Zax was lying on the ground. Beside him was Laivien, with eyes emanating great reverence. Next to Laivien was the group of young and adult Krikitories, with all kinds of bizarre expressions plastering on their bear’s faces.
“Woah!” Zax exhaled, spitting grass, stones and mud from his mouth. His jaw, his tongue, his teeth, his lips and his stomach were astonishingly hurting.
‘Too frightening! Too frightening!’ Zax bellowed in his mind. ‘The third bottleneck of insight… How many days has it been since I perceived its spark?’ Zax truly wanted to know. The only thing he remember from the moment of finally finding the spark of light, after a month and a half of training, was tasting something too good to put into words.
‘Advanced phase Mist Lord… Next bottleneck will either place my soul a step from the Core Master realm or will completely make me break through the Core Master realm. Aha… Hope it would be the former’.
Zax continued to stay with his back on the ground, panting. Each time he breathed out a blade of grass, grains of sand, minced fragments of stones would fly out.
The third bottleneck of insight has affected his sense of taste. When he just encountered the spark of light, it cause every breath his body took to feel as if even air suddenly had a flavor, and one so good he forgot to exhale!
After comprehending the bottleneck of insight, the taste of the world, Zax figured, and exiting his sea of consciousness, then the nightmare began.
Like the previous two bottlenecks, the third one was even a bit more overwhelming. Before his eyes had the chance to glance at the surrounding of Laivien’s little valley, his mouth was already salivating.
Since then, for a period of a month and a half, Zax struggled with everything he had against the urge to devour everything, luckily, it excluded living beings. As a result, his mouth was endlessly chewing on stones, grass and earth, while occasionally breathing so much air, nearly exploding his lungs. More than once Zax pushed himself to utter exhaustion and passed out. Only then did his body reluctantly release the strain from his lungs.
During the month and a half, for the first few days, Zax’s Master had come to Laivien’s valley, to keep an eye on his Martial son.
He left, eventually, after assuring his little sister that due to his body fitness level Zax is actually having it easy and is fine.
As a matter of fact, according to Kartius, Zax was much more than fine, since it appeared like the bottleneck he comprehended is the catalyst bottleneck that would allow him to keep cultivating the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement without relying on external supplements. At least until he will break through the seventh gate.
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“Is it over? Have you adapted to the third bottleneck?” Laivien inquired after Zax sat up.
Zax grimaced and nodded. The sweet, indescribable flavor of the world reminisced on a few of his taste buds. Everything else he consumed, that was not yet digested, caused his stomach to discharge extremely bitter gases, sometimes with a bit of leftovers…
Zax could not stand the calmness anymore, which only made the bitter taste in his mouth more pungent, and jumped to his feet. “Give me a moment”. He told Laivien and the rest and closed his eyes, entering his sea of consciousness.
First thing Zax caught a glimpse of was the size of his Inner Panorama. After comprehending and getting adapted to the third bottleneck of insight, the radius of his Inner Panorama grew larger again, encompassing almost five hundred meters around his soul!
Such a large increase in size was not to belittle. Even though those nearly five hundred meters were still a drop in the vast sea of consciousness, with every added millimeter in size, the sensation of intense lucidity spread farther. Allowing Zax to maintain a certain degree of it even if he is outside of the Inner Panorama and make him wonder to what degree it then would be, when he will comprehend all six bottlenecks of insight.
Tapping with his manifested toes on a small patch of sandy land of the Inner Panorama, although Zax was curious about the little dark attribute buds and how they evolved after he comprehended the third bottleneck, he put them aside for a moment. The instant Zax’s naked body completely manifested, his gaze was captivated by something greater, his soul.
Ignoring the fragrance, the ticklish feeling and the newly added flavor that sprouted in his Inner Panorama, Zax walked with hurried steps to his soul.
‘Strange… Strange…’ Zax murmured. His soul towered above him, high, suddenly so tall that, perhaps, its height was not shorter than the Inner Panorama’s length to any direction from it. ‘There is almost barely fog, and it’s easier to see in comparison to how it looked before I comprehended the third bottleneck…’ His voice softly said.
