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When they returned to the Order, the physicians were fortunately able to help everyone deal with the various maladies caused by the mosquitoes. They had better advice beyond simply taking medicines. Some of them would just boost the ability of the various things inside them to continue making them ill.
As cultivators, their stronger bodies and ability to resist sickness had to contend with similarly improved health problems. It was unlikely those without powerful cultivations would have survived against the mosquitoes at all, but if they had and any of the sickness spread… the whole northeastern section of Ambati could have been devastated.
But that was purely speculation. They had gone to the area and dealt with a problem they stumbled into to the best of their abilities, and prevented further issues as much as they could. The Order couldn’t know the full ramifications of what they prevented. However, they were rewarded in a reasonable fashion under Elder Tshering’s discretion, in addition to the rewards from the Temitope clan’s mission.
As for what had happened to the Clear Lake Sect, it had been determined that the mosquitoes weren’t their downfall. Instead, they were a result of what happened afterwards, when they were no longer managing the lake. The results were fairly clear- destroyed buildings and missing resources. Another sect had destroyed them in some sort of conflict… inadvertently causing the events by suddenly removing their stewardship of the area.
Atop a peak in the Order’s territory, Anton sat with Grand Elder Vandale. He knew that most people couldn’t so easily meet with a grand elder, but since he had the ability he planned to make use of it.
The Vessel of Insights was fully active, drawing in only a small part of the abundant natural energy in the area. He had asked for the permission of Vandale. Even though it would not harm anyone, people could be quite sensitive about anything close to themselves. That included insights into cultivation. While the Order was fairly open with sharing between their members, having a conversation and directly absorbing something were different. Vandale did not mind Anton activating the vessel, though Anton wasn’t sure if he could actually absorb an insight from someone at the peak of Galaxy Construction.
Anton had just shown Vandale Fleeting Youth. There were few others he could think of that were so qualified to study the technique. Perhaps he might gain something from it, though it was supposed to be practiced earlier in cultivation. If nothing else, he could determine whether it was something worth sharing with others. Anton wasn’t willing to give it up, but if they could create a copy he wouldn’t mind it. Copying a technique wasn’t as easy as transcribing words from one paper to another, but instead required a certain amount of insight into the technique.
“I’m having some troubles with it,” Anton admitted. “Drawing on intangible forces… is a difficult concept. I’m sure the power has to come from somewhere but…”
Elder Vandale nodded. His single eye was focused on the technique in front of him, reading it again. “It’s hard to believe this was out there, just waiting to be found. Though perhaps it wasn’t even quite finished in the time Everheart walked the earth. The truth of that depends on when he actually died… and if his projections were able to fill in insights he hadn’t yet completed.” Elder Vandale nodded, “But, regardless of all that, I can confirm this is a completed technique. It should work, though to what magnitude I can’t be certain. As for advice regarding training it…” he shut his eye for a few moments as he pondered. “What do you know about ascension?”
“Not that much,” Anton admitted. “I do know that it can be called the end goal of cultivation. Theoretically, someone who achieved one hundred stars in our cultivation technique would achieve ascension.”
“That’s right. I’m sure you’ve heard all about people exploding, imploding, or just ceasing when trying to reach that point, in this or other cultivation techniques. It is unlikely all of those are successes, but at least some of them are. At that point, the cultivator merely cannot exist here, in this world.”
“That implies they exist somewhere else, though. Right?”
“Indeed. As for what sort of place it is… since information doesn’t easily pass back and forth, it’s quite mysterious. What is known for certain is that it must be a place of great power to sustain those who have ascended.” Elder Vandale looked up at the sky, “It possesses a great draw for those who wish to go even further. It is said one must give up all worldly attachments to ascend.”
Anton shook his head, “That makes no sense. Is not that very desire for cultivation and personal power a worldly attachment?”
Vandale shrugged. “Perhaps. I myself had others that kept me from making the step, along with lacking the proper insights. My chance has passed, though I’m not sure if I regret it or not.”
Silence lingered for a time before Anton responded. “I think… I was at that point, briefly. Beyond worldly attachments. I had accomplished everything I desired, lived a full life. My family was prosperous.” Anton smiled, “I simply didn’t have any cultivation to allow me to ascend. Then everything shattered. I doubt I could attain that state again.”
“You don’t have to,” Vandale said. “I believe there’s more to the world than just that. I’m certain you do as well, given your choices to go beyond your personal bubble to help others. If you can’t ascend later, or even suddenly become unable to cultivate further than you are now,” he waved his hand, “What does it even matter?” He set the scroll down and tapped his fingers on the table next to it. “You said you got this while seeking other information from Everheart?”
“That is correct. He told me to choose between that and notes on how to raise the level of cultivation of the lowest members of society.”
“I hope you found that too. And something useful. Not his crap about only feeding people food imbued with natural energy. It’s not even possible. Even if every farmer switched to solely raising our most efficient crops, there wouldn’t be enough food. People would starve.”
Anton’s thoughts returned to the notes he’d read through. “I do believe that one was labeled ‘currently nonviable’.”
“Hah. Well, don’t take anything in those notes as wholly correct. Think about them first. Everheart was the type to come up with ideas and throw them around every which way, and whatever he saw worked he continued to pursue… with no thought to the damage caused by failed ideas.”
“I gathered something like that,” Anton said.
