Battles between regular humans and cultivators were very different. It wasn’t just the level of power each individual could display, though that was a large factor. Unlike the Order, some sects had standardized martial training that applied to everyone, but even so they would still not be arranged in a rank-and-file format like normal soldiers. Besides the fact that all but the largest sects could barely put together the numbers required for a mundane formation of people, staying in such positions would be a weakness.
Closely packed men were easy targets for wide area abilities, or even any ranged ability that didn’t care precisely who it hit. And when those targets took years or decades to reach a decent level of usefulness, it was understandable that battle would focus more on individuals. The ability to fight as a group was still important, but it didn’t follow such defined structures.
Arrows flew behind Anton’s group as they practiced a fighting retreat. Even if they were prepared for pitched battles, with the difference in numbers it would have been pointless to take a stand. They would have simply died for the possibility of killing a handful of enemies- as a group, not per individual. Anton didn’t want to let anyone die, but he understood it was a possibility. But if it was going to happen, it had to be worth it.
As he and Marcio pestered people with arrows, faster enemies sometimes reached their ranks only to face coordinated attacks by the melee-focused majority of the group. It was a bit of a complicated dance, where Anton and the others had to stay together and move as quickly as they could, hoping that some of their enemies would repeat the same foolish individual attacks. They did, though not so often as to make any significant change to their overall numbers when they lost people.
Anton himself was only barely able to hinder a few people as he also had to counter incoming attacks. They had the benefit of moving further away from their enemies as they fought, effectively reducing the enemies’ range, but they weren’t fast enough for that to be enough to protect them. Still, they were approaching a place with proper fortifications- and more allies. It was the south-side cafeteria, where Anton had regularly gone for meals until he moved to his new place.
It didn’t appear to be a secure facility, but looks could be deceiving. More importantly, it was a centralized location that could bring in all of those around it, so Anton knew that at least in theory some people should be there. Once they were getting close, he was relieved to find that was the case.
One good thing about constant fleeing with a large number of individuals- there was no time for their enemies to set up a proper illusion. With so many different sources of energy overlapping, and not having the element of surprise, they simply didn’t have the opportunity. As Anton and the others approached the cafeteria, supporting fire came from the building, more arrows and a number of fire-based attacks as well. The enemies held back, giving them Anton and the others time to get to relative safety.
“What’s going on out there?” Anton recognized the figure of Daniela Selby. Thirty-seven stars, one more than when he had first seen her about a month after arriving. During the whole incident with Hayden. His own strength had multiplied many times over since then, but she was still an imposing figure.
“Twin Soul Sect,” Anton explained quickly. “Far too much for us to handle. I assume since you’re here the message got around.”
“Just an alarm,” she said. “But I suppose nobody had more specifics.”
Anton explained what else he had seen, approximations of numbers and powers. “There could be more than the single Life Transformation expert,” Anton finished, “But that’s all I’ve noticed so far. I might expect more.”
“That’s about what I’d gathered,” she replied. The wrinkled woman frowned towards the wide entry doors. “We should get you and Marcio up on the roof with the others. We need to hold this place.” She looked around the room as she said so.
Anton nodded. He was well aware that the tactical position was of little value, but there was something important they had to protect. Specifically, all of the Body Tempering cultivators among those present. While they wouldn’t be treated as helpless and would certainly be called upon to fight, if they were to retreat they could only condemn them to death as they would be unable to keep up. There were over a hundred of them present, as well as half that many Spirit Building cultivators.
That included Elder Howland. He had previously been stuck in early Spirit Building, but had now advanced to mid Spirit Building- going from the fifteenth to twentieth star in a few years. His position as elder wasn’t for his fighting prowess, though, but instead based off his knowledge and the duties he undertook.
From the earlier shooting, Anton also knew Alva was present. He hadn’t seen Fuzz, but he hadn’t been focused on that in particular while moving.
He was glad to see that in addition to Elder Daniela Selby, there were a few more Essence Collection cultivators- one of which was Hoyt. It was no surprise that he might be present, because he often worked in the fields around the area- though it was little challenge anymore except for some more exotic specimens.
Anton passed by Pete and Oscar on the way to the roof. There were far too many people here to protect. He had to hope they had enough. Given the fact that the Grand Elders weren’t here wiping them out, however, he suspected they thought there would be more and were trying to draw them out. Or it was being used as an opportunity to give people experience, but Anton wouldn’t be betting on the assumption of being rescued at any particular point.
As he arrived on the roof and looked out, Anton was tackled by Alva- she leapt into him horizontally and hung on. “Grandpa! What’s going on?”
“Basically what it looks like. An attack by the Twin Soul Sect, or at least some of them. Hopefully this is close to their limits.” He knew they were large and distributed throughout many countries, but he hoped that what he currently saw was the limits of what they had. Hoped, but didn’t count on.
