Chapter 4: Principal Of Pain, The Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement
"Now that you know of the three aspects a little more, come here, Zax". Kartius got up from the carpet and walked to one of the two large jars.
Lifting the wooden sealing of one jar, the herbal fragrance in the cabin rose exponentially, so much that Zax took a step back and unconsciously covered his nose.
"Do you recognize this smell?" Kartius asked.
"It smells like a few of the plants that grow on the mountains that the Krikitory caretakers of the hot springs use". Zax replied.
"In addition to one exceptional plant, the liquid inside this jar and the one next to it is the refined extract of the most potent medicinal plants that grow beside the mountains' hot springs".
From inside the jar Kartius retrieved a wooden watering cup by its long handle. "Remove your clothes Zax. To practice the bodily refining technique your whole body has to be rinse by this liquid".
As the liquid spilled over Zax's head and slid on his face a refreshing burning sensation aroused his skin and opened up the pores.
"Lower your hands to the sides and take a deep breath with your nose". Kartius said as he rinsed him again.
Breathing the fumes that came out of the liquid, Zax felt the refreshing burning sensation spreading inside of his body like a ball of fire that he swallowed. Instantly, before the burning could cause adverse effects, the refreshing trait of the liquid cleansed his airway and filled his organs with virtue.
No matter how much air Zax took in this one breath, his lunges kept expanding and his chest kept rising.
"Now slowly release and repeat. Don't try to reach the limit of your lunges, you may not feel it but they are already stretched beyond their limit". Kartius guided and rinsed him a third time. "Let your muscles loose. Use your body's senses to trail after the liquid, not your Soul Sense".
The fourth cup was the last cup. Zax whole body, inwardly and outwardly, was bathed by the herbal liquid.
"That will take some time, however make sure to not move until I finish!" Kartius said sharply. His hands began to glow in his azure aura and in a manner, which seemed slow due to the after images, but actually was too fast, at least for Zax to behold properly, his hands formed strings out of his mist energy and knitted them into and egg like shape that surrounded Zax.
Zax watched as the enclosure his Master created become more and more opaque. Over an hour passed and Kartius was not finished, but Zax could already see nothing but the smooth azure membrane that surrounding him. As the procedure went on, the membrane compressed and shrunk from initially being a head taller and wider than Zax's person to two to five centimeters from touching him.
Zax did not have fear from closed places, but being inside an impenetrable membrane for over three hours did take its toll. Fortunately, since he could not do anything else, it was suitable opportunity for him to train his soul. Two surprising things that Zax discovered before he started meditating were ... even though the membrane was made by mist energy, he could not expend his Soul Sense beyond it and if he tried he got a strong feeling of being pressed by the membrane. Also, inside his consciousness was the herbal fragrance. It did not help him to break through the next level, but it did make it more comfortable to study the piece of spiritual knowledge from his subliminal mind.
As it so happened, the hours that passed were parallel to the number of cups his Master rinsed him with.
The membrane in its last phases of completion was the same as a second layer of skin. From being oppressive to being light to gradually merge with Zax's body were the last three phases. Kartius finished and Zax could no longer see the azure membrane.
"What I embedded into your body is the nucleus of the bodily refining technique that my big brother developed, a formation that is called 'Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement'". Kartius introduced the name of the technique with great pride. "In knitting this membrane you should know that there is no one better than I, your Martial father. But as far as supporting you through the cultivation process ... Know that from here on there is very little that anyone can do". He picked up Zax clothes and gave them to him. "Get dress, the membrane absorbed the liquid. Your body is perfectly clean".
Zax stopped meditating during the last phase of the membrane creating process. By then he also noticed that the membrane was doing something to the liquid, but according to how he saw it, it was more accurate to say that the membrane was feeding on the herbal liquid.
"Master, before you completed the membrane I could sense its fragrance in my consciousness and my body also felt refreshed, like after bathing in the hot springs, but now I don't feel anything of the liquid. Is it because of the membrane?" Zax was disappointed. He thought that if he could maintain the presence of the sweet fragrance in his consciousness he could improve the speed of his soul cultivation.
"Instead of the customary pillars and channels that a formation needs to be executed, the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation only need doses of the herbal liquid to function. This peculiarity corresponds to its class of difficulty, class S". Kartius explained. "In the future, the further you will progress in cultivating your body, the more you will have to soak your body with the herbal liquid. For now, the amount of herbal liquid the membrane absorbed should be enough for you to reach level E with your body".
