There had been no conscious intent to choose sides between the factions in the Milanovic clan, but even so it happened. In a way, he’d been forced into it, but John would have made the same decision regardless. He certainly didn’t have deep knowledge of the inner workings of the clan, but a simple decider had been Erik. He’d chosen to try to suppress John because of his proximity to Tena without considering the standing of the Tenebach clan. If nothing else, it was a reckless choice he had been allowed to make. Of course, it was just posturing. Nothing worth a declaration of war or even a solid commitment to one side- but it shoved John pretty firmly into a camp.
If it was just political maneuvering, John was glad to lend his hand to those he knew- but there was no level of relation between them that would require him to step in if the conflict escalated. His personal power wasn’t enough to actually influence things solidly to one side or the other, but he could speak for the Tenebach clan if it became necessary. He hoped it wouldn’t.
The Milanovic clan’s land was as he would expect for anywhere in the Green Sands, but even more. It was, after all, on the slopes of Zolvolj. The concentration of fire elemental spiritual energy was higher in the area, and that meant more heat. John was quite pleased to have broken through to the second level of the Foundation Phase, because he needed the extra power to overcome the heat. Native inhabitants of the area clearly survived without issue, but he was most certainly not a native to the area. As he possessed the earth element, he was even weaker to the effects, even though it only made up about half of his energy. If he tried to go completely without energy protecting him from the heat… he would probably just die. That wasn’t an exaggeration. While they didn’t have the same methods of sensing heat, the Green Sands had to be consistently above 50 degrees Celsius during the day, inside or outside. Sometimes it was even hotter inside. There wasn’t a single servant of the Milanovic clan who wasn’t a cultivator of some sort, usually fire.
Earth cultivators were more common closer to the Stone Conglomerate, but their numbers dwindled further into the Green Sands. Even so, they were the second most prominent element. Air was rare but not unseen. Water and darkness… John was pretty sure he represented almost half of the population of darkness element cultivators in the Green Sands. Then again, another could have been passing through. Light and darkness cultivators were more rare to begin with, but there were a few light cultivators around.
John took careful interest in how the earth element servants handled the heat. He had come into his understandings entirely from a combat-focused methodology. He needed to be able to dissipate a large amount of heat all at once. However, there were many servants merely in the early Spiritual Collection Phase who weren’t sweating all over the place. Some of that might be getting used to the heat, but that could only go so far.
They did sweat though. Even some of the young fire element cultivators seemed to find things too hot. Some of their success was simply choosing the right place to be. Paths through the clan’s buildings that weren’t so hot- and that included underground tunnels. However, as they had to serve the cultivating clan members they couldn’t stay underground where it was relatively cool.
Relative was important. Because while it only took a few meters of sand to insulate from the heat above in other parts of the desert, the clan was on top of a volcano. An active volcano. Beneath the surface might be cooler, but too deep and it was warm or hot again. This was one anomaly caused by fire elemental spiritual energy and not just normal thermal movement. The fire element came from both above and below the ground.
That said, the ground was still cooler below the surface, and would likely remain that way unless it was extremely deep, close to lava chambers. That was known to happen, but not on accident.
In the end, John could tell that the servants with earth elemental energy struggled… but not as much as he had despite his higher cultivation. They made the smart decision to not face the heat directly, and along with their adaptation to the heat they used most of their cultivation resisting the temperature. There were still a few tricks he picked up. None of the others seemed to reach into the ground to dissipate energy, not when he was watching at least. However, several modified the attributes of their earth energy. Instead of putting up a stoic barrier, they were like shiny ceramic. In essence, they found a way to reflect heat, especially that from the sun. It seemed like it could be quite easily overwhelmed, but for non-combat purposes John found it to be comfortable enough with the amount of energy he could bring to bear, and decently efficient.
When he was invited to a dinner party, John realized he hadn’t found himself invited to many gatherings outside of the Tenebach clan. Fortkran wasn’t a very pleasant sort, nor was he proactive in seeking out social engagements. The Milanovic clan was far enough that travel wasn’t exactly convenient. Alina attending Tenebach events regularly was somewhat of an anomaly for that reason, though she of course had other activities in the Stone Conglomerate.
The dinner party was in the evening, when it was cooler. That was of course for the sake of the guests. Most of them cultivated the fire element, but John and Aydan were included among others. Besides, the glaring midday sun was disruptive in other ways.
John found himself seated among the younger generation next to Tena, an implicit declaration that he was with her faction. There were many questions about the Stone Conglomerate, because even though it was possible for cultivators to travel far and wide not all of them did. Besides, such questions made for polite conversation.
“Alina has been in the area quite frequently as of late,” Tena explained to some of the others. “Her presence brought our clan into the mind of young master Fortkran here. Perhaps he might not have acted so quickly to assist against the bandits, if he had not recognized the signs of the Milanovic clan.” Tena’s green hair was rather obvious, though some of the others who were part of the clan had more subdued colors. John considered her words. He really would have hesitated longer if he hadn’t recognized the group, even though they were clearly under attack by bandits. After all, there was little to gain from it. He didn’t like the thought that saving people who were just defending themselves could just be taken in terms of gains and losses, but that was how the world was. Maybe Earth too, but people were less willing to admit it.
The topic eventually moved on to cultivation. It was, after all, the thing that everyone cared about most. Tips and tricks were exchanged, thought mostly surface level. People wanted to keep whatever advantages they had, and if they were going to share deeper details it would mostly be with steadfast allies… instead of temporal ones. With the change of topic, various avenues of discussion opened up… including some less polite questions.
“So tell me, Fortkran,” a young man with the trademark green hair of the Milanovic spoke, “Is it true that cultivating two elements makes someone weaker?”
John looked over the teen. He saw no malicious intent, merely curiosity… and an oblivious ignorance of the daggers Tena was staring at him. “The issue there is whether the cultivator’s totems synergize with both elements or not. If each totem is only supporting half of your cultivation, it’s quite a bit less efficient.”
One of the young men closer to the same age decided to redirect the conversation before it could go further. “I suppose you could talk to Erik, to ask if he felt weak. But Tena, are you and Fortkran planning to participate in the Ascent?”
John had heard of the Ascent, but only in passing. Tena was quite helpful in answering the question. “I was uncertain if he would be interested. Climbing up a volcano is of more use to fire element cultivators than others. It can be quite beneficial for us, but it is less practical for others. The rewards aren’t of much interest, either. But it is an interesting training opportunity for all. Are you planning to stay another week, at least?”
John nodded. He didn’t have a strict time schedule, and for a special event he was quite interested. As long as he wouldn’t embarrass himself. “I would be quite happy to participate, if the event is open to outsiders. I would certainly prefer that to idle cultivation.” In actuality, it sounded awful. Maybe good training, but it was already hot enough. Climbing closer to some of the source heat was an atrocious thought. But… it wouldn’t be good training if it was easy, would it?