A great pulse of energy, producing a stronger wave of pressure than any before it, washed over the small army. They were able to withstand it well enough, but that was only after the power had fallen off somewhat. If they had been close to the epicenter… they couldn’t be certain what would have happened. But they hadn’t come all this way just to give up now.
Renato took the lead with the sturdy cultivators of the Order of the Amber Heart, with the Tenebach and Brandle clans following immediately behind. Deirdre and the Golden Tomb Guardians held back as they were more easily sensed. The plan was to get the group as close as possible before they were detected.
But before they could reach their destination, they once more came upon something blocking their way. This time, it was more obvious, as the tunnels had widened and everything was exaggerated. Another valve blocking their way. Renato pulled it open, and John joined him across the way, letting a few people pass through side-by-side.
“… Powerful,” Matayal muttered as she pressed forward. John nodded. Gesine was ahead, and she was well established in the Ascending Soul Phase.
As they were still passing through, John felt spiritual energy building to a crescendo. It was the leviathan, and most likely it would be blasting them away. That was the worst timing possible, with them on the threshold.
“I’ll handle it,” Matayal said. She swam ahead, deeper into the chamber, followed by the Brandle Clan cultivators. John and Renato braced themselves, but it was almost unnecessary. As the pulse of energy began to burst in all directions, Matayal directed the energy of the Brandle clan cultivators, creating an opposing wave that reflected the effect. It was impressive, but… “Hurry through!” Matayal amplified her voice to reach everyone, “We can’t repeated that many times!”
With that encouragement, the last of the Tenebach and Amber Heart cultivators pushed through, followed shortly by the Golden Tomb Guardians. Though it took them a burst of energy, it was necessary.
John was glad to let the valve close. Even though it wasn’t actively fighting him, it wasn’t a trivial effort to keep it open even with Renato’s help. They needed to get moving. If another pulse came and pushed them out, they would basically be swimming in place for no benefit.
Ahead, John felt fire. It was the main distinction in elements, because of the leviathan’s water and that being half of the Molten Sea… but it was strangely dominant in the area. While it seemed like the flame should have been smothered by the water, Gesine’s cultivation pushed past basic logic.
A battle was in full swing up ahead between the Molten Sea and what John had come to see as the immune system of the leviathan. But while most of them engaged in combat with that, Gesine herself was directly assaulting the caverns around them. The core of the leviathan’s power, and if John was not mistaken… it’s heart.
Unlike what John had expected, there wasn’t just one path through the heart. He felt the main paths, but there were smaller side tunnels, out of which poured more amorphous blobs and various sorts of killer beasts, some John had not seen before.
While it seemed like the leviathan might eventually win the battle of attrition, it was unclear if irreparable damage could be caused before then. If that was all, it might not be the end of the world. But Gesine would not put in so much effort for no reason. If Sitora’s words were to be trusted, she had lost her life to the leviathan far in the past, but revenge didn’t seem sufficient. No, as a cultivator it could be expected that she stood to gain greater power from this. And the Molten Sea’s cavalier attitude towards all of the local factions made it clear that power would be abused.
Matayal lingered for John to catch up, reaching out for his hand and squeezing it. She began to reach out with her energy, and she didn’t have to say anything for John to cooperate with her efforts. A soothing power spread out from her, and the flow split from the two of them to the Tenebach and Brandle clans. It was a clearly recognizable power, that of the leviathan- or at least resembling it.
John gestured for Renato to wait, as he and the Order were en route to intercept the closest beasts. He swam forward with Matayal and their clans… and through a combination of keeping their distance and blending in, the creatures didn’t attack them as they approached the members of the Molten Sea. The chamber they were in was quite large, providing room for both groups to assault from any direction. Though if they were able to count the leviathan’s defenses as allies or at least neutral parties, they might be able to focus on specific parts of the Molten Sea.
On the surface, battle was also breaking out. It seemed that the Molten Sea was not content to wait for matters below to be resolved. Whether because of Deirdre’s visit with Sitora, John’s conflict with them in Astrein, or some other excuse it did not matter. Their ships began to circle counterclockwise around the Kelp Spire Forest. Those who were merely present to observe were mostly gone, after the upheavals in the sea below. The rest of them scarpered away at the ominous approach.
Some others chose to linger on the outskirts, wanting to join in but fearful of getting in the way of the Molten Sea. Harta recognized several enemies of the Mulyani and Brandle clans among them- but they had significant support along with them. Only a few grudges had not been settled, and as a whole the Shimmering Islands were closer to a state of unity than any time in the last century.
Harta Mulyani looked over at Lucanus. “Do you want to remain on the defensive?”
“Do I ever?” the man shook his head. “I know what you’re thinking about… but it will actually be safer if I bring the fight to them, instead.”
“Anyone would be hard pressed to stop my husband from fighting as he pleases,” Yustina said with a smile. “I shall support him, of course.”
