Truthful Transmigration 134

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The grittier sound of carriage wheels on packed dirt instead of cobblestone made a constant background noise as John found himself carried away. One good thing about being mostly bound to one location was that it made times of travel more exciting, even if it was for the purposes of work. Though ultimately all of John’s travels in this world had been that way- his work had merely been to cultivate well for most of his life, instead of dealing with clan affairs.

It was unsurprising that Astrein only had dirt roads instead of anything more solid. While travel through the area was relatively frequent, nobody was interested in paying for better roads. Specifically, not cultivators who had the money. They only intended to pass through, not remain in the area. While their trip might be more swift with good roads, nobody could agree who would pay for it. At various points the leadership of Astrein had proposed tolls along the roads, but with few cultivators they were leery of their ability to enforce them. And no cultivators wanted to live in the area, given the lack of spiritual energy. Except that was not completely the case. 

It was in fact just as abundant in spiritual energy as all of the surrounding lands. Perhaps it had even more than any of the others. The difficulty was that it was more or less evenly divided between the elements, which meant that most people found the amount of spiritual energy they could use to be one part in six. Perhaps higher than the amount of any non-dominant element from most regions, but so low as to make training extremely difficult and slow.

Having only passed through briefly on his return trip from the Blustering Peaks, John hadn’t really taken the time to get used to what it meant for him now. Any differences he felt could have been attributed to having just advanced to the Consolidated Soul Phase. But now that he had gotten used to that level of power, he could confirm that his cultivation was actually considerably better in the region. With totems for four out of six elements he was able to draw upon the majority of the power in the area for cultivation, and as they came more or less balanced the elements flowed through him in a cycle quite easily. It wasn’t complete, but it was the best natural environment John had been in as a Consolidated Soul Phase cultivator. Of course he could spend time in special training rooms that gathered all of the elements together, but that had a cost to it. The elements in Astrein were just free for the taking. No sect was interested in staking a claim to say otherwise, since they would have to live somewhere suboptimal to stop… one person. Maybe a few more, but John didn’t know anyone else who had actually committed to a cycle of elements. Even if they had, he definitely didn’t know any who had made it to the Consolidated Soul Phase.

The ultimate destination John was headed for was not within Astrein. He wasn’t interested in any tournaments, and it was the wrong time of year regardless. Instead he was passing through to the northeast, heading to the Sunfields.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the Sunfields,” John commented to Ayden and Crystin. His uncle and cousin had been his guards for most of the duration of his time in this world- though Crystin had come slightly later. At the current moment they were not yet in the Consolidated Soul Phase, but they were among those the Tenebach clan was pushing towards that point. If all went well, there might be a whole generation of Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators, catapulting the clan to a new level of power. But for the moment, their ability as guards was mostly to fend off those trying to take advantage of numbers, since John could probably fight them both at the same time. “I’m sure the area is… bright and sparkling.”

“I visited once,” Ayden commented. “Just once, for a very brief time.”

“… It sounds awful,” Crystin shook her head. “Light is fine, but a place inundated with light element will be…” she shook her head.

“It’s unfortunate,” John admitted, “But I’m not going with people I don’t trust. I doubt it will be any better for me.”

“It might,” Aydan pointed out. “You do have an air element totem. That’s at least allied with light.”

“I suppose so, but the core of everything I do is still darkness. I can’t really get away from that.”

The sounds of the road took over for the next few minutes as there was little more to be said. Then Aydan asked, “What do you hope to gain from this meeting with the Golden Tomb Guardians?”

“I’m not sure exactly. Preferably their help against the Society of Midnight, in some fashion or other. Knowledge of their conflicts. Beyond that, their knowledge about the wider world. I’ve had little reason to go beyond the Shimmering Islands or the Green Sands, but we might eventually find ourselves dealing with threats from more than our direct neighbors.”

“I don’t know how much help a group two countries away will be,” Aydan said dejectedly.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” John said sagely. “That’s the idea, at least. I have been able to talk to them in a civil manner, and they have agreed to my visit. If nothing else, we can judge the attitude of the wider Sunfields towards us.”

—–

The Sunfields lived up to their name. Even from a distance the traveling cultivators could feel the light and heat emanating from the area. Not as much heat as the Green Sands, but definitely more than a comfortable amount. They were not yet at the border, but they were soon approaching- and would find themselves scrutinized carefully. Astrein had little control of people coming in and out of her borders, but those on all sides with greater populations of cultivators were interested in border security.

As they approached the border keep, the cultivators that John could sense came into view. They stood upright in fine armor that sparkled in the sunlight. That was if he was being positive about it. If he were to be negative, he would say it glared harshly, reflecting light into his eyes. That might even be on purpose. The three cultivators began to make use of their energy to limit the visual overload as they approached.

