Either there were no remaining guards in the section they had entered through or they chose to stay well out of the way of Anton and Elder Varela. Either way, Anton strode confidently out of the arena, keeping his back as straight as possible. He briefly noticed some sort of commotion in another part of the arena, but had no way to affect whatever was happening from his location. By the time he would arrive, everything would be over. Seeing to Devon’s safety was the most important thing at the moment.
Outside was Kohar, along with a woman who had to be Elder Rocha. Her actual age was hard to judge, but she was dressed in fine robes and had the aura of late Spirit Building. Along with the two of them were several dozen cultivators dressed in uniform ranging from mid Body Tempering to early Spirit Building. Elder Rocha spoke in a very concise manner. “We have now confirmed the situation with my own eyes. This young man was unjustly harmed under the instruction of Tonina Potenza.” That declaration was for those watching from afar. Anyone in the nearby area who was a cultivator would have felt the conflict, and where there was conflict there were curious onlookers. At a safe distance, of course. “Now then, we shall escort this injured man to safety.” With that, she turned and everyone followed.
A quite serious procession began, walking at a quick pace only suited for cultivators but not one so fast as to worsen Devon’s injuries as he was carried by Elder Varela. Elder Rocha stood at the front, with Kohar, Anton, and Elder Varela behind her. Around them on either side and behind were the other cultivators in city official uniform.
They only managed several blocks before another group moved to intercept them, Tonina at the head. Her guardian Masozi was next to her, attempting to support her without it being obvious- but it was clear she couldn’t stay on her feet by herself, let alone walk. “There!” she pointed, coughing as she raised her voice. “Catch those criminals!”
“Tonina Potenza.” Elder Rocha said the name like a mother chastising a child, though without any sense of affection that might otherwise be present. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“What are you-” she coughed, “-You doing? They attacked my arena!”
“You have made interesting choices as of late, Tonina Potenza.” Elder Rocha’s voice was perfectly steady and calm. She gestured towards Elder Varela, who pulled out a paper. “Do you remember this document?”
“I… can’t see it from there. Hand it-” she coughed and a small amount of blood trickled from her mouth. “Hand it to me!” Elder Rocha flung the piece of paper to Tonina… who instantly tore it up it when it reached her hands- though she had to make use of her energy to do so. “Hmph. I don’t see anything.” Her guardian placed his head in his free hand as she did so, sighing.
“That’s three counts of ignoring official legal orders, and two counts of destruction of official documentation.” Kohar spoke with great confidence, despite her low cultivation compared to the rest of those involved. “Plus unlawful imprisonment, attempted murder and…” she looked at Devon, “Torture.”
“You can’t-” Tonina winced and held her hand over her chest, “You can’t prove anything.”
“I have witnessed several of these accusations with my own eyes,” Elder Rocha said. Her face remained impassive, but her energy in late Spirit Building stretched over the area. “Even if you had merely destroyed an order in front of my face you would be facing arrest. Surrender peacefully or face the consequences.”
As Tonina was about to speak, Masozi clamped his hand over her mouth. “Of course,” he said. “We will comply willingly.” He looked to the city guards Tonina had gathered, who were standing around awkwardly. “Feel free to return to your other duties. Your continued presence is redundant.” Tonina tried to struggle against his hand, but she quickly passed out. “Now then, I believe we have two people who could use greater medical attention.” He scooped Tonina up in his arms. “Shall we proceed?”
“One moment,” Elder Rocha said. “Why bring these,” she gestured to the dispersing guards, “Then so easily surrender?”
“I do not have a death wish,” the man replied. “Earlier, I assumed that this man,” he nodded to Anton, “Was simply fabricating a false legal claim for the sake of his grandson. Thus, calling upon the assistance of the city guards was a reasonable action.” He began to turn, walking slowly along the street, “For the record, I was not aware of any prior documents.”
At the current moment, Anton was busy regulating his emotions. It was unnecessary and foolish to think of launching another attack on Tonina, but he really wanted to. His anger was righteous and justified, but if it could be resolved without bloodshed at the current moment it was probably best. Either way, the attempt would not help his cause in the slightest. He really hoped she would die on the way, but the amount of blood she was losing at the moment seemed insufficient.
As they reached the core of Khonard and the government district, several powerful cultivators that were likely a match for Elder Rocha seemed about to stop them, but Masozi always shook his head. “We need to make our way to the infirmary without delay.” With that, there were only harsh looks but nothing more.
Only when they arrived in the infirmary, and had actual healers looking at the two injured people did Anton relax. The guards Elder Rocha brought separated Devon and Tonina’s sections as well as watching the outside.
“Do you need-”
“I’m not injured,” Anton said as a third healer walked up to him. “I appreciate the concern, but I am just… fatigued.” He wasn’t quite sure if he’d pushed the forbidden technique too hard or not far enough. Logically speaking he understood that not killing Tonina would be safer for him, but if he could have done it… actually, he was unsure if it would have made him feel better at all. It would be nothing compared to the relief he felt when Devon was declared to be stable, his breathing steady if a bit weak.
The next weeks were filled with more boring yet stressful legal proceedings. Kohar had to make the utmost use of her legal prowess, and Anton was astounded at how many seemingly small circumstances could change things. Fortunately Kohar had been prepared for what they had done. Killing everyone in their path had always been the backup plan, it had simply been intended for a later time when Catarina, Hoyt, Velvet, and Timothy were all present. Tonina’s actions had forced them to act much earlier than intended.
