When completely exhausted of spiritual energy and waiting to recover, there was little that could be done to speed the process. Taking in a large amount of spiritual energy at once would cause more damage instead. There were a few medicines that could allow for short term recovery with later side effects, but that was completely unnecessary. Taking the slower path was just fine.
Since he couldn’t use spiritual energy and even moving around too much hurt, John spent much of his time in the Tenebach clan library. Mayatal was in a similar state, though less injured than simply drained to the point of overtaxation. Regardless, she came along with him as he browsed the various techniques available. She had all the water element techniques she would need back at home with the Brandle clan, but there might be something of interest to her regardless.
John kept searching through the shelves. They mostly had darkness techniques, of course, but he only browsed them briefly. Earth was available as well, and he took another look at Diamond Defense. Still expensive, but if it got anywhere close to the defense it promised it might be worth it. Though he wasn’t sure about trying any permanent transformative effects on his body.
“Not finding what you’re looking for?” Matayal asked.
“It’s not quite that,” John said. “I just wonder why I should learn any of these when I could just make something better myself.”
“Creating a technique is quite an undertaking,” Matayal acknowledged.
“Tell me about it,” John nodded, “All of mine feel like they could be so much better. And I doubt I could properly teach them to anyone else.”
“All your what?”
“The techniques I’ve made.”
“You’ve created new techniques?”
John shrugged, “Is throwing a name on a way of manipulating spiritual energy creating a technique? Then yes. They work well enough, mostly. Though Ciaritzal seems to naturally have a much better version of one of them.”
“That’s not abnormal,” Matayal said. “Many techniques were created through studying spiritual beasts. They have certain advantageous natural instincts for how to use spiritual energy.” She looked up from a scroll she was idly browsing, “I’ve never tried to make my own technique.”
“Why not?” John asked.
“It takes talent and a high cultivation rank to do it properly,” Matayal said.
“Whether or not that’s fully true,” John rebutted, “Shouldn’t you try it now? Soul Expansion Phase isn’t nothing.”
“I suppose not,” she admitted, “But most of the techniques I practice were made by Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators. My grandfather managed to secure a few core abilities for the Brandle Clan to study.”
“You think they started creating those techniques in Consolidated Soul Phase?” John asked. “Because they might have, but staring them earlier and working on them as they advanced is more likely. Unless they just swapped techniques one day.”
“An interesting consideration. Sometimes that is the case, but usually people prefer to stick to a core set.”
“I suppose we’ve had different experiences as well,” John admitted, “Not everyone gets to browse a library whenever they want. They have to create whatever works for their totems. Which is why I could encourage it. Nothing’s going to be specialized for just you unless you make it.”
“Yes, perhaps I shall,” she nodded. “It is worth the attempt, at least.”
“I should probably make some air element techniques,” John said.
“Did Kusuma not teach you any?”
“She avoided specific techniques. Frankly, I’m not sure I’d be suited anyway. Pure air techniques would be a bit… unfitting. I should probably start working on multi-element techniques anyway.”
“… Has anyone told you that you lack common sense?” Matayal said.
“Not really,” John said. “What about it?”
“Casually mentioning creating multi element techniques is just as bold as declaring you will complete a full cycle of elements.”
“I never said I would succeed. Just that I was going to try it. I’m halfway there!” John shrugged, “Well, as elements go. I know each phase gets more difficult. Anyway, combining a couple elements isn’t too hard as long as you have the totems for it. I’d bet we could create a dual element technique we could use together.”
Matayal just looked at him sidelong for a few seconds. “I’d like to try that, once we recover a bit further.”
With the support of the Order of the Amber Heart, the Gastone and Boyce clans were ousted from Marble County. It was tempting to try to wipe them out, but neither the Amber Heart nor the Tenebach clan was willing to put forth the expense in lives and other cost. Using the evidence of their assistance to outsiders attacking the Tenebach clan and the addition of the Amber Heart’s influence in the county, they were convinced that leaving would be their best option. In addition to that, the deaths of some prominent members weakened their overall position and they had more enemies to concern themselves with.
John wasn’t sure what he thought about those results. He was concerned about future retaliation- but he understood that it would cost the Tenebach clan lives to completely remove the possibility. In addition to that, wiping out an entire group of people was still beyond the level of what he was used to. Just the fact that it had been seriously considered reminded him what his new life was like.
But he didn’t hate it. He always daydreamed about violent retaliation against people on Earth- like many. Sometimes the thoughts were excessive, but having to just accept injustices was difficult. Being able to do something about it with force was enticing, though the world also came with more problems. Or perhaps just more visible problems. There were countless things wrong with any world, and it was just whether or not they were noticed.
Inside of his Dantian, John had once more reconstructed his little ecosystem. He even had the tiny sun once more. He’d considered asking Steven for the donation of the fire energy, but decided against it for one simple reason. He didn’t want to explode. The man’s energy was far too rambunctious for his needs. Gathering the admittedly very small amount he planned to keep only took a few days of sitting up on a roof. He felt light energy mixed in as well, but once again steered away from incorporating it. He would need to advance his cultivation further before he was willing to make the attempt.
