“Prepare yourself to greet Grandmaster, Martial son”. Kartius repeated a last time and averted his gaze to the staircase. “Big brother, I’m sure that you understand… We are waiting for you here”. He called and then straightened his black humanoid form.
Seeing his Master getting tense up Zax mimicked him and fixed his posture.
Heavy hooves stomped stair after stair after stair with a dominating sound that reverberated through the room, to Zax’s head and across every corner of his sea of consciousness.
A presence, mighty and aloof, was the first thing Zax faced. A weight he tasted once in his life, he now encountered a second time as it tyrannically invaded to every part of his three aspects. The power of a third realm expert!
Large and lofty light brown eyes materialized in front of his soul, a severe gaze that made Zax’s awareness retreat to the inside of his blurry soul.
To these lofty light brown eyes the sphere of soul energy Zax created was an obstacle as much as a blade of grass was to a truck. They watched, studying Zax’s soul as if they knew of its uniqueness and looked for what made it as such.
After several observations, without giving the slightest of impressions for their thoughts, the large eyes turned their attention to the two majestic gates, beneath the soul, which belonged to the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement Zax practiced.
Seeing one of the gates, the lowest one, black, a glint of surprise appeared for a brief moment in the large eyes. To the above gate the large eyes only gave a single look before receding.
From within his soul, like an obedient child, Zax waited for the large eyes to finish seeing what they wanted. He was not doing it out of fear, but through a sense of acknowledgement. The owner of those eyes could do as he wished and fighting against his will was a fool’s errand, at the very least, to Zax in his current level of cultivation it was.
Following the inspection in his sea of consciousness, Zax felt a foreign force passing like a tidal wave in every component that composed the aspect that was the body.
Whilst his body was being checked, bit by bit, Zax’s awareness spread out from within his soul to his sea of consciousness and stopped there. As it did, Zax could better sense the foreign force within his body. Before, Zax immediately confined himself to boundaries of the blurry soul. As a result, he could not assess much of the power of the lofty light brown eyes. Now, what he perceived from the foreign force was as if countless lofty eyes were looking at him, in and out.
‘Is that a Soul Sense?’ Zax could not help but wonder. The foreign force did act like a Soul Sense, and toward someone with a lower soul level Zax, too, could have invade the other’s three aspects. Still, the foreign force had something more to it that Zax struggled to point out. ‘Could it be the difference between a third realm Soul Sense and a first or second realm Soul Sense?’ Generally speaking, between the Soul Sense of the first realm and the second’s, the sole distinction is in the reach of each Soul Sense.
Incapable of coming with a deceive answer, Zax was stumped. ‘In my level right now I can only speculate’. He sighed inwardly.
Finally the foreign force retracted itself from every cell in Zax’s body and concentrated again to a colorless sphere inside his lower dantian.
Two black cores were seen inside Zax’s dantian. One was the odd Black Core; the other was Zax’s original Earth’s Core.
The concentrated foreign force glanced at the originally brown Earth’s Core and then paid it no more heed. Instead, it seemed to be fascinated and attracted to the Black Core.
A stream of energy extended from the foreign force, split to many more streams and interlaced to create one colorless durable string.
A whistling sound echoed and the durable string shot toward the Black Core.
The string collided with the Black Core, but failed to cause a reaction from it.
The foreign force gathered the string and unleashed it again.
Failure after failure after failure… Not only that the string could not create the smallest scratch at the Black Core, it could not even budge it from its place in Zax’s dantian.
After the eight time the foreign force retrieved the string, but not shot it as it repeatedly done before.
The foreign force released eleven streams of energy and from each of them created similar strings. Twelve durable strings floated in a raw, connected by their tails to the concentrated foreign force. A thirteenth stream of energy was released; however it did not split and interlaced to create another string. The thirteenth stream formed a wide formation underneath the twelve strings. The twelve strings shuddered and then one by one they began to interlace into one superior black string.
The black string maintained its connection to the foreign force through its tail, and like the first durable string, shot at the Black Core.
Nearly tearing the space of Zax’s dantian in its flight, the black string sped toward its target and collided with the Black Core.
