Recent events had made Devon aware of a large flaw in the World Encompassing chains. Not only had he missed the true extent of the mines throughout the world, he hadn’t picked up the fact that the planetary barrier stemmed from formations embedded there. While he wasn’t a formation specialist, he should have at least recognized the location. And while intentional shielding had hidden some things from him, he wasn’t quite sure if that was true of those- they were simply far enough underground he couldn’t sense them.
And that was not the only thing. A bit longer than a week prior, he had sensed armies entering the underground. The Supreme Silver Sect along with others had been waiting for those armies to arrive as predicted… but they hadn’t shown up. There was some leeway for travel speed but… Devon was wondering if somebody had leaked that they knew. Or if there was something more he was missing. Or perhaps they were waiting for one of the others to attack first to provide an excuse.
With nothing but waiting occupying most of his time, Devon had to voice his worries to someone. “What if they predicted what I can sense?” Devon said when he was alone with Aerona. “Or what if they are hiding more Anchoring cultivators deep underground?”
“The second thing I don’t think we have to worry about. If they had that much of an advantage in numbers, they would have swarmed somewhere with high ranking cultivators,” Aerona assured him. “And we can hope that their cultivation methods don’t directly mesh with the concept of anchoring, since they should mainly focus on ascension. On the other hand, if they figured out the World Encompassing Chains… I think they would have tried to kill you directly. And it still limits how they can act, right?”
“True, but… it’s taking so long. Who knows what they could be planning.”
“Armies are only as fast as the slowest members,” Aerona pointed out. “And they can’t just drop people off on the opposite side of the planet in a few hours.”
“They should have reached somewhere, though.”
“They could be opting for a coordinated attack. In that case, they will wait until the very last people are in place- which means reaching the deepest territory that they have no influence over. It could easily take longer than this in that case. Besides, isn’t more time passing better for us?”
“Only with regards to the actual enemy,” Devon sighed. “If certain others get impatient…”
“Then they are fools,” Aerona said. “If the Trigold’s lackeys do not attack, it would only harm the others to blame us instead of verifying things for themselves. Besides, don’t you trust Taalay?”
“I trust him to fight against what he perceives as a threat. Though I suppose he has no reason to not wait months or longer before deciding that our techniques were corrupted somehow…” Devon shook his head.
“Enough of that,” Aerona said. “Whatever happens, we have to wait. What about your arm? How bad is it?”
“Well…” Devon frowned, “It’s better and worse than I thought. I don’t need to use my arms in combat, though they provide some value at close range for structure if not as much for muscle power. The worse part is that my flow of energy is disrupted without something there. I can force energy past that part of the cycle but… it’s not optimal.”
“It’s not something I’ve had to think about,” Aerona admitted. “I don’t suppose I could convince you not to fight on the frontlines because of it…?”
“You could not,” Devon said. “I chose to come here, and I will see things through.”
“You could do so from a bit further back…” Aerona grumbled.
Devon smiled at her, “Don’t worry. I have no intent to be reckless. But I can’t sit on the sidelines.”
Massive tremors shook Devon out of his meditations. He ran through the opulent corridors of the Supreme Silver Sect towards the outside, where he could feel the planetary barrier crumbling away. Was this the worst case scenario? An attack from above instead of below would be devastating, and he hadn’t even seen it coming.
But despite the shaking, Devon couldn’t sense any enemies or even damage. “What’s going on?” he said as he found Taalay, standing surrounded by a dozen Life Transformation guards.
The man was clearly focused elsewhere, but he was able to split his attention to speak and hear. “What do you mean? It’s just as you predicted. And what we planned. The tremors should subside soon… hopefully.”
Devon agreed with that second point, because it seemed as if the buildings might fall over at any moment. Should he…? He could support them with chains, but if they were properly constructed trying to hold them in place might actually cause more damage. A larger scale suppression of energy might be better or…
The weight was literally lifted off of his shoulders by Atalanta. “I will handle it,” the woman said as her energy suffused through the area. Gravity was diminished in the local area, which Devon hoped meant that buildings leaning slightly too far wouldn’t collapse. Of course, that wouldn’t do much good if the entirety of the ground beneath them gave way… but there was only so much that could be done about that.
Not far away he sensed the ship taking off, and realized he should have thought of that. Not to flee, but to keep the vessel itself safe. Communications were coming in from their backup in orbit as well, which Devon hastily answered. It seemed similar events were happening on a wider scale- and had been for an hour or so. Which meant that the plan truly was a coordinated attack, and it had simply taken a while.
When the local tremors stopped, a few buildings were sagging on one side or the other. That wasn’t optimal… but they would stand at least.
“That went well,” Taalay commented, once more fully present. He pulled out the communicator. “Too many messages from the others, best start sorting through.”
“… Did you crush their army?” Devon asked.
“If only,” Taalay shook his head. “It’s not so easy, you know? A few tons of rubble wouldn’t kill a Life Transformation cultivator, let alone an Anchoring cultivator.”
“Seems like it should have been more than a few tons…”
“Indeed. But the main issue is that they stopped some of the sabotage. Not that I expected any different. The majority of their army will survive, but they’ll have to crawl out somewhere outside of our sect’s territory. Which doesn’t put them far away, but they have to assault us properly.”
This was it then. Things were beginning. Devon wanted to try to get a bigger picture… but information relayed from the orbital vessel would have to do. The World Encompassing Chains technique was too draining to use just before a battle.
Most of the information was as expected, but something about the barriers came up. “You’ll want to hear this,” Devon said. “Instead of fully collapsing… the planetary barrier is creating an edge around enemy territory.”
“Those slimy rats,” Taalay said. “They anticipated this. Back when they constructed the formations, no doubt. Well, I don’t imagine this specifically… but that some portion of us might destroy the formation markings in our territory.”
