With a thunk and a clink, John set down an icy sculpture. Well, it was actually a person but it was basically the same at the moment. The important part was that for the moment Aghi would be doing nothing- and that was John’s decision. Otherwise he could have frozen more than the outer layer of his body. As it was, a cultivator like him would probably only lose the outer few layers of his skin if he was careful. It could be much worse if he was too hasty with his use of fire element, however.
“How dare you come here!” Oden was trying to sound imperious, but it was difficult in his current position. “Trespassing during an event such as this is a crime against all of Lunson!”
John was going to say something, but the reason Oden was having trouble sounding imperious slapped him upside the head. “You idiot, you’re the one trespassing. My buddy here is the one who is supposed to be here and he definitely didn’t invite you.” Steve frowned, then pulled back for a second. “You didn’t invite this prick, right?”
“I certainly did not,” John said. He looked around at the gathered crowd which included most of the local sects and of course cronies and sycophants. He would have to slightly alter his plans for swaying the crowd, since he hadn’t intended to come here at all. But he could definitely handle things.
“You… idiot…” Oden squeaked out through his shirt that was bundled tight around his neck. “The schedule… was changed.”
“What?” Steve looked at him. “When?”
Steve slapped the man again. “That’s way too late idiot! This thing’s been scheduled for years! Hey, are you listening?” Steve began to shake him. Then he looked over at John. “Dude. This guy passed out.”
John blinked. He wasn’t that surprised, given the intensity of heat Steve had been radiating- while forcing all of the negative effects towards Oden. They were both fire cultivators, but one had stepped into the Consolidated Soul Phase within the last month, and the other was at the peak of the Consolidated Soul Phase.
John’s plans shifted once more as he couldn’t do much else to publicly humiliate the guy or turn the city against him. He was going to bring up previous incidents, from the destruction of his hoary alyssum to the attack on Raul’s shop to the Platinum Tower Society’s abuse of urchins at various points, blaming them for crimes they didn’t commit. And perhaps some they had, but John hadn’t intended to bring that up.
The stands were beginning to fill up with his guests, so he just moved on. “If someone could secure these two?” John kept Steve away from Aghi because he might accidentally cause something to shatter. His friend was pretty heated up at the moment, literally spouting flames from his nostrils. John saw that other members of the Platinum Tower Society wanted to do something, but with Ursel having helped him plough through their contingent of guards and with their new sect head down for the count there wasn’t much they could really do. Especially if one considered the quality of other guests he brought along. “Well, sorry for the changes of venue. But here we are. The founding of the Six Elements Crossroads.”
John knew there was some amount of spectacle required for a fancy announcement, but he didn’t waste sect resources on expensive accouterments. Instead, most of the spectacle would be provided by the disciples, demonstrating their own growth… and the actual level of spiritual energy present.
Of course, Viriato wouldn’t let such an event pass by without the sect displaying wealth in some fashion, so they paraded around with equipment augmented with elemental resources in the secret valley. Each disciple had something of note, and the equipment wasn’t just for show. Those disciples would own that piece of equipment- usually a weapon or armor- to help them prosper in the future.
Overall, things had been somewhat more chaotic than John had anticipated… but he’d forgotten to compensate for Steve’s presence. The man knew how to find trouble like nothing else.
“We would be quite pleased if you would occasionally spend time here as an instructor,” John said to Nik. “We’ll be calling upon the Golden Tomb Guardians as well, but we’re lacking in light element cultivators. We can pay, of course.”
Nik waved his hand. “I wouldn’t want to charge you, you’re family.”
“Accept the payment,” Melanthina said. “This is him speaking as sect head. It’s only appropriate.”
“That’s right,” John said. “If I need to call in a favor to help out a particular disciple or something it would be a different matter, but the Six Elements Crossroads is what needs your aid. Of course, I wouldn’t want to call you away for a long time. At most a month out of every year, I suppose.”
John recalled his arrangement with Matayal, spending only half the year together. Only ‘until things calmed down’ of course, but trying to run two clans at such a distance was difficult. Lunson was closer to the Tenebach clan than Pualani, and an easier journey, but it was still not close. John had no intention of taking his daughter’s husband away from her too often.
“You can come along as well, of course,” he said to Melanthina. “I’ll always be happy to see you, and you’ll have a different perspective on the darkness element that the disciples will no doubt benefit from.”
John would be relying significantly on guest instructors until they had elders of their own within the sect to cover every element. He could only do so much by himself, and he would best make use of his time training those who wished to perform a cycle of elements rather than those focused on a pure element. John didn’t want to force people into attempting his own path, because it was difficult and didn’t pay off quickly. For those disciples that didn’t ever reach the Consolidated Soul Phase or at least the Soul Expansion Phase if they focused on the core elements, a cycle of elements was almost strictly worse except in terms of versatility.
“Oh, and thank you for the loan of Crystin this whole time,” he said. “But I will be returning her to your care soon enough.”
“Are you sure?” Melanthina asked. “I don’t want you to be in danger.”
John smirked and raised an eyebrow. “Are you implying that I’m weak?”
She sighed. “No. But you still have enemies. And things aren’t exactly resolved with the Platinum Tower Society.”
