(Patreon) Elder Cultivator 510

-–Chapter Index–-

When Scholar Eulogius had sent a sky city crashing into the depths of Bavore, Weos was rightfully hesitant about him. Despite the fact that the city had been entirely compromised, the lack of hesitation and the ease with which he had accomplished the task concerned them. 

When members of the Twin Soul Sect had attempted to flee the system only to be contained by some sort of massive formation long enough for pursuers to catch them, they had been afraid.

When he had offered to teach them ‘a few tricks’ they had been disappointed… then ecstatic. 

With the local star and its gravity distortion having affected the planets within the system, even if it was not a universal area of learning Weos was more versed in gravity manipulation than typical. Such rare techniques being more commonplace had helped them eke out their ‘victory’ against the Sylanis cluster in the previous war, though their sizable population had helped. Unlike Rutera and Ceretos, they had long ago spread throughout their system.

The ‘tricks’ Scholar Eulogius taught them allowed them to manipulate the formation set up around their system to distort gravity- and thus space, as their ships took advantage of- in whatever fashion they pleased. The energy required was significant, and required a coordinated effort from their ships, but it was able to do useful things like distort space randomly around an incoming enemy fleet.

It was unfortunate that the invader’s ships were sufficiently durable to not be torn apart by the spatial disturbances, but it did force them to drift apart over a sphere several hundred kilometers across. Weos had anticipated their arrival, and set their fleets against the isolated enemies. Some of their elders had participated in the previous war, and guided their tactics against the invaders.

The technique shifted the tides of battle enough to send the enemy fleet into a rout, despite the presence of what was presumed to be another Worldbinding cultivator. They were only disappointed that they were not able to destroy the entirety of the fleet, nor the Worldbinding cultivator himself.

—–

On Ceretos, a certain individual bemoaned her inability to participate in recent battles. To her shame, the same had been true of her people, locked as they were to the planet’s surface. There was a great unrest among them, though perhaps nobody noticed. No humans, at least.

Even so, the Great Queen was disappointed in herself. She was able to fly, but as she made use of wings she could only do so in atmosphere. And unlike human cultivators, she had no way to cheat her way around with natural energy. That was the primary weakness of void ants- and also their strength. They could mostly ignore natural energy, its offensive and defensive properties, but their bodies were small and their mobility… limited. Perhaps those the Great Queen had slain might deny the latter, but she was well aware of how much it limited her effectiveness. Nor were there many among the void ants who could ever hope to match her current level, even long in the future. It seemed that those of the void ants with potential were rarer than the humans, and the Great Queen didn’t have the same ability to plan a growth path that Anton did.

The humans grew strong, and while the nests of void ants thrived in the energy rich atmosphere the cultivators produced, they could not manage it on their own. There were many factors restricting them. While they were brilliant for ants, only a small portion of them could be considered of human intelligence. They could solve many problems their size had for them, but they were lacking a feature humans took for granted. Hands. Hands made everything so easy. They could just scoop up a pile of dirt and toss it, instead of bringing it grain by grain. Some of that had to do with being larger, of course, but energy only exacerbated that gap.

Void ants remained in an awkward position where they were living at the whims of humans. While it seemed like they might manage mutual destruction, that was only on the smaller scales. A nest for a village or town, as mundane humans were nearly as much of a threat as the most powerful cultivators. 

But they were not enemies. Instead, they shared mutual foes. The invaders from the upper realms were a group that the Great Queen was happy to go to war with… but they would not arrive for more than a century. Now there were other enemies, but the void ants could not fight until they reached the ground- or at least descended lower into the atmosphere.

The Great Queen didn’t like it. She also didn’t like the fact that Anton had gone off to another star system without her, though she was aware that her presence might have endangered his travel. 

The Great Queen wondered if the void ants were bound to planets. Not in the same way as these ‘Worldbinding’ cultivators she heard about, but in the more mundane fashion. There had been some talk of flinging them at enemy ships, but for various reasons it was decided to be impractical… and any failure would result in good soldiers floating off into space, unlikely to ever be retrieved. Finding void ants was difficult enough when they were among other things, out away from atmosphere would be even crazier.

