Four days after his return home.
Zax sighed and lowered his head in resignation as he proceeded to Grandmaster Kartion’s cave.
As it turned out, promising to come back from Valgarel every three days became a compulsory routine.
His mother insisted, his little sister persisted and his father, recognizing the safe side, just went with the flow.
‘These four days I spent at home were great, but mom and Liz now want me to match every day I’m in Valgarel at home’. The higher his cultivation gets, the longer his training sessions are. If their behavior is an aftereffect to the anxiety and shook he put them through or just remnants of them, he had to find a way of dealing with them, quickly!
‘If I’ll ask Anet for advice she’ll probably tell me to spend more time home… big sis not really in the position to take their side, but she didn’t cause as much pain as I did… only ones left are Eldest Martial brother Raroen and Laivien’.
The motherly Laivien for obvious reasons and Raroen due to his position in his tribe… He had responsibilities as the son of one of the Silverhorned tribe’s leaders, yet more often than not he chose to stay in the company of his Master.
As for asking his old friends, grandparents and other members of the Martial family, including his Master… as a result of his current “status” he could not take the risk of showing up in front of his friends. During the four days at home he visited grandpa Ger and grandma Ney and the pair seemed to share a similar opinion to his mother’s. Of the rest in his Martial family, Zax could already guess what each of them would say. His Master will take a lenient approach for the sake of his blood family and Shulip, after the emotional turmoil she had been through post Tularg’s death, will tell him upfront to go home, probably stating that except from Zetsa all his other family members are non cultivators and the day they will pass away is sooner than he thinks. The remaining members of the Martial family will either tell him to concentrate on cultivation or take it easy – Mes – enjoy his freedom.
Crossing the tunnel to Grandmaster Kartion’s cave the sight of adult Krikitories working the fields and young Krikitories play uplifted his mood. ‘Grandmaster’s presence really helped this small tribe to maintain its peacefulness in the wilderness of Valgarel’.
“Little brother Zax, you came back! Excellent, follow me to Master’s abode”. A long, green scales dragon with purple mane, two silver horns and green eyes greeted Zax from up in the air.
“Big brother Raroen!” Zax joyfully soared to meet him.
“You can fly?” Raroen was surprised. “You sure became more impressive in the little while you were away. Come, Master told me, Rarahel and little Shulip everything. Everyone is waiting since yesterday”. Raroen transformed into streak and left toward Grandmaster Kartion’s Blue Tower.
“Waiting? For what?” Zax confusedly shot after him.
Below, on the ground, young and impish Krikitories ran while cheerily shouting. “Ra! Ra! Ra!”
“Why is everyone here?” Zax asked whoever was willing to answer from the members of his Martial family who stood outside the Blue Tower in humanoid or human forms. Only Laivien was absent.
Raroen resumed his humanoid form and landed with an eager smile beside Kartius. “Martial uncle, haven’t you guys told Master that little brother Zax is here?”
“We did. He will be out in a moment. Martial son, come down”.
“Master-” Before Zax could finish call him, a blue haired woman in blue feathery tunic pounced at him with a hug. “Big sister Shulip…” Other than that Zax did not know what more he can say. He returned to hug and waited for her to relax and let go.
“You made us worry”. A familiar voice and a fiery crimson scaly hand grabbed his shoulder from behind. Rarahel who chose to stay in her humanoid form spoke in an accusatory, mildly hurt voice.
The blue haired Shulip pulled back. “Never mind”. She said to Zax and Rarahel. “He isn’t dead. That’s what important”.
Rarahel’s lizard’s lips twitched. There was a tacit understanding in her silence, even though she had more to say to Zax. Only her grip tightened. She was less open with her emotions than Shulip, especially when there were others watching. Her unyielding hold possessed the desire to hug which she could not frankly express.
“Shulip, Rarahel”, Grandmaster Kartion exited his Blue Tower. “You said what you had to say to your youngest Martial brother?”
“Yes, Master”. They replied unanimously.
“Good. We are going”. He nodded, gave the order and took the lead leaving.
“Master, what happened?” Zax asked Kartius, as everyone, even his big sister Zetsa, kept quiet, seemingly restraining some sort of excitement and hurried along their Master.
“You’ll now when we get there”. Kartius gave him a rare grin, change to his animalistic form and took the lead next to Grandmaster Kartion.
Since they all were going it was not possible leaving the two caves unguarded. Enemies living or dead, Grandmaster Kartion never allowed the chance of anything happens to his Laivien and no one being there to help her. He did not put much faith in the abilities of the Krikitories attending her.
Thus, their destination was the nearly secluded, adjacent Essence Cave.
Grandmaster Kartion stomped in his Brown Stag animalistic form. His Kinetic Force discharged an impulse that dispersed the smoky mist of the Essence Cave in a radius of five hundred meters. “Martial nephew, come!” He called in a rumbling, somber voice.
Zax instantly frowned. While everyone were merely watching from the side, Grandmaster Kartion was summoning him provocatively.
‘He wants to fight me’. The thought struck his mind. ‘But to what purpose’. His line of sight intersected Grandmaster Kartion. Something was comprehensible in the Brown Stag’s eyes, rather than hostile intent there was zeal reflecting from them.
‘So that is the case…’ Zax finally understood, half smiling.
His expression showed Grandmaster Kartion that he is ready. The might Brown Stag opened his mouth, “I would like to ask that you will go all out, but your growth is simply outrageous. Do that, use the strength of an Intermediate first level Martial Mortal and keep increasing it until I won’t be able to fight anymore”. Not a hint of withdrawal could be heard in his voice.
