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The heavy warrior from Ambati lay on the ground, with Devon’s chains wrapped around his midsection pinning his arms to him. Devon was able to control the length of those chains with some level of flexibility, so though the man attempted to roll away as he approached the chains remained taut. Even just rolling on the ground the large man provided great force, but Devon held on. Unfortunately, though he kept the man’s arms bound, he couldn’t stop him from twisting to his knees, then to a standing position.
If this had been a deathmatch with a hated foe, Devon would have targeted the man differently. He didn’t just rely on creating chains to fight, but had a proper sword for when he needed to cause more damage. He might have tried to lop the man’s head off… had the situation been different. Instead, he settled for a kick to the head. It would snap the man’s neck back as the chains held him in place, but his durability was unquestionably enough for him to survive that.
That was Devon’s plan, and it happened just like that, even as the man spread his legs and lowered his stance. Solid boot connected with chin directly, and though the man’s energy certainly softened the blow Devon felt the force pierce through. What he hadn’t expected was for the strain on the chains to grow to the point they snapped, the man’s arms breaking free. Because of that, he hadn’t expected the palm that struck him in the stomach, either.
The angles involved and the general situation were kind to Devon. They spread the impact out over his leg pushing against the man’s face and Devon’s whole torso. More than that, he went flying into the air- much better than hitting the ground and having all his momentum stopped at once, where he would be injured on both ends of the attack. Instead he had a moment to orient himself in the air.
A handful of chains whipped out from him, grabbing onto different trees and extending their length so they didn’t suddenly hit their limits, but gradually stopped him instead. Then Devon yanked himself forward, not heading back towards the ground but keeping his height in the trees. Facing the man head on would only result in worse injuries, and his cracked ribs were quite sufficient for the moment.
A few moments later he was directly above his landlocked opponent- though he knew that hiding in trees wouldn’t be a viable long-term strategy. Even before he started his next move the heavy man was walking over to one of the trees he was anchored to, doubtless planning to rip it out and possibly use it as a projectile.
Before that happened, Devon began dropping coils of chains beneath him, and then himself. One after another chains sprouted from around him and the other chains of energy he had already created, covering Kayode from head to toe. Though the man grabbed several and tried to rip him apart, Devon was capable of continuous high energy output, after which controlling the chains actually consumed very little effort. As even the large man wasn’t able to snap his chains with ease, it was sufficient.
His chains twisted and pulled the mans arms to odd angles before once more clamping them to him, doing the same with his legs. Devon began to squeeze as his heel came down on the man’s head with surprisingly little reaction. But the chains tightened, the blades on them certainly pressing into the man’s body everywhere. Except for his head and neck. Devon strained as his chains tightened, wondering if he even could damage this man. He was about ready to pull out his sword and place it to his throat when the man spoke.
Devon quickly loosened the chains, reabsorbing as much of the energy as he could while they faded away. He wasn’t terribly surprised to see that Kayode didn’t actually have a scratch on him, though he took solace in the fact he was certain he’d punctured the man’s energy. He just had very thick skin.
Kayode put a dark skinned hand on his jaw, carefully touching it, then patted the top of his head. “You are strong,” he finally said. “Though the Desert Hippo Sect is more straightforward in our strength, it would be unfair to claim you are otherwise.”
“You’re extremely strong as well,” Devon said in return. “I’ve never had anyone of a similar rank to myself snap my chains.”
Kayode smiled, taking his stance and putting his arms at his side. “It’s all about technique.”
Devon blinked in surprise. He hadn’t thought that the heavy man, large from both muscle and fat, would admit to something besides brute force. But seeing the way he wiggled his arms, Devon could imagine how the stresses on the chains would shift and find weak points. Though it would still require great muscular strength, energy, or some combination of both.
“I suppose we should announce our next fighter,” Devon said.
“We can choose first,” the muscled giant who was their leader offered.
“It is more fair if we offer at least one of our fighters first,” Devon said.
“I’ll go,” Lev volunteered. Everyone else nodded. Despite his rather small size, he was one of the better fighters among them. It would be easy to underestimate him. But it didn’t seem the members of the Desert Hippo Sect planned to do so.
“Then I shall fight,” the giant himself stepped forward. While Kayode was a tall man, and quite large overall, this man was two and a half meters in height, and nearly ended up as wide as Kayode despite the lack of fat. He left behind him on the ground a large hammer, either determining he wouldn’t need it- or simply out of lack of desire to escalate things to a deadly level. After all, with the size of the man and the weapon, Lev couldn’t really afford to get hit even once. “I am Bongani.”
“Lev,” said the young adult who was several times smaller than him, overall. One arm hung limply at his side.
