If Vincent had been anywhere else, he would have been happy to recruit most of the people he saw into the Order. Even if they were a bit older, many had already reached several stars of cultivation. With the improvements in energy around the Order itself, he figured most of them could reach late Body Tempering.
But the factors were quite different from a normal visit to a town. This was one of Anton’s projects, so Vincent was not terribly surprised that everyone was already cultivating. The man had a talent for guiding people through the early ranks of cultivation- and Vincent imagined that would stretch ever onward as Anton himself grew.
That didn’t mean Anton could magically grant everyone talent. Some people might never go beyond one or two stars in their entire life, but most people didn’t even complete the first step of cultivation whether or not they had the opportunity put in front of them.
Anton encouraged everyone to do whatever else they would be doing, but better due to the effects of good health and some control of energy. Living a normal life, elevated somewhat. Farmers produced more and better crops. Weavers refined higher quality cloth. Blacksmiths worked more quickly and with more precision. Even merchants who got by primarily through thinking and talking could temper their brain, though that required care.
The difficulty for many people was finding the spare time to cultivate to begin with. If a common laborer had a few free moments, they would rather relax at a bar instead of spending it training. Even when they were able to integrate training into their normal work, the additional fatigue was off putting to many. The only thing that kept some people going was seeing the results of others. Anton did his best to encourage everyone, but there was only so much he could do.
Vincent paid close attention to how Anton worked. If he only promoted cultivation, he could have easily formed an elite class that took over. The fact that he was starting with those in the lowest positions helped prevent that, as well as his other teachings. He strongly encouraged helping and promoting others.
Currently, Anton was speaking with a warehouse manager who was having trouble understanding some of the ideas. “I do not understand why I should pay for workers who are doing nothing,” the man complained.
“Training isn’t nothing. It will make them more efficient at their work,” Anton said.
“And I will pay them for that work, when they do it. If they wish to train themselves, I won’t stop them.”
“It is clear it has been some time since you performed any labor yourself,” Anton gently replied. Vincent was certain that Anton knew the man probably hadn’t ever had to labor himself, and was simply being generous. “One more hour of work is just one more hour. But if that energy can be devoted to improvement, you will see interest in the future.”
“Even if I waste my money on them,” the man said, “Once they grow strong they will simply leave me behind.”
“Some of them might,” Anton acknowledged. “But if they are treated well, most will treat you well in return.”
The way Anton ended the conversation shortly after that indicated that he wasn’t confident in the man actually listening to his advice. Vincent thought he might learn, but he would have to see others having success in the exact same way. Even then, the man didn’t have quite the right temperament for it. He was the sort to think of immediate profits and considered everything that wasn’t money pointless. Even if things like goodwill could lead to profits in the future.
Vincent was all too aware that ruthless merchants often made large amounts of money, both in the short and long term. However, if they ever ran into trouble they would be trampled over by everyone else trying to achieve wealth at all costs. Properly honest merchants could build a business that lasted for more than a lifetime. As long as their honesty didn’t prevent them from being discerning with their trade partners. Just because they wouldn’t take advantage of others didn’t mean they had to let it happen to them.
After giving it some consideration, Vincent supposed that long-term business success would also be more important for those who cultivated. Adding even ten years of life would make a large difference for some. If anyone got twenty or thirty, they could spend easily twice as long as an active merchant.
“Anton,” Vincent brought the man aside as he thought of something. “What do you intend to happen with those who reach the peak of Body Tempering?”
“I hadn’t thought of it much yet,” Anton said. “So far, those who have reached it were already ones with cultivation talent. They simply chose to join the Order early on. While the Ninety-Nine Stars is an excellent cultivation technique, I have no intention to try to make the complete method public. People could switch to a different method to continue their cultivation but…” Anton frowned. “It seems like it would be difficult.”
“They could indeed simply join the Order. But while we have positions for anyone who wishes to practice trades, we keep most people centralized.”
“I think the Order should likely expand more,” Anton commented, “But I think there’s a better solution for others. We don’t want to force anyone into the Order if they simply wish to continue improving themselves. Perhaps we could develop a different branch that would allow people to continue… but also one that would feel markedly different so that nobody confuses them with official members of the Order.”
Vincent nodded, “We do have a reputation to uphold. While a majority of those I’ve seen you interact with would do fine, some could use some careful vetting.”
