Elder Cultivator 275

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Anton didn’t know what would drive ocean beasts to attack a ship. It was widely observed that creatures possessing a cultivation were more aggressive than others, at least in general, but he would have presumed the increased function such creatures had could make them see the danger.

Then again, humans underestimated new opponents all the time. A single encounter with the wrong target could wipe out man or beast, leaving them unable to properly tell the tale.

After going beyond Greatleaf island they were beset by numerous types of creatures, though none even as effective as the longnosed shipwreckers. Those had the advantage of being relatively unexpected. Others the sailors were ready for and could ward off themselves, or advise the traveling cultivators on.

At the moment, they were engaged in a bit of a staring match. As he got used to sensing deep underwater, Anton found himself growing more proficient with sensing deeper in the water. It was much easier than feeling through solid ground, but still a bit difficult. The real issue was keeping a sustained sense of things at a distance.

Yet nobody had trouble sensing their particular visitors. They would have had to be completely numb to energy, and even then would have noticed when the boat rocked suddenly as something bumped into it. A pair of somethings, even.

Anton could just about reach out and touch the fin of the shark he saw below the Azalea. It was high enough, at least, but too far out. He could see an open mouth with rows of teeth nearly as large as himself, though it was hard to say they seemed sharp. Very few things at such a size retained those properties on a smaller scale.

At the moment, the bigger one was trying to fit its mouth around part of the ship. Everyone was standing on alert, waiting on Commodore Visser’s orders. Or that of their various sect elders, should they choose to defy his order to wait.

Personally Anton was in his camp. Not because he didn’t believe they were a threat, but because he thought they might be. There was no doubting the danger they imposed, of course, but there was more to it. Like the fact that the way one of them was mouthing the ship wasn’t really doing anything. It certainly must have had the capacity to damage the ship, but at the moment it was idly trying to take a bite out of something new. 

If they provoked the creatures, well, even if they couldn’t get a solid chomp on the ships they could cause significant damage. The other one was back with the Skylark, swimming around it. If either of them moved towards the smaller ships in the middle of the fleet there might be trouble, but for the moment everything was fine.

Even Elder Sarka of the Glorious Flame Palace was calmly watching them. Anton could feel the heat building up inside of her, but she hadn’t actually started anything. But if the battle began, she and many others were prepared to attack as swiftly as possible, to minimize the damage the creatures could cause.

The larger shark caused the Azalea to sway once more as it tried to press its mouth against it. There was a small tearing sound as it scraped a small chunk away due to some teeth sticking out at an odd angle. Then it pulled back and began to swim away. The other followed. There were a few more tense moments, before someone tried to dive into the water.

They were stopped, not because it was a foolish idea, but because that other person had also noticed the tooth stuck in the side of the ship and wanted it for themself. Anton paid half a mind of attention to that, but was mostly focused on the withdrawing creatures, until they were far enough he could say they were truly gone. He eventually withdrew his senses to what he could easily maintain. It seemed they had only been looking to see if the new prey was easy to eat and tasty, and finding it inconvenient and wooden decided to move on.

The tooth was brought on board, where Commodore Visser claimed it. None of the other Life Transformation experts cared about it, and since it was his ship that it had pierced into there was little point in arguing. It was just a tooth after all, even if it was about Anton’s size, though obviously quite a different shape. The damage to the hull was minimal, in the grand scheme of things. 

“Shark teeth fall out all the time,” Commodore Visser explained. “Usually from ripping and tearing into things. This one was probably loosened from something else.”

With that, the incident was over. It became more of a curiosity than anything else, and was largely set aside from the minds of the travelers. Especially considering what immediately followed it.

—–

Less than two hours later, Anton sensed a great presence under the water. Even in the few short moments it took him to get up on deck, the crew had entered a state of alertness, with Commodore Visser frowning down below as one hand rested on the oversized tooth sitting next to him. 

“I don’t like the feel of that one,” he said. “Raise the alarm!”

Though he called for the alarm, his voice carried well enough that the other ships would have doubtless found themselves informed about the circumstances- were they not already wary of the approaching figures from below.

Anton couldn’t see far into the murky deep. Ten meters at most, but by the time the creatures reached that point they would be practically upon them. Especially since their long, snakelike bodies continued much deeper below. No, that wasn’t quite right. He followed the winding, bumpy creatures and found they widened along their length. He was having trouble sensing where they connected, but he was certain they must. Especially since the signature of energy was exactly the same from all of them. It wasn’t anything so tame as a group of giant eels, but instead one creature with tentacles at least a hundred meters long.

“Ranged combatants, at the ready. Everyone else designated as rowers, at your stations! Prepare for double time! We’re not waiting around to see if this thing is just curious.”

Commodore Visser’s words were quickly carried out, with Anton taking a position on the bow of the boat. There weren’t a lot of places it was convenient to shoot directly downward, but on the other hand the creature was large enough it couldn’t hide under the shadow of the boat. 

