Despite its relative proximity to the Order, Anton rarely found himself in Thuston. There was little special about it except its position, which had almost led it to ruin. In the more than a decade since the unfortunate incident during the hunt, the town had changed significantly. It hadn’t just grown in size- that would not have been outside of the ordinary. For the most part towns and villages grew larger, unless the pull of a large city was enough to siphon away the people.
The size of the village and number of people had certainly gone up, but what changed most was how they operated. In truth, the transformation of the village was less extensive than Windrip- but that was only because Anton had focused on that particular place with the former villagers of Dungannon and the escaped slaves. A majority of them had chosen to live there for a period of time, and while some of them had moved on they all took something with them.
Specifically, cultivation. The factors that prevented people from being cultivators were several in number, the foremost of which were lack of access to knowledge, limited natural energy, and the fear of the unknown. The third was related to the first, and the second could be solved. But like anything else, it took time.
Cultivators who tended the land had the biggest effect, the natural energy they put into their work more than returning itself when the plants grew. The effects were more difficult to make out in other areas, where people worked in the production of various goods. It wasn’t clear if a hammer forged by a cultivating blacksmith added to the natural energy of the world or simply radiated the signs of its origin. But everyone needed food, and there were always plenty of farmers working to supply it. That produced the most regular and constant changes.
The area around Thuston was now to the point that it rivaled the Order’s natural energy, at least at the border. Because of that, as a sort of experiment, the barrier had been modified. It no longer worked to contain the energy in that section, though it still kept any stray beasts from the forest away.
The eventual results weren’t obvious yet. The energy from both sides was able to flow freely, which in theory would enhance the land around the area even where it wasn’t worked by farmers with that goal specifically in mind. As Anton walked through the area it certainly felt richer, but Anton could have been fooling himself.
The eventual goal was to remove the barrier entirely, not restricting the flow of energy from around the Order. That was the idea, anyway, but with more powerful cultivators working the land on the Order’s property it would grow more quickly. It at least seemed like a waste to just let it permeate into the surroundings. Perhaps cultivation sects would stick to their current models of containment, but Anton at least hoped that the rest of the country could have an uninhibited flow of energy throughout. Though he believed that ultimately it would pay off to let the energy flow freely even from the sects. On the current time scale, though, it might build up the land too slowly.
After all, there were only a few decades, maybe a handful, until a great calamity was coming. Whatever it was, it had drawn a handful of years closer. Anton almost wished he could see the clock Everheart had, but being in possession of such a thing might be a curse. If it were entirely accurate, it could indeed allow the various sects to prepare themselves to the fullest. On the other hand, it would only lead to worry as the day came closer. Anton could also imagine that it would lead to neglect of other things, like the focus on future generations.
Even the Order might abandon the idea of raising new disciples when it came down to the last decade, or perhaps the last handful of years. It might even be best for the survival of the world, but surviving wasn’t the only thing worth considering. Survival was good, but prospering was better. A time where new disciples were rejected or put aside as unimportant would potentially alienate a whole generation of potential cultivators, and the great talents that might come from within them.
Yes, it was better to think that everyone might have the potential to grow into someone who would be able to affect the upcoming battles. Though others might reasonably disagree, there also wasn’t much anyone could do since they didn’t know the specifics.
Anton made his way through Thuston, casually observing anything. One thing he noticed was that there were a lot of children. When he’d first noticed the same elsewhere, he wondered if perhaps his memories were biased, but a few years of the same- and the ability to look at some records- indicated he wasn’t wrong. More children were being born. A variety of factors might have influenced that, but the push of people towards cultivation seemed to be a strong factor that led to some of the others.
The increased productivity of the farms provided a surplus of food, and along with a general increase in prosperity that made people more willing to have children. Likewise, with individual prospects higher people felt more secure in their future. Finally, though for most people it wouldn’t add more than a decade or two onto their lifespan, those who were past their prime and took up cultivating suddenly felt more youthful. With a stronger body, the risks of pregnancy on a woman were also lessened. Everything combined to a significant increase in birthrate, though it was unclear how long it might stay that way.
Anton was pleased with the quick results. For cultivators and old men, half a generation was extremely rapid when it came to changing the populace as a whole. More people than not dipped their toes in cultivation, with overall beneficial results.
