Truthful Transmigration 113

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The various bits and pieces of the strange darkness creature that were littering the ground, along with the blood, indicated it was actually being injured. Unfortunately for the earth cultivators fighting it, they weren’t winning. 

It was just about time for the Tenebach clan members to step in to attack the creature, while it was weakened but still distracted by the group. As it was still the stronger combatant, they had to focus on damaging it first, though it would also be best to not let the other hunters flee. The scheming between Artsiom and Bashkim would be more effective if the latter didn’t know what happened to his hunters.

Moments before he gave the order, John noticed something. It might have been the fact that he practiced multiple elements and thus was used to changes in the balance around him… or it might have been luck. Either way, he picked up a brief sensation that made him second guess what he was about to do. The instincts of a cultivator were important, and so far they hadn’t led him astray. He didn’t count getting nearly killed, when there was some hidden point behind them.

He gestured silently for the others to follow him, leading them out of the tunnel where they waited. The only place to go was closer to the battle, but John picked somewhere with a wider gap they could slip through to stay concealed. He turned back to everyone following him and put a finger over his lips, pointing back towards the entrance. He didn’t exactly need silence, though that was part of it. But everyone stealthily sensing back that way was able to pick out another group about to enter the chamber.

They would have been perfectly poised to come up behind the darkness cultivators, and the Tenebach clan would have been easily noticed. They were hiding from people in the chamber, and even if they concealed themselves in darkness the lights from the room and the other cultivators suddenly not penetrating an area would have given them away. Deeper in the chamber there were many more places for light to be blocked or act unexpectedly, so it would be less noticeable. 

The group that came up behind them blended in fairly well with the stone around them, clearly used to concealing themselves. Exactly the sort of people Bashkim had working for him. They’d made a mistake, assuming the group they saw was the right one instead of investigating more closely. Fortunately, the situation had been salvaged.

The new group of cultivators stopped at the threshold of the chamber, watching the battle. Their numbers were similar to the other group, about ten or eleven, or at least what the first group had been. Several of their members were down, and others were injured. “We need to withdraw!” a man who had to be the captain of the group called out. Instead of just stating that and leaving his men to fend for themselves, he rushed forward, taking a great swing at the writing mass that was the darkness element beast. His great hammer connected with something, sending it flying back into the wall with great force. Shards of rock fell from the more solid stones, along with clouds of dust from the softer chalk that made up part of the structure of the caves.

That gave everyone a chance to flee for the entrance… which unfortunately brought them right into an equally deadly foe. Perhaps more deadly, since the second group of hunters was fresh, uninjured, and unexpected. Several men were cut down immediately as the group stepped into the chamber, revealing themselves. 

John watched intently for a moment before realizing he’s lost the position of the beast. If it was not actively engaged, there was a decent chance it might sense their group. If it snuck up on them and chose to attack, it would reveal them and might leave them in a poor tactical decision. Now that they were fighting, the second group of hunters were easy to track, so he focused on finding the darkness beast. And there it was, moving over the fallen bodies of the members of the first group. That was… probably not good. John didn’t have so much of a concern for the integrity of the corpses of people he didn’t know, but if the thing could feed in a combat scenario- when given a few moments- it might be more dangerous than he thought. Or it was making a mistake. Normally, consuming a large amount of food would leave an animal slower, but it clearly wasn’t a normal creature.

The answer was obvious a few moments later when it finished its efforts, moving up behind the captain, who was the only remaining member of the first team. It lopped his head off with an axe, using human arms. Probably the same arms of the man who had chopped a hoof off of it before with that same axe. So that was how it worked. Maybe they didn’t want any of this creature after all. 

The second group of hunters didn’t seem to care- about the human limbs or the fact that its body might have little value, but they were probably getting paid regardless. And while the limbs certainly added some variety to its attacks, with the weapons it now had, its weakness was beginning to be apparent. The amount of spiritual energy the creature had was starting to diminish, even if it was slightly more stable feeling after feeding on the human corpses.

The creature’s tactics continued to be the same sort of hit-and-run it was making use of earlier, but now it had weapons that increased its reach. Along with the axe it seemed to have a couple spears, as John saw at least two stabbing at the same time. After attacking whoever was out in front, be that a single person or a handful, the creature pulled back into the chamber, squeezing through narrow openings between pillars of stone and the walls of the chamber. 

One of the hunters, a large man wielding a hammer not dissimilar from the first captain’s, took a swing at one of the stone pillars. John winced. He was pretty sure it wasn’t structural, but he didn’t know if the man had even stopped to consider it. Then again, the man was an earth cultivator- perhaps he had a developed sense for such things. Either way, his swings began opening up the chamber, and the fresh hunters were able to counter with their own attacks against the creature every time it came to them.

The battle inevitably drew towards the hiding Tenebach clan members, but it was best they not stay hidden for much longer anyway. The beast’s renewed vigor was fleeting, and soon enough the second group would be unoccupied, which would make the fight an eight against ten battle. 

John stepped forward, making his intentions clear to his allies. When he flicked his arm forward with a throwing dagger, the rest of his allies acted at the same time. 

