Two Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators outside the mines, one inside. If John only had the Soul Expansion and Foundation cultivators he’d brought with him, things would be rather dire. He had to admit his personal position left something to be desired, but at least he had his handful of steadfast allies and the group that had been left in the mining camp outside. They were surrounded on both sides, but they should be able to hold on for a short time. Unless something had gone very wrong, that was all they would need.
John turned to Renato and the two others from the Order of the Amber Heart, belting out a quick strategy. “Let’s collapse the tunnel!”
They had intentionally avoided collapsing things while they were inside as the consequences ranged from extremely inconvenient to deadly, but now they didn’t have to worry about that. The three earth element cultivators wound up their attacks while John used his own portion of earth element to weaken the structure of the entrance in what he hoped were the right areas.
As their immediate pursuers were catching up, Renato’s stone club smashed into the wooden supports on one side of the entrance, rebounding to strike one of the approaching enemies. The other two slammed the other side, and the entrance collapsed. A couple enemies were buried under the rubble, and those behind them had several meters of it to work their way through. As cultivators it might take them only a minute or two, but that was a long time in a battle.
With only one front to worry about for the moment, John was more comfortable taking control of the Tenebach clan’s forces and organizing a combat formation. It was good that he did, because a moment later there was a series of attacks directed specifically at John himself. The two Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators were from the Society of Midnight, so of course he was a priority target. Using the flow of energy from himself and the others, he slashed a group of throwing daggers out of the air, loaded with enough darkness elemental spiritual energy to pierce deep into him and doubtless coated in poison.
As they charged forward, one wielding a pair of curved daggers and the other a whip-sword, John knew that just because he might be able to match them with power for the moment didn’t mean he could rest easy. Combat skill and experience would be more important in the incoming melee. It was fortunate that the enemy was a mix of members of the Society of Midnight and earth cultivators, since otherwise they might have been better positioned to set up a formation of their own. Though Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators might receive less useful augmentation from those significantly below them in power, any amount could lead to them overpowering John.
Renato and the two with him were working their way through the side of the battlefield, sending people flying- when they were lucky enough to distribute the force of the blow throughout their body. John hoped they would provide enough of a distraction to stop the Soul Expansion Phase cultivators from joining the attack against him.
John was glad his sword outranged the daggers, as it allowed him a bit more freedom to deal with the troublesome whip-sword. It was the sort of weapon that was absolutely awful and useless… when not wielded by a cultivator. The weapon could go from more or less a normal sword to an extended version held together by thin segments making up the backbone of the weapon. These were extremely fragile, meaning any attack could slice through them unless they were fortified by spiritual energy. It was also impossible to control in a useful manner without energy, but with energy it was able to snake around however it pleased, extending to a few meters in length and threatening to slash John from all sides.
Instead of risking injury, John made use of what was probably an excessive amount of energy to deflect the weapon, striking upwards to raise it over his head instead of risking a sideways parry coiling it around him. He was also hoping that his attacks might break through the spiritual energy coating the weapon and break it apart, but it appeared that its wielder wasn’t going to make things so easy.
Behind him John heard the sound of rocks being hurled and crushed, indicating that it wouldn’t be long before the group in the tunnels broke out. John knew that one way or another, he didn’t have to hold out for long… but the sword-whip was coiling around the dagger user, allowing him to get close. Using the energy of the group formation John managed to prevent injury from the slashes, but he knew his side was being less efficient.
Then a flying man forced the whip-sword wielder to reposition. He only took a single step back, but that was enough for Renato to follow up by charging in himself, having already worked through the flank of weaker opponents. He was working together with the other two from his sect, but John was surprised by his recklessness in attacking a cultivator so much higher in cultivation. Was he not afraid of death?
Perhaps not. And even if he was, letting it affect his fighting would only make it more likely. The whip-sword withdrew and coiled around Renato, snaking along his limbs and trying to slice him apart, but he was coated all over in a stubborn layer of solidified rock, an up-front expenditure of earth elemental spiritual energy to protect Renato throughout the battle. The more powerful cultivator was certainly able to cause damage to that layer of stone, but Renato slammed his stone club downward, imparting great force in a single moment. Apparently enough that the whip-sword user was concerned about his weapon, withdrawing it instead of pressing the attack. As usual, Renato’s attack didn’t just end there- a great spike of earth came from where he impacted the ground, driving his opponent back.
John found it difficult to extricate himself from the close quarters slashing of the dagger wielder, his defenses crumbling as he wasn’t able to repair them as fast as they were damaged. He once more wished Matayal were present, as having her help smooth his control of a formation was extremely useful. But she wasn’t, so he had to deal with things himself. He was barely able to deflect the two daggers with a single sword, but he had a free hand that he used to flick throwing daggers at close range. Anywhere he saw any signs of weakness, he made an attack. But even with the support of a formation, John knew he was no match for a real Consolidated Soul Phase cultivator.
