More people approached the doors of the underground bunker as Matija sat in silence, attempting some level of recovery. She still had over half of her energy remaining, but expending it so desperately had thrown her off. Unfortunately, Sizipra was not exactly teeming with natural energy- most of the system wasn’t, but with little life most of the natural energy was entrapped from space. Perhaps from the sun directly.
Those who trickled through the door, their security details providing access, were in a worse state than most. Those who had arrived before Matija and her colleagues had been close by, but anyone after her was having to pick through the rubble in the area while also dealing with the thin atmosphere- and rapidly building heat as the facility opened to the outside. Even the few security officers were tattered- though their effective cultivations were lower than Matija. She was fairly certain they didn’t actually cultivate, but use of Rutera’s technology developed cultivation regardless.
It wasn’t clear how long it took- a minute, ten, an hour- but Matija felt cultivators approaching. Proper cultivators, from Azoth. She would have recognized any from their outpost, few as they were- and she also knew the cultivation styles the military of Rutera practiced.
“Lock down the doors. No one else comes in.”
“But what if someone else-”
“No more of us will be coming,” Matija stated clearly. She clutched her rifle tightly, unconsciously suppressing the surrounding security.
One of the female guards responded. “Yes ma’am. We understand.” A few button presses, and the lock would only open from the inside- with proper authorization.
The number of security personnel in their facility was likely higher than necessary for what actually happened. Drunk or belligerent scientists, maybe petty theft. They were only a few hundred in total through various departments, so even having a dozen security guards was excessive in some manners. Even so, despite their weakness, Matija wished they had all of them in their current bunker instead of less than half. But perhaps that was selfish.
“They’re coming,” Matija said. “They just reached the top of the stairs.”
The Azoth intruders weren’t hiding their energy, not that they needed to. She could feel them take every step, unhurried. They were strong, at least by Matija’s standards. A handful of Spirit Building cultivators and an equal number of Essence Collection. She and the others couldn’t hold them off for long, even if they were lucky. Even so, they took positions, gaining what cover they could in the lobby of the bunker that was only meant for natural disasters and not war.
When the enemy reached the door, it shuddered under their attacks. Yet it held firm… once, twice. The third time it buckled, leaving a slight gap. Matija shot her rifle through, the beam of energy guided by her will to be focused, precise. One of the attackers fell back, merely injured. As it happened, she wondered why she was fighting. She wasn’t a soldier… but if she didn’t fight, she would just die- and everyone in the bunker behind her as well.
Four arms wrenched open the durable doors, meant to withstand small arms at best, and not cultivators. Battle broke out swiftly- the enemy favoring melee weapons that were not as outdated as they might seem. Two guards were cut down immediately. Should Matija have been closer, as the strongest?
She managed a couple more shots, piercing through the energy defenses of her targets but not dropping them. Instead, she merely drew their ire. A spear stabbed at her- through her. No, she managed to duck out of the way, her training paying off somehow. Her beam rifle took the opponent directly in the chest, a sustained burst that bore a hole through his chest. The rifles didn’t do that… but she made it happen anyway. Like instinct.
A sword cut into her side as she focused on the other opponent. Fortunately, Anton’s insistence that she keep her energy defenses active in all situations, covering every part of her no matter how much it might seem a burden, just barely saved her life. At least, for that moment. Another enemy down, but most remained- and her allies had fallen. Her biggest regret… was not knowing what the weird thing with the solar flares was. Did that make her a bad person, not caring about the lives of those around her, or her own life? Except she did… just not as much as that.
A woman carrying a sword that had to be nearly as heavy as Matija came for her next. As Matija discovered, her armor was exceptional- though the rifle could pierce her defensive energy, the gleaming metal resisted her attack. Matija thought to close her eyes as she accepted her death, but her training had also drilled into her to never close her eyes in combat. She might as well listen to it for the last few milliseconds she lived.
Even with her eyes open, she barely saw it. A blade of energy, as tall as she was. It cut through the woman wielding it as well as bisecting the weapon, the two halves flying around Matija. She barely saw the blade of energy… but she certainly felt it. Just like she felt the following arrows. Dozens, no- hundreds, if she was right about the faint impacts she felt off in the distance. She’d felt that energy before, and it was hard to forget.
The intruders were dead. Matija only managed to stagger forward, activating the panel by the doors. Obviously, closing them was impossible- but activating some barrier to keep what air they had left would be… best. It was already hard to think.
Air rushed in around her, but she hadn’t managed anything yet. Then, Anton stood in front of her. “Good thing I booked it on the second half, huh?” He smiled widely. It was comforting, seeing this old fellow arrive as if he were taking a stroll around the neighborhood. “Gotta say, it’s pretty unpleasant being between systems alone.” He looked around. “It’s a good thing my route took me close to here.”
“I didn’t die… right?” Matija tilted her head. Her brain was tumbling end over end, the adrenaline from battle not knowing what to do and the air in her lungs somehow messing her up even more.
“Sure doesn’t look like it. Though let me help you out with your side there. Sit down, please.”
