She saw him, emerging step by step from the far off distance, the encompassing smoky mist of the Essence Cave, advancing toward her, like a dream turn reality.
Almost like a mirage he seemed to walk slowly while in fact each of his steps crossed ten or so meters.
“I’m back, Laivien”.
“I… was told…” She answered back but it sounded like she talked to herself.
Her heart throbbed strongly. She was afraid… that she one more imagine him, like when they told her of his death and when Tularg died.
“Zax”. Her voice was barely audible, her eyes moist and her mind wondering… is she going to cry because her eyes and ears play tricks on her, like they so often do these days, or for he truly came back, alive and well?
She had to confirm, even if it will draw all her effort, she had to stand up and go to him herself before he will go and vanish.
In another stride he appeared right next to her, under the pavilion. He placed a hand at the side of her back, both letting her feel him and stopping her from getting up.
For an instant she was startled, from the speed she completely failed to follow, and the sense of touch that gently pressed against her fur.
“You… You…” Tears began to cascade from her eyes. The words she wanted to say all stuck in her mouth. She dropped her white doe head, nuzzling it at his much smaller head and upper body.
Soon they were joined by Grandmaster Kartion, Kartius, Anet and everyone else who followed from the Blue Tower.
Laivien continued to cuddle Zax with her head as she glanced sideways to her Kartion and big brother. “He returned to us, Zax is here”. She shoved him closer to her body, to not leave her motherly range of control.
They came forward, Zetsa, Anet, Simel and Hagen behind Grandmaster Kartion and Kartius, both stags in their animalistic forms in front of their dear Laivien.
“I’m not going, Laivien”, Zax caressed her neck. “Master… Martial father, Grandmaster, please comply to my request and sit. I’ll tell you everything now”.
“You better will!” Simel emotionally charged. The big Silver Skin Gorilla was only second to Laivien in revealing his excitement.
“Master, Martial uncle”, Zetsa asked their attention. Neither asked her anything on the way to the valley as they rather have Zax, the one who left and return, answer their questions. “Little Zi just return home a day ago, please listen to what he has to say”.
“Not just them, everyone”. Zax corrected Zetsa, including Simel, Hagen and Laivien. “Later eldest Martial brother Raroen, big sister Rarahel, big brother Mes and big sister Shulip, too”.
Nodding, Grandmaster Kartion and Kartius settled close to the pavilion.
“Martial son”, Kartius turned to him, his mind and heart he peace and like it not been in a long time. “Tell us what you encounter and how your journey was, but if there are parts you cannot mention, for whatever reason, that is fine, too”. He knew that Zax happened to be involved with Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch of Kingdom Earth, and assumed that there were more figures on the same scale that he had met and perhaps dealt with. If any such figures preferred that Zax will keep their dealing a secret, Kartius wanted him to know that he was fine with it.
“Don’t worry, Master”. Zax smiled. It indeed was easier to reveal himself to his Martial family. “Actually, it’s not just words that I brought to you, but before anything else, I’ll let them come first…”
And so it began… the retelling of his venture in Ercas Mir along with all the details he omitted or distort from and for his parents.
As he narrated, now and then Zax answered questions for the surrounding humans and beasts, sometimes repeating himself to elaborate certain stuff or emphasize that they really occurred.
Two and a half hours into his tale some new arrived.
Mes, who traveled in Valgarel returned to find no one in the first of the two caves other than the Krikitories who lived there, which bewildered him since he knew that his Master will not leave the cave without leaving someone in charge. Confused, he went to the Essence cave, to seek and ask Laivien, there he nearly shed his skin when he saw Zax.
After giving Mes a short explanation, Zax proceeded with the narration, and three more hours after that, he finished the story.
“This… this…” Simel struggled to sentence his thoughts. “Little brother Zax, third realm expert?! You actually encountered so many and actually fought them?!”
The most difficult to believe portions of the story were all related to his encounters and incredible descriptions of survival and battle against Martial Mortals.
The question on the matter by Mes, Simel, Hagen and even Anet and Zetsa were so frequent that at a certain point Grandmaster Kartion demanded quiet until Zax would finish, whilst making sure to remember his own questions for later.
“Are you blind, Simel?! Have you not seen his speed?! Even I could not follow him! And aside from that, have you not heard him?” Kartius berated his Martial nephew. “Do you think he obtained his strength in a stroll? The five powers, Mercenary Association, grand cities and clans, oceans, Deformed Being who are born to rival Martial Mortals, Immortals and Gods…! If the Martial son of I, Kartius, had to go through all of this and fail to rise above than the person before you is only an impostor and all of us are fools!” His raving tone and harsh words had narrowly masked the immensity of the thrill and pride he felt for Zax, alongside the tinge of fear that spawned from the slight peek outside the well of New Earth.
“In the family, big brother Raroen, big sister Hagen and uncle are the only mist users in the third Core Master’s level. Apart from them, Zetsa has a long way to go before reaching the Peak of the second Core Master’s level. Considering the aptitude of the rest of us, I, Shulip and Rarahel are even farther behind on out Martial path. And yet… the youngest of us, smallest in the family, in such a short period of time, has gotten so strong, only the likes of His Valor Ozeyn and the Supreme Rulers of Kingdom Earth are his betters?!” Mes murmured to himself. He, too, wanted to go to Ercas Mir at Zax’s departure, but Grandmaster Kartion forbade him due to lack of knowledge about the world above ground, which now, although it felt like a loss, seemed to be the correct decision. As for his comparison of Zax to the Supreme Rulers and His Valor Ozeyn, that was his own conjecture and perhaps nothing Zax would say will make him believe that he honestly reached their legendary level of power.
