As a real bamboo shoot rocketed towards the sky under John’s encouragement, he wondered how Earth would change if he could impart any of the things he knew. If his knowledge was even true in the same way, between worlds. So far, he had found every physical law on Earth to be true here, just significantly influenced by spiritual energy. Perhaps it was the lack of it on Earth, to his knowledge, that would make his current insights meaningless.
But thinking about what could be done with just plants, growing as quickly as he wished. World hunger… should already have been solved, realistically. It was more of a matter of logistics and price. But John knew that he could grow a seed in the desert sand without water, given more practice. If the small details he was experiencing could be applied in a lab, even without spiritual energy amazing things could be accomplished.
Or perhaps he was overestimating himself. Careful selection and breeding of plants had transformed crops to the point they were barely recognizable. He could certainly cause rapid growth, but he couldn’t really say he could alter the properties of a seed. Not yet, anyway.
It was nice, though, using cultivation in this way. Part of it was Ursel’s happiness reflecting to him- she had been desperate to expand her own abilities, and now she finally had one that was something she could accomplish. It wasn’t a new element like she so desperately desired, but this was likely the best she could get. Her training had already shown she couldn’t attempt a cycle of elements like her father, no matter how much she wanted to.
And that… was probably better. Not because John thought his daughter lacked the talent or drive, but because it was a difficult path to pursue. On the other hand, of the triplets she was the only one who could have easily received that freedom of choice, if her affinity allowed for it.
“Woohoo!” Ursel cried out from the top of the cane she’d raised from the ground, waving it back and forth with her weight. It was only through its sturdy nature enhanced by spiritual energy that the ten centimeter wide cane withstood her glee.
John, meanwhile, remained at the bottom of his… and finding that it grew ever further from his reach determined that she might have been onto something, if she even thought about it at all besides the fact that Emerging Bamboo Sect members used bamboo to propel themselves.
Somehow, despite his technical youth, John felt like an old man. The extra decades of memories certainly didn’t help, but it was more about how he had occupied himself. Being serious was quite reasonable in a world where great powers could be around any corner and death through battle was a common threat, but relaxing sometimes wasn’t bad either. It had been a bit easier during the early marriage, when he could roam around with Matayal as he pleased.
He was eager to have that back, but he had to think about the costs. The Tirto and Melanthina would one day take the reigns of the clans, possibly as soon as a decade from now… but then he would just be shackling his children in the same manner. Even if they wouldn’t have the same issues with their spouses being far removed, freedom would be lost. There always had to be some of that, for the sake of responsibility required of adults- whether part of a clan or a cultivator from a sect. Even independent cultivators weren’t truly free to do what they pleased.
No, handing over control too soon would be damaging to the children’s lives. And before that… it would be welcome if they could share the load of the Sect Head. John wasn’t doing all of the work in the Tenebach clan- not by a long shot- but his presence being required frequently limited him significantly. How best could they keep the clans stable while allowing more mobility for the children? That was a discussion he would have with Matayal later.
For the moment, he was simply glad that even when distracted by other thoughts his control of spiritual energy was still adequate. Enough to not embarrass the clan, and since he was only one part an earth cultivator, that was all he need concern himself with. He was mostly here for Ursel.
With continuous snapping sounds, wood grain was rent asunder and a bamboo cane began to fall. John caught sight of his daughter teetering over, twenty meters up. His eyes flicked to Renato, who exchanged the same expression with him.
The ground trembled as Ursel impacted the dirt, with a small layer of leafy bark providing precious little padding. She looked up, stunned for a moment. Then she laughed. “Hahaha-” the bamboo cane bonked her on the head, ending her mirth. “Aw. I broke it.”
John looked at the crater around Ursel- people did not naturally leave craters, no matter how heavy they were or what they carried. At best, they would leave an impression of their bodies. The circular indentation meant that Ursel had done what she had been trained as she hit the ground- spread the force out through her surroundings. John had no doubt that she could do that- she was in the Foundation Phase, after all. He had just been uncertain about her being ready, in a relaxed state. He was quite glad to find her instincts and training held solid even then.
Growing one kind of bamboo was not the limit of the training the Emerging Bamboo Sect had- but there would be more days for such things. They didn’t allow the visitors from the Stone Conglomerate just to be nice. This was an exchange of knowledge- and while large boulders were few and far between, their fellow earth cultivators could still teach much about the control of soil and stone in exchange for an understanding of plants.
John could also provide different options. Along with his own, self-created techniques he could provide variety in sparring for those who needed it. Though he was missing the biggest weakness of the Emerging Bamboo Sect- the fire element- he could provide everything else except light.
