Besides a moderate amount of sparring when they landed, John hadn’t gained much in the way of combat experience while aboard the Wavecutter. In a friendly spar he couldn’t practice any of his better techniques to their full extent, because they weren’t the sort of things that worked with half-assed commitment. Spiritual Energy Absorption was useful for gaining control of surface level spiritual energy, but reaching deeper was dangerous. Clinging Affliction barely had any merit unless it was layered on a real injury, and Bite of the Gorgon was never safe. He doubted anyone would be happy with being just a little bit petrified, and though he could help recover most of the damage he was much more suited for real combat. That was fine, since he would rather be viable in actual combat if it was a choice between that and sparring. He wasn’t useless, of course. Gravity Blade was a practical skill for disrupting an opponent and focusing his attacks and his swordplay had continued to improve under Brage’s instruction. Even if he didn’t focus on a specific technique, generic control of his own energy was always useful.
Real world experiences were often important for a cultivator to advance, but John didn’t find himself lacking in those. Even if he hadn’t encountered life threatening battle since the situation in the Southeastern Stone Forest and the battles afterwards, he could likely still advance another rank or two without issue. Comprehension was also an important part of cultivating, and he quite enjoyed spending time fiddling around with his elemental spiritual energy.
Ever since transmigrating into the body of Fortkran Tenebach, he had been in a period of quick growth. Nothing was as fast as the first few months where he advanced through all of the Spiritual Collection Phase, but he’d caught up to other talented individuals in the clan and was at least keeping pace with them. It would be preferable to immediately surpass them and show great might, but the path he’d chosen wouldn’t be able to display such effects. Maybe that had been a mistake, but backing out now would be an even worse mistake.
John wasn’t crazy. Neither was his grandfather Luctus, which was why he insisted on accompanying John to the crow’s nest during the next storm. It was one of the ‘small’ ones which didn’t involve the ship nearly flipping over. It still involved high winds and lightning as well as large waves, filling the atmosphere with abundant water and air energy. It was the latter that John was after at the moment.
He confidently sat cross-legged in the crow’s nest at the peak of the middle mast and allowed himself to sink into his dantian. He ignored his grandfather standing tall next to him, focusing on his own cultivation. There was a constant storm of air element in the form of wind. John acknowledged the wind’s power, but knew its wrath was insignificant compared to lightning. He began to absorb that first, feeding it directly into his other two totems. Air nourished earth and the Sapling of Darkness seemed to absorb a little bit of everything without issue. He actively circulated the energy through his meridians, into and out of his dantian.
All along its path through his body it nourished him, feeding his body and spirit. In most cases, no change was visible during a single cultivation session. Cultivation was all about the accumulation of effort over time whether that time was weeks, months, years, or decades. However, while there were continuous changes to be had cultivation also had leaps as one went up in rank, or from one Phase to the next. That was the sort of step forward John was going for as he rapidly absorbed air elemental spiritual energy, as well as water and smaller amounts of other elements where they were present.
Then the lightning began. Every time it struck the lightning rod in the mast next to him he felt a surge of energy- even though he was only pulling in the remnants. He wasn’t so foolish as to direct a bolt of lightning towards himself. Not on purpose. His grandfather was present to make sure it wouldn’t happen on accident, either.
The rush of air element from the lightning was intense. It was much stronger, and he was absorbing from closer to the source than he had before. He could feel the charge building up in his meridians, and he made sure to circulate his energy continuously so he could absorb it as much as possible before the next strike. If necessary he could skip one, but there was no guarantee how long the storm would last. Storms were sudden and fickle on the Shimmering Sea.
Focusing purely on cultivation was difficult. All of his senses were overwhelmed by the storm. The repeated strikes of lightning next to him would have struck him deaf and blind were it not for his defensive energy. As it was, his ears and eyes were numb. Chilling rain poured down on him and was whipped into him by the wind. The boat rocked back and forth, relatively minor compared to the big storm but amplified by his position in the crow’s nest. Then there was the smell. Salty sea air was all he smelled at first, but as the lightning began he smelled something else. Something burnt, though nothing on the ship was catching fire. The smell of ozone from the lightning in the air. It was so strong he swore he could taste it.
Instead of trying to cut off his sensations, John tried to accept them. They were just signs of the elements he was trying to absorb. Calmly sitting next to repeated lightning strikes might have been nerve wracking if he was afraid of lightning- or even if he didn’t have his grandfather watching over him- but as it was he felt a sense of calm. The worst part was actually the flashes from the lightning. Even with his eyes closed, it was painful. That was from bursts of light element. Light was aligned with air, and the most straightforward example of that was lightning.
