Elder Cultivator 349

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A dagger stabbed downward, right into the wielder’s own thigh. The Great Queen had proudly arranged herself nearby, marveling at the lack of control these cultivators had. With their energy they could immediately stop or reverse directions, but without it they might simply follow through with their momentum. Certainly the woman stopped before jabbing the dagger terribly deep into herself, but it was amusing nonetheless.

Though the Great Queen considered the battle won already, she did not begrudge those who chose to lend her assistance. While the woman was distracted and vulnerable they attacked with weapons of their own, and each time the woman summoned her energy to fend off their attacks the Great Queen took a portion for herself. Even though the woman seemed to understand how the Great Queen functioned now, she was unable to do anything about it. 

… The Great Queen didn’t count her leg nearly being taken off by an unexpectedly fast stab. This cultivator could still enhance her speed, even their energy couldn’t enhance their cutting power. Moving around to awkward to reach locations was best, places like the rear of the thigh… or the Great Queen’s next target, the lower back. While the woman was briefly distracted by something silly like a ‘sword’ or ‘spear’ or a few of each, the Great Queen continued to work her way under the woman’s armor to her target. Then she bit down.

It was not quite so effective as it would have been had the Great Queen been able to reach the upper spine, but despite humans only having two legs the loss was catastrophic to their functionality. The woman fell forward, and though she quickly flipped herself onto her back her exhausted energy was unable to keep up with the incoming attacks. The Great Queen hungrily snatched up any ascension energy she could reach until everything stopped. Then she took a few moments to relax and digest some of the energy. Marvelous. Now it was time to look for the next target.

—–

It was perfectly reasonable for the man who was a swirling mass of blood and darkness to ignore a buck deer charging at him. Its energy was at most comparable to a Spirit Building cultivator, irrelevant to him. Hoyt did his very best to not look relieved at the approaching creature, which was helped by the fact that he was still very much on his back foot.

The horns of a deer were normally rounded, if still capable of serious impact. These particular deer had horns like blades, which was only relevant if they could cause damage to begin with. When the buck charged into the mass of mostly intangible energy it should have done very little. Indeed, its horns simply slipped through the area without even pulling any of it apart.

However, a moment later the form of the twin-voiced man coalesced out of the mass, landing unsteadily on his feet. At the same time as the man shot out a spear of blackness, piercing through the deer, Hoyt chopped with his axe towards the man’s torso. His attack was caught with a single hand, but the man’s energy was still chaotic. A line of blood was the first sign, and then flames caught on the previously burned skin, working their way up the man’s arm.

The buck died nearly instantly. It was unfortunate, but they did not have the defensive capabilities of the ants. Even miniscule amounts of ascension energy targeted at them could kill them… but the momentary distraction was worth the sacrifice. It was a trade the human cultivators would and had done previously in the battle, though not always to the same effect.

Hoyt had hoped to slay the man or at least cut through his blocking hand- but any amount of damage and disruption to his energy would have to do. While the man dispersed the fire, Hoyt pulled back to take a moment to steady himself. One step at a time would have to do.

—–

Though Anton was suitably impressed by Kseniya’s ability to dodge the shortspear, he knew she couldn’t keep it up forever. Her opponent outclassed her in terms of energy, and even with the effects of the formation bringing them closer together they would eventually get a hit, lucky or not. He was making use of everything he had. He had access to enough ascension energy that he could get a couple more shots in before he ran out of that. Each was less powerful than a proper Ascension cultivator’s attack, but it was still worthwhile.

What else was there? He had a few special arrows. Ant chitin arrows would be included with everything else. They at least made the woman take a moment to dodge instead of attacking Kseniya. Then what?

There were actual ants on the ground near him, then climbing up him. Having seen how effective they were in combat he was a bit weirded out. It was like having knives drawn across his skin. Even if it was by someone he trusted… he’s prefer to avoid it. But they seemed to have a goal. That goal was… Anton’s quiver?

They swarmed over one arrow in particular. It wasn’t special, really. In fact, Anton forgot he had it. It was just made of a particularly durable wood, high quality… a bit heavy. But it wouldn’t hurt to shoot it, since the ants chose it. He pulled it out. Then he gave it a little shake. “I’ll shoot it but you need to get off the arrow.”

The ants shuffled around so that they were only on one side of it. That… Anton didn’t bother to think about it. They either knew what they were doing or he was wasting his time. He nocked the arrow and gathered as much natural energy as he could around it… which wasn’t much, considering its riders. But perhaps that was why they chose such a heavy arrow. It could hold a greater momentum than the others, making up for their mass.

As the arrow flew through the air, Anton did his best to direct it towards the woman fighting Kseniya. Though the ants themselves wouldn’t show up in her senses, an arrow with a very odd arrangement of energy would. The woman seemed to have learned from other events on the battlefield and turned her head. The distraction allowed Kseniya to get a small amount of distance moving through the watery aura of the woman… and to shoot several arrows into the woman’s back, one of which actually cracked a rib.