Since they couldn’t retreat without abandoning people- not that their earlier retreat had been without loss- this is where they had to take a stand. However, Anton wasn’t sure if the enemy would want to fight them in a fortified position. Yet they weren’t rushing around to ransack empty homes and fields. That could have been caution, but Anton suspected it was because this was more than just a simple raid. They wouldn’t be here just for something they could get more safely elsewhere like resources, but for a serious attack. And that was how he knew they had to have more. What he’d already seen wasn’t a match for even the limited numbers he knew were still present. Or even just Vandale alone, though it might cost him to use so much power.
After a certain distance, ranged attacks would diminish. Whether it was a hundred or two hundred meters, after a certain point it was inefficient to attack if there wasn’t some more pressing reason. That explained why the others were holding back, but Anton saw no reason to not take a few shots here and there. The enemy was standing half a kilometer away, and that was well before the point he expected drop off in effectiveness. Not measurable anyway, since Horizon Shot went many times further. He killed a few Spirit Building cultivators before they wised up and moved Essence Collection cultivators to more prominent positions.
Then he killed a few more, because he could change his target halfway and have them going completely the wrong direction to intercept. Most of those he killed were early or mid Spirit Building, since it was quite optimistic to take out a late Spirit Building cultivator with just a few shots. It would be a significant drain on his energy to kill them if they were ready.
Even if he had some limits to what he could do, Anton felt empowered as he stood among other members of the Order. It wasn’t anything so fancy as a special formation like Catarina could set up- though there were protections on the building itself- but instead a feeling of camaraderie.
Yet more than that, there was a deeper strength flowing into him. It was slow, but very real. Anton continued to fire at a moderate pace, where he found his energy reserves were hardly even draining. Later he would come to the realization that as someone whose Essence was communal based, the situation was akin to actively cultivating. It didn’t suddenly push him to a higher rank, but it slowed his drain of energy.
The enemy wasn’t just going to let him continue shooting at them forever. It wasn’t even a minute before they began their assault. Five hundred meters was something most of the enemy could cover in ten seconds flat, but as they approached they came within range of the rest of those with ranged abilities around Anton. They certainly killed many, but hundreds still remained, mainly Spirit Building and stronger.
The leading group did the logical thing, which was to jump up onto the roof to take out the archers. Though the cafeteria was a tall building, they could still make the leap. Right into a protective barrier that they had to have known would be there. Or at least assume. Even so, the moment they made contact the first couple dozen enemies were vulnerable, and another handful of them perished before they were able to reach the ground and maneuver themselves properly.
Some of them began to bombard the building with attacks, both longer range and up close. Then the doors down below swung open, and the few unlucky souls in front found themselves carved open as Elder Daniela wielded a sword at a speed he wouldn’t have even been able to see when they first met. Several others were with her, stepping back and forth across the threshold.
The attackers were momentarily unsure whether the barrier would still stop them with the doors open, but they also had little chance to try. Most of those who got close were either killed or knocked backwards into the masses behind them. While there were two wide doors swung open, a handful of strong people could hold their ground easily- and one of them was Hoyt, which meant there was now a large wall of fire in front. People had to choose between removing the fire, attacking properly, or defending themselves.
Grand Elder Kseniya could see almost every point in the Order’s control, and those she couldn’t see she could still take a shot at. But she didn’t. She saw a Life Transformation expert hanging back from the crowd assaulting the southern side of the Order, but there was more. Another group, behind the first, circling around to the northern face. They had two more Life Transformation experts among them. She could probably kill at least one of them from where she was, but whichever one she targeted would likely survive long enough for any of the others to retreat.
It would have been a waste of all their effort keeping the mole alive and making themselves appear weak to start things too early. So Kseniya watched Anton as he shot into the crowd of enemies in front of him. She had seen him form a bow out of energy earlier. In her life she had done similar when the time called for it- a broken string or snapped shaft. She was the creator of Spirit Arrows after all, so it wasn’t a foreign concept. She just hadn’t ever considered doing entirely without a physical bow.
Clearly Anton himself still thought it was better, as he continued to shoot at his targets with a real weapon. However, Kseniya could still feel that field around him. It was easily recognizable, to her at least, as the basis for Falling Stars. It was simply kept more tightly contained- though some of that was doubtless due to Anton’s current cultivation restrictions. Kseniya was pleased to see that he hadn’t neglected above himself.
It would have been easy to create a ring around himself and ignore verticality, but his energy stretched out more or less evenly in all directions. At the moment it was doing nothing, but he should be able to call upon it at any moment and attack from somewhere completely unexpected. Not too bad, though she still had some gripes about his fundamentals. Several of his shots had been several millimeters off target, even before people dodged.