There was a presumption that the Gates of the Earth had based their sect name off of whatever sect Aoibhin had stolen her cultivation from. Presumably, something with heaven in the name- but the alliance wasn’t familiar with every sect from the Trigold Cluster. It could also be related how it was meant to funnel attackers to that sect- but the formations were only capable of directing people following the tides of the world, who were limited in how they could approach a system and its planets. When bringing ships or people capable of fully independent interstellar travel, their formations had simply done nothing to redirect anyone.
But they were still an obstacle that needed to be overcome to win the war- as if anyone could actually win a war. In reality, both sides would lose, unless one side was a dominant attacker only interested in extracting resources. They could certainly consider that they won wars.
General Gabriela looked down on the sect once more. She hadn’t set out with the intention of fighting Aoibhin, but ever since the first battle with the Independence it seemed like Ruterra’s ships would eventually be the best suited for the cause. Now they had experience- and adapted shields. Of course, Aoibhin would be attempting her own ways to overcome their defenses. But could one person outpace a fleet? Certainly, Gabriela expected a wily cultivator to come up with a technique given ten years, or even a single year. But a matter of busy weeks and months? It would be much more difficult. Especially if Transferral truly limited learning or developing new techniques. But supposing she did come up with a counter, Gabriela had cultivators from Weos and Ceretos among the fleet as well.
The opening assault was a series of shots from the main cannons of the Wayfarer, starting all the way up in the high atmosphere. They also employed specially made kinetic projectiles for the project- basically just durable lumps of metal that would survive reentry so they could impact with the momentum of the cannons that shot them plus that from gravity. Drag limited the absolute energy they could arrive with at a certain size, but they were relatively efficient to fire.
The barriers of the sect had faced a similar barrage before- minus their new patched-on cannons. But they had been broken through before, and they hadn’t yet been brought back to their full potential. By the time the shorter range ships were in place, the barrier had nearly collapsed.
“Sensors picking up Aoibhin’s energy signature,” informed one of the operators.
“Good. She’s more important than some fancy buildings,” Gabriela said. “Neven-”
“We’re on it,” came the reply from the lead gunner.
Sometimes Gabriela wondered if her position mattered- but even if the various positions on the ship were capable of acting independently to great effect, someone had to be guiding their core vision. She wasn’t any worse than the other choices, so just because she couldn’t break a mountain in half with her bare hands didn’t mean she wasn’t useful. And she wasn’t weak enough to be easily assassinated, so at least she had that going for her.
Those thoughts occupied her for a few moments because she had no important information to request or orders to give. She watched sensors piped through to her screen, relaying not a visual image of the battlefield but one more focused on natural energy. Distance and atmospheric scanning made visual targeting at such a distance almost useless.
Aoibhin danced around the battlefield like usual. It was frustrating how wounds never seemed to stick long on her- though perhaps she was consuming a great quantity of medicine or had simply looked more wounded. It didn’t matter much because she was supposed to die today. That might depend on whether or not Otakar showed up, but making him fight after the last incident might be a victory. Could he still destroy the Wayfarer by himself? Probably. But it was completely certain he was seriously wounded or he would have doubled back to take them out during the last incident. And Anton… shouldn’t be dead. But he also couldn’t be expected to come to anyone’s aid at the current time.
Fast weapons were the key for Aoibhin. Tightly controlled lasers swiveling, ultra high velocity small arms, and the like. That included small ships, though they had to fly in particular formations to shoot at a human sized target while not getting in each others’ lines of fire. Aoibhin jumped from ships to ship- but not all of them were destroyed in a single blow, or even at all. They had the maximum amount of data, adapting their shields to her lightning energy as well as her unattributed energy. Only brute force could overcome that, and she couldn’t keep it up forever. Gabriela didn’t want to sacrifice people to wear her down, so she was pleased when Aoibhin made the determination that there were too many ships to handle and came for them.
It was a reasonable decision. Last time they’d met, Otakar had nearly melted the ship in half. The Wayfarer’s barriers were mostly intact, but there was still significant structural damage. If she could find a weak point, she might be able to destroy it.
With each flash of movement, Aoibhin covered kilometers of distance, zig-zagging back and forth to avoid incoming fire. Then, her spear lit up pretty much every warning sensor, even the ones focused in other directions. Gabrila had no time to react to the attack, not that she could have given useful orders. Anyone focused on augmenting the barrier was already paying attention to that.
Aoibhin rebounded off the barrier, but Gabriela saw that the defensive capacity had dropped by a good twenty percent. It was entirely possible she would break through on the next blow, if she targeted a weak point- and there were ships from Ekict joining the battle properly. The ships came from the Gates of the Earth as well as other nearby locations.
Gabriela wasn’t sure what she could do. Yelling ‘kill her’ would at best distract people. They were already trying that. Maybe she could provide her energy somewhere. “Where’s the barrier weakest?” Gabrila asked.
“Near the… new construction,” came the report.
Gabriela nodded, picking up a headset. “I’m going to lend my energy to the generators there.”
Fortunately, very few people were actually moving around inside the ship, so she could run down the corridors with ease. Likewise, while the ship was quite large it was still a practical size- there weren’t long hallways for no reason. She was still a Life Transformation cultivator, and a soldier trained to run. It didn’t take long to approach her destination, and Aoibhin couldn’t repeat the same sort of attacks in an instant. So it seemed, at least.
Just as she was about to reach the generator, Gabriela heard a creaking. She looked to see an open section of ship- mostly just the internal skeleton of the ship where hull had burned away. She felt Aoibhin battering the barrier just outside.
