Most of those who worked in the Order’s fields were new cultivators who needed a way to earn contribution points without experience. While some were quite good workers, they couldn’t really be relied upon for consistency. Most of those who were consistent were those with stagnated cultivation. They wanted to maintain a pleasant lifestyle as well as occasionally obtaining cultivation resources to try to advance further. There were very few with Elder Howland’s particular devotion to the task, which was why even though some older and more powerful cultivators sometimes helped him when the fields were lacking, he usually made up for any slack himself. Sometimes that was difficult at the fifteenth star. The Order didn’t have just a small amount of lands, but dozens and hundreds of separate fields. Some of them were smaller or basically trivial to take care of, but some of the more valuable herbs required special care.
Lately, his job had become easier for several reasons. He had more help, and while he couldn’t say it was constant it was as consistent as it could get. Hoyt and Anton both continued to work with the plants whenever they were on the Order’s grounds, usually giving Elder Howland months of strong work. Even when they were just in Body Tempering they were as good as two, three, sometimes ten others. Now they were in Spirit Building and could do the work of dozens, though comparing them to the more experienced helpers he had they were only as good as a handful of them put together.
In relation to Anton were a number of others. Displaced villagers from Anton’s former home. The situation that had brought them to the Order was unpleasant, but Elder Howland was glad to have them. Anton convinced them that working the fields was good for their personal energy cultivation- and he was correct. They even drew in some others to help them. Among them was a young man named Pete, who not only worked hard but also had a feel for how the fields should be arranged. He was a formation expert in training, and Howland could see he had the knack.
The biggest factor, or at least the one Howland felt most closely, was the changes in himself. He’d been stuck on the fifteenth star, trying to complete Spiritual Connection. Anton had helped him achieve a new perspective on it, and he’d completed it and was well on his way to the seventeenth star. Mental Liberation was really just something he’d put off for last rather than something he intended to have be a prime tempering. Of course, he’d had no way to know he’d stagnate for a couple decades, but if he had his decisions wouldn’t have been much different.
He simply refused to be outpaced by an actual old man. Not that his refusal seemed relevant. Soon enough Anton would catch and then surpass him, but at least by that point he’d be surpassing mid spirit building and find himself among the upper echelons of the Order. Though on the other hand, Elder Howland was slightly doubtful he’d reach the twenty-second star before Anton. How long did he have? Five years? Though his cultivation had started moving again, it wasn’t really accelerating like it would need to if he wanted to achieve that goal.
It was just a simple goal. If he failed, it didn’t matter. In fact, he had more lofty goals now. He’d been out to observe the fields in the little community Anton had added to. The energy in the area certainly showed the effects Anton asked about, after less than a full year. Though he wasn’t the social type, Elder Howland was also doing his best to spread Anton’s ideas. He didn’t want to push for it too hard, but if even first star cultivators tended all of the fields in Graotan, Howland imagined it would bring great change. It seemed a lofty goal, but not a single person in Windrip seemed that they would fail to reach the first star given even half a year to cultivate.
Cooperative cultivation wasn’t unheard of, but the personal care for every single person’s beginning cultivation was a rarity. When a plant among the fields was failing Howland would provide it some additional fertilizer and water, but he wouldn’t spend hours caring for it. Perhaps if they had enough workers they could reap benefits from such actions. The reciprocal effects of plants providing energy to the land and vice-versa might not show on such a small scale or in a single crop, but over time he wondered where it might lead. He was excited for the thought. Even more so because so few people surpassed Spirit Building, and better cultivation resources could push the standard of the Order higher, increasing their influence and power. While those factors should not be the ultimate end goal for righteous cultivators, they were still necessary to allow real change to improve the world.
Though most would have considered five months to advance from the fourteenth to fifteenth star quick, Anton found it was rather slow. Though it was not terribly slower than anything else, Anton thought he was better suited for it than he was Spiritual Connection. There had been no issues with Catarina’s training, it simply had taken time. Anton simply felt that he was slower than he should have been for his training in Instinct. The only reason he felt it was slow at all was that Hoyt and Catarina closed the gap in cultivation with him, reaching fifteenth star not long after himself. Until that point he’d been able to keep a pace ahead of them.
He had a very simple place to lay his blame. Himself. Burning his lifespan with Candle Wax had been the right choice considering the timing involved with saving Devon’s life, but Anton would now have to accept a slower pace of cultivation. Even if his further successes in cultivation gained him more years of lifespan, he would always be a little bit worse than he’d had the chance for.
But so what? He had no right to complain, as he still outpaced many people. Even his most important target, Maximilian Van Hassel, had been in Spirit Building for more than a decade.
Anton knew better than to complain, but he was still human. There was no way to stop himself from feeling a bit of disappointment at his current situation. Not regret, but dissatisfaction.
Those very thoughts were what let Anton know he was lucky. He was alive and prospering and he still wanted more. He could see how easily thoughts could take over, making cultivators feel they were above the world when really they were just part of it the same as any human. A more powerful part, but simply another individual in the grand scheme of the world.