As for external training, John and Matayal started with the simplest combination technique they could. Both had quicksand style techniques already, sinking people into the ground. Matayal’s involved liquifying the ground, while John used an earth element version to shift the ground and modify its properties. Combining their efforts together with allied elements was a reasonable place to start.
During their first few attempts, they wouldn’t have caught anyone able to move about on their own. It took too long for them to combine their energy to achieve the effect they wanted. It was different from the formation where they were using others’ energy for their own effect- for a combined technique they had to each perform part of the work simultaneously. But that was what practice was for- everything was terrible at first.
They began to get faster as they were repeatedly buried in mud. They had to test that their technique worked, after all, and John might have pushed Matayal into the mud first. Or maybe she pushed him in first. He honestly couldn’t remember. He just knew that both of them were getting repeatedly dunked in mud. He wasn’t sure if it was a proper technique they used to clean up from that, but pulling the water and dirt off of themselves together was a nice and practical use of spiritual energy. Having direct control over both allowed them to get clean in record time.
In addition to pondering new techniques together, they generally trained in dual cultivation. They also spent some time inundating each other with hostile environments- specifically for combat in darkness and underwater. Though Matayal had been able to fight in the guardian beast’s cave, she hadn’t been able to do so optimally. Ciariztal wasn’t able to safely perform a blessing on her- having water totems attuned her too much towards that element- but he was able to provide guidance on the task. While it seemed that other members of the clan generally left him to himself, John found that the guardian beast was quite willing to help him out. Of course, he was the young master of the clan, so it wasn’t strange that he got preferential treatment.
As for Ciaritzal himself, he was recovering well from the battle. Apparently devouring a number of darkness cultivators had been good for him, and being formed more of spirit than body his wounds healed nicely with sufficient spiritual energy to draw upon. Though John thought of the guardian beast as merely dwelling in the cave, he wasn’t just lying around all day and night. He had the important job of purifying his own energy to provide blessings to family members, and while such activities were also beneficial to his own cultivation it was important to the clan- and hard work.
The reverse empowerment ceremony had been something he couldn’t have accomplished alone- nor would it have been fair to ask it of him. John spent some time learning about the past the clan had with him. It wasn’t all that much more complicated than freeing him from the control of the Society of Midnight, but simple actions didn’t mean the connection was so simple either. After all, he wouldn’t have stayed with the Tenebach clan for generations otherwise, as even though they provided him useful resources he could have gone out to search for his own. While a roaming spirit beast was in great danger, they could also greatly advance their own cultivation.
On the topic of the reverse empowerment ceremony, even after half a year it was possible to see how the older members of the clan had their cultivation ability bolstered, mostly returning them back to their former ability and allowing them to regain lost cultivation. Aydan was able to surpass the barrier into the Soul Expansion Phase once more, and others grew stronger as well. That included John’s grandfather Luctus, who was well on his way towards the late Soul Expansion Phase. Perhaps it might take several more years as his age was still a factor slowing him down, but he had the potential to reach the peak of Soul Expansion Phase and perhaps even step into Consolidated Soul Phase. There were others with that potential as well, and that was just among the older generation. A few of John’s cousins- including Magtel and Crystin- might reach that level as well. Everyone just presumed that John would reach that point, and while he didn’t necessarily disagree with their assessment, it wouldn’t be easy. With another half of a year to advance just a single rank, he could feel how long it might take. A decade, perhaps, if he really could make it.
Matayal was advancing as well, their cultivations nearly matched. John was glad he’d been able to pass through the Spiritual Collection Phase so quickly to return to where Fortkran had been before his death, or that wouldn’t have been possible. At times John felt like he was dragging Matayal down- even outside of dual cultivation- but she assured him that was not the case.
“Sometimes,” she said, “My cultivation is at a point where I seem to be pulling ahead. When we are connected, I pull you towards that point. You do the same, but without really thinking of it. Come, let me show you.”
The two of them dove inside her, to her innermost core. The dantian wasn’t a fully real place, but the experiences there were certainly quite real. The sea inside of her was once more full, large crashing waves glinting. John looked around, but didn’t spot any differences. “It appears the same.”
“Only because you are not familiar. Come, let me show you.” She grabbed his ‘hand’ and pulled him under the surface. They dove down until they came to the sea floor. “See this? Before, it was merely water in an empty void. Now there is a seafloor, and seaweed as well. The winds up above are also greater.”
“I didn’t mean to disrupt your cultivation like that,” John said. “I know you only have water element totems and don’t plan to have any other.”
“That’s true,” she said, “But this small balance of other elements is actually good. You didn’t force this upon me, I chose it. It will always resemble an ocean, but now it’s a little more complete.”
After they extricated themselves from the depth of her dantian, John thought about the changes to her. It wasn’t anything sudden or even significant- a small amount of other elements was just that. More importantly, it resembled her attitude towards how she should cultivate changing. He hoped he was leading her down the right path- but it wasn’t as if he controlled everything. They were walking together. It was a somewhat frightening prospect to be inextricably tied to someone, but also comforting.