In and out of the water, out and in. John liked spending time swimming on vacation, but not quite as much as he currently was. And when he’d been on vacation he’d not gotten attacked by any sort of sea creatures, unless you counted that time a fish brushed up against him. As they’d passed through several days, he’d gotten used to moving and fighting underwater. He doubted he would ever be as smooth as Matayal, though once he had his own water elemental spiritual energy to control- which required surpassing the Soul Expansion Phase- he would be a bit more efficient. Currently Matayal helped ease his movements, but even if they were currently in sync it would be easier for him to free up his own restrictions in the water. Unless they could achieve a perfect level of synchronization, always knowing exactly what the other would do- but it would be easier to reach the Consolidated Soul Phase. He felt he could achieve the latter in a decade or less, while the former might never be possible. People had different thoughts and brains, and that was still true even if they regularly mingled their spiritual energy together. Though John wouldn’t discount it as something impossible, because in a world with cultivation he couldn’t just assume anything.
The very same kelp that reached the surface and climbed the stone spikes reached all the way to the sea floor, no matter where it was. In some places, that was extremely deep. At least, when John considered he was diving without any sort of equipment. John knew humans could dive ten, twenty, thirty meters deep or more- he wasn’t an expert on the topic, so they might have been able to go beyond that. But beyond a certain point people needed gear if they wanted to not damage themselves. Of course, people loved to push themselves beyond their limits- and to find those limits they ended up hurting themselves. But John was quite certain they never got several hundred meters down to where the sun couldn’t be seen without any gear at all. He didn’t even have flippers. Since this world didn’t have any rubber he knew of, he supposed that made sense. Though there were probably things that could be used as substitutes- some kind of material from a beast, usually.
John remembered seeing videos of deep sea creatures, and how weird and bizarre they could be. Even though he wasn’t at the craziest depths of thousands of meters, he was beginning to see some strange things. There were obvious creatures similar to anglerfish, with glowing lights to draw prey in. Since he didn’t need light to see- and was aware of the tricks- avoiding them and their excessive amount of teeth was simple.
The creatures had bulbous eyes or no eyes, but one thing in common on all of them were large numbers of teeth. That came in the form of fish with weird extended jaws as well as on some starfish. John never thought starfish would be scary, but when their legs extended a dozen meters out into the water in long tendrils, ready to catch creatures and pull them into their embrace on one of the giant kelp it was quite different. The circular mouths were quite terrifying, though the starfish themselves didn’t move quickly unless they got a hold on something. Thus, one more thing to avoid.
As they moved deeper, fewer creatures navigated by sight and more navigated by energy senses. But there were also darkness element creatures that used both, even concealing themselves with their energy. John also using darkness was a double-edged sword there- he could pick them out as they concealed themselves, but they could also find him and the others. None of the three darkness cultivators- Aydan, Crystin, and himself- were specialists in stealth, since their skills were usually good enough. Among them Aydan was the best, but since they all had to help conceal another person the effect was limited.
John and Matayal mixed their energy together to strengthen the effect- darkness and water intertwining to make them feel like as much a part of the sea as possible. In front of them was a large jelly- tentacles extending dozens of meters around it into the dark sea. They had some experience dealing with the different types, but it was important to discern what they were up against before they started swinging. This one was… air. The creature kept its spiritual energy well concealed, enough that anything moving about blindly would just stumble into it. Then the tendrils would wrap around it and shock it to death before it got pulled into the body to be digested whole.
Earth elemental spiritual energy was summoned and extended around himself and Matayal. It was meant to insulate themselves from being shocked as they fought the creature- they could just bypass it, but creatures like that made moving around the area searching for spirit air and water quite difficult. Backing into one of its tendrils would be extremely unpleasant.
John swept out with his sword- the layer of earth energy would insulate it from the electricity of the creature, and he would rather deal with being shocked than the poison on the creature’s tentacles. Because of course it would have poison as well. As his sword touched the tendril he felt the air energy heighten as it tried to conduct electricity through his weapon. However, it simply dispersed into the water around them- and the current rapidly fell off with distance. The tendril still stuck to the sword, because obviously the jelly couldn’t do just one or two things. It had to have everything annoying. Properly angling his sword, however, he was able to slice through the tendril as it tried to pull away.
Conversely, Matayal let her weapon get pulled, multiple tendrils wrapping around it as it got closer. But when the tip of her spear was a meter away from the jelly she suddenly thrust her spear forward. Since the tendrils were trying to bring the thing they had entrapped closer to the body and ‘mouth’, they didn’t restrict her motion at all. She pierced right through the body of the creature, stabbing through the central nervous system and some of the important organs. If the creature had a brain, she would have targeted that. But they didn’t.
Despite all of their annoying features, the jellies weren’t too bad since they didn’t think at all. It was the creatures that laid clever traps that were the problem. As John and Matayal approached the kelp in front of them that was radiating an enticing amount of water elemental spiritual energy, the plant suddenly moved. The blade suddenly split into an octet of limbs reaching for the two of them. Crystin and Livna reacted before either of the two being attacked, their spears stabbing forward to impale two of the limbs. Matayal slipped away from the arms reaching for her, but John was a bit slower. He avoided one, but a second wrapped around his leg and started pulling him towards the mouth of a now-visible octopus.
