The pleasant sounds of birds lied to Alva’s ears. Today wasn’t a pleasant day. She was out in the forest, alone. She didn’t even have Fuzz with her. Well, she wasn’t entirely alone. An arrow made purely out of energy flew past her head. By the time she turned and readied her bow, her target was already gone.
It wasn’t fair. Just because her grandpa started cultivating a bit earlier, and because she had to be careful while she was young, he was better than her! Well, to be fair he was going to be a better archer than her even if their cultivations matched. The proof of that was the total energy in her arrows matched what she could accomplish. Hers were just a bit less streamlined and condensed.
Alva took off running. If she just stood still, her grandpa would actually hit her with the arrows. Even if he would make sure not to injure her, she didn’t want to just accept a loss. She had to figure out where he was and take a shot. She fired off several arrows, but trees got in the way. Curving them around things was difficult, especially while protecting herself. She was at least able to duck behind some obstacles to protect from incoming attacks.
She had to admit that she was a bit too used to fighting with Fuzz. He was able to carry her quickly, and he even took care of a lot of dodging. There was nothing wrong with being used to having him around, since on real missions having him around was practical. Grandpa Anton always said to use every tool at your disposal. But right now, she was training for a tournament. That meant she couldn’t just bring a beast with her.
There was no proof that there would be any matches in a forest, but apparently the terrain of the tournament grounds could be varied. Besides, Alva recognized she wouldn’t get much from training in an open field. She wasn’t going to suddenly get better at shooting targets she could see and dodging attacks that were obvious.
Eventually she collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily. She just couldn’t keep up with her grandpa. He was supposed to be an old man, how did he manage? Sure, his cultivation was… nearly twice as many stars as her. And almost in late Spirit Building instead of early Spirit Building like her. But he was supposed to be old and weak!
Anton carefully controlled his breathing as he approached Alva. Given the vast gap in cultivation between them, she had done rather well. Enough to begin to tire him out, at least. The real difference was that Alva would be ready again given an hour or two, while he needed a bit more rest to regain his energy. He had actually expended a bit more than her, because even if he was keeping his attacks at a level she could react to he’d said nothing about not making use of his full energy capacity.
Besides, he wasted a lot of energy on arrows that hit her, making sure they quickly dissolved before breaking through her defenses. She needed to have good defenses, but that wasn’t what this training was about… and he didn’t have the heart to cause her even light injuries. Fortunately there were others who would help her in that area. Fuzz was actually quite good for that, because he was able to wrestle and bite and pierce through energy defenses while not hurting anyone in any significant way. When he chose to, of course. In actual battle against real opponents… they were never so lucky.
Perhaps if he were at Elder Kseniya’s level he could instantly stop his arrows after breaking through energy defenses, but he wasn’t willing to bet his family’s life on that, or that of his friends. While tempered bodies might also resist some amount of damage, injuries would only slow down training- and they still had much to do. The tournament would split people into different groups based on cultivation rank, with those above a certain age disallowed. Alva might be able to have some success in the early Spirit Building bracket, though Anton wasn’t sure if she could successfully fight against mid Spirit Building cultivators. Then again, not all cultivation techniques were equal. Whether or not she faced an opponent suited to fight against archery would also sway the odds around her.
A trio of cultivators stood around each other, each watching for movement from the other two. While there were likely no battles in the Facraona tournament that would involve facing off against multiple opponents, they weren’t just training for that single event. They wanted to better themselves in general, not just for structured battles.
Devon faced off against Hoyt and Timothy. His cultivation level was at a disadvantage, but his actual technique was suited for group battles. He didn’t have to be restrained by two arms, but could instead form as many chains as he needed. Though he did have a limit to how many he could practically control without losing focus on some and making them all weaker.
He made the first move, attacking Timothy on his left. Since Timothy was right-handed, his shield wasn’t easily able to move to block Devon. When he parried with his sword Devon wrapped his chain around him. A flick of his sword freed it from Devon’s grasp, but it delayed him long enough for Hoyt to slip past his shield and attack him from behind. Yet despite being in heavy armor, Timothy moved it surprising grace- ducking down under the attack and causing Hoyt’s axe to collide with Devon’s reaching chains.
Timothy rolled to the side to not stand up back into the trail of fire Hoyt was prone to leaving behind. He’d rather not lose any hair at the moment. It looked nice as it was. Timothy ended up on his feet with his shield towards Devon and his sword aimed at Hoyt. The two-handed axe was not terribly efficient for defending, but each chop sealed off an area for at least a few moments, making it difficult to attack him even while he remained on the offensive. Devon’s chains tried to wrap around Timothy’s shield, but he constantly adjusted the amount he was expanding it beyond the actual structure, pushing the chains away or even capturing them inside the expanding energy projection. Devon could simply let any trapped chains fade away, but he had to produce them again starting at his body, giving a moment of breathing room.
