Along the waters of Lorek, a dozen vessels sailed the boundless oceans of the south. Though the waves rose tall on either side of these great vessels, they seemed to smooth out directly in front and behind. These were the vessels of the Durak Nomads, who had long since found a map that would lead them to the ancient lands of the ‘ursa’.
Not only that, but they had discovered the next step in cultivation, a level beyond even the Grandmaster. The nomads referred to this level as the Ancients. After shattering one’s own stars, they allow their nebula to grow within themselves. This nebula represents the sum of all of their wisdom, all of their knowledge regarding their path of cultivation.
As they study their path again, the nebula begins to form countless new stars. These stars, unlike the previous ones, are but pebbles in comparison. However, it is their sheer number and all of the profound laws that they represented that truly showcased the power of the Ancients. More importantly, these stars could represent individual techniques, making them more easily accessed by their users.
Among the entire tribe of nomads, there were only two Ancients. Ancient Jana had been the first to walk this path, having expected to fall to it like her love did before her. Yet fate played a cruel trick indeed, allowing the advancement to be a far more smooth process for her with little risk.
With every advancement increasing the life expectancy of the one who reached it, it was hard to say how long it would take Jana to die a natural death at this point. She still had no intentions of throwing her life away recklessly, unless it was truly something necessary for the tribe.
With the appearance of the Ancients, it seemed almost natural that there were more teachers capable of leading those of lower ranks. Masters, a rank once revered as the almighty, now numbered in the hundreds, with elders being too many to count. Even considering only the grandmasters, there were a total of eight.
However, they had been made aware through broken murals and tattered scrolls that this was also not the end. Records had been found indicating the existence of a higher rank, the true leaders of the ancient civilization. This rank was simply referred to as ‘Immortal’. Given that these records did not contain all of the necessary information, it was hard to tell how many ranks existed between ‘Ancient’ and ‘Immortal’.
As Jana was thinking about this, she noticed dark shadows spreading out below the ship she had been left in charge of. Furrowing her brow, she could clearly sense the danger that the shadow represented. If it attacked… it would easily be able to annihilate their entire expedition.
Jana spread her arms out, sending calming waves of energy to spread through the water. This was a basic technique of those who cultivated the Water Star’s path, a method to pacify beasts of the sea. Without this, they would never dare to cross the ocean, where beasts beyond imagination freely roamed.
She watched, eyes fixed on the shadow as it moved to the surface. Then, she saw it suddenly change its path, wandering off to the side as if having lost interest. Jana let out a sigh of relief, turning her attention back to the horizon.
They had been sailing for months now, and finally they were able to see the end of their long journey. A vast stretch of land, ruined structures, and… fishing boats. Active ones, not wrecks left by the ancient civilizations.
For the first time in so, so long, Jana was genuinely happy to be alive.
I gave a faint nod as I looked at Lorek, satisfied with their progress. However, it was not without fault. Of the clans that had left the homeland of the dwarves, only the water clan showed such prosperity. The vast majority of the other clans had been destroyed by starbeasts, or by the harsh winters when they were unable to hunt. Only the spear clan held some semblance of its former glory, but even that was just a mere echo.
The dwarves still living on their original island… they were still safe. But it wasn’t wise to expect anything out of them any time soon. They had all but given up on the path of cultivation, content with just living normal lives.
As for the ursa? I was actually quite surprised when I saw how they had operated. Instead of the dwarves’ method of scouring the ancient civilizations for knowledge and moving on, the ursa took a different approach. They moved into a city, worked on restoring it to its former glory. They did not live in the mountains as the dwarves had grown accustomed to, but rather in the comfortable buildings that Tubrock had personally crafted.
In a way, this concept allowed the ursa to flourish on their continent. They still had the golems that protected their cities, ensuring their safety. And in this way, they were able to uncover more of the knowledge that Tubrock had left behind.
The ursa worked the fields, retreating into their cities when the weather worsened, and built magnificent fishing ships according to the records left behind. In many aspects, they were doing far better than the dwarves when it came to survival.
However, because they did not aggressively explore and experience hardships like the dwarves did, their cultivation was lacking in comparison. While they had found the teachings left behind on how to advance to the next rank, their highest cultivation was what the dwarves referred to as Grandmaster.
I could expect that the nomadic dwarves would likely be able to integrate quite well with ursan society. Once they overcame the language barrier, that is… Tubrock had not been so generous as to use the same language for the ruins of both the dwarves and the ursa.
Shaking my head, I turned my sight away from Lorek, looking back towards Earth as time sped forward.