Shortspear collided with arrow, its diameter large enough to completely obliterate the ants in its path. They were not nearly as powerful as the queen, and a moderate amount of physical force would be enough to kill them. But even as her spear approached and Anton tried to avoid it, they grabbed onto each other, fanning out like a web. The ones in the center were annihilated, but the rest continued forward, latching onto the woman’s arm.

They were hardly bigger than natural ants, their mouths just large enough to gnaw at the woman’s skin. But they did so. When her other hand slapped down on her forearm to crush them, those between her fingers latched onto her other limb. Dozens more had died, but dealing with them would take precious moments she really couldn’t afford to spend in the middle of combat.

Kseniya had already taken the moment to prepare a singular, powerful shot. That was much unlike her in Anton’s estimation, but he felt the elegance of how her power condensed. She was merely a hundred meters away, and the Ascension cultivator decided she was the priority target.

An instant later the shot was fired, but Kseniya’s focus didn’t allow her to avoid the incoming spear as it stabbed into her lower abdomen. Ascension energy should have destroyed her from the inside out, but the plethora of ants along her arm greatly limited the flow of energy there, even if they hadn’t been able to stop her movement. The shot, meanwhile, had pierced through the edge of the woman’s ribcage, cutting a slice along her lung. Not enough to be deadly, but certainly a step towards it.

Then Kseniya did the strangest move yet. Even as she was reaching for another arrow, she dropped her bow. With her left hand she grabbed onto the spear, while the arrow in her right was thrust towards the woman like a dagger.There was a brief moment where the woman attempted to pull her spear away, but the very limited flow of energy to that spot and the fact that some of the ants had gotten through the skin layer made her reconsider. She dropped the spear to avoid being stabbed by the ant chitin tipped arrow, launching herself backwards. 

The woman was much more concerned about the ants’ progress, squeezing her hand tightly around her forearm and dragging it. The ants immediately crushed between her hand and arm perished, while the others were mostly flung away. She proceeded to try the same with her other arm while Kseniya pulled the shortspear out of her gut… and proceeded to nock it like an arrow in her bow which she had kicked back up into her hand.

Anton stopped shooting for a moment, but in every bow he nocked an arrow of light. If his prediction was wrong he was just wasting time, but he had a feeling…

The spear-arrow launched at the woman, who stared at it completely unconcerned. With a final flick of her arm she removed most of the remaining ants, then stretched out her arm. From the spear moving towards her with deadly intent to being grasped in her hand like it had never left was only a single instant. The weapon was never in the intervening distance. With such a connection, a warrior could never be truly separated from their weapon. But it did require an amount of concentration and will, during which the woman’s defenses dropped.

The arrows didn’t quite move at the speed of light. They were unfortunately weaker than his normal shots, partly because he didn’t want to telegraph them too clearly and partly because that was a sacrifice made. But a dozen arrows still struck the woman, targeting her kidneys, stomach, and all of her guts below her ribcage. Her eyes would have been better, but Anton wasn’t willing to risk an instant of circling around.

For a moment the woman stood strong, as if unaffected… but then she fell. A moment later, Kseniya collapsed to her knees, clutching her side.

—–

The gout of black-orange flames washed over Velvet. Timothy could only be certain that the worst didn’t happen because he lost track of her. He knew she would be wounded, but she wasn’t a body on the floor or a pile of ash… and that would have to be enough. 

He raised his shield as he faced the woman who had just unleashed those flames. Unfortunately, she was the type he was not effective in a battle against. Fluid, wide-area attacks were much harder to deal with. And extremely hard to reflect back.

A cone of flame washed over Timothy. The circumference of his shield was augmented by his energy to be as tall as he was, and he crouched down slightly to limit his profile. He wasn’t going to last long like this, but holding his defensive stance was better than letting the woman freely kill him.

Instead of persisting with her course of action, the woman stopped. The same orange-black fire still surrounded her as she stared at him. “Hmm. How annoying.”

The following movements weren’t something Timothy could keep track of, and a moment later he was gripped from behind, one hand clutching his neck. At least he hadn’t made the mistake of lowering his defenses in other places, or he would probably have instantly broken apart. Even so, the speed at which he was mustering his energy to protect himself was vastly overwhelmed by the amount of flames surrounding him. Just as he was about to run out of energy, the entire power of the sect’s defensive formation focused on him.

“Hands off my husband,” Catarina said as she thrust forward with her sword. She didn’t actually give the woman the opportunity to let go, though. It was irresponsible to direct all of the formation to protect Timothy, but she didn’t care. But it was also excessive, so she focused the suppressive part on the woman, rendering her unable to move, even if just for an instant.

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