Mortal Cultivation is most abstrusely defined as the practice of drawing the natural essence of the surrounding environment and assimilating its nature and spiritual properties into the body. Through breathing exercises or certain mantras capable of influencing the fluctuations released by the mortal soul, the spiritual qi contained within the atmosphere is drawn towards the mortal practitioner's physical body, of which it then assimilates into each and every exposed pore, producing what cultivators describe as a "heavenly" and "intoxicating" sensation.
As mortal bodies are not inherently compatible with the vitality attributed to the world, mortal practitioners are required to constantly inundate themselves in concentrated atmospheric spiritual qi - or spiritual qi from special environments or medicinal panaceas - until their body becomes numbed to the invasive properties of atmospheric spiritual qi, and sufficient immunities and defenses are lowered that the spiritual qi isn't forcefully expelled after prolonged assimilation. The more spiritual qi accumulates within the practitioner's body and the more apertures that is "blessed" by spiritual qi, the greater their attainment along the path of cultivation.
Spiritual qi has numerous benefits, enough to dissuade any argument towards its deficits and natural costs. By drawing atmospheric spiritual qi into the marrow of the bones for a prolonged period of time, the spiritual qi refines the impurities from the crevices of the bones and marrow, cleansing the practitioner's skeleton of any defects incurred from injuries or bad habits. When infused into the organs and bloodstream, naturally accumulated clots and incurred damage are reduced, and the regenerative properties of the practitioner's body is greatly elevated. Successful assimilation into the body at a near-permanent degree allows for transformation of the overal physique. Bone density is nearly doubled and sometimes tripled depending on the number of impurities discharged from the marrow by the invasion of spiritual qi and replaced by solitary spiritual qi, and the muscles tighten as they remove any unnecessary or harmful development to their phyqisue. The organs regain their vitality and natural processes that may have been disrupted by injuries or detrimental habits and consumptions, and the pores of the skin are thoroughly cleaned out and consecrated of any secreted debris or impurity. As a result, the vitality, physical capabilities as well as longevity of the pracitioner is greatly increased, and sometimes by several folds. However, simple assimilation of spiritual qi into a practitioner's body does not eliminate any defects acquired at or prior to birth - at least, not until the later stages of the Nascent Soul Realm. There are, however, several martial arts and cultivation techniques that do emphasize on physical appearances, allowing a practitioner to eternally retain their "youthful" appearance upon grand completion of the technique. An Fei remarks however, that probably nobody in the entire Shattered Star Continent could achieve such a feat regarding its decrepit status in development of the path of cultivation.
There is, however, a major detriment of assimilating spiritual qi into the body. Due to the fact that mortal bodies, regardless of race, are grossly inferior to the physical manifestation of the world regarding the capacity to store and manipulate spiritual qi, and as such suffer massive side effects in conjunction with the received benefits of heightened physical capabilities and longevity. Though the exact number is unknown by both An Fei and the manager of the Shattered Star Continent, the Tianzun Imperial Court of the Realm had suggested that there existed three primary side effects of mortal cultivation practice:
- If spiritual qi is assimilated into the body, as the mortal physique loses in precedence of Authority with respect to that of the world that houses it, the mortal physique is assimilated into the spiritual qi.
- If spiritual qi is assimilated into the soul, as the mortal soul greater in precedence of Authority with respect to that of the world that houses it, the mortal soul assimilates spiritual qi into its Construct. However, quantity is liable to drown out quality. Failure results in severance from the Bridge of the Underworld.
- If spiritual qi is assimilated into both the body and soul, the advantage of precedence by the soul is lost.
When mortals adjust the subconscious fluctuations released by their soul by reciting certain mantras or performing a defined set of actions, their soul triggers a passive attractive force onto the surrounding atmospheric spiritual qi, thus triggering the practice of cultivation. Spiritual qi brings forth both benefit and detriment. The mortal physique's inability to overpower the pervading, invasive nature of spiritual qi results in their body assimilated into it instead; the spiritual qi takes physical form, gradually replacing the mortal pracitioner's physical body bit by bit. The crude assimilation into spiritual qi does not bring any pain nor arounse the practitioner's awareness, and instead is sought after as a pleasure by the cultivators simply due to the heavenly hallucinations their mind lounges within, described as "enlightenment." The greater the assimilation, the greater the strength that the cultivator attains, as well as their ability to manipulate spiritual qi in conjunction to regular physical movements. The completion of the assimilation of the practitioner's body does not bring forth instantaneous death; when they do perish, however, their body does not decay into the natural elements that once comprised them, but instead crack into spiritual stones that both cultivators and the world attempt to siphon and extract the stored spiritual qi from.
