The approaching cultivators slowed slightly after Elder Kseniya shot the black thorned arrow. She still continued to attack in regular intervals, and soon enough the targets were close enough for those with less extreme ranges to get involved. That included attacks returning from the other side, but the defensive formations were sufficient to negate most of the attacks. There were only a few arrows and the like, while various sorts of energy attacks primarily composed of fire or lightning were the most numerous. A few members of the order responded by blocking the most concerning attacks, letting the others fall apart on the fort’s defenses.
Behind them the execution was proceeding normally. It began with a list of crimes upon which the prisoners were convicted. The process had been rather thorough, and the list was rather lengthy- especially for Van Hassel. His glare might have had some power behind it if any of the convicts had access to natural energy, but they were little better than healthy humans in their current states.
Anton returned his gaze to the front, where people were just entering his range. The last couple of kilometers would only take the group a couple minutes to pass over- and that was because they were moving slowly for the sake of the ‘weaker’ members, none of which were below late Spirit Building. All told, there were close to two hundred cultivators- a majority from the Heavenly Lion Sect, but Anton spotted groups of Flying Blood Cult members as well. It was unclear if they actually had some real stake in the outcome- perhaps they were hired to rescue Tonina- or if they just wanted to take part in combat. From what he knew about them, it could be either.
In addition to members of those sects, there were many who didn’t match either. Most likely mercenaries who thought whatever rewards offered would be worth the risk. With the numbers they had it wasn’t possible to match the Order… but not everyone from the Order was present. They couldn’t focus all of their power in one place and leave everywhere else defenseless, after all. Only five members at Life Transformation were present, about a quarter of their total, including Elder Kseniya and Grand Elder Matousek. The latter stood upon the walls of the small fort, a collection of light circling around him. Anton wasn’t quite able to count with the way they shifted unpredictably, but there had to be eighty or ninety. Presumably one for each star of cultivation. Anton really wanted to see how they worked, but Matousek wasn’t engaged in combat yet… and he had to make himself useful.
With so many targets he wasn’t sure who to pick… but no one else seemed concerned about that. Some shot at the man leading the charge, a Life Transformation expert with an impressive aura. He was able to defend against everything lobbed at him, but repeated attacks should wear him down. Anton did see a small wound on his upper arm, perhaps where Elder Kseniya’s arrow had struck and then been broken off. Pulling it out- with the thorns- would have ripped the wound open wider.
He scanned the crowd, seeing a face he recognized. Elder Lakatos, with the punching daggers. His heart twinged, mostly healed but not quite there yet. Then his eyes moved just to the right. The man’s apprentice had come along, the same one that had almost led the Heavenly Lion Sect to attack before the elders arrived. He looked remarkably good, considering what happened to him. Of course Anton couldn’t see a hole in his chest, but even if the man weren’t covered he presumed it wouldn’t be visible except as a scar. He wondered how many medicinal pills were shoved down his throat to be prancing around already.
Previously there might have been some mercy for him. He’d acted vaguely reasonably, which was above what Anton expected of the Heavenly Lion Sect. But choosing to come along with the attack signed his sentence. Anton focused an arrow, making it as powerful as he was capable of. Knowing Elder Kseniya he could predict how she would act to some extent, and that guided his hand.
The arrow flew straight for the man’s heart again, the dense energy of Fleeting Youth bolstering Anton’s normal reserves. Though he hadn’t made it beyond the first tier of the technique, he was continuing to make strides forward with how he made use of the energy. It flew straight towards the man… and was sliced out of the air. Of course.
But as Elder Lakatos blocked the attack at his apprentice, Kseniya had already launched several of her own- even before Anton’s arrow was flying. They followed unexpected curves, some seeming to have missed other targets and turning around to attack from behind. The movements Lakatos made to block the arrow brought him straight into the path of Kseniya’s shots, which he only managed to dodge most of. One struck the elbow of his left arm, after which it hung limp. Anton continued to fire at the apprentice or any other targets he found openings for.
The three convicts were arranged on chopping blocks. No way to kill someone was particularly clean, but hangings were less practical when concerning cultivators. Beheadings were the most effective and conclusive method. There were rumors of certain powerful techniques that could allow someone to survive such extreme situations, but even then the body had to be left unattended. Either way, it was certain none of the three were powerful enough for it to be an issue.
The executioner stepped up, hood covering their face. In some places being an executioner was an honor, some a duty, some both- but even among cultivators who were more at home with death, few in a righteous sect wanted to be recognized simply for killing. A large blade was prepared and hefted. The leading member of the Heavenly Lion Sect collided with Grand Elder Matousek, his powerful hammer meeting her open palm. “You will free our disciples immediately.”
“Interesting wording, Sand,” Matousek said in response. “But you failed to provide a reason.” The stars surrounding Matousek spiraled around her arm and up towards the enemy elder, forming into a man-sized fist and sending him flying backwards, aflame.