“It’s going to be difficult to launch a counterattack,” Devon sighed.
“Oh? You don’t have something to slip through the barrier?” Taalay asked.
Devon raised an eyebrow. “I can neither confirm nor deny such a thing. Also, it might not work given how things are different than predicted. Wish we had our formation masters here already. Heh, or Catarina.”
“Is Catarina… not a formation master?” Taalay asked.
“Oh, she is. She’d make short work of this. But she ascended so…” Devon shrugged. “Well, it’s not like the others won’t be capable of dismantling it. What about your locals?”
“Unfortunately, most of them work for… the enemy,” Taalay gestured. “Though they’re not necessarily members of their sects, any who would be sympathetic to us are likely under tight guard.” Then he frowned, “The Twisting Tree Forest failed to collapse their tunnels.”
“Where are they?” Devon asked.
“Unfortunately, they’re over two thousand kilometers from here. We can’t reasonably support them.”
“That’s not that far,” Devon said. “We could send our backup ship. They’re already ready.”
“Ah…” Taalay frowned. “They might not be the most in need.”
Devon shrugged. “They have to go somewhere.”
“Then it should be the Twisting Tree. If they can make it within the hour.”
An hour was plenty. They could probably be halfway out of the system in that time. “I’ll let them know,” Devon said.
As Taalay had predicted, the enemy forces came out of alternate mine connections, though it took them some time to reach them. That put them outside of the Supreme Silver Sect’s personal formations, which drastically changed who had the advantage.
“She’s here,” Devon said. “That uh… Sovann lady. From the Poisonous Gold Sect.” Their ‘nice’ name was the Precious Palm, but they were money-grubbers either way.
“Want the first shot?” Taalay asked.
“I’m gonna be honest, I don’t feel like she’s important enough to actually hold a grudge with.”
“I’m going to tell her you said that,” Taalay grinned.
Cai was bouncing on his toes. “I want to kick her in the face.”
Taalay shrugged, “Then she will be your opponent. There are two others… I don’t know if they properly recognized there were three of you here.”
Atalanta added her own plans. “I would be most effective if I don’t have to engage in combat with one of the Assimilation cultivators. Or Anchoring, I suppose. I could crush an army by myself.”
“I’ll handle Anki from the Creeping Fire sect,” Taalay said. “I should be a good counter for them.”
“I suppose that leaves me with the last of them. Rui of the Wavecallers?” Devon pondered. “I don’t believe that sect has ties to the Trigold Cluster, aside from here.”
“Most likely an opportunistic pairing,” Taalay agreed.
“So do I spare him or…?”
“Don’t risk yourself for a capture,” Taalay commented.
Chains began to dangle from the fingers of Devon’s hand. “Capture is actually my specialty. But if we’re just going to kill him anyway…”
“I’d prefer we convince him,” Taalay admitted. “Vrelt can’t afford to lose so many… considering how many we thought were part of us yet aren’t.”
The enemy forces were forming up outside of the barrier- truly one directional barriers were rare and expensive, so there was a limit to how much they could attack the enemy forces at the moment. Though the enemy would be the one who would have to break through the barrier and exhaust themselves, more than making up for limiting their bombardment capabilities.
“She’s within kicking range,” Cai commented. Then he looked at the other and shrugged, “What? She is. I’m not going to go until the barrier’s down, I just wanted to point that out. Hey uh… what’s that?”
It was impossible for people to miss what he was referring to. After all, it was basically a huge mass of natural energy, and it was building up.
“A spirit cannon,” Taalay sighed. “Our barrier won’t withstand many hits of that. What a waste.”
“I think avoiding a hit or two from that is worth it,” Devon said.
“Not the barrier. The cannon. It’s basically going to shoot money at us. It shatters energy storage crystals as it drains them.”
“How inefficient,” Devon said.
“For that kind of power, it’s a necessity,” Taalay shrugged.
Devon disagreed. He wasn’t certain that was true. Though to be fair, only the Ascension-class battleships had something similar, and it wasn’t fair to compare those things. They didn’t cost as much ongoing, but the initial investment was staggering.
“So we’re just going to let them fire upon us…?” Cai said.
“Unless you want to go out there and take a hit,” Taalay shook his head. Then he saw Cai crouching. “That wasn’t a suggestion.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m just gonna kick it in between volleys. It seems to take a while to charge.”
“Only a few seconds. This cycle is particularly long for the sake of intimidation, I believe.”
The cannon fired, and the sect’s formation trembled. Devon found the power… adequate. On both sides, really. It wasn’t really fair to compare a cannon to his grandfather’s arrows, so he wouldn’t. But if he did, they would have lost out.
The sound of the cannon came once again… but much closer. No, that wasn’t it. The second sound came from inside the barrier. It was Cai. And by the time Devon had processed that, the fellow from Marvelous Rabbit Mountain was in the midst of the enemy army. He created a crater where he landed, blasting back the crew of the cannon. From a distance, Devon saw him pause to give a brief grin towards Sovann who was standing behind it and a bit off to the side. Then his foot dug into the ground, kicking the cannon from underneath. It barely moved… but it did reach somewhere around head height. In his next motion, Cai kicked the cannon directly towards Sovann, while at the same time using the rebounding force to send himself sailing back towards the sect’s formations, avoiding the incoming bombardment of attacks.
“… Are all your people like that?” Taalay asked.
“It’s not my style,” Devon said. “But in terms of confidence… I’d say everyone here, at least.”
It was a shame that Sovann had ducked so swiftly and kept her head, but the cannon itself had crashed into a mountain behind the army, and it was mangled beyond recognition. So they would need to come up with some other way to finish bringing down the barrier, not that they couldn’t manage it with brute force.