At first glance, a cobra that was five meters away seemed like it would be of no threat to John. While he was quite aware of how quickly a snake could strike, it couldn’t cover that much distance even if it was coiled to spring at him. Even so, when it snapped its head forward he was fully on guard. Jets of poison shot out of its fangs towards his face. John steeled himself, his spiritual energy warding his body while he refused to move a muscle. The poison went from its quite accurate trajectory towards his face to flying mostly over his head, without him interacting with the poison in any way.
Gravity didn’t suddenly reverse and pull it up. Instead, he moved down. He didn’t duck. That would ruin the whole point of the exercise. Instead, he sank into the ground, just above his ankles. That was enough for the poisonous spit aimed at his eyes to miss him. Mostly. Some of it trailed low and brushed against his forehead. He wrapped his energy around it, darkness encircling it and flinging it away. Behind him, vertical trails of the poison dripped down the bark of a tree, leaving behind grey bark. The tree was a fairly typical pine, and the stone forest didn’t actually contain stone trees. Mostly. But the petrification poison of the gorgon cobra turned almost any organic material to stone, at least enough to make it nonfunctional. It seems things remained organic enough to be edible.
John stepped out of the earth- it was simpler than manipulating the earth to raise him back out of it, and he didn’t want to waste energy in a fight. Even if he was testing something, he wanted to retain some caution. He remained still for a moment, hoping the gorgon cobra would be interested in spitting at him again. It wasn’t really a good dodge- he could have just ducked to more effect- and he needed practice.
Instead, it charged him. A rational enough reaction given the circumstances. It wouldn’t have an infinite reservoir of poison and it couldn’t miss if it injected it into him. He held his sword at the ready, flinging a throwing dagger with his off hand. The goal was to pierce into the snake, because even a small wound that was deep enough was a great vessel for Clinging Affliction. The snake twisted slightly, causing him to only hit the side of its hood instead of closer to its center, but it slowed the creature enough that it had to abort its attack to slip under his sword.
He didn’t have much familiarity fighting snakes yet. Gorgon cobras were a dangerous variety because they were more dangerous in most every category. Durability, petrifying venom, speed. An appropriate enough target for someone at the Foundation Phase, though not really a challenge. He was just getting used to a different sort of opponent. Only fighting humans would skew his thought process too much, and he would realistically have to fight dangerous beasts more in the future. They gathered in places with high concentrations of spiritual energy and those same places could have natural treasures, rare medicinal herbs, or exotic and valuable materials. Sometimes humans tried to tame such stretches of wilderness, but more often than not humans living in an area threw off the balance of the ecosystem. That still happened when they came to hunt in various areas, but there was a large difference between what humans would allow to live next to them and what they would allow in hunting areas. Gorgon cobras would not be allowed to live within twenty kilometers of civilized areas, if it could be managed.
Snake and sword moved back and forth. John managed several slices along the creature but he was never able to get the right angle to chop through it. Being several meters in length John would have expected the snake to be ten or fifteen centimeters across, but it was more like twenty or twenty five. With hard scales and constant movement, getting in a good strike was difficult. If he used Clinging Affliction, he was also somewhat less able to augment the sharpness of his attacks with his energy focusing on the secondary effects. However, the initial dagger to hit the creature’s hood was clearly causing it significant discomfort, and the additional wounds built up enough to slow the creature. Confidence was important, and as the creature lunged at him one final time he sliced his sword up from below its neck. His sword slowed as it cut into the creature, but it redirected the snake as well. His attack merely cut halfway through the creature, but halfway was sufficient to kill almost anything. The gorgon cobras were durable but not freakishly so. It was simply a matter of attacks being good enough to cause the damage to their internal organs and muscular structure.
Though it was definitely dying, the creature still twitched and flapped about unnervingly. John kicked it away, dislodging it from his blade. He watched until it stopped moving before he moved closer. With another slice of his sword he fully decapitated the head, storing that in his bag. He didn’t have the skill to properly remove the venom sacs, but those were absolutely the most valuable part of the creature. Its scales had some value as well, so John sliced a line along its length and pulled them off. He could spend several years learning how to properly dissect certain creatures, but that wasn’t really an optimal use of his time at the moment.
John swept his senses around. Aydan was still there, silently and stealthily watching for if John massively messed up somehow. It was also possible to run into a group that was far larger than expected which wouldn’t really be his own fault… but still quite deadly without a bodyguard.
His senses also picked up the feeling of a nearby fight. Magtel, if he remembered the energy signature correctly. He couldn’t quite pick out whatever he was fighting against. The distribution of earth elemental spiritual energy throughout the area pretty smoothly matched the creature. At least it probably wasn’t another gorgon cobra- those concentrated energy in their venom sacs. Rapidly turning something to stone obviously couldn’t be an entirely chemical process. Though the rules of this world were different enough, maybe it could be. Spiritual energy was many times easier to gather than obtaining whatever exotic things that would require, if such a thing existed at all.
John hurried over towards the fight. Magtel probably didn’t need help. His bodyguard should be there, after all. But John needed to display his ability, and he would like to take the chance to build up relations. Magtel would certainly know his intentions, but that wasn’t a bad thing. They were family, they should try to maintain good standing with each other. Something the former him hadn’t been particularly good at. Not particularly interested in doing more than the bare minimum of, rather. He kept up whatever he needed to get away with what he wanted to do, though he was certainly never fooling anyone to his nature.
