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It wasn’t possible for Anton to reach a concrete conclusion based solely on less than a year and a few dozen people, but he certainly felt vindicated in his ideas. There were many different ways for people to struggle in cultivation at Body Tempering. Anton had no doubt that the difficulties only increased at higher levels of cultivation, but he only had his limited experience with early Spirit Building, plus a few others. So far, they’d done well enough- though Hoyt’s experience training Insight was quite different from Anton. Of the seven purifications, that was the only current overlap in training that had been made. Timothy was working on properly entering Spirit Building, with yet a different first choice than the others.
For the moment, Anton was content with the portion of his writings concerning Body Tempering. Path to One Hundred Stars certainly wasn’t in any place he could show it to others- and absolutely not with that name- but he was able to consult it where his memory failed. Thankfully, that was rare. Cultivation had been quite good for him, and he found his thoughts quite clear and his recall excellent. Anton had been fortunate not to suffer from the maladies of the mind that plagued many of advanced age.
As he thought about his students, Anton knew that nothing he was able to write would fully cover every situation. Every single person had their own particular experiences that shaped how they cultivated, and things didn’t exactly work the same for everyone.
Take Gerd for example. She was, by all initial impressions, unsuited to be a cultivator. Her physical fitness was insufficient in all manners. Anton had wondered how she had passed the examinations, and while many of the specific results were secret he’d still been able to learn the most important part. Determination. She hadn’t given up, even when she could go no further. She likely still would have failed at the beginning if Pete hadn’t helped her, but being a sympathetic figure that others wanted to see succeed was a positive trait.
It was clear that she’d had no formal instruction on cultivation of any sort, and some other basic concepts that Anton found amusing. She’d struggled through the first star which at least made her body closer to the power of an average person. Following that, she had tempered her skin- opting for an inside-out approach. With no real grasp of the prime temperings- something Anton thought should be outlined more clearly in the explanation of the basic technique- she’d of course found that quite difficult. Her third star had been marrow- because that was about as far on the other end as she could get. She had thought to try tempering her meridians, but it was unsurprisingly difficult.
Then she’d begun training. Anton recalled her transformation with fondness.
Pete had invited Gerd to train with him and Anton because that was what he was used to. Since Anton bought his freedom, he hadn’t trained with any fewer than a half dozen at a time. He also wanted her and Malcom to succeed, because even if they’d only known each other briefly they were still sectmates.
Gerd was hesitant, and after thinking about it for a moment Pete could see why.
“I may have left out important information,” Pete said. “Telling you he’d only been cultivating for a year and a half was supposed to inspire confidence. It’s true that his length of experience with cultivation isn’t long, but he has great wisdom. His teachings are what allowed myself and Oskar to reach the third star in relatively quick fashion. He’s also taught many others.”
There were a few moments where Gerd considered Pete’s thoughts, “I suppose I shouldn’t refuse an offer of help. I… can’t say I won’t need it.” The first thing Anton had them do was work the fields with Elder Howland. Gerd was clearly reluctant to do so. “May I ask why?” Gerd asked. “I thought you were going to teach us about cultivating energy?”
“Why?” Anton asked. “Because you are in Body Tempering. Combining the exercise of your muscles and the circulation of energy increases the effectiveness of both. And,” Anton held up his bow, “You can get contribution points and do a useful task at the same time.”
Gerd looked confused for a moment. Pete thought the explanation was quite simple, but her following comments indicated that wasn’t the problem. “Really?” she asked. “How come nobody told me that?”
Anton just shrugged, “I’ve had the same question. Though the cultivation guide does indicate that, mentioning how you can temper your body beyond its normal limits.”
Working in the field was routine for Pete. Gerd was… much slower. However, she did a good job of emulating Anton’s form and Pete was able to help her with smaller adjustments while Anton was busy elsewhere. “Be careful not to bend too much, or you’ll put out your back. You have to work it some, but not too much.”
Gerd just nodded silently, breathing hard. She didn’t work as fast as anyone else, but she kept going. Actually, Pete found that to be a bit problematic.
