Though the overall size of the continental fleet was much smaller than the combined forces of their enemies, the number of Life Transformation cultivators they had through the combination of multiple sects was higher. Life Transformation cultivators couldn’t carry a battle by themselves, but part of that had to do with whether or not the enemy managed to actually outnumber them. If they couldn’t bring greater numbers to bear all at once, a Life Transformation cultivator could work their way through many lesser opponents.
At the current moment the fleet was sweeping east, having previously been moving south directly towards the Still Wind Erudition. The Soaring Air sect’s skyships were to the east, while other sects were sending ships from all directions- but those that were sent didn’t represent the entirety of the Exalted Archipelago, and more importantly it was only the sects that were close that could do anything.
Because he now had a nearly endless supply of energy, Anton was already firing upon the most obvious ships. Some were well within his range, but he targeted them because he didn’t want the enemy to know his limits. It was best to surprise them later when they thought they were safe.
Not all defensive formations on ships were the same. Some formed a barrier around the whole ship, a bubble that protected the vessel and crew alike- while others were focused more on the structure of the ship itself. Where cultivators were unprotected, Anton began to fill them with arrows, starting with the Essence Collection cultivators- he could finish them off quickly, and they had the most chance of influencing the battle otherwise. They quickly began to take shelter, running below decks- but not before he killed dozens. Then he moved for any other crew on those ships, though even if the rest of the deck was relatively unprotected the pilot usually was. Though a few ships were missing that key detail, and soon had nobody on deck to control their trajectory.
Anton had a short time where he was functionally the only combatant on the battlefield, but it didn’t last long. They were already close to other ships, though they weren’t supposed to know it. A small number were underwater, while others were invisible atop the waves.
“Follow my lead!” Anton commanded. Even if the others couldn’t pick out the ships on their own, it would be fairly simple to shoot the same place he was, whether they were archers or had different ranged abilities. Anton began the assault with over a dozen energy bows- that was beyond his limit to maximize his power and control, but as markers it meant he could target every ship at once. Some were quite hesitant to fire underwater, but the invisible ships were just fine for them.
As Anton’s attacks struck, with others following, small distortions in energy became apparent. Enough that people wouldn’t lose track of the enemy vessels, at least. WIth that, he focused more on individual targets- starting with those underwater, as he was concerned with how they might target their own ships.
Fire was obviously not a good choice. While he was strong enough that he could make it work underwater, it was still less efficient. Light had similar difficulties, while standard Spirit Arrows lost momentum underwater. Anton had something else, though. Ascension energy could power through, but the other part of Fleeting Youth provided a more interesting alternative. The intangible energy that seemed to be drawn from beyond death was not only very appropriate for ignoring inconvenient terrain features, but Anton had also wanted to test out the changes. Having come much closer to a physical death than ever before, he felt a strengthening of that connection.
It was difficult to tell how much the effectiveness changed from his experiences compared to his general increase in power, but it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that Anton was able to call upon more of the energy, and focus it better. It shot through barriers, barely affecting his attacks as they were not adjusted for such an unfamiliar sort of energy. The same was true of personal defenses, though even if they tried to resist the individuals more than an entire stage of cultivation below him were not capable of resisting. It was unfortunate that this power did not recover at the same rate as his natural energy, but he was still able to use it to great effect.
Soon the first enemy ships made their way into close combat, where cultivators on both sides tried to board each others’ vessels. Anton likely could have delayed that stage of the battle, but there was no point. He could have sunk a handful of ships now, but when the others caught up to them all at once, in full force, he would have regretted it. No, he had to focus on the battlefield as a whole instead of just what was immediately a threat. Preventing the enemy from overwhelming them was his job. If he failed at that, he had led them all into great danger.
And the melee was going well. Although he had recruited as many cultivators with ranged abilities as he could, the vast majority were specialized in close combat on both sides. And with their fleet tightly packed together, they brought over a hundred Life Transformation cultivators to bear together. It didn’t matter if the ships or individual enemies were hidden when a wave of attacks poured out. Fire, ice, chains, daggers, swords, and everything else imaginable came from the continental forces, clashing mainly against assassins who had intended to show up undetected.
Anton kept a careful watch on the skyship. They weren’t quite close enough yet to be a threat, and he wanted to focus more on the approaching vessels from the various other sects for the moment. He began to concentrate his fire on individual ships, straining their defensive formations and eventually breaking through- which was where fire came into the picture. He’d had some proficiency in fire before his advancement, but now it was much easier. Sails and decks burned with the heat of the sun… though not quite that intense. At least, not on a wide scale.
As he continued to target the cultivators, some began to dive off the ships instead of seeking shelter. Anton very carefully allowed those who were swimming away from the battle to go unscathed- he didn’t need to kill everyone, only those who continued to make the choice to fight.
