Stepping out of a courthouse in Ofrurg, Kohar wanted to sigh. However, people were still watching. Letting it be known she was troubled would only vindicate them. Technically, her efforts were bearing fruit- it was simply that she wasn’t making major progress. There were so many things she had to keep track of and the results just weren’t enough. Taking down an individual or even dozens of idiotic cultivators who thought they could just grab people from Graotan wasn’t much good, and the various slaver companies were able to deny wrongdoing by them as a whole. Their legal representation was better as well.
Incomplete victories were frustrating. Though she hadn’t often fought on a battlefield with comrades by her side, her efforts were like winning a battle with dead allies. Was it even really a victory at that point? It was difficult for her to claim it that way. The Heavenly Lion Sect was under great pressure, but they chose to break apart rather than let themselves get destroyed.
The Order wasn’t going to send an army into Ofrurg, but the Heavenly Lion Sect had plenty of enemies who were willing to take any opportunity, especially with one of their guardians dead. Life Transformation experts didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. As soon as they had sensed their end coming, they split apart. Many disciples and elders were caught fleeing, but the vaults of the Heavenly Lion Sect were found empty, with much unaccounted for. Most of their strongest remaining members went missing. Disorganized individuals couldn’t cause as much damage as a sect, but if any of them was willing to sacrifice their life they could kill a large number of normal people. Then again, most cultivators valued themselves first and foremost- if they could flee to live, they would prefer that to take revenge at a later date.
Though she was concerned about attempts at revenge against herself, Kohar knew she wouldn’t be the highest priority. As long as she kept growing in cultivation and stayed safe, she wasn’t really in much danger. Certainly not as much as others involved, fighting actual battles. For the moment, disciples of the Order were forbidden into Ofrurg by the Order itself except on business. Members of the Heavenly Lion Sect might end up elsewhere but forbidding cultivators from going anywhere would just result in every disciple stagnating. They would have to remain aware of the increased risks.
Though it was a long shot, Kohar had thought the blatant disregard for any and all laws by a mass of people might have resulted in some wider sweeping changes, especially with regards to slavery, but it remained much the same. It would have been easy to give up in despair, but she knew she had to keep trying. Working as part of the Order was her best chance to change the world in the ways she was capable of, not just through violence of threats of violence. More importantly, it was by trying to use the laws to protect normal folk. She was glad she wasn’t the only one who cared about people instead of just individuals.
Replacing a bowstring was not terribly difficult, even on a fine piece of equipment like Anton’s bow. It wouldn’t be quite the same, but it would function. For someone else, at least. If Anton was going to be going to the trouble, he thought he might as well get a new bow entirely. He could certainly afford it, and the beast bone bow was still outside of his ability to properly use.
Elder Evan led him through the armory hall to show him bows in the general range he was looking for. “Twistoak and stranglevine,” Evan showed Anton a somewhat strange bow where the entire upper and lower limbs were twisting corkscrews of wood. “It’s got great power.”
Anton held it and felt its draw, the way it bent and pulled. The strange shape didn’t make it awkward as he was expecting, but it wasn’t quite right. “It’s a bit smaller than I’m used to. I generally prefer closer to longbow range.”
“Understandable,” Evan nodded, “We have more over here. How about this one? Springstone and great wolf tendon.”
Anton took it in hand, feeling the strange smooth stone that made up the limbs. It would be a very strange sort of stone to bend, but he had to trust that the bow would work. He pulled back on the string, finding that it pulled back intensely but not in an unpleasant way. It certainly required drawing strength near his limits, but that was acceptable. “I like this one.”
“Nooooo!” came a voice from next to him. “Grandpa, you can’t get that one. Didn’t you hear it was wolf tendon?”
Anton sighed, looking over at Alva. “You’re right I suppose. Fuzz wouldn’t approve.” Perhaps it was silly to indulge her complaints. He could simply tell her it was practical. She was on the border between being a girl and a young woman, after all. But sometimes how things felt was important. Once it was brought up, he couldn’t shake the thought of it being from something like Fuzz. Perhaps if it was actually him in memory- though Anton didn’t like the thought of that either. “Anything else?”
“A tricky one. How about… this.” He reached over to another bow, with visible rings on the woody structure. “This is hollowreed, both the main body is formed from it and the string was formed from its fibers. Unlike many of the others, it’s not particularly sturdy. It requires proper application of energy, but enhances it quite well. According to Kseniya, anyway.”
Anton took it carefully, feeling it with his hand and sinking his energy into it. It did feel quite fragile, but happily accepted his energy. If he were to shoot it, he would need to coat the whole bow in energy, but he did that already to enhance the power. It was simply that he wouldn’t have any other option. He gave it a few tugs. “Mind if I test it at the range?”
It performed better than expected, snapping forward quickly and propelling his arrows with great speed. It didn’t seem to be strained by the process of firing it, though he would have to be careful with it in combat- more than normal.
“That one looks good,” Alva commented. “Fits you better.”
