Chapter 92: The Battle of Sandstone 4
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Carrying Gisael’s still form, Benzhi ran. The Dread Lord was following him, even with his burden he was slightly faster. The combination of shunpo and qi speed was hard to beat, even for one as skilled as she.
The small gain in distance would be of no use, he started to strafe towards his companions who were running on an intercept course. Guided by the link, the Vanguard were able to time the ambush, of the Dread Lord, to perfection.
Anastasia who had, until now, remained out of combat swept her two-handed sword horizontally across the Dread Lord’s midsection.
She lept over the sword, only to find the raven-haired staff warrior waiting where she landed, blocking her path. The Dread Lord stopped. She would take care of this pair while their leader was busy indulging his weakness.
The Dread Lord blocked the pathetic attacks from the females easily. They darted in and out, trying to remain out of reach of her gorgeous tensors. They were trying to keep her from pursuing the male without attempting to defeat her. She could use this against them. She smiled at their weakness, it was like a present, just for her.
Benzhi lay Gisael down behind the gate, it would afford no real protection, it just made him feel more secure. He began to study her wounds and qi core. She was bleeding internally in the chest, her left lung looked punctured, three ribs were broken as was her collarbone. She had been pumped full of some sort of toxin. Panicking he checked her qi core, it was still moderately healthy, and while unconscious she was breathing shallowly with her one lung.
The murky toxin had insinuated itself through her wound, her bloodstream and was now affecting her qi circulation. It must be some sort of special ability to affect her qi like this. But toxin may be the wrong word, Gisael was not lethally poisoned, she had been put into stasis. Benzhi realised, the Dread Lord, for some nefarious purpose, kept her prey. She would not kill them, she was trying to capture them.
Kyandre arrived at the scene a look of concern on her face. Benzhi focused on stopping any life-threatening possibilities, he stitched the wound close, stopping what blood loss was still occurring. The toxin had done its work, it had mostly sealed the wound and shut her systems down. It would take him hours if not days to remove the poison, her life was not in danger, he needed to return to the fight.
“Keep an eye on her,” he said to Kyandre, “give her some water.” He did not ask, he ordered. Kyandre had relinquished her leadership the moment he led the Vanguard into battle, well, from his point of view anyway.
He could sense things were turning for the worse, he must hurry back. Benzhi shunpo’d over the dunes, racing to reach Reyas and Anastasia in time before another casualty ensued.
Reyas had been forced to stand toe to toe with the Dread Lord to stop her advance on Benzhi and Gisael. He must be allowed time to get her out of danger and then he would return.
The discovery of her affinities was no help in this battle with no large cats on hand nor the time to learn fire techniques. Anastasia, on the other hand, went from the fourth member of the Vanguard who followed along for the experience. To being the most integral member of this fight.
There was no way Reyas’ shielding would have withstood the Dread Lords aura.
She felt Benzhi through the link, Gisael would be ok, his relief was palpable. It was time to back off before one of those tails skewered her.
‘Barrier,’ Anastasia called through the link, showing Reyas there was one behind her.
Reyas jumped straight up into the air, kicking out with a qi strick at the Dread Lord. Unsurprisingly it was blocked, as all her attacks had been. She used her qi body techniques of strength and agility to launch herself off the barrier, backwards over the trap the Dread Lord had set in place. She had never intended to actually kick the Dread Lord, it was a ploy for this launch. She sailed backwards before tucking her legs underneath and backflipping onto the ground twelves paces away from the Dread Lord, who snarled at her in frustration.
The Dread Lord looked at Anastasia, a ray of light, emanating from a part of the clouds, glinted off her third eye. She screamed at the newest member of the Vanguard.
“It is you,” she screamed, “the sight, the protection from my aura. It was not the male, it has been you all along.”
The Dread Lord charged Anastasia.
Antasia was not as quick as Benzhi, not by half, she could not outrun the Dread Lord who was now determined to close on her. Reyas felt a pang of panic, now the bitch’s focus had changed, Anastasia was in real trouble.
She charged the Dread Lord from behind. Screaming herself. Benzhi would never forgive her or himself if Anastasia were to die right here and now. Reyas dropped her bladed staff and drew the pair of picks, strapped to her lower back, she always carried the weapon of her people.
Anastasia defended herself against the onslaught of two tails attacking from high, then low. She had no shield, only her two-handed sword. It only took a moment for one to break through her defence and connect with her shoulder. Tiny sparks flew in all directions as a Dread Lord’s qi strike met the masterwork qi armour with dwarven runes. The armour held firm against the sharp tip of the tail, but the shock of the blow rocked Anastasia.
Reyas furiously assaulted the Dread Lord’s rear, but she defended herself with four barrier discs. All Reyas could do was swing like a mad thing, with all her strength and fury.
“Die Bitch,” she screamed. She glowed with Anastasia’s aura, and the devotion was now driving her to protect her friend.
Anastasia wasn’t just someone special to Benzhi, her selfless nature and wisdom were welcomed by all. She also had a knack for understanding Reyas’ lover and had no trouble explaining certain quirks of his.
