Having been a human for his whole life, which was quite a long time though not extreme by cultivator standards, Anton knew that humans had strange behavior. When they saw something on a map and expected something to be there, there were often cases when they would simply make it happen. That was even the case when the ‘wrong’ thing was on the map.
Fifteen years had passed since Dungannon was destroyed, its people killed or carted off as slaves. The first handful of years it had laid empty, those buildings that still had some structure slowly collapsing. Sometime after that, Anton wasn’t quite sure when, a group of people decided there ought to be a town there again. That was how many towns were first formed, and it wasn’t odd to think that somewhere a prosperous town had once stood would be a good position in the future.
The area around Dungannon didn’t have any exceptional resources, but there was good land for farming and a nearby forest where foraging and hunting could take place. Trade going from Thorpes to Alcombey and to the rest of Graotan would pass through the area, and those people would need a place to stay. And of course everyone had some basic necessities for living that would be best provided by others.
The new version of Dungannon was quite a bit smaller than it had been, but Anton actually remembered a time when the original had been close. When he was a young man, it wasn’t much more than a few handfuls of families living close together.
Except for foundations, most of the buildings had been cleaned up. Nobody wanted to live in a village where half or more of it was collapsing ruins, after all. Most of the buildings weren’t the same as they had been, though the main streets were still positioned the same. Some good cobblestone work there, and there was no point in redoing it.
As Anton walked through the town, nothing matched his memories anymore. The place he was most familiar with was also the most changed. Where the Krantz farm had once been was a small lumber mill, with only token gardens. Personally Anton thought it was a waste of good field space, but then again most of the land in the area was decent enough. It was close enough to the forest that it was convenient, and the lumber was much needed for the new constructions.
Anton was pretty sure he still technically owned the land. However, given that he’d made no effort to reclaim it in over a decade it was quite a reasonable assumption to assume that he, like the others, was dead and gone. He thought that perhaps he should make sure there wouldn’t be any strange land disputes later. He certainly didn’t need money nor want the land. He was done with Dungannon. This place simply bore the same name.
The only thing that was as he remembered it was the graveyard. Even that was different, as it was more properly apportioned with a short fence surrounding it, and the original wooden markers had been replaced. Anton smiled slightly. Though they had no obligation, someone had been taking care of things. That was a sign of good people.
His smile continued on the way back through town. Although there were many bitter memories in Dungannon, there were overwhelmingly more good ones behind them. Beyond that, Anton was always pleased by small villages of hard working people.
Now he just had to make his way back to the Order. A trip that had once taken a month would be only a week, if he took his time. He could keep to the normal traveling speed of a human without a bountiful cultivation, but he knew what he was now. He had things to do, and people he shouldn’t keep waiting for too long.
The serious nature of the mission was cemented by the fact that two Life Transformation cultivators would be going along with the group. Two from the Order, and when they stopped by the Frostmirror Sect Anton expected one more. The danger might not be just from the seas and the beasts and storms and other obstacles, but also other cultivators. Different sources said different things about the lands beyond the continent that had made up Anton’s entire world, and the only thing that was certain was the journey was a danger. The other details might all be true, or all fabrications of those who never actually arrived.
Anton wondered if there had been intercontinental trade in the past, perhaps before the previous attack when there were mighty sects like the Luminous Ocean Society. Surely they were not afraid of a few sea creatures, though whether it was worthwhile to make the trip was another question.
He also wondered if the Twin Soul Sect had a large presence elsewhere, or if they had also been pushed down. Anton doubted they were entirely defeated anywhere, and he was certain that at least some of their allies had a reasonable belief that they could make it to distant shores. That was where some people went after the recent war, while the others were driven into hiding elsewhere.
But all that speculation wasn’t much good when he would know soon. A number of his regular companions would be going along as well. Hoyt and Velvet. Alva would be coming along as well, though without Fuzz. He was staying behind.
Marcio would be along for the journey as well, along with some of the other archers. That was partly due to the desire for a variety of fighting styles and partly because Grand Elder Kseniya was leading the group. It was best to have someone with great perception when exploring new- or at least unknown lands. It was hard to get better than someone who could sense to the horizon line.
There were lower level cultivators as well. Spirit Building disciples to swell their numbers, and to allow them to experience strife. Things had settled down for a while, and while that was good it also provided fewer opportunities for cultivators to gain battle experience and grow. Fewer, but not none. Anton recognized Jacob and Sterling, the former a long time guard at the Order who wanted to seek out new experiences and the latter the one who had introduced Anton to the Order, long surpassed in rank.
