Three people sat inside a concealment formation. They had to wait around for an unknown length of time, and what was worse was that they couldn’t cultivate while doing so. Not without potentially compromising the formation. Anton’s eyes continually scanned the area around them, but didn’t reveal much of anything new. The area was quite sparse of any creatures larger than an insect, however. No birds set down near them- even outside the concealment formation. That lent something to the theory that the underwater den belonged to the creature.
On a hunt it wasn’t strange to wait for a few hours. Hoyt, however, was growing impatient. “Should we just go in the den? It might be in there and we just can’t sense it.”
Catarina formed a response before Anton could reply. “Our inability to sense it would indicate a greater danger. Its den is… strange.”
“We should wait until evening, at least,” Anton said. “Whether coming or going, there should be movement by that time.”
The first thing Anton noticed were swirls of blood in the water, flowing from upstream. As his eyes followed them, he saw the carcass of a boar floating- and a creature underneath it in the water. “There it is,” he whispered to the others. “It would be best to fight it out of the water, if we can. Or on the edge, if we can coax it there.” He could sense the energy swirling around it. A true magical beast. The energy wasn’t too concerning, but it was nearly enough to match Hoyt. He was at the peak of the sixth star, not quite the seventh, but what other features the magical beast had would be more relevant than a direct comparison of power.
“Want me to be bait?” Hoyt asked. “I can go near the river, but not too close.”
The concealment formation was only ten meters from the river’s edge, so he wouldn’t be too far away from the others. Catarina nodded, “I can quickly assist from there. And Anton…”
“I can cover you as far as the other side of the river, if necessary. But preferably you wouldn’t go that far.”
“Not planning to get into the river at all,” Hoyt nodded. “Alright then, get ready.”
Hoyt walked out of the concealment formation. Anyone looking might have seen him suddenly appear, or maybe even have the hazy idea that they could see something in the forest behind him. The creature they were hunting was in the water, and wouldn’t easily see that. Hoyt moved forward, then chucked a stick into the river, creating a splash.
At first there seemed to be no reaction, but the floating boar’s carcass drifted more to one side of the river. Anton was prepared to shoot the creature when it leapt out of the water, but he wasn’t prepared for it to throw the carcass at Hoyt. Fortunately, Hoyt had the reaction time for that. He ducked under the suddenly flying boar’s body, and even had his axe ready when a creature leapt out of the river, the first part of it that was visible through the spray being two curved rows of teeth on its upper and lower jaws. Hoyt’s axe swung into its side, their energies colliding resulting in the creature being deflected around him.
At that moment, Anton took a shot at one of the most bizzare creatures he had ever seen. Its head had sharp teeth the length of a finger, but instead of being inside a muzzle or even a fish’s mouth it was more akin to the bill of a duck, with teeth all along the sides and around the front where the jaw couldn’t fully close. The creature had webbed feet with claws on the end and a furry hide as well as a wide, flat tail. It stood on its four webbed feet, its head as high as Hoyt’s waist. Anton’s arrow flew towards it from the concealment, but surprisingly it twisted its body in the air and his arrow only managed to scrape along its tail.
The creature landed, and instead of turning back towards Hoyt merely flicked at him with its tail before digging its claws deep into the ground and flinging itself in bounds towards Anton. Anton took another shot, this time managing a better hit- but his Spirit Arrow only pierced through the creature’s energy and hide enough to cause some bleeding. If he could hit the same spot again he might reach organs, but it moved strangely yet quickly. It also seemed to not be concerned by the concealment formation- though attacking from within it had certainly disturbed the formation enough to weaken its effects.
Catarina moved to intercept the creature, slicing with her sword as she moved past. Its rear leg swept at her in retaliation, and she only managed a small slice along its shoulder while she avoided the counterattack. Anton had to dodge out of the way as the creature continued towards him, but Hoyt had sprinted behind it and wasn’t far. When the creature tried to move past him towards Anton, he swung his axe low, forcing the creature to jump. Once again it twisted its relatively short hind leg as it passed, and Anton managed to pick out a small stinger of some sort going into Hoyt’s shoulder. Anton managed to take advantage of that moment to shoot a second arrow right next to where his first had hit, ever so slightly deeper. With Catarina’s help, the three of them should have been able to take down the magical beast quickly… but they didn’t quite have that chance.
