Though it was tiresome to always be accompanied by a guard, John had grown used to it over the years. Furthermore, he understood that he had sufficient quantities of enemies that might wish to harm him- especially now if they learned he was weakened. He wasn’t exactly advertising that to the general public, but there was always a chance of information leaking- intentionally or accidentally.
Crystin wasn’t a poor guard, nor an unpleasant companion. But her presence tended to remind John of who was no longer with him. Mostly Aydan, and thoughts of one loss tended to lead to Matayal eventually. From what he understood, such thoughts would never fully go away. The pain would simply continue to dull, and he would learn to handle it better. Already he was much more functional than he had been in the immediate time following her death.
“You’ll be pleased to know we’re going to stay at an inn with elemental gathering formations,” John explained to Crystin. “So you can properly cultivate here.”
“That’s something, at least,” she shrugged. “I doubt I’ll ever fully understand your love of Astrein.”
“It’s simple. To you, it feels like a desert. To me, it is a lush jungle.” John shrugged, “And for my current purposes, the fact that most people will find it lacking is quite valuable.”
“What are your purposes anyway?”
“I’m setting up a… guild? Embassy? Headquarters? Establishment of some kind where I intend to create a centralized location for people from the whole region to meet together and engage in mutually beneficial negotiations.”
“Sure,” Crystin said. “That’ll be simple.”
“It’s much easier than you might think,” John replied. “After all, some people are already in the habit of sending some disciples to Lunson for the tournaments. And it’s centrally located, with direct access to every element- except darkness, but they can still come via sea if they don’t want to travel through the Stone Conglomerate. Either way, it’s about time we set up some sort of longer term alliance instead of scrambling to join together too late to stop the intrusion of the Molten Sea and the Sky Islands. And while some might think that only the Shimmering Islands or a few other places were affected, the fact that the Molten Sea so easily cut their way through the Sunfields and Astrein while the Sky Islands passed through the Wuthering Steppes and the Darklands… it doesn’t sit well. Our particular alliance is only so powerful. We need a guiding force for everyone to stand up to further similar intrusions.”
“I don’t disagree,” Crystin admitted. “But I doubt it will be simple. Where will you even start? Simply inviting our typical allies out here instead won’t change anything.”
“Hmm. Well, I thought I’d start with money. There are some exchanging goods in the markets here, but they won’t necessarily put in the extra legwork to get them to other hands.”
“You’re going to become a merchant? Really?”
John made a face, “Absolutely not. I’m going to sponsor some. I’m not crazy. Regardless, there are a lot of goods that might want to go from the Phoenix Forest on a more direct route to the Green Sands, or from the Blustering Peaks all the way down to the Wuthering Steppes, which is a direct route through Astrein. That already happens, but many people only manage one leg of the journey. Trading isn’t everything I’m interested in, of course,” John said. “I want to gain more influence for this idea, disconnected from being the former head of the Tenebach Clan.”
“Might as well found a sect, then,” Crystin said.
“Oh, good idea,” John said.
“I- nevermind. Go ahead and do whatever you want.”
“I think I will.” John pondered, “If I’m not too busy I might even open a restaurant.”
“You could certainly draw in some people to eat rare delicacies… but I don’t know if that would provide any sort of longer lasting relationship.”
“I wasn’t really thinking about rare foods. I kind of just want to have a burger.”
“A what now?” Crystin asked. “And you know our chefs could have made you anything, right? Or you could just cook for yourself.”
“Sure. But I want to share them with the world. It’s basically… a sandwich with ground meat, cheese melted over it, and various toppings.”
John shook his head. In both worlds, ground meat often carried a reputation for being cheap. The leftover bits that weren’t any good for anything else, and the castoff that were often made into sausage. Though personally he thought the craft that went into making the ‘bad’ parts edible was worth much more than a good cut of steak prepared lazily. “I can’t believe I haven’t made one for you yet.”
“I don’t know where you heard about this ‘burger’ thing. Was it Viridia?”
“It was from before,” John said. His transmigration system wasn’t public or widely spread within the clan, but it was difficult to spend so long with someone and continually keep such a secret. Crystin was one of those who knew.
“Might that not advertise your status, then?” Crystin asked.
John pondered that. Indeed, burgers were easily recognizable. Especially if he called them that. But only people transmigrated from Earth- which apparently wasn’t all that rare- would recognize it. And while he didn’t necessarily trust people from Earth, they couldn’t really reveal his status without indirectly revealing their own even if they did have some nefarious purpose. And it might even get others to introduce themselves to him, perhaps. “I’ll have to consider the pros and cons,” John said.
Land in Astrein was cheap, even in the capital of Lunson. After all, many of the buildings went unused most of the time, having value only for the short seasons where tournaments took place. There, the value wasn’t so much in the land but in the energy gathering formations and the other amenities that a place could offer to attract customers.
