Reynard didn't bother answering Daniel. He leaned his body to the front as he dashed in Jake's direction, sword in hand. Far behind him, the other six members of the Roaring Mountain Sect also moved, aiming for the injured Abyss Sect disciples.
Jake gritted his teeth as he tried to move, but his body refused to obey. No matter how much he tried or how desperate he was, his limbs didn't respond. Blood flowed freely from the wounds on his chest, and breathing was difficult and painful. It was impossible to describe his anger and unwillingness as Reynard closed in and he couldn't even defend himself. He had never been this helpless in his life. He refused to be taken down without being able to fight back, but there was nothing he could do.
"Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh!"
An ear-piercing whistle echoed in the plaza as five swords shuttled through the air at a blinding speed, aiming the six members of the Roaring Mountain Sect that were charging forward. Daniel slapped his Bottomless Pouch, producing a round shield, which he held on his left arm as he rushed in front of Jake, blocking Reynard's path.
With a deafening sound, Reynard mercilessly smashed his sword against Daniel's shield, sending him tumbling back. Daniel felt his left arm numbing as he did his best to maintain his balance while retreating. He could clearly see that a part of his shield had caved in, pressing against his arm and deforming the shield. Another impact of this level would certainly break his left arm.
"Do you think you can hold me back with just this?" Reynard asked, clearly annoyed. He looked at Daniel's bloodstained clothes, and his gaze fell on Daniel's right arm, that was bleeding profusely from a number of gashes and holes. Daniel had most likely used it to defend himself in the earlier onslaught. "You can barely stand; do you really think you can stop me?"
"Well, I just did, didn't I?" Daniel answered with a mocking tone, trying his best to keep his voice as even as possible. In truth, Daniel was inwardly shocked and deeply unsettled. Reynard's casual strike had almost broken his arm, and that was with him using a shield.
Reynard didn't answer and simply stomped the ground. Daniel's face paled as he felt the earth beneath his feet squirming. He quickly threw himself to the side, just in time to see a gigantic spike rising from the place where he had been standing just moments ago.
Daniel furrowed his brows as he patted the Bottomless Pouch yet again, producing another sword. These swords were all low-grade artifacts. Daniel could barely afford a set with six swords when he used all of his savings, but he felt it was worth it. The sword quietly hovered by his side as Daniel regained his composure and coldly watched Reynard.
Large beads of sweat were running down his face as Daniel focused. The movements of the five swords holding back the Roaring Mountain Sect members were somewhat strange, almost faltering. Nevertheless, they were still fast enough to give trouble to their targets. Even if they did not truly land a hit, holding them back was enough.
The farther the swords were, the harder it was to have a proper grasp of the swords, not to mention Daniel was trying to control six at the same time while facing Reynard. It was not unlike him fighting two completely different fights at the same time, and having to face seven opponents at once.
Reynard had a clear look of displeasure on his face as he sustained Daniel's gaze. He remembered what he needed to know about Daniel Meyer as, for the first time, he seriously analyzed him. Daniel's stance was weak and slightly off, mostly due to his injuries.
His right arm, that had already been crippled once, was now most likely truly useless, even when taken into account the method Daniel found to regain some of its functions. The new injuries Daniel had sustained would continue to bleed, the pain would disrupt his focus, and even if he forcefully moved his arm by controlling Qi, what good would it bring him?
Still, Reynard knew he did not need his right arm. Daniel's capacity to manipulate Qi with finesse gave him the capability to control multiple swords at the same time. If Reynard were at the Body Tempering realm and facing Daniel alone, it would certainly have been a thrilling fight.
Reynard, however, was at the Elemental Purification realm, and he was not alone. In truth, he almost pitied Daniel. He had no chance to win but was still struggling with all he could. Beyond that slumped stance, beyond that exhausted face and those burning eyes, behind too many lines, too many weaknesses to count, Reynard could feel an unbendable will, and that made him incredibly mad.
Reynard really wanted to face Daniel in a fair fight. He really wanted to suppress his cultivation, to deny himself the advantage of manipulating the elements and face Daniel with all he could. With only his sword, his body, and his wits. It was truly a pity for him, a maddening matter.
No matter what, Reynard couldn't indulge in his desires today. He had many missions to take care of, and the plan had already been thrown into disarray by the presence of the woman accompanying Amon Skoller. Reynard had found the need to improvise, and even if it had worked, the results would not be the best.
