Ignoring the gazes of veneration of the adult Krikitories and basically giving a show to the little ones, Kartius took a step forward, toward the pavilion.
“Big brother, you said that next time you will come visit me, would be after the pending breakthrough to the next realm of bodily cultivation”. Laivien said amusingly. Her neck stretched upward and her doe head and Kartius’s stag head fondly caressed each other.
“Martial son, greet my little sister”. Kartius looked down to Zax.
Seeing for the first time the true form of his Master, Zax was momentarily stunned. Then again, compared to Raroen he was barely over one tenth of the green scales purple mane dragon’s size.
“Greetings, Laivien, nice to meet you face to face”. Zax was less reserved than he was when he first met Grandmaster or his apprentices. Laivien was no stranger to him and the two already had a friendly relationship.
“Little Zax, how do you like my small valley?” Laivien inquired. The valley was her home and for Zax it was a first visit, therefore she hoped that as her guest he will enjoy the sheltered vista.
“It is extremely pleasant”. Zax said after thinking quickly for a reply with his inner mind.
Upon hearing his compliment, Laivien’s eyes turned crescent. “I’m happy that it is to your liking”. She averted her attention to the adult Krikitories. “Meet little Zax, these are my caretakers and good friends, along with the young ones who accompanied you and big brother. We are all living here together”. Laivien said.
The group of adult Krikitories bowed slightly before Zax and the young Krikitories did the copied their elders.
“Hello”. Zax smiled. The adults Krikitories still possessed the cuddly appearance of their days as cubs, and so gave the impression of easy to get along with folks.
“Martial son, little sister, let us talk in private”. Kartius said.
Laivien nodded. She lowered her chin to the meter tall egg shaped violet stone and a moment later all of the Krikitories left to either the huts, close by lake or fields of green-blue soft grass.
“Martial son”, Kartius turned to Zax as they sat together. His big black stag body was outside of the pavilion, Laivien sat at her place under the wooden pavilion’s thatch and Zax between the two, sitting on the one stair of the pavilion. “Meeting my little sister and big brother’s spouse today was for you to know all three of us who founded this household. However, it wasn’t the main reason I brought you here. Today you are here to start the next step of your training according to what we discussed in the past”.
“Am I to stay here and try to break through the six bottlenecks of insight of the second realm of the soul?” Zax asked. He had this thought circling in his head since he and his Master left Grandmaster’s tower. He was not sure how his Master expects him to approach these trials, which generally would only reveal themselves when a cultivator broke through the second realm, but whatever he will say, Zax was willing to try.
“Indeed”. Kartius confirmed. “Formerly I tasked you with gaining insight into the kinetic energy or reaching the Mist Lord level with your soul. Now, you completed one task as well as got close to complete the other. As such, I want you to realize the bottleneck to the next level of your soul and attain a breakthrough. Seeing if you can perceive and comprehend the six bottlenecks of insight while in the first realm would be afterwards”.
“Is that all, Master? If so, then can’t I cultivate the soul anywhere…” Zax said hesitantly.
If it was three years ago, Zax would not have said anything. Regardless of where or with whom, he only had in mind the desire to get stronger. Three years later, Zax’s temperament changed. He was no longer a child, but a teenager. Far more content with himself than he was in the past, he now found another thing he wanted, in addition to getting stronger.
Zax wanted to reconcile with his old friends, all of them. And with Grandmaster’s evaluation behind him, he did not want to wait months, even weeks, before seeing Anet again and have the resolve to ask her out. Though, he was still unsure with how to proceed if she would agree.
Zax mentioning the ability to cultivate anywhere was in hope that his Master would then approve of him training in his home, in Kingdom Earth. Besides his friends and Anet, he also had a baby sister that he did want to grow without him. Lastly, and from the first place, his big sister said that he would not have to stay for long in Valgarel this time around, but he had yet got to talk about it with his Master.
“Little Zax, are you, perhaps, unsatisfied with staying to train in my place?” Laivien probed.
“That’s not it. It’s just that I stayed in Valgarel for so long and when I came back home with big sis, so much had happened that meeting my friends was… complicated. And there is also my little sister, Liz. I can’t possibly bring her here…”
“And the girl that you like… is it that you can’t wait to see her again?” Kartius said, mildly amused.
Zax face was directed to Laivien and his cheeks reddened soon after hearing his Master.
