Captain Sohan had previously declared to John that only ‘moderate winds and a bit of lightning’ ever made it to the actual islands of Pualani. Before spending nearly a year in the Shimmering Islands and nine months on Cyclone Island itself, John wouldn’t have called the storm raging above his head moderate by any stretch of the imagination. Wind whipped walls of water into his face while lightly struck regularly and powerfully. But he had to admit that by the standards of the Shimmering Islands, things were fairly minor. He imagined were it not for the formal nature of overseeing a duel, Netanel would have been going around in short sleeves. The only thing missing would be a flower-print shirt.
As rain poured down on them, John wielded his sword across from Anwar’s spear. The reason Anwar had wanted the duel in two days was painfully obvious- the quantity of water in the area was extremely beneficial to him. But John knew that when he agreed.
The duel began with a sweeping wave of water from Anwar, much the same as he’d used the previous time. John focused on avoiding attacks while he studied Anwar’s technique. It was the same as last time. In theory, there was nothing wrong with it. It was a powerful style meant to overwhelm an opponent. The width of the attack was much more than before both because of the increase in cultivation and the storm, but John was likewise more mobile. The only problem was that it was the same attacks. Predictable. Whatever Anwar had chosen for his new totem was more of the same. It added on top of the others, but didn’t really provide anything more than its own presence.
Perhaps his analysis was wrong and Anwar was hiding something, but John wasn’t going to attack recklessly anyway. He’d had enough dodging and parrying for the moment and it was time to go on the offensive, but he would remain aware of tricks.
Anwar’s spear brought a jet of water with it as it thrust towards him, but it was little different than any other way to extend spiritual energy beyond a weapon. John moved in, swinging his sword low and upward to parry the spear away. It was then he first made use of the air elemental spiritual energy he’d been gathering. Wind cut apart the waves like a blade, and as sword met spear, lightning coursed through it.
In that exchange, Anwar was the one who had to pull back, flicking his spear to the sky to redirect the electricity flowing into him. John began to sweep his sword in an irregular and intentionally confusing pattern as he pressed forward towards Anwar. Anwar focused his defenses on a wide area, but it did little good when John cut straight through the center of it. But when Anwar tightened his defenses John avoided conflicting directly and took the chance to swing around to his side, slicing with his sword.
When the situation called for it, John was able to directly resist attacks with his earth element techniques. The storm also helped with Sinking in the Mire, as he shifted the ground beneath Anwar’s feet to slow him down.
Anwar still had the advantage of higher tier totems and thus more total spiritual energy, but John had actually narrowed that gap since the previous battle. He still made sure to make Anwar waste as much energy as he could by creating false openings, provoking him at every opportunity.
Whenever he got his own opportunity, John would use his air element energy on the offensive. It was nearly impossible for Anwar to block it, and he could only continue to redirect it frantically. He attempted to make use of the rain all around them to slow John’s movements, but that was easily counteracted with a blanket of wind.
After a few more exchanges, John felt that he’d done enough. He charged his sword with electricity and a coat of swirling winds. He briefly solidified the ground under his feet to help him push forward with the best speed he could muster, sweeping his sword in a wide arc in front of him. In response, Anwar retreated away from his attack, leaving a bare arc of lightning in front of John.
That motion immediately turned into a counter on Anwar’s part, making use of the reach of his spear to thrust forward even as he retreated. John stepped back, appearing to concede the ground he’d just gained, and Anwar stepped forward. His spear swiped up to wipe away the remnant air energy.
Then lightning struck. It was no coincidence, of course. The chance of lightning striking the sparring field was miniscule, with the various protections the Brandle clan had in place. But when intentionally directed, how could it do otherwise? Each bit of John’s energy Anwar had directed into the clouds had latched onto the naturally brewing lightning there, biding their time until the power was sufficient. Of course, Anwar would have been able to sense the difference between the energy of the storm and John’s energy, but what was darkness for if not obscuring things? The bolt descended, half the storm and half John’s own energy.
Anwar had no defense to offer but to try to redirect the force into the ground, but for some reason the sandy soil refused to conduct anything through it, instead squeezing the water out and rebounding the lightning. A completely unnatural phenomenon, but quite feasible within a duel between cultivators.
John was hoping to see Anwar’s skeleton as the lightning flowed through him, but apparently it didn’t work like that in reality. He had to settle for seeing the smoke coming out of his mouth, nose, and ears.
With a step forward, John grabbed the spear below the head and pointed his sword at Anwar. “Surrender.”
Anwar’s face hardened. “No chance.”
John wasn’t sure if it was admirable to persist, or stupid. He thrust his sword forward, but that wasn’t the real attack. He just charged the spear with electricity all down its length as Anwar shifted his defenses and dodged. Anwar attempted to make the sensible decision to let go of the spear, but his body wouldn’t let him. He was too slow to do it before the electricity reached into his muscles and caused them to tense up. He couldn’t push the spear out of his hand with his energy, either. Water element conducted lightning extremely well, and Anwar had a hard enough time keeping the lightning out of his meridians.
