Legal proceedings could drag out for a very long time for various reasons. Sometimes it just took a long time to read through piles of documents to find what was relevant, sometimes the courts were busy and could only see people irregularly. Sometimes one side or the other asked for extensions because they were busy with something, and sometimes they intentionally dragged things out in the hope that something would save them. Usually some piece of uncovered evidence.
The Adamant Chain couldn’t be hoping for evidence, because they knew they were guilty of everything charged, and probably more than even Kohar couldn’t find a way to prove or even tantalizingly suggest. They might be trying to come up with some more convincing falsified records, since she’d figuratively torn apart everything they’d produced so far.
There was one thing they could be stalling for that would make a big difference. If, say, an army showed up in Sarton ready to fight and killed everyone involved while professing no connection to the Adamant Chain. But that wasn’t something Kohar was related to. There were others already attempting to deal with those problems. If a big battle reached her, she would die. If it was stopped, she would continue doing her job.
Kohar was standing, giving another speech that combined evidence with flair. The first was somehow not good enough for some people, so she had to use both. “For the last several years, because of severe malpractice on behalf of many slaving guilds including the Iron Ring Slavers and the Adamant Chain, detailed records have been required. I have here in front of me depositions from several dozen illegally enslaved individuals,” before anyone could interrupt Kohar pushed forward, “As well as individuals from the various towns where the Adamant Chain’s records claim to have been enslaved through legal means. We have reports of people enslaved for debts that weren’t theirs, as well as for debts that had been paid and those with illegal amounts of interest financed through subsidiaries of the Adamant Chain.”
Kohar paused, looking around the room.
“I am prepared to read all fifteen pages of that, and I will in a few moments, but next we have lists of people enslaved after being accused of a crime but without being convicted, or where they were convicted of crimes they were never accused of or tried for. And then there are all of the various locations where people were enslaved that don’t exist. I’ll start alphabetically. Agosbury, twelve individuals…”
Kohar wasn’t going to let herself be interrupted easily, but when several figures burst through the doors she stopped. Guards tensed, including her allies from the Order. However, the figures just ran over to the representatives of the Adamant Chain, whispering.
“Your honor,” Izabel said to the presiding judge. “We will have to postpone further proceedings. There is an active attack on the Thick Marble Group as we speak.” She began to pick up the papers in front of her.
“On what grounds would the proceedings be postponed?” Kohar said, stopping her. “What connection does that have to the matters at hand?”
Izabel glared at her. “You know on what grounds.”
“Do I?” Kohar asked calmly. “Perhaps you should state it for the court record.”
“Your people are part of that attack.”
“My people?” Kohar asked. “Who are my people? Do you mean my bodyguards, all of which are here with us in this very room? And you haven’t given a connection. Are we at risk here in this room? Does the Adamant Chain work with them?”
This was Kohar’s job too. Either Izabel admitted a connection, which she could use to cause them no end of grief, or she was forced to continue with things as they had been going.
Izabel was trapped, looking up at the judge hoping he would make some sort of declaration. However, he was as much in Kohar’s pocket as the Adamant Chain’s, which basically said he was being paid to be basically neutral. A risky position, if the Adamant Chain had any chance of being structurally stable afterwards. He might have judged he was less likely to be killed in revenge by Kohar’s side both because they would win on the merits and they were generally more honorable. Though killing a corrupt judge would be within the Order’s precepts, nobody was going to bring that up.
Judge Arron Sgro shook his head. “If there is no danger to us here, and no connection between the Adamant Chain and the Thick Marble Ga- Group, then we shall continue from where we left off. I believe Kohar had the stand.”
“Very well then,” Kohar straightened her back. “Brikbridge, seven people. And not even a hint of the presence of the ‘official’ who signed off on the enslavements.”
Ultimately a connection between Kohar and the actions of the Glorious Flame Palace would come out, but not in a way that made her legally culpable. As it was, they were skirting the edge of legality, the sort that would always come out in their favor as long as they were still a powerful sect. They had an excuse to start an attack on the Thick Marble Gang, and no doubt would be able to tie many of them to various crimes in the region. And hopefully to the Adamant Chain, where Izabel’s declaration of them not having a connection would come full circle to bite her in the ass.
In other places throughout Ofrurg, attacks were happening nearly simultaneously. For the purposes of communications, anything off by just a day in either direction meant it would be impossible to organize some sort of counter to everything all at once. Nobody was quite sure how deep the webs of connection between slaver guilds went. They would all work together in some ways, though as competitors they would also be enemies to some extent.
The important things were their connections to various groups. Ultimately they had the money and influence to call on various others to defend them in times of trouble, but when most of those allies suddenly found themselves facing trouble all at the same time it did them little good.
The Glorious Flame Palace wasn’t only active in Sarton, but throughout the north of Ofrurg as a whole. The Frostmirror Sect wasn’t ideologically opposed to slavery as a whole, but they were still active in the central and southern parts of the country. There were other groups from Ofrurg as well, and with Facraona in the east and Estary and more of the Order focusing on western portions of the country, there were few places that weren’t being targeted.
The northernmost portions of Ofrurg touched on the coast, and one location in particular was called Ship’s Haven. A small city of a few thousand people, much trade flowed through the area just like the river that carried heavy ore or ingots to them. That trade and those goods immediately flowed out to sea.
Most port cities grew rich, and while Ship’s Haven was doing well for itself it was not exactly flourishing either. The basis of that was it was somewhat out of the way, the Wild Run being far too volatile for most of its upper length for actual transport. The majority of the goods actually went down other rivers running parallel, to be taken across the land for a portion before entering the calmer parts of the Wild Run and ending up in Ship’s Haven eventually. As for why that would happen, it was simply because it was more economical. Ship’s Haven had lower taxes than other ports, just enough for them to be profitable while drawing some trade from the better locations to the east and west.
