Elder Cultivator 507

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The two Worldbinding cultivators were a concern for Anton, and though he would have liked to fly out and meet the incoming fleet he had no guarantee that he would not be tied down by the two cultivators long enough for the rest of the fleet to harm him. Instead, he would have to wait until there were other targets- Rutera’s other defenders. As the enemy approached, Anton was glad he hadn’t been foolish.

It was difficult to pin down exactly how powerful the two were, even as they approached, but Anton’s estimation was that the weaker of the two should be a close match for him, even away from their home. The other was definitely stronger, perhaps retaining a better connection than the other. It was difficult to say if it was something inherent to their methods or experience- or some combination.

Anton was not shy about launching his attacks once the enemy was vaguely in range- a few thousand kilometers and still rapidly approaching. If he didn’t have such powerful targets to lock onto it might have been more difficult, but without the atmosphere to interfere it was reasonable enough. Anton was concerned that he might have trouble striking any other ships in the fleet, but it turned out to not be an issue… though not in the manner he would have liked.

As his arrows reached their target, they were absorbed by a barrier around the flagship carrying the two Worldbinders. That had been more or less expected- it was a larger ship, not a kind that had been seen in Rutera. It was close in size to the mightiest in the shipyard… or at least the one that would have eventually been comparable, when finished. 

The issue came when he diverted his target to the other ships… and encountered the same barrier. Not a similar one, but instead he was able to determine that the flagship was sharing a barrier with the whole fleet… and if he was not incorrect the more powerful Worldbinding cultivator was augmenting the whole thing. He had just enough time to report that to the local military and consider his options before the enemy ships came to a sudden change in speed and visibility- they were still moving fast, but their trajectory wasn’t straight towards Rutera, instead taking a strafing path. 

It would have been convenient if they had been foolish enough to directly impact the barriers, but if anyone so high ranking in the Sylanis Cluster was that foolish, they’d no doubt have died long ago. As ships engaged, Anton tested the limits of the enemy barrier. It was most powerful on the ‘front’ side, but it certainly wasn’t trivial in other directions. One thing he swiftly noted was that it didn’t seem to physically stop allied ships near the edges, though a few pilots who didn’t get or perhaps believe the information Anton gave tested the center and found it quite unyielding. It was likely the last mistake they could ever make, as their ships turned into little more than bricks of metal and components.

If the defense was not enough, Anton felt the aura of the ‘weaker’ Worldbinding cultivator weaving through both the enemy fleet and beyond. The attacks that came from the invading cultivators were all tinged with the same energy, no doubt enhanced in some way. A deadly combination with the enhanced barrier, and that wasn’t the end of it. Though Anton couldn’t quite determine what without subjecting himself to it, the aura seemed to have a detrimental effect on local cultivators. It was quite clear why those two cultivators in particular had been chosen for the assault- they were both functional in general, and a valuable asset to the fleet as a whole. 

Rutera had their own defenses- orbital stations coordinating with fighters to bombard the enemy barriers with as many different attacks as possible- but it wasn’t sufficient. Unlike the previous experience with the barriers, the enhanced power either allowed it to respond to a wider variety of attacks or simply bolstered the minimal effectiveness to nearly invincible levels.

Even if none of Anton’s attacks pierced through, he didn’t let up. There was no way the enemy was actually invincible. At the very least, the barrier had to be draining energy every time it was struck. The only question was the efficiency- would their side or the enemy run out first? The initial moments of battle weren’t looking good for Rutera, but they had been anticipating attacks on multiple locations. Now that it was determined that the enemy was remaining in one group, fighters from around the globe would be scrambling towards their locations.

Instead of simply attacking with little to gain, Anton devoted a portion of his arrows to defense- while he had difficulty stopping a continuous beam, cultivators from the enemy ships attacked with bows, projections of their melee weapons, and various forms of elemental energy, striking against the barriers that the Ruteran fighters bolstered with their pilots personal natural energy. Anton focused on shooting as many of those attacks out of the air as possible, saving the lives of many or at least the structural integrity of their vehicles so they could continue the fight.

Anton himself did not go unnoticed by the Worldbinding cultivators. For the sake of being able to react swiftly, Anton was on the battlefield instead of pushing the limit of his range- and that meant he was within range of the enemy effects, even a few kilometers distant from the main body of the fleet.

From the weaker, Anton felt that aura reach out for him. Instead of what he might have expected- fear, confusion, or pain- he only felt a sense of peace. Why did he need to fight? It was pointless. He certainly shouldn’t attack someone who could produce such a pleasant feeling. No doubt if they all laid down their weapons, everything would turn out for the best.

That was what it wanted him to feel, at least. And for a brief moment, Anton did feel that. But at the same time, that very same cultivator was launching nearly invisible attacks into the local ranks. Anton rejected the feeling, and pulled upon his energy reserves to override it with his own aura, using his connection to the local people to ignite a fire inside of them. It wasn’t a practiced technique so he couldn’t completely dispel the effect, but he at least was able to lessen the fog over people’s minds.

