Despite only one of his totems and thus somewhere more than a quarter of his spiritual energy being darkness element, John found that being in the Sunfields was harder on him than Melanthina. Was it because his cultivation was higher, because of Ciaritzal, or was there something more? Maybe his problem was that he wasn’t completely ignoring it. He wasn’t stupid enough to attempt to draw any of it inside himself at the moment, but trying to control the light element was… painful. It probably should have occurred to him that a full cycle of elements was only theoretical, but then again it was likely nobody expected him to advance beyond the Foundation Phase, or maybe he might reach the Soul Expansion Phase.
He needed to talk to his grandfather more about that at some point. But if he had advanced like his parents in this world, that was about where he would have ended up. It wouldn’t have been considered unreasonable, before the current wave of cultivation.
John watched Melanthina as she leaned her head against the side of the carriage. Her strained face made it clear that even the small amount of light element filtering through was uncomfortable, but she didn’t shy away from it. Instead, she protected herself as best she could. Diffuse light element didn’t have the same explosive reaction with darkness, but it still wore away at it. John felt her trying different things, including copying what he did to some extent- though John’s actual best defense was to create a film of air element to keep things separate. If he did that, he could basically ignore the problem… but he wouldn’t get any better at handling light. He was still quite far from needing to consider that, of course. He still had most of the Consolidated Soul Phase to get through, and first he would have to gain more familiarity with fire.
The journey through the Sunfields was not terribly difficult, though they took a specific route to avoid going near the territory of the wrong sects. The Luminous Harmony Sect was still on terrible terms with the Golden Tomb Guardians, and they would doubtless like to get back at John for his part in damaging them. It was only their fault, of course, but even though the Golden Tomb Guardians had been able to retaliate, the other sect persisted.
Then there was the Righteous Flame League. They were rather open about hating any darkness cultivator, and approaching too close to the northern territory where they were might be seen as a provocation of sorts. John really didn’t want to end up in conflict with them, because the Tenebach clan didn’t really need to gain new generational enemies. It would be better to get along without anything like that… and it wouldn’t be possible to wipe out the Righteous Flame League if it came down to it. The Society of Midnight in the Darklands was one thing, but doing something similar in the Sunfields? Unlikely. And pointless, because they would both lose good cultivators for nothing.
“Uuuuuugh!” Melanthina complained. “Is everything here awful like this?”
John pat his daughter on the head. “Don’t worry, this is training. Exactly what you wanted isn’t it?”
“I can’t think of anything that would be worse than a constant bombardment of light.”
“Then I would suggest not entering the Tomb itself,” John said. “I’m serious about that. You could die. Not that they’d let you, anyway.”
“Is that where their guardian beast stays?” That information wasn’t exactly public, but at some point talking about Ciaritzal had brought it up.
“That’s right. It’s terrible in there.”
Ciaritzal slunk his way out into the open. The Golden Tomb Guardians knew he was present, of course, but it would still make most of them uncomfortable to actually see him so he mostly stayed hidden. Sparkles of light colliding with darkness and annihilating each other flickered about his edges. “An interesting place.”
“Haven’t you been here before?” John asked.
“Not exactly,” Ciaritzal said. “The Golden Tomb Guardians did not exist in this manner during my previous… interactions with Cuah’arn.”
“Right. Of course not.” The whole reason there was a tomb was the injured Cuah’arn. The Golden Tomb Guardians had provided shelter while benefiting from Cuah’arn’s nature as a spirit beast, though they kept that information secret. Hidden in plain sight, really.
Just managing not to throw up was pushing Melanthina to her limits. Agreeing to actually spar was so much worse, though at least the sparring chamber the Golden Tomb Guardians had set up was able to filter out some of the light element for the sake of visitors. It didn’t get all of it, which provided a slight advantage, but that was generally expected for anyone to have a home ground advantage. It was just worse for Melanthina than anyone not attuned to darkness.
They paired her with weaker opponents at first. Like, really weak. People in the eighth or ninth rank, not even in the Foundation Phase. And yet, they were a handful of years older than her… and it wasn’t an inappropriate matchup, with the disadvantage from even the lesser amount of light suffusing the battlefield.
Fighting against the Golden Tomb Guardians was quite different from fighting someone from the Combining Luster Sect. Sure, she’d only fought Nik but it was immediately obvious that the styles were different. They focused more on melee combat, wielding a short staff- but it was deceptive. At any moment, blades could extend from either end… and they could also disappear the moment she tried to block.
Not that Melanthina was fond of blocking. Direct confrontations were never her favorite option, and against a light cultivator? It was just asking for the battle to be over with everyone riddled full of holes. Though theoretically the arena would blunt the damage, it wasn’t as good as Astrein’s which had the advantage of wealth pouring in from many sources.
Melanthina actually quite liked the fighting style. It was tricky, and she stole little bits of it for herself. She wasn’t sure about attempting the same thing exactly, but she attempted extending a blade of darkness from the rear side of a dagger she held. That could be a good surprise attack for whoever she needed to take out. It wasn’t a structurally sound as reinforcing a proper blade, and she didn’t have the leverage advantage the short staff gave to the Golden Tomb Guardians, but it was an option.
