Through the door, John could feel the fluctuations of spiritual energy as Raul began his attempt to break through to the Foundation Phase. It was at the same time both a major step in the journey of cultivation- the first major advancement- but also minor as it was the first of many, if the cultivator had sufficient potential.
The formations funneled relatively pure earth element to Raul, which would hopefully make his delving into the sea of spiritual totems go more smoothly. Of course, finding his totem was the easy part of it. Forming the connection and stabilizing it was more important.
John kept his senses open, both for events within the room and potential hindrances from the outside. He didn’t believe Raul had any enemies… but even someone acting carelessly could cause some sort of interruption. Fortunately, he hadn’t yet found anything of concern.
He felt the moment of Raul’s connection with his totem, as a flood of earth element entered him. John felt the aura of the totem building within him, nothing monumental in power but instead simply the most suited for Raul’s particular purpose. While he might require combat prowess throughout his life, more often he would desire the utility the right kinds of totems could bring.
The form of the totem grew more stable, and John could sense the earth element. If he didn’t know what it was he might not guess its exact nature, but anyone who probed deep enough would find it to be a second tier totem. That was the same as John, but with different intentions. While it was possible for any totem to grow with enough nurturing, Raul hadn’t chosen his totems for such a purpose. Thus, it might be a slow process. But since he obtained what he wanted, John knew the young man should be satisfied.
It was another ten or fifteen minutes for Raul to completely finish his advancement, as well as filling his increased capacity with more earth element spiritual energy. At this point he was technically in the same Phase as John. If one only looked at it from the perspective of tangible rank, at least. Then again, there would be a significant difference between the two of them with John’s cultivation in the mid Foundation Phase even if he was constrained to the proper number of totems.
“Congratulations,” John said as Raul came out of the room.
He looked a little taller, but most like it was that he just stood more confidently. “Thank you, master. For the guidance, as well as your other support. I hope I can repay you some day.”
“You can do so by improving your alchemical abilities,” John grinned. “Perhaps you could make hoary alyssum extract of even higher quality now.”
“That might be possible,” Raul frowned. “But if I make any changes to how I am doing things, there might be some losses.”
“I would rather you develop your abilities and have higher quality results than have more. Especially as my cultivation grows.”
Raul had some knowledge about John’s current state. Not all of the exact details, but they spent enough time together for him to figure some of it out on his own, and John hadn’t tried to keep everything secret anyway. There weren’t terribly many people who would wish John harm in his weakened state that had survive previous conflicts, but it was better that John’s cultivation rank remained mysterious for the sake of the general public.
After a week of experimentation, Raul did manage to produce results. A better extract, missing that slight burnt quality it had previously possessed. Whether it was simply a matter of control or an issue of elemental balance, Raul’s advancement and the freedom to make mistakes in the process of learning had borne fruit.
It was indeed better for John to make use of a smaller but purer form of the extract as well- the light element more cleanly removed from the even mix. Tiny impurities could build up within his spiritual sea if he relied too much on particular sources of spiritual energy, and while they could be purified with time and effort the whole point was to save time. Thus, there was a particular balance to things.
“Very good,” John said. “I’ll have to find some higher quality ingredients for you to work with soon.”
“I’m not really sure if I could…” Raul frowned. “I mean, I’m near the limits of my knowledge.”
“Then you will need the practice even more,” John said. “Some failures are part of the process of growth. Even expensive failures, sometimes.”
“I’m not sure how many expensive failures I can afford,” Raul admitted.
“Then I might suggest raising your prices.”
“But the little business I have-”
John shook his head. “If there are particular customers you care about, you can give them whatever rates they can afford. But I will say there is an interesting thing about business… sometimes raising your prices results in more purchases. Because if the price is greater, so must be the quality of goods. At least that is how many consumers will see it, consciously or not. Though that is only true to a certain extent… and for repeat customers, the quality must be sufficient.” Even burgers that were too cheap were sometimes passed over.
If he wanted to, John could have asked Raul to begin paying him back for his aid. It would be possible to extract wealth from his disciple’s future success, but for the moment he supposed it would be better to let him keep everything and bolster his own growth more. It wouldn’t be worth as much to John as it was to him.
That said, John still did need to work on his own income. And all of the various ideas he had bouncing around in his head. “I have too many ideas,” John said to Crystin.
“Too many in what way?”
“I just can’t implement them all. I want to work on growing a mercantile business. I have ideas about starting a sect of some sort. There’s the matters of Raul and even Filimena. My furthest goal is to somehow turn Astrein into something that can stand on its own, making full use of their resources instead of squandering them. And…”
“And…?” Crystin asked.
“Nothing important. Just the stupid burger shop idea, which is irrelevant compared to the rest of the stuff.”
“It does sound like quite a few things,” Crystin admitted. “But in truth, isn’t it more like a single goal?”
“I don’t really see how founding a cultivation sect and serving food are related.”