“So I must pick… either the icy or fiery attribute”. Zetsa ruminated, inwardly feeling in an impasse more so than a junction.
“Five levels of Martial Mortal… six bottlenecks of insight…” Hagen mused, feeling complicated. Evidently she exhausted a speech technique that enabled her hawk head to speak outloud, rather than transmit her voice. Anyway, not just she, but in fact, they all were astounded by learning the true importance of the bottlenecks of insight and the approximate division of power in Ercas Mir, with respect to Martial Mortals.
None of them would ever dare think before today that when venturing in the world above ground they will meet such an abundance of experts. That in many occasions first level and second level, even third and fourth level Martial Mortals would be in attendance! To say nothing of Valgarel, in all of New Earth there were probably ten or so Martial Mortals and if experts like former Supreme Ruler Gid, Supreme Ruler Ariel and His Valor Ozeyn are at the fourth level, then at what level the rest could be that hold meaningfulness above ground?
Even more shocking was the revelation of the six bottlenecks of insight! The Martial path was, according to Zax, divided to Mortality and Immortality. For a cultivator to transcend, or attain “Evolutionary Ascension”, to Immortality, he or she has to perceive and comprehend, at the very least, four bottlenecks of insight before reaching the Peak of Mortality and praying to Nature to bestow fortune on them for a fraction of opportunity.
Comprehending four bottlenecks of insight?! Any cultivator who broke through to the Core Master realm and cultivated in it for while would have his and her eyes pop out of their sockets upon hearing this.
In succession of accomplishment, the six bottlenecks of insight become tens, hundreds and thousands of time more difficult to perceive and comprehend. Even for Zax, although his progression seemed fast and steady, there is virtually no one in New Earth whose soul was more built to the task and enhanced by the tempering of the clone of the Black Core’s previous owner. Furthermore, his heightened soul by itself was not enough to excavate the real usefulness of the bottlenecks of insight in the short time he did. It was all thanks to the doses of dark attribute’s essence he received from the two Black Cores and God Demirva’s perfect dark attribute’s essence that his understanding of the dark attribute energy, via the five bottlenecks he comprehended, was accelerated. Moreover, he had yet to reach the limit of understanding achievable by five bottlenecks and the effect of those entire dark attribute’s essences wore off shortly after absorbing them.
With Zax being the exception, most cultivators, be they those who know or do not know the importance of the bottlenecks, succumbed to the initial three bottlenecks of insight – it is compulsory to comprehend no less than three to get to the Peak of the second realm or break through to the third – and then skip the rest for quick cultivation.
“Fortunately, fortunately…” Hagen shook her hawk head. ‘I comprehended three bottlenecks of insight and skipped two which at the time I felt I have no hope of perceiving and comprehending. Fortunately I haven’t come across the last one. My Martial path is secured. big brother Raroen is the same’. Even if four were the minimum requirement and there was still a long road ahead, it sufficed to ensure A future for her as a cultivator striving for Immortality.
“So you did, actually nearly die…” Anet stared at Zax, biting her lips in agitation. To the sound of her voice and choice of words everyone became awakened from the six bottlenecks’ stupor only to fell into silence.
“Yes, I did”. Zax confessed straightforwardly. “As I nearly died many other times, before, in New Earth, since a very young age”. He was not just excusing his near death experiences… “Otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten as strong as I am now”. They all knew that it was a fair exchange, but every so often someone had to say it outloud.
The ground suddenly started quaking.
Everyone called in surprise.
His long, stag head bent down while his entire stalwart physique trembled with the earth beneath it.
“Mm! Mm! Mm!” A pleased, muffled hum reverberated from his sealed lips. “Hahahaha!” He pulled his neck opened his mouth. “HAHAHAHA! Thank you! Thank you, good nephew! Hahaha!” Grandmaster Kartion erupted in an outburst of laughter and happiness so rare on him, everyone, including his Laivien, gawked at him dumbfound.
“Hahahaha! Little brother, Martial daughter Zetsa, the two have you also deserve gratitude. If not you, bringing and nurturing that little child, he would not have grown into the man who so generously assumed the role of a catalyst to all those bottlenecks I struggled with for years and years, hahahahaha!”
“Big brother”, Grandmaster Kartion straightened his neck excitedly. “You had a breakthrough? You broke through another bottleneck of insight?!” He was both delighted and confused. Grandmaster Kartion’s soul broke through to the third realm a long time ago, logically it should not be possible for him to meet more bottlenecks of insight or revisit those he skipped.
“Eh?!” Grandmaster Kartion’s stared and then waved his antlers as he shook his head. “No, little brother. Sadly those two I gave up will never return”. Despite stating that depressing fact, his elation did not diminish. “Four is enough, hahaha! To say what those bottlenecks meant will take too long, the most important, though, I’m finally satisfied with it! At last I perfected it! It cannot be any more flawless and the next step not that obscure…”
“Perfected?” Simel seemed to think about something and a particular matter dawned on him. “Master, you mean!”
“Yes, clever son! The Three Stages Of Hyper Physique, the first stage is now indisputably DONE!”