variety of cultivation techniques, but he was still an archer at his core. He had so many valuable things to teach.
Like picking out targets and taking them down before they could kill your friends and allies. Any combatant would do that, but fewer could do it from basically any range.