“That’s surprising”, Supreme Ruler Ariel began to narrate in a voice only he could hear. “He must have been really close to a breakthrough… But it truly is marvelous and voracious, the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement. I use a little formation to accelerate the healing process and it completely absorbed the herbal ointment and even the bandages… the fibers they were made from were not simple, to say the least, and still nothing remained!”
Zax clenched his fist in bewilderment. ‘How unexpected, I broke through! This strength…’ Before he completed the sentence, another one appeared. ‘Unbound by the road! Unbound by anyone!’
Kinetic energy exuded from Zax’s body, causing the air to vibrate with an ear piercing sound.
‘This strength…’ A belligerent smile bloomed on Zax face. ‘It exceeded by far Master’s predications!’
At the time, Kartius assured Zax that with the modification of the Black Core on the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, once reaching the last gate only third realm expert, or Martial Mortals, would be a threat to him. It may sound exaggerated, but put aside the effect of the Black Core, from the Peak of the sixth gate to the Beginner phase of the seventh gate there was a huge boundary. Moreover, since then Zax attainments with kinetic energy and Kinetic Force improved exceptionally.
Just as an example to make it easy to understand how strong Zax became, if before the breakthrough one execution of Soar With The Strom would have put him out of commission, now, not only did its power increase, but Zax can continue to fight – although a second volley of Soar With The Strom would not be recommended.
“Eh…? ‘Martial Mortal’? ‘Immortals’?” Approximately five seconds after Supreme Ruler Ariel opened his mouth; Zax awakened from the immersed state of his new strength, just to have a flood of questions surfacing in his mind.
Unable to entirely calm down, Zax managed to stop exuding kinetic energy and turned to Supreme Ruler Ariel with a serious, a tad frustrated, questioning countenance. “Sir, Supreme Ruler Ariel… why?”
Only after he finished asking did Zax notice how obscure he sounded. But there was a good reason for it. Although he was curious about the “Martial Mortal”, “Immortals” remark, there were so many more pressing questions he wanted to ask. When he turned to Supreme Ruler Ariel, they all jumbled in his head, wanting to come out and get their answers right away, which is the reason succumbed to the most elementary verbal appeal for enquiring.
Supreme Ruler Ariel did not reply, he smiled and raised an eyebrow, implying to Zax to gather himself first, there is no need to rush, and there will be answers.
Of course, Zax could not read that far into Supreme Ruler Ariel’s expression. He did, though, understand that he should compose himself and ask again.
Closing his eye and breathing out from his nostrils, Zax put to rest the excitement from his breakthrough and the urge to realize everything simultaneously.
He opened his eyes, finally serene, and politely asked. “Please tell me, sir, why do I need to forfeit to competition? Why you and the elders isolated me? Why did you manipulate my soul? Why did you spend such precious material on me?” Those were the top four questions Zax wanted to get answers for.
“Mm”, Supreme Ruler Ariel nodded. “I will share with you the answers to these question. Before, however, now that you are sober, I will give you another chance to choose whether to comply with my request and willingly forfeit the competition or not. Regardless of what your choice may be, I promise you there will be no repercussion whatsoever”.
Zax did not reply instantly. It would be a lie to claim that he was not shocked, since he already said that he will forfeit, but from Supreme Ruler Ariel’s sincere manner he quickly grasped that he was given a genuine last chance.
For several seconds Zax contemplated over his decision. Eventually he turned to Supreme Ruler Ariel with a thoughtful look in his eyes. “Sir, above anything else, my greatest goal in the Martial competition is the first prize’s pure Core… If I forfeit, what are my chance of getting a pure Core, considering all possibilities?”
Zax had a desire to test himself against Kingdom Earth’s prodigies and experts of his generation. As for winning or losing against them? It was a whim, in comparison, simply because he was perfectly aware that a loss is the best kind of motivation. That being said, he still preferred to win and from the very beginning intended to give his all in the competition, and his all he certainly gave!
What Zax cared about was assuring as much as possible Anet’s future Martial path, that she would be able to follow him.
“A pure Core…” Supreme Ruler Ariel’s tone turned solemn. “There are two methods to obtain, neither, however, is easy. One requires precise timing, the risk is low but the opportunity is quite rare. The other option demands great strength, much more than you currently have, it is not difficult to encounter but the risk… even a Martial Mortal expert will not stride lightly…” Supreme Ruler Ariel relaxed his voice before offering the verdict. “You are young and your Martial potential is extraordinary. The faster you will keep grow stronger, the sooner you will have the chance to tackle the second method. Anything further of the subject, you will know due time”.