The insurmountable extent of evidence on their side was helpful. First was the official courier who swore he delivered the first copy of the document directly to Tonina’s hands. Elder Varela had shown her the copy sent to him in the presence of several of her guards, and though they hadn’t read it his verbalized summary was remembered by one of them. Probably more than one, but only one admitted it.
Then there was the quarter-full arena. Not all of them had been able to clearly make out Anton’s shouting declaration, but out of hundreds of people they were able to track down a handful who heard clearly enough and could confirm that Tonina ordered the match to be continued. Once more there could have been more, but many likely feared reprisals from the Potenza family. There were also witnesses of Tonina’s destruction of the orders outside of the arena, and Elder Rocha had significant influence.
Not everything went smoothly. Both of Tonina’s parents had been out of town for business and were quite furious when they returned. They immediately started calling in favors, but the delay minimized their impact. They also brought counter charges against Anton and Elder Varela- the legality of slaughtering the guards preventing their passage was already settled, but there was another matter they attempted to leverage. The other slaves had broken out of the arena while they were there.
Kohar counterattacked savagely, at least as much as could be done by pulling up legal precedent. The accusation only served to slow down the whole situation. There were no witnesses of them being in that section of the arena, and there couldn’t be. All of the guards were dead. The freed arena combatants had been even more savage than the caged magical beasts that seemed to have been unleashed first to soften up the guards.
Despite cultivator’s patience for certain matters, legal proceedings weren’t generally one of them. The Potenzas’ influence only went so far when held against Elder Rocha. In the end they merely sufficed to keep Tonina alive. The sentence was a paltry three years of confinement and penalties that amounted to ten times what Devon had been sold for. The first was nothing compared to death, but not quite as worthless as it sounded. Proper confinement for cultivators involved a prison where there was no natural energy. If they could cultivate, it would hardly be a punishment at all. And while it was just three year, for a young woman like Tonina missing even a single year of cultivation would significantly weaken her compared to her peers.
“I owe you both great favors,” Anton said to Elder Varela and Kohar. “I promise to pay you back properly, if I can.”
“I will not refuse the offer,” Kohar said. “Your goals aligned with my own, but I will admit that there is more risk to myself than my normal business.”
“You painted a big target on yourself,” Elder Varela said. “I hope you’re ready. So many eyes are on you right now that I doubt you’ll immediately be in danger, but don’t let your guard down.”
“I was aware when I started all of this what the consequences might be.” Anton looked towards his other companions who had arrived during all of the legal mess. “In a way, I’m glad things turned out just like this, without any of your involved.”
Catarina hung her head, “I was willing to share the burden with you.”
“That’s right,” Hoyt said, “I wanted to fight with you.”
“I’m not saying you won’t still get to do that,” Anton pointed out. “Rather, nobody took notice of any of you. At least, not in the same way. It’s not so easy for you all to be unnoticed with, well… everyone.” There was quite a large number of people to bring along with them now, as each group had over a dozen freed people. “I do mean it about that favor, Elder Varela. I may have saved Lev by coincidence, but you called in a big favor to help Devon.”
Elder Varela smiled beneath his massively long beard. “Oh, don’t worry about not paying me back. I know the value of favors. I hope you don’t mind if I wait until you’re in late Spirit Building, so I can get a fair exchange.”
“That’s some confidence you have in me,” Anton laughed.
“How long?” Elder Varela asked, more seriously.
“What do you mean?”
“How long until you’re in late Spirit Building? I’m sure you have an idea.”
“… four to seven years,” Anton said.
“And that’s why I’m confident. You didn’t even consider not reaching that point. Yet here I am, stuck in mid Spirit Building. Just last year I saw you as you were stepping into Spirit Building, and now you are a solid three steps in.” Anton just smiled in response.
His muscles trembled as he pulled back his bow. Anton hadn’t felt such strain since he was first firing it, at the fifth star. He gathered his energy, forming an arrow. It flew forward, straight and true. He breathed out slowly. At least it wasn’t too bad. His body took the biggest hit from using the forbidden technique. He didn’t regret it one bit. If he’d been half a second slower, Devon could have been dead. What was a few years of his own life for that?
At least his energy was still strong and steady. Age simply didn’t affect his ability to use energy as much. It was somewhat more difficult to cultivate, but that seemed to be more related to the short-term aftereffects of Candle Wax rather than the increase in age. He’d used more energy than his meridians could comfortably handle.
He had so many ambitions left, and found himself in a strange state. He might actually be able to accomplish them, but he might also have to give them up for his other goals. If he had to die for the sake of Devon, sweet little Alva, and the rest he would not regret it. But if it came to it, he wouldn’t go easily. Anton couldn’t know exactly what trouble they might face on the way out of Ofrurg, but if they ran into no trouble at all he would wonder what sort of dream world he ended up in.
But just accepting the risk was foolish. What was all that money for if he didn’t spend it? There had to be mercenaries around. Anton wouldn’t put the lives of his companions over his own, but random people he was paying… absolutely. Though preferably the bolstered strength would protect everyone from serious danger.