The trip to Yedo was without incident. Anton understood that was true for most travel, because otherwise if attacks that had any semblance of danger happened weekly for every single group of traveling merchants, they or their guards would certainly perish within the year. Anton was an exception for having fought groups of cultivators multiple times in the last several months, otherwise there would quite simply be no cultivators of higher cultivation rank. While death was certainly a factor in the current state of things, it wasn’t the only factor involved. Talent and available resources were also important. Anton knew he would be at least a few stars lower if not for the abundant natural energy available at the Order and the teachers providing guidance. There was also the one breakthrough pill that had made a significant difference, though not quite as much as he wished in the necessary timeframe.
Anton resolved to take some time for more relaxing cultivation when he got back to the Order. Or somewhere else, if they didn’t want him anymore. Even though it was on a small scale, he was being disruptive and technically criminal. But he would just have to wait and see.
Before any of that, they had to return to Graotan. Travel to Yedo represented about one third of their journey as they looped around to the northern border of Graotan. There were more direct routes, but just in case Ofrurg was crazy enough to send people over the border after them he would be happy to be further. Hopefully they were still in the dark about the major details.
Now, he needed to see if he could find proper materials. They didn’t have nearly enough copies of the Ninety-Nine Stars for everyone who wanted to learn, even if they shared. One for every twelve people was quite insufficient.
Hoyt looked back and forth between the two scrolls displayed in front of him. Both had the same sort of feel about them, though the words were somewhat different. The insights woven into the words were where the two scrolls varied the most. But even so, the differences were relatively minor.
“What do you think?” Anton asked.
“It’s good,” Hoyt admitted. “It certainly varies a bit from the others I’ve seen, but it covers Body Tempering quite thoroughly. None of the differences are so big as to be a problem. It just has more variants.”
“I’ve noticed quite some differences in how people cultivate, so I thought that mentioning that was worthwhile,” Anton nodded to himself, “Though I’m not sure if I might be leading people off course. I’m not far beyond Body Tempering myself.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Hoyt said. “Either people will have to forge their own path, change techniques, or they’ll be able to work from the full versions of the Ninety-Nine Stars, should they choose to join the Order.”
“I was wondering,” Anton said, “Who scribed the ones we have? They’re clearly not old enough to be any of the founders.”
“That’s right,” Hoyt nodded. “Most of those currently available are scribed by the Grand Elders. Grand Elder Vandale was responsible for both of our complete versions, I believe.”
“That makes sense,” Anton nodded. “He is the closest to the peak we have, after all. Does Vincent make most of the basic ones?”
Hoyt smiled, “He’d run out if he didn’t make his own. That man is quite eager. Though he doesn’t spend as much time personally teaching people as you.”
“Maybe he should,” Anton suggested. “I’d like to talk to him about it. But speaking of the Grand Elder, I’m reminded I should look to the stars more.”
“He sure does like them,” Hoyt admitted. “I’ve never found the inspiration in them he has, but I’m still quite young.”
“Sometimes you just want to do something pleasant,” Anton said. “Let your mind have a break. Though I have to admit I haven’t done much of that lately.”
“I understand why,” Hoyt acknowledged, “All of my friends and family are safely around the Order and Edelhull. Well, except all of us who are here,” he smiled slightly.
Anton nodded, “The hardest part was admitting that I couldn’t do everything myself. Good thing I listened to Catarina, or I’d probably be dead in a gutter somewhere.”
“That’s what family is for, right?” Hoyt nodded, “You old folk either think you’re invincible or it doesn’t matter if you die. But the former is never true, and if people still exist and care for you, neither is the latter.”
“Probably nobody would hear about it, in my case,” Anton said morosely. “But I don’t plan to die. I have so much left to do, and a few long-term projects in mind I’d like to see to completion.”
