The very same night they freed Patricia from the manor they headed to the energy stone mines. Anton hoped he hadn’t rushed things too much, but now that they had caused a commotion he wanted to finish things and be off. He had no desire to stay in the area where he might be hunted down. And more importantly, others he cared about. But he also wasn’t content to be passive about it. He’d assessed the situation and made his judgement that action was within acceptable risks. Now he just had to see if he was right.
Hoyt was the one accompanying him to the mines. Anton was fairly confident in his ability to deal with all of the cultivators guarding the mines alone. With Hoyt, he had no concerns. Normally it would have been better to use everyone he had at his disposal but Catarina was watching the others. There were almost a dozen people they had to protect that they couldn’t bring running around with them to a battle, but also couldn’t just leave alone. Anton was aware how effective formations could be at keeping a group concealed, and so Catarina had to maintain that. If things went terribly wrong, she could help that group flee.
But he planned to be quick and give little time for that. He wasn’t sure how much uproar there would be when mundane slaves were stolen. He imagined there would be more concern about the principle of the thing than the actual ‘value’ involved. The dead cultivators would be considered as well. Fortunately, Sarton was remote enough that they didn’t have many high ranking cultivators, and those they did have wouldn’t necessarily be interested in a manhunt.
Anton focused his eyes to spot the guards up the path. With the effects of Hawk Eyes Archery, he was able to pick them out easily. In return, he doubted they could see more than blurry shadows. He needed to get a little bit closer before he tried an attack, but there wasn’t really anywhere for them to run. Anton waited as he slowly crept closer, using boulders alongside the path as cover. Hoyt should be coming up the back side, and Anton judged he should be in position.
He gathered energy in one smooth motion, drawing an arrow and firing it. Killing people in cold blood wasn’t honorable, but as far as Anton was concerned he was killing someone engaged in active evil. These guards weren’t protecting the miners or even really the goods they mined. They were keeping slaves trapped. He’d heard enough from Oskar that he judged them sufficiently guilty regardless of their current activity.
It wasn’t really fair, a Spirit Building cultivator attacking someone in mid Body Tempering. But neither was it fair when they used their own cultivation to suppress those without cultivation. It was just the level of fairness they deserved. Anton flew with his arrow, feeling as he/it struck the cultivator straight in the throat, passing through gaps in his armor. One man was down… and a half-dozen sources of energy flared. Anton had no way to hide such an attack with so much open area around, so he didn’t even bother. Instead, he’d ensured that his first shot was successful.
Anton didn’t sense Hoyt’s energy, instead feeling all of the sources moving towards him. The second guard at the top of the road was shouting something, but he made the wrong choice to try to charge towards Anton instead of running away. The slope was gradual enough he couldn’t have gotten much cover anyway, but even as he readied himself to throw a weapon Anton was shooting more arrows at him.
Instead of a single lethal shot he went for a quick flurry of arrows. He aimed at several different weak spots and vitals. His opponent was aware of his attack and was able to handle the first volley, but the second volley Anton fired each shot at a different speed. The first shot was slowest and the last sped to catch up to it, four arrows arriving at almost the same instant. The man could only fling himself to the side to try to avoid the attacks, and that saved him from instant death. One arrow still stuck in his side, however.
There was no sign of Hoyt yet. He wouldn’t have abandoned the mission, so he must have been held up somehow. That was probably still fine. Anton just needed to make sure he made efficient use of his energy. Instead of finishing off the first guard, Anton continued up the slope at a moderate pace and let the man pull away, injured. If he had been using purely Spirit Arrows the man would be spurting blood from his side. Instead, he had to make the choice between letting an arrow continue digging into his side as he moved around or a similar fate.
The remaining cultivators huddled together in the building that housed the guards and the taskmasters. The taskmasters had at least a small amount of cultivation, but they weren’t equal to the guards. Anton supposed it made sense for everyone to stay together. Assuming Anton was the only attacker was foolish, and they knew he could shoot arrows so being inside was safer. That was where the comfortable nature of their little building worked against them. It had windows. Large enough to let in plenty of light… and arrows. It wasn’t fortified by formations or made out of anything spectacular, so Anton took his time shooting one arrow at a time inside after he reached the top of the rise and had a decent angle. With single methodical arrows he could control the trajectory much more precisely and deal with pesky things like corners. He managed to injure one more guard before they decided their position wasn’t helping, and at the same time Anton figured out where Hoyt was. When the miners came pouring out of their dormitory, it was quite obvious.
