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Thoughts about how to prepare for a specific duel at an unknown future time ended with inconclusive results. John was aware that Anwar used water element spiritual energy, and there was no training he could do to suddenly improve his ability against that. He’d already been sparring against Matayal and Keahi and several others from the Brandle clan, and what was probably a few more days wouldn’t matter.
The fact that Anwar was waiting to be in ‘optimal condition’ probably meant he was close to a breakthrough. John gathered information on him through others, where he found he was currently twelfth rank. That meant he couldn’t really refuse the duel on the basis of cultivation, since they would be equal. With matching cultivations, John would not be concerned except for one thing. Anwar was one of the ‘geniuses’ that occasionally cropped up. Both of his totems were fifth tier, which would make him more than twice as strong in a direct fight. He’d made up for a tier or two in the past, but three was more than he was comfortable with.
Did he have to win? He didn’t, but he also couldn’t make a terrible showing. That would make things disfavorable for the Tenebach clan and the Brandle clan. Nothing would actually come of it if he didn’t accept any foolish terms for what the duel meant. Even so, John also didn’t want to plan to lose. A defeatist attitude wouldn’t help him overcome the difficulties he would be facing.
It didn’t seem that Anwar was planning to spar with anyone, instead spending all his time in his room cultivating. That meant John could only learn of his tactics from others. As many from the Shimmering Islands, he used a spear as his weapon. Though spears were hardly needed for cultivators to fish, they were one of the more optimal weapons for fighting sea beasts- and still good weapons when fighting humans. John learned about a few techniques Anwar was particularly fond of and practiced alone to try to think of proper counters. He could spar with Keahi, but he couldn’t be the only one spying. Displaying more of his skills and his training to overcome Anwar’s techniques would be counterproductive.
It was only a few days later that the time came. Everyone just sort of seemed to know, because while John was out in the gardens alone people from the three clans converged on his location. Before any of them, however, John noticed Kusuma standing nearby obviously and suspiciously. He inclined his head towards her, and in return got a wide grin and a nod. At least someone was excited about things.
Nearly simultaneously he felt his grandfather and Netanel approaching from one side with Setiawan and someone who had to be Anwar approaching from the other direction. There were a few moments of fanfare as the various parties greeted each other, and then Anwar stepped forward. He had a mid-tone brown sort of skin and handsome features. Combined with his status and cultivation talent, John was certain many people would be jealous. Anwar seemed to be a straightforward sort, immediately getting to the point. “Fortkran Tenebach! I challenge you to a duel for the hand of Matayal Brandle!”
John allowed his surprise at just how quickly things progressed to that point show on his face, though half of it was fake. He’d already planned his reaction as well as possible. Some factors could have been different, but John went with what he thought was the best version. He looked around at everyone standing nearby, as if searching for someone. He was already well aware Matayal wasn’t nearby, though he kind of hoped she would be. Strangely, he could no longer find Kusuma but she had to be watching. He doubted that old lady would choose to not personally witness what was happening.
His eyes eventually returned to Anwar. He kept himself as neutral as possible. Annoyingly so, he hoped. “Does Matayal wish to marry you?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“That doesn’t matter!” Anwar sliced an arm in front of him to emphasize his words. “What matters is if you will fight or be a coward.”
Apparently it was possible to be too straightforward. While it technically didn’t matter what Matayal wanted, hearing it said left John feeling sick. John wasn’t ready for that to be said, so it took an extra moment for him to prepare a response. “It matters more than your opinion. You’re entirely unrelated to the situation.”
Water cultivators were often said to be calm like water… but of course those in the Shimmering Islands knew that water wasn’t always calm. Sometimes, it was a violent storm. That seemed to be Anwar’s temperament. “I am the young master of the Wibawa clan, a much more worthy match than a foreigner like yourself.” John was pretty sure than Netanel wasn’t a native to the Shimmering Islands, but he didn’t choose to bring it up. “Now, will you fight or not?”