Zax nodded. “Alright, Grandmaster, but… are you testing me, yourself or the perfect first stage of the Three Stages Of Hyper Physique?”
“All of the above”. Grandmaster Kartion said. His muscles bulging, feral atmosphere manifest around him.
The earth on which he stood exploded, the issuing force blew the dust from the battlefield before it could hinder their vision – not that it would have mattered thanks to their other kin senses.
Facing the great antlers, aimed, speeding toward him, Zax stood motionless in wait. The ground shook and the surrounding spectators distanced themselves farther and farther after each tremor.
He loosened his muscles. There was no threat that entitled him going all out. Yes, Grandmaster Kartion was at the second realm of bodily cultivation, as he was, and unlike him was already cultivating the first stage of the Three Stages Of Hyper Physique, but up until a week ago that first stage was flawed and with the enchantment of the Black Core to each of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement’s breakthrough, while Grandmaster Kartion, a Chaoyue beast, had the equivalent strength of an Intermediate first level Martial Mortal when using Kinetic Force, Zax by solely relying on physical strength was a fine match to an Advanced second level Martial Mortal.
Zax evaded the onslaught of the giant antlers and threw an open palm at Grandmaster Kartion’s head.
‘Tough’. Zax was forced to admit that even a Peak first level Martial Mortal would not be able to split Grandmaster Kartion’s skull, at least not in one hit.
“Tsk!” Grandmaster Kartion clucked his tongue. ‘I have to be careful, I nearly lost consciousness’.
The downside of fighting a bodily cultivator, who is using the same refinement technique and is on the same level, is that the innate physical capabilities of either side do not matter anymore. The refinement technique bridged the gap in innate talent and placed them on the same scale. Mist cultivation is more intimate, includes other factors, which is why such problems typically do not occur in similar situations.
Grandmaster Kartion flung his head, pushing Zax up, rose on his back hooves and thrust. Zax tried to agilely escape the antlers once more but without using Kinetic Force or dark attribute energy, he had to maneuver himself by a short touch in the antlers for balance.
His arm lobbed back, his body spinning uncontrollably. The antlers were shrouded by Kinetic Force. Grandmaster Kartion saw that Zax was momentarily incapacitated, trapped in his caging antlers, and swung his brawny neck!
Zax was repeatedly struck.
He was sent flying two hundred meters, but by the time he hit the ground he already stabilized himself and landed cleanly.
‘Fighting on the same level can be awful lot of fun’. All he did was entertaining himself a bit by examining Grandmaster Kartion’s moves; therefore there was no effort invested in the technique that got him entangled and toyed with a moment ago. ‘Let’s put some more weight in these fists!’ He raised his power by an increment and got a little more serious in his technique, though not by much. He was meant to help Grandmaster Kartion, not exhibit his skills and strength.
His speed matched an Advanced first level Martial Mortal. Six of the tense spectators managed to follow his silhouette, three made up of it a humanoid shape and one felt he could have still react if it came at him.
Grandmaster Kartion was relatively at the same boat as the spectating Kartius. He squinted, attempting to guess from which direction Zax will assault, where to channel his Kinetic Force to defense and whether the fifth step would be enough to withstand.
Zax appeared at his left flank, drawing his arm back in the initial motion of a punch.
‘There!’ Kinetic Force erupted from the left side of his ribcage just as he received the punch. Grandmaster Kartion strived to maintain his hooves in contact with the ground, but was still shoved tens of meters.
Zax stood, waiting for him to regain his footing. The first punch was for Grandmaster Kartion to familiarize with the increase in strength, since what to follow would be a whole torrent of punches and kicks.
Realizing Zax’s intentions, Grandmaster Kartion made the best use of the time to assess the damage and how well he can still bear it. Feeling prepared he looked at Zax. “In the past four days I used two kilos of the dark attribute’s essence you gathered to cultivate the improved first stage of the Three Stages Of Hyper Physique”.
“Two kilos?” Zax was taken aback.
Attribute’s essence is basically a sort of condensed form of the worldly energy of its matching attribute. It is not as easy to use or gain insights and understanding from because its properties were slightly modified, but when consumed, a kilo of attribute’s essence is worth a month of relentless absorption of attribute worldly energy, at least to someone with Zax’s level of understanding, which is roughly equal to a Peak fifth level Martial Mortal’s.
Generally there is no reason to absorb either attribute’s essence or attribute energy, unless it is necessary requirement of a cultivation or refinement technique. However when they are needed, two kilos should be quite a lot.
Why Zax was startled is because he did not get the impression that Grandmaster Kartion is much stronger than someone who just broke through the seventh gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, relative to the amount of dark attribute’s essence he absorbed for the succeeding stage.
“Don’t stare at me”. Grandmaster Kartion himself was baffled when he absorbed the two kilos and did not feel greatly different, so naturally he could tell what Zax was thinking. “First, think of your body as a lake. The more attribute’s essence used the more filled it get, the higher its chance of becoming an ocean, like those you talked about. Second, though it isn’t even worth to be called a ‘grain of glimpse’, when I refined the two kilos of dark attribute’s essence with accordance to the first stage’s system, a foggy indication of something… ‘more’ was present. I don’t know if it is related to the understanding of my dark attribute, but in the future I would like to test if by directly absorbing dark attribute energy it will be further definite. Now let’s end the chatter and raise your strength, I’m about to get serious!”