Battle came at a moment’s notice, and left the same way. Now people were dead, and people were more upset about the indignity of being attacked than the loss of life. John crossed his arms and thought for a moment. He was disappointed that he fell into the same camp. None of those who died he actually knew, and he didn’t have to deal with them. That was the mindset that Fortkran had, and John wasn’t sure if he should try to go against it since he was now living in this world.
But first, there was something he could fully appreciate happening in front of him. Gastone was carried off for the sake of swiftness, but more than that he had been standing in shock after John’s attack. John watched as he felt his spiritual energy eat Gastone’s and use it to petrify him. Sadly the process was not swift nor extremely efficient. Only the outer part of his shoulder was petrified before one of the elders noticed and tore apart the remaining energy. John estimated only the skin plus maybe a millimeter or two had been properly petrified. The arm would likely be unusable, but it was a totally recoverable injury. If the Boyce clan wanted to spend the money on it, anyway.
“That is quite an interesting method of attack,” Renato said. “How does it work?”
“It’s the same as gorgon cobras, more or less.” John was aware that techniques weren’t easily shared in this world, but he wasn’t really giving away anything critical, and Renato was a friend. “It hardens the body on a miniscule scale. I learned it from fighting them.” John wanted to say ‘microscopic’ or ‘cells’, but he didn’t quite have the right words for that. Though people did have some understanding of things on that level, he didn’t know the proper words.
“Fascinating,” Renato said. “You learned it from gorgon cobras?” His face didn’t show much emotion or change, but John thought he detected proper curiosity. Though it could just have been because he was looking for it.
“Watching how their venom petrified things, yes.” That gave Renato more information, but John had only spent a few weeks to learn it. It wasn’t something terribly profound. It wasn’t currently that effective of a technique. If he got close enough to someone’s heart to petrify it, he should have just sliced it. With Gastone, its effects took too long to come to fruition, and it functioned so well mainly because of confusion. With more practice, however, and especially if he combined it with Spiritual Energy Absorption and Clinging Affliction, it could dig into people and petrify them with the use of their own energy. At the current moment it would be most effective on people like Gastone who used the earth elemental spiritual energy it needed, though if they comprehended it they were also most able to stop it.
“I’d like to try to learn it,” Renato said. “Perhaps we could exchange techniques? You do practice the earth element now.”
A straightforward proposal, one that likely would have been considered inappropriate for two people who had merely spent a few hours together total, had those hours been different. However, sharing a good spar followed by nearly dying together certainly accelerated whatever their friendship was. John smiled, “I’m sure we can figure something out.” He continue to look where the Boyce and Roldan clans had retreated to, “Too bad those two got away again.”
“Yes. They are quite troublesome. However, their actions did lead to our breakthroughs at that time. So we can thank them as they die.” Renato said that all without John detecting bitterness in his voice. “It was unfortunate that we had no more witnesses of their actions to justify larger retaliation. But today’s incident will provide fuel for proper retaliation.”
John nodded. There were so many people present that they couldn’t get away with just the losses they had incurred in battle. It wasn’t enough to justify wiping them out, but the attempt would be costly for anyone who tried. It wouldn’t be possible for the Tenebach clan to get the Stone Conglomerate as a whole to support them, and even with the Order of the Amber Heart on board, it would cost them lives while publicly requiring reparations would do more. Even if financial damage to the clans wasn’t as viscerally satisfying as killing their heirs, John supposed he would have to settle for what he could get. But that didn’t mean they would be getting off easy. Cultivators could be quite vindictive to those who broke their laws- especially when they lost a conflict. John supposed that overall ‘might makes right’ was still how things were done, but the collective might of the Stone Conglomerate and their laws would be used to squeeze them of their assets without physical danger to anyone… such as John himself. “It’s too bad you couldn’t do much to Kasimir in that short time.”
Renato nodded, “I was unable to conceal my intent to batter him to a pulp, so he was able to defend himself. He was sadly able to walk away with minimal broken bones.”
“Speaking of which,” John said. “You alright? I can see some of your ribs.”
Kasimir had gotten a good strike on him, but Renato seemed to be holding up fine. “Do not worry. The muscles will recover in time, and my bones hold strong. I only regret I failed to prepare a sufficient retaliation.”