There was one thing that Anton said that gave the Great Queen hope. Anything was possible with cultivation. And while she was certainly not cultivating energy, she did cultivate her body. She had always been aware of this, but a particular individual who came to train with them solidified the fact- the archer known as Nthanda. The body temperer still had access to natural energy, but it was still miraculous that she had developed something akin to the void ant’s chitin over parts of her body. Could the Great Queen develop an ability to use energy in turn?

Perhaps not… but an increase in her power might come with surprises. Thus, she had put together a mission, one which involved both Nthanda and herself. For both, it was something of a desperate attempt to grow to the next level. The Great Queen found herself quite nervous as the ship carrying them stopped in orbit over a very large planet. It smelled delicious, but it still filled her with trepidation.

“You ready, Queen?” Nthanda asked. 

The Great Queen responded in the void ant’s sign language. “Yes. We must not delay. My people anticipate great things.” She did not say she was nervous. The Great Queen had come to understand human body language, but humans rarely understood hers unless she made it obvious.

Nthanda held out her hand for the Great Queen to step onto. “Then let’s go. Sticking together might have better results.”

The dim planet below was a swirling mass of gasses, with no solid land to be seen. The pressure of such a thing would increase greatly the further one descended. A true test of body… and a chance to be something more.

—–

The Sylanis Cluster was aware that the first attempt on the newfound system had not been successful. However, they had made a mistake by angering the Ultimate Phoenix Sect. Whatever attempt at a Worldbinding cultivator they’d sent, it could be traced back to this system. With the actual individual at fault defending another system, this world would be quite open to attack.

The Ultimate Phoenix Sect didn’t just name themselves after the firebirds. Among the fleet they sent, which should have soon included a new flagship, there were giant flaming birds. In their current forms they were incapable of interstellar travel on their own, but the sect had special containment on their ships for them. Now, they flew in formations, restricted only by their usual bindings. 

Those bindings kept them in line… and channeled their power to the Patriarch, the Ultimate Phoenix himself. The power that burned within him was the peak of Worldbinding, matched only by a select few in the entire Sylanis Cluster- and even they lacked the gift of mobility binding powerful beasts provided. 

“Patriarch, we are approaching the planet. Enemy vessels are mobilizing, but we have sight on our first target.”

“The tree.” The Ultimate Phoenix nodded his head. It was clear some great importance had been placed on that tree, and if information was correct it was the site of one of the more powerful sects. Live trees were actually quite resistant to burning- or at least they seemed to be, until they faced against the might of phoenix flames. Then, even stone and metal would ignite, let along somewhat moist firewood. “Prepare our descent.”

“Yes, Patriarch. Oh?”

“What is it?”

“Nothing. Just a weird surge of energy through the barrier. Perhaps a probing attack.”

“Very well. We shall continue.”

As they began their approach, the Patriarch felt something. A sign of trepidation, perhaps? It was a strange feeling of hesitance he had not felt in centuries… and he was loath to acquiesce to something so primitive now. With an army of phoenixes around him, and the fleets of the clan along with him, his safety at least was guaranteed. Perhaps some would fall, but the Patriarch could replace the others.

“I sense an incoming attack!” The Patriarch growled, his voice like crackling embers. “Attune the barriers!”

In times of crisis, the formalities of a response could be ignored. All that mattered was that the proper action was taken, and he could feel the formation masters adjusting the barrier to optimally protect against the incoming attack. A proper master didn’t require sustaining damage before adjusting. 

Strangely, the attack missed. No, that wasn’t quite right. The power simply was not aiming at the flagship to begin with, though it could only have been a desperate struggle. Instead, a phoenix was struck- though it would matter little. If one died, it could be reborn from its ashes. Except…

Whatever the attack was, it not only killed the beast, but extinguished its flames entirely. The Ultimate Phoenix felt water- but a phoenix was not so easily doused that they could be affected by full immersion in the sea. Yet the power augmenting it somehow managed to do that.

The formation master’s eyes kept flickering around. “What is it?” the Patriarch asked.

“Something strange. The flow of energy is being disrupted.”

“From an attack?”

