The name of the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars carried great weight in all of Graotan, but especially nearby. Anton was surprised it was so easy to get the villagers of Thuston to believe them with nothing but their word. Then again, the consequences of potentially ignoring the situation were unfathomable. If for some reason the horde of beasts didn’t come to Thuston or never existed at all, they would merely lose part of a day. Anton knew he would have been gladly willing to sacrifice time to defend his home and family… but he never had the chance.
“…Anton. I need assistance.” Catarina stood nearby. “The formation will require more energy to start functioning.”
Anton nodded. Unlike when she had moved around a few sticks and sliced through branches, the current setup in the village was more complex. It also took a lot more work to put together. “It would be better if we could break down some walls.” Catarina seemed disappointed that she couldn’t quite set things up the way she thought they should go, but Anton contributing energy where she asked helped quite a bit. He could feel it more this time. He still had no idea how it worked, but that was why people trained hard to be a formation master, if they had the aptitude. If they had more time, Catarina might have been able to do more… but she would reach the limits of her own energy and Anton’s soon enough.
The villagers had called in all of the nearby field workers, gathering everyone who wished to stay and fight. Some had weapons, swords, bows, and the like. Others took any sort of sharp implements they had lying around. Pitchforks were a thousand times better than fighting barehanded, even if they weren’t optimal weapons. One thing that Thuston had different from Dungannon is that a handful of the villagers had trained in cultivation. Only to the first or second star- but with the Ninety-Nine Stars readily available, nearly everyone gave cultivation a try. Anyone who reached the third star would have already gone to join the Order, but any amount of cultivation at all could greatly increase combat capabilities.
At the edge of town Anton stood atop a grain silo. It was the highest point around and gave him a good view of the approaching beasts. He had a look of concern on his face because they were right, and the beasts were headed for Thuston instead of merely spreading out. He couldn’t be sure that a few hadn’t trailed off, but the numbers of the various creatures were still high. Hundreds… maybe more, since there were creatures of all different sizes grouped together in a way that was impossible to count.
The movements of the beasts were highly unnatural. Wolves kept pace with snakes and boars, bears walked underneath circling eagles… the only thing that reassured Anton was that there were very few signatures of magical beasts among the group. However, few magical beasts was not none. He was glad the villagers hadn’t chosen to flee, because three of them couldn’t handle so many beasts… and they wouldn’t be able to outrun the tide. It wasn’t fast, but Anton saw no signs of it slowing. “I’ve spotted them on the horizon! It will only be a few minutes before they arrive.”
Timothy stood at the main entrance to the village below, flanked on either side by barrels and crates mostly at least half full, providing a partial barrier to the village between two buildings. Catarina stood nearby, ready to move wherever necessary to deal with beasts that didn’t attack from the front. The formation should apparently encourage them to move as she intended, but nothing was perfect. Anton, of course, would also be able to move around if necessary. He was surprised at how little he was worried about getting down from the top of a silo, as he wouldn’t have been able to even make the attempt a year before. He’d changed so much.
Anton looked to the sky. The most troublesome beasts would be those that flew. While they could be attacked when they came down to claw at people, they had sharp talons that could piece flesh or stab through an eye.
A moving target at a few hundred meters was about the maximum range for Anton. He could do a bit more, but additional distance took a disproportionate amount of energy, as his control wavered so far from himself. That was doubly so with Spirit Arrows, though his control was more precise with them out to a more conservative two hundred meters.
As the beasts came within range, Anton picked a target. There were so many it hardly mattered, but he supposed some early casualties might discourage them. He didn’t have a good angle for a kill shot on most of the creatures, but he pulled back his bow. It no longer seemed as if the heavy draw weight of it were so much more than a normal bow, after he’d finished muscle tempering and continued practicing with the bow. The black steel string had the proper springiness he would expect of a traditional string, and the bow bent back in a curve as he pulled back, his arm and back muscles tensing but only holding for a moment before release.
