“Each gate you break through marks your body fitness level. The swelling of the lowest gate indicates that your body is currently tackling the first level of bodily fitness, level F”.
“Level F?” Zax understood by the description of the level of each gate that he is heading toward the first level of a Mist User, but… “Master, how come it’s like this if I never trained my body to surpass level G and H like with my soul and Qi?”
“It’s another difference that is due to the body’s lack of unique energy and requires an extensive explanation before you could comprehend the meaning of the answer to your question”.
Kartius did not plan to drop all this information on his Martial son in one day. Cultivating in the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement can push a practitioner to insanity. It is impossible to keep a clear head. And yet, Kartius did not expect the Black Core’s miraculously effect. Because of it, as long as his Martial son showed eagerness to learn, there was no reason to hold back and with Zax’s unique soul, sustaining an attentiveness state of mind was extremely simple.
“The body, unlike the other aspects, at least after reaching level S, doesn’t require the practitioner to attain an insight for a breakthrough. And if you’ll know what body fitness level signifies for Mist Users you will also understand why”. Kartius scattered his drawing of the interpretation of Pain and sketched the seven gates with their corresponding levels.
“Earth’s Cores have an outstanding innate ability that you already should know of, that is, when forming the first crack on an Earth’s Core, the mist energy advances all three aspects to level F”.
Zax nodded in a sign that he did know it.
“Afterwards, while cultivating mist and advancing as a Mist User, the mist energy continues to temper with the soul and the body, but less substantially than when forming the first crack. At this point, Mist Users must reach a compromise. Cultivating the body is too difficult and cultivating the soul is imperative if one wants to cultivate the other two aspects. A weak soul cannot assert itself in a stronger body or maintain control over a greater amount of Qi or mist. To cultivate without drawbacks, there are many techniques that temper with the soul when cultivating mist. But the requirements of such techniques are awfully high. A technique that tempers all three aspects is unheard off! Therefore, the preferable solution of Mist Users is to cultivate the soul and the mist respectively, whilst letting the mist to temper the body at each breakthrough. As a result, the body fitness level of a Mist User remains at level F until a Mist User breakthrough level B. From level B, the body fitness level remains three levels below the mist level”.
“Oh… Master’s mist is in level S, Core Master, right? Then that means that your body is also in level C?” Zax asked. “What it means for my cultivation of the body, Master?”
“What, Zax? You think that I’ll train you in a cultivation technique that I, you Martial father, don’t practice? You were right in guessing my mist level, but as for my body fitness level… I’ll tell you when you reach it”. Kartius taunted. “The point of bodily refinement techniques is to transcend from the norm. When I embedded the formation in your body you instantly broke through level G. When the first gate will dissipate, your body fitness level will reach level F. And as for how a bodily refiner practitioner contends against a Mist User…”
‘Master is grinning’. Zax finally caught to one of his Master’s stag expressions.
“A practitioner of any bodily refining technique, other than the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, can contend again any Mist User that is exactly a level higher than him. Those who practice and cultivate in the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement can contend against Mist Users more than a level higher… Your goal in the next three years is to reach level C with your body fitness level. A practitioner of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement in the Beginner phase of level C can contend against an Advanced phase Mist Master to a settlement. You, if the Black Core is truly on your side, in the Beginner phase of level C you will be able to contend against a Beginner phase Mist Lord!”
Kartius paused and stared Zax in the eyes. “Should I say more?”
‘Fighting a Mist Lord as a C level Mist User… No! As a bodily refiner practitioner!’ Zax clenched his shirt in his fist, right where his dantian was, where the Black Core resided. “Thank you, Master, for educating me!” How to describe the feeling in his heart, his sudden affection for his Master and Martial father compared to the misery that he knew for the past year? Fortunately, he learned the phrase from his Master, as Heavens Looking Down On Earth!
April eleventh, year 5788.
A year and a half passed since Zax became Kartius’s apprentice and Martial son. During this year and a half, the now thirteen years old Zax and his unparalleled Master have come to understand a little better the will of the Black Core and the entity that left it for Zax to find.
After the first session of cultivating the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, Kartius was stunned that the amount of the refined extract of the medicinal plants that he rinsed Zax with and should have been enough for him till breaking through the second gate, was completely consumed. Granted, by not having to worry about Pain and utter Destruction, Zax could practice for as long as the accumulated herbal liquid that the membrane absorbed was not spent, but to finish it in one day without a sign of a breakthrough…
The dispirited Kartius thought back to his big brother and poured the quadruple amount of the precious refined extract of the medicinal plants on Zax, an amount that typically should suffice from reaching from the Beginner phase of level E to the top phase of level D.
