It didn’t take long to reach the border between Graotan and Ofrurg, just a couple days of travel. The border had two clear areas belonging to each country respectively. As cultivators, it was quite easy for the trio to tell which side was which even without flags and geographical location. The Graotan side had three early stage Constellation Formation cultivators. Two of them practiced the Ninety-Nine stars, which left the third one as the odd man out. While the Order was the only major cultivation group throughout Graotan and generally was considered to have one of the best cultivation methods around, there were still others.
That technically meant the third would be called an Essence Collection cultivator instead of Constellation Formation, or whatever name might be specific to their cultivation technique. Ofrurg’s side likewise matched with a smattering of lower level cultivators and three early Essence Collection cultivators. They all cultivated different techniques, though exactly what they were was more difficult to discern.
If Anton was actually planning to cause trouble inside Ofrurg, he might have been worried. But… despite the power they displayed on the border, Anton was quite certain that most places wouldn’t have as many high level cultivators to worry about. In the grand scheme of things, early Essence Collection wasn’t that amazing. It was enough to be an elder in the Order, but not necessarily one involved with the council. Even so, they were still more than a full tier ahead of the trio. Out of five total cultivation tiers- or four, if it were considered realistically- a full tier and some small levels was the difference between heaven and earth.
The group was stopped on the Graotan side, not to prevent them from going but purely to make sure they knew what they were getting into. Ofrurg was a dangerous place, but it still had laws that protected cultivators, especially in public places. That also applied to foreign cultivators, because they could not afford to have all the surrounding countries and sects angered at them. Despite the fact that bandits came from Ofrurg, such troubles weren’t rampant within their own borders. However, that was because of ruthless laws that travelers needed to be aware of.
As they approached the Ofrurg side, the pressure of the Essence Collection cultivators displaying their energy was clear. There were fewer warnings and more fees on the Ofrurg side. They got a pass indicating they had passed the border legitimately, allowing them to stay for a period of several months. It wasn’t hard, because Ofrurg knew that traveling cultivators brought with them profits to be made. There was precious little other traffic beside the trio, just a few cultivators who had apparently just been passing through Ofrurg on the way to Graotan and a handful of merchants.
The whole time they were at the border, the pressure of the Essence Collection cultivators continued to rest on them like a hand pressing them down. Anton breathed a sigh of relief once they were away. “It was just like seeing a cultivator back in Alcombey. I could barely keep my back straight.”
“Were they a real problem?” Hoyt asked. “I doubt the Order would let them do anything to you.”
“Living further away from the main body of the Order, we didn’t know so much about them. I’m sure they would have punished anyone who did something, but that doesn’t help if someone can kill you before anyone can help. They weren’t really so bad, just keep your head down and walk past… but I really felt it here.” Anton took a deep breath, “There’s still a long way to go.”
On the most basic level, Ofrurg wasn’t different from Graotan. It still had people, cities, and farms. Those farms were largely worked by slaves, but they still produced food. Probably more of it, given the expansiveness of some farms. From what Anton was able to learn, a small handful of people owned the majority of the farmland between the border and the first decently sized city they came to, Veron.
That was where the Iron Ring Slavers made their home, and where most of the transactions for the enslaved villagers of Dungannon had taken place. While they likely had records on where people had been sold, that wouldn’t necessarily be public information. However, he did have a handful of locations… and if he found and redeemed those, they might lead him to more.
The first order of business was to go to an information broker. The Order’s information should be accurate, but it wasn’t necessarily current. Ofrurg was willing to buy and sell nearly anything, and on the less unpleasant end of that was information. Among the various information groups was one known as the Ears of the Fox. They were a reputable organization, as such things went. At the very least, they charged fair prices and didn’t sell information on their clients. That is, they wouldn’t tell anyone what others went in to learn from them. People might guess, but they would never know for sure. Anything gained outside of that, however, could reasonably be sold. Not that anyone would care about Anton in the slightest. He was just an old man looking for people sold as slaves.
Anton took a moment to ready himself before he entered. Internally, he told himself to not be nervous. He was just going into the market to buy something. He could be casual about it, even if some of it was information on people who could easily kill him. Though that latter information might be outside of his price range. “The two of you should wait out here. I shouldn’t be too long.” He assumed so, anyway. Either they would have the information, or they would not.
