Riding in the carriage was an extremely comfortable way to travel. It did a decent job of keeping out the heat, though it certainly wasn’t capable of protecting from all of it. Comfortable seats, just the right amount of soft and hard, allowed sitting all day to be quite pleasant. It was too bad John was giving all of that up. There was cultivating to do, and it wasn’t possible to perform in comfort. An unfortunate conclusion, but such it was.
Heat was everything. Hot sun bore down from above, baking John’s head and upper body. The heat and light reflected off of the sand below, warming him from all sides. A small amount was also on the inside, a miniature sun to feed the sapling inside of him. That tiny portion was allowed to pass through his barrier, while the rest was directed around him by his earth elemental spiritual energy. A minor but constant expenditure of energy was require to redirect the heat deep into the ground. There were no problems with it overheating, because each step took him to a new location. His movement was far too quick for the heat he transferred to oversaturate the ground, even with the high amount of fire elemental spiritual energy in the Green Sands.
Though he was able to replenish spiritual energy as he moved, John found his expenditure higher than what he could recover. Even so, it was a slow drain and he was able to maintain the effect all the way until the afternoon break. At that point the heat was at its highest point, and he spent his time recovering in the shade.
John could not help but track the growth of the sapling inside of him, as well as its advancement towards the next tier. As expected, there was a very long way to go. He was still in the first rank of the Foundation Phase, close to the second but still very solidly in the early part of Foundation Phase. It would be strange if his totems were approaching the third tier so quickly, and they weren’t. There was growth, but it seemed slow. Perhaps proportionately it was slower. There wasn’t just a seed sprouting into a sapling, but a sapling growing into a tree. The proportional size difference between the first two was quite significant. A tree might no longer be called a sapling at two or three times the height, though of course that varied significantly by type. Within the space of his dantian, the starting size of the seed had been at a size he would have compared to a centimeter in diameter. A large seed, compared to most. Even so, he now had a tree a hundred times as tall- with a total volume many times that. Actual size wasn’t quite real inside his dantian, but regardless the sapling was more or less waist height if he were to compare to the proportions of trees he would actually see.
There were few trees in the Green Sands, but the deserts were not completely bare of life. They stopped near one such tree for the rest, a scraggly thing which had only thin branches and small leaves. It was, however, a real tree- not a cactus or a yucca but an actual sort of tree one might recognize outside of a desert. Of course, it would be considered quite sickly anywhere else. Its branches and leaves did not provide any reasonable amount of shade, not that a person could truly be underneath it with how low such branches started. It had some traits of the desert around it- an emerald green pervading its leaves and bark. Not the green of normal plants, but also darker than one would expect for oxidized copper.
John studied the plant closely during his rest. His sense of spiritual energy pulled him down into the plant’s roots. The roots varied in thickness, from strangely thin and tangled near the surface to thick and hollow deeper down. Deep, deep into the ground- a dozen meters or more- the tubular roots found little pockets of water. Carrying it to the surface seemed like it would be impossible, but that was what the tubes were for. They were too wide for water to climb with capillary action, but instead something much more interesting took place. The plant channeled fire elemental spiritual energy from the surface to the bottom of its roots, boiling the water into steam which found its way up the roots, where it condensed in some of the cooler parts of the ground, near the gathered roots.
The fact that it channeled spiritual energy did not necessarily make the plant valuable. It might technically be a spiritual plant, but valuable spiritual plants needed to build up concentrations of spiritual energy or produce useful medicine inside them. While studying the plant was interesting, it was of little use to humans. John supposed if people were willing to dig out the roots they might use it for tubing- but smiths would do better to make it themselves.
Were there principles John could take from it? Not at the moment, he didn’t think. He’d already independently figured out how transferring heat into the ground would benefit him. He didn’t have roots to channel steam, and nothing to do with it even if he could. Even so, it was interesting to see how an otherwise dull plant became fascinating beneath the surface.
From half of the day before and the entirety of the final day of travel, the group’s destination was clear on the horizon. Zolvolj was what the volcano that stood up from its surroundings was called, though John was aware that wasn’t its official title. The name merely meant something like ‘grumpy’, and it was easy to see why. The majority of the Green Sands was, of course, green. That was true of the volcano as well, but there were also orange-red trails of molten rock trickling down its banks, as well as black smoke rising into the sky. The smoke rose in a steady stream, though occasional gouts produced larger clouds.
“Not too much longer now,” Tena said. “The Milanovic clan makes its home on the south face.”
Of course they did. Why would fire cultivators not live directly on an active volcano? That would imply concern for their own lives, and not just their cultivation. Though perhaps the constant activity was actually a benefit in more ways than one. It provided large amounts of fire elemental spiritual energy, of course, but in addition the constant flow of magma released gradually meant that pressure probably wasn’t mounting to a giant eruption. At least, not as quickly. It was still somewhat unsettling to approach the area, but the Milanovic clan wasn’t the only one to make their homes on the slopes of Zolvolj.
John continued his cultivation and transfer of spiritual energy and heat into the ground. He was worried that the ground near the volcano would be warmer, but the effect was not noticeable until they got much closer. As it approached midday, they stopped slightly early. John was quite able to see why. A flow of lava had made its way across the road they were following around the base of the mountain. “We can clear this out ourselves,” Tena said, “Though perhaps you might be able to help, Fortkran, with your control of earth energy.”
He watched as some of the lead cultivators channeled heat out of the flow, uphill slightly off the road. The rock quickly cooled from red-hot to a crusty black, but John could sense that it was still extremely hot. He was still a dozen meters away, and he could feel a bit of the heat… or perhaps that was imagination. He could certainly feel it when he moved to just a handful of meters away, slightly behind the fire cultivators.
The flow of the lava was very slow, but it was easy to see why they had stopped it before the road. The cultivators there were focusing their efforts together to cool down a layer of stone, turning it into a wall. It would only be temporary, perhaps a few hours… but that would be quite sufficient. Those after then would have to handle the situation themselves.
Of course, the sensible path would be to loop around further from the base of the mountain so that flows would never reach so far, but John wasn’t going to tell that to people who chose to live on a volcano. It was a good chance to exert himself to a greater extent.
Even though it was no longer red-hot, the rock was still quite malleable. John raised it up, heightening and thickening the little wall they were building as others drew away excess heat. It was like molding clay… if the clay was on fire. Because even though just his energy was interacting with the lava, it was so hot he began to overheat. He could just let his energy fall away, but he hadn’t been training himself for nothing. Channeling the heat down into the ground was much more difficult since it was on another order of magnitude- even with the fire elemental cultivators taking away much of the heat- but it allowed him to maintain his work without giving up large amounts of spiritual energy all at once. Even so, if walking along during the day was a marathon, this was more like a sprint… a sprint where he was weighed down with a full suit of armor and maybe even extra weight on top of it. Even though he channeled the energy as well as he could, the sheer quantities John was working with still resulted in him nearly throwing his own energy away. It was only a few minutes before he was completely exhausted, but they’d created a little wall… and the remaining cultivators pulled all the heat out of the flow crossing the road.
It was quite a relief to have the option to step into the carriage and melt into it for the remainder of the journey, replenishing his energy to the best of his efforts and doing almost nothing else. But at least he’d been able to help slightly, even though he was weak to fire. Eventually, his eyes closed and he nodded off. A nice nap would leave him fresh for when they arrived.