Confidence. That was what John projected along with Matayal, though he had to work hard for his own part. She was doing well enough he didn’t know if hers was real or projected. They faced each other in the middle of the half ring of boats, out on the waters. John tried to pay attention to the ceremony, but his head was swirling with thoughts and emotions. This wasn’t an event he’d been anticipating for years, unlike some. Back on Earth he’d spent little time thinking about marriage, with his busy schedule. Even upon his transmigration and realizing he was engaged he always considered it something that would happen later.
But the last few months were focused on this. Not just the ceremony, but what would come after. It wasn’t just about physical intimacy- though John would be lying if he said he wasn’t looking forward to that aspect. It was a connection between two people and the clans behind them, a promise to support each other. It was a big event, and while he didn’t have the exact swirl of emotions he might have thought he’d have for a wedding, he was happy. At various points he’d felt like an impostor in his new life, but now he truly felt like part of the world he now resided in. Not everyone knew who he really was, but all of those that mattered were quite aware.
The ceremony concluded with Matayal and John being presented to each other, then stepping together into a single boat. Then there was the kiss. It was more than just a meeting of the lips, but their energies embracing each other. Then the ceremony was over. The boat whisked them away- guided by their energy- along the shore until they came to their landing point out of sights of everyone else.
The pair held hands as they climbed out of the boat and headed back towards the Brandle clan’s holdings. The rest of the wedding guests would be coming along for a celebration feast, but it was mainly for the guests. The bride and groom were intended to be occupied with something else for the majority of the celebrations.
Love was a popular topic in all sorts of stories, fictional and real. But determining what it actually was… that was harder. For one thing, it wasn’t just a single thing. Different sorts of love were felt for different people or things. Love for a sibling or child was not quite like love for a pet, and love for a spouse could be the former but with the addition of the warm fuzzy feelings that could also be called lust. But beyond feelings, it was about what people did for each other, how they supported each other and how they wanted good things for others.
In that way, John became aware of Matayal’s expression of love. It wasn’t flowery words or presents or anything like that. It was in how she chose to support him. As they began a true mixing of their energies for the first time, more than just on the surface level, his energy found its way deep inside her, slowly and gently making its way into her dantian. It was there that he truly felt her totems. The sense of them from the outside was quite a different thing, a surface level knowledge. His energy reached out gently, seeing how they reacted- with the guidance of Matayal. She did the same in return. The action was even more intimate than what they had been involved with not long before, revealing vulnerable parts of themselves to each other.
Darkness, earth, and water were allied, and Matayal’s first two totems were thus well suited to work with John’s first totems. Matayal’s third totem, however, was a stormcloud. It was still primarily water but with some connection to air. Not only was water a supporting element for air, the element of John’s third totem, but the secondary connection to air made it even more capable of providing that support.
When sparring with another person one might come to learn about them through their energy, but when interacting on a much deeper level like they were, more details became apparent. For example, John had surmised that Matayal obtained her third totem to help her resist air, her primary weakness. That wasn’t incorrect… but the other reason was to help promote him. Matayal didn’t say it aloud, but he felt it. John felt a bit selfish for only thinking of how his totems would apply to himself, but he took solace in the fact that he could still provide mutual support with two of his totems. In the case that he actually obtained his fifth totem, it would be fire- and able to finally more directly support her.
Even though they were being very careful, the process of sharing energy was uncomfortable. The energy they shared was still not quite part of the other person. Yet that same discomfort was what allowed it to help build them up. Cultivators didn’t grow by going along the most comfortable path. Sometimes they had to push themselves to their limits.
With that said, John kept his air energy well away from Matayal. Even if she could resist it, there would be no benefits to her so early in their attempts at dual cultivation. The downsides could be severe, however. John was all too aware of how easy it would be to cause her serious injury with any of his energy, let alone one she was weak to moving directly into the most vulnerable part of her soul.
They kept their first session relatively brief. Despite their external practice, they were both new to the practice of dual cultivation. But even that short amount made it obvious why it was an extremely limited method of cultivation. Opening up oneself to another person so deeply was already quite intimidating- doing that for two or more people, and indirectly for others they might dual cultivate with, was likely both dangerous and chaotic. Even preventing himself from driving Matayal’s energy out of him took a good portion of John’s efforts. Her water energy remained inside of him, and though he was quite pleased at its comforting effects, it didn’t quite belong. But with time, it should reach that point.
“It’s strange,” John said. “Usually when comparing cultivation experiences with others, we don’t have the exact same experience. Maybe that’s still the case here, but it seems about as close as anyone can get.”
Matayal nodded, “It’s interesting, to see the way your cultivation works internally. Only choosing growing totems, it makes me wonder what I might have accomplished.”
“It’s not that your totems can’t increase their levels, though. It’s just not their fundamental feature. It will be a bit more difficult, but I think the influence from my totems might help.”
