“Even within the Core Master level there are more levels?” Zax raised his head quizzically.
Carl taught Zax that not all Core Masters are equals and that there is even a level higher than a “Core Master”, but he did not think that the Core Master level consists of several levels of its own. Rather, Zax thought that the Core Master level is like every other level before it, made out of four phases.
“You are incorrect… Earth’s Core holder, Core Breaker, Mist Master, Mist Lord and Core Master are the embodiment of a Martial cultivator’s achievements. Of the four, however, Core Master is the only one that should not be referred to as a ‘Level’. The Core Master embodiment of Martial achievement is called a ‘Realm’, the second realm of cultivation. The first realm consists of every level before the Core Master realm”.
“A realm? Then even after breaking through so many levels and phases, I am still… Big sis is still in just the first realm?” Zax asked aghast. He asked in regards to himself and Zetsa, but inside his stomach an eruption of skepticism arose. Forget about him, there are those that lived for hundreds of years yet did not made it to the Core Master level, no, Realm!
“Do you think that crossing realms is simple?” Kartius rebuked then sighed. “To special cases like yours and Martial niece Zetsa, it may seem so. But not every being in New Earth is a top genius or a lucky genius like you two. And we beasts, to tap into our latent potential we even must first obtain our human form and then hope to stumble upon a proper cultivation technique or spend tens of years to develop one…”
‘Ah… Master is right’. Zax regretted his ignoramus reaction for realizing that without the support of the Black Core, he never would have achieved his current body fitness level, possibly not even his soul level. Even if he dare call himself a “Genius” for reaching level F with his soul without the help of an Earth’s Core, he still would be categorized in the latter example of his Master.
“Zax”, Kartius’s stag head had a pitiful smiling expression. “On the subject of realms it’s not that I don’t want to tell you because I think that you are not ready. In truth, it is still a very obscure subject. In all of New Earth the highest achievement of Martial cultivation is breaking through the last level of the Core Master realm and breaching the third realm. And among the over one hundred and seventy million habitants of New Earth, at most, ten have reached that realm!”
“So little…!” Zax was astonished.
“Might be even less!” Kartius declared. “I myself can confidently recount only two, Kingdom Earth Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch and the ruler of Valgarel”.
“Supreme Ruler Ariel surpassed the Core Master level… realm?!” That even more brought Zax to a daze state.
Who was Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch? Other than one of Kingdom Earth three rulers, he was the ruler of El-Eden, the faction, the region, his home in Kingdom Earth. To any boy who grew up in El-Eden, Supreme Ruler Arial was an object of adoration. Much was the same for Supreme Rulers Gid and Trey in their own regions.
“Don’t underestimate that man”, Kartius mistook Zax surprised reaction to a doubtful one. “If there are only ten cultivators in the third realm, then among these ten, Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch and the ruler of Valgarel are the two top experts of New Earth. If anything can be said on beasts’ and humans’ relationship these days, it’s that these two alone can be counted as the pillars for peace between our species!”
Zax was speechless. He swallowed his saliva. Listening to his Master he began to wonder in awe.
“Who is it, Master? Who is the strongest beast in Valgarel?” Like a child he probed to know more of the impressive existence that made him awestruck.
“Hahaha!” Kartius could not help but laugh. “His Valor Ozeyn, that’s how we refer to him. Even experts among humans that know him dare not refer to him in any other way!” To Kartiuys, Ozeyn was perhaps the equivalent of Supreme Ruler Ariel to Zax. Talking about him with his Martial son elevated his mood.
“Where does he live in Valgarel?”
“Why? Want to meet him? Ahmm… What would you say if I told you that my big brother met him?!”
“One of the two top experts?!” Zax could not contain his excitement and called aloud.
‘Kartius…’ Laivien voice suddenly echoed in Kartius’s head.
‘Oh!’ Kartius realized that in his own moment with his Martial son he actually blabbered too much. “Yes”. His tone hardened and the jolly temperament receded.
“But enough of this. The Core Master realm is what you should learn about now”.
The severe tone of his Master was like cold water, splashing in his face. There were things that could bring out Zax’s inner child, but he himself was a young man nearly half way through his teenage years. “Yes Master”. He replied tactfully.
“The Core Master realm consist of three levels of refinement and six bottlenecks of insight”, Kartius said. “To ascend beyond the existence of a Core Master, a cultivator must refine the aspect he trains in three times. Each time is considered a level and each level has two bottlenecks. The first one is midway a level, the second one is at the peak of a level”.
”The bottlenecks of the three levels are vastly different than the bottlenecks of insight. The six bottlenecks of insight are all soul related and to reach the third realm not all are compulsory to break through. Out of the six only three bottlenecks of insight and the three levels of refinement are required for a cultivator to reach the third realm. That being said, although many Core Masters choose to break through only the first three bottlenecks of insight, individually there is no difference in difficulty among the six. However, if you break through a level while discarding the two bottlenecks of insight, the opportunity to gain them back is lost”.
“Why would someone not break through all six bottlenecks and three levels and be done with all of it?” Zax asked curiously.
