Darkness coated a spear as it stabbed down over and over. Hits began to crack through the solid spine of the building-sized lizard, working its way towards the spinal cord. Crystin focused on her offense while Magtel and John used all their energy to protect her from the crushing circle of energy around her. The energy seemed to only be able to flow over the hole in what was formerly a stony spire and now merely resembled an open manhole.
John felt his energy wavering, but he used what darkness element energy he had left to use Spiritual Energy Absorption. He couldn’t overcome the rate at which he was expending spiritual energy, but the creature actually only had a relatively loose grasp on the vast reserves of energy it controlled. John was able to handle feeding a portion of it to the Sapling of Darkness, regaining about half of the darkness elemental spiritual energy than he was spending. Meanwhile another portion he took control of, to his limits of controlling earth elemental spiritual energy. That was quickly consumed under the constant pressure from the giant creature’s reserves. Then there was another portion he was just able to rip away from the creature’s control entirely, freeing it back into the atmosphere. That slightly lessened the pressure they had to deal with.
The crunch of bone breaking was followed by a slightly softer sound. “Yes!” Crystin exclaimed. She continued stabbing down into the lizard’s spinal cord, trying to completely sever the back end. She was making decent progress, but the creature roared. A wave of energy shot out from it in all directions, pushing everyone around it away- except for Crystin, who was in a dead zone of its energy. At the same time, it started to roll over onto its back. Crystin looked torn between continuing her assault and protecting herself.
“Just get away!” John called out as he was toppling through the air. He had been ready to be tossed to the sides, but being pushed directly away was unexpected. “You’ve done enough damage!”
Crystin caught his eye, then stabbed her spear one more time, deep into the spine. The lizard took quite some time to rotate- perhaps only a second or two, but that was quite a bit of time to a cultivator. As it was more or less on its side, Crystin pulled herself out of the hole and sprang away, leaping as far as she could to get out of the crush zone. Her spear was left behind, sticking slightly out of the hole in the creature’s back.
John had been tossed almost directly straight up, so he came back down just along the creature’s side after it flipped over. He stabbed out with his sword into its ‘softer’ underside, to surprising effect. Then again, the creature had just pulsed all of its energy to repel those around it and hadn’t reinstated its energy defenses yet. Either it had finally expended everything it had, or was simply slow in its control of energy. Perhaps some of both.
His sword cut nearly its full length into the creature, his weight and momentum carrying him down. On most creatures, a one meter deep cut would be far more than lethal- but for this particular creature John felt he was barely through the scaly skin into the flesh. Still, it slowed his fall and wasn’t an irrelevant amount of damage.
More importantly, the guardians took advantage of the lizard’s lack of defenses and compromised position. Before it could even begin to tumble back to its front, a half dozen powerful attacks had been aimed at its neck and head. The lizard tried to turn itself over, but its rear legs flopped about wildly and its lower body didn’t twist the way it wanted to.
John used what little energy he had left to help propel his leg muscles, moving away from the side of the creature at top speed until he was a good hundred meters away. It was fortunate that the other beasts in the area were either crushed or more interested in the giant creature than him, because he would barely be able to defend himself.
The creature began to flip over onto its belly once more, but its rear was slow at the process. It couldn’t hold its bulk with just injured front legs, and those legs intermittently swiped out at the more powerful cultivators, to little effect. Once all of the younger cultivators were to a safe distance, the guardians retreated to a safe distance while the great lizard breathed its last breaths.
Miraculously nobody had perished. Magtel and Crystin’s guardians had anticipated Ayden’s help in their battle plan, and they likely could have eventually won on their own. The younger generation were the ones at risk when they got involved, but missing the chance to participate in such a battle would have been a terrible waste. The one most injured had taken a bad fall at the end, when everyone was pushed away, broken bones all over him. The Tenebach clan might need to supply some expensive medicines for some of the worse wounds people had to make sure they properly recovered, but the expenses would definitely be worthwhile. After all, they had just come into some new wealth.
Exactly how much such a creature was worth wasn’t a simple question. Even so, its whole body was deeply infused with earth elemental spiritual energy. Every piece of it was like gemstones, but even if it was valued the same as scrap iron… there was so much of it that it would still have value.
There quite simply weren’t enough people to carry all ten or twenty tonnes of it back to the clan. After chasing off the smaller creatures who wanted to feed on it, the Tenebach clan moved their base camp to next to the creature while they sent for reinforcements.
The next week was basically spent on guard duty, either preventing beasts from nearing the camp around the edge or on top of the giant lizard keeping birds off of it. John found it was a decent cultivation spot, though. Something about the lizard drew in earth elemental spiritual energy, even after it was dead. A small piece of it might not have that much attraction, but the whole lizard absolutely would.
