(Patreon) Elder Cultivator 419

-–Chapter Index–-

Five fingers tightly gripped a bow. That grip still wasn’t as strong as it had been previously. Perhaps it would never be, though Anton still had some hope in that area. His body wasn’t the important part of his power, though. After all, it wasn’t so simple to combat a cultivation on the threshold of Ascension, but he had felt quite comfortable in his battle against Kseniya. And if he weren’t holding back, he didn’t imagine anyone could stand against him for very long. Though he wasn’t planning to be completely reckless. That was why they had the fastest ships they could get.

Previously, the Exalted Archipelago’s naval technology had outclassed the continents’, but at the moment they were more closely matched. The Ponderous Turtle Sect was nearly wiped out and they previously had been the fastest, despite the name. Along the route they were taking there should be few ships capable of overtaking them, and Anton was fairly confident he could mitigate any issues.

While his maximum power output was not all that much higher than it had been before- though he could feel it steadily improving- the continuous inpouring of energy sustained him at a high power. And he had a few other tricks that had improved, if it became necessary. 

Most importantly, Anton wasn’t alone. He was most confident against large numbers of individuals, while single stronger opponents might be able to cause him some trouble. In turn they in turn would have to face against the rest of his allies more or less alone. That was the plan, but so far Anton hadn’t killed anyone or sunk any ships.

Of the three sects, the Void Blades were the closest- Anton and the others were looping around from the west, taking a similar route to what the Million Sword Vault had previously attempted. While they weren’t able to count on all of the other sects along the way being distracted, most of the islands on the archipelago were not that close together. If they were relying on visual methods to detect intruders they would never spot them, but Anton thought he’d felt some thin formations that would likely have revealed their location. 

He shifted his grip as several ships seemed to be approaching, but they were still well over a hundred kilometers off. After a short time of waiting it was clear they were either not routing for their small fleet or unaware of their precise location. If something changed he would act, but sinking random ships would do more to give away their location than conceal it, unless he killed everyone on board. And while some people deserved it, the Exalted Archipelago was made of people just like anywhere else. Some were just trying to live their lives, focusing on their own cultivation.

Several hours later they were getting closer to their first objective, one of the outlying islands on the way to the Void Blades’ main headquarters. By close, it was well within Anton’s range. In fact, they were nearing the range of some of those with more reasonable offensive abilities- and the cannons. A few decades of testing had made the weapons a viable option, at least in situations where explosions were valuable. Against enemy cultivators the energy of an explosion was a bit too diffuse to be effective, but siege weaponry wasn’t made to target individuals. It would be fired into groups… or used to destroy structures.

Once the cannon was in range of the outpost, it opened fire- with some adjustments made by those who could sense beyond the horizon. They were still a good fifteen kilometers away from the outpost… and another fifty from the main headquarters. Which put the headquarters- and the entire island chain the Void Blades occupied- within Anton’s range.

When the cannon exploded, it took almost thirty seconds for the projectile to land. There was simply a limit on how fast it could move, though the energy of the cultivators manning the cannon kept the cannonball from losing speed as it would have otherwise. Such a long time was forever in a battle between cultivators, but before there was a battle they would have to sense danger. Anton felt it impact the walls, only protected by the continual formations and barriers. A three meter wide hole opened, and more on either side was ruined. They weren’t close enough to send people pouring in through the gap in the walls, but it would allow other attacks to target whoever they pleased, since the formation was shattered.

At the same moment, arrows arrived on the main island. It was only Anton, but he didn’t want them to have any warning. His first targets were those roaming around various facilities- Life Transformation cultivators, since they were the biggest threat and most responsible for the various faults of the sect. Some barriers blocked his attacks, but not everywhere. Maintaining high powered defenses around the clock was impractical, and covering an entire island was likewise difficult. Under the first volley, several enemies fell and others were injured- but the arrows never stopped, battering those who withstood the initial attack while others sought out new targets.

It wasn’t nice, or ‘fair’, but it also wouldn’t be ‘fair’ for them to fight Anton in their optimal range. And he’d had enough. Continuing to be reasonable wasn’t achieving results, so he was going to be just a little bit unreasonable. If they were going to follow the rules of might makes right, he would show them who had the might. And he was going to hate every second of it.

The Void Blades had suffered greatly in the previous war, with several of their swordmasters slain and their bases raided by the Million Sword Vault- but they hadn’t been slaughtered indiscriminately. Many of their cultivators were allowed to live, and thus had been able to grow in the following years. Which was a shame, because now all the resources they consumed had been wasted.

—–

Those who witnessed the first assault- a few survivors of the Void Blades but mostly those dwelling on adjacent islands- recalled a dawn in the middle of the night. The sun never rose above the horizon, but the rays of light stretched out over them. They felt the power, muted by distance- but when cultivators in Life Transformation fought with all their power, they could be felt from cities away. This was more, and it was disturbing. 

Messages of the attack were scattered all throughout the Exalted Archipelago, bouncing from place to place as anyone who could be contacted was. At first it was chaos, with information jumbled and confused. Some reported having vaguely sensed foreign cultivators before the attack, some having made reports while others having been unsure.

