The location where Verusha was currently glaring at Tirto had been carefully chosen to not be around anything especially flammable. Her hair color undulated between blue and green as heat waves radiated off of her. “… Could you repeat what you said? I’m sure I didn’t hear it right.” Her voice sounded almost patient as she said that.
Tirto nodded. “Of course. I said that the engagement between myself and Emilia has been officially called off.”
The response was more or less what Tirto expected. Her hair locked into a bright crimson color to match the flames radiating off of her. “You…” condensed flames surrounded her fist as she punched directly towards his chest, “… idiot!”
Tirto caught her fist with his palm. Despite knowing it was coming and the gaps between their cultivations, he barely managed to stop her attack. A protective sphere of water grew around him, instantly evaporating into steam where it touched Verusha’s spiritual energy.
“I can’t-” Verusha lashed out with a kick, flames spewing around her as she twisted, “-believe-” She continued to spin, sweeping low as Tirto ducked under her attack, “-you would do-” Her hands turned into slashing claws of flame as she flailed at him, “-exactly the opposite of what I said!”
Her final words were a roar, which came along with a cone of flames spewed from her mouth that flash boiled away nearly half of Tirto’s defenses. Even if he was just defending, his elemental advantage should have been sufficient to block everything she could throw at him. But Tirto was beginning to feel the strain of her attacks. He didn’t know how much longer she could keep up her barrage.
Tirto wanted to say more, but he was busy resisting her attacks- and diverting their battle away from the nearby buildings and the gardens towards one of the clan’s many pools of water. He didn’t think he had the capacity to speak much, nor did he think she would listen in her current state.
Tirto knew he had to fight back, but he didn’t want to hurt her either. Fortunately, water was perfect for that. He began to extend his aura of water to cover her, effectively trying to cool her down. Though he did have to leave gaps for steam to explode out of as their spiritual energy interacted. That was something he’d noticed with her before… her particular flames were extremely well suited for shifting the state of water. Water to steam was obvious, but if she was willing to work with him it could have also helped him transition water to ice. But obviously this wouldn’t be one of those times.
He was beginning to wonder if she was inexhaustible, but then he saw her eyes behind the crimson flames. She was wearing herself out, but she also wasn’t going to stop when she hit her limit. How foolish, she would only hurt herself that way. But that was exactly the kind of person she was.
He couldn’t allow that, of course. He didn’t want to hurt her, physically or emotionally, but some of the latter had been inevitable. Now he had to stop her from causing lasting harm to her cultivation.
The pulse of the leviathan’s energy flowed through Tirto, an indomitable power of a creature of the deep. Channeling its power and converting his energy into ice, Tirto reached out to grab Verusha with his left arm. The flames surrounding her arms scorched his hand as he held onto her but, he didn’t loosen his grip. As he tried to pull her closer she threw a punch to his gut that he forcefully endured.
He still pulled her close and placed a gentle hand on her head. “Why don’t you let your sister and I explain things?” He didn’t directly tell her to calm down because that sort of thing never worked. Tirto shifted them so that Verusha could see Emilia standing over to the side. He felt her scorching heat slowly shrink, and then she began to try to wriggle out of his grasp.
“L-let go, you stupid… dumb… ugh!” Verusha pulled away, her hair drained of color. “Why… why aren’t you angry? All this time…”
Emilia shrugged. “Being angry wouldn’t change anything. And Tirto explained his honest feelings. We’re not as compatible as we should be.”
Verusha had staggered over to her sister. “But the two of you looked so… happy. And you never argue at all.”
“That is true,” Emilia admitted. “We have enjoyed being around each other. But you should also be aware that I wouldn’t really fight with anyone.”
“Isn’t that good, though? You’re like mom. Calm and supportive. And the fire element can support water…”
“And who is our mother supporting?”
“Dad, of course.”
“And how is he like Tirto?”
“Well, uh. They’re both strong. Talented cultivators. And umm…” Verusha cut herself off as she looked over towards Tirto. “I can’t think of anything else,” she said, snapping her eyes back to her sister.
Emilia nodded. “That’s right. They are quite different in all of the ways that actually make a person. And thus, the two of us just aren’t as compatible as we could be. I’d rather him be with someone who fits better. And the same for myself.”
“Oh yeah?” Verusha frowned and straightened herself, but her hair remained without luster. “And who is more compatible with Tirto than you, sis? I’ll beat her up and show her how compatible she really is!”
“You’ve already done that plenty,” Emilia smiled lightly. “Now will you listen to Tirto for a few moments?”
Verusha sighed. “If I have to.” She swiveled towards him, but nearly lost her balance. Emilia had to hold onto her. “So, who is this mystery woman? There’s no way you know her that well. I’ve been watching you and you never spend time with any woman but us! Don’t tell me you broke it off with Emilia for some unknown hussy.”
