After he finished his explanation of what had happened, Hoyt got to wait awkwardly for a few minutes. Were the Grand Elders silently deliberating or simply thinking? Even if they had a way to communicate silently he would have still expected them to move their lips. On the other hand, he wasn’t privy to all the possibilities that could come in Galaxy Construction or other high tiers of power. Maybe it wasn’t even several minutes but it sure felt that long.
Grand Elder Bohdana was the first one to speak. “Are you certain he will achieve the twelfth star soon?” she asked.
“As certain as anything can be in cultivation,” Hoyt said. “I am as confident in his advancement as I am in my own.”
“Good,” she said. “Now about his actions. He seems to have restrained himself remarkably well. Or rather, he chose saving lives at the potential cost of making his revenge harder. That is commendable, even if his actions were a bit… unsubtle. Though Ofrurg will see this as an attack on their citizens, in my eyes it is reasonable enough to see this as merely stopping criminals in the act.”
Grand Elder McAlister spoke up next, “No news has reached us that Ofrurg saw this as an attack by the Order, to the point this particular act hadn’t been brought to our attention until now. That is good, but as he continues to grow in power and deals with those in Spirit Building and later, they are more likely to recognize him as a member of the Order. I personally think his actions were too high risk, though the results the three of you managed are quite acceptable. His path through Body Tempering was quick enough that we did not have ample time to explain how to best align our goals.”
That would probably be Hoyt’s job, though he found himself thinking more about what Anton had been talking about. The Order had become a little too unwilling to act. He understood why they couldn’t just start a war- even if they could win it which wasn’t certain with whatever guardians were throughout Ofrurg, they had to consider the costs. But there had to be better middle ground between fighting a whole country and the minimal level of retaliation they were currently at. There were at least a few sects with reasonable morals in Ofrurg. Hoyt thought that Anton would be better able to express his opinions on the matter, so he let it rest for the moment.
“Now then,” Grand Elder Vandale spoke, his single eye flicking back and forth to either side of him, “Am I correct that we are all agreed the actions taken were within acceptable limits?” He paused to allow time for a response, “Very well. Then we can move on to more supportive topics. For various reasons, we cannot reward anyone for what happened in Ofrurg. However, though they already were rewarded for their actions in Estary some of the bandits there also committed crimes in Graotan. A small additional reward might be appropriate, but I will admit some bias towards the situation.”
“I think it unnecessary that we make a personal ruling,” Grand Elder Bohdana stated. “The rewards hall should have precedent for similar occurrences. There is no need for us to weigh in personally. Perhaps if something happens with Van Hassel… which it very well could within the next few years.”
“In that case, this meeting is adjourned,” Grand Elder Vandale said. His eye turned to Hoyt, and then he stood from his seat to appear in front of him. “I’m glad that everything went well. Your training is advancing spectacularly. If you need anything…”
“I’m fine, grandfather,” Hoyt inclined his head.
“I hope my focus on Anton hasn’t bothered you,” Vandale said.
Hoyt smiled, “It doesn’t. I’m similarly quite interested. I find it quite refreshing to see someone new to the cultivation world unafraid to express their opinions. Many people just assume that things are the way they are for a good reason… which is only true half the time.”
Vandale shrugged. “We’d better prepare for some hard times. Change is one of the most difficult things to deal with.”
“You think he can really make large change happen?”
“Think it? He’s already started waves. Something will change now regardless of what he does in the future. Hopefully, it’s for the better.” Grand Elder Vandale just smiled as he looked up into the sky.
Anton had somewhat underestimated the difficulty of buying large amounts of land. His previous interactions with purchasing land had been a little bit at a time from people he’d known for decades. There was also the fact that he was a cultivator. It was something about the way he carried himself now, how he moved. He doubted he looked just like Vincent’s flowing walk, but it was still something people could recognize. He understood why they would be hesitant to sell the land to a cultivator, but he wasn’t going to hide who he was.
Part of the difficulty was merely finding the right place. He was running about all over the countryside looking for people with sufficient amounts of land, and he was on something of a time limit. It was already spring, already a bit late to start a new farm. It also cost money to support everyone. They were a strange sight, camping out outside towns because nobody had room for thirty people to stay. The fact that they purchased so much food relieved the towns, because they could always use a bit of extra money.
