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On a large battlefield with hundreds of eyes, it would seem impossible to stay hidden from all of them. Perhaps that might be the case if everything was specifically searching for someone hidden, but they were rather focused on everyone and everything else. Velvet found she was able to move around with little disruption.
There were some exceptions, of course. Velvet knew that any of the Essence Collection cultivators would be able to find her if she got close. Being hidden also didn’t protect her from being hit on accident, with all of the charging animals and warriors around. Some of the most annoying dangers were simply the plantlife in the area- whether it passively or actively attacked her, it didn’t look for her at all. It simply reacted to her touch. It would take a much higher level of stealth mastery than she currently had to fool the sense something had when it was physically moved about.
She wasn’t just hiding, of course. She was picking the right targets. Unlike a ‘normal’ battle, she couldn’t just thoughtlessly attack enemies. Killing a lion wouldn’t necessarily improve the position of her allies. Killing one of the warriors… she was unsure about. Things had gone past the point of the three clans merely facing off against each other. Serious injury and death had begun. It was simply that picking the wrong opponents might ultimately weaken the position of the Temitope clan.
Though it was pretty easy to choose to deal with any cultivator directly in combat with the Temitope clan or any of the others with them. She concentrated her energy, slashing the thighs of two mercenary warriors facing off against the Temitope line. Before her attack, nobody sensed her. Afterwards, her two targets were unable to swiftly respond- and the senses of the others who might react were briefly distorted, at least until she could get somewhere else. The tall grass in the area really helped with her hiding, as long as it wasn’t trying to strangle her.
With their new wounds, the two mercs retreated. Velvet might have been able to kill them- though perhaps not. Vitals were more strongly defended. Either way, she thought her method was good enough. Some people might deserve to die, but mercenaries she didn’t know anything about in a conflict that wasn’t fully obvious that there was a right side? It was unnecessary. Of course, making sure that they couldn’t continue to fight was still required. If she allowed her own allies to be harmed by being too merciful, she would regret it. The mercs were smart enough to prioritize their lives when injured. Couldn’t get paid or achieve any future goal if they were dead.
The grass twisted around Velvet. Her energy grasped gently near the top, preventing its sway. Those with keen eyes might still notice, though it could be taken for a flutter of wind. She kept moving, knowing that if someone got a solid look at her then all of her techniques wouldn’t be enough. She wasn’t actually invisible. Yet. Though at the higher levels of Everheart’s technique, it got pretty close. According to what she’d read, it was even better than that- because it covered more than just visual senses.
She scanned the battlefield. The battle with the overlord was certainly progressing. She could see meter long cuts on its side, though none of them were terribly deep yet. The small handful of Essence Collection cultivators and peak Spirit Building cultivators were likewise also showing some injuries and fatigue. Alva was… somehow still fine. She and Fuzz seemed to be staying far enough away from enemies for the most part, and there weren’t any terribly accomplished archers singling her out. Velvet did notice a few arrows being intercepted by Anton’s shots, but those were rare… and he didn’t protect just Alva.
Rather than intercepting shots, he seemed to be most functional by providing credible threats that people had to avoid or be impaled. This prevented enemies from attacking or opened them up to opponents they were engaged with.
Hoyt, Ayotunde, and the sh- Ross- were facing off against some other cultivators. They seemed quite evenly matched, but the magnitude of attacks swirling around them made Velvet hesitate to attempt to join that fight. It wasn’t possible to signal to her allies what she was going to do without potentially alerting enemies, so she would face danger approaching from any angle.
She saw a particularly annoying section of plants. There were western creepers, grasping grass, some of those particularly spiky trees… and snakes lying in wait among all of that. She almost missed the latter.
Velvet moved along intentionally leaving a trail next to her as she picked her way through and around the area. Apparently western creeper wasn’t too bad if you just restrained your energy, relying on tempered skin, but she really didn’t want it poking holes in her pants or sleeves either. The best part about it was that it didn’t move. Velvet snuck around behind one of the vipers, past the grasping grass which received a small sacrifice of her energy, and over a small crevice that had various unpleasant plants growing out of it.
