Silence reigned over the room as Tirto went to visit his father, who had been placed in his mother’s room. Tirto didn’t know what to say as his father looked him over.
His father was the one to break the silence first. “She did well preparing you for your responsibilities. I apologize for not being of any help.”
“I didn’t need you,” Tirto said more harshly than he intended. “We managed just fine.”
His father nodded slowly. “It was not my business before I married your mother, but once she passed I should have still been available to provide any support you needed. And I don’t mean just combat power…”
That was what it was. Why Tirto was finding it difficult to believe the man was here in front of him, despite seeing him with his own eyes. “What happened to your cultivation?”
“A good question,” Fortkran Tenebach replied. “I might have ruined it,” he shrugged.
“Mother died to protect you.”
“She died to protect all of us. I was not strong enough, and so I attempted to become stronger. It’s not like I was providing any value as I was.”
Tirto grimaced, not because of his father’s self-deprecation, but because he felt like that sometimes. “How long do you plan to be here?” he said to change the topic.
“As long as necessary,” Fortkran said. “A few months at least. Though I’m not sure about here in particular,” he gestured to the room. “It reminds me of her.”
Tirto nodded. “Yeah.”
“It should be your room, you know. You’re clan head, after all. I hope you at least use the training room.”
“I… am doing fine without,” Tirto said.
“Certainly. But that does not mean you could not do better for yourself.” His father stood. “I think I shall tour the island for a while. If you need me for anything, don’t hesitate to ask. I can provide advice for breaking through to the Consolidated Soul Phase, as well. That, at least, I know well enough. And if there are any other matters…” The man gave him a look. One that Tirto used to understand as him knowing everything. And even now with more experience, he couldn’t help but be convinced that solutions were there, just waiting for him. All he had to do was know how to ask. Or what to ask.
The nearly impossible beauty of Pualani was barely of interest to John at the current moment. How could he enjoy natural splendor if he was alone in a place he should not be? Everywhere he looked he recalled visions of Matayal.
The matters of Tirto were also a trouble he might be unable to solve. Even when he had acted like a father, Tirto still had a strong preference for his mother. That might have been because of their elemental inclinations, or perhaps it came about in the opposite manner. They simply spent more time together, so they grew closer. Either way, John had a chance when they had still been close. And now he was just a stranger staying in his son’s home.
But he didn’t intend to be down on himself, nor to let things stay that way. He had intent to change that. Which was why he sought out Emilia, Tirto’s betrothed. At least he hadn’t missed two weddings, though he had really expected the two of them to be properly married by now. He knew they got along well, so that shouldn’t have been an issue.
He found her around one of the many pools the clan maintained. No one was ever far from a source of water, and even as a fire element cultivator there was something to be said for relaxation by the water. Though Emilia didn’t particularly feel relaxed. That was certainly the image she was trying to portray, but she was still but a young woman with little experience in deception. That was ultimately a good thing.
“Thank you for taking care of my son,” John said as he approached.
Emilia had the green hair of the Milanovic clan, just like her mother. It draped across her face as she turned to behold John. “I’ve done nothing to be thanked for, sir.”
It wasn’t just mere politeness. She actually seemed to think little of her actions.
“Nonsense,” John said, sitting down nearby. “I have heard of how you supported him silently all this time. Even men need a shoulder to cry on.”
“He may be stronger than you think,” Emilia replied.
“I know how strong he is,” John replied. “Though if he has not cried this whole time, I might need to reevaluate that. Of course, you don’t need to speak of it.”
There was a time of silence, but Emilia eventually replied. “It was every day, at first. He could have used you around as well.”
John wanted to give the excuse that he couldn’t be in two places at once- but in truth, he hadn’t been there for Melanthina or Ursel either. And he was beyond the point to provide those excuses. “Unfortunately, I have no power to turn back time. But at least you helped him through.” There was something about the way she talked, the way she looked. “Would you be happy, if you were married?” It was probably a question he should not have asked, but it came out anyway. “Do you love him?”
Her answer there was clear, at least. “I do. He is a wonderful man. He is kind, unafraid to show emotions to those he loves, and also a talented cultivator. He would certainly make me happy if we were married.”
But not so much if he delayed, it seemed. Though they were still young and had no reason to rush into things, there also didn’t seem any reason to continue to delay.
“Hey.” John heard a new voice. “Hey you!” He looked up to see a red haired young woman. No, it hadn’t been entirely red. There was a bit of blue that faded away as her hair took on the colors of typical flames. “What the hell are you doing here?’