Zax assumed that Grandmaster probably heard from Zetsa, as an explanation, why he could not come at the appointed time. He then figured that if Grandmaster knows, then his Master also heard about what happened with the Derneldar family, after all, he did not question his deferral when he got to and left the blue tower.
“Oh! Did little Zax get himself a girl he likes?” Laivien asked, intrigued. In contrast to Kartius and Grandmaster, she was not aware of Zax’s last activities in Kingdom Earth.
Zax was a bit shy from the two’s interest in his sprouting affection for the opposite sex. Nonetheless, since his Master asked and Laivien asked he could not keep it to himself anymore.
“Yes…” He answered them both in one word.
“Huhuhu!” Laivien laughed. “Big brother, isn’t your Martial son a fast bloomer? Huhuhu! Couple of days back to his home and already had himself a girlfriend, huhuhu!” She was happy for the boy she watched growing for the most part of the past three years, and taunted only because his swollen red face was so cute.
“That’s enough, that’s enough, little sister”. Seeing his Martial son getting uncomfortable, Kartius decided to stop joking and deal with his hidden request earnestly.
“Zax, it is true that if I task you to cultivate the soul until the next breakthrough, it won’t matter whether you’ll meditate in little sister’s valley or at your first home”. Kartius said.
Zax attentively listened, hearing him indicate what he suspected, which could lead to receiving his approval, caused him to be even tempered.
“Master need not worry. I’m currently at the Peak phase of the Mist Master level with my soul. When traveling with big sis and big brother Tularg I had a profound insight. Although it was not related to the matter of the soul, with this insight, the one I comprehended from big brother Raroen’s lesson and the discovery of the dark attribute I can feel that my soul became a lot more perceptive. Breaking through to the Beginner phase of the Mist Lord level… I believe that I can do it within two months at the earliest, five months at the latest!” Zax spoke confidently, among other intentions, to convince his Master. As if remembering something, Zax opened his mouth to add. “And with regard to the same troubles we had on our way, I’ll let Master test me and decide if I’m qualified to travel on my own!” He did not think that after prevailing against the Derneldar founder he could now take on his Master. This suggestion was purely for his Master to assess his survivability.
Kartius did not answer right away. Meeting his Martial son’s determined eyes, he mulled over his decoction. “I can agree to your request, Martial son, but there will be a few conditions”.
“Please tell, Master”. Zax said eagerly.
“First, from this moment until you will break through the last gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, regardless of where you will be, half your time will be spent here. Since estimating how long it would take you to conclude this condition, unless I tell you otherwise, the longest that you would be allowed to stay out of little sister’s valley would be four days. As for your stay in the valley, the shortest time before you can leave is four days”. Kartius said without leaving a room for compromise.
He continued. “Second, upon sensing any bottleneck, you will have to return here and break through it under my supervision. The only exceptions are bottlenecks that upon sensing, you managed to instantly immerse with”.
“Third, your time outside the valley will also have to be divided. At least one third of it you are required to spend in Valgarel, in which time, you will accompany me or one of your three eldest Martial brothers and sister in household’s assignments, be it secretly striking our enemies or gathering information. For such an occasion I’ll inform you ahead of time to be prepared”.
“For the meantime, that is all. Along your progression in cultivation, I may alter or add new conditions. Until then, concentrate on cultivating your soul. Analyze the insights you gathered and then proceed to meditation”.
Kartius heaved a huff of warm breath from his nostrils. “Your soul is extraordinary, Martial son. When we left big brother, he contacted me with his Sublime Soul Sense, the evolved epitome of a Soul Sense a cultivator who reached with his soul to the third realm possesses”, Kartius detoured to explain for Zax, “and gave his consent for my decision to push you toward the six bottlenecks of the soul”.
“I’m telling you this to emphasize your priorities in my absence while you train. Breaking through the next level with your soul and then striving for each of the six bottlenecks before trying to advance to the second realm is the objective”.
“It is more than just a mentally draining and tedious task… To my knowledge, what I expect of you is a deed, which never been achieved before by a first realm cultivator, nor second realm or third realm cultivator I heard of had succeed in comprehending all six bottlenecks of insight”.
“But, Martial son, your forte is the soul. By what Martial niece told me and what you showed me as my apprentice, it was your strong point even before the Black Core affected your life, which is why I trust you with this task”.
“Therefore, Martial son, not if, but when you will accomplish it, I can’t imagine that you will fail to reach the third realm faster than any cultivator before you. I can only guess, but I dare say that less than fifty years after comprehending the sixth insights, you will become the youngest cultivator with a soul in the third realm”.
