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Water. That was the beginning of everything. It began with a vast ocean of potential. Water was capable of many things, but alone it shifted between peaceful and forlornly empty. Storms brought a new sense of vigor, and the separation of waters above and below with the sky and sea expanded upon what water meant.
Wind whipped up waves and lightning struck the sea. Then came earth, adding yet more detail. A variety in landscapes could only exist with something stable. The wind carried water to the land, where it formed lakes and rivers, as well as prompting plants to grow. The more elements were introduced and mixed, the more complete the world became.
Darkness was also present, beneath the ground and deep in the sea. It provided yet another layer, the skies, seas and land and the parts of each that could not be seen. As for its counterpart, there was in fact a source of light.
Small as it was, a sphere of flames provided additional depth to the picture. It provided warmth. Heat. And even light- dim though it was, it contributed to the completeness.
Personally, even though he knew Earth’s surface was around seventy percent covered in water, John felt there was too much ocean. Then again, if they were looking at purely elemental balance… that was correct. Matayal was more or less pure water, after all. As a cultivator, however, that simply meant she had larger reserves of that particular element, and with that specialization would come greater control. Though John didn’t find it difficult to control any element he had a totem for, he understood that pure element cultivators were still at an advantage in that regard.
On his end, the central focus was a tree, now much more than a seed or sapling but something properly a tree. It was not particularly large yet, but it happily took sustenance from the other elements around it, slowly growing as it refined some of what they produced into darkness energy. Yet it didn’t produce only darkness, but also returned some of the other elements in an altered form. Trees grew in soil, but that same soil expanded every time leaves fell. Likewise, air was converted to different forms, though John doubted there were things such as carbon dioxide or oxygen in the semi-real space.
Water was absorbed, and it could even be said a different form of it was produced. At this point it didn’t replenish or grow the water element, but some of it was converted to sap. If it were physical, John would imagine the properties would be quite strange.
The waters withdrew, leaving John with a much more modest quantity strictly from his own dantian. Even so, it was sufficient. For not having a matching totem, he thought it was even more than that.
As for the fire and light… John was quite proud that he didn’t even feel pain at their presence. That was about all he could say for that though. He’d had fire inside of him for a while, but he’d intentionally made it produce light this time. It was uncomfortable, but after facing off against a light element cultivator he now felt slightly capable of managing the element.
It would have been nice if Kusuma had some sort of magical solution for the couple, but that wasn’t the case. Even if cultivation was basically equivalent to magic, it didn’t solve this particular problem. What was happening with Matayal’s pregnancy was not normal.
Yet on the other hand, strange things happening around cultivators was the norm. Kusuma was able to provide assurances that if things didn’t seem to be harmful, they probably weren’t. Along with some other advice about pregnancy in general, she didn’t have much else to offer.
While it likely would have benefitted John to remain and take advantage of her training for as long as possible, too much would be an imposition… and they had family to reassure. Letters telling people there was danger but things were mostly fine were hardly sufficient.
So they got ready to move on, giving thanks to Kusuma and the Mulyani clan for their hospitality. Their next stop was Pualani.
Every time John saw Pualani, he couldn’t help but think it wasn’t natural. Whether that meant the flower-shaped pattern of land was artificial or supernatural he wasn’t sure, and nobody seemed to have any records about a time before things were as they were now. He knew that the island- and it was one island, despite the reasonable stretches of water between each piece- had been enhanced with formations to augment its natural ability to shelter people from the storms of the Shimmering Islands. Heavy rains and lightning still hit the island, but the ships in the harbor were not at risk.
When John stepped into the Brandle grounds, he was immediately met with a rib-crushing hug. The good news was the damage to his lung was mostly healed, so it was simply uncomfortable instead of actually damaging. When his grandfather-in-law put him down and reached for Matayal, she actually dodged away.
“That’s not a good idea right now,” she said seriously.
Netanel still held his arms out in front of him and waved them around floppily. Then he sighed dramatically. “My own granddaughter won’t even greet me at the door. Oh, how far we have fallen.” Then he shrugged, not asking for an immediate explanation. “Good to see you both again. Tell me everything.”
So they did, though not out in the open. While members of the Brandle clan could be trusted, prying ears from neighbors absolutely existed- and some information was not going to be widely advertised. Specifically, Matayal’s pregnancy.
After that aspect was explained, Netanel didn’t even feign complaining about their stop on Kaimana. “That… is a matter I am entirely unspecialized in.” Netanel looked down towards Matayal’s belly, though there was nothing to be seen with the eyes just yet. He didn’t probe with his senses, though he was clearly feeling for anything that radiated out from her. John wasn’t sure if he sensed the small figure with a slightly different feel to the water element energy like he did. He was familiar with that one on a much closer level, and Matayal’s energy as well. “So… I have three grandchildren in there. That… actually leads to a bit of complication.”
John understood that very well. It wasn’t just that they were all coming at once, but the exact number was tricky. The Brandle clan didn’t so specifically care about having a main line like the Tenebach clan, but it was still more convenient. Meanwhile, the Tenebachs specifically worked to have a single child to take over. There was a reason he hadn’t had any siblings.
Matayal placed a hand on her belly subconsciously. “I imagine this one should be a fine heir for the Brandle clan. I can’t imagine they will not be skilled in the water element.”