“It’s time to stop for the day,” Pete said as the sun was going down. Most of the others were already gone- Anton included, though not because he was lacking in work ethic. He just wanted to leave something for the rest of them.
“But I’m not…” Gerd breathed heavily, but steadily. “I’m not done. Look,” she gestured to the untilled soil nearby.
“That can wait until tomorrow. It’s not like this has to all be done today.”
“… oh,” Gerd nodded. “I thought… we had to finish an entire section.”
While it was true that most people had, she clearly wasn’t in any condition to go any further. “It doesn’t have to be. That’s just an easy cutoff for experienced workers.” Pete could include himself in that group, though he didn’t mention that he’d been able to cover more than one area. The general size of a plot was just what was expected of the average just-recruited disciple in a day. “We should go eat. We’ll need the energy for tomorrow.”
The walk to the nearest mess hall was quite a long one, not because it was all that far but because Gerd could barely drag her feet there. However, once Pete got food for them Gerd began to eat at a measured pace.
She definitely had manners trained into her. Pete even found himself being more careful about how he scarfed down his food as he watched her take precise bites, though she didn’t give him any judgemental looks. In fact, she was quite concentrated on her food. Until she was staring at an empty plate, forlornly.
“Still hungry?” Pete asked, “We did a lot of work today. I can grab us seconds.”
Pete happily went and got them more food. There were no limits to how much disciples were allowed to take- as long as they didn’t waste it. Food scraps were turned into compost for the fields, but it was still inefficient to throw out a plateful of food.
As he returned with the second round, Pete wondered if he shouldn’t have asked. She was quite round, and excess weight was detrimental to cultivators. Then again, she’d worked hard all day and needed to eat. If she was hungry, that was fine. It wasn’t Pete’s job to tell her to go hungry just because it would make things a little bit easier in the future. With all the work she was doing, she would naturally reach a healthier weight.
The next day Gerd was once again energetic working in the fields- though she made only slightly more progress in the field, still completing less than one section. The third day, she had a question for Pete. “Am I… are my arms supposed to hurt?”
“Your arms hurt?” Pete asked. “How bad is it? Where?” He hoped she hadn’t damaged them with misaligned energy. That could be extremely dangerous.
Gerd pointed to various points on her body, especially her upper arms and back. “It all started the day of the test. After the… obstacle course.” Gerd looked down as she talked about that. “My legs hurt then too, but that went away yesterday.”
“So it’s your muscles that hurt?” Pete asked.
“I believe so,” Gerd acknowledged. “It does match the areas that Senior Anton talked about cultivating.”
“Is it more than normal exercise?” Pete continued his questioning, “If it’s really painful you need to stop before you tear something.”
Gerd frowned. “It does hurt, like my arm is tearing. But, I don’t know what ‘normal exercise’ feels like.”
“…” Pete tried to not look too upset at that. Gerd was a nice, hardworking young woman. The fact that she’d likely been pampered during her upbringing was clear from her body shape, since abundant food wasn’t so readily available outside of the Order. She didn’t know that he had been a slave, forced to work overly long hours merely for survival. “It is hard to compare pain with others,” Pete said. “However, the pain in your legs from the first day that has recovered is a good starting point.”
“Oh.” Gerd nodded. “Then, more than normal.”
“More than that, but not terribly painful?”
Gerd shook her head. “No. I just… sometimes become unable to move. Like with the ropes. I don’t know why.”
“That’s muscle fatigue,” Pete explained. Internally, he was shaking his head. He had no idea why she had become a cultivator, but at least it had given Pete the opportunity to fill her up with some common sense. “It’s not good to keep pushing beyond that, or you can hurt yourself. Careful circulation of energy can help you recover. That’s especially true during the evenings before you go to sleep. If you can, it’s best not to collapse into bed right away.” Pete liked having the luxury of choosing if he threw himself into bed exhausted, though two years before he would have thought the idea laughable.
Gerd had some other questions in the coming days, but Anton was better equipped to answer those. Still, she came to Pete first. He didn’t mind that at all, because being relied on was a good feeling. Even if the person who relied on you was a bit distant from what he’d come to know as reality.