They began to pick up speed, sails unfurling as well to draw every ounce of speed they could- though they still needed people ready for battle. It wasn’t long before the reaching tentacles drew up short of the trailing Skylark, and then they pulled back into the sea.

“Stay on guard!” Visser’s experience matched with Anton’s own thoughts, as the grasping limbs pulling back didn’t necessarily mean anything. If he’d known about how the creature moved, he would have been even more justified- but he was just cautious.

A few moments later, a giant wave raised the fleet into the air, splashing over it as they came down. All at once the creature had rushed forward, moving a huge amount of the sea with it. The creature then flipped around, reaching upward with an uncountable number of tentacles.

“So it’s true,” Anton heard Commodore Visser whisper to himself. “The legends of the krakens.” Much more loudly, he began to give orders. “Attack! Defend the fleet, and maintain formation!” There were more specific details that were undoubtedly useful for the experienced sailors, but the rest were useful to the cultivators on board.

Anton immediately felt the water heating up at the rear of the fleet, while a section of one tentacle was frozen beneath him. He began to fire shots at the closest approaching tentacles. Shooting through tens of meters of water was difficult, but unfortunately Anton didn’t have long where that was required. A couple seconds later the tentacles were almost lazily raised above the ships, coiling around anything they could reach. Anton fired upon one that was grasping the mast, not hesitating to use a chunk of ascension energy. On anything lesser he would have expected to sever something completely, but while he pierced through the creature’s defensive energy and rubbery body, he only managed to explode a man-sized chunk out of it. Less than half the width of the tentacle in the upper quarter that was sticking onto the ship. Perhaps it was significant damage, but the mast began to bend regardless of the half-severing.

Many attacks more powerful than Anton were launched, though Commodore Visser’s was the most… interesting. He lifted the shark tooth in both hands, an extremely awkward grip that nonetheless managed to be serviceable. The tooth was raised up and swung downward like a guillotine, severing one of the tentacles snaking over the ship. One of dozens, because while the creature certainly resembled the common octopus Anton had sensed on previous visits to the ocean, it was hardly the same.

The battle was swift, with attacks being launched at full power immediately. Despite the sturdy materials and formations augmenting them, masts cracked, hulls creaked, and one of the middle ships was crushed, snapping in two. The creature’s limbs swept across the decks, knocking people off their feet or into the sea, and sometimes coiling around them in groups. In return, tentacles were frozen, burned, chopped, pierced, and otherwise devastated, but the ships and people on them were taking extreme damage as well. Anton could hardly keep track of any of it, and he saw more than a handful of cultivators grabbed by the creature and dragged under the water.

The Azalea was sturdy, but even she lost a mast, a trio of tentacles eventually working together to pull one apart. But as flurries of attacks came from both sides and blood poured over the decks and into the sea, the creature eventually withdrew. Anton could feel it was not dead, but hopefully its wounds would discourage it from making another attempt.

After that, efforts fell to snapping up anyone still in the sea, not already sunk or pulled under. Every cultivator could swim, though they couldn’t necessarily keep up with the boats. Fortunately the long formation allowed the sailors and passengers on the snapped ship to get onto the trailing ships, including the Skylark.

—–

Anton did his part helping downed sailors and throwing together quick patches, but his mind was elsewhere. It was on the kraken. As a mid Essence Collection cultivator, he was not at the top tier of power in the world- but he could at least see it. He felt the intensity of power Life Transformation cultivators had, and though he recognized the gap between his over forty stars and the sixty to the theoretical one hundred Life Transformation cultivators might have, he could imagine surpassing that gap. But that was the limit.

Something beyond that was… unfathomable. Anton knew the limits of humans. But then again, there was always ascension. Something beyond anything he knew. The kraken was not ascended. It was physically present, and while its energy was massive and powerful the sheer quantity of it posed more danger than the quality. Its size and bodily power compounded with that to create something greater than a Life Transformation cultivator. After all, they had more than a handful present in the fleet but could not kill the creature.

Certainly, the kraken retreated, but if it had chosen to fight to the death Anton suspected it would have won. Perhaps even if their cultivators had been at the peak of Life Transformation like Vandale. Comparing the final explosion of his power to the kraken, impressive as it had been, was insufficient. The creature wasn’t invincible, but in only a few minutes it had wreaked devastation on the fleet, killing perhaps a tenth of their number- though the count was not yet finalized. Even if many were weaker cultivators, Anton could have just as easily found himself dragged under had he been caught.

The thought of death in battle didn’t scare him, not as it might once have. Though he wished to at least face the coming invasion, he knew that others would make sure things went as well as they possibly could. 

No, what held his mind wasn’t the fear, but the power. It was unfortunate that he gave up the opportunity to reach such heights, not that he was arrogant enough to assume he really had a chance. Over however many generations, despite the prestige of the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars, they had not had one person reach the proper, hundredth star and ascend. It could be possible, but would he be the first?

Well, it was much like seeing rich folk ride through a small town. They were something that a commoner couldn’t aspire to becoming. But Anton wondered what else in the world might have such power, and how there could be so much strength in a single being.

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