The day had come for the Wavecutter to depart. John watched curiously as the other passengers boarded. It might have been rude to judge them by their cultivation, but that was the first thing he could tell about them. The majority of the available space on the Wavecutter was taken by members of the Tenebach clan, with most of the others being of little interest. He took some interest in a young woman of similar age and cultivation with a guardian in the Soul Expansion Phase. They were quite focused on boarding so he didn’t stop them to introduce himself, but he took note of them.
The Wavecutter having already been prepared to depart and all the passengers aboard, they were leaving the harbor within the hour. They passed by the stone cliffs at the edge of the harbor and out into the open sea, the sight of which John hadn’t seen in quite some time. Something about it struck him. Perhaps it was his ability to sense spiritual energy that made it so resplendent, but he found himself impressed by the vast openness of the sea and the way the light struck it. He almost expected some sort of cultivation insight… but instead he just got to appreciate the view.
The beautiful sparkling seas lasted all of an hour. Then the winds and rain came. Sudden storms weren’t unexpected in an area with so much air and water elemental spiritual energy, instead they were just part of life.
Even in the roaring storm, the Wavecutter remained comfortable. It rolled with the waves steadily instead of violently shaking. John steadied himself on his bed, legs crossed as he sent himself up into the air to feel the storm. Wind and water crashed into each other. Lightning came from the skies, striking the boat. He reached out for the power all around, drawing in the feeling of it.
But it wasn’t enough. It was too faint, too distant. The hull of the ship blocked him. He stood up, exiting his small cabin. His steps slowed briefly as Aydan joined him. His uncle took his duties very seriously, and John appreciated that. Even if he didn’t feel like what he was doing would really be dangerous, he had no need to turn the man away either.
Above decks he had imagined a lot more yelling and running around. Instead, the helmsman calmly drove the ship as waves washed onto the deck. Sailors moved around with calm purpose, checking on various parts of the ship as they moved. Standing by the stairs to the lower decks, John didn’t think he would get in the way. He caught the eye of Captain Sohan, who nodded in acknowledgement. John smiled. It was just like walking around the deck normally. What he felt was a wild storm was just an everyday occurrence for them.
Lightning flashed over the water. The sound followed a moment later. John felt it wash over him, a deluge of air elemental spiritual energy. Perhaps it wasn’t much, but in the Stone Conglomerate pure air energy was rare. He let it absorb into him. It wrestled against him, but he held onto it with his earth energy. The two elements were enemies, but earth was the conquering element in that exchange. John felt the power. He wondered if he could absorb a lightning bolt.
His eyes and ears simply stopped working as lightning struck the ship. His senses overwhelmed, John almost felt as if he had been the one hit instead. However, he recovered a moment later. His energy protected him from any real damage, and he realized the middle mast’s lightning rod had drawn the bolt to it. He could feel the heat it generated along the path it flowed. At first John was afraid that the mast would catch on fire or the metal core melt, but he felt the cooling mass of the sea flowing up from the bottom. The mast wasn’t just made of common materials, and at least part of it continued through the ship to the water below. A fascinating solution, though it had potential for catastrophic failure.
His hair stood on end, even as the rain soaked him and no more lightning struck the boat. John reached out to the air energy in the wind and the remnants of the strike, grasping onto them. He had no totem to aid his control, but his earth energy was quite capable of containing it. He absorbed a small part of it, circulating it through his meridians carefully. A cooling breeze and a pleasant tingling filled him. Inside his dantian, he felt something like a swirl of air. Faint, but certainly new.
John wanted to get closer to the lightning. Maybe he could just touch it. However, he knew better than that. Perhaps he might resist a lightning bolt. Even normal humans often survived getting struck, but there were always complications. That was even more the case where spiritual energy and cultivation were involved. If one was careless, lightning could ruin the meridians in moments. No, he would be staying in a reasonable position until he had more experience. As it was, the experience was enlightening.
As the storm began to die down, he returned below decks. As he walked down the hallway a head peeked out from behind a door. John turned to face the figure and bowed in a sweeping motion. “How do you do. I am Fortkran Tenebach. We didn’t have the chance to be introduced earlier.”
The young woman continued to stare for a time. Finally, she responded. “Keahi. Were you… outside in the storm?”
