(Patreon) Elder Cultivator 665

-–Chapter Index–-

Focusing on cultivation, even for just a few hours, kept Anishka from thinking about the Sergeant and the others out on their mission. She didn’t want something to happen to any of them, but especially not the Sergeant, her longest term friend in this place. Patka was close, but she found the Sergeant rather quickly after leaving home. She would have to thank her and the Great Queen if they both survived, though she wondered how the Great Queen had known. Or perhaps she had been just the right amount of paranoid. 

There wasn’t much anyone could learn in just a few hours, generally just indiscernible improvements that would build upon each other with days and months to a greater cultivation level and control of natural energy. But it was a good way to distract herself trying out new techniques.

She came back into focus when she felt someone nibbling on the back of her hand, or rather the natural energy there. It seemed the Sergeant had returned, and was trying to grab her attention. And also… all of the others. In good health, too. “Welcome back.”

“Mission accomplished. We have recorded the full complement of cultivators above Body Tempering. No cultivators surpassing Life Transformation detected. The ship in question was located and confirmed to taste of spatial distortion as it should. It is deemed functional. We were unable to test human entrance methods to determine if it was locked. Finally, I have arranged a route that will bring you near the minimum anticipated number of individuals on the way.”

“Thank you,” Anishka breathed a sigh of relief. “Without you, I would be useless. I can’t even do anything for you.”

“You provide significant utility in transportation and data collection.”

“That wouldn’t be an issue if we made ships and books sized for void ants.”

“You also provide intellectually stimulating new ideas.”

“You like that one?” Anishka asked. “I’m not an engineer, so I’m not sure if things could actually be miniaturized that much. But at least levers, buttons, and readouts could be made convenient.”

“I am not sure if I like the thoughts,” the Sergeant said. “They are uncomfortable. But so is training and combat, so if I ultimately end up better I will like it.”

“Alright, how do we get in?” Anishka gathered the others around and translated the plan.

“Given the lack of human training in stealth, the plan is to assign two void ants to each of you to rein in your ambient energy. The efficacy of this plan depends on how well you each conceal your own auras. We understand humans are not as sensitive to such things as us, but they will be looking. We will do our best to judge the likelihood of success based on your results in a practice attempt.”

Formal. Very formal, but that was how the Sergeant was and this was the correct time for such things. “And where do we sneak in?”

“I will direct you towards a gap in the wall, unrepaired damage from some previous military operations most likely. It is large enough for each of you to fit through. Then you will walk up to the ships and enter our chosen vessel to perform your tasks.”

“That’s it?”

“The airfield takes up a significant amount of space and cannot be placed in the middle of the base. It is already exceptional that it fits all of the ships there, with the ransoms.”

“Right. You implied we would all go together?”

“Why would you not?”

“Well, if we don’t need someone… then if they are revealed, they could give us away.”


“Because we’d get in a fight or have to flee.”

“The compromised individuals could provide a distraction.”

“They’d die!”

“Perhaps,” the Sergeant admitted. “It seems you find the thought distasteful. I still recommend you go together for strength in numbers. You cannot guarantee all tasks can be accomplished by a single human and my squad.”

That was true, though the others wouldn’t know how to work the ship. Then again, it wasn’t too hard to flip a few switches. They should be labeled, even. 

“I’m not going to make anyone risk themselves like that,” Anishka said.

“You don’t have to,” Patka interjected. “I would like to help, if I can.”

“I’d rather be together,” Celina added. “If we get into a fight, we can try to quickly take someone out and flee together. If Life Transformation cultivators get involved it’s not like you can escape alone.”

Ilona added her own thoughts, “It is also risky for us to remain out here without you.”

“I’d like to stay with senior sister Celina and you as well,” Gilda said.

“Then… we’re all going. Lead the way, Sergeant.”