“That’s how people are,” Anton agreed. “Which is why I’m trying to teach people to treat others right. Now then, I could use your help with the next part. Since everyone is focused on improving in their own specific areas I have been very lax in martial training, but I feel if they are to be cultivators they need at least basic knowledge of martial combat. Otherwise, they would be easy targets for those with ill intent. I don’t imagine everyone will simply remain in Graotan forever.”
“Quite right,” Vincent replied. “I would be glad to help.”
The combat training really was quite basic. There was a bit of hand-to-hand as well as basic weapons training, and of course archery. Proper archery took a strong body, but anyone who had completed the first star was generally fit to make use of it. If not, the training would get them there if necessary.
“Now,” Anton said during a point in training where everyone was either taking a break or repeating the same movements, leaving them with free concentration, “I’m sure all of you will become capable of defending yourselves properly quite quickly. Of course you will also want to defend your loved ones. Some will be too young or too old or too stubborn to cultivate themselves, so please take this seriously. In addition to that,” Anton surveyed everyone to see their reactions, “I would like it if you could defend others in danger. I’m not asking you to go fight wars, but if something happens then after you secure your friends and family, helping the rest of your neighbors should follow.”
Many were nodding enthusiastically, though Anton was certain that some were not truly in agreement. But they might come around.
“Now, I know a question that is on all of your minds,” Anton continued. “What of the Order? Aren’t we supposed to defend Graotan, defend you? The answer is we will, but we cannot be everywhere. And… I’m sure you don’t want the Order interfering with you over smaller matters. If someone who cultivates gets too rowdy at a pub, you don’t want a trained soldier to have to come deal with him. Better if the pub owner or some of the other patrons can settle that properly, I’m sure we’ll all agree. I’m sure we’d all be happier if nobody ever got in conflict with each other, but to my knowledge that isn’t possible to achieve. So do be aware of your power and that of those around you, and use it properly.”
The very last thing Anton wanted was for anyone trained by him, either directly or indirectly, to cause a major incident. But even if he could focus on just one group of people, he couldn’t see into the deepest inner workings of everyone’s minds and see what made them tick. He could do a half-decent job of it though, weeding out those who just wanted to be stronger to use that power to control others. There were other cultivation techniques available for them, but they’d have to find them without Anton’s help.
Alva stood tall and proud next to her grandfather. She had grown out of being a child and was now a proper young woman. Her training was going exceptionally well, especially since she didn’t have to hold back on account of potentially causing harm to a developing body. While she might change somewhat in the coming years, she was now fully seventeen years old. Some people would consider her an adult, while others wouldn’t- until they knew she was a cultivator.
There was something about riding around a giant wolf and having the ability to pick up a small house that made people willing to accept you as an adult. Alva knew that most houses wouldn’t actually hold together if someone tried to pick them up, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that she was now in mid Spirit Building, on the border with the late stage. She was strong, and proud!
But if she got too proud she’d find herself flopped onto her butt when she sparred with her grandfather. While she was technically closer to him in terms of stars, he was in Essence Collection and that was a gap that was difficult to deal with. That didn’t even count the weird techniques he had to call on extra energy. She talked him into telling her about them, thinking there was some trick… and there was. It wasn’t that he was hiding it from her, but Fleeting Youth just… wasn’t going to work. She had no idea what it was like to be old, and her brushes with death had been more on the physical peril end than watching her friends and family grow old and fade away.
Alva grimaced as she considered the fact that there were different kinds of familiarity with death that people could have. The unfortunate thing about life was that it was inevitably tied to death, but as a cultivator Alva was going to do her best to minimize some of the possible avenues for herself and others she cared about.
“When can I fight alongside you?” Alva asked. “I feel like I’m never going to be good enough.”
“That’s not true,” her grandfather quickly responded. “You’re good enough.” She rolled her eyes. He said that, but… “I just haven’t had anything I needed to do. Just isolated training. It’s good for me, roaming about teaching people, but even then I’m sure I’ll need more practical experience soon. You and Fuzz can come along.”
“Oh.” Alva didn’t quite know what to say. “That sounds… good.”
Her grandfather grinned at her, as if reading her every thought. Perhaps he was, because his training in Insight and Earthly Connection were both very strong. “In fact, I was thinking of making a trip rather soon. My business will be perfectly peaceful.” Alva couldn’t help but frown. “So, of course, expect to be attacked several times at least. At least until we get close to the Frostmirror Sect. Then I’d expect people to be more cautious.”
Alva could have tried to hide her excitement, but that would have just resulted in her grandpa teasing her with things like not getting to come along. And whether or not he actually meant it, it would hurt to think it for a second. So Alva simply nodded enthusiastically. “Great! When do we go?”