“Good then. Now, about ascension. I almost let us be led away from that discussion entirely. The higher realm… whatever it may be, it is a great source of power. It is also postulated that after death a spirit may ascend to the higher realm regardless. So if there is a connection to death… you may connect to that power. But there is also the matter of reincarnation. This technique may deal with both.”
“What does that mean?” Anton asked.
“It is known that individuals may reincarnate. Likely everyone, though it is unclear. The process by which a spirit loses its memory of previous lives is unknown, but it is known that sometimes people reincarnate with memories. Very, very rarely. But if they were great cultivators in a previous life, they undoubtedly became so once more, with the previous knowledge and a younger body. As you have described, Everheart draws on strange future intangibles. Reincarnation should be one of those.”
“So if I practice this technique… I can’t ascend or reincarnate?”
“That… is entirely unclear. The amount you draw from those places isn’t necessarily limited. A realm of boundless power and an unlimited future… yet I doubt that drawing on such power requires paying back an equivalent amount.” Thoughts were clearly swirling through Vandale’s head, as Anton could feel the Vessel of Insights reacting so much it was trembling constantly. He actually had to brace it and weaken it for fear it might break. “But I have no doubt it would make ascension more difficult as well as possibly weakening you afterwards if you achieve it. Likewise, you might not give up all hope of reincarnation… but no doubt you would be weakened in the future.”
Anton nodded. “Well, it doesn’t matter. Who can even say if I would experience either of those? Even if I have things I wish to do in future incarnations… I can’t give up what I desire now for them. If that’s even really me still.”
“Indeed,” Vandale said. “Though the prices might in theory be heavy… in practice, it should have few side effects except what is necessary to practice it. In short, given the age requirements you must continuously advance as time passes, until you can go no further. Then you will die of old age, as is natural.”
“Since I already was prepared for that once,” Anton smiled. “It’s hardly an issue, is it?”
“Right?” Vandale smiled. “A perfect technique for someone in your situation. That said, training it might be difficult enough you would be better off without. That is entirely up to you.”
Anton nodded. He looked inside the vessel of insights. He had the feeling it had only gotten a portion of Vandale’s thoughts, and even then he was afraid to try absorbing any of it at the current time. But later, once his cultivation had advanced… he would have something to look forward to.
A satisfying sound of hoe striking dirt rang out as Anton tilled rows into the ground. He’d acquired a personal plot on the Order’s land, opting to begin his growing efforts in the most optimal location possible. He doubted he would profit much from his efforts. Good land with formations to properly control the climate for growing in any season was quite expensive.
He was planting the portion of tubers he’s gotten from Ambati. Though the soil was different, he could adjust the factors as he pleased- and actively farming it instead of letting it grow in the wild would be more efficient. He wanted to see what its limits were- especially the lower ones. What was the minimum ambient energy it could be grown in? How much space did it need? Was the labor something that could be accomplished by normal people? He was hoping that at most it would require low level Body Tempering. He had the confidence to assist nearly anyone to reach that point.
Once a full harvest was completed, he planned to share with Elder Howland and the settlement in Windrip. He also had plans to spread them even further. He knew that they would inevitably end up in Ofrurg and be used for ill purposes, but he couldn’t give up on the good it could do just because someone would also misuse it. Those with wealth might feed young cultivators and slightly benefit their growth, but they were already doing that. This was just one more factor… but one he hoped that normal people could be involved with- and benefit from.
Everheart’s notes were quite expansive. He’d clearly actually tried some of the efforts. The perspective he came at things from was quite different from Anton’s, but the goal of building up the cultivation of those at the lowest level was still the same. Everheart’s goal had been to equip people for revolution, to overthrow the cultivators and oppressing them with sheer numbers. Especially those cultivators Everheart had personal grudges with. His notes rarely considered the cooperation of sects, as he admitted that even if the common folk was a Body Temperer it would hardly impact those with better talents for cultivation. Thus, he expected sects to be selfish and not bother. Anton had the good fortune to be working with the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars, who was at least supportive of his efforts even if they weren’t involved in all of them.
But he couldn’t expect them to suddenly pour resources into his ideas. They had now barely two years of results, and while his efforts in settling a group in Windrip had been successful, there was no guarantee it would scale up to cover the country. Though Anton was encouraging people to do so even now. A sizable portion of his incoming resources were spent on others with no expectation that he would receive anything in return. With the group in Windrip being prosperous they wanted to pay him back for the land at the very least, but he just encouraged them to continue to expand and spread his ideas. He knew he couldn’t manage everything on his own, and he didn’t have some sort of special sense as to who needed what. Well, he could glean quite a bit of information when he went and visited a place, but those who lived with the people could learn what a community needed as well. Just a bit more slowly.
Anton knew that the answer wasn’t always ‘more cultivation’, but the ability of people to work more efficiently was a serious benefit that couldn’t be discounted. The important part was making the training possible. A farmer might be able to temper their body while they worked- but if they couldn’t take time off to go hear about how Body Tempering was done, it simply wasn’t accessible to them. Likewise, if they had to pay… where would they find the extra funds? Charging people when they later became profitable seemed reasonable, but that could also hinder them at an important moment of growth. Quite a difficult conundrum to deal with, until the point where every parent was able to teach their children how to cultivate at least at the basic level. Even then, that would miss those who became orphans, depriving them of important opportunities.
It was simply impossible to think he could solve all of the world’s problems, even at the level of commoners… but if he could improve one aspect at a time until he no longer lived, Anton would be content. He would do what he could, and not concern himself with what he couldn’t.