Though skies were clear, Anton got a good sense of how Misty Hill Palace was named. There was a wispy sort of energy so dense in some places that he could almost see it with just his eyes. While the overall results were simply a several fold increase in energy versus the surroundings, it was a good place to cultivate. It was quite full of scenic views, but of course practicality required that the cultivators have places to sleep and store things. But even the architecture fit nicely into the aesthetic of the area, and it was an almost unassuming building that was where Elder Byrne took Anton and the others.
She smiled widely, her missing teeth showing proudly. “Here it is, my little workshop.” In it she had a number of magnifying glasses set up for viewing things of different sizes, as well as a large number of other tools Anton couldn’t see a use for.
The first thing she took a closer look at was Anton’s bow. He had already decided he wouldn’t give it up, even if he wouldn’t be able to use it for a very long time. He didn’t immediately need money anyway, and its value wouldn’t fluctuate suddenly after who knows how many decades or centuries.
She moved it around under bright lights, pressing her eye right up to microscopes the size of her whole face, making her eye seem to be almost the size her head normally was. Sounds of ‘hmm’ and ‘interesting’ were repeated as she looked over every aspect, carefully injecting energy into areas and occasionally tugging at it.
Then she began to explain what you learned. “As you surmised, this is carved from the bone of a great creature. I’m not sure what sort, besides the fact that it would have to be a land creature for this bone density. It’s not enchanted. I’m not sure if it even could be. Certainly not by someone of my skills. Even so, I would have trouble damaging it intentionally. The most interesting part is that, while I’m certain it’s a bow, you can’t string it.”
“What?” Anton asked.
“See here. At the ends. It’s clearly not made to have a string wrapped around it. There was never a string on it.”
“… But it’s a bow?” Anton asked. “Without a string it’s just a slightly curved staff.” It was nearly straight, only over its full length could the curve be seen.
“That’s right,” Elder Byrne said. “As far as I can tell, there’s no physical mechanism to attach a string.”
“… but?” Anton asked. “The way you said that indicates more.”
She smiled widely as she pressed her finger to one end, leaving a trail of silvery energy as she stretched to the other end. “It readily accepts the attachment of energy.” A clear string stood stiff in place.
“Hah. No physical method.” Anton shook his head, “But wouldn’t that require powerful energy to hold tension against the draw weight of the bow?”
“Absolutely,” Elder Byrne pulled back on the string, snapping the fragile construct before the bow even began to bend. “It’s a high requirement bow, but it should be very powerful. The Order of Ninety-Nine Stars should have some elder who can use it. I’m sure it would be quite a sight. Though if you let them use it, prepare to have it be snatched up!” She laughed.
“I doubt the Order would allow any ‘snatching’,” Anton said, “But perhaps I won’t tempt anyone.” He did kind of want to see Elder Kseniya shoot it though. But maybe it wasn’t suited for someone as strong as her anyway. “You said it could be used in early Essence Collection?”
“Well, I did say that. It’s possible. It might require more than that. As for the upper limits it has, I can’t quite tell. That partly depends on whether it can be enchanted. Plus, that’s merely the difficulty of using it. Since I can’t fire it myself,” she shrugged, “The actual power is unknown. It could be amazing or merely mediocre.”
“Hmm. It seems like it would be a boon to training, regardless. Thank you,” Anton bowed his head as she handed the bow back to him.
“What about the two of you?” Elder Byrne asked of Hoyt and Catarina, “There are two further enchanted items.”
They looked at each other, then nodded. Hoyt stepped forward, “We have this obsidian bracelet and scale cloak.”
“Ooooh, quite fine workmanship here.” She almost lovingly stroked the two pieces, before starting with the inspection of the bracelet. Everyone startled when it suddenly burst into flame- except her. “I see, I see. Could be quite useful.” She didn’t spend as long studying the bracelet as she had with the bow. After only ten or so minutes she handed it back. “This is a flame enhancing bracelet. Even those who aren’t skilled in fire energy could make some use of it. It’s simple to activate,” she gave a short explanation, “Try it yourself.”
Hoyt did, and flames covered his hand without hurting him. The others could feel the heat when he brought his hand near them. “Interesting.”
The old woman took the scaled cloak next. This time they were less startled when it split in half, spreading out to the sides. “Wings,” she simply stated. “Or a moldable armor. I wouldn’t suggest trying to fly with it, at least not off of anything high. The wings can expand with more energy, but for enough to lift a person it would be more than an early Spirit Building cultivator is capable of for more than a few moments. It is, however, quite responsive if you flow your energy through it in the right way.” She demonstrated by having it wrap around her arm and even stand straight up on its own. “A decent armor or tool for deflection. A passable source of flight, perhaps.” She looked around, “Is there anything more?”