There was no “TING” sound when the two made contact. The impact did not budge the Black Core from its place yet again, but the tip of the black string also remained jammed to its place.
An earsplitting sound reverberated as a barely visible cracked appeared on the Black Core, where the tip of the black string landed.
An enthusiastic wave of emotions emanated from the sphere of foreign force, yet it only lasted a fraction of a second before it changed to sheer terror. The crack on the Black Core latched to the tip of the black string and a surge of black mist energy infested it. The black string was a vein to the black blood that was the mist energy of the Black Core.
The black string squirmed like a lightning from its tip to the farther the black mist energy charged.
“Grah!” A pained cry was heard from the foreign force as it fought to severe the connection to the tail of the black string before the black mist energy would reach and consume all of it.
The tail of the black string shattered and the foreign force withdrew out of Zax.
As this course of events took place, the span of time in which it occurred was too short for Zax to notice before the foreign force disappeared and the crack on the Black Core closed.
All that remained as evidence to what happened inside Zax’s dantian was a black lightning, the former black string.
‘This power is like back then!’ Zax could not believe his own senses. The feeling he got from the black lightning was one and the same with the black dome that was released from the man who came out from the second Savage Cave!
‘Eh!’ Zax felt his soul suddenly responding to the black lightning. Ignoring that protective sphere of soul energy, a strange dark force was released from his soul and practically fished the black lightning, swallowed it and receded back to Zax soul.
‘My soul is getting stronger!’ Zax was both bewildered and ardent. The dark force in his soul was perceptible and empowering. It gave Zax a sense of clarity, wider view on the path of soul cultivation and a glimpse of something that specially caught his interest.
As for the swallowed black lightning… a series of explosions took place in Zax’s sea of consciousness, all originating from his soul. The dark force was refining the black lightning, merging all of its power with the soul until abruptly stopping.
‘Hahaha! In one leap and with no effort, whatsoever, I reached the Peak phase of level B with my soul!’ Zax had no explanation for this joyous outcome, he only assumed that Grandmaster had something to do with it, since he already figured out that the foreign force that surveyed each part of his three aspect was his.
‘Now I wonder if even Don Ram can probe my body with her Soul Sense’. It was not a gigantic leap of one whole level, but it was enough for Zax to reevaluate the strength of his unique soul and his ability to block the Soul Sense of second level Core Masters.
The first floor of the blue tower was quiet as a grave. Not even the sound of breaths could be heard. Zax resumed his control on his five senses, and vision returned to his eyes.
He was still was in the same stiff, straightened position he had when he readied himself to greet Grandmaster together with his Master, Kartius.
As the scene in front of him became clear, a new figure was already before him, meeting him first with its large and lofty light brown eyes.
A crown of grandiose brown horns was connected to the head of the lofty eyes, the face underneath them was similar and yet not entirely the same. A sort of resemblance to his Master’s face it had. The face was that of a brown fur stag. A humanoid beast with the head of a stag, sitting crossed legs, his forearms were resting on his thighs. If he stood up, his height would certainly be more than a head taller than Kartius.
Seeing the familiar lofty eyes again, Zax took a deep breath, cupped his hands and respectfully bowed.
“Greetings, Grandmaster, this one is Zax Zel, nice to meet you!” Zax greeted how his big sister taught him and remained in the bowed position until he will be told otherwise.
Grandmaster had a complicated look in his eyes, which Zax could not see. His gaze was swayed toward Zax’s dantian and was vexed. After a short while the complicated look vanished. “Junior Zax Zel, Grandmaster’s name is Kartion, a Brown Stag beast formerly from the Black Horns tribe”. Grandmaster Kartion introduced himself. His words held an indistinct intent, which assured Zax that he can stand at ease now.
Hearing his big brother giving his name, Kartius wanted to smile but stayed reserved. Only inwardly he allowed himself to rejoice. His Master son’s accomplishments were satisfactory to his big brother!
“Sit”. Grandmaster Kartion said to Zax. By his manner of speech, though firm and impassive, Zax could tell that he was gratified after inspecting his three aspects.
Zax sat on his bottom, also crossed legs, and behind him to his right, Kartius did the same.
