Pearl Landing was the main port in Astrein, relevant mainly for its position between Dolomite Harbor and the Blustering Peaks. Some amount of trade flowed through it simply because it was a shorter distance than entering the Stone Conglomerate and easier than carting something through the Peaks. Mainly, these were goods from the Phoenix Forest or the Sunfields.
But as far as ports went, it was relatively lacking. It wasn’t particularly defensible, though at least it wasn’t subject to frequent storms. The issue was that Astrein was still treated as a lackluster country with little of value. Some day, John could imagine the port expanding to many times its current size.
For the moment, however, it was what it was. The only reason the Wavecutter was in port was that John had scheduled far ahead of time, and was willing to pay enough for the convenience of what was still the fastest ship in the Shimmering Islands. Or at least, the one that took the least amount of time to travel from point to point. John didn’t want to leave his budding sect for long, so every bit of time he could save was worth the expense. Besides, Captain Sohan was an old friend.
John grinned as he saw the man. A clear increase in spiritual energy, and four totems. Now, he was an even balance of earth and water instead of being lopsided towards the former. He could fortify the ship to resist storms, or speed its passage through the water.
“Congratulations on your advancement to the Consolidated Soul Phase,” John said.
“Thank you, young master Fortkran” the larger man smiled back. “It’s about time, really. If I couldn’t reach the Consolidated Soul Phase these days, I’d fall behind my competition. There’s been a great surge. As for yourself…” he seemed to not know what to say when he took a closer look at John.
“It’s alright. Word must have spread by now that I damaged my cultivation trying to break through. And I’m hardly young anymore.” Even by the standards of a cultivation world, he was certainly not a youth. Fifty wasn’t considered old, however.
“Even so…” Sohan leaned closer, keeping his voice low. “It feels like you were successful in some ways?”
John nodded. “It could have been much worse.”
They didn’t chat for long. While they weren’t exactly in a rush, the sooner they departed the sooner John could see his son, and anyone else coming to the wedding. Which was probably a good portion of the people he knew.
John found himself just as impressed by the Wavecutter as before, the masts carefully constructed to allow lightning to flow through them and into the sea. He had the feeling there had been some upgrades to the structure of the ship, though it could be faulty memory.
The first storm they encountered turned the ship nearly upside down, but Captain Sohan stood firm, making sure the ship continued at its greatest speed.
Meanwhile, John went down a trip of memory of previous storms, and the connections he had to them. He had returned to the eighteenth rank, the peak of the Foundation Phase. Air was the next element in his cycle, and if things were going to be like his previous totem he needed to recapture certain feelings related to his previous advancements. Feeling the lightning coursing through the center of the ship, and watching it from above deck, he recalled some portion of those prior experiences. But he knew there was more to be recaptured still.
It was the responsibility of the bride and groom to meet their guests personally as they arrived, though that was little different from the traditional responsibilities as clan head. The difference, of course, was that now Verusha had to be directly involved. That would continue to be the case going into the future, as she would likely take on official responsibilities.
But for the moment, she stood together with Tirto, the pair of them looking an appropriate mix of happy and nervous. John and Crystin approached, and Tirto bowed his head. “Father, aunt Crystin. Welcome to our wedding.”
“W-welcome,” Verusha added.
“Nervous? That’s to be expected for something so important,” John replied.
“T-this is your fault, you know!” Verusha retorted.
John could only shrug. “I’d hope that you and Tirto are both heavily involved in your own wedding. It’s not like I made anyone do anything.” He just pushed Tirto to make a choice to avoid future regret. And given how the two of them looked, he thought it turned out well. Though that would somewhat depend on what happened with Emilia when everything was resolved.
“Congratulations,” Crystin added.
They exchanged some more smalltalk before moving on. While the guests were arriving over the course of a few days- it wasn’t like everyone could fly in- the bride and groom would still be quite busy, so John didn’t want to monopolize too much of their time. And there were other people he wanted to see.
One of those was one of the louder people he knew. “Heeey!” Steve called out to him when they got vaguely within speaking range- the two of them having picked each other out from a larger distance with their energy senses. “It’s been a while. How’s the sect going?”
“Quite well, I think,” John replied. “The official opening is at the end of the month.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Steve nodded. “I plan to be there.”
“I’ll be glad to have you,” John smiled. While Steve’s presence seemed to increase the probability of trouble, he’d rather have his friend around and some extra trouble compared to not having him and either being bored… or encountering trouble he wasn’t prepared for. And a big event was exactly the sort of place that people liked to cause trouble.
“Lot of stuff all together,” Steve commented. “Makes things rather busy.”
“I’ll have you know I scheduled my event long before,” John shrugged. “Partially because the controllers of the arena required it… for no good reason. They barely use the thing in off years.”
