From between some broken sections of wall to a small apartment to now a modest home, Leo had rapidly moved up in the world. It wasn’t filled with expensive furnishings or fancy decorations, but Anton could tell what it was that Leo and Kit valued. The number of rooms were few, but each individual room was spacious and comfortable. Properly insulated, too. It might not have been necessary for two cultivators, but resisting unpleasant circumstances was quite different than avoiding them.
They also had a cook. Technically it was just the mother of a large family that lived nearby who they paid to make extra for them, but it was one of the things they had wanted.
“Neither of us ever really got the hang of it,” Kit shook her head. “We didn’t have any interest in learning either. For the first few months just having a steady supply of food was more than we could dream of. But it’s hard to deny that eating real food is… much more pleasant.”
“We could afford to eat at nearby taverns now,” Leo commented. “But it’s unnecessarily expensive. Now that we’ve pulled ourselves up, saving money so we can’t end up back in the gutters is an important goal.” Leo shook his head, “I know that with our cultivations we could take care of ourselves anyway, but it seems better to be prudent. I know our cultivation won’t just disappear, but it still seems unbelievable.”
Anton didn’t mention the possibility of their cultivation being damaged. At the point that it would actually cause permanent damage it would be more likely that they would die anyway, and it was unnecessarily dreary to bring up such topics. “Even for myself, after a decade, I sometimes wonder if this is real. But if my strength ever suddenly abandons me… I have my friends and family. Cultivation or not, we’ll take care of each other. I’m sure the two of you will be fine.” He looked at both of them, “We didn’t have long to talk about your work during the day. How have things been?”
“Honestly,” Leo said. “If problems weren’t so constant in the sewers, I might be worried about working myself out of a job. Though that wouldn’t be too much of a problem, since I could easily find something else to do. Just being able bodied and quick thinking, knowing how to read… it’s great. Some people aren’t sure about how to react to cultivators, though. It’s nice that they’re polite, but I’m certain some people only act that way because they’re afraid I could kill them. And I suppose I could, but that’s always true of people. Humans are… surprisingly fragile.”
“Yet also durable,” Anton countered. “The two of you survived through a lot with very little.”
Kit moved the conversation onto more pleasant topics. “The herbalist business has been expanding. We’ve been developing techniques to grow more of the varieties ourselves.” Kit smiled, “Less going out into the woods. And with the recent boom in cultivators, there are always people who need some of our herbs. I could probably start my own shop, but I’m waiting for there to be a little bit more business. I wouldn’t want to draw too much away from those I’m working with. They’ve treated me well.”
“What sorts of things are you growing?” Anton asked. He very much enjoyed that topic. Farming was something he could be wholly enthusiastic about, though he mostly worked in the area of foods, instead of plants for medicinal purposes or solely used for the energy they contained. The difference was that even the plants he handled that had high amounts of natural energy in them also had significant nutritional value. The density of energy was usually less than herbs had, but that just meant it was more reasonable to maintain a steady diet without throwing off the internal balance of a cultivator. Too much medicine, or anything really, could lead to trouble.
True to his word, Anton stayed around to help Leo- and Kit- get their cultivations back on the right track. He had enough standing in the Order to make the choice for the two of them to have access to the full Ninety-Nine Stars, even if they weren’t official members. He trusted them to be responsible with it, and improving their own cultivations should only help them teaching those who were just learning.
The two of them had taught the basics to several others, to help them with their work. Since they were both new to cultivation they hadn’t been perfect, but most of their students had some success. Anton saw there were a few problems, but instead of directly guiding the Body Tempering cultivators, he tried to teach Leo and Kit how to recognize where people had gone wrong. While it was important to work the body physically and temper it with energy, some of them had pushed too far too fast, to the point they had injured themselves. The simplified technique manual warned of such things, but reading it on a page and recognizing when it was actually happening were different things.
Fortunately, nobody had damaged themselves beyond repair. Some of them just needed a short period of rest, while others would have to carefully bring their body back in line. Either way, Anton avoided direct involvement. Even if he could live forever, he couldn’t handle everything himself. Raising up the next generation to be able to follow along was the most important. Even if Leo and Kit were still youths new to cultivating, they had enough talent to reach Spirit Building and any experience at all was still more than the majority of people. While they might not be able to tailor their teaching to different people as well as someone more experienced in the world, they were still improving people’s lives.
Anton truly believed cultivation was a boon to the world. Even if there were no wild beasts to contend with, the ground itself was enough of an opponent that humans would do well to have a boost. He’d seen the effects cultivation had on one person’s productivity, and if a single individual could feed more people, then everyone else could achieve more in other areas. People following their passions and drives instead of just doing whatever they had to do to survive was everything Anton wanted.