John was going to tell Verusha he was talking to her sister. Or visiting his son. He hadn’t decided on a sarcastic response or not when she launched herself at him. It was an unexpected explosion of power. The young woman was already in the Foundation Phase, which was a surprise. John was aware that all cultivators in the region were growing more quickly, but even Matayal and Renato had been at least half a decade older.
He let the fireball containing the young woman destroy the chair he had been in while he dodged out of the way into the pool. John considered the situation. He wasn’t sure why he was being attacked, but as for how Verusha came to be this way… there were plenty of reasons. Even if she wasn’t born attuned to an element like the triplets, she was born of two parents with talent- and if John recalled correctly, she had been hanging around the triplets along with Emilia. That could easily push her to grow stronger.
“Don’t think you can hide in the pool!” Verusha yelled as she swiveled towards him.
John frowned. What an awkward situation. He wasn’t even certain how strong he was at the moment. He didn’t want to be injured, nor did he want to hurt this young woman. Swirling winds blew around him, air adding to water as he lifted up the pool. The brilliant orange flames around Verusha met with the water and instantly began to evaporate it into steam.
It had been only a few moments, but John could sense some of the clan guards approaching. He caught the eye of one, holding up a hand to have them hold back. They were responsible for trouble within the Brandle clan, but John wanted to handle his own matters. Besides, he doubted Verusha would take interference well.
“Would you like to explain to me why you are angry?” John asked as he stood in half a pool of water.
“You know why!” Verusha yelled. John had some ideas, but he didn’t know why she was so upset about it. The young woman inhaled, then screamed at him, flames bursting from her mouth. That seemed like something her father would have taught her- intentionally or not.
Rather than rely solely on water to defend, John called upon his new totem. It wasn’t meant for defense, but it was a fifth tier fire totem. It should make a vast difference in his ability to control fire compared to having none. He reached out, spreading the flames to either side of him and directing the streams into the remaining water. That was going to be a pain, as he really didn’t want to stand in boiling water. He diverted some of the heat into the surrounding earth, especially under Verusha.
Rather than let Verusha continue her assault unimpeded, John went on the counteroffensive. Though he didn’t want to hurt her, he summoned invisible flames. Perhaps they were merely waves of heat, given his current level of spiritual energy, but they would serve the same purpose. Verusha’s face grew red… and then she wobbled on her feet. John dispersed the heat around her as Emilia ran over to catch her sister.
Emilia was the first to sigh. “Little sister, do you think about anything you do?”
“Mmm…” Verusha dangled by where Emilia held her shoulder, her eyes slowly opening. “Did I get him?”
“Sorry. You didn’t ‘get’ anyone.”
“Bleh…” Verusha’s mouth dangled open, a gout of flame coming from her mouth as she exhaled. “Hey… you. Stupid father.”
“I believe the proper form of address is either senior or elder stupid father,” John smiled.
Verusha’s footing became more steady. “Yeah you’re not even a uh… clan head anymore,” Verusha said. “Unlike Tirto who has been doing all of the clan heading here.”
The chair John had been sitting on was currently a smoldering pile of ash, so he took a seat on the opposite side of the pool, gesturing for Emilia to drag her sister over. “You’re right. He’s done a fine job.”
“And you’re stupid for not being there when he needed you.”
“Agreed,” John nodded. “You know, I could see why Tirto would do this, but I don’t see why you care so much.”
“Well, uh…” Verusha’s overheating seemed to be resolving itself. “It’s because he’s too timid to stand up to you himself!”
“He may be less obvious about it, but I think he has the strength to assert himself,” John said.
“Pff. I guess he’s getting there, yeah,” Verusha shrugged. “But you still deserved to be punched in the face.”
“I wouldn’t suggest that,” John said. “It would probably hurt his fist. And that’s not an excuse to do it for him.”
Verusha crossed her arms as she looked at John more closely. “Whoa, how did you get so weak?”
“Cultivation accident,” John shrugged. “Did you just notice? Because I still defeated you. Did you seriously think you could take me on?”
Emilia laughed, “She doesn’t think.”
“Shut up! I do!” Verusha retorted. “I think lots of things!”
“Alright, alright,” John waved to calm her down. “I get it. So… why are you here? Besides trying to beat me up.”
“Well, uh, I came to see Emilia.”
John smiled, “I meant in general. Why are you hanging around the Brandle clan?”
“Well, I just… want to make sure Tirto keeps his promise to marry Emilia.”
A fluctuation of energy caught John’s attention in time to see Tirto slinking away. Was he disappointed to see that John didn’t get beat up? Perhaps. But it was clear that there was more that Tirto thought the situation was awkward to get involved in for more reasons than that. Perhaps this was something John could help with… if he could get his son to open up enough to admit anything he was thinking.