“Another one!” Catarina called from closer to the river. “Slightly bigger!”
“I’ve got this!” Hoyt said, and indeed he flung the creature into a nearby tree, pulling its stinger out of his shoulder. “Help Catarina!”
Anton had no hesitation with that, turning to fire spirit arrows at the second creature. It was indeed larger, but it was slightly less quick than the other. Catarina dodged its attacks, and though the fangs got quite unpleasantly close to her at several moments she seemed to be able to hold her own. Though Catarina moved cautiously as it flicked its tail at her, the most that could do would be knock her away. With her keeping the creature’s attention, Anton was able to put a bit more power into his shots, and soon the creature was dripping blood from several holes. Anton realized the second creature didn’t have stingers on its hind feet, unlike the first- and Catarina noticed that as well. The next time it lunged at her, she avoided its bite and then stabbed her sword into its belly with little concern for its rear claws. Though the creature’s momentum knocked her back, she was mostly uninjured.
Anton had been keeping a half eye on Hoyt’s fight. He didn’t want to undermine the young man’s valor, and he seemed to be holding his own… but he was slowing down. Hoyt had still only taken the one hit, but the stinger had done more than just let blood trickle from his shoulder. Now that the larger and slower magical beast was down, Anton started firing arrows with speed. He couldn’t be as accurate as he wanted and pierce fully through the creature’s defensive energy, but Hoyt’s attacks were keeping it occupied. Three of Anton’s arrows connected to no effect except distraction, but a fourth found its way into one of the previous injuries, piercing a thin, condensed hole in the creature’s chest. It staggered back, and Hoyt swung his axe down straight into its skull.
“Are you alright, Hoyt?”
Hoyt grunted. “Poison. I think… I can handle it.”
Anton looked at Catarina. “Perhaps we can help?”
“I can keep things away,” Catarina said. “Or I can try to remove the poison.”
“I can do it,” Hoyt said. “But… perhaps some guidance on energy usage? And maybe an energy gathering formation?”
Anton smiled. Hoyt was tempering the organs in his torso. Several of them dealt with removing toxins in the bloodstream in one fashion or another. It was a perfect situation to make use of. Though Hoyt sat down stiffly, his energy was still vigorous.
Anton began to guide Hoyt in removing the poison. Hoyt managed to pull out some of the poison still in the wound, but the rest was firmly in his bloodstream. For that, Anton showed how he would circulate his energy to Hoyt, though mostly he provided moral support. Catarina was providing some energy with a quick formation, which helped more… and soon energy was swirling around Hoyt.
When Hoyt opened his eyes, Anton smiled. “Congratulations. You’ve reached the seventh star.”
Hoyt half grinned, though it was clear his body was still feeling a bit weak. “The Order certainly cautions against putting yourself in dangerous situations to cultivate, but it’s quite helpful, isn’t it?”
“Good for a bit of a boost, anyway. Though I think the experience will last for some time beyond now.”
“If nothing else,” Hoyt said, “I got practice fighting a creature with very different movement than anything before. If we had been in the water…” he shook his head. “I’m not sure how that would have gone.”
“Perhaps we should train in the water,” Anton suggested, “After we make sure there aren’t any more in that den, or throughout the area.”
Catarina looked over towards it. “I can sort of see it now. I think it had a concealment formation. Not a complex one, but I wasn’t expecting it so I didn’t notice it. Sometimes, magical beasts will instinctively arrange simple formations like that but I’ve only seen the magical beasts you have. None of the others did that. I think these also concealed their tracks from when they were on land.”
Anton sighed, “Magical beasts using formations? Unpleasant. Though these were mutated magical beasts. I’ve heard of creatures similar to these before… though perhaps without the fangs, if what I heard was right. I don’t believe they’re native to the region. We should inform the Order. Helmfirth Rill should be able to send them a message, if we don’t think it’s urgent.”