Relying on Merve’s admittedly limited knowledge of Worldbinding cultivators had given Anton a false impression- one that was easy to come to, given the name. He had believed that they should only have connected to a location. Part of a planet- Anton had been willing to accept it could be the entirety of one. Given his own experience, the thought of them doing the same with multiple planets had crossed his mind, but he’d failed to recognize that they could be as diverse as the Assimilation cultivators from Ceretos.
While it was true that Lev and Vasu were bound to locations, even that was a bit shaky. Lev was bound to the Grandfather Willow- and it merely happened to remain in a single location, since trees weren’t generally mobile. Anton was quite aware of his own circumstances, and that of Erin who was connected to Paradise and his ecosystem.
The two cultivators from the Sylanis Cluster being connected to something different was perfectly reasonable, now that he considered it. If he was reading the situation right, the one with the manipulative aura empowering allies and trying to lull enemies into a haze was bound to her companions… a specific group of individuals that had come with them. Anton felt that that one was not quite in top form, so he presumed there were either more people they were bound to, or there was also some connection to a location. If it was the former, they had not expected to need more power, which up to the current point in the combat was justified. And if it was the latter… this was the best they could do on the offensive.
The larger concern was the other. The one fortifying the barrier around the fleet as a whole, greater in power and more whole. That one was connected to, what… the ships? That was certainly close, but Anton sensed that it was perhaps tied to the formations more deeply. Either way, that cultivator was also not at peak capacity, though either much more powerful to begin with or they maintained a better connection. Though there was another connection he sensed faintly and couldn’t quite place at the moment.
Anton was doing his best to counter both of them, weaving his own aura between his allies to protect them from the former while countering the latter’s projectiles of nearly pure natural energy, without an element. Instead of merely orbs of force meant to chase and batter Anton, the shape had changed to more like needles or spears. If he snapped them in half then each part continued independently instead of unraveling which meant he not only had to be more precise- striking each projectile head on- but he also had to accept that his own attacks would leave some power behind. He simply wasn’t strong enough to deal with all of them, even with that cultivator also maintaining the stronger barrier.
This wasn’t sustainable. Anton could continue to hold his own against their efforts for some time, but even with his current recovery he knew he would likely be drained long before them- and that was if he was only trying to maintain his current effects on the battlefield.
He needed to weaken them, to cut off their connections… but how could he do that if no attacks could get through the barrier? Surely there wouldn’t be others so foolish as to slip outside to get themselves destroyed. Anton didn’t think much of his chances of piercing the barrier even with ascension energy, not with someone actively empowering it… and presumably aware of what he might do.
He continued to search for options as he dodged around incoming projectiles long enough to erase them, occasionally accepting that he had to let some hit him when they would cause minimal damage beyond lowering his energy reserves. Sometimes beams or attacks from weaker cultivators would also target him, but those were more of an annoyance comparatively.
His mind settled on two factors he could pursue- perhaps at the same time. First was something about the ships themselves- though they had internal power stores, the sails that provided them cloaking and interstellar travel capabilities drew power from sunlight. He wasn’t aware of how much, especially not what would happen in battle. That was still being studied… but perhaps he could cut them off from even the slightest source of regeneration. With a thought Anton reached out towards Rutera’s star, trying to will it to bend to his desires. He thought he was successful, but nothing seemed to happen. Even so, he kept his mental grip, hoping that he might be able to do something with power that was allowed through the barrier.
Then there was the matter of the aura, and what was powering that Worldbinding cultivator. It was really only a small number of individuals throughout the fleet, all protected behind the barrier of course. But… while Anton had discounted his spectral energy for being too weak- it was the power from beyond death and reincarnation, and significantly less potent than Ascension energy- that was only the case if he was targeting the Worldbinding cultivators. He could certainly slay others with it… and it might pass through the barrier.
He didn’t like it, but Anton had to give up on defending some of his allies to focus on several shots with spectral energy. Hopefully they could hold their own for a few moments.
His bow trembled as he drew back the string, spectral energy forming an arrow almost invisible and less physical than even natural energy normally was. He hadn’t frequently had occasion to use this power since Everheart ‘gifted’ him a new bow, but the way it resonated with the Worldheart limbs and the Soulstring was particularly potent. Anton still wasn’t completely comfortable with the bow’s origins, but it didn’t feel malevolent at least.
He willed himself to be one with the arrow as it flew, circling around towards the rear of the barrier where it was at least marginally weaker. His target was the best he could pick out. The helmsman of one of the enemy ships, from what he could pick out through the barrier, and also one connected to the aura based Worldbinding cultivator. He slipped through the barrier, though some of his power was torn away by it regardless. He expected to encounter further resistance as he approached the ship itself… but it seemed the wider barrier overrode that of the individual ships. Inside of it, they were basically unprotected. He stored that information away as he twisted around to pierce through the head of his target, top down, willing himself and the spectral energy to react as strongly as possible. His target was the brain and spine, though he wouldn’t care if he was slightly off on the latter.
