Being alive was nice and all, but ultimately at the end of one week of recovery John felt like he had to do something again. Just sitting around cultivating trying to recover didn’t really accomplish anything.
Since they were staying on Pualani, John had no responsibilities. Even Matayal’s were limited, since most of the administrative efforts were still managed by others. Just because she would eventually lead the clan didn’t mean there were many things she had to handle at the moment. Cultivation clans didn’t change quickly, and thus rarely needed decisions on a day-to-day basis.
While the general activity of a young cultivator was to go from place to place, looking for events where they could grow stronger and seeking out good fortune, as heirs of notable clans John and Matayal had to consider other things. At the moment neither clan was specifically looking to expand, instead focusing on stability. To that end, they had specific duties to fulfill.
“You know,” John said, “I didn’t think much about having children on Earth. I wasn’t even dating anyone, so that was pretty far away. But I always thought my wife and I would be the ones to choose how many children we had, or didn’t.”
Matayal nodded, “Many people think that, but we are not alone in this. Even those without clans are expected to have children to carry on their future. Was there not societal pressure on Earth to do the same?”
“Well,” he admitted, “Very few people really chose not to have children. And there were usually expectations from family to do so. But the amount of children I thought I would have wasn’t usually so… specifically chosen by circumstances.”
“Our options aren’t quite so limited as it might seem,” Matayal said. “The Tenebach and Brandle clans need someone of the main line to continue the bloodlines. Eventually, we must have two children to fulfil those roles. But nothing says we cannot have more than two.”
“Do you want more than two children?” John asked. “It will be harder for you than for me.”
“It is perhaps not quite the same for me as you are thinking,” Matayal said. “For a cultivator, the physical process of bearing a child is not terribly difficult. And though undergoing any sort of breakthrough while pregnant is a risk to a child, a period of nine months without advancing cultivation is not as terrible as it sounds. It only seems so restrictive because we are early in our cultivation. If my grandfather could consistently advance a single rank every year or two, he would be ecstatic.” Matayal smiled, “You must remember that we will live longer than others. We will still be young even a decade or two from now, still in our prime. If we were to advance a single rank every year over that time, we would reach the peak of the Consolidated Soul Phase, higher than anyone in our regions.”
John pondered for a few moments. “You think we can’t do that?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Does it matter?”
“… it kind of does. If I don’t make it beyond that phase, then I won’t have a fire totem. I’ll hardly be able to return your support in cultivation proportionately before then.”
Matayal was silent for a long while. “You… don’t have to,” she finally stated. “Cultivation is important, but you making the choice to care about what I want is even more important. I’d rather be valued as a person than valued for my strength.” She smiled, “But having both would be nice. We’ve already met every reasonable expectation placed on us, yet I have no doubt we can grow stronger.”
Ultimately they made no decision about when to have their first child, except for that it would not be yet. There was some risk that they might die before having children, but if they only considered everything from the worst case scenario, they would simply remain huddled in their clans doing nothing.
Sometimes it was nice to have your next course of action decided for you. Though attending formal events could be a chore, John had to admit that it provided a nice opportunity to settle into a routine. First he had clothes tailored to fit him. He hadn’t grown much taller or broader in the shoulders, but since he had been in his early twenties there was still some growth given enough time. Men weren’t expected to update their fashion as frequently, but some women were often loathe to attend multiple parties in the same dress- and cultivators were not different from anyone with wealth in that regard.
Cultivators often made exceptions for practical garb, since the expense for anything that looked good and yet was functional in combat was much greater. Most of the expense was the latter part, but some equipment for cultivators was cut roughly out of furs of mighty beasts with little adornment. Choosing only the choicest parts for their form and functionality might increase expenses several times.
This time, John found himself only vaguely related to events. It was another wedding, and while it would be smaller scale than his own, it was only proper to attend. The parties in question were Alina Milanovic and his cousin Tempkeit. Of the two, Alina was of more importance. Tempkeit had less cultivation talent and had only made it to the middle of Foundation Phase, while Alina was at the peak of Foundation Phase and would surely step into the Soul Expansion Phase soon.