“Because, even though, individually, they are the same, each bottleneck of insight becomes harder to unravel after the previous one. By breaking the first three a cultivator can concentrate on breaking through the three levels, which are compulsory and also increase in difficulty”.
“Then, Master, what are the benefits of the six bottlenecks?”
“That is complicated to say for certainty. As a mist cultivator in the Core Master realm, I only unravel the first two bottlenecks of insight and broken through the first level. In terms of strength, my mist energy did not improve after unraveling the two insights and my soul also did not undergo any changes… More than that, much like the energy you grasped in the bodily maneuvers, I won’t say anything further”.
Zax was a tad dissatisfied. The realm he knew nothing about yet still was a definite goal at the back of his head, at the back of every Martial cultivator’s mind, was something he both wanted to reach on his own and hear more until he makes it.
‘So this is why experts stay in the Savage Caves to train their souls…’ At least that became clear to him.
Kartius eyes concentrated, assessing his Martial son. His Soul Sense also probed, but that Zax was unable to notice.
The staunch look in Kartius’s eyes relaxed. “At the moment I will say that unless it’s not a Core Master at the Peak of the first level, you can contend against any Mist Master at the first level of the Core Master realm. Your equals will only be those in the Advanced phase, depending on the mist refining techniques they follow and their Martial techniques”.
“So when I’ll break through the sixth gate…”
“There won’t be many that will pose a threat to you. Therefore, you will be free to roam New Earth to your hearth’s content”. Kartius confirmed much more than Zax dared to think.
Zax’s eyes opened wide with a stupid expression on his face. In his mind resurfaced a phrase Serah once used to describe the legendary kart in her favorite online game Mocca Kart… “Unbound by the road”.
‘Unbound by anyone!’ A strong impressive sensation gushed inside Zax, stirringly spreading to every fiber of his being. Part of it he could not deny was because the memory of a dear friend he truly wanted to see right now, but most was the new desire that emerged within him or maybe an old one that finally consolidated to a comprehensive form.
“Oh…” Kartius exclaimed. It was easy for him to read Zax body language, even if he kept steady. His rapt gaze also signified the depth of his thoughts.
‘It seems that you awakened something inside your Martial son, big brother’, Laivien affirmed.
“Zax”, Kartius called, bringing him back to his senses.
Zax lifted his eyes, noticing now that his hands were clenched and drenched with sweat.
“It appears that you thought of something good”.
“Ah… Yes Master”, Zax was still quite excited and had no reason to hide his ambitions from his Master.
“Well, then that’s good. The best kind of mood to get into before training”. Kartius took his own words gravely.
The rigorous training regimen of a Martial cultivator was not something leisurely. Out of a hundred or a thousand experts how many truly find joy in training? Relatively to the long life span of an expert, most get fed up pretty quickly and at first simply driven by desire. Kartius himself had years piling on his back by the hundreds, even if in the beginning he loved training, did he sustain this love this long? In some days… maybe.
As for his impression of Zax… Kartius knew that as far as it goes for desire, Zax possessed the right one to push him on the Martial path for a long time. But “Desire” could also be interpreted to a “Goal” and once a goal is reached, the hard work that brought to it is stopped. Kartius detected the desire for something big from Zax, but love for training? That was something it was still early to determine.
“Master, are you going to instruct me now the new path of training?!”
“Mm!” Kartius nodded. “There is still about a month before the assessment of big brother. That time should be spent properly, understood?”
“Good. Good. But I must inform you, Martial son, due to the extreme consumption of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, you won’t be able to continue refining the body without similar treasures to the one the man who came from the second Savage Cave had. Regrettably, because from the start the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement is a very demanding bodily refinement technique and after the modification of the Black Core, on that aspect, it only become worse. Other than the second cave there aren’t any other places for us to find you the proper plants to nourish the formation. Therefore, until you either figure out the energy of the bodily maneuvers or reach level A with your soul, you will no longer refine the body”.
“Ah?! Master, the bodily maneuvers I can somewhat understand, but the soul? Why I should wait for it to reach level A if it has nothing to do with the bodily refinement technique?”
Kartius frowned. “Who says it has nothing to do with the bodily refinement technique? Even if it does not affected by the Pain or Destruction of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, for your future cultivation of the body, it’s actually the bodily maneuvers that don’t possess any importance while the soul is the most crucial!” Kartius rebuked, but did not finish there. “It was right of you to ask, but don’t do it with false assumptions. As a practitioner of the Martial path, don’t repeat this mistake!”
Zax nodded promptly. He understood his Master and why he got angry. Though, with regards to his Master’s instructions, they still were not clear to him, but after angering him, Zax willingly accepted that in the future it will become clear to him on its own.
For now he decided that he should just put his all to accomplish at least one of the two tasks his Master gave him. Preferably, reach the Mist Lord level with his soul.
The long awaited date was nearing as time flew by and the span of three years almost came to its end.
In the short time that was left for him, Zax spent each day practicing the bodily maneuvers until prostration. In the Essence Cave there were not Blood Red Grapes that he could eat to instantly renew his strength and so when Zax could not move his body anymore he sat down and began to meditate.
