(Patreon) Truthful Transmigration 102

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Though John had the plan to fling a larger quantity of lava from one of the nearby pools, Renato wasn’t going to make that easy for him. He was sticking close to John, to the point John would have to be willing to take a hit to make an attempt at his own attack. He could bet everything on somehow dodging Renato’s blow, but if he was actually struck that would pretty much put him down. Even his best defenses were earth element which Renato could certainly break through- and he only had a portion of his energy for that. 

If anyone said earth element cultivators were slow, John would point them to exhibit R. It made perfect sense, of course. Nobody expected a water cultivator to move slowly in the water, why would an earth cultivator move slowly with their feet firmly planted on the ground? John saw the way the ground was almost springy beneath Renato’s feet, pushing him where he wanted to go without compromising his stability at any point.

He considered changing tactics. Having his next move be obvious was an issue for John, since straightforward combat wasn’t his specialty. On the other hand, being predictable himself would also allow him to try to counter any moves used against him. And since he couldn’t think of a better way to overcome Renato’s defense, he didn’t have many options.

He went over several options and picked out the best one. In a real battle he might have made different decisions, because some options could end with him injured- but the surety that Renato wouldn’t follow up on that to kill him was a safety net. As long as he didn’t do anything stupid he could try something and see how it worked. If he lost, all it meant was a friend going further in the tournament while he stopped.

Once more he gathered earth and darkness together, the core of his strength and durability intertwining for a powerful purpose. Making use of different elements for different purposes all at the same time was rather difficult, but the more he did it the better he got. He was going to use every element he had all at once. Into his left hand slipped a throwing dagger, which he charged with another element as he flicked his wrist.

Instead of the power of air propelling the dagger forward with great speed, every bit of fire elemental spiritual energy John had was empowering that dagger. It was just enough for one completely normal attack, but it provided the needed effect. Renato hesitated for just a second.

During that moment John leapt to the side, air element propelling him through the air and guiding him to land exactly where he intended on the far side of one of the small pools of lava, just a couple meters across. His dagger impacted Renato’s side, bouncing off his stone defenses with no effect except perhaps to make him slightly hotter- fire might be a conquering element for earth, but only when the magnitudes were vaguely similar. The bit of heat wasn’t necessarily irrelevant, but it didn’t immediately show results either.

Renato spun to face John, swinging his hammer forward and down as John swept his sword upwards, both striking for the lava between them. As John had been in the air for a moment, Renato’s attack landed first, creating a much more effective version of something John had tried to do before. The force of his blow pressed down on the lava in a wide area, pushing it down- which meant it had to rise somewhere. That somewhere wasn’t random, but rather Renato created a shockwave that directed a wave of lava over John.

That was where the final element came into play, as John defended himself with his water element. He had significantly more of that stored up compared to fire, both because it was allied with two of his totems and because of Matayal’s influence on his cultivation. Enough to resist a ‘normal’ hit, though of course a wave of lava was certainly not in that category.

His sword sliced forward into the wave of lava, splitting it apart- but also pulling along with it the core of the wave, sending it back towards Renato. A globule the size of John’s torso arced towards the man, striking him in the chest. Instantly Renato was pushing it away with his energy, shedding his defensive layer while still trying to keep himself insulated from the great heat. Renato managed it, but then he felt a sword press into his sternum before he could return his defenses to full capacity.

“Ah… you got me,” Renato said. “I surrender.”

If a picture could be taken of the two combatants- not that John knew of any way to do so in this world- it might have looked like Renato was in a better state than John. After all, one had scorched sides and was drenched, while the other mostly had frazzled hair. But on the battlefield they had been fighting on, the fact that Renato wasn’t sweating was not a good sign. Because he had been sweating the whole fight. 

John made sure Renato had some water available to chug down so he wouldn’t pass out in their little arena or on the way out. He would have suggested a sports drink, but that wasn’t an option. 

—–

John was quite happy with his tournament results so far. He’d defeated some tough enemies and learned quite a bit. He was even highly enough ranked to receive some rewards for his position, though it would mostly just make up for the cost of entry unless he won another round or two. He could just go home, content in what he’d done. He didn’t want to quit the tournament, but he had to seriously consider it.

Currently, he was talking it over with Matayal. “Logically, given my next opponent, it is safer to withdraw.”

“Then why not do it?” Matayal asked. It was an honest question, meant to probe out what John really wanted. 

“I’m not quite sure,” John said. “But this guy. Leutwin Odalricsen of the Society of Midnight. As one of their elders, he’s not going to be merciful. And I can’t possibly beat him, with him having stepped into the Consolidated Soul Phase. Those five ranks and the difference in Phase, plus years of experience aren’t something I can overcome even if he doesn’t take me seriously. And it’s far too late to put up a facade of incompetence.”

Matayal just let him talk, as he tried to explain what he wanted.