“You want a duel?” John asked, drawing out the words. “Very well. We shall have a duel for honor.” ‘Honor’ and ‘face’ might not be worth as much to John as natives of this world, but he still cared about them somewhat. It wasn’t all about arrogantly holding your head above people, but also about personal empowerment and self respect. Though that first factor was the biggest for many. Just as Anwar was clearly getting ready to draw his weapon, John finished what he was saying. “In a week should be appropriate.”
“What?” Anwar said with his arm in an awkward position as he reached for his spear, “Why should we not fight now? Are you afraid?”
John shrugged, “Why not challenge me a week ago, since you’ve been here the whole time? Were you afraid?”
“I was shoring up my cultivation to match your level. I am not a coward.” Anwar had a grip on his spear and his knuckles were turning white. To John, that meant his tactics were working.
“Then I’m sure another week to stabilize your cultivation would be appropriate. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other things to attend to.” To be in control of the situation, you had to act like you were in control of the situation. Staying calm was important, even with shouty customers demanding stupid things. Sometimes it was best to get them to agree to something you would prefer to provide to calm them down- but not necessarily what they wanted. “A duel for honor, in one week. At dawn.” John had already turned around and was walking away. He felt Anwar’s spiritual energy fluctuating wildly and Setiawan’s more restrained energy smouldering in his direction. At least the patriarch understood that this was a dispute between juniors and he would do his best to stay out.
As John walked away, he saw Kusuma around a corner- just as he expected. What he did not expect was that Matayal was with her, being concealed by Kusuma. Matayal was looking at him with a look he couldn’t interpret. John looked to Kusuma and inclined his head. “Matriarch Mulyani, could you provide us privacy from,” he gestured over his shoulder, “Back there?” Her spiritual energy swiftly wrapped around him as well, and John turned to Matayal. He knew what he said wouldn’t be actually secret, but he’d prefer at least the illusion of it- and to not have either of the Wibawas able to snoop. “I looked for you, but you weren’t around. Did you overhear everything?”
Matayal nodded, her face still difficult for him to parse. “I did.”
“What is your opinion on marrying Anwar?”
Matayal looked like she’d just seen maggots in her food. “I’d rather die,” she said flatly.
Somehow, that reaction made John feel better. “Well, please don’t. Either of those, I mean. Though the first one is extremely unlikely anyway. Since grandfather and Ne- Patriarch Netanel don’t seem to be open to the idea, your vehement rejection should also suffice.” John shrugged, “Besides, I bet you could kick his ass in a duel, if you need to.” Anwar might be a genius, but Matayal had at least fourth or fifth tier totems as well, and was a couple ranks ahead in cultivation to boot. “I’d probably talk to your grandfather about it first, though. See what he thinks. I’m sure they have other plans anyway.”
He wasn’t sure if the last words went through- her face was deep in thought. He waved his hand in front of her face and she didn’t react at all.
“Are you there?” No response. “Alright… well I should probably do some training or something. You know where to find me.” John inclined his head to Kusuma again. “Thank you for the assistance. When she finishes thinking, do remind her that I wish her well.”
Kusuma was shorter than him by a handful of centimeters, but he felt like he was being inspected by someone leaning over him. “You’re an odd one. I heard about you, you know. But you don’t sound like any of that.”
“Ugh,” John said. “I really would prefer not to talk about the past me. I’m done with that time.”
Kusuma nodded. “Good. Serious is good… but you can also chat with Netanel when he’s in the mood. At least you’re probably not broken.”
“I certainly hope not,” John said. He wasn’t sure how often cultivators broke themselves, but like everything else about cultivators that was exaggerated, their ability to undergo physical or mental trauma was also much higher. Forktran had basically ended up broken, and if not for some very generous circumstances it wouldn’t have mattered if John took over his body. Transmigrators were known in this world. He wondered how often the cases were similar. Then again, if a transmigrator just died afterwards nobody would know about it. There had to be some mechanism that made it work. He’d have to think about that… much later. Because he really did want to be in top form for the duel, even if the immediate consequences were mostly damaged pride.