When he wasn’t extremely fatigued, Lucanus actually preferred the parts of the Milanovic clan that were full of more concentrated fire energy. At the current moment, however, he was meeting with Fortkran once more, and non-fire cultivators were rather uncomfortable in those areas. Even if the man was strong enough to shrug off the effects of the heat, it was more polite for Lucanus to meet him and his wife somewhere more pleasant.
“So what do you plan to do after this?” Fortkran asked.
Lucanus shrugged, “Nothing much. Once I finish healing I’ll be on my way.”
“Is that so?” Matayal said. “This is a good opportunity to create ties with the Milanovic clan.”
Lucanus shook his head, “I don’t want to create trouble for them. I have too many enemies.”
“That would be the whole point,” Matayal explained. “To protect yourself. And from our understanding, none of your enemies run deep enough that they would want to cause trouble for the Milanovic clan.”
“Even so,” Lucanus shrugged, “I can take care of myself.”
“Just like that, huh?” Fortkran said. “We figured you wouldn’t look into things. Interestingly enough, information about Yustina is rather sparse. She has a reputation of being somewhat of a genius in the clan, though.”
“Do geniuses usually get dehydrated and fall into volcanoes?” Lucanus asked.
“No,” Matayal admitted, “But this is her first attempt climbing Zolvolj, and she’s only in Foundation Phase.”
Lucanus shifted, his legs stretching into the nearby sun. “Still doesn’t make sense. Cultivators know they need to drink if they’re going to exert themselves in the heat.”
“Maybe she hadn’t,” Fortkran said.
“Hadn’t what?” Lucanus raised an eyebrow.
“Exerted herself,” Fortkran explained. “Her cultivation was progressing without issue even to the peak of Foundation Phase.”
“Still seems like something she should have known about,” he shrugged.
“Probably,” Matayal admitted. “But similar things happen sometimes.”
“So what does this have to do with me?” Lucanus asked. “I saved her, the clan has goodwill towards me. I can just move on.”
“Where?” John asked.
“Don’t know yet. I’ll be back in the Green Sands eventually though. It’s the best place to grow my cultivation.”
“You could grow more quickly with the clan. Yustina likes you,” Matayal said bluntly. “Are you not interested at all?”
“She’s so formal and stiff,” Lucanus said. “No offense, but I’m not a fan of that.”
“You could still be friendly with the clan,” Matayal pointed out.
“I just don’t want to be tied down,” Lucanus said.
Fortkran shook his head, “You’re strong enough to have quite a bit of freedom in this world. Working with others doesn’t restrict that as much as you seem to think.”
“Maybe I’ll consider it later,” Lucanus shrugged.
“The opportunity will likely be gone later,” Fortkran replied. “Or at least different.”
Since Lucanus clearly wasn’t going to be convinced to take care of himself they moved to other topics. They’d had little chance to actually get to know each other, since he was prone to leaving once there were no immediate problems.
Stepping back onto the road made Steve more comfortable. He knew John had good intentions, but Steve really didn’t do well remaining in one place. It wasn’t a curse or anything. At least, he firmly believed there were no curses on Earth, and he’d had plenty of experience there.
Dealing with people was hard, and he had long resigned himself to not being good at it. Even getting into fights wherever he went wasn’t anything new, though there was a hell of a lot more fire now.
He began to hum to himself as he walked. The repeated patterns of the Green Sands got old after a while, but different regions developed differently, some with higher dunes in some places and roads maintained to be wider in others. Even so, that was one reason he went to other countries when he could just stay around absorbing the most fire elemental spiritual energy possible and increasing his rank. Plus, he wanted to be ready to deal with all sorts of opponents.
A voice came from behind him. “Hey Lucanus, you really just leaving without saying anything?” He hadn’t noticed anyone approaching because they just felt like everything else. Wavy, fiery heat. He turned to see Yustina walking along behind him.
“I was, actually,” Steve shrugged. “The clan knew I would be leaving soon.”
“Screw the clan. What about me? It wouldn’t have been that hard to just say goodbye.”
“Who are you?” Steve asked.
“Whatcha’ mean?” the green-haired woman raised an eyebrow.
“I mean that you aren’t Yustina.”
“What makes you say that?” She asked. “Is my face different? My body? Something about my energy? Because I didn’t really change anything.”
“You don’t sound at all the same,” Steve said. He doubted someone in disguise would so easily be far off, and she really appeared the same, except her manner of speech.
“Oh, yeah,” Yustina shrugged. “No reason to use fancy language when nobody’s watching.”
“I’m here,” Steve pointed out. “Also, were you eavesdropping?”
“On you? Nah. Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering,” he said, picking up his pace along the road. She sped up with him. “Are you following me?”
“Obviously. Not done talking yet.”
“So you’ll stop when we’re done talking?”
“Probably,” Yustina said. “Seems you’re not really interested, huh? Would you have just leapt into ol’ Zolvolj for anybody?”
“Yeah,” Steve admitted. He hadn’t even registered that she was an attractive woman before he jumped in. Just that someone fell in accidentally.
“Harsh,” she said. “You’re not supposed to admit that, you know?”
“Why not?” Steve said. “It’s true.”
“I guess,” she admitted. “Besides, it’s not a bad thing to be a hero.”
“I’m not a hero.”
“Tell that to the next person you save,” Yustina commented. “See if they believe you.”
Steve could tell she wasn’t going to give up easily, so he just moved onto the next thing on his mind. “Are you sure you’re a member of the Milanovic clan?”
“Hmm, let’s see,” Yustina pulled her hair in front of her face. “Yep, still green! Been that way all twenty years of my life.”
“Your accent changed,” Steve pointed out. “Not just your style of speech. Nobody from the Green Sands talks the way you do.”