Hesitating a bit, Zax still forced himself to ask. "Will it take long for me to reach E level Mist User with my body?" He remembered Zushi saying couple of months ago that Anet has already became an E level Mist User and he and Dane were not far behind. Regardless of their current relationship, Zax did not want to lag behind the rest of their former Earth's Core searching group.
Reading his Master's stag expression, Zax could only assume that what appeared on his Master's face was a sort of a beastly grin. "Outside we'll discuss it. You still have a lot more that you need to learn about the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement and bodily cultivation in general. I'll tell you over your first session of training. Let's first step outside of the cabin". Kartius said and headed to the cabin's door.
As the door opened and Zax's head popped outside after his Master, a familiar sight made him gasp. The cabin and its terrace were engulfed by a somewhat transparent layer of brilliant coating. Outside of the layer of coating was what shocked Zax. The cabin was surrounded by a smoky mist. From each direction Zax looked, the smoky mist sprouted from the ground like in the cave he entered to with the Brown Digger and found the Black Core. The only differences to the previous cave were in the density of the smoky mist and its color. It was doable to look as far as twenty meters into the cave from the safe spot on the cabin's terrace and the color of the smoky mist was earth brown instead of lava like orange.
"Could ... Could ... it be that we are back in that cave... ?" Zax stuttered. That accursed cave was the place where he lost his future as a Mist User. It was the last place in New Earth that Zax wished to be in.
"No". Kartius answered. "But make a wrong step from here on and it could be just as worse!" He warned and placed his hand on Zax's shoulder, holding him firmly. "The cabin is protected by a formation that I set. What's around you is the place you will be training in till three years from now ... Zax", Kartius's tone made his apprentice to avert his gaze toward him. "Use your Soul Sense to sense your body".
Zax nodded and did as his Master instructed. With the additional perception of his Soul Sense Zax noticed something foreign attach to him like an invisible net. He did not bother to close his eyes to better concentrate on his Soul Sense's finds, he did not need to. As a result, right as he probed deeper to figure out what the net actually was, although he already had an idea, Zax saw an azure glow originating from beneath his shirt and as he lifted it up there were on his abdomen seven azure glowing gates that started from his lower dantian and piled up to his clavicle.
Before he could ask his Master what were the seven gates, Zax discovered that the seven gates appeared not just on his body, but more vividly and majestically underneath his soul. As if his soul was the jewel crown above the uppermost gate!
"These seven gates represent the seven levels of the body. We, beast, number the levels the same way humans do. The lowest and first signifies level F and the highest and seventh signifies level S". Kartius gave voice to his apprentice speculations. He stomped outside of the protective formation, into the brown smoky mist. "I won't lie to you, Zax, in the current level of your body stepping beyond the protective formation is akin to entering a furnace and escaping the pain became impossible the moment the seven gates appeared in your consciousness".
"That is, however, the main principal of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, the principal of Pain. To be forged with as little impurities as possible pain is part and parcel. That is also what makes this technique the number one bodily refinement technique in all of New Earth. As for how exactly it works, you will be entitled to know only if you step outside and endure".
'All I have to do is endure pain and then my body will become the same as that of a Mist User?' Zax swallowed a too familiar massive bulge of self scorn and contempt, which weighed on him for far too long, and occasionally surged from his stomach to be stuck in his throat. 'Endure?'
In the past year he brought himself to believe that his life was meaningless if he could not achieve his goals, childish as they may be. His choice of training his soul before becoming a Mist User, which made him strong, and his choice of following the weird sensation to find the Black Core, which made him pitifully weak, were they not entwined with pain?
'I will embrace it, Master!' His words were kept to himself, but his state of mind also centered on complying with the recognition that he received from the one who kept referring to himself his Martial father!
Zax crossed the protective formation. Right away the inner and outer seven gates glow intensified ten folds. The pain was indescribably excruciating, robbing Zax of any sense of realism as he tumbled to the ground.
"Ah?" Zax faintly called.
The pain stopped.
Black luster gleamed in Zax's dumbfounded eyes as black long spikes pierced from inside his body, not leaving one millimeter of visible piece of skin.
"Zax!" Kartius sprang for his Martial son's aid. 'These spikes!' Kartius matched them with the ones from Zax's story. Still, not caring for what they were, or maybe not having the time to care, an azure aura covered his right hand as he launched it to shatter the spikes. He could not afford second guessing himself; it was an unexpected development in a very sensitive time that could cost his Martial son's life!