“Yes, thank you for making the time to meet with me, Lady Tsubaki.” An elven man said respectfully, bowing towards the maid. He did not question the appearance of the second girl, elven by appearance, assuming that it was just another of the Keeper’s servants.
“Of course, Mister Bayrun.” Tsubaki returned the bow with one of her own. “You said that you had an important matter to discuss with me.”
“That is correct, yes. But first… I must ask you a question. I suspect that I already know the answer regardless, but… you have trained the ‘Perfect Self’ class, correct?” Jonas asked curiously, looking towards Tsubaki.
There was barely a small twitch in Tsubaki’s eye when she heard the man’s question. “I see… the fact that you know that name means that you should have trained the class as well. And you sought me out due to the clues that I had practiced it first. Is that correct?”
Jonas smiled thankfully, nodding his head. “Yes, that is quite right, my lady. In the midst of research intended to overcome the limitations of the mortal body, I theorized the existence of a purely energy-based form that could be achieved. Something akin to the Martial Spirits, or World Spirits.”
“My peers called my research ignorant, claiming that there could be no limits on the mortal body so long as we continued to level up, the world’s system adjusting our structure so as to allow constant growth. But that is not something I believed…”
“And so, I continued my research, eventually realizing the significance of your existence. A kitsune unbound by age, living longer than any elf. Sometimes, your form would even freely change to mimic another race. Again, my friends simply dismissed my claims, saying that you had the blessing of the Keeper himself, so such things were only natural.”
Jonas let out a long breath, reaching up to massage his forehead. “I did not believe that the Keeper would show such favoritism, even to his own servant. I mean no disrespect when I say that, my lady, I merely imply that I believe you reached your current stage through your own efforts.”
Tsubaki thought about it for a moment, before nodding her head. “The Keeper did warn me about what the path I had chosen meant, and offered me a room to perform the final step. However, that was the extent of his involvement.”
“As I suspected.” Jonas’s lips curved upwards, clearly pleased with the validation of his theory. “I would have liked to have contacted you sooner, but… after I performed the ‘Ritual of Perfection’, I was left rather small. It took me several years to regain my former stature, and then more to find a method of contacting you. Thankfully, you encountered one of my peers within that game going around.”
“Vision Expanse is so cool!” The second girl spoke up in an energetic voice, before hastily covering her mouth. “Sorry, Tsuba…”
“It’s fine, Dana.” Tsubaki waved a hand dismissively, as if the outburst did not bother her. “You should be talking about Able, the sixth rank spellsmith. He was the one that had asked me to meet you.”
“That’s right. Even after my research proved successful, many of them still refuse to believe that the mortal body has those limitations I spoke about. Regardless, I feel as if there should still be a higher realm, beyond what I am currently capable of seeing.”
When Tsubaki heard his words, she fell into a deep thought. She recalled something that the Keeper had once said to her. “Mister Bayrun, do you know why you were so small after completing your ritual?”
Jonas blinked, having not expected such a question. “It should be due to the fact that that was the most condensed form of my energy, resulting in a smaller being. Am I incorrect?”
“No, no, that is completely true. Now, if that is the most condensed form of your energy, then imagine if you had appeared at your normal size. Or if that most condensed form was larger than your normal size.”
Jonas’s eyes went wide as he heard that, his head nodding rapidly. “Yes, exactly! Everyone kept saying that the system would compensate for the change, but how can a vessel hold more than its size allows? After reaching a certain level of energy, it would only be natural for someone’s body to be unable to hold anymore!”
“That’s correct. According to the Keeper, if anyone reaches that level, their body would simply explode. I have had many years to think about this, and have arrived at a few possibilities for what could happen after that. If they are unprepared, they may be able to use their last moments of cognizance to form the body of either an aeon or a martial spirit.”
“However, if they have prepared properly for that event, then they will be able to naturally obtain the forms that you and I now hold. But that is not all. Even now, we have the ability to acquire more and more energy. You have not reached what I call the ‘saturation point’, where your energy is once again condensed to its fullest even at its full size.”
“Once that happens, you have only two choices. You may either allow your body to continue growing, or separate it. If you perform the latter, you will be able to maintain your current size, but your attention will be constantly divided.”
Jonas sank into thought as he heard that. He speculated that there should be a stage even beyond the Perfect Self, something that he had simply not seen yet. While he did not doubt Tsubaki’s words, he felt that she was not telling him everything. “I understand, my lady. And I thank you for giving validation to my years of research. Your answers today mean more than you likely realize.”