For a while, John wondered how his parents had managed to avoid worrying themselves to death about him. The answer he finally came up with was not particularly inspiring. Fortkran was the sort who got to the point the Tenebach clan was thinking about replacing him. Before that, even if they had love for that version of him- which he didn’t care if they did- he might have caused them worry because he got into trouble. Just not mortal peril. There was no danger in training if he never did anything exceptional.
But the former not-John had been dead for either a third, half, or a full lifetime depending on how John wanted to count it. His full memories made it close to a third of that, and fortunately Fortkran wasn’t causing any specific trouble anymore… nothing that wasn’t memory, at least.
Unfortunately none of that prepared him for his personal worries, specifically about his daughters. He loved Tirto, but the young man was doing just fine and not getting into any trouble. Maybe that meant it would all come later, but for the moment he didn’t have to deal with it too much. And when the time came, it would mainly be Matayal’s responsibility as his favored parent.
The problem John was facing now was that both of his daughters were suddenly interested in going on journeys to advance their training, and he both couldn’t stay away from the clan for an indefinite period without a stronger reason… and he also couldn’t be in two places at once. Just in case, he quickly scanned through the Tenebach technique library and asked Matayal do the same, but there was nothing about a technique allowing a cultivator to exist in two places at once. Not in any real capacity or at any distance, at least. There were ways to make fakes, but they were basically illusions and couldn’t function without the control of the actual cultivator themselves.
Ursel remained serious about her desire to train in the Viridia Wildlands. Having her be actually excited about a training opportunity meant he couldn’t just deny her. But at the same time, Melanthina wanted to go train with the Golden Tomb Guardians for… some reason. He certainly didn’t mind her working on dealing with light element cultivators, but she didn’t have a good reason. Not that she would say at least.
“I just thought… I should get better at fighting against light element cultivators,” Melanthina explained vaguel when he asked about it. “Since I’m going to be the head of the Tenebach clan and all.”
John nodded, “So, it has nothing to do with you losing to one in the tournament?”
“N-no! Of course not. I mean, not him specifically. But I have to get better so I can seek my revenge!”
This left John with mere speculations about her true motivations. He didn’t want to voice them or even think about them in case it made them real. But at least she was motivated to grow, and not just from the clan pushing her towards something. “I will help you arrange for training,” John said, “But it might take some time. There are some complications with just sending you to the Sunfields. Not least of which is… it will be highly unpleasant for you.”
“Ciaritzal can help with that!” Melanthina nodded, “He said he’d come with me!”
“Did he?” John raised an eyebrow. “It’s surprising that you didn’t think to ask me about this. Especially considering that it seems like an excellent way to start a diplomatic incident.”
“… We get along with the Golden Tomb Guardians though, right? Aren’t we allies?”
“So what’s the problem? Ciaritzal even likes Cuah’arn, everyone will be happy.”
“So you considered the potential consequences of taking our clan’s guardian beast through territory full of light element cultivators that might want to kill him or us?” John narrowed his eyes at Melanthina.
“Well I…” she looked away. “We could just keep it a secret.”
“I’m going to have to speak with Ciaritzal. Then we will discuss what is actually happening.”
“So?” John asked to the pool of deeper darkness that was in the shape of a large beast- not quite matching either a large cat or canine. “What did you and Melanthina actually talk about?”
John got the impression of teeth that were probably something like a smile. And still extremely threatening. “Basically what she said. She asked me to go along, and I said I would.”
“You actually want to see Cuah’arn?”
“Of course. We have old scores to settle. Do not worry,” Ciaritzal slunk around behind John as he spoke. “It would ultimately be beneficial to all of us. And give you more chances to speak with the newest member of your group. That will ultimately provide you with more opportunities for growth, and the alliance could be beneficial.”
John nodded. “Its strange. Ultimately, if my cultivation path continues, I will grow more incompatible with you.”
“Only in the elemental sense,” Ciaritzal made a low rumble, “Our other affinities will not change. But you need only maintain the former for a small number of years.”
“That’s right. The empowerment ceremony…” John frowned, “I’m not looking forward to a drop in my cultivation.”
“Then make sure you are well prepared. I am no longer incomplete. With proper preparations, you and the rest of the older generation will only have temporal fatigue. Though much of that depends on you in particular.”
“That’s… good to know,” John admitted. “I had considered that it might not need to happen the same way… though I certainly need to make sure the next generation gets the best benefits it can. Some have been waiting for… a while.”
“Melanthina should be able to handle the results soon enough, though she is already quite strong in her affinity.”
“What about Tirto and Ursel? Could they undergo the blessing? Should they?”
“They could…” Ciartizal drew out the word, “But I would not recommend it. Especially your daughter Ursel has terrible affinity for darkness. Mixing that up with her cultivation already advanced would be inadvisable. I must admit I am unsure of your son, but I fear the process could diminish his water affinity.”
“I see. I suppose we don’t need to discuss it further then. Are you really alright with going to the Sunlands?”
