At the peak of the mountain, Elder Rana had switched away from concentrating on the concealing formation to the fortifying barrier around Grand Elder Vandale and the area around that where a different battle was happening.
While the Order would have dearly liked to have every Life Transformation expert available when provoking an enemy of indeterminate power, to properly pull off the deception they had to have some of them very publicly make appearances. That also included being far enough for the Twin Soul Sect to be comfortable that they wouldn’t be around, and indeed they weren’t even rushing back.
With that said, Grand Elders Fodor, Zajoc, and Kseniya were present along with about half of the other Life Transformation members. The exact number of them around was never publicly available, but they had once had twenty. With some deaths at Black Soul Valley and some advancements due to recent events, they were at eighteen. Half had stayed while half had gone… but more than that portion of Essence Collection cultivators stayed since they would be less carefully counted.
Their assistance in the battle was not strictly necessary for a victory, but with the reckless abandon of the assaulting cultivators, any additional firepower was a boon.
Kseniya clicked her tongue as she rained arrows on the fanatics. She could appreciate devotion to a good cause, but such overzealousness for a cause that only led to a net decrease in the status of the world was anything but. Everyone was equally motivated as them to defend the Order, though Kseniya hoped that their willingness to die wouldn’t lead into the actuality of it. At least, not more than they had to.
A few brave Essence Collection cultivators had already died. Even the practical side of Elder Kseniya wasn’t willing to say it was better that they perished than her. Any one of them could have grown to the same power as her, and she just happened to be older and more experienced than most. The emotional side of her was burning with fury… and the practical side guided that fury to take advantage of every opening made by sacrifices, intentional or not.
She kept herself focused on the battle at hand, despite knowing her best disciple was just a short way to the south. She could glance over there and fire a few shots, sway the tide of battle. But every arrow was required where she was. A moment of distraction would allow her to fall deeper under the sway of illusion, instead of carefully tracking the real movements of her opponents.
Even when she lost track, she was building a prediction of how they would fight. A less practiced cultivator could easily fall into the trap of thinking they could predict their opponents, but Kseniya knew she could. And it was ever so easy to make slight adjustments to her shots at point blank range. Of course, the range she considered point blank was hundreds of meters, the outside of which was further than many cultivators’ maximum ranges. But compared to Horizon Shot, everything else was like walking up to a target with her bow and stabbing it with an arrow.
One of the enemy Life Transformation cultivators was quite annoying. Cased from head to toe in armor that seemed extremely durable even in the normal weak points they took attacks with impunity. The armor was their weapon as well, so it was difficult to tell if they were planning to attack. Spikes stuck out at all angles, and they were quite capable of concealing exactly how much energy they concentrated at any one point. They could prepare to absorb an attack or stab a spike into someone with little indication of either.
Kseniya briefly wished she had trained abilities for pure power. She would even like to have a bow like Anton’s- the bone bow that was excessively difficult to pull. That particular one was too weak for her use, but something similar would be convenient no matter how bad it was in normal circumstances. The only thing she could do was continuously hit the same point, trying to pierce through the armored figures’ defensive energy and then damage the armor underneath.
Yet every time she struck, they fortified the point more and more. If she was unable to break through before, now it was completely impossible. Yet a full half of her arrows struck that one target at that one point- though she didn’t neglect harassing the others and injuring them when the opportunity arose.
She stubbornly continued with her attacks until it reached a maximum level of strength and went no further. Someone with Vandale’s power would have already crushed them, and those who relied directly on strength like Ivarsson had would take the opportunity to crush that point. But Kseniya wasn’t either of them.
Though just because she didn’t focus on power didn’t mean she wasn’t capable of it. She just took a different route. Kseniya continued shooting her arrows, a dozen shots flying across the battlefield before she stopped for a moment, gathering energy into a powerful arrow. It flew directly towards the strongest yet most battered point of her opponent’s defenses.
That arrow struck at the same time as the other dozen, which had circled around behind him. They struck a different point, just below the skull on the back of the head- all of them together, as if they were a single arrow. Kseniya had actually performed an especially powerful shot to solidify the bluff, but even if she had aimed elsewhere her opponent would have simply shifted his energy. When it came down to an attack that seemed like a challenge, however, he took it head on. And then Kseniya took his head off.
Her arrows pierced not only through the spine but up into the brain. A cultivator of such power who didn’t instantly die could cause quite a bit of trouble for them, and she didn’t want any of that. They’d already lost enough. She had tried to avoid being shaken up by Vandale’s death, but it wasn’t possible to ignore. He was a pillar of the Order. His sacrifice was tragic, yet important. Without him pulling away half of the Life Transformation opponents, their losses would have been much more severe in the rest of the fight.
