Lunch was good. John helped start a fire atop one of the kelp that twisted around the spires of stone out of the water. Though it was a plant, there was no chance of setting it on fire. He’d have just as good of a chance at setting water itself on fire, and that was impossible. He wasn’t much better than a lighter at the moment. Though he didn’t really spend much time practicing with fire, and he was still quite far from having a fire totem- if he ever would. He had great confidence in himself, but it wasn’t often referred to as the demigod stage for nothing. Nobody in the Stone Conglomerate or any of the surrounding countries was at that level, as far as he was aware.
Matayal had obtained the fish and the giant bird they roasted over the fire. If they waved the food around between the pillars they might get something hungry trying to steal it, but the one fisher bird close to them was being eaten. Even beasts that couldn’t judge the cultivation of a person had some sense of self-preservation, and they would only cause trouble when something new entered their territory.
“This is good,” John realized he should say what he was thinking. “I haven’t really had meals like this before. I suppose camping almost counts, but opening a package of meat isn’t quite the same.” He was glad he hadn’t needed to clean the animals, though.
“Thank you,” Matayal said. “These packages, I assume there is more to them than just holding food?”
“They’re made to help preserve things and keep them sterile as they’re shipped around,” John nodded. “Some of it sucks though because it’s not really reusable and generally ends up in a garbage dump.” John didn’t worry about Livna and Yonit overhearing him talk about Earth- nothing about it was really secret, and even if they knew he was a transmigrator what would they do? People respected strength. As long as he avoided being too public about it and attracting the attention of psychopaths who wanted to dissect transmigrators, it would be fine. He was certain there had to be some of them in this world.
Soon enough lunch was over, and then it was back into the water they went. Instead of target practice they were just heading more towards the center of the area, since the most valuable things would have been cleared out near the outer edge of the area. If they were to get spirit water and spirit air, they’d have to look deeper. Storing either required special vessels- though the bladders on the kelp would also do, since that was where they were likely to find the resources stored.
As they moved further in they also dove deeper. John, Aydan, and Crystin helped provide vision in the dark waters for the three water cultivators, and in return their movements through the water and their storage of air was made easier. The water cultivators had techniques to hold their breath for a long time, but they couldn’t actually stay underwater forever. John could only really help Matayal with that- injecting his spiritual energy inside anyone else’s body to refresh the air in their lungs would be quite dangerous, especially without proper training with each individual. Since he and Matayal dual cultivated regularly they were able to act more like a single person in two bodies. It wasn’t quite that smooth- there would always be some difficulties affecting other people- but John would say he could directly assist Matayal as if he were one phase lower. Freshening up a bit of air in the lungs was quite reasonable for a Foundation Phase air cultivator.
The pressure on them increased as they descended, swimming around the giant kelp sensing for concentrations of spiritual energy. Some of those came from built up spirit air and spirit water, while others were from the spirit beasts in the sea. One particular shark-like creature was swimming around one area in a continuous pattern, eating any smaller fish that were foolish enough to get closer. And most creatures were smaller than it. Its rows of teeth chomped onto a ray of some sort, a couple meters wide. The shark’s mouth wasn’t quite as wide as the creature, but it gobbled down the thin ray like a leaf of lettuce.
“It’s quick,” Matayal said clearly through the water. “But I do sense it’s guarding something special. But is it what we’re after? Could be a clutch of eggs.” She paused for a moment before continuing, “Though those should be valuable in their own way.”
John nodded. Anything produced by spirit beasts was valuable in some way. He supposed the eggs could be used for food, but people might also try to raise them as pets. He wasn’t sure if it was sensible to raise sharks, but that wouldn’t stop some people thinking they could. And maybe they would be right. Spiritual energy allowed all sorts of connections to form. “Should we try to sneak past?” he asked. He wasn’t sure how well he was heard, but Matayal responded.
“While you likely could, we should fight it for practice. And to stop it from hunting us down later.”
A fair enough point, considering that whatever they took would be quite familiar to the creature. A storage bag might not fully conceal its smell or energy signature from the beast. And they had to fight something real as their first combat. This shark didn’t seem too powerful, though judging just by its energy was a mistake. A large body was harder to judge, and something suited to its habitat would be much stronger.
“We’ll take it on together,” Matayal decreed. “The rest of you stay where you can assist if we need you.”
John swished his sword through the water. Though it wouldn’t be as swift as on land, he was able to move much more freely now with a bit of practice and Matayal’s water energy helping. Though they intended to fight the shark, John reached out around the two of them and muted their presence. If they could surprise it and pick up an advantage it would be quite helpful. He and Matayal swam towards it, almost flying through the water. As they got within spear range, Matayal stabbed out towards it- but to John’s surprise it flicked its tail and steered its body out of the direct line of the attack. Matayal’s spear dragged through its energy and scraped along its slick scales as it moved out of the way.