Notable absences would be Catarina and Timothy. They had elected to stay behind, Catarina because she was in the middle of some research on formations, and Timothy primarily because he wished to stay with her. They were married, after all. Anton would have hardly left behind Janina for an extended period of time to go adventuring, though he also hadn’t been much of the sort before he was a cultivator anyway. Unless adventure involved a couple days in familiar woods.
Outside of the Order, they already had the first members join up. Ayotunde and a sample of several different groups in Ambati were coming along on the expedition, as they deserved the representation.
In addition to members of the Frostmirror sect, they’d be picking up a handful of others on the way to Facraona. They’d be leaving from the eastern port with a group of experienced sailors, though even their experience rarely took them far from the mainland. Mostly to some nearby islands which had interesting geographical features- and of course some unique cultivation resources.
Along the way to the Frostmirror sect a few people from different groups joined up. A few people from Infinite Wisdom Forest in Estary, Elder Magro of the Iron Fist sect, and a wrinkled old man from the Wandering Bush Sect. The people from Infinite Wisdom Forest clearly looked down on those from the ‘Tumbleweed sect’, but personally Anton found himself more partial to Elder Servaos.
The reception at the Frostmirror sect was about as expected, except for some specific details. Specifically, the opposing energies of two Life Transformation cultivators half a step away from being in combat, fire and ice straining against each other.
Glorious Flame Palace had initially declined to send anyone, but it seemed they had changed their mind. That included Elder Sarka, who was locked in a staring match to the death with Elder Adelina. Though the latter woman from the Frostmirror sect seemed expressionless, that didn’t make her gaze lack intensity.
Anton made a note not to stand between the two of them. As allies the two sects were always tenuous, but the two individuals were liable to get into trouble. Anton just hoped it was the productive kind, where two rivals fought each other and made each other stronger, eventually becoming friends. Or however that worked. Most of those Anton got along with had been friendly from the beginning, and the others he simply didn’t bother with.
Anish was also present as a member of Glorious Flame Palace, as well as another Anton had met at the same time. That was Chikere, the sword-obsessed cultivator. Though she wasn’t directing any negative intent at him, Anton almost felt like he could cut himself if he wasn’t careful. Anish waved with a wide smile as they approached, though for some reason Anton felt it was directed past him. At Velvet, maybe?
The reunion of two cousins once more was wonderful to see. Annelie and Alva were able to see each other frequently, but they still liked to see more of each other, despite certain rocky moments. But that was how life worked, sometimes. Especially with teenagers, but both of them had aged past that point some time prior. On the other hand, age didn’t directly come with maturity. Otherwise, Elders Sarka and Adelina wouldn’t be cracking the pavement between them. Was there some history there beyond being from sects that practiced widely different techniques? Anton wanted to know, but not so much that he would poke his nose into it. He liked his nose, and wanted it to remain intact.
Though he’d now seen the ocean more than a handful of times, Anton always found himself impressed by it. A vast, open expanse of water with nothing in the way. Rising and falling waves sparkling in the sun. And each one was subtly different. Directly north of Estary had the clear seas that surrounded the Luminous Ocean Society’s main headquarters. There was a different look to the east in Ship’s Haven, even before the temporary blackening caused by the poison. Here, it had more of a greenish hue and many floating bundles of kelp.
The crews that would be manning the ships were a rough group with tanned skin. Cultivators could protect their skin from the sun, but some liked the color and some didn’t care. This group seemed to be a mix of both, and it made them somewhat distinctive compared to those cultivators who preferred a more ‘controlled’ look.
The ships were large vessels, made out of exceptionally sturdy wood. Anton could tell just by sensing it with his energy that it would be durable, and he also sensed the formations enhancing the ships. Anything less than the best would be pointless, since if they sunk at sea there was no guarantee even the best among them would make it to land.
A wiry man with scars up and down his arms and across his face stood atop one vessel as they were directed to them. “You made it,” he said. “I’m Commodore Visser, leader of this fleet. The two main vessels you see here,” he gestured below him and to the side, “They’re the Azalea and the Skylark. When she arrives, I’ll introduce you to my second in command, Arendse, as well as the other captains. Now I know you all don’t like to take orders from those outside your sects, or lower in cultivation… but I’ll need you all to respect any of the captains, or their replacements should it come to that.” He focused on the highest elders, as he was in Life Transformation himself, if only the early stage.
Everyone agreed there would be no issue, and Anton even believed most of the people meant it. He was a little suspicious about whether those from Infinite Wisdom Forest truly meant it, and someone like Elder Sarka could mean it and then change their mind when something flared her temper. But nothing involving people was ever perfect, and they had to do their best to hold things together. Unless they wanted to keep their heads buried in the sand and hope that nobody remembered to put together an invading force, or that it wouldn’t cover the whole world and leak between continents.