A similar process occurs when mortal pracititoners attempt to assimilate spiritual qi into their soul. In this case, as the mortal soul has greater precedence in Authority than spiritual qi, the spiritual qi is assimilated into the mortal soul instead, thus expanding the mortal soul's influence and increasing its ability to forcefully manipulate the surroundings. Cultivators who had indeed assimilated spiritual qi into their soul starting from the Spirit Building Realm note that their ability to recuperate deficits in spiritual essence increased drastically, as well as acquiring access to the higher realms of martial arts techniques. Passive benefits including the ability to scan far distances and dispatch their consciousness as an oversight are also part of the reasons why cultivators greedily assimilate spiritual qi into their soul. Nonetheless, however slightly greater in precendence, the advantage of a massive quantity of spiritual qi in relation to a roughly small mortal soul has the potential to trump the situation and force the mortal soul to be devoured by the spiritual qi. Though this situation can clearly be avoided by limiting the rate at which spiritual qi is assimilated into the mortal soul such that the rate of expansion of the soul is not overshadowed by the quantity of spiritual qi lingering around it, the mortal world fatally incites the mortal cultivators to constantly absorb more and more spiritual qi into their souls as they become addicted to the sensation of wielding the power of the world in their hands. When cultivators whose souls had been assimilated into spiritual qi perish, they lack a mortal soul to return to the Underworld Bridge and reincarnate in a mortal world, and as a result completely perish in the world that they cultivated in. As they lack a soul that belongs to themselves, mortal practitioners are completely decomposed into the purest elements and harvested by the mortal world as crucial resources for additional development.
An Fei notices that the assimilation into spiritual qi is completed roughly around the time the pracitioner attempts to breach into the Core Formation Realm, but only those who had transpired past both the Mortal Life and Mortal Death Realms actually crack into spiritual stones that other cultivators can distinguish and extract spiritual qi from.
Body Tempering Realm
The Body Tempering Realm is, quite literally, the process of tempering the physical body. Simply put, the mortal practitioner first rapidly inundates every pore and channel of their body with as much spiritual qi they can muster, causing an overflow effect. When the state of overflow is achieved, the practitioner can employ the effects of cultivation techniques to visualize and direct the chaotic and unrestrained spiritual qi towards the various regions of their body in the following precedence, defined as pillars:
- Marrow and Bone
The introduction of spiritual qi into any of these regions of the body do not induce any special effect, and instead thoroughly clean them of impurities to maximize the potential capacity of spiritual qi of the practitioner. The blood vessels are tightened and layered with various membranes to increase durability and capability to contain and transfer high-pressure blood energized with the pure vitality with the world. Similarly, the bone, marrow, flesh, meridians, and organs are all enhanced to ensure that the mortal practitioner can still "function" properly even with the increased density of their physical body, not to mention the egregariously heavy mass that is the dantian filled to full capacity with raw spiritual qi. Generally, this means a drastic increase in physical strength and endurance; although dexterity is similarly increased but at a smaller margin, the practitioner has to slowly train their agility to the maximum threshold from scratch. Spiritual qi can only be induced but not stored into the body; only the dantian of the cultivator can accept spiritual qi at this stage, albeit at very low concentrations and purity. Only when the meridians are fully enhanced and developed can the practitioner hold any hope of accumulating a massive quantity of spiritual qi in the meridians to break through into the Foundation Establishment Realm, but many hold off until the completion of the Body Tempering Realm before accumulating spiritual qi, to lessen the burden on their physique as much as possible.
Regardless of the marvelous aspects of the cultivation technique, every cultivator of the Shattered Star Continent dedicates at least a year's time in cultivating within the Body Tempering Realm. This is in part due to the increased stress imposed onto the body as the several regions are enhanced by spiritual qi prior to others, causing an imbalance of both balance and pure density proportions and the untouched regions to wear and tear at a greater rate than usual. Furthermore, the forceful infusion of spiritual qi into the body causes direct harm, necessitating for a recuperative period before the practitioner can accept any more spiritual qi without crippling their physique. Many cultivators attempt to shorten this period by consuming medicines and herbs naturally infused with spiritual qi to increase their regenerative speed, some even going to extent of introducing a concentrated "shot" of spiritual qi through the means of spiritual pills and panaceas. Once their body heals, the recommendation generally was to jump straight back into cultivation, to prevent the spiritual qi from dissipating too much to destabilize their attainments in cultivation.
An Fei once remarked that those who complete the Body Tempering Realm are generally physically enhanced by at least threefold of their regular capabilities, causing the jianghu of the Shattered Star Continent to be overrun by at least hundreds of thousands of "supermen." Not to mention, they typically double in weight - which is dispelled and returned to the original value once they successfuly enter the Foundation Establishment Realm.
