Truthful Transmigration 136

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At first there was nothing to feel, then gradually a sense of pain started to set in. It was dull and distant, but slightly comforting. Knowing that he was alive was a relief, but John wasn’t ready to fully accept comfort in the thought until his sense of spiritual energy returned to him and he was able to feel himself inside and out. Perhaps it was unreasonable to assume that he might transmigrate again, but he was quite attached to his current life and would rather not leave it behind. That was technically true of his first life, but he didn’t really have much influence over that.

As John hovered half into consciousness, he wondered if he could have avoided this situation. Or if he should have. Everything could be avoided if he just refused to interact with the world. In the end, he decided that the only real mistakes he made were in combat, taking too much of the burden on himself. The rest simply had to happen.

When he finally returned fully to consciousness, his first instinct was to stretch. Bandages fortunately made moving uncomfortable and awkward, informing him of the foolish nature of that idea before he actually hurt himself. The room around him came into clarity, starting with Aydan. “Good morning,” John said with as much joviality as he could. “Where did we end up?”

Aydan’s eyes snapped into focus, and his senses roamed over John in concern. “Brightspring. The next city up the road. How are you?”

“Well, I’m alive and still me. So I’d say pretty good.” He felt his various wounds with his spiritual energy, then slowly began to circulate what he had to help speed the recovery. “Nothing seems that bad on its own. I guess I just overestimated myself.” He looked around the room. It was rather small, but it had the convenient feature of blocking out the light element that would otherwise be everywhere. “Is this a jail cell?”

“It has been, at points,” Aydan admitted. “It was better than the carriage.”

“I understand. I may have gotten used to fancy beds and stuff, but sometimes you just have to take what there is.” He tried to sit up, but Aydan held up a hand.

“You should stay in bed.”

“Should I?” John asked. “I think it might be better to show I can’t be kept down. A good feature in a potential ally, and I assume the Golden Tomb Guardians are still interested in that.”

Aydan considered John’s words. “Let me get you something to eat. You should prepare yourself to get up after that.”

John nodded. “Reasonable enough.”

As Aydan opened the door to the not-quite cell, a trickle of spiritual energy began to flow in. No light element, but instead a small background mixture of everything else. It probably wasn’t something most people could even pick up, and as they were chiefly concerned about light element cultivators it would be deemed good enough. 

John began to circulate his energy. No damage to his meridians or dantian, so it was quite pleasant to guide the energy all throughout his exhausted body. Everywhere there was a wound he would draw small strands of energy to help speed up the healing. Too much would make things worse if someone didn’t know what they were doing, but John had enough experience recovering from wounds to know a bit more. He’d passed out not just from blood loss but also exhausted spiritual energy. The environment wasn’t exactly friendly, though nobody was going to die from the amount of light element in the Sunfields. 

He was glad Aydan gave him the time to stabilize himself. Eating and drinking brought him more awareness, and even then he was still shaky when he first stood. But nothing was bad enough it actually stopped him from standing, so he began a leisurely stroll. “How did the rest of the battle go? I know there were some losses…”

“Crystin might be worse off than yourself,” Aydan reported, “But she’ll survive. Some of the disciples didn’t make it, but… that’s many times better than what would have happened without us.”

“What about the others? Whatever sect they were.”

“The Luminous Harmony Sect, apparently.”

“Agh. There are going to be a lot of those, aren’t there?”

“Everything is Quartz,” Aydan grinned. “Anyway, all of them were killed, except a few ‘lucky’ ones who survived their wounds and were captured. We’re currently waiting for a group from the main sect to come escort everyone. Until then, we’re staying in Brightspring to take advantage of a city’s protections. It is unknown if the Luminous Harmony Sect would have additional disciples in the area or not.”

“How long was I out?” John asked.

“Just overnight,” Aydan admitted. “Though I imagine the poultices and salves helped significantly.”

Ah yes. Expensive medicine, another advantage of being part of a clan. Or just a strong enough cultivators collecting the right things.

As they continued further into the building, John was struck with how bright everything was. Outside of the corridors near the former jail cell, there were skylights and traditional windows everywhere. Good for local cultivators, annoying for darkness cultivators. Aydan was up and walking around, but John could sense he was not much better off than himself- and his uncle’s spiritual energy was nearly empty and recovering slowly. At least John had other elements to hang onto. 

As they came out into some sort of main sitting room, Deirdre suddenly threw herself at John’s feet. “Forgive me for bringing you into danger. I-”

“I forgive you,” John said quickly. “You were simply concerned about your sectmates. I was the one who chose to come along.”

Deirdre slowly stood, but kept her head bowed. “Thank you. Without you, they would have all died.”

John didn’t have much to say to that. “Of course. I would not just leave allies in need.” They weren’t officially allies yet… but the more he acted like it, the more people would believe it. He highly doubted that the Golden Tomb Guardians would refuse some sort of alliance at this point, but the more he could get them to support the Tenebach clan against the Society of Midnight, the better.

She nodded slowly. “I also… have something else to apologize for. I was lacking in proper politeness towards an important guest of the sect due to my own personal prejudices.”

“Everyone is suspicious of darkness cultivators,” John assured her.

