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Having been through the area more than a few times, the Sergeant knew where the human guards were. At some point there had been more, back when Anishka was first captured. Now, the first one was all the way down the hall. That was good, because Anishka wasn’t ready to deal with many and she still had to actually leave the cell.
“What sort of formations are on these bars?” Anishka asked the Sergeant.
The ant answered her in sign, “No idea, but I can try to eat it.”
“Can you… disrupt the flow on one of the bars?” Anishka wasn’t a formation expert, or perhaps enchanter as the functions didn’t seem to go beyond the bars themselves- which was the important point. If only the bars were special, then they didn’t have to fully disable it.
The Sergeant began to chew and tear at the natural energy at the bottom of one bar, giving Anishka an opening. She placed her hands on the vertical bars, separated from each other by a good half meter. Then she began rapidly channeling heat between the two points. She couldn’t afford to be too conservative, because if she failed at this step she was still dead. Or really if she failed anything from here on out.
One hand grew hot, the other cold. Then she suddenly reversed the direction, and the metal bar distorted slightly. She swapped the direction once more, rapidly heating the frozen section and cooling the warmed section. There was a clinking sound. She stepped back and kicked the bar, using more of her precious energy. The stress weakened metal gave out, and Anishka stepped forward. She squeezed through, trying not to touch the bars on either side. She picked up the Sergeant on her finger as they made their way towards the end of the hall, though she stopped halfway. It was possible the guard had already sensed something.
There was only one Essence Collection cultivator. Only, as if someone equivalent to herself was a small obstacle. But it was clear that Ekict had more power than it seemed, and even if a Life Transformation cultivator guarding a jail cell would be excessive, this one in mid or early stage was rather little. Then again, there was only Anishka as far as she knew- the other frozen rooms she’d seen contained no life.
She watched as the tiny speck that was the Sergeant moved ahead, saying she had ‘a plan’. Anishka didn’t know what that plan would be, but she had to trust her only companion. It was an agonizing minute that felt like an hour, and then Anishka heard the guard moving.
“What the hell?” A burst of natural energy, and a slapping sound.
Anishka charged forward into the room, seeing a middle aged woman with a trickle of blood dripping down her neck. Anishka had no time to think about what happened to the Sergeant, instead rushing forward. The guard reacted to her approach with a wave of ice, but Anishka deflected the energy, reaching to grab the guard’s wrist. She once more made use of her abilities to their maximum, except unlike the spar she didn’t hold back. From skin to muscles to bones and blood vessels, heat was drawn out of one of the woman’s arms, only to spew out the other side in a javelin of fire.
As an ice cultivator, she was trained to combat others controlling ice or fire, but not both at the same time… and not the way Anishka was doing it, unbalancing the flow of energy to draw heat from her opponent. An arm froze, and the woman had a black scar on her chest.
And yet, it wasn’t enough. Anishka was weak from limited sustenance and terrible conditions. Her opponent blasted her backwards, a shell of ice forming over her. She tried to draw heat from part of it, to concentrate on one area and break out, but she was too weak to do it quickly. She watched as her opponent stepped forward, soon able to smash Anishka with only what minimal defenses the latter could manage.
Then the woman raised her temporarily frozen arm towards her neck once more. “How did you even…?” the frozen hand came away coated with blood, as the flow on the woman’s neck grew beyond a small trickle. Anishka felt the woman’s energy look internally, searching for some sort of cause. Then she grabbed at her neck, her stiffened fingers fumbling about. The woman blasted some of her energy to freeze the cut. Then she glared at Anishka. “I don’t know how you did that trick, but…”
The delay had given Anishka enough time to weaken the shell of ice around her, as well as confidence that her friend was alive. She summoned fire from within her, imbued with special qualities her father had apparently been quite proficient in. Specifically, the ability to burn only what the user wished. For Anishka, there was only one thing she wanted to preserve, a tiny ant. Her fingers poked through the shell and shot a burst of fire at the woman’s neck, melting the plug on her neck and burning her badly.
Though the woman was trying to marshall natural energy to the area, the bulk of the defensive energy found itself gobbled up as it reached the area. Otherwise, Anishka’s attack would have functioned like the desperate last push it was. Instead, the woman clutched at her neck, attempting to crush whatever was there with her energy… and instead overdoing it and tearing apart her own neck.
It took Anishka several minutes to get out of her shell. “…Sergeant?” she called out, looking at the woman, at the floor, and down at herself. She leaned down towards the woman, feeling with her energy, looking for the hole that was a void ant. She found it, right inside the first wound. She carefully poked the spot, pulling back a bit of skin, and tumbling out came a bloodsoaked ant.
It seemed the blood was rather sticky, as the Sergeant only twitched slowly. Realizing the ant was having trouble getting off of her back, Anishka placed her finger right above the tiny creature. With something to hold onto the Sergeant began to clean off her various appendages by rubbing them against Anishka’s finger. “The Great Queen made killing a human sound much easier.”
