Elder Cultivator 352

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The soldiers from the Edelhull militia were organized more tightly than the cultivators from the Order. They walked in ranks but were allowed some individual mobility. Calros took note of that, but also how the more experienced cultivators still retained their focus wherever they were positioned. He might have been serving as part of Edelhull’s defenses for many years, but none of them really had to do much. Sure, they were stronger than normal people and had training in combat, but it just wasn’t the same. They’d been able to fight against the few invaders who came to Edelhull, but Calros thought there was something fundamentally different between them and the real cultivators.

He sought out the familiar face of Ghadir. Years of working together had made them close friends, but he felt like he didn’t recognize her in the last few days. It wasn’t a bad thing but… “Ghadir. You’ve been talking to that elder. Are you thinking of becoming a true cultivator?”

Her grip tightened on her spear. “Do you think we can afford not to?”

“It may be too late for that,” Calros shrugged. “The step to Essence Collection… it’s not easy.”

“You know, our parents’ generation didn’t cultivate at all. Even someone in Body Tempering was considered something pretty amazing. We’re well beyond that level now. And if you’re having trouble advancing, maybe talk to someone. Like Elder Anton. He might be able to help.”

“You think so?” Calros shook his head. “Maybe for you, but I’m not… really much of a fighter.” He held tightly to his spear, “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t intend to give up here and let these invaders take what they want. I might even die to stop them, but that’s not really… me.”

Ghadir looked at him carefully, “You’re not afraid of dying?”

He shrugged, “As much as anyone I suppose I am. But I’d rather not live in a world without Edelhull the way it is now. So I’ll protect it, because we need everyone we can get.”

—–

“Congratulations,” Elder Anton said in a way Ghadir knew wasn’t condescending, but felt like it anyway. 

She shook her head. “I finally finished a step I should have completed long ago. Now it will take me… I don’t know, months or years to complete the next step. Even if I could do it overnight, the peak of Spirit Building is barely different from where I am now.”

“Just because you have a late start doesn’t mean you should give up,” Anton’s kind smile comforted her slightly. “Otherwise, a couple years from now you’ll regret it.”

“Not if I’m dead,” she pointed out. “You can’t say I’m really strong enough to survive this battle.”

“None of us are,” Anton said firmly. “We just have to pick the battles that will get the best results for us. Be that surviving, or having the biggest possible impact on the battle.” Anton leaned slightly closer, “But I can tell you a secret. Conviction will greatly affect your survivability in battle.”

“Yeah, sure. Except the other side also believes in what they’re doing,” Ghadir pointed out.

“Just believe harder,” Anton grinned. “But actually, I have to say that they’re more afraid than you are.”

“…Then you don’t know how afraid I am.” Ghadir was doing a good job of not trembling, the safety provided by the people around her not being sufficient as they approached an inevitable battle.

“I do, actually, but perhaps I didn’t say it quite right.” Elder Anton thought for a few moments. “You might be afraid, but that is mitigated by your bravery. You chose to fight against stronger opponents, after all.” He held up a hand to stop her, “And yes, it was your choice. You could have fled into the city, but I know you fought.”

“With all of my allies, we were stronger,” Ghadir pointed out. “That’s not necessarily the case here.”

“I haven’t quite reached my point,” Anton said. “You know the battle at the Order?”

“What about it? You drove them away, even killing… three Ascension cultivators.”

“That’s right, we did. Why do you think that was?”

“Because you were strong? Prepared?”

“Sure, both of those things were true. But I will say this right now. They could have killed all of us, and yet they didn’t. Not because of any sort of mercy, but because they were afraid. Every one of them, concerned about their own life.”

Ghadir shook her head, “I’m worried about my own life.”

“But would you be, if you were a Life Transformation cultivator? Or an Ascension cultivator? I think not. You see, their stake in this is less than ours. They’re here for, what? Some crap like cultivation resources. But this is our world.” Anton’s eyes flashed, “And they can’t have it.”

“We can’t win on conviction alone though.”

“Good point. How many spear thrusts have you done today?” Anton asked.

“We’ve been marching so… only a hundred in the morning?”

“Do a thousand by the end of the day. Picture one of those who came to the city. Oh, and tell your friend that true cultivators can be anyone with a commitment to something. Not just fighting.”

“… You could hear us talking?”

Anton raised an eyebrow, and she realized she was talking to the guy who regularly shot arrows several hours’ march ahead.

—–

The leadership gathered together, including many elders from the Order and the captain of the Edelhull guard, a woman who went by Oralie. She was young for her cultivation, on the level of the best geniuses. She was originally from Facraona, but for various reasons had ended up on Ofrurg and chosen to build up the guards there.

She looked at Anton and shook her head. “I can’t believe I spent decades trying to get people to train to the best of their abilities, and then you show up and… well, I can already see the effects.”