Reyas loved her giving nature, and she also loved competing against her when learning new qi techniques. Anastasia was always one step ahead, she was a natural, but she always made time to explain her methods even though they were rivals.
No matter how fast or how hard she struck, her picks did not break through the barriers. Even when one was crushed, under the repeated vicious strikes, another took its place.
Reyas knew Anastasia was in trouble, the second tail homed in on her bare neck. Even if the armour kept the scorpion tail at bay, there was no way Anastasia’s stoneskin was up to the task.
The moment Anastasia was rendered unconscious, Reyas knew.
Not only did the link inform her, but a feeling of dread also overcame her. She sensed Benzhi approaching, but even with his speed, he was too late. Reyas sank to her knees, caught in the nightmare that exuded from the Dread Lord.
Her aura-shield put up no resistance, not at this range. Reyas did not forget who she was when she entered the world of nightmares. Her memories were warped, and she began to relive them.
She was chased, hunted, despised, ostracised and tortured. There was no love, no acceptance of the land. The place the Dread Lord created was bereft of any kindness. Fear, abandonment, rejection all prevailed, and physical torture was another source of pain. She forgot where she was and who she was fighting. She was lost in a perverted version of her life.
Benzhi saved Gisael, but at what cost? It was a tactical blunder, she would have been fine left as she was.
He ran towards Anastasia who was fighting the Dread Lord toe to toe. What was she thinking? She was critical with her support from her aura.
He was closing as fast as he could, with only fifty paces between them he could see the first tail come down onto her armour. There was a terrifying moment before he realised it had been repelled by the qi armour. The dwarves and leather crafters had succeeded where Alejo’s armour had failed.
The stoneskin runes were indeed a treasure.
The distance between Benzhi and the Dread Lord diminished with every passing moment.
Kyandre watched him from afar, she ran after Benzhi against his wishes. He streaked across the dune at an impossible speed, his figure was a blur, her eyes could not even keep up, let alone her feet. How was it possible for a person to move so quickly? This man defied belief. She looked across the dune to her right, where Kris had been kneeling. He walked groggily towards her. He was out of the area of the Dread Aura, but he was still not himself.
She shouted at him and pointed to the fight that was still taking place. Not that there was anything they could do, but, they had come so close. If they threw everything at the Dread Lord, perhaps they could win.
She prepared her aura-shield, it would have to do. She ran after the man from the north.
Benzhi cried out, it was happening all over again. The second scorpion-tail descended down towards Anastasia. He would charge the tail and if that failed he would push Anastasia out of harm's way. She lifted her sword to parry, she was far too slow, with all her training and combat experience she was not ready for a fight like this.
It seemed to be happening in slow motion, inch by inch the tail descended, with each step he took. It had two inches to go, and he still had ten strides, “Noo,” he screamed at the Dread Lord. Anything to distract her for a moment. In that heartbeat, he could see she was smiling at him.
It was not a sweet smile. The Dread Lords teeth were honed to points, she looked like a snake. Very unattractive.
Slowly but surely her tail descended, she also reached out to Anastasia with her right hand, the nails long and sharp, it looked like a claw. As Benzhi took another step, he sent stoneskin out to Anastasia, dropping his shunpo and his own stoneskin.
He rapidly wove the area on her bare neck, it was hurried, and he was running at full tilt while he created the weave. The tail met his stoneskin wave, it shuddered momentarily the customary sparks flew, but it broke through.
The weave was too hasty. He spent a split second remonstrating himself. He thought he could make the distance and lost precious time. He should have created the remote stoneskin seconds ago.
The tail drove down into her neck, parting her smooth skin as it cored her internals. Benzhi had lost shunpo in the attempt to shield her, and now as the claw-like hand reached for Anastasia, he lost her protective aura. The tail had damaged her beyond what she could handle and maintain the aura.
His aura-shield was pummelled. Benzhi fell to one knee and focused with every shred of conscious he could summon into weaving the perfect aura-shield. It was his only hope now. There was no way to fight the Dread Lord if you did not nullify her aura in some way.
He looked up, anxious to see Anastasia, surely the Dread Lord would try and capture her. His hopes were dashed, and tears of frustration appeared unbidden.
The Dread Lord clawed at Anastasia’s armour, finally ripping away the leather covering her heart, “you will no trouble me again,” she called. It was as if she wanted Benzhi to hear, she wanted him to witness what she was doing. Her Dread Aura lifted off him momentarily, and he worked furiously to establish the new aura-shield weave.
The Dread Lord struck Anastasia’s chest, embedding her hand deep beneath the skin. She pulled it out slowly with Anastasia’s heart in her hand and held it aloft for Benzhi to see. Reyas could see nothing, she was incapacitated by the aura. The Dread Lord had purposely wanted him to watch, her arrogance such she believed she could easily place him under her aura in the next moment.
She called to him.
“This,” she said as she used her tails to stab Anastasia’s corpse over and over again, “is too dangerous to let live.” The Dread Lord turned and walked towards Benzhi, she still held Anastasia’s heart in her hand.
