Up ahead a handful of cultivators were surrounding one Anton recognized. A fight hadn’t broken out just yet- it was clear the half dozen early Spirit Building cultivators surrounding Masozi were cautious of his somewhat higher cultivation. Nobody wanted to be the one to approach first, risking themselves.
To add to that, Anton fired an arrow towards them. He intentionally let it pass just by the head of one of those gathered around, trying to make it clear that he could have hit. Even if that was not the case, the display of his power that was on the stronger end of mid Spirit Building was sufficient to dissuade the group. They stepped away, and though they might have tried to quickly defeat Masozi before fleeing they chose to prioritize their safety. They turned to flee, and Anton let them go. He didn’t know what their reasons were- perhaps they had a legitimate grudge to avenge- but he needed Masozi alive.
Masozi turned towards him, and his face clearly showed a moment of considering if he could run. Anton lowered his bow to indicate he didn’t intend to kill the man. While Masozi might have been involved with helping Tonina get away with more mischief, if it hadn’t been him someone else would have been in the same position. He at least had the good sense to distance himself from her when he was aware of the full implications of what was happening. Tacitly supporting legal slavery wasn’t something Anton believe a good person could allow, but that made him no worse than the majority of Ofrurg. If Masozi was concerned with his life first and foremost, the Potenza clan could have kept him safe instead.
When they got close, Masozi hadn’t moved- and Anton gestured into a nearby building with proper air. It was much easier to converse there. “What do you want?” Masozi asked.
“Straightforward and to the point,” Anton nodded. “Fine. You must have heard about recent events in Graotan.”
“I heard Tonina was executed. I’m sure she deserved it,” Masozi shrugged. “That no longer has anything to do with me. I believed I was operating inside the law. Not much point in taking out your grudge on me now…”
“I don’t intend to kill you,” Anton assured him. “Nor do I intend to harm you in any way. But you might know some things I need to know. Since you were with Tonina for at least several years, you should have been aware of what was going on around her. She had some connections to very powerful people, beyond the Potenza clan.”
“You want to know about that, huh?” Masozi shook his head. “I don’t suppose you’d accept it if I said you’re better off not knowing?”
“Not really,” Anton said. “They’re already enemies of me and the Order.” Anton changed the topic- or at least seemed to. “What quarrel did you have with those fellows from earlier?”
Masozi shook his head, “Don’t know. Perhaps they just thought a lone cultivator was an easy target. Or…” he frowned. “Could be someone out for revenge.”
“You know what we want,” Anton said.
“It’s not like I have anything clear for you,” Masozi said. “Just a few things here and there… but even that could get me into serious trouble.”
“Maybe it already has,” Anton countered.
Masozi sighed. “Fine. How about this… I heard some pills were found here. Duality pills, they were called when sold. I got a small piece of one, still potent after all this time. I suspect there are more. If you can get me a whole one- or something just as good- I’ll take the risk. That’s already counting that you might just kill me if I don’t cooperate, by the way. I’d feel slightly safer if I broke through another level or two, though.”
“What if we find more?” Anton asked, “Or nothing at all?”
“I want a fair split, if we’re fighting together, with the first pill being mine. If there’s nothing after say… a full week, I’ll tell you what I know. I have to still be alive for that, obviously. You have to swear to give up any grudges as well.”
“Sounds like you’re planning to get more than just a single pill out of this.”
Masozi shrugged, “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to try to get as many resources as possible to protect myself. And while you have certainly surpassed me since we last met, I won’t be a burden on your group either. It’s only a stronger reward in my favor if we’re only able to get a single thing.”
Anton considered the deal, consulting with the others briefly. Masozi wasn’t weak- the only reason he’d backed off in their previous confrontation was that Anton had Elder Varela at his side and was exclusively targeting Tonina. It was true he hadn’t advanced much since then, but this wasn’t a long-term deal where he’d need to keep up for months or years. Just a week. The others agreed to the splitting, though they did first have Masozi be more specific about the value of the pill he was looking for. It would indeed be quite significant if they only found one, but if there were more it wasn’t a huge concern.
It seemed unlikely that things of such value would be found just sitting around anyway- perhaps the real origin of the pills he had seen was from somewhere else. On the other hand, ancient sects were sometimes obscenely wealthy. In the end, they agreed. Anton offered to compensate the rest if they lost out on their portion of the profits, but nobody was concerned with that. All of them owed Anton quite a lot, even if it wasn’t in a way that could be paid back with money, or at all. They also provided help to him, but their debts weren’t the sort that actually cared about money. And if they found real stores of riches, missing a single portion wouldn’t be too concerning.