‘A risk to even Martial Mortal experts… is not necessarily a risk to every cultivator. I’m cultivating the body, the physique, as a result, as higher chances to preserve when sustaining critical injuries. And once I’ll break through the second realm of bodily cultivation…’
“Very well, sir, Supreme Ruler Ariel, I agree to forfeit the Martial competition”.
Supreme Ruler Ariel nodded in gratification. “Since you are giving me this face, from now on you may refer to me as ‘Senior Ariel’”.
“Senior Ariel”. Zax cupped his hands and slightly bowed. With this he knew that a personal relationship between him and Kingdom Earth’s strongest expert has formed.
“Junior Zax”. Ariel accepted Zax’s gesture. “Here, let us sit and talk”. He directed Zax to join him for the small sitting area of the room, where two chairs and a low round table were situated.
“I will begin with answering your questions, starting with why I manipulated your soul”. Ariel sat with his hands on his knees and a straight back. Although some may found his posture stiff if imitating, Ariel himself projected a natural disposition.
Zax attentively listened with no intention to interrupt until this all matter will be clear to him.
“Junior Zax, you are a clever kid, you already should have noticed that my request was not out of bad intention. I indeed have a reason to exempt you from the Martial competition. Before expounding on that reason, I wanted to test your character, which is why I instilled in your soul provocative stimuli”.
“Do you want to know my assessment?”
“Yes”. Zax answered decisively. His worth in senior Ariel’s view, how could he not want to know?
“Fine, I found you to be too aggressive. Even when submitting, your intent is not hostile, but it makes you emanate an unyielding spirit. To enemies who spare your life it will arouse an uncomfortable feeling, and whatever they will make of it, most occurrences they might change their minds, deciding to kill you just in case. Alone in an unfriendly environment you should learn to better conceal your thoughts and state of mind”. Ariel narrated as an elder imparting from his knowledge to a junior, rather than examiner who discovered faults in his examinee.
‘Aggressive…’ Zax sighed in his heart. ‘From growing up in Valgarel, from fighting, killing for survival, killing for revenge… I did become wild in nature. The peacefulness of these recent years, the company of Anet, Liz and everyone else from home, I can say, contributed to a mellow lifestyle that should have moderated my temperament, but according to senior Ariel it wasn’t enough’.
“I’ll improve myself”. Zax said, thanking Ariel.
“That should be the resolve. As for the precious materials, they were supplied to your two opponents as well. It is merely that you, bodily cultivators, are practicing techniques which are more suitable to the consumption of most resources”. Ariel explained and moved on.
“Junior Zax, you say that you felt isolated by your elders, but I gather you specifically refer to the attitude of Elijah, am I correct?”
Zax did not want to point fingers, but even though it was a unanimous of the elders and Supreme Rulers to select him for the second three way battle, what he actually wished to know was why Elijah particularly treated him with hostility.
“I thought so”. By reading the change in Zax’s mood, Ariel had understood that he was right. “Junior Zax, the issue of Elijah’s conducts… you should not take to heart. There is nothing that neither you nor I can do about it. But since he cannot contain his feeling, I will illuminate you for his reasons”.
“Elijah, junior Zax, is one of the rare few men of my generation who are still alive today. When we were young and within the confinements of the first realm of Martial cultivation, there was a time of war between humanity and beasts, a war that you should have learned about in pre Core School”. Ariel stated.
Zax was aware of the war Ariel mentioned. This was the war the Supreme Rulers themselves brought to an end by making a blood oath for peace with the emissaries of the beasts’ side, before creating Kingdom Earth.
“In this war against the beasts many humans perished. Elijah both fought and lost many brothers and sisters in arms, including his younger and elder blood brothers. From this loses sprout an undying hatred for beasts. However, for the sake of our peace with today’s Valgarel, Elijah acknowledged the need to manage his feelings. Usually, Elijah does not care about the relationship between individual humans and beasts, but your apprenticeship to Kartion… such cases Elijah, and one or two of the last of our generation, prone to take as an insult to the sacrifices we suffered back then”.
“Be that as it may, junior Zax, Elijah will not act severely on his feelings. If he will express himself, you have seen and felt it already, at most he will project a mean ambiance, which you should not take to heart, nor make effort to reconcile with an ancient enmity”.
‘If that’s how it is…’ Zax was content with not concerning himself about Elijah. If he blames him for something nearly the entirety of New Earth had moved on from, Zax preferred to ignore the old bitter Elijah than deal with him in any sort of way.
“Now that you understand, we may get to the main subject… why we elders and Supreme Rulers have decided to eliminate you from the continuum of the Martial competition”.
“In essence, the decision is related to the communal prize of the competition’s top ten places. Junior Zax, whatever I will tell you next is a confidential matter you are forbidden from disclosing with any entity, be it a family member, a companion or even your Master!” Ariel stated explicitly.
