Being chosen for a position that would carry Alva away from battle irked her, even if she knew it made the most sense. Besides, it wasn’t like she had been chosen because she was weakest. Alva still remembered the stories of the beast hunt, where Hoyt had sprinted himself to exhaustion to go get help so that Thuston wouldn’t be overrun.
Her story today would be a little bit less exciting, since she was riding Fuzz. Not only was the wolf much faster than the five star Hoyt had been, the distance wasn’t even that much. A few kilometers maybe. The important part was that she had to outrace the river itself, with whatever that black goop was in it.
After the hail of fireballs and arrows stopped, it would have been easy. The battle wasn’t exactly going to outpace Alva, and nobody could follow her. Except one guy, apparently. She’d nearly let her guard down when a jet of water shot towards her. Alva ducked, directing Fuzz to the side to get below the attack.
She could barely sense the figure swimming in the river, keeping pace with Fuzz running. Actually, they were a bit faster- as they demonstrated when she retaliated with a handful of arrows. The man in the water avoided her shots with ease, and while her arrows indeed dropped in speed when hitting the water he wasn’t so deep she shouldn’t be able to hit him. He was able to quickly speed up or slow down relative to the water, dodging in front of and behind her shots.
Alva was used to fighting while riding Fuzz, so his movements weren’t really an excuse for her to miss. However, if she had her feet firmly planted on the ground she thought she would have done better. Especially if she were a couple hundred meters back from the river’s edge, where she didn’t have to dodge jets of water. The way they punctured through trees and rocks, Alva really didn’t want to get hit by those.
She was fully confident she could beat this guy if she had Fuzz make some optimal movements to get her a better angle, but he was on a full speed dash towards the city. The black poison in the river wasn’t far enough behind them that she could afford to stop moving forward. She wasn’t sure how the swimming man had gotten through it, but perhaps he had simply been out in front to begin with. It could also not be that dangerous, but she wouldn’t have bet one of her grandpa’s broken bows on it.
While Alva could certainly avoid the jets of water, Fuzz was a bigger target so she had to be extra prepared to direct him. She could get him to jump as high as she wanted in an instant, but she had to predict her enemy for that. The easiest way was to fire back, even if she wasn’t going to hit. Both sides unable to hit each other would ultimately be a problem when they got to Ship’s Haven and there were actual things to damage, but until she could properly figure something out she had to at least keep the man occupied.
She had a few arrows that would really mess up anyone she hit them with. Hollow arrows that would cause excessive blood loss- slightly better than Spirit Arrows because they held the hole open instead of just making a puncture wound. Serrated arrows, just to make it hell to get out. Enchanted arrows meant to pierce through the most solid of defenses. Unfortunately, none of them would be any good if she didn’t hit.
What else did she have? Not much. She could try for some fancy shooting to catch the man off guard, but he was in Essence Collection. Meanwhile, she had five years of experience with fighting and cultivation, period. She could wait for her grandfather to shoot the guy. He certainly could, but he was probably busy with the battle upriver. Lots of stuff was still happening there. He would doubtless feel her fighting here, and he hadn’t done anything. Which meant he thought she could handle it.
What else did she have? Rope? Sure, that would help. Maybe she would ask nicely and the man would let her tie him up. She only had rope because her grandpa told her to have it. “Never know when you’re going to need a bit of rope!”
Like it could stand up to an Essence Collection cultivator. It was some tough stuff, but she’d have to pretty much exhaust the guy of energy first. Or get the cuffs on him. She had some energy suppressing cuffs, but they weren’t so powerful that he’d be incapacitated from just touching the guy. They’d have to be properly sealed.
Alva wished she had those stupid ants that were following them around. They ate energy, and if she could chuck a handful of them into the water at the guy they would distract him at some point. Probably. But all the ants were with her grandpa, of course, and they weren’t really something meant to be tossed around regardless.
So rope it was. First she would start off with some cheap arrows though, so that her shift in style wasn’t so notable. She could beef up a few barbed arrows and if they actually hit and broke through defenses, great. But she wouldn’t count on it.
Catarina’s formation did its job quite well, freezing the barge in place along with some actual freezing courtesy of the Frostmirror Sect. That let some of their more close-range members get into action, where they were met by similarly inclined opponents.
It was only a few moments later that they got to see what happened when fire mixed with the liquid flowing from the various barrels placed around the barge. It turned out to explode violently, creating blasts of steam. Those were basically ignored by the cultivators on both sides, but the left behind lingering clouds of awful smoke. The cultivators driving the barge seemed unaffected, but the attackers were clearly affected at some amount. As soon as they began to feel it trying to enter their lungs they began to expel it, but not everyone was immediately ready.
Several people began to hack and cough as the horrible substance coated their lungs, and that was only the immediate negative effects. But while it certainly weakened a few people, the biggest effect was still to make it difficult to actually sink the barge- and probably ill advised anyway. It was unclear if there would be lasting effects on the river, and there might still be unknown reactions.
There was no direct hindrance to Anton, but with the others being in a worse position he pushed himself to improve the speed at which he defeated enemies. He wasn’t able to attack entirely unrestricted, but he was able to take shots at people as he danced around. He could even shoot multiple arrows at once instead of just in quick succession, as he was always growing more proficient with his technique. It didn’t have a good name yet, but Spirit Bows was the working title. Boring, but properly descriptive.
Anton focused on a member of the Heavenly Lion Sect, a man making wide sweeping gestures with his arms and leaving claw marks on anyone who got close. He was causing the most trouble for people, and he didn’t do well with arrows coming at him from behind. And there were always arrows coming from behind, no matter how he spun around. And even when he turned himself into a little whirlwind of claws, Anton still found openings around his lower body to attack. And of course shots directly from above were hardly affected.
