The guardian Kasimir had with him did not seem particularly enthusiastic about Kasimir accepting a duel on the spur of the moment, but he also didn’t seem worried. Why should he be? Kasimir had two third tier spiritual totems. John knew one was referred to as Avalanche, a heavily momentum based earth elemental totem. It was hard for people to keep their totems unknown forever, at least the general idea behind them… and sometimes they liked to brag about them. Kasimir Roldan’s second totem wasn’t much to brag about though. It was just another third tier earth totem.
John wasn’t sure if he could disparage someone for only having third tier totems when he had a first and a second- or two second tier, if he counted it after the advancement his first one had undergone. Even so, he’d intentionally made that choice. There was likely nothing special about Kasimir’s second totem. It was just that their tier would theoretically make him about fifty percent stronger- if one presumed that adding together the total tiers of totems was the proper method. It was certainly common, but John wasn’t sure if it was actually correct. Though higher tier totems certainly had a measurable impact on the amount of energy someone could hold.
The dueling arena had some defensive formations set up that would lessen injuries… but duelists still had to sign a waiver indicating that they knew they could be seriously injured regardless. It was less likely if cultivations were closely matched, but if one could overpower another by a significant margin, the arena’s defenses wouldn’t be very helpful. Unlike spars, they would be using real weapons… it was just usually not lethal. Beyond that, the arena was in charge of any betting or the like. John and Kasimir were only fighting ‘for honor’, with no monetary gain or loss on the line, so the arena didn’t need to collect the potential winnings from them first. John would have liked to bet some money, but bringing it up would be a bit too confident for how he was trying to appear.
The arena itself was an open, flat area. There was plenty of room to maneuver, and there were a variety of possible starting distances. However, both John and Kasimir were primarily melee focused in their cultivation, so it was easy to agree they would start close, a few steps outside of sword range.
“Kasimir Roldan versus Fortkran Tenebach!” the referee declared to the mostly empty audience- only a few people had actually followed to watch. “Begin!”
Kasimir had a large, two handed sword. That didn’t mean his movements would necessarily be less agile for the size of his weapon. Even a sword of that size was only a couple kilograms at most. It was quite thin… and this particular sword would be even lighter, since the blade was made of obsidian. An obsidian blade worked well with earth, and could be made extremely sharp. Of course, any cultivator’s weapon was extremely dangerous- whether or not it suited them mattered the most.
John had his standard sword at his side, and in his hands was… nothing. As the match started, darkness wreathed his fingers. He charged towards Kasimir, deflecting the sword with one hand while the other clawed at his gut. It would have been nice if it were so easy to win, but even though he got inside Kasimir’s guard the man was still able to defend himself. It wouldn’t be so easy to claw through his armor, especially with earth elemental spiritual energy supporting it.
Even so, John kept him on the back foot, stepping forward as quickly as Kasimir could back away to stay inside his optimal reach. A sword was not made for cutting someone nearly pressed up against the wielder, though it wasn’t useless. John fought with his bare hands, so the fact that he had to deflect a weapon skillfully enough to not have his energy broken through evened things out.
Despite John doing his best to pressure his opponent, Kasimir had time to taunt. “Is that it?” Kasimir laughed, drawing his sword inward toward John’s shoulder, forcing him to dance around him, “I’d heard your cultivation ran into setbacks. It seems you couldn’t even handle your first totem until you reached Foundation Phase.”
John slashed out angrily at Kasimir. He didn’t even have to fake all of it, though he was more angry at the previous him. As for the third level Claws of Darkness he was imitating now, he absolutely intended to make Kasimir recall that information. It was the same reason he was only displaying his darkness element, which was going to run out before Kasimir’s.
He kept pressing close, his energy clashing directly against Kasimir as he harassed him with a rain of blows, stepping around him and staying close so he couldn’t perform a proper counterattack. Both of their steps were augmented by their energy as they moved… and then John faltered, his claws fading.
From the position he was in, Kasimir only had to take a single step back sweeping down with his sword. Without energy, John could only hope he could dodge out of the way. But of course, that would only be if he were out. Instead, he was still at half power… more than that, since he’d been drawing in bits he pulled off of Kasimir. His body sprang forward, shoulder checking Kasimir. It was like running into brick wall, but what did he have earth elemental spiritual energy for if not bowling over walls? The crossguard came down on his shoulder, but he sent Kasimir staggering back.
He stepped close again, a solid uppercut striking into the man’s jaw. He had a few traces of darkness left to help form a ‘Gravity Blade’, though without any blade at all. It merely imparted extra momentum to his fist, something earth was already excellent at. To his own credit, Kasimir didn’t end up with a broken neck or jaw, merely staggering backwards. However, he hadn’t been at all prepared, and when he stopped his momentum by leaning forward John was already grabbing his wrist and upper arm, flipping him over onto the ground behind him. Perhaps he should have practiced on a bag of steel ingots, but at least the technique was solid enough that the man’s weight didn’t stop him. Unbreakable Boulder’s stance let him keep his own feet, though it wasn’t exactly the way it was intended to be used.
John had already considered what he would do. He didn’t like the thought of killing someone, but Kasimir had absolutely intended his death in the Crystal Caverns. The sword was in his hand in a moment, his body weight and his earth energy driving it down into Kasimir, piercing through armor and slicing muscle and bone. However, his intent to kill didn’t become a reality.
“I surrender!” Kasimir had twisted and diverted the attack with his own energy so that the sword only went into his shoulder- but it pierced straight through into the ground below. One arm would be useless, and he was already in a disadvantageous position.
John grabbed the hilt of his sword. He couldn’t continue attacking his opponent after a surrender, or he would face serious consequences… but he didn’t have to be gentle when he pulled his sword out, either. “This is what happens when you don’t find me tired after another duel and you have no lackies with you.” John turned and walked away, keeping his defensive energy in place just in case. Kasimir might suffer heavy consequences if he attacked outside of the duel, but that wouldn’t help John if he was injured.
He walked towards where Aydan was waiting- he had no reason to change guardians, since they got along well enough- and walked out of the arena. Once they were further away, Aydan surrounded them with a bit of energy to block prying ears. “That went well.”
“Right.” John nodded. “But I can’t say it was as easy as it looked.” He breathed out heavily. “If it was a fair fight, I couldn’t overcome the distance in totems.”
“Fights should never be fair,” Aydan said, “Not real ones, at least. Always take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses and assumptions.”
“Yeah… I get it…” John shook his head, “I thought my idea for cultivation would just make me more powerful, but two elements out of six is a pretty pathetic ‘cycle’, isn’t it? It’s not that my totems don’t support each other, but they’re still low tier. For now.”
“You are certainly more ambitious now,” Aydan said. He was now one of the few members of the Tenebach Clan who had been let in on what actually happened. “Or at least, your ambitions lie in more practical places rather than doing whatever you want.”
“It’s not like I don’t like the idea of doing what I want… but I can’t, really, if I’m not strong.” John knew he wouldn’t have made the same decisions as Fortkran regardless, but some things he understood. The desire for pleasures and luxuries still existed, he just had experience without even some of the more basic things Fortkran had access to. Like a big bed and cooks willing to make him whatever he wanted. And money. Having money was nice. He was even expected to spend some of it on luxuries, just to assuage any suspicions. He wasn’t sure if some of the plays he watched were really better performed than a good movie, but with cultivation involved some ‘practical effects’ were quite entertaining live. Some things were quite flashy, and being able to feel the heat of fire in front of him really changed things… even if he also knew that the fire was rather weak.