Anishka sighed. “Well, she is much larger. I’m glad you’re alright. Now, how do we get out of here? There’s no way we can live through another fight… and I imagine that there are at least a few more guards on the way out. Right?”
“Many,” the Sergeant admitted. “If we go the wrong way. However, the kitchens should lead out without danger.”
Aniskha looked down at the guard. “I should get something resembling proper clothing on. Then, lead the way.” Anishka held her arm out with the Sergeant acting as a guide, pointing her to turn a few times. Then she was outside the kitchens, able to sense people inside. But they were just… people. A couple of them might have just begun Body Tempering, but they could hardly be called cultivators.
Anishka considered the options. Could she distract them? Maybe start a fire… and perhaps draw the attention of the guards. So perhaps not that, even if she’d properly had the energy. She could fight them all, to the same results. Could she even beat a handful of non-cultivators in her state? On the other hand, perhaps they didn’t have to know how weak she was.
Sensing someone coming down the corridor and panicked, stepping into the kitchen and shutting the door behind her. A half dozen faces looked at her, and she looked back. “When’s the food going to be ready? I’m hungry.” She projected an aura of confidence and chill, letting them be aware of her status. Even if appearing to have the power of her proper level was actually her limit.
An older woman approached Anishka. “Not for another hour, miss… but we could offer you some fruit, perhaps?”
“Fine,” Anishka said, holding out her hand, “Come on then.”
An apple was placed in her hand, and she took a bite out of it as she held her head high, strolling further into the kitchen like she owned the place. And that she was not starving or about to collapse.
She strolled to the far ends of the kitchen and out the door, ignoring the vague protests of the kitchen staff. Then she found herself out on the streets, ones she recognized. She looked around, then down at the Sergeant who was barely hanging on as Anishka waved her hand rapidly around. “Whoops, sorry. Uh, where do we go?”
“Patka,” the Sergeant said. “She was getting ready for the escape.”
“Really? That’s great! I was worried something happened. Where is she waiting?”
“… her quarters, maybe?”
“Why are you unsure?”
“We didn’t get this far in the plan. And I didn’t actually know if I could remove those manacles.”
Anishka didn’t know what to say to that, so instead she asked for directions once more, and began to follow. She tried to act as much like a Northern Glacier Sect disciple as possible, and hoped that nobody would be paying much attention.
Fortunately, Patka was nearby. Though the Northern Glacier Sect wasn’t exactly that large to begin with. Nobody was looking for Anishka either, though they would be soon. Until the alarm came out, however, she was just a forgotten captive, someone whose body would be removed eventually with no further thought. Or perhaps not, given what she’d seen on the way out.
“Anishka?” Patka opened the door when she sensed her outside. “You made it out! Quick, get inside!”
Anishka was quite happy to, stepping into the tiny room which seemed to be all of Patka’s ‘quarters’. It was basically just a bed and a small table, though there were also some bags half filled with food. Anishka’s stomach growled.
“You need to eat! You look… far more than half starved,” Patka urged her.
“I couldn’t even finish an apple…” Anishka said. “I have to take it slow. But that reminds me… Sergeant, have you been eating?”
“I ate a whole lot!” the Sergeant said.
“Things other than natural energy, I must remind you.”
“Today?” No response. “This week?” Anisha frowned, waiting. “… This month?”
“… Does the bits of crust that got in my mouth while I was paring them down to size count?”
Anishka sighed, “Did you sleep?”
“Void ants don’t-”
“Or rest at all?” Silence was confirmation, here. “You have to eat at least a little, then rest.”
“Ten minutes is enough,” the Sergeant said.
“You need a whole night’s rest. A month’s worth, really!” Anishka exclaimed.
“… An hour, then,” the Sergeant said. “That’s like half a week’s worth. Honest.”
Anishka did remember something about that. Though perhaps that was only true for the ‘regular’ void ants. Many things changed when they developed intelligence. “Fine. An hour. And we’ll try to get out here during that while you rest in one of these bags.”
“I have a boat,” Patka said helpfully. “I was hoping for more, but it was the best I could get. And when we get there, you need to meditate to restore some of your natural energy. And finish that apple.” Patka was already scooping everything not in the bags together and bundling everything up. “I don’t know what happened with you, but I do know that people are focused away from this place. That Nurcan woman the Sergeant was worried about is gone, and the Sect Head too. We’d best be far away before they return, or anyone who can track us down.”
So they went back outside, taking with them what warmth they could from the tiny room. Patka forced a non-scorch-marked coat on Anishka, leaving herself without extra layers. Anishka was too weak to protest, and technically her disciple was a cultivator, even if the middle aged woman was weaker than herself. In normal circumstances.
The snow crunched beneath their feet- there was always snow- and they found their way down some carved out ramps in the ice to a little dinghy sitting in the freezing water. Anishka stepped in, and Patka insisted she row. Anishka couldn’t complain, as this was the first time she’d had any sort of comfort in… well, however long she’d been chained up. But when she awoke, she was going to insist on doing her part.