Elder Cultivator 69

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The manor they were sneaking through wasn’t so expansive that it took long to reach their destination even at a slow and stealthy pace. It took longer for Anton to pick the correct room to enter. Recognizing someone with his energy senses was easy, but that only applied to those he’d met after he was able to use energy. Combined with the fact that he was not intimately acquainted with Patricia it took him longer to settle on the right person.

The individual rooms seemed decent enough, if small. A large step up from the dormitory at the mines which had bunks packed in as tightly as they could fit and no attempt at comfort. But comfortable slavery was still slavery.

Lighting the small lamp in her room caused her to stir, But Catarina had already set up a simple formation to keep things quiet. “Patricia,” Anton used his most pleasant voice to try to wake her up without giving her a fright. 

Her eyes snapped open, “Who are you?” Her voice was not quiet, and he could tell his distance standing across the room still didn’t exactly make her comfortable with being woken up in the middle of the night.

“Anton Krantz. From Dungannon. I apologize for waking you in this manner, but it was the most expedient method. I don’t plan to stay in the area long. I plan to leave soon, with both you and Oskar. Unless you have any objections?”

“How?” she asked. “I can’t… it’s not possible to leave.”

“We got in,” Anton gestured towards Catarina. “And we can get you out. All you have to do is follow us.”

She clearly hesitated for a few moments. “I can’t leave without Kevin. But it’s too dangerous.”

“Who is Kevin?” Anton asked.

“He’s… our son. I was pregnant when we were taken away. I wasn’t showing until after we arrived here.” Patricia tightly gripped the bedspread covering her.

“He was taken away then? Is he in the manor?”

Patricia nodded, her head hanging low. “Yes. He’s in the same wing as the mistress. I am not even allowed to take care of my own son. Marin- the head maid- is the one who does so.” Anton waited to see what else she would say, “She lets me see him more often than I am supposed to, but it is rarely more than once per week.”

“Tell us where he is and we will bring him. And anyone else you want to come with you.”

“You really can…?”

Anton stood tall and proud. “Absolutely. The two of us will protect you from harm. What about the other slaves here?”

Patricia hesitated. “I know I should want them to be free as well, but I hardly know most of them. Marin is a good soul, and several of the others. I cannot vouch for all of them.”

Anton held out a hand. “Wait here, then. We will attempt not to be spotted, but if you hear a commotion we will do our best to distract the guards. You can escape from the rear-right corner, over the wall. Wake any others you trust and be ready. You’ll want to wear whatever your best outfit for travel is, if you have an option.”

—–

Catarina led the way towards the other wing of the manor. Rather than spotting guards it was more important to avoid any formations that had been set up. Catarina might suddenly stop and Anton could do the same, but if she had to call out to tell him things would be more complicated. Besides, trailing by a few steps wouldn’t significantly hamper Anton’s ability to detect patrolling guards.

“The main area has no formations,” Catarina said. “They would probably trigger from everyone passing through and be useless. The doors to the other wing are quite heavily protected, however. You’ll have to watch my back for several minutes while I deal with it.”

Anton gladly did so. He was just able to sense the formation, but wouldn’t be able to interact with it in any meaningful way. He was confident he could break the doors open- but Catarina could do that too. He was also nearly certain that would alert the entire manor to their presence. He held his bow at the ready as he kept his eyes and ears on full alert. His sense of the guard’s energy also said they were nowhere near, patrolling the outside of the manor, but if they sensed him they might try to approach secretly. It was unlikely they could hide their breathing, however, and it would be nearly impossible for his eyes to miss them.

It didn’t take long for Catarina to finish her work, then with a little bit of additional energy the door clicked open. Anton suddenly reached out a hand to her shoulder and held her back. Both of them stood quietly as the door swung open slowly, revealing a patrolling soldier walking down the hall. Away from them. The formation had hidden him until it was released, and the lock had only taken an instant to open. Anton was ready to kill the guard, but he was certain that doing so would raise the alarm. Even if there weren’t formations to detect it, once he released an arrow it would be blindingly obvious. If he used a physical arrow it would be slightly more subtle, but he would have to charge it with energy to be certain of killing the man in a single shot.

But he didn’t have to. At least not yet. He continued walking, unaware of the two people standing directly behind him. Once he was far enough away he turned a corner and the two of them quickly closed the doors behind them and started down the hallway. Anton listened for sounds of breathing. He especially listened for a tinier set of lungs. The two of them hurried down the hallway at the fastest pace they dared, since if the guard came patrolling back they would have to deal with him. They might be able to slip into a room if they found one without formations with well oiled hinges, but betting on that was too much.

Anton finally heard what he was listening for. “There,” he said almost silently. 