Foundation Establishment Realm
Unlike that of the Body Tempering Realm, the Foundation Establishment Realm does not pose any superlative benefits; instead, the Foundation Establishment Realm focuses primarily on consolidating the empowerment attained from the compeltion of the Body Tempering Realm as well as removing any obvious flaws. Upon breaking through the upper layer of the fifth pillar of the Body Tempering Realm, the mortal practitioner has to drive the majority of his spiritual essence into the architecture of either the Twelve Standard Meridians or the Eight Extraordinary Meridians, of which then decides how many pillars the cultivator has to surmount to complete the Foundation Establishment Realm. The Archives of Time hosted a different schema of cultivation regarding the Foundation Establishment Realm, of which An Fei cultivated a total of fifteen pillars: the system of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians, as well as seven channels from the Twelve Standard Meridians to serve as secondary reserviors of spiritual essence.
The Twelve Standard Meridians are as follows:
- Greater Yin - Taiyin Lung Channel
- Lesser Yin - Shaoyin Heart Channel
- Faint Yin - Jueyin Pericaridum Channel (Heart Protector Meridian)
- Lesser Yang - Shaoyang Sanjiao Channel (Triple Burner Meridian)
- Greater Yang - Taiyang Small Intestine Channel
- Bright Yang - Yangming Large Intestine Channel
- Greater Yin - Taiyin Spleen Channel
- Lesser Yin - Shaoyin Kidney Channel
- Faint Yin - Jueyin Liver Channel
- Lesser Yang - Shaoyang Gallbladder Channel
- Greater Yang - Taiyang Bladder Channel
- Bright Yang - Yangming Stomach Channel (Supreme Stomach Meridian)
The Eight Extraordinary Meridians are of the following:
- Yang Heel Vessel
- Yin Heel Vessel
- Yang Linking Vessel
- Yin Linking Vessel
- Girdle Vessel
- Penetrating Vessel
- Governing Vessel
- Conception Vessel
When adopting either of the systems of meridians whilst in the process of breaking through into the Foundation Establishment Realm, the mortal practitioner has the choice to select either the Twelve Standard Meridians or the Eight Extraordinary Meridians; the meridians in which they inundate with spiritual essence are in the following order as listed above. The Twelve Standard Meridians consist of a total of twelve pillars, and are considered to be an easier method of breaking through as the organs have already been tempered by the Body Tempering Realm's fifth pillar. As such, the practitioner has little concern that the spiritual essence traveling through the meridians would cause any organ damage from unnatural heating or infusion of energy. On the other hand, as the Eight Extraordinary Meridians are not as closely linked to the inner organs of the body, many cultivators find it harder to breakthrough into than that of the Twelve Standard Meridians.
Regarding the total capacity of spiritual essence, neither of the system of the Twelve Standard Meridians or Eight Extraordinary Meridians pose any difference in sheer capacity. There are, however, many noticable differences that some might find advantageous or disadvantageous based on their preferences and their accompanying cultivation and martial arts techniques. Breaking into the system of the Twelve Standard Meridians grants the pracititioner a greater number of meridians; this results in a lesser ability to instantaneously channel spiritual essence throughout their body, which can pose as a disadvantage for a cultivator when needing to quickly utilize their martial arts technique, but at the advantage of sustaining lesser damage to their overall resevior of spiritual essence when incurring damage to their meridians. The system of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians, on the other hand, possesses a set of widened channels, which then allows for the cultivator to channel large volumes of spiritual essence at once, but at the expense of a drastically increased rate of consumption. On sheer destructive force alone, the system of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians is destined to uphold greater destructive potential, but the system of the Twelve Standard Meridians does fare much better regarding sustainability and recovery rate of spiritual essence than the former. Cultivators who had indeed chosen the Eight Extraordinary Meridians, as described in historical records, suffer from the risk of overexpending their spiritual essence due to the widened meridian channels; this increases the difficulty in manipulating spiritual essence, and is a major reason why many practitioners breakthrough into the system of the Twelve Standard Meridians.
The Foundation Establishment Realm is as its name depicts, the tedious groundlaying for developing a strong foundation that can sustain a large volume of spiritual essence with ease. Softer tissue and the sensory organs are gently strengthened over time, and the practitioner becomes capable of refining the spiritual qi in their bodies into pure spiritual essence, which removes the backlash effect that is incurred when circulating spiritual qi with numerous impurities. The primary, most noticeable effect of successfully cultivating into the Foundation Establishment Realm; upon achieving the first pillar, the cultivator can persist for a total of 200 years, of which they must either breach into the next Realm, or gradually perish away. The bestowment of vitality can only happen once, and restores a portion of the cultivator's youth and ability that is proportional to the amount of excess spiritual essence that was spent during the breakthrough from the final pillar of the Body Tempering Realm. Eyesight, hearing, olfactory senses, tactile senses as well as gustatory senses are all enhanced with each progression through the Foundation Establishment Realm; by achieving the grand completion of the Foundation Establishment Realm, a cultivator can perceive up to a kilometer in distance using their senses and without any martial arts techniques.