“I didn’t necessarily mean that,” she admitted. “But on the other hand, sects often own restaurants. And employ alchemists. And of course they have merchants buying and selling for them. So ultimately, it could all be one thing. And even if it has many complicated parts, that is what having competent subordinates is for. No different than the affairs of the Tenebach clan.”
John sighed. “There’s that as well. Going off on my own like this… almost feels like a betrayal of the clan that got me to where I am now.”
“As a member of the Tenebach clan, I can only disagree. There may have been various hiccups along the way, but ultimately you have made certain that an appropriately qualified leader is in place. While I imagine Melanthina will still need further support at some points, the Tenebach clan will hardly benefit from you sitting around languishing. Or even just cultivating. Besides, this isn’t really striking out on your own so much as it is securing the remaining part of the region. Everywhere else, we have allies. But here, you have seen opportunity. And I can’t imagine you would ever stop looking out for the alliance.”
“Of course not!” John was offended at the very idea. “Many of those involved are friends and family. And our other allies deserved my support just as much.”
Crystin nodded slowly. “And so… I think you should pursue whatever makes sense to you. I have trusted your judgment with clan affairs, and I will do so here.”
John pondered for a few moments. “I guess everything is easier when it just involves combat. I don’t have to think about it so much, and I can just act.”
“You just need to find those you can trust. You’ve already started upon that path.”
“I also don’t want to keep you away from the clan for too long.”
“If there is sufficient trouble to be a cause for concern, we will be able to react. It is easy travel between Lunson and the Tenebach clan.”
John had to admit that was true. And there was never a question of her leaving him behind to go help- it was obvious that they would both participate.
He was glad to be able to consult his cousin on the issues that bothered him… but John still missed Matayal more. Even if she hadn’t always been physically present, just knowing that she was waiting for him somewhere was a comfort. Without her, everything was more difficult. But at least he was finally doing something again.
In order of priority, John supposed that establishing a proper business as a merchant- either through Viriato or someone else John found- was the first on the list. Next would be his individual disciples or those he wanted to take as disciples, which ultimately fed into the formation of a cultivation sect.
And so, he found himself out in the plains east of Lunson. What was he looking for? Some valuable herbs? A source of spiritual energy? Was he perhaps planning to cut down some bandits to make one of Viriato’s trips easier?
No. None of that. Instead, he’d heard rumors of a large herd of bison. Or at least some close equivalent. He wasn’t aware of the fine details of what made species precisely, but they shared similar traits. Horned and beefy. The latter was both in the matters of size, and the fact that people ate them. There were closer equivalents to cows available in the world, but Astrein didn’t have a thriving ranching community. And if he could snag just a few of these bison, his curiosity would be sated.
The work had already been done. Crystin hid with him as the herd wandered along at a moderate pace, grazing on the long grasses. They stayed well out of the way, because at the very least John would be at some risk if the whole herd was spooked and tried to trample him. These beasts had a bit of spiritual energy within them, but mostly it would be the hundreds upon hundreds crashing into him or stomping over him. He could potentially dance over the top of them, leaping from back to back, but ultimately the smart move was to stay out of the way. He wasn’t here for training.
Instead, they watched as the creatures moved along a bit at a time, getting ever close to the traps he had set up. From what John recalled, bison tended to be hunted either by coordinated groups or by chasing after them on horses- once those were brought to the americas. Cultivation might allow John and Crystin to employ certain tactics with fewer people, but ultimately he wasn’t hunting for a large group of people. He only wanted to kill a few.
And thus, he had dug out a few simple pit traps. No, less than that even. They weren’t even large enough for the bison to fully fall into. They were closer to potholes, covered over with a tenuous layer of dirt. John watched as the herd vaguely wandered closer to the area he prepared, and then the first one fell.
That spooked the others, which ultimately caused more to run into the same area. Three bison ultimately fell, their legs twisted, while the herd ran away until they thought themselves clear of whatever danger existed.
John quickly went to finish off the three injured ones- no point in letting them suffer. The meat would doubtless be a little gamey but… well, he would have hundreds of kilograms of it. As long as he kept it preserved, he could find the best way to make it tasty. Specifically, the best ratios to make it suitable as ground meat for burger patties.
Everything else might have been higher priority, but in a way that also meant it was higher risk. And right now, what John wanted was to see if he could start with something easy. Sure, all of the meat he’d ordered before had been delivered in precise quantities, but since coming to this world he was at least moderately familiar with butchering. From the perspective of gathering valuable materials from slain beasts, if nothing else. The process didn’t disgust him too much, and he didn’t need as many specialized tools with the help of spiritual energy.
Ultimately, some conjured ice went into storage bags with everything. Then it would be separated into different sorts of usable parts so that it wouldn’t be wasted. He just had to find a baker making buns of a size close enough to what he wanted… or willing to do some special orders. Perhaps he should have done that first, but in the worst case he could shape things differently and treat it like a normal sandwich. And if he failed to do even that, he’d at least make a few coins from hides and meat so that he stopped the steady drain on his finances.