The two of them talked and grumbled for a while while everyone was gathering back into a semblance of order. Johannes Dalen, head of the Order of the Amber heart, nodded at seeing them together. John had to admit that secondary to the near death experience they shared, he wanted to keep in good standing with Renato because he was one of the most promising disciples of a powerful sect. On the other hand, Renado probably also considered his status as the young master of the Tenebach clan. People could still be friends and also want things from each other. They were just dealing with larger possibilities than a store manager of a burger joint on Earth.
There were public praises for everyone’s participation in the training excursion and the associated defeat of the great lizard. The resources it provided were almost secondary to the recognition it brought. The ribcage especially was paraded through cities, with Fortkran and the other members of the younger generation in prominent positions. Everyone probably knew that their efforts were secondary to the success of that battle, but even if their guardians had been controlling most of the danger they were still responsible for a good portion of its defeat. Now John was with his parents and Aydan in his grandfather’s Luctus’ very comfortable sitting room.
“You did an excellent job, taking charge of the younger generation in that battle,” Luctus commended him.
John inclined his head. He knew he was able to speak more freely in this private setting, “I relied heavily on the cultivation of Magtel and Crystin.”
“Indeed,” Luctus agreed, “But Magtel’s greater cultivation seems to merely be an element of time. Crystin will be a hard target for you to surpass, but your progress is promising. It is also relevant that their positive words about you were more than just politeness and upholding the image of the clan. The Tenebach clan is proud to have minimal internal conflicts, but it doesn’t happen naturally. It takes work.”
John nodded. That was part of the reason they had been considering Fortkran’s removal in some fashion. He wasn’t good for their internal synergy, external image, or the marriage alliance with Matayal’s grandfather. It was constant work to repair the damage to reputation caused by Fortkran, but easier than replacing him. Except of course it happened anyway, quite on accident. John liked his new family, though he had to admit they were a bit more distant and there were less warm fuzzy feelings to be had. Then again, there were long patches with his family on Earth where he would have been happy with somewhat cold and detached instead of hostile. Sometimes families were work.
His parents echoed the same sentiments as his grandfather. Approval. Something the old Fortkran had rarely experienced, though John was certain it wasn’t for lack of searching for something. He remembered being praised for his cultivation efforts, even though both efforts and results were not particularly inspiring. Perhaps they had been a little too eager to praise, because Fortkran ended up quite spoiled. But still, family could only be expected to try their best to raise a child. Fortkran was still responsible for his own actions, in the end.
“What do you plan next for your training?” Luctus asked. Implied in the words were the fact that whatever he wanted, within reason, they would supply him. Though they might suggest more efficient methods if he was too far off of what they thought was sensible.
“Some time here, training with weapons and honing my techniques, might be the best for the near future. Perhaps until I reach the twelfth rank.” He mostly just needed more time for that, having plenty of varied experiences to draw upon for enlightenment. “Then I had thought to visit the Shimmering Islands. Experiencing more of a different elemental style will be good, and I wish to seek out Matayal.” His fiancee that he’d barely interacted with was still an odd point, but not something particularly upsetting. He might prefer to marry for love, but if that wasn’t an option he would at least like to start off with some sort of real relationship before the time came. That included her clan, as well. “The storms in the Shimmering Islands also come with air elemental spiritual energy, which will inform my next step in the cycle, though such a time is still far off.” His parents weren’t even in the Soul Expansion Phase yet, where cultivators could obtain a third totem, but he knew they would be delighted by the unstated implication he would surpass them. Though maybe not before they reached it. Their cultivation had been steadily increasing since his arrival and they were now at the very peak of the eighteenth rank. He wasn’t sure if it was a coincidence or if his replacement of Fortkran had allowed them to put aside certain worries and focus on cultivation.
“An excellent idea,” Luctus stated. “Perhaps if everything is in order, I shall accompany you. I haven’t seen Netanel in person in quite a while.”
John frowned, “I don’t have any intentions to accelerate the marriage…”
Luctus smiled, “Don’t worry my boy. There’s no rush for that now. I just feel like visiting an old friend. Besides, you should travel with more accompaniment now that you’re starting to be recognized as a relevant factor here.”
A reasonable point. And since Gerben and Caelia handled most of the clan’s affairs, Luctus was free to travel. He was also a much better choice than Benval for various reasons. John had some fond thoughts of old Fangtongue, but he might want the option to not start conflicts.