When there were problems in the world, talking about them was the only way to ensure vaguely clear communication about a topic. It was important for when people wanted to be on the same page about what they planned to do, and more so the more tied together people were.
It was also difficult, since people didn’t always know what to say, or even remember that different people thought different things than themself. It was often easier to avoid thinking about problems or potential problems until they got closer.
Such it was that a week passed without much conversation on certain topics, before Matayal finally pulled John aside to speak. “We need to talk about our children,” she said.
In this case, John was aware of anything that could be done regarding them. There weren’t even really problems, just oddities. He was worried for a moment something had happened, but Matayal seemed unconcerned and unrushed. “What about them, specifically?”
“Normally this could wait until after they were born, or perhaps even later once we began to see their aptitudes. However, we have more information than most about them. And we have certain obligations to fulfill.” Matayal paused briefly. “I think we should discuss who is going to lead our clans.”
“I’m not really sure that can be chosen this early,” John commented, “But you wouldn’t have brought it up if you didn’t have a reason for it. Go on.”
“It’s quite simple,” Matayal said. “Because ignoring whatever other traits they might possess, they have one factor that significantly determines their status in this world. An elemental affinity. And unless it becomes significantly less prominent after their birth, it would be extremely problematic for them to follow anything but one path.”
“Right,” John nodded. He knew all of that information, but he’d been more concerned with the Society of Midnight and the mere fact that he was going to have children that the practical angle there had slipped his mind. In all fairness, it would be decades before any of them would need to take over running the clan. Even he wasn’t in charge of the Tenebach clan… just yet. Though it would likely be soon. “So the boy takes over the Brandle clan, one of the girls takes over the Tenebach clan… and the other girl…”
That was where they ran into a bit of a problem. While not everyone would want the responsibilities of running a clan, the benefits were real. Having guards follow them around was an ancillary benefit. There were other things like getting custom built training areas that were quite helpful.
“If we keep her here, where the earth element is prominent, she will always know that her older sister is somehow more important by random chance of her birth,” Matayal said basically what John was thinking himself. “But being in the Shimmering Islands would simply be worse.”
“We could send her off to train with the Order of the Amber Heart or something,” John commented. “But being away from any and all family likely won’t make for a well-adjusted adult. And I have the feeling they all might be cultivating early.”
“Considering that they are basically cultivating right now?” Matayal nodded. “I would imagine they won’t wait until their teenage years to begin cultivating in earnest. If they even could.”
“Even though I can’t think of anything better,” John commented, “It also feels weird to decide the position of the other two based purely on elemental affinity. But I doubt there would really be any competition in that regard.”
“They are all darkness aligned,” Matayal pointed out. “So it is likely they would each be capable of using any of darkness, earth, and water if they wanted to. Unless something about this affinity precludes that.”
Unfortunately they had very little information, except that it could probably be considered a good thing. Being a natural cultivator in a world where that same factor greatly affected your status might be a threat to some, but as a member of their clans with no direct competition it should only benefit them. Except for the odd one out, of course.
“Why couldn’t they have been normal,” John sighed wistfully.
“Did you really think there was any chance that our children would end up normal?” Matayal asked.
“They could have at least ended up like us. Talented but a bit odd.”
“You’re a transmigrator, though. That makes you more than a bit odd.”
“I really don’t want to think about that,” John grimaced. “I know that, logically, being a transmigrator doesn’t make it more likely that my children will be transmigrators or something themselves, but it kind of feels like it.”
“Doesn’t it?” Matayal asked. “Though as the pregnancy seems to be going normally, I would expect it to be more likely that they could be products of more traditional reincarnation.”
“Ugh,” John made a face. “I really hope that our children are normal freaks of nature that simply get into trouble because of their high talent or something. I don’t want to raise children older than myself.”
“Would you count your time as Fortkran?” Matayal asked. “That would bring you close to fifty years.”
“… now I feel strangely old. Do I act old? How did we even get married anyway…” John shook his head.
“It was arranged for us,” Matayal pointed out. “And you replaced an insufferable ponce with a nice, intelligent, and quite talented individual.”
“I got really lucky that it was you,” John said. “I feel like most people wouldn’t have handled it as well.”
“I feel lucky as well,” Matayal said. “To have a man willing to express his emotions. Many people see it as a sign of weakness.”
“Your father certainly doesn’t hide anything.”
“And he’s a wonderful man,” Matayal smiled. “But enough with how lucky we are. Let us go back to this supposedly extremely rare circumstance we find ourselves in. Whether or not this is good luck, we are to be the parents of three children in half a year’s time. And it’s far too late for them to end up normal.”
“Yeah,” John said. “I don’t think there’s really much else to say. Unless circumstances change drastically, one goes to the Brandle clan, another here, and the third… somewhere that will most benefit her. On that topic, are the water element gathering formations sufficient here?”