The greatest benefit of the Foundation Establishment Realm is not the increased lifespan nor the ability to store spiritual essence within their meridians as well as dantian, but the ability to incorporate spiritual essence into their movements. Previously whilst in the Body Tempering Realm, mortal practitioners had to constantly absorb impure, atmospheric spiritual qi into their body that was then released into the surroundings from their limbs to increase the strength, speed, and agility of their movements. However, as those of the Foundation Establishment Realm can simply store refined spiritual essence into their meridians, they no longer run the subtle risk of contaminating their bodies to death. The spiritual essence can be swiftly incorporated into even the most simplest and swiftest of movements, extracting the greatest potential out of their physique.
Although, it must be noted that whilst the Foundation Establishment Realm does bequeath vitality, it does not cleanse any meridians nor does it cure any wounds. Furthermore, the maximum volume of spiritual essence a cultivator may possess for the entirety of their journey alongst the Cultivation Path; the purity and density may increase as the cultivator progresses, but the volume remains consistent.
Spirit Building Realm
The Spirit Building Realm is the first major boundary that is faced by mortal cultivators alike. It is the boundary in which cultivators either remain as superhuman existences, or gain the initial mastery over the mysterious quandry that is known as spiritual qi. To breakthrough into the Spirit Building Realm, the Foundation Establishment Realm cultivator at grand completion must first fully empty his meridians and dantian of spiritual essence, then accept a baptism of spiritual qi into their body; only by braving the risk of contamination and forcing the rampant spiritual qi to quell using only the influence of their soul can the practitioner successfully step into the Spirit Building Realm. The primary development of the Spirit Building Realm is that of the soul through a total of nine pillars:
- Outer Boundary
- Inner Boundary
- First Conslidation
- Inner Soul
- Outer Soul
- Second Conslidation
- Outer Bastion
- Inner Bastion
- Third Conslidation
The Spirit Building Realm is also the first point in which mortal cultivation takes a break from its previous precedence: instead of reforging the soul gradually region-by-region as one would with their meridians or body, the Spirit Building Realm reforges the entire soul three times, improving the entire soul at once instead of accumulating minor benefits. This naturally takes a much longer time to complete, and poses a certain risk as the practitioners much constantly accumulate spiritual essence within their meridians and dantians until they possess enough spiritual essence to completely purge and refine their soul. Not only does this cause practitioners to remain constantly vulnerable as they dare not dispense any of their hard-refined spiritual essence, the amount of spiritual essence contained within their body must increase whilst the container remains of the same volume. As such, there exists a massive risk of volatile explosion should the delicate balance of spiritual essence be disrupted in either form, external or internal. Many cultivators dare not emerge from seclusion until they have accomplished a pillar, of which then they emerge and seek to enjoy a few years of contentment before attempting to break through towards the next.
The Spirit Building Realm's benefits are specific to each set of pillars. The Boundary Pillars of the Spirit Building Realm enhance the perception and natural defense of the practitioner, while the Soul Pillars increase the computational abilities and the ability to retain memory, and the Bastion Pillars increase the cultivator's ability to interact with their environment. At the completion of each Consolidation Pillar, a blessing of fifty years of longevity is bestowed onto the cultivator, alongside of a marginal increase in their basic capabilities.
The Boundary Pillars are akin to a quick heating of the soul. The practitioner amasses a massive pool of spiritual essence in their body, and the soul is submerged within until the soul has copied the fluctuations and aura of the spiritual essence around it. This process is accompanied by a plethora of hallucinations as their soul's perception of the world and its identity is heavily distorted by the spiritual essence submerging it; the impure attributes of spiritual qi may be purged, but the origins of the spiritual qi continue to influence its inherent nature. Generally, the cultivator is plagued by their deepest desires and inner demons. The haunting continues during the entire reforging phase, and the practitioner cannot stop the process until they have been spiritually consumed or emerge triumphantly. If they cannot overcome them, their souls will be overtaken by the overpowering attributes of the spiritual essence, and the cultivator's physique and soul instantly perishes to shatter into pure, solidified spiritual essence. Such crystalized spiritual essence is a treasure sought after by many of the jianghu, for contained within is pure, unadulterated spiritual essence - of which refining would be hardly unnecessary and assimilation brings no side effects. If the cultivator does indeed triumph over the constant hallucinations whilst reforging their soul, then their perception will be able to extend to a maximum radius of three kilometers separated from their physical body; such effects are similar to the Soul-Roaming Demon's side effects, without any negative sequelae. However, the risk is typically minimal as many cultivators are capable of lightly sensing whether they are fully prepared to surmount the Boundary Pillars.
