The first step of training for the Emerging Bamboo Sect was watching bamboo grow. At a base it sounded like an excruciatingly dull method, but it was actually quite interesting. Watching grass grow was one of the typical mind-numbingly boring things one could do, up with watching paint dry- though John was unaware if paint in this world dried in the same way. Regardless, bamboo was not grass. And bamboo in an area teeming with earth and water elemental spiritual energy grew even faster than standard bamboo, even when it was larger in every dimension.
John had actually been right when he thought he could feel the bamboo growing the previous day. It wasn’t fast enough that his naked eyes could quite see it, but his energy senses acutely felt growth as he kneeled next to a new shoot. Over the course of a minute, he felt a couple millimeters of growth. If he watched very carefully, comparing its height to a stationary background object, he could see it with his bare eyes.
Rain came frequently, though it seemed the sect grounds were a safe reprieve from the swarms of insects that plagued most of the Viridia Wildlands. As it rained, the bamboo drank greedily, growing both taller and wider. John was not an expert on bamboo, but the latter seemed to be abnormal.
At the end of the day, John’s ‘shoot’ was half a meter wide and a few meters tall. He had looked forward to tracking its growth in the future, but unfortunately that was never going to come to pass.
“Anything under one meter in width is too small,” Chandra declared. “Such a plant will never reach a usable size. Thus, it is your responsibility to remove it.” She demonstrated with one in front of her, using her earth energy to yank a ‘shoot’ out of the ground. Then she hacked it to pieces with her heavy blade, gathering the pieces together into a pile and chopping them into a fine sawdust. That she tossed into the hole left behind the roots she dragged out, leaving a small mound. “In the future you will learn to nourish plants for sustained growth, or temporary explosive growth. This will help with understanding the fundamentals to fight as we do.”
John inclined his head to the unfortunate shoot in front of him. Such a short life, less than a day in total. Such a shame. He held his sword in hand, gleaming in the transitory sunlight. Using his energy to uproot the plant was more difficult than Chandra made it appear, both because she was practiced and because she had more earth energy under her control than John. Even so, it soon released its grasp on the ground below.
The bamboo itself was hard- that was a defining feature of bamboo and why it was so useful, but it did make it rather difficult to chop into small pieces. John didn’t have the free time to use the same methods as carving out the door on every bit of scrap, but if his weapon was inadequately enhanced with sharpness he knocked the bits of bamboo around more than he cut through them. Eventually, he reduced it into a satisfactory pile. He wondered if that was actually part of the training, or just to provide some sort of fertilizer for future growth. Not that wood dust or chips was necessarily the best for other plants to grow, not in a pure form.
Ursel was having trouble with her plant, not because she didn’t have the right kind of control, nor because she was hesitant to destroy a plant that had been her companion for the length of a whole day. Instead, it was something simpler than that- she didn’t carry a blade. So she was beating the thing to a pulp with her stone club.
John went to stand next to Renato. “Will she think to ask for a blade, I wonder?” John smiled.
“Probably not,” her teacher admitted. “Besides, it looks as if she’s having fun this way.”
If Ursel had been powderizing rocks, she would have been done rather quickly, but the fibrous nature of plant material made her job much more difficult. Ultimately, she formed a hard barrier of her own energy beneath her intended targets to crush things against. She also used some of the same technique she’d used for their doors, breaking the bonds of the plant apart directly.
“Alright everyone,” Chandra clapped her hands together. “We’ll meet up more tomorrow, but don’t forget to meditate on the bamboo around you tonight. You might learn something.” Though it was a casual announcement, John knew it was probably important to listen to. They hadn’t received a large amount of specific guidance yet, but it was still just the first day. Letting things develop naturally made sense.
“What do you think, Ursel?” John asked as they walked back towards their accommodations. Even their meals had been brought to them, so they spent all day watching shoots of bamboo grow.
“… it grows a lot faster than anything we had at home,” Ursel shrugged. “Even the bamboo.”
“That’s right,” John nodded. “Even if our regions are dominant in the same element, it’s expressed differently. And the water here helps as well.”
“That’s different too. It rains in the Shimmering Islands, but most of the water is just… there. In the sea.”
“Also true,” John nodded. He knew all this stuff on some level, but he didn’t always think about it. And it made him wonder if perhaps he might be more successful in learning about fire somewhere less familiar than the Green Sands. Something new might be good. If he could find time. He would need to spend some time catching up with clan responsibilities when he returned before he went on another expedition.