When a week of solely meditating elapsed – since to cultivate his body Zax only had to sit outside of the cabin’s protective formation, his Master instructed him to meditate until his soul will break through level D – Zax finally broke through the first gate and his body fitness level reached level F. At the same time, Zax felt another pulse passing throughout his body and black spikes pierced every millimeter of his body. When the black spikes faded, the second gate that represented level E was glowing in black radiance.
Seven months of training in just the very same manner, Zax’s body was already at the Advanced phase of level E, the third gate was glowing in black radiance, Kartius had one less jar of herbal liquid in his cabin – waiting for another to be prepared by the Krikitory caretakers of the hot springs – and the piece of spiritual knowledge, fragment of the entity, that Zax studied had also became fully appreciated.
With respect to the petite remnant of the colossal entity, even when fully appreciated and clear, the piece did not transmit a lot. Upon perfecting his study of it, Zax grasped the complex framework of the patterns that the moving black hues had made. It enabled him a one piece peek at the external appearance of the entity, which was nothing that made sense.
Following Zax’s achievement in Adraak Meditation, a bundle of new pieces emerged from his subliminal mind, all obscure and unfathomable like the first piece was in the beginning, but by making this one step forward, the white barrier, the bottleneck to level C, was effortlessly dispersed.
Seven months into his training Zax bellowed triumphantly to the cave’s ceiling he knew as skies!
The day his Martial son completed his task of reaching level C with his soul, Kartius just watched Zax in astonishment, remembering the boy he carried with his own hands and brought back to his Martial niece. A boy without future on the Martial path, whose sole achievement was breaking through level F with his soul on his own.
The reimbursements of the diligent training were beyond common sense. In terms of quality, Zax’s soul at the Beginner phase of level C was equal to the Advanced phase of the same level of any other Mist User. With his Soul Sense, Zax accomplished unprecedented feats than anyone of the same level. One thousand and two hundred meters was the new limit of his Soul Sense, two hundred meters farther than any Beginner phase Core Master!
That day Kartius praised his Martial son and was truly joyful with his decision to make him his apprentice. The day after, Zax’s new training regime started.
As his body cultivated according to the changes of the Black Core, Zax was taught by his Master six sequences of bodily maneuvers, each comprising a hundred and eight or nine moves, in total six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers. Slow gestures, fast strikes, turning from a certain position, jumping and standing awkwardly. The sequences were odd, no Martial technique or attack or defense forms. They were more like a dance with consecutive rhythm, regardless of how impracticable it seemed to get from one position to the next.
Kartius did not give Zax time to meditate for soul cultivation. A day after his soul reached level C, Zax was told to familiarize himself with the new prowess of his soul and then was ordered to exercise only the bodily maneuvers for days, sometimes for weeks at a time.
Five months since Zax began training the six sequences he could finally remember the precise implementation of each move. Thus, his proficiency in executing them had made it to the Beginner phase, as said by his Master.
At the same time, Zax was Twelve months into his training in the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement and the fourth gate was glowing in black radiance. He no longer practiced in a safe distance from the protective formation and the accommodating cabin of his Master, but deeper inside the desolated cave, surrounded by white smoky mist.
At the time of training for twelve months, Zax learned from his Master their whereabouts in Valgarel and the origin of the smoky mist occupying it.
“We are in a relatively small cave that’s connected to big brother’s cave. No one can get to us without crossing big brother’s cave, and big brother’s apprentices know not to bother us, either”. Kartius started with the simple stuff.
“Caves such as this are small in number, handful all over New Earth and considered part of the secret wonders of our world. This cave, and others like it, is called ‘Essence Cave’. What’s particular about them and liable for their name is the smoky mist which dominates their environment. It is the essence of numerous deposits of Earth’s Cores, Sun Stones and other minerals that penetrate the shells of the stones, mix the essences and cause their energies to burst from the ground in the form of acidic smoke and mist. The acid level in the smoke and its density corresponds with its color. Light to dark brown smoke possesses the lowest degree of acid, white to gray smoke has a medium accumulation of acid and yellow to red-orange has the highest. The area where the cabin is has a low density of the brown smoke. The entrances of Essence Caves, on the other hand, always seem to have a high density of red-orange smoke, which bring about its walls and tunnel to collapse and seal them. That’s what makes this cave so hard to find”.
From the clarification of the smoky mist, Zax understood that his body fitness level was the variable that dictated within which area and type of smoky mist his training will be carried out.
Zax was told by his Master that the effect of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation is the reason he can stay idly outside of the protective formation, and because of the Black Core he do not need to worry about Pain or Destruction due to excessive training. The Black Core made it so that Rehabilitation will halt his cultivation and the adversities of Destruction when the herbal liquid is spent. So Zax wondered, “Master, won’t it be more affective if I’ll cultivate where the red-orange smoky mist is? Won’t it be faster?”