Eventually the reinforcements arrived, carts and wagons not far behind and professional dismantlers among their numbers. The Tenebach clan didn’t have any sort of spatial storage large enough for the creature, so it was broken down into components. Individual claws the size of people, layers of skin and scale, organs, and more. The only components that were ignored were the spines on its back, which were simply pillars of rock. It was already possible to find better rock in the Stone Conglomerate, so the value of those was quite low.
Larger bones were carried separately, and two dozen Foundation Establishment cultivators were assigned to carry the creature’s ribcage. The spine was separated into segments, and even the area that Crystin had damaged still had value. The tail was dragged along by powerful beasts, and now everyone was part of the escort.
Not everyone was a member of the Tenebach clan. While it would have been nice to monopolize it for themselves, it was safer to call on local allies and promise them a portion of the creature. It seemed that defeating the creature was only the first step.
Though many members of the Tenebach clan were in the late or even peak of Foundation Phase, they had very few Soul Expansion Phase cultivators. It was possible there were a few secret family guardians John wasn’t aware of, but he knew of a dozen including his own grandfather Luctus Tenebach, who was currently in mid Soul Expansion Phase. Three of them had been able to come to their aid a few days after they began traveling out of the Southeastern Stone Forest. John hoped their presence was simply an excess, but he knew that wealth could be quite dangerous.
The Stone Conglomerate wasn’t a lawless country where they could just be attacked and robbed on the road with no consequences, but there were always opportunists willing to take some risk. Outside of controlled areas, the laws stretched quite thin where it was simply the word of one group against that of another. If some valuable parts of the great beasts were stolen, there wasn’t much hope to retrieve them. The great lizard was large enough and therefore valuable enough that slaughtering everyone wholesale so nobody could speak of it might be worthwhile. It wouldn’t be worth anything if the clan could later manage to condemn those who did that if they lost their people.
Personally, of course, John valued his life more than the value of the lizard. He really wasn’t going to bet on getting a third life. Transmutation couldn’t be that common. Even in this world, people usually had no memories from former lives. They weren’t a reincarnated or transmigrated person, or it really didn’t matter. If you had no memory of a previous life, were you the same person? John wasn’t sure, but he really would prefer not to test it for no reason.
So he kept his guard up, not that he was the main influencing factor in the success of every battle. However, no ambush came so he needn’t have bothered. There was, however, a straightforward blockade across the road. His eyes picked out a few familiar faces.
Both Kasimir Roldan and Gastone Boyce, plus of course older members of their clan. Did they really intend to start a clan war?
An old man stepped forward. Soul Expansion Phase. John couldn’t feel any others, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any. There were too many faces to try to memorize, and some were reclusive. “Forces of the Tenebach clan. We had prior claim to that great lizard. We had prepared our forces and declared our intentions, only to have you poach it.” So that was the angle they were going for. Those dumb claims might at least shield them from some of the charges of banditry. “However, we are not unreasonable. Since you were the ones to defeat it, an even split of the profits would be acceptable.” In short, give up what the Tenebach clan had earned or risk people dying.
One of our own stepped forward. Benval Tenebach. John wasn’t sure quite how he was related to him, he was a bit off from the main bloodline but at the Soul Expansion Phase just like the other. “Karan Roldan, is it not? With all due respect…” What followed was the longest string of profanities John remembered hearing. Some of the things he told him to do John didn’t even want to think about how they could be accomplished. It did, however, trigger more memories about Benval. ‘Fangtongue’ was what they called him. He was forbidden from being sent on any diplomatic mission, and the reason was quite obvious now that he had some exposure to the man. “… and your sister too. Now get out of our way.”
John raised his eyebrows. Was he trying to provoke them? If he wasn’t, he sure did a good job of acting like it. But there was something more. He felt it, just under the surface. If they did not share the same blood and the blessing of the guardian beast, John might not have noticed anything, but there was a subtle darkness flowing out of Benval Tenebach. Perhaps the extreme aggression was just for show.
“What’s wrong?” Benval said, “Just run home to your mommies. Or fight, you airheads.”
Okay. Maybe he had just learned to use his unnecessary aggression in a beneficial manner. It was, funnily enough, the last thing that made those in front of them the most angry. Airhead was kind of a lame insult unless you were talking about an earth element cultivator, in which case it was… still very lame. But in the Stone Conglomerate it was pretty serious. John smirked, but the way the ground started trembling he knew we were in for a fight. John just hoped Benval knew what he was doing. The arrayed forces weren’t balanced all that much in the Tenebach’s favor that a fight was necessarily beneficial.
Then people began to move, and John locked his eyes on Gastone, and then Kasimir. If they were fighting, then one of those two were going to die. It didn’t matter that being kicked into the death zone was ultimately beneficial to him, it was the intentions that mattered. And now was a perfect time for revenge. He just needed to stay away from the Essence Collection fights and those at late Foundation Phase.