Without cutting too much into his prepared funds, John was able to secure a small building to serve as an office or storehouse or whatever else he needed. Then he went out into the city to check the current state of the markets. He’d seen what things were like when he came through on his way to attempt breaking through to the Ascending Soul Phase, and it seemed like things had been recovering from the upheaval related to the Molten Sea.
As he moved throughout the city, he noticed the general state of things. Lots of individuals without cultivation, or lower in cultivation. Those who were stronger tended just to be passing through. It made sense, of course, because filtering a single element out required either the expense of a gathering formation- which was too much for an independent cultivator without any prominence- or special training that most people didn’t have. Even John only managed to get to his level because he had the freedom to explore an odd cultivation path and plentiful resources to study. It was something he couldn’t have done without the support of the Tenebach clan.
Crystin certainly hadn’t been seriously suggesting he start a sect, and even his response had been at best half serious. But there could be a lot of untapped potential in such a place. He doubted that everyone would end up as strong as him, but perhaps he was wrong and his talent wasn’t much. It might be that the path of a cycle of elements was particularly beneficial. That said, he knew that any aspiring talents would have to struggle through a somewhat weaker Foundation Phase, and the Soul Expansion Phase might not necessarily be terribly strong either.
At the Consolidated Soul Phase, there would always be at least a minor cycle of elements. And if a cultivator started with one of the four core elements, they could complete that cycle. John just didn’t know how they would branch out from there into light and darkness- and doubling up on any other element might throw off their balance.
Suppose that he was able to reach an untapped group of individuals. Even if they ended up above average due to the lack of competition in Astrein, what was he going to do with a sect? It wasn’t a casual question, brushing it off. It was a serious consideration. What would he do with it?
Support his allies, of course. The club and his family, to start with. But he would want to become strong enough to deal with greater powers like the Molten Sea. That said, any potential sect would likely only be part of such a thing. The main goal was to unify the region, to add strength to strength so they could stand against outside threats. One crisis in several decades might not seem like much, but according to what he understood times of volatility led to even more down the road where cultivators were concerned. And perhaps humans in general, but he hadn’t been personally involved with anything on a grander scale back on Earth. He could only go with what he remembered from history lessons, which was honestly less and less these days. Not that his memory was particularly bad, but the particular names and places involved in Earth history were less relevant than the overarching ideas.
“So, what’s your assessment?” Crystin asked. “Huge untapped market potential?”
John shrugged, as he looked at the various things for display. “I’m not planning to have things explode overnight. It’s good to think of the long term.” John approached a stall where an old woman was selling fresh herbs. Most were… well, the normal kind. No spiritual energy to speak of. “What are these?” he asked, gesturing to a plain looking white flower, or rather a cluster of smaller flowers on a single stalk. “What special properties do they have?”
“Well those are… uh… wildflowers, sir. They don’t really do anything,” she held out her hands. “I think these are the nicest ones so I pick them out with the herbs.”
“Nicest, are they?” John asked. “They look rather plain to me. Why choose them?”
“Hmm. They just feel good,” she said. “And they last longer than others.”
“I would imagine so,” John said. “With the amount of spiritual energy in them.”
“Spiritual energy, sir? I believe you are mistaken. They do have a modicum of water element in them, but nothing else.”
“That is simply because you practice the water element yourself,” John said. “You are most sensitive to it. I’m not going to lie to you, they’re nothing exceptional… but they’re at least valuable for those up to the Foundation Phase. I can pay you an appropriate amount for any you bring to me,” John said, displaying some coins.
“Sir, that is… far too much for my whole stock. They’re only a penny or two.”
“This much is for one,” John said. “I don’t plan to cheat you out of reasonable payment, nor do I have interest in coming back later to complain about what I got. Also if anyone does that…” John extended his hand. “Look me up. I’m John.” He unintentionally used his old name there, but decided not to correct himself. After all, right now he didn’t necessarily feel like a Tenebach.
“An odd fellow, to be sure,” the old woman took his hand. “Filimena is my name. I suppose I won’t stop you from paying whatever you please, but I also won’t be expecting the same thing to happen again.”
“Fair enough,” John said. “I might be absolutely lousy at getting practical value out of these, so that might be the best bet.”
John could see that the woman was at the peak of the Spiritual Collection Phase… which was to say she hadn’t made it very far in cultivation at all. Those without a clan might take longer to reach the Foundation Phase, but most of those with decent access to information and any resources should have made it by her age. Then again, perhaps she had tried her hand at cultivating and feared the dangers of a breakthrough. That was quite reasonable, since John knew well the pitfalls of such a thing, and he’d had more knowledge to work from.
He didn’t quite know what he could do with the flowers, besides absorbing their spiritual energy. That was a bit too direct and seemed like it might be a waste, but then again letting them sit around and fade away would also be a waste. He wasn’t much of an alchemist or anything, though. Perhaps he should see if anyone good with concoctions was in Lunson.