Spirit Building. It could be summarized as cultivating the spirit like Body Tempering focused on the body. But it wasn’t really quite the same. It was the difference between tangible and intangible… and at least in the case of the Ninety-Nine Stars there was only one prime tempering in the first half. Other cultivation methods might be organized differently to emphasize different parts, and they didn’t even have to categorize things the same way. Body Tempering of course covered the whole body eventually, but the spirit was less measurable.
For the Ninety-Nine Stars, it was divided into seven parts, the final of which would be the prime tempering. With only one area being able to be emphasized, it was more of a matter what Anton wanted to develop early than what he wanted to later emphasize. Or what he could do. He had no certainty that he would finish the eleventh through seventeenth stars which covered the first ‘half’ of Spirit Building. He could save something he considered important for a prime tempering… or begin tempering it early, allowing it more time to grow to a similar level.
The seven categories were: Instinct, Emotion, Mental Liberation, Earthly Connection, Voice, Intuition, and Spiritual Connection. Just from their names, Anton had little idea what he might want… and further study didn’t give him a full picture either.
Instinct focused on personal survival. It allowed the cultivator to react to previously unsensed threats and to act with little information. Contrasted with Intuition, which focused more on knowing. It was much more used for reading people and situations, understanding the big picture of how things might work and how an individual might act. Both were important. Instinct allowed the cultivator to do something even if they didn’t entirely know why. It could help detect poisons and anything else that affected the body.
Emotion also centered on the inner emotions of the cultivator. Emotional balance could have a great change to the efficacy of energy usage and cultivation. Earthly Connection was being in tune with the emotions of others. Already, there were areas of clear overlap. The same wasn’t untrue in Body Tempering. The muscles attached to tendons and bones, skin encompassed everything, and the organs provided services to power and filter the whole body. Everything was made possible by the dantian and meridians circulating natural energy.
Mental Liberation allowed for the resisting of the shackles of outside control. This could be through energy influences or merely a sense of fear. It merely allowed the circumvention of emotions and the like, without stabilizing them or erasing them. It would sometimes be necessary to ignore feelings, though removing them entirely would be harmful. Some emotionless sects existed, but more often than not they ended up going down a dark path which ultimately led to their destruction.
Voice was tied to both inner and outer voice. That is, how the cultivator interacted with themself internally and also how they influenced others. In the latter case, it was basically the opposite of Mental Liberation.
Spiritual Connection allowed the cultivator to be in tune with the world around them. It had less ties to people or even physical matter than the flow of energy. It seemed as if it was important for formation users, though everyone would of course benefit.
Anton wasn’t sure if he could even choose one, and if he did choose cultivating it would be difficult. He’d always had a body. Such a statement was blatantly obvious and unhelpful, except that he hadn’t always been aware of the spiritual part of himself. He had grown used to cultivation of his body and the use of energy, but that part of him was still new. Less than a year, out of his one hundred. A hundred and one now, if he were precise.
Instead of trying to logic out what might be best for him in the long run, Anton simply went for what he thought he would have the most luck with. Intuition. He couldn’t say he was a master of reading others, but he had some experience with One Step Ahead as written by Elder Kseniya- and in addition to that he had watched her demonstrations. Saying he understood everything that was happening would be an exaggeration, but it was at least something he had some example of in action.
Unlike Body Tempering, there wasn’t a clear method of energy circulation that would accomplish what he wanted. There were guidelines, but it was one step more abstracted from the physical world. Anton certainly could feel the energy circulating inside himself and maybe even improving in quality, but he couldn’t say he was properly refining Intuition.
Maybe he’d made a mistake. Confidence was good for a cultivator… but overconfidence? Could he really use just two weeks to catch up to a young cultivator who came from a wealthy clan and had already been trying to enter Spirit Building for some time? Tonina had been confident in properly entering Spirit Building in a month, but even then Anton was aware that she still needed to push herself for that goal.
