The wind ripped past as John and Matayal fell together. From the height they were at they might be able to angle their fall entirely outside of the Kelp Spire Forest, but then they would have to contend with hitting the water with no way to slow themselves down beforehand. That would put most of the pressure on Matayal, and didn’t make full use of the resources available to them.
Great towers of kelp climbed the irregularly located stone spires, but more than that they also in some locations were strung between two of them. One such area was their target, where several criss-crossing plants were located close together. The intention was to use some of them to break their fall, diminishing their momentum in several stages instead of all at once.
To guide them to the right location, John made use of his air elemental spiritual energy to push them along, converting vertical speed to horizontal- though he didn’t want to overshoot either. It almost felt like they weren’t moving towards the ground at all, but the way the air was rushing by their heads it was obvious that was not the case. They were just so high it was a slow process. At least it gave them sufficient time to line up with their intended target. Both of them extended their energy to create as much drag as they could, but it wasn’t the same as a good parachute.
Somewhere around thirty seconds later they were a few dozen meters above the kelp they had targeted. Both had weapons in their hands, though they were quite aware that they would likely lose them. The choices were between weapons ripping out of their hands, breaking their arms, or cutting smoothly through the plants and barely slowing themselves down at all.
They struck the first bundle of giant leaves and the stalk at the same time, spear and sword piercing into the plant. Their momentum carried them downward, and they barely managed to keep their grip on each other while their weapons were twisted out of their hands. They struck the next strand a moment later, rolling off and continuing towards the water where they impacted less than a second later.
A huge crater of water formed around them as they hit, using most of their remaining energy to soften their impact and spread out the force over as much area as they could. They were momentarily in a bowl of water, then it crashed back over them, covering them. They found themselves a few dozen meters below the surface, beaten and battered but conscious. John was pretty sure he broke some fingers on the way down, though.
It seemed their impact, and the general situation in the area, had driven away the beasts that would have been interested in taking advantage of them. But they might return soon. The two of them found their way out of the water onto one of the kelp, walking unsteadily.
“We should be able to retrieve our weapons, at least,” Matayal commented. “They are well and truly impaled.”
John nodded. “Then we need to rest.”
Somehow climbing what had only a week before seemed like a short distance seemed to take forever, as they moved up the slippery plant and out where it hung between two spires to grab their weapons. Then they made their way towards one of the caves cultivators or beasts had carved in the spires- not very deep, and only providing a small amount of security but the best they could get.
They sat together, side by side facing the entrance, their weapons on either side of them. “Didn’t think we’d need to slow our fall,” John commented idly. “Could have come up with a better technique for it.” He leaned over. “Terminal velocity isn’t that fast…” his eyes closed, as he muttered to Matayal and himself about what he could have done.
The two of them jolted awake as they sensed incoming energy. Cultivators, not beasts, by the feeling of them. John and Matayal clutched their weapons, wary of the dangers… but a moment later they relaxed. The two they sensed were familiar.
It wasn’t long before Aydan and Livna came into view. “You found us,” John said awkwardly.
“Of course,” Aydan smiled. “It’s my job.” Then he shrugged, “And we saw you falling out of the sky.”
Matayal looked around, “Where are Crystin and Yonit?” she asked.
“Heading to gather reinforcements,” Aydan said. “You didn’t think that we’d leave two future clan heads’ fates unknown? We had to try to rescue you, or…”
“Retrieve our bodies?” John commented.
“…Yes,” Aydan nodded. “But I am glad that that was not the case. We are aware we failed as bodyguards, so we will accept whatever punishment you deem necessary.”
“In that case,” John said, “Your first punishment is to stand there while we pass out again, making sure nothing disturbs us.”
As he and Matayal leaned against each other, she was unconscious mere moments before he was. The two of them had their first real rest in days, where neither of them had to worry about running out of air or beasts eating them while they tried to sleep. When they woke once more, it was mid afternoon, two days later. At least that was what Adyan said.
“I’ll take your word for it,” John nodded. “I feel like I could have slept for a week.” He stood up, stretching. His right hand was definitely broken, but that wasn’t too hard for a cultivator to recover from. And he felt greatly refreshed, though he would have to spend time cultivating to replenish his energy to its fullest capacity. Its new maximum capacity, since both he and Matayal had advanced more than a single rank.
“I am impressed,” Aydan said. “Once again you fall into danger and come out stronger, young master.”
“That’s really the only option we had,” Matayal commented. “I don’t know if I would recommend it as a training regime.” Her water energy was half replenished already, naturally refilling most quickly given the proper surroundings. “It made Cyclone Island seem comfortable.”
Aydan grimaced, having experienced just a part of that training himself. Yet he’d been sheltered by Kusuma, while the two of them had been required to face the full force of the storms there. “That bad, huh?”