There were rumors that she held her own cultivation back, in fact, so that the wedding would be more palatable to the Milanovic Clan. They would of course want their talented juniors married off to equally talented and prestigious young men. Tempkeit’s status within the Tenebach clan was not much, and his talent was nothing to speak of. But Alina was a hard woman to refuse, and her clan eventually gave in. On the other hand, the Tenebach clan had no objection to Tempkeit marrying Alina. Even if he fully integrated into the Milanovic clan, they would not lose much.
The marriage wouldn’t be solidifying a permanent alliance like John and Matayal. It would just slightly increase the favor between the two clans, making them more willing to continue working together when it benefited both. It wasn’t political in nature, but instead an actual marriage of love. A rarity in the world, but strong cultivators often got their way- even if that was to do something suboptimal for their cultivation.
John was glad he wasn’t wearing his new clothes on the journey to the Milanovic clan’s location at the feet of Zolvolj. They would quickly find themselves looking much less new if he were to be sweating all over them like he was now.
Technically, his cultivation was strong enough that he could completely block out the heat. The only issue was that it would be difficult to restore his energy at the same rate he expended it. The Green Sands weren’t known for their abundance of any energy outside of fire. Though they did have enough earth energy for John to feel comfortable expending enough of that to make himself merely sweat, instead of melting into a puddle on the floor.
Matayal was both better and worse off than he was. Water was very resistant to fire, as fire’s conquering element. It took her little effort to keep herself cool… but the sparsity of water element energy was even greater than darkness or air. The Green Sands was a vast desert, after all. The only proper sources of water elemental spiritual energy were in oases or wells in large cities. So while she was able to keep herself comfortable, it would be difficult for her to recover expended energy consistently.
“I could help keep you cool as well,” Matayal offered once more. “You don’t have to be stubborn about it.”
“I appreciate the offer, really,” John said. “But I really should get back in tune with my old techniques. And I have secret tricks now.”
The secret trick was that he could create a breeze. It didn’t have to be much to make him feel much cooler, but he limited himself in that area. He was more interested in reaching into the ground beneath him, seeing how deeply he could entrench his energy even as they moved along in a carriage. Being a cultivation phase higher and in his case having totems a tier higher as well, it wasn’t actually that bad. But he was also being a bit stubborn and using only the bare minimum of energy to keep himself mostly comfortable.
Since he was on a journey with a half-dozen Soul Expansion Phase cultivators including himself- and others- John didn’t expect to run into trouble on the way to their destination. After all, travelling through the Shimmering Islands and the Stone Conglomerate had been relatively easy, and they had no enemies with significant grudges in the Green Sands.
There was just one factor that John had discounted. “I sense someone… familiar…” he said as they were approaching a particular oasis to rest and water their horses.
He felt a bit of a commotion up ahead, spiritual energy being raised but no attacks having occurred as of yet. A proper understanding of cultivators was that, even though they were prideful, most conflicts were resolved peacefully. Otherwise, they would all be wiped out within a few years. Usually.
Spiritual Energy could be used to enhance all sorts of senses, including hearing. Thus, John and Matayal- and the others with them- could make out what was being said up ahead.
“And when did your Shiny Sun Sect gain ownership of this oasis?” said one voice.
“The Gleaming Sun Sect staked its claim to this oasis more than a week prior. You cannot drink without paying the fee.”
“Yeah? Says who? The last time I came through here, it was free.”
“As I said-”
“It would be one thing if your Sunflower Sect had helped establish the safety of the roads in the area, but I’m pretty sure all you did was put up a sign and kick out everyone else who was using the area.” By this point, John could make out blue hair and the familiar feeling of Lucanus. Steve, if he were to use the name he had on Earth. A fellow transmigrator, though one with a very different background than John in his new life.
“It doesn’t matter,” the woman he was speaking to folded her arms in front of her. “Pay the fee or get out.”
