Everything back in Marble County should be going well. That was what John had to assume, and worrying about it would be pointless. His grandfather was there, and now in the Consolidated Soul Phase. The Tenebach clan was strong enough to defend against attacks from the Society of Midnight, unless they brought their full force to bear. But while they’d managed various intrusions into the Stone Conglomerate, those could be considered relatively small in scale. Though even with their considerable power, the loss of three Consolidated Soul Phase members would be felt sorely. Four, if the long-term damage to Leutwin severely harmed his cultivation. In an open conflict they could squash the Tenebach clan, but a defensive stance provided some advantage to the Tenebachs- along with allies. Even those who weren’t traditionally their allies in the region would not tolerate a full army from the Darklands making their way all the way to Marble County.
With all that said, it didn’t somehow make the Tenebach clan invincible. The Society of Midnight’s reappearance in the affairs of the Tenebach clan indicated they were determined to cause trouble- and snatch back the family’s guardian beast for their own uses. There were methods other than direct assault that the clan was still watching out for.
But back in the Shimmering Islands all John had to deal with was bundles of hormones telling him to love his children. Awareness of such phenomena didn’t make him reject his feelings, or he would have to push away every emotion and impulse to do anything… or not do anything. That was how people worked. It just happened to be particularly useful in this case because while newborn babies were cute, they also had plenty of negative aspects to them. They cried loudly- and with triplets that was quite a bit more. Matayal had to be the one to deal with them when they were hungry. There was no formula to be had, and there were potential problems with hiring a wet nurse given the way the children were eager to absorb spiritual energy.
It wasn’t possible to stop Tirto from absorbing as much water elemental spiritual energy as he pleased without confining him. It didn’t seem to be dangerous, and his actual absorption rate was not that high. He was still less than the first rank, after all. Not that it was expected for children to cultivate at all. The normal method was to wait until they were at least teenagers before giving them a proper cultivation technique to work from, even in cultivator clans. There were too many dangers for those who were younger, but for natural cultivators like the triplets, careful monitoring indicated that it was safe enough.
Melanthina and Ursel were taken into the cultivation chambers for their particular elements for a portion of the day. Perhaps they might have been kept away from concentrated elements entirely if they did not grow restless without. Besides, John and Matayal didn’t want to favor any of their children too much if they could help it, and an advantage of cultivation would be one possible factor.
“I wish there was more information about this situation,” Matayal complained.
“I think it is up to us to provide it, then,” John pointed out. “If not for the use of the public, then at least for our clans.”
“You think this might happen again?” she asked.
“I really hope not,” John replied. “Your family doesn’t have a history of it, right? It could have been completely random chance, or something related to me. Or recessive genes or something.”
“Maybe,” Matayal frowned. John had explained the basic concept of genes to her- which was about as much as he understood anyway. “What happens if we do it wrong?”
“Then we’ll be no worse than any other new parents,” John assured her. “We’ll be fine.”
The words were for himself too. While they had the luxury of servants to rock a crying baby to sleep if they woke up in the middle of the night, for the most part they were doing the work themselves. That included changing diapers, which is where having undying love for their children came in most handy. Fancy cultivation tricks didn’t completely do away with unpleasantness.
“So,” John said as he and Matayal looked at Ursel. “I am aware that most parents think their child is the best. But I think ours might actually be the best.”
“That might depend on the metrics you use,” Matayal pointed out. “Because I think we could count this as a negative.”
They were currently shuffling after the two-month-old as she crawled along. She was very determined, and while not particularly fast it was quite early for much motion at all. Not that John had a detailed knowledge of what development made sense for babies before he came to this world. But the women generally kept track, and this was pretty early.
“At least Melanthina and Tirto are content to stay still,” John commented. “Though it’s not like we are lacking in people to follow them around. Netanel is practically begging to do it.”
“Yes, well, he had clan duties to attend to. We can’t let him spend all his time with Tirto.”
John nodded solemnly. “That’s another factor we didn’t consider. Favoritism of grandparents. It’s good that Netanel likes Tirto, of course, since he’ll spend the majority of his time here. But we don’t want them to get spoiled either. It’s not always the fault of anyone in particular but… well, we both know how people can turn out.”
Ursel was currently trying to find her way through a door that led out into the gardens. Pressing her face against it didn’t work, it pushed her back just like her arms did. But she clearly understood that the door was supposed to open.
John was the one who caved first and opened the door, letting her out to plant her face in the dirt. Ursel seemed quite happy with the results, though the washers might be less so when it came time to clean her garments. Then again, they’d already confined her to more durable materials that could withstand a lot of friction with the floor, and they were also easier to clean. Not ‘refined’ enough to show her at a social engagement, but the children of clans normally didn’t attend those until they were a few years old- and even then they were only in attendance for the brief period they could be expected to behave.