“More than sufficient,” Matayal said. “Though in interest of maintaining balance, I have been attempting to focus on the other two. They have had somewhat less time to gather spiritual energy.”
“Right,” John nodded. “Should you travel more? Is that good for them? Would staying in one place be better?”
“I don’t think we can know any of that for sure,” Matayal said. “But I’m positive we’ll figure out something good enough.”
Unlike his usual tactics of showing up and leaving unannounced, Steve was still present at the Tenebach clan after more than a week had passed. Seeing him brought to mind that John should probably talk with him about some things.
“So,” John said. “Why did you do it?”
“What, specifically?” Steve asked. “I’ve done lots of things that probably raise questions.”
“Go traipsing off into the Darklands almost getting yourself killed. The thing is, we’re not like… good friends.” John frowned as he said that. “Don’t get me wrong, we are friends. And in this world, that means I’d be glad to fight on your side and assume it was the right one if a conflict came up. But, aside from our similar methods of arriving we’re not that close. We’ve seen each other a handful of times total. So why did you do it?”
Steve shrugged, “Just because our bond isn’t that deep doesn’t mean it isn’t real. You are my only friend in this world.”
“You sure about that?” John raised an eyebrow. Yustina might be disappointed to hear that, but maybe it meant he was subconsciously thinking of her as something else. “I appreciate that, but it doesn’t seem like enough. And I wouldn’t be mad if you had other motivations. In fact, I might prefer it. I don’t want you to just get yourself killed doing something that might help me and the clan. If you were seeking out some sort of reward, that would be fine. You brought valuable information, it deserves that.”
“It really wasn’t much more than that, though,” Steve said. “The friendship thing. If I had to say it… I was going to be going somewhere, doing something stupid and nearly dying. That was inevitable. It still is, by the way. I just thought I would do something useful. Also those guys made me mad the last time we met, so I wanted a bit of revenge.”
“See, now that’s all reasonable. By this world’s standards at least.” John thought for a few moments. “So you’re just going to get back into it soon, huh? What about Yustina?”
“What about her?” Steve asked.
“You’re just going to drag her into danger behind you?”
“I’m not the one dragging her around. She’s doing that all on her own. Besides, it’s not like she’s in any big danger. She’s a cultivator, and if something really happened she’d probably just come back again anyway.” Steve reflected on what he had just said and made a face. “Aw crap, can we pretend I didn’t say that part?”
“… Now I’m really curious. But since it seems like a secret that isn’t yours to share, I won’t press the matter.” If John wanted to, he knew he could get something out of Steve. Maybe not directly, but ask the right question and he’d instinctively answer. He really wanted to, but he also didn’t want to mess up his relationship with his only friend who had seen Earth and also a powerful fire element cultivator.
He also couldn’t just ask Yustina, since the only place he would have gotten a hint was from Steve. His initial approach to the man had been an exception, since he wasn’t friends and was probing at Steve’s status in a way that would either do basically nothing or reveal them both to each other.
John wondered if he could tell Matayal. She was good at keeping secrets, and could help him puzzle out what Steve meant. And they shared everything they knew, unless they thought it didn’t matter. But also, he probably shouldn’t.
Steve brought John out of those thoughts by advancing the conversation. “So, on more pleasant topics. Your wife is pregnant. Excited?”
The pregnancy wasn’t public yet, but Steve had been around when Matayal made the announcement to Luctus, so it made sense that he knew. “That’s right. Keep it secret for a few weeks, will you?” Beyond that, it would be obvious to anyone who had eyes unless they kept Matayal completely hidden from anyone. That would probably create much worse rumors, and if they were worried about her safety making it seem like something mysterious was wrong was a bad way to go about it. “With triplets, in fact.”
“Oh wow,” Steve said. “I hear that sort of stuff runs in families. Is it common in her clan?”
“Nope. Not here either. This is just a one of a kind, random occurrence.”
“Cool. So. A father… it’s actually kind of hard to believe.”
“Which part of it?” John asked.
“I don’t know. Back on Earth I heard about everyone having kids and I kind of had it in my mind that it was for people way older than me. Even though they were sometimes younger and only occasionally more than a few years older. Here people have extended lifespans, so I wasn’t thinking about that kind of thing at all.”
“Well, we were going to have children eventually. It seemed reasonable to do it sooner. Though we sort of planned for one at a time.”
“Yeah, well,” Steve shrugged. “I planned to retire on a tropical island. And now I’m here.”
“You could still retire on a tropical island,” John pointed out. “It’ll just have crazy cultivation crap happening there.”
“Good point,” Steve said. “But right now I’ve got this crazy cultivation itch. It’s hard to ignore. I get why some old fogies are so obsessed with advancing. Speaking of which, I should probably go see if there are any more active volcanoes around or something.”