Water splashed as a spear struck out. John only managed to just get out of the way, though the water clung to him to try to hinder his movements. A short burst of energy pushed it away and he took the opportunity to regain a proper stance. What an annoying fighting style. He was supposed to be the one unbalancing his opponent with the surrounding elements. Shifting sand around was quite easy, after all. Unfortunately, since they were on a beach, the terrain matched them both well enough.
A quick flick of his left hand and a dagger pierced forward through the air. It quickly impacted a bubble of water, dismantling it but losing most of its momentum and the energy guiding it in the collision. Water was just too good at absorbing those impacts, and Keahi had an endless reserve of it to draw upon. Not that he could actually damage the water itself regardless.
He found her movements were both aggressive enough to defeat him yet reserved enough to maintain a form of defense. The way Keahi moved was intended to drive him towards the sea, but he wouldn’t let that happen. As she shifted to try to be on the landward side of him, her attachment to the water went down. It also meant the sand beneath her feet was less waterlogged, and thus easier for John to control. Just pulling the sand beneath one of her feet apart as she stepped forward for an attack was better than any other defense he could muster.
It was unfortunate that they happened to be fighting on a bright day. Suffusing the area with darkness energy to hinder her senses wouldn’t work nearly so well in the bright sun. He’d have to try something more subtle. He concealed his energy as he danced back and forth in the same area, not letting himself be driven too far toward the sea. His sword deflected her spear when necessary and he sought out undefended sections in Keahi’s defenses with his throwing daggers.
Unfortunately, she was able to maintain a shield on most of the entirety of her front, using her water elemental spiritual energy to control the nearby water which was more efficient than simply blocking with her energy. It would be a constant drain to her as she held it up for defense, but she would also be able to refresh her reserves from the environment if he didn’t engage her in a fight.
His sword cut through the shield of water in front of her, barely touching her- or rather barely scraping against her energy defenses. For his aggression, John had to fling himself away and just barely managed to deflect an incoming thrust. The overall victor of the exchange was Keahi, if one simply compared expended energy. A small section of her barrier collapsed. One might have thought it was a lack of control on her part while counterattacking, but John knew better. The two of them were not enemies, so he wouldn’t use Spiritual Energy Absorption to pull energy from inside of her, but slipping it out of her grasp when it was fully external like that would not cause any real harm.
Spears had the advantage of reach, though that advantage was minimized by the speed a cultivator could move past the optimal reach. A competent spear wielder could still use it up close by holding further up on the weapon, but it lost some advantage there. His little test had forced him to back up, so now he was dealing with the spear at its best range.
Both fighters were fairly evenly matched, with the ability to counter nearly any move their opponents had. The ultimate winner would be one who could think ahead and gain the advantage of several successful moves in a row.
Sword and spear clashed, water clinging to John’s sword. He pushed it away with his stolen water energy with some of his darkness to make up the difference. Beneath his feet, earth shifted. Though it was not efficient, he still suffused the area in a thin layer of darkness. A dagger flew around behind Keahi, seeking to circumvent her water barrier. It worked, but she still had her personal energy defenses. John didn’t have the power to fully reverse the direction of the weapon and bring it up to the same speed, so it was barely a threat.
He stepped back. Keahi moved forward, thrusting her spear. His gauntleted left hand parried the spear as he moved forward. At the same time, the sand beneath Keahi’s feet collapsed, sinking her up to her waist. He thrust his sword forward. His left hand grasped the spear, the water surrounding it flowing over him and trying to pull him back while at the same time the spear tried to retreat.
Keahi released her spear, unable to dodge half buried in sand, and attempted the same sort of move John used to deflect his sword. Her buried stance was not ideal, and though she was half successful, he still managed a cut along her left side. It could have been more, had the battle been serious.
Water was suddenly spraying up out of the sand all around them, but Keahi released it from her control immediately. “Damn, you were a second faster.”
“I’m not surprised to see we had similar thoughts. Allied elements have many similarities.” He reached out his hand to help pull her out of the pit, loosening the sand as he yanked her up to the surface.
