A small ball the size of a tip of a finger was between Anton’s thumb and forefinger as he inspected it. Visually it didn’t look like much, something like a ball of silvery mud. Certainly not something that should be ingested. So far during his cultivation career Anton had only taken a small number of pills, using one to help him break through to the tenth star and little else.
He had always been the sort to refuse medicine, but cultivation pills weren’t quite the same thing. They weren’t meant to be taken when sick or even when struggling, but to help a cultivator achieve a specific result by providing a substantial amount of energy with particular properties. Given the condition it had been found in, he found it surprising that it still had any energy signature at all. He could tell it wasn’t in perfect condition- though he didn’t have the training to fully appraise the pill- but it was still much stronger than the previous pills he had consumed.
Masozi had already consumed one of his without issue, and since all the pills appeared more or less equivalent it was easy enough to rule out it having gone bad. It shouldn’t cause any harm, but it might be less effective. There were warnings in the Order about consuming excessive amounts of pills, but that wasn’t even vaguely geared towards taking one every couple years. Impurities might build up if someone took a pill every month to push their cultivation forward, in addition to the efficacy decreasing, but if the pill was well made there would be no harm to consuming them less regularly than that. Anton wasn’t concerned about the quality of the pill, but instead he wanted to ponder how to make the best use of it before he took it.
The energy inside it was gentle yet powerful, like a wide stream. There were some tendrils of connection as well. Masozi had called it a ‘duality pill’, though there was no way to know if that was the original name. The point being when Masozi had obtained a partial pill before- and having confirmed it when he consumed a full one just now- he was able to discern that it helped connect body and soul while tempering both. In short, it was extremely well suited for the current portion of Spirit Building Anton was in.
Anton stored it away. They couldn’t afford to spend too much time cultivating in one spot, and more importantly Masozi had a deal to fulfill. After having consumed the pill he’d broken through to the next level of his cultivation technique, though Anton knew he wasn’t too far to begin with. Seeing Anton looking over at him, he nodded his head. “I can easily tell what you want. I’m quite happy with how this deal turned out, the only thing I ask is that you try not to spread where you got the information I will share.” Anton nodded. “Good.” He waited to see that Catarina had set up a proper privacy formation. “I might be in more danger for being seen with all of you, but it’s already too late for that. About Tonina, I spent a few years as her bodyguard, while working for the Potenza clan several more before that. Even during the first years where we had little interaction, it was clear she was favored. I assumed at first that it was just the level expected of the Young Mistress of a clan. She was talented enough and an only child. But while I might have considered her parents a more reasonable sort, taking careful consideration of their actions, they often conformed to her whims in ways that weren’t beneficial to the Potenzas as a whole.”
“That’s likely to happen in any family,” Anton said, “Though some descendents are more reasonable.”
“Indeed. But I learned it wasn’t out of fondness for her. There were occasional meetings with mysterious cultivators. I was never present for them, though they weren’t fully silent as I was leaving the area. I overheard a few things, but nothing practical. No name of a sect or person, no locations. The Potenzas only referred to them as ‘the organizers’. Or perhaps there was more emphasis. ‘The Organizers’, but it’s still not the name of a proper group. I didn’t look too hard to find out about them.”
“Is it the Flying Blood Sect?” Anton asked. “They were working with Tonina when we captured her.”
“No,” Masozi shook his head. “Or at least, the organization of the Flying Blood Sect, if it can be called that, is little known. It seemed to me to be a separate entity, and I didn’t sense any of the Flying Blood Sect’s cultivation. Though perhaps they can all hide it if they wish to. Given their activities, some amount of concealment seems necessary for them to continue functioning. But I would go with the presumption that the Flying Blood Sect works with or perhaps for The Organizers.”
Anton nodded, writing down everything Masozi was saying. Relying on his own memory was good enough in most cases, but proper notes might be needed later. “Any connection to slave trading?”
“Probably, but the Potenzas are connected to slave trading as well obviously. Or were…? I heard the Order was doing something there.”
“They still existed last I heard,” Anton said, “But that could have changed in the last few weeks.”
Masozi nodded, “Right, well. The Organizers seemed interested in Tonina in particular, rather than the clan. I can give you my best descriptions of their members and when I saw them. There were a few I saw more than once.”
