Though he truly wished to stay around Arbington, Anton knew it was dangerous for both himself and the locals. Thus, after a short few weeks he was on his way to meet up with larger groups from their alliance. The trio that had come to help him reported back to the Blue River Gardens, alerting them about the results of the mission that had put them in the area. Upon learning that the Whispering Watchers were responsible for what happened, their response was somewhat subdued. The person directly responsible had been killed, but they couldn’t strike back against the sect responsible. Not alone, but perhaps they might contribute towards a larger movement against them.
That was Anton’s current goal. If he had done something inappropriate to provoke the attack it would be a different story, but this was a direct result of killing disciples of theirs that were part of the Twin Soul Sect. It was just one more indication of the Whispering Watcher’s close relation.
Anton traveled with the other three, cautious for further attacks. Even though Anton believed that the Whispering Watchers wanted to kill Anton, he somehow doubted that Elder Naheed’s actions were officially authorized. Or perhaps they were, on the condition that she kill anyone who noticed her- but either one indicated they weren’t willing to openly declare war. That might have worked if Anton had died, but it would be hard for them to weasel out of responsibility for the attack. Which was why the group was staying cautious, as further members might want to kill them to silence them. They’d sent word through various messengers but had no way to know if their messages had arrived yet.
And of course, none of them wanted to die. Even Anton, who had accepted death as an inevitability- a single step closer now, after the conflict with Elder Naheed- still didn’t want to die. Especially for nothing.
Their destination was Prophis. It was still a reasonable distance from the Whispering Watcher’s land, but generally in the same region. Not too close, but a decent base for staging any future actions. Anton had not been there, but from the size of the city and its location it was simple to recognize it when he got close. Plus, he began to sense familiar sources of natural energy. Friendly ones.
“We’ll be fine now,” Anton said. Their travel wasn’t particularly difficult- four Essence Collection cultivators could go pretty much anywhere except traipsing through the lands controlled by higher ranking sects.
“Are you sure?” Anish asked. “We should still be twenty or thirty kilometers away from our destination. That’s plenty of distance for an ambush.”
“Well… I suppose if they sent more than a pair of Life Transformation cultivators. Or one mid stage one who was willing to die to take us out.”
“That’s… not just confidence in our fighting ability, right?” Anish asked. “Given that we only came out slightly ahead against an early stage one.”
“Well, it’s not just the four of us who would be fighting,” Anton pointed out. “Since we’re within Kseniya’s range.”
“Ah… I’d heard about that,” Anish shook his head. “I suppose I should have expected it, given that you began that battle from… somewhere around ten kilometers, I believe. And if Elder Sarka is here, it would only take a few minutes for her to arrive.”
“That’s Life Transformation cultivators for you,” Anton shrugged. “Another large step ahead of us still, just to reach the beginning.”
It was strange to think that a distance that would have taken Anton half a day of travel to cross in his youth was only a matter of minutes to some. To be fair, that wasn’t a casual stride but an all out sprint that even Life Transformation cultivators couldn’t sustain for long periods of time.
The place where the meetings were taking place was a nice wide room. Elder Sarka sat on one side, Adelina on the other. They glared at each other, at the members of their sects who walked in with each other, and back at each other.
“Given how many people are here,” Anton said. “I’m going to assume you received the messages we sent ahead. Unless there’s some emergency meeting that we are interrupting?”
“No,” Adelina said simply. “We have been anticipating your arrival, and Kseniya called us to convene when she sensed your approach. You said you killed Elder Naheed. Do you have her body?”
“What?” Sarka quipped. “You don’t believe him? We even had suspicions about her.”
“That is not the case,” Adelina calmly retorted. “Anton has proven himself quite reliable, along with… our disciples. I was merely hoping we would be able to make use of it for something.”
“Here it is…” Anton said. He was not fond of carrying corpses, and Elder Naheed was wrapped in preserving cloth. Her body had been kept chilled as well, nearly frozen. But even so, it state was rather pathetic. One arm was missing- the one that Anish had destroyed- while the other had broken off. The body was full of burns and cracks from where it had frozen and rapidly heated. “Unfortunately, her energy has completely dissipated now. Even if we had come directly, it only lingered for less than a day. At least, the most important parts. Our investigation immediately following the event determined that she was a practitioner of the Twin Soul Sect’s core cultivation technique, but all we have now is this,” Anton gestured.
“Tch,” Sarka clicked her tongue. “They get away with something else. Well, almost. This time it cost them a Life Transformation cultivator. Not to disparage the four of you but… I’m amazed you pulled that off.”
“The black thorned arrow supplied by Grand Elder Kseniya was a major contributor. And the fact that I was able to begin the battle with a not insignificant blow.” Anton explained the situation in more detail than his message- including of course that she was likely to kill innocents. “I know that in a way it is my fault but-”
“Screw that,” Sarka slammed her palm on the table. “This isn’t a trial. Every one of those bastards deserves to be incinerated. Your actions merely changed the form their evil took. Nobody here has an ounce of sympathy for them.” That was probably the nicest thing she’d ever said about Adelina, though of course they avoided looking at each other.
