It had been three days since Anzela handed herself over for her husband. Rikuto was going to be so mad at her, but she couldn’t help herself. It was foolish, of course, to listen to the words of enemies rather than a trusted associate. Perhaps some of it had been Anton’s callous suggestion- destroying the entire system. Whether or not the planets themselves were destroyed physically or with massive amounts of radiation or technically unscathed, Anzela knew that a destruction of the sun would end the system. Not even cultivators could live for long in a system without a sun.
And yet, Anzela didn’t care about anyone from Ekict. The only one she cared about was her husband Rikuto. He couldn’t be die. He couldn’t be dead. But logically, he was. Anton knew that, and had told her. And now she was going to die for nothing. She couldn’t say she didn’t deserve it.
Three days and some smaller amounts of time that she knew intimately but were not relevant at the moment, three days locked up in a dark cell. No food or water. She felt herself begin to grow weaker, but her body would hold on for a while yet. Now that she had regained a sense of clarity, the bigger problem was the shackles binding her. It was very uncomfortable to find out how effective the shackles Ekict had were. Even an Assimilation cultivator could not break out, though Anzela found herself barely qualified in that respect.
The reason they wanted and needed such restraints was speculation, but relatively well founded. Which meant that in addition to likely not saving her husband, she was going to make the enemy stronger. At best, she would just die. Stupid. Reckless. She should have just accepted the obvious truth.
So, what could she do? Breaking the shackles was out. Breaking her own wrists… probably no good. She’d felt how the shackles had tightened snugly, so she probably couldn’t slip her hands out. And her feet would be several steps more difficult. She probably didn’t have the strength to overcome her physical durability. How ironic.
So the weight of the shackles held her down physically and metaphysically. There was something familiar about the latter part, which made her understand why she was here. Similar abilities, she imagined.
She shouldn’t have been here. This was a foolish mistake. Too careless. It really wasn’t like her, even in a state of emotional distress. Perhaps… perhaps it hadn’t been her at all. No, she understood that ultimately she still made the fateful choice. But after several days alone, was she shaking off some sort of mental influence? Had this affected others? How had Anton not noticed?
She shook her head, sending a pulse of pain through her skull as she was reminded of her dehydration. It wasn’t his fault. He warned her she would not get what she wanted, but she didn’t listen. Was it his job to stop her? Even if he failed to recognize mental influence, he was just one person among many.
“How do you get out of here…?” she muttered to herself. Actually speaking plans aloud was dangerous, as they might be overheard. But hearing anything was useful.
She imagined her husband responding to her. This was neither illusion nor reality, but simply wish fulfillment. “You’re clever. You’ll figure it out,” he would say.
Support was nice, but she wished imagination Rikuto would be more practical. But he couldn’t tell her what she didn’t know. “I can’t move my body nor access my energy.”
“Not now,” he conceded. “But won’t you be able to? This is just a prison. Eventually, you’ll be taken away.”
“Right…” she muttered. “I’ll wait.”
She tried not to focus on her acute awareness of time passing, and instead meditated to limit how much her body needed. Her breath slowed, to save on water lost through respiration. Her thoughts slowed, since she couldn’t plan for anything.
Then, eighteen hours later, she heard someone approaching. Then she felt him. Rikuto. Had she actually gone crazy? But it was his energy. Light came around the corner.
Then she saw him. A powerfully built man that didn’t resemble her husband in any way. She vaguely remembered seeing him among the others, but she hadn’t felt his energy. It had been well concealed, apparently. Or falsified. “You bastard. I’m going to kill you.”
“I highly doubt that,” the man said, opening her cell. He then detached her manacles from the chains. Immediately, she felt some of the weight lift- but she was still unable to properly rally her energy. But it was good to know that she had a chance while being transported. “You’re coming with me.”