Turning his head gently to the sides, Zax was bewildered by the width of his soul. Opposite to its height, the width was an entirely different matter. Now, instead of looking like a giant structure, the soul was so thin in its first two thirds, that starting up above to the last third, it gave Zax the feeling of standing next to a colossal, elder tree.
As Zax got to four meters from his soul, a bizarre phenomenon suddenly started to occur. The dark attribute inside his soul began to wiggle like a curtain in the wind and from the other side of its darkness, something hazy reflected.
Zax squinted his eyes, to try and perceive the shape of the reflection. Contrary to his effort, the hazy reflection and even the soul turned blurry and the previously scarce fog gradually thickened.
Within the fog, without realizing when it happened, Zax’s five senses, even those stimulated by the fragrance, ticklish feeling and flavor, suddenly became numb. As if his manifested body was possessed, Zax started walking backwards and stopped only after he left the region of the fog. Simultaneously, as he left, the fog once more dissipated.
‘Mm?’ Zax awakened from the daze. His face looking straight at his soul, he felt at odds with himself. At the first breath he could just vaguely recall the memory of the steps he took, but at the second, as he refused to let go of the thought, he bit by bit felt as if he issued the decision to go back.
‘Can I not approach my own soul?’ Zax asked himself in the third breath, frowning, yet after couple of seconds his face relaxed. ‘Absurd’. The sixth breath almost sounded as if he said it jokingly.
Strangely, by the seventh breath he did not care anymore about what transpire moments ago. He also seemed to forget about why he was captivated with his soul and the hazy reflection behind the dark attribute curtain. He certainly was not worried about how close he can get to his soul.
As if to prove something to his indifferent demeanor, Zax turned around and looked up. Remembering that he spent all of his Soul Binding formation against Ginlin, a stream of soul energy flew from his soul as he casually constructed the shapes and pieces till one formation was ready for use.
‘Almost there’. The formation was not far from perfection. ‘Later I’ll create more’. Only now Zax lowered his head to examine the dark attribute buds.
‘Oh… they grew a little’. The vista of his Inner Panorama has been through more than just a change in its size.
Before Zax comprehended the third bottleneck, most of the land was covered by sparkling sand and barely visible black buds. Now, the black buds grew several centimeters tall stems. ‘In the future, will it look like a field of black flowers?’
Zax got down to one knee, gently stroking the steams at his feet. They were cold, but refreshing, with a texture pleasurable to the touch.
Opening his eyes, Zax left his sea of consciousness. Seeing Laivien and the Krikitories still there, he asked. “How long has it taken me to adapt?”
“A month and a half”. Laivien answered
“So overall, three months…” That was also how much time passed since the assassination mission.
Right after Laivien replied, the young Krikitories sneaked out from behind their elders. With a bit of struggle to pronounce the words, they all repeated the same question while looking at Laivien.
Laivien shook her doe head. “No. Belly full”. She said with a hint of amusement.
The young Krikitories had disappointed looks on their bear faces. Some of them held chunks of wood, grass and stones, as if they were ready to feed the weirdo who entertained them in the past month and a half with his uncanny eating habits.
The adult Krikitories, on the other hand, were relieved. The human boy treated their lovely home like a buffet, his actions were even worse than the time he went mad with creepy laughter and caused quakes in the ground for over a day.
Being familiar with the temperament of both the young and adult Krikitories, and knowing perfectly well his contribution to the mischievousness of the young ones, Zax could read the minds of the little bear heads and so apologetically smiled.
“Little Zax…” Laivien wavered for a moment.
The young boy in front of her has officially trained under her big brother for about four years and only in the recent year did he start to perceive and comprehend the six bottlenecks of insight. In one year’s time this child comprehended three bottlenecks!
Though luck had a lot to do with it, Laivien could not refrain from marveling at the sight of this peculiar child she grew fond of.
“…Big brother will not come to congratulate you. Since you finished adapting, go to my Kartion’s tower”. She passed the word as an order.