She wasn’t quite sure why her instincts told her to head towards the skeletal structure, but she followed them. Another creaking, and she at least found a reason. The barrier was supposed to mitigate the impact over a larger surface without impacting the physical structure of the ship below. Maybe it was failing, or energy was passing though. Either way, part of the hull was trembling… and if it fell apart, the delicate repairs to the formations might collapse, leaving the barrier open or at least severely weakened.
Gabriela leapt onto a steel beam, crouching down to hold onto it with both hands. From there, she extended her energy to protect its structure as much as she could. She could feel damage. Perhaps some had remained from previous battles and been missed, or it was failing due to some other factor. Either way, this piece of the ship sorely needed help.
The ship trembled. Gabriela looked Aoibhin directly in the eye- nothing stood between her and Gabriela’s internal position. Dangerous. But, if she got inside the ship everything was pretty much over anyway. They had a good crew, but not one that could realistically take down Aoibhin. Especially since the vast majority of the ship’s weapons were externally oriented.
Aoibhin struck again, the same heavier charge she had done before. Gabriela saw her impact the barrier, but instead of it smashing apart it stretched inward. Someone in the nearby generator was going all out with their techniques. Impressive. Sadly, even the barrier stretching couldn’t prevent it from being broken through, and it snapped apart, most of it springing back into place with Aoibhin inside, spear held aloft. Gabriela already had her rifle off her back.
Gabriela took a shot just as Aoibhin began to move, holding the beam steady on the target that simply didn’t care about her augmented energy attack. Then a dozen lasers converged on her in perfect sync- or more specifically her spear. It was the sort of coordination that was only possible by computer- or a single individual controlling multiple things.
There was only a flash. Flames. Then Aoibhin hit Gabriela directly in the chest- despite her attempt to dodge. She was sent flying backward, slamming into a curving beam. She wasn’t sure if her back was damaged more, or the beam. Neither was quite right, though.
But… as far as Gabriela could tell without looking down and taking her eyes off of her opponent, she didn’t have a spear-sized hole in her chest. Or worse. As for why, the attack had felt a lot more… blunt. It had properly spread out on her defensive energy.
Aoibhin was on fire. And the head of her spear… was gone. Yet at no point did the lasers- meant for fighting Essence Collection or lower individuals- stop tracking her. Even as she weaved her way around the internal structure, beams swapped with other beams as she left certain ranges and came into line of sight of others. All the while, Gabriela could feel the hand of Neven.
Had he really destroyed the head of her spear in an instant? Melted it? Where did he even find the time to gain that inspiration? She knew he’d talked about Otakar’s fire, but it was a quick turnaround.
Gabriela did her best to track Aoibhin with her own weapon without destroying any of the exposed structure- but Aoibhin didn’t try to kill her. Instead, she was attempting to escape. Because the barrier was attuned to her energy, it also wasn’t going to let her out. Not easily.
“General,” a sound came in her headset. “We have incoming.”
Of course there were incoming. They were in a battle. What could she possibly need to be- oh. There he was, then. Too bad they hadn’t yet killed Aoibhin.
One arm carefully stretched forward, then the other. Anton moved them side to side, checking to make sure he wasn’t straining his already damaged muscles and bone structure. With a little more practice, he thought he would be functional. Enough to rejoin the war. He was a sniper anyway, so he really should have never allowed himself to get so directly involved with Otakar. On the other hand, he was alive- and the same wouldn’t necessarily have been the case even if they leveraged a larger portion of combat power. Perhaps Anton had been the right matchup, or he was just lucky. Apparently even his connection to the sun had been insufficient. But if he could straightforwardly beat an Augmentation cultivator- one fully adapted to natural energy instead of one from the upper realms that was basically in a desert of energy- then he would already be an Augmentation cultivator. And Anton knew he was at least five or ten ranks short. Or nine, if prime numbers still continued to fit the One Hundred Stars. He would have to decide that for himself, since no one had tread this path ahead of him.
He also continued to study the conduit. His gut reaction was that it was wrong, but ultimately he couldn’t make that judgment. It was different from his connection, but he couldn’t say it was worse than his own. He didn’t quite understand how it worked, only that it seemed to feed energy to Otakar. At a steady flow, at first slow and now somewhat heightened.
At least, it had only been those two specific levels until this very moment. But then he felt a sudden change. Having carefully studied it, Anton made a decision. If he thought he could destroy the conduit, he would have done so. However, there was no structure there. Only a flow. He felt the flow ramp up once more, and readied himself. Was Otakar participating in a battle? What else would cause such a change? The flow was still steady. Perhaps it would remain that way. Or perhaps he was merely moving towards a battle.
Patience. He would wait until he was certain Otakar was in a battle, or he might ruin a singular opportunity. He was quite certain he could disrupt the flow- but not if he could keep it that way. He waited. It felt like a century, but was perhaps only minutes. Steady and smooth. Should he just? No. Not yet.
Then, it came. A spike in the pull. Anton reached out, directing the sun’s energy away, trying to pull back. He immediately understood he was having an effect, as he wrestled with this power. Then the spike faded. Whatever he had been doing was done.
Anton sighed. Just those few moments were exhausting… but while he couldn’t say he’d won that exchange, he also hadn’t lost either. He could repeat his efforts in the future, he was certain. But should he wait? Could he do it from away from the star?
For the moment he would wait, until such a time as he felt the larger flow dropping, perhaps signaling the end of a battle.