It seemed that even the Emerging Bamboo Sect had enjoyed their day in town. Great Ring City had a lot more to offer than their sect, opportunities for socializing and relaxing or whatever else they might want. Cultivators tended to spend all their focus on a long period of training and needed a chance to relieve stress. That was true for those from clans as well, but social interactions were somewhat of a requirement which made chances for isolation more enticing to some extent.
A single day wasn’t much of a vacation, but that wasn’t what all those from out of the country had come for. They still had a journey of several days before they would arrive at the sect, where they could start whatever real training they would be doing. The second day of travel was much like the first, though John felt the plants were a little bit more stubborn getting out of the way, and the swarms of insects somewhat more troublesome. Actual dangers would no doubt increase deeper into the Viridia Wildlands, though he didn’t expect all that much on the route between the sect and Great Ring City.
In addition to practicing his basic understanding of plant control, John couldn’t help but watch his daughter. When she wasn’t alone or with him, the only people she really socialized with were some older women and Renato. Mala and Virag were fine, but John would like to see Ursel with anyone her own age besides her siblings. Then again, it was difficult for that to be the case, with her being born ahead of everyone else. Cultivation was one of those factors that people couldn’t just ignore because they felt like it. In a few years- or perhaps a decade- at least it could be expected that most of her peers would have some cultivation, but by then the triplets would probably pull further ahead. None of that helped with Ursel feeling like she didn’t fit in anywhere, and John still didn’t have much he could do about it. Except this trip, which should at least remind her that he cared.
“… These trees are big,” Ursel commented.
It was true. At the port, there had certainly been some impressive mangroves but most of them were within what John would consider a normal range. The same was true of the majority of trees they’d encountered along the way to Great Ring City, though obviously that was an exception. Just the remaining shell was the largest tree John had ever seen, perhaps would ever see. He couldn’t imagine even a place like Viridia Wildlands produced trees like that more than once every few centuries, or maybe it was more on the scale of millennia. Either that or he’d really been missing out on information.
“They’re certainly healthy,” John replied. “They’re absorbing all this nice earth element.”
“Then… why aren’t our trees big?” Ursel asked.
How was he supposed to answer that? He didn’t have the answer for everything. “They have lots of water here,” he said. “That also helps.”
“Yeah but the trees by the rivers back home aren’t that big either.”
Though John had to admit his memories of trees on Earth were quite lacking, he did think that the Stone Conglomerate’s trees were probably larger than average. It was difficult to tell, because they were also growing in rocky soil that might be terrible quality. He tried to think of the trees in Astrein, or the Sunfields. There wasn’t much impressive about them, but they weren’t that different. Other than that, the only place John had been where he could compare trees was the Darklands. The Green Sands obviously had nothing like normal trees, and the Shimmering Islands was a whole different deal.
“It might be the manner in which the earth element here presents itself,” John finally said. “But the water is certainly a big part.”
“But air is the supporting element for earth. Why does water help so much?”
Because the cycle of elements was an imperfect representation of how things actually worked in the real world. That was the first thought that came into John’s head, and he decided that it was correct enough, so he said it. Then he followed up. “The cycle of elements we know about is more geared towards cultivators interacting, or pure elements. And even if there isn’t much free air elemental spiritual energy here, the air is pure and fresh.”
“Why?” Ursel asked.
“Because plants make air. Or rather, they turn air we can’t breathe into air we can.”
“So… earth makes air which supports earth?”
“Elements interacting makes them convert from one form to another. Fire supports water by making the process of becoming a solid or gas easier. None of those forms are necessarily better, it just depends on what you want.”
“I want to breathe.”
“Then you’ll like what most plants do with air.”
There were many smaller complexities to the elements that John couldn’t really explain with words, partly because he didn’t understand them all. Perhaps once he grasped fire and integrated it into his cycle he could have a deeper understanding. Or it might be the other way- understanding first. It was kind of a mixed bag with cultivation, but the most important part in general was to understand how things actually functioned in crisis situations. All the theoretical knowledge and deep understanding in the world wasn’t any good if you were dead.
Aside from encounters with more colorful and cute animals that Ursel wasn’t allowed to touch, the rest of their journey was uneventful. Trees were certainly beginning to grow larger, though most of those near the road were on the smaller side of things. Particularly large trees seemed to choke out the other ones around them, though plenty of vines and underbrush lived in the shadow of the behemoths.
At night, they camped out on the road, clearing a larger radius of plants as they settled down. While they tended to grow into the camp overnight, the dangerous varieties were dealt with more strictly. John kept careful track of what the locals did, because some plants didn’t feel dangerous. A cultivator’s instincts were good, but not perfect.
About half a day out from the Sect he managed to spot it- or at least something that had to be near their territory. The variety of plants changed swiftly as they traveled, going through so many varieties that he wasn’t even sure how many he could equate to something back on Earth. Then again, there were so many species of plants that nobody could recall them all, and that was without spiritual energy muddling everything up and creating new and exciting opportunities.
