If Anton or the others knew their way around Estary, they could have arranged for a discreet location to meet up. As it was, their target was a city not far from the other side of the border. Hoyt and those with him were quite a distance away at the proper border crossing, while Anton and Catarina planned to just walk across some distance away. That meant they’d have to avoid anything that ended up with their identities being checked, but they really didn’t have any intention for that regardless. He wasn’t planning to buy anything particularly strange and exotic, nor did he plan to commit any crimes. Except sneaking past the border, he supposed.
“Stop!” Catarina held out her hand to the side. “There’s a formation.”
Anton surveyed the area in front of them, but shook his head, “I don’t feel anything. It’s too faint.”
“It’s weak,” Catarina said. “It’s not a barrier or an offensive formation. Nothing will stop us if we just walk through.”
“I suppose it must be an alarm then?” Anton asked.
“I think so,” Catarina said. “But none of the actual parts of the formation is here. This is just an extension of the effect between two points.” Catarina looked to the left and right. “It’s too far to go around, I think. It could encompass the whole border.”
“Was there anything like this at the Graotan-Ofrurg border?”
“… I don’t know,” Catarina said. “I didn’t sense it at the time, but I’ve improved in cultivation significantly. And practical experience with formations.” She approached closer towards the invisible barrier, presumably stopping in front of it. “I think I can open up a way through. As long as nobody’s currently watching the barrier.”
“How long is it to go around, really?”
Catarina shook her head, “It would be a half day to the northeast before we could determine whether or not it ends or just has a relay point.”
“And the other option is sneaking through this formation’s effects. If we’re still being pursued the detour might cost us. But if we’re caught here…” Anton shook his head. He continued to look around them. It was just a regular stretch of land. In fact, he’d thought they’d already crossed the border. Of course just that didn’t make them safe, but still. “Catarina, can you tell if there are formation techniques from Estary or Ofrurg supporting this formation?”
She shook her head, “Even if I could study the core of the formation, from what I know of formations this entire region should have the same basis. Close enough for individual styles to overwhelm regional differences.”
“Too bad, because I was hoping we were fully in Estary. If it’s not something both sides control, I’d rather bet on explaining things to Estary.” He looked back at the dozens of people following behind them, waiting to see what they did.
“We just have to not get caught then,” Catarina started shuffling pebbles around, “I will need you to lend me energy. Then we can open up a path for everyone to move through.”
The two Essence Collection cultivators were having a staredown, with the side effects being for the floor between them. Adrastea kept any energy from flowing towards Hoyt and the five others, while the older man named Yust protected those from Ofrurg. Where their energy met cracks formed in the ground.
The woman who had been referred to as Adrastea pushed forward, and the crack widened. However, as she turned towards him to speak instead of any sort of retaliation from Yust the crackling energy lessened. “Who are you, young man?”
Hoyt cupped his hands together, bowing slightly. “I am Hoyt, of the Order of NInety-Nine Stars.”
“And these?” she gestured to Pete and the others from the farms.
“They were captured from Graotan and taken as slaves. I legally purchased and freed them, as those documents show.”
“There’s no proof of that!” Yust said.
Adrastea turned back towards him, “Perhaps. But the papers are legitimate, are they not? Why have they not been allowed through?”
“They have no other form of identification. It could be anyone.”
Adrastea’s snort stirred up the air so much that one of the two early Spirit Building cultivators standing behind Yust staggered back slightly. “Ofrurg never provides freed slaves with proper identification. That is a fault in your own system, and inadequate reason to hinder someone on legitimate business. Anything else?”
“Citizens were killed in Sarton and slaves freed. This is the nearest border. We need to search him to see if he has any connection to the incident. These slaves-”
Adrastea pulled a spear from nowhere and leveled it at Yust. “These people are not slaves. Nor should anyone be.”
Yust swallowed, “My mistake. However, this being the closest border we have legitimate reason to search this fellow, and any others crossing.”
