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The passageway stretched to a distance of couple kilometers. It was dark, completely void from Sun Stones.
Supreme Ruler Ariel lead and Zax followed, both extending their Soul Sense and Sublime Soul Sense to perceive their surrounding since there were many twists. Of course, Zax could rely on his excellent vision to see the way, but he was quite fascinated in this one of a kind passageway and wondered if there were interesting stuff in it; such as special stones like Earth’s Cores or Sun Stones, or perhaps, due to their close proximity to Ercas Mir, small Deformed Beings who lived in the passageway. Regrettably, Zax found nothing peculiar in the passageway except from the world on its other side.
After a several minutes run, white rays of light were finally visible along with sounds of birds and insects.
At the instant Zax followed after Supreme Ruler Ariel out of the passageway, as his eyes met the scenery that was waiting for them, an indescribable sense of awe had took over him.
Most abundant was the color green. Lush and bright, a vivid shade that doubtfully exists below the ground, and yet here can virtually be seen at every turn of the head.
The vegetation was breathtaking, and most outstanding were the heavenly wide and tall trees!
Unknowingly panting, from his eye level view, Zax slowly began to gouge the size of the trees up ahead as he raised his head.
Ten, twenty, thirty meters… and they kept going up.
Seventy, eighty… one hundred… one hundred and fifty… almost three hundred meters tall!
And wide? It would take fifty or so men with arms stretched to the side to embrace the trunk from its base.
“Eh?!” Zax uttered and a wisp of wonder escaped from his voice.
Up above, where he remembered the bright, earthy ceiling usually is, in between the swaying foliage of the top branches, a patch of blue was flickering like a bulb going on and off.
Zax sprang from the ground, too engaged with the spectacle his gaze captured to care about the stern look on Supreme Ruler Ariel’s face or the deadly silence that befall the surrounding giants’ forest the instant they appeared out of the passageway.
“Leave him be”. Supreme Ruler Ariel said in a low voice. “He will come down soon”.
There was no response to Supreme Ruler Ariel’s request more than command. However, the woods remained soundless and for him it was enough to not worry and avert his attention to the ascending Zax.
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Zax climbed swiftly, with each tap of foot on a branch brining sound back to the forest, until at last, his figure breached the crown of the tree.
Hovering in midair, though it was for only several breaths, it felt like time stood still.
Zax watched in combination of amazement, reverence and a trace of terror. Only couple of hours ago it was a sight solely visible through the wonderland behind a Screen, and even then, in comparison to the genuine view that encompassed everything at this very moment, it was eons away from experiencing the real deal!
Vast. Endless. No walls, no tunnels, no ceiling. Holding a promise to something even beyond, while stating one’s insignificant. These were… These are the blue sky!
‘Air’. The thought emerged in Zax’s mind.
As a cultivator, moreover a bodily cultivator, he could hold his breath for much, much longer than this passing few seconds. But the thrill… it emptied all the oxygen from his body, as if the first breath belonged to the world above ground and was taken from what little air he contained, before his turn to take from the world.
With full lungs, the descent began and the moment was commemorated forever in Zax’s sea of consciousness.
Returning to the ground, Zax landed in front of Supreme Ruler Ariel.
“Are they members of the five powers?” Zax asked. His tone of voice was nonchalant but his eyes still possessed the shine of the experience.
Nodding, Supreme Ruler Ariel turned to the surrounding forest. “He is a citizen of my Kingdom Earth. His level of cultivation abides the rules of the respectable five powers. As Lieutenant General of the Blessed Army I permit him a pass to venture freely in Ercas Mir. Who cares to take testimony?”
“For the Violet Scaled Troops I will”.
“The Blue Sea also wants to confirm”.
Four voices, five flashes moved in union.
As the five figures came before him and Supreme Ruler Ariel, Zax squinted as he seized their appearances. At the same time, he could also feel five Soul Senses scrutinizing his three aspects, which made him frown and use his own Soul Sense to obstruct them. With regards to the vice powers’ rules, Zax met them all and had Supreme Ruler Ariel to vouch for him. He did not need any of the five to learn about the bizarre state of his Qi channels or exceptionally high body fitness level.
Three humans, two humanoid beasts.
Of the humans, one was a tall, taller than Zax, and husky middle age man. He wore a white tank top with a “Golden Desert Fort” badge and military pants in desert colors.
Of the women, the first to arrive wore a sliver robe and on her ample chest carried a metal plate embedded with the words “Luminous Church”. The torso of the second woman was shielded by a piece of glowing armor and skinny black pants with golden strings. To her back she wore a short, black mantle that reflected light. She appeared younger than the first woman and as the last human among the group of five, Zax assumed that she is from the Blessed Army like Supreme Ruler Ariel – also, she was the only one who had yet to voice her thoughts and when she saw Supreme Ruler Ariel she gave him a subtle salute.
The two humanoid beasts were clothes less, similarly to the habit of beasts in Valgarel who tend to cover themselves only in human form.
One of the humanoid beasts was a tall male, taller even than the Golden Desert Fort guy, with blue and green scales and overall aquatic look never before seen anywhere in New Earth. Zax suspected that he was a member of the Blue Sea. The other humanoid beast was around the same height as Supreme Ruler Ariel, and was brawny more than anyone of the people and beasts present. He seemed to be from the ape family, his body was covered by emerald fur and in the middle of his chest four shimmering violet scales were exhibited, his insignia. He was clearly from the Violet Scaled Troops.