“Of course. There is nowhere else to be but in my cabin or the mess. It’s not meal time, so…” John shrugged. Keahi had a strong sense of water element around her, so he would be quite surprised if she was not from the Shimmering Islands. “Such storms are new to me. I suppose you have grown bored of them?”
“Bored?” Keahi’s face was hard to read- though she seemed somewhat lax in her assumption that the darkness would help conceal her expression. Her eyes turned away. “No, I do not… appreciate the storms.”
Interesting. Someone from the Shimmering Islands afraid of storms. John didn’t think teasing her about it would go over well, so he decided against it. “I’m sure the larger ones can be quite intense. For now, though, it is a novel experience.”
There was an uncomfortable silence for a time, but Keahi hadn’t retreated into her room or said any departing words. Finally, she spoke. “Did you say you were Fortkran Tenebach?”
“That is correct,” he bowed again. “Pleased to meet you, Keahi.”
“Likewise,” she was mostly hidden behind the door, but he had the feeling she responded in kind from the way her head bobbed. “Good fortune with your cultivation.”
With that, she closed her door. Interesting. It seemed she’d heard of him. The Tenebach clan was powerful, but it wasn’t so prominent that he expected his name to be well known in the Shimmering Islands. Perhaps she was merely a water cultivator from the coast of the Stone Conglomerate. That wouldn’t be so strange, though her name indicated otherwise. He turned to look at Aydan, who provided no comment.
Upon further consideration, it was rational enough for a water element cultivator to fear lightning storms. John had never found himself afraid of them, even on Earth, but plenty of people feared lightning. When it was your weakness, it made more sense. John didn’t find himself afraid of fire, but he certainly had a healthy respect for it. He’d developed countermeasures, but they weren’t perfect by any means. He’d also been dealing with fire in controlled environments. If his first interactions with it had been negative, he doubted his feelings would be the same.
The storm went almost as quickly as it arrived. He found himself back up on deck a couple hours later, having gone over all of the insights from the storm. He could spend more time in his room circulating his energy, but he would have plenty of time for focused cultivation later. Up on deck, he could enjoy the trip while cultivating less seriously. He enjoyed the gentle breeze, the spray of water, and even the warm sun.
After some time, Keahi came out of the cabins below. There weren’t exactly many places to go- they weren’t on a cruise ship. John briefly wondered if cultivators would be interested in such a thing. Many liked luxuries, and cruise ships were catered towards pleasure seekers- especially those with wealth. While the engineering standards might be weaker than on Earth, better materials might make up for it to get the size necessary. Though, he had no intention to try to construct or run one.
Even without any effort, he could sense Keahi approach him at his position next to the railings. “Beautiful, isn’t it? The sea? Some places it is so clear one can see to the bottom, ten or a hundred meters below.”
On Earth, John would have doubted that second measurement. It was probably technically possible, but extremely unlikely. Here, the world took things to extremes. “What about Pualani? Have you been there?” Pualani was their destination, and thus where Matayal lived. They would be stopping at other places along the way, but the Wavecutter would ultimately bring them there.
“Yes,” Keahi nodded. “I actually live there. The sea sparkles like diamonds, though the clarity of the water greatly varies. In some places, it is quite… dark.”
“Dark water is usually from sediment, is it not?” John wasn’t sure if that was necessarily the case here, but that was what he remembered.
“Sometimes,” Keahi said. “But not always. Some places have darkness element in the depths.”
“That would suit me just fine,” John shrugged.
“So what brings you to the Shimmering Islands?” Keahi asked.
“Several things, visiting my fiancee among them.” John didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot. He knew people could just talk, but it was better to have some things clear. “It’s also a good place to train. The Tenebach clan mainly trains in darkness, but the Stone Conglomerate adds much influence of earth. I’ve visited the Green Sands,” he made a face, “and now I thought to seek out other elements to experience them.” He didn’t mention his intentions to complete a cycle of elements with his cultivation. It was ambitious, and possibly even bragging in a way. After all, his grandfather was among the top of the clan and only in the Soul Expansion Phase, barely enough to complete a half-cycle if that had been his path.
“Is that so? Then perhaps we might spar later, I could use more experience training against different styles. In port, I imagine. Captain Sohan probably wouldn’t like us to do so on the ship.”
John grinned, “Probably not. Though I have the feeling the ship wouldn’t give out before us.” The two of them continued to talk for a time before going their separate ways- though it wasn’t as if they were ever going to be far apart on a ship.