A week passed with the only plant John had attempted to grow being the regular sized bamboo. With his earth energy enhancing it directly, he could make it grow to its full height of thirty or more meters within a single minute, which might have taken him an hour previously. Truthfully, it was still far too slow to consider in combat- what took him a minute to form was still basically just standard bamboo, the sort that could be sliced in half in an instant- if anyone bothered to consider its existence to begin with. Still, John didn’t expect otherwise- it took years to master techniques, and his experience with earth had not included plant manipulation prior to the current excursion.
The best among their group was Renato- though it was unclear if he had any experience in the area from his previous life, his general experience with earth matched with his hard work and talent to bring him to the top. Next was Ursel- at least in tasks that didn’t involve a higher level of cultivation, she was able to beat out the rest of the others. There were two more members of the Amber Heart consistently performing better than John, but he simply had to accept his limitations. As a clan head, he had to do well- but earth was simply one of the elements he controlled.
Inside his dantian, his totems continued to dwell and grow in power. The sprawling tree of darkness, so different in how it developed compared to actual plants… yet something about his training spurred forward John’s development of his totem. It didn’t suddenly shoot up in level, but its growth rate slowly began to increase. His totems were about halfway between the fourth and fifth tiers, basically keeping up with his increase in rank… but it wouldn’t hurt for his totems to reach the fifth tier earlier. In fact, it would likely make the process of choosing his fifth totem more smooth.
The tree itself was still embedded in his second totem- Compost, soil made of decayed plants. Inside of John’s dantian the main source of plantlife was the tree of darkness, but a semblance of other life had developed. It wasn’t real, even less than the spiritual totems themselves, but the function of other ‘plants’ inside of him still happened. The tree absorbed and expelled air as well, along with greedily drinking the rain that fell upon the sizable island growing inside John. The sea flickered with its own sense of life, representative of the power inside him. In the far distance, his small amount of fire elemental spiritual energy burned as a sun, providing almost pitiful amounts of light and heat, relative to everything else. His understanding and control of that element had hardly advanced as he grew through the phases- and direct light element was still uncomfortable to even think about.
Back outside of himself, John was instructed on new plants- they would start with fast growing vines, but within a few days they would be moving onto trees as well, widening their experience to more than just bamboo. After two weeks, it was anticipated a sufficient number of them could move on to direct spiritual energy constructs, substantial only as long as they needed to be, but requiring less of the battlefield. No matter one’s ability, growing a seed into a proper plant in an instant still required somewhere for it to take root, if primarily to anchor itself.
The soft vines responded quite differently than bamboo- if John didn’t provide any guidance they would grow in whatever direction they pleased, even upon him- though his general defenses prevented the vines from sinking their roots into his clothing. That wasn’t the sort of thing one had to worry about normally, of course, but at such a rapid pace of growth days or weeks were compressed into minutes- so a lack of movement could allow such a thing to find purchase.
Not all day was spent on simply growing plants out of the ground and eventually returning them to that same soil- since otherwise the sect would be entirely overrun by plants within a few days- there was also sparring and exchanges of knowledge to take place. John was the resident expert in darkness, and by default he was the same for air. Earth was the main element of the Viridia Wildlands and the Emerging Bamboo Sect, but there was water as well, with some training in the element. If it were a matter of swimming, John imagined he would outclass them- but the local uses of water were more geared towards additional control of plants.
John wasn’t sure if the time went too fast or too slow. He wanted to learn as much as he possibly could, and was quite enjoying himself- but all too soon he would be pulled away. Taking a few months- plus travel time- away from his duties at the clan meant he would soon have to return. But at least they had gotten to the best part.
Legs placed together, John made sure he was balanced and then called upon his earth energy. He could certainly form it into a pillar of earth to hold him up, but such structure was rigid and overly dense. Bamboo- even just the spiritual impression of bamboo- was so much easier to conjure swiftly. He was thrust into the sky as it spiritual energy took form, though instead of launching himself he simply focused on how it grew and maintaining his balance. The latter wasn’t terribly difficult with all of his training as a cultivator, but standing on a small moving area was more difficult than it seemed, especially when his spiritual energy wavered from its straight path upwards and the bamboo shifted.
His entire journey took perhaps ten seconds, much more efficient than even his improved speed with an actual plant- but not yet usable in combat. He couldn’t vault himself forward with the momentum or create a barrier between himself and an enemy, except one that would be easily circumvented. But it was becoming closer and closer to that point, and even if he didn’t modify his fighting style to incorporate these techniques, the learning was valuable.