He should have not accepted the challenge. He could have pushed to get Devon into his hands, then fled the city. It might have come with future trouble, but he was certain they could have kept off the road and hidden. And what… hoped there were no trained dogs in Khonard? He might be able to hide their scent from normal hounds, but there were tamed magical beasts with powerful senses as well. They didn’t have to be particularly strong, either, just better at sensing- and that was something Anton could say beasts had in abundance. Even with his eyes enhanced with energy, he was probably not better than an actual, mundane hawk.
Anton tried to calm himself. Thinking about what could have been done was clearly not going to help. He knew that, but dismissing the thoughts was difficult. For Spirit Building especially, clearing his mind of distractions was important. He had to focus. All around him were faint threads, ideas of how he might continue his cultivation path. He just needed to make one real and grab onto it. And focus.
Two weeks passed. It was almost like he was trying to learn how to cultivate all over from the beginning. However, he was now divorced from physical pain. He couldn’t say the same for mental anguish. He had to succeed. If not, Devon would be taken away to another arena to fight until he inevitably perished. The chances of anything else- no matter Devon’s talent and skill- were extremely slim. In addition to those thoughts, Anton’s cultivation reopened old wounds. He had a handful of villagers from Dungannon around himself and had even seen Devon. A year of being away from the situation had merely numbed the pain. Visiting Dungannon had ultimately been a good thing, but it left him emotionally vulnerable. Now, he might encounter his first real failure.
That was simply no good. But there was no more time. He was completely out. Tomorrow was the day. But at least… he knew he was doing his best. It would be small comfort if he lost, but then again… who was to say he couldn’t fight a Spirit Building cultivator at the peak of Body Tempering? He’d heard of it. Stories were often greatly exaggerated, but it had to have happened in the past. Usually young geniuses who precipitated a great change in the world.
It was too late… but if he couldn’t physically save Devon, he could at least try to provide hope. Hope he himself was low on. The Irvin arena master allowed him see Devon- under heavy guard, of course. He should have already talked to him before, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up.
“Someone to talk to you,” the arena master said as he opened the door. “One of the two who might purchase you.”
For his own part, Devon looked good. Healthy. A bit tired, but that was understandable. Uncertainty in the future didn’t make for easy sleep. “Devon,” Anton smiled. “I had hoped to make this a pleasant surprise.”
“You…” Devon looked at Anton, surveying him with his senses. “Do I know you, Senior?”
Anton’s face fell. Had he forgotten? It was certainly the right man, but something could have happened. “Do you not recognize me?” He already had the price written up in a contract, so revealing his relation shouldn’t be a problem. “It’s me, Anton.”
There was a long pause. Far too long. “… Grandpa Anton? Have you… always been a cultivator? And you look so… different.”
Anton breathed a sigh of relief. So he did remember. “No. I’m new to it.”
“But you’re…” Devon shook his head. “No, that doesn’t matter. I thought… you were dead. With everyone else. So many people… but you were out hunting, weren’t you?”
“Fortunately. Perhaps. I couldn’t have done anything.”
“Are you really… at the peak of Body Tempering?”
“That’s right. Due to various circumstances, I will be fighting for the right to purchase you.”
Devon smiled and relaxed. “Is that so? I was aware of what was happening, but I had no idea one was you. I’m glad.”
“Listen, Devon…” Anton bit his lip. “I just want to say, I’ll do my best. But I can’t guarantee I will win.”
“… It’s that serious, is it?” Devon shook his head. “Well. What should I say? I am grateful that you are alive. I certainly want to be free… but I’ve managed to keep myself alive thus far. Maybe there’s a chance to earn my freedom… on the small chance that you fail.”
Anton scratched the back of his head. “I wouldn’t say it’s small…”
“I’ve never seen you fail at something you set your mind to,” Devon said. “It’s already crazy enough to believe… you’re like this. I’m confident in your ability.”
“At least someone has confidence,” Anton said. “I’ll carry it with me tomorrow. And if I don’t get another chance, I just want to say… I love you. I won’t give up on you or any of the others, even if I fail today.”
Devon grinned, “See? I told you. Don’t worry. I’ll be waiting. Hopefully, I’ll see you tomorrow.”