It was unclear to John if he was in more danger of running out of air now or when he was in the deep sea. In the latter case, there wasn’t any air he could directly breathe, and he had to stay conscious to maintain his supply of air. In the current case, one of his lungs worked just fine. The problem was the other one was constantly being filled with blood, which was screwing up the whole process.
Of course, he was actually much better at the moment because of one important factor- he wasn’t alone. Not only did he have several guards, Matayal was also present. John would likely allow Aydan to reach inside his body with his energy for the sake of helping him, but he regularly went further than that with Matayal. His trust for Aydan was that he wouldn’t try to hurt him, while Matayal he knew wouldn’t. The difference was the experience with navigating another’s body where it might be unfamiliar or subconsciously fight back.
John avoided speaking as Matayal reached into him, controlling the movements of a needle and thread. It would be better to have a proper doctor, but they didn’t have one they could trust present. It was unlikely that the doctor would be compromised by the Society of Midnight or someone else who wanted John dead, but even if it was a ten percent chance it as risky as the minute of combat with a Consolidated Soul Phase expert.
John’s attention focused on the blood that wanted to ooze out of the wide gash piercing through one side of his lung. A whole sword blade plus some energy expanding from the sides had pushed through him, to the point the wound went almost halfway around the perimeter of his lung from the right side. Stitching the flesh together would only be the start of the process to heal it, but a handy thing about cultivation was that he could guide the healing. He might have to invest in some regenerative medicines to minimize lasting damage, but that was exactly the sort of thing that was a responsible use of finances. Assuming he couldn’t avoid getting injured in the first place.
As Matayal continued to stitch him up a little bit at a time, needle flitting back and forth, John focused on staying conscious to make things easy for her. The pain was hard to push through, but the needle itself was basically unnoticable compared to the large gash in his side. His right arm was held up at an uncomfortable angle by Aydan and Yonit, to keep it out of Matayal’s way. If he tried to move anything on that side the severed muscles below his armpit screamed, and that just made everything worse.
Taking painkillers of any sort would just make him woozy, and could result in him passing out. He’d had injuries before, but this was the one he was most aware of on a continuing basis.
After his lung was stitched up it still hurt to breathe, but John could relax slightly as there was no more blood oozing into his lung to clean out. However, his own work wasn’t done. He downed a few pills- little round pellets of powdery medicine that quickly dissolved in his stomach. There was medicinal energy inside of them, some normal sorts of chemical medicine as well as more supernatural. He didn’t fully understand how it worked, but with spiritual energy in the world he didn’t find it particularly strange. He guided the strands of medicinal energy to the wounds in his side, focusing that and his own natural healing where it needed to be.
The pain dulled slightly, and some of the angry swelling subsided as Matayal continued to work on the other layers of flesh and the various muscles that had been damaged, knitting them together as much as she could. Energy provided a huge advantage to her task, as she could compare how things connected on John’s left side which was in excellent condition. Her own body was similar, of course, but the exact size and shape of muscles and how they attached to a differently sized ribcage wasn’t as close.
When things were getting close to finished and all of the medicinal energy from the pills had been absorbed, John allowed himself to pass out, his arm still being held high.
When he awoke he was in a carriage, the sound of rolling wheels crunching on the road below. “Where are we?” John asked groggily. He winced as he accidentally moved his right side, though the pain was currently dulled.
“Leaving,” Matayal said simply. “No point in staying.”
“We agreed it was safer to move you than to remain in a location the Society of Midnight might find you,” Aydan explained. “We headed south out of Lunson, and when we determined we weren’t being followed cut to the southwest. Even if the Society of Midnight happened to have people returning to the Darklands, they wouldn’t travel this path. We’re heading to the Shimmering Islands.”
“Smart,” John nodded. He spoke weakly, so his lungs didn’t move much. Fortunately moving his diaphragm didn’t hurt too bad, as most of the damage was restrained to his upper lung. “I got… a piece of Ciaritzal,” John declared.
“What?” Aydan asked. “I… what do you mean?”
“Just like it sounds,” John said. “They took pieces of him to empower themselves.”
“The guardian never said anything about that,” Aydan commented. “But perhaps… he simply did not wish for us to get into further conflict. Or he presumed they were gone forever.”
“Could be,” John said. “Could have regrown, too. But it felt like I needed to get it.” John closed his eyes and took a slow but not terribly deep breath. “I just didn’t know that until the battle started. The desire to not run away, to fight… that was serious too. Aside from the pain, I’m feeling pretty good about things.”
“I am glad you achieved your goal,” Matayal said.
“Sorry I almost got myself killed,” John muttered.
“You explained your reasoning,” she said. “I understand. But I’m glad you quickly pulled out of the fight, once you’d achieved your goals.”
“Almost screwed that one up,” John shook his head. “I was just lucky that taking this bit made him pull back.”