Regardless, John was able to recognize bamboo. It wasn’t terribly common in the Stone Conglomerate or Shimmering Islands, but it had been present. So even the former Fortkran knew the word and the look of things. And this was exactly as expected. Just… bigger. Otherwise, John wouldn’t have been able to see it from so far away.
“… How tall are each of those segments?” John asked the lead disciple guiding them, Chandra.
“In general, they’re about three meters high, and anywhere from half as wide to the same width,” Chandra answered.
Counting segments, John saw about thirty. And that was over the trees blocking his view. That might be about half of a single cane, which would put them at… sixty stories tall? Rivaling the height of actual skyscrapers, though admittedly not terribly spacious. Those were just the average canes. There were larger ones, including a great central one that absolutely had to belong to the sect or they were terrible at controlling the territory around them.
As they got closer, John could see sections of the canes were carved out, most covered with small doors or simple dangling cloths. As they approached a cutout section of the forest, they were close enough that he could see people going in and out of the giant bamboo- though the average size wasn’t able to accommodate much more than a single person at a time.
The cutout section of forest had stones implanted around it, just like around Great Ring City. They even had a wall, made from what appeared to be much more normally sized bamboo strapped together. The guards were alert, but upon recognizing Chandra and the others they didn’t delay the group’s entrance.
“Welcome to the Emerging Bamboo Sect,” Chandra said, spreading her arms wide. “I will show you to the guest section, where you can pick a previously carved chamber or secure your own.”
As they passed through the gates, John was able to make out more varieties of bamboo, specifically shorter and squatter ones. They seemed wide enough to serve as comfortable huts, compared to tiny closets- and that was him being generous with the taller variety of bamboo. He was impressed with how massive it all was, but nobody ever praised bamboo for being roomy.
Scattered among the naturally growing shoots were more constructed structures, once more using sensibly sized bamboo. John wondered if they had to grow that special, or if the larger varieties took some sort of special effort. They were so huge, and he could almost feel them growing taller by the moment.
“Any of the canes marked with an x have finished their growth,” Chandra explained. “As long as you don’t cut through the entire outer edge of them, they will withstand you coring them out. Don’t worry about the extra bits, just toss them off the path and they will settle into the forest soon enough.”
“Where do you want?” John asked Ursel.
“Umm… I don’t know,” she said, looking around in a daze. “They all seem… good?”
“Do you want to be at the top of one, or down by the ground?” John knew it would be a bit of a task for her to climb up to the top every time, but he wasn’t really concerned about danger. She was a cultivator, she wouldn’t fall and even if she did she would be fine.
“… I’ll take a spot by the ground,” Ursel said.
John had thought she would have gone for the most adventurous option, but he had to admit it was more convenient to be near the ground. “Then, how about… that one,” John gestured. It was one of the more spacious ones, the most appropriate for a sect head. Even if he hadn’t wanted the space, it would be weird for him to pick something too ‘humble’.
“Okay,” Ursel said, walking towards it. “So we just… open it?”
John took note of everything around them, including those that were already occupied. Some were clearly cut, while the method of removing a section from others was less clear. John assumed it involved the proper manipulation of earth element. If there was a method for that, it would be best to do so himself… though failing at it would be rather awkward for a cultivator of his stature.
Fortunately, Ursel wasn’t thinking about any of that. Instead, she traced her finger along the bamboo, and John could feel a response from the plant itself. He already knew this, but despite or perhaps because of Ursel’s lack of ability with other elements, her talent for manipulating the earth element was remarkable. And that wasn’t just his proud fatherly instincts speaking.
After Ursel traced the outline of a door, she pressed her hand on the bamboo. Then she frowned. She withdrew her hand, and John could feel her coaxing it outward, but it didn’t budge. “Hmmn…” she frowned.
“I don’t think it’s really able to bend,” John said, judging what he thought she was trying to do. Where she had traced her finger, the fibers had separated- but the final side remained attached. “I think you’ll need something like hinges so it can swing open.”
“… But then it will be dead,” Ursel frowned.
“I’m pretty sure that part of the bamboo will die anyway,” John shrugged. “But if you want to try to do it your way, go ahead.” For his own sake, he hopped up to the section above her, standing on the edge of a small ring separating the two. The nodes between the sections were solid, providing an easy floor and ceiling. Obviously living in such a thing wouldn’t be comfortable without adding anything, but for simple meditation or sleep it would be fine. And it would be a nice change from things.
Instead of trying to do anything fancy, John just followed Ursel’s technique to break up the fibers, and was glad that his cultivation was more powerful because it was not as easy as she made it look. Instead of trying to make it so he could open and close anything, he just removed the whole door shaped section, tossing it over to the side. Inside was a nice little hovel, though he didn’t plan to stay there all that much.