Despite there being a common idea that it was satisfying, John found nothing pleasant about revenge. It would have been much preferred for their clans to have no contact with others and avoid conflict, but that simply wasn’t possible. Someone would find issue with something- or perhaps simply desire whatever location they dwelled in- and there would be more conflicts. Thus, the only choice became making sure they would come out on top.
Enacting revenge upon those who were in a weaker position was one step worse, but they couldn’t simply allow the Kartal clan to continue to exist after their recent actions. Or at least, John told himself that it was justified that way. Either way, he wouldn’t allow any threat to the triplets.
Evren was brought along to see what had to be done, and to provide a reason for the other clan members why their lives were forfeit. There always had to be a reason for everything. An excuse. And it didn’t feel good, but John would do it again if he had to.
Back home in the Tenebach clan, John wondered what could be done for Ursel. She didn’t feel as if she belonged, and what made it worse that in a way she was right. On Earth the correct answer might have been a therapist, but they didn’t exactly have anything like that here. He wasn’t exactly qualified to do that himself, nor was Matayal. But knowing about the problem might give them a chance to do something. One conversation obviously wasn’t going to solve things. And being separate from his children almost half of the time likely wasn’t helping anything either.
Politically the marriage alliance had made sense. Practically, if there had been other heirs, there were perfectly good reasons why second or third in line individuals were married off. Ironically enough, it would have been easier if John simply didn’t care about his wife and children.
John found it frustrating to run into a problem that couldn’t be stabbed or politicked or bought away. Those weren’t the only solutions, but they were certainly the easiest. Unfortunately in all of the stores of techniques the Tenebach clan had, they didn’t have “Relate to Your Own Children” or anything social beyond manipulative techniques and a tiny bit of empathy related ones for reading other’s moves. That was a serious gap in practicality.
John didn’t know if he had the talent to develop a technique along those lines, or if it was even the right path. It might be more appropriate to do things the old fashioned way with lots of work, but unfortunately that meant being present as well. But sometimes there were things cultivation simply couldn’t solve. Then again… there were techniques for confusing and befuddling people, why not some designed to promote mental clarity in others?
Or he could just properly connect with his children. So he should do that. But while they weren’t around, he could think about developing techniques, even if they were probably stupid ideas. Cultivation might not be the solution to everything, but it certainly did a good job of seeming like it was.
John clapped his hands together. “Well then, we’re all here. Everyone, welcome to the once-in-a-while club meeting for reincarnators and transmigrators. I’d especially like to welcome our newest member, Deirdre. Or Odette, if she prefers.”
“Deirdre is safest,” their light element newbie nodded. “I’m glad to be included. So… what actually happens here?”
“This is basically it, honestly,” John gestured to the tea and snacks in front of them. “Social interaction, I suppose. A place we could talk about such things, and we can also make alliances. Except we basically already have.” John shrugged, “But seeing each other is good, and I’d like to keep up our relationships.”
“… I kind of expected something more,” Deirdre said honestly. “Like, discussing plans to take over the world or something.”
“That is a lot of work,” Renato explained. “Though maybe we should continue to expand. The Order of the Amber Heart and the Tenebach clan now control Marble County. Attempting to take over the entirety of the Stone Conglomerate would be a bit ambitious, but further expanding our influence seems logical.”
“There’s not much to control in the Green Sands except… well, what’s in the name,” Lucanus shrugged. “The Milanovic clan figures out that stuff, but mostly I’m interested in growing stronger myself.”
“Same here,” Yustina said, nestled up beside him. “Though having the support of a clan is quite useful for that.”
Ultimately, nobody had specific goals in mind just yet. Given that the latest generation had explosive increases in the number of Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators letting some things stabilize might be the best choice. Though that didn’t mean there weren’t things being done.
John had long admired the communication network in the Sunfields, allowing swift communication over long distances. That was good, but what it lacked was privacy. Good for national news that should be distributed to all, less useful for secret messages or even longer form communication. Creating something as swift or close to it without the flaws was an ambition, but such things took time.
One benefit of knowing and trusting a variety of people from different elements was the potential training improvements. Sparring was an obvious option. While the club didn’t have anyone with the primary elements of air or water, John could fill those roles to some extent. Yustina was almost as good at standing in for the water element as John despite not using the element at all, her fire able to flow like a liquid. And of course, the club didn’t have to work with only their technical members. Matayal wasn’t part of them, but she was aware of them and made herself available.