Reynard's expression hardened for a moment as he gritted his teeth, and a rare unwillingness showed in his eyes for no more than a second. As if it had never changed, his expression returned to the usual coldness.
What was important was the mission. Fairness, honor and the likes had no right to be in his mind today. They were only excuses, chains to hold back the ones with strength.
Daniel shivered when he saw the changes on Reynard's expression. Even more than before he could feel a chilling killing intent wrapping around him as if the Qi itself was turning murderous.
What was this?
He never had experienced such a feeling before. It was a completely bizarre sensation that put Daniel on the edge. He felt that even the smallest of movements would make his muscles tear and his skin rupture. It was as if there was a primordial behemoth hiding in the air, setting its sights on Daniel, waiting for him to drop his guard to rip him into pieces.
Reynard suddenly moved, dashing towards Daniel. Daniel felt the earth beneath his feet rumble gently, making him jolt. It was different from the last time, this rumble was weak, and Daniel couldn't feel the earth moving beneath him other than that. His eyes widened as he realized what was happening.
He cursed inwardly, waving his arms desperately. The shield on his left arm shot out, flying through the air towards Jake, who was still somehow standing. Without ceremony, the shield violently bashed against him, throwing him away as a sharp spike shot out from the ground, scraping against his left calf and leaving a deep gash.
Daniel looked at the incoming Reynard with a disgruntled look on his face. He knew he had no choice anymore. Reynard would not let Daniel buy time until help came. The only way to stop Reynard from attacking Jake would be directly facing him and putting him under enough pressure to stop him from attacking the others at a distance.
Both Reynard and Daniel knew that. If Daniel still tried to simply stall, Jake would be killed at the first opening Daniel showed. The question was how long Daniel would manage to last facing Reynard head-on.
The lonely sword hovering around Daniel shot out with a howl as it pierced the air, aiming for Reynard's head. Reynard didn't even bother dodging, instead, his pace quickened as he brandished Mirage.
Daniel's sword went flying away as Reynard advanced. His eyes flashed with a cold glint, and the earth rippled again. Daniel suddenly felt his right foot sinking into the ground, throwing him off balance. He beckoned with his hand, and the sword Reynard had deflected changed course midair, aiming for Reynard yet again. The shield he had sent towards Jake trembled once before flying back to Daniel's direction.
Reynard didn't bat an eye to the sword as he continued to push forward. He lightly flicked his wrist, and the ground that had swallowed Daniel's foot slid to the side, breaking his poor stance and making him fall to the ground.
With a loud thud, Daniel heavily fell, bashing his head against the floor. The sword aiming for Reynard suddenly fell down, as Daniel's focus was broken and the Qi wrapped around the sword dispersed.
"Clang, clang, clang!"
One by one, the other five swords Daniel was controlling fell to the ground. With a scoff, the Roaring Mountain Sect disciples pushed forward, spreading out as they relentlessly advanced towards the fallen Abyss Sect members.
The earth beneath Daniel rippled again, making his face pale. Blood was trickling down his head and his mind was blurred due to the headache and the impact, but he still managed to call to him the shield that had fallen to the ground. He pushed his body up, and the shield slid behind his back.
With a heavy impact, another spike rose from the ground, aiming for Daniel's back and hitting the shield. The force pushed Daniel back to his feet, but his right foot was still trapped in the ground. With a grunt he punched the ground by his feet, giving himself enough space to pull his feet out.
His pale face was covered in scarlet blood, giving him a ghastly appearance as he waved his hand again. The six swords slowly rose back to the air, trembling and almost falling again. Daniel gritted his teeth, and the swords suddenly stabilized, spinning in the air as their tips pointed to the backs of the Roaring Mountain Sect disciples.
"Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh!"
The swords shot out at a blinding speed, and Daniel fell to one knee, grunting as a piercing pain coursed through his head. He barely managed to make the swords continue in a straight line.
"Can you give yourself the luxury to save everyone?" Reynard's voice suddenly sounded in front of him. Mirage was already falling towards Daniel's head.
Daniel grunted as he took his feet off the ground, and the shield at his back pushed him away. Reynard's strike barely missed Daniel, making him greatly displeased. With a cold look on his face, he stomped the ground.