She looked back towards the nearest group of enemies- cultivators from the Olayinka clan. They seemed to be edging towards the Temitope clan, so it would be best to divert them. With a few quick flicks of her wrist, Velvet threw a handful of throwing daggers. Regular steel, and quite disposable. Her energy was carried with them to increase their piercing power, but they barely even broke the skin of the Spirit Building man she’d targeted. The two body temperers at his side grumpily pulled the daggers out of their shoulders. They should have been happy she wasn’t using any poisons, but honestly that was a waste of good poison.
Upon making the attack, her position was immediately revealed. The trail of energy the throwing daggers left couldn’t be completely concealed, and the eyes of a full squad locked on her. Velvet froze, trying to blend in with the grass around her as much as possible.
They charged straight towards her, following the line of the throwing daggers. When they ran into western creeper, one noticed the energy signature from the path she had falsified. That led them into grasping grass and one of the vipers. When they slowed down to more carefully pick their way through she lobbed more daggers at them, and at some of the nearby plants that were quite happy to lash out towards anything that touched them.
The group couldn’t go slowly, because she and the snakes were an ever present danger, but they couldn’t rush towards her because of all the obstacles in the way. Ultimately, most of them chose to retreat down paths they had just stomped flat. Only the Spirit Building man continued towards her, cutting through obstacles with a large blade and leaping over patches of suspect origin.
Velvet might have liked to retreat, but she had intentionally chosen to enter the middle of the highest density of problematic plants she could. The only exit she was certain of was through the man approaching her, and he had his eyes locked on her.
But just because she didn’t have the element of surprise didn’t mean she couldn’t fight him. She easily ducked under his first blade attack, pulling out her paired-yet-mismatched daggers. The long white dagger in her right hand stabbed out while the broader black one in her left swung for the man’s arm, forcing him to twist his arm to avoid it.
Velvet moved left, and the man’s eyes tracked the other way for an instant. He threw himself away as her dagger stabbed towards his armpit, but she continued to press the attack. He continued to swing at her, wide horizontal chops for the most part. She was able to duck under or jump over them for the most part, after which she would circle around the man once more. Sometimes, she would move one way and her energy would seem to head another. But if she always did that, then he would quite simply attack the opposite side of where she appeared. Of course, there was more than that.
She could go to her left, her right, over his head or under his legs. If he was able to accurately predict where she would move he might be able to counter some of the more audacious moves, but her daggers continued to slash and stab at his extremities, never committing to an attack if he properly locked on to her.
The man angrily slammed the ground with his large blade, sending energy in all directions and knocking her back- but causing her no real harm. The attack simply made room for him to retreat… and she let him. There were signs that the Olayinka clan was on their back legs. Truth be told, the cultivators from the Order were a significant deciding factor in the balance of power.
A handful of mid Spirit Building cultivators couldn’t be ignored, and a second full Essence Collection cultivator fighting with the Temitope clan was pushing them ahead in the battle with the beast overlord and other clan leaders. In addition, the Temitope’s plan to let the other clans fight each other had worked well enough that it was probably too late for them to join forces.
As the lesser cultivators from the clans began to pull back, the pressure of some of the surrounding frenzied beasts increased on those remaining. The clans had to measure whether the prize was worthwhile or retreating and recovering their forces with their current gains was the proper move. The Mwangi clan was first to withdraw, as they lacked the higher ranking cultivators who could more safely combat the remaining enemies.
Elder Tshering was fired up. His cultivation had stagnated at the peak of Spirit Building, but getting back out into the beast forest and fighting had helped break that barrier. Mostly, he’d really needed something to do besides just cultivate in the safety and comfort the Order provided. Of course, cultivators were aware that real world experience was important, but Elder Tshering had failed to find anything he was passionate about.
