Checking on the status of his allies while it was possible was an area where Anton always did his best. Despite his current status, Devon wasn’t the one who needed Anton now. Instead, it was Cai, with which Anton had little previous interaction.
“I heard you’ve been acting somewhat reckless in the recent battles,” Anton said. No reason to beat around the bush too much, especially since he doubted that would reveal anything with this particular man. “Any reason for that?”
Cai shook his head. “Reckless, is it? I don’t think so. It’s merely the style of Marvelous Rabbit Mountain. I can’t exactly fight from a distance like you, I have to get up close.”
“Does that include deep within enemy lines?” Anton asked.
“When I have to, yeah,” Cai folded his arms. “What’s the problem? I survived.”
Anton just smiled. “Based on what I have heard, you seem to have become obsessed with defeating one of the enemy leaders. Sovann of the Precious Palm Sect.”
“Or the Poisonous Gold…” Cai shrugged. “What of it? She’s important. I’ve kept her occupied during our battles, though I would have preferred to kill her.”
“You moved extremely far from the battlefield with her in the recent battle,” Anton pointed out. “Far into enemy territory where you had to deal with traps and enemy assailants. You wouldn’t have survived if I didn’t show up.”
“Maybe none of us would have,” Cai shrugged.
“Perhaps not,” Anton said. “It just seems odd for two people with no personal history.”
“She’s an enemy leader. And I… don’t like her type.”
The latter, at least, rang true to Anton. “What about it?”
“The type that hides behind wealth and piles of minions. Unfortunately, those same things have been holding me back. I could take her out if there weren’t distractions.”
“A battle will always have distractions,” Anton said. “But I can help you engage in a more personal fight, the next time you meet.” Hopefully, that would be the right way forward. Not that Anton thought it wouldn’t result in their victory, but he couldn’t guarantee it would be best for Cai’s development. Still, it would be worse for him to be unable to deal with his obsession.
“You will? Uh, great.”
“Just try not to get more than a couple hundred kilometers away. You should be able to keep her within that area.”
“I should have it this time,” Cai grimaced. “She can’t have that many treasures or people to sacrifice.”
“Good. Plans are to head out in the morning.”
“Yeah,” Cai nodded. “I know. About that, though… it would only be a few hours from the projected arrival time of the incoming fleets. Shouldn’t we wait?”
“We don’t need to,” Anton pointed out. “Besides, the point here is to rely as much as possible on local forces. We want them to be secure in their own power, not fully dependent on our help. That’s why I haven’t been trying to assassinate their leaders.”
“Well, sure,” Cai nodded. “But they’re safe behind their barriers right now anyway.”
“Are they?” Anton raised an eyebrow.
“Well, I mean… you didn’t finish them off, when you rescued us. I felt the barrier weaken your shots.”
“I wasn’t in an optimal position,” Anton pointed out. Which was to say, only barely in the system by certain definitions, and without a local star bound to him.
“… Can we spar at some point?”
“I don’t think it will be fun for you,” Anton said. “And it’s best not to waste our energy until the end of the war.”
“That could be a while,” Cai grimaced.
“It won’t be.”
Two days prior, Taalay would have said it was foolish to openly assault the Ebon Skulls. It wasn’t that they were invincible in their own territory, but if they had time to prepare and gather reinforcements from their surrounding allies? That was a problem. And yet… with only the addition of a single cultivator he was feeling better about their chances.
“Do you think she’ll be there?” Cai asked.
“It’s the same group as before,” Anton said. “Minus the dead Creeping Fire Sect cultivator, plus a few more people.”
“Oh. I hope you can handle the extras,” Cai said. “Because we were definitely pushing our limits last time, and we don’t have Ashildr here…”
“I’m sure he can hold off a few Anchoring cultivators,” Taalay said. He hadn’t seen Anton fight, not really. Just a single volley to save Devon, and then one more to somehow aid Cai’s retreat. However, the way the man casually flew about told him quite a bit. Then there was Heath’s assessment. And the fact that in theory, he hadn’t been at his full power.
What helped the most was Devon’s confidence. He went from a man confident in his own power, willing to die in battle if necessary… to a child walking along, not even believing death was possible. Perhaps it wasn’t quite like that. Devon remained alert and ready… but Taalay had a feeling where his previously unjustified confidence had come from.
They would find out very soon.
“When will we enter your effective range?” Taalay asked.
“We’re already well within it,” replied Devon. “But he’s not going to do everything himself.”
Taalay felt the phrasing was important, there. As if the man could take on eight or more Anchoring cultivators all by himself. Certainly, they did have the advantage of distance now… but even he could cover fifty kilometers in a few moments.
“We’ll stop outside of the range of their defensive emplacements,” Anton declared. “No point in getting anyone in danger where they don’t have to be.”
“We didn’t bring a lot of siege weapons,” Taalay pointed out. “Is it okay to exhaust ourselves on their defenses…?”
“It’s not a problem,” Anton said. “Ashildr spoke to me about where the core of their formations are.”
