When he arrived at the farm, Barrett first saw that the door was broken open. Later he would have time to berate himself for being stupid, but he didn’t have much experience worrying about those weaker than him. Most of those he knew were about his strength or stronger, cultivators who could take care of themselves. Clara and Jack were capable of many things… but combat was not one of them. Sashor was supposed to be safe, but once he had noticed any danger he should have taken better care of them.
Inside the house, he saw tables and chairs overturned, including the bed in the back room. That filled Barrett with worry… and then hope. At first he thought the overturned furniture to be signs of struggle, but on further examination that didn’t make sense. Any cultivators would have had no trouble capturing or killing the pair, and he didn’t see any blood. There would be no reason for smashing furniture except frustration or perhaps searching for something.
He moved about the house, finding more signs of the same- destroyed furniture and general chaos, but no real way it could have happened during a fight. He started reaching out with his energy senses, feeling his way around. There was nowhere for anyone to hide under furniture or in a closet… so perhaps they had run away. He didn’t feel anything strange at first, but he still had a feeling. “Clara? Jack? It’s me, Barrett.” He called out to them with energy added to carry his voice around. He listened carefully, focusing his stamina on his ears, other senses muting. Then he heard movement beneath the floor. It was just a touch, something he couldn’t have done without enhancing his hearing. His senses swept over the floor, finding no board out of place… but sinking down beneath he just barely felt a void of space. Going back from that, he found the edges of a hidden trapdoor, where the normal cracks between boards were used to disguise the irregular shape. He slipped his finger in a slightly wider gap, pulling up. The trapdoor rotated up, and a crossbow bolt flew into his chest.
“Sorry!” Jack’s voice called out. “I wasn’t sure it was actually you!”
“We knew you’d be fine though…” Clara came into sight where the light shone down below. “I saw you stop a sword with your arm so…”
“Is that so?” Barrett pointed to a spot on his chest, “How long do you think this will take to heal, huh?”
“I don’t…” Clara started climbing up the ladder towards him, “I don’t see any injury…”
“Well, not yet. It’s gonna bruise though, and then it will take like, half an hour to heal! Or less.”
“I don’t really understand cultivators…” Clara shook her head.
“That’s right,” Jack agreed, “But we hoped this secret basement could be of use anyway. It’s not hidden under a rug or anything- but in plain sight. If something looks like it isn’t hiding anything, people might not look, yeah?”
Barrett nodded, “It’s made precisely enough that nobody would notice unless their senses went through the planks, but that’s not something every cultivator can do. Many, but not all of them. Fortunately, the Earthbreaker Sect is full of brutes.”
Jack climbed out as well, a little more slowly than Clara did. “We didn’t want to borrow from them- or anyone- but we had a bad harvest last year and then I got sick this year. The medicine wasn’t cheap… or particularly fast acting.”
“I have doubts as to whether it worked at all. There’s been some bad medicine going around.” Barrett shook his head, “Do you have any neighbors you can stay with for a day or two? Preferably somewhere no one would look. I could take you back in to Oseta with me, but people might be watching.”
Jack nodded, “Yeah, there’s a place we can stay. We weren’t quite sure if we needed to… and then we heard them coming. We just had to hide as quick as we could.”
Devon Straus, the magistrate of Oseta, was old and tired. He had been the magistrate for over a decade, and while it was more work and less real power than some might have supposed, it had been a worthwhile career for him. He thought he mostly made the world a better place. He didn’t take bribes or get involved with any of that nonsense.
Now that cultivators had moved into Oseta in large numbers- at least compared to the handful they had in the entire country at once before- things had started to change. Things became more complicated. It was harder to keep going. Then he had been kidnapped. He barely remembered anything, except being forced to take some kind of drug. Now he was back in his office… and he certainly hadn’t fully recovered from that. However, he had to write up several official declarations. He was lucky two strong young cultivators had come when they did. And they were young too. The general of Sashor’s ‘army’ had probably been cleaning up horse dung in the stables at their age, trying to work his way up the ranks. Now, he didn’t know much about the young woman except that she was involved in his rescue and his recovery so far, but his guards vouched for her strength and that of the young man.
The previous night when Barrett had left, his guards had come to him. They were solid enough cultivators, though somewhat more towards middle aged. Apparently, the entire time the young man had been around he only gave off the aura of a healthy warrior- perhaps late first tier in energy cultivation, though they had seen him carry three men like they were nothing. Then when he left, he stopped restraining himself, revealing his third tier cultivation. While Devon wasn’t quite sure what that meant, he did know that it was strong enough to do almost anything in Sashor. There might have been a couple handfuls of third tier cultivators around, but they didn’t work for the magistrate.
There was a knock on his door. “Sir, there’s someone to see you.”
Devon sighed. “Send them in.” Normal requests had been put aside for the day- he wouldn’t be handling any regular cases. That meant this was something else.
A woman walked through the door. There wasn’t much else Devon saw except a flash of movement. Then, the young doctor- Shanta- was standing behind the woman, who had her arm raising to throw, what? A dagger? It was hard to see under Barrett’s arm. All Devon Straus was sure about was that he was glad he hadn’t decided to let anyone in until both young cultivators were around to protect him. Perhaps he would need to spend the rest of the year’s budget to pay them… he couldn’t say it wasn’t a necessary expense.