Since Bongani was one of the participants in the fight, Devon determined the countdown was his responsibility. A few moments later, the fight began.
Just as Kayode, Bongani barreled towards Lev the moment the match began. Yet given the power and durability displayed by his previous companion, it was not a reckless move but simply the most efficient one. Lev stood his ground, a skinny fellow with no visible weapons. Even his hair and beard were not terribly long, a feature that Elder Varela of his sect made use of to fight.
But Lev had weapons that were more than just his body. Roots sprang up from the ground, helpfully torn loose by the previous battle. They held onto Bongani’s legs as the trees themselves bent and twisted, striking Bongani directly one after another. All of that together slowed his charge just a bit, though there were shatters of splinters as the trees snapped.
The giant took another powerful step forward before punching forward with his left arm. Lev wrapped around it with both arms- including the one that hung limply moments before- and yanked, throwing the man past him- though Bongani simply turned his tumble into a full flip and landed on his feet before twisting on his heel. If the man had not been so large, he would have gone much further and in fashion he was less able to reorient. He had a smile on his face, but so did Lev.
If Bongani had been a lesser combatant, relying simply on his size, he would have been sorely disappointed to find that cultivation was about much more than a strong body. Yet on the other hand, if Lev had presumed that his energy could simply overcome the man despite his clear focus on his body, he could have made a serious mistake.
As it was, Lev had gone all out. While his throw hadn’t damaged the man, he still left a few lingering presents along his arm. Tiny pricks of energy that didn’t seem like much, but would actually begin to drain him. Lev wasn’t going to go so far as to use all the insights he’d gained from the parasitic moss, but there were some levels that were too far for what had so far been a friendly series of matches.
If the battle dragged on, Lev’s ability would drain Bongani to the point he became vulnerable. However, the giant was powerful and not very far at all. Even as he turned on his heel, he kicked out towards Lev. When Lev retreated, Bongani re-angled himself to turn the attack into a trip.
Lev was pulled away by a nearby root as Bongani came down on his midsection with a thick arm and a fist the size of his head. For several exchanges, Lev and Bongani seemed unable to get an advantage, but the giant was more agile than he looked. Lev also found it difficult to keep his energy implanted in the man, and the more he focused on that the less he could drag him around into just the right areas to restrain him with tree roots or bludgeon him with their trunks.
Eventually Lev just barely managed to dodge a punch, and knuckles scraped against his ribs. “I surrender,” he said, backing away. Then he inclined his head. “You could have hit me with that, without compromising your own defense.”
Bongani nodded, “Only through the advantage of experience. I have more years as a cultivator.” He shook hands with Lev, though the smaller man’s hand was entirely encased inside his own. “Though I have the feeling if you had gone all out, I would not have fared as well.”
“Maybe. Or if you used that hammer, I might be a puddle of goop on the floor.”
“I admit to being a bit slower with my weapon. But I suppose it could have ended that way.”
Now that it was the third match, and seeing how Bongani had treated it, Devon and the others weren’t concerned that the group would suddenly go back on their word and try to seize the prize, the berry bush with everyone standing around it. Taking advantage of the matches to weaken them would have been possible- though it was still reasonable for Devon and the others to accept. And having stood fist-to-fist with them, there was no deception to be found.
But there was one more round to take into account to see who actually won. The man from the Desert Hippo Sect who went next was the tall, lean member of their group. It was hard to imagine his fighting style would be close to the others, given the very different body type. He wasn’t small by any means, but it would be difficult for him to throw around his mass as a weapon.
Kalpana stood across from him, a hammer in each hand. “I hope you’ll excuse my need for a weapon. I doubt I could put up a proper fight with just my fists.”
Her opponent nodded his head, “I too shall be making use of proper weapons. I trust we will both know when to stop.” Up until that point, the skinny but tall man had his body concealed by a cloak. If anything, it had made him seem wider in body. Some of that had actually not been him, but his armor. Specifically, spikes that extended along his arms and legs, as well as from his chest and presumably his back. “I am Alhaji. Though it is well known that few hippos have spikes, it is the duty of cultivators to improve the aspects their origin lacked.”
Kalpana grinned back at the man then gestured to herself. “Kalpana. You could have just said you were a spiny hippo, though, Alhaji.” Kalpana held her hammers out, spinning them around with her fingers. “It’s not like these boys are made from stars, or anything like that.”
After they completed their introduction, the countdown began. Everyone was tensely watching the match, though the uninjured members were also remembering to keep their eye out for third parties who might interfere or seize the opportunity. While either side could swallow their pride and admit defeat to the others, one of them would be walking away with some very special sort of berries.