Then the skyships were close enough. Anton was capable at extreme distances, but there was still a certain amount of power lost no matter how much he increased his efficiency. There was also a factor of how the enemy perceived the battle and his actions. In short, he wanted them to see what was about to happen.
Into his hands came a bow that could only be described as ‘sharp’. A prize from the Million Sword Vault, and one that added an interesting twist to his options. Wide blades weren’t particularly efficient compared to arrows, but he could control the more precise details of what the strange bow would do.
His focus narrowed to not just a single ship, but a single opponent. His voice echoed across the seas. “You’ve made your choice. Your head it is.”
He did not allow the courtesy of making sure his voice had traveled to Sect Head Kaluza before he began his assault. Along with the bow held in his hands he fired five others in quick succession, driving a hole in the barrier of the flagship. Anton had to say he was slightly impressed. Kaluza managed to block the first volley, though not completely unscathed. She managed to dodged further incoming shots by rapidly flying up away from the ship, but that only left her more vulnerable. Anton focused his power into a single shot, a blade that was razor thin and no more than twenty centimeters wide.
She clearly sensed the danger, and as the attack approached she shattered some sort of talisman, forming a barrier of winds around her. It managed to weaken his attack enough that it only went halfway through her neck. The following attacks a moment later, however, completed the job.
On the scale of the battle, one Life Transformation cultivator was nothing much to speak of. The Soaring Air Sect alone had dozens. But it wasn’t just any cultivator, but their sect head. And it wasn’t a long, drawn out fight or a concentrated effort of several others overwhelming her. Instead, it was just Anton taking down one of their strongest in a matter of moments. It felt somewhat unfair, but he was not the one who had chosen to cause trouble. He just chose to finish it.
As Kaluza fell, Anton realized nobody could see what had happened. He took a deep breath, pulling in his energy. When he fought now, he couldn’t help but emit bright light. He’d been conscious enough to minimize its effects on his allies, but he really wanted the enemy to see her as she fell, not just sense it. For a few moments it felt as if the whole battlefield stopped, everyone looking in that direction… though of course it wasn’t quite that way.
When the head hit the water- slightly before the body, since it had less drag- Anton opened fire on the skyships in general. He picked whatever was easiest to target from the cultivators to the sails to the various mechanisms that allowed it to fly. Even if he didn’t have a perfect understanding of what formations allowed it to be buoyant, destroying everything that felt expensive was a surefire method of achieving the results he wanted.
“We will allow your surrender,” Anton shouted over the cacophony of battle. “All except the Still Wind Erudition and the Soaring Air Sect. Flee, and we will not pursue. Remain, and forfeit your lives.”
The two sects in question obviously had objections to that, but as the Still Wind Erudition had been forced into battle without backup they were already on their back leg. The Soaring Air Sect turned to flee, but unfortunately they had gotten close enough that they were just properly joining the battle. A handful of kilometers, at most. That gave Anton an easy hundred kilometers as they turned to flee, and a somewhat more difficult but still possible distance he could attack them afterwards. He did divert some attention to the nearby battle, saving as many lives as possible. Some of the Soaring Air Sect would get away… for the moment. But that wouldn’t last. He was willing to let those remaining live, but they would be taking or destroying every skyship and all of their resources. There would be no Soaring Air Sect within the week, but at most wandering cultivators who had once been part of them. That was his conviction.
“Alright, time to go,” waved the captain, a youthful woman with a stern face.
“But we haven’t landed,” Alva said.
“Too bad, isn’t it? You can buy a return trip if you want, but we’re not going to ground.”
Alva narrowed her eyes. The woman had seemed honest, but perhaps she was simply more adroit in the field of deception than Alva had anticipated. “Why not land? It’s right there.” She inched her hand towards her bow.
“Why not? It’s death season. Look at the contract,” the captain waved the piece of paper.
Alva did remember reading something like that. “And death season is…?”
“When the Tomb is especially riled up,” the captain explained. “Unpredictable, as far as I’m aware. But if we fly this ship down, I’ll be lucky to have a pile of scrap. Or my life. So you can jump, or you can take the ride back. At a discount, or with payment deferred if you need.”
Alva looked to Vari, though she was loath to trust her companion’s decision making on anything. “Okay then,” Vari nodded, looking over the edge. “We just jump down.”
“And avoid the arrows. And the spikes. The death beams. Bloodthirsty sky beasts. And don’t forget the sudden stop at the end, of course.”
Alva looked down. She didn’t see all of those things at the moment, but she vaguely felt displays of energy elsewhere on the planet. She didn’t really trust Everheart not to kill her, but she kind of needed to meet up with the others. Besides, almost fifty percent of people survived the trip. When things were ‘normal’. She should be fine, right?
“If Everheart isn’t already dead,” Alva declared, “I’m going to kill him.”
“You and everyone else,” the captain nodded sincerely.
Then Alva jumped- and Vari with her. At least Alva knew she could shoot down the beasts before they got close, but she was going to have to really maneuver herself around to the best of her ability.