It was good fortune for Sibylla that she was present at just the right time to command the Scarlet Alliance’s forces coming out of Shutoll. A perfect opportunity to show her support without just being an extra in the larger war.
Sibylla marched forward between Shutoll and Koton, standing at the head of the army. Having only encountered the swordmaster in short bursts, she didn’t understand much about Chikere. However, Sibylla knew enough to be aware that this time Chikere was going to cause chaos. So this was their chance to act and finally take back some lost ground. And with that, perhaps they might be able to open up some more airspace. They could really use some backup. Sibylla was quite aware that despite being an ascension cultivator, she was near the bottom of the upper echelon. A new Integration cultivator.
And as far as her position went in the Scarlet Alliance, it was much the same. They gave her the chance because of her cultivation and willingness to head into danger. She didn’t want to waste the opportunities afforded to her. She would much rather take some risks to earn the support of a larger faction rather than attempting to continue on her own.
Their quick march brought them close to Koton in half a day, having encountered several squads of scouts on the way. So the enemy would know they were coming, but that didn’t mean they could prepare a true response. Major Sibylla knew she wasn’t invincible just because there were few Integration cultivators on Yaitis, but she was aware of her own strengths. Unless their intel was severely erroneous, she would be able to lead them to victory.
There was a significant gap in the cultivation of most of her cultivators. Essence Collection had made up most of the higher end cultivators when the planet was first occupied. Now the war had been dragging on for decades without giving them an opportunity to cycle in and out, so many had advanced to early or mid Life Transformation. That left very few late Life Transformation experts, and beyond Rakiya, Chikere, and Sibylla herself there were very few Integration cultivators on planet. Or rather, if there were more they hadn’t shown themselves.
Sibylla continued to march forward confidently as they got within range of Koton. “Make ready!” She ordered the small army behind her. As they continued to approach there were attacks from the walls. However, instead of the Scarlet Alliance’s captured emplacements, they made use only of archers. That was… a factor she had not considered. The stubborn insistence of the Harmonious Citadel to fit within their niches greatly limited them.
Not that Sibylla was going to complain. That made her job easier. The army was stretched out behind her on the road, and she spun her glaive, creating a vortex that dragged in the projectiles and then spun them around on the city. The effect was actually hardly dangerous to the defenders on the walls, but it hurt their morale to be bombarded by their own weapons.
“Forward!” Sibylla ordered. Squads already had their own orders for how to assault the city. Some would be formation breakers, others would be preparing to scale the walls. Sibylla was there more as a target. A distraction, even. It hurt the pride of cultivators to not even attempt to attack a powerful cultivator standing alone.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t draw their attention forever. But by the time they committed to focusing on the rest of the army, it was too late. The local formations were torn open, and Sibylla was able to easily leap up onto the wall. Her spinning blade cut down all of those on either side of her.
She looked down into the city. She was hoping that they would stay out of the way. It might be too much for them to act against the Harmonious Citadel, but spies indicated they were quite unhappy with the occupation.
Within an hour, Harmonious Citadel forces were fleeing the city. Sibylla wanted to chase them and wipe them out, but she knew there was too much risk to her forces and even herself. Better to let them go. That way, they would be less interested in holding their ground the next time, if it could save their necks. It would mean enemy forces condensing, but Sibylla was waiting for good news.
It came the next day, news came from Chidi. The young man was the child of two bigwigs in the Scarlet Alliance, but Sibylla had seen his effectiveness scouting, and his skill training with the swordmaster. Now she had dragged him off… and Sibylla only hoped that the message meant he was alive.
“Rakiya is defeated.”
“You killed her?” Sibylla sent a surprised message for confirmation. That was… not surprising exactly. Grandmaster Chikere had indicated she could slay Rakiya at any point, but there had been something about the young fellow fighting her. And he had just barely broken through to Life Transformation, if his screaming goodbye as he passed over Shutoll was any indication.
“Not dead. Worse. For the Harmonious Citadel, and for her.”
That sounded like good news to Sibylla- and it was. If she had known what the intentional consequences would be, she might have been more skeptical. Sibylla wasn’t interested in facing an Augmentation cultivator in the form of a sword saint, but fortunately for her it was also not her responsibility.
A string of arrows pierced through a creature of more mouth than anything else. It was a step down from the absurdity of distortion beasts with rings of teeth that could attack from all directions, but the floating body of the creature still seemed to be nearly half teeth.
Anton frowned. This was beginning to become a problem. The population of sea beasts was growing too quickly- and while it inevitably had to stop at some point, it might not be before disaster. In’istra relied on safely traversing their waters, and not all sea beasts were strictly constrained to the depths.