Even underwater, Masozi was quick- Anton remembered him getting almost halfway to him between arrows in the arena. He wielded a short spear with strength and grace, clearly having put in time practicing various weapons. His energy was indeed a bit weaker than the rest of them, but his addition to their numbers was still a benefit.
As they moved deeper into the ruins of the Luminous Ocean Society, battle with underwater beasts became more frequent. It seemed that most of the creatures lived away from the barrier, except the occasional one that wandered through one of the holes. At the current moment they were fighting against a handful of perturbing squid, with various tendrils of different lengths.
Spirit Arrows were fired into their bodies, but Anton wasn’t certain about the placement of their organs. Disabling limbs one by one was difficult as well, and they took special care of their eyes. If his arrows could go the same speed as on the surface… well then, the squid would have to have been stronger to maintain its relative level of battle prowess. In the most dangerous places there were many beasts that could match mid Spirit Building cultivators.
Hoyt seemed to have the easiest time of all of them- as the squid reached out for him to grab onto him, the water bubbled and boiled around him. Anton could feel the significant amounts of energy required to maintain the effect, but the results spoke for themselves. Even if one of the squid briefly wrapped an arm around him, it would quickly pull away. The way they pushed through the water was impressive.
Anton watched above him as some of the squid hovered above the sea floor. In a way being underwater meant everything could fly- he could also dodge up while swimming if he wished to, but that would just open him up to attacks from below. Maneuvering without feet on the ground was also difficult. But just sticking to what he was comfortable with might be a disadvantage, so Anton tried to replicate some of the squid’s movements. He didn’t have a large number of tentacles to push against the water, but creating a sheet of energy did just as well. He could even make it intangible as it moved to its starting position, so he could continuously push without slowing down. The downside was that controlling anything of the sort was one more application of energy at the same time as others, weakening his offense or defense or both. Yet the extended energy could also catch on to the incoming tentacles and push them away. The long ones were of most concern, while the shorter ones were better at grabbing.
Timothy had quite a bit of difficulty at first, since the squid weren’t attempting to batter him down with force. The longer tendrils first ran into his shield or the extension of it with energy and slowly reached their way around to try to wrap around his arms and legs. Re-angling his shield would do nothing against such a determined action, but eventually he just realized that his shield still limited the angles their attacks could come from. And though these beasts had tough bodies and the benefit of defensive energy, he could still thrust his sword into an oncoming limb if the enemy was careless.
Catarina was able to fight against them well enough, whether using her accustomed sword or a spear, but formations out in open water were quite difficult. Anton could see that placing a number of flags might form a defensive cylinder, but to cover the top and bottom she had to adjust the shape into a sphere by placing flags above and below. And flags didn’t just happily remain in place without being physically stuck in something- she either had to hold them at the right position with her own energy or rely solely on being close to the sandy floor. She was still able to guide the flow of energy between members of their group to support those who needed it most, though the complexities of positioning were increased with the more frequent addition of a third dimension. Normally it was more difficult to fly or jump over someone’s head than to just go around- and against cultivators at least, being unable to change trajectory was dangerous.
Velvet did just find concealing herself in the water, hiding her visible presence and blending her energy into the surroundings. She wasn’t actually invisible, but she was able to take advantage of distracted opponents even in open water. Though perhaps she might be able to achieve true invisibility underwater in the future. Some of the members of the Quiet Shore Palace had pieces of their technique on them as well- none of them carried a full practicing method probably for the very reason that it would make it harder to steal. Even Anton didn’t carry more than the Body Tempering section of the Ninety-Nine Stars to give to others. He was already familiar enough with the principles of Spirit Building that he didn’t need to review them. Likewise, he didn’t need to keep a copy of Spirit Arrows on him because the book wouldn’t have anything he didn’t know.
Masozi twisted and turned his body as he moved through the water, still restrained by it but agile enough to pierce any limbs that reached out towards him. The squid soon discovered that their prey weren’t so easy to kill and began some unexpected tactics- one of them squeezed the blood out of one of their tentacles, and Masozi found it tried to eat away at his energy. He had to back up and take a path around the cloud of blood, giving the squid time to retreat.
Anton fired a few parting shots as the squid gave up the fight, feeling as the energy peeled off his Spirit Arrows as it passed through clouds of their blood. However, unlike the more widely disseminated defensive energy he kept around himself, the density of the arrow allowed it to continue without dissipating too much. One of the squid was slain, though the others retreated with varying levels of injury. Gathering the squid was a bit difficult with its acidic and energy-melting blood, but it seemed that second property quickly faded as the blood lingered and then thinned throughout the water. Some more sea creatures swam around the area, drawn by the scent of blood, but most of them chose to follow the trail after the injured creatures since the body had been stored. The others were still appraising the cultivators when they took the chance to step into a building to refresh themselves, effectively putting themselves out of reach of anything in the water.