Hoyt found an opening as Devon struggled against Timothy, stepping forward and sweeping his axe down at an angle. He trusted Devon to be strong enough to resist his attack, so he didn’t hold back much, his axe impacting with a trio of chains that bent to stop him. Yet he chopped through, striking Devon’s shoulder and sending him staggering back, his energy defenses barely holding.
Then Hoyt had to roll to the side. When he stood back up he had a prick of blood on his throat, but that was all. Velvet had appeared from nowhere, and looked quite disappointed at how easily her surprise attack had been avoided. She wasn’t going to stab much more than another couple millimeters deeper, but if she did so and stopped intentionally she could say Hoyt was dead. Unfortunately all of her companions had trained with her too much, and could actually pick her out… at least the moment before her attack. Training in Instinct was vital in such a situation.
Before the four could assess how the situation had altered, they felt a surge of energy around them, entrapping them inside a pentagonal barrier about ten meters on a side. “Ha! Got you!” Catarina said. The four combatants crossed eyes with each other and instantaneously came to an agreement. They broke off to different corners of the formation and attacked simultaneously, straining the formation in many directions at the same time. The barrier shuddered, and then broke. As they all began to charge towards Catarina, they sensed a powerful attack.
Everyone scattered in every direction as a streak of energy impacted the ground at their feet, tearing up the top layer of soil and spewing pebbles over everyone, including Catarina, a crater being left behind. The attack was easily traceable back to its source- if they trusted that the arrow went in a straight line. The five of them began to dart in that direction.
Timothy took point first, blocking one arrow and staggering to a halt. Hoyt charged ahead, splitting the next arrow in two and dispersing it. The next three arrows were split towards different targets, but Devon reached out chains to catch each arrow between the links. His chains shattered, but the arrows faded away with them. Catarina intercepted the next arrow before Timothy had caught up again and was ready to face more. Velvet was nowhere to be seen, but as they continued to charge forward the barrage of arrows suddenly stopped.
Anton held up his arms, a dagger to his throat. “It’s not like I could take all of you out on my own anyway. You’d have to get pretty careless with your energy defenses. But seriously, working together to gang up on an old man. I expected better of you.”
“Who’s an old man?” Catarian said. “I specifically remember you distancing yourself from that tile for a while. Besides, if you were expecting us to do nothing after a bombardment like that you’re seriously crazy, grandpa.”
Anton shook his head, “I will note that none of you readied anti-ascension techniques in that moment. With it any of you could have knocked that arrow out of the sky harmlessly.”
“Harmlessly, you say…” Hoyt shook his head. “It’s still a powerful bundle of energy. Just because it scatters doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous.”
“Still true,” Anton admitted. “Just remember that true ascended cultivators will be able to make more than just two attacks.”
“Two?” Timothy spun around, maximizing the defenses of his shield. He jumped upward to meet the incoming arrow, which had to have been looping around a very far distance to remain unnoticed until that point. In fact, it was picking up momentum as it currently shot almost straight down.
Catarina leaped up after him. When the arrow struck his shield it exploded around it, leaving only a cone shaped area behind it safe. Catarina was in that area, but more importantly she was able to slow Timothy as he was rocketed backwards towards the ground. Devon also produced a dozen chains- without spikes- catching onto them as they approached the ground. The multiple layers of chains at least caused the impact to be spread over a greater time so that Timothy only left a moderately sized impression in the ground, not more than a meter deep.
“Bop,” Anton tapped his axe on Velvet’s neck.
She turned back to him and frowned. “That one doesn’t count. You were dead.”
“Probably,” he admitted. “But you didn’t make sure.”
She snorted. “It was implied. But next time I’ll make sure to note I stabbed you with both daggers.”
Many people were focused on the upcoming tournament in Facraona, but Kohar was still focused on one thing. She hadn’t even realized there had been a tremendous battle and was wondering why many of her various jobs had suddenly become easier, but she took full advantage of the few days the legal defenses of various slave trading groups failed. When she later learned about the battle in Black Soul Valley, she thought perhaps she should have done more. If even Life Transformation experts had risked their lives and lost them, why couldn’t she? Though actually risking her life wasn’t going to do much good. Kohar was making sure to stay with her guards, graciously provided by the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars, as well as in public places where nobody could pretend they didn’t notice if she came under attack.
She also made the best use she could of various skilled couriers, quickly and stealthily carrying messages to different cities to respond to moves she had to deal with. Kohar had to admit that she was still weak as far as cultivators went, and insufficient even if she were to consider her potential in the field of being an advocate, but she continued to improve one bit at a time. Anton continued to stay in touch with her, and had even visited with her when she took a short time off and returned to Graotan. He didn’t say much during that time, but somehow he always found a way to help with cultivation. Even when he was just talking about his grandchildren and how they were progressing. Maybe she just needed to relax. It was just so hard when there were so many things to do, and people needed them done now and not in a hundred years. Though admittedly, Anton continued to remind her that the ultimate goal of abolishing slavery would still be a long time off- whether through the law of the land or the law of the sword.