Notes filled a table in front of Anton. At the moment he was working on transitioning them into a format useful for cultivators, or potential cultivators. These were just the segments covering smithing and weaving, but they were filled with far too many unnecessary details. Grant and Derya had advised him on the salient points for people sharing their professions. Some people might do better with different instruction, but the majority of those who understood their craft would do well with one set of guidance. And Anton didn’t want to have a hulking tome that weighed as much as a person. Short pages that allowed people to integrate their work and cultivation together would be sufficient along with the general guidance that would be for all Body Tempering cultivators.
Anton was quite pleased that Vincent was making use of the current iteration of his work. Vincent still didn’t spend much time with any individual, but he was good at finding those with cultivation potential. With some extra pages of guidance along with the early portion of the Ninety-Nine Stars, more people with good potential would be able to actually make forward strides in cultivation.
Vincent’s recruiting efforts were more important now than ever before. Only by bolstering the younger generation’s numbers could they guarantee that some of them would grow to a high enough cultivation level to replace those lost in the battle at Black Soul Valley. Of course, the chances of a single generation producing five cultivators with the potential to become Grand Elders was fairly low. Even if those around Anton all managed that feat, merely replacing their numbers would be insufficient. If the Order couldn’t grow in strength, it would fall behind other cultivation sects- and there was the looming threat of trouble from ascended cultivators. With the details on when and how that could happen so unclear it wasn’t possible to plan for it in particular, but having more strong individuals would always be better.
Anton felt like his efforts weren’t enough. He was fairly certain he could help guide people through Body Tempering and early Spirit Building, but beyond that all of his experience was inadequate. He had recently entered late Spirit Building himself, with the year leading up to the tournament having flown by. Perhaps all his guidance might break down at some point in the future and lead people off the best path to the peak of Ninety-Nine Stars… or a hundred stars, though Anton wasn’t sure if ascension was actually desirable or not.
Yet for all his misgivings, Anton couldn’t do anything else but try. None of the elders had found any major flaws in his insights, and they had approved of his efforts. It was simply that nobody had taken the time to go into such detail about cultivating the Ninety-Nine Stars before, instead counting on the talent of cultivators and guidance received from elders as well as the description of the core cultivation technique.
Anton planned to look into other crafts and professions, empowering different people to be better. Cultivation could simply allow people to have more ability to perform everyday tasks, more stamina, more efficiency. Most people wouldn’t cultivate because they thought they couldn’t, or they didn’t have the time- but if the time spent cultivating was the same as the time spent practicing a trade, who could say they had no time? It would simply take more effort at first, somewhat lowering people’s results. Yet Anton knew people would see that they could achieve more with a small amount of investment in cultivation.
The delegation from the Order heading to the tournament in Facraona was headed by Grand Elders Matousek and Kseniya. It was a reminder of the strength of both ‘old’ and ‘new’ cultivators, though Kseniya certainly wasn’t new except to a position as a Grand Elder. She was still making advances in her cultivation, though past sixty stars it could take multiple years to make a single advancement. There was a reason Life Transformation experts were never young.
Though he had no personal stake in the outcome of the tournament and couldn’t participate, Anton was of course going to be cheering on his friends and family. He also wanted to see what sort of place Facraona was, since simply hearing about it wasn’t the same. It was easy to assume they didn’t care about the common folk living in their borders who were attacked en masse, only acting after it became a big public uproar… but the Order had failed to protect against similar things not long before. While Facraona could have learned from the mistakes in Graotan, they had likely not expected such aggressive tactics. Though their armed response had not made it to the battle in time, they had devoted sufficient effort to make their intent clear. After the battle at Black Soul Valley they had continued to look into those who had been more directly involved in the mass abductions, not content to let those who did the dirty work get away.
Anton might have liked to see eastern Ofrurg, but the Order was taking a more circuitous route to Facraona. While the intrusion of the Order might have been fully justified, Ofrurg was indignant that so many powerful cultivators from Graotan had entered the country without their knowledge. They had no political capital to actually sanction Graotan or the Order given previous events, but it was better to avoid traveling through Ofrurg at the moment. Anton wondered if there would ever be a time when it wasn’t rife with trouble. He hoped so, but the last handful of years were not that time.
The members of the Order swung much further to the south than they needed to if they were simply avoiding Ofrurg. It was partly for safety, since there was no guarantee someone wouldn’t get a crazy idea and sanctions afterwards wouldn’t bring people back to life. However, it was also a good time to interact more with sects in Floelor, the country they were travelling through. There were intentions to establish or strengthen relationships with the various sects in the area, and one of the ways that was most common was to have disciples ‘exchange pointers’. In short, they would duel each other. When a proper formation was in place and both parties were agreeable, it was good for demonstrating the power of both sides. That could be used either as a deterrent against causing trouble with the Order or encouragement to work together, since everyone would prefer to have strong allies.
The Wandering Bush Sect may not have had a glorious name, but they derived their name from a stubborn, troublesome plant. Their cultivation style focused on mobility and tenacity, forcing others to have a tough time trying to take them down. There was another name for them, though not one used by anyone who intended to be friendly. The Tumbleweed Sect. For obvious reasons, nobody wanted to be called a weed.