John kicked him away when he felt Anwar’s energy faltering. Even at an elemental disadvantage it was at least able to slightly protect him, and John didn’t want to actually fry him. It wasn’t a fight to the death, after all. He let him stagger backwards and fall flat on his own. Deciding that the muscle spasms weren’t a trick, he relaxes slightly. “Do you surrender now?” he waited. “Can you respond?” Deciding that was a ‘no’, John turned around to face the ‘judges’. “I do believe this is my victory.” Anwar didn’t do anything stupid like try to attack him from behind. Not that he probably could.
“Agreed,” Netanel was the first to declare, “Fortkran Tenebach is the winner!”
There were several elders from local clans interested in the results who also confirmed the victory.
Then, finally, Setiawan Wibawas herself reluctantly spoke. “Agreed. As per the rules of the agreement, Anwar Wibawa shall give up his suit of Matayal Brandle.” John thought he saw some potential complaints swirl through her head, but it was already too late for that. He had chosen the time, and there had been no complaints about the battlefield before the match began. She might still complain to others about underhanded tactics- but that was just properly making use of the darkness element. It wasn’t like John had pulled external help into the battle. A duel between cultivators always depended on the environment around them.
John noticed that she hadn’t said the entire Wibawa clan would be giving up, but no doubt Anwar was their best candidate. They would likely have to look elsewhere for a clan with a female heir they thought they could somehow gain something from.
“So,” Netanel boomed, “Now that that’s out of the way, when should we have the wedding?”
John sighed. At least he’d waited until they were in private. John looked to Matayal and Ayden who were also present. “I’m not sure about the readiness of the Tenebach clan as a whole. As for myself, I don’t have any specific restrictions.”
Aydan was prepared, at least. John had perhaps let himself be a little irresponsible because of his uncle’s preparations, but then again he had other things to deal with. Aydan explained the Tenebach clan’s plans. “As you discussed with Luctus, we plan for two ceremonies. The intent is to have an alliance, after all, and not a merging of the clans. Finishing preparations could take several months, but the Tenebach clan has no reason to delay.”
Matayal nodded with determination, “My current stage in cultivation is well suited to marry. As for personal affairs, I am certain you are aware of any conflicts.”
“Great,” Netanel clapped his hands together, “Then I say we should have it as soon as possible. Any objections?”
John’s only objection would be that he wasn’t mentally prepared- but he didn’t know if he would ever be. Or if anyone was. Though neither of them got to choose, he was fond of Matayal and she of him. That was at least a place to begin. Everything beyond that they would have to work out over time.
“Then we’ll get started as soon as possible,” Netanel’s grin spread across his whole face. “I’m looking forward to this!”
John and Matayal exchanged glances. They were able to convey to each other their amusement that neither of them were the ones most excited for the event. But the couldn’t help but smile slightly regardless.
It was decided that John would stay with the Brandle clan until the first ceremony. There was no point in sending him off for a few weeks only to bring him back later. That would also give him more time with his soon-to-be before the actual ceremony. It also gave chances for Netanel to drag him and Matayal into a private room for possibly the most awkward discussion possible.
“What do the two of you know about dual cultivation?” Netanel said seriously.
John hadn’t been expecting to get something like ‘the talk’ from his fiancee’s grandfather, and even less so with her present. He wasn’t able to provide a response, but Matayal somehow provided a clinical definition. Though it seemed a bit difficult for her to say it as well. “Dual cultivation is where two people mingle their spiritual energy during sexual intercourse to mutually improve cultivation.”
“That’s right,” Netanel nodded, “But also, it’s wrong. Anyone who says it like that is failing at both sex and dual cultivation!” His passion practically glowed as he began to lecture. “While the two might certainly overlap, each can be accomplished independently. And they should be, at least occasionally. Sex can be for pleasure, but it can also be for bonding with each other- or making grandchildren,” he emphasized the last part. “Dual cultivation will require close physical contact, but it requires a high amount of concentration to do properly. Thus, it’s not always beneficial when distracted, and can even be dangerous. So make sure to take that into account.”
Both John and Matayal squirmed in their seats as Netanel went into what was perhaps too much detail on both topics. That didn’t stop John from taking the proper mental notes, and Matayal even took actual written notes. Her later explanation was that she didn’t want to have to hear about it ever again. John strongly agreed with that.
Still, the information would be useful, and it was understandable why Netanel took the topic so seriously. John remembers his own cultivation mishap, or rather Fortkran’s. Something like that could also happen to two people commingling spiritual energy if either of them lost control. In short, death. A more likely scenario was that one or both would be injured and have to recover, but things like that were likely to lower the bond of trust between two people, and could drive them apart. And as with everything in cultivation… the more efficient something was, the stronger the cultivators could eventually become.
Author’s note: I’m not one to include much about sex in my writing, because I don’t feel like it would add much of anything. It can be a particularly sensitive topic and everyone has their own levels of comfort- and since the small details don’t really drive the story, it doesn’t matter. But in cases like this, it becomes relevant, and those familiar with the genre would wonder. So you get this, as detailed as possible without having any actual details.
Also don’t forget that this isn’t a romance story, so if it’s weak in that area… *shrugs*. Honestly, I think I at least have something more sensible going than a good portion of the genre where as far as things go it’s just ‘oh dang that guy/girl is hot + strong’ and then the next conquest comes along and previous ‘loves’ are forgotten.