Of course, leading the way involved pointing from atop Anishka’s hand. It was unfortunate that the void ants had no vocal abilities, but it was also convenient for subterfuge. As they drew closer to the base, Anishka began to sense cultivators guarding the walls. She was nervous, even though all of them had passed the void ants basic subtlety test. Remaining stealthy did mean they weren’t allowed to use natural energy, though. There were methods to enhance stealth with natural energy, but none of them knew them.

“These people are careless,” the Sergeant signed as they walked. “They allowed the wilderness to encroach within a few meters of the wall.” Technically, the word for meter was actually just two-hundred-antlengths but it had been standardized to match. Anishka had to admit them getting that close with underbrush around them was quite convenient, except for the potential noise. However, the Sergeant led them through a route that had enough gaps that was open enough to minimize noise. As long as they weren’t unlucky and someone was focusing on their listening- pretty much impossible over a whole shift- then the guards a dozen meters in either directions along the wall shouldn’t hear them.

Then they came to the gap, which was really just a couple stones missing. Anishka just looked at the Sergeant.

“Humans are flexible.”

… Whatever. She had to try. She got down on her hands and knees, but that was too large of a profile. Instead she crawled on her belly, squeezing in her shoulders to fit them through the narrow gap. It was true, that humans were flexible. At least, most body tempering covered flexibility with everything else. Anishka hoped that was the same for the Vermillion Inferno disciples. Patka had undergone the Fire and Ice Palace’s training, so she knew it would work for her.

Ultimately, Celina ended up digging out a few scoops of dirt with her fingers to marginally widen the area, but everyone managed to wiggle through. A few steps later and they were on paved stones, making their way towards the ship, taking cover behind others. If one of the guards did a simple sweep of the courtyard at the wrong time, they could be revealed. Though at least the ships radiated a sufficient amount of natural energy to cloak them.

Then they were there, looking at a horizontal ring. Anishka held the Sergeant up to her mouth and whispered, “Why is it on its front?”

“… I assumed that was something you would know. It does not match previous human patterns, but I assumed this was an alternate landing position.”

Had they crashed the ship? It looked structurally intact, but… Anishka shook her head. As long as they could get inside, the comms should still work. And there were hatches on both sides of the ring, it just meant climbing up instead of going in a proper door.

Anishka gestured for the others to wait. If they just stood on top of the ring, they could easily be spotted. She climbed up first, glad for rough parts and also for the ship’s formations to not be active. Then again, it would run out of power just keeping them active all the time. 

She found a hatch, pulled on the handle and… locked. Dammit. But there were more… she crawled along to minimize her visible profile, hoping that it helped… or that nobody looked. Second and third were busts. The fourth had the handle wiggle, but it didn’t seem to open. The fifth, finally, creaked open. Everyone had to have heard that, right? She didn’t move, or breathe. Nothing happened.

She leaned over the edge and waved people over, helping them up one at a time and making them crawl into the ship. Then she went inside herself, carefully closing the hatch to minimize creaking and to avoid a possible thud at the end.

It was dark, but small guide lights flickered on, sensing passengers. Convenient. Even more convenient, they were pure tech, basically impossible to sense for people who didn’t cultivate electricity. Of course, the reason was probably that they had separate batteries from the high draw combat functions.

The good thing about ring ships was that finding her way was simple- she simply moved in one direction until they found a path heading inward, which brought them to the main body and control hubs. In space, there wasn’t really an up- but the main body still had an orientation to things, including seats and the like for in atmosphere travel.

This ship was definitely not meant to land this way. Anishka had to climb along the paneling to not fall into the command deck, and then she was standing on the edge of a console that thankfully didn’t have any buttons there. She directed the others to different spots.

“What we’re looking for is something that says ‘power’,” Anishka said. “I’m not really trained for this but it’s kind of standardized now. If we can just get to the comms…”

“Found it,” Celina said, and then there was a click. The whole ship thrummed as it came to life, formations and natural energy draw included. “Dammit, sorry!” She reached for the same switch again.