Tirto stepped forward. “You know, Emilia predicted it would go like this. But then again, who would know you better than your sister?”
“Stop delaying! Spit it out!” Verusha said with what energy she had left.
“It’s you,” Tirto said.
“Yuu?” Verusha tilted her head. “What clan is she from? It had better be an important one at least!”
“Not that,” Tirto laughed. “It’s you, Verusha. Perhaps you don’t feel the same way about me in turn, but I believe you are at least somewhat fond of me. I know it might seem crazy. Especially to say it like this, and now. But I couldn’t just stay engaged to your sister as a backup plan. That wouldn’t be fair to her either.”
“I- what?” Verusha’s eyes were filled with utter shock. “I- uh-” with that she turned on her heel and sprinted away. Or at least tried to do that, when her body would only let her perform a quick jog.
Tirto watched her go. “That went about as well as expected.”
“Should you go after her?”
“I doubt it,” Tirto said. “I think I’ll remain somewhere where I can be approached without an audience. What do you think?”
Emilia nodded. “That’s probably for the best.”
He took a step, then turned back towards her. “I’m sorry I wasn’t a different person.”
“You shouldn’t have to be. This is just the way things are.”
Despite her words, Emilia couldn’t help but watch him walk away with a hint of sadness in her eyes reflecting her deeper thoughts. Because even if he spoke the truth, it still hurt.
Seeing the situation temporarily resolved, John wondered if he could have prevented these issues if he had been around for the last three years. Though he tried not to dwell on it too long, ultimately he came to the conclusion that those involved were still barely cognizant of their own feelings. As something of an outsider, it would have been difficult for him to do much.
But he could at least have been there to support Tirto, limiting his reliance on Emilia. That would have ultimately hurt her less, when it came to this. But while things might look bad now, had things continued on without any change then the results would have been much worse.
Though he’d been fortunate with his own longest relationship up until the very end, John had seen how strained relationships and divorces could damage not only the people directly involved but those around them.
Having indirectly pushed his son into a relationship where there would be conflict was a complicated result, but some types of conflict weren’t necessarily bad. What mattered was whether those involved could work it out. Or if they would simply let it sit in the background, issues piling upon issues with nobody truly resolving them.
Emilia was a fine young woman, but John could see how two passive personalities might not work out together. On the other hand, perhaps things would have ultimately been fine between them. He might have pushed Tirto too much to find a solution, but most of the ideas had already been in Tirto’s mind. They had to be resolved in some manner. This one might be the messiest, but hopefully that was only in the short term.
As for John’s son getting into a situation where Verusha seemed angry enough to actually try to kill him, that didn’t actually seem that bad. Perhaps it was that he’d now spent the majority of his life in this world, but he felt that physical conflict wasn’t always as negative as it might seem. He also had the feeling that Verusha acted as she did specifically because she didn’t believe she could hurt Tirto. If not, it was a serious problem. Someone striking another in anger was a serious problem for relationships, and John didn’t want to simply accept that. But he had the feeling that the situations were quite different.
Now they could only wait for the results. There was a significant chance that Verusha didn’t share Tirto’s feelings in quite the same way, despite what Tirto and Emilia thought. That was why it was such a hard choice for Tirto to make. It would have been so much easier for Tirto to try to hang onto Emilia as the second best option, but that would create a permanent scar on their relationship.
John wondered if perhaps the world would be better off without love. But only for a moment. Because as much as it had hurt to lose Matayal, he still considered her the greatest fortune that had ever happened to him in two lives. The pain of loss was something he didn’t expect to ever be free of, but he was coming to realize such pain could only be so real because of how good things had been. He just wished they spent more time together rather than managing clan affairs. His children seemed to be doing better in that regard, for those who wanted a partner.
All extraneous thoughts were pushed away as John settled himself with meditation. He had done what he thought was best, and that had to be better than continuing to do nothing.
Even quantities of five elements swirled within him, feeding into each other. Every day, he felt himself recovering, if only slowly. He was lucky, to only have such a setback instead of completely destroyed cultivation or death.
Inside his dantian, John finally recognized the signs of life returning. A vast number of tiny sprouts were popping their heads out of the ashy fields that covered the now-numerous islands within him, split apart only to find their own room to grow. He smiled. If only he had done all of it on purpose, he knew it would have been so much more effective. But he could appreciate the little bits of life that came from death. He just hoped that could apply to other situations. It might take a very long time, but he was willing to wait and see. And while he did, he would do his best to avoid causing further harm to himself or others. Or maybe he could even become a positive influence again.