It was tempting, so very tempting, to rush things. He could cut corners and not take the proper amount of time to do things right. He could certainly push his cultivation to the twelfth star and rush back to Ofrurg. He could march right up to that young mistress Potenza and demand a duel for Devon. He was confident she would agree. But, after he won- and he knew he would win- even if he brought Devon away with him successfully he knew it would be a mistake.
Rushing things never worked out in the end. If one rushed the construction of a barn, it might seem fine for a year or two. Maybe a little draft one year, a small leak the next… and by the fifth year you had to build a new barn. That was just normal, mundane rushing. If he started shoving pills down his gullet he could boost his energy but he didn’t want to be a shoddy built barn. Barns were noble structures, despite what people generally seemed to think of animals, but shoddy work was unacceptable.
He would return for Devon and everyone else he could find in Ofrurg, but he had other responsibilities. He thought of the dozens who relied on him. Sure, he could have just pulled them out of slavery and thrown money at them. They would probably be fine. They were real people and not barns, so they could take care of any failures on his part. But he was still responsible for this group. Running off and leaving them to fend for themselves was unacceptable. Not until he had fully equipped them to the best of his abilities.
The attitude of Pete and the others who had been enslaved to do basically the same work was exceptional. Anton couldn’t help but praise them- though he tried not to do it too much. Hard labor wasn’t inherently bad. It was just when it was made harder than it had to be and the laborer didn’t reap any of the rewards that it was a problem. Anton could tell that not everyone found the particular sort of work they were doing fulfilling, but the mere fact that they could leave was enough for most of them. He made sure they each had weekly wages, paid out of a communal pool. He couldn’t be quite as generous as he wanted to be, but the rate at which even beginning cultivators could work meant it wasn’t unreasonable to pay them more than the standard rate.
Anton wasn’t concerned about getting money back from his ‘investment’. He didn’t want money, he wanted people who were able to function. Though they’d finished the spring planting now there was always still work. More construction for their little community was constant, buildings made of wood, stone, or wattle and daub depending on what they had available at the moment and the function of the building. That also meant clearing more area, which was still hard labor. However, the amount of work was winding down slightly. It would rise up again at harvest, but at the current moment people were expressing their desires to return to previous professions or learn new ones.
He gave his full support, but he knew for it to be practical people had to be better than average. They couldn’t afford to spend the money for a dozen barely profitable workshops. To that end, he was working with people to try to figure out how cultivation could help them.
Grant wanted to be a smith. He had been an apprentice before he was enslaved, and had nearly enough experience to be considered a journeyman. “I’m a bit out of practice now,” he admitted, “But I know all the techniques. And I’m much stronger now.”
“Of course,” Anton nodded. “Now, let us go over other ways to use energy. You could use it to reinforce subpar tools- though I wouldn’t recommend it. Deviating your concentration for such an effect is bound to lead to trouble, and you don’t want customers seeing you with shoddy tools.”
Grant nodded, “And I wouldn’t want to use it to reinforce things I sell, because it wouldn’t last outside the shop. So energy might not be much use in working metal.”
“Maybe,” Anton said. “I was never much of a smith- helped out a few times when I needed something quick, but I never did it myself. But it can’t be used just to make things strong. It can make things more flexible, which might help forge things at a lower temperature. Though I can’t say what results that would have. Still, just using it to temper your body should be sufficient. You’ve already done the prime tempering for your muscles, and I’d recommend skin or tendons next. Skin will help resist cuts and the heat of the forge. Comfort and safety aren’t bad. Tendons help with dexterity. You can also use energy to supplement either of those for short term work, but whatever part of your body you temper will last all day. I can show you some exercises for both.”
Derya was a weaver, before she became a slave and eventually forced to work at the manor. She had been quite skilled, so that wasn’t a problem. Anton had no experience in the area, so he started with the most important question, “What is the most difficult part of weaving? Where the most things go wrong? If you can use energy to deal with that, I would expect the overall quality to improve.”
She thought about that for some time, coming up with several answers. “Some of it is the device. The loom or thread might break under stress. Keeping track of more complicated weaves and dealing with tangles. Some of everything, really.”
“I wish I could offer concrete advice,” Anton said, “But some of that should improve naturally. As you temper your body, the quality of your mind improves as well. You’re close to completing the tempering of your tendons for dexterity, and I would recommend the head next. The acuity of your eyes should be important. Beyond that, if you’re careful you can use energy to sense small scale problems and damage.” Anton shrugged, “I know there must be one at the Order. They made my defensive undershirt. It’s partly made from diamondsilk. That has to be a difficult one. Imagine a thread so fine you can’t even see it except from just the right angle.”