Nothing was perfect, however. Cultivation had its own dangers, though they were primarily due to lack of understanding or patience. People could push themselves too hard and too fast for their body to keep up. That even applied to those with the greatest talent, since the pressures of society could push them beyond their limits. Cultivation was all about growing to surpass one’s own limits, but it was how one handled it when they were on the edge that made the difference.
Likewise, even if they were successful in their cultivation, it wasn’t universally good for the world. There were those who took advantage of their newfound power and used it to suppress others. Perhaps more than would have otherwise, since they developed feelings that would lead to a domineering attitude but might not have had the strength. The general increase in cultivation level of the rest of everyone still made them capable of resisting those who caused trouble, but some individuals were able to cause more destruction than they would have otherwise.
That was something that Anton would prefer to avoid, but he felt the benefits outweighed the dangers. Perhaps the world would develop in such a way that people could be steered away from negative paths. Anton tried to do that with some people, but he was just one person- and imperfect at that. Otherwise he would have been more understanding and prevented some of the rifts that happened in his family.
At the present moment, he felt his family was at a peak. As much as it could be with the loss of Dungannon, of course. He was in communication with Ashlyn once more, and he knew that relationship which connected him to Catarina could have been maintained if he and the others had been more understanding of her desire to move into a city. Anton still felt that the rugged life on a farm working with plants and animals was the best, but he knew that was just personal to himself.
All the growth of the common populace also led to the swelling of the ranks in cultivation sects. Though the sects had a majority of the power in the world, they were still only a small portion of the populace. It wasn’t quite clear what the balance would end up as, but when Anton considered that some sects had Life Transformation cultivators and most people had previously had no cultivation at all, the balance shifted heavily in the favor of the common folk with just one or two ranks of cultivation. Not that any reasonable number of second star cultivators could be expected to beat a Life Transformation cultivator, given that they could simply withdraw from the area before they became too fatigued, but the idea that a hundred or a thousand determined individuals working together might pull it off was better than needing an entire city to even cause a dent to a Life Transformation cultivator.
At a more practical level, a village of second rank cultivators could fight off a group like Maximillian Van Hassel and the other slavers, or at least cause them damage. If they had a handful of fifth rank cultivators among them, they could have even done more than just drive away the danger. While the level of stronger cultivators would also likely go up, each subsequent rank was harder to achieve, and going from the fifteenth to the seventeenth star would only be around a ten percent increase in power for an individual, compared to a doubling or tripling in power for someone who went from no cultivation to the second star.
Anton shook his head. Here he was, thinking about low level problems when their world might be annihilated soon. Or at least ravaged to the point that everything he was building was pointless. But he firmly believed his efforts in that area would help in the long run.
As he walked through Thuston, a few people seemed to recognize him. Even with the vast difference in his current cultivation, his face and body had hardly changed, after all, nor had the fact that he had a bow slung over his back. Many of the villagers would recognize a member of the group that defended them, but Anton preferred not to take advantage of people’s praises. Personally, he thought that was just what anyone with the power should do. And he received enough recognition as a teacher regardless, with people trying to give him their thanks- or sometimes bribes- which he didn’t need and they couldn’t afford. He would accept their thanks, and if he felt like he had to he would take what they gave him and use it to help others somehow.
Unless it was something like a home cooked meal, which he was always happy to have. It was strange to think that he had once eaten such food every day. Even when times were lean, a home cooked meal had more to it than one served at a tavern or restaurant, or even the Order’s cafeterias, as tasty and nourishing as the food could be. It almost made Anton want to settle down again, but he’d done that. And he’d had quite a bit more of it than he personally felt he had the right to.
Now it was his time to defend others as they lived their lives. Besides, it wasn’t as if Anton found the life of a cultivator distasteful. If he had, he would have given it up- or changed it.
Thuston was one of the last on the list of places in Graotan Anton wished to survey with his own eyes once more. There was just one more, before he set out for distant shores. Trade went around the continent on ships, and out to a certain distance the seas were safe enough. Beyond that, however, there was little travel back and forth. Yet it was known there were other continents with other cultivators, and it was important that they too be prepared for the coming calamity. They should already be aware, since some of their cultivators had made it to Everheart’s ‘tomb’ on the moon, but it was unreasonable to just assume that.
Anton’s eyes turned to the east. It was well out of the way, but he knew he should go once more. To the place which was not the same, even if it bore the name of Dungannon.