Kartius had stressed how deep his faith in Zax was, repeated the manner of conduct, instilled the level of hardship and encouraged wholeheartedly with the same tone of voice. The sort of demand he had from Zax was based on his speculations and assessment of what he believed his Martial son’s potential was. But because it was not founded on proven facts, he wanted Zax to perceive the good and the bad on the same level, and with his own efforts, chose which one to make a reality.
Kartius allowed Zax some time to think. Not much was required. Zax’s inner mind processed every word his Master said, pondered a while about it and eventually internalized. Whether he liked it or not, he could not refute his Master. And besides, this was him, ultimately, getting what he wanted. Plus, the thing about the assignments sounded thrilling and interesting.
“Thank you, Master”. Zax accepted the conditions.
“Mm!” It gratified Kartius that Zax obediently listened to him. “Then it’s settled!” He announced. ”Moving on, when Martial niece Hagen returned from accompanying Martial nephew Tularg to Kingdom Earth, she heard from Martial niece Zetsa and later let me and big brother know about your triumphed in a battle against a second level Core Master”.
‘So that’s how they learned…’ It was clarified to Zax.
“My thoughts about it, naturally, I’m proud of you my Martial son. As such, for your accomplishment, I will turn a blind eye to how long you prolonged the meeting with big brother. Instead of a year of secluded training as punishment, you will start and finish the initial part of your new training regimen here. Only when your soul will break through the next level, you will be permitted to leave little sister’s valley”.
‘Eh!’ Zax’s eyes widened, but he managed to hold back his voice. ‘This means that I’ll be stuck here for months!’ He stared pleadingly at his Master. ‘Please! Please! Please!’
As it so happened, Kartius turned his remaining eye blind to his Martial son’s silence beseech.
“Zax”, Kartius’s tone reprimanded.
Without a chance to say more, Laivien interrupted him. “Little Zax, this is not a senseless punishment. Here, with the support of the violet stone, your cultivation and level of comprehension would be tenfold higher. Come, stand beside me”. She guided him with her head to climb to sole stair of the pavilion and stand between her and the violet stone.
“Because of the piece in big brother’s possession and the loss of another one, this treasure is not as it was in the past. However, it still has several exceptional applications. Use your Soul Sense on me to ascertain my soul level”. Laivien urged Zax.
Releasing his Soul Sense from the boundaries of his sea of consciousness, Zax probed Laivien soul.
“Advanced phase first level Core Master”. Zax was a bit surprised. Laivien is his Master’s twin sister and supposedly training since childhood, yet her cultivation was quite low. “Your soul is different…” His brows creased. Zax found some kind of other matter inside Laivien soul, other than soul energy. “Is that a light attribute?!” He took a step back, raised his head and watched stupidly at Laivien.
Laivien’s eyes smiled in respond whilst Kartius reverted to his humanoid form, sighing. “Little Zax, you recognized my attribute… did you finally notice your own?” A burst of laughter escaped from Laivien’s mouth before Zax could answer. “Huhuhu, but it seems that you don’t know about how attributes are obtained, what, you didn’t ask? Or maybe others preferred to keep your attention on what’s important right now? Huhuhu”. Her eyes met Kartius’s and reflected a little of disagreement.
Laivien lowered her forehead to Zax’s and knocked it. “I’ll tell you. Attributes are external forces that a cultivator can start searching at the Peak of the Core Master realm. Inside the violet stone there is accumulation of light attribute and due to my excessive usage of the stone over the year, I successfully incorporated a bit of the light attribute to my soul, while still being in the first level of the second realm!”
“Little sister… what knowing that will help him now-” Kartius tried to say, but again was interrupted by Laivien.
“Well? Aren’t you enthusiastic now to know what else the violet stone can do and how it can help you?” Laivien passionately asked. Her appreciation for the violet stone was unquestionable, but each of her words of praise sounded to Zax as if they were made to build through something…
“What else-” He carefully tried to ask, yet met the same fate as his Master’s futile attempt to get a word out.
“Then again, little Zax, when all said and done about the violet stone, aren’t I also impressive?” Laivien mischievously cut him and knocked his forehead again. “Don’t be mistaken and think that anyone can obtain the light attribute like I did. This white doe, Great Laivien, since birth had unique affinity to the light attribute in Nature. With respect to the soul aspect, you are not that much better than I!”
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