It took a few weeks and more than two dozen villages visited before Anton finally found something appropriate. Windrip was a small village in central Graotan, but their population was on the decline. The ground was difficult to work and though its location was good, the actual connections to other places were somewhat limited. Traffic had flowed around through more prosperous regions, compounding the effect.
Of course, Anton didn’t want to have poor land, but that wasn’t what was available. It was of decent quality… but it would take quite a bit of work to get use out of it. That was something they were able to handle. The land had been overtaken by trees and rocks raised by winter frosts over the last several years. The dirt itself really required ploughing by a team of oxen, an investment that was difficult to make for new farmers. But Anton had the knowledge, the money, and those willing to perform labor. Of course, not everyone wanted to be a farmer long term. Some actually wanted to be energy cultivators, while others had different professions in mind.
Everyone was offered the opportunity to strike off on their own, but the group had formed a bond from the dangers they had gone through. Even if it meant they couldn’t immediately move to a desired profession, they would be able to sustain themselves and hopefully gain profits as well. Those who desired other professions could expand into those as the opportunity arose, but at least for the beginning it was easier to have everyone working towards one goal together.
It took a bit of work to convince the mayor to sell the land to them. He was a member of the Order, but people were still wary of cultivators. However, he was able to properly express his intentions to contribute to the community and Windrip’s prosperity. The greater story of people stolen from their homes and then their valiant escape probably helped more than his cultivation of Voice, but he could feel that the latter certainly wasn’t ignorable. He doubted he could force people to do things against their interests, but he didn’t have any intentions to do that anyway.
What they had was a pile of boxes in an empty field. Four mules for a group of thirty was a very small amount, but doing the work with their own hands would be better for everyone’s Body Tempering. The mules would be mainly for pulling wagons into town or transporting goods to and from the cities, but they could also help accelerate the work they had to do. They were already a bit late in the season, especially when the land had to be cleared.
However, the group soon found how much even the first level of Body Tempering helped with their efforts. They could lift heavier rocks and move faster with them to clear the fields. Chopping and sawing trees was expedited, and they pulled in the services of some of those from Windrip to help with the continuous transformation of the logs into usable forms. While they could have made a log cabin, they had the tools and available labor to make more efficient use of the wood in constructing simple buildings. Nobody wanted to live in a tent longer than they had to, and soon enough they were raising the first building. It was to be a communal sleeping area until they had homes for people, at which point it would be converted for storage. The group kept the local blacksmith busy making nails.
Anton guided everyone in their labor and their cultivation, which were both intertwined. As they worked their bodies and their cultivation improved, their speed increased, and though Anton had been counting on them being somewhat faster than he was used to, they managed to plant some fields early enough that they would have a full harvest of some of the faster growing crops before the season ended. Most of that would be used for seed and to sustain themselves. That was something else Anton had underestimated. He had forgotten how much normal people would eat compared to cultivators. It wasn’t entirely crazy, but they’d underestimated the amount of supplies they needed early. He was able to pay for it, but it involved traveling to cities where they had more in the way of excess. Windrip had enough for themselves and a bit of spare, but an extra thirty people for a sustained period was a bit much.
The work that Anton himself was able to accomplish astounded him. He knew that the fields and special crops the Order tended had more exacting requirements, but he was still surprised at how much he could do. The amount of energy he could store and use now that he was in Spirit Building was also a significant part of the change. The change in his abilities from the first three stars and the most recent three were both similarly impactful. He could pull a plough better than a pair of mules, to the point he could nearly run. He might have, if the plough itself could handle the stress.
Though the amount of natural energy in the area wasn’t terribly high, Anton felt himself advancing. The tranquility of simply working was good for him. He didn’t have to think about everything else he needed to accomplish. He wanted to wait for time to pass anyway, and he was still cultivating. Interestingly enough, he found that the amount of natural energy in the area was steadily increasing. Was it something they were doing, or was it a seasonal change he had simply been unaware of? Another question to find the answer to when he returned to the Order. He wanted to take Pete and Oskar with him when he went, and he also wanted to make sure the community was stable enough to not need him around. He would leave some money, but that would only solve a small subsection of possible issues that might arise.