The reason for keeping sailing ships on the outer rings soon became obvious. Though the channels between the islands were far wider than necessary for passage, high sandbars in certain points made the water between the sections of Pualani very shallow- to the point some sections even rose out of the water. Shallow draft boats carried those who wished to go to the central island, though John also saw a small number of swimmers and a few people walking atop the water. The swim wouldn’t be hard for cultivators, but it would be a bit undignified to be walking around soaked with water.
The central island had more extensive structures with large walls separating the grounds of various clans and sects. The architectural style was similar, with an increase in size and the addition of large courtyards as well as covered patios. The reason for the second was quite obvious, as even during the short time they’d been on the approach it had started raining. John didn’t have the control over water to completely prevent getting wet unless he wanted to exhaust himself, but he kept rain from getting into his bag with his spare clothes. Nothing a cultivator wore was so delicate as to be easily damaged by water, but he still didn’t want everything to get soaked.
Walking along with the Tenebach clan with no attempt at subtlety were Keahi and her father Malosi. It had been clear from early on that they had some connection to Matayal and her grandfather. There had been interest in them as members of the Tenebach clan, but nobody had detected any malicious intent. They hadn’t actually hidden anything about themselves, but John had refrained from asking for details. He hadn’t said anything that needed to remain secret, but he found himself pleased that they hadn’t peeled off somewhere. The two of them merely pretending to be friendly for the duration of a journey had been a possibility, and with the clan being as strong as it was they were bound to have some enemies.
Soon enough they arrived at a pair of massive wooden gates as tall as five men, with similarly high walls. John doubted any tree available in such quantity would be a sufficient defense by itself, but he felt the energy flowing through the gates and along the walls indicating they were strongly warded. He had expected nothing else.
The guards atop the walls next to the gate sounded a bell as they approached.. “Members of the Tenebach clan,” said a somewhat older guard at the peak of Foundation Phase, “Welcome.” There was a momentary pause before he saw Keahi and Malosi standing slightly apart, “And the two of you as well, friends of the clan.”
The gates began to open, slowly and dramatically. John had the feeling that was for a reason. It would not do for the members of the family to be seen rushing around, but with the gates open a crack he could feel a powerful energy ahead of them, quickly joined by one he recognized as Matayal. By the time the gates were opened wide enough to actually see, a row of guards was standing on either side of the path leading up to a covered area where Matayal and Netanel Brandle stood side by side. John could have guessed at the latter from his strength and position, but truthfully he knew him from a painting he’d seen. Similarly, his first ‘memory’ of Matayal was a painting of her.
The company from the Tenebach clan and the other two walked forward, Luctus and John at the front with Keahi and Malosi slightly behind and to one side. “Welcome!” the booming voice of Netanel demonstrated his power. “It seems you have arrived in good health. I am very pleased to see it.” Netanel and Matayal cupped their hands and bowed to Luctus and John, and John bowed in return.
“Yeah, good to see you too old man,” Luctus grinned.
“Is that how you treat a sworn brother you haven’t seen in decades? I should beat your hide for that. Honestly, I can’t believe you haven’t even reached late Soul Expansion yet.” The switch to extremely casual talk was somewhat jarring, but the big grin Netanel had on his wrinkly old face was relieving.
“I was busy managing clan affairs. Old clans have a lot to deal with.”
“Sounds like a pain, honestly,” Netanel said. He did a little half wave to John. “Hey. You finally here to get hitched?”
“…” John had to reconfigure his brain to respond. His training to respect his elders and especially his future grandfather was eventually suppressed and he was able to answer. “Not just yet. We seem to both be doing well in training, and it would be a shame to disrupt that.” He could sense Matayal had gone from eleventh to fifteenth rank in the time he hadn’t seen her, though his current cultivation at the thirteenth rank was much closer than he had been before.
“Hah!” Netanel grinned, “Plenty of training two people can do together better than alone. Marriage is good for your cultivation.” Matayal was staring daggers at her grandfather, which he pointedly ignored. “But I suppose there’s no reason to rush into things.” He looked to Keahi and Malosi. “Good to see you two made it just fine. Didn’t expect you to come with these guys.”
Malosi didn’t seem quite comfortable with being casual, though he tried his best. “Yes, we ended up on the same ship. A delightful coincidence.”
