The Grandcliff River was more than large enough to support the presence of every cultivator even at the point of its origin. While a large number of cultivators might disturb each other’s cultivation in normal circumstances, the abundant and wild spiritual energy that was causing the waterfall to reverse its course far overpowered what any cultivator could do. Throughout its area, nobody would notice the influence of another as long as they maintained their distance.
The duo of John and Matayal were at the center of their own vortex of power, greedily drawing in the water elemental spiritual energy around them. Though John did not yet possess a water element totem, their previous years of dual cultivation gave him the familiarity needed to handle a portion of that process.
The spiritual energy poured into them, filling them to the brim. Both were on the verge between the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth ranks, at the peak of the Soul Expansion Phase. Both had received advice on what to expect when attempting to reach the Consolidated Soul Phase, so they were as ready as they could ever be. The swelling wave of energy pushed on them, threatening to crush them, make them explode, or both. However, they used that pressure to catapult themselves into the sea of spiritual totems. The nature of the place did not allow them to truly be together, but the awareness of their bodily closeness still lingered with them.
John had some idea of what totem Matayal might choose, but he knew that ultimately the choice could be swayed at the final moment by some sort of whim or inspiration. Only one could ultimately be chosen, and he knew that he would probably imagine different paths but never get to tread them. The thought of attuning to a fire totem was still there in the back of his mind, but ultimately he needed something more stable. Especially if he was going to be away from Matayal the majority of the year.
His consciousness went to the fourth layer. He could go deeper towards more powerful totems, but that could easily lead to an imbalance. A proper cycle of elements was not dominated by just a single factor. The origin of his power was darkness which suffused everything, but even that was balanced with the rest.
There was no reason to second guess his choice at this moment. He felt the totem he had already decided on ahead of him, and he stopped in front of the dark waters of the Deep Sea. His experiences there had influenced him greatly, and even if he had no other connection the totem fit nicely. Like the others he required the totem to have a growth factor. The Deep Sea had unfathomable edges that seemed to stretch forever, and he felt he could plumb the depths of the darkness indefinitely.
As he reached out to ‘touch’ it, the connection formed with his will. The rush of water elemental spiritual energy pouring into him suddenly had a totem to channel it, and he immediately felt the benefits. Inside his dantian, the water surrounding his little island seemed to swell and grow, especially downward instead of towards the horizon. Distance wasn’t fully real in such a space, but the growth also came with a change in quality and how it fed into the Tree of Darkness.
As he circulated his energy, filling up his new capacity, he felt Matayal begin to do the same. Spiritual energy passed between them and he felt the presence of her new totem. She was still a cultivator based on water element as a core, and nothing was different with her fourth totem. Her latest totem came with a warmth to it- one that would remind her of home, and reminded John of a few rare vacations from his previous life. The Tropical Sea, beautiful calm and clear yet also a bringer of storms. When he had previously asked her why she was choosing that particular totem, she explained that it was because of the warmth, a small bit of fire that would help when they attained the next Phase. And she had gone through with it, her confidence in John and herself showing through even though neither of them knew a single cultivator of such power. But what was cultivation without confidence?
Around the same time he found himself once more full on power, John felt his momentum cease. Then there was a pulling sensation. The pair of cultivators opened their eyes to see themselves at the top of the waterfall, and they focused their energies to stop their movement towards the basin where the waterfall normally flowed from. They had no desire to explore whatever might be inside there.
Fighting against the waterfall wasn’t difficult, and soon enough they were able to let gravity take hold and slowly begin to drag them down against the flow of the water. They had both achieved their goal in arriving, and further cultivation would only lead to minimal growth at the moment. They needed some time to adjust to their new rank, and the Consolidated Soul Phase.
John smiled openly as he felt the spiritual energy flow through himself. He now had the three elements aligned with darkness and a partial cycle flowing from water to air to earth all without the aid of Matayal. They could still benefit from dual cultivation, but John finally felt the balance of elements nearing completion. If he somehow attained the next Phase he would have the four core elements in their own cycle complete. Considering adding light onto that was far beyond what he could comprehend, little more than an impossible dream.
At the bottom of the waterfall, John and Matayal stepped onto land once more along with Aydan and Crystin. The Brandle clan guards were now taking advantage of the natural phenomenon for themselves, with the assistance of the remaining Tenebach guards. Having just achieved their breakthrough John and Matayal were more than a match for pretty much any group present, but their positions still merited guards… and backup never hurt. John wasn’t going to assume himself invincible. He’d seen too many Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators die or otherwise suffer losses in the last few years to believe that.
