A stream of attacks constantly bombarded the barrier, each strike disrupting the flow and lowering the remaining energy stored. However, Chidi knew that it could last for another day or two at least, and that was if the enemy could keep up their pace. What good was a planetary barrier if it couldn’t withstand a little siege, after all?
“So why are we here, precisely?” Chidi asked the grandmaster. She was standing nearby, her weapons impaled into the ground around her.
“We’re bait,” she said. “There’s an entire eighth of that sect that wants to take us out. So… we draw in as many of them as we can get instead of them coordinating with anyone else.”
“What if they don’t come here?”
“Then you’d better make your way to that ship over there as quick as possible,” she said. “I won’t be lingering around here, and you’re gonna want to get there before I finish them all off.”
“… all of them?” Chidi asked.
“Well, I mean, that would take-” maybe not all that long, after all. If she used a conservative one hundred swords and killed only one person at a time, he couldn’t expect her to take more than ten minutes to take out all of the enemy swordsmen. Unless they sent literally every single member of the Harmonious Citadel’s sword branch. Then it might take her half an hour.
But the nearest city was a good bit away, so he’d have to hurry the ship along if it came to that.
“Can they even get here?” Chidi asked. “I mean, down to the surface. Not like, here specifically.” They were simply in part of the old Garden, which was still mainly wilderness to this day.
“Of course they can,” swordmaster Chikere gestured vaguely. “You expect us to just let them keep hitting our barrier forever? That’s a total waste. Just you watch.”
And Chidi did, feeling the vast barrier shifting and straining, like the creaking of an old building. Something of that scale he could feel from even a great distance. He also felt some sort of interference. Formation masters attempting to poke a hole in the barrier, perhaps? But they would not be sufficient. Chidi knew his mother and many others had spent decades upgrading and perfecting Xankeshan’s defenses. They would not be so easily manipulated.
And yet, a hold opened up, Harmonious Citadel ships pouring through. Then another, through which poured Exalted Quadrant ships. But it didn’t make any sense. That shouldn’t have been possible. Unless… there was a traitor? No, with his mother watching the formations personally that still shouldn’t have been possible.
Then the holes sealed themselves, the barrier seemingly unfazed by its momentary damage. Of course. It made sense, once he thought about it. It was much easier to deal with a small portion of the enemy forces split off from the others. And there were so many forces on the ground that wouldn’t have the opportunity to fight otherwise. Better to split the burden like this.
“Hey. You might not want to stand directly next to me,” Chikere pointed out.
He could feel the blades of those coming to join them, and Chidi fully agreed. It didn’t matter if he thought he could fight an Integration cultivator head on or not, he was quite certain he couldn’t face two consistently. Or ten. And that was assuming Chikere was dealing with most of them.
On the other hand, for the same reason he couldn’t go too far. “I’ll go seek out Aconites field of death,” Chidi said.
She had been setting up all sorts of poison things a small distance away. Just a kilometer or so. He approached cautiously.
“Hey, is anywhere safe?”
Aconite’s return howl indicated he should circle around to the upwind side. Chidi thought that they should have probably brought more backup. On the other hand, the grandmaster didn’t expect to draw away the main forces of the invasion. Just sword cultivators. And that was what she got, though Chidi wasn’t sure if she had accounted for the Exalted Quadrant, some of which were also taking the bait… though the mass of swords was a good quarter of the planet away, so they would take some time to arrive. Hopefully enough for them to deal with the Harmonious Citadel first.
Chidi made his way to the ‘safe’ zone, glad to know that at least one side would be prevented from intrusion. Though there was still the issue of attacks from the sky. Even if they couldn’t fly themselves, enough people dropping out of a ship together could be dangerous.
The only question was if they would be a danger to himself or to each other. The Harmonious Citadel could certainly fight together proficiently, but he also knew plenty of counters. He clutched the sword that had once belonged to the swordmaster Rakiya. With a blade like that, he wasn’t afraid of much. And if he made proper use of his formation flow style, enemies should hinder each other more than they helped, regardless of intentions and formal training.
It took several minutes for the first ships to reach them. It was neither particularly fast, nor particularly slow- though Chidi would have expected them to push for speed. Otherwise, they could get shot out of the air. On the other hand, there weren’t any archers with them.
Then one of the ships split in two. It seemed Chikere was tired of waiting. And while Chidi couldn’t extend his blade aura so far, that wasn’t a limitation on the grandmaster. Actually, he was fairly certain her sword hadn’t even touched the intervening space. He shuddered to imagine her using such techniques consistently for something besides transportation. Though perhaps it was unnecessary, since most enemies were close enough.
Chidi heard the fluttering of sails and the scraping on tree branches as ships settled into the forest around him. Five ships. Together they had over a hundred disciples between Essence Collection and Life Transformation, the ratio being about ten to one. Even if he only had to fight half of that due to Aconite- give or take- he was still outnumbered five to one.