Some people would inevitably be in positions they didn’t want. Anton would hope those people were few and far between. With the abilities provided by cultivation, most people would be able to take care of their survival needs as well as find time to learn whatever they needed to pursue their desires. Anton’s goals just happened to require more cultivation, as his ambitions had grown far beyond his previous desires of just living happily. He wanted to provide a world where everyone could just live. He couldn’t create a world without tragedy, but he could prevent that which was unnecessary.
Even cultivators who misused their abilities to harm others didn’t stop cultivation from being a positive force. It became murky, certainly, but the balance of power between people would always cause humans consternation. If the balance of power could be slightly less controlled by people born into families with piles of shiny metal, he would be happier. Of course those who were rich were more likely to be able to cultivate well, given their free time and access to better techniques or teachers, but with cultivation freely available enough of the masses would surpass those who merely had advantages of wealth.
But Anton’s dream was far from being realized. Despite how quickly things seemed to be happening, the world wasn’t going to suddenly change overnight. But he had the power to bring change to a large number of people, and he was going to follow through to the best of his ability.
Elder Tshering looked at the ant queen. She had been reluctant to leave behind Anton, but they had been reluctant to let the ants travel around as they pleased. With the time they’d had, the communication between human and ant had improved significantly. The ants had actually developed the ability to write, which confirmed their ability to understand language and higher level communication.
That intelligence was still the most worrying part of them, yet also the part they couldn’t do without. And determining that they had intention had been an important step to things. Now, he was working closely with Elder Howland to manage the colony inside the Order itself. They had gotten approval from the Grand Elders, and the ants were still being carefully monitored… but Tshering at least wasn’t particularly worried. At least, not as long as this queen lived.
The ants were ultimately dangerous, but he wasn’t sure if they were more dangerous than a proper weapon in the wrong hands. At least he’d been able to confirm their actions and intentions were reasonable. Though they were capable of growing rapidly, they showed restraint. They didn’t consume every source of food in an area, but instead moderated themselves for the sake of long term survival. In a way they were quite similar to humans. Possibly better than some, because there were many people who cared not if future generations could be sustained and would take everything they could get their hands on.
Since the queen guided the colony, they worked harmoniously to keep the balance. The original nest had another queen occupying it, but it seemed the development of the queens was a slow process. She was less intelligent than the other, and less able to communicate. But even so, she and her colony were properly respectful of humans.
Tshering saw a line of ants marching along his floor to his table. If the ants were any other kind, he would have done his best to keep them out of his house. However, they provided a useful service. They would find any crumbs on the floor that he failed to clean up, but they avoided raiding the larders. The same was true in the fields of crops. They would respect the food as it grew, but if any was left behind in the field after harvest they would eat it, along with food waste from various places.
It was honestly better than normal ants, because of the part where they wouldn’t go anywhere they were unwelcome. Sure, it would bother most people that they could get anywhere they wanted to- but they were actually quite reasonable neighbors for humans. As long as you knew what you were getting into.
The risk that the ants presented… Elder Tshering equated it to having other people living nearby. If there was conflict it could be devastating, but when working together everyone benefited. And that was discounting the ants’ most unique ability. The ability to resist and devour energy wasn’t possessed only by them, but even things like western creeper had their limits to what they could bypass. Specifically, ascension energy. Not that they had many opportunities to test that, since Anton was the only person with a high proficiency in Fleeting Youth and the Order didn’t know of any other methods to attain it. But given the circumstances of where they were found, it was believed they would be able to handle even more.
And quite frankly, though it was a bit callous to think it of an intelligent species, Elder Tshering would much prefer that when the time came any invaders would have to expend large amounts of ascension energy wiping out ants. That way, they wouldn’t have that for his fellow humans. And if the ants truly remained unaffected or at least survived an attack… well, in that case they would be an asset comparable to Life Transformation experts. The Order wouldn’t be betting on that, but they were certainly hoping.
Just like the techniques meant to combat ascenders. They certainly worked to disrupt Anton, but everyone who had gone to Everheart’s most recent and perhaps final tomb was still mostly taking the fact that they would work at face value. But everyone had to try, because most of the strongest experts had the information burned into their minds in a way they couldn’t forget, and the invasion was going to happen anyway. Simply knowing the techniques would make them a target, and that was one of the few things everyone agreed Everheart hadn’t lied about or exaggerated.
But why not mention the ants? Maybe he just didn’t think anyone would believe something like that unless they saw it themselves. Though in that case, they could have just never been reintroduced to the world. Just like many of the other things. Though Elder Tshering knew Anton had also brought along a particular deer, less remarkable than the ants but still notable. Others must have brought things they were individually interested in back with them. Maybe that was the plan- to provide many different options for people so they didn’t feel like they were forced into anything. Which, ironically, meant they would be going along with Everheart’s plans.
For a guy who had been dead for centuries, Everheart sure did cause a lot of trouble.