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The Order of Ninety-Nine Stars was aware that times of change were coming. Trying to resist change only ever resulted in those who refused to be flexible, shattering under the force of the world. While ultimately they would prefer to avoid conflicts with other sects, that was only possible if they were willing to capitulate to their demands. And even then conflicts would arise, even if they were mere puppets. Of course, as cultivators they wouldn’t accept that.
Having individuals who would catalyze changing times within a sect was both a blessing and a curse. Some would prefer to just endure through hard times, and those who precipitated changes were not helpful for that. Though personally Elder Kseniya was all in favor of those that actually did things.
She continued to fire Spirit Arrows even as she accelerated her boat. Did that old fart Lakatos really think a tower was going to stand in the way of her arrows? Because he was right. But she didn’t need to let him know that. Her current shots were cleverly disguised as lethal, but not particularly dangerous- or draining. Once she was closer the tower wouldn’t be a problem, but after the first few kilometers precise control really went downhill sharply.
She wasn’t the only one approaching. Everyone had taken notice, though some sects weren’t interested in showing up merely to spectate. The Frostmirror Sect, for example, wouldn’t involve themselves if things didn’t involve their own disciples. It wasn’t as if they had an alliance with either side, so there was no need for them to get involved.
It seemed she managed to convince the members of the Heavenly Lion Sect that she would be able to lock onto them from where she was, as none approached while she was getting to the island. She certainly had no intention to inform them that if someone below Life Transformation had attacked- with a smaller energy signature- she couldn’t so easily have targeted them. Then again, they would be less able to avoid her attacks.
Either way, she arrived without anyone she cared about dying. Though it looked like it was damn close. Anton’s heart was barely functioning as one. As for some other dying people… now that she was close she was able to look them over. An interesting collection of foes.
“Elder Lakatos,” Kseniya said as she leaped onto the island. “You will come out and explain why you thought it was allowed to attack my disciple.” When he didn’t immediately move, she shot five arrows- one circling around the tower towards him, and four others that stopped immediately in front of the disciples of the Heavenly Lion Sect. He moved out, though mostly to avoid the shot circling the tower.
“Your disciple broke the truce-”
The arrows stabbed into the disciples, though only as deep as a knuckle. Elder Kseniya drew another arrow and aimed directly at the man’s disciple, who used the same punching daggers as weapons. “Without lying.”
“You dare accuse me of lying?” He glowered at her, taking a stance. “I may have little choice but to hide when you aren’t on the island, but with you here…”
“Elder Kseniya,” spoke one of those surrounding Anton. Catarina, his great-granddaughter, if she recalled correctly. “I can give you the accurate information.” It didn’t take long- it seemed their group had much practice going over the details lately.
“Thank you. Now that we’ve heard that, Elder Lakatos of the Heavenly Lion Sect. Do you deny that your sect has been working directly with slaving criminals that your own Sect expelled?”
“Of course I deny it,” he said. “It’s nonsense!” He stepped forward, flaring his energy.
“Wrong answer.” Elder Kseniya released her arrow, sending it straight into the heart of his disciple. She had considered stopping it at the same level of wound Anton had received, but that was not a mercy on the man’s part. He’d fully intended to kill. Elder Lakatos tried to reach his disciple, but only got halfway there before the arrow was all the way out of his back. “I personally witnessed your fraternization at the latest of Everheart’s Tombs. You should have thought before you spoke.”
Of course, Elder Lakatos didn’t just stand around doing nothing. But as she spoke a constant hail of arrows keeping him on his toes prevented him from reaching her- or any of the weaker disciples.
“You would really be better served by helping that boy out. It’s just a hole in his heart. I didn’t even completely annihilate it or turn his brain into a sieve. Take him and leave. That includes every member of the Heavenly Lion Sect.”
“You wish to make us give up on this tower?” he frowned. “Fine. Hand over Zvonko and we shall consider it done.”
“It seems you misinterpreted what I meant. My apologies.” Elder Kseniya waved her hand at him. “You can come witness his execution if you wish, but he will not be leaving with you. And the entire Heavenly Lion Sect will be leaving the Secret Realm, not just this island.”
“You have no right to do that,” he said- bolstered somewhat by the members of his sect and allies around him. “Nor can you take captive one of our disciples.”
“You,” Kseniya waved her hand, “Law woman. Come forward.”
Kohar stepped out of the crowd. “It’s Kohar.”
“Hmm. If you take up the bow I’ll consider remembering it. Tell him what rules they violated and how nice I’m being letting anyone live.”
“There are a number of things. Firstly, it is impossible to justify his attack because they weren’t done with personal witness or a proper investigation. There are several sections of the rules that cover that specifically.” Kohar obediently began to recite them. “It could only be justified if lives weren’t immediately threatened, and each of the captives were properly treated. In such a case, the party who initially brought accusations gains the responsibility for the lives of the captives, but is allowed to retain control until a proper investigation is completed.”
“She’s just making stuff up,” Elder Lakatos said. He gestured to the members of the Heavenly Lion Sect and their allies around him. “Come! Let us stop these miscreants hiding behind the veil of a ‘righteous’ sect.”