Meanwhile Ursel was… having fun. Not that she was neglecting her training- she simply performed her training in a less regimented manner. Instead of propping herself upon a single stalk of bamboo, she grew two beneath her wide stance. She wouldn’t be able to adjust her position that way, but the same was true with feet planted on a single stalk.
The canes swayed back and forth as Ursel shifted her weight, but her control had increased to the point that the bamboo didn’t get out of her control and send her toppling. Not by accident, anyway. Being able to choose what happened was always the point, so if Ursel went tumbling for fun it hardly mattered.
John was glad that his daughter seemed to be happy. Her inability to learn other elements had been a hard blow for her- broadening her perspective on the earth element seemed to be good for her. There was so much left she could learn- each element had enough secrets to advance an individual to the Exalted Soul Phase… in theory at least. Even with great talent few individuals reached such a point- to the point that even one passing through the region John now lived in was merely legend. Even so, no single element was better or worse than any other for such a purpose, except as it pertained to an individual’s talent.
The final week, at least as far as John was concerned, they got to work with more interesting plants. The first thing they did was go out into the surrounding jungle, away from the sect proper where things grew wild. Chandra explained as they went along the way. “You all have some experience with growing and controlling plants… but only those that did not wrestle against such control. Today, we are to seek out more vigorous samples to provide a proper challenge.”
At first John presumed they would be searching for larger trees or any sort of old growth, set in its position, but they passed by such things in all shapes and sizes as they trekked off the path, not stopping to bother with them. It was only when they stopped in front of a particular plant that John realized what they were doing. The plant in question was a venus fly trap- though Venus was not a planet in this world, and John wasn’t sure even within the vibrant jungle there were any flies big enough to fill the leafy maws.
Chandra pulled out a hunk of meat, tossing it towards the plant. John expected it to snap closed as the tiny hairs upon the leaves were triggered, but what he hadn’t expected was for it to lunge towards the treat. Two separate ‘mouths’ caught onto the torso sized hunk of meat and tore it apart, before settling back with their prizes and snapping closed their maws. “As you can see, certain plants have sensory abilities beyond their normal kind. Along with that, even if they don’t have their own stores of spiritual energy they will resist foreign control. However…” Chandra extended her hand and leg, energy trailing forwards from them towards the plant. John felt it, strong and insistent, burrow its way into the plant. The heads moved, the two that had captured food turning towards others of the same plant, only to release their ensnared prizes. They dropped them into other segments of the plant, though John could feel how reluctant they were to open before digesting anything. “They can always be controlled. They even become more docile when fed, but can still be quite aggressive. A member of the Sect will be assigned to each of you to minimize the effect of any failures.”
The stronger members of the sect paired with the weaker visitors- which was perfectly reasonable. Neither Renato or John had much to fear even if they totally messed up, but they still had Foundation Phase cultivators to guide them if they needed advice.
“Greetings, Fortkran Tenebach,” the woman assigned to assist John said. “I am Cameron, here to guide you in finding appropriate targets, and disentangling them nonlethally if possible. The things we seek are not so plentiful that we can afford to have them destroyed unnecessarily.”
Cameron’s words were quite formal, but John couldn’t expect much different from a standard disciple when he was a clan head. “Great, let’s look for more then.”
A few minutes of hacking through the jungle later, Cameron stopped. “Here is one. I will trigger it with bait to throw it into a state of calm.” She also pulled out a hunk of meat, throwing it towards not another venus fly trap, but another sort of carnivorous plant- a drosera, if John recalled correctly. Large arms close to human size with sticky fronds bent and coiled around the hunk of meat as it tried to fly through them. “Just try to gently take control of it, no need to do anything in particular or make quick motions.”
Listening to Cameron’s advice, John reached forward much as he would do for other plants. As his earth energy reached into the plant, it seemed tense, though the section coiled around the meat was both pulled tight and yet somehow relaxed. At the very least, it wasn’t ready to spring into action. John managed to wiggle some of the grasping tentacles, but when he tried to exert more complete control his energy was resisted. Not just that, one of the arms flicked towards him. He was more than ten meters away, so the plant could not reach- and it didn’t appear to be mobile- but some of the liquid attached to the tips of its tentacles flew towards him. John sidestepped it, watching as it clung to a tree behind him- and he saw the bark begin to dissolve. These plants seemed to have some tricks up their sleeves. He was glad that the Emerging Bamboo Sect had been their guide through the overrun roads and when they occasionally had to step away. There were many dangers he wouldn’t have anticipated in this place, though that was more a concern for the weaker parts of their expedition.