The two of them caught the eyes of the Kartal clan. Bora seemed to be injured. Unconscious, but not in a critical state. The guards clearly sensed the advancement of John and Matayal, who briefly looked at each other. Then they waved the group away. The Kartal clan guards looked quite relieved. Neither side wanted a war, but if there were to be one the side with two new Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators had a serious advantage. If nothing else they could have caused some sort of trouble, but John didn’t think it was worth it. And if the clan was smart, they would discipline their young master and remind him not to cause any further trouble. If that didn’t work… perhaps they would replace him. Even John’s parents considered that, with Fortkran- despite how much trouble it would have caused them.
Though John would have liked to just relax, people advancing to Consolidated Soul Phase wasn’t something that was just glossed over. As various sects and clans finished their cultivation sessions, they came by to offer congratulations. That meant offering a polite response in turn- just because their position had grown stronger didn’t mean that they should make enemies for no reason. At least John didn’t have to fake the smile on his face. It just wasn’t for any of the people coming to see them.
It was already late in the day when John and Matayal had finished their breakthrough. Soon enough they had the excuse of going to sleep to get away from the others, though they were still met by a flood of others in the morning.
As things settled down, Keahi and Susila found a chance. “Congratulations,” they both offered.
“Thank you,” Matayal smiled. “We’ve heard that so many times now, but the only ones I’m sure are genuine are the two of you.”
“I can say I knew the two of you since before you reached Consolidated Soul Phase,” Susila grinned. “Even though we met just shortly beforehand. Keahi chose her friend well. If I remember what she said about your meeting, she did not know you were from an important clan when you first became acquainted.”
“I don’t think I’ve heard this story,” John admitted, which was also him asking for more.
Matayal obliged him. “We met when I was touring various places in the Shimmering Islands, visiting potential allies and the like. I was still young, so I took a moment to get away from it all. Down at the beach, I saw a lone girl playing in the waves. When I got close… she splashed me. It almost became a real fight, since I wasn’t used to anyone trying to play with me. Especially not random people I didn’t know.”
“You just looked like you needed some fun,” Keahi countered. “I was trying to cheer you up. Though you still look like you could use some fun most of the time.”
“Don’t worry,” Matayal hugged John from the side, her mouth grinning only slightly, “We have plenty of fun.”
“I guess that’s how you get triplets,” Keahi laughed. “Maybe we should hold back a bit.”
After a time of pleasant chatting, there were more people to meet, if only briefly. Then the duo were at a point they could make use of a bit more cultivation in the waterfall. After a full day of flowing in the wrong direction, the Great Waterfall Reversal ended and people began to trickle away from the plateau, back to wherever they came from. John and Matayal lingered as long as they felt comfortable, relishing the time together. Then they too began the descent, where they would eventually take the carriage back to the Tenebach clan.
“Were the three of you good for grandpa and the others?” John asked the triplets as they returned.
“Yes,” Tirto nodded his head emphatically.
“Of course,” Ursel stood tall and proud.
“They made the fish pond mud,” Melanthina commented.
“You weren’t supposed to tell!”
John rolled his eyes at Matayal. If something like that happened, it would be pretty obvious who was responsible. It wouldn’t be anyone but the triplets. There were other children among the clan, but they were not able to cause so much trouble since they didn’t have control of spiritual energy.
Tirto slowly walked over to John. “… you feel different.”
“Well, we just got back from training,” John nodded. “I’m stronger now.”
“Mmm. You feel like mommy.”
That would be the water element totem, John surmised. It was not surprising that his water attuned son would be sensitive to that change.
With that brief exchange done, Tirto made his way over to his mother. She was still his favorite, it seemed. Not that John would complain- the girls certainly liked him more. There wasn’t much to do about that, as children would always prefer someone. And adults too, but they were often less obvious about it.
The two parents took what time they could with their children before they were inevitably swept up in clan business. The news of their advancement would doubtless be spreading already, and both clans were ready to react to that properly. Among other things, that meant that Matayal would be returning to the Shimmering Islands in the near future. They would be needed as their clans negotiated alliances and pursued avenues of growth. Their clans had supported them in reaching their current point, and so it was time to fulfill their duties and give back as they could. And unfortunately, the reality of the situation meant they would be apart much of the year on an ongoing basis.
Yet there was nothing they could really complain about. They could have been born outside of their clans and perhaps not even introduced to cultivation. John would have been interested in pursuing it but his skills from Earth wouldn’t exactly have done him much good in advancing himself to where he could purchase information about cultivation. In that sense, he was extremely lucky. He could have just been normal again. Normal wasn’t bad, but in a world with cultivators… it was certainly a lot more dangerous than it should have been.