“That leaves two more,” Netanel said. “One could be raised here, but that would mean choosing one from birth to be part of the Tenebach clan, without knowing anything more between them.”
John nodded, “It’s not that different from normal, though. A child is born and raised for the position, with the hopes that they will do well. It… doesn’t always work out.” Like with the original Fortkran before him. No matter how parents raised a child, there was always a chance for them to turn out differently from what they wanted. In Forkran’s case, John could simply say poorly. He respected the desire for people to be individuals and make their own life choices, but Fortkran’s merely harmed himself and others. The fact that his death led to John’s presence in the world couldn’t be counted in his favor. “We’ll manage.”
“That’s it, then,” Netanel shrugged. “Nothing else to say. We know this won’t be easy, but perhaps we can make the struggles worth it.” He grinned, “Though I don’t have to deal with most of the hard parts.”
The Mulyani clan trained in air techniques, and while John had certainly benefited from the weeks with them, he was glad to be back at the Brandle clan. HIs elements were still balanced towards a different side, and more than that the Brandle clan had a training room set up for him. Well, technically for members of the Tenebach clan or the like, but the room condensed either earth, darkness, or both. John was glad to tip the balance back in that direction, though he knew he’d later wish he had more opportunities to train air element.
Such was life though. He’d chosen this, though he hadn’t realized how much it would make moving around important to his training. Then again, when he was on the edge of Foundation Phase choosing his path he didn’t fully believe he would even get to Soul Expansion Phase and the next step of his cycle of elements plan. But here he was, almost certainly on track to reach Consolidated Soul Phase at some point.
And beyond that… he honestly didn’t know. If he continued on with a water totem he would at least have an allied cycle of elements completed. But he was still considering fire, to benefit Matayal and push himself further along the path. Even in the wider world few people made it to the next stage beyond that. It wasn’t as if people with the moniker ‘demigod’ were running around all over the place. Personally John found the elemental specific names more appropriate, things like Brilliant Radiance and Ocean, but none of those names fit him.
The closest would be Umbra, the moniker for darkness at that phase, but even that would be stretching things. He would be something like half darkness at best.
He didn’t know what he would pick, though. His cultivation also affected Matayal, and he was still waiting for her to make a decision. And he wasn’t fully certain which was right himself, so it made sense for her to take time. Besides, they weren’t exactly focused on that at the moment. Before he could reach that point, he expected to be a father of three.
Various chemicals flooded his brain. His head swirled in confusion, but along with worry he felt a lot of hope and love and happiness. He might logically know that things were difficult, but that didn’t mean they had to be bad.
As the grandson-in-law of Netanel, John could go see him any time. That was the case even before the marriage had been finalized. From the moment they first met- really met, not just John’s memories from before that- John had been accepted as family. Though with a clan, even being family wasn’t necessarily enough to meet with the clan head at will.
John knew it was exceptional, though. It would certainly be strange if Netanel wouldn’t meet with him at his request, but he really meant any time. John avoided going when there were other guests Netanel was dealing with, visitors from various factions, but he could just walk in and the man would have made time for him.
Since things weren’t a rush, John took some time to prepare what he wanted to talk about the man with and came to meet him at a time convenient to them both. If it had been someone else, he might have hesitated to broach the topic… but he figured it was better to be straightforward. “You’re stuck at the peak of Soul Expansion Phase,” he said.
“Ouch. Brutal,” Netanel said. “But not untrue. It’s a bottleneck that many have trouble surpassing. With all of the affairs of the clan, I just haven’t been able to make the last step.”
“Is that it?” John asked. “Clan affairs certainly will make you busy, but you have resources that can help with the process. Is there something specific? Something I can help with?” John obviously couldn’t offer the man cultivation advice, as he was still lower in rank and not a water element cultivator. But he knew there could be other issues at play.
“To be honest,” Netanel sighed, “It is the clan. We’re doing well. Big alliances with the Tenebachs and the Mulyanis. But that means a lot of people currying favor and many things to keep track of. I can’t help but worry about things, even if I know they’ll be alright in the end.”
As John wasn’t a therapist or trained in psychology of any kind, there wasn’t really much he could do about that. Not directly, anyway. “I was hoping you might need a rare herb to make a pill or something.”
“Bah,” Netanel grinned. “If that was the case, I’d just buy it. Whatever the cost, being Consolidated Soul Phase would quickly make up for it. But it’s just that.”
“There’s nothing I can do for the moment, then,” John said. “But soon enough… Matayal and I will be taking over managing affairs.” They didn’t have to both take over for their respective clans at the same time, but it would certainly be on similar timeframes. That would be… sometime after the end of the pregnancy. Maybe years, maybe shortly afterwards. Either way, John knew his current roaming lifestyle would be put on hold. It wasn’t as if he wouldn’t be able to do things, but he would have to spend more time considering which move was the right one.
It might end up detrimental to his own cultivation, but John knew that not everything was about him. Frankly, the freedom and resources he’d had so far were much more than almost anyone could have wished for. Few people got the benefits of being a young master of a clan. If that meant he had to give up some of his own time, he was quite happy for it.
Of course, there was also the matter of being a parent. That was the same sort of thing. On Earth, John had eventually shown his appreciation for his family, but he never fully understood what his parents gave up for him to be alive. Not that he thought it would be strictly negative to have children. Like everything in life, there were trade offs. Some of them were just unexpected… like two extra children coming at the same time.