Chapter 17 - Ground

Chapter 17 - Ground

A glowing red mist hangs around me. My heart is twisting in relief and guilt as I watch two faces fade away into the red haze.

With a jolt, I wake up and sit upright. I feel something launch of my chest, followed by a high pitched yell. It’s pitch black around me, what is happening. My confusion fades as I take stock of my surroundings after shoving some qi in my eyes. I’m underground.

Yeah, I made a small cave underground before taking a nap, how did I get transported to a massive gaping cavern? Looking upwards, I see a small pinprick of light. Looking downwards, I see a little tree standing in the middle of the bowl-shaped floor and a sulking rabbit. The rabbit I understand, she must have been sleeping on my chest. The tree is the problem here. Walking towards the middle of the cavern I see the tree in the middle of a slow-motion dirt spiral.

Taking another look around and a few calculations tell me that this tree must have absorbed five hundred thousand cubic meters of dirt by now. My compressed earth bed is still intact, how did this tree dig the ground from under me without me noticing? Forcing the tree into a usable artefact must have taken a bigger toll on me than I thought, I must have been deeply asleep for a while.

I pick up the tree with a stand of qi. Floating it over to me it seems no different from yesterday. That ends as soon as I shove some spiritual sense into it. Pushing myself in further, I see the glowing tree, a blue sky and a massive plane of dirt. I need to put some controls on this thing, if I leave it alone who knows, it might even swallow up the entire planet after a few thousand millennia.

Tutting at the over-ambitious tree, I pull my necklace over my head. The flat black sphere reflects the single point of light while the finely wrought chain glitters softly. Plucking the tree from the air, I talk to it.

“Good job, not killing me overnight...”

An awkward silence lingers for a while.

“I got this neat necklace with a ton of fancy functions. You want in?”

A white trickle of qi flows from the tree, gingerly exploring the necklace. I grab Lola and shove her inside.

“See how it works? Can you integrate these functions?”

The tree understands because I’m talking while keeping in contact with some qi, ideas and concepts are more important like this than the words I choose to say. I pull Lola out of the necklace, I don't want her turning into minced meat while the artefact is changing. I feel her nibbling on my calves as she shows her irritation. I ignore her and after a minute the tree starts shaking. Taking that as consent, I lay the tree on top of the oblate spheroid. I am blinded by a flash of light.

A millisecond later my eyes adjust again and I see a thing of beauty. An incredibly detailed tree seems to be merging with- or coming out of the hanger. Parts black relief and parts natural miniature bark, the entire crown has flattened to follow the spheroid shape. Minuscule leaves adorn the branches, too small for a mortal’s eye to see. I push my entire being into the necklace and the cave around me disappears with a rushing feeling.

I pop back into existence a few meters away from the big tree. I gambled that I could enter the necklace but wasn't completely sure. It was a partial leap of faith, if I had pushed myself into the necklace previously, it would have ended pretty badly. Try shoving a human into a box less than a meter wide. I would have broken various bones at the very least and more than likely lost some limbs on the way there. The tree obviously used the necklace to steady the foundations of its own pocket dimension, so it was a pretty safe gamble. Sending some qi out around me I notice that the earth layer is just a few meters thick. I can't see the edge but I feel it a few hundred meters away from me.

All in all, this is pretty neat. I didn't want to make any high-level artefact, they just create dependency, but this end result is even better than the plan I had in mind. And I’ll get to do gardening, all the time. I will repeat that for you. I can do gardening all the time. I might not look like it but growing magical herbs, fruits and various plants is a big hobby of mine. After a thousand years of wandering the cultivation world, I had started little gardens everywhere. Any special spot with a special type of Dao or qi I could find have been turned into small gardens by me.

I will have to fix the lighting issue first though. The tree gives of a white glow but plants can't live of spiritual light alone. I sink into my mind and call up everything I know about how stars function. I drag up every little scrap of knowledge I still retain about thermonuclear fusion, the spectrum of radiation that stars usually put out and the filtering mechanics of an atmosphere. Helium and hydrogen fusing together giving off various types of radiation. With all this knowledge in mind, I create a small sphere of qi and shove all I recall into it.

