As on many nights, Anton was outside looking up at the sky. It was relaxing to take in the natural splendor of lights. The connection to the Ninety-Nine Stars cultivation technique was another benefit, as he thought about how what he observed fit into how he cultivated, and what parts were worth emulating. But on this night, he was focused on the moon.
After learning about the practical requirements of teleportation, Anton was significantly more astounded by what Everheart had done to bring people to the moon. Thousands of people, many of who were in Life Transformation. All were brought while full on energy, an unfathomably large distance that also happened to be the smallest extraplanetary distance that had meaning.
What future had Everheart sacrificed? Enduring structural integrity and projections of himself were one thing, but the massive power required to move people was something else. That energy had to have come from somewhere, and Anton didn’t believe it was just sitting around in crystals or other receptacles.
Unfortunately, Anton didn’t have an answer to that question. Even Catarina didn’t know how much power the future of things held within them, even though that was a feature Everheart used frequently. It was unfortunate that it always resulted in the destruction of whatever it was supporting, including the formations that allowed for it in the first place. Though perhaps that was also part of the plan. At the very least, Everheart didn’t want people picking through his techniques too early and messing up his plans.
Anton wound his way towards the top of the mountain, where the observatory had once stood. At some point he wanted to replace it, but for the moment it was mostly an empty field with a small structure that housed a moderately sized telescope. Anton looked through it, focusing his vision. In a way, the methods cultivators used to see at long distance replicated the effects of a telescope, but it wasn’t exactly the same. It wasn’t just gathering more light from a single point and magnifying it. Thus, with the two working in tandem Anton could see more clearly.
The surface of the moon was rough and pitted- that was something that could be seen with the naked eye. Interpreting the details was harder, but Anton had used the observatory’s real telescope when it existed to get a decent look at the moon. If he’d known it would be important, he might have studied it longer. As he scanned the surface, he idly thought about how Everheart had even gotten to the moon to begin with. Unless there was already a teleportation formation on the other end, he couldn’t have teleported. And if there was one, the same question remained for some sort of predecessor.
Finally Anton spotted something. It was possible that he was projecting what he thought he might see, but he picked out a small scar on the surface of the moon. Not a crater from meteorite impacts, but a line. The sort that only rarely appeared in nature. One wasn’t terribly unusual, but there were more… barely visible. He began to take careful notes of their positions, as much as he could. Fortunately it was a full moon so he could see all parts of the moon that faced down below.
The snippets he saw were anything but clean and regular. Perhaps they were simply random chaos, but Anton had the feeling they were something. Whether they meant anything anymore, that he didn’t know.
As he looked, he continued to contemplate his own cultivation. Essence Collection was a cultivator finding what mattered to them. Their driving force. It was a mental connection to things, but that connection was a source of power in its own way. For Anton that was growth. The thought of growing himself, but also promoting growth in other people and in the world itself. For every cultivator it was different.
Though it was still eight stars and a major barrier away, Anton also considered Life Transformation. Beyond the point of mental connection, it was a process of changing the self to conform to the cultivation technique. For some this meant adopting the form of a beast, at least in their aura and method of attack. Those that cultivated various elements made it truly part of them, more than they could do at prior points.
For Anton, that would mean more than just having the ‘stars’ in his dantian, little orbs of stored power. It would mean becoming more like a star, culminating in… something. Ascension. Unfortunately, that was where the Ninety-Nine Stars fell flat. All of the Life Transformation experts Anton knew agreed that it was not a flawed technique, just incomplete. How to reach the hundredth star was still a mystery that hadn’t yet been done… but it should be possible. Cultivators had an intuition for that sort of thing, and there was not really much else they could do to prove it one way or another except to have someone succeed. That wasn’t likely to happen, especially not in the next few decades, before the invasion.
In fact, it was less likely not because some of the Grand Elders didn’t have the potential but because if they did ascend that meant leaving the world behind. Everyone knew it involved cutting off their ties to the world, which was one of the reasons Vandale couldn’t ascend. It would leave the sect weakened, and though Vandale had mostly been counting on younger generations growing up to support the Order, the threat of the invasion was a looming danger that trumped normal worries.
If the Order were the sort that retained cultivators who didn’t care about their own sect things might be different. But while they certainly had some flaws and even some Twin Soul Sect infiltrators, overall the Order succeeded in its mission to have cultivators that were good and not just powerful.
But worrying about ascension was pointless for Anton, and even Life Transformation was still a good decade away even if his cultivation journey continued to go ‘smoothly’. Though interestingly enough, conflicts actually served to drive cultivation forward more than they slowed it.
There were many things available for Anton to do, but in a way their usefulness was reversed from how much he liked to do them. His hands were absolutely unnecessary for the Order’s farming, even as they continued to expand their work under the watchful eye of Elder Howland. At best he might serve that purpose by finding new crops- or more accurately convincing some locals in another country to introduce him to something good.
Guiding individuals on the path of cultivation was useful, but there were so many people he couldn’t keep up, and so few who needed him in particular. Working with the various teachers set up in different cities was good, but didn’t occupy him full time.