Adrastea’s eyes flickered to the side for a moment before turning back towards Yust. “Is that so? Then we’ll be glad to search any disciple from the sects of Ofrurg passing through our land as well. I’m sure they have some lovely techniques.”
“Many people would like to get their hands on a fully copy of the Ninety-Nine Stars. I’m sure you’re among them.” Adrastea turned to Hoyt. “Hoyt. If you will allow us to jointly search you and your companions, I can promise no techniques or private correspondence will be read.”
“Of course. Go ahead,” Hoyt really didn’t have much choice- and they really didn’t have anything on them. Pete and the others had little more than the clothes on their back, travelling supplies, and weapons. Hoyt had the Ninety-Nine Stars, but all of the more suspect things were with Anton.
It didn’t take long before they were past the Ofrurg side of the border. Adrastea lead them forward to the Estary side. “We still have to fill out the paperwork, but that won’t take long.” It didn’t, either. It probably helped that Adrastea herself filled out the documents, her hand flicking with remarkable speed as she wrote. “There. How many others?”
“It’s just the six of us,” Hoyt said.
Adrastea took a good hard look at Hoyt. “Fine. Just one moment, though.” She picked up another pile of documents, filling each out in an instant. She put half to the side and handed half to Hoyt. “If you happen to run into any other members of the Order, say an eleventh and tenth star, or perhaps two dozen miscellaneous others, they might need these.” When Hoyt hesitated, she spun them through the air so they landed in his bag. “I can tell you haven’t been expelled from the Order, and I believe you about the method these five were enslaved and freed. So I’m willing to take the chance. Though if they really aren’t with you…” Adrastea stroked her spear she hadn’t yet put away.
Hoyt gave up. She obviously knew who had passed, and probably where they were more than he did. “Actually I was planning to meet up with some others. Maybe they lost their papers.”
Adrastea smiled and waved them on. As they stepped out of the structure, Adrastea called after them, “Oh, don’t forget to tell your grandfather I said hi!”
Dammit. Stupid Essence Collection cultivators knew everything. At least they got past the border.
Hoyt was waiting outside the city for Anton and the others. He handed over the bundle of papers after they approached. “You were found out. Fortunately, by someone friendly to the Order. Maybe that’s Estary’s opinion in general,” Hoyt shrugged.
Catarina frowned. “How… was there a secondary formation to detect tampering? It didn’t resist my efforts…” she muttered to herself as Anton looked over the papers.
“Some of the details seem to have been left vague,” Anton said. “That’s… something.” The papers for him mostly said Spirit Building, Ninety-Nine Stars along with the date and other legal stuff. The papers for the miners just said Body Tempering, undeclared. “Are these safe?”
Hoyt shrugged, “The Essence Building cultivator can probably see us from here. And if she wanted you to be dead, you’d be dead.”
“I only detect anti-tampering formations,” Catarina said. “But if they want to track us…”
“Let them,” Anton said. “It appears we underestimated the border.”
“… I’m sorry,” Catarina said.
“It’s not your fault,” Anton said. “Truthfully, both of us are inexperienced in this area. Nothing bad happened this time, so we can learn.” Anton looked at the nearly three dozen people they had. He’d hunted animals when necessary as they were fleeing through Ofrurg, but he’d rather not poach in Estary if he could help it. It would be a poor guest that received such a helpful welcome only to turn around and break laws. That meant they’d have to buy food, and they also should probably at least get everyone into a common room instead of their somewhat lacking tents. They’d saved quite a bit of money by not paying for any of the last group, but they should probably get some work. Preferably some that looped around to the west, so they could return to Graotan.
Except it wasn’t guaranteed everyone was from there. He hadn’t really stopped to talk with the majority of the miners and the servants. An oversight on his part. There was no way any of them were going back into Ofrurg, but if there were any who had homes in Estary going a bit out of their way to return them home would be the proper thing to do. Anton wasn’t even completely where Pete, Oskar, Patricia, and all the others wanted to go. Dungannon was no more, and it really wasn’t very safe.