Even when focused on an opponent in front of them, no sensible cultivator left their back entirely unprotected. It wasn’t just a matter of being concerned about ambush, but simply the possibility of being knocked backwards into something made it the right choice. Thus, the target of John’s dagger didn’t get it particularly deeply embedded in his back. Not that it mattered. Some of the darkness energy sunk into the wound, the technique of Clinging Affliction. 

There were several more attacks that struck true from the Tenebach clan, taking advantage of their surprise to lessen their opponent’s numbers significantly. Though it was not coordinating with them, the creature of darkness struck at the same time, slicing a gouge on the chest of one of those in the front of the group.

From that point on the hunters knew that there were darkness cultivators in the shadows, but that didn’t mean they could find them precisely. Unlike the creature which only formed darkness around itself, the human cultivators of the Tenebach clan spread their power over a larger area, working together to hide everywhere they might be. Even though the hunters had enchanted lights that somewhat pierced through the darkness, fighting figures they couldn’t see clearly weakened the counterattacks and slowed the dodging of the earth cultivators.

Even attacked from both sides, however, they weren’t suddenly helpless. Several of them took defensive stances, sticking themselves to the ground. Stone crawled over their skin, much like how the Unbreakable Boulder technique worked. John wasn’t sure if it was quite the same, but Earth cultivators were quite capable with their defenses. And even if they couldn’t directly hit someone with a counterattack, their weapons struck the walls, scattering shards of rock that battered against everyone’s defenses, as well as filling the air with chalky dust.

Both sides would have to filter the dust out of their lungs, but the earth cultivators might be slightly better at it. John was fine as well, devoting just a small portion of his earth energy to the task. 

The hunters tried to move to a better position, breaking free from the flanking positions. Some of them managed to do so, but not without leaving themselves open to some attacks from the half-concealed figures in the darkness. 

One of them managed to pick out John, chopping a two-handed axe towards him. He dodged backwards, accelerating his movements with a burst of air energy. Then the man charged forwards, his weapon still swinging to the side as he tackled into John. Aydan was ready nearby, slicing into the man’s shoulder but not penetrating terribly deep through his defenses. John had the thought that Matayal would have done better, but they always synchronized their efforts better than anyone else. 

John was flung backwards into the wall, softening the hit as much as possible with more earth energy, most suited for directly taking impacts. But if he kept getting hit, he’d run out long before his opponents ran dry. That was one benefit of being focused on a single element. It showed, too. Not just in the earth cultivators, but also the Tenebach clan.

For example, Luctus was barely even visible to John, walking along the edge of the enemy’s ranks like he was on a casual stroll, taking swings at any openings they showed. When they tried to counterattack, he moved with speed seemingly inappropriate for his age, though John later determined it mostly just appeared fast. He really used slight movements that brought him just out of the line of an attack, while making his opponent feel he was too far for them to try to follow through by blurring their senses.

As the battle continued, John was beginning to question the structural stability of the chamber. Perhaps it was fine, but if nothing else the quantities of chalk dust in the air were beginning to be a problem. He could see through darkness just fine, but he couldn’t see through rock dust. Even the earth cultivators weren’t particularly better in that regard.

Getting fed up with it, John gathered wind around him and shoved it all towards them and the creature trying to sneakily pick up more bodies littered around the area. Then he had a brilliant idea. Or at least… something like one. He moved his energy about the room, sweeping the dust away from where his allies were congregating and into the middle. It created something like a dense fog, one that neither side could see through. Then he called upon an element he very rarely used. He didn’t have a totem for it, after all.

A tiny spark, to light a bunch of rock dust on fire. John hadn’t been sure it would work. He knew that flour did the same thing, but rock wasn’t commonly known to be flammable or explosive. But it didn’t hurt to try- at worst, he forced their enemies to keep themselves from choking on the dust.

It turned out that in fact, it did work. An explosion rocked the area, eating up all of the oxygen in the middle of the room. And then there was a loud crashing sound that followed afterwards. That was the only thing that made the idea only mostly a good one. 

John didn’t wait for the dust to settle, but forced it away as he created some breathable air for himself and the others. The Tenebach clan members had been fighting around the edge of the room for the most part, and of course he hadn’t pushed the dust to where they were… so the part of the ceiling that collapsed hadn’t been above them. Mostly.

One man had a leg stuck under a pile of rock, which two others helped him pull out. Meanwhile, Luctus moved around to find the hunters who had survived. Even a couple tons of rock might not kill some cultivators, so they carefully poked at the pile. The large man with the hammer came bursting out, only to find himself surrounded by several enemies and quickly taken down.

As for the beast they were hunting, it was badly burned- and visible. It was exactly as bad as John imagined, a tangled mess of limbs from many different creatures. It was even worse that everything was blackened and bloodied as it wriggled uselessly. He stabbed out with his sword, aiming for a core that he felt held some sort of actual vital organs.

Well, at least they were all alive. Retrieving some of the hunter’s equipment might be a pain, and it was honestly hard to tell if the beast would have ever been worth anything, but they accomplished their goal. And at least they were certain they got the right group of hunters, when they began rifling through their pockets. That made the whole situation marginally better.

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