Perhaps after this battle was over he could develop more along those lines. Unless he was very mistaken they would be facing more from the Radiant Beauty Sect the next time the upper realms invaded, and even if it did not involve the Augmentation Fajra herself, there would be similar opponents. The cultivation methods did not match with this Worldbinding cultivator, but it was the same category of abilities.

The other cultivator continued to be the most straightforward. The stronger enemy’s attacks were little more than balls of pure natural energy, akin to fists flung through the void of space above Rutera. They targeted Anton, spreading out to assault him from every angle. Sensing no natural trajectory that they were following, Anton simply had to predict how he thought they would move and avoid the area. Predictably, they followed him- giving up control of such attacks halfway through their flight would be a complete waste of the technique.

Anton found he was able to match pace with the attacks, more or less. A few managed to impact him, striking his thighs and shoulders. They didn’t fully break through his defensive energy, but they still left bruises beneath. Those were hardly serious injuries at the current moment… but there were more than just a handful of attacks he had to deal with. As Anton flew about, glad he had trained his maneuverability instead of just relying on greater power, he dealt with the incoming projectiles in a manner he was quite accustomed to- by piercing them with his own. Though they were quite durable, once their core was shattered they unraveled, though Anton was unsure if it was by their creator’s will or an inevitable consequence of their structure.

It seemed the stronger cultivator was able to keep up the attacks on Anton while at the same time maintaining the barrier to full capacity, or at least as much as it had ever been. Still, they were limited to between a handful and a couple dozen attacks at once, whereas Anton could control far more Energy Bows than that if he needed to- or a greater number of concurrent arrows. When it seemed to be determined that Anton would not fall easily and the attacks shifted towards other targets, Anton continued to blast them apart. If any of those struck one of the local fighters or an orbital defense platform carrying Ceretos’ cultivators, it would cause more damage than anything else the enemy was doing. 

—–

Upon returning from his adventures in Azoth, Ty Quigley had taken his mandatory days off… and then gone right back to training. Missing a week or two of training might not seem like much, but he was decades behind some of these cultivators. Centuries, on the extreme end. He couldn’t afford to just sit on his ass doing nothing. Instead, he had to sit on his ass in his fighter and make himself better. After some people threw stuff on his ship that had a natural purple-black sheen without paint. He wasn’t quite sure what it was, he’d forgotten the names of the crap he brought back, but Intan said it was good material so he didn’t argue.

The enemy fleet flew together in formation, the defensive barrier making them nearly invincible. Ty certainly couldn’t find any way to sneak through the barrier, and he scraped his wings on it trying more than a couple times. He was glad for whatever upgrade he got because with the harsh impact they could have been torn off.

The formation was a pain… but their biggest strength was also a weakness. Individual ships were not able to break off to more efficiently attack the local defenders, and the maneuverability of the fleet as a whole was minimal. They were sweeping through a wide area causing as much destruction as they could, but not every ship and the cultivators upon them were able to act effectively. Ty had literally been following the fleet around for the past five minutes shooting at their rear, and only a few people even managed to lob attacks in his direction. Sure, ninety-nine percent of his shots hadn’t made it through the barrier, but he managed a few gashes on some sails.

And then one ship drifted slightly out of formation to try to get to Ty. With them dropping back towards him, it was simple for him to put on a burst of acceleration and approach them just as they drifted out of the barrier’s optimal range. For some reason they didn’t immediately pull away- maybe they thought he was going to crash into the barrier or something, but he instead pulled an impossible ninety degree turn and sliced them in half with his wing. Intan was very adamant that any sword cultivator worth their chops should be able to change the trajectory of their blade instantly- and what was a fighter but a very big sword? Or maybe three swords or something like that, if the nose and wings were counted differently.

—–

A few smaller ships being taken out was hardly a decisive blow, but Anton felt something odd as the first few fell. Fluctuations in the flow of natural energy that he felt obligated to trace. They of course led back to the Worldbinding cultivators. They were the only ones who could cause a disturbance on that scale, and the overall coordination of the rest of the attackers simply wasn’t sufficient to have that sort of feeling. 

Tracing it wasn’t difficult, it was determining what it meant that was important. A couple ships gone, and there was a ripple effect. Were the Worldbinding cultivators bound to the fleet? Anton wouldn’t say it was impossible… but it wasn’t quite right, either. The flows and connections weren’t the same for the two individuals. One seemed connected to the cultivators- no, only some of the cultivators. The stronger one was connected to the ships themselves, though not in their entirety. 

Anton wasn’t quite certain how he could make use of this information, but he knew it would be important. It was simple to say that he should destroy the ships and everyone on them, but they were already trying that. It was a battle, after all. But maybe, if they picked things apart piece by piece they might manage something more.

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