After passing around several bends and turns John was finally able to spot the battle with his eyes. Magtel was surrounded in a cloak of darkness, not that anything else would be expected from a member of the Tenebach clan. Even John naturally swirled darkness around him, and he was only half darkness element at the moment. Halfish. His darkness was a bit more ‘purified’ than his earth.
Magtel wielded his sword in two hands, though it was not large enough to require such. The additional hand allowed him to guide it more accurately and added a bit of muscle power- though the latter was probably negligible compared to just using some spiritual energy. He was currently fighting several snakes, quite different from the gorgon cobra. These were constrictors, but their resemblance to actual snakes was a bit stretched. They were still basically long tubes, but the body was broken down into dozens of smaller segments around twenty centimeters long. The segments were irregular in texture, lumpy and looking quite like natural boulders. The reason for the segments was obvious as John watched and listened to the creatures move. He’d heard the constrictors were made of stone, but he’d thought that just meant their scales or maybe the appearance and toughness. Instead, they hardly had anything like scales at all. They were closer to a collection of individual hunks of rock that scraped against the ground. Like a particular sort of rock snake from popular games on Earth, but with slightly more respect for physics and anatomy as they slithered along the ground. The part most resembling actual scales was where the different segments met, the only actually flexible parts of the creature. John wondered if they would be biologically classified as snakes on Earth, but it was a fine enough name to call them based on the other features.
Magtel was constantly on the move, deflecting the creatures when they sprang towards him and swiping at them as he found the opportunity. If he stopped moving the four creatures would be able to surround him, and if one of them then managed to properly attack he would find himself in dire straits. Though they were constrictors and therefore likely had no venom, they still had massive jaws and sharp fangs. They could easily pierce through energy and grab an arm. They were also not above using their whole length as a weapon, flipping around to whip with their tail or sweeping under his legs to try to unbalance him. John quickly moved forward, moving at an angle where he would be behind the group of snakes.
Though he softened his steps and concealed his presence, he wasn’t able to attack before the snake closest to him flicked at him with its tail. It was unclear if his energy had been sensed or if he was smelled or some other exotic sense, but at least he’d gotten close. He quickly leaned to avoid the attack, not difficult since the creature hadn’t been looking at him. The snake quickly turned fully towards him and began to attack in earnest. Though it was full of many openings, John found himself unable to damage it easily. Most of its body seemed to be more or less solid rock, tempered to harder toughness with earth elemental spiritual energy most likely. He aimed for the joints between the segments, but he found that the irregular shape of the segments deflected his attacks more often than the curve of the creature allowed him to strike at the joints.
He was certain he could eventually find a good opening, but he preferred to try something else first. If the constrictors were made of stone, couldn’t he control it? He gathered earth elemental spiritual energy as the main force of his next attack, swinging straight towards the creature’s body. Naturally it struck one of the large segments head on, but instead of barely damaging it his sword cut a single centimeter into the creature. It turned out that softening living stone was harder than uncontrolled earth, but since these creatures didn’t actually seem to have control of spiritual energy he was still able to affect their bodies to some extent.
As consequence of his attack, John was battered in the side by the creature’s tail. He had underestimated how much mass it had- which was silly because he’d seen it was made of stone- so his attack hadn’t deflected its body as much as he’d anticipated. His defensive energy softened the blow such that his ribs didn’t collapse, but he thought they were at least bruised. He was also pushed back by the force of the blow and took the chance to get his footing. It had clearly meant to knock him off his feet instead, but being able to manipulate the ground under his feet had its advantages. He still needed more practice though.
The stone constrictor coiled and then sprang towards him, but he was ready. The creature gave little thought to defense and John attacked the exact same spot- this time combining earth and darkness. It wasn’t quite what he wanted, but he managed to get a little bit deeper into the snake and leave behind a bit of lingering darkness. While Clinging Affliction continued to work at it, John allowed the force of his attacks to push himself away from the creature instead of trying to knock it away. When it attempted to coil around him instead, he sank the ground beneath it while raising the section under his feet. Such a large area of control was a bit too slow, so the maneuver didn’t quite work as planned. He still had to jump up and over to avoid his legs being trapped. He continued attacking the single segment when he found the chance, and finally got deep enough to damage something important. The stone snake started to back off, clearly concerned to be injured. However, even as it started to slither away John knew his energy was burrowing into it. It might not die quickly, but it wouldn’t survive the wound.
While John was occupied, Magtel had used the reduced pressure to slay one of the other constrictors. John hadn’t been able to pay much attention, but Magtel’s current tactics seemed to be based around minimizing the snake’s senses and aiming for the joints between segments where the creature was less armored and thinner. Extra energy allowed him to keep his attack angled where he wanted even against the rough surface while the creatures moved, and he’d nearly severed one of them. When John approached and distracted one of them, Magtel finished his single opponent quickly. The final stone snake turned to flee at that before John could seriously injure it. All in all, John thought he performed well. Magtel was still older and several ranks of cultivation higher than him, so it was expected that he would be more able to kill the creatures in a timely manner. He probably could have won the battle alone, but he appreciated it nonetheless as it allowed him to retain some spiritual energy and not have to stop and rest in a dangerous area.