The battle wound to a close as the cultivators of the Temitope clan surrounded the overlord. While it did not go down easily, it was overwhelmed by numbers and power. Each small wound became more significant as the course of the battle stretched on.
It made one last move, frantically dashing forward towards something, but matriarch Afi planted herself firmly in front of it, driving her spear into its heart, nearly burying her arm in its chest. The creature continued running, carrying her for several dozen meters before burying its head in the ground, digging up chunks of dirt. However, its movements were sluggish- and it collapsed less than a minute later.
Just because the battle was over didn’t mean that people could sit idly. “Begin dismantling!” Matriarch Afi commanded. “See if we can find whatever this was protecting in this region.”
Alva had an answer for that immediately. “I think… it’s the potato thing.” She gestured to one of the deepest gouges in the ground, which revealed some already-chewed tubers. They weren’t exactly potatoes, but another sort of root vegetable. It wasn’t one that Ambati had a word for, though they compared it to some of their similar products.
As for determining if this was something that a beast overlord of a region would want to protect, that was simple. Once they dug some of it up they could feel how much energy was packed into the plants. It wasn’t just a single root, either. It was clearly a large plant that the overlord had been tending for a while, eating from it to grow to its terrific size. It was impossible to say how much there had been at one point or exactly how long it took to grow, but as they started digging it out they found hundreds of kilograms of the bulbous roots.
While the defeat of the beast overlord had calmed the creatures in the area somewhat, the unearthing of the tubers and the scent of the overlord’s meat had clearly drawn more attention. The process of parceling pieces of the beast and the roots to people to carry was almost as frenzied as the battle preceding it.
The Temitope clan had access to some magic bags, but the sheer volume and weight of what they had to carry was too much for just those. In the end, most of the warriors carried a hundred or two hundred kilograms of meat or tubers. A smaller portion of the burdens were the bodies of their own fallen. They were already leaving the area within the hour, making their way back towards Tailoga and the Temitope clan. Though some beasts curiously watched them, none were brave enough to attack the large organized group of warriors. Likewise, the other two clans avoided making any attacks.
The trip back took slightly longer than a normal day’s travel because of the extra weight everyone had, but they didn’t stop even after dark. As they grew close to Tailoga they almost relaxed, but Ayotunde reminded everyone that this was the final chance for them to be ambushed. Only when they arrived at the gates of the clan and were met by familiar faces could they finally relax.
But just because all of the warriors basically collapsed into heaps didn’t mean that the activity was over. Matriarch Afi wasn’t done yet. “A feast for everyone!” she declared. “Set aside a portion of the tubers to be planted later. We shall feast on the overlord and the target of his protection! We celebrate victory!” More quietly, she instructed the cooks to make sure both were edible. Boars could have all sorts of nasty parasites, and powerful specimens might have even nastier things inside them. Most tubers were safe to eat, but eating mysterious ones that stored energy without at least checking was downright foolish. It was just that saying that in front of everyone would be a bit of a downer.
The feast actually took all night to prepare- however, the cooks of the clan threw together some quick food to tide over their starving warriors while they waited. Technically they could just eat rations they had with them, but that wasn’t a proper way to treat anyone after a great victory.
Extra seats were prepared for their fallen comrades, though the food would of course be consumed by those present in body. The entire clan was involved in the feast, with guards on the walls being rotated out to keep some modicum of safety.
Anton looked at the bowl of stew in front of him. The primary ingredients were the boars and the tubers they’d found. Even the leafy tops were used in the stew after being tested by the cooks. The number of other ingredients were small, just a few spices, but upon smelling it Anton understood why. The meat of a beast overlord was like nothing else he had ever smelled, though that wasn’t nearly so pleasant before it had been cooked.
One sip of the soup told him that the cooks were right to keep things simple. It was extremely rich. The meat was quite tough, but nowhere near as much as it had been. The effort of chewing through it paid off, as the flavor was amazing. The tubers were soft and absorbed the flavors around them perfectly, releasing them as he bit into the chunks. Anton felt himself being fortified as he ate. He wondered if it was a bit rude to activate the Vessel of Insights in such a scenario, but he kept it limited. It would only absorb stray energy that wasn’t going to be made use of regardless. As for the insights, he felt some of them pouring in. Even as he consumed the stew, memories of the battle flooded into his head. Very few true insights were among them, but a few. No wonder rich cultivators sought out powerful beasts for raising their pampered children. It would be so easy to grow strong with meals like this every day.
“Fuzz!” Alva chastised. “Paws off the table.” She took the bowl and put it on the floor. It wasn’t that he couldn’t reach it on the table, as he was quite tall enough… but he couldn’t help but want to look around more.
Nobody commented on their being a large wolf in the area. Those who had been involved in the battle appreciated his presence, and the others simply went along with the whims of their matriarch. No point in stupidly complaining and maybe being kicked out of the feast.
