Soul Ascension
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The First Floor of the crystalline jade hadn’t changed at all since the last time Ryu ventured here. The only difference was the fact Ailsa had followed him in this time.

According to Ailsa, the reason she was so confident in facing the four Zu Ancestors and even told Ryu not to worry about them was because the inner world of the crystalline jade and the Ethereal Realm existed on the same plane and frequency. As a result, Ailsa wasn’t limited by Ryu’s cultivation and their intimacy here. She could use her full strength here and had no problem maintaining her full form.

The issue that Ryu faced now was that this Faerie that had always been by his side had suddenly become more dazzling. It seemed that the so-called ‘true form’ Ryu was used to seeing wasn’t actually Ailsa’s real appearance at all. Rather, it was an almost… filtered version of herself. The real Ailsa made Ryu’s heart beat uncontrollably.

It was only after regaining his bearings that Ryu understood that this wasn’t entirely because Ailsa had become more beautiful, although that seemed to be part of it. Rather, since they now fully existed on the same plane, Ryu could feel just how deep and enigmatic their connection as Life Partners was.

Ryu felt that even if he hadn’t exchanged a single word with Ailsa before, and that this was the very first time he was seeing her… He would be willing to entrust her with his life!

For a man like Ryu, this was a scary realization. It felt as though his sense of self and control was being ripped from him, as though he was being told who he should like and who he shouldn’t. This made him feel incredibly uncomfortable.

‘Is this why Ailsa avoided entering the crystalline jade with me all this time…?’

Ryu suddenly had this thought. But, Ailsa, who was very much used to responding directly to the questions that popped up in his mind pretended as though she hadn’t heard a single thing.

In the end, Ryu could only smile bitterly. Could he blame her? The Ryu Ailsa first met was incredibly abrasive. In fact, Ryu knew he hadn’t changed much at all since then aside from growing closer to Ailsa.

If the him of back then had felt this feeling, how would he have reacted? Maybe he would have tried everything in his power to get rid of Ailsa no matter what level of benefits she brought him. Only now that their relationship had begun to bud more naturally was this feeling easier to accept…

Ailsa continued to smile lightly, her arm hooked around Ryu’s as she pretended to be complete oblivious to his stream of thoughts. In the end, it wasn’t just Ryu who felt more intimate with Ailsa in this state, but the vice versa was also true.

In the end, wouldn’t this realization help Ailsa guide Ryu all the more?

They strolled through a familiar forest of statues. Maybe it was because Ryu’s Mental Realm was far stronger than the last time he entered, but the oppressive aura here seemed to be multiplied many times over.

This seemed odd. After all, if one became more powerful, why would you feel more oppressed? But the answer lay in the fact that Ryu simply hadn’t been qualified to see the secrets of this statues when he first came here. Plus, this time around, he was paying attention to them. While, before, he had cut a straight line toward the singular bookcase of cultivation techniques.

“Oh, I almost forgot.” Ailsa said suddenly as they passed by the beautiful display of cultivation techniques stored with jades of various colors. “The Death Qi cultivation techniques in this showcase were useless to you before, but now they might not be. You understand what I mean, right?”

Ryu nodded.

Before, when he took Hecate’s Legacy, he was forced to cultivate a mere Four Star cultivation technique. As one might expect, there was no way the Zu Clan didn’t have higher grade death qi cultivation techniques, however Ryu had been unable to use them for one simple reason: the Death Seal.

Though these cultivation techniques housed the ability to accumulate death qi, they didn’t have the appropriate Death Seal to match. Every form of death qi would obviously have its own unique Death Seal. Unfortunately, this was only the cultivation floor, not the technique floor.

Back then, obviously due to the existence of the four Zu Ancestors, Ryu didn’t dare to enter the technique floor. However, now that he had Ailsa, these useless techniques suddenly became useful once more.

Obviously, he couldn’t cultivate these techniques. However, by studying them, he would gain a deeper understanding of their form of death qi. By doing so, in the future when he relied on Ailsa to control atmospheric qi, this comprehension would smooth out the process.

