Being out in the field fighting monsters, the environment, or people was useful for a while, but eventually came time for simple cultivation. Just sitting down, absorbing spiritual energy and refining it to be one’s own. In turn that increased the capacity and skill of the user, with noticeable jumps upon achieving a new rank.
With each rank he gained, John gained greater understanding of why people might undergo closed door cultivation, where they were locked off from the world for an extended period of time purely cultivating their energy. He could see how it might be a benefit when one had sufficient experience with the world and merely needed time free from distractions. Every day as he trained there were distractions. Simple ones from eating and sleeping to larger things where he got involved with family business and mandatory social interactions.
Perhaps without any distractions he might have saved some weeks of time before he broke through to the twelfth rank. In the grand scheme of things that time wasn’t such a big deal, but it delayed the journey he wanted to go on. Maybe it was just the sensibility he had from earth, where exact times and dates were important. Visitors might arrive days or weeks off target- even cultivators who had more control over the length of their journey- and nobody really bat an eye.
Mostly John still found it strange that an entire trip was focused around him. Servants were one thing- the fact that they would conform their work to fit his needs made sense. It was the fact that his grandfather was waiting that made it weird. Someone more important. Luctus didn’t seem concerned about the time estimate being off by a few weeks. John could have cultivated on the road, but there was no pressure to hurry or get moving. Then again, perhaps Luctus knew his idea of how long the step would take wouldn’t be precise. John thought he was pretty good at judging, but apparently not that accurate yet.
It wouldn’t just be him and Aydan traveling together this time. There was of course Luctus, but also Crystin and another guardian for her. But even then it was more than just the five of them that would be traveling through the Stone Conglomerate. While the group could quite easily handle themselves in most circumstances, with recent conflicts it was best to be safe. Even if they were traveling through the more civilized parts of the Stone Conglomerate it wouldn’t do them much good if the Roldan or Boyce clans were determined to just kill them regardless of the consequences. While both clans had been strictly penalized for their actions, the penalties hadn’t involved any executions. Instead, they were merely forced to pay steep penalties. They had to give up resources and sell off lands to cover all of it, but their martial power remained basically the same. So they also had a large group of members of the Tenebach clan traveling along as well. If they weren’t necessary, it was still a display of their forces that weren’t normally seen outside of Marble County. Sometimes it was good to make sure people remembered you existed.
Along the way, as they traveled, Luctus taught them about controlling the darkness element. John had access to his grandfather’s teachings whenever he wanted, but he always had other things he needed to learn as well. He couldn’t just become a copy of his grandfather. Especially not with an earth totem. What Luctus was teaching the group was something that couldn’t be done with just the two of them, either.
The teachings focused on group formations. John had the feeling that most of the training was specifically for him and Crystin, because the older members seemed to already have experience with it. John knew the basics, but he got practice not just in supporting formations adding energy for the leader to use but also in the lead positions.
A group formation was quite similar to how they had naturally spread darkness over the battlefield during their most recent conflict. However, instead of each individual filling up an area they contributed some of their own energy to be guided by a leader. For the concealing aspect of the area of darkness, each individual taking care of their own area was perfectly usable, probably even more efficient than if they had contributed to a group formation.
The actual usefulness of the group formation came to where the group couldn’t do something individually. Usually this took the form of powerful attacks or defense. While ten people could attack the same target, if they needed to concentrate their power into a small area their attacks would inevitably interfere with each other. That was the case even for people with exactly the same style, be they members of a sect or a clan. So instead of forming individual attacks, the energy was instead given over to a controller who could use it to break through solid defenses or protect against extremely powerful attacks.
At peak performance, the power of a group formation was more than just the additive force of each individual. Achieving such a level took many hours of coordination practice and trust between the members. Even then, a group formation wasn’t always the right answer. They generally weren’t better for attacking individuals in a wide area because the controller would have to divide their attention. Likewise, individual members weren’t necessarily well defended by a group formation. While they were giving up energy to the formation’s controller they were vulnerable to smaller attacks aimed at individuals.
John stood at the core of a group formation. The actual arrangement of individuals could vary. In this case the core was the point of a wedge, with him at the front. It was a formation that was used primarily for channeling energy into attacking a stationary defense. The whole formation contributed energy starting at the widest point in the rear and increasing until it reached the grasp of the controller, who would be responsible for the final attack.
There were ten people in formation, made up only of those at the Foundation Phase. John was still learning, but no matter how good someone was at controlling a formation guiding energy from those an entire phase higher was basically impossible. John was still in the early Foundation Phase, so that was his limit.
The first few times he’d been given the leading position had been a struggle. It was like he was trying to grab a flooding river with his bare hands. If it had been a river of his own energy it would have been one thing, but even if it was given over to his control it still wasn’t his. That being the case, he managed to eventually gain a measure of control.
Now he was doing it once more, drawing on his prior experience leading a group formation but also his memories of Spiritual Energy Absorption. That technique took an enemy’s spiritual energy and turned it into his own, but not perfectly. When energy was trying to listen to him, it was much simpler. It had simply been overwhelming to begin with.
As the river of energy flowed towards him, he didn’t try to grab onto it. It would never be part of him, flowing through him. Instead, it needed something else. He added his own energy, little tendrils of it throughout the whole rushing river- and especially along the edges. The willing energy naturally latched onto his own and moved wherever he led it. In this case, it was a random boulder in the wilderness. Darkness crashed into the rock, stabbing through it and out the other side. A jagged hole about the size of a head had been bored through the boulder for the entire two meters of it. That was pretty good, but John had really been aiming for an area about two fingers wide. Still, he grinned and turned towards Crystin.
She looked away. She was still two ranks ahead of him- she’d finished going from rank thirteen to fourteen in about the time he’d taken to get to twelve. It might not be so easy to catch up to her in cultivation, but she had not been able to achieve as much success at the head of a group formation. John was certain that the flow of energy had been just as smooth, and it wasn’t some sort of strange scheme to make him in particular look good. He had a decent talent for controlling different energy, which he supposed made sense. He had both earth and darkness element spiritual energy of his own, and he’d spent time handling fire. The latter was difficult, but he knew it should be. It was a conquering element for earth and opposed to both earth and darkness.
John gave up on getting a response from Crystin. He sort of just wanted any positive response from his cousin, but they weren’t really friends. Fortkran hadn’t been a great guy, and fighting a few battles together hadn’t suddenly erased the negative opinion of him. Still, he felt the response was more just not wanting to be one-upped rather than anything truly negative. Somewhere around a neutral opinion of him as a person, and slightly positive about his abilities? Well, even if he was wrong about the specifics everything was better than it had been and trending in the right direction.