It must have sensed something as they approached. John couldn’t claim his stealth skills were perfect, but he thought he covered the senses fairly well, and their energy shouldn’t have stood out among the background level of the sea. He held his sword towards the shark as it swam past out of reach, but it quickly circled around back towards them.
Matayal pushed off of the water almost like there was ground beneath her feet, lunging forward. John copied the action, using his energy to act something like large flippers. The shark charged at them, clamping down on Matayal’s spear as she thrust into its mouth. Its momentum and John’s brought them together, and he slashed at the teeth. He broke through the energy defending them and chopped deep into the creature’s gums, freeing up the spear for Matayal to yank out. The shark managed to flip around, swatting at them with its tail- Matayal redirected her spear to deflect it away as it was suddenly out of reach again.
As it turned back towards them, it was no longer leaking a cloud of blood. Its mouth hung open, and John could see that the teeth he had chopped out were already growing back- not in the exact same spot, but little white tips were poking out of the gums. He knew sharks continuously grew teeth, but he hadn’t expected a spirit shark to do so at such rapid speed. He knew there had to be some limit to that ability, but he didn’t intend to get into a battle of endurance. “You take that side,” John said.
Matayal swam a bit to the left, where they were placed slightly further apart than the shark’s body. John felt the water swirl around her as she prepared an attack, and he gathered wind energy around his sword. As the shark charged forwards once more- with even greater speed than they had seen- Matayal and John struck at the same time. Her spear stabbed through the water like it wasn’t even there, and his sword followed a trail of air to slice through with little resistance. Matayal’s spear stabbed towards the creature’s jaw as it aimed towards her, forcing it to turn its head. John’s sword came from the side, striking at its gills. He had thought they might be easy to cut, but he barely got more than a thin line of blood dripping from the creature. But he’d thought of something he had heard and wasn’t quite sure of, and his air energy latched on beneath the shark’s defensive energy, pushing its way into the gills.
The shark reacted wildly, and while it flailed swiftly it was without any particular aim so John and Matayal were able to defend themselves against the swinging tail and biting teeth. Then the shark began to slow down slightly, and Matayal thrust her spear through an eye deep into its skull. John sliced into it from behind its jawline as well, but his attack was an unnecessary addition. He couldn’t say that his plan with injecting air into the gills had worked quite how he wanted, but it certainly disrupted the creature. Unfortunately it made it wild, and unpredictable, so he wasn’t sure if he wanted to try it again.
As they swam towards the giant kelp, they found nestled into it… both things they had suspected. One of the bulbs was full of spirit water, clearly radiating a powerful energy around it where there was also a clutch of weird spiral shaped eggs. Matayal sliced the bladder off of the plant and scooped them all into one storage bag, which was absolutely full of saltwater at the moment. “A good haul. Let’s continue.”
John knew that the dense spirit water would help with her training. If he ever made it to Consolidated Soul Phase and gained a water totem he would also like to make use of spirit water, but it would be inefficient to use it before then.
It wasn’t so easy to find a basketball sized gathering of spirit water, as most of the kelp around them didn’t build up and store the energy in any significant amounts. Only the most robust and fortunately positioned plants had a chance to develop in that way. They continued to move around the area for the rest of the day, occasionally getting into fights but not stumbling on to much of significant value. They gathered what materials they could from the sea creatures that were valuable and efficient in space, but they were beginning to get tired. They swam to the surface and climbed up a very slippery kelp for a while- and then continued even more.
“We don’t want to get washed out with the tide,” Matayal noted.
“I hadn’t thought about that,” John admitted. “How much do the tides change?”
“Quite a bit. Sometimes up to ten meters.”
“That’s… quite a bit.” John knew that on Earth there were only a few exceptional places that changed more- usually involving bays and the like. He didn’t think that the spikes of rock would cause quite the same effect, but he could chalk it up to differing concentrations of water elemental spiritual energy.
Having a little lunch on a kelp that acted like a giant vine was one thing, sleeping there was something else. Fortunately, they were far from the first ones to come to the area in recent decades. Previous cultivators had carved out small caves into the spires of stone, and though it was a bit cramped it was better than trying to carve something out himself. He did make it a bit smoother though. That had either not been important to the first resident, or worn down over the various cycles. The cultivators were able to dry off as much as anything could be dry in such a moist environment, and then they went to sleep- John would have to wake up in the morning for a shift of watch, but the others with them acting as guards would be responsible for the annoying middle shifts.