Still, Ryu couldn’t help but ask…

“Are you sure you can handle the Zu Ancestors? After all, although they’re only souls, they are Mental Realm Masters who reached the Soul Quintessence Realm…”

Ailsa smiled. “If it was possible to indefinitely maintain one’s soul, wouldn’t anyone who entered the Soul Birth Realm be immortal? Trust me, even if they still had their full strength, they wouldn’t dare to use it so wantonly. Plus… The Ethereal Realm is the Plane of the Sprites!”

Ryu smiled meaningfully but didn’t say anything more about the topic. As things stood now, if he couldn’t enter the second floor, his strength would stagnate too much. It didn’t have the luxury for Ailsa to be wrong, so he trusted her.

In a sense, this was a blessing in disguise. He was forced to pull all his effort toward his worst talent. Once he finished climbing this mountain of adversity, he’d reach a level the current him couldn’t imagine!

“The obvious choice for Visualization to master would be the Zu Clan Ancestors.” Ailsa said as they finally made their way to the very center of the forest of statues.

Seeing the scene before him, though, Ryu could only sigh at Ailsa’s words. He thought with the improvement to his Mental Realm, he would be able to see past their foggy exterior by now… But, even after opening his Spiritual Vessel, he couldn’t even see the faintest outline of the Ancestor Visualizations.  

“It seems I’m still not qualified.” Ryu said plainly.

However, to these words, Ailsa only smiled knowingly.

“Do you know why of these five you can only see the Immortal Sakura?”

“Well… The Immortal Sakura Sky God helped me comprehend it. So the process was fairly easy.”

“If she can help you, why can’t I?”

Ryu blinked. “… You?”

Ailsa grinned. “Do you think this big sister of yours is nothing but large breasts and plump cheeks? I’ll have you know that I’ve already entered the Soul Ascension Realm!”

Ryu felt as though a bomb has sounded within his mind.

Soul Ascension? That was the Mental Realm only lacking to the Soul Quintessence Realm! Even its lowest barrier was equivalent to the Cosmic Seed Realm!

To put these matters into perspective, even Ryu’s own parents were only at the Cosmic Seed Realm!

“Hmph.” Ailsa harrumphed proudly. “You let those Zu Ancestors trick you. Is it really so easy to reach the Soul Quintessence Realm?”

Ryu was stunned.

“Let me tell you, the Soul Ascension Realm is divided into three Realms. The first is equivalent to the Cosmic Seed Realm, the second is equivalent to the World Sea Realm, and the final is equivalent to the Sky God Realm!

“The Soul Quintessence Realm is a legendary state only spoken of in Ruins and ancient texts that are inexplicably older than existence itself.

“As the years passed and more and more found it impossible to enter this Realm, some shameless cultivators renamed the third stage of Soul Ascension, dubbing themselves as having reached Soul Quintessence.”

Ryu suddenly felt a bit embarrassed. It wasn’t that the Zu Ancestors tried to trick him at all… Wasn’t it he himself that made that assumption? It wasn’t as though he had asked them for their cultivations directly.

The truth was that his Heavenly Pupils saw through their cultivations with ease. It was just that he also thought that the third stage of Soul Ascension was actually the Soul Quintessence Realm!

Ailsa smiled at Ryu’s thoughts but decided not to expose him.

“In reality, I am at the very peak of the first stage, while they have entered the third stage. Simply put, even if I was no match for them while they were alive, I am more than qualified to observe the secrets of their Visualization statues.”

“So you mean to…”

“Mhm. You will use me as a proxy to observe their Visualizations. Because this place exists on the Ethereal Plane, our connection is much more solid… How good would it have been if your true body could enter…”

Ailsa sighed. If Ryu could have attempted to breakthrough in his Qi Realm here, how could that Essence qi have ever broken free of his control? Ailsa would have never allowed that if she had access to her full strength.

In the end, she shook her head. There was no point in crying over this now.

“… I will only observe for you, but you will have to rely on your Heavenly Pupils to see through their mysteries. I’ll filter the complexities out just like that Eska did for you.”

Ryu nodded firmly, a wealth of confidence swelling in his chest.

“I want to begin with the Immortal Sakura.” Ryu said firmly.

“Good choice.” Ailsa said approvingly. “Rushing to accumulate a lot of techniques won’t do you any good. Slowly mastering a few is the best path.”