“To Grandmaster’s place? Why? Is there another mission?” These three months he diligently searched for the spark of light and then spent a long time comprehending the bottleneck of insight it represented. It began as a punishment, but after accomplishing his goal Zax felt both content with himself and eager to finally go home to Kingdom Earth.
“Go and see for yourself”. Laivien insisted.
Seeing her serious and obstinate gaze, Zax nodded and left.
“Master, Grandmaster”. Zax humbly said after Grandmaster Kartion’s voice echoed in his mind, permitting him entry to the blue tower.
The two were sitting on the floor. They briefly inspected Zax as he entered and their stern expression returned to the two men sitting before them.
The two men were strangers to Zax and did not turn around to greet him. But, considering the heavy atmosphere in the room, Zax got the feeling that their attitude had nothing to do with them trying to be discourteous. Rather, even from their backm it was evident that they were submerged in too deep thoughts to notice him.
“I’ll have a short talk with him outside”. Kartius offered to Grandmaster Kartion.
Considering, Grandmaster Kartion nodded. His gaze then moved to the parchment the two men kept staring at.
“Let’s go”. Kartius grabbed Zax by his shoulder, pressing his Martial son to follow him out.
“You really took your time with the third bottleneck, even after comprehending it”. Kartius pat Zax head. He seemed wanting to smile, but his stag head remained unchanging.
“Master, what’s happening? Who are the two men with Grandmaster?”
The two looked human from behind. One looked somewhat familiar, wearing a scaly purple bodysuit and having a long purple hair. However, Zax could recognize that he was not his Martial brother Mes. The other men also did not look like either of his Martial brothers. So then, the two were not native two Grandmaster Kartion’s cave.
“They are the leader of the Reptilian tribe and leader of the Ape tribe”. Kartius explained and proceeded without stopping. “Little Zax, this time a lot of things happened while you were training. Three months ago, His Valor Ozeyn sent big brother a message. The Yellowtailed tribe lost its leader and seeks vengeance on the culprit”.
“They found out that it was us who killing Ginlin?” Shocked, Zax interrupted.
“Hahaha”, the laugh was a bit forced. “If it wasn’t as planned, then they wouldn’t have had the chance”. Seeing Zax confused, Kartius said. “Honestly, with the success of Ginlin’s assassination, hiding the fact that it was us who took his life would have been a waste. No, from the moment the decision to send the three of you out was made, our household was prepared for an all out, final battle with our enemies”.
“Eh?! Final battle? What about His Valor Ozeyn-” Countless question suddenly sprung in Zax’s head.
“This time we put His Valor Ozeyn in a difficult place. By killing a potential third realm expert of Valgarel, the Yellowtailed tribe used the excuse that we sabotaged our kind. With the support of the Black Horns tribe and several others, His Valor Ozeun could not defend big brother”.
“Then what… Did the Black Horns tribe attack us? Are they planning to attack?” A rush of anxiety, excitement and anger stirred inside of Zax as his temper became severe.
“Don’t get edgy. I told you that we were prepared. His Valor Ozeyn also gave a late response to the Yellowtailed tribe and the rest. Their intention were to exterminate the tribes affiliated with big brother, but of the two in the inner territory, the Reptilian tribe and the Ape tribe, and three in the outer territory, they only got to one inner tribe. Despite that, Marital nephew Raroen, Martial nephew Simel and Martial nephew Tularg managed to help evacuate more than half of the Ape tribe members”.
“Currently, the five tribes are accommodated in big brother’s cave. As for the Black Horns tribe and the Yellowtailed tribe… For the past two months, they and the others are waiting outside of big brother’s cave”.
“Wait, Master, are you saying…” Zax did not expect that things will deteriorate so much in mere three months. The repercussions of killing Ginlin he could understand, but to be surrounded and stuck in Grandmaster Kartion’s cave by an army of experts, of which two are third realm experts…
“Hmph!” Outside of the blue tower, atop the tallest mountain, Kartius turned to the direction of the cave’s entrance and snorted. “These scoundrels think they have the upper hand just because they besiege us”. His face muscles convoluted and killing intent exploded from his eyes. “Soon, Marital son, we will finish the preparation of our assault and this deep rooted enmity will came to an end!”