Before his time as a cultivator, Anton had only been tangentially aware of falling stars. Now he had a much better understanding of what they were, hunks of rock falling through the atmosphere. The scene above them looked much like a handful of exceptionally large meteors falling, flames roiling around them as one Ascension cultivator covered for dozens of ‘weaker’ cultivators.
As the two with the longest ranges, Anton and Kseniya had already begun to launch attacks at one of the women. They were specifically relying on techniques made to disrupt ascension energy… and there were a few special arrows thrown in as well. The falling cultivator was unable to dodge or seriously mitigate their attacks with her own power, and everyone on the ground breathed a collective sigh of relief as they were able to sense huge chunks of energy being scattered uselessly. The techniques worked, but even two Life Transformation cultivators attacking unimpeded for a full minute were unable to exhaust the falling opponent’s energy.
Neither archer was conserving their own energy, as this was their best chance to attack. At the final moment before the falling ‘meteors’ reached the barrier over the sect, they launched one final combined attack. Anton charged as much ascension energy as he could onto a single shot from his new bow, while his auxiliary bows did basically the opposite. He hoped to throw off the woman with a direct impact timed along with a dozen simultaneous disrupting strikes. It worked to some extent, creating a small break in her protective bubble through which Kseniya launched her own attack.
The Ascension cultivator instantly collapsed her defensive energy to protect herself, the attack merely taking off another portion of her energy but leaving her with at least two-thirds of the energy she had displayed from the beginning. The sudden retraction of her defensive bubble, however, left those she was guarding vulnerable. Anton and Kseniya barely had time for a couple weak shots, but others had just come into range. Dozens of attacks streamed out of the barrier, slicing through many of the weaker cultivators among the bunch. At practically the same time, everyone impacted the barrier.
The noise of the impact made all sound seem to stop, as reverberations of sound bounced everywhere as the barrier trembled. No, that wasn’t quite right. The barrier held firm, but the mountain they were standing upon shook beneath it, and the world around it.
Somehow it held. Or rather, they were counting on it holding but hadn’t truly expected it to work. If the enemy forces had broken through the barrier immediately, the Order was doomed. It might still be, but at least they wouldn’t be going out without taking people down with them. Perhaps more devastating to some, everyone bounced off of the barrier or tumbled down the dome it created. Everyone, including the Ascension cultivators.
“You won’t be getting in here so easily,” Grand Elder Matousek declared proudly. “How does it feel, being trash that can’t even fight people on their own level?” It appeared that Matousek was engaging in the time-honored tradition of hurling insults. Anton didn’t expect anything to come from it, but he had forgotten something very important about cultivators.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY TO ME YOU PIECE OF LOWER REALM SCUM?!”
The woman who was the target of the archery attacks moved with a speed Anton could just barely track. The image of waves moved along with her as she pierced a short spear through the barrier.
Dozens of reflexive attacks launched towards her, though Anton and Kseniya found themselves ironically off target. After all, they had been aiming along her trajectory where they expected her to move. Neither of them had expected her to stop with her elbow barely through the barrier- but that was where she was when it reformed around her.
With a great scream she ripped her arm away, the motion wiping the topsoil from her surroundings with its force, breaking trees up to a hundred meters away. Yet the barrier was instantly whole once more, while the woman used an embarrassing amount of energy for no gain. Anton knew the barrier had to give out eventually, but the fact that it stood up to an Ascension cultivator made him proud of Catarina. Not all of the work was hers, but he knew it wouldn’t be nearly so effective.
“Interesting.” A much calmer voice cut through the area. It was deep, but echoed strangely despite the topography making that infeasible. “It appears the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars has done well for itself.” One of the Ascension cultivators, a man covered from head to toe in long flowing robes, along with a full mask on his face, stepped forward. He radiated the aura of the Twin Soul Sect openly, unlike the woman. There was also something else to him. The scent of blood? “Perhaps this will take slightly longer than expected. But I have a proposal. The lot of you seem intent to struggle for your lives, so if you simply hand over your Grand Elder Vandale to have a bout with me, I personally will leave you be.”
“You-” the livid woman glaring at the barrier briefly turned her gaze to the man. “You’d be giving up your portion of the claim to the loot.”
“Shut up!” the man’s voice echoed as if he were saying the words twice at once with different voices. “You’re nearly half dead to a couple piddling Life Transformation cultivators.” His head swiveled unnaturally back to face the Order’s location, as if he had no spine. “We will give you a few minutes to discuss my proposal.”
“They can’t hear us through the barrier if we don’t want to be heard,” Catarina assured everyone. With that said… should we just tell him Vandale died killing a handful of the best members of his sect?”
Matousek frowned, “I don’t think that will help. Having him temporarily not our enemy might be advantageous. More importantly, is it alright for us to be waiting here? The barrier…”
“Can last for hundreds of years like this,” Catarina assured her. “Don’t be concerned about that.”
Off to the side, Anton and Kseniya were having their own little discussion while taking advantage of the likely brief respite to recover some of their expended energy. Hopefully what they had learned about Ascension cultivators was true, and they would be unable to recover their energy.