Maiara Blackwood felt that the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars had been treating them with a proper amount of respect, but she was a little bit miffed at seeing her opponent. Was she facing off against a little girl? Well, she supposed she was more properly a young woman in her early teens. But she couldn’t have been cultivating for long. While it was somewhat disappointing to be matched with her, at least Maiara could pick up a win for her sect.
She held her buckler and shortsword at the ready. Even though she wasn’t making use of oversized pieces of equipment, as a cultivator of the Wandering Bush Sect she shouldn’t be underestimated. A buckler was no worse than any other sort of shield. It was better, in some ways, since it required a smaller amount of material and thus could be made of more expensive components.
The battle quickly began. It was of no concern that her opponent was an archer. She wouldn’t let arrows past her guard. She swiftly moved forward, blocking the first shot from the young woman directly. Maiara had to admit there was a decent amount of power behind the arrows composed solely out of energy. Taking them head on would be inefficient, and it would be better to angle her buckler for future shots. Maiara had to admit she’d underestimated her opponent because of her looks, but of course their cultivations weren’t too dissimilar. On the boundary between early and mid Spirit Building, in fact.
Maiara quickly closed the distance between herself and her opponent. That was key when fighting someone with greater range. The speed with which her opponent, Alva, managed to condense and fire energy arrows was quite impressive. She shot three before Maiara was even halfway to her. Then she began to move as well, dodging and weaving around the terrain of the battlefield, rocky crags and uneven sandy soil. Everything she did was to prevent Maiara from closing properly, but Maiara was extremely comfortable with the local arena. She wasn’t slowed down much. Even when she was forced to dodge an attack instead of just blocking, she moved forward, flipping and twisting in small hops.
As she got close she could see her opponent getting desperate, firing arrows faster than she could fully power. Maiara’s left arm darted and blocked one directly, not even needing to use energy to soften the blow. In the next motion she cartwheeled closer while avoiding two more arrows shot together. She was only a few steps away.
She almost missed the arrows coming in from behind her, circling back around. But the tenacity of the Wandering Bush Sect wasn’t for nothing. She solidified the energy behind her and negated the attacks while still managing to close the distance to her opponent. Maiara thrust out with her sword at her nearly defenseless opponent, but Alva parried the blow with her bow. Most archers were concerned about damage to their weapon and would avoid colliding weapons at all cost, but it seemed this young woman wasn’t afraid.
But one attack wouldn’t be the end of things. Maiara began a series of thrusts and slashes, keeping Alva on the back foot. There was something awkward about her movements, like she wasn’t quite used to avoiding attacks- but then again, how much experience could she have at her age? Being in Spirit Building was already somewhat ridiculous at such a young age. Most people weren’t even beginning cultivation. There were often side effects of cultivating too quickly and too young, but Maiara didn’t detect any from the young woman in front of her. Which meant she might have actually held herself back slightly.
She really, really couldn’t afford to lose to someone half her age. Fortunately, even as the young woman managed to attack even while under significant pressure from Maiara’s rain of blows, she couldn’t easily break through Maiara’s own defenses. Wandering Bush Sect cultivators were tough, and able to focus their energy on just the important points when defending. But this young woman was also clearly trained in predicting her movements, so she wasn’t able to find the usual openings. Even when she got a strike in on Alva, she barely did any better than breaking skin. She just needed a little more. One solid strike and she could win the spar. It didn’t have to be a killing blow, and in fact it was rather discouraged in most cases- even if the formation would prevent serious damage. But she needed something decisive.
There was something odd about Alva’s stance as they continued to fight. She’d begun with her back up straight, tall and proud like any archer. But as she began moving more and more, she crouched down low, firing her bow from its side and keeping her profile small. She constantly moved her head back and forth as if peeking from behind something, but there was nothing in the way. And even though her defensive movements weren’t quite as refined as they could be, Maiara couldn’t find sufficient flaws to bring her down. Their energy levels were well matched as they continued to whittle away at each other, one quick arrow and thrust of a shortsword at a time.
When a draw was eventually called, Maiara had to admit that she’d underestimated her opponent. Even young and clearly not as experienced with movement techniques as other cultivators of her cultivation level might be, her archery was excellent and kept Maiara from attacking as she pleased, even after she closed into melee. Her shots were tricky, and Maiara couldn’t help but think how much trouble she would be if she moved a bit faster, or had a line of other cultivators in front of her. Though in the tournament some people would likely try to pull off dirty techniques like specifically targeting her bow, so it was hard to say which of them would be more successful there. “Good duel,” Maiara held out her hand. “We were well matched.”
Alva nodded and extended her hand as well. “You should see me fight with Fuzz.”
“My wolf.” Alva seemed to look at someone in the stand. “My wolf companion. He’s not really owned by anyone. Probably.”
That explained some of her strange movement style, maybe. Though she wondered why Alva seemed unsure about her ownership of the wolf.