Moments before the tunnel behind him opened up, reinforcements finally arrived. John had been wondering how they were so far away, but when they appeared they were immediately behind the enemy. A combination of Tenebach clan cultivators and members of the Order of the Amber Heart. They weren’t just going to leave one of their best disciples with a mere pair of bodyguards, after all.
Shrouds of darkness were less effective in the daylight, but both John and his opponent had been making use of them to obscure their own attacks to a small degree. He found himself just a bit too far to do anything of great effect when he felt his own shroud join with another. A Consolidated Soul Phase cultivation, to be specific.
Strong cultivators had to have very good instincts or end up dead sooner than most. John was disappointed that the man with two daggers had those instincts, but he still got a scrape along his shoulder blade as he threw himself to the side. It was certainly better than having his head taken off, but not from John’s perspective.
“Well now,” Luctus said as he continued to press the attack on the man, “Picking on my grandson, are we?”
John smiled. Now that the secret was revealed- and present- he could relax. Even if there was still a battle going on, and there would be the danger of the third Consolidate Soul Phase enemy joining in a moment, he still took the moment he had. The Tenebach Clan absolutely wanted all the resources they could get, and if this mine actually produced spirit darkness they’d be glad to take it over… but Luctus had already broken through some time prior. They’d avoided any sort of big declaration precisely because they knew that the Society of Midnight and others were out to get them.
That likely included Bashkim, as he was the one most likely to have gotten Artsiom’s seal. John had recognized the handwriting was wrong, and his return letter had been worded so that if it got intercepted Bashkim wouldn’t know he was aware of what was happening… but if it got to Artsiom he would get the message and perhaps find a chance to make a move. Though if the Tenebach clan could actually pin Bashkim to this attack, it wouldn’t matter what the Diamond Trading Company said- Bashkim would die.
Renato didn’t seem particularly bothered by the fact that his arms were becoming bloodied from the sword-whip, but that was probably for the same reason as John. Or rather, the other person who had slipped in with the help of Luctus. Johannes Dalen, head of the Order of the Amber Heart and a cultivator much better established in the Consolidated Soul Phase, appeared wielding no weapons- but happily grabbing the sword-whip with his bare hands. Well, not quite bare, as they were coated in rock and spiritual energy.
“I thought I made it clear last time,” the man said as he yanked on the sword-whip, not caring whether he pulled the wielder or disarmed him. “We don’t take kindly to invaders.”
As it turned out, the sword-whip wielder preferred to keep his hold on the weapon, which meant he was sent flying towards Johannes, who was swinging forward a fist to meet him. The man reacted quickly, kicking out with one leg to meet the fist and vault himself over. That kept him from having his chest crushed, but there was a snapping sound that indicated that either foot or ankle bones, possibly both, had broken in significant quantities.
Though John would have liked to provide his own assistance to his grandfather, the latter half of his escort that had remained behind with them away from the camp should be sufficient backup to help deal with the other cultivators and possibly assist with the enemy elder.
He was gathering his energy for something else, drawing from the pool of cultivators still assisting him as a formation. He was moving his position around behind, watching as the last pieces of rubble burst out of the tunnel. The spear-wielding member of the Society of Midnight wasn’t surprised to see John, but he might have been surprised at the way John rushed at him. The tip of the spear was just a bit slow as he thrust at John, who deflected it with his sword.
To keep the man from quickly withdrawing his weapon, John’s arm extended to the side, preventing him from attacking with it. But that wasn’t his goal anyway. He continued to move in, his left arm outstretched. A bare fist, even enhanced with all of John’s energy and that of the formation, would hardly be able to damage the man by impacting his bare chest. As John’s fist impacted the man, he lost all momentum immediately. Then he pushed his spiritual energy, trying to drive deep inside towards the thing calling him.
With only one previous attempt pulling a shart of Ciaritzal out of these ancient members of the Society of Midnight, he couldn’t call himself experienced… but he had one success while his opponent had likely never defended against a similar situation before. John could tell this man was stronger than Leutwin, but he had the power of others backing him up to close the gap.
He dove quickly and deep, unconcerned about causing damage or not. He reached into the darkness, his ‘hand’ grasping a paw. Then he yanked, pulling out the shard of Ciaritzal and being quite happy to rip anything along the way out. The mass of energy in the man’s dantian was still in the process of rallying to defend against the unwanted intrusion, clawing at John and the shard on the way out but ultimately finding little purchase.
Upon returning to his body, John immediately blasted all of the energy he could between himself and his livid opponent. The man likely would take time to fully comprehend what had happened, but being injured by a junior would not make him a pleasant person. Darkness energy simply served to augment the earth’s shoving force, and the pressure of air served to push the two of them apart without dealing significant damage to either. But John had broken off the engagement and retrieved exactly what he wanted. Now they just had to finish taking advantage of months of keeping Luctus’ cultivation secret, with the help of their allies of course.