“I’m thirsty,” Lucanus said and started walking towards the oasis, pushing past her.
“You really want to start something with the Gleaming Sun Sect?” she glared at him.
He looked back at her. “It’s more of a matter of whether or not you want to start something with me.” Lucanus’ eyes flared, and he made it clear he was in the Soul Expansion Phase. There were many members of the Gleaming Sun Sect scattered about, perhaps twenty in total and half of those in the Foundation Phase.
John really didn’t want to yell, but he also didn’t want to just let things happen. Before he could make any choice, however, the woman drew the sword at her side, a scimitar with an especially wide blade. “We won’t stand for any more disrespect towards the Gleaming Sun Sect and our territory.”
John sighed. He didn’t want to get involved, but the battle was happening right in front of them. Just pulling up the carriages would show weakness, and if he got close and didn’t help his friend he’d be an asshole. Though… he wasn’t sure if Steve actually needed help.
Over a dozen people attacked him at once, drawing similar swords to the woman who was in command and suddenly engulfing them in flame. Though they were still charging to close the distance with him, they all swung their swords at him, shooting large blades of fire that concealed him from sight as flames swirled everywhere.
For a few moments at least. Then the fire was pulled towards just one point, which seemed to be Lucanus’ face as he slurped up all of the fire around him. Smoke billowed out of his ears as he did so and his eyebrows looked like they were on fire, but he didn’t actually seem injured.
Then he began to breathe out, aiming a large gout of fire at the most tightly clumped group of four enemy cultivators approaching him. They reacted with significantly less poise than he had, scattering in all directions and screaming as they tried to put themselves out. They were all fire cultivators as well, so they weren’t burned to a crisp… but nonetheless the group was taken out of the battle for the moment.
As the first enemies began to reach him in melee range, Lucanus flickered back and forth like a flame in the wind, deftly avoiding the sweep of their blades while striking out with fists and feet, knees and elbows. Many of his opponents caught on fire, while he simply absorbed or redirected the flames coming from them.
John thought everything might resolve itself without him, but as he leaned out the window to watch what was happening several of the enemy cultivators who had not approached Lucanus held their scimitars in front of them widthwise. John could tell there was going to be some sort of attack, but he couldn’t tell what. Until it happened.
Then a gleam of light shone into his eyes. Except it was a thousand times worse, since it was a light-element technique amplifying the effect. He cursed, and then felt a flurry of activity around him.
The rest of the battle he had to pick out with just his energy senses, but the tides of battle swiftly fell into favor of one particular side. It turned out that the addition of a Soul Expansion Phase water element cultivator into the battle was extremely problematic for the Gleaming Sun Sect. And that didn’t count the guards who darted off after Matayal.
“Fortkran?” Aydan asked.
John waved his hand. “I’ll be fine. Go support my wife!”
If the Gleaming Sun Sect didn’t know not to involve bystanders in their battles they deserved what was coming to them. Though Aydan never even got close to the battle, as the moment Matayal jumped out of the carriage with her intent to fight clear, several people began to run.
It seemed that Lucanus had mostly avoided the blinding effect on his own, and his strikes sent people flying away from him- and as they caught on fire they ran through the oasis, with Lucanus chasing after them. Or at least, it looked like that- until they ran out the other side of the water and he belly flopped into it and dunked his head under.
Surprisingly nobody had died. Lucanus had likely formed a grudge with them, but if the Gleaming Sun Sect ended up with ill intent towards the Tenebach or Brandle clans, they had nobody to blame but themselves when they ended up with actual losses.
John rubbed his eyes as everything was settling down. He hadn’t encountered a single light element technique before, and he’d been wholly unprepared. It shot right through all his defenses, because despite what it did to his eyes the attack wasn’t actually particularly energetic. If he had been trying to block all light coming to him, he couldn’t exactly see, now could he? Though he now realized he had to restrict light more. At least he learned that outside of a large-scale battle. And his vision was already coming back, so he was pretty sure there wouldn’t be permanent damage.