Truthful Transmigration 131

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Nobody could have everything they wanted. Not commoners, nor Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators. Neither children, nor parents. What people wanted only occasionally meshed with what was best for them or the rest of the world in general. 

John crouched down next to his children, giving them each hugs. “Don’t forget your father loves you all, and that I will miss you.”

Melanthina grumbled a little bit but accepted the affection. Tirto didn’t react much on the surface, but John felt he was happy. Ursel didn’t want to let go. “Why do we have to leave?”

That wasn’t something he could easily explain to his children that were little more than two years old. It had been decided to keep the triplets together at least for a few years. As for the rest… “Your mother has to return to her clan. You don’t want her to be lonely, right?”

“Are you coming too?”

“I’ll be there later,” John assured them. Quite a bit later than he would like, and for not nearly long enough… but the schedule they worked out would allow each of the parents to spend slightly more than half the year with their children, with two of those months having both of them together at one clan or the other along with the children. John stood up and looked at his wife, putting on his best smile. “I love you. I’ll be counting the days until we meet again.”

“I will be doing the same,” Matayal replied. Further words were unnecessary, but they touched hands for a few moments. Then, it was time for the four to leave.

John watched as the carriage took them away, until it passed the horizon. The arrangements necessary for them to take over running the clans had been completed. If things had been different- either Matayal or John having siblings- the situation might not have been so awkward. Unfortunately, Mayatal’s parents had died when she was young, and John’s parents had very intentionally only had a single child. That was something that could no longer be changed. 

Strangely enough, having two months of contact with each other every year was actually more than some cultivators, or at least more frequent. Usually they were older, but as lifespans extended it was possible for cultivators’ senses of time to skew to the point that several years hardly felt like much of anything. Lovers might be apart for extended periods of time. Yet that wasn’t always without issue. John didn’t believe he would have to worry about Matayal having an affair, and his current self had no intentions to do the same, but there were other issues that could arise from such a long distance relationship. Their duties would doubtless keep them married regardless of feelings, but John didn’t want the love that had developed between them to fade into just a sense of duty. He wasn’t going to let it happen, though he wasn’t fully certain what he could do. Heartfelt letters seemed like a good start.

—–

Taking over the position of clan head at around thirty years of age made John fairly young for the position, but in some ways it was actually a benefit for him to be young. For example, his personal cultivation granted him status by itself. Taking over the position as clan head elevated himself and the clan, as it signaled that the Tenebach clan was only going to grow in power.

Because of those factors, John now found himself at a formal banquet put on by the Order of the Amber Heart. Johannes Dalen was of course seated at the head of the table, but John and Renato were the two positions next to him. It was a clear declaration of the alliance between the Order of the Amber Heart and the Tenebach clan, and a sign of their dominance in Marble County. Only Dalen and John were in the Consolidated Soul Phase. Even Renato was merely at the peak of Soul Expansion Phase.

The seating arrangements were generally set up by cultivation, though it was also related to position in the Order’s eyes. Everyone picked out who was out of place, either ahead or behind of where their cultivation would have otherwise merited.

Most of those present, besides John and Renato, were various degrees of old men- and women. They might be jealous of the two, but most concealed it well. In turn, both younger men maintained a respectful stance. It would have been easy for them to be arrogant and overbearing with their positions, but both knew it wouldn’t benefit them. 

Polite discussion filled most of the banquet. Words weren’t required for the message to reach everyone present. Even so, Johannes Dalen gave a short speech. “Ladies and gentlemen of Marble County,” his voice boomed through the ornate stone hall, easily reaching the end of the extremely lengthy table. “The Order of the Amber Heart is glad to welcome you all as guests. As many are already aware, by the machinations of fate the world is in a time of change, and of growth. As always, it is the intent of the Order of the Amber Heart that all of us have a strong bond and work together for the sake of everyone’s prosperity.” 

John knew he meant those words more or less as he said them, though there were also some implications to be had. Neither the Order of the Amber Heart nor the Tenebach clan would be declaring themselves as overlords in the county, but everyone was expected to fall in line. Some would wish to plot and scheme for position, but the most direct determination of that was cultivation. That was something the allies had, and there was support from many of the lesser clans and sects as well. 

The chances that Marble County became a truly unified force were quite low, but with recent troubles from the Darklands they could at least cooperate on keeping out foreign influence. In addition to that, neighboring counties were beginning to take note, some of which had Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators of their own. Conflict wouldn’t necessarily happen, but they were more likely to seek alliances or at least official non aggression pacts if Marble County as a whole backed the two strongest groups.

—–

Socializing took far too long, but it was somewhat necessary. John had prepared himself by recalling the likenesses and names of everyone who was to be in attendance. It truthfully wasn’t that difficult, though he would have liked proper pictures. Portraits tended to be intentionally inaccurate, making their subjects look better than they really were. Of course, pictures did that too- edited for magazines or public display. 

As everyone came to exchange greetings, John acknowledged them with their names, and sometimes a bit more. Perhaps some bit of family business or other information that made him seem to know everything. John was surprised how much he could memorize with the aid of his cultivation, but in truth the Tenebach’s information was not limitless. But it was enough, at least, to make everyone feel a bit special. Being acknowledged by people with power made them feel better about themselves. Even those who had previously interacted with John had done so when he was merely the young master of the Tenebach clan, and before he reached Consolidated Soul Phase. 