“As the young master of the Tenebach clan, it’s irresponsible to go into such a fight. Withdrawing now loses us just the tiniest bit of prestige. If it was another of their disciples it would be one thing, but an elder?” John shook his head. “It’s also irresponsible as a husband and… father… to risk my life for something that doesn’t matter.” He was just waiting for Matayal to tell him not to go. She just had to suggest it, and he would agree.

Instead, she just looked at him with a curious smile. “But…?”

“But I feel like I need to fight him, for the sake of my cultivation. Which is insane, because I just got plenty of combat experience. There’s no logical reason to even show up at this match.” John held his head in his hands.

“Do you want to do it?” Matayal asked.

John sighed. “I suppose I do?” he shook his head. “But maybe I just uncovered some extra prideful arrogance that I had buried and it’s messing with my head. I could just die there. It’s like I have to choose between family responsibility and my own selfish and twisted desire to show off or something.”

“It seems the answer is pretty simple then,” Matayal commented.

“Yeah, I should…”

“You just have to fight and get out safely, while taking away whatever cultivation insights you can snag along with you.”

“I-” John didn’t know how to respond to that. “Really?”

“If you want to apply logic to it, I could point out that if you have some success in that endeavor you stand to gain greatly in cultivation. The Tenebach and Brandle clans have many Soul Expansion Phase cultivators, but if you do this successfully you would certainly reach Consolidated Soul Phase, and I imagine you would have great momentum to carry you beyond.”

John nodded. He could have ended things there, but that wasn’t enough. “And even if I died, the alliance between the clans would remain. With triplets along the way, the next generation is secure enough. But you haven’t yet said how you feel about this.”

“Even with the resources of a clan, I don’t want our children growing up without a father. It would be bad for their development, and mine. If you die or get crippled, I…” Matayal’s voice choked up. “… I would suffer as well, unrelated to our cultivation bonds. But-” Matayal’s speech regained strength, “I also don’t want to see my husband hit a roadblock and miss a bright future. To see you stagnate. I… have confidence that you would overcome it. But what is most important is whether you are confident that you would.”

“In the end, it comes down to my decision then.”

“It is your decision… and your actions that will decide which becomes the right choice in the future.”

—–

Fighting for pride was stupid. Fighting for a nebulous increase in power when he already had enough to comfortably take his father’s place was simply unnecessary. Yet John felt himself walking towards the arena anyway. It was strange, but it didn’t feel wrong. 

There was something he’d seen in his own family life back on Earth that made the choice for him. He wasn’t sure if it was actually comparable, but it felt like it which was the most important thing. It was the thought of family not living up to their full potential. It was what he had thought of Kyle, before John learned his cousin was actually properly trying to find work instead of just slacking off. Kyle’s mother, John’s aunt, had been on track to a good career when she just… quit. 

She wasn’t the only one in the family who ended up with problems of drinking and depression- and John didn’t know which order those came in related to her quitting- but she went from a symbol of pride to someone who needed to be looked after. John knew that leaving a stressful corporate job was the best thing some people ever did, but he felt like this was a challenge he had to rise to. 

Maybe it was stupid, but he wanted to be the best he could be for himself and for others. Something in his gut was telling him to do this. Guts could be truly, extremely wrong sometimes- but he wanted to do this.

He wasn’t going to be crazy and stubbornly continue fighting or try to win. Even if he saw the perfect opening, John would bet that it would be bait to entrap him. But if he could come out ahead in a single exchange, or show up to the fight and not lose horribly, he thought that would satisfy the urge inside himself. 

And maybe it knew something he didn’t. Despite all of the effort put into cultivation, some parts of it were still mysterious. Sometimes cultivators got hunches about things, feelings that couldn’t be explained by any logic or consciously registered experiences. Yet they often proved to be correct, or at least useful in some way. More often than not, though it wasn’t as if there was a hard study on that. Even if people did proper scientific studies in this world, that was probably not one that would be possible.

John gripped his sword tightly as he approached the arena. He wasn’t going into things completely blind. He had some information on his opponent. Aydan specifically had been assigned to watch his match- even if John didn’t know he was going to fight the man, learning about an enemy of the Tenebach clan was useful research. John certainly wouldn’t know the limits of his opponent, but he had some knowledge about his fighting style and the abilities he had displayed so far. Nothing blatantly stood out, just normal darkness cultivator things like darting around swiftly in a cloud of darkness, but there were a few insights Aydan had that might help.

And the arena was to John’s advantage, he thought. Leutwin was like the vast majority of the Society of Midnight a pure darkness cultivator. There was nothing wrong with specialization, but John could take advantage of a variety of circumstances. With some sort of formation creating dark storm clouds over the arena, the water and air elements flooding the area were something he could use to his advantage. He just had to do it quickly, and withdraw at the proper time.

He just hoped he would really learn something, and wasn’t just risking his life for the sake of chemicals flooding his brain telling him he needed to. But then again, that was pretty much consciousness in a nutshell- processes nobody fully understood making people be people.

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