“Where you,” she said, pointing with the heart at Benzhi, it was her perverted way of making a statement, “will make an excellent slave.”
He stood, his aura-shield complete. He was beyond emotional. He could not feel sad or furious, and he did not scream for vengeance. He was numb. But Benzhi did know one thing, he was going to kill this bitch if it was the last thing he ever did.
“Benzhi,” Kyandre cried across the dunes, she had Kris with her, but they could not enter the aura. Kyandre had no link, she could not show him anything, she had to shout to him across the hundred paces. She wanted to draw his attention to something.
“Benzhi?” the Dread Lord asked rhetorically.
She tilted her head back and laughed. She laughed and laughed. He thought it would never end.
‘Fuck, thanks a lot, Kyandre.’ He thought.
While the Dread Lord was wrapped up in her own amusement Benzhi moved, he ran towards the last ten paces, drawing his sword and flooding it with qi. He could feel the pressure of the Dread Aura, it was slowing him down like he was walking through mud. But Benzhi’s slow was still awfully quick.
He closed on her and slashed, he hoped that in her distraction he would be able to slice her open. Her aura still surrounded the area, the only explanation for her extraordinary predictive defence was her aura informed her of all movement within it.
Gisael had more combat experience than anyone, and she sensed the only way to defeat the Dread Lord was through pure reflex and speed. She may have omnipresent sense, but if she could not keep up with your attacks, she could be undone.
Benzhi began to slash with his sword as fast as his skill and qi body techniques allowed, he brought his shield through in a bash whenever his torso twisted to the right. Its massive qi strike destroying a barrier with each shield-bash. Benzhi engaged qi sight, to check her pool, it had not waned significantly, she still had well over two-thirds of what he first assessed.
The Dread Lord finally stopped laughing.
“Oh, indeed a prize. Now I know why you are so troublesome. My sweet Benzhi,” when she said his name he could not help but quiver. She was detestable, her presence was abhorrent, and while the death of Anastasia still hadn’t registered, he was determined this bitch was going to die.
She brought her tails to bear, attacking him from above and his flanks. Every now and then he let one through as his stoneskin was superior to her strike. The only problem was he could not land a blow on her.
Benzhi had a sword, a shield, and it was possible to throw in a kick or headbutt. But that would be at the expense of a strike with the sword and shield in any case. Despite his speed and reflexes, she was able to keep him at bay. The Dread lord had two weapons and six shields. Her tactics were superior, even without her Dread Aura, which did slow him down.
Kyandre, Reyas and Kris were unable to help him. As soon as they entered the aura, they would be incapacitated.
Benzhi could think of only one thing to do, he had to change his method of attack.
Suddenly his stoneskin wavered under a blow from her left tail, it pierced his skin on his neck. However, he rewove the stoneskin immediately, trapping the tail, disallowing it to bore any further into his body. He grabbed hold of the tail with his shield hand and began to slice it with his ebony longsword.
She screamed as he chopped the crustaceous segment, she attempted to pump her poison into him, but he had planned the feint and placed a tiny barrier just below the tip.
Benzhi held on to her tail with all his might, she tried to pull it away, but he was stronger. He used every ounce of his honed manipulation technique to line the sword with the sharpest of qi edges. Within two chops he had severed the tip of the tail, she had lost four segments. Although the tail was over sixteen segments long, this was still a victory. The Dread Lord had finally been damaged.
A small amount of toxin had broken through his hastily established defences, he could feel his shoulder going numb at the neck.
She screamed at him and began her own furious attack, her undamaged tail was now surrounded by its own twin discs protecting it from his stikes. It also protected the tail from his parry. With a tactic change brought about in the desperation of battle, the Dread Lord had just improved the deadliness of her remaining tail tenfold. He could only block it with his shield. His sword could not parry it.
With three successive strikes, to the same location on his chest, his armour gave way, a small hole in the stoneskin layer appeared. Benzhi still had his own weave beneath, the fourth strike was repelled to the Dread Lords astonishment.
Benzhi’s shield arm was becoming sluggish, the small amount of poison was doing its work, he could not afford the focus to try and neutralise it, but he also could not afford to lose the use of one of his arms either.
Benzhi kicked at the Dread Lord, launching himself back. He attempted to put some space between them to give him moments to undo the poison.
He focused on the wound, finding the traces of poison doing significant damage to the use of his right arm.
The Dread Lord was not going to allow him time, she had closed within moments and stabbed the same location on his chest again. His concentration on his stoneskin weave had suffered due to the concentration required to find and neutralise the poison. Her tail was able to penetrate his chest.
She began to pump him full of her toxin.
Benzhi began to go numb, he tried to fight the poison with qi heal, removing all of his techniques except aura-shield. But there was so much of it. His attempt to neutralise it was in vain, he slowly lost the use of his arms, legs, he fell over unconscious.
The Dread Lord collected up his sword and shield. Although smaller, she was exceedingly strong, almost as strong as Benzhi. She threw him over her shoulder.
“A prize indeed,” she cooed.