The energy of Fleeting Youth poured into Anton. It wasn’t as potent as the effects of Candlewax, but the condensed power it held did well in the pressure of the tower. In addition, the consequences were much less severe- assuming the very things that would allow the cultivator to practice it to begin with. Acceptance that there would be no future beyond the end of their life. While that might seem natural for many, it was more than just the surface level. It was knowing that people could have something beyond death, and taking away from it. But since it would allow him to accomplish what he had to in his current life, why would Anton need anything like ascension or reincarnation? He had things to do… and that included filling people with arrows.
His Spirit Arrow swam through the dense pressure of the lower part of the tower, barely restrained by the great pressure. It flew swiftly and confidently towards one of the members of the Eternal Sword Hall. The man moved to dodge- but Anton’s confidence was not misplaced. The arrow pierced through his uneven defenses, striking his heart and sending him crashing off the stairs to the level below- and even one more than that, as he rolled.
Though it seemed impossible, some of those they were fighting seemed entirely unable to resist the pressure they were situated in. That seemed odd because it was barely stronger than the top of the tower- and they had to reach that to get the beads that allowed them to enter the lower section. But they were incapable anyway. If Catarina had forced apart a group formation like they themselves were using, Anton could understand individual weakness. But for the moment he was willing to forgo understanding for exploitation. Each person he took out was one more that wouldn’t be there when the Flying Blood Cult came upon them from the rear, one more that Timothy and Hoyt didn’t have to keep away from Chikere. Though speaking of her…
A dozen swords flashed, many of them still entirely under the control of Chikere. Two cultivators danced around her on the stairs, one matching her in the very beginning of Essence Collection and the other in peak Spirit Building. Every time their swords crossed light rang out… and with each exchange Chikere seemed to take more of advantage. She could keep one of them entirely occupied with the sword she held in two hands while fending off another with several blades floating about her, leaving the remaining few open to slash at her opponents relatively unhindered. Of course it wasn’t possible to infuse all of them with sufficient energy to slash straight through her enemy’s defenses, but she fluidly shifted her concentration of energy to where it needed to be, starting with little cuts and stabs but constantly creating new wounds. For her own part, her sleeves were tattered rags and her hair was shaved in a dozen places, but there were as of yet no wounds on her body.
Devon yanked a chain back towards him, tripping an opponent who had not sensed him dangling it along the stairs next to him. If one was able to predict their opponent’s movements, the nature of how the tower restricted sensing in its lower parts gave an advantage to subtle tactics. From over a dozen enemies they were down to merely two-thirds of that, but they weren’t able to defeat them all before the Flying Blood Cult arrived.
Along with them, Anton sensed another energy. Not particularly hidden, but simply mingled among them. It seemed Devon sensed it as well. They both turned towards the stairs above them at the same time. Anton was already drawing his bow when Devon spoke. “I need to be the one to do it.”
“I’ll cover you,” Anton said. As the group rounded the corner he was able to sense them well enough to know they already had weapons drawn. With Tonina there and the proclivities of the Flying Blood Cult he had no concerns that he was provoking opponents they would not already be facing- nor would he be attacking innocents unprovoked.
His target dodged, smoothly flowing out of the path of his arrow. Anton hadn’t entirely expected his attack to work since he targeted the strongest of them- one at late Spirit Building- but he’d at least hoped for a graze. Instead… he hit the less ready target behind him in the thigh. There was no point trying to force his arrow into a loop when he could cause damage without wasting energy.
There had been discussions on how to fight the Flying Blood Cult. The Order of Ninety-Nine Stars and others recognized them as a danger and prepared various responses. Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive. As blood spurted out of the man’s thigh it seemed as if he might be critically injured, but the blood swirled around him in a cloud. That was the very essence of the debate. The Flying Blood Cult controlled loose blood, using it as both offensively and defensively. Thus, causing them to bleed was dangerous. Except not injuring them wasn’t a choice either. Counting on being able to kill an opponent in a single blow was just arrogant. And- as a few of them sliced their extremely sharp daggers along their forearms- they were quite willing to do it to themselves. But it wasn’t as if they had an unlimited amount of blood. They were just crazy enough to fight with life-threatening tactics as their mainstay.
Arrows flew out from his position. Devon remained where he was, holding a defensive stance. Though he might have wished to charge forward, if he left the formation everyone would be significantly disadvantaged- including himself. And the Flying Blood Cult seemed quite willing to close the gap. They threw daggers with swirling clouds of blood around them as they advanced, but that was only to keep Anton on his toes as he continued to fire at them.
The daggers flew past them… but Devon’s chains wrapped around them, yanking them out of the clouds of bloody energy before they could continue. His chains then tossed the daggers over the side of the stairs, where the control fizzled away in the dense pressure.