However, as the man Matousek had called Sand flew down the hill into the forest below, his form suddenly stopped, the flame extinguished. An old woman stood there, previously unnoticed. “No reason… hmm?” The aura that arose from her reached high into the sky, nearly manifesting into a solid form, shaped like a sleek great cat. “It’s quite simple. If you surrender now, your deaths will be painless.”
Anton was nearly rocked off of his feet as her power continued to rise- Marcio actually collapsed to the ground. Life Transformation, but not the early part like Elder Kseniya, not even middle Life Transformation like Grand Elder Matousek. Late Life Transformation, bordering on the peak. No wonder they had been willing to risk an attack. They brought along one of the sect guardians, the peak of what they had to offer. They generally wouldn’t act unless there was a peril to the sect as a whole- which was, in fact, the current case. Though it was entirely their own fault.
“Enid Galli,” Grand Elder Matousek spoke from atop the wall. “To think someone such as yourself would dare to step foot into Graotan once more.”
Elder Kseniya took a few shots at the woman but the spirit arrows were either deflected to the side or, in one case, tossed back at her, forcing her to duck beneath her own arrow- apparently unable to disperse it.
The woman leapt forward, nearly flying through the air. Her arms swept out to the side, sweeping a dozen people off of the wall as the strongest among them tried their best to protect everyone. “You shall free everyone… at once!” Her voice roared so strongly that Anton’s ears almost shattered. Yet the sudden burst of energy wasn’t really directed at anything… and ultimately was less of a concern than the pressure of the tower. For him, of course. He doubted that Grand Elder Matousek felt the same as large claws manifested to attack her from both sides as Galli furiously swung her arms.
Matousek put her all into blocking the claws. “Continue with the execution as planned!” he called back. Her fists struck out to meet the attacks as everyone else was forced back, the walls cracking near the fight just from the after effects. The battle didn’t take up just a small area, its effects spreading to everything around it as attacks tried to breach the walls.
The executioner’s blade came down, chopping off Van Hassel’s head. Sand had a particularly strong reaction to that, which Anton caught out of the corner of his eye as he hastily backed away from the epicenter of the fighting towards the other side of the fort. He certainly didn’t want to approach the execution grounds. The blade was slowly lifted as Van Hassel’s head rolled on the ground, and the executioner stepped forward towards Tonina, lifting the blade and swinging it down.
A tornado of blood suddenly fell from the sky, manifesting into a crimson figure. He clearly radiated the energy of the Flying Blood Cult, but Anton couldn’t find any traces of a body. It felt like blood shaped into a woman’s form but without any flesh or bones or… anything. But it also didn’t feel like a simple projection of energy from somewhere else.
As the executioner’s blade almost touched Tonina’s neck, the bloody figure grabbed her and ripped apart the section of the execution platform holding her down. The woman once more turned into a tornado which began to carry Tonina up into the sky. Galli took advantage of Matousek’s distraction to shove her aside, rushing towards the platform. A lion’s paw the size of the entire platform slammed down, targeting the platform and the executioner, though leaving the small section with Zvonko in between two spear-sized claws. It struck the platform, the ground shattering. Yet when the paw was lifted, the executioner still stood in place… unfazed.
“Really now,” came a familiar voice. “Is that all you have?” The executioner’s blade was casually flung to slice off Zvonko’s head as he raised his arms to the heavens. “I was hoping to get a bit more, but this will have to do.” One eye glinted through the slits in the hood as an overwhelming aura matched against that of the Heavenly Lion Sect’s guardian. A burning golden light shone around him.
Anton had felt that power once before. He’d met with Grand Elder Vandale on many occasions, of course, but the man kept his power extremely constrained. He’d only used it when the hunt went beyond all expected grounds and a nearby village was in danger, along with numerous disciples of the Order.
The air distorted as the sky went dark, except for myriad stars lighting everything. The stars began to rain down from the sky, the very first of them striking the tornado of blood. The tornado coalesced into a woman once more, several times larger. Her crossed arms blocked the meteor, but she was sent flying away- Tonina falling directly back towards the ground.
Another handful of stars crashed down towards Galli, and the rest were targeted at the strongest members of the Heavenly Lion Sect. Even when the stars collided with their targets, the aftereffects of the explosions didn’t affect members of the Order.
Anton stood enraptured. It wasn’t just a single volley this time, but a continuous rain. This was the peak of power that could be achieved in the world. Explosive attacks covering a wide range, yet controlled enough to not be indiscriminate. Instead of being intimidating, it was invigorating. Many of the others from the Order seemed to feel the same way, as the momentary disruption from Galli’s presence was quickly overcome and people continued to fight.
The sleek lion of Galli and the tornado of blood from the unnamed figure had to continuously fend off attacks from Vandale while their own attacks were blocked by the golden ball of fire with Vandale at the center. The earth trembled and shook. Anton knew that no matter what the ultimate result of the battle, the balance of power would be shifting significantly, the world he was used to changing. He vowed to be a key combatant for the next similar event.