She did, managing to stagger into an actual chair instead of plopping onto the ground. Then, her side hurt for a moment. She looked down at it to see stitches. “You’re… a medic?”
“Oh please,” Anton shook his head. “Don’t say that. It’s rude to people who spent a lot of time learning that profession. I’m barely an apprentice.” He pulled out a salve, “Stitches are nothing. This salve should help make up for how bad they are.”
“They look… pretty even to me,” Matija said, wincing as she moved her side. As Anton dipped his finger into the salve, she waved him off. “I’m fine. Check on… the others.”
Anton sighed. “Those who can are receiving medical attention.”
Matija realized that Anton’s energy was constantly working around them, not just in the room but elsewhere. Inside the room, she could see some of the security being seated in chairs and some laid on couches. “… Why are some of them still on the floor?” Matija asked.
Anton just shook his head. “They won’t get more comfortable,” Anton said, as the bodies were lined up next to each other- with the enemies being ousted up the stairs to be tossed in a pile. Moving things with just his energy was quite inefficient, but something as simple as that was doable. He’d already taken a few moments to lift hunks of the buildings up above off of those who had still been alive, even if some had died moments later.
“Is this… what war is like?” Matija asked. She knew the pains of the war so far, of course. Even if she wasn’t close with any of those who had died by sheer coincidence, it was impossible to not have friends and family affected somehow.
“Usually it’s worse,” Anton said, keeping the details out of it. “I’ll stay here until someone can come pick you guys up. Unless you want me to try to fly some of the Azoth ships.”
“I don’t… could you?”
Anton shrugged. “Maybe. It’s more familiar to me than any of your technology.”
“We should wait,” Matija said.
“Fair enough. I’ll message the general.”
“Shouldn’t you… be contacting someone else?”
“Why?” Anton raised an eyebrow. “It’s easiest to contact the people on top. I don’t really know anyone else, and the military is going to come here anyway.”
“Ugh. Good point.”
As it turned out, the military was quite interested in getting a handful of completely undamaged Azoth vessels. Enough to send General Nicodemo himself… though that was partly an excuse on the man’s part. “Where’s your ship?” Nicodemo asked by way of introduction once he found his way to Anton. “Sensors didn’t pick one up.”
“Didn’t bring one,” Anton said.
“You didn’t-” Nicodemo took a deep breath, then slowly let it out. “I will ask for clarification on that later. We’re at war, so there’s no real time for a fancy welcome party except,” he gestured to the soldiers around him, going over the damage and casualties. “I can only say that in both personal and professional capacity, I am glad to see you back.”
“Glad to be back. I find Azoth’s actions even more disfavorable by the moment.”
“They’re crazy,” Nicodemo said. “Sure, they win as many engagements as they lose… but they’re not so overwhelming that the war’s going well for them. Though perhaps if they’d managed to pull all of these troops together into one large offensive…” Nicodemo shook his head. “We really need the help. Speaking of which, where’s Matija?”
“Don’t make her fight,” Anton said bluntly.
“What? I-” Nicodemo held up his hands, “I wasn’t planning on it. I heard she took down a few herself, but she’s much more useful in her current role. She put together scanners that can detect these ships when cloaked! That’s what we need more of.”
“Hmm. Good,” Anton nodded. “Because if you try to make her fight I’ll withdraw my personal support. You can go ahead and put that on the record in case anyone tries to do otherwise.”
“… it was that bad, huh?” Nicodemo asked.
“This was her first real battle. She’s not a warrior, and I don’t want to see her become one.”
“Don’t worry, we just need her for something she’s already done happily. And I’ll keep your warning in mind.” Nicodemo frowned, “Most people would use a crazy bargaining chip like that to get secret tech or piles of wealth.”
“Why?” Anton asked. “I have those. And I gladly trade them away for more happy friends.”
“I guess that makes sense. Personally I could do with a larger salary. Or maybe some days off.”
“I’m sure I can manage a few of the latter for you,” Anton said.
“Sure, but I’ll still be constantly worried about what attacks might happen.”
“How unfortunate,” Anton said. “I am unable to protect all of Rutera at the same time. But I could cover a sector and let the forces there reinforce others.”
“That’s… an interesting thought. We’ll talk about it as we mobilize the others from Ceretos. I suppose you might as well tell me how you got here as well. Unless that’s a secret?”
“It’s not,” Anton smiled. “I just came on my own.”
“That… sounds like it’s leaving out some details.”
“I used advanced movement techniques to accelerate myself close to the limit and then distort space around myself relying on techniques from Weos and Scholar Eulogius.”
“I’m still not a master of this whole cultivation deal, but are you saying that you’re effectively your own warp drive?”
Anton took a few moments to think about that. He was quite familiar with the local language, but technical terms still required some thought. “Close enough, at least. I’ll need a lot more practice before it’s better than a good ship, though.”
“… Damn. We should have had you around for the whole war instead of being stubborn about it.”
“Perhaps this time was for the best,” Anton said. “At least we’ve established greater trust between our systems. I would rather be seen as allies than pushy defenders.”