“I’ll get you next time,” Keahi grinned.
“Possibly,” John smiled back, “But I don’t intend to make it easy.”
This was one aspect of cultivating John enjoyed without reservation. Friendly spars were pleasant even if they were intended as training for serious combat. Engaging in actual combat was still somewhat strange for a person from Earth who hadn’t experienced much violence, but he understood the necessity. If he didn’t have the strength to defend himself, he couldn’t accomplish much of anything in this world.
Keahi took a break to refresh herself and deal with the small wound on her side while Crystin waited nearby. She had been able to watch their spar, which might give her an advantage but was a waste to disallow. If she saw and exploited weaknesses in Keahi, that just gave her something specific to work on.
Both women wielded spears, but because Crystin had no terrain advantage they both began fully on the beach instead of with Keahi near the water. The two of them took each other’s measure before they began.
John watched the spar with interest. He was easily able to see through Crystin’s concealment- using darkness to limit the senses of any member of the Tenebach clan would be extremely difficult with the guardian’s blessing. That allowed him to watch the way the two of them moved. He was especially interested in how they stepped on the sand without controlling it like he had chosen to do. Their footwork as spear wielders would be slightly different than his own, but he could still learn something.
With the whole of her energy devoted to darkness, Crystin’s techniques were more focused than John’s. She emphasized her control over the energy surrounding her weapon while at the same time disrupting her opponent’s energy. It was different from how John took it under his own control, and if John was correct it relied on numbing the connection between the cultivator and their energy. It wasn’t possible to make them completely lose control of it all, but it was still effective enough when their weapons crossed.
The fight was expertly maneuvered towards the water, and Keahi once again prepared the attack she had almost readied to use on John. Water rose up all around Crystin, and even if she was expecting it she couldn’t completely avoid it. The water clung to her arms and legs, slowing her movements as Keahi powerfully thrust her spear towards Crystin’s torso. That would have perhaps been the end for Crystin, but she had the advantage of this being her first battle- and her cultivation was superior. She was able to use that power to her advantage, overcoming the restrictions on her limbs as she dodged and countered with her own attack. Her spear stopped short of Keahi’s chest, not because Crystin didn’t have the reach but instead because Keahi wasn’t able to avoid the attack in time.
With some time to rest, Crystin next sparred with John. They were both familiar with each other, and though Crystin was not quite fully rested and John could take advantage of the sand, she overcame him. The advantage of her higher cultivation and more powerful totems meant she would win more often than not, but John was still disappointed to not pull out two wins.
Energy swirled through John’s meridians and into his dantian. Though there was little natural darkness in the area, converting different types of spiritual energy in a controlled environment was always possible. With the Seed of Darkness- now a proper little sapling inside his dantian- it was even easier. The plant would absorb all types of energy and ultimately purify it into darkness. It was reveling in access to abundant water energy.
The sapling was growing, though he wasn’t sure how much. It was hard to accurately measure its growth since there was nothing to compare against. He could vaguely compare it to his dantian, but neither thing was truly physical. Size and space were merely ideas when related to such spiritual objects.
Both of John’s spiritual totems were growing types. He wasn’t sure if he’d made the right decision in choosing his path, but now that he had set himself upon it he wanted to see it through to the end. His totems should be able to reach the third tier as he approached rank 18 and was ready to step into the Soul Expansion Phase and select a third spiritual totem. That would be sufficient speed, but John wasn’t convinced they couldn’t reach that level sooner. The more they grew the stronger he would be, and the totems would in turn aid his cultivation and growth in ranks.
At the current moment they were right on track- second tier and a bit more than a third of the way to the next. Likewise, his cultivation at the twelfth rank was not far from advancing to the thirteenth. Maybe if he could get a little bit of lightning. More sensibly, he might absorb air elemental spiritual energy in the form of wind. He’d have to hope for a moderate windstorm without too much lightning, so he could stand on the deck and gather the right amount. Air nourished earth, so he was looking forward to seeing its effect at pushing him to higher cultivation.