The amount they could say with a single cultivation session was limited, but they did what they could. Each of them had a few flaws the other was able to find, and they pointed them out as gently as possible. After all, their intention was to build each other up in every way- not just cultivation or confidence or mental health, but everything. Though neither of them had been part of arranging the marriage, they had some opportunities to get out. Difficult ones, to be sure, but in the end they had made the decision to have a marriage that worked. Neither of them thought it would be easy, but they liked each other… and while some people might hope for a love to blossom, they were committed to making it happen, as much as they had a choice in the matters of the heart.
The married couple eventually spent some time with the others feasting and celebrating, doing their duty of meeting with everyone who had come. It was an exhausting process, but ultimately important. More than just making those who visited feel important, it let them keep track of who bothered to show up. Some absences were accompanied with apology letters, but some simply didn’t bother to show up. While invitations had gone out to a wide number of people, those who didn’t attend said something.
If people couldn’t be counted on to show up to celebrations, they likewise could hardly be counted on to help in times of need. In a world where cultivators were constantly in struggle with each other, knowing who was reliable help was important. While there were some exceptions in the form of cultivators who did nothing outside of cultivation but would still honor defensive agreements, knowing who was reliable and not was important. The marriage was partly for that purpose. While Luctus and Netanel would always be willing to help each other out, without a formal contract it was hard to say how willing the rest of the clan members would be. While they had to follow the clan head’s orders, an alliance based strictly on the lives of one or two people could easily fall apart.
But of course, celebrations were also for just that. The pleasure of eating good food and spending time with people was one of the joys of life, and that was still the case. The festivities continued for several days before officially coming to an end.
While being married didn’t mean that John and Matayal literally had to spend all of their time together, seeing each other only when strictly necessary was grounds for disaster. And while they didn’t get to go on a honeymoon, Pualani was not inferior to the best vacation destinations. The only negative was that it was just home for Matayal. But she enjoyed seeing John’s reactions to things.
“People would spend a lot of money to come to a place like this,” John declared. “Crystal clear waters, beautiful scenery, and weather… that’s generally quite pleasant. Doesn’t seem that people here do much in the way of vacations, though.”
“We still travel,” Matayal said. “Is it different?”
“Not entirely,” John explained, “But while successful cultivators are able to go almost wherever they please, on Earth nearly everyone in developed countries got to travel at least a little bit every year. Even when they had occupations that kept them busy most of the time.”
Though John wasn’t particularly concerned about being overheard- everyone important knew he was a transmigrator- he also understood that unscrupulous cultivators might like to study him if they found out. And since it was private business, both he and Matayal kept their senses active for anyone who might be trying to listen in. Both of them were at the nineteenth rank, the beginning of Soul Expansion Phase, which put them in the upper level of those among their clans. They were able to manage their own privacy concerns, though of course it didn’t hurt to also be in parts of the clan’s holdings with actual security if they wanted to be truly private.
Though Fortkran was born in the same world as Matayal, he had ended up somewhat deficient in certain aspects of knowledge. While John had figured out many of them already and learned what he needed, some things didn’t come up in structured education. Thus, he and Matayal exchanged thoughts about the worlds they were born in. Even if they knew the same information, their perspectives could differ greatly. It was something to do besides cultivating and seeking power.
“Too bad there aren’t movies here. Live action plays are fine, and some are even great… but having the optimal version of something available whenever you want is a great luxury,” John said. He explained what he knew about movies- though he was quite deficient in details such as how one made film or cameras. But the idea that an image flashed many times per second to create what looked like continuous movement was reasonable enough to explain.
“Were you rich on Earth?” Matayal asked. “You said there were no cultivators, but having access to something like that seems difficult.”
“It’s the opposite, really,” John answered. “Not that I wasn’t from a wealthy country, but my family had its own financial hardships. I think I mentioned being the manager of a burger place. We just made cheap food for people. Good enough, but nothing fancy. Movies were widely available too. They were available on large screens or personal home devices.”
Matayal listened intently as he tried to describe storage disks and other technology. It wasn’t as if the current world didn’t have its own technologies, but they were centered more on defensive formations and other cultivation related advances. Nobody needed to do things without the use of spiritual energy- or at least nobody that mattered. Not to the world as a whole.
Days passed, and soon enough it was time to leave for the Stone Conglomerate. There was another ceremony to attend after all, and a whole other group of people to interact with- with some overlap. While they didn’t have to arrive terribly early, both of them were travelling back with the main group from the Tenebach clan. They could go on their own, but in addition to being less safe it was also more expensive. Plus, Matayal needed the chance to get to know some people. John had a few cousins that he was actually close enough with to consider himself friends, no longer as distant as before he took over Fortkran’s life. It had been a few years but he was still getting used to it- but he knew eventually this would just be his world.