And that was just Life Transformation cultivators. It was hard to believe how quickly he’d come to disregard cultivators ‘weaker’ than him. Especially when he knew very well that it wasn’t always the case. But even so, he didn’t feel anything particularly special among the Essence Collection cultivators. And he was eager to fight regardless. He could already feel the clashes of the grandmaster’s battle.
The first sword to approach was wielded by an eager young woman. Unfortunately, she had chosen the wrong side- and her eagerness was no replacement for skill. Her attack was perfectly adequate by the standards of the Citadel, and thus also perfectly counterable. She went down with one slice. Chidi stepped forward both to reposition himself for the incoming waves, but also as part of his manipulation of the local energy flow.
His next swing brought down two enemies. Then three. For the following move, he was only barely able to deflect the attacks of two Life Transformation cultivators.
Nearby, he heard the screams of cultivators who were finding that a properly prepared battlefield full of poison made hitting anything with a sword quite difficult. Chidi knew this, because he had sparred with Aconite many times- and she was specifically trying not to kill him. The area was filled with sharp hazards that would puncture the feet of anyone careless enough to neglect their defensive energy for a moment. In truth, those were only a distraction compared to the dusting of powder on everything. It was possible for cultivators to filter out dust if they were expecting it, but it usually came at the cost of completely sealing themselves off- restricting breathing.
And Chidi knew there were powders so fine that most people couldn’t detect them at all and invisible and scentless gasses within Aconite’s arsenal. He had a feeling the entire area was already deadly, even if they triggered no traps at all.
Around himself, Chidi only focused on the closest blades, dancing around them and turning deadly blows into minor wounds. Blood trickled from wounds that a few millimeters deeper would have struck important arteries. But half of his opponents were defeated.
His opponents could clearly see they had to change their tactics, so they attacked together, a group of eight coordinating their strikes so he would have nowhere to move- his upward escape route blocked by another pair leaping above.
Sharp blades cut through the air, upper energy swirling around them. And then, they suddenly struck a solid barrier. Several were staggered by the sudden change in momentum, allowing Chidi to counterattack the instant the very temporary fluctuation of energy faded. He was the center of the formation, and his opponents were merely components of his machinations.
The battle paused for an instant, as every sword cultivator including Chidi shuddered with fear and ambition together. A hundred swords combined into one, a single sweep cutting apart a vast section of forest- and many of the cultivators within.
Chidi would never do that exactly… but he could still learn quite a bit from experiencing it. He just had to survive the battle.
Timothy nodded his approval of the decision to allow some enemy forces to trickle into the planet’s domain. Taking a purely defensive position was certain to lead to their defeat, sooner rather than later. There was only so much they could fight outside the barrier without risking overcommitting their forces. Even if Zazil and Tauno were able to face just the enemy Augmentation cultivators, they would be severely outnumbered and outmatched. There wasn’t much they could do even with support, not against these enemies. Five Augmentation cultivators, including an individual that was probably their sect head. Even if he was also beholden to the Exalted Quadrant.
Though he wanted to go out and fight, Timothy knew there was only so much he could do outside. Better to be here protecting his wife. “Should I be outside the facility?” Timothy asked. “It will be some time before they make it this far.” Enemy forces were coming for their capital, but that was where their defenses were strongest- with Exalted Quadrant and Harmonious Citadel ships being cut into pieces before they could even get close enough to land their cultivators. Some survived to make it to the ground, but they were met by forces waiting for them.
“If we are sieged, it may be best to mobilize you,” Catarina admitted. “But I think you would best remain here.”
He certainly didn’t mind knowing his wife was safe… though he was a bit concerned about whatever Chidi was up to, away from the city with Chikere. So he would wait until there was something to do. His senses focused on the battle outside, searching for threats.
He watched his wife move around the room, manipulating the core of the formation. He noticed something out of the corner of his eye. A vent dangling open. He sprang forward. He extended his arm, his energy reaching beyond his shield, and yet he was one step too short. A figure appeared, dagger stabbing towards Catarina.
Time slowed as a surge of energy poured through him. Not some sort of secret ability or spike of adrenaline, but a supportive power he’d felt many times before. His own abilities were augmented by the formation around them. And the enemy figure slowed.
The attack was just barely stopped, but Timothy’s feet continued him forward, swiping at the figure with his sword. She leapt back. The dagger saint seemed to have recovered quite well from his conflict with Tauno- but that was to be expected, as the man had also healed the majority of his injuries.
“My apologies,” Catarina said without even looking at them. “I thought it would take her longer to get here. I planned to reveal her with the tracking subformations.” She continued to manage the formation as if nobody had just tried to assassinate her- as if they weren’t still attempting to do so.
At least Timothy felt good about her confidence in him. Though even with support of the formation he didn’t know if he could defeat an Augmentation cultivator one on one. But he was defending not only one of the most critical components of their defenses, but also his wife. He might not win, but there was no way he was going to lose.