She had to. She couldn’t stop it, so she would. She began walking. A moment later, she almost stopped. However, she managed to keep going even as she mentally recognized something. She bit her lip. It was a shame to see her husband’s ability misused like this. How could an aura of nonhostility feel so gross? And the persuasive power… Perhaps it was something her husband could have done all along, but simply didn’t.
As she walked, Anzela grew uncomfortable. With her energy slightly released, her senses could do more than be passive. That was how she felt something lurking behind space. It really shouldn’t be there, this deep in a gravity well, but somehow she felt like the surrounding formations encouraged it.
She came to a tall room. They were standing upon a balcony, looking down upon a formation below. She understood that circles were the most practical shape for the sake of symmetry… but imagining what went on in that particular circle made it seem more ominous. She was led towards stairs that would circle around to the lower section, where there were already people waiting.
Anzela considered her shackles. They bound power into a circle, restricting the flow of her energy inside. But… in their mobile state, that was less true. And then… what if inside was outside? It was not an insane thought, some sort of wish fulfillment where she merely hoped for a miracle. Unrestricted, she could make it true. So now… how much could she change it?
She sprang into action, wrapping one arm around the man’s neck. She hadn’t asked his name, and had no intention to learn it. She transformed inside to outside as she pressed herself tightly against the man, metal pressing against his neck and chest and his own ankles. Most of the inside was still facing her, but her grip sank through his energy defenses.
The man reacted immediately, a burst of power flowing out of him. “You will,” he coughed. “You will release me immediately, then walk peacefully down the stairs.”
Yes. She would do that. She prepared to release him as quickly as possible, though she didn’t have to. Something… something was off about the power. It wasn’t just her repeated exposure, though that was already helping. No, it was more than that.
The burst of power she called upon was a risk. In a place such as this, with something hiding behind space, it was a risk to perform any sort of spatial distortion. But worst case scenario, she died to a horrible distortion beast, which was a step up from her current situation. The most likely occurrence was everyone dying. And then there was a small chance of surviving, so she gladly took it.
As she ‘released’ the man, she also shoved him forward, while at the same time transferring one of her shackles around his wrist. Immediately she felt a weight lifted off her, more than enough to make up for the burst of energy she’d had to force through her system to make that happen. Meanwhile, the man tumbled over the railing, landing in the circle below. He hit the ground hard. Anzela had assumed that even with one shackle, with her husband’s power he’d be completely unharmed. What was it, a ten meter fall? Nothing big. He stood a moment later, but the fact that he could be damaged at all… no, it actually made sense.
She began her descent down the stairs, calmly. As proscribed. “You were playing with fire here,” she said. Her second shackle was displaced, freeing her even further. “Do you even know the powers you were enticing?”
The members of the sect didn’t respond with any sort of dignity, striking out towards her with their fists. From such a distance, they could not reach her. Unless the distance were to erase itself, a possibility she was well aware of. She ducked down, to avoid strikes to her head. Elegance and poise were for people not in active combat. She heard the sounds of cracking stone… and was surprised.
Nothing impacted her torso. Could they… only target what they could see? It seemed the spatial arts were new, here. Her ankle shackles were removed as feet began to stomp up the stairs. It was still a draining process. She found herself at something akin to half capacity, from the expenditures and the hunger and dehydration. But that was enough. She looked down at the circle below, waiting for something. The man looked up.
Anzela bet on blood. Just a dollop, and a burst of energy. She ultimately had no idea if that was how it was supposed to work… but it certainly did something. Immediately, something ate one of the disciple’s hearts, and from the sound of it part of the inside of her ribcage. Sharp blades came towards Anzela, who was dodging their trajectories before they even entered the local plane.
She’d accidentally summoned one of these things once. That was enough for her to understand the danger. But it had also drawn her more towards the mysteries of space. Weos’ star had stronger distortions on space and gravity than its size and mass should suggest, and the way they developed their ring ships also spoke to the same principles. Understanding how to use all of their abilities without causing something like this was important. Until it came time for destruction. Then, she didn’t care.