As this was a simple training excursion, he would not give away too much. Sinking in the Mire was not a style of attack unfamiliar to earth cultivators, but John’s personal twist made it quite versatile. On the other hand, he would be keeping the secrets of Bite of the Gorgon- known only to himself, Renato, and at some point Ursel. He was not as practiced with it as he should have been, and regretted that. He also thought to perhaps formalize some multi-element techniques so he could improve his efficiency- channeling elements into each other to boost their power was good, but didn’t always overcome a single set technique practiced over many years.
Darkness was the root of his elements, providing a basis for everything, and that was where his interaction was most sought out. Chandra specifically sought him out. “I heard that a trained darkness cultivator could hide anywhere. Is that true, even upon the earth? It seems it would be simple to seek you out.”
“It is true, more or less. There are very few who could hide from those seeking them knowing their specific location, but when trained properly a general area is sufficient.”
“Can you show us?” Chandra asked.
“I can show you… enough,” John smiled. “Sufficient, at least, to pick out those from the Darklands or otherwise unfamiliar with how you would seek them.”
“Very well. What should I do?”
“Wait briefly,” John smiled. Already, his darkness element was spreading throughout the area.
“Should I close my eyes or something?”
In an instant, the diffuse darkness energy went from simply existing to concealing. John restricted himself to using only darkness, despite it being less effective. Partly because that was how most darkness cultivators would operate… and partly because the rest were his secrets.
Suddenly unable to see, Chandra’s eyes darted around- though they did little good. “Can I use my spiritual energy now? Can I move?”
“Yes and yes,” John said. “I will remain in this field.”
“I’ve already-” Chandra nearly declared that she found him, following his voice- but not only did that seem to break the spirit, she realized a moment later that she was wrong. The cluster of energy had not been him at all, slowly fading from where he had stood.
Chanda wasn’t concerned about the sudden disappearance of Fortkran Tenebach. She would feel him through the ground, the vibrations of his feet. She would hear the crunch of his shoes on the ground, or sense his touch on the nearby bamboo.
Or at least she should be able to. At the moment, she couldn’t hear anything except the beating of her own heart, not even the whistle of wind or the breaths of the other disciples she knew were no more than twenty or thirty meters from her. How could this-
No, it wasn’t strange. Fortkran Tenebach was the head of the Tenebach clan, and just because he’d been born into his position didn’t mean he didn’t deserve it. From what Chandra recalled, in the span of little more than a decade their clan had grown significantly, coming to possess multiple Consolidated Soul Phase cultivators, the likes of which they hadn’t had in over a century. His wife led another clan at the same time, similar in power. Meanwhile, Chandra had observed their daughter over the past few days, full of great potential but not simply riding on it.
A darkness cultivator in the Stone Conglomerate would obviously know how to best hide from earth cultivators. The only question was whether she could catch him somehow, with something he wasn’t expecting. She would find him eventually regardless… but by this point he could have easily prepared a deadly attack.
She heard a breath behind her, her energy darting through the air and ground to grab at it. There was nothing. “Not there,” John’s voice said. “Perhaps over here?” She knew it was bait… but her senses flickered towards it regardless. Nothing. She calmed herself, slowly wriggling her senses around her, doing her best to keep it hidden with the ground. She wouldn’t want to spook him from a position.
Her senses spiraled outward as she held a stance, ready for an attack. They had not agreed on any such thing, but she would be a fool to let down her guard even against a guest. And it would be an insult to not take him seriously.
Her sweep continued to find nothing, nothing, nothing- until her senses broke from the darkness. Just in case, she made certain he had not left his field of darkness. That would be a mistake she could never recover from. It was difficult to reach so far, her tendril of energy numbed by the distance, but she could still do it.
Occasional sounds caught her attention, drawing her in every direction. Still, she caught no definitive sign of anything. Was a lingering trace a sign she just missed him, or that she was far off? She was systematic with her search, but swift. How long had it been? Thirty seconds? A minute? Multiple minutes? It wasn’t an embarrassment to not find him, but it was a flaw in her ability.
Then, she felt something. She wrapped her energy around the area, feeling the depressions in the ground, before she made her declaration. “You are… where you started.”
The darkness faded away, and the man’s smiling face- pleasantly professional, and missing the mockery it could have had- was there to greet her. “Not bad. With training, you’ll be faster… and able to pick out my tricks.”
That was some comfort to Chandra, but currently she was focused on the question of whether or not he had taken a single step. Had he moved away, only to return to his starting position… or had his lack of presence there even at the very beginning simply been a trick?