Something akin to battle lines formed up. Even if cultivators didn’t fight in ranks, nobody wanted to be the first to press too far forward and find themselves surrounded by enemies. A good portion of the stronger cultivators were already at the front, making up the majority of the attacks and counter attacks that were happening.
Overall the fight was fairly even, but the battle had just begun. Both sides pushed against each other in differing levels of coordinated attacks. The Tenebach clan’s members made up more than half of their side, so their combined area of darkness was more effective than the efforts of the Roldan and Boyce clans to control the earth as one, since the two clans merely shared an elemental affinity and not the whole core of their cultivation. Allies of the Tenebach clan moved to either side, since the darkness didn’t exactly distinguish friend from foe as it interfered with vision and senses.
John drifted towards the left side, still within the area of darkness. He positioned himself behind the front row for the moment, looking for openings to make use of throwing daggers. Nobody was so careless that he could easily strike their throat or another vital point, but he alternated between Clinging Affliction, Spiritual Energy Absorption, and his yet unnamed petrification ability. Since a majority of those they were fighting were earth element cultivators they could likely resist the petrification, if they expected it. Once a particular person resisted either of his attacks, he usually didn’t target them with the same one.
Darkness flowed over the shifting ground as the two clashed. Each side employed a myriad of weapons and techniques, but they were matched by their opponents. Neither side was able to gain much advantage yet, but the lines of battle shifted and warped. Soon enough, John found himself on the front edge next to other early Foundation Phase members of the clan. Both Magtel and Crystin had drifted to the other side of the battle, but John managed to position himself next to a few of those who had been at the training exercise and who had fought with him, at least in a few skirmishes against the native beasts. It was better to have some connection, at least.
John traded blows, swinging with his sword to attack and parry both the opponent directly in front of him with a spear and those to either side as they attacked his allies. As he fought he made the most he could of Spiritual Energy Absorption to keep himself as close to the peak as he could. He couldn’t sustain himself forever that way, but in such a large scale fight it was important to last as long as he could. It was possible to retreat if he had to, but the more active combatants the better they would do.
The battle shifted, as the left side was pressed back along the road. It was clear that they were going for the ribcage or some of the other parts that had been left behind for the battle. John wouldn’t give his life for any of it, but he wouldn’t just let them have it either. Benval likely wouldn’t have been chosen to be the forefront if they weren’t provoking the enemy into attacking for a reason. He just didn’t know what it was, besides the obvious idea that they thought they had the advantage.
It seemed pretty even, though. At least John didn’t feel any advantage on the Tenebach’s side, since they were steadily being pushed back. He moved with the flow, of course, because he didn’t have the personal power to turn the battle. Not yet, at least.
Somehow he found himself facing both Kasimir and Gastone. He’d already beaten Kasimir once, by appearing as if he were exhausting himself before revealing his earth elemental spiritual energy. However, that trick wouldn’t work again and while John had been growing stronger since that point, Kasimit wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing. Adding on Gastone’s presence, his all too reasonably shaped warhammer adding to Kasimir’s threat and John couldn’t do much but keep on the defensive, maneuvering himself to where allies could relieve some of the pressure occasionally.
He had to thank Brage again. His training was keeping John safe more than his current level of cultivation. His spiritual totems were still individually weaker than the other two, and though they worked in tandem to a somewhat better effect, he wasn’t yet ready to fight two peers at once.
Then it happened. He stepped forward, thrusting his sword at an opening left by Kasimir. For all he could tell it wasn’t any sort of feint, and his sword stabbed forward with sharpness and weight. He felt the ground shift beneath his feet, countering the motion with his own movement and some of his earth control, but his sword went off target, slicing along Kasimir’s shoulder instead of stabbing into his chest. From the side, Gastone was swinging his warhammer. John couldn’t dodge, and prepared himself to take the hit. He hardened his earth elemental spiritual energy and was ready to do his best to absorb the impact as he was knocked back.
Instead, there was a loud clash as boulders collided, the shockwave from the impact sending him sliding back a half step. “Do you require assistance, Fortkran Tenebach?” A heavy stone club smashed into the ground, creating a momentary barrier between John and the other two. That gave him a moment to recognize Renato.
He smiled, “I’ll gladly accept, Renato.” He didn’t know they had called upon the Order of the Amber Heart for help, but he doubted it was just a coincidence. Then again, it wouldn’t be strange for them to be anywhere in the Stone Conglomerate and go to see a battle happening. Then again, there were far too many of them he was sensing now- and the lack of hesitation at joining the Tenebach’s side was obvious. John’s senses covered the two behind the wall, and he gestured to Renato and around to the left, then to himself and around to the right.