Six small pillars of earth rose from the ground behind the unsuspecting Roaring Mountain Sect disciples. The swords directly collided with the pillars. Instead of the expected impact, the pillars rippled like water, and rather than thrusting into the pillars, the swords seemed to sink into them, as if they were liquid rather than solid. With another stomp from Reynard, the pillars sunk to the ground, burying the swords along.
"Come on, it is easy to neutralize your trump card if you don't use those strange movements." Reynard said with a mocking smile. His voice, however, seemed surprisingly course.
Reynard's breathing was turning rough, and a few beads of sweat started rolling down his forehead. Even if Elemental Purification cultivators had obvious advantages over Body Tempering ones, their power was limited. Controlling the elements was exhausting, and they lacked the strength to do so repeatedly and for extended periods of time.
The worst cases were the Fire and Water cultivators. If there was any source of fire and water near them, they could always use the Elemental Qi in their bodies to synchronize and take over those elements, as the expenditure would be lesser than having to spend Elemental Qi to channel and create the elements out of thin air. As such, Earth and Wind cultivators had an innate advantage.
Even so, there were drawbacks. Reynard's signature self-created Movement Technique, even if fast and unpredictable required him to control a large amount of Earth Qi. He had to move the earth where he was stepping and the earth surrounding it, making it flow around his feet like water continuously to guarantee minimal effort and fluid movements.
Making earth spikes and walls, for instance, required a similar technique, otherwise, underneath them, a hollow space would be created, and the stability would be compromised. Ultimately, this meant that even if he did not have to generate the element where it did not exist, he had to manipulate much more of that element to achieve the desired effect. This had a drawback in and on itself, as the ground would rumble, and signaling that Reynard was making a move.
Continuous use of elemental manipulation, even more so from a distance, was extremely taxing, not to mention doing it in many different places simultaneously. In other words, Reynard was starting to feel the burden of a surprisingly overdrawn fight. Even if only a few seconds had elapsed, it was still more than he had expected. Daniel was a surprisingly worthy opponent.
His choices had been almost instinctual and he clearly lacked experience fighting Elemental Purification cultivators, but all of his choices had been serviceable. If he had managed to step into Elemental Purification, he would have had the potential to stand up to Reynard in equal grounds. It was a pity that he lacked the talent.
Daniel looked at Reynard with a maddened look, patting his Bottomless Pouch and producing a seventh sword. This sword was of a far higher grade than the ones before. Its scabbard was azure, and the hilt was of a spotless pure-white color. Daniel unceremoniously held the sword with his left hand, pointing it to the ground and letting the scabbard slide down.
It was a high-grade artifact. The first gift his father had ever given to him. A symbol of the hope his father had for his future. A symbol of his failure. The round shield returned to his side, hovering around him. His bloodied right arm was swinging uselessly by his side as Daniel stood on guard.
Without a single word, Daniel shot forward, directly toward Reynard. He lost his swords because he was greedy. He did his best to try to save as many as possible, but maybe the right choice would have been to overwhelm Reynard with as many swords as possible. He could use the gaps Reynard would give to sneak attacks in the direction of the other Roaring Mountain Sect members and keep them in check. At the very least, he would have been able to protect his brother and he would take longer to get to his current disastrous state.
Now, however, it was too late for regrets.
He faced Reynard without fear in his eyes. He swung his sword from the right to the left, in an absurdly incompetent strike due to the openings he gave in the process. Still, he was far enough from Reynard to have an assurance of his strategy.
He took a step forward, and his sword moved. Reynard promptly took a single step back, letting the sword get past him before countering. Daniel's shield moved to intercept the attack. Reynard's slash made the shield ram against Daniel's body, but he held his ground, raising his sword.
Aiming at Reynard's right shoulder, the sword came crashing down with surprising speed. Reynard leaned to his left, dodging the strike with ease. Seeing this, Daniel couldn't help but smile.
His shield came from the other side, slamming against Reynard's back, pushing him to his right. Daniel flicked his wrist, changing the direction of his strike. The downward slash turned into a slash from Daniel's left to his right.
Reynard was already too close to the sword to dodge. He could only face the strike head-on.
Reynard raised his sword, blocking Daniel's slash. Daniel took a step forward, putting strength in his left arm, trying to push Reynard back as their swords interlocked in a struggle of power. It was a useless struggle that Daniel was fated to lose. He was originally weaker then Reynard, he was gravely injured, bleeding and was only using his left hand.