Once he was done with all of that, John waited for Renato to be finished as well. It was theorized that Renato would be taking over as head of the Order at some point in the future, and the Order was still greater in power than the Tenebach clan. This was also their home territory, so people had come specifically to be in the Amber Heart’s good graces.

After the formalities concluded, John and Renato moved to where they could talk privately. “You look as if you have a question,” Renato said straightforwardly.

“That’s right. Given your… situation… I’m wondering why you are not yet in the Consolidated Soul Phase.” John knew the man was very talented, and resources shouldn’t be a problem as the favored disciple of the head of the Order.

“You act as if it is so easy to make that step,” Renato said. Then he grinned slightly, “But I will admit that I could have made the step already. Do not worry. I am merely waiting for the next opening of the Crystal Caverns. Until then, I have been solidifying my foundations.” Renato took a long look at John. “It is almost difficult to recognize you as the same person you were when we first met. From a single first level darkness totem… to four totems of different elements, all raised to the fourth level.” Renato shook his head. “An impressive feat.”

“I will attribute some of that to luck and my own special circumstances. On that note, I am planning to put together a small gathering of similarly situated individuals. This is my formal invitation. Obviously your own status will be revealed should you choose to show up.”

“How many others are there?” Renato asked.

“Just two more, so far.”

“I think it would be a flagrant disregard of the fate that crossed our paths to begin with.”

“I’m still uncertain if I believe in fate,” John admitted. “But I will also agree it seems to not be merely coincidence that I have become acquainted with specific individuals.” Though it was luck that he figured out Steve. If he hadn’t accidentally half introduced himself by that name… John might have waved him off as an eccentric wandering cultivator.

—–

Back at the Tenebach clan, John faced off against his grandfather Luctus. At the moment the two of them were the only appropriate opponents for each other. Either of them could face off against multiple opponents in the Soul Expansion Phase, but it wasn’t good for them to only gain experience fighting those weaker than themselves. 

The fighting style of a darkness cultivator was always based around deception to some extent. Darkness energy could dull the senses of an opponent directly or indirectly. As a pure darkness cultivator, Luctus created shadows even John couldn’t not pierce directly, allowing him to attack from unforeseen angles.

Though only a single of John’s totems was primarily tied to the darkness element, his style still relied on deception. Landing a swift blow to injure his opponents with Clinging Affliction or Bite of the Gorgon could start building his advantage. He also could rely on Spiritual Energy Absorption to outlast his opponents. Now that he had a complete cycle of elements- even just the minor one allied with darkness- he was able to do something more. 

John constantly channeled the four elements under his command, bringing different kinds of spiritual energy just below the surface. Then he would instantaneously make use of whatever element he needed. In terms of defense earth was used for withstanding blows, air for avoidance, water for absorbing and dispersing impacts. All of them had offensive uses as well, from the heavy blows of earth energy to the quick strikes air allowed to entangling an opponent’s movements with water.

At the moment, John was attempting to make use of all of them equally while hiding his true intentions. What seemed to be a stab with his sword suddenly shot a jolt of electricity forward. When Luctus attacked he moved to parry with a wave of water, only to freeze it around his weapon. He appeared ready to take a hit from Luctus head on, gathering earth element around himself- only to use a large portion of that energy to propel himself forward and inside the swipe of his grandfather’s sword.

Yet in the end he couldn’t keep up with his grandfather’s experience. Even so, he accomplished his goal. Eventually he intended to obfuscate his every move so that his opponents wouldn’t know whether he intended to attack or defend, or even what elements he might use. The sparring was practice to work towards that end point.

Even if he’d stuck with familiar tactics, he knew he would have ended up with his grandfather’s blade pointing at the back of his neck all the same. “I surrender,” he admitted, holding up his hands. He hadn’t even felt the man get behind him. He turned to face his grandfather, and they both bowed to each other.

“I must admit that I had trepidation when you first professed your desire to form a cycle of the elements. I couldn’t even have dreamed that you would reach this point, given your cultivation mishap.” Luctus carefully danced around the fact that it was the previous Fortkran who had killed himself when attempting to break through to Foundation Phase. “I thought perhaps you might have gone down a path that would ultimately lead to a weak cultivation. If that had happened… the Tenebach clan might have fallen apart under the recent troubles. But as it is now, it is hard to imagine how you might have done better.”

“Thank you. I will admit it was somewhat due to fortune that I succeeded, but I once again thank you for supporting my wild plan.”

“I’m still looking forward to Melanthina taking over though,” Luctus grinned. “Better to have a pure darkness cultivator.”

John grinned in return. “That rascal… I hope she hasn’t blinded her grandfather with her cuteness. But perhaps that temperament will make her suited as the next clan head, once she learns some responsibility.”

“It’s not bad for a darkness cultivator to get into some trouble. Just not too much.”

John agreed that it would probably work out. As long as it was not the kind of serious trouble Fortkran had been getting into. But he intended to learn from the mistakes made in raising him as much as possible. Both what had gone wrong with John and Fortkran- because John absolutely had to admit he had not been a perfect child or even young adult in his own world.

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