“I think the one with the x shaped symbol on his sleeve,” Anton offered.
“That brat?” Kseniya shook her head. “If he’s a favored disciple it’s of some kind of crap sect. I’m thinking the blonde woman there.”
Anton frowned. “I’m not really sure how we tell which of them is more favored or whatever. Profane screaming from others? But would it be number of people upset or how loud they yell?”
“I guess we work that out later. We just start with them and sort out who wins after all of this is over.”
“Fair enough,” Anton nodded. He had been listening to the discussion of the rest of the leadership, “Permission to start shooting important looking people?”
Matousek frowned for a moment, then nodded. “They don’t deserve any sort of civility from us. Go ahead. Everyone should be ready for them to attempt to break through the barrier, and we don’t want to give them too much time to study it.”
“It won’t help,” Catarina commented. “None of them have the skills for it. They’ll just have to bash their way through. They do seem like they were waiting for something though.”
“Archers ready!” Kseniya called. It was several kilometers to the border of the Order’s land, but everyone in Essence Collection of higher could reasonably be expected to shoot that far with the clear sight lines they had. “Fire at will!” she yelled as she took her first shot.
Anton felt the slightest bit bad for the Essence Collection cultivator he chose to target. He was a young man with a future… here to take away the futures of everyone present. So the slight negativity did nothing to stop Anton from putting a half dozen arrows through his neck from different angles. Most of them had been backup for when the young man inevitably blocked most of them, but when they all stabbed into him Anton wondered if he had been bamboozled by an illusion. If so, the illusion left a very realistic corpse. The same was the case with many others.
After the first instant most of the weaker cultivators readied themselves, though a few had been ready regardless. All five of the Ascension cultivators instantly moved to attack the barrier, and the battlefield was filled with people yelling various profanities and insults on both sides. The twin voices of the man who had previously spoken dominated. “Fine, I’ll just drag him out then!”
Five strikes simultaneously hit the barrier. The spear-wielding woman resembled a great wave as she impacted the wall. The man with twin voices turned into a whirlwind of red and black. Two more of the Ascension cultivators were women- one created an explosion of black-red flames while the other performed a simple yet powerful strike with a dagger. The other man was large and burly, stomping the ground hard enough to make it tremble at the peak.
Against their combined might the barrier was unable to stand, and was torn open in front of them, rending apart a great swath of the mountainside, including many buildings. Anton knew that everyone had been given the chance to secret away prized possessions but still lamented the loss of homes. The whole mass of cultivators poured through the hole in the barrier, with the Ascension cultivators charging a moderate distance ahead of them. However, they had to turn back when the barrier reasserted itself with less than half of the others having made their way through.
Catarina grinned. Clearly she had intended something like that when she set up the barrier. The Ascension cultivators were forced to choose between supporting those already inside the barrier and bringing the rest through. They ultimately split up, with the earth cultivator and the woman who had shown little of her powers remaining at the barrier while the others charged forward with the rest of the army that was brimming with Essence Collection and Life Transformation cultivators.
There was just one small snag with opening the barrier again. They had the power to break it open, but not the fine degree of control to do that without causing devastation beyond it… where the rest of the group was waiting. Ultimately the man slammed against the barrier to weaken it while the woman cut open a section to let through several dozen people at a time. They had to repeat those actions continuously to keep the barrier open, wasting time and energy.
The group focused on offense rushed up the slopes towards the Order. The Order wouldn’t just let them move as they pleased, of course. Those who could attack from afar bombarded the enemy, while those who needed to fight up close were positioned at key points on the slopes to intercept the enemies. There were further formations to aid them beyond the sect-encompassing barrier, augmenting their own offense and defense.
They would need every bit of advantage they could get. The initial clash of cultivators showed the Ascension cultivators completely overpowering their Life Transformation cultivators. Grand Elder Zajoc was covered by black and red flames, only barely resisting incineration. Matousek collided with the man with two voices. She appeared as a brightly burning fire, but did not physically transform unlike her opponent who was a tornado of blood and darkness. She somehow managed to get a cut with the halberd she wielded, forcing the man back. Her arms were covered in holes, drained of blood and dessicated. Meanwhile, the man briefly returned to his normal form, where his mask was broken and robes torn. Little harm came to the man himself, but his form was revealed to be blackened and charred all over from a previous battle.
Few could recognize him, as most who in the battle of Black Soul Valley had perished there or in later battles. However, the man was revealed as the head of branch of the Twin Soul Sect previously located in Ofrurg. He had ascended during the battle, while at the same time killing the head of the Flying Blood Cult… whose technique he seemed to have absorbed. Only a small patch of skin on his neck was unburned, testament to Grand Elder Kunibert holding him in place for Vandale to bombard with attacks. It hadn’t been quite enough then… and now he was Ascended, with Vandale nowhere in sight. The others weren’t something that could easily be ignored either. The whole of the Order understood that they might not survive this battle… but if they didn’t, they at least were going to weaken everyone to the best of their ability so the next sect could have a chance.