The leader of the group was the swiftest, and lunged at Anton with daggers in each hand. But Anton merely took a step back and to the side. That wouldn’t have brought him out of the man’s reach, except Catarina intercepted him, slicing at him with her sword. Velvet appeared as her dagger stabbed into his armpit, aiming for his heart- her stealth abilities magnified by the sense-muddling nature of the area.
Her dagger went deep, all the way to the hilt. She pulled her dagger back out, blood spraying everywhere. A deadly blow, but the man cackled with glee. The blood swirled into a cloud, pushing the two of them away.
Anton was only able to fire two more shots before he was forced into the melee. He had no interest in fighting the primary madman, but instead moved to support Devon. Timothy had moved back towards them, leaving Hoyt and Chikere to deal with the remainder of the Eternal Sword Hall- only a handful of cultivators including the two fighting Chikere. Timothy moved to engage the leader of the Flying Blood Cult, his shield blocking the swirling vortex of blood around the man. That left Catarina free to fend off some of the others while Velvet moved from position to position seeking advantageous openings.
Devon was facing off against another member of the Flying Blood Cult, who was crazily stabbing at him even with one of his arms wrapped in a chain being crushed, squeezed, and torn apart. Tonina was there as well, holding a whip. “You caused me quite a bit of trouble,” she said, “Why couldn’t you just die?” Though she was an arrogant and spoiled young mistress, the position afforded her significant training opportunities. Her cultivation was close to Devon’s in mid Spirit Building, clearly having gone against the official restrictions on her training over the last year and a half, since she was in early Spirit Building at the beginning of her punishment. Her whip uncoiled towards him, moving at a deceptive speed as it continuously accelerated. But one of his own chains moved up to meet it. The whip wrapped around it, but the chains of energy coiled in return.
Though Anton wasn’t specialized in melee combat, he kept up with his training with the dual axes. The fact that they were such high quality weapons taken from the prizes in Everheart’s Tomb allowed him to at least hold off a few opponents. Though their cultivation nearly matched his, he found their movements a bit sluggish like the members of the Eternal Sword Hall. Not enough to take advantage of three on one, but he was able to at least keep causing small wounds as he cut through their defenses. While that meant there was more blood they could use, Anton was well aware that their reserves were limited. Even if they had more blood than a normal person, they would run out eventually.
Devon controlled his chains to fling the member of the Flying Blood Cult engaging him every which way, slamming him into the stairs or just yanking him back and forth through the cloud of blood around him. That kept him from being able to keep effective control over the blood, though some of it still reached his defenses and tried to squeeze their way in and tear them apart. Another chain was constantly reaching for the man’s neck, but he seemed to have some amount of self-preservation instinct, and wouldn’t let Devon achieve a truly lethal hold. On the other side he wrestled against Tonina’s whip. That was in a lock, but she held a long blade in her other hand. Presumably so she could impale her opponent once she’d disarmed or bound them with her whip. Her whip continuously coiled around to try to get free while her other hand kept him occupied defending, and he wasn’t quite able to catch her weapon. But even as she sliced a line of blood along his face- blood which immediately tried to tear him apart- he remained confident.
An important shift in the battle occurred as Chikere disarmed one of her opponents of his offhand blade. With the same motion as she did so, her sword followed through on his defenseless left side, stabbing into his chest and piercing his heart and lungs. That blood was far enough from the Flying Blood Cult that it simply pooled on the floor beneath him. But Chikere wasn’t done. The disarmed sword came under her control to block the Essence Collection Cultivator along with her other floating blades.
That moment left him open to an attack from behind- Hoyt slashed down with his axe, leaving a trail of flame. Though he put his all into the strike, Hoyt barely cut through his defenses. That was the difference between mid Spirit Building and Early Essence Collection, after all. But the attack wasn’t pointless- it sent the man staggering forward into a handful of swords, driving at him from all different angles. The ones that didn’t pierce his defenses sent him closer to the edge, and off of it- but as he fell Chikere yanked both swords from his grasp. He only fell a single flight of stairs, but one leg collapsed as he hit the landing below.
With no more immediate opponents, Chikere and Hoyt were able to join the battle with the Flying Blood Sect. Without the advantage of numbers they would surely lose the battle, and Tonina seemed to recognize that. She abandoned her whip, completely leaving it to Devon as she turned to flee. He attempted to follow after her but the persistent fellow who had a mangled arm gleefully got in Devon’s path. Devon glared, focusing in on all of him with all of his chains. He might be extremely durable, but without Devon having to split his focus his bones were crushed and his body pierced by the spikes growing from the chains- the blood falling to the floor as the man perished. A few moments later the rest of the enemies fell, and Chikere and the member of the Order raced after Tonina. She was already around a corner so Anton couldn’t shoot her properly, but she wasn’t so far it was hopeless to catch up. Until they suddenly ran into a wall and the pressure bearing down on them doubled.