“It’s wasn’t just that. Do you remember Monika Zeman?”

“Oh yes,” John nodded. “She was my first introduction to the Golden Tomb Guardians. She was quite strong.”

Deirdre sighed, “You’re quite candid.”

“Should I not be? Especially if I have good things to say.”

Deirdre shook her head. “I don’t know. I just thought you would be more…” she waved her hands vaguely.

“Stuck up? Arrogant?” John nodded. “Only if it’s useful. Though I might have been a bit overconfident in my strength.”

“I don’t believe you were,” Deirdre said. “After all, you survived… while dealing a heavy blow to the Luminous Harmony Sect. Soul Expansion Phase cultivators don’t just appear from nowhere.”

John nodded. Even the Tenebach clan only had a few dozen Soul Expansion Phase cultivators, and that was with the recent exceptional growth rates. “It was fortunate they didn’t have any more.”

“Perhaps,” Deirdre admitted. “But I have the feeling a Consolidated Soul Phase cultivator like yourself might have managed to overcome that, even with the elemental disadvantage of the area.” She paused for a moment. “Forgive me if this is inappropriate, but I sense more than just darkness within you…”

“I’m not exactly hiding it,” John admitted. “I’m aiming for a great cycle of elements.”

“I… see.” She looked surprised, though John didn’t quite understand why. But his confident statement implied he would reach the peak of cultivation, and he subconsciously believed in it.

—–

Wandering about Brightspring was actually good for John and the others. Though it would be hell to travel without their carriage blocking off the light element, being less exposed also minimized their practice resisting the bright light. They would likely never be comfortable- except possibly John if he truly completed the full cycle- but at least John, Aydan, and Crystin were growing more familiar with the constant bombardment of light. Truthfully, John was amazed that they had survived the battle. He had utmost confidence in the skill of his two guards and a reasonable understanding of his own power, but slight disadvantages often snowballed into a defeat.

“How are you two feeling?” John asked the other two as they sat next to the river which originated slightly outside of the city, despite the name. “I feel like this is training I was missing.”

“It’s training I hope I’ll never need,” Crystin commented. “And my wounds are…” she shrugged. “I’ll definitely recover, but don’t ask me to fight for a couple weeks.”

“I don’t intend to,” John admitted. He couldn’t help but think for a while. “Should we have taken more guards?”

Aydan shrugged. “Perhaps, but that could simply have caused other conflicts here. People are already uncomfortable enough.” He gestured across the river to a mother pulling her child away. The kid had waved to John and he waved back, but even if the mother wasn’t a cultivator the three of them clearly had a different aesthetic than the rest of the city. Darker clothing- though the Tenebachs weren’t so dull as to wear only black- and a different style about it. 

The peaceful scenery by the river was undercut by the stares of passing cultivators and the Golden Tomb Guardians standing nearby. Most of the disciples who survived were able to walk about, and so they all remained with the three Tenebachs. John wasn’t sure if it made people less wary of them, but at least it would minimize the chance of someone randomly attacking them in the city. There were cultivators of various other elements passing through at a lower rate, but darkness were nowhere to be seen. Then again, light and darkness cultivators were somewhat rarer than any of the individual ‘core’ elements.

—–

The size of their group slightly increased over the next two days, as a general call for backup had been put out to the Golden Tomb Guardians in the area. Then a sizable contingent arrived, including the two members John had previously met. One was Monika Zeman, who John felt was now at the peak of the Soul Expansion Phase. The other was Zacharie, the man who had brought the idea of an alliance into John’s mind to begin with by mentioning their own conflicts with the Society of Midnight. His cultivation was not quite as high as Monika, but he was clearly in charge. 

“Fortkran Tenebach,” he bowed slightly, exactly an appropriate amount. “Good to see you once more. And especially pleased to have the opportunity to meet, after what happened.” His face turned sour, “I can’t believe the Luminous Harmony Society would go so far as to attack our disciples in the wilderness.”

“If not for a coincidence of timing, nobody would have been the wiser,” John admitted.

“That may be the case,” Zacharie admitted, “But coincidences are… not always so random as they seem. Not with cultivators involved.” He shook his head. “Now then, I do believe we have some prisoners to see to as well, and official complaints to lodge with the governor.”

“You have a governor?” John asked, surprised.

“Indeed. If I remember correctly, your county has been without a ruling body for some time, but the Sunfields has organized to be more cohesive.”

“Or at least to look like it,” John said in reference to the prisoners.

“Quite right,” Zacharie admitted. “I’m hoping to take a shot at the position myself in a few years, if I can break through to the Consolidated Soul Phase.”

“Is that a requirement for being governor?”

“Only if you want to survive,” Zacharie shrugged, “But a weaker cultivator likely wouldn’t have enough support regardless.”

John thought about the idea. At the moment Marble County was jointly run by the Tenebach clan and the Order of the Amber Heart, but if they wanted to expand their influence perhaps they would need to guide the Stone Conglomerate down a similar route. As long as the larger clans and sects felt fairly represented, it could work. Then John caught himself. Here he was, a former burger shop manager thinking of expanding a cultivation clan’s influence to larger borders. He never would have thought it possible… for a variety of reasons. But it was.

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