“Yeah!” A voice boomed from afar, “Do it!” A flaming book struck the ground in front of him, cracking the stone. “Though I should probably tell you to read the stupid book before you do it.” A man with wrinkled skin, bald except for hair made of fire rising from his head, stood at the edge of the island. He was Elder Medved, of the Glorious Flame Palace- and there were others with him. “It’s a lot of pages, but you should be able to find them with the law wo- with Kohar’s references.” Elder Lakatos stooped down to pick up the tome- then cursed as his fingers were singed. “Ah, my bad.” Medved smiled and let the flames fade away. “It was just for show.”
As he read, Kohar continued. “Punishment for breaking the treaty can result in the death of all members involved. Previous actions merited that threshold but were generously deferred. However, in such a case when another violation is committed in a short timeframe- usually one to five years on the short end- the more severe violation decides the punishment.
“I dispute your reading of the law!” Elder Medved said.
“That is allowable,” Kohar admitted, “However, that must be done properly and not through attacking for perceived faults. You did not, in fact, see any violations by the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars, did you?”
“They’re holding our disciple! And that bitch shot another one!”
“After hundreds of people witnessed your attack,” Kohar pointed out. “But I see I will not get a rational discussion with you. Perhaps you would prefer to bring it up with Elder…?” she turned towards the man from the Heavenly Lion Sect.
“Medved, young Kohar. And I would be glad to.” He stepped forward, fire spiraling up and around him as he did so.
Things were a mere centimeter from exploding into chaos, but while the Heavenly Lion Sect and their allies might be able to handle the Order, they couldn’t deal with them and the Glorious Flame Palace. Plus whatever bystanders might join in for a chance to loot some of them. The Flying Blood Cult… wasn’t necessarily on their side. “You haven’t heard the last of this.” He picked up the fallen disciple, who was breathing weakly, and began to walk towards the shore.
“Neither have you,” Kohar reminded. “Don’t forget to wear something nice to the execution.”
For most of his life, Anton thought that a heart just had to get blood flowing through the body to function. In most cases, that was a sufficient definition. However, when he had to push his own blood into his arteries the differences between proper pulses and continual flow began to emerge. He barely kept himself conscious, and the powerful cultivators around him didn’t help with that. Though the pressure of their auras on him wasn’t quite so restrictive, just because he wasn’t physically oppressed didn’t mean there wasn’t mental baggage there.
He’d have to thank Elder Kseniya again. After he talked to Devon and reminded him that he knew he could be injured. Just because it was his grandson’s idea didn’t mean it wasn’t something he would have done. Bringing people in for a proper sentencing and execution… while it was vaguely tyrannical comparing it to just killing people all over the place it was quite reasonable. Though they’d still killed everyone ‘unimportant’.
He looked up to Elder Kseniya. “What do you think might happen from this?”
“Lots of things,” she said. “A bit of justice. War. A shifting of the balance of power in nearby regions.”
“Which is most likely?” Anton asked.
She looked down at him and smiled. “All of them together. You do manage to attract a lot of trouble, don’t you?”
He shrugged. What was he supposed to say? Though he hadn’t started this conflict, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t been looking for revenge on several of the individuals involved. He would have just done it in a different context. The results would have been the same if he died along with the others, because covering it up entirely would have been impossible.
“Hey uh,” Chikere spoke up next to Anton, “Wanna see how I stitch blade wounds with energy?”
One of the elders from the Order scurried over as she was talking. “Why are you just standing there with an open wound and not saying anything?” The woman took out a box full of different needles, straight and curved. “I didn’t even realize you were injured.”
Anton shrugged, “Fuzzy head.”
She sighed. “That’s… good, actually. Now, this might hurt a little bit. Shouldn’t wait for anesthetic.”
If asked later whether having his heart stitched up was painful, Anton would have said yes. But in comparison to having a bone set, it wasn’t really that bad. Her energy from the Ninety-Nine Stars synchronized well with his own, not disturbing him as she floated needles inside his chest to stitch him up. Her work was quick and accurate, so he could hardly say it was one of the most painful things he experienced. And it was just physical pain.
“There you go. Anton, right?”
He nodded. “Sorry, I don’t believe we’ve talked. Your name?”
“You may call me Elder Peric. Though it seems you don’t come to the medical ward… ever.”
“I was there after The Hunt,” he said.
“Really? I don’t remember you.” Then she frowned, “Wait, you were… in Body Tempering, weren’t you.”
“Sixth star or so,” he nodded.
“But now you’re at the eighteenth. Yes, I see. I thought perhaps there was just someone with the same name.”
“There might be others,” Hoyt spoke up. “But if it’s an Anton you’ve been hearing about around the Order, it’s him.”
“Ah. Hoyt,” she inclined her head. “I’d heard you were in the same team.” She looked around- people had dispersed significantly, but most of the elders of the Order were still standing around defensively. “Missed you in the crowd.” She looked at the others standing nearby, specifically Catarina and Devon. “Two members of your family, as well.”
“And another,” Catarina said, “but she’s still a bit young.”
“Yes.” She looked at the three chained cultivators next to them. “I heard about what happened. Not in great detail but… he’s the one responsible?” she gestured to Van Hassel.
Anton nodded, “Directly, it’s him. But based on other information it’s more than just that. It should have been done with the blessing of the Heavenly Lion Sect.”
“Sounds like them. It’s just usually hard to pin anything down on that sort. Good on ya. How are you feeling, by the way?”
Anton looked down. He’d almost forgotten the wound already. Though he was still missing some blood. “Thank you.”
“Good thing to thank me now. It’ll ache like hell later.”
And it did. Almost as bad as his joints had in winter.