The Soul Pillars amount to the continual baptism and expansion of the mortal soul. After having completed two sets of light reforging of the soul and its subsequent Consolidation Realm, the mortal practitioner then infuses a clear stream of spiritual essence to hover around the soul; the cultivator's willpower and resolve is tested to the maximum as the soul must attract the spiritual essence to itself only via its intention, and no external influence. Compared to the Boundary Pillars, the Soul Pillars of the Spirit Building Realm are rather benign in nature; as the sole goal is the expansion and development of the soul's density and overall influence over the environment, the practitioner only needs to gradually absorb spiritual essence at their individual rates. This minimizes the continual risk of the soul being overpowered and assimilated by the spiritual essence surrounding it, as the pracititioner can freely adjust the rate of absorption; however, the major problem of the Soul Pillars is that the practitioner must continually absorb the spiritual essence until their soul achieves the boundary limits of the Inner and Outer Pillars. Once they stop to take a breather, the assimilated spiritual essence is stripped from the mortal soul and returned to the earth, forcing the cultivator to start again from the beginning of either Pillar. However, ceasing to absorb spiritual essence after successful transition from the Inner Soul Pillar to the Outer Soul Pillar does not trigger this phenomenon - only after the cultivator resumes absorbing spiritual essence. If the cultivator would run out of spiritual essence, then all progress would be entirely lost regardless of progression. As such, no cultivator dares rashly act whilst within the Spirit Building Realm, unless their life is placed in grave danger.
The Bastion Pillars refer to the stage at which the cultivator solidifies their soul into a crystalline material. The texture, color, and degree of transparency of the crystal depend on the extensive development of the cultivation technique and its maximum potential, and the size of the crystal depends on the volume of the expanded soul. Typically, the colors of the crystalline souls alternate between shades of orange and cyan, as reflected by the presence of Yin and Yang attributed spiritual essence. The greater the threshold of development that the cultivator's soul experiences during the Soul Pillars of the Spirit Building Realm, the larger the resulting crystal structure, and the surfaces are of a finer grain. Just like that of the Boundary Pillars, the Bastion Pillars must be completed in a single attempt; any failure to completely transform the mortal soul's intangible form into a physical manifestation results in the cultivator's immediate death, and their souls decompose into elementary particles of spiritual essence that the world consumes.
However, while the Bastion Pillars require a single attempt to achieve completion, it does not neccessitate a large quantity of spiritual essence exceeding that of the cultivator's normal capacity as the Boundary Pillars. Instead, the cultivator must open the channels of his soul to communicate directly with the environment, and adjust the fluctuations of his soul until it blends into the surroundings without any disturbance. After which, the cultivator is to ignite their entire cultivation base, entering a neutral cycle of life and death as the soul phases in and out of the body due to the attraction from both the refined spiritual essence within the cultivator's body and meridians, and the wild, untamed atmospheric spiritual qi of the world. There are no heart demons encountered during this process, but the cultivator must remained focused on the condtion of their soul; the majority of their soul, if not all of it, must remain locked within their body, and resist the pull of the spiritual qi. Should the attraction of the spiritual qi exceed that of the spiritual essence contained within their meridians and dantian, the soul suffers the possibility of a Rupture - the phenomenon where the soul is split apart into different proportions. If this phenomenon occurs, then the cultivator's personality, memories, and logical base suffers from a certain degree of permanent corrosion comparable to the damage sustained on the soul. A Rupture is not lethal - though excruciatingly painful for those who do experience it - and a cultivator can still attain the Bastion Pillars with a Ruptured Soul, but there exists the possibility that the lost proportions of the mortal soul may assimilate into a physical body, which then causes the troubling phenomenon of duplicate identities and breaks the Laws of Natural Coven as decreed by the Tianzun Imperial Court.
Accomplishment of the Bastion Pillars provides a massive benefit towards the cultivators who dare trespass into its boundary, but with its drawbacks. First and foremost, the soul is consolidated into a physical object which is nestled roughly in the same position as the heart. Even though the crystallized soul is considered a physical object, completion of the Inner Bastion Pillar renders it with the property of a oscillating, superimposed position; as such, physical attacks are incapable of damaging the physical structure, and attacks reinforced by spiritual essence are incapable of directly targeting the soul. However, for a cultivator at the Outer Bastion Pillar, they must be constantly alert regarding the status of their crystallized soul; as it has yet to attain the oscillating property of the soul that had accomplished the Inner Bastion Pillar, the crystallized soul could be directly harvested from the body by another, which can then be refined into spiritual medicine or integrated into spiritual artefacts as their power source.