As he took each shot, Anton carefully calculated when he should make use of ascension energy. He also had the energy from beyond death that flowed through most defenses. He had to make the best use of his resources, and he had to keep up the attack. That unfortunately meant not firing down the river at the man who dared attack his granddaughter. But he believed she would handle it somehow. She wasn’t training for nothing, and she had Fuzz too.
Hiding the fact that she was doing something was impossible, so Alva simply opted to keep her riverbound opponent occupied by firing with just one arm and her teeth. Her mouth was reinforced with her energy and her neck muscles were actually pretty strong, but there were reasons people didn’t do this. She needed a free hand though. First to pull out a pile of rope, and then to tie it into a net.
Alva had no idea if she was tying the best knots for the situation, but she couldn’t ask about that now. Grandpa Anton had taught her a bunch of ways to tie ropes that were apparently used around the farm. And then he taught her a dozen more he said he picked up when he visited the Golden Isles and was on a ship for a while.
At least she knew some she could tie one-handed… with a bit of energy assisting. It wasn’t as agile as using her actual hand, but she criss-crossed chunks of rope and they seemed to be holding together. She squeezed tight against Fuzz as a jet of water got way too close to hitting her. The good news about them was that they probably had to go in a straight line from the man in the water. They all had so far, though Alva wouldn’t bet on it being impossible to redirect them.
Soon she had three piles of rope. That was good, because she was like a kilometer away from Ship’s Haven. She really needed to get in there and start yelling at people to be wary of the river.
Alva’s throwing arm was just about as good as the next cultivator. She was a young woman, so she would probably get just a little bit stronger as her body settled into its full size, but she could toss something heavy as well as anyone who didn’t specialize in it. But it wouldn’t be as fast as she wanted. She decided to take a hint from her grandfather, and created something like a bow out of energy. It was wider, and instead of just a string it had a sort of pouch in the middle. Like a sling. The grip was off center as well.
She took a bundle of rope and pulled it back. She felt the strain of her own energy fighting her, ready to snap forward. As the string snapped forward to fling the bundle of rope was carried forward. It couldn’t exactly slide along the shaft of the bow like an arrow, and instead went straight into it. At the last instant she parted the front of the bow, letting the weird bundle continue through. Breaking the shape of the bow definitely lost her some power, but it was better than smashing through her own energy and losing power in two different ways.
The bundle of rope splashed into the water and unfurled, creating a large, if misshapen net that covered a large around directly in front of the swimming man. As it began to spread the man was already reacting, slicing through it with a blade of water. Then a blast from him shoved the severed halves away from his path.
As he smoothly transitioned into another shot at Alva, twisting onto his side and pointing a hand at her, Alva at least took comfort in the fact that she learned something. Like the fact that he could sweep his beams. That was knowledge she immediately used. She squeezed her legs around Fuzz and pulled back, as a beam of water that was aimed above both of them suddenly flicked downwards. Her maneuver encouraged Fuzz to stop their momentum, so they weren’t in the line of the beam. And then Fuzz leaped forward, almost immediately getting back up to speed.
Alva was already loading the second bundle of rope. After she shot that one, she immediately followed up with two arrows from her temporary bow. They were kind of pathetic, as she had to use more energy when the physical string wasn’t providing the twang.
There was very little difference between the first and second bundles. It was sliced and Alva sent herself and Fuzz to the side, where they hid behind the edge of the river. A trench was sliced into the riverbank, but the thickness of the earth diminished the power of the attack so much she was barely splashed by the incoming water. No more than the impact of a charging boar or something easy to deal with.
The third clump of ropes was even less like a properly formed net than the others, splaying out awkwardly in front of the swimming man. Just like the others, he merely pointed at it and focused a jet of water to cut it apart.
That was when Fuzz jumped into the river. Alva simply yelled ‘get him!’ and rolled off the side, shoving him that way. Her push barely moved him, but Fuzz was the sort eager to get into a fight. She’d constantly had to keep him from just jumping in after the guy to begin with.
The jet of water moved across the ropes before turning to Fuzz. It impacted him in the chest before suddenly going off target… as the man was entangled in the ropes. Maybe it was true that she could never have too much rope. Even the crappy, normal quality rope she had in her pack had at least done something.
Fuzz was in the water at the same time as Alva’s first arrow. His jaw clamped down on the man bundled in the rope. She had to curve her arrow up as Fuzz tossed the man towards the shore, now a couple dozen meters downstream of her. Her first arrow didn’t pierce through the man’s defenses, but she had a glorious few seconds where the man was in the air.
He looked like a fish. Well, he looked like a man in armor that was trying to look like a fish. It had finlike protrusions that were either a really bad idea or somehow practical in the water. She might ask him, if he survived. But she was going to fill him with arrows first either way.
The man was much easier to hit out of the water. It probably helped that he was kind of entangled and didn’t have anything to redirect himself, but either way she hit him with several of her best shots. None of them were powerful enough to pierce through his defenses alone, but they all hit the same spot even as he flailed and rotated in the air, driving through his defensive energy and then his armor.
She didn’t stop when he hit the ground, or when Fuzz jumped on him. She was glad for that, because he managed to spin from his awkward position and carve a bloody gash into Fuzz’ chest with the fin-blades on his armor, right next to a smaller one from his beam of water. But she continued to make her hole deeper, and the man was trying to repair his defenses there and not have his head crushed by Fuzz. In the end, neither worked.
Unless the man could grow a new head, Alva knew he was done. She hopped back on Fuzz, worriedly looking upstream before beginning to yell towards the town. Later Fuzz was going to get so many treats, but for the moment he was still needed for the best speed they could manage.