Ultimately the most useful job for him was meddling. Or mediating, if he were to use a nice term. To be fair, for the most part the Order was requested to provide their services in the area of conflict resolution. Other times they stepped in to stop squabbling factions when word came to them, and that was especially true now with the approaching invasion. Everyone would be necessary to even have a chance, and not all conflicts between cultivator factions didn’t have a true right or wrong. Not everyone was the Twin Soul Sect, after all.
But regardless of right and wrong, both sides in a conflict would find themselves justified with certain things they took to be true. And perhaps their facts were correct, but simply incomplete.
He had been called into Droca on the suggestion of the Desert Fox Society. Though they were a local authority that could theoretically handle the troubles, they also weren’t entirely neutral towards the parties involved. Thus, a more neutral entity in the form of Anton from the Order was sent in.
The information Anton had was a conflict over land between the Wandering Bush Sect and the Herb Cliff Sect. Anton had to admit he was also not entirely unbiased, but at least he had no particular stake in the conflict at hand. If nothing else, he was a bit more familiar with the Wandering Bush Sect and thus potentially inclined to side with them. Even so, being aware of that fact allowed Anton to counterbalance that point. This was one of the times it was appropriate to suppress emotion that might otherwise influence his judgment.
The bit of land was out in the middle of the desert. To be fair, most of Droca was desert, so it wasn’t a surprise. This particular piece was simply uninhabited desert, due to it being rather distant from much of anything. That included both sects in question, or the matter might have been easily resolved.
At the current moment, there was a meeting just adjacent to the land, atop a nearby mesa. Both sects had set up some sort of camp on either end of the rectangular mass of earth. Now they were meeting in the middle, though they’d been having regular ‘discussions’ before Anton arrived. Fortunately, with minimal bloodshed so far.
“Greetings, elders,” Anton inclined his head to both. “If the two of you could explain the situation here, starting with Elder Arvo.”
The man nodded his head. His appearance put him as significantly younger than Anton, though based on his cultivation he was probably similar in age with a much earlier start. “For generations the Wandering Bush Sect has had claim over this region, making use of our exclusive rights to collect natural resources and study the excellent samples of our namesake. However, Herb Cliff Sect has begun to intrude on our land.” Elder Arvo gestured to a scroll he had with him. “Here is a copy of our written approval, composed by sects both passed on and those still enduring.”
Elder Thankarat was obviously eager to speak, and since Elder Arvo had completed his introduction Anton gestured for him to speak next. “And you?”
“The Tumbleweed sect-!”
Anton held up a hand to stop the man. “I think we would all be served best by using the proper names in this situation.”
“My apologies,” Elder Thankarat bowed his head. “The Wandering Bush Sect claims to have received the rights to the area long ago, but our claim is just as well established as their document claims to be. Furthermore, they are the ones who have recently begun to harvest our land of a variety of natural plants that grow in the area.” Elder Thankarat also produced a document- similarly a copy of something purportedly ancient.
If Anton knew he would be dealing with legal documents, he would have brought along Kohar. Even if he could puzzle through them well enough, she was much more practiced in the area. Alas, she was quite occupied continuing her fight against slavery. There was a frustrating gap between the legal eradication of slavery and it actually stopping, and it wasn’t just an issue in Ofrurg.
“I will need further details,” Anton said as neutrally as possible. Thankarat’s insulting tone and enthusiasm might have influenced him against them, but there were perfectly valid emotions behind it.
It took a week to squeeze all the details out of them- the two elders weren’t necessarily those who most frequently visited the area, among other things. However, Anton was slowly able to build a picture of what had happened. In relation to their claims, both were equally legitimate, as far as he could tell. If the problem wasn’t resolved another way he might have to view the originals to see if there were any changes from the copies, but they were from similar times. The areas in question overlapped in all of the important parts, specifically along a river where the fertility of the ground was highest.
Both were also telling the truth about collecting resources from the area regularly. They had records to that effect, mostly so they could track the value they were receiving. In this case, they were brought as proof of what the others were ‘stealing’. The only question was how this had only come up recently. It seemed to be a matter of coincidence- the change of seasons had been slightly different in the last year, to the point that certain plants that Herb Cliff Sect coveted had sprouted later in the year, and various things that the Wandering Bush Sect prized appearing earlier. Thus, they actually encountered each other.
“Now then,” Anton laid out the facts as he understood them. “The both of you have been decent stewards, not clearing out the area of its natural resources to the point that your sects never even noticed each other until recently. And for the most part, the resources you want are different- though I admit there is some overlap. The easiest option is to continue to do what you have always done, which is to share them. It just wasn’t conscious before. To that end, I have written up a new agreement. It is not final, but it incorporates all the elements I think are important to your two sects.”
Unspoken was that if they didn’t come to some sort of agreement, neither side would really get what they wanted. While either of them would have liked to monopolize certain healing herbs and the like, that simply wasn’t going to be possible. It was even possible for one side to sell off their rights to the other instead of taking the journey significantly away from their core of power each year, but Anton didn’t anticipate they would suddenly be willing to stop a traditional outing of their younger generations.
Both sides- and Anton himself- would probably walk away dissatisfied. But if they could hold on for a few decades, it was possible the whole area would be wiped out and they would have nothing to fight about. What a pleasant thought to constantly be reminded of.