“That’s right,” Adelina nodded. “We’re just here to determine how we retaliate.”
“How do we feel about killing their disciples?” Kseniya asked. When everyone looked at her, she shrugged. “What? They were planning to do the same to us. And someone just stepped out of their territory. I could take the shot.”
“I suggest we delay that thought for the moment,” Adelina cautioned. “At least to keep the element of surprise.”
“And much as I hate to admit it,” Sarka commented, “We’re not enough to defeat them on our own. If our full sects were here it would be a different story, but with just us…”
“A shame that Swordmaster Rahayu is no longer around,” Kseniya commented. “But he chose the path best for himself. His strength would have been useful, but it was not as if he turned and fled.”
“The Whispering Watchers are a dominant force here,” Sarka complained. “No local sects can match them. It will take some time to recruit those from further, and since they didn’t jump at the opportunity when we first told them to investigate…”
Adelina brought up another point. “It will also be dangerous to remain close if they catch word of us preparing an attack. If they are determined, they could wipe us out solely with their Life Transformation cultivators. Though that would likely be seen as a sign of culpability, I don’t imagine any of us intend to be martyrs.”
“There must be some who were on the fence, though,” Anton pointed out. “And don’t forget that Elder Naheed is not only another point of aggression… but also a Life Transformation cultivator they do not have.”
“Good point,” Sarka nodded. “That’s actually a significant blow to their sect. Which also means they’re likely aware of her death… or will be soon.”
“The problem seems to be nobody wishes to lead the charge,” Adelina explained. “Everyone would very much like to not have traitors in their midst when the invasion comes, but nobody wants to be the one to risk their own remaining experts. So I propose we send them an ultimatum. They can either join us now, where they had our cultivators… or we leave immediately and let them deal with the rest of the consequences.”
“I… agree,” Sarka grimaced as she said those words. “It’s not our job to handle the affairs of another continent. We’re just here to make sure they have fair warning. That’s been done, so we can just leave. Though I’d much rather stomp out this sect before we go.”
Elder Tola from Infinite Wisdom Forest added her contribution. “I agree with the idea. As for implementing it, I do believe we can go with Kseniya’s suggestion, as well as implying that the others will likely have already agreed… and that there won’t be any spoils left if they arrive too late.”
“Of course,” Adelina nodded. “I had not considered playing up the benefits. It is difficult for people to think of removing a problem as a positive, but if their stores of cultivation resources get filled, they will weight it against their potential losses in members. Along with the other reasons, it should be sufficient.”
“And we do not have to fight them in their territory,” Elder Tola explained. “Because once we have some backup, Kseniya can make life very difficult for them if they do not come attack us. Even if we have to step onto their territory, it won’t be an issue once other sects are in agreement.”
Anton added some comments, “We should also include others, like the Rising Waterfall Sect. And even Marvelous Rabbit Mountain. Even Blue River Gardens from the south should contribute something. The larger our forces, the less risk to anyone. At a certain point, the rewards will be small but not an important factor.”
“That might take weeks,” Adelina said, “Even with fast messengers and them hurrying. I am not saying it is a bad idea, but we must begin quickly. Elder Naheed’s absence should be growing more obvious by the day. Even this gathering could be noticed.”
“Agreed,” Tola nodded. “We should split up into delegations and travel with haste. Those from our alliance who have not gathered yet should also be found, if we can.”
“I’m staying here,” Kseniya said. “They tried to kill my favorite disciple. I warned them about that.”
“The range of your attacks will be of little help if you are alone,” Adelina pointed out. “It would be a waste.”
“Don’t worry… I won’t start shooting. Yet.” Kseniya grinned widely. “I’ll just be scouting around… picking out targets.”
“That seems reasonable,” Elder Tola replied. “If we are planning offensive action, respecting their borders is no longer necessary. Do be careful though.”
“Of course,” Ksenia tilted up her head. “I’m planning to be around for the invasion too. I promised that old guy I’d take care of the Order.”
Instead of finding his way to a sect, Anton was given another task. Along with Alva, Hoyt and Velvet were present to bring along. Getting as many sects as they could involved was good, but one member of their alliance with significant power was not present. Not a Life Transformation cultivator, but on the border of Late Essence Collection. Also both difficult and very easy to find.
“Okay, so,” Velvet pointed to some marks on a map in front of the group. “There were conflicts here, here, and here. Given the time frame it seems she’s heading southeast. Most likely towards this point.”
“What’s there?” Hoyt asked.
“That would be Million Sword Vault. They’re a sect, and their focus is pretty easily guessed from the name. And no, I have no idea if it’s fully accurate.” Velvet shook her head, “But we really need to catch up to her before she gets there.”
“Absolutely,” Alva agreed.
“Would Million Sword Vault be interested in joining our cause?” Anton asked.
“Maybe…” Velvet said. “But that’s kinda… well, it’s probably them or Chikere, if you know what I mean.”
“Though I would probably place their entire sect above her in terms of combat capabilities,” Anton frowned, “I would rather have our frequent companion live. So I suppose we should get moving.”