As he stepped inside, he was approached by a young cultivator in the late body tempering stage. The lobby was filled with others of various cultivation levels, to match pretty much any sort of customer. “Good day sir. Is this your first time working with the Ears of the Fox?”
“That’s right,” Anton nodded. That information, at least, he could share.
“This way, please.” The young man began to lead him down a hallway, lined with rooms that he couldn’t sense inside of. That helped them keep secrecy, he was quite certain. “We can offer information on almost anything happening in Ofrurg or the surroundings. Information is valued by its rarity and thoroughness. If we do not have information you seek, you can commission us to learn it for a premium.” He opened the door to a simple but comfortable room with two chairs and a table, gesturing for Anton to sit. “There are no refunds, of course, except in the rare case of terribly inaccurate information.”
“What if I just want to know how much certain information would cost?” Anton asked.
“Of course, we are willing to work with you in that regard. We will make available the price and depth of information. Once you have the funds, you can return. You won’t find better information anywhere else.”
“Very well, I would like the price on information about three cultivators, as well as some others.” The man nodded, gesturing for Anton to continue. “Maximilian Van Hassel and
Nirmal Slusser are the first two. The third is Annelie Vanchev, a slave sold to the Frostmirror sect.”
The man took notes. “And the non-culivators?”
Anton listed some of those whose locations he didn’t know. “They should have been sold as slaves around the same time.” Anton knew that they weren’t of much importance, so the information might be listed by the category of occurrence rather than by individual people. Even if they recorded pretty much anything, knowing actually everything was impossible.
“Very well sir. I shall check on each of these. Enjoy some refreshments while you wait.” As the man left, a servant came into the room with a tray of fruits and other light food. Anton hoped they were a servant, at least. If they were a slave… at least they appeared to be healthy and not unhappy.
Anton was certain the food would be untainted, but he had no appetite for it at the moment. He wasn’t even sure what information was available, or that he could afford it. As he waited, Anton noticed the room had abundant natural energy. Certainly more than the ambient level… and if he was just going to be sitting, he might as well do some basic cultivation. He breathed in and out, letting the natural energy flow into him through his lungs and even directly through his skin. Every little bit of progress would add up… especially when travel reduced the amount of time he could spend cultivating at full effectiveness.
The representative of the Ears of the Fox returned in about half of an hour. Anton wouldn’t have minded if he were a bit slower. He pulled out four sealed boxes. “Maximilian Van Hassel and Nirmal Slusser,” he gestured to two of the boxes. “Mostly older information, but includes origins and some recent activity. The information on Annelise is up to date, though limited by the flow of information out of the Frostmirror sect.” Anton noticed it was still twice as expensive as the other two boxes- almost everything he had on him. However, he needed that to buy back as many people as he could. “As for those sold as slaves, we have information on who seventeen of those you listed were sold to in public auction.” That was cheaper, probably around the price of one slave… the actual value, and not the price Anton was resigned to have to pay. It should contain information on at least five people Anton didn’t know the locations of.
“I shall take the last one… and I hope to return later for the other information.”
The man nodded. “Very well.” After Anton handed over payment, he gave him the box.
Anton was pleased to see that the names of those who purchased the slaves as well as some information on them, including primary holdings. He supposed it was somewhat necessary information, but he wouldn’t have been that surprised if that had been separate either. The main list was clearly copied from a longer document, but it included several whose names Anton had missed. A reasonable deal, though Anton supposed all the work the Ears of the Fox had to do was keep track of large or unusual sales and then do some simple copying. Even if it only paid out rarely, they could profit. Though of course just the information on any of the cultivators was quite expensive.
Anton did learn one other useful bit of information. There was continued information on Annelise, which meant she was still alive. He couldn’t know more than that just yet… but that was good enough. “Thank you,” Anton inclined his head.
“Of course, sir. It is our business. Anything else?” Anton shook his head, “Then we hope to see you again.” The man retrieved the other boxes and led Anton out.
As he caught sight of Catarina and Hoyt, Anton found himself encouraged… though also more desirous of money than before. At least cultivators could make good money, even if it was often dangerous.