Then after sparring was over she collapsed onto the ground until her father came to carry her away into their nice, almost completely light element free room. After resting there for a while she could actually eat something, digesting it overnight and then skipping breakfast in the morning because she would just lose it anyway.
Talking with Deirdre- or Odette as the current inhabitant had once been known- John was able to help with things she couldn’t talk about to just anyone. She wasn’t exactly ready to tell everyone she transmigrated, but at least she’d grown to actually believe everything was real and try to settle into her new life.
“It’s crazy!” she said. “I have all these memories about cultivating and stuff, but I’m basically new. My body almost fights without me, even after training for over a year. And I’m strong but… I didn’t really do anything to earn this. It was all… her.”
John didn’t have much to say to that. Saying he was sorry for what happened would only get him the same response- that the original Deirdre wouldn’t blame him, and Odette was just happy to be alive. Even if she wouldn’t really talk about how she had died. Personally, John thought swerving off the road was an embarrassing enough way to go. “I… can’t exactly relate to that part,” John said. “The original Fortkran died from failed cultivation and I ended up back at the beginning. Not that he had even made it to the Foundation Phase.”
“And now you’re really strong, whereas I’m just…” Odette gestured towards herself. “This, I guess. I kind of understand cultivation, but I’m not really sure. I have so many thoughts flow through my head and I don’t know if any of them are right.”
“That’s the whole process,” John shrugged, “Gathering energy and insights and trying to piece everything together. And I wouldn’t worry about your talent. You still managed to advance a rank since you came here… and as a Soul Expansion Phase cultivator, it’s not easy to do that. The final insights and control are the most important, and they had to come from you.”
Odette nodded. “I guess that’s good to hear. There are just so many expectations for me! I never thought I would fight so much…”
“Me neither,” John shrugged. “But in this world, that’s the norm. Personally, I’m glad to have power when it could have ended up quite different.”
“Yeah,” Odette nodded. “And Cuah’arn actually lets me spend time with her, which I guess makes me special here. I can’t believe you told your family about it though. I don’t even know who to tell! If you didn’t discover it immediately I might not have told anyone.”
“That’s what the club is for,” John shrugged. “So we have some people to talk to. But honestly, half of mine was being intimidated by the memories of my grandfather’s power. I was fortunate that Fortkran was… undesirable. Though cultivators are more likely than not to make a practical choice regardless. If the previous me had been decent, they might not have been happy with me replacing him, but they probably would have accepted it.”
“And then you just accepted an arranged marriage.”
John shrugged, “I couldn’t really fight it. And Matayal was very supportive of the new me. I’m lucky we actually managed to fall in love. And unlucky that the way we arranged things means not spending every day with her. We’re gonna have to live a really long time to make up for that.”
“Do cultivators really live longer? I mean, I know something about that but…”
“Look at me,” John gestured. “Do I look like I’m fortyish?” He quickly moved on from that. “And my grandfather is well over a hundred. He didn’t have kids until he was my age at least. And Faramund was… at least a couple hundred. It’s weird, basically feeling like a young kid yet among the strongest… in this region. And then my actual kids were born with crazy affinities and it’s probably even weirder for them.”
“Your daughter is cute.”
“Probably gets that from her mother. And the stubbornness from both of us.”
The dynamic between Ciaritzal and Cuah’arn was completely different depending on the circumstances. John had only seen them interact a few times, but when Deirdre had been brought to him by Cuah’arn they didn’t even show signs of hostility towards each other. But now that they were coming together for some sort of official spar…
“Prepare yourself, old bird!” Ciaritzal hiss-growled, his voice forming without an actual physical component to produce it. “I’m not going to go easy on you just because we’re in your home!”
“Likewise. If you complain about your defeat because you chose it to be in this location, I will have no sympathy.”
It was quite dramatic… but if it was an actual show it was kind of a waste. Very few people were watching. Just John, Deirdre, and Sect Head Lambert. They were in the core of Cuah’arn’s ‘tomb’, where the light was strongest. John was present because he was to watch over Ciaritzal, obviously. Odette seemed to have a better affinity for Cuah’arn than the original Deidre, and of course the Sect Head had to be present. Melanthina could have been, if she could stomach stepping one foot inside the area.
The battle was… hard to watch. Not that it was awkward or uncomfortably gory or anything like that, but because it physically hurt his eyes. Going from light to dark to light immediately was a larger swing than just suddenly having his eyes flooded with light. He could only barely pick out what was going on with his energy senses, though the shockwaves of power were quite clear. When it ended, it appeared that Ciaritzal might have come out somewhat the worse for wear, but both sides dripped blood that disappeared upon making contact with the floor.
“I guess you win this one,” Ciaritzal said, sliding over towards John. “You will have to come for a rematch in my territory at some point, glowing bird.” Despite his apparent loss, John could feel Ciaritzal was rather happy. Then again, he was a spirit beast that only got to hang around humans. Interacting with an old rival might bring back fond memories.