“I had the fortune to come into their understanding during a time of crisis,” Anton pointed out. “And I’m someone different. Besides, you were too important to bring problems to.”

“… I suppose I was quite busy with various things,” Oralie admitted.

“People won’t always take advantage of available opportunities anyway,” Anton consoled her. “I think you did, well, to create a force that stood and fought for their city.”

She nodded. “I guess we should let people get on with the actual reason we’re here. Grand Elder Fodor just arrived.”

“I’ll have you know this is precisely the planned time of the meeting,” the man in question pointed out. Side comments seldom went unheard at their level of cultivation, unless people took great care to conceal it. “We’re not far from Stregate now. A couple hours’ march. Our scouts have confirmed the city is under siege. Their barriers are barely holding on, but should at least last the night. They will have likely noticed our approach, but for the moment I believe out camp is concealed,” he looked to Catarina.

“That’s correct,” she nodded. “If they haven’t done something to disrupt Stregate’s formations, we can assume they have no one who can find their way through ours. I imagine we have to run into some sort of formation master at some point… but not here.”

“Very good. Elder Anton, if you would go over some of the other details of the siege.”

Anton stepped forward. “They seem to be making use of more traditional siege tactics. That is, waiting out the durability of the barrier. It is extremely difficult to have one that can withstand large instantaneous bursts of power without a constant drain on the power sources. Given the invader’s slow rate of energy recovery they seem to have elected not to commit much to a bombardment to speed things along. That might change with our presence here, but any changes on that front will be immediately apparent.”

Grand Elder Fodor took over once more. “Optimally we would bombard them with attacks while they waited, but we both don’t know how long that would last, nor do we have any guarantee that we would receive backup from the city when the invaders inevitably turn on us.”

“Even if they do support us,” Oralie commented, “Leaving the protection of the walls would be a death sentence for most of them. The vast majority of their forces will be somewhere around Spirit Building. Taking advantage of walls and defensive formations they can be effective, but outside of that it would be possible for many of them to be cut down by simply the auras of Ascension cultivators.”

“Speaking of which,” Hoyt asked, “Is this the same group that attacked the Order?”

“No,” Fodor shook his head. “There appear to be two new and relatively fresh Ascension cultivators, and smaller numbers of others than the initial force that attacked us. Thank you for the question, Elder Vandale.” Hoyt stiffened for a moment, and Fodor corrected himself, “Elder Hoyt, I mean.”

“… No, it’s fine. I’m just not used to the name. What’s the plan, then?”

“Optimally, we get everyone in the city. If the formations still have power, Elder Riley will be able to enhance them to some degree. Then our various forces bombard them under the guidance of Elder Krantz.”

“They won’t just let us reach the gates,” Oralie pointed out.

“I would imagine not,” Grand Elder Fodor nodded seriously. “The Formation Master will be circling those with lower cultivation towards the city under concealment. If they have to fight, so be it. But the rest of the forces will be at another angle launching attacks. There is some risk to both groups, but the second should be able to break through the enemy forces to reach the city in the worst case. But if all goes well, they will endure the attacks until the first group reaches the city, then the second will fake a retreat to make their way around to the city.”

“What ways could it go wrong… aside from them committing to an attack on either group?” Hoyt asked.

“They might begin the assault on the city before that,” Fodor pointed out. “Though that would actually be to our advantage, unless they completely block off all the gates with their forces. However, this is where we have an interesting advantage. They are individually strong, but their numbers are not great. They have to either deal with isolation or hold together and leave parts of the city open. They might not actually care about people fleeing, as long as they don’t think they’re taking all of the resources away.”

“There will be risks no matter how we go about it,” Oralie shook her head. “I’m not sure if we can win.”

“Ferocity seems important,” Anton pointed out. “Making them believe we can kill them is enough. With that, we should leave clear paths of retreat for them. This isn’t a situation where we have the forces to annihilate them all at once.”

Grand Elder Fodor nodded seriously. “That’s a good point. And they are still hopefully off balance at our resistance. The situation is hopefully… different than they expected.”

“It should be,” Catarina commented. “I have the feeling… that they were waiting for Twin Soul Sect traitors to come out of the woodworks when they attacked the Order. They’re supposed to have infiltrated all of the major sects.”

“Yet we killed them all. They should have gotten word of that, right? Their entire idea was that they could reincarnate.”

“Maybe, but… some of Everheart’s designs…” Catarina shook her head. “We know he hated them. There was an entire death trap set up on the moon that took out as many of them as possible. Everheart should have known they intended to reincarnate so…” she shrugged. “I don’t actually know what he would have done, but it would be something to make their lives difficult. All of them.”

“If they really haven’t been getting any information…” Oralie clutched her spear, “We might actually have a chance.”

“And if not,” Anton stood up straight, “We’ll take down as many of them as we can before we go.”

Everyone silently agreed with the morbid sentiment. They’d been planning that for decades, but now the time had come for them to follow through.

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