Anton shook his head, “Nothing in particular, though I did have some questions. If you could give me a few moments to consult with one of my companions.” It wasn’t either Hoyt or Catarina he meant, but instead he retreated to the outside where the others were enjoying the abundant natural energy. He had a short discussion with Oskar before returning. “You seem to know quite a few things. I recently came across the name ‘Everheart’. Have you heard of him?”
Elder Byrne laughed, “Came across the name, hmm? He did like to leave things all over the place. Mostly in Ofrurg. I can’t say that I know much about him, beyond the basics. He was a lunatic, a madman, but also a genius. He created a large number of forbidden techniques- some of which were merely threats to the established cultivators, and some that caused uproars whenever people tried to use them. Mostly unsuccessfully. I hope you weren’t planning to practice anything he made.”
“I had no such intentions. The one technique I heard of is… completely useless for me.” Anton barely had any lifespan left. If he burned it for power, would he even complete his attack before he died?
“Don’t be give any such techniques to youngsters either,” she waggled her finger at Anton then at Hoyt and Catarina, “Do things the proper way and you can end up old and decrepit like me,” she laughed at her own ‘joke’. “If that is all Elder…?”
“Anton Krantz,” he said. “Just Anton.”
“I like to show proper respect for those from other sects. Especially ones like the Order.”
“I’m simply not an elder though.”
“Really?” she stepped closer to him, her face only centimeters from him. “Interesting. You felt…” she shook her head. “Well, you’re no spring chicken, and you’ll have your work cut out for you if you intend to use that bow.”
“I imagine so.”
They were offered the courtesy of staying at the Misty Hill Palace for some time. They had no reason to refuse the offer, since a break would be good for them and they could make use of the increased natural energy. Spending some time around the Misty Hill Palace was also useful for getting to know some people besides just Elder Byrne. Though they wouldn’t owe each other anything after they departed, just knowing people could be helpful. If he later needed allies, he could come to them for help. Even if they still required payment of some sort, he would rather start with those inclined to do good for the world rather than pure mercenary sorts. More allies, friends, or simply fondly remembered acquaintances would always be useful. Plus, it was nice to relaxingly discuss cultivation with new people. Few of those close to Anton’s cultivation level were near his age, but several were a decade or two older than Hoyt and Catarina.
After a week and some, they set out towards the Estary-Graotan border. They did not want to overstay their welcome, and the energy in the Order was on par or in some places better, if different in temperament.
Since they had official papers, getting through the border was the easiest it had ever been. The only questions were about the dozens of lower level cultivators with them, but both sides were quite happy to hear they were former slaves. Those from the Order were more curious about there being so many potential disciples- though they couldn’t be members yet since they weren’t at the third star. Most of them weren’t planning to remain cultivators anyway- or at least, they had no plan to live the lifestyle of a cultivator.
Anton was glad to be ‘home’, but the northern part of Graotan was just as new to him as most of the others. The border with Estary seemed safe enough, but everyone was quite comfortable with his plan to set them up somewhere in more central Graotan. It was tempting to try to refound Dungannon, but even those from Dungannon weren’t particularly interested in that prospect. Even though the Order had increased border security, being closer to the heart of the Order would be beneficial. Setting more than two dozen people up with homes in a big city would be quite difficult, but Anton knew they could find some good land for a reasonable price away from the city. Maybe they’d be part of a small village or start their own community- that would take some talking to the locals. Best not to cause any conflicts.
While Anton did that, he sent Hoyt and Catarina ahead, to return to the sect. Catarina wanted to stay, but she also wanted to get the chance to visit the library and study information on formations that hadn’t been relevant before Spirit Building. She had stepped into Spirit Building fully now, though she hadn’t yet completed the eleventh star.
Hoyt took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. He stood in front of the council. He was glad that Anton wanted to give a full and honest report, because otherwise it would have felt like a betrayal. Of course, Anton probably didn’t expect Hoyt to stand before the council of elders, but the basic reports had already reached them anyway. Eventually he stepped through the doors, where he saw eighteen people waiting.
Grand Elder Vandale spoke, “Welcome back, disciple Hoyt.” The words were formal, but the tone warm and comforting. “We are quite happy to hear you all returned alive.”
Hoyt had an awkward smile on his face. “Of course, Grand Elder Vandale. I have already laid out the basics in my report on the mission, but it seemed best to keep some of the details for an in-person briefing.” It was too bad they hadn’t sent that mid Spirit Building guardian instead of him. Not that he wouldn’t have gone along at Anton’s request, but they really could have used that extra authority. “You might notice that Anton Krantz himself has not yet returned. It may yet be several months, by which points I fully expect him to have achieved the twelfth star…” Hoyt began his account in the most unbiased way he found possible, which was still quite positively weighted towards Anton’s actions and his own involvement. He had approved, after all. Even if he wished things could have been different.