Stomping a giant ant colony had been a nice start. The Beast Forest controlled by the Order had too many anomalies recently, and there would be more like that. The thought of seeking out those problems had pushed him just a bit further… and now he was here. Fighting a boar larger than an elephant. Though there were some elephants and the like involved as well.
It was great. Elder Tshering slipped under a hippo’s open maw, unconcerned about it squashing him at its speed… and weight. Because as he moved under its body, he stretched his arms out wide and grabbed its belly and sides. His energy had to extend even further to get a good grip, but he stood up… and then tossed the creature towards the patriarch of the Olayinka clan.
The hippopotamus was barely even a magical beast with only the slightest traces of energy, but it did weigh close to two tonnes. The patriarch didn’t hesitate to chop it in half with his large curved blade. What a waste. But at least it provided an opening for Afi to stab her spear into his shoulder. Of course, it was aimed for his heart- but Essence Collection cultivators wouldn’t let themselves get killed so easily.
The peak Spirit Building cultivators backing up the Olayinka patriarch had already directed the creature towards the Temitope clan’s lines again, but Elder Tshering was on it immediately. He even had time for a short detour where he elbowed one of the two men in the ribs, bouncing off him and using the momentum to get back on course.
As he caught up to the boar overlord, its tail constantly swished, trying to stab him with barbed needles. Some of them were even shot like projectiles, but Elder Tshering had the thing all to himself. He landed on the boar’s rear and reached down, grabbing the base of the strange tail. He pulled, but found his plan wouldn’t quite work. It didn’t bend in such a way that he could hit the boar with its own spines, not unless it could fully break it- but that expenditure of power might as well go to a killing blow.
It did suit quite well to redirect the creature, however, driving it into a mostly empty area. It was also great for fending off the two Spirit Building cultivators who had to fend it off with their swords. When they attempted to move in together, a half dozen consecutive arrows slowed one of the cultivators. The battle had progressed far enough that Anton was free to focus on the main fight, it seemed. He didn’t manage any significant injuries to the man, but he desynchronized the pair. That meant one arrived a few moments early.
That was just the right amount of time for Elder Tshering to perform an axe kick, sending the man into the ground. In response his sword slid down Elder Tshering’s leg, but some quick twisting saved his manhood. He wasn’t going to let his vitals be damaged so easily.
One man was half buried in the ground. The boar spun itself around. The patriarch of the Olayinka clan had broken away from matriarch Afi and was charging towards Elder Tshering with the remaining Spirit Building cultivator, and the boar charged him from behind.
As the overlord bent its head to impale Elder Tshering with its tusk, he jumped up to meet it. At the scale of the boar, the tusk itself was in no way sharp. The energy that radiated off of it certainly was, but Elder Tshering clamped his feet on the sides of the tusk. The giant creature only had the skill to form its energy into defenses or to extend its tusks, so from his position clamped on it merely sent him rocketing forward with it towards the others.
The Olayinka patriarch gathered energy, his curved blade ready to sweep up and chop Tshering in two. To throw off his timing, Tshering pushed forward off the boar. The blade slashed early, and Elder Tshering curled into a ball to keep his legs. His legs glanced off the patriarch’s head as he tumbled over him, and he kicked the man towards the boar.
The creature’s tusk was barely avoided by him, but Afi’s thrown spear was not- it pierced through his abdomen, impaling into the boar’s leg. The two Spirit Building cultivators were only just able to avoid the boar.
The Olayinka patriarch dove under the legs and came out without further injuries- but his side was spewing blood. “We retreat! Come!”
Elder Tshering had no way to know if they simply planned to regroup, but with others out of the way it would be more straightforward to take down the overlord. It was already battered and bruised from the combat, and more fatigued than either of the two remaining Essence Collection Cultivators. Most of the Temitope cultivators would have to stay at a distance, but they could pelt it with spears and keep away the other beasts, at least the ones that would support the boar overlord. All that remained was a little scrapping, a nice straightforward fight. Tshering punched his fist into his palm. This should be fun.