“Ariel, just a short while ago your Kingdom Earth had delivered a batch of new recruits to the Golden Desert Fort, Blessed Army, Luminous Church. And there is already a group of first realm fingerlings touring Selivereb. It is too late and too early for you to bring him now. Send him back and have him join a new first realm group in two to three decades”. The speaker was the aquatic humanoid beast. He seemed to be irritated over the obstruction Zax posed to his Soul Sense and did not mind to have his voice sounding as if berating Supreme Ruler Ariel.
“Brencha, who do you think you are speaking in this manner to my Lieutenant General?! Are you itching for an incident?!” The young woman, Zax guessed from the Blessed Army, sneered and walked forward to break the line of sight between the aquatic humanoid beast, Brencha, and Supreme Ruler Ariel.
“Humph!” Brencha snorted, avoiding answering the young woman.
He knew quite well the disparity in ranks between him, the other four and Supreme Ruler Ariel. Though only one of them belonged to the same power, if any of the other four push it too far and Supreme Ruler Ariel will retaliate, the powers behind them will say they brought it on themselves. After all, how inept a Peak third level Core Master must be in order to provoke a renowned Martial Mortal?
“Come now, Shiva, brother Brencha did not mean to offend senior Ariel. These are merely regulations”. The woman from the Luminous Church had tried to pacify.
“A Lieutenant General of the Blessed Army approved this young cultivator, Joanna, do you think that he will do so while violating the five powers’ rules?!” The truth was that the young woman, Shiva, was a direct officer under Supreme Ruler Ariel in the Blessed Army, which is why she was so infuriated.
“Shiva”, a voice from behind her softly called and Shiva turned toward Supreme Ruler Ariel. “Let us proceed. Take out the Curator’s Mark. The rest of you, if you want to take testimony, do the same”. When he spoke to the other four, Supreme Ruler Ariel was apathetic.
There was a slight discontent reaction on the faces of the four that quickly vanished. They, along with Shiva, raised their hands, upon which were five rings, one on each hand. The rings seemed to be nothing special, but when the five extended their other hands and stroke them, a minor fluctuation erupted from the rings and next things appeared in the five’s hands were charm medallions with the characters of their respectable powers in their original and common language.
“The junior name is ‘Zax Zel’. You can already tell that his soul is at the second realm, but his mist energy and had yet to break through”. Supreme Ruler Ariel said. “Mark him and be done with the ‘regulations’”. He said while his vision moved past Joanna, causing her to smile wryly.
The husky middle age man from the Golden Desert Fort was the first to point the charm at Zax and imbued it with soul energy. The characters on the charm glowed in golden light. A golden beam shot from the charm and integrated with Zax’s body. It occurred so fast that Zax did not have time react.
Following the golden beam, a blue, violet, black and silver beams shot at Zax.
‘Relax. It is only the procedure. If the beams will return to the charm it means that either your mist or bodily cultivation surpasses that five powers’ limitation. That will not happen. Since you do not violate the rules, the beams will dissipate, leaving five unnoticeable marks that will flare up to alert the five powers when you will break through the second realm. The only way to remove the marks is either by joining one of the five powers and at the day of your return to New Earth, the Curators of the passageway will erase it for you’.
Supreme Ruler Ariel explained to Zax via his Sublime Soul Sense.
Zax did not respond. Realizing that nothing out of the ordinary is being done to him, he quietly waited for the five beams to vanish.
One after the other, the five declared. Seeing as the beams dissipated, even if some of them refused to do so, they were compelled by the rules of the powers behind them to approve Zax.
Charms disappear back to the rings and hands fall down, the five current Curators concluded their task. The man from the Golden Desert Fort and the humanoid beast from the Violet Scaled Troops retreated back to their posts in the surrounding giants’ forest. Joanna nodded and left, as well. Following her was Brencha. He looked at Zax bitterly and withdrew.
“Shiva, after you will switch shifts and return to base, use my decree for three days three nights session in the Tempering Chamber”.
“Yes, Lieutenant General!” Shiva excitedly replied, saluted and went back to her post.
It was an unexpected treat Supreme Ruler Ariel decided to bestow her after sensing her sincerity.
Just as the last of the five Curators left, the deadly silence was overwhelmed by livelihood of the forest that was previously held back.
Zax perked his ears. It was impossible to ignore the sounds of the wild since they echoed farther than he remembered in Valgarel, and with no walls even the elements seemed more exuberant.
‘So these were experts of the five powers…’ Zax mused after getting absorbed in the forest’s revitalization. “Are there beasts only in the Blue Sea and Violet Scaled Troops and humans only in the other three powers?” He asked.
“Generally, yes”. Supreme Ruler Ariel shook his head. “But you can still find beasts and humans in any camp, doing all sorts of odd jobs. That is the reason for the division of where beasts and humans from New Earth go if they join the five powers”.
Couple of silent minutes passed before Supreme Ruler Ariel opened again. “Are you prepared?”
“Yes”. Zax answered, still immersed in the new world he arrived to.
Supreme Ruler Ariel sighed, turning away, to a direction other than the passageway back to New Earth. ‘I have said all that I could and there is nothing else of importance that we can discuss’. He sent to Zax with his Sublime Soul Sense. “Take care”. His last words kept reverberating even after he left.
Zax took a deep breath. Staring up, he searched for the patch of blue from before. After seeing the one he suddenly managed to find a lot more flickering in between the swaying foliage of the top branches. He lowered his head, recalling some of the mentioned placed in Earth’s Records. Having decided on where to go, Zax determinedly stepped his first step toward the unknown that waited for him, under the blue sky.
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