Since John had moved the battle to the already-burned trees the secondary effects of Asgeirr’s flaming aura were minimal. Heating the air and directly affecting John were still possible, but it wasn’t the same as the extra energy that came from having something on fire. Though the area around them did seem to be spewing fire elemental spiritual energy as things burned, providing slightly more recovery for Asgeirr.
Ultimately that narrowed the advantage John had from being able to absorb multiple elements from the surroundings- but he was still pulling ahead. The fight was giving him a headache, though. The spear flashed at him when it stabbed towards him, repeatedly blinding him. Closing his eyes meant cutting off a valuable source of information, so he had to deal with it. He also created a sort of dense film of water in front of his eyes to minimize the effect, or at least distribute it around. Using darkness directly would have risked a negative reaction around his vulnerable eyes.
As the battle continued, John parrying and dodging the spear while finding moments to close in or counter with a throwing dagger, he briefly wished his cycle of elements had gone in the other direction. Though perhaps it wasn’t bad regardless. Water overcame fire, which meant that was what he needed to use- his other element just didn’t support it directly.
John thought about Matayal and the other members of the Brandle clan fighting. Not only did they also use spears like his opponent, more importantly they practiced the water element. Though he thought he was reasonably proficient with it, it was John’s latest element. He had fewer years of experience than with the others. Another thing came to mind- Yustina’s usage of fire. Perhaps that wasn’t entirely appropriate at the moment, but the way it flowed like water… it certainly didn’t hurt to consider it.
Air empowered his speed, and earth his defenses- even if fire could ultimately overcome earth, it was better than nothing. Meanwhile, water and darkness gathered together. One of the very first techniques John had learned, Gravity Blade, was excellent for drawing weapons together. If he wanted to go all out, he had to make sure his opponent wasn’t free to sneak in an attack.
He gathered his energy around his sword, stepping forward. In response, the spear came to hold him back but he flicked the tip aside. Then his blade clung to the body of the spear as he dashed towards Asgeirr. A surge of light came to unravel his technique, but John used rolling waves of water to push the surge of power back. Water and darkness gathered around his blade as he stabbed into Asgeirr’s chest, one of his elements dominant and the other mutually destructive. The fire was quenched, and that left his opponent open to conflicting energies.
John still had other elements to protect himself from the explosion, but his opponent had none- instead being thrown across the battlefield. John felt the arena’s formations activate, dampening the blow and signaling his victory at the same time.
Asgeirr drove his spear into the ground to stop himself, glaring at John. Few words had passed during the battle- they were both focused. But Asgeirr naturally returned to the topic from beforehand. “Hiding your foul nature with smatterings of other elements will not absolve you of your deeds.” Then the man turned away.
There wasn’t much John could do if the Righteous Flame League hated the Tenebach clan simply for using the darkness element. At best, he could be cautious and advise the same for the Golden Tomb Guardians. At least they seemed like the kind that would come to stab him in his front instead of secretly plotting.
Since his next big step required understanding fire, even if he was still six ranks away from having to attune to a totem, John focused on observing fire type cultivators in the latter matches. That included Steve and Yustina, of course.
Doing so gave John an appreciation for all the ways fire could look. It wasn’t just yellow, orange, or red. Those were the ‘normal’ colors for fire, but even on Earth he knew that different things would burn different colors. He had learned that certain colors burned hotter… though he knew that was only partly correct on Earth, and less so here. Different elements or mixtures of them would burn a different color, and that was a factor determined color and heat together.
For cultivators who didn’t necessarily even have to set anything on fire, it was more of a personal style than anything else. Brightness did come into play, but the rules simply weren’t the same. For example, Steve- Lucanus- always had blue flames, even when he was a lower tier cultivator. Likewise, the cultivators from the Milanovic clan, and many others from the Green Sands, had flames that were also green in color. The huge variety in power between them meant there was something more going on.
It was entirely possible that Steve’s flames were blue because he felt it was better if it matched his hair, consciously or subconsciously. Though there could certainly be something deeper behind it.
The current match between Steve and a woman from the Olivine Inferno Sect was hard to watch. Not because it was a lopsided battle or anything, but because the arena was suffused with the light element, a bright crystal in the center flooding the battlefield. John was fairly sure that the Tenebach clan’s blessing was also making this worse. Or it was just difficult for every darkness cultivator to see, but he didn’t have much to compare to. A few of the juniors of the clan, perhaps, but there weren’t many other darkness cultivators he could speak to.
Instead of two figures fighting, all John could see were fonts of blue and green which briefly pierced the blanket of light. And maybe he didn’t need to see what the participants were doing, because he could feel it. Steve’s way of using fire was blunt, like he was wielding a large hammer. Oh, he could be precise if he needed to, but it was clear he had a strong grip on the power and used it with great force.
His flames would linger on opponents, reminding John of Clinging Affliction. Perhaps there was some small connection he could make use of there.