Attaining physical manifestation of the soul implies that the soul's processes are sustained solely by itself and no longer burden the physical body. As such, the cultivator's physical body stops its aging process given that there is an ample supply of spiritual essence. This does not mean that a cultivator can reverse their age by infusing a greater quantity of spiritual essence, however. The hardening of their soul into a physical structure also instantiates that a cultivator may retain their life even after suffering numerous fatal injuries to their body, including decapitation, as long as they have enough spiritual essence to maintain the crystalline structure of the soul. As long as the crystalline soul remains intact, a cultivator could theoretically reattach limbs as well as their head, and reanimate their heart. Nonetheless, most cultivators of the Spirit Building Realm often expend all of their spiritual essence reserves prior to death, causing the possibility of this phenomenon to be rather rare and unexpected.
At completion of the Spirit Building Realm, the cultivator's soul is blessed with a physical structure formed entirely of spiritual essence. While this grants them an increased ability to communicate with and manipulate the surrounding environment as well as nearby currents of spiritual qi, the transformation from an intangible soul to that of a physical structure strips the mortal soul of the protection of reincarnation bequeathed from the Underworld Bridge. As such, mortal cultivators who perish at the completion of the Spirit Building Realm do not reincarnate and are decomposed into spiritual essence for the world's utilization.
Spirit Building Realm is the threshold that a cultivator can break through of the <Initial Three Points> of martial arts techniques, relying on the ability of extended perception by the Boundary Pillars to project their spiritual essence from their body. This allows their martial arts techniques to directly affect the environment and display their miraculous abilities - transforming practitioners from mortal "supermen" to that of actual "cultivators".
Core Formation Realm
The Core Formation Realm is where the cultivator creates a protective, solid "core" that both houses the crystalline soul, as well as providing an additional layer of protection and harnessing the soul to the body. To breakthrough into the Core Formation Realm, the cultivator requires solely nothing but a moment of inspiration or external enlightenment; the physical body cannot be directly modified or fiddled with following completion of the Foundation Establishment, and each cultivator is left to their devices in the matter of tethering their soul to their body. Consisting of ten pillars, the Core Formation Realm reinforces the vital regions of the body, ensuring that the physical body can adequately withstand and harness the crystalline soul:
- First Temperament
- Second Temperament
- Third Temperament
- Fourth Temperament
- First Consolidation
- First Integration
- Second Integration
- Third Integration
- Fourth Integration
- Second Conslidation
The Temperament Pillars are the Pillars in which the cultivator must first assemble the secondary structures within their body that are responsible for containing and securing the position of the soul. The structures may be established virtually anywhere within their body, but many cultivation techniques secure the soul near the heart to minimize the distractions imposed onto the cultivator during combat. The nature, shape, and composition of these secondary structures vary by both the cultivator's creativity and the employed cultivation technique itself; the structures may be organic and of soft, tensile material that can absorb and mitigate the force of any incoming attack, or inorganic and durable material that firmly resists impacts. The structures are not required to be contained within the body, and can extend outside to accommodate for any flaws in resilience or breakage points; several cultivators in the far regions of Bei Tang often employ "metal wings", or a metallic skeleton extending from their heart, the most prominent example being the Saint's Wings that was employed by Tang Shiqi at the Fields of Calamity. For those who do decide to create completely internal structures, their skeletons diverge slightly from that of humans in the case of extra bones within the ribcage to further steady and reinforce the frame, as well as create a trapping cage of spiritual essence that locks the soul in place. Four-fold Temperament does not mean that cultivators establish four different structures, but instead refers to refining and perfecting the established structures with spiritual essence. When the secondary structures are capable of serving as a secondary, instantaneous reservior of spiritual essence, then the layer of Temperament is deemed "completed."
The Integration Pillars are the Pillars in which the cultivator tethers the soul within the structures established by the Temperament Pillars. First, a trapping cage must be established to prevent the soul from being influenced by spiritual qi in the environment, which can potentially cause a Rupture phenomenon, or completely flee from the physical body. The trapping cages are formed by pooling spiritual essence into the secondary reserviors within the structures that surrounds the crystalline soul; this forms a radial field of spiritual essence centered upon the soul, diminishing the influence of external spiritual qi on the cultivator's soul. The instantaneous reseviors of spiritual essence can also serve as "capacitors" in the case of intense-paced combat; the cultivator stores a certain amount of spiritual essence to sustain the manifestation of the soul, that is not disrupted by any external influences targeting the meridians and dantian.