“They will be, though,” John said. “Soon enough.”
The Platinum Tower Society had very little they could do to fight back against the results of what was supposed to be their grand day of ascension. A Consolidated Soul Phase cultivator would make them a sect recognized internationally. And yet, they had crumbled before the ceremony even completed.
John had to admit some of his actions were on shaky legal ground- but as the Platinum Tower Society had operated mainly through the practice of might makes right, this was mainly the consequences of their own actions.
There was something like a trial, but as the one who was both presenting the evidence and making the judgment, it felt rather hollow. Still, John had more than enough to arrive at the conclusions he did. It was something to think about, though, if he wanted Astrein to prosper in the future. There needed to be a proper system of justice that was at least mostly fair. Some way to arbitrate disputes between sects. Because while John intended the Six Elements Crossroads to be the biggest sect in the country, that didn’t mean he intended to stomp out everyone else. As long as they didn’t cause trouble, people could do whatever they wanted.
Ultimately, the consequences for the Platinum Tower Society weren’t as bad as they could have been. Which is to say, John could have dismantled them and taken everything they owned. He just didn’t want to be a tyrant. He did have specific grievances he could settle with Aghi and Oden, taking their personal assets and exiling them from the city.
“Do you swear to leave Lunson and never return, nor to seek revenge?”
“I do,” Oden replied, though clearly unwillingly.
John got the same forced response from Aghi before they were sent out of the city with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their own cultivation. Which was actually quite lenient, in John’s opinions. Someone like Oden could find quite a decent position somewhere else… if he were willing to work under someone else.
As they were exiled, John brought aside Crystin. “I have one last favor I need of you. Make certain they keep their vows. Especially Oden.”
She nodded. “Of course. I’ll keep a close eye on them.”
John understood that he might have consigned Oden and Aghi to death, but his guts tightened not because of that but because of the duplicity of the situation. Despite practicing the darkness element, the Tenebach clan was basically honorable. As much as anyone could be in a world of cultivators and martial power. Deception in combat was only good sense, and elsewhere it was basically just politics. But some small part of him told John that killing people in cold blood was not right. And another part of him reminded him that someone he cared about could be hurt if these people didn’t die- and the circumstances of their deaths weren’t that important.
There was also the fact that he didn’t believe their declarations. He had seen the fire in their eyes, more or less literally. They were already planning revenge, and would act upon it as soon as they thought they had an opportunity.
John just hadn’t expected how soon that would be. News returned to him two days later in the form of a report- not from Crystin, but the sect. Specifically, those watching over the herds of bison. Reading through the report, he just shook his head. Perhaps he should have been more ruthless. Wounded disciples were one thing, but a tenth of the herd wounded or dead, some of the bodies unusable charred corpses- and the grass catching aflame, spreading until the disciples managed to tame the fire.
It appeared to be the work of Oden himself, with Crystin stopping him shortly after he began his rampage. John didn’t know what happened with Aghi- the report didn’t mention him, so presumably he was wise enough to not take part. Though John might not know until the next time he saw Crystin.
Were fire cultivators more prone to fits of rage? John didn’t think that was necessarily the case. Taking as examples Yustina and Emilia. Both were fire cultivators, and among the calmest individuals that John had seen. Yustina had violence and wrath within her, but it wasn’t wild and untamed.
Instead, John thought it was more of a matter of what elements a cultivator sought out. The influence of the element itself, if any, was of small import compared to the personality of the cultivator themselves. Or perhaps the environment in which they were raised. Likely both, since John believed that the argument of nature vs nurture was best answered by a single word. ‘Yes’. People were influenced by things both inherent and things from outside. The exact proportions might never be known, and he really didn’t care.
Administrative work was only part of running a sect, and John made certain not too much of it ended up on his desk. He had people for finances and disputes between disciples and even for most public interactions. As sect head, it was important he had time to cultivate- it wasn’t just for his personal image, but a strong sect head was important. And early Soul Expansion appeared a bit weak, even if that wasn’t true. Anyone who saw him in person would quickly learn better, but simply being talked about elsewhere was a different matter.
Still, there were always things that required his attention throughout the day. His input was needed, and sometimes it was difficult to resolve issues without him. In this case, there was a request from two of alchemist Oden’s apprentices. He recognized them as frequent visitors of his food stand- a food stand he made certain to stay involved with.
The man was Amar, and the woman went by Amine. “I’ve heard there is a request you have that only I can grant.”
“Well, yes, um…” Amar stumbled over his words.
“We want license to practice alchemy in the city,” Amine said in a practiced manner.
John was going to say they didn’t have to come to him for that. He wasn’t responsible. But… someone should be. “You’ll want to go to Raul for that. He can determine if you are sufficiently experienced to practice safely.” Probably. John would send him a message before they came looking so he would be prepared. The two looked at each other awkwardly. “What is it?” John asked.
“He… probably doesn’t like us much,” Amar said.
“Then I would suggest working to rectify that,” John smiled lightly. He wasn’t quite sure of the history, but as Oden’s apprentices it made sense they would share in a portion of the resentment towards their master. Either way, it wasn’t John’s job to tell Raul to forgive them or not.