It was there that Anton found himself, watching up the river for a shipment that should be coming. If the information was accurate, which it almost certainly was, a shipment of ore suitable for crafting Spirit Building and Essence Collection weapons would be coming. Various plans had been discussed, including following it to wherever it was eventually refined and smithed into weapons, but keeping it out of the wrong hands to begin with had been the ultimate decision.
Though many groups were disorganized, the personal power of many cultivators was still significant. While many groups had been ousted from their fortified positions, that simply left them roaming about the world plotting revenge and teaming up with each other. And while a shipment of future weapons wouldn’t decide anything one way or another, keeping it out of enemy hands and taking out some of the cultivators guarding it would be a step in the direction of victory.
Though Anton might wish he was still primarily connected with the non-combative parts of this battle, Kohar was handling that while those with other skills did what they had to. She still had a squad guarding her wherever she went, but enough people were being pulled away to other battles that she didn’t need a handful of Essence Collection cultivators keeping her safe at all time. And while some of her foes doubtless thought that being fined into poverty or imprisoned for their crimes were a fate worse than death, some of them were trying to keep their hands clean enough that they would survive.
“There it is,” Anton declared. “An oversized barge, riding low in the water. Heavy with ores.”
Hoyt nodded, “No doubt teeming with cultivators protecting it as well. Many of which should have ranged abilities.”
“Unless they just stuck themselves on that boat an hoped for the best,” Anton shrugged. “But I can see a couple bows. Who knows what else they have. You remember the plan?”
“Of course. Quite simple, really. We sink it. A few good holes up front and we remove any chance they can get it past. We’ll have to dredge the bottom of the river to retrieve things, but we’ll have the time.”
Anton nodded. “Catarina?”
“I’ve set up the formation,” she said. “I should be able to temporarily stop it and allow people to traverse the water in front of it. The footing will probably be… unstable, but it will be better than treading water while trying to swing an axe.”
Anton smiled slightly. Nobody was going to suddenly forget their positions. They had more people with them as well, mostly Spirit Building cultivators, though Anish was here along with two other Essence Collection cultivators from Glorious Flame Palace. There were even a few participants from the Frostmirror Sect, like Marsen.
Anton was only talking because he was nervous. There was no reason to be, they were in a good position, but he just had a bad feeling. It could have been that Ship’s Haven was just at their backs. Battles at their level could easily spill over to affect normal people. Even if nobody intentionally harmed civilians, it could happen.
No matter who claimed they could, cultivators couldn’t predict the future. There were gut feelings that could turn out to be right, and perhaps cultivators were more in tune to the world as a whole and could make better guesses… but there was still no way to actually know what would happen, even a few moments away.
But as the barge got closer, Anton managed to sense something. There were too many people on that barge. It wasn’t the wrong one. He could feel the cultivators guarding it, a mix of several different sects. Thick Marble Gang, a couple of those who had gotten away or not been present for the attack. Some others he only half recognized. And another… Heavenly Lion Sect? They’d been keeping themselves hidden, but either they had some sort of plan or this was a lone agent who had joined up with people who had a similar lack of morals.
The cultivators weren’t the problem, though. It was the people. Normal, everyday, no-cultivation-at-all people. Maybe a hundred of them, chained to each other in and around the crates of goods.
“Captive civilians on that barge!” Anton called out to nearby. Others would pass the message on. “Be careful how you attack!”
That was the problem with what they were doing. If they were already going to wipe out as many slavers as they could, then those people and their allies would use whatever they could against them. And since they obviously didn’t care about normal people but Anton and the others did… it was pretty simple. What was Anton going to do for them adding onto their crimes, kill everyone twice? He thought about that, but didn’t know how. Everheart probably did, but that didn’t mean Anton actually wanted to.
Still, having to limit their attacks wasn’t too bad. It would restrict some people, and they couldn’t sink the barge- unless they could take out enough of the enemies before they did, so they could get in there and rescue the prisoners.
The real problem came when the attack began. Anton had no trouble firing his bow indiscriminately. Even if he added on a handful formed entirely of energy, he could unravel any Spirit Arrow that missed his target- or rather, any that was dodged since his attacks didn’t just miss. Before it could get half a meter behind someone, any arrow would be gone. He wasn’t going to hit the wrong target. And while it might have been stroking his own ego somewhat, Anton was a significant amount of their ranged capabilities. There was Alva, of course, and many others had their own methods, but Anton was the best among them.
Unfortunately, the others weren’t all quite as precise as Anton. Everyone still avoided hitting any of the people. They had that level of control. But a few spears and a bolt of lightning broke open some of the crates and barrels on board. The crates were mostly just ore, so at most they spilled out a few chunks of heavy material. The barrels, however, had a black liquid in them that happily spilled out into the river.
Anton didn’t know exactly what it was, but he could sense danger as it began to flow past him. None of them were standing in the river- even when Catarina activated her formation they would simply be on top of it. But perhaps the danger wasn’t to him, or any of them. As the black substance spread throughout the river, Anton thought of Ship’s Haven. Was this something intentional?
“Alva!” Anton called out to his granddaughter, who was riding Fuzz along the river, moving up and down past the barge as she took her shots. He gestured to the river and to the harbor below, and she immediately understood.
She turned Fuzz, darting towards the city. A few balls of fire were halfheartedly chucked after her, but she shot arrows into those that she couldn’t dodge, causing them to explode before they got close.
Nobody knew what damage the poison would cause to the city, but if they could at least warn people ahead of time they could keep them from drinking the water. The long term effects… would have to be dealt with later.