With one more down, and none of the Order’s Life Transformation experts fully out of the right, the battle quickly snowballed in the Order’s favor. They couldn’t afford to get careless, but Kseniya was a major threat that they couldn’t even approach due to the others. Even if they had she was quite able to fight them off in melee range, but she was especially effective when unhindered.
Velvet was watching over Catarina in case someone had managed to break in and attack her while she was focused. Now the formation was so beaten and broken it was simply a matter of whether anyone made it to her in a frontal assault. Even so, Catarina had a stupid grin on her face. Velvet had the feeling she didn’t know about it, but it was obvious why. Reinforcements were attacking the enemy’s rear. That included Timothy.
Though Velvet didn’t have any childhood friends she’d grown up with, the sense of relief she felt at the arrival of allies and a friend was clear. Yet that was what she felt with a very rocky start and a handful of years after that. Someone she’d known her whole life would have to be many times more… even if there weren’t other feelings involved. Velvet knew Timothy felt more than just friendship for Catarina, but she had never asked if Catarina felt the same. But whatever she felt was strong.
“I’m going to move out,” Velvet said. “The others should be able to hold people off. If you have to let the formation drop, now is the time.” Velvet didn’t wait for more than a nod of acknowledgement before she disappeared. She could stand around for someone to approach, but she preferred a more proactive style. People got especially careless when they thought they were safe.
With that thought in her head, Velvet paused atop the walls, looking down into the many enemies below forcing their way into the compound. She took a few moments to check her thoughts. She knew the Twin Soul Sect projected illusions, and that they could do it for many people. The question was if they had to know someone was there. Then she nodded. She felt something. A tingling of difference. Certainly weaker than what would be affecting others, but enough to distort her perception enough. Less than half a step in any direction, but it would be the difference between a clean slash to the throat and a small nick or even a complete miss. The same was true for defensive actions in the other direction.
The other disciple seemed to be fighting their way through it, but they could use some help. Velvet couldn’t just yell some encouraging words and break them out, but she could look for the key figures. Someone had to be the main point of the illusions. There were two possibilities. It might be the obvious one, the man standing in the middle protected by everyone. Or it could be the woman on the right end of the pack who didn’t seem to be doing anything.
Ultimately Velvet’s decision was dictated not by surety, but by practicality. She wasn’t confident in placing herself in the middle of a crowd of enemies. Even so, she thought it was slightly more likely that the less obvious target was correct. Unless it was a trick, but if she was going to consider psychology like that it might not be a trick but they could want her to think that. So she didn’t waste more time thinking, and just decided to act.
She slipped down the wall slowly, hoping nobody would feel the disturbances her movements caused. It was impossible for a normal human to sense anything, and her presence was erased to the best of her abilities- but she was going up against experienced cultivators. Even if her Essence empowered her stealth, she had barely begun to mold it into shape, to let it grow. Knowing she was an up-and-coming genius could cause her to be cocky… but instead she thought about Anton.
If she couldn’t even surpass an admittedly exceptional grandpa, then she still had a lot to learn. But on the other hand, he’d helped her develop her skills, and she would use them to their utmost.
Not a pebble or a blade of grass moved as Velvet slunk along the ground towards the side of the battle. As she approached she became ever more sure of her target’s connection to the illusion as a whole. Perhaps her death wouldn’t tear it apart, but it would take a moment or two for it to be brought back into place if she was taken out. A battlefield wide opening was something that had to be aimed for at all costs.
Velvet held her twin daggers. Even after all of Spirit Building she hadn’t found weapons that were their equals, not that was being sold anyway. In Everheart’s Tomb- on the moon- she’d seen some daggers she would have liked to get ahold of, but they were in the hands of Life Transformation cultivators. Now that she was used to their asymmetry, Velvet would regret when she had to give them up.
But that time was still far away. For the moment, they were still quite functional. Velvet reached her target and her arms slashed across her chest, scissoring the blades together. She might not have the power to lop off someone’s head, but if she could damage either the throat or the spinal cord it was just as good. For a moment she saw no blood, as if she had completely missed. Then the illusion cracked and she knew she had aimed close enough to the real location. Her right dagger had actually struck her opponent’s chin, but there was a slash into the neck and bone from her left. Her blades had already been moving for a follow up attack, and she did so with confidence.
A wave swept across the battlefield as combatants realized the illusions hindering their attacks had fallen away. A series of coordinated attacks pushed things in the favor of the Order- and the reinforcements attacking from behind were pressuring their enemies. It didn’t seem as if they would surrender, and that meant the battle would have to be won with yet more blood… but Velvet was determined to make sure that most of it belonged to the Twin Soul Sect.