She was quiet for a good few moments. Finally, she replied. “Wow. Observant too.” She frowned, “ You still think I’m going to try to assassinate you or something? You’re gonna overheat if you keep that up.”
Steve snorted a small spurt of blue flames in front of him. “Yeah? You’re one to talk about overheating. I can’t believe you didn’t bring any water up Zolvolj.”
She turned her head away and folded her arms defensively. “That’s not my fault. I’m just used to having lots of water.”
“They don’t exactly have fountains everywhere in your clan,” Steve pointed out.
“Yeah,” Yustina said in a melancholy manner. “They don’t.”
Steve decided to take a stab. “So when did you die?” he asked.
Yustina looked at him in shock. Not confusion, which was an important distinction. “What do you mean?” she asked shakily, slipping back to slightly more formal speaking.
“I just mean that you speak as if you’re from an entirely different area and are used to lots of water fountains. So I’m betting you died on Earth and then found yourself here.”
That was where Yustina showed confusion. “Why wouldja think that I was from an earth-dominant area? Wouldn’t water make more sense?”
Steve stopped and turned towards her. “So, you wouldn’t happen to recognize if I was speaking English then?”
She looked at him and frowned. Then she spoke in another language he didn’t recognize at all, before switching back. “You don’t sound like you’re from Aglor or even Hegresh. But everything around here has the same language now. Were you a fire-type cultivator before too?”
Steve knew he should probably be more protective of his identity. “Nah. I wasn’t a cultivator.”
“… I’ve never heard of non-cultivators reincarnating with their memories,” Yustina frowned.
“You know a lot of reincarnation?” Steve asked.
“No. Not myself. But I read up on it, obviously.”
“I didn’t,” Steve admitted. Though he did learn some from John about the subject.
“Just so we’re clear,” Yustina said. “I was a water type cultivator from Aglor.”
“Never heard of it,” Steve said.
“It’s a hugely powerful water dominant country!” Yustina said, somewhat offended.
“Yeah?” Steve said. “I haven’t been much further than the Stone Conglomerate.”
“But you speak a different language,” Yustina probed, “Are you from ancient times?”
“Nah. I’m from Earth.”
“… I don’t understand,” Yustina said. “Which Earth country?”
“Earth is a planet,” Steve said.
“… You’re a transmigrator?” she asked. “From a world of entirely earth-type cultivators?”
“I told you,” Steve said, “I wasn’t a cultivator. Nobody was. At least, nobody demonstrated any sort of actual supernatural abilities.”
“I see,” she said. “I’ve never heard of cultivation being called ‘super’ natural before, but I suppose it could be considered more natural than nature itself.”
“That’s not… it means not natural.” Supernatural wasn’t actually a single word in the language he was speaking, and he hadn’t considered that.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” she said.
Steve shrugged. “Meanings change and translation is never perfect. Anyway, you should be more careful with your secret probably. Someone might care.”
“What about you?” Yustina said. “You revealed your own fairly easily.”
“True,” Steve said. “But I could just kill you to shut you up.”
“You wouldn’t though,” Yustina said. When Steve didn’t respond, she frowned. “Right?”
“I thought you said you would stop following me when we were done talking,” Steve said.
“I said probably,” Yustina pointed out. “And we’re not done yet.”
“It’s been three days,” Steve mentioned. “You should head back. I don’t want the Milanovic clan thinking I kidnapped you or something.”
“They’d just think I eloped,” she said. “But don’t worry about that. I told them I was heading out for a while.”
“And they just let you go?”
“Sure. There are tons of clan members going out to do stuff all the time. I’m just another one, even if I’m not bad at cultivation. My parents aren’t anyone important so I don’t have nagging people following me around. It’s great.”
“You could get killed going around alone,” Steve pointed out.
“Oh really?” she raised an eyebrow. “Could I? I’d never thought someone might kill me. I bet you hadn’t either, before this moment. Despite how many enemies you have.”
“I won’t get killed,” Steve said defensively.
“Same,” Yustina nodded. “Now, you never told me your name.”
“Lucanus,” Steve said.
“That’s not your name, right?” Yustina said. “That’s a local name.”
“Ladies first,” Steve said.
“Yolonda,” Yustina quickly responded. “Now yours.”
“Steven,” he said reluctantly. “I still don’t know what you want here, following me.”
“I thought I’d get to know a hero. But I’m way more interested now. You barely said anything these last few days!”
“Talking makes me thirsty,” Steve said. That was true, but he also had ample supplies of water. And he’d noticed that Yustina had actually thought to bring her own. “So do you actually want to be called Yolonda?”
“No way!” she said. “I haven’t been called that in twenty years.”
“…Right,” Steve nodded his head. “You grew up again.”
“It was so hard not cultivating right away!” Yustina said. “Well, except for the tiny detail that I only knew water element cultivation. Which is… difficult here.”
“Why didn’t you just leave?” Steve asked, continuing to steer the conversation away from himself.
“How?” she asked. “Nobody was going to be super happy about giving a random little girl enough money to leave the clan and travel two countries over. And learning another style seemed interesting.” She breathed out slowly, “It’s hard though! At least in Aglor I could get out of the water, but here the heat is everywhere.”
“That is how deserts work, yes,” Steve said. “Tell me about Aglor. Is it like the Shimmering Islands?”
“Not at all! It’s not on the ocean at all, but in the mountains. Lakes and rivers everywhere, green grass and trees. It’s a beautiful sight. At least it was.”
“… Did something happen to it?”
“I don’t think so,” Yustina said. “But it’s been twenty years. Or maybe a couple more? The calendar here’s a bit different so I could be a few years off.”
“Interesting,” Steve said. He actually meant it, too. Though he was still hoping she’d leave soon.