There was a certain manner in which Anton preferred to fight. As an archer, he of course preferred to keep as much distance between himself and his opponents as possible. And while that was generally true, he didn’t usually attack at the very edge of his range. Not because he wouldn’t be accurate or effective, but because keeping some secrets was worthwhile. Enemies who assumed they knew his maximum range might linger just outside it, or retreat to that distance… and if he needed to, he could then take advantage of it.
He didn’t have to think about that much as they had landed in the middle of enemies- not directly, of course, but when Anton considered anything within a range of two hundred kilometers to be a viable distance it would be more strange for there to be nobody around. Few people were on the surface- Kuchion was cold and dry, with a thin atmosphere that left people preferring the indoors- or the more common underground.
Oluchi and some of the others were quickly documenting what information they could about the area the announcement had taken place. There were no bodies, but determining whether there were captives or those bodies had simply been cleaned up was relevant. Seeing the damage around the area- weapon marks, scars from heat and electricity or anything else that was from a recognizable technique would allow them to judge who they needed to fight. And if the entire place was under the influence of the Twin Soul Sect, they needed to know that as well.
“Ships incoming,” Anton said as soon as he noticed them. “What’s our response?”
There was a moment of consideration from Oluchi. “We can’t afford to engage with our vessels stationary. Everyone, board up!”
It was unfortunate for the enemy’s ground forces that they were just beginning to get within attacking range… but they should have thought of that before making their approach. Of course, what they had probably thought was that they’d be dealing with someone who attacked from a more reasonable distance. They’d just be wrong.
Even as he was moving towards one of the allied ships, Anton was testing shots at one of the approaching enemies’ vessels. Actually managing to hit them with the way they distorted space was still a bother, and he had to continually make adjustments so he could be accurate. Focusing on the maximum number of shots for testing purposes meant that even when he actually hit his attacks were then absorbed by the actual defensive barriers, since they didn’t rely just on the warping of space around them.
Once he was comfortable, Anton began to draw upon ascension energy. It came to him, stolen from a distant place, disregarding the normal process. It didn’t live within him like any of his other energy, and was controlled only for the moments of his attack. Anton hadn’t had many chances to maximize the damage of a single shot since his battle with Everheart, except perhaps sparring with Lev. Even then, he wasn’t ever serious. Even if he could disperse his energy in a fraction of a second, if he was uncertain that Lev could defend he would have to cease his attack before it connected at all.
But these ships were a perfect target. He’d damaged some before, but mostly to weaken them. This time, he was going for something more… thorough. His arrow seemed as if it would simply fly off to the side of the vessel, but as it approached the ring its trajectory brought it straight into the side. Usually, Anton kept his arrows compressed into the finest point possible so that he could pierce through vital organs- this time, he needed to cause wider destruction.
Energy tore off of the arrow, ascension energy flung by the great power of a bow with an uncomfortable origin. A fist sized hole tore through one side the ring widthwise, continuing through the core of the ship and finally burrowed into the ring on the other side, not quite finishing its journey outward. But he’d done enough. Though the ring was much larger than the hole he had made in it, he’d studied the structural design… and the damage couldn’t be called small. The strain of the ring spinning and the damage to the formations throughout it suddenly released in a burst, causing it to warp and twist. When it finally split apart, a section of it ended up in front of the main body of the vessel, the sudden change in acceleration crushing them together.
Anton knew he couldn’t replicate that exact result every time, but he could at the very least expect them to lose functionality. Even with its smaller population Kuchion would have many starships, but the number of them suitable for war would be far less. Anton had to readjust his aim as the ship he was on left the atmosphere and activated its own distortion. In the time they had before they broke past the incoming ships away from the planet- where the enemy would be drawn away from potential reinforcements- he took down two more, while the combined efforts of Oluchi and the others managed a similar number. Their own vessels took only minimal damage, as they had enough powerful cultivators to put up an active defense as well.
As they positioned themselves away from Kuchion to go over what they had learned, Oluchi came to find Anton, just inside his emplacement. She just looked at him for a while, and he waited for what she wanted to say. “Have you… already ascended?”
“No,” Anton said. “And I can’t. But I have found a viable alternative.”
“But that energy… I have felt it before.”
“And who says I have to ascend to use ascension energy?” Anton grinned. “It’s one of Everheart’s techniques.”
Anton was briefly shocked that someone hadn’t heard of Everheart. But after thinking about it for a brief moment, it was perfectly logical. Everheart came from Ceretos, and then caused a ruckus in the upper realms. So while both places would know of him, it wasn’t strange that another system in the lower realms didn’t. Though that indicated any communications they had with the upper realms were limited… perhaps mostly to invaders.
“He’s the one who produced the basis of our best techniques to root out the Twin Soul Sect. And… the anti-ascension techniques we should probably share with you before the tides of the world change again.”
“He sounds like a great man.”
Anton snorted. “That’s… wow.”
“Am I incorrect?” Oluchi tilted her head. “If he is the progenitor of many great techniques, he must be highly honored.”