He quickly summoned a burst of air energy, creating electricity around his leg. He had to expend more energy to protect himself from his own electricity flowing through the water, but the creature let go and he was able to swim away. The green-brown octopus pulled away as well, shooting a cloud of ink into the water as it retreated. As cultivators they could protect their eyes, limiting the longer term effects of ink but they were still unable to see through it. It somewhat inhibited energy sensing as well. Either way, the creatures swam away faster than anyone was willing to replicate. It was likely Matayal could chase it down, but the most interesting properties of that kind of octopus didn’t show themselves in the body. When the creature died, the ability of the body to change pigments at will greatly diminished. It would be more effective to study them while they lived to try to create a technique that replicated what they did. So far, John had only managed to create ugly splotches on his skin- and even if he could recolor his whole skin, he wouldn’t blend into whatever background he wanted. His clothing- along with the flexible armor he wore- wouldn’t change. Even it was made out of the right kind of octopus. Though maybe with an extension to a technique… John shook his head. He could just focus on concealing himself with darkness. Practice there would be more efficient.
Unfortunately, the water element that had seemed like a bulb full of spirit water was actually the main body of the octopus simply holding onto the kelp to replicate one of the fronds. It seemed it had replaced one of the actual ones- otherwise the disruption in the regular pattern of the plant would have been obvious.
Though they didn’t have any real injuries to deal with- except a bruised leg and pride for John- they returned to the surface. Once there, John was able to apply one of the few things he learned from Earth that was actually applicable. He first started with his air energy, diving into his veins. Not his meridians, but his actual flow of blood and his organs. The problem of dissolved gasses wasn’t as high for cultivators, but one way they sustained air was to force more into their lungs before they dove. John didn’t have to do that, but the pressure still caused some gasses to dissolve into his body where it didn’t belong. Carefully clearing out the bubbles that resulted from rapidly climbing meant diving in and out of the water several times per day wouldn’t screw them up. Doing the same for Matayal, who ended up with slightly more dissolved air, was fairly simple as well. As for the others, he could only help them with the outer portion of the problem, and they had to deal with the rest with other sorts of energy. Air was the most efficient for the task, but a cultivator could affect their own body with any of their energy.
“You must have studied hard in your world, to know these things,” Matayal said. “Water cultivators dive often, and sometimes they run into bodily troubles caused by it. But without knowing the origin of the problem it’s difficult for them to resolve. Usually, they just wait or deal with the unpleasantness.”
“It was easy to learn small details about a wide variety of topics,” John replied. “Information from all around the world could be shared instantly if people wanted it to be… and sometimes when they didn’t want it to be. So I picked up a lot of rarely-useful information.” John shrugged, “We didn’t even have a solution on Earth besides climbing back to the surface slowly. Being able to actually fix it is purely something from cultivation.”
Since cultivators had tougher bodies- and didn’t get air the same way for dives- the aftereffects of decompression sickness were usually not that severe. Having a solution for it was more of a convenience than a world-changing insight. It wasn’t like John was some sort of genius messiah that could solve all of a world’s problems just by showing up. Cultivators already had ways to solve the biggest problems they had, or the problems were simply less relevant to them.
When the group rested for the evening, the spirit water and occasional spirit air they found was distributed. Unfortunately that left little for Aydan and Crystin who were pure darkness cultivators, but in theory far enough into the depths spirit darkness could form. John didn’t take all of the spirit air, since he could only use so much at once regardless.
The ways to absorb spirit elements varied, but they all involved placing it close to the cultivator and using their own energy to break it down and integrate it into a person. For spirit air, John had been told that the easiest way was to breathe it in before properly absorbing it. He carefully contained the air as he opened the bulb and guided it into his lungs. Each time it was like the freshest breath of air he had ever taken, as if everything had been tainted with air pollution up until that point. He knew that wasn’t true- but it wasn’t entirely untrue either. There were very small impurities in air, and even the spirit air he had wouldn’t be quite the perfect mix for a human to breathe. But those impurities also ironically made it suited for him.
His lungs dissolved the air as normal while his own energy broke down the parts of it that were purely ephemeral, drawing them into his meridians and towards his dantian. Spirit elements could take different forms, including specialized forms like lightning and wind for air. Those were more rare, but the kind found in the Kelp Spire Forest was the most basic sort. Yet it was also most suited for his totem- Atmosphere. That included the impurities that just touched on the darkness element inside it. That totem happily breathed the air, which in turn fed the sapling that was on its way to becoming a fine tree. The sapling’s leaves likewise improved the ground around it as they fell and decayed, becoming air and earth. John almost didn’t have to cultivate for his totems to improve- but of course without his active control any improvements would take ten or a hundred times as long. And if he didn’t pull in outside energy, his rank wouldn’t grow. With the use of spirit air he was quickly pushing towards the twenty-first rank and the upper portion of early Soul Expansion Phase.
There was something so pleasant about improving cultivation rank, being able to see a real step in the process. Even if it didn’t come with the benefits of strength, John could see why people would be interested. He wondered how far he could go, and if there was an actual limit beyond his own talent. It was certainly implied by what he had read, but it was entirely possible that nobody had figured out how to go beyond the limits of the highest listed cultivation level.