Anton wasn’t sure if that was a good plan or not. Now that they were free they could flee to a safe distance on their own. However, the guards might think they were a good target to go after which might not have been the case when they were uncertain of the attacker’s motives.
The cultivators poured out of their hut together, most of them running towards Anton who was now a bit uncomfortably close. One seemed to think that the miners would indeed be good hostages or felt like slaughtering them. However, he soon found himself with arrows in the back of both legs. Armor was typically weaker on the rear, and Anton surmised his energy defenses were less capable of reacting to his attacks as well. Probably because he couldn’t see the attacks coming.
That choice by Anton let the others get about a third of the way to him, sprinting at full speed. He fired several shots, but the two guards in front worked together to parry his attacks. They weren’t flawless, but together they weakened his attacks enough they couldn’t pierce straight through their defenses. So he shot one of the taskmasters in the middle instead. Either of the two guards in front could have dodged the attack if he targeted them, but he suddenly pulled back on the speed of his arrow as it got within striking range, making their parries miss. That lowered the power, but he didn’t need so much to kill his target.
Four guards and a couple taskmasters remained uninjured. He found that drawing arrows wasted a fraction of a second he couldn’t afford, so he switched to purely Spirit Arrows. They were more maneuverable anyway. Two more quick shots struck the shoulder and thigh of the front guards before they were an instant away from reaching him in melee combat. But Hoyt was slightly faster than them.
There was no was no chance they hadn’t noticed him coming up behind them- the escaped slaves had drawn enough attention to him. However, they’d remained coordinated, intent on taking out Anton together. It made sense- if they could move away from Hoyt and kill Anton, their life would be easier. Instead, the rear two had to make a sudden turn before they got close… and one swing from Hoyt turned them into just a single rear guard. He had no reason to be cautious with his attacks when killing them also protected him, and his energy was sufficient to block at least a few hits from one of them.
The remaining parts of the group still moved to surround Anton and stabbed several spears and swung swords at him simultaneously. They were correct to assume that Anton was weaker in melee combat, but there was a reason he hadn’t retreated while shooting at them. He simply didn’t need to. His insight was almost fully trained, and even early Spirit Building had a large gap with the men he was fighting. He could see their most likely moves even more smoothly than he was used to. Clever use of Swan Steps also made the taskmasters’ attacks interfere with the guards. With a swing of his hand axe, he sliced into one taskmaster, his attack continuing to slice along the neck of one of the guards. His attack didn’t quite hit the intended vital spot on the guard, but his movements took him past their encirclement towards Hoyt.
Anton’s movements distracted the guard enough for Hoyt to chop into his ribcage, and then the two of them faced the remaining group side by side. There was another short round of combat where Anton was glad his defensive energy could resist some of the more accurate attacks and more guards died… and then the rest were running. It was probably the correct choice, but Anton still had a bow. Though Anton didn’t feel any joy in killing them, his mind was clear of guilt. In fact, it was more focused than usual.
He’d already spent enough time cultivating to reach the eleventh star. It wasn’t gathering energy to push through that he needed. It was just a little bit of something else. As Anton looked down at the fallen guards, he realized it wasn’t even combat experience or the like. It was decisiveness. And maybe a little bit of serenity.
After making sure the guards hiding inside the hut were dead and counting to make sure the numbers were what he remembered, Anton went over to all of the miners. They hadn’t actually run away, instead having equipped themselves with picks and any other heavy tools they could find. It was nice that they prepared to fight, but it wasn’t necessary. As Anton looked over them he found someone missing. “Where’s Oskar?”
“He’s in the mine, sir. Said there was something important in there.”
Strange. Anton wondered what could be more important than escaping quickly. He was about to go in and find out when he sensed Oskar. He was running quickly, a small sack clutched in one hand and a scroll in the other. “Anton! Sorry to make you wait. I stashed a few things in there.” He held up the sack. Anton could feel the energy from it, but despite there being at least a dozen decent energy stones he was drawn more to the scroll. Something about it drew his attention, beyond the fact that it was clearly meant for cultivators. That would have to wait, though. Besides, it belonged to Oskar, whatever it was.