Zax did not oppose Ariel, the sudden heaviness in his tone of voice made it clear that it was not an option.
“Later, the other nine contestants who ascended to the top ten will also hear it. Now you will be the first to be bestowed the right to traverse beyond the boundaries of New Earth and reenter the world beneath the blue sky!”
“Senior Ariel, are you saying… the top ten participants can really leave New Earth?!” Zax was utterly shocked.
Seeing the blue skies, returning to the world of antiquity times above the ground, that is the dream of every New Earth’s native, be they humans or beasts!
A spark flashed in Zax’s eyes as he recalled something important.
“Senior Ariel, when I was nine years of age, your son, Mortimer Dauch, he led an expedition group to above the ground. Is it possible that they have returned and forged for all of us?!”
It has been a decade since Mortimer’s expedition group has left New Earth, leaving behind great expectations. Although Zax spent most of his time in Valgarel, if the expedition group returned he was bound to hear about it, but till this very day there were no news regarding any of the expedition group’s members.
Ariel shook his head. “My son and his companions, they won’t be returning in the foreseeable future. Unlike the top ten contestants, there are limitations on the span of time the expedition group can stay above ground”.
“Limitations? What kind of limitations? Can it possibly be associated to beings that live above the ground?”
Zax was surprised to know that other than the danger of the world beneath the blue sky there are even rules. This means that there are intelligent creatures above the ground, and if they are able to set limitations that even Supreme Ruler Ariel’s son do not dare to violate, these creature should be terrifyingly strong!
“Yes”. Ariel said. “The set of rules that we, dwellers of New Earth, must obey were fashioned by the five great powers who dominate our whole planet. When I, my younger Martial sister, Trey, and youngest Martial brother, Gid, left Kingdom Earth after its establishment, the time of our so called ‘disappearance’ we actually went to the world above the ground, seeking to further our Martial path. That is when we learned about the five great powers”.
“The five great powers are, respectfully, the Golden Desert Fort, the Blessed Army, the Luminous Church, the Violet Scaled Troops and the Blue Sea, and the pathway to the surface of the earth from New Earth leads directly to the mutual zone of the Violet Scaled Troops and the Blessed Army”.
“I, Trey and Gid joined the Blessed Army soon after we crossed to its territory. As members of the Blessed Army we were enlightened in many ways, which helped us experience a meteoric rise. You can say that our Martial paths have extended beyond recognition. Afterwards we returned to New Earth and completely unified humanity’s territory”.
“And the Blessed Army, just like that you were allowed to join it? Did its leader know that you came from New Earth?”
“Of course they knew. The five powers were always aware of the existence of New Earth, but before we three dared to venture outside and exposed our potential they did not have interest in what they deemed ‘lower life forms’. Each of the five powers has numerous experts. Furthermore, the resources above ground are abundant and varied. What we have in New Earth is but a fraction”.
“So prosperous…!” Zax murmured.
“More than you can comprehend!” Ariel affirmed.
“The attention of the other four powers gradually was gravitating toward me, my Martial sister and Martial brother as we participated and perfectly completed higher risk assignments. And at the day I became a Martial Mortal and the General of the Blessed Army conferred me the rank of Lieutenant General, the five powers altogether realized that although the Martial heritage of us, New Earth residents, is short, with proper guidance we have the capacity to become a force to be reckoned with”.
“None of the five powers agreed to allow the other to monopolize our New Earth society. But they still held a craving for our latent potential. Hence, they formed a set of rules to limit one another as well as attract those with talent and potential”.
“The rules are as followed: Dwellers of New Earth can only resurface as long as they are below the second realm as mist or bodily cultivators. This first rule is the reasons the members of the expedition group are all first realm experts. Once they can since the bottleneck to the second realm, if they would breakthrough above ground and be discovered by any of the five forces, they will be compelled to join them”.
“The second rule is directed toward the five forces, forbidding them to influence the governing forces in Kingdom Earth and Valgarel”.
“The third rule divides us human and beasts. The Golden Desert Fort, the Blessed Army and the Luminous Church can only draw humans, while the Violet Scaled Troops and Blue Sea can only invite beasts”.
“Lastly, the fourth rule, this one was created to abolish the sense of unfairness from limiting those of us who broke through the second realm of Martial cultivation, the Martial competition. Every half a century a Martial competition will take place in both Kingdom Earth and Valgarel, inviting the cream of the crop of the younger generation to participate, giving the opportunity to those who reached the top ten to join the elite of any of the five forces”.
“Their elites?” Zax wondered.
Ariel nodded. “Entering the top ten is just the initial phase of the screening to the elite groups, but yes. The lucky few, who are young enough and would pass all the entrance phases, will receive the nurturing of potential Immortals”.
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