They rounded the corners of the already crumbling earthen wall at the same time, and while John knew it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to either Kasimir or Gastone, he didn’t want to fight Kasimir more. He was too agile for someone with the strong defenses of an earth cultivator, while the time fighting Gastone John felt he was less of a problem. Not that he would take his opponent lightly. John had already spent more than a quarter of his energy before they got to where they were, and Gastone was a bit more fresh.
But he didn’t want to call off the fight. This was revenge. These two had forced John and Renato into the death zone. John chose to ignore that technically Renato jumped down after the treasure he tossed in, because nobody would have had to make that decision if they hadn’t been blocked in.
John’s sword wove its way around Gastone’s attempts to block. Warhammers were made for offense, and while it would certainly break his bones if he was hit by the hammer side- and the spike would certainly puncture deep into his body- he just had to not let that happen. He had an idea for a technique he wanted to try, but it was in no way ready for use in combat. Instead, he kept pestering Gastone with small cuts with his sword while his opponent had to deal with thrown attacks with his off hand. Slicing through earth elemental spiritual energy wasn’t as hard when he’d been cutting through actual rock so much lately, but that still didn’t make it trivial. Even so, he started getting an advantage as he wounded Gastone without expending too much of his own energy.
Renato nearly ignored Kasimir’s attacks while he made wide sweeping swings with his stone club. Kasimir only tried parrying twice before he realized he couldn’t afford to directly clash with Renato. He was one of the favored disciples of one of the strongest factions in the region, and John could feel how much the earthen treasure had done for him. John didn’t focus on that battle, but he felt one particular swing from Kasimir. It cut right through Renato’s defenses and into his ribs… except it didn’t make it through the surface, instead deflecting off of the bones. Yes, nearly dying had done them both some good. He would just prefer not to repeat that sort of thing too often.
He continued looking for openings in his own fight. A quick thrust here, a slash there, and he was wearing down Gastone. They had drifted somewhat into the area controlled by the Tenebach clan, which gave John more of an advantage from sharing in the darkness as well as making it difficult for Gastone to retreat carelessly. Nobody seemed free to fight him at the moment as most of the Amber Heart cultivators were focusing on the center of the battle, but Gastone couldn’t just retreat.
The battle shifted to beneath the giant ribcage, limiting some of their range of motion as the ribcage acted as giant pillars in between them. John circled around them, continuously attacking until he found just the right opening. With a twist of his sword Gastone’s hammer was flying through the air, and a continuation of his motion John’s sword cleaved towards Gastone’s neck. Then he felt overwhelming danger. One of the late Foundation Phase cultivators of the Boyce clan had launched an attack. He had to pull back to defend himself. So he did, but he twisted the energy on the very tip of his sword as he did so. It would be lost regardless, so as it cut through the surface of Gastone’s energy he let it split off from him.
A massive force rent the ground where he would have been standing if he’d committed more fully to the attack. Before there could be a follow up, a strong energy pressed down on the battlefield. Everyone instinctively moved into a defensive stance, except those most familiar with Johannes Dalen, Head of the Order of the Amber Heart. John had only seen him twice, but as the man stood above him on the ribcage of the great lizard, he shivered slightly. Even though he was ‘merely’ at the early stage of Consolidated Soul, the man was still the strongest he had ever met. He’d almost forgotten that the man had advanced before the last opening of the Crystal Caverns, and perhaps everyone else had too, for all the shock John discerned. “This battle seems entirely unnecessary. I don’t know how you thought this attempted theft would go unnoticed. But today I am feeling merciful. Take your dead and flee. At least your lives will be spared, but there will certainly be recompense for your actions at a later date.”
“Yeah!” Benval said. “Run away with your tails between your legs. And don’t forget that you’re all-” John thought Benval must have exhausted his list of profanities in the initial encounter, and was quite surprised when the man came up with an entirely new list. Before he finished it, the enemy forces had gathered up their bodies and left. The Tenebach clan and their allies had some losses as well, but they had certainly come out ahead. And while it might have been convenient if they could slaughter the Roldan and Boyce clan members and be done with them, their side would certainly incur more losses during that time, even with the help of the Order of the Amber heart and Johannes Dalen. Besides, even though they were attacked, slaughtering them to the last man was an inappropriate response. At least, it wouldn’t be good for their reputation. This would be better. John didn’t know how much they owed the Order of the Amber Heart for their help, but it was certainly worth the cost. Hopefully they would stay around and he could talk with Renato, since they’d hardly had any chance to speak and they were probably friends.