“How about we get everyone settled in?” Netanel suggested, “The girls can get a chance to talk without us stuffy old folk, and then maybe Matayal and Fortkran can spend some time together.” He raised his eyebrows suggestively.
Matayal was clearly indignant, but she took the opportunity to branch off from the rest with Keahi. John waved goodbye with a pleasant smile on his face. Hopefully her reaction was merely from the excessively casual nature of her grandfather. He’d thought they had at least a decent understanding of each other, if not a particular closeness. But he’d get his chance to talk to her later.
If he was visiting simply on vacation, John would be in paradise. That was the world people used for places like this. It did rain fairly often, but inside was dry and covered patios were abundant. He could sit in the sun soaking up rays sipping on a drink. Though he honestly thought that would get boring quickly. Just relaxing would get old quickly. He’d like to go around and explore the island, but it wasn’t exactly filled with nature. There were plenty of plants and trees around, but on the central island basically every piece of land was occupied. The plants were all part of gardens- beautiful gardens, but not really nature.
Soon enough he found himself alone with Matayal among some of the best flowers in the gardens. John was able to appreciate flowers more with the enhanced senses of a cultivator, and the Matayal clan’s gardens meticulously cultivated only the most beautiful and pleasant smelling plants that could be found.
In some cultures two young folk off by themselves might be considered inappropriate, but given the nature of their engagement it wasn’t a concern. They were basically married already, and calling it off would be more akin to having a divorce. Not that John had any intentions of the sort at the moment. Netanel’s comments were right- couples could help improve each other’s cultivations, but the opposite was also true. If they were incompatible they could hinder each other. It wasn’t a matter of elements mismatching except in the case of light and darkness. All of the other elements supported each other in some fashion, so at least one partner would benefit.
Incompatibility was more about personality and control. Emotional entanglement from intimate relationships could extend to spiritual energy entanglement, and if those entangled didn’t work well together it was likely one would end up hurt. Usually the one with the supporting element.
Their current position was remote enough to have privacy, with the pleasantness of it being secondary to the reason they were there. Matayal had brought John out to talk, and there were many things to talk about. His current cultivation among them. “You have grown significantly stronger,” Matayal commented.
“That should be expected, with the resources available to me.”
“Perhaps,” she said, “But with the sort of totem you selected, your growth could have been much slower. Yet not only are you in mid Foundation Phase, your first totem has advanced to the second tier. As for your second…” she frowned slightly.
“You wonder why I took an earth elemental spiritual totem as my second?” Matayal nodded in response to John’s question. “I’m intending to complete a full cycle of elements.”
Matayal tried to keep her face passive, but the very effort indicated to John that she wasn’t happy. “Ambitious.”
“You don’t have to be so polite about it. If you think I’m overconfident in my talent, you can say it.”
“Your second totem…” Matayal felt his revealed cultivation, “Is merely at the second tier. I had hoped your talent would at least match… before.” Even if they were somewhere private, mentioning that he was from another world was best kept for stronger security.
“I could have picked a third tier totem,” John replied. “I just chose not to. This one was quite compatible with my first. Besides,” John slowly circulated some of his energy, hoping she would be able to feel what he was going for. It wasn’t so easy to determine the specific details of another’s totem if they didn’t want it to be revealed, but he wasn’t hiding anything. His most important secret was already known to her, and if there was to be any trust between them he needed to share the complete truth.
“It’s another… growing type totem?” She pursed her lips in thought for a few moments. “Very ambitious.” It still didn’t sound like a positive pronouncement, but he could see she was taking time to think it over.
“Well, hopefully you understand now. I think this is a good path. We’ll both know in a few short years, once I reach Soul Expansion Phase.”
“A few years, huh…” she looked at him askance.
“Think I can’t?” John held himself up high. He did have some pride in his ability. He’d already gotten so far in the time since his coming to this world.
“I honestly don’t know. Some people run into roadblocks along the way. I suppose it is reasonable to reserve judgement until later. A few years is not too long of a wait to see your progress.” Matayal nodded her head, somewhat satisfied. “Now I should be open with you as well. It should be obvious that I tread only the path of water like my grandfather. My totems are more traditional, but still given proper consideration. Let us discuss them as well.”
John nodded. Things were still extremely formal between them, but they’d only really interacted with each other for a few weeks. He couldn’t expect much different in that time, and Matayal was a more formal person in general- unlike her grandfather.