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Buried into the ground up to his neck, Timothy circulated his energy throughout his broken body. He was beginning to understand now, how things changed in Essence Collection. It would have been nice to reach his current level of understanding sooner, but that was just how things were.
As his energy circulated through his body, it began to change. It became powerful, durable, lasting. The energy of Essence Collection would always be stronger than the levels below it, but the way in which it was stronger differed between cultivators. The traits Timothy was imbuing into his energy were what he wanted. What he needed.
He picked himself up out of his hole, holding his broken bones in place with his energy. His energy didn’t transform all at once, but even if it had with his body in the state it was he wasn’t going to make up the difference in power compared to his opponent. But he didn’t have to do that all on his own.
Chikere came to stand next to him, her eyes closed. It seemed she was still under the effects of the illusion- in fact, it seemed that having found her susceptible they focused it on her and barely bothered to try to confuse Timothy or Hoyt. He was more certain that was the case with every moment, as his senses began to clear.
He didn’t have long to think about what was happening as the mid Essence Collection man landed and charged forward once more, doubtless ready to finish crushing Timothy with his fist weapons. There wasn’t much to be done about that, since Timothy had barely stopped the last one. But he held his sword and shield ready, tilting the point of his sword to stab out towards his opponent. If he couldn’t stop him, he might as well try to injure him.
At the very instant his sword began to move, Chikere flashed past him, looking much like a prickly bush of swords. Most of her attacks went wide as the man halted his momentum, sending dirt flying everywhere.
There was a strange moment where nothing was happening, but as Timothy stepped forward to stand next to Chikere he found she was only idly attacking. She didn’t know where the target was, after all… yet she’d so precisely charged the man in front of them he found it difficult to believe.
Seeming to find Chikere’s an unacceptable threat, the mid Essence Collection cultivator spun on his heel, kicking towards her with reinforced greaves. Timothy couldn’t reach his shield over to Chikere’s side, so he did his best to parry with his sword. Then Chikere was once more a flurry of movement, blades slicing out and up in an almost undodgeable wall of swords.
Timothy was embarrassed it took him so long to realize what was happening. Chikere was a sword cultivator, and while she said she could sense any sword nearby no matter what, that wasn’t the sort of thing normal people took seriously. It sounded like an exaggeration. But as the enemy cultivator drew back from Chikere’s attacks, Timothy changed his parry into a pathetic attempt at a slash towards him. His attack was too slow to matter, but Chikere charged forward following his movements.
A few moments later, the battle was a strange dance where Timothy was moving his sword as a sort of conductor’s wand, directing Chikere while not even being close to the enemy himself. Though he wanted with every fiber of his being to protect his friends and companions, he was aware his body and remaining energy weren’t up to the task.
Timothy wished he could sense Hoyt’s fight, but that section of the battlefield was hidden from his senses. He could only hope his friend was doing well, because despite Chikere’s skill with the sword, it was greatly blunted by having no awareness of her opponent’s weapons. The only saving grace was that her nine swords focused together to cover the whole area in front of her, and the Essence Collection cultivator was finding it difficult to attack her without leaving himself vulnerable to his arm or leg getting chopped off- or just being fully impaled.
As he tried to circle around, Timothy turned and swept his sword. Chikere’s movements weren’t always of the same magnitude he wanted, but he began to apply energy to his sword as if he were actually attacking, and she responded to that intensity. It was only a short time before the Essence Collection man had circled around her entirely, and then he broke forward to attack Timothy.
The only thing he could think to do was flip his sword around, hoping that Chikere would take the signal and move towards him. He wasn’t quite confident enough to spin around and show his back. She moved with great speed, but he wasn’t sure if she was fast enough. Blindly running across an uneven forest floor slowed her down somewhat.
Time seemed to slow as the man approached. Then there was a *clink* sound as Chikere’s swords hit the man. Then they did it again and again.
A young man’s eyes lit up as he sensed a powerful energy from the other side of the battlefield. “Finally!” he shouted. Since he no longer had to be stealthy, he threw away all pretense of that in one glorious motion.
His powerful legs threw him into the air, his limbs shimmering as they became more akin to burning fires than actual arms. As he landed fire exploded around him, though he did his best to avoid scorching some of those on the battlefield. Mostly that was because he landed with one of the enemies between himself and the person he was currently helping out.
The woman with the warhammer was obviously surprised at his appearance. After all, nobody expected a member of the Glorious Flame Palace to actually be stealthy. Truth be told, Anish was merely the closest thing they had. He was able to keep himself calm and low intensity on the outside, when he really had to. Though on the inside he’d been building up pressure, and he released all of that at once as he screamed and breathed a gout of fire over the enemy at the same time.
The addition of a fresh Essence Collection cultivator was a sudden shift in the tides of battle, and with one of their members immediately defeated the attacking group hesitated a moment too long before they thought to retreat. Anish caught two of the remaining four around the neck, pulling them against his flaming body. When they tried to impale him with their weapons he just laughed.
