If the Society of Midnight hadn’t insisted on dredging up old grudges, John wouldn’t have even known about the conflict between them and the Tenebach clan. But perhaps they felt the grudge wasn’t that old, since there was some potential that some people still remembered the events in question.
Either way, they had decided to mount an attack that the Tenebach clan had to respond to, and that reignited the hostility from both sides. Just because the Tenebach clan had successfully driven them off didn’t mean they felt the matter was resolved.
John was unsure if his response in the tournament had so far been excessive. Unlike some more local tournaments that were watched over by a local leader of some sort, the tournament taking place in central Astrein had less strictly defined rules. Once an opponent surrendered it was required that combat cease, but rules against killing or crippling an opponent were more vague.
But the only thing that would happen if someone was able to prove a complaint would be expulsion from the tournament, so John didn’t particularly worry. He had technically warned Audo about the potential permanence of his attacks- the first Bite of the Gorgon had been working its way into his shoulder since early in the match, but now the second was working its way in through his ribs. If Audo simply stopped the battle and took the time to force John’s energy out, it shouldn’t be too late to make a full recovery.
Yet he didn’t seem interested in the slightest… or perhaps he still didn’t really understand what was happening. Either way, he kept stabbing out from the darkness with his blade. Though a majority of the darkness in the area was no longer his.
The diffuse darkness element spiritual energy was easy for John to absorb and reuse for his own purposes. The battle was leaning strongly in John’s favor. His thoughts almost transitioned back to where they were from before the battle, but John kept his focus.
John gathered darkness and earth around his sword in preparation for the next incoming attack. Audo hadn’t quite gotten the message that John was fully aware of his position, and John struck out with the intention of knocking his blade out of his hand with Gravity Blade. Whatever his weapon impacted would find itself pulled along, so when Audo went to parry his slash the short blade would be pulled away.
At least that was the theory behind the attack. John hadn’t thought Audo would be so unprepared that he wouldn’t even respond at all. Maybe his stiffening shoulder and chest were partly at fault, but John had attacked deep taking advantage of his sword’s slightly longer reach. He wasn’t actually aiming at his opponent’s weapon, but instead his arms behind them.
In the end, John did actually succeed at removing the weapon from Audo’s grasp. At least, one of his hands lost hold of it. The other one kept its grip even as it was sliced at the wrist, and Gravity Blade pulled both hand and weapon away. John’s follow through tossed both over his shoulder.
“Surrender,” John said, gathering more energy for a follow up attack if his opponent was planning to do something stupid. He could have immediately killed him with the opening he created, but while the Society of Midnight would already want to kill him, he preferred to show the others present he had proper amounts of restraint.
For a moment, John thought Audo would choose to die. However, he grasped his stump with his remaining hand and begrudgingly spoke. “I… surrender.”
Once his victory was properly accounted for, John turned to leave. He stayed alert in case Audo did something stupid like attack him again, because no matter what consequences would follow, John didn’t want to die. For many reasons, and three more quite recently.
Audo was at least smart enough to run over to his fallen hand and pick it up. It was a clean cut, so if he hurried to find a good doctor to stitch it back on it should eventually function again. However, with his attention split between keeping his blood in and trying to expel John’s earth element energy, he was going to find parts of his body quite inflexible for the foreseeable future.
John couldn’t help but remain distracted, knowing Matayal was pregnant with triplets. What were the chances of that? He was unsure, but it should be quite rare. “Is there anything I can do?” John asked for perhaps the tenth time since he’d gotten back from the last match.
“I am quite able to do everything myself right now. We can only just barely sense their existence. If I wasn’t worried about something unfortunate happening, I could even fight as normal.” Matayal did her best to assuage John’s worries, but her own head was filled with thoughts of the future as well.
One concern they didn’t have was how they would possibly raise three children. With the resources of two clans, if they couldn’t raise a few kids then they couldn’t manage anything. Money wasn’t a problem, though cultivators could still run into the same difficulties as other parents. It would theoretically be possible to foist all the care of their children upon others, but while that might be good for their own growth as cultivators it wouldn’t be good for their children and their clans.
In the third round of the tournament, Aydan was matched with a member of the Boyce clan, against whom he pulled out a close victory. Crystin was not so fortunate with her opponent, fighting a match with a fire type cultivator that was several ranks higher in cultivation. She put up a decent showing, but ultimately she had little chance of victory.