He received only minimal feedback, jerking into his own body as the spectral energy dissipated. He watched the ship with his eyes, seeing it jerk to the side in a pleasing manner. The connection to the Worldbinding cultivator seemed to be severed as well. Anton grinned, feeling that perhaps his fifth prime tempering was paying great dividends. That was far back in Spirit Building, but Earthly Connection and how he related to people seemed to be valuable in sensing these Worldbinding connections.
Anton quickly relayed the information about the inside of the barrier to General Nicodemo. He could distribute that information as he thought prudent, though Anton also contacted a few specific people from Ceretos. Elder Intan of the Million Sword Vault was one of them. If that man could manage to slip through the barrier… he could cause untold damage to nearly unprotected ships. No doubt at great risk to his personal safety, and the cultivators on them would certainly do something to protect their vessels… but the Million Sword Vault wasn’t the sort to back down over silly things like risk of death. Anton didn’t intend to get the man killed… but he did consider it was a possibility. Anyone could die on the battlefield, including Anton himself.
The ship Anton killed the helmsman on unfortunately righted itself before it could leave the bubble of protection. Anton hoped to break another piece of the fleet and perhaps reduce the barrier’s power that way, but he’d definitely caused some damage. And by the way more of the enemy cultivators were focusing on him, Anton thought they noticed his efforts.
Because he had to avoid the attacks, he wasn’t always able to perfectly deal with the barrier empowering cultivator. From the early bruises that were of little note, Anton was now picking up more serious injuries, punctures and slashes that Anton did his best to confine to his legs. He rather liked legs, but as he wasn’t using them at the moment it was preferred to something that would inhibit his combat capabilities- anything on his torso or arms.
Upon receiving information from the head of the Order of One Hundred Stars, Intan looked for his apprentice. It wasn’t hard to find him- he was the most prominent sword presence on this side of the massive barrier. The issue was getting to him and quickly communicating. Elder Intan looked down at the station below him- it wasn’t meant to have people standing on the outside, but he wasn’t much good if he couldn’t swing his sword. So far he’d mostly been consigned to cutting up incoming attacks, after trying his hand at the barrier for a while with no luck. Even now with it potentially weakened slightly, he was hesitant to give it his all.
His legs bent, then straightened- shooting him in a straight line towards where his apprentice was heading. Instead of getting impaled or cut in half, he used two fingers to catch himself on the sharp wings of the vessel, letting it redirect his momentum. Ty’s fighter currently lacked some of the features a purely atmospheric craft would have, but the wings were still present as a connection to these ‘guns’ it had and because battles still took place in partial atmosphere. Rutera was apparently developing different models for pure space combat that would never enter atmosphere, but Ty’s fighter would always be similar to what it was. Unless they could let him fly an actual sword, but Intan presumed there was some reason that shape wouldn’t work with the engines and lateral thrusters.
Inside the ship, Ty gave little more than bare acknowledgement of Intan’s presence. Intan simply held his blade at the ready, and they had a mutual understanding that they were looking for an opening. They did take a few swipes at the barrier, focusing on the rear where it was slightly weaker and when that was fortified shifting to different locations.
The opening that came was unexpected to all, as the sun disappeared. No, it hadn’t gone complete- simply dimmed suddenly. Two seconds later the moon’s reflection also faded, leaving the other stars as the main sources of light. That was still enough for two cultivators, since navigating towards a massive barrier was rather simple.
As expected of someone Elder Intan trained, the small opening and fluctuations in power was sufficient for Ty Quigley to commit. Instead of scraping along the edge of the barrier, he charged straight for it. As they approached, Elder Intan stepped onto the nose of the vessel, his blade ready. The two of them cut through the barrier, creating an opening long enough to find themselves inside.
Elder Intan leapt in a seemingly random direction once inside, but it was actually calculated to have him reach a certain ship. Specifically, the one with the sword user carrying the best blade. His opponent was waiting on the far side of the vessel, but instead of bothering to go around he cut his way through, letting his momentum carry him even as artificial gravity tried to change his trajectory.
Swords clashed, and Elder Intan passed by his opponent, a thin trail of blood on his neck… the enemy’s hands still gripping the sword he stole away. His opponent had managed a decent counter move, but he hadn’t committed hard enough. If he was going to get his hands chopped off anyway, he should have forced his attack deeper into Intan’s throat. But that was about what could be expected from a half assed sword cultivator.