The magma chamber had something like a ring of stone around the edges that was possible to stand on, biased towards the side where most of the excess rubble had been going. Even along the edges the stone was nearly red hot, not quite molten like the magma filling the middle. There were a few standout ‘islands’ in the middle of the area but Anton wouldn’t trust those even if he were wearing the exceptionally durable boots of the Iron Fist Sect.
But not trusting the safety of something and considering its usefulness in a battle were different things. A nice safe spot to shoot arrows from would be great… if it wasn’t a trap.
Anton doubted it was anything intentional like that, but there were some important factors to consider. Like the creatures they were fighting not caring at all about the magma. They chose to live in the area, after all- and the dripping chunks still attached to the one that had charged them at the tunnel entrance showed it had taken a straight path over and through the magma.
So the islands in the center were relegated to the status of emergency jumping points, if anything. Something slightly less dangerous to stand upon for a few moments.
Elder Magro continued to pummel the second of the two great lizards, the one that had tried to cut them off at the entrance of the tunnel while the other popped in from behind. He was making space for the rest of the disciples to get out into the chamber, but it was hard to say he was doing any real damage. A few test shots by Anton helped him take stock of its durability.
Though his main effort was focused on the battle, taking shots to try to get the many-legged lizard crawling out of the tunnel to divert away from the weaker people they had with them, Anton couldn’t help but think about how bad the situation could have gotten.
Some people might think that being nearly flanked by two beast overlords with an entire brood of young just about to pour their way out of a nearby magma pool was bad, and they would be right. That was bad for Anton and the others with him. But what would have been worse was if this generation of young creatures had been allowed to grow.
One overlord level beast was an exception. Something to be dealt with carefully due to its great strength. Two of them were a problem, because while an overlords offspring might be exceptional, a pair of them would absolutely have more troublesome children. Anton felt some eggs in the magma that were a meter tall, and the instability the two creatures had caused in the area for just this was already significant. With dozens more they might start toppling cities, either by accident or because they wanted new territory.
Devon had positioned himself to the side of the overlord that Elder Magro had been pushing back, his chains wrapping around a handful of the legs on one side, binding them together. Anton could feel the strain on them, how close they were to snapping already. But he restricted the movements of the creature enough that it didn’t crush Elder Magro or some of the others who had entered the melee under its massive bulk. Though it repeatedly tried it anyway.
Smaller creatures began to crawl out of the magma, between one and four meters in length, and with no more than eight or ten clawed legs each. Many of the disciples had broken off to hold those off, along with Alva and Fuzz. The wolf was dragging the creatures out of the magma, ignoring the small bits of exceedingly hot magma that found its way into his mouth and on his gums. He flung them into the walls of the chamber and then pounced on them to finish them off. Meanwhile, Alva took shots at the best targets in the area, prioritizing the creatures targeting her or Fuzz.
Pero and Olimpia, the elders of the Black Stone Clan, were facing off against the other overlord, keeping it half contained in the tunnel. Every time it tried to step out, they worked together to raise up a section of rock, knocking into its chin or pushing against its legs and forcing it backwards. As they repeated those actions, it began to simply smash through the barriers- but during that time it wasn’t clawing or eating or crushing anyway.
Anton drew back his bow, taking careful aim at that creature’s eye. He condensed his energy and released at the height of his power, the arrow snapping forward. There was hardly any distance for it to cover, and it instantly reached the creature’s eye. It pierced through the defensive energy and struck the eyeball itself… or at least the translucent film covering it.
He could convince himself that he’d done some damage. He was pretty sure he saw a mark where he hit, but it could have already been discolored. The point was, however, that he should have expected something that could withstand direct contact with magma for extended periods of time to be tough. That included the smaller ones, as the disciples were finding out. Though they appeared at least somewhat able to be damaged.
Out of his bag Anton pulled the bone bow. He found himself generally agreeing with Grand Elder Kseniya that it wasn’t a good bow. It was difficult to fire, and not nearly quick enough. But Anton had greatly improved his own ability to create strings purely out of energy which this particular bow required. If he’d had more physical strength it might have been optimal for a certain style of shooting, but it seemed as if it were made for someone who focused on physical strength all throughout Spirit Building and even into Essence Collection.
Even so, he could still take a few good shots with it. He gathered a portion of his ascension energy. His maximum amount used at once had expanded, but his pool had grown even more. He could now manage four or five full power shots, instead of three. This time, when his arrow flew towards the creature it reacted, twisting its body so that its right side faced him, along with a myriad of legs. Two of them were raised into the path of his arrow, the creature moving even before his shot had been completed. It wasn’t strange, really. Overlords that couldn’t anticipate danger wouldn’t survive for long.
His arrow pierced forward, penetrating through one leg and then the other. And that was… it. It didn’t manage to reach into the creature’s body or strike any of its vital organs. Still, he had pierced through some key parts of the creature’s legs. They would be useless. He took solace in that, until the legs fell off.