Reynard took a step forward, pushing Daniel back as he stomped the ground. The earth rumbled behind Daniel, but he didn't mind. He let himself be pushed back. As he took a step back, he let himself fall down. His previous useless right arm suddenly moved, wrapping around Reynard's nape like a snake. The round shield slammed Reynard's back, pushing him against Daniel before falling to the ground.
A single spike rose from the ground as Daniel fell down entangled with Reynard, aiming for his back. It was a slender, surprisingly sharp spike. It was not very tall but looked incredibly solid, incredibly deadly as it mercilessly waited for its target to impale himself.
As Daniel fell, the spike sunk into his back. It pierced his skin, tore his muscles and ripped through his organs. With a light thud, Daniel's back hit the ground, and the spike's tip came out from his abdomen, as menacing as ever as Reynard fell in its direction.
To Daniel's despair, however, Reynard's fall was cut short. He suddenly stopped moving, as if something had grabbed him. His chest hovered a few centimeters above the tip of the spike, and his dark eyes had nothing but coldness in them.
The earth rumbled again, and the spike retracted, painfully pulling out from Daniel's body. Daniel's right arm powerlessly slid away from Reynard's nape as the latter straightened his back. Both his feet could not be seen, as they were buried deeply on the ground.
"Nice try." Reynard said, patting his clothes and turning his back to Daniel. The earth squirmed below him, pushing him back up.
Daniel had a listless look on his face as he watched Reynard. He did all he could, he even tried to use Reynard's strike against him in an internecine outcome, but he had thoroughly lost. Blood started to seep from the open wound on his body, and a scarlet pool slowly formed beneath him, slowly expanding outwards like a blooming flower.
Reynard coldly watched his surroundings. Skylar, even if hurt, was somehow managing to push back an Elemental Purification cultivator and a Body Tempering cultivator with blasts of wind as she protected herself and Malia.
Evan was still unmoving, and Reynard was sure that even if he was alive, he couldn't be saved. A Body Tempering cultivator from the Roaring Mountain Sect was already facing the boy that Evan had protected. It was a fight that would certainly end in but a few exchanges at best.
A bit further ahead, Orson was standing by an unconscious Karen, smashing one shield talisman after the other and trying to buy time as the remaining cultivators continuously broke past his defenses.
Joshua was still entangled with his enemies as if the fight had nothing to do with him. Reynard could only sneer. What a bastard.
He left Daniel behind without a second glance, running towards Jake. His face was slightly pale, but other than that he skillfully hid the signs of his exhaustion. Daniel Meyer was still a Meyer, in the end.
"You bastard! I will kill you!" Jake shouted with a weary and trembling voice as tears streamed down his pale face. He did his utmost to push himself up, but his arms were not moving.
"You won't." Reynard answered with a cold voice. "Dead people can't kill others."
He raised his arm, holding Mirage above Jake's head. He let out a long breath, and a white mist spewed out of his mouth. The sweat rolling down his face felt very cool and refreshing.
Reynard suddenly shivered. He gritted his teeth and slammed Mirage down with of his strength. The light twinkled around the blade as it drew a straight path towards Jake's neck.
The sword collided with something hard. Reynard's arm numbed due to the impact, and something slammed against his chest, throwing him back. He raised his eyes, and saw an ice dome in front of him, blocking his vision of Jake.
Reynard roared as if mad, raising the sword again. Thin lines of light slithered on the crystalline blade like snakes, covering it in a pale glow. Reynard's eyes turned incredibly savage, and the air around him started to ripple, as the Qi turned restless. The layer of light on the blade turned incredibly bright and incredibly sharp as if it had turned into an edge.
He would shatter the ice wall apart, and blast Jake Meyer away with it if needed.
He pushed his arms down, putting all of his strength into it and… they didn't budge.
A terrifying pressure weighted down on the major plaza of the Hell's Keeper City, locking all of the present in place. The ice dome Anna Hale had conjured fell apart, revealing the Noan River Sect members. The platform the Southern Flame Sect had summoned also started cracking, and they all fell down to the ground, motionless.
A small figure could be seen hovering above the plaza, its white clothes fluttering in the air as the figure slowly descended.
It was a woman with an abnormally pale face that gave her a strange appearance, even if her features were beautiful. Her eyes were hidden behind her dark-blue hair that contrasted strangely with her skin color and clothes.
Even if her eyes were hidden, however, it was clear that she was facing Reynard.
"Stand down." She ordered with a clear, raspy voice.