With his experience of over one hundred years, Anton could confidently say that legal proceedings were the most boring thing in the world. There had been only slight bits of interest buried in the time leading up to it where he was introduced to the workings of the law. Seeing how it could be used to their advantage was interesting, but he doubted that he would enjoy in depth studies of the laws of a place that allowed slavery. Requiring the law to spell out every little detail was an exercise in frustration. Unfortunately, it was entirely necessary for the sorts of people who weren’t willing to follow basic principles of not harming others. Anton could see that details were necessary where there were misunderstandings, but too many people tried to do whatever they could get away with and not what was right.
Consulting about legal matters with Kohar resulted in an understanding that while the law was supposed to be fair and just, it was always slightly less perfect than those who created it. It was also woefully insufficient for dealing with certain matters. While it was completely obvious that the Iron Ring Slavers willfully accepted slaves from illegal sources, they would only be punished for the relatively small fraction that people could prove. Such punishments were little more than a slap on the wrist, though much of that had to do with connections and influence on the court system.
Power was really what it came down to in the end. Laws that dealt with cultivators were only enforceable when other cultivators chose to do so. Ofrurg as a whole condoned slavery, and thus was only minimally interested in enforcing proper practices where it didn’t concern their own citizens. Even if the lawsuit went flawlessly, the Iron Ring Slavers would survive, and they and others would just put more work into not getting caught. They would only stop if it cost more than they expected to make.
But just because the Iron Ring Slavers wouldn’t be crippled didn’t mean it wouldn’t be worth the time, effort, and expense. It would still be some amount of damage to them, and it might encourage others to come forward with similar cases. It was also a statement that their practices wouldn’t be accepted. One step. But inside the court certainly was dull.
Stepping outside at the end of the day, Anton allowed himself to sigh. “Thank you, everyone, for supporting me in this matter.”
Hoyt looked qually deflated, “The worst part is we can’t even cultivate. Gotta keep out energy on lockdown.”
“It’s kind of like mental training,” Timothy pointed out, “But I still hate it.”
“The flow of energy in the courtroom is subpar,” Catarina commented, “It almost seems designed for misery, but it’s too random.”
“I just want to crawl into a corner…” Violet said.
Kohar looked slightly better than the rest, but still tired. “I just want to remind you all that great strides have been made. Your presence is helpful, even if you rarely are called upon to speak. I hate to say it, but this has been one of the more expedient cases I’ve worked on.”
Anton shook his head, “Yet it has still taken more than a month. This task takes great fortitude. I appreciate your work as well, Kohar.”
The various reports from the Ears of the Fox hadn’t been cheap, but Anton found their contents quite worthwhile. The unfortunate problem was that they provided no solutions on their own. He was confident enough in his current strength to at least acquire the information on Van Hassel and Slusser.
The good news was that they appeared to have little talent for cultivation. Various sightings indicated that their cultivators were still lingering in mid Spirit Building. Still uncomfortably strong for Anton, but he felt he should be able to catch up to them.
Recent activities included traveling to various countries around Ofrurg, and the reports were able to tie more raiding and slaving to them with decent certainty. Nothing quite so extreme as what had happened in Graotan with entire villages being destroyed, but the continued destruction bothered Anton.
Their activities were known, but they hadn’t yet been stopped. They didn’t cause trouble in Ofrurg, but even so merely having a formation master shouldn’t have been enough to keep them safe as they caused trouble outside of Ofrurg. There were signs of interference by a more powerful group. That was the Heavenly Lion Sect, from which Maximillian Van Hassel had technically been expelled.
Yet he was the son of an elder, and was clearly still receiving some support. That made things more complicated, because while there were no official ties, it would still be difficult to find and kill him. There weren’t alternatives to that. Not that Anton was willing to accept. It was merely about how long it would take him to be strong enough to do so.
