The sphere of darkness almost flickered like a torch, the area it was making impossible to see bending and waving. John approached cautiously, not wanting to disturb it too much. He didn’t have any containers specially made for it, but he was fairly certain from his readings it just needed to be kept out of the light. He gently reached out with his hand and curled his fingers around it. It felt like… nothing at all. Yet it moved with his claw grip, and he was able to stow it in a small box he was carrying. John wrapped some of his own darkness energy around the box to keep out any stray light. He wondered if there might be more condensed darkness in the depths of the mines.
He kept searching, watching for any hidden bats or other creatures. He saw several, but he moved slowly past and they didn’t bother him. He didn’t really want to fight anyway. In the end, he found two more patches of condensed darkness. He gingerly stowed those away and returned to meet a relieved Edgar. It was John’s own decision to go off into the darkness, but that didn’t mean Edgar was comfortable with the young master going off alone. It was strange being important… and even more so when he felt like he didn’t deserve any of it.
In the end, there wasn’t much to be done for the efficiency of the mine. However, Fortkran Tenebach presented his findings to his family. The family would sell the spiritual air and water, but allowed him to keep to condensed spiritual darkness to aid his own cultivation. Perhaps that was what they had wanted to begin with… as well as being able to show that he could do something. There were a lot of things from the old Fortkran that needed to be recovered from.
It was possible to cut off all light from outside his own personal training room. John now understood why that might be important. After closing himself off he carefully took out one of the boxes with condensed spiritual darkness energy in it. He carefully pulled out the seemingly insubstantial substance, holding it between his hands close to his body. He concentrated on it, pulling its energy into himself one strand at a time. It was much more pure darkness than any of the free spiritual energy, and he found it much easier to absorb. The Seed of Darkness inside of him greedily drank up its power, releasing only a small portion for his own use. However, John felt it growing more powerful. The condensed spiritual energy seemed endless, but it gradually faded. Even so, his cultivation had advanced significantly in the past few hours. He could do that at least once more, and perhaps even break into the ninth level of the Spiritual Collection Phase.
As the spiritual energy poured into him through his meridians, he felt the effects it was having on him inside and out. His body grew stronger bit by bit- nearly inconsequential, but useful when added to his ability to control spiritual energy. His core of power in his dantian expanded and grew, the Seed of Darkness’ leaves and roots growing more pronounced. As he absorbed the last traces of energy from the second condensed spiritual darkness, he felt a ripple through himself as the Seed finally became a full sapling. John was certain it was now fully a second tier spiritual totem… still not worth much for someone from a cultivation family, but he was hoping his path might become something more in the future.
Soon enough he found himself speaking to his parents and grandfather. “I request an opportunity to go out into the world to temper myself. The previous time that ‘I’ attempted to break through to Foundation Phase I was unprepared. Now I have a more difficult path ahead of me, and I want to be ready. In addition to that, I believe I will need a proper earth elemental treasure to propel my advancement.”
His father Gerben Tenebach inclined his head. “We appreciate you taking the initiative in this matter. While it might be better if you were able to reach Foundation Phase here, if your path of cultivation would be best served by this we will support you.” He turned to Luctus, Fortkran’s grandfather.
“Indeed. Of course, we will not send you out empty handed. Some fortuitous encounters are found in the wilds, while some in cities. We shall send one of your uncles with you as a guardian, as well as provide you with sufficient funds to attempt to purchase something of benefit to you. An auction is coming up in Marble City. Perhaps you shall find something there. If not, the city will be able to direct you to opportunities.”
Fortkran inclined his head, “Thank you, Grandfather. I will be certain to act in a way that will bring honor to our family.” Sometimes, it was good to mention that he was a different person, in more ways than one. He might not have been as interested in honor as this current society, but nobody wanted a screwup in the family.
Marble City was the capital of Marble County, as its name might make clear. There were probably many other towns named similarly, but everyone in the area knew what was meant when Marble City was mentioned. John had memories of visiting before, but he hadn’t properly taken in the sights. While he’d seen bigger buildings on Earth, he wasn’t sure if they were more impressive. There were grand buildings and even palaces where members of the most powerful cultivation families throughout the Stone Conglomerate might stay- or at least visit.
The Tenebach clan was one of the larger forces in the county, but in the entire country they were only considered somewhere around the upper middle. There was a small estate in the city, but since they didn’t live far it was pointless to have more when they could just return to their own lands.
A small estate, of course, was still more luxurious than most of what John had experienced on Earth. The former Fortkran had grown used to the luxury, but John was determined not to take it for granted. He still had a few days until the auction which he would spend cultivating peacefully.
He didn’t bring any retainers, though the estate had its own servants. His guard was his uncle Aydan, a man past the middle of the Foundation Phase. He was two levels behind Gerben and Caelia, and was unlikely to reach Soul Expansion Phase without significant expenditure of resources. It was still possible, because he was still young enough, but he was a steady cultivator unlikely to experience any sudden change. If he hadn’t been part of the Tenebach family and received the guardian beast’s blessing, he might have done similarly well as an earth element cultivator.
John knew that technically he had two purposes for showing up at the auction. Coming without his parents meant that he was being given some free reign of his own- though people would likely assume his uncle was still there to restrict his movements. Perhaps he was, but John was also supposed to buy something at the auction. Or at least bid on enough things. Demonstrating that the Tenebach family had money to spend and more importantly would let him spend it was a reminder that he existed and was still the heir, despite his failure to advance to Foundation Phase. He really hoped he would find something useful.
All of the likely popular items for the auction had been announced ahead of time to drive up interest. Most of them weren’t that useful to him. It was unlikely he would find an affordable weapon or armor that was better than what the clan could provide. There were a few earth elemental treasures suitable for Foundation Phase experts, but winning a bid with one of them would be difficult. A treasure could provide him with abundant energy and perhaps some insights into the earth element that would help with a breakthrough to Foundation Phase and securing the spiritual totem he wanted, but he didn’t need one so powerful. However, though they were generally more common in the area they were also in high demand. Perhaps there would be some less powerful ones that weren’t listed that he could bid on.
The announcer for the auctions was an attractive woman. John understood why, because those tactics had been quite effective on the former Fortkran. Maybe he wasn’t completely immune now, but he was at least responsible enough to bid properly on things he actually wanted or needed.
The first earth treasure came up, and John threw in a token bid near the beginning. It was the core of a giant rock creature that had been destroyed by a Soul Expansion Phase cultivator… and soon its price skyrocketed to five times the starting bid, and similarly approximately that much of John’s budget. Following that were a number of trinkets that weren’t particularly useful or were instead overpriced.
“As a special event,” the woman on stage paused dramatically, “This year we have a special opportunity for the lucky visitors today. We have six slots to the Great Crystal Caverns, which will open once again this year. We would have loved to advertise this, but the keepers of the caverns- known as the Order of the Amber Heart- are adamant that only those who are fated should be given the opportunity to receive the slots.”
John grinned inside. His grandfather had probably heard about this, and likely many others. Still, that explained the amounts he’d been provided. Presumably, it would be best to buy two slots… which meant going toe to toe with some of the other families. The Crystal Caverns were a great series of ancient earth mines which constantly produced Spiritual Stones and earth element treasures. Well, constantly in the way they only opened up every decade or two… but it was one of the great features of Marble County- maybe even the whole of the Stone Conglomerate. John prepared himself for bidding… wondering what his strategy should be.