The Core Formation Realm does not provide a great boost to a cultivator's overall lifespan as compared to the other realms regarding its stage of development, instead increasing the cultivator's resilience to both physical and spiritual attacks. Upon completion of the Integration Realm, the soul sustained by the trapping cage exudes a congealed barrier of spiritual essence extending from their skin that nears solidification; upon will, a cultivator can solidify the barrier of spiritual essence, forcibly blocking the intrusion from physical weaponry as well as spiritual artefacts to a certain extent. The barrier that extends from their body is maintained nearly indefinitely, and is sustained solely by the fluctuations of the soul. This grants cultivators of the Core Formation Realm a massive advantage in securing their life and fortitude, but also serves as their Achilies heel; if the soul's fluctuations are disrupted by either illusions or an unexpected surge of emotions, the barrier loses its effectiveness until the cultivator can return to a state of consistency. Physical assaults on Core Formation Realm cultivators must be withheld until psychological tactics have successfully taken root.
Furthermore, the physical structures produced by the Temperament Pillars allow for the practitioner to reinforce the core vitals of their body, rendering assassinations nearly obselete; to assassinate a Core Formation Realm practitioner, the assassin must also be of the same Realm - otherwise, they will never be able to successfully kill unless bloodletting til death, and even then, causing a Core Formation Realm cultivator to bleed increases astronomically in difficulty. With the natural endowment of spiritual essence on their vitality, a Core Formation Realm cultivator can live for a maximum of five hundred years.
Depending on the nature of their cultivation and martial arts technique, the secondary structures formed by the Temperament Pillars can be utilized in offensive or defensive measures if they extend out of the cultivator's body. In the case that these structures remain completely internalized, then they generally remain defensive save for a few rare exceptions.
Nascent Soul Realm
The Nascent Soul Realm is the stage at which the cultivator gains the authority to integrate their crystallized soul as part of the mortal world. To break into the Nascent Soul Realm, the cultivator must fulfil a set of conditions:
- Inundate the soul with the spiritual qi infused within a "niche" - a location of the continent that contains a particularly abstruse attribute of spiritual qi, or a location that predominately contains spiritual qi compatible with the cultivator.
- Complete a Soul Calming Lake, and a Soul Enraging Lake that shares a strong spiritual connection with the cultivator's soul.
- Steal a portion of the Divine Embodiment from Heaven's Way.
Once these three conditions are fulfilled and the cultivator amasses their reserves of spiritual essence to their peak, they may breakthrough into the Nascent Soul Realm by branding their soul with the fragment of the Divine Embodiment, and linking both extremes of the crystalized soul with the Soul Calming Lake and Soul Enraging Lake. When the spiritual essence within the cultivator lulls to a natural state of calm, the cultivator successfully integrates into the natural environment and breaks through into the Nascent Soul Realm. The process of breakthrough into the Nascent Soul Realm cannot fail, though the dangers accompanying the preparations for the breakthrough certainly can kill Peak Core Formation Realm cultivators numerous times. The Nascent Soul Realm consists of twelve pillars, of which the crystalline soul harmonizes with the assimilated "niche":
- Blessing of Justice
- Embodiment of Greed
- Embodiment of Lust
- Blessing of Prudence
- Embodiment of Wrath
- Embodiment of Gluttony
- Blessing of Temperance
- Embodiment of Sloth
- Embodiment of Pride
- Blessing of Courage
- Embodiment of Envy
To ascend into the Nascent Soul Realm, the cultivator must first discover a region of the world where the natural atmospheric spiritual qi is predominately of an attribute that is most compatible with that of the spiritual essence within the cultivator themselves, known as a "niche". The region can be of any size, ranging from a square meter to even the size of a massive empire of the scale of the Three Great Empires; the only requirement is that the predominant nature of the spiritual qi must be compatible with the cultivator. Areas in which the predominant attribute of spiritual qi fluctuates over a period of time do not qualify as a "niche", and the designated attribute of spiritual qi must be the foundation that formed the territory, not a result of altercation imposed onto the territory; the presence of other lifeforms cannot change the attribute of spiritual qi bestowed to the region of land in the slightest for it to qualify as a "niche". Once the cultivator breaks through into the Nascent Soul Realm, they can then surmount the Pillars of Embodiment and Blessing that drastically changes both the cultivator and the selected "niche".