I analyse the yellow light given off by the small sphere. I tweak it a bit, reducing some ultraviolet and non-visible radiation while boosting every other but green. I know that light useful for photosynthesis should be in the four hundred and seven hundred nanometre wavelength range but I am not powerful enough to interact with physics on such a nanoscopic scale yet. I will simply have to wing it and adjust as time goes by.

I let the Tree have a good look at the construct and I feel a sense of approval radiating from it. The tree seems to like it so other plants will probably enjoy it too. I make a copy and send it high in the sky, fixing it in place. I give the original one to the tree and release my control. The tree absorbs it and takes control of the light source overhead. A few seconds later the sky is filled with miniature suns. The tree has started glowing a very faint shade of gold. It’s pretty neat it's learning at this quick of a pace.

Grinning I rub my spatial ring. There are a ton of seeds in there. At first, I thought they would be useless in this world as they need qi to grow, but the air inside the necklace is dense with power. Sensing the energies around me I notice that the tree has started leaving its fingerprints on the qi in this space. It’s starting to get a nature and plant life type of vibe, ideal for growing magical plants. I will have to find extreme examples of elements and place them in the ground in order to grow special type flora.

I giggle a bit and do a little dance as I take out a variety of seeds. I divide the growing circle of earth into quarters. I make a small connection with the tree, letting it know what I am doing. It absentmindedly agrees, its limited conscious still too caught up in its sudden change of being. I compress some earth to form circling footpaths, connecting them with paths like a wheel’s spokes. Crouching down and rubbing the earth between my fingers dampens my enthusiasm a bit. The earth is nothing special yet, slightly nutrient deprived and wholly mundane. It will need to soak in this qi atmosphere for a bit longer in order to become good growing grounds.

I can start planting the simplest herbs though, so I create concentric plant beds, dividing them up with small walkways. I poke a hole in the soil with my finger and drop the seeds in, one by one. First I plant some Sunrise Misty Dew, or healing flower as I like to call it. Make a paste of its leaves and even a top-tier cultivator heals a little bit faster after applying the stuff. Next is the Harbinger grass, aka good smelling grass. Ideal for making fragrant soaps, or good smelling clothes. Deep Flame Weed, aka pepper, goes next, followed by the Mystical Heavenly Fragrance Grass. I like to call that one basil. Delicious with tomatoes and fresh cheese.

Seeing a pattern yet? I’m sure that all those impressive sounding names have a ton of symbolism and deep meaning behind them, but they are such irritating names to say. The rest of my seeds are all higher tier and need specialized or just denser qi. A flash of light halfway through the planting process tells me that Lola managed to find the trick to entering this pocket dimension. She looks at what I’m doing. Seeing me playing around in the dirt with a smile on my face must have scared her away, she is nuzzling the tree now. The tree forms a little alcove in its bark, allowing Lola a small place to relax. By the time I'm done with planting I hear a slow rhythmic breathing coming from her, the small rabbit deeply asleep.

“All right tree, you should think of a name for yourself soon. I’ll only give you one if you can't come up with something good, names have power you know.”

I look around for a bit. The grass I had stored inside the necklace somehow got transported here. Small tufts of grass cover the large stretch of naked dirt here and there. A small golden thread of qi flows from the tree to one such patch. The power plucks some from the earth and carefully transplants it in a barren area of soil. I nod in approval at the tree’s gardening efforts.

Spreading my spiritual sense, I feel for the exit. The tree itself is a nexus point for entering and exiting the dimensional space. This way it can expand outwards endlessly, the additional space supported by the growing amount of qi the tree has under its control.

“I’m going back to the city now, I'll send over some grass and various plant life. Just plant them where you think is best. I’ll also send you water if I can find a water source, you know about islands?”

The tree sends a form of ‘no’ to my mind. In response, I send it the meaning of the word island and some images. I also send general information about buildings, I do want a nice place to sleep and chill somewhere.

“Could you plant about half the surface with grass? You are a spirit of nature so I trust your landscaping skills, just leave enough empty room for some buildings.”

I feel the tree’s mind churning over this new information.

“It’s a big world out there, you’ve got lots to learn. Lola can show you how to sense the outside world from here when she wakes up. Later!”

With another flash, I push myself through the tree and appear upside down in the cave. Smacking my head on the ground I curse inwardly while clambering to my feet. Always check your local fucking orientation. The necklace fell upside down in the dirt when I entered it and thus I exited it upside down. I pat the loose dirt from my clothes and look up.