The feast continued for some time, until a tremendous sound rang through the clan’s property. “What was that?” Matriarch Afi asked as she stood.
“Just the formation,” Catarina casually finished chewing a bite of food. “It should hold on its own for a few moments at least. Though we should probably go check it out.”
“Catarina, Ayotunde, Tshering. With me.”
Anton waited patiently as they left- and quickly returned without Catarina and Ayotunde. The sound of several more attacks rang out in the intervening time.
Matriarch Afi was quick to speak, but ultimately looked unconcerned. “All of those who are capable of attacking at range, please make yourselves available on the walls. We will also be rotating out people to provide energy supporting the formations.”
Tshering grabbed a giant bone from the boar. Bones often softened when cooked, but for something of that size merely boiling overnight wouldn’t have an impact. He tapped it into his hand like a club, with an impressive sound. “The other two clans think they deserve a portion of the prize. So we thought you should all just finish eating it. Meanwhile, we’ll go bat them around a little bit.”
After beginning Body Tempering, Anton’s appetite had grown significantly. However, it wasn’t enough for him to need the massive quantities of food that had been placed before him. He was mostly still eating because of the wonderful flavors and not the hunger. Thus, stopping himself was simple enough. The younger warriors who had strong ability to attack at range looked a bit reluctant to go, but they’d had a full feast by any standards already.
At the walls, Anton saw the patriarchs from both the Olayinka and Mwangi clans. The complement of warriors they had with them was not astoundingly large, since it seemed they didn’t have any of the more injured warriors with them. A wise choice, because Anton would have gladly shot them. As far as legitimate cultivation competition went, everything was over. The Temitope clan had successfully retrieved their target, and now their home was being attacked.
Based on how he felt the formations straining, it could be quite a danger. Except the strongest people who were causing that strain wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of attack for long. Especially not when they were distracted.
Matriarch Afi and Tshering leapt down from the walls, as well as some of the elders of the Temitope clan. They were all of the ones strong enough to protect themselves away from the walls, while the rest stayed up above, attacking or simply sustaining the formation. Catarina and Ayotunde were in that latter category, Ayotunde not because he had much to do with controlling formations but simply because of his ability to provide energy, like many of the others.
Anton was one of those who would be attacking. While he had gone through a great battle then run for hours to return to safety, the meals since then and the short time everyone passed out before the meal was ready in the morning was enough to invigorate him. He was feeling great, and while he could see that the patriarchs at least had replenished their energy they weren’t quite so fully refreshed.
As he shot arrows down below, Anton noticed that some of the mercenaries from before were missing. The other parts of the wall hadn’t raised any alarms, so it was unlikely they were making an attack from elsewhere. Instead, it was more likely their contracts didn’t extend to attacking another clan. The Order’s contract didn’t either- but they were defending, which was quite expressly covered. Far be it from them to go into another country and kill people in their own homes, but they would gladly defend those they were working with.
It quickly became clear that the difference in recovery was great. Standard medicines commonly available just weren’t quite the same as boar overlord and what amounted to a natural treasure he was defending. The defensive position was an advantage as well, because it was possible for people to retreat to the walls if they were hard pressed. The formations were able to prevent any attacks from reaching them, with the patriarchs occupied and the power being reinforced by rotating members of the clan.
Though he wasn’t able to land a single blow on either of the patriarchs, Anton began to focus most of his attention there. Because even if he couldn’t hit them, the way that they dodged informed him on how he needed to improve. Did he need to be faster? More accurate? More flexible in where his shots went? Of course, it was some of each. His shots didn’t do nothing just because they were avoided or extremely rarely blocked. Each distraction from him meant that the real threats were more able to land a telling blow.
Such was the case when Elder Tshering found an opening to swing his improvised mace directly down on the head of the Olayinka patriarch. Actually, the patriarch blocked with his sword- but surprisingly Tshering let him cut through the bone and simply relied on the momentum of the top third to impact the man in the face. The blow was mostly a surprise, but in that moment, Tshering managed to kick him in the chest hard enough to send him flying two dozen meters, with a much more satisfying crack. “And stay out!” he gestured angrily. “Unless you all want to die here.”
The mercenaries certainly didn’t… and the lesser clan members were already edging away before the patriarch gave leave to retreat. Anton was ready to keep shooting before Afi held up a hand. “We can deal with the rest of that on our own… later. The strength of our clan should increase from this feast, and we can leverage our current health.”
Anton nodded. It made sense that they’d want to continue without outside help. Otherwise, their strength might be doubted. As Anton was heading back, he realized he still had the Vessel activated. It hadn’t been at full power, but as he opened it up he saw a few longer golden strands of insight. He wondered if they would be useful. They weren’t a replacement for his own training, but they were certainly a nice supplement. He was also able to help his allies grow, one small step at a time. Nothing that allowed them to leap over cultivation stages, but he still found himself quite fond of it.