No matter how clear water was on the surface, after a certain depth even light was filtered to make it appear as blue, deeper and darker the further underwater one went. At a certain point, sight became difficult- then impossible for those who weren’t cultivators. Of course, well before that point those who weren’t cultivators would die, either due to lack of air or pressure. Cultivators could and would go deeper, and it was at the current deepest point they were aware of that John and Matayal found themselves.
The sea god was intriguing, but John found himself drawn to the rest of everything- though there was hardly any space around them that wasn’t an extension of the giant creature. Strange beasts, adapted to live in high pressures and what was otherwise the most bleak of locations still teemed with life. Perhaps not quite as densely as some placed, but John was able to see quite a few creatures that darted away from his spiritual energy senses. The blessing of the guardian beast that allowed him to see in darkness was a great advantage without which he wouldn’t have noticed many different creatures. It seemed they survived mainly by avoiding notice.
Then there was the sea itself, powerful pressure squeezing down on him. However, instead of being unpleasant it was invigorating in its strength, especially as it aided the growth of his fourth totem. His first experiences with the deep sea had left enough of a mark that he had adopted a totem representing it for his fourth totem, but only now he realized what he had been missing. He wondered if there were even further depths to explore. Though even if they were found, perhaps it was best for another time.
John found his experience to be quite different from Matayal’s. When they dual cultivated, the basis of her energy felt quite different from his own. It was sleeping power, contained and nearly unfathomable, as opposed to a slowly revealed mystery of a myriad of lifeforms. The two concepts were not incompatible, however. The focus of each of them provided context for the other to grow. The landmass John held in his dantian, an incomplete and crude representation of elements, shared strengths with the wider focus on the oceans that Matayal held.
The only thing that drew the two of them out of their reverie was the need to breathe- and underwater, that meant refreshing the air in their lungs. The water of the deep sea itself had less oxygen than higher up, but exchanging oxygen with the water around them was not necessary with the use of the air element. John wasn’t sure exactly what he was doing, or what happened to the carbon that was presumably detached from the oxygen as he followed the process, but perhaps it didn’t matter. It could have been converted to some other sort of energy, entering the world around him or perhaps somewhere else entirely. Assuming molecules were actually the same as on Earth, which he wasn’t entirely sure of. Cells seemed to be more or less as he remembered from biology classes, but it could simply be visual similarities. And none of it really mattered, as long as he understood how things actually functioned in practical terms.
Opening his eyes to stare into a cave that he knew what simply part of a living creature was unsettling. The thought of actually going inside was intriguing- but ultimately pointless for him. Perhaps Matayal might benefit, so if she thought it would be worthwhile he would back her up. Otherwise, he would prefer to maintain his position. He wondered if this sea god was something they could truly come to understand… or if it was something they could only look at and wonder. Perhaps that might depend on whether they could reach the next stage. That would be a long process, perhaps to the point that the triplets would have grown into adulthood beforehand. John didn’t want to rush anything, but he also couldn’t wait for the opportunity to be with Matayal more than two months a year. Placing the burden of leading a clan on their children… was only what could be expected, the same as them and their parents. Along with the responsibility came privileges that few cultivators got, so it was difficult to complain.
As he thought about their children, John couldn’t help but look up. There was nothing to see- kilometers of ocean between him and anything that mattered, the density of the sea also restricting energy senses to a smaller distance. There wasn’t any feedback, but he still had a feeling. He looked over at Matayal. “Should we return to the surface?”
“It is a bit early,” she replied. “But I see no harm in it.” Something in her eyes told him she had the same sort of feeling as him. It didn’t necessarily mean anything- they were often simply worried for their children for no reason- but taking the opportunity to settle down would be worth the time.
The first sign that anything was going wrong was the arrival of a ship. They would normally not approach close to the Kelp Spire Forest, as the combination of unpredictable tides and obstacles made it dangerous for larger ships. Yet some were bold enough to attempt to anchor nearby in an attempt to show off. The second sign was Aydan recognizing someone, no- two people. Evren Kartal he’d seen occasionally… and fought once. Then, more distant but more immediately apparent, was Kusuma. She wasn’t making any attempt to hide her speedy approach.
The first thing Aydan did was check the status of the triplets, not that they had ever truly been out of his perception at any point. “Crystin, trouble is brewing.”
Crystin was closer to the same age as Fortkran- and in any other generation, her talent would have been considered remarkable. The status of a high ranking guard was perhaps not the most glamorous task, but it was both important and respected in the clan. She was at the peak of the Soul Expansion Phase and was expected to reach the Consolidated Soul Phase soon enough. Her senses scanned where Aydan indicated, and it was not difficult to determine what he meant. “What should we do?”
“You go alert the others- especially the triplet’s normal guards. I’ll move to delay them.” There was little doubt in Aydan’s mind that they meant to cause trouble. The Kelp Spire Forest was not so small that they should end up in the same part of it by coincidence.
Aydan moved atop the water which was slightly faster than swimming. He warned any Brandle clan member he passed by, though the state of his energy would serve better than any words. He was ready for battle, and anyone should be able to feel it.