Despite his assiduous temperament in training, Zax’s sole achievement was gathering more pieces of spiritual knowledge from his subliminal mind. The number of fragments of the entity far surpassed ten thousand, but Zax soul level remained at the Beginner phase of level B. He also did not have luck in connecting the pieces.
As for the plants that Zax brought from the Savage Cave, they were useless to him, but still of help to Kartius.
Sadly, Kartius was too proud to ask his Martial son for the plants and Zax himself was oblivious to his Master’s need of them. Luckily, the two had one hell of mediator that funny enough, none could admit to talking with… Laivien suggested to Zax that he should give the plants to Kartius, while revealing to him that the plants Kartius used to help him reach the Advanced phase of level C with his body fitness level were treasures meant for him to step closer to the second realm with his body fitness level.
To Zax it was more than enough to lower his head while not giving up an inch until his Master agree to accept the plants.
Laivien also supported Zax by convincing Kartius that it is okay for fathers to receive gifts from their sons.
Eventually, Kartius took the plants from Zax, and as his Martial son trained according to his instructions, he too resumed his paused training.
‘Zax’, Laivien’s presence beckoned in his sea of consciousness.
Zax halted his movements not before dispersing the energy.
‘What is it, Laivien?’
‘Little Zetsa appears to be in a hurry to find you. She is one her way, she entered the Essence Cave, go greet her, don’t forget that it’s been three years, and see what so urgent’.
“Big sis Zetsa is coming?!” Laivien’s first two words were about when Zax stopped listening and his body began to shake.
At last, after three years, he could see his beloved big sister again! After returning from the Savage Cave he missed her more than ever, missed his family and friends, as well. But Zetsa was a tunnel away from him, yet, no matter how much he longed to see her, he was not allowed to leave the Essence Cave until the three years were up and his Master told him so.
To cope with the ache in his heart the only thing Zax could do was submerge himself in training. And that helped, up to when Laivien said that his big sister herself is coming for him.
“Little Zi!” An all too familiar voice reached his ears as a silhouette engulfed in a dark golden aura, an Advanced phase Mist lord aura, burst through the smoky mist and stopped several meters from him
‘Laivien…’ Zax guessed that it was she that led his big sister toward him. But that was as far as he thought of someone else when his big sister landed next to him.
“Big sis…” Alongside the words followed two streams of tears on his face.
In three years’ time his big sister nearly did not change, yet when he looked at her something did seem out of place. It was not her amazing achievement of getting to the Advanced phase of the Mist lord level, nor the fact the she let her hair grow past her waist or even her action of cancelling her aura while in the smoky mist area that commonly only those at the fourth gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement can stand. What shock Zax was that his big sister was a meter and seventy seven centimeters tall, and he was a centimeter taller!
“Little Zi!” Zetsa stepped forward, covering the distance between them in two strides.
The palm of her right hand touched his cheek and unconsciously Zax eyes closed and his soul sank in its warmth. Zetsa’s two arms slide and in an instant she pulled Zax to a hug.
“Little Zi, I am so happy, little Zi”. It seemed that Zax was not the only one or the one who was influenced the most by their parting.
Zax woke up, amazed at what ease he lowered all of his defenses before his big sister. ‘Was I like that in the past?’ He asked but his body did not care and returned the hug to his big sister.
“Why did you come here, big sis?” Zax asked. When the hug loosened the two still held each other hands. “Don’t get me wrong, big sis, but in a few days I would have returned and you could see me then. Did something happen?” It was the only reason that Zax could think of for Zetsa to come in spite of his Master’s order that no one is permitted to interrupt his training before the conclusion of the three years.
Zetsa closed her eyes, savoring in her mind the moment of seeing her brother again. Her eyes reopened after a few seconds. “Something happened, happening, little Zi”. In her voice sounded the urgency Laivien mentioned.
“It’s too sudden, Zax”, here it was, the name she used to call him that accompanied her serious mode. “You need to come back home with me right now!”
“What? How can I, big sis? In a couple of days I’m finally going to meet your Master and have him assess me… Wait! Is something wrong at home?! Are mom and dad okay?!” His refute was cut short by the realization that his big sister might hold back her words if it was related to their parents.
“Zax, mom and dad are in the hospital”.
“Hospital?!” Zax complexion paled.
“Mom about to give birth!”
“How?! Wait! Mom is pregnant?!”
“Fool! You were away for three years and I spent most of my time training. Do you want our parents to be all alone?!”
“Ah… No… Big sis”. Zax, a fourteen year old, could start growing his first facial hairs but in the face of a pregnant woman, the idea of his pregnant mother, lose all sense of comprehension.
‘Go! I’ll deal with the matter of your assessment’. Laivien said to him.
“Can you?” Zax recklessly said aloud.
‘Go!’ Laivien repeated in irritation and a wave of energy struck Zax’s soul. It was the first time Laivien assaulted him, but it was not in a harmful way, rather in a manner that made him regret not obeying the first time she told him to go.
“Let’s go”. Zetsa said.
Zax nodded and the two bodies flashed, heading from the wild, from Valgarel, back home.