Anton took down all of the descriptions. He wished he had the ability to draw, so he could have Masozi adjust them until Masozi felt they were accurate- but words would have to do. There were many things Anton wished he had time to learn but… actually, he had time to try them now. If he could at least make a little bit of progress in cultivation while he attempted new crafts and the like, it could be worthwhile. He was encouraging everyone to do the same with their day-to-day work, and doing so might help him teach others. Or he would waste time and learn nothing important, but he could afford to do a little bit of that. He wasn’t currently so close to the end of his lifespan that he expected to drop dead at any time.
Not long later, Anton sensed a small group of other disciples from the Order approaching. They didn’t seem to be in any rush, but they were clearly coming to their group instead of just passing by.
The woman at the front appeared to be somewhere in her middle age and only in early Spirit Building. That was actually quite a reasonable place to be at her age, and it was only the growth rates of those immediately around Anton that made her seem behind. She inclined her head to them as she stepped inside. “Seniors, the elders request that all of the members of the Order gather together by the end of the day, deeper into the ruins.” She gave them more specific directions to follow.
“I understand,” Anton said. “Did they give a reason?”
The woman turned her eyes to Masozi. He shrugged, “I assume it’s some secret vault or the like. I have no stake in it.” The woman neither confirmed nor denied, but Anton felt Masozi’s guess wasn’t far off. At least, she would have said if they were anticipating organized attacks or something similar, so there were few other options.
“We’ll have to part ways soon then,” Anton said to Masozi. “Would you like us to escort you to the edge of the ruins?”
“I would appreciate that, yes.”
“I can make that somewhat more effective,” Catarina said. “If we conceal just his presence as we move, nobody will know if he’s still travelling with us or not unless they get within eyesight.” Catarina shrugged, “Though visibility is pretty far here except when buildings get in the way.”
They departed from the other group of disciples, who continued to seek out others from the Order. As they walked along in the bright water, Anton considered that he might want to learn more about formations as well. He’d actually achieved some basics when in Everheart’s Tomb. He had little reason to focus on more since Catarina would clearly always be ahead of him, but knowing a bit more shouldn’t hurt. He also wondered about enchanting and everything else. He was still getting used to the idea that his life wasn’t necessarily at its end. As long as he made sure he spent enough time properly cultivating he should be able to continue for a while. He couldn’t fully judge the remainder of his current lifespan, but it was at least a handful of years even if he suddenly stopped cultivating entirely. But no more than a couple decades either.
Travelling back to the edge of the Luminous Ocean Society’s borders was simple enough, since the further out they got the fewer cultivators were around. Everything was fairly well cleared out, so they would only encounter people traveling in and out, and there was more than just one location they could do so from. The Order just entered through a more ‘official’ sort of entrance rather than any old hole in the formation.
Nobody was sensed nearby when Masozi departed, so he should be safe. If not… Anton and the others had more than fulfilled any obligations to him. They weren’t really enemies, nor were they friends. He was just another cultivator that had given them all the information they needed from him.
On the way back, it became clear that more than just disciples of the Order were being called further into the area. Cultivators from other sects were travelling inward as well, and because of the general motion of people, so were many of the independent cultivators. Some still hoped to make lucky finds like the duality pills Anton and the others had gathered, staying to the outer areas and branching out to the sides but others hoped they might pick up something from whatever event was happening.
Most of the cultivators were gathering in a ruined library, already picked clean long before. Only bare shelves could be seen, but Anton was amazed at how extensive they were. The Order had a fairly large library of both mundane texts and those related to cultivation, but it could all fit into a corner of the building they were in.
One wall of the massive structure was completely gone- pulled outward, by the look of it. Anton felt the remains of the wall and a set of massive doors buried under the sand. The formations keeping water out of the area still functioned, but Anton had the feeling the area was swept clean long before the area was rediscovered.
When the group arrived, they saw the Elders of the Order meeting with some others from different sects. It was likely they were arranging the details of how they would organize splitting… whatever it was that was found. As for where that thing might be, Anton could at least make out the presence of a formation below them. Not directly under the library, but out and away from it. Even he could tell that whatever concealments it once had were faded away.
Eventually the elders pulled apart, shaking their head. Kseniya spoke to the members of the Order. “No agreement has been reached except that we wish to minimize bloodshed. It’s the barest sort of provision and not fully binding, but it is what it is. In short, remain close to the elders if you want to be safe, or at least be somewhere you can quickly run to us. We would ask that you don’t begin any fights. Of course, there might be nothing at all,” she grinned and shrugged. “In a few moments we will begin breaking through the formation. We’ll ask for contributions of energy from everyone. It’s not a simple one.”