Then there were the flying beasts. Anton imagined that their populations were traditionally kept in check by local cultivators, but the recent drop in numbers had made that difficult to handle.
This was a problem that Anton might have solved himself, but the scale was beyond him. He was all for culling the populations of beasts to maintain a proper ecosystem balance, but covering part of a forest was vastly different from the whole of a planet. Within a hundred kilometers of Anton at all times were millions of beasts with at least a spark of cultivation, so even if he could slay thousands per day the most he could do was hamper the growing population.
Most of his efforts were devoted on tracking down the strongest among them. The kings and queens, overlords of the regions around them. He was hesitant to slay them, because the wild fighting for power as a result of that could spill over into human territories. It was entirely possible that slaying one powerful beast here would have a rippling effect a thousand kilometers away. And while he could focus on any small part of that area, he didn’t actually keep everything in his senses all at once. Especially not with the sea, the density of which limited the range of his senses and the depth of which added a far greater volume he had to keep track of.
Humans, by and large, were a single thin sheet placed atop a planet. At most they were on the top layer, varying locally by a couple hundred meters vertically or less. The sea, however, had beasts living on every layer of it, ranging from a single kilometer not far from shore to ten or more depending on the depth.
There was only so much he could do on his own, and unlike the purge of the cultivators from the upper realms he didn’t believe the locals could deal with it themselves. Which meant involving himself more openly and coordinating with the locals. He had already established a presence in many areas, but he was risking details of his identity slipping out. His own safety was hardly in question, but he wouldn’t want the Order to be persecuted for being promoted by an outsider. But of course, he couldn’t decide everything by himself, and he didn’t have to.
He was glad to find Varghese at the headquarters of the One Hundred Stars in Aspin. The island nation was large enough that they actually had multiple branches, generally throughout major ports. Though there was less access to resources due to being spread out, it helped their recruiting methods. After all, not everyone could make their way to the headquarters. Even if it wasn’t terribly distant, not everyone was willing to leave their jobs for a few days or a week to test themselves for entry to a sect.
More than that, because Varghese wanted to keep in line with the requirements for disciples, it often took longer. Having a local presence to interview people about the cultivators in question to determine their standing was quite useful. Of course, there were always those who were skilled at hiding their misdeeds, and those who came from a background of crime but wanted to change. That was why it was just one step in the process.
Varghese was teaching a class on combat and preliminary magnetism. He noticed Anton watching him, but completed things without comment so as to not cause a ruckus. “Good to see you again, elder,” Varghese inclined his head. The narrative was that Anton was an elder from another branch, which wasn’t untrue and kept people from asking too many questions. It still made sense for the local sect head to be respectful, and explained whatever people noticed of his power. “Nothing urgent, I hope?”
“I would have stopped you if it was,” Anton said. “Though it is also not something that can be put off.” Anton explained the situation with the beasts. Varghese was already aware, but Anton had learned more since they last met.
“So we will need to hunt down sea beasts to cull their numbers…?” Varghese asked.
“And collect their bodies to use as materials. Partially to convince other cultivators of the value of doing the same, and partially because… well, the sea beasts can’t use each other as the same if the bodies are gone.”
“I see. By removing food from the ecosystem, we can starve them out.”
“Only to some extent,” Anton said sadly. “This is a wide scale phenomenon, and many beasts will be able to subsist mainly on natural energy. So if they are culled too much, the lack of competition might produce stronger individuals. On the other hand, the same could come about from them devouring each other. In short, there isn’t just one solution. Adaptive approaches will be required, needing to be tailored to each situation. I was hoping you could at least rally the efforts around Aspin. If I am overestimating the danger, then you simply spend a few years training disciples and gathering resources.”
“If you underestimate the threat, we will be at more risk. But… that’s all the more reason to do it, I suppose,” Varghese said.
“That’s right. I would suggest focusing your efforts on excursions with yourself and other higher ranking cultivators first. And you could suggest to the Iron Plate that it might be a good supplemental source of income.”
“… And you will be busy dealing with the rest of In’istra, I suppose.”
Anton grinned, “I don’t intend to leave you high and dry. But I doubt it would be of much benefit to you if you survived without the rest of the planet.”
“I will arrange things as you say,” Varghese said. “We will begin our hunts soon.”
“Don’t rush too much,” Anton said. “But I would delay no more than a year at the utmost.”
The Reef of Serenity was the next priority for Anton. Though in some ways they were sheltered by their position, they were also limited by it. If deadly beasts roamed all the waters outside the reefs, then they would not last long. And the reefs themselves weren’t exactly unpopulated by beasts- they were just managed already.