He could sense the formations, but the way Catarina grimaced he knew they were more difficult than the previous ones. It made sense, because they were not far from a large set of doors that was likely the master bedroom. Patricia hadn’t been able to give them a complete description of the layout, but she did say the head maid’s rooms were connected to the master bedroom. That was where Marin was staying, along with Kevin.

Before Catarina could make sense of the formation or begin altering it, Anton pulled her away from the door. He had his full attention devoted to patrolling guards, and if they stayed still they would be flanked. They moved down a side hallway and looped back around as Anton felt they were safe. They had to do the same several times as Catarina puzzled out how to deal with the formation.

“Almost done,” she said. Anton could see and feel her moving her hands and flickers of energy, temporarily rearranging the formation.

“They’re coming again,” Anton warned.

“I can’t stop now!” Catarina hissed. “Nearly… There!” 

At that same moment, Anton fired an arrow. Steel arrowhead and wooden shaft were stabilized by carefully cut feathers as his energy guided the shot. Spirit Arrows might not be instantly recognizable, but he’d rather leave the fewest traces possible. The arrow struck the guard’s throat just as he was about to shout, twisting in the air as he attempted to dodge it. However, he was merely in the middle of body tempering, so neither his body nor energy could withstand what Anton had available. “Damn it. I was hoping to get out secretly. Let’s go!”

Catarina opened the door and yanked Anton inside. “The formations here don’t let sound in or out. Babies, you know.”

A figure on the bed was awoken by Catarina’s announcement. “Who…?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Anton said. “We’re here to bring you out. Patricia told us about Kevin here. We’re bringing you away. No time to change. Grab clothes and anything he needs, then we’re going.” Anton gestured, “I just killed a guard outside.”

“Killed? Oh my.” Marin turned into a flurry of motion as she got up from the bed, bundling clothes for herself and various other things for Kevin. Despite having just been woken up, she was quite coordinated. “Are you sure we should…?”

“Do you want to remain a slave?” Anton asked. “This is your chance.”

Marin nodded. “Trust it to cultivators to show up with unreasonable demands and expect people to listen.” Despite saying that, she did finish her bundle in less than a minute, and had Kevin cradled on top of it. 

“Good. We have to hurry,” Anton said. “Catarina, if you would?”

Catarina lifted Marin into her arms. She was at the completion of Body Tempering, so it wasn’t strange in the slightest that she could do it with ease. Even if muscle wasn’t one of her prime temperings, she was stronger than any non-cultivator could be. Marin yipped as she found herself swept off her feet, but they really didn’t have time.

They hurried through the hallways. Anton would have liked to pick up the body of the guard he’d killed, but that was far out of their intended path. The bloodstains would be obvious regardless, so it would barely change the time for someone to react if they came to that part of the patrol.

They managed to make it back to the first wing of the manor where Patricia and a handful of others were waiting when the yelling started. Anton fired an arrow through the handles of the door at the end of the hallway, not caring if it was locked or not. He was able to sense they weren’t strong enough to counterattack him from that distance- and indeed once he destroyed that part of the door it was clear they had no offensive capabilities at all. He shoved the door open as he stepped outside, before he ran to jump on the corner where Catarina had disabled the formation. Catarina was still carrying Marin- though she could have likely run on her own as fast as the others she was herding.

Anton saw several guards coming around the corners of the house. However, though the manor was quite large, it was nothing compared to the distance of a good archery range. There were a few guards a bit too far for optimal shots, but several arrows pierced into the breastplates of approaching guards. There were at least a dozen guards and cultivators moved fast, but what that really meant was not that they could reach Anton before they died, but instead that they were able to swiftly dive back around corners and into doors to take cover. Anton kept his eyes and other senses out for any sign of movement, but as the next brave soul came into view, a man at the late Body Tempering stage, Anton put a bit more effort into his shot. The man made a valiant effort, diving back into cover while instantly bringing his defenses to their full height. However, Anton’s shot had already been straight at the wall he landed behind. A wall simply made of fine wood. The arrow pierced a narrow hole through the corner- and through the man. Anton made sure that all of the other guards would feel how much energy went into that, including the fact that he was at Spirit Building. While that also meant they could possibly recognize his energy signature later, it wasn’t something you could so easily describe to others. Anton hoped they couldn’t pick out his cultivation method, but it was unlikely any of them were particularly familiar with it. Either way, as he helped a handful of women and two men over the wall he knew they had to move fast. Though they were on the outskirts of the city, it was likely Sarton’s guards had been called. 

If they could make it unseen, Catarina had prepared a safe zone where the others were waiting. Hopefully it would keep them concealed long enough for the three cultivators to move outside the city and free Oskar and the rest. It should only take an half hour to get there, and Anton estimated about twice that to return. They could be out of the city before dawn and covering their tracks. It seemed to Anton he’d underestimated the danger… but there was also more good to be done than he’d thought. Not only could he reunite husband and wife, but there was a child as well.

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