Steve’s opponent Irene was not part of the youngest generation, but somewhat older comparable to John’s parents… but with sufficient talent to have advanced to the Consolidated Soul Phase along with the wave of others. Once clans and sects saw others attaining that level, they began to pour their resources into talented individuals to keep up. Whether they could sustain the process or not would determine their status in future generations.
Green flames from Irene danced along the ground like a slithering serpent across the sands. Sometimes they snaked under the ground as well, erupting under her opponent with explosive power. In a way, it felt like a bolt of lightning- though quite different in actual form.
The impression of the fight washed over John, but he was honestly unsure if he actually learned anything. Perhaps the fight was simply too far beyond him. Did he lack any talent in fire? Since the early parts of cultivation the small flame in him barely grew. Then again, without a totem he couldn’t expect much. Perhaps his current difficulties were simply a matter of cultivation. Combining each element should reasonably get more and more difficult, and fire was a conquering element over his early core of earth.
Inside the Sea of Spiritual Totems, John found himself able to push to the fifth level. Though he was less than halfway through the Consolidated Soul Phase, he could maintain his presence at that level for a handful of minutes at a time.
Totems at the further levels were much the same as the others, but more. More powerful… but also more specific and exacting in what they required. Determining the properties was also more strenuous, and John found himself having to seek out individual totems multiple times to envision what they might do. The family’s literature was almost useless- very little of the fifth layer of the Sea of Spiritual Totems had been explored, and the Tenebach clan only had information on a few of the darkness totems from many generations previous.
Perhaps that didn’t matter though. John didn’t want to rely on the guidance or perception of others when he could find something suited for himself. He found himself tempted by various totems. A volcano, a great construct of earth that spewed fire. Thermal vents would flow nicely from his water totem. Fire was actually advantageous in that many of its totems were better able to grow, given time and effort. Fire liked to spread, after all. But of course, it still required a cultivator to pursue that route to power.
John pulled himself back to his body where he found himself sweating profusely. Exertion and the heat of the totems themselves were both contributing factors. Cooling himself off and cleaning his body were relatively simple matters for someone of his cultivation, but he let himself lay in the bed for a few moments, experiencing the fatigue it brought. For a brief moment, he wondered if it was necessary to keep pushing himself further. He was already strong enough, wasn’t he?
Then his eyes settled onto his wife next to him, snuggling peacefully. Matayal of course brought to mind their clans and their children, and so much more. Watching the tournament let him realize how many powerful figures there were around him, previously hidden or perhaps only recently leaping forward. It wasn’t entirely true that cultivators and clans that weren’t growing in power would instead lose it… but it would certainly be easy for that to happen if one grew incautious.
The triplets had become motivated to grow stronger during the tournament. Suffering actual losses was one thing- against anyone in either clan close to their age, they would dominate… and even against those of similar cultivation they would usually win, with the exception of each other where they remained almost evenly matched.
Being exposed to a wider range of people had broadened their horizons. Tirto realized he could lose to other water cultivators outside of the clan- sparring with others from the Shimmering Islands had been limited by the disparity between his cultivation and age. Melanthina was perhaps a bit obsessively motivated to take down the fellow from the Combining Luster Sect that had defeated her, but learning to fight against opponents such as Nik would be good for her. And Ursel… wanted to learn to grow plants.
“I want to train in the Viridia Wildlands!” Ursel exclaimed. “Please?”
It wasn’t fair for his cute little girl to be so motivated. How was he supposed to refuse her? Why was he supposed to refuse her? Oh yes, danger. As the words were preparing to leave his lips, he knew they were stupid. “It’s quite far, isn’t it?”
“Not any farther from then Shimmering Islands than between the two clans!” Ursel protested. It was annoying that she was right. But it was further from John himself.
Oh no. Was he going to become a stifling parent? It hadn’t been long since he was wishing Ursel was motivated or ambitious. Then again, going so far away… she already felt she didn’t fit, what if that made things worse? “We don’t really have any contacts there yet,” John said.
“Then get some! We send groups to meet with different clans all the time.”
That was true, but most were closer and didn’t involve the triplets. After the attack in the Kelp Spire Forest he couldn’t help but worry. Then again, the Viridia Wildlands were quite far removed from any enemies they’d had previous or during the current moment. “I need to talk to your mother about it,” John said. “If we’re to arrange for something, it will likely be through the Brandle clan. I can’t promise anything yet though.” Maybe he could just go on a trip? But spending more than a month or two away from the clan was difficult, and there were the travel times… which wouldn’t leave long for any sort of decent training.
… Being a parent was hard. John was almost certain it would be easier to master the fire element without a totem than manage to be a perfect parent. But he didn’t have to be perfect. Just good enough. Though for the sake of his children, he had to have high standards. But really, Ursel off on her own in dangerous jungles?
Sure, John could only imagine the beasts finding that she was harder to handle than they thought, and she wouldn’t actually be alone, but it was still difficult. He definitely needed to talk to Matayal about it. Perhaps there was something closer that would satisfy her.