The informal way that Matayal’s grandfather Netanel acted was quite awkward for John. While his life on Earth had certainly involved less formality than his current situation, he still had an expect for some level of formality. Netanel was a strong cultivator, patriarch of a powerful clan, and his future grandfather-in-law. John might have been comfortable with casual conversation with nearly anyone else, but Netanel was a step too far.
He wasn’t unpleasant to be around, just awkward sometimes. John didn’t always know how to react.
“Fortkran.” Netanel had adopted his rare formal tone and posture.
“Yes?” John turned towards him, looking away from the clear sea in front of them?
“Can you swim?” Netanel kept his eyes forward as he asked.
“Of course,” John answered easily. How would he not know how to swim?
He didn’t know that his casual answer would have such significant consequences. Netanel looked down at him, smiling, and placed a hand on his shoulder. Then his energy covered John, accelerating him forward and tossing him into the air.
After the initial burst of speed, normal physics took over. John had time to take in his surroundings as he hung in the air for several seconds. He had to admit, the surroundings were majestic. Beautiful buildings, plants, and trees covering the nearby land. Crystal clear waters twenty meters below him at the peak of his arc, and clear skies above his head.
Gravity returned him to the earth moments later and his momentum had him skipping atop the water before he finally stopped and sank. It took a moment to orient himself and get his head above water, and he was coughing and sputtering as he looked around.
Processing what just happened took several more seconds. What was the point of tossing him into the sea? Just to verify that he could indeed swim? His eyes settled on Netanel’s grin from the distant shore, and he realized. This was just the equivalent of shoving someone into a pool. A friendly prank, as far as things went. John was quite certain that even if he showed no ability to swim Netanel could reach him and pull him out in mere moments. If a Soul Expansion Phase water element cultivator couldn’t do at least that, John didn’t understand anything about the world.
The question was how to react. He couldn’t assume it was anything other than a friendly gesture, and thus he should respond in kind. He just couldn’t imagine him being able to respond exactly in kind. Even if he could, he was currently being watched and that made it impossible. He imagined if he was a water element cultivator he would surf back to land and drench him with the wave, but he could barely support himself atop the water with his current abilities.
He began to swim, making use of his abilities to reduce the drag of the water as much as he could. He doubted his method of swimming would impress a water element cultivator, but it was good enough to get him back to land in a timely fashion.
As he stepped ashore he could see Netanel judging his reaction. He kept his face blank- though he didn’t have the ability to completely pull that off, he was actually quite satisfied with just that impression. One problem of soaking in the sea was that sand would stick to his wet clothes, but he kept the earth off of him with his spiritual energy. He walked forward, until he nearly passed Netanel. Then he turned, his face doing his best evil-yet-friendly grin. “Take care to watch the shadows for vengeance from the Tenebach clan.”
Netanel laughed uproariously, which was exactly the sort of response he wanted. “Oh? I’ll be waiting.” John wondered if he’d been called over to the shore just for that moment, and considered if he should just be on his way. However, Netanel had something more to say. “What’s your name, kid?”
John looked at him askance. “Fortkran. You just said it.”
Netanel’s energy bubbled around the two of them, separating them from the rest of the area. “No, that’s not right. You’re just a bit too hesitant to respond to that name. I was told, you know. I’m one of the parties involved with this situation after all, and your grandfather wouldn’t keep it a secret from me. A transmigration, from another world even. So, what’s your name?”
“… John. John Miller.”
“Well, John John Miller, good to meet you.”
“It’s just-” the look on Netanel’s face told him all he needed to know. He couldn’t help but chuckle. Frankly, it was a relief he knew. And strangely enough, a comfort that he’d asked his name. His family had been quite happy to have him replace Fortkran Tenebach, but they hadn’t really talked much about who he was. Not where it was unnecessary for understanding his abilities, anyway. He’d certainly told them his name, but he wasn’t sure if they would remember. Aydan was the only one who’d shown more interest, and he supposed the two of them had spent the most time together traveling on the road. Memories of Fortkrans parents and grandfather still dominated, but John’s memories had more about Aydan. “Nobody really asked that before.”
