Flashing the paper with Masozi’s face on it would either be the fastest way to find him, or the fastest way to send him into hiding. Just because it didn’t say there was a bounty connected to it didn’t mean it wouldn’t evoke those same feelings. Velvet went with a more subtle approach, looking for who in the tavern might be the most informed, who was paying attention. She kept her cultivation concealed, making her seem weaker and less important, though she didn’t fully hide that she was a cultivator. The things she heard varied widely.
“Haven’t seen him.”
“Seems like a merc.”
Many more unhelpful things along those lines were repeated, but she eventually got something useful.
“I saw him down at the docks, talking to the harbormaster,” one man responded. “Might I inquire why you are searching for him?”
“I need to talk to him about something,” Velvet said. “Do you remember what he was talking to the harbormaster about?”
“I might recall something, though my memory does get a bit fuzzy without my medicine.” The man was at least straightforward enough to hold out his hand for the bribe or just payment.
“The information better be good,” Velvet answered.
“It is accurate, I assure you. I have no intention to waste your time with fabrications.” Upon receiving a modest payment, he nodded. “He was asking about boats going to the Golden Isles. You know the rumors?” Velvet shrugged noncommittally. “It has to do with that Secret Realm down south. Some sort of ocean sect from the past. It seems the ruins of their headquarters have been uncovered, and everyone around here is flocking for it.” Velvet looked around the room, seeing how relaxed everyone was. “Everyone without good sense, anyway. Some of those ruins are buried in the depths of the sea. An awful place for cultivators to travel, I must say. Hard to survive there even without beasts chewing on you.”
Velvet had heard something about that, though she hadn’t been able to confirm a location from a reliable source. She would need to confirm whether Masozi had already left or not, and track down who might have carried him if he was gone. Though if he was going to those ruins, it seemed she would have to end up there eventually. She just didn’t plan to do it alone.
It didn’t take long for the Order to express interest in sending a group to the ruins of the Luminous Ocean Society. While closer groups and individuals might have already picked over the area, most of them would be looking for big scores. Anything of direct value, not information. News coming in indicated the place was pretty well looted already, even past the danger zones. It wasn’t much different from what one would expect of a destroyed sect, and in a much worse state than the Secret Realm. But while the Secret Realm had been abandoned, it wasn’t attacked directly- and the actual headquarters might provide more insights to what happened.
While it was still a time of high alert for the disciples of the Order, the fact that the location was on the far side of Estary made it slightly safer. At least, the location didn’t favor anyone from Ofrurg- though what might happen away from civilization was another matter. Without a formal gathering of sects meeting anyone there was less likely, but it would also be easier for people to act as they pleased. The Order’s interest meant they would be sending some elders as well as any disciples who wanted to volunteer after understanding what they knew of the risks.
Anton was extremely interested in going. He wanted to know what caused the downfall of the Luminous Ocean Society, and with Velvet bringing the word Masozi might be there as well it seemed even more important to go. Catarina was quite interested as well- the permanent formations around the Luminous Ocean Society had been useful for her to study. The Order was also sending Elder Loida Rana, one of the few fully trained formation masters. Catarina had started working with her recently. Timothy and Hoyt were also quite willing to come along, and Velvet had been the one to suggest it- so the entire group readied themselves for the journey. For Anton, that meant finishing up a breakthrough he was near.
Cultivation was mainly based on the circulation of energy through a cultivator’s body to slowly improve them. In the Ninety-Nine Stars technique, jumps in power occurred with the formation of each star but the overall process was still gradual. Anton circulated his energy within him, focusing on his torso and the organs therein. He was careful around his heart, despite its apparent recovery. The twentieth star was parallel to the third star, tempering the organs once more. Perhaps if he had been another star higher his injury would have been somewhat less.
Regardless, the tempering helped with the healing and he was approaching completion of the twentieth star. Now he just needed to gather energy, easily enough done with the abundant natural energy around the Order. But there was something more. If the energy of Fleeting Youth drew from beyond ascension and reincarnation, then it was sensible that the very same energy could be used to cultivate. Anton had been quite careful with circulating the energy to begin with. As it flowed through his meridians he felt the weight and power behind it. Each strand of energy that made it to his dantian gathered others to it, almost devouring it. But it wasn’t as if it destroyed the energy- it was still there, under his control. That control was just a bit more sluggish and stubborn.
If he pushed the energy through his organs too quickly he would damage them, but a slow and determined process pushed them to their limits and allowed them to go beyond. While normal humans could only easily train their muscles, energy allowed for empowering the rest of the body and more. As long as he didn’t push too hard, he would benefit- despite the momentary pain.
