“Commander Xu, the demons have ceased fleeing. They stopped in a small valley up ahead. It appears as if the horse has been run ragged.”
“Hm… very good.” Xu Zhelan nodded his head, “We will stop here for a moment to compose ourselves. Last time we were not prepared for another. Keep watch on them.” The subordinate nodded, then returned to where the forest thinned.
“What is the plan, senior?” one of the other martial artists asked. He wasn’t a member of the Order, but a great asset nonetheless.
“The strategy for fighting any mage is the same. They must not be given time to finish their spellcasting. Likewise, we must avoid close formations. Last time we were close to catching the tiring demon witch, and we let down our guards. There is no cover near them, so we’ll have to be speedy.”
“Since there is no cover, couldn’t we use archer? Some have bows…”
“Bows? Against demons? I suppose if you want to reveal how close we are…” Xu Zhelan shook his head, “At this distance they will do no good. The power of ki falls off too quickly. They will be useful at perhaps half this range… But they can be used to interrupt their spellcasting before we finish the approach.”
After a few minutes they had finalized the assault plan and everyone had stabilized their ki, to be as optimum as they could for the battle. They couldn’t take long enough to truly rest, because then the demons could do so as well, but it would do them no good to rush in disarrayed. Besides, Xu Zhelan felt it was best to be cautious. There was something that made him feel uneasy… besides the fact that the men had been tossed about like rags previously. However, he thought that should have been they very limits of power that could be displayed, and it couldn’t be done again. At the very least, their approach pattern would prevent more than a few getting trapped like that.
When they reached the edge of the forest, there was no shout for a charge, but everyone did so. After all, a yell would only further alert their enemies, though they were bound to be watching out for them. Still, a second or part of a second could matter in a battle. The demons were only perhaps six dozen yards away. It would still take the fastest sprinters over a dozen seconds to get there, but the slowest would still be well under two dozen seconds.
As soon as he stepped out of the trees, Xu Zhelan looked directly into the eyes of the male demon. Even at that distance he could see him. Xu Zhelan had good eyesight, but somehow when looking into those eyes it was amplified. The eyes stared back at him, and he knew they had no surprise on their side. Still, they had a solid plan.
Xu Zhelan saw the black skinned demon’s lips start moving, then a moment later the sound reached his ears. He had no idea what it was, but the voice travelled throughout the area. The start of some foul chant or curse, no doubt. However, he knew that magic was also limited by distance, and at this distance it shouldn’t be too much of a threat to their group. He couldn’t help but feel something was off. What was it? The other demon was behind him, standing almost back to back with him. Maybe his senses were telling him to watch out for more? An ambush?
In a few more seconds, they archers were within range. Their arrows would be able to hold enough ki to cause damage at that distance. The arrows flew true, but the male demon didn’t even dodge. He merely swept his staff, knocking them all away. Xu Zhelan sensed the ki that widened the stroke enough to actually hit all the arrows- that should have taken some concentration… but the chant continued.
A cold feeling crept over him, even though his body should have been becoming warm from the exertion of the sprint. As for the others… he couldn’t tell. His eyes were still locked. His peripheral vision merely indicated that the formation was holding up. They were spread out, almost in a semicircle. Nothing that could affect them all would have any significant force behind it. Nothing was wrong… it was merely that the arrows were less effective than optimal.
The archers continued to move forward. Their subsequent shots required a larger response, but it still didn’t interrupt the demon’s spellcasting, or cause him to move. That was unfortunate, but at least he would run out of ki soon. After all, his cultivation wasn’t that high. It was merely… The second major breakthrough? Fourth? Third? All of these feelings came to him as he stretched out his senses. Perhaps it was confusion from so many others around, but he felt three sources… for only two demons. Regardless, the demon in front should have been the weakest in ki. Not that it meant he wasn’t a threat, but at least that part of him should be exhausted soon.
One more volley of arrows. This time… Xu Zhelan was sure the response was from something that had passed the fourth major breakthrough of some cultivation technique. The energy ripple were undeniable. The chanting continued… but Xu Zhelan himself was only a dozen yards away, and it would only take him a single second to get into melee range. He readied his spear to impale the demon.
Then his eyes finally managed to tear away from the male demon. The demon witch had her hands up, covering her ears. Her staff merely lay on the ground. Was she not going to do anything? Was she so scared? That couldn’t be right. Maybe that was the cause of the feeling. However, before he could decide what to do, he couldn’t see. No, he couldn’t hear either. He could feel, and that was how he knew he was on the ground. He clutched at his head. There had been a flash? And an explosion? He had to get up!
It only took him a moment before his eyes recovered enough to see, at least a little bit. He hadn’t been without defenses, after all, even if he hadn’t expected the flash. He took a quick glance around to make sure the others were recovering fast enough… and found that none of them were moving. His eyes flicked back to the black skinned demon. He could only barely see him, but thought he saw an outstretched hand. Perhaps he was saying something, as his lips moved, but Xu Zhelan couldn’t make it out. Then he noticed. It was cold. It was like he had been plunged in an icy lake. He hadn’t noticed right away because of the blindness. But it was also because… the feeling had been there all along, from before they had left the forest. Then it was as if the outstretched hand pushed him under the freezing lake… and he didn’t see or hear anything… only blackness.