Stabbing fire wasn’t of much use. Though nothing was impossible for cultivators, Anish made sure they didn’t think he was hurt. They were a bit busy with trying to escape his grip and not be turned into piles of ash to properly inspect if they’d actually damaged the fire man with their attacks. Just as he liked it. They could both turn to nothing. They already had what they needed.
One of the group actually managed to break away from melee combat. Anish wasn’t ready to give chase, and none of the others were in the state to do so either. But the old man among the group swiftly pulled out a bow. A different bow than the one he’d used at the beginning of the battle. He sure took his time drawing it though. The final fleeing opponent was beyond the treeline before the bow was pulled back to the man’s ear, and he still didn’t take the shot.
He continued to build energy though. Anish was certain that the old man wasn’t an Essence Collection cultivator, but he couldn’t help but swallow as he thought about facing the attack. If only it hadn’t been so unfortunately slow, he might have killed the survivor. Why wasn’t that woman giving chase? They really didn’t want any escapees here.
Then Anish got it. Because shortly after Anish could no longer sense the fleeing cultivator, the old man took his shot. The twang of the bow hurt his ears, and the arrow… disappeared. At least, his eyes couldn’t track it- though his energy senses followed it for a distance before he also lost it. Then he felt a brief flash as it impacted. From the look on the man’s face, Anish could only conclude it was a success.
The old man turned to him. “Hello again Anish. Good to see you.”
Anish knew the old man, but his brain took a moment to conflate all of their meetings. The last time was in the secret realm. There had been a huge incident there, and it involved the rest of the cultivators present as well. Then before that had been at Everheart’s Tomb. That was the one that took him a moment to realize. Certainly the old man there had been an anomaly since it was supposed to be for new cultivators, but Everheart could make whatever decisions he wanted. The old man hadn’t tried to trick him or anything, so Anish didn’t care.
Anish grinned, “Hey. This time, I actually got to fight. Imagine that, huh?”
“Can you stop her?” came a calm voice from beside Timothy as Chikere’s swords continued to strike the frozen statue in front of her. “She might actually shatter him.”
Timothy’s eyes flicked between the woman besides him and the man encased in a thin sheet of what must have been extremely sturdy ice. He quickly twirled his sword and sheathed it. Chikere didn’t lower her weapons, but she stopped attacking.
“Thank you,” said the woman.
The fog on Timothy’s senses cleared, and he first felt Hoyt with two more ice statues… and half of one. Chikere’s face twitched, then she opened her eyes, actually focusing on the features around her.
“Frostmirror Sect, right?” Chikere asked. “You’re late?”
“Were we?” the woman Timothy was fairly certain was Elder Adelina showed no expression as she responded to that remark. “I do not believe so. Any delay was merely because of the difficulty of freezing someone from inside out, energy and all.”
On the other side of the battlefield, Timothy felt Anton. The others were there as well, but their energies had all settled down as the battle was ending. But Anton fired a shot into the distance. Timothy would bet he hit, too. He didn’t like his chances with blocking that even if he was at full power.
“Come then,” said Elder Adelina. “It seems one of your companions could use some assistance.” Timothy creakily turned his body. A lot of bones were broken and he was just holding himself in place with energy, so he preferred not to make any swift moves now that he didn’t have to. As he watched, Elder Adelina walked over to Velvet… and encased her in ice. “Oh come now, don’t give me that look,” she said to everyone around her. “She’s in a protective stasis like the others. She got the largest dose of poison of any of you. I assume if you had a way to help her with that you would have already done so.”
“… is it safe?” Anton asked.
“Safer than leaving her as she was,” Elder Adelina replied. “And unlike these few over here, I didn’t freeze her core so her cultivation should not be damaged.”
Everyone was so exhausted they didn’t have a retort for that. Anish seemed to have disappeared off into the distance, but he came back not long later carrying a body. “Well I’ll be damned,” he said. “You actually hit.”
“Of course,” Anton said. “I wouldn’t waste my energy for nothing. Not when we could be attacked again.”
“You won’t be,” Elder Adelina confirmed. “Unless there are spare fools who wish to die. Now all of you should deal with your various wounds.” Then she sniffed. She stomped the ground, creating a small crater, then gradually filled it with ice. “And bathe. Anish, melt it.”
“I don’t have to take orders from you,” he said testily. Then he sniffed. “But they could use the bath.”
Of course, it would take more than just water to clean off the musk of the giant skunk, but there were options available to the cultivators. They could at least lessen the smell somewhat before returning to the city. And they certainly needed to treat their wounds. Cuts and stabs were everywhere, but Timothy wondered if he could just get someone to carry him back to town, since there weren’t any parts of him that weren’t at least a little broken.