“I’m not surprised. People want you to fill a role here. Your parents and Luctus need that. And Mayatal… she takes after her mother. She’s the logical and practical sort. Never appreciated a little dunk, either. ‘Oh, is this a new form of training?’” Netanel rolled his eyes. “Her explanation to me was extremely short. She basically just said the engagement would be continuing as planned after all.” Netanel looked around the beach by his feet, then with the motion of his hand a wave came up on the shore, molding the sand into the shape of two reclining chairs and then immediately pulling the water out of them, leaving them dry. He sat in one, and John took the other. “How do you feel about the engagement?”
“I think it will be good for the clans,” John responded.
“That’s the point,” Netanel shrugged, “But what do you feel? What do you think of Matayal?”
Answering that was tricky. Even if Netanel was the casual sort, he also clearly had strong feelings about his family. John didn’t feel that honesty would be out of place, but he tried to choose the right wording. “I have no complaints in terms of beauty, cultivation talent, or background. Her personality… it seems like we’ll need to work on getting the most out of the relationship for the two of us. At first it all felt quite sudden. Being someone else, being in an arranged marriage…” John shrugged, “It’s not so common on Earth.”
“Transmigration?” Netanel asked.
“I actually meant arranged marriages. They happen, but they’re generally considered old fashioned in my country. Transmigration wasn’t real on Earth. It was just a fantastical thing.” John frowned, “Though I suppose it could have been, but no claims were sufficiently believed. Nor anything supernatural.”
“And what is supernatural?” Netanel asked.
That was one place where the difference in language didn’t quite serve his purposes. “It’s… monsters and magic and spiritual energy didn’t exist. At least not in anything but small amounts. Otherwise everyone would have been able to know about it.”
“Could there not have been a large sect suppressing the information?”
“The world doesn’t work like that. At least, my world didn’t. Oh, people tried to keep things secret but that never lasted long with the internet and phones in every pocket.”
“Can you explain those things?” Netanel asked. “Internet, and phone?”
John nodded, just leaning back in the chair and chatting about his world, just the right amount of sun making it through Netanel’s bubble of water elemental spiritual energy to ensure a comfortable atmosphere. The information he had wasn’t really of any use to anyone in this world- they could do many things that Earth couldn’t, and John couldn’t replicate any technology from Earth in sufficient detail to actually make it function. Just having someone interested was enough to get him to talk for a while.
“I see,” Netanel nodded. “So you managed a ‘burger joint’? It seems like a simple meal, but it must have been good.”
John nodded. “They were pretty good. Unhealthy, though. Loads of fats, carbs, salt. Didn’t stop people.”
“Cultivators focus on purity,” Netanel said. “You’d never see sects fall into debauchery of any sort.” John was about to comment on that, but Netanel continued. “Except the ones too focused on dual cultivation and the gluttony sects and the mercantile sects who hold money above everything. And all the other sorts.” Netanel gave a wide grin, “But except for all of the exceptions, cultivators are perfect.”
“Same for Earth, then,” John grinned.
“So how do chain restaurants work?” Netanel asked. “You said they offer the same experience everywhere?”
“Yeah,” John nodded. “It’s all about supply chain, making sure quality ingredients of the right type are available at all of them. Refrigeration is important, because even if it only takes a week to drive across the country many things would spoil in that time.”
“We freeze things here, but it can be quite a costly process. It hasn’t been… industrialized, I believe is the term you have.”
“Well, at least you aren’t overconsuming all of the world’s natural resources and polluting the entire planet.”
“That’s true,” Netanel said. “Why, the nearest cursed zone is days away from Pualani, and there are entire sections of the planet we haven’t even scouted out the resources of.”
The two of them shared a bitter laugh over the ways that humans would be humans. Cultivators as a whole might be slightly more conscious of long term consequences, but that didn’t stop greedy individuals or groups from ravaging the lands as it suited them.
Though he basically performed no cultivation for the entire day, John didn’t consider it wasted at all. He could easily see why his grandfather became friends with the man, when he had an honest interest in learning about others. Sure, part of it was probably to make sure he wasn’t marrying his granddaughter to a psychopath, but he could have learned the information in a different manner. John appreciated his straightforward and friendly manner.