“Young apprentice Zax has a peculiar luck”. Grandmaster Kartion said. “A while back you encountered what many presumed as a ‘regrettable misfortune’. Today, three years after you were accepted his Kartius’s apprentice, your cultivation level improved to its current level in the amount of time it takes a normal human, or even the second fastest cultivators among beasts, Shenghuo beast, between half a century to a full century to achieve”. Grandmaster Kartion said it in a tone which emphasized how marvelous Zax’s cultivation speed is.
“Your soul is also skilled in gaining insights and actually, despising having the signature of the first realm, already possesses an attribute…” Seeing that wanting to ask but holding back his voice, Grandmaster Kartion elaborated. “The dark force that devoured my black string, it is called an attribute, specifically a dark attribute. Don’t think about it now, I also explained only because you seem to perceive it”.
Zax heaved a sigh of relief. The dark force, dark attribute, did not feel like something harmful, but it was something new to him. Thus, he was a bit suspicious of it. He wanted to know more of it other than its name, but was not willing to argue to Grandmaster after he told him to not think about it.
‘If it aroused a sense of danger I would have asked, but Grandmaster seems to be fine with it, so I might as well listen’. Zax decided.
“Junior apprentice Zax, you did well growing in strength. Show me how much you comprehended the bodily maneuvers Kartius imparted to you”. Grandmaster Kartion asked.
Nodding his head, Zax got up and took a few steps back. Right before he started, Zax closed his eyes. With his inner mind he recalled all of the six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers and their division to six sequences.
Utilizing the bodily maneuvers, he wanted to do so after recounting of what he grasped from the lesson Raroen gave him.
Right after Zax executed the first moves of the first sequence, his body began to move like a leaf in the wind.
One sequence marked the half way point of the Beginner phase of the Intermediate phase.
Two sequences signify that in the Beginner phase he was perfect.
Three sequences… that was Zax’s limit lost time he practiced the bodily maneuvers.
Reaching the finishing moves of the third sequence, Zax calmly continued. Where his mind eye saw the final move of the third sequence a grain of light emerged. Zax’s whole attention was focused on the grain of light, gazing through it at the last move, he continued to execute it and then the following one.
Zax broke through to the last sequence of the Intermediate phase of the Intermediate phase.
He did not halt but seek the second and third and fourth and one moves of the fourth sequence.
Not long after, the fifth sequence, the bottleneck to the bodily maneuvers’ Advanced phase of the Intermediate phase was in sight.
The closer he got to the fifth sequence the more difficult it was to see through the grain of light, the more straining the remaining moves of the fourth sequence have become.
Ultimately, Zax could not go on after the lost move of the fourth sequence and his body stopped. To see through the bottleneck to the next phase with the single grain of insight that he had was akin to observing a mountain through an ant’s eyes.
Panting as if it was the first time his lungs breathed air in ages, Zax steadied his breath and fixed his stance before his Master and Grandmaster.
“Four sequences”. Kartius said to his big brother proudly.
Grandmaster Kartion was not as ebullient as his little brother. Raising his chin, which was already higher than Zax when he himself was sitting, he said. “Good. Sit”.
Taking his place back, Zax raised his head to meet the eyes of Grandmaster Kartion. “Grandmaster, I’m not sure when would be the proper time to say it, so I’m asking for you permission now”.
“When I, big sis and big brother Tularg traveled to get here, a group of fifty three experts discovered and chased us”.
Hearing this, Kartius knitted his stag brows and was about to say something before the air in the room suddenly turned suffocating.
Grandmaster Kartion did not show a physical response like Kartius, but a changed to his temperament occurred and affected severely both his little brother and his apprentice.
In the same instant that his rage resurfaced it also faded. Grandmaster Kartion’s voice was hoarse when he spoke. “Proceed”.
The instantaneous unconstrained rage handed a huge mental blow to Zax.
‘In the name of the Supreme Rulers!’ Zax did not suffer any damage, only a moment in which his heart wavered like never before in his life. ‘This is the killing intent of a third realm expert?!’ To stop shaking even after Grandmaster Kartion confined his rage and the air in the room settled, Zax had to tightly clench his jaw.
Gulping a large ball of newfound thoughtfulness for his survival, he carefully chose his words as he opened his mouth again.