The arrow- a real arrow with his energy enhancing it- flew straight and true towards the shoulder of a large bear, sinking in half of its length. If it had been any normal bear it would have likely gone down in an instant, but it continued hobbling forward for a dozen meters. By that point, Anton had fired three more arrows at the beasts on the ground and was changing his target to the air, having staggered the front ranks of the beasts as much as he practically could.
Shooting up into the air, the weight of an arrow was more significant. Spirit Arrows were able to overcome that barrier, with only a small arc at most and the ability to fly more quickly with less drag. His first target was an eagle, its wingspan at least as wide as a man was tall. His arrow flew towards it, and as the bird curved in flight to avoid the attack the arrow changed trajectory slightly as well. He only managed to pierce through a wing instead of the chest, but that was sufficient to bring it down. As it spiralled downward into the ground he knew it wouldn’t be moving about after it hit.
The villagers with bows were further back and could shoot less distance, but soon the beasts were close enough for them to open fire. A dozen arrows flew in a small volley into the crowd of animals of various sorts, and while the effects weren’t immediately obvious, more bodies were trailing behind the end of the swarm.
Anton continued to fire at the flying beasts, preparing himself to move. Though the silo wasn’t a large platform to stand on, with Swan Steps he thought he could dodge around past a bird or two. If he couldn’t, he could at least manage his fall to the ground below. He knew he was a target with his position… but that was the whole point. He couldn’t allow the villagers of Thuston to suffer when he had the power to fight.
Timothy nervously held his position in front of the village. He saw how many beasts were rushing towards them, but he kept his confidence high. Individually, most of them weren’t a threat. He could kill one with a single stab of his sword. If only he had the luxury of fighting just one at a time. Behind him stood other villagers, and more were preparing for beasts to sneak around the sides, away from the main street.
A wildcat was the first thing to break away from the pack and charge. Timothy held his sword and shield at the ready, impaling the creature as it leaped and catching its paw with his shield. His body rocked backwards from the momentum of the attack, and it took him a moment to free his sword. By that point, a wolf had slipped past him and he found himself facing a snake and a bear. He swiped at the bear before it got close, his sword cutting along its nose and sending it reeling away. The snake he batted away with his shield, flinging it into the stacked pile next to him. The tide of beasts began to crash into the barrier, attempting to knock it over and starting to climb over it.
There was no way it would have held together without the effect of the formation fortifying the village. Even so, it was clear it wouldn’t last long. Timothy gathered his own energy, carefully breathing in to draw more natural energy from the world as he did so. After he’d begun to temper his meridians with the guidance of Anton, he’d felt his ability to control energy increase immensely. He stabilized himself against the ground while at the same time using the force of the approaching tide to push back against them.
He never took more than a step away from his position even as he began to be surrounded. This is what cultivators were supposed to do. The Order of Ninety-Nine Stars protected people, and he was one of their disciples. He found himself in a trance of slicing and stabbing, unable to think about his next moves and merely performing them. His mind numbed the pain when his armor was dented or torn through, when his bones cracked from the impact of large beasts and when blood began to flow from his body.
Timothy knew he absolutely couldn’t stop everything from passing him, but he did his very best. He was already the weakest member of the team, probably included because he lived in the same complex as Anton- or because Catarina asked. Even with Anton’s personal guidance he was a full star behind the next two members. He knew he could never keep up with Catarina, but he also didn’t want to disappoint her. Or himself.
He continued to hold his position until the tide started thinning… but while he might have liked to sigh in relief he knew things weren’t over. A few magical beasts were among the remaining half of the creatures, and he was starting to slow down. He really hoped backup would arrive soon… though he knew Hoyt had quite a distance to run to find any help, and the return trip might take just as long. Timothy almost didn’t believe his eyes when he saw the bear rear up in front of him, seemingly as big as either of the buildings that stood on either side of him. Unless support was already on the horizon, he couldn’t count on any help beyond what they had. He grit his teeth to prepare to face the beast.