“Are you a formation master as well?” Taalay asked. “Can you disable their defenses?”
“No. And yes,” Anton said. “I think that hill will be a good spot.”
They made their way onto the aforementioned hill, leaving them about ten kilometers from the fortified core of the Ebon Skulls. After seeing they had taken defensive positions, Anton slowly began to draw his bow.
Taalay’s senses lit up. This was an entirely different feeling from his initial barrage. He’d felt some sort of odd energy there… but now he felt something quite familiar to the point that he tended to ignore it. Until the sun started shining from right next to him as well as above.
He knew that the power Anton held in his hands was far less than that of the sun- but it felt like more. After all, one of them was right next to him, the other many millions of miles away. An arrow formed of that powerful energy flickered with fire as the arrow was drawn back to rest next to Anton’s ear. Then it was released, flying straight ahead.
It almost moved slowly. No, it was slow. At least, compared to what he had seen before, this arrow seemed to move at a crawl. It took almost a second to reach the sect’s barrier, but it didn’t slow down as it impacted. Instead, it punctured a hole as if their barrier was little more than paper, passing through several buildings along the way before reaching its actual destination. There was a flash and an explosion, both mitigated from Taalay’s perspective by the distance and buildings.
Taalay felt a reaction from the cultivators inside, but he was more focused on the crumbling barrier. It was simply no longer able to hold itself together, the energy swirling and breaking into its natural state over the course of a few seconds. Enemy soldiers were gathering on their walls.
Then the heat got to them. It wasn’t that much, but Taalay felt it. A significant change in temperature, coming about a minute after Anton had fired his shot. And with the barrier down, he could feel the source of that heat. A pool of molten slag that might have once been the core of the barrier formation. Or rather, the heat he felt should have been from the same thing that caused it.
“I think the two of you would do best against the Ebon Skulls,” Anton said. “Cai will be going after Sovann. I’ll hold off the rest.”
“Can you be sure they’ll come to us…?” Taalay asked.
“Oh, they will,” Anton said. Then his hands began to move again, with frightening speed. One by one, arrows were drawn and fired- arriving at their targets with much more haste than his initial flaming arrow.
His targets included Anki of the Creeping Fire Sect. Sensing the attacks incoming, the man crossed his arms in front of him, hidden flames melting the incoming spirit arrows. But he wasn’t the only target. Those other ‘few’ cultivators Anton had mentioned were from the Invincible Gate, and the four cultivators had to stand together to strike down his arrows with their halberds.
But Anton’s assault never stopped. Instead, it only intensified- with bows beginning to appear above him. They didn’t fire immediately… not until Cai sprang forward. Then, they began to fire upon all of the cultivators surrounding Sovann.
The cultivators of the Ebon Skull began to surge forward- though with their armies at the front, of course. A combination of animated armors and corpses. Taalay focused his power, forming a ten meter tall projection of himself that began to sweep through their ranks like ants. Devon followed along with him, focusing on blocking attacks from the Anchoring cultivators in the back. Some of the army would certainly slip past towards their own, but they could handle it.
Such a straightforward dive into enemy lines wasn’t normally on Taalay’s schedule, but he felt empowered. Though he did feel a moment of concern as the four members of the Invincible Gate charged towards Anton, rapidly closing the distance between them. Should he try to help fend them off…?
Devon seemed unconcerned, and Taalay realized they had to focus on their three opponents. He couldn’t let himself receive even a scratch, as the necromancers would certainly attempt to draw his life essence from any wound.
From ten kilometers to five to one, the Invincible Gate continued to charge forward. Taalay wasn’t concerned that Anton would die- he could certainly fly out of their reach- but he was concerned they might rampage through the ranks of the Supreme Silver Sect. Until they suddenly came to a stop as a wave of something spiraled out from Anton. They weren’t completely immobilized- they were able to vocalize, at least, by the way they were swearing- but it didn’t seem as if they could move anything important.
A moment later, with a wave of his hand, Anton forced them all into a single clump. That action helped Taalay recognize the effects. Magnetism. He understood fire and light, but was that really an ability related to stars? The answer seemed to be yes, as he felt a strangely oppressive star take the lead with regards to Anton’s power.
The four cultivators were at least attempting to flail when they were tossed at Anki of the Creeping Fire Sect, something with which the man clearly took issue. His own flames washed over the four of them even as they managed to gain control of their limbs for a moment. One of them, it seemed, didn’t take well to the way Anki stopped them, swinging his halberd towards his own ally.
It was only two simple moves, but the enemy significantly weakened their position with the energy wasted on both sides. Meanwhile, Anton was taking care of the Poisonous Gold Sect’s forces that were attempting to surround Cai- the very same individual who was kicking Sovann through the Ebon Skull’s buildings. Quite effectively, it seemed.
Taalay decided he had to pick up the pace. It wouldn’t be good if he wasn’t seen doing his part. His aura intensified, forcing back the lifeless army around him without even touching anything. He had to at least make a good showing for his sect and for Vrelt.