He was fairly confident that he and the four other members of the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars could take two mid Spirit Building cultivators in a straight battle. If they managed to ambush them, he thought they might even avoid any heavy injuries on their side. Yet thoughts like that ignored the likelihood they would have additional men with them. Even if those men were mostly still in Body Tempering, that would shift the odds. That also discounted the possibility of a hidden guardian of some sort.
Making any sort of attempt on his life within the borders of Ofrurg was probably a terrible idea. The Heavenly Lion Sect was a powerful sect with dozens of Essence Collection cultivators, including Maximillian’s father. Even if most of the sect truly rejected him, the additional power there wasn’t something Anton could deal with even counting his allies.
The only option was to catch them outside Ofrurg, preferably somewhere sympathetic to the Order and Graotan. It would be safest if he could work with another sect. He wouldn’t even mind just providing them with sufficient information to hunt him down, though if possible he wanted to be there in person to see him die. He’d seen portraits of the man, and only his training in Emotion kept him from tearing them up. That would be unhelpful. Even if he remembered the face, having something he could show others would be useful.
The other pieces of information the Ears of the Fox had for him were about Devon and Annelise. Overall he found that it was good news, but he couldn’t say it made him happy.
Devon continued to grow in cultivation, though his cultivation still seemed to be mid to late Body Tempering. It was presumed that was due to a lack of proper training and an inadequate cultivation technique. His talent seemed to be middling, not poor but not truly noteworthy. He was still kept to fight at the Potenza Arena in Khonard. He was alive, and hadn’t been put into any fights where he was seriously injured. Perhaps that was simply good management of resources, but Anton thought at least some of it was because of the pressure Elder Varela of the Grasping Willows had helped apply. From what he’d learned, if slaves were allowed to cultivate they usually were placed into harder and harder matches until they broke, for the sake of an entertaining ‘journey’ for the crowds to watch. Another practice of Ofrurg he despised. Anton understood appreciating watching a good battle, but cultivators could fight without bloodshed and death.
Annelise was now in her early teenage years. The news about her was encouraging, but also problematic. She had been purchased by the Frostmirror Sect as a slave. Now she was free, but a member of the sect. It was entirely possible it would be more difficult for her to leave them than if she was a slave. They wouldn’t want to let her go, especially with what Anton learned about her progress. She was ‘only’ in late Body Tempering, but besides that being a good result for less than two years of cultivation there were other factors. Age was generally important in cultivation. Too young and the body wasn’t developed enough to cultivate at full potential safely. Too old, and the body also couldn’t handle it. She was making impressive strides with those circumstances.
Anton knew he was far on the other end. His old body had still been healthy enough to have a chance when he first began cultivating. Cultivating without thought of whether or not it would kill him allowed him to push past the beginning stages where the burden on his body lightened. If he’d been a little less healthy or insufficiently determined, he might have died or failed to achieve even the first star. Now his body was rejuvenated to merely an advanced age and he had to immerse himself in gathering insights from every available opportunity to continue advancing. He knew even that wouldn’t be enough if he wasn’t suited for energy cultivation, but he was fortunate in that regard.
He wanted to meet Annelise, but it wouldn’t be simple to contact her. Just approaching and asking the sect had a small chance of his message being delivered, but if she believed him to be dead she might think he was an impostor. If he tried and was rejected, future attempts to meet her would be stymied. If he could manage to see her in person, she would absolutely recognize him. The only question was how to arrange for that to happen. He was still looking into it, but there were various events she might get involved with. Cultivators liked competing against each other in contests of all sorts, though so far Anton had not been involved with any. He was too old to participate in many, even if he had only just begun cultivating recently.
Plans were already underway to retrieve Devon. He would prefer to do it without further conflict with the Potenza family, mostly so they couldn’t retaliate against Devon, but he would have to go in person. Annelise would have to wait. Other family… he would find those he could. It already felt like it had been an eternity, but now he felt capable of finishing the mission he had set for himself.