John had the ultimate ambition to complete a full cycle of elements that should even include light. Even so, he completely kept the light out of his meridians and dantian. He had no desire to wrestle with danger, and without any totems aligned with light he would simply hurt himself trying to absorb it. Tiny amounts of it were one thing, but sudden bursts would tear him apart.
Lightning and thunder. Surges of energy circulating through him, greedily being absorbed by his totems. Wind and rain. The flow of energy increased, building to a crescendo. Pressure inside his dantian increased, spiritual energy threatening to burst. The strain reached its limit.
A final strike of lightning and he pushed through to the next rank. That put him at the thirteenth rank which was also the beginning of mid Foundation Phase. With that, his dantian expanded slightly, increasing how much energy he could store. The storm continued, but instead of trying to absorb more John allowed the surrounding energy to wash over him while he stabilized the roiling energy that was still inside him, enough to fill the newly expanded area quite comfortably. He grinned to himself. Maybe when he had an air elemental spiritual totem he would come back and actually try to absorb some lightning. It wasn’t so crazy of a thought if he was at the Soul Expansion Phase. Just a little bit crazy.
As its name implied, the Wavecutter split the waves ahead of it, leaving an impressive wake behind the boat for something that had no motor. John had seen it before during their journey, but he was paying more attention now because it might be the last time he saw the ship. At least, he didn’t believe they were planning to pay for it to stay in dock once they reached Pualani. They were about to arrive, and then they would be staying for a month- perhaps more. The journey itself was one of weeks, so dropping in for a few days would be a misuse of time. While staying too long might be disrespectful, a month was quite reasonable. Besides, the Tenebach clan had no intent to be excessively burdensome. They intended to have a mutually beneficial alliance.
The docks of Pualani bore little resemblance to those in Dolomite Harbor, except in size and function. John had expected some sort of harbor to protect ships from the frequent storms in the Shimmering Islands, but instead there were only straight wooden docks jutting out into the open sea. When he gave an inquisitive look to Captain Sohan, he smiled. “The storms never touch this area. I’d suspect a huge defensive formation, but no one’s seen sign of it. The most obvious place to look would be those rock formations back there,” he gestured behind the ship, “There’s a large ring of them around the island. Nothing special about them as far as anyone knows, but something about their placement probably keeps this place safe from storms. Nothing above moderate winds and a bit of lightning has hit this island in the centuries of recorded history it has.” John wondered if Sohan’s definition of moderate winds at all matched his own, but clearly they couldn’t be too bad if it meant ships were safe without a proper harbor.
As the island became more visible in front of them, John looked it over. It was covered in plantlife, trees and bushes and all sorts of colorful flowers. The buildings were the same, with the various plants made to grow over and around the doors and windows and along the eaves of the buildings. The buildings themselves were mainly made out of woods that John didn’t recognize. Some had thatched roofs but many had wooden shingles and other styles that were common elsewhere. It was a complete architectural difference from the Stone Conglomerate, but not an unexpected one. Even growing up on Earth where buildings could be made of brick and concrete he never saw so many stone buildings. The buildings of Pualani weren’t too off from what he had seen earlier on Hanahi or some of the island styles on Earth, though with certain cultivator flares. There was just one thing that surprised John.
“I expected the island to be bigger,” he commented.
“Is that right?” Sohan grinned. “Take a look over there.”
With his eyes directed, John spotted more signs of green on the horizon, both to the right and left of the island in front of them. The large amount of sea he saw in between had made him assume there was nothing more. In a way, he was right. “Are those completely disconnected?”
“That’s right. But it’s all Pualani. A great flower with five petals- and another island in the center.”
“Don’t know how I missed that,” John shook his head. He had read up on the Shimmering Islands, but apparently he had missed that detail. Then again, Pualani wasn’t the only major location in the Shimmering Islands, so while the information had been plentiful it wasn’t surprising it was incomplete. Tourism wasn’t a big feature in this world, and he’d been reading more practical cultivation based information than a brochure explaining the place’s natural beauty.
After learning about the full expanse of Pualani, he no longer thought it was small. He’d thought they would go around the island in front of them since he did know Matayal lived more towards the center, but apparently there were only docks for seafaring vessels on the outer islands. Smaller boats were available to transport people back and forth between the islands, and to the central island. John smiled. While he wasn’t here for a vacation, island paradises were something he was able to appreciate.