Simply living for a long time didn’t make one peaceful and tolerant. Anton had known quite a few old grumps in his time, and they could be downright miserable fellows hanging onto life out of pure spite. Anton had chosen to become tolerant of others, especially youths who didn’t know any better… but he wasn’t a saint. It was still possible to get on his nerves, and he was getting far too much practice in the area of tempering his emotions with Velvet.
Most of the time, she was a quiet and obedient learner. She was more than tolerable at those points, eagerly soaking up his advice and flourishing like a previously water-starved plant. For those who wanted to learn, Anton had the patience to explain something many times, trying different methods until something stuck. Velvet clearly wanted to learn, to grow stronger… but she had problems. Problems with people, and problems with trust.
“Why won’t you tell me how to complete body tempering?” Velvet complained. As if it was something easy. He knew how to do it, but he didn’t know what she was having trouble with. She wouldn’t explain it. She didn’t like him watching as she cultivated, as if he was trying to steal her secrets. It was true that he would learn things about her, her weaknesses, from doing so- but it was also the only way he could help her grow strong.
“Things that may be obvious to me might not be obvious to you. I can’t help without knowing where you struggle.” For the moment, Anton wanted to avoid a direct confrontation. Raising his voice at her wouldn’t help, and she was slowly growing more comfortable around him. It was a shame that her current lack of progress was hurting the trust they were building.
For the moment, he could only give her advice on each aspect of body tempering, to cover whatever she was missing. It could just be that she was not willing to give it the proper amount of time. From what Anton knew it wouldn’t be strange to take a year to form the tenth star. That would be quite an acceptable speed, though not good. A few months was well within reason, especially considering there was no pressure from danger. Sparring was all well and good, but actual battles allowed cultivators to grow much more. But Anton wasn’t going to suggest she throw herself into mortal peril just to save a month or two. While her technical skills were fine and her strength sufficient, Anton didn’t feel that would be helpful at the moment. If she would only work with him. Fortunately, he found his other students to be much more pleasing to work with.
Pete, Oskar, and Patricia all had experience training with Anton. Throwing in a couple others wasn’t a problem. They had a nice group of seven, not counting Anton himself. Catarina, Timothy, Hoyt, plus the two others who shared the complex with the first group. Velvet was invited… but she was very personal. In short, unwilling to train in front of others.
Their training group might have appeared a bit odd, with cultivation ranging from second star to twelfth, but there were many things they could do together. Though bodily improvements in the first half of Spirit Building were extremely marginal, Anton still felt it fulfilling to go through the full range of exercises. Running was quite satisfying purely for the feeling of the world flying past, and repeated exercises with weapons or through a form of work bred familiarity. Anton even ‘practiced’ with his new bow. He hadn’t made it bend an inch yet, but he was getting better at forming a string. His muscles strained against the bow, tiring him out quickly, but something felt off about the whole thing. He wasn’t sure what he was doing wrong, because Elder Kseniya’s form had been the same as his. Maybe it really was useless.
Anton’s eyes brushed over Velvet. She was getting better at concealing herself. An area she was quite talented in, though he wasn’t sure if he wanted to encourage it. He hoped she would see his lessons to others and understand. His lessons to others, and what they could teach him.
Gerd was a round little thing. She looked to not have worked a day in her life before she began cultivating, but she gleefully followed his training advice. She wasn’t able to run far, so she would run until she collapsed. At first Anton had been hesitant to throw her into things too quickly, but she always asked for another exercise.
“Work your arms next,” he said, demonstrating a series of exercises. There was something about that… it was almost a proper technique, but not viable for combat. The Ninety-Nine Stars emphasized the energy side of body tempering but didn’t neglect proper exercise. As far as he had seen, however, a comprehensive technique covering each part of body tempering wasn’t available. Or whatever it might be called. Everyone had their own style, which made sense given different weapons and the like, but there were core parts that everyone could benefit from. When Gerd had finished working her arms until they couldn’t move, Anton set her onto the next task. Sometimes she had to be carried back to her home at the end of the day, but that was fine with Anton.
Another new recruit was Malcom Cruse. He had practiced a different technique than the Ninety-Nine stars to the equivalent of the third star. The technique itself wasn’t very good, which was actually more impressive that he achieved the progress he did within a full year. Anton was helping him get his body and soul used to the Ninety-Nine Stars’ cultivation method, because it was just better. Provided strong, durable energy for the user to do as they pleased. While certain techniques did better if a cultivator had an elemental attribute or the like tied to their cultivation, it wasn’t required. It seemed the Ninety-Nine Stars would be able to incorporate other styles if it needed to, though Anton had no experience with that. He’d browsed some of the cultivation techniques the library kept for reference, but didn’t find anything particularly inspiring.
Even while training was going well, Anton still felt something telling him that he was too slow. What was he doing? He felt like he was doing nothing. He should be in Ofrurg, buying people’s freedom or killing to achieve the same result. Thinking about what they might do brought anger upon him. He let it pass with the help of time, because while he could indeed focus on one emotion and grow more powerful quickly, a proper balance would be better.
Anton wasn’t using time for nothing. He was training, of course, but there was more than that. He was talking to others in the Order. But he also kept in correspondence with Ofrurg. Specifically, Elder Varela and the Ears of the Fox. There were some things he couldn’t even mention in case the letters were intercepted and read, but he was merely talking about legal methods of accomplishing his goals. The Ears of the Fox were happy to provide information if he paid for it- and promissory notes from the Order wouldn’t matter if they were stolen. There was only so much he could ask, but they knew about everything. Even events long in the past, and he managed to get some ideas.
Elder Varela kept him informed about Devon, though the Grasping Willows were more than a few days from Khonard. Either Varela’s influence of their own good sense had kept Devon alive so far, though he did fight regular battles. Anton was working on a plan for the right time to try to get Devon back. Preferably without getting himself into any stupid fights or spending money again, but he wouldn’t be returning empty handed again. But coordinating what he wanted was taking some time, and he wanted to be at the thirteenth star before returning. Just so it was very clear his advancement wasn’t some sort of fluke.
Through the Ears, Anton knew Annelie was still alive. In fact, information about her was public enough that he got ‘free’ information that she was a proper disciple of the sect. The exact details weren’t given, but she was generally safe. Even so, Anton’s studies into the Frostmirror sect indicated it was a competitive environment, and not entirely safe. They were very protective against external threats, but internal conflicts could happen. More so to those who were talented, and Annelie had at least some amount of talent. Otherwise the information on her wouldn’t be so expensive. He had plans to purchase it when he returned to Ofrurg.
The most interesting thing that was still a budding sprout was freeing slaves without violence, threats, or money. Or at least without paying their owners. If it could be proven that someone had been improperly enslaved, they could be freed. Sadly, the burden of proof was high- enough that Anton suspected it was only there to prevent sect disciples or others of importance from suffering the fate of enslavement. Still, the Ears of the Fox got Anton in contact with a woman who specialized in the area of slavery law. Kohar Tolvaj was her name, and she might be able to help Anton- and while her services would have a cost, from afar he felt she actually wanted to do the right thing. It just took time and resources. He’d have to meet her in person to know for sure, but if he could use Ofrurg’s own laws against them he honestly didn’t mind spending more money as long as it stayed out of certain hands.