“Then I suppose it falls to us to keep them away from the supply ships and the like,” Harta declared. That also included the triplets. It was a risk allowing them to be present- but given their cultivation, keeping them away from battle might cause even more harm. As two of them were future clan heads, they could show caution… but not cowardice. And Harta had the feeling they would need every Soul Expansion Phase cultivator they could get.
The Milanovic clan traveled on ships of the Brandle clan and other Shimmering Islands allies. But as they closed in, Lucanus and Yustina broke ahead of the rest, running atop the water and producing showers of mixed blue and green flames.
A flash in the distance caught Harta’s attention. Black storm clouds and lightning were headed their way- nothing unusual for the Shimmering Islands. The Mulyani clan could easily handle them… and in fact, the sooner they arrived the better things would be for them. Perhaps their fire cultivator allies would be less pleased with the rain, but lightning storms would be especially detrimental to the Molten Sea.
“Yeah, get ‘em!” Verusha yelled. She grinned and turned to Tirto. “Do you see that ship? My dad set it on fire!”
“I do see that,” Tirto said, scanning the battlefield.
“Oh come on! You should be impressed. That’s your future father-in-law, you know?”
“I am aware your parents are powerful,” Tirto said. “But we should not be distracted.”
“But the battle is way over there, and we haven’t seen any goopy monsters for hours,” Verusha said. “We’re safe here. Don’t be such a spoilsport! Honestly, what does Emilia even see in you?”
“Probably practicality,” Tirto said. Then he cleared his throat, projecting his voice to the rest of the ship. “Get ready! Divers on their way!”
At that, Ursel stomped forward, one foot up on the railing and preparing to leap in. Melanthina and Nik took positions as well. And of course, there was the rest of the crew along with Crystin and Yonit. With signs of active combat, they couldn’t just leave the triplets unguarded.
“We’ll head off the Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators,” Yonit said, having sensed the same groups as Tirto. “Make sure to take advantage of the ships defenses, and stay with the crew.”
With that, the two guards and some of the crew leapt into the water. Meanwhile, Tirto watched for enemies, trying to predict where they would surface.
The forces marching upon Lunson from the Stone Conglomerate included many big players. The Supreme Slate Sect was especially interested in the impact of a country immediately to their north, and Heavy Gold Mountain was concerned about them as well. Renato and the Order of the Amber Heart were well respected, so he had been able to stir up significant support from across the country. That included no less than a dozen Quartz clans of various significance.
By the time they had arrived, the Phoenix Forest had already laid siege to the city. The arrival of the Stone Conglomerate’s forces caused the Molten Sea to hurriedly spread out their limited forces, but the scant defenders they placed on the southern walls were ultimately pointless.
After all, Lunson was not a city meant to resist a siege. At most, the walls were there to be an inconvenience. The walls were little more than durable stone without formations to augment them, which for earth cultivators was akin to making walls with massive holes in them. Or even completely out of doors. They tore open the walls as they pleased, and while the Molten Sea had a half elemental advantage over them, their forces were simply insufficient. They were spread out not just in Lunson, but trailing along the main roads. They hadn’t been ready for an actual coordinated effort like this.
Once Lunson had been purged of them, the Stone Conglomerate planned to secure the harbors, with the Phoenix Forest sweeping east towards the Sunfields. The Molten Sea might be more powerful than any subset of the region individually, but they were overextended.
Renato had fought against the Molten Temple before, the sect from the Molten Sea with lava turtles at their command. Their ability to turn stone into lava was powerful, and it seemed they were not incapable of doing the same with the stone that lined the internals of the leviathan. The water surrounding it seemed to barely make a difference, though it did produce superheated steam where they met.
He watched them launch attacks at Brandle clan cultivators, who deflected streams of lava with their control over the water. It reminded him of conversations with John. The transmigrated individual had interesting ideas about the elements. In fact, despite cultivating a cycle of elements, having four of them himself, John seemed to half be of the opinion that elements didn’t exist. And maybe he was right. What was lava? Was it fire? Was it earth? Or perhaps it was even water. The Molten Sea seemed to consider it fire and water, but Renato knew it was also still earth.
But regardless of what one called it, what ultimately mattered was what could be done with their spiritual energy. Despite his misconceptions, John ultimately agreed that the way elements were grouped did have practical merit for training. Renato was the first of the Amber Heart to reach the battle, and the first to face the flames. Lava wrapped about his arms and chest. And then… the outer layer finished solidifying as the individuals responsible reached the limits of their control. What a shame. He’d tried to reflect it, but he couldn’t quite get a proper hold on it while it was liquid.
But he did find that he was quite capable of launching the outer shells back at his enemies. Perhaps they were not terribly inconvenienced by a small boulder shattering next to them, but when it split apart to reveal the heat inside each created a burst of steam, using the energy of the enemy against them. Was it efficient? Renato was not certain. Even the momentary heat on his armor rapidly built up… but he was ready to dissipate that into the ‘ground’. The leviathan might not like that, but if it had opinions on the topic it was welcome to share them with the fire cultivators.