“Well, in a way he might be. He might also be the most hated person in the galaxy. Or at least our little slice of it.”
“What did he do?” Oluchi asked.
“I’ll greatly condense it to… intentionally angering pretty much every sect who ever came in contact with him.”
“Perhaps his misdeeds are simply wrongful accusations,” Oluchi said. “People tend to hate geniuses for their abilities.”
Anton smiled slightly. There was certainly a grain of truth to that but… “Oh, trust me. He does it on purpose. I’ve seen enough of the deathtraps he left behind to tempt people seeking after his wealth.” Anton nodded to himself with that same smile. Did Everheart deserve to be the most hated man on Certeos and elsewhere? Absolutely. He worked hard for it. But was he the worst man? Absolutely not. He was an asshole, but he wasn’t evil. Or at least, not entirely evil. He was at least a step or two above anyone from the Trigold Cluster- or those like the Glorious Harmony Sect.
It was a relief that the ships from Azoth had passed by Sizipra the first time Matija had noticed them, but she couldn’t expect it to happen every time. She’d been lucky to sense anything, but had been able to provide a warning to Rutera itself. That had allowed for one of the rare battles that they could actually call a victory. Even now, those who had the most understanding of formations were continuing their study on the enemy’s adaptive barriers, with a few more samples to work with.
That was great, but Matija was worried about what might happen where she was… and why anyone had come from that direction. She was being bombarded with questions from the military, but she had no answers. Was it an unexpected approach vector? Sure, but why risk getting close to Sizipra? There had to be some reason for that. Did they come out of the sun?
Alright, that theory was probably a bit extreme and entirely unfounded. There were more logical reasons somewhere. Though she was tempted enough by the idea that she sent a message to Anton asking if that was possible. Who knew what kinds of things real cultivators could get up to?
Was it connected to the sun, though? Matija might simply be considering it because it was the main subject of her study. She was aware of what Anton had done and while she absolutely believed he both meant no harm and believed there would be no harm, people could be wrong. And even if he was right, they could doubtless learn something amazing.
Matija began to look at system charts. A few ships showing up was an oddity, but meant nothing. If there was any actual pattern… but why would space ships have sails? It made enough sense for the skyships on Ceretos, because they would still be affected by winds, and that was free power. But in space? Sure, solar sails existed, but they had to be gigantic in size and only provided slow acceleration. That wasn’t it.
She began compiling records from battles, though not everything was public. She could ask for information, but she wasn’t sure if it would lead to anything and she didn’t want to state her theory and bias people towards the wrong thing if she was incorrect. It didn’t look like it was amounting to anything anyway. Battles happened all around Rutera.
In the guise of Scholar Eulogius, Everheart was taking it easy. He was still supposed to be recovering from injuries, after all. It was just… a chance to deal with more of the Twin Soul Sect? They’d better keep their hands off his stuff! Not that this planet was actually something he had a claim to. This was just revenge for past misdeeds, and prevenge for future ones.
Everheart was delighted to see the interesting things the locals had done with the place. Floating cities bound to certain heights within a gas giant? That was exactly the sort of stupid crap he liked. Especially since it was also the sort of thing that could all fall apart with one bad day and a couple broken formations. But hey, anyone crazy enough to live in any of those cities wasn’t normal to begin with.
Today, he’d been requested to break through a barrier on one of the floating cities. Towns? Nah, a few thousand people was enough to make it a city, especially in such an inhospitable environment.
“… Does the city need to keep floating?” Everheart asked the messenger.
“Is it entirely full of enemies, or are there innocent civilians or crap like that that someone cares about?”
“It seems to have been entirely taken into the control of enemy forces.”
“Great, I’ll go take care of it.”
“The battalion is in the other direction, Scholar.” The man shrunk back as Everheart’s eyes landed on him. “I could… inform them you are leaving?”
“Nah, don’t bother,” Everheart waved the man off. “I’ll deal with it.”
“You will? How?”
Everheart vaguely heard the words, but he was already away from the ship, dropping into the gas giant below. Winds whipped, pulling him in any and every direction as dense gasses buffeted him. Shards of solid matter attempted to tear him apart, but it would take him bit more than that to make him think about protecting himself more than his casual amount.
Now let’s see, this particular place mentioned. He could follow it around and catch up in a few days… or he could go to where it would show up. The paths the cities took weren’t entirely predictable based on the winds and such, but that was from the perspective of the locals. Fluid motion in three dimensions wasn’t that hard, as long as there were minimal gravity distortions and all that crap. Well, he’d be able to get within sensory distance at least. Nothing stood out in this swirling mass of uncontrolled power like something with actual structure to it. Even a small city was a burning bonfire in the night.
As for how he was going to deal with it, Everheart had a simple solution. There were many ways to make formations stop working, and most of them involved a lot of energy. Just punching a hole straight through would always work with enough force. And while Everheart didn’t mind doing that, it was slightly easier to do it a different way. All he needed was a little bit of condensed energy. He pulled out a crystal that was about the right size. Probably a month worth, though it could have been more if it was back in the day. Yeah, that would do.