She wanted to live, but if she didn’t she was going to make sure she caused as much damage as possible on the way out. She charged towards the stair climbing disciples, dodging the attacks reaching for her through space. She also dodged teeth, bone spurs, and all sorts of horrid things she didn’t want to think about. At least this one seemed to be small, or this whole place would be rubble already. A few people were torn apart by the distortion beast, a few were killed by Anzela punching their brains directly.
“Stop!” the command came. It forced her to halt, if just for a moment. If she didn’t have an ‘ally’, that would have been disastrous. A few of the disciples were in Life Transformation, and there was a woman at the very peak who seemed particularly dangerous among the crowd. If she hadn’t been dealing with something trying to eat her, at least. “You will- argh!”
She would argh indeed. Anzela hoped that was the man getting half his face bitten off or melted, but she didn’t check before she leapt over the railing down towards him. She could have teleported, but that was a much more expensive and currently very dangerous option. A kick hit her in the ribs, sending her off course and breaking one or two… but she landed only two paces away from the man. He was flailing about despite not having any obvious distortion beast injuries. As the only non spatial practitioner, he was likely the safest person present. From the distortion beast.
Anzela lunged forward, wishing she had a weapon. Blade, spear… gun. But it seemed this sect either fought without weapons, or had forgone bringing them along to this ritual. Her fist struck out, and the man blocked. His arms were crossed in front of his chest, defensive energy bolstering it. So… was he not from this sect after all? Well, it hardly mattered. His chest crumpled anyway.
But Anzela didn’t stop there. She stabbed a finger towards his gut. It didn’t matter that the man was likely dying, he didn’t deserve to have Rikuto’s energy. She tore him apart, shredding his dantian and spilling natural energy everywhere.
The chaos of combat continued, but Anzela had already won. She could gladly accept death. But she didn’t have to. As the distortion beast bit at her neck, she slammed a fist into its ‘jaw’. Reading the entirety of how such a thing was arranged hurt her brain more than a little bit, but general things such as the thinnest points around her where it could reach through to her and her to it… that was much simpler.
The woman who might have been slated to receive Anzela’s cultivation was still in a better state than her, and she didn’t fail to take the openings Anzela left. This time, something hit the side of her knee, nearly shattering it. A true warrior, then. Anzela could fight, but killing those above her own cultivation level was a pipe dream. Sure, it was carelessness that she’d been so easily injured by someone nominally weaker than her- though she was alone against many- but she knew she would never affect the course of a war alone.
Then Anzela sensed nothing and saw many things. A black mass. Not a distortion beast hiding behind space itself, but instead familiar allies. She wasn’t alone. And she’d much rather count a bunch of void ants as an ally rather than a distortion beast. She only briefly wondered how they’d gotten here- but she realized the truth. They’d been with her all along… and then on the man with her husband’s cultivation. They hadn’t killed him, but they’d certainly limited him.
The sect woman spotted the void ant as well, and recognized their danger. She stomped towards them, intending to crush them. That was… a terrible choice. It was entirely possible to crush void ants, but she didn’t do it directly. Instead, she performed the attack from a distance. As soon as her spatial energy crossed the gap to them, they tore it apart. The woman was lucky not to lose her leg. Or at least not all of it. The distortion beast seemed to find that an opportune time to take a little nibble.
Realizing the severity of the situation, the woman began to flee up the stairs. Anzela would get her eventually, but for the moment.
“Any of you guys have experience fighting a distortion beast?” she called towards the ants. They rolled towards her in a ball, alighting on her outstretched hand. She saw a whole lot of sign language, before a single spokesperson came to the forefront. “Sorry, I’m kind of rusty,” she admitted. “Can you follow my lead?” They agreed. “Alright. I’ll show you where to bite.”
She was going to get out of this so that she could apologize to her husband. And then to Anton, because he’d been looking after her- and everyone else- the whole time.