“If you say so,” Anton nodded. He did like it though. He ultimately decided to purchase it, after he checked out some others.
He had thought to give Alva his old bow, but despite how much she wanted to emulate him, it just didn’t quite fit her style. She was more of a user of shortbows- though to be fair, her body was hardly big enough for anything else at the moment. She wasn’t tiny, but she certainly hadn’t reached her adult size yet. Bringing her along had just been because of her interest, but he thought it prevented him from making a hasty decision. He just wanted to be shooting again. Properly, and though he could do something much the same without a bow it wasn’t quite the same.
Likewise, even though he greatly respected Grand Elder Vandale, he wasn’t going to suddenly stop using a bow and switch to the Falling Stars- even if he could fully use the technique. And he couldn’t. The principles were more important for the moment, and if he ultimately ended up using it as his primary fighting style, it would be many years hence.
Anton continued to buy a few other pieces of equipment, namely some armor. He had some temporary equipment he was using, but some of his actual armor had issues. Namely the big stab in the chest region. Even a fully diamondsilk undershirt wouldn’t have stopped an attack from a Life Transformation expert without him being able to support it at a much higher level. The amount of power he could access with Fleeting Youth wasn’t suitable for the purpose of defense, either, since that mostly involved distributed energy. Though Vandale’s techniques would help him focus his defenses on a single point more quickly. He just had to be accurate about it so as to not leave himself open to feints.
After they finished acquiring equipment, Anton and Alva walked back together. The current accommodations were sizable enough for them, but Anton was thinking of moving to another place. More natural energy would be nice, but he also wanted a place he could practice archery- the yard was far too small. If it could accommodate some others as well, he would like it- he didn’t want Catarina to suddenly have to take a trip up the mountain to visit him, even if she could do it in ten or fifteen minutes if she hurried.
“I miss Annelie,” Alva said out of the blue as they were on their way.
“You were able to spend time with her in the Secret Realm,” Anton mentioned.
“I know. But that was months ago. It just makes me miss her more now. I can’t go visit her, and she won’t come here.”
“It wouldn’t look good, and would risk her position in the Frostmirror Sect- as well as possibly her life if her connection to us is learned by the wrong people. They would defend her if they could, but…”
“I know,” Alva said. “I can’t believe we still have enemies. I mean, I understand that Van Hassel wasn’t working alone, but it’s just hard to think that so many people wouldn’t like us. Only a few years ago I used to think everyone was a good person.” She shook her head, “I was just a dumb kid.”
“Everyone is, for a while. It would be nice if more people could stay that way, but the world doesn’t allow it.”
“Yeah,” she looked down. “When will we be strong enough to do what we want? I thought when I became a cultivator that would happen, and then I thought it might be Spirit Building like you… but there’s so much you can’t handle still.”
“I suppose we’ll just have to reach the peak of the world, then,” Anton smiled. “Because anything less won’t be enough. And even if we reached that point, if we were alone it would also be insufficient.”
“There’s no way that’ll happen,” Alva frowned. “There’s like… twenty people in Life Transformation here.”
“Oh really?” Anton said. “I heard that they have high hopes for Annelie reaching the peak. But I suppose it would be odd if both of you did.”
“There’s no way I’m not keeping up with her!” Alva clenched a fist. “Next time I see her I’ll be as strong as her, just you watch.”
“Gladly. Though, if you meet her a bit sooner don’t be concerned about it. Just be happy to see her again.”
“Yeah,” Alva nodded. “So… not quite that. But I won’t let her stay stronger than me forever!”
Looking for a single person in a city could be an impossible task. Looking for someone without knowing what city or country they were in was even harder. Velvet wasn’t going to give up easily, though. She couldn’t just always hang around Anton. Especially not when he was busy training himself and others. She’d be able to learn from him, of course, but if they were apart for a while he could just help her fix any problems with her training all at once. That Vessel of Insights he had was quite useful, though much of his advice she knew was also just his.
Other people might be able to find Masozi, but she was well suited for it. It also gave her practical skills at stealth beyond just ‘hide behind something’. Blending in and not being noticed was even better than being hidden completely, because then nobody was looking for you. And Masozi wouldn’t recognize her. Of course, she wouldn’t recognize him without having studied a drawing of him, but that didn’t matter.
The man was suddenly important after a long time. Last seen by Anton in Khonard, and the trail was followed by her to hopefully end in Estary. He had been Tonina Potenza’s bodyguard. She was dead now, but there was something strangely important about her regardless. Someone from the Flying Blood Sect had wanted her alive, and her family had fled Khonard after she failed to be retrieved. He might be the only one they could vaguely trust to know something about the connection there. Something about who the enemies of Anton and the Order were- because they were certainly enemies, even if some of them weren’t showing their faces. Velvet stepped into a crowded tavern, scanning for faces and feeling for what the man’s energy had been described as. She found… nothing. But she would keep looking. Maybe ask a few questions. No matter how much they wanted to, people didn’t just disappear– and the man had to earn enough to keep up a cultivator’s lifestyle somehow.