“I would suffer little if you were to carry me along…”
“I’m not staying the whole time,” John shook his head. “If I even have the time to go myself.”
“Well, I’m certain they can provide a tolerable place for me to stay,” Ciaritzal said. “Your daughter would only be burdened by my… direct presence. Until her cultivation improves, at least.”
With vague plans for Melanthina, there was still Ursel.
“Can we go now?” John’s second daughter asked.
“First of all, if you’re serious about the training it won’t just be a short trip. I may not be able to join you for any of it.”
“But Melanthina said you’re taking her to-”
“Somewhere closer, if I go at all,” John answered. “There is clan business here for me to attend to.”
“What, like sitting and talking with people? None of them are important!”
John sighed, “While I don’t actually care about most of the visitors, that does not make them unimportant, or at least what they represent. You may not be taking on the responsibility of running a clan, but you should know the importance of politics.”
“Mmn,” Ursel grunted in vague acknowledgement. “It’s still stupid though.”
“I agree, but neither of us are strong enough to ignore it.”
“… not even you and mom?”
“We’re mid Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators. Last generation… maybe that would have been close. But as it is, we’re not strong enough to just ignore everyone and everything. Even if we became Ascending Soul Phase cultivators, I imagine that would just draw in trouble from further away that we’d have to deal with.”
“That sounds hard. Is your cultivation… not going well?”
“It is progressing well enough, but we’ve been busy with… clan related business.” He almost said raising the triplets, but Ursel already had problems with thinking herself of something like a burden or unnecessary. As if… anyone was necessary, really. “As for your training… your trip to the Viridia Wildlands may require a couple months.”
“Why?” Ursel asked.
“Because Renato will be going with you.” Ursel looked a bit disappointed in that- though John knew she was at least fond of the man. “Besides, I wouldn’t be able to escort you if you went right away.”
“You’re coming?” Ursel’s eyes lit up.
“If you wait, I can find the time.” It was a shame that Melanthina would be coming chronologically first. Perhaps Ursel would do well with a bit more exclusive time with him before that excursion took place.
If Ciaritzal actually took up space, the inside of the carriage would be extremely cramped. As it was, it still felt that way. But it was more comfortable to have Ciaritzal lounging about in the open than strictly tagging along inside John. Just because he could carry the guardian beast with him didn’t mean it was an appropriate long term arrangement.
“We’re in Astrain again, right?” Melanthina asked as she looked out of the window. “It’s so… flat. And lifeless.”
John was aware there was plenty of life in the area, but the reason it doubtless felt like it was because the spiritual energy was evenly mixed. It didn’t have a distinctive feel of any sort. Even the carriage had difficulties filtering much in the way of darkness element for those inside, though that was unnecessary with Ciaritzal inside. John had long ago stopped thinking about spiritual energy as being perfectly logical. Cultivators generally drew it from the world around them, but animals and plants could produce it inside of them, in small quantities at least. That included humans. As for spiritual beasts like Ciaritzal, it was much greater.
Even so, for something like Ciaritzal to grow stronger required a higher density of a particular element. That was why he had a lair- or now the new series of tunnels beneath the clan. Building up an area like that was the safe, passive method of growth for the guardian beast. The active method… fighting and devouring. Some of that had happened with the Society of Midnight, though quite a bit of Ciaritzal’s ‘growth’ there had been the return of his final fragments. The bits Faramund had annihilated to break through were regrown instead, though presumably not quite the same. But ultimately, everything came down to power.
“Astrein is much more pleasant than the Sunfields will be,” John reminded Melanthina. “They are hot… and bright.”
“I’ve been to the Milanovic clan,” Melanthina nodded, “I know what hot is like.”
“… the light element will be worse,” John sighed. “I didn’t go to the area until I was stronger than you. It’ll be hard to resist.”
“That’s the whole point though, right?” Melanthina asked. “Training so I can resist that stuff and beat up that stupid- I mean, generally overcome any light element cultivator. If I happen to run into more of them.”
John had the feeling she’d nearly mentioned a specific name, which only solidified some of the options. The way she’d spoken of that kid she lost to, Nik… he’d certainly have to arrange for a rematch at some point.
Darkness cultivators were terrifying. That was what Nik had decided. The Darklands were immediately north of the Prism Underfields, but coming to the tournament the Combining Luster Sect had completely circumvented the place, heading through the Wuthering Steppes and then Green Sands. After crawling up out of the Deadfields of course.
It was pretty much impossible to go directly because of the Annihilation Strip in between, but going around to the west through the bogs got him into the Darklands soon enough. And then he was swarmed by cultivators and bugs.
Technically, he’d asked for it. The Calamitous Swarm was looking for training partners, more from the perspective of wanting to temper the weaknesses of their insect companions than out of any desire to interact with others, specifically light cultivators. At least when he killed them and they exploded nobody got mad. If it had been people, though, it would be completely different. And that counted dark haired cultivators sneaking up to stab him in the spine.