“Not unless you want to die”. Kartius laughed, not over the question, but because he anticipated it to arise eventually. “Even if you are not hindered by Pain and Destruction, your adaptability is limited by your fitness level. That, even the Black Core cannot change, or at least it did not do anything about”. He was unambiguous in his words. “Continue training, your transitions are still clumsy… If I could, I would have shown you how to keep a smooth rhythm, but modifying the sequences to be suitable for a growing human’s muscles was arduous for your Martial father in itself”.
A year and a half, half the time before Kartius’s and Zax’s return, went by in a blink of an eye. Since breaking through level E, Zax had to be rinsed by fifty to sixty liters of herbal liquid a day to sustain the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation embedded in his body. To keep up with the demand for the refined extract of the medicinal plants, Kartius asked for the help of the entire mountain village. The hard working Krikitories readily complied with the request, however they had only so much of the gigantic clay jars. To maintain a constant flow of the herbal liquid, the Krikitories filled tens of five and six liters jars for Kartius to pick up once a week. As a result, Kartius’s cabin looked like the gathering place of a private pottery class.
Exercising the sequences of six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers, Zax barely paid attention to the passage of time. He did not have his wristwatch; the cabin did not have electronic devices or even a calendar and the smoky mist of the Essence Cave would have ruined the materials that made the Nightly Cover formation – if anyone had bothered to install it. A year and a half had passed and Zax was not even aware that he already was a year into his teenage years, a thirteen years old young man.
The density of the smoky gray mist was fairly high. Zax’s incessant maneuvers scattered the smoky mist for fraction of a second before it condensed again. “Ah!” Some steps and gestures were trickier than the rest and Zax, with his body fitness at the top phase of level D, was forced to breathe out violently.
Half a year ago he huffed and puffed like a battered old man after persisting to perform tenth of the bodily maneuvers. Four months ago he reached this state after the three hundredth move of the fourth sequence. A month ago he completed all six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers before tottering on his feet. As Zax improved his proficiency everyday by practicing nonstop, within a sheer six months, only very few moves made him pant.
“Ah?! I’m flying!”
The last leg swipe sent him to the air, as it supposed to, and Zax felt his body rising and rising without the setback of gravity or the heaviness which was the product of his standard physical fatigue.
Falling back on his feet, Zax ceased the sequence and stood in his place. “A hint! Definitely, a hint for the next level”. Being used by now to bodily breakthroughs, Zax was sure of his assumption. He closed his eyes and reviewed the last sequence assiduously.
“Could it be…?” Zax got a sort of an idea and was anxious to try it. He immediately opened his eyes and resumed the sequence from its first move. First he wanted to repeat the moves the same way he usually performs them. Getting to the leg swipe and rising up from the ground, the sensation of flying was absent.
“As expected”. Zax said indifferently. It was the execution of his idea which he entrusted his expatiations in. He picked up again from the beginning of the sequence, only the second time was an exact imitation of the sequence before last.
Even his breaths had the same rhythm. Zax launched into the air and…
“Damn!” He fell down angry. “Again!”
Funny enough, the loud panting of the past six months were the cause for Zax’s habit of speaking to himself when excited or frustrated.
Turning, bending, leg swiping, rising up and falling down were the core moves in the said sequence. After seventeen failures Zax was fed up.
“I’m doing something wrong. I really thought that if my breathing will be the same as it was when it felt like I was flying, then I’ll gain insight into the objective of the maneuvers that Master taught me”. In his mind, when he checked and rechecked what could be different, only the rhythm of his breaths stood out.
“Ah! Foo! Hu! Ah! Foo! Hu…” Zax sat and reiterated the rhythm of the breaths for hours. “Ah! Foo! Hu! Ah! Ah…!” An impatient slip broke the rhythm and Zax felt something in his head going “BANG!” as if hit by a boulder.
“Stupid! How could I not see it! Oh… if Master saw me struggling over something so simple, he would think that the Black Core wasted its modifications on the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation for a buffoon!” Zax said with a crooked smile and without further ado he began the six sequences from the start.
‘Leg swipe!’ Zax exclaimed in his mind.
Several meters above the ground, Zax felt himself carried by an air current that gushed from inside his body. His body did not actually rise higher, but attained a rich sense of freedom which made it feel like it defied gravity.
Landing, Zax was enthusiastic.
“I can’t just start from the middle; the breaths also have a sequence. By starting from the fourth sequence, I foolishly separated the links and broken the chain!” Zax’s body was vibrating with emotion.
“Congratulations! Oh congratulations, little Zax! In only a year and a half… I’m so proud of you, little Zax!”
A voice that did not seem to come from any direction resonated in Zax’s mind. Zax was startled, but as the voice continued praising him gleefully it sounded so lovely, like that of his big sister when she was happy with him, yet more mature and with boundless affection.