Though he knew it might be nothing more than a flippant remark or even an intentional distraction, John couldn’t help but look for Aglor in the Tenebach Clan’s records. Whether a person or a place he wasn’t sure. Yustina was from the Milanovic clan so it should have been connected to them or the Green Sands, but that turned up nothing. He widened his search for well known fire cultivators and fire-dominant regions, but he wasn’t having any luck after a few weeks of work. Not all of that time was spent researching, of course, but some time each day- and the clan’s record keeper helped him find sources that could potentially be useful.
It wasn’t entirely clear, even to John himself, why he thought it was important. Yustina was an ally of Steve and he didn’t sense any problems with that. Why should it matter if she was exceptionally talented? It was just that her clan didn’t seem to know with some casual inquiries. Her talent could have been a secret, but if she were important she wouldn’t be wandering around with a random guy like Steve. Though maybe they had the intent to pull him into the clan?
But John remembered when Yustina and Steve first met. That wasn’t a setup, since there was no way they could have predicted he would jump into Zolvolj to rescue someone he didn’t know. There was something weird about her, like she didn’t realize she could get heatstroke… even though she’d lived in the desert for her whole life.
Or maybe not. Maybe she was from some weird branch of the Milanovic clan that lived outside the Green Sands. Was that what Aglor was? If so, it might be a secret so he didn’t directly bring it up with the Milanovic clan. He just continued investigating things in an ever-widening circle, wondering if it was all a waste of time. At least he’d know about more masters of fire element techniques, if they came up in conversation.
Then he found it. Practically on the other side of the world was a fire-dominant country called Hegresh. It was an entire tier more powerful than the local countries, with Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators being more common- and more than a few confirmed reports of those from the fifth phase. As fire cultivators they would go by the term… Conflagration, if John wasn’t mistaken. Some called the fifth phase in general ‘demigod’, but John thought that was a bit grandiose. But since they didn’t really show up in the area around the Stone Conglomerate, there wasn’t a common name for them.
The important part was that Hegresh… had nothing relevant about it. Except that its entry listed nearby areas that included Aglor, a water-dominant country of lakes and rivers. Which meant… what Yustina said made no sense. Unless she had reincarnated.
It wasn’t a direct admission, and may have just been a flippant remark instead. But… he also wasn’t willing to just toss out the idea. It would just be another reincarnated person he ended up tangentially connected through. That seemed a bit unlikely, but if transmigrated and reincarnated people were naturally drawn to each other it wouldn’t be odd at all. It seemed to be unconscious for the most part, but it wasn’t particularly weird that she would have latched onto Steve regardless, just for saving her life. Perhaps she also subconsciously sensed something more than just a reckless fire type cultivators.
Or John had come to the wrong conclusion. But he certainly felt it compelling. That knowledge was set aside for later, when he could do something with it. Like ask Yustina in person more about Aglor, which could confirm it one way or another. If she was reincarnated, she could be part of the club. Then they’d have a 50-50 mix of reincarnated and transmigrated people.
Along with his part of managing the clan, John had a more important piece of research he was working on. It might turn out to be unnecessary, but finding a good way to break through to the Consolidated Soul Phase was worth the effort. As for why it might not matter, Matayal was working on the same problem- and either of them might come across some reasonably priced treasures at auction which could help push them over the edge. Of course, there were many things that might happen, so it wasn’t as if they could count on those.
The idea, however, was that John and Matayal would break through together, since they would both be attuning to water element totems. If they could do that with a single shared treasure that would be great, but more likely it would be good to visit a special water-dominant location. The general level of spiritual energy in the Shimmering Islands was insufficient for those purposes, at least if they wanted to guarantee the breakthrough being quick or smooth.
Something like the deep sea under the Kelp Spire Forest would be optimal, though preferably something with a bit less potential for death. John wouldn’t feel comfortable going back to that place until after he was in the Consolidated Soul Phase, though the biggest issue was arriving there with his body intact. They couldn’t just bet on a great whirlpool pulling them down again- nor could they bet that they wouldn’t be crushed against some rocks instead of ending up somewhere vaguely safe.
In the end he had a few ideas, but hoped that Matayal had better luck with the Brandle Clan’s resources.
As was inevitable, time passed even for those who were unready. For some it went quickly, but for John it seemed to take forever for little more than half a year to pass. But eventually, the people he was waiting for arrived.
“Daddy!” John’s heart skipped a beat as little Ursel charged towards him, the single word as clear as could be expected for a child not yet two years old. She struck him with enough force that he had to let himself be pushed back half a step for fear of hurting her.
“Ursel! Have you been good for your mother?”
“I’m always good!” she proclaimed. Somehow, John doubted that.
A bit further away, with his hand held by Matayal, Tirto nodded his head towards John. Matayal walked forward with him. “You should greet your father, dear.”
“…Hello,” Tirto said. He wasn’t quite timid, but more casual. John looked towards Matayal and raised an eyebrow, but she shrugged. It was clear he felt more attachment to his mother, and being apart for around a third of their lives probably didn’t help.
John smiled and waved at Tirto. “I’m glad to see you again, my son.”
“Father,” a small hand reached up and tugged on his sleeve. “I am here too.”