Along with Steve, known to most others here as Lucanus, John also met the rest of the club, along with Harta Mulyani who was kind of an honorary member since they didn’t have an air element cultivator. Nor water, with Matayal gone. John had both elements, of course, but his foundation had been darkness. Either way, Harta might not know all of the details about their reincarnations and transmigrations, but the Mulyani clan was an important part of the wider alliance just as the Brandle clan was.
Ursel, Melanthina, and Nik were also present, of course. John was on the later end of arrivals without actually being late. After seeing most of the rest who would be arriving, John sought out one person he hadn’t seen around.
John found Emilia in the back gardens, sitting on a bench surrounded by hedges and flowery trellises. “How are you?” he asked, taking a seat opposite of her in the section. “How do you feel about things?”
Emilia’s expression was complicated. “I’ve been trying not to think about it. But it doesn’t really help,” she said. Instead of prompting her further, John waited. “I feel… jealous. Like I could be as happy as they look. Like I should have fought for his affection. But then… I know it wouldn’t be like this with Tirto and me.”
“You would both be happy,” John said. “But it certainly wouldn’t be the same.” They sat in silence for a time. “If you’re interested, I could introduce you to a number of eligible young bachelors.”
Emilia chuckled. “Is that so? Would they be as good as Tirto?”
“As a biased father, I can only say that they would not be. But as a person of many years of experience, I can say that there aren’t really better people. And in terms of a relationship, it’s important to find someone that meshes with you in particular. I know a talented alchemist around your age with fire and earth totems. If you’re fine with a bit younger and lacking in background, there are some water cultivators. Or you can be like Ursel.”
“Not caring about making yourself part of a relationship. Or maybe waiting around to see if she stumbles across someone of interest,” John shrugged. “I doubt you would be the type to gain much from being in a relationship with the wrong person, so perhaps avoiding it entirely would suit you. But there’s no rush, you have a lifetime.”
“I understand,” Emilia said. “And in truth, I’ve come to terms with it. It’s just the wedding…” she shrugged. “There are too many people around as well. Hence being here.”
“Ah… I understand,” John nodded. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your solitude.”
“It’s fine. I can handle one or two, but too many… maybe I wouldn’t have been very good helping run a clan.”
“Plenty of introverts do fine in similar positions,” John shrugged. “You’re competent enough it would have worked out.”
The ceremony itself was quite similar to John and Matayal’s. It took place on the beach, with bride and groom out on the water where they could be seen by everyone. The whole time was emotional, but the tears were by and large tears of joy. Everything went smoothly, without interruption.
Though to actually interrupt, it would require an army and likely a few Ascending Soul Phase cultivators. After all, there were a good number of mid to peak Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators present from the alliance.
With the conclusion of the ceremony, the role of the bride and groom only involved a short duration of participating in a feast and talking to guests. During that time, Verusha’s hair rapidly changed with her emotions… finally ending on a reddish pink as Tirto and Verusha left to retire to their chamber.
After the conclusion of festivities, John moved on to his next task in the area. Recovering the next step of his cultivation. For that… he needed to visit the Mulyani clan.
“You could go back directly,” John said to Crystin. “You don’t have to come along. I’ll be safe with them.”
“That, I believe. However, back in Astrein, along the road alone… you would be at your most vulnerable. It is impossible to say who might still bear a grudge with you.”
“If all goes well, I’ll solve much of my weakness,” John pointed out.
“And if not…? I’m not expecting you to fail, but it could easily take longer than anticipated. You have to return for the ceremony, so you could rush back more or less as you are.”
“A fair point,” John shrugged. “I’m just tired of monopolizing your time. Remind me to get you something nice when all this is done.”
“Absolutely,” Crystin grinned. “I won’t forget.”
John had previously discussed his intention to visit the Mulyani clan with Harta, but even though it wasn’t a formal visit but one related to training he found there was too much ceremony involved. He wasn’t going to try to circumvent it, however. He was still an important individual, and it was good for the Mulyani clan’s prestige for their neighbors to be reminded of the connection to him. And such things were relatively quick, leaving John with something like a week and a half to train.
“So you are here to recapture the feeling of training with Kusuma…?” Harta asked.
“I am,” John nodded.
“… I’m so sorry,” the younger man bowed his head.
John tilted his head in confusion. Kusuma’s death was many years past, and if anything he should be the one apologizing. And then John realized. “Actually, to get the full effects of that, I might need your help.”
Harta nodded. “I would be glad to assist. And this is the perfect season for Cyclone Island…” Harta said. “Though I doubt I can quite replicate the experience.”
“That’s fine,” John shrugged. “Just make sure it’s challenging enough.” At least with his current cultivation, that wouldn’t be impossible- though his totems made him stronger than a mere Foundation Phase cultivator.