Among all of the talk of the upcoming expedition to a dangerous tomb of some sort, Velvet found that she was most afraid of something else. She’d put off cultivating Voice, Earthly Connection, and Emotion as long as she could. All were intertwined in areas she didn’t really understand.
Insight? Figuring out what people would do was easy, for the most part. It was all in their eyes, the way they tensed their muscles, how they shifted their energy. That was as far as she’d managed with understanding others.
Immediately following had been Mental Liberation. Though Anton was the best at explaining the principles he hadn’t yet practiced that particular area himself. The basic idea was simple enough. Resisting outside control came naturally, and ignoring her own emotions was easy. Velvet knew that was a bad thing, but she properly followed the Ninety-Nine Stars and didn’t divest herself of unpleasant emotions, even if it would have been easier.
Instinct was fine. She was actually quite happy to participate in the training with the others. It gave her a sense of connection to everyone knowing she could be ‘attacked’ at any moment. Rather than causing her stress, it allowed her to relax around others knowing she would be able to respond to any threats- both manufactured and legitimate.
Spiritual Connection was part of the essence of cultivation. It stretched beyond the cultivator into an understanding of the world as a whole, but despite the complexity it had Velvet was able to manage with the assistance of good teachers. Catarina had the knowledge and talent, and Anton was actually able to explain that knowledge. Catarina still hadn’t attempted to to train Voice, seemingly leaving a weakness for a prime tempering like so many others.
Velvet finally settled on training Emotion. Examining herself inside brought back memories of people she’d rather not remember, of a time in her life when she was weak and out of control of her life. She didn’t feel as if she was making any progress at all, and she wondered if she should just abandon the effort and try something else. But neither of the other two options were more appealing. Voice also involved introspection, and she wasn’t ready to try for a deeper understanding of people with Earthly Connection when she wasn’t able to understand herself.
So that was what she was most afraid of. But the tomb still sounded like a close second. She was researching this ‘Everheart’ through the records of the Order and by talking to other disciples.
“How many traps did you say were in that corridor?” Velvet asked incredulously.
“Fifteen,” said a disciple who had to be at least ten years older. “Those were just the ones we found. There were probably more that didn’t work. It was an old place. And the whole time ‘Everhearts’ were hounding us about how slow we were going. As if it was some kind of race.” The man shook his head, “I got out of there when the next projection talked about the different kinds of poisons that had been mixed into the upcoming room’s atmosphere. I don’t care if most things aren’t stable for a century, if anyone could do it that man could.”
“How about the rewards?” Velvet asked. “Were they worth it?”
“Well…” the man shrugged. “I heard the first three places in the ‘race’ received some ancient treasures and some technique manuals. Written by Everheart himself.” He sighed, “Forbidden techniques. Like Sixty-Three Poisons Constitution and Burning Heels.”
“Poisoning yourself so much you build up an immunity to pretty much anything, and then a way to run so fast you leave a trail of fire behind you. And on you.”
“Well,” Velvet shrugged, “They’re probably useful?”
“Maybe. Third place didn’t even get a real technique. Just a scroll labeled ‘Jump Good’. One of the elders watched him try to follow it and he just hit his head on the ceiling, immediately knocking himself out. Then somehow he bounced four or five times into one of the nearby corridors and nearly lost an arm to an undiscovered trap. Then the closest Everheart projection laughed.”
“You’re mentioning these projections. That’s a formation technique to make an image, right? What does Everheart look like?” Velvet was quite curious.
“No idea,” the man shrugged.
“How? You said there were a lot of them.”
“Yeah. And they all looked different. The only relation… some sort of handsome young man. And tall. I’m pretty sure Everheart hadn’t been the first ones for a couple centuries by the time he started making these stupid ‘tombs’, and he was probably never tall. Though probably not as short as some of his enemies said.” The disciple shook his head. “Sorry I can’t be more help. You can ask Elder Karn for more information. Though if he throws you out of his office, don’t say I didn’t warn you. That man’s got opinions.”
“Thank you for your time,” Velvet bowed her head. That information was much the same as the others she’d talked to, though nobody was a real expert. The real problem wasn’t Everheart being malicious. He was, sometimes, but that was mostly due to his chaotic nature. So far, she didn’t know what to expect… except for traps and trials. Nobody even knew what he meant by ‘new cultivators’ and they wouldn’t know until the ‘tomb’ opened up in the next month. Everyone who wanted to participate had to already be there, and Velvet would bet that Everheart’s actual plan was to get thousands of cultivators riled up only to slap them in the face by telling them they couldn’t enter.
She didn’t want that, because Anton was interested… but to be honest both of them knew he wasn’t likely to get in. But Velvet and the others probably could, unless Everheart meant people with less than a year of experience or just teenagers. The only thing that was certain was he would have some sort of entrants allowed, and the Order was confident enough in the rewards they were putting together an expedition with any disciples who wished to volunteer knowing the risks. That part was good, because it would mean they had elders watching over them, at least outside of the ‘tomb’. Even the trial spaces were making fun of other cultivators of his time. No wonder Everheart died… however it happened. Probably with a dozen sects dogpiling him and a big explosion or something.