Derya grimaced, “I don’t know if I’d ever be able to handle something like that. But I can feel my body is under better control. I’m certain I can make fine cloth. I might want to make my own thread as well.”
Anton smiled. She might get along better in a city, but it wasn’t too far from Windrip to Stregate and she’d wanted to stay with the group. There was no home for her elsewhere. From Windrip to Stregate wasn’t a trip suited to being made every day, but it was reasonable enough to stock up on supplies there every week or two, selling whatever she made in the meantime. If she made it to the third star- which Anton was almost certain of- she could even join the Order. A majority of the group just wanted to live a normal life, while taking advantage of the strength and safety a modest level of cultivation offered them. Anton quite approved of that. He would have liked to have learned cultivation early in his life for the boost in ability itself. He wanted to give others that chance now.
Traveling to different villages was a common thing for Vincent. However, in this case he wasn’t going with any plans to teach people about cultivation. Someone else already was. Quite thoroughly, if he’d heard correctly. He understood how Anton was a bit hesitant to return to the Order proper, but he hopefully wouldn’t mind a visit from an old friend.
Hoyt hadn’t been able to provide an exact location, but Vincent didn’t mind a bit of wandering. It gave him time to think about things. Clearly he and Anton had very different ideas. Vincent only had so much time, so he gave the option to everyone and only spent time with those he felt were special. There was an entire nation of people, and he was only one man. Even if everyone from the Order took on two dozen students, they would only cover a fraction of the people in Graotan. Thousands to teach millions.
It was easy to pick up the trail in Stregate. Tracking a group of over thirty people who weren’t trying to hide was easy. People in the city noticed them- and the few cultivators took special note. It seems they regularly visited the city from Windrip, and it didn’t take long before he was looking at the little addition to the community.
It really was dozens of cultivators, and not all at the first star either. It was probably half a year since Anton had gone on his journey, but the progress of his students was decent. Anton himself… even more so. The man was really in Spirit Building already, not that Vincent had doubted the words of Hoyt and Catarina. Their own rates of advancement were just as quick, though slightly less impressive due to their youth.
As Vincent approached, Anton turned to spot him from several fields away. He hadn’t exactly hidden his own energy, but he didn’t make it obvious either. Anton smiled, and Vincent quickly made his way over. “It’s good to see you again, Anton.”
There was a sign of relief on the old man’s face. “It is good to see you as well. Welcome.”
Vincent smiled back and nodded, “It’s just as I heard. So…” Vincent waved his arm to indicate the wider area around them, “Why do this?”
“Farming is good,” Anton said.
“I certainly won’t argue against building up communities,” Vincent said. “But teaching them all to cultivate? Why do it?”
“Why not? They’re stronger, more able to work… and to defend themselves. I think it is worth the investment of time, even if I didn’t learn anything from the teaching.”
“I see,” Vincent said. “Defend themselves.” He sighed, “I wish I could say that would never be necessary. Still, even with your guidance, most of these here will never reach Spirit Building. You know that, right?”
“Does it matter?” Anton said. “All of this, it is an improvement for them. Each of their lives are better. Safer. I can’t see why it would be a problem, but I sense you disapprove.”
“We do try to have reasons for things. It’s not forbidden,” Vincent said, “But cautioned against. If everyone cultivates, they might band together in an uprising. Together, a hundred first or second star cultivators are many times more dangerous than the same who don’t cultivate.”
“They are,” Anton nodded. “But more dangerous to who? Not to each other, I don’t think. Those who are determined to hurt others will still do so, and likely find a way to cultivate anyway. The average person being stronger by a similar amount merely makes them more of a threat to cultivators. And… if the Order is worried about that, then perhaps they should be more concerned about acting according to righteous tenets.”
Vincent thought for a time. “Unlike in some places, I can say that is not the stated or even implied reason that we don’t teach everyone to cultivate. But long before, it may have stemmed from that. Quite simply, I don’t think anyone thought about it. The Order is already more open with opportunities than others, freely giving the opportunity to cultivate… if not personal instruction. I think… nobody thought about it. The mindset of cultivators, even in the Order, is of a struggle to reach the top. Nobody thought to raise the floor. But basically everyone who joins spends their whole life as a cultivator, past being a young adult.”
“So nobody saw the good it could do,” Anton said. “And nobody thought to wonder if anything should change. Actually, I think I have found… the reluctance to change the status quo is discomforting.”
“You have complaints, then.” Vincent nodded, “We should sit down somewhere. I’ll hear you out. For many things- perhaps even most- we have good reasons to be the way we are. But it may not be obvious, and that is its own sort of problem.”