As he settled in for the night, John took in the feeling of the structure around him. The bamboo was still alive, despite having large holes in its structure. John let his senses wander as they willed, studying the nodes between the sections and the walls. They were staying at one of the canes that was no longer growing- all of the visitors were- but that didn’t mean it was devoid of activity and life.
John focused in on the cell walls, recalling old biology lessons. Determining exactly how earth elemental spiritual energy interacted with the cells was difficult, but he recalled his study of Bite of the Gorgon, so long before. Improving the life force of a plant was quite opposite from petrifying it, but he had at least some familiarity with the general process.
His meditations took him through the night, gaining some insights that would have to be turned into something practical with more time and practice.
Ursel was still young, so she was not able to maintain such a state of concentration for as long. He could hear her snoring away long before he was tired enough to have to actually sleep. He was glad she felt comfortable enough to do so easily.
In the seas beneath the Shimmering Islands, the last of the triplets was also on a training excursion. He wasn’t visiting any particular clan or sect- though Tirto did often train with the Mulyani clan to learn how to reduce his weakness against the air element. Instead, it was mainly him and his mother and the sea itself.
And also some sort of unfathomable sea god. Not that Matayal let Tirto get that close to it. His current cultivation was strong enough to get him into the depths under his own power, though if they were attacked on the way he wasn’t necessarily able to deal with the large number of creatures that could be interested in eating him. But that was an issue Matayal and John had faced with somewhat higher cultivations.
Instead of visiting the very depths, where pressure was beyond what a Foundation Phase cultivator could handle, he instead hung around his edge where his parents had apparently spent an uncomfortable number of days learning to survive. He couldn’t stay that long, though. Even if he could draw some air out of the water, he would tire before the day was out and need to return.
Upon returning to the surface, the Kelp Spire Forest came into view. Tirto had to admit he wasn’t as fond of the place since he and his siblings had almost been killed… but here he was never without his mother and the normal amount of guards. Though Matayal was a level above the others, being at the 31st rank, in the mid Consolidated Soul Phase. Like Tirto, she was a pure water cultivator, and while that wasn’t unusual… Tirto’s father was not at all the same. Tirto loved their father, but his sisters were more attached. Perhaps it was because of their respective elements, or simply something else.
Tirto did his best to avoid sighing and wasting air. The triplets had been together most of their lives, with only short times apart. These last several months had been different, with each of them splitting up to do their own things. It was inevitable that they wouldn’t always be together- Tirto would be leading the Brandle Clan, and Melanthina the Tenebach clan. Ursel would… hopefully find something fulfilling for herself. She deserved it. Tirto always loved his sisters, so seeing Ursel step in front of Melanthina and himself, nearly dying… that was something difficult to forget.
Maybe if he had been stronger, she wouldn’t have had to do that. Tirto set his jaw, looking down into the dark depths below. He could feel the faintest pulses, leftover ripples from the last time the sea god had taken a breath. That was power, and some day he’d have the chance to study it properly. No doubt his mother could bring him down there now, but he needed to be able to fend for himself- and skipping ahead in his training would only harm him.
Everything hurt. It always hurt and never stopped, since Melanthina came to this stupid place. But that was the point, training to get stronger, to overcome weaknesses. She was learning so much- about control, about light and darkness, and about her own limitations. She found herself growing accustomed to the constant bombardment of light from the moment she stepped out of her room. She refused to shy away from it.
After all, if she didn’t put in the effort, she wouldn’t grow stronger. Then the next time she found herself fighting a certain stupid light cultivator– or rather, anyone important who used light in an environment that suited them- she would be more prepared.
Ciaritzal was a great help as well. Though he was a spirit beast and thus didn’t think and feel quite the same way as humans did, he still had many years of experience and previous battles with light cultivators- and Cuah’arn.
Melanthina was pretty sure those two should be deadly enemies, but every time she’d seen them together they seemed more like old rivals, or siblings. They enjoyed fighting each other, and though they wanted to win they didn’t want to kill the other. Even if they had fought a battle that was theoretically to the death in the past, they seemed to have gotten over that. Sure, it had been like… a century or more, but Melanthina couldn’t find herself forgetting anything like that so easily.
She wasn’t supposed to lose. She was important. She was going to be the next head of the Tenebach clan, and she was strong and talented and good looking and nothing at all like a certain someone who was just some random disciple from some sect. She was supposed to win, and she would. Next time she met Nik. Or maybe she’d just fight one of the important disciples from the Combining Luster Sect and ignore him entirely. Yeah, that made sense. She couldn’t let him know that he got to her, even a little bit.