There were no Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators at the border, but the security was still sufficient for its purpose. They were there as deterrents… and to keep track of those passing. John also knew they would send out patrols to catch or at least take note of those crossing through less approved methods. They wouldn’t be able to catch everyone, but it was sufficient to know about any powerful cultivators or large groups.

Surprisingly enough, John found himself in the former category. The last decade or so of his life had been in this world, yet cultivation still felt strange and new in some ways. But perhaps that was one draw of it, beyond the power it provided. There was always something new to uncover. Though John would be willing to bet the power was sufficient for most people.

The travelers from the Tenebach clan weren’t the only ones passing through. Even those leaving the Sunfields were stopped and inspected, and at the current moments there were a few groups going either direction. John’s group was regarded with great suspicion as they were taken aside. It was clear the guards either didn’t care to hide it, or they were inept at it. Given the general ideas about light he was inclined towards the latter, though he was aware that too much light could conceal just as well as darkness.

Regardless of the attitudes of those watching, the actual officer assigned to their passage put on a professional visage. The woman went about the formalities in a practiced manner. “Good day. Could I have your names and the purpose for your visit?”

“Fortkran Tenebach. I am here to have a meeting with the Golden Tomb Guardians. Beyond travel, we expect to stay no more than a week.” John handed over a letter of introduction he had brought with him.

“I see. I do believe you are expected,” the woman nodded. “Before you proceed, I need to have your declarations that you are not carrying any contraband, as defined by these documents.” 

John had the feeling that he could get away with some amount of contraband. He was a Consolidated Soul Phase cultivator from a sizable clan, after all. The fact that they were asking instead of demanding to search through their storage bags was enough. However, he was uninterested in most of the contraband. Various drugs that were on various levels of danger were the most prominent. 

Of those things he would be interested in, certain types of darkness attuned weapons and items were on the list. But he didn’t have any, and wouldn’t have brought them along regardless. 

The most interesting thing was spirit light being forbidden. Presumptively that was because it might be tainted, but in actuality John knew that several powerful sects were in control of the trade within the Sunfields.

After the formalities were completed and the border crossing fees paid, John was taken to meet up with a disciple of the Golden Tomb Guardians. Not one of the few he knew, but a woman by the name of Deirdre. “Good to meet you,” John said.

“Mn.” The woman nodded her head curtly. “I have been sent to escort you.”

He already knew there would be an escort, for two purposes. A Consolidated Soul Phase darkness cultivator wasn’t exactly trusted in the area… so she was present to protect both sides. She couldn’t exactly stop John or the others if they decided to cause trouble, but her presence would be the only thing stopping everyone from viewing their presence with suspicion. Well, with quite as much suspicion at least. 

She was clearly uncomfortable upon climbing into the carriage. John didn’t blame her, as it was designed to maximize the amount of darkness energy present inside it. But that discomfort was balanced out a short time later when they got to really see the sunfields.

It was one thing for the sun to be blazing down from the sky, battering them with bright light… but it was quite another for land below to amplify that effect. If asked whether or not he liked flowers, John would have been vaguely positive. He’d even seen fields full of sunflowers before and found them quite nice. But… these sunflowers seemed to amplify the light around them to the point that it was nearly impossible to see. Even when trying to sense things with his spiritual energy John found it wanting to tear apart. He could minimize the amount of darkness he used to get better feedback, but his default behavior was less effective. There was some small comfort to be taken in spotting workers in the fields with strange brimmed hats, some with veils. It was even too much for the non-cultivating locals. 

John felt sick. Even with the carriage minimizing the impact, being exposed to a constant bombardment of a repelling element was unpleasant. The other two seemed even worse, being both weaker and purely darkness based.

All of the Tenebachs present were strong enough that they were still able to function, but if they found themselves in combat they could be ten or twenty percent weaker until they were able to get used to the effect, though being out of their element they would always be at least somewhat weakened. It was enough of an effect for John to feel that his odds of facing certain opponents would shift from a sure win to a probable loss.

At least Deirdre seemed happier once they were a bit further into the Sunfields… but she still seemed a bit annoyed. As if he had done something to specifically make her not like him, but he was certain they had never met. Being sent out to wait for him shouldn’t have been that bad of an assignment either- whether or not she cared, he was important. Maybe it wasn’t an honor to be chosen to guide him, but at least it shouldn’t bring about ill feelings. But perhaps she had some kind of grudge against darkness cultivators in general. Though John couldn’t help but feel she was mostly focused on him.

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