With each leg being the size of a tree trunk, there was no way his shots should have separated the limbs from the creature. He’d pierced through some tendons and ligaments, functional but small points- he hadn’t chopped with a large blade. But the limbs fell off, twitching angrily as they did so. One of the disciples helping the Black Earth Clan elders was taken off guard by the sudden turn and the fact that the dislodged limbs moved, resulting in several large gashes across his chest. The good news was that when he tumbled to the ground the wounds cauterized quickly.
Anton furrowed his brow as he looked at the empty space where the two legs had once been. It was a vulnerable spot, but as a wound it was strangely disappointing. There was no blood, after the first few drops of nearly glowing red-orange blood. Two legs out of thirty or forty. He could possibly cripple one of the creatures if he kept attacking in that manner, but he really needed to hit their new weak points.
Unfortunately, firing normal arrows at the smooth spots where there had once been limbs was difficult. The creature continually twisted and turned, sweeping those around it away. Lizards were biting at Anton’s ankles along with most of the rest of his body, forcing him to deal with some of those and not the overlords. Denton had almost been pulled into the magma by the one he’d been entangling. And Fuzz…
“No! Bad wolf! This isn’t time to eat, we’re fighting!” Alva yanked on Fuzz as hard as she could, but she had no hope of physically maneuvering the giant wolf. Not unless she wanted to risk actually hurting him, and it would take more than one arm to make that attempt. She was now fully occupied by shooting the creatures that were taking advantage of the fact that Fuzz was standing still, trying to bite and claw into him. Some were successful, leaving furrows of blood on the stupid wolf. What was he even doing? He knew how fights worked!
At least the Iron Fist disciples that her grandfather knew were helping out. Caeus and Printza stood on either side of Fuzz, bodily getting in the way of incoming lizards and even grappling with them to flip them on their back. Alva always took advantage of that, as their underbellies were much softer. Her arrows sunk into them like she was shooting into blocks of iron, which was way more effective than the scales on the rest of their bodies. What were they even made of?
Unfortunately there was no way to answer that question. Instead she had to pick off as many foes as she could to protect Fuzz and the two disciples who were extremely stoic about all of the holes poked in their armor and themselves. Did Printza really have to let that one chomp into her forearm just so she could get a better grip on it? Alva took a few quick shots through the lower jaw while she held it stationary, her arrows reaching up into the creature’s brain. An unnecessary move, but efficient at least.
If the only thing they had to fight was the small lizards, they would be fine. If they included the overlords, Alva probably thought they could manage as well. When adding on the fact that it was really stupidly hot she was less confident in their chances. Was it okay to take a second to chug some water? Alva reached for her waterskin but found it had evaporated. At least her magic bag was sealed, and she sent some tendrils of energy to pull out a handful of berries. They were supposed to be for cultivation, but they were usable as emergency energy replenishment. Yet Alva wanted them just for the juicy water inside.
She looked at Fuzz. He’d at least finished chewing on his target and was looking around for things to fight, but his mouth… was far too full of dried, flaky blood. Sure, some of that was from the creatures but more of it was his. His gums were oozing blood until it nearly instantly dried, and he seemed to be missing some teeth.
“Wait, Fuzz!” Alva pulled out a waterproof satchel, debated opening it and then just directly tossed it into his mouth. Fuzz bit down with an extremely unpleasant squelching sound. She really hated the sound of him eating those, and she also didn’t like to look at it. Fuzz had grown fond of a particular variety of rabbits that were particularly… juicy. They normally looked fuzzy and happy and round, but that roundness was because they were plump with blood. There was probably some reason that was advantageous for them, but in this case it would at least temporarily get some liquid in Fuzz.
Even as he ate the satchel and the prize inside, Fuzz began to leap across the battlefield. “Okay we’re heading over this way now thanks you two!” Alva vaguely waved to Caeus and Printza, whose confused expressions were unfortunately visible through various damaged bits of their helmets.
Alva wasn’t sure why they were running across the battlefield, but she added her own shots to the most obvious target. The great lizard that had flanked them in the tunnel was now out of it and sweeping around the battlefield, with the other fighting half in the magma. Alva wasn’t sure Fuzz should get in a fight with the creature, because for all his size he still seemed small next to something four meters wide. But she also couldn’t say the battle didn’t need the help.
When the creature reared up she took a shot at its belly, and barely managed to break through a scale. If it obliged her and continued to repeat that action she might eventually form some deeper wounds, but it wouldn’t be easy. As it was currently sweeping its claws at two cultivators coated in rock, she could only try to distract it or watch for the other to leave an opening.
“Fuzz you’re going the wrong way!” Alva yelled as the wolf ran towards the tunnel. “I’m not leaving everyone else behind! We need to fight! Grandpa and Devon are here!”
Alva knew Fuzz wasn’t a coward. Usually he was so good in battles, even if he was a little bit incautious with his own health he always took care of her. So when he leapt through the air and pounced on an empty section of ground mouth first, she was extremely confused. Then she heard a crunch. She was pretty sure that was equally the sound of breaking scales and Fuzz’ teeth as he bit down on the detached limb of one of the overlords.
“Dammit Fuzz this isn’t time to eat, that will be there later!”