Ryu’s eyes glowed as his mind spun.

The true power of the Immortal Sakura was that it could incorporate various comprehensions of the Natural Order into its strength. Essentially, even if two people cultivated the same [Immortal Sakura] at once, it was very possible for them to end up with two drastically different results.

For example, because of his cultivating [Tribulation Nine Clouds], Ryu’s Immortal Sakura had already fused with lightning. However, its effects were minimal. Reason being that he had yet to comprehend a true Lightning Inheritance, it was simply the residual lightning from the formations he had drawn in his Mental Realm the provided those effects.

But, Ryu had a much better idea now. And this time, the incorporation should provide a devastating boost to its strength!

The Ice Phoenix was known for its defensive prowess. To confirm this truth, one only needs to look toward the fact Ryu’s own mother, Himari, managed to seal a large portion of the Shrine Place! Even almost a billion years later, the seal continued to remain untouched! This was the power of the Ice Phoenix!

So, what kind of devastating effects would such astonishing defensive prowess bring when combined with the ultimate defensive Mental Realm technique in the [Immortal Sakura]? Ryu felt a keen anticipation in finding out.

But first, he had to raise his comprehension to a realm where it was worthy of his Ice Flame.

The Immortal Sakura had seven levels of separation, denoted by the color of its petals. The Translucent Stage, the White Stage, the Cherry Stage, the Red Stage, the Violet Stage, the Purple-Gold Stage, and finally, the Gold Stage.

Each of these degrees of separation actually perfectly aligned with the various Mental Realms.

The Translucent Stage was appropriate for the Spiritual Entrance Realm which ranged from the Awakening Realm to the Half-Step Divine Vessel Realm in strength if converted to the Qi Realm.

The White Stage, Ryu’s current stage, was appropriate for his current Spiritual Endowment Stage. This ranged from the Divine Vessel Realm to the Half-Step Immortal Ring Realm in strength when converted.

The next Cherry Stage was appropriate for the Soul Birth Realm, equivalent to the Immortal Ring Realm.

The next was the Red Stage was equivalent to the Soul Refinement Realm, the equivalent to the Path Extinction Realm and Dao Pedestal Realm of Qi Realm cultivation.

Finally, the final three stages were equivalent to the Cosmic Seed, World Sea, and Sky God Realms!

However, this was only base strength. If the Immortal Sakura was fused with powerful Natural Order comprehensions, it was possible for it to transcend the strength of its stage.

Currently, Ryu was at the very beginning of the White Stage. So while he could hold off attacks from the lower Divine Vessel Realms for a while, it was impossible to block even Peak Divine Vessel Realm strength, let alone Connecting Heaven Realm strength.

His first task was to raise his comprehension of the White Stage to the absolute limit! Once that was completed, he would fuse his Ice Flame comprehension into its Visualization!

[Author’s Note: I hope I avoid confusion with this note. Comprehending Natural Orders is different from comprehending techniques (which include Visualizations). It’s impossible for Ryu to comprehend Natural Orders since he’s lost the connection to his Spiritual Foundation. However, comprehending techniques only relies on himself, not the Heavens. As for Natural Orders he’s already comprehended, they stay intact.

[Yes, technically, Ryu’s inheritances are within his blood. But do remember that Ryu can only slowly access these inheritances by increasing his strength. He obviously can’t do so if he can’t cultivate. In fact, if not for the Origin Flame, none of them would have awoken yet.]

Ryu already had speed rivalling that of a Connecting Heaven Realm expert relying on his Northern Heavenly Wind. What if he also gained defense rivalling them as well?!

If his body hadn’t been so severely injured back then, he could have directly run away from those three geniuses without an issue. And now that he was fully healed, he would go all out.

There wasn’t any magical time slowing effect in the crystalline jade, but Ryu had long since realized that thinking speed was far faster than taking action with one’s body. Effectively this meant that the stronger Ryu’s Mental Realm, the ‘slower’ time would move within the crystalline jade.  

As things stood now, he already thought ten times faster than a normal individual, thus effectively ‘slowing’ down time by ten times here. In one day, Ryu could make the progress of ten. He would take full advantage of this!

“I’m ready. Let’s do it.”

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