“Very well, we have come to an agreement,” Anton shook the hands of both of the Brantley siblings. Though they hadn’t encountered any danger on the first leg of their journey the caravan wanted him back. If nothing else the other guards and a few of the workers wanted to keep learning cultivation with him. Mervyn and Ebba wanted to pay him for those services, but Anton didn’t feel that was right. It was something he wanted to do and didn’t cost him anything. In fact, he found he often learned a lot from his students. Maybe not so much from any individual, but so many different perspectives ended up with useful insight. Anton did accept a slight increase in pay across the board. That way some of those traveling with them could have a bit of money of their own after they were done. It was also easier for them to accept than if he were to try to give them money directly. Then they’d probably talk about how they had to pay him back for the clothes and weapons and all that junk.
“We really appreciate what you’ve been doing,” Ebba said, “If nothing else, having communal activities while traveling is good for morale.”
“Doesn’t hurt that it makes us safer, either. Though,” Mervyn hesitantly asked, “Isn’t it dangerous, teaching so many people to cultivate?”
“Any power is dangerous in the wrong hands,” Anton said. “I have no worries about this. I’ve been keeping a close eye on whether people are being responsible. You two hold together a good caravan, and all of those with me have seen power in the wrong hands.”
“… Right. You said you came from Ofrurg?”
“I bought the freedom of many slaves. My village was attacked by raiders and I have plans to get them all back.” Anton left out the part where he also killed a bunch of guards keeping some of them slaves, because that wasn’t a useful part of the story.
Ebba spit to the side, “Slavery is a detestable practice. I can’t believe it’s allowed.”
“That’s what happens when the wrong people get in power,” Mervyn shrugged. “We could make quite a bit more profit if we went into Ofrurg, but along with the risks of foul play of some sort I’d also prefer to minimize the amount of profit I let into their hands. When I can, of course. It’s unfortunately impossible to have a complete embargo on their goods.”
“Not in a way people are willing to accept,” Ebba admitted. “We do our best to only work with select trade partners. Though that’s the case even here. Some people will try anything as long as it’s technically legal. Like it’s proper business to cheat others out of their money. It works, too. At least long enough for them to get rich and fat before they make a costly mistake.”
Anton nodded, “And it doesn’t always happen the same generation. Like I said, power of all sorts. Giving people some personal power will hopefully allow them the skill and bravery to stand up to threats. At least they can make the choice to try.”
At night they continued to train cultivation, more people from the caravan filtering in and out to see what all the fuss was about. However, there were only so many hours in a day and people had to sleep. Anton did too, but he’d not been much for sleep before being a cultivator and found little reason to change that afterwards. If he had been exhausting himself during the day that would be one thing, but he was being moderate with his training so that he could be always ready to defend the caravan if trouble arose.
Now he was looking up at the stars. He had no telescope, but his eyes could see more than a normal human. He remembered what Grand Elder Vandale had said about the stars and planets. Though they paled in comparison, stars were just like the sun, a bright burning ball in the sky. They were simply much, much further away. The great telescope had allowed him to see that, and also the closer planets. He’d learned about them somewhat as a child, but they were generally thought of just as brighter stars. Dungannon didn’t have an abundance of telescopes or anyone who really studied the stars, and it hadn’t really mattered.
Most obvious was the moon. It had a bleak surface with mountains and craters, but no rivers or forests or any visible signs of life. That didn’t mean there was none, but it didn’t look like anything where Anton was. Besides, it was far enough that the details were limited even with enhanced eyes. Grand Elder Vandale’s telescope had allowed him to see better, but there was nothing he’d been able to point out.
He had mentioned that he’d been watching some developments on one of the other planets, however. He’d tried to show Anton, but despite the telescope and his eye enhancing abilities he just couldn’t make anything out. Grand Elder Vandale said that the lines of the planet had been changing, either eroding hills or potentially odd colored forests or even signs of civilization. There was a very large difference between what could be seen by the two of them, but Vandale had nearly ten times as many stars and of course the energy that went along with it.
Some of the other planets were interesting to look at but Vandale said they couldn’t support life as he understood. They were covered in a constant cloudy atmosphere, and Vandale said he’d been debating what that meant with several other astronomers he knew. Trying to figure it out involved a lot of tedious calculations and decades of study. However, Anton accepted that he didn’t know and that was fine. There were plenty of earthly problems for him to deal with, he didn’t need to take on mysteries in the heavens as well.