John’s opponent was a light element cultivator from the Sunfields. It was an old woman by the name of Monika Zeman. John quickly assessed her. She was at the twenty-fifth rank, more than himself but not an insurmountable gap. She held a short staff in her hand- so short he would have thought it a club if not for her grip. Her hands stopped short of either end of the one meter long stick, but it left very little room for extra striking surface. That meant it would either be an awful weapon, or there was some trick to it.
The woman was from a group known as the Golden Tomb Guardians. Nobody outside of their sect was certain if the area they occupied was an actual tomb of some great cultivator of the past or some sort of training grounds they had chosen to occupy, but their serious demeanor made clear they took the tasks they thought were their duty quite seriously. Either way, they were light element cultivators… which meant this would be a useful battle for John whether he won or lost.
John wished he had seen her fight, but there were too many participants still to keep track of them all. Either way, he had thought about how he would fight a light element cultivator. If he were to use logic from Earth, darkness would be pointless- but this wasn’t Earth. Darkness wasn’t merely the absence of light, but a thing unto itself. That said, he decided to forgo creating a screen of darkness- it would be quite easy for a light cultivator to wipe out the energy with a bit of their own.
Instead John started with a bit of air element energy. He formed something akin to a barrier around himself, but of course wind could never make anything solid. Perhaps if a projectile was thrown at him he could blow it off course with a strong enough wind, but he had different intentions. He just didn’t know whether it would work, for a variety of reasons.
John decided to forgo his token ranged attack at the start of the battle. Monika was clearly in a stance ready to take an attack, and he would just waste energy. Instead, the two of them cautiously approached each other.
A few quick probing attacks showed John that his opponent was adept at blocking and parrying incoming attacks. He might be able to overpower her, but there was no way to know for sure until they clashed seriously. He wouldn’t want to bet on it, as the old woman was likely holding back as much as he was.
He still was wary of how short the stick in her hand was, since he couldn’t even justify calling it a staff. Even if she purely used it for defense with the intent to tire out her opponents, it should be longer.
John continued to press the attack, using Hidden Steps to make his way around behind her. When she spun around with her energy flaring he dodged backwards… but immediately felt silly. There was no way an attack would have reached him. And yet… he’d instinctively backed off.
John continued to wrap a barrier of air around himself. Just because she hadn’t yet tried to blind him with a flash of light didn’t mean she wouldn’t. He doubted that a bit of distortion in the air would stop an actual light element attack, but playing around with the movement of the air might weaken something like a flash.
There were a few more brief exchanges before Monika finally made an attack. She pressed in close to John, driving his sword to the side with her hands on either side of the blade. Her short staff moved forward as if she intended to bludgeon him with it, but John still felt a sense of danger. Darkness and light were offensively good against each other, so he focused on that layer of air and the solid power of earth around himself.
John shifted his stance to push back against her staff to deflect it to the side, and was quite glad he made the effort when a blade of light extended from the end of the staff. For about half of its length it was round like an extension of the staff, but then it turned into a wide blade. So instead of a staff, it was closer to a glaive. While he’d certainly expected something he was not fully prepared for that attack, and the blade scraped through his defensive energy and cut a trail along his ribs as he deflected it.
Now that he knew he was facing off against a glaive, John recalculated his opponent’s reach. Without the structural support of a proper weapon the blade of energy would be slightly weaker, but clearly Monika had great experience with her technique. His own decade of combat experience- or half that if he counted the part he was serious in his learning- would certainly be a paltry comparison to her. Coupled with the advantage in cultivation, and John knew the battle would be difficult.
Difficult, but not impossible. He wasn’t going to try something stupid like Spiritual Energy Absorption to win a battle of endurance, but he did have one advantage often discounted by cultivators. He had a stronger body. If Monika hadn’t been old and wrinkled he wouldn’t have counted on that, but the bodies of even the most powerful cultivators eventually weakened. Monika wasn’t a frail old woman, but she’d be a bit weaker in that department. If he could land injuries on her, they would take a greater toll.
John had always thought his first real battle against light element cultivators would go quite differently. Neither side had yet made any attempt to hinder the opponent’s senses with a veil of darkness or a blinding flash of light. Instead they were crossing blades and testing their martial skills.
When Monika took a strong vertical swing, John prepared to block it. Unbreakable Boulder would stop the attack in its tracks, and after the impact he would have an opening to counter. But there was no impact. As the blade swung down, it disappeared before impacting his sword. Then immediately formed again, slicing a trail along his belly.
It was not a terribly deep wound, but any damage would build up over the course of the battle. He couldn’t very well bleed out his opponent if only his own blood was flowing.