Kusuma was normally willing to spar with anyone friendly as well, but… her health had taken a downturn. John knew that the idea of an invincible woman who would live forever was just a faulty image in his head, but it was still strange to see the image unravel. Ultimately the older generation would die out even in a world of cultivators, but John had kind of expected it to be more… climactic. Not building up injuries that wouldn’t fully heal over the course of several important battles, but a huge explosion of power in a great battle. And perhaps that was what most cultivators would prefer- it was just not usually an option. Kusuma still lived, but John could tell she was simply holding onto her current power and what health she had left. Perhaps he should have seen signs sooner, but then again- Kusuma didn’t want anyone to know.
When he got the chance, John focused his sparring with the two fire element cultivators and Deirdre. It was strange at first, fighting against Deidre who was now someone else. Even though she had assured him that a majority of the fault for what happened was not his own, that meant that some of it was. Something of a friend had died, and now there was a new friend in her body. It was strange. John’s family had only come to terms with himself so easily because of their poor relationship with Fortkran.
Though John had a growing cycle of elements, everything was still rooted in darkness. Sparring against Deidre was explosive, and both of them had to be careful in exactly how they attacked, their energies easily destroying each other. If they were incautious, they could pierce through the other’s defenses and cause serious injuries. Sparring against each other gave them some experience properly protecting themselves, but it didn’t change the fundamental nature of the interaction.
Outside of sparring, John was still attempting to learn how to control the fire and light elements. Fire was the next in his cultivation path, and while he still had the mid and late Consolidated Soul Phases to contend with, he wanted to familiarize himself as much as possible with the elements. Especially since it was so difficult. He only had one totem out of four with any positive connection to fire and light. And though John could quash the fire element with water or feed it with earth, handling it on its own was still difficult. And light was worse. While he could keep tidbits of fire contained in his dantian, doing the same with light was just asking for a disaster, a reaction of light and darkness that would explode him from the inside out.
Perhaps his plans for a full cycle were actually impossible- though in truth it wasn’t expected for him to reach the Consolidated Soul Phase to begin with, let alone the Ascending or Exalted Soul Phases. He was further than Fortkran really dreamed of, but he couldn’t help but set his sights higher.
Maybe it was a curse of cultivators, to always have ambition to go one step higher. Or maybe it was a blessing, a fount of motivation. John knew that power didn’t somehow provide meaning to the world, but as he grew in power he could see more of the world, not just by traveling further but by delving into its secrets hidden around him. That, at least, was a worthy cause. Struggling for power and fighting… those seemed to just be inevitable human traits, and it just so happened that the situation of the world made death and killing seem more acceptable.
John could feel his cultivation slowing down, though he felt he was close to breaking through to the mid Consolidated Soul Phase. It would have been stranger if he did not start taking multiple years per rank, but the doubt at each further stage of advancement was unsettling. And the person John wanted to speak about such things with the most was not present in his life for most of the year. It was a terrible set up, yet one which might still be the best possible in the world he’d found himself in.
Yet he couldn’t wait for a time that he and Matayal could remain together as much as they wished. He was also gathering a plethora of advice to teach future generations about how not to arrange clans. Practical for the sake of improving the clan as the whole? It certainly was. But watching out for individual members was just as important.
Perhaps some would say he had nothing to complain about as a clan head and a cultivator with great talent, but his problems were just as real as everyone else’s. And in some way, any that remained were that much harder to deal with.
John found himself back in Astrein, a country he personally found quite pleasant with its even blend of elements. Others found it to be lacking in whatever they wanted, having to dredge out their specific element from the mixture of the rest if they even realized it was possible, but now more than half of the elements were exactly what he wanted. Carefully filtering out most of the fire and all of the light was not terribly difficult, and taught him much.
He was back in Astrein for much the same purposes as before, though he couldn’t participate in a significant portion of the tournament. Various factors of age and cultivation influenced who could participate in what rounds, and while he was on the younger end being in the Consolidated Soul Phase still restricted him to the latter half.
Hopefully he could attend the entire tournament this time. He shouldn’t end up in a situation where he had to flee the country or risk death. At the moment, the Tenebach clan and their allies had precious few enemies, and even fewer still that would risk breaking tournament rules to kill any of them.
It wasn’t fighting himself that most interested John, though he did have a feeling of pleasant anticipation. Instead, it was seeing the others who joined. While there were certainly many from the surrounding countries who would not attend, it would allow him some sort of overview of the wider state of the world around the countries where he had spent his time. He was aware of other factions growing in strength in the Stone Conglomerate and more distantly connected to the Shimmering Islands and the Green Sands, but beyond the Golden Tomb Guardians he was basically ignorant of the Sunfields or anything more than a couple countries away.
He couldn’t keep track of everything, but John was fairly certain that if growth continued as expected their region would begin to draw the attention of those from afar whether they wanted to or not. Learning what he could was one way to avoid unpleasant surprises.