“What happened to the two of you?” Livna asked. “We tried to reach you as you were pulled down, but we hesitated for too long, and we were only pulled a short ways into the depths.”
John and Matayal regaled the two of them with an expedited version of the tale, certain they would be telling it many times in the coming days. How they saw strange creatures, how they had to create pockets of air to do something vaguely like sleep, and the resources they found and consumed.
John looked down below them, vaguely in the direction of where they had been. “There are certainly more valuable resources to be found in the depths, but also great danger. I wouldn’t be comfortable returning until Consolidated Soul Phase.”
“If it is the two of you,” Aydan commented, “I believe you can reach that level. And this is not just flattery. Though the barrier between stages can be quite difficult to surmount, even if it takes you years… I believe it extremely likely.”
John nodded. Matayal had already progressed beyond the midpoint of the Soul Expansion Phase, while he was just short of it. With more relaxed cultivation he should be able to catch up to her, especially since her cultivation would support him, more than normal for dual cultivation of course. He didn’t want to be a burden on her, but it wasn’t as if they were so far removed in cultivation rank that she wouldn’t be benefitting. It just so happened that resources suited for water element cultivation had been more plentiful in the ocean. Who could have guessed?
Though their cultivation had indeed progressed quite nicely, the very reason they had come to the Kelp Spire Forest, John and Matayal with their two guards made their way out of the area. Passing out in a cave had certainly reinvigorated the pair, but that wasn’t enough. They also wanted to assuage the worries of their families as soon as possible.
With the extreme changes to the local area the boats from the nearby islands wouldn’t get close, but they were more of a convenience than a necessity. If four cultivators- two of which were purely water element- couldn’t swim to a nearby island, they would be a sorry lot indeed.
That was where they took their longer rest, not just catching up on sleep but stabilizing their cultivations. Advancing too rapidly could build up issues for future cultivation, especially with impurities building up. Though with John’s cultivation path, impurities with unwanted elements mixed in were something easily managed. Between himself and Matayal they had four of the six elements, and the deep sea didn’t have much fire or light element to pollute the energy they had been taking in.
Not much fire, but there were certainly bits of fire element mixed in with the various creatures that lived around the thermal vents. John didn’t mind having the small bits of fire, but he needed it properly balanced with everything else instead of just being mixed in like a sludge. He still had no fire totem, of course, so there was an amount of excess that the two cultivators simply expelled from them over the course of the next week.
It wasn’t hard to find the rescue forces. A small fleet of ships- or perhaps middling in size, if one considered the level of cultivators on board- was easy to pick out. John and Matayal moved to intercept them, so they wouldn’t simply pass by. When they got close, Netanel leapt off the leading ship towards them, spraying water behind him as he darted through the water and wrapped his arms around Matayal.
“I knew you would live!” he said as he raised her up in his arms. “But we were ready to fight every beast in the area to make sure of it.”
Matayal smiled at her grandfather. “I’m glad you were coming for us. But the forces here… is anyone left defending the Brandle clan?”
“We left some people behind,” Netanel said. “Though we hired some mercenaries to come with us, and to stay there.”
John grimaced. “What an expensive event. I’m sorry you had to do that for us.”
“Why?” Netanel said. “Ultimately, perhaps it was a waste of resources- but to ensure your safety it was worthwhile. And… though it was unrelated to the expense, it seems we will come out ahead. The two of you have advanced wonderfully. You feel almost as strong as Luctus now. Well, where he was a while ago. I hear he’s gotten a renewed vigor.”
John nodded, “Thanks to Ciaritzal’s assistance.”
“And yours,” Netanel noted. “Would that we had something like that. But I supposed giving up some of my own cultivation wouldn’t be a thing to do so easily, even for the sake of the younger generation.” Soon enough they found themselves back on board the main ship, not a swift vessel like the Wavecutter but a sturdy war vessel. “Behold!” Netanel called out to the entire fleet. “My granddaughter and grandson-in-law yet live, having fought through great dangers and come out victorious!” He turned to address mercenaries they had brought along, “Though I am sure you are saddened that there will be no combat pay available, you will still all be compensated for your time… and you’re invited to the celebration!”
John didn’t think there really needed to be a party just because they survived- though part of that was because he’d already finished the wonderful high of being alive and safe. And he had to admit that it was a good way to redirect the fervor of the mercenaries and clan members who had been called out. Ultimately, though, he was still getting used to being important. A branch manager at a burger joint might have been necessary for one small store to run, but ultimately whether or not Brad’s Burgers had been running didn’t matter to more than the people a few blocks around them. As a high ranking cultivator, he could influence a lot more. He hoped in the end, his results on the world would be positive.