The power of Fleeting Youth was akin to molten lead flowing through his body, compared to the comforting warmth of his normal energy, yet as he guided it through his body he only felt it burning away impurities. Though his body was improved in the process, it didn’t suddenly make him younger. He would always be a bit behind those who cultivated their body as youths, until the point they aged as much as him- though he would be dead by then. While his cultivation had allowed him a certain amount of extra time, and continuing to grow would extend that, if he stagnated in cultivation for long enough he would certainly perish. That was true of anyone- he just had less extra time to deal with.
As he reached the point of forming the twentieth star, his body greedily sucked in energy from around it, condensing it. While he could certainly continue in that manner successfully, Anton continued to add just a bit more of the energy of Fleeting Youth. If he was correct, he might be able to maintain a store of it inside of him instead of being forced to draw upon it from outside every time. Not much, perhaps not even enough for a full-power attack, but that was without comparing it to a normal shot. If he could suddenly fire an arrow with several times the momentum, it could greatly throw off an opponent- even if they were ultimately able to withstand it. And if he was able to store that energy in himself, he could access it more quickly.
Fire flowed through his meridians into his dantiant, gathering into a ball. Just the smallest amount of Fleeting Youth’s power was used to enhance the process, yet Anton nearly felt overwhelmed, like he stuck himself into a furnace. But he kept control over it. Though it was powerful, this was his fire. It shouldn’t harm him if he didn’t will it to. He almost felt steam blowing out his ears as he continued, but he kept it as the core of his next star. He had the feeling it could do much the same for different cultivation techniques.
He nodded to himself. That would be one reason practicing it later wouldn’t provide the same benefits. And he would ultimately have more time practicing it, as he would continue to be at an advanced age while he practiced instead of being forced to cram it into a measly few decades after reaching the peak of cultivation. There was always the question of whether that was possible, but he was going to walk into that direction until he no longer could. Then perhaps he would climb or crawl or whatever was necessary- but he wouldn’t let himself be deterred.
Anton felt deep down inside of him, the spinning stars that indicated his success in cultivation. One of them had a denser core than the others- each star was successively more powerful regardless, but this one was a fifth, maybe a tenth more than it would have otherwise been by his estimations. If he could maintain that until Essence Collection, he would be… several percent more powerful overall. That might not seem like much, but each little bit beyond what an already powerful technique like the Ninety-Nine Stars could accomplish equated to greater chances of surviving or thriving in future trials.
Devon saw his grandfather off as he left to visit the ruins of the Luminous Ocean Society. Now wasn’t a good time for him to go along on a journey. Even though he’d had several months to refocus himself, his cultivation wasn’t in a stable spot. It seemed that focusing and manipulating your cultivation technique and feeding off of trauma didn’t last. But he didn’t regret it. With Tonina dead, the memories of the arena and her final attempt to kill him didn’t suddenly go away, but he was able to get some perspective.
He found a place to be alone and slowly formed the chains, slipping out of his scars to mirror the weapon that had caused them. It was harder with some of the fading anger, but that was fine. He’d noticed some flaws in his technique anyway, beyond its dubious origin. While it was simplest to form the chains from the point of his scars, that limited his forms of attack. He could certainly give up on that training and learn other forms of attack. In fact, now was the best time to change core cultivation techniques, and he could switch to the Ninety-Nine Stars like his grandfather. He might do that, but he would keep the chains.
Strangely enough, the chains were a sign of his freedom. He wouldn’t be bound any longer, but his opponents… he had no reason to let them remain free. As for who those enemies would be, he could only guess. The Order still had plenty of enemies, and there were mysterious forces at work. But beyond organizations, Devon had a simple target- those who would enslave others. It was highly appropriate that a method of their downfall would be something they used on others. The spikes, of course, were more of an instrument of torture and not a proper part of chains or even the most effective weapon- but as an additional effect on restricting foes he found them useful enough.
All he had to do was modify how the technique worked. It would be more practical if they could come from his hands, at least in part. While some might care about the aesthetic of chains wrapping around their arms, it was ultimately less practical than if he were to grab onto them and manipulate them more directly. But limiting himself to two chains was silly. Other chains could still be formed around him to reach out and combat enemies all around him… and to protect his friends and family. And for those foes who deserved it the chains would either kill them- or restrain them to be brought in for a just execution. He wasn’t going to commit to only capturing his foes alive, but if practical and useful he would be willing to hold himself back from immediate violence. If he could do it with Tonina, he could do so with anyone. Though he was certain it would take months of work to get back on track.