He prepared his words for Evren as he went. Just because he was ready for trouble didn’t mean he needed to escalate things. As he moved, members of the Brandle clan broke away from what they were doing to go with him. “There is sufficient room in the Kelp Spire Forest for your clan to find an exclusive location,” Aydan began. “Perhaps you should go elsewhere.”
In response he expected primarily some sort of direct rebuke- some sort of declaration that the Kartal clan could go where they wanted and that the Brandle clan should be the ones to leave. He hadn’t expected them to not even slow their approach, the waves they were riding beneath their feet carrying them swiftly forward. Aydan barely had time to pull out his weapon to clash with Evren as he passed. He hadn’t expected such an audacious move, so he wasn’t even prepared to punish the man for pushing past him. A single swipe of his blade merely grazed against Evren’s defensive energy.
Normally cultivators of the highest cultivation would engage each other- not out of politeness or formality, but as a practical matter. If Evren didn’t meet Aydan, Aydan could kill the others with him. And… it seemed as if he didn’t care. Aydan turned to chase after him, but the Kartal clan cultivated water and air. They were more in his domain, and his speed was greater than Aydan’s. The only thing Aydan could do was chase madly after him- and the others, who seemed intent on shoving past not just Aydan but the majority of other Brandle clan members.
There was nothing particularly odd about Crystin coming to speak with their guards. Crystin was another member of the Tenebach clan, their father’s cousin, and currently another of their guards. It was odd for her to conceal what she said from them, twisting darkness energy blocking the words she spoke, but adults sometimes like to keep things private.
Then she turned to the triplets. “I think it’s a good time for the three of you to take a break,” she said. “Then you can… dammit.”
Most adults didn’t swear around the triplets- except the ones who did so profusely- so when those who generally chose their words more carefully used even a milder sort of profanity they took note. “Who’s that?” Melantina asked, the first to lock on to the approaching individuals.
“An enemy,” Crystin said flatly. “We need to take a defensive position. In there,” she gestured to one of the small ‘caves’ in the stone spires. A place generally meant for cultivators to rest and have some time not spent in the water.
“Are we going to fight?” Ursel asked.
“You shouldn’t,” Crystin said. “We’re here to protect you. Just keep yourselves safe.”
Herding the triplets into proper shelter took most of a minute, at which point Evren was almost upon them. Along the way various members of the Brandle clan had attacked- some managing to injure or engage others, but Evren himself continued forward without stopping. It was slightly comforting to know that the various scattered members of the Brandle clan were coming together to fight, or that Aydan and a more distant Kusuma were approaching as fast as they could… but it wouldn’t do much good if she couldn’t stop him long enough.
He should have been far too occupied with rebuilding the shattered remains of his clan, but it seemed he preferred to have it erased from the history books. That was the only option, regardless of what he achieved here. Even in the Consolidated Soul Phase he wasn’t a threat to either clan, or even just the forces they had present- but he was a threat to individual members.
The guards of the Brandle clan chose to face the enemy in the water, except for one Crystin conscripted to stay by her side on the sloping kelp. Behind her was the opening of the cave- or at least where it appeared to be. The actual entrance was on the other side, concealed by Crystin’s power. Likewise, the opening next to her was also ‘concealed’, but she was hiding that it was just part of the stone spire instead of the proper entrance. Out of the water, Crystin thought she could hold her own for a time… but she hoped those in the water could stop him.
They did their best, guarding the base of the spire. When Evren approached with just a half-dozen Soul Expansion Phase cultivators around him, they swarmed towards him- but as the two groups clashed, Evren managed to form a taller wave, riding over them and even landing himself about a quarter of the way up the spire. The others, at least, were forced to engage with the remaining guards.
Crystin was ready with her spear- longer than those of the Brandle clan, and meant for use on land. Fighting at an angle was actually advantageous for her, but her cultivation wasn’t as high as Evren’s.
Like his son- or rather, Bora most likely copied his father- Evren made use of various weapons including a pair of war fans. He had pulled the seas along with him as well as the winds, a swirl of energy as he charged his way up the spire. Crystin held her spear point towards him, concealing the area in darkness so he couldn’t determine its precise location, or length. He didn’t even slow, sending crashing waves over Crystin as well as flicking a bolt of lightning towards the guard at her side, piercing through the watery barrier around him.
Crystin managed to stop herself before she went over the edge, dangling off of one of the oversized leaves of the gigantic kelp. As she began to pull herself up, Evren twirled towards the spire, blasting a cone of lightning into… nothing. At least her concealment had worked, though it was now painfully obvious.
She anchored her feet more strongly, but as she stabbed her spear towards the incoming wave of water, she found it curled around her weapon, jolts of lightning digging into her arms before her weapon could land a solid blow on Evren. She did manage to hit him, the point of her spear dragging along his side, piercing his defensive energy along the way. Yet it wasn’t enough to stop him, and anchoring her feet only made it take another moment for her to be blasted out of the way- this time, falling into the water below. She twirled to catch herself on the next loop of the kelp, but she hadn’t been able to stop him.
Evren twisted around the loop until the actual cave- the distance weakening the effects of her energy- repeating his attack on his new target and causing the spire to shudder.