The Pillars of Embodiment and the Pillars of Blessing are the two primary aspects of the Nascent Soul Realm, and are scattered in their development. Surmounting the Pillars of Embodiment or Blessing does not require a sufficient accumulation of spiritual essence; on the contrary, the cultivator does not interact much with the spiritual essence in their meridians and dantian. Instead, each Pillar is accomplished by immersing themselves into the concepts of the cardinal sins and virtues. The cultivator must witness, experience, and thoroughly understand the concepts and natures of the cardinal sins of greed, gluttony, envy, lust, sloth, pride, and wrath, as well as the four virtues of temperance, prudence, justice, and courage. There is no need for an ultimate or complete understanding of the cardinal sins and virtues at their root - the cultivator only needs to understand to the extent that their soul naturally exudes the qualities of the cardinal sins and virtues and alternate between them at will. Simply put, the Nascent Soul Realm refers to the process of nurturing an artificial "sentience", and as such requires profound perception and understanding of both the cardinal sins and virtues that constitute mortal psyche.
The Nascent Soul Realm transforms the cultivator into a miniature "deity" that presides over the chosen region of land that the former utilized to ascend from the Core Formation Realm. Each comprehension made by the cultivator affects the "niche" in its development of spiritual qi. Following the advancement of the cultivator into the Nascent Soul Realm, the ownership of the spiritual qi of the territory belongs to the crystalized soul of the cultivator, not the actual land itself. As such, progress achieved in either the Pillars of Embodiment or Blessing transforms the spiritual qi of the "niche", and the attributes of any living creatures found within the vicinity experiences changes as well. The closer the cultivator walks towards the Pillar of Consolidation, the closer the actual region of land achieves a general body of sentience; upon reaching the final step of fusing together all seven Embodiments and Four Blessings, the transformed region of land achieves to assemble a core - a spiritual beast that serves as the land's protector. In exchange for painstakingly comprehending the profound natures of the mortal soul, the cultivator's longevity is sustained by the longevity of the "niche" for a total of a millennia. By virtue of the mortal world's construct, the attributes of the spiritual qi dispersed throughout the mortal world drastically changes by the coming of a new millennial era; as such, Nascent Soul Realm cultivators can only sustain their lifespan to a maximum of a thousand years - given that they have yet to consume any longevity panaceas.
Upon reaching the Nascent Soul Realm and bonding with the region of territory, the cultivator may mobilize and manipulate all of the spiritual qi residing within the "niche" and its vicinities, and is capable of utilizing such spiritual qi as a means of defense or offense with minimal repercussion. As a result, few dare trigger the full wrath of a Nascent Soul Realm cultivator, for the sheer volume of spiritual qi residing within any "niche" - however small it may be - transcends the maximum capacity of a well-endowed cultivator by at least a few hundred-fold.
In the Shattered Continent, none of the Three Great Empires nor the Three Great Sects have a completed method of achieving the Pillar of Consolidation. As such, the Peak Nascent Soul Realm cultivators that do exist are those who were lucky in their blind wandering, and many of them lack the properties and strength of a cultivator who had practiced via a completed and verified cultivation technique - such as those of the Natural Domains.
Mortal Tribulation Realm
"Do you dare contest against the Will of Heaven?"
The Mortal Tribulation Realm is the second major boundary that all mortal cultivators face without exception, given that they have successfully managed to accomplish the Consolidation Pillar of the Nascent Soul Realm. It is the boundary in which cultivators are faced by the challenge of Heaven's Will, and also where mortal cultivators are forced to make the choice of their lives. It is also a special boundary in mortal cultivation that does not require completion to comprehend the next Realm. To ascend into the Mortal Tribulation Realm from the Nascent Soul Realm, a cultivator must not only retain their fragment of the Divine Embodiment, but also achieve the Consolidation Pillar that is fully compatible with the remainder of their cultivation technique. By igniting the fragment of the Divine Embodiment that was stolen from Heaven's Way, the cultivator may ascend into the foundational plateau of the Mortal Tribulation Realm - and receive their first strike from Heaven.
To ignite the fragment of the Divine Embodiment of Heaven's Way, the cultivator must complete the following:
- Abolish the polar concepts instilled within the Soul Calming Lake and the Soul Enraging Lake, reducing them to mere pools of concentrated spiritual essence.
- Empty all reserves of spiritual essence within the cultivator's body and launch an attack towards the fragment of the Divine Embodiment, depriving every cell of spiritual essence.
When the fragment of the Divine Embodiment is attacked by spiritual essence originating from the mortal world, the skies automatically retaliate to the challenge towards its authority by sending down a bolt of lightning infused with the divine essence of the Realm towards the already weakened cultivator of the Nascent Soul Realm. This brings the cultivator to the initial, foundational plateau of the Mortal Tribulation Realