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Simply being in Spirit Building was not enough for Velvet to feel comfortable traveling alone. Her concerns were handled without her even having to voice them. While any of them would probably be safe on their own, it was decided that people would travel in pairs. That still allowed them to cover much more ground while still supporting each other. They were arranged more or less by strength, higher and lower being together. That put Velvet with Hoyt, who was well into the twelfth star. Catarina and Timothy were together, along with Fuzz who didn’t really count. Though Fuzz seemed to think he did. Maybe, soon… that wolf was growing stronger rapidly. Right now he was probably equivalent to a Mid Body tempering cultivator. Maybe a bit less intelligent. No, that wasn’t quite right. Fuzz had a different sort of intelligence. He was currently unable to cultivate on his own, but Catarina had been the one to save him and was devoted to helping him improve.
That left just Anton at Spirit Building, with Kohar at the peak of Body Tempering. The two old folk together, though Kohar was probably closer to the age of any of the rest of them than to Anton’s age. Velvet couldn’t be sure, because it was rude to ask. They would be handling some of the more difficult tasks, mostly on the legal side. Hopefully just that.
“Well,” Velvet looked down at the papers she held in her hands. They went into a proper carrying case so they wouldn’t be damaged. “I suppose we should get going.”
It bothered her that she held in her hands the futures of over a dozen people. She didn’t have the only copies of things, but the part that bothered her most was that they even had to do anything. That slavery was possible. Her early life hadn’t been happy, not by a long shot, but she at least hadn’t been at risk of slavery. Probably. The villagers of Dungannon probably hadn’t thought about it either. Yet things came to where they were.
Velvet cultivated, like many cultivators, for her own personal power. Sure, she had probably intended to lord it over people some. Maybe get back at those who deserved retribution. Maybe kill some people. Enslaving people was insane. And slaughtering most of a village? Velvet had heard about cultivators of the sort, but she thought they were simply scary stories. An insane thing that nobody would even attempt because they couldn’t get away with it. But apparently they could. For a while, at least. Until Anton killed them. He would, too. His rate of growth was freakish. Not really any faster than the quite talented Hoyt and Catarina, but he didn’t have to be. She wondered how he grew so strong. She’d thought it was some sort of secret. Maybe it was, but not in the way she’d thought.
Hard work. Talent. Cooperation. Those all fed into it. The last she was still getting used to, but she understood it in principle. That would get people somewhere, but people had noticed. Rumors spread. Anton was willing to share the truth about why he was cultivating, though he’d greatly unexaggerated his desire for revenge. Velvet wasn’t sure which rumors about his training were true, but the one she gave the most credit was the one where Vincent told the other elders. People weren’t supposed to talk about personal things like that, but it would always happen. Even if it was just a little. As soon as he got his hands on the cultivation scroll, he cultivated like mad. Not just day and night, constantly pushing forward. That better fit the descriptor tireless.
No, he cultivated like a madman.
Tireless geniuses sat in a field or atop a nice mountain and breathed in pure air, rapidly reshaping their bodies. Madmen dragged their nearly dead bodies back to their destroyed village and cultivated their body by digging graves for months. The trickling rumors weren’t so detailed in that part, but Velvet had seen what was left of Dungannon. They had stopped to pay their respects on the way, and the fields of graves… that wasn’t something a normal person could do. She would have gone insane from that. Maybe he did, but Anton was certainly sane now. Scarily so, sometimes. Velvet had thought crazy people would be more frightening, but the way Anton looked at people in the courtroom made her glad she hadn’t pushed things too far in the past.
Her mistakes had been forgiven, right? No, this was no time to doubt his sincerity. He wasn’t the tricky sort, but the straightforward vengeful kind. And the compassionate, helping kind. To that end, she needed to do her part.
Travel with Hoyt was awkward. It wasn’t his fault, but Velvet wasn’t sure if it was hers either. It just was. They were two allies who had trained together and participated in a single mission. A few months of shallow experience compared to a stunning performance in The Hunt where they saved a village nobody even knew could be in danger. Maybe if she had… no, she wasn’t the right person to have participated at that point. She likely would have fled to protect herself. She couldn’t say for sure if she was still that person or not.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” the woman squeezed Velvet’s hands as she cried tears of joy.
“I didn’t- I… am just helping out Anton Krantz.” She didn’t do anything worth thanking. At best she was a delivery girl bringing money that wasn’t hers. “We’re, uh, planning to travel around to gather some others. We aren’t leaving Ofrurg directly, but we can escort you as we travel. It might be safer.”
The woman closed her eyes for a second. “The two of you are cultivators? Strong ones?”
“We’re… better than the weakest.” Velvet felt strong, but there was so much more growing she could do. She knew that many other cultivators were stronger. Most of them, in fact. She hadn’t been cultivating for that long yet, despite her success. That wasn’t the right thing to say though. “I can beat some people who have trained for a decade or more.” That was more encouraging, and was true even if she didn’t count people eternally stuck at the beginning of cultivation. Cultivation speed could vary so widely.
The woman nodded. “Then yes, I will put my trust in the two of you.”
Shadows could cloak a person, but unnatural shadow was just as obvious as standing in the open. The proper way to sneak about involved good body control and careful regulation of energy for use only when necessary. A creaky door could be silenced, footfalls softened, and legs made swift to avoid the gaze of a guard. If she didn’t have to worry about cultivators sensing her, Velvet could simply cease breathing and circulate air into and out of her lungs with energy. It was extremely strange, and rarely useful.
Perception was just as important. You didn’t have to hide from a guard if you went where they weren’t going to be. You watched their patrols from afar, heard their steps around a corner, felt the floor tremble.
She crept up behind her target. One hand went over the mouth. Immediately, hands and feet flailed at her. “It’s alright. Just don’t scream.” It took a moment for the scared man to calm down. “Yes yes, I’m not supposed to be here. I get it. Will you promise not to shout when I remove my hand?” The man nodded. Velvet did so and waited, preparing to run. She didn’t have another way to get what she wanted. Hurting someone wouldn’t help her. The man just stood there, stock still. “Good.” She pulled out a paper, holding it in front of the man. “Do you know who this is?” The man nodded. “You can speak. Just quietly.”
“I know him. His name was Barnaby.”
“Was?” Velvet asked. “What happened to him?”
“Died of the bloody plague.”
“Are you sure?” Velvet asked.
“I think so. I mean, he was really sick. I hadn’t seen it before, but that’s what the doctor said it was.”
“A doctor was called in?”
The man nodded once more. “Keeps the rest of us from getting sick.”
“Sure he’s dead?”
“Saw the body carried out. Well, it was covered up- but I don’t doubt it was Barnaby. Nobody else got sick.”
Velvet was gone before he could notice the silence and even think to turn around. If he had, she was wearing a mask to cover her face. A voice might be suspicious, but it was hardly something to identify someone by.
So this one was dead, just like the report said. Another slave not expecting to be questioned shouldn’t be ready to lie, and she’d seen no sign of Barnaby anywhere at work or in the slave quarters. She had to check though. She had no doubt that there would be a few deceivers among those enslaving their assigned people.
At the current time they’d confirmed six. Four traveled with them, Barnaby dead, and one was seen leaving the area on his own. He was free to do so, and leaving right away had been the best choice if he was going to do it. Velvet wasn’t sure if it was safe to do so, but she also wasn’t sure if traveling with them was truly safe. The world was crazy. There were people out there as much stronger than her than the bandits had been compared to non-cultivators. A scary thought, and something she planned to rectify if at all possible.
Just another handful, and they could go meet up with Anton. Then everyone could thank him instead of her and Hoyt, who wouldn’t even have known anything was wrong without Anton.