“From the inside,” the formation master furrowed his brow. “It’s… it might just be an anomaly of the local system. It’s still relatively minor, I just have to adjust if we run into any serious threats.”

“I’m certain it is unimportant. I sense nothing.”

“Of course, Patriarch,” the man said. “Your orders?”

“We shall begin the bombardment.” The wrinkled old man stretched out his hands, signaling his beasts through their restraints. They gathered their flames, preparing a coordinated attack. 

Bolts of flame gathered together from dozens of firebirds, each sufficient to set a city ablaze. They gathered together, striking towards the target- the great tree below. Enemy vessels were moving to intercept, and there would be open battle soon, but starting off with a devastating blow was the best possibility.

The flames then impacted a barrier. The Ultimate Phoenix was not a formation master himself, but he could feel the magnitude of power. Did this barrier cover the whole sect? No, it was more than that. Wider. Perhaps the region? Dare he even say… the continent? But size did not matter. What mattered was its durability, and though it withstood the initial moments of the blast it was steadily melting under the power of the assault. It would crack apart, and once broken it could not reform so easily. That, he was certain of.

The Patriarch frowned.

“What is it, Patriarch?” the formation master questioned. “The barrier should not hold long, I am certain.”

“It was nothing. Just… a momentary, ominous weight.” It was as if something had tugged at the leg of his robes, but there was nothing aboard the ship that would dare to do so without his permission.

The Ultimate Phoenix smiled as the barrier opened. Flames poured through towards the tree. And then… it moved. The entire canopy of the tree twisted, and the combined might of dozens of phoenixes was momentarily halted. No, more than that- it was reflected. The beam of energy cut through the fleet, destroying minor ships that were not properly attuned to phoenix flames- but though the flagship was the main target of the reflection, it experienced no damage. 

So it was going to be like that? The Ultimate Phoenix would have to get involved more directly then. He clutched his hands together, gathering power to himself. Then he felt something on his shoulder. He moved his hand to brush it off, and felt a sudden twinge of pain. He looked down, and was confused to find that his hand was deformed. He couldn’t quite figure out why, but it just looked off. Oh, that was it. A finger was missing. 

That whole process took him only a tiny fraction of a second, but by the time he came into any comprehension of the actual pain and circumstances involved, something had dug into his neck. It started at the front right side, severing veins and digging its way back to his spine. 

Worldbinding cultivators didn’t survive by hesitating. The Ultimate Phoenix slapped his hand around his neck with all his might. He didn’t concern himself with possibly severing his own head- he could be reborn easily enough at the cost of a few of his pets. But strangely enough, when his hand tried to crush his unknown target against his own body, it was only his shoulder that gave out, giving way as if the thing on his shoulder were incompressible matter.

“Kill it… you fools,” the Patriarch choked out through half-functional vocal chords. They no doubt heard his orders, but his subordinates hesitated. The thing was on his body, so how could they attack it? The Patriarch hadn’t expected much from them anyway, and simply ignited himself. Replacing the bridge and a formation master would be required, but he wouldn’t allow unpunished harm to himself.

Amongst the flames there was a slightly tickling feeling down the length of his chest and to his belly, as if heat sufficient to melt souls wasn’t even a consideration. Then something tore into his stomach. No- that would have been a minor issue. Instead, without the use of natural energy, something tore into the metaphysical location of his dantian, the core of his power and cultivation. It tore away a chunk of him and… swallowed it into nothing?

One by one, phoenixes began to perish as they were called upon to give their life for the man who called himself the Ultimate Phoenix. Yet no matter how quickly their lives went, it could not stop what was happening to him. As he ripped open the front of his own robes- with great difficulty, given their priceless materials- he saw only the rear legs and abdomen of what seemed to be a black ant, presumably somewhat longer than his palm. His fingers reached for it, squeezing… and snapping. Each rebirth the Ultimate Phoenix had to temper his body, but he did so diligently even if it hardly mattered. Every movement he had was augmented by natural energy, and between his fingers he could have crushed a mountain. Yet somehow, he felt as if he were a child trying to squeeze a rock. Then the flames erupted inside of him, his control lost- and he was no more.

-–Chapter Index–-