The ceiling seems a few hundred meters high. Maybe a little over half a kilometre? Packing the earth beneath my feet down tight I sink through my knees and pour qi into my legs. I aim for the pinprick of light and jump. Squinting my eyes at the rush of air I see the light becoming bigger. I form a dense circle of qi around me and shout at it to grab the air. Mind cultivators can fly the earliest, but most I can do at the moment is shove air around to adjust my trajectory a bit. I’m not flying, I’m falling with style!

The ceiling is getting closer awfully fast now, so I shape the qi ball around me into a pointed spear as I shove more air behind me. A second later, I burst majestically from the ground, loose clods of dirt and ripped roots flying all around me. The hollow cave underneath me is massive, so I use up a bit of energy to launch myself away from my exit point. The entire area is filled with a thin film of qi and I decide that it's a dumb idea to leave it behind. It has a slight nature scent to it, I flood it with my own qi and rip it away from the cavern.

Seeing the ground sink in, I turn around and sprint back. Looking over my shoulder, I see a very weird sight. Trees are starting to sink into the ground as they fall into the massive circular depression. Roots seem to hold the topsoil together and a minute later I’m looking at a tree and grass filled bowl half a kilometre deep. Trees stick up perpendicular from the hole, creating a dense mass of crushed leaves and branches in the middle.

I have seen a variety of streams crossing through the forests around me but this will likely become a lake. It will be the first one I have seen so far. I remember a stream a little further south and I set off walking that way. As I start walking I create a gardening shovel from my qi. I dig up a bunch of grasses and shove them in the necklace. Any interesting plant I come across gets dug up too.

A nice stroll later, I am standing on the shore of a small brook. It’s more than a stream but not quite a river. Pulling the necklace over my head I hold it in the clear water. I feel curiosity from the necklace so I tell it to absorb the water. I see the water level dropping as the tree gives off faint hints of enthusiasm. Barely sentient beings are truly the cutest. They don’t have the capacity for scheming and backstabbing, just curiosity and instinct.

I drop the necklace in the water while keeping a qi thread attached. Sitting myself down on the shore I start meditating for a bit.

The sun is starting to reach the horizon again by the time I open my eyes. The little riverbed is four times as deep as before, made up of solid earth. The tree has absorbed all the mud and river rocks too. I pull the necklace back to my hand. A small trickle of water makes its way across the barren riverbed. It will be back to a normal little river in a while, I reckon.

Thinking the tree might get lonely in there, I shape a thin sheet of qi. A tree with unidentified fruits is standing beside the river and seems like a prime kidnap target. I create a curved surface from glimmering power and give it a sharp edge. I shove it under the tree, severing its roots at a meter’s length. I cover the tree in qi and pull it inside the necklace. Instead of letting go immediately I follow its dimensional hopping path so I can see what my tree will do with it.

Introducing a new tree in this tree dimension gives me a conundrum though. Not all trees are grown equal but how do I separate my tree from all the others? It’s decided then, the centre point of my personal pocket dimension is capital ‘T’ Tree from now on, the rest can remain uncapitalised tree’s.

The fruit tree seems awfully small when it appears in front of my glowing Tree. I sense some joy from my garden guardian and it moves it to the side, placing it in a quadrant next to my herbs. Beside my Tree is now a small pond with a variety of reeds tastefully decorating it. Two small rivers flow from the pond, dumping extra water around its earthen island base. Beyond the earth is a bigger circle of water. It’s not a sea yet, but we'll get there eventually. Don't ask me how it’s all floating there in the void of space, it’s magic… At least the grass is coming along nicely, it's covering a growing circle around the Tree.

Nature’s very nature might be savage, but it also has tons of beauty. Elevating any type of plant to semi-conscious levels instils a certain natural instinct, allowing them to make beautiful landscapes that have this natural beauty in spades.

I gained a lot this day and got to do some gardening, so with a happy smile on my face I start walking back to the city. I do take care to not include any insects, animals or living beings bigger than bacteria inside Tree’s dimension. I do not want qi-powered beetles becoming a plague or some ant queen becoming sapient and taking over. That may come later when Tree is powerful enough to regulate and cull those type of beings. Meanwhile, I snatch up a wide variety of grasses, plants, pretty stones and trees as I continue walking.

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