“Perhaps, but it wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t make the right move. And luck is important for any cultivator. An Elder of the Society of Midnight who has achieved the Consolidated Soul Phase must have experienced some of his own.” Matayal smiled and placed a hand on John’s shoulder. “But, as successful as this endeavor was, I’m going to have to ask you to refrain from unnecessary risk-taking for quite some time.”
John smiled back, “Absolutely.” Though he’d felt himself pushed towards that battle, the thought of people depending on him normally made him more cautious. The alliance between the Brandle Clan and Tenebach Clan was fairly secure, but he was expected to take over a leadership position at some point. While his father could continue to manage the clan until one of his children grew old enough, John also didn’t want to abandon his wife and the triplets.
While cultivators were crazy, John vowed to resist any pulls of the same sort that had gotten him into that battle, at least until things were stable. After that, cultivators were somewhat expected to take risks if they needed them to advance.
Before they left Lunson, Matayal had collected John’s prizes for placing as he did in the tournament. For two established clans, the amount of wealth wasn’t much- but it was still useful to have it immediately available. Cultivation resources were easy to trade and sell, and the extra cash was used to change carriages several times. That included sending empty carriages to multiple destinations vaguely in the same direction they were heading.
John wasn’t going to speculate if it was paranoia. They didn’t ever catch sight of anyone following them, but if they had it might have been too late. Letuwin wasn’t the only powerful cultivator the Society of Midnight had at the tournament, and if they were chasing after them they would likely bring everyone they could.
Along the way a message was sent at maximum speed to the Tenebach clan. There was no guarantee of any sort of retaliation, but they needed to be ready if it was going to happen. A Consolidated Soul Phase cultivator would stand out in the Stone Conglomerate- and probably be seen as an invasion- but they needed allies and neutral entities concerned about intruders from the Darklands to be ready if they were going to assist. They hadn’t seen enough cultivators from the Society of Midnight at the tournament to be actually concerning, but it was better to warn them regardless.
John’s lung and side were healing slowly as they traveled. Since he didn’t have anything better to do, he spent all day cultivating, including as much encouragement as possible of that healing process. There was a limit on how much medicine he could reasonably take, because everything had side effects. Even, or perhaps especially, supernatural sorts of medicine. If nothing else, bits of impurities built up, random bits of useless junk energy that clogged the meridians.
The neutral mix of energy in Astrein was actually quite pleasant as John built up his small store of fire once more. He kept a significant amount of every element except for light, though the three he had totems for were over ten times the amount of fire he kept. Water was about three times the fire, since it worked well with his totems and he was quite familiar. Attuning a fire-type totem was still tempting, but he was going to wait for Matayal’s response on the matter, and not press her right now. Instead, he spent some time looking at both water and fire totems to find the right one. He was still just shy of the twenty-fourth rank, which meant he had three more to go before he really needed to think about it.
Smelling the salt of the sea was pleasant for John. He could tell that Matayal found it even more so, since it was her home. The harbor was much less impressive than Dolomite Harbor with its high cliffs, though it was still a bustling trade port.
They wasted no time chartering a ship. John had sort of been hoping that the Wavecutter would randomly be present, but of course it wasn’t. The swift ship run by Captain Sohan was reliable and useful for their purposes, but they went many places. The chance they would be at this specific harbor was basically nothing. They were expected to arrive in about a week, according to the dockmaster, but waiting for that would completely destroy the purpose of haste. And they might find something else to send them to a different port from wherever they were.
So instead they went with a ship mostly intended for cargo, one on the smaller side. While it wasn’t comfortable to squeeze six more people into it, the captain was willing to give up on the trading run she was planning for the price they were willing to pay. It might have been unnecessary, but either outrunning pursuers or getting to somewhere secure where they could properly rest were worth the expense.
Captain Terri was an older woman, and significantly more cautious than Sohan. Of course, the Rattler was less specifically equipped for massive storms than the Wavecutter. They had methods to redirect any lightning as much as they could, but they weren’t intended to be used unless necessary.
They couldn’t completely avoid storms, not in the Shimmering Islands, but they avoided the most violent ones as much as they could. Like most sensible captains.
One of the storms was still pretty bad- the scale of which things were worth avoiding being somewhat skewed when there were always storms- to the point that John found his recovering injuries quite unhappy with the way the boat swayed and sometimes suddenly jerked. Overall, however, he thought he was better off than Matayal, who spent that day with a bucket by her side. As a water cultivator raised in the Shimmering Islands she wouldn’t get seasick even in the biggest storms, but her current circumstances were an exception. It still seemed a bit early, but John had to admit he wasn’t fully cognizant of the exact details of pregnancy. And triplets had to throw things off quite a bit. They were still pretty tiny, but that didn’t always matter.