Ursel was kept away from any plants she might try to eat, as even otherwise trivial amounts of toxins were dangerous for a two month old child. John knew there were jokes about parents having eyes on the back of their heads, and he was quite glad that he had something one step better- his energy senses. He could have kept track of Ursel even without the clear feeling of earth elemental spiritual energy around her, but it helped her stand out from the environment.
Matayal shook her head with a grin, “I have the feeling she’s going to get into a lot of trouble.”
“That’s no contest, since she already is. The other two… seem more content to just hang out at least.”
John wished that pleasant days of watching all three of his children could continue indefinitely, but before too long he would need to return to the Tenebach clan. Whether it was a few months away or a year, the time would be all too brief. At some point, he would no longer constantly be with Matayal, and the triplets would likewise not always be together. That was just the way things would be, since nothing so convenient as teleportation existed in the world. At least, not as far as anyone was willing to admit. If it did exist, it was beyond the tier of any of the surrounding countries.
For a cultivator, six months could be considered the blink of an eye. For new parents, it was almost an eternity. John and Matayal’s cultivations were steadily advancing towards the twenty-seventh rank and the peak of the Soul Expansion Phase, but that was little change compared to their children.
From crawling around with determination to walking and trying to reach door handles that were still too high for her, Ursel was still the most mobile and active of the triplets. Tirto was easily convinced to crawl towards his parents or grandpa for affection, but he was also content to just do nothing but watch what was happening around him. Melanthina was capable of crawling, but seemed to find little motivation for it, simply waiting patiently for her next feeding. At six months old they were all beginning to babble, but none of it was really talking yet.
All of that was vaguely within the realm of normal development. But there were other aspects that were definitely more exceptional and kept the two parents on their toes. Ursel was the one to first use energy intentionally, forming little mounds of dirt without using her hands. Perhaps she had the intention to do something more, but those were the main results. But it wasn’t just her that tried to use energy. Tirto would try to replicate anyone who used the water element for anything, which was all of the clan and most of the servants. Meanwhile, without many sources of inspiration Melanthina mostly focused on whenever her father used darkness energy.
John sighed. It had become second nature for him to use energy in his daily life. It was like having extra limbs- he wouldn’t think about whether or not to use them, and simply did it because it was easiest. It had been quite a fright when the children first copied active cultivation. Using energy outside of themselves could be dangerous, but internal uses had the most fragile parts. Internal organs were one thing, but the meridians and dantian were sensitive to misuse of energy. John and Matayal had to be careful about even casual circulation of energy in the presence of the triplets, and those who helped watch Tirto were strictly cautioned.
“I’m not sure if we should encourage them or not…” John shook his head. “If we do and everything goes well, they might turn into peak geniuses. On the other hand, if they just have the talent… waiting until they’re a bit older to cultivate safely is better.”
“This is another situation where we have little guidance,” Matayal reminded him. “The records Kusuma dredged up just indicated that situations like this were overall a good thing, and more likely than not to produce geniuses. But we both know that dangers comes hand in hand with cultivation- whether from inside or outside.”
“I just want to have solutions,” John grumbled. “I can’t help but constantly think about that danger. It’s like… our children were born with knives for hands.” It was an absurd but not entirely inaccurate comparison.
“They do not seem inclined to avoid using them, either,” Matayal commented. “I think it might be best if we properly teach them to use what they have. Though I do believe we agreed long ago to keep them far from the sparring areas.”
John shuddered, thinking about the consequences of the triplets engaging in violence. It was bound to happen at some point if they were upset, but John wasn’t worried about himself or Matayal. The real problem would be if they harmed each other, but the only way to avoid that completely would be to isolate the siblings from each other. That didn’t seem like the right solution either.
“I’ve had an idea,” John commented. “For a while now. I don’t know if it’s crazy or not. It might just make things worse, actually.”
“What is it?” Matayal asked after realizing he wasn’t going to say it without prompting.
“It might benefit them to cultivate together. They have the elements to form the minor cycle connected to darkness after all. But it’s also… kind of crazy,” John shook his head. “Cultivation with multiple partners has very limited information, and it seems like it would just be asking for them to clash energies with each other, possibly internally. But if it worked, it might be quite good for them. I’m not saying I think it’s a good idea, though. Just that I had it.”
“I agree that it is best to avoid,” Matayal said. “It would be best to avoid situations where they might even get the idea, at least until they can really make their own choices. That probably means not even dual-cultivating with them around, and in general training them in isolation.”
John nodded. People normally didn’t train together to begin with- perhaps with a master, and a group might practice attacks or fighting in cultivator formations, but internal energy growth was a solo task, with the exception of dual cultivation. Even just having other people around could be distracting enough to cause problems.
John carefully reached out his senses to the triplets. That was a safe use of energy that they shouldn’t cause harm with, and he enjoyed being familiar with them. Even if they made him feel crazy, as they were beginning real cultivation before some of them could even walk and before any of them could talk. An exceptional sign, but also something that they needed to be cautious of. More than just the normal parenting worries, of course.