The largest sects and clans reacted with a little bit more intent, and soon enough they organized a meeting. For important matters they would usually gather in person, but the circumstances didn’t allow that. Instead, they had to make use of their messaging chambers- rooms that appeared to be empty upon first glance. As Sect Head Kaluza stepped into her position, the chamber filled up with other figures- projections, standing in their own positions. Along with their image came their voice, with heated conversations bouncing around.

Kaluza didn’t bother to announce herself, instead beginning her tirade. “This is what the upper realms warned us about!” she chastised. “Yet none of you were willing to act. We had to recruit some filthy dregs from the continents to make our move. Now the consequences rest on your heads.”

“An interesting interpretation,” said Treloar, of the Worthy Shore Society. “And what move, exactly, were you making? Did you attempt to slay this perceived threat, or did you instead try to chop down a tree?”

“The wood could have produced the greatest skyships ever known,” Kaluza countered.

“I see. And after you had these skyships, you would have made a move on the most powerful archer this world has ever seen?” Sect Head Treloar nodded. “An interesting plan, I must admit. But I have encountered Anton before. I see no chance of any of this coming to rest on my head. Though I do recall yours being demanded.”

“If we work together we could-”

“The Void Blades have been exterminated,” Treloar said. “Overnight, and mainly from a great distance. Perhaps if we were willing to sacrifice ourselves, we could take down this group. But I plan to ascend in a few decades, so I can’t be bothered to risk my life for no gain.”

“The upper realms will hear of your cowardice,” Kaluza glared.

“And they will hear of your death. And your mistakes…” Treloar said with a blank face. “The latter of which they shall take quite seriously. The destruction of your entire branch will mean your punishment does not stop at death.”

“What? No, that’s not… they wouldn’t… you’re responsible for this too! They warned us about the potential threat, and you did nothing!”

Sect Head Naamah shook her head, “They cautioned us about the possibility of those who might take alternate paths than ascension. This was long in the past, and they said foremost that we should not allow one to develop among our enemies.”

“We had the chance to stop his recovery!” Kaluza clenched her fist, wishing she could walk up to the woman and punch her.

“And you solidified his position as one of your enemies,” Naamah said. “The Hardened Crown Sect will not be coming to your aid.”

Kaluza looked around. She saw that she was not without support. The Still Wind Erudition had no choice in the matter now, but there were others who saw the logic behind her words. Unfortunately, those who had stayed out of the initial war- and those who had smaller grudges against the continents- were not interested in taking the risk upon themselves. But it didn’t matter. She would lead an army against them, slaying this Anton. It didn’t matter if he was powerful, he didn’t have the talent to ascend and instead ended up in some dead-end side path. They would kill him… and the Soaring Air Sect would be the ones to take the credit. 

—–

The smell of the salty sea was nice. Especially pleasant was that it was no longer tinged with the smell of iron and blood. Anton happily took deep breaths, replenishing himself. The energy inside him was fire, circulating with great vigor and heat… but to him, it was a comfortable warmth. Proper cultivation developed a cultivator to be stronger, and that was always a good feeling. Anton just wished it hadn’t involved killing so many people. It shouldn’t have been necessary, but this was where things were now. 

The Void Blades were no more, except perhaps whatever individuals had been away. It can’t have been many, because the number of Life Transformation cultivators had been about what they expected. With those Lev killed and the ones they had just slain, there simply couldn’t be many left. And even if there were, there would be nothing to go back to. 

It had taken additional effort to level every building, but aside from the fact that they would not be occupying any of this territory, they had to send the right message. This behavior wouldn’t be accepted… and the continents had the power to back this up. If they didn’t make this show of force, they would be subject to continual attacks. That had become obvious. 

The looted resources were of no interest to Anton. It was part of war, but as he got better at it he grew ever more tired of it. And yet it seemed impossible to stop. Thus, his only option seemed to be making it undesirable.

—–

“Anton!” Velvet called out. “They’re coming.”

“I know,” he said. “I’ve already consulted with the captains on how best approach the incoming fleets.”

“Yes but they’re-”

“Under the water?” Anton said as she was gesturing. “Invisible? You do have a good sense for those things, and you are right. We’ll be turning east, away from the islands. The Still Wind Erudition’s buildings can wait for later, we have to move tactically. We should be able to face a more reasonable number of opponents this way. I’d rather not face these fleets all at once. That’s far too much for me.” Anton shrugged, “And perhaps it should be. That’s what the rest of you are for, but we’ll take out this ships and skyships one at a time.”

“Skyships?” Velvet said, looking off into the distance. “They’re here too?”

“They moved quickly,” Anton nodded. “But this is to our advantage, if we leverage it properly. If they all huddled behind their strongest defensive formation together, we might have had some trouble… but they’re still too far spread out. They have a general idea of our location now, but that means they’re already too close to run.”

Velvet shivered slightly. She was glad Anton was on their side. Despite being close to what she had once thought was the peak of power, he had something more… and the ability to leverage it in a terrifying way where people could hardly even fight back.

-–Chapter Index–-