John reached down and ruffled Melanthina’s hair. “I didn’t forget you of course. But Melanthina, if you sneak about like that some people might not notice you.” She seemed unfazed by him rubbing her head, not particularly pleased or displeased. But as she’d taken the initiative to come up to him, he thought she was happy to see him. Two out of three was good, he supposed… but slightly disappointing.
He would have preferred not to be away from them to begin with, but unfortunately clan duties called. That was the same for Matayal, which was why she was only just now able to come with them. Under heavy guard, of course. The young mistress of the Brandle clan and the next generation of heirs to both Brandle and Tenebach had to be well guarded.
John made his way over to Matayal and kissed her. “It’s good to see you again. I really don’t enjoy the idea of being apart this long.”
“It is rather unpleasant,” Matayal agreed. “But give it somewhere around two decades and we will be free to do as we please.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” John grinned. Though that was a very long time. And that implied their children taking over practically as soon as they reached adulthood. “Somehow I feel we’ll still be tied down after that.”
“Oh?” Matayal raised an eyebrow. “And who will be able to stop us, hmm?”
“… Good point,” John nodded. “It seems a shame to miss out on some of our youth that way…” John almost wished he hadn’t fallen in love with Matayal, so it wouldn’t bother him to be away from her for so long. Almost.
“You’re forgetting one thing. We’ll still have quite a bit of youth left over.”
“A reasonable point,” John nodded. He had been thinking of their own grandparents who had not, until recently, been in the Consolidated Soul Phase. But cultivation extended lifespan to some degree, and the two of them were actually quite a bit older than John and Matayal when they began to have children. Due to the difficulties in gathering resources and other complications their cultivation hadn’t reached that level, but John and Matayal were on the brink and still quite young. Even if their cultivation didn’t advance much in the future, they would still expect to live past a hundred years. Normally they would have had longer before they had to take over official positions but various circumstances had brought them to this position. “We’ll have to make the best of it.”
John looked down at their children. They weren’t at fault for this, and in fact would face some of the same difficulties that John and Matayal would have. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too bad for their development to not always be around both parents and their siblings.
“I found an opportunity for us,” Matayal shared. “Just a few months from now, the Great Waterfall Reversal will be taking place in the Blustering Peaks.”
“Perfect,” John smiled. “I just recently made enemies there.” He regularly sent letters to keep in contact, but the events at that particular party hadn’t been mentioned yet. He explained them to her in brief.
“The Kartal clan, huh? If they do anything stupid, we can just publically remind everyone their young master got beaten up by a girl. And yes, I know you’re smart enough to recognize it doesn’t matter, but there are many who don’t.” Matayal shrugged, “And the incident was minor enough they’d have to think very strongly whether or not they wanted to bother out clans.”
“I just thought it deserved mentioning,” John shrugged.
There was a tug on John’s sleeve. “Father. Ursel broke something.”
“Melanthina!” Ursel whined. “I said not to tell!”
Despite the context, John was quite happy his children were very capable of communicating, especially considering their age. However, he also saw the potential pitfalls if the situation wasn’t handled properly. “Okay Ursel. What broke?” He kept his tone somewhat neutral. Not happy, not accusatory. She already knew she messed up, and acting like he knew how to handle such situations was important.
“Umm… nothing…” Ursel tried to block the opening to the garden outside, but she couldn’t even reach both sides of the door frame.
He scooped her up as he walked outside. It was pretty easy for him to figure out what was broken. “I see. The statue, huh.” It was a statue of his grandfather. Or perhaps his great-grandfather who he’d never met. One of the patriarchs of the clan, anyway. It had been. Now it was just a pile of rocks. “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” Ursel refused to look at it.
“I need to know for real,” John explained. “If it was an accident, it’s easy to forgive you. But I need to know what you did.”
“I just… it had a lot of stuff in it, more than anything else. So I took some of it.”
“What kind of stuff?” John asked.
Ursel waved her arm, creating a little cloud of earth elemental spiritual energy. “This stuff.”
“I see.” The statue had been made by a master sculptor and reinforced with earth element. She’d removed it, and it crumbled apart. That was… pretty impressive actually. But he couldn’t say that or she might want to do it more. “You need to not do that again, okay?”
“I tried to put it back!” Ursel proclaimed. “But it just…” she gestured to the base of the statue which John sensed was hardened beyond what it had been before. “It’s still broken.”
“That’s right,” John said. “When things break, it’s hard to fix them. So you have to be careful. Are you sorry?”
“Yes daddy. I’m sorry…”
“Good. Now then, this…” John summoned some earth elemental spiritual energy. “This is called spiritual energy. Using it is dangerous. You shouldn’t do anything with it without me or someone else who can watch you, or you might hurt yourself… or your brother or sister. Okay?”
“That’s spirit… spirit stuff? I thought it was just the stuff that Tirto used.” She tried to push away but John was still carrying her. “I didn’t know.”
“I believe you,” John smiled. So Tirto had also gotten up to some trouble. Possibly something similar. As an adult it was easy to make the connection that all spiritual energy was the same thing and thus all the children were supposed to be careful with it, but since the water element was different from earth and darkness they might not have really understood. “Melanthina, did you hear that?” John waved a few fingers. “This is darkness spiritual energy. You also have to be careful, understand?”
She nodded. But even as she began to slink off, she was making use of it to minimize her presence. This was going to take some work.