“Stop! Just leave it!” Anishka said. “They have to have already noticed it.” Indeed, she felt the natural energy of the surrounding guards flare up. A half dozen Essence Collection cultivators at least, and two Life Transformation. “Do you do verbal commands?”
“I’m listening!” Celina said.

“I was talking to the ship! Some of them do! Sorry, I-” Anishka took a deep breath. “Look for anything that said comms or verbal or whatever.”

She was already searching her own section, which had displays that were now lit up. She was surprised that everything was turning on. Didn’t this thing have a control module? Oh, there it was. Locked in its designated position. Then again, why wouldn’t it be? This was a military ship, meant to be operational at any moment. Which was probably good right now with people charging towards their ship.

Anishka found the option to raise shields, pressing on the console. Oh good, it was touch sensitive. She didn’t see any other way to activate that.

“I found ‘external comms’,” Patka said. “Do I… press it?”

“Don’t,” Anishka said. “That’s probably a speaker.”

“What’s an ‘autopilot’?” Ilona asked.

“Press that one!”

“What do you mean?”

“Touch the words with your finger!”

“Now it’s asking about flight plans. I don’t recognize any of the destinations.”

Anishka levered herself up one one of the bolted-in chairs to see the screen Ilona was looking at. “Weos- there.”


“Any of them!”

“… I did it. Nothing’s happening.”

The barrier of the ship trembled, and Anishka heard shouting outside. Great, it was busted. Anishka looked at Ilona’s screen. “Hit activate!”

Ilona pressed the screen, and then again. “I pressed ‘emergency departure. Was that-”

There was a sudden grinding sound, everyone found themselves pressed down for a moment- and then they were weightless. Anishka could sense the ship’s ring rotating, flinging away the attackers climbing onto it. Then the whole planet rotated. No, that was just what it felt like for the ship to rotate with the internal dampeners active. They rose up from the ground, and everyone began to pick themselves up. 

Without gravity pressing them all in the wrong direction, it was easier to orient themselves. Everyone took a position, though they didn’t really know what they were doing. There was a huge burst of energy from below, but the spatial distortion ring deflected the attack. Then they were too high for further assaults. 

A moment later, there was a beeping. On the screen in front of Anishka was a warning- Ilona apparently had the same one, and read it off. “Route blocked by energy anomaly. Set to cruising. Override?”

“Don’t press that,” Anishka said. “I think it would try to break through the barrier.”

“Could it?”

“I don’t want to find out it can’t the hard way.” Anishka had never stopped looking through menus, only to find what she was looking for on the top level demarcated by a symbol with three curved lines. Space efficient, perhaps, but not quite what she wanted.

A staticy voice came through in front of Anishka. “This is the Trifold Alliance Fleet. Please state your query.”

“Uh… do I have to press something?” Anishka spoke aloud as she looked. “This is… Anishka of the Fire and Ice Palace. I have escaped captivity and gained control over a stolen ship.” Anisha had an unpleasant feeling, which was only verified when the screen showed ‘ships of unknown origin’ on its display behind them. She could feel their energy. She might not have much time to speak. “Ekict has a Technique they call Transferral which steals cultivation.”

“One moment please,” the voice came back. Oh good, she was broadcasting. “Verifying your identity.”

“Excuse me,” said a familiar voice. “Anishka?”

“Grandpa! I’m uh-” enchanted bolts scraped the hull of the ship even through the various shields. “I’m being chased by ships.”

“Where are you?”

“I don’t, uh, I can’t find the location broadcast.”

“Third console to the left of the pilot,” came the initial voice.

Anishka turned and pointed, and Celina pressed the button. “Did you-”

There was a sudden flash of light and fire, whiting out the whole cockpit. The formation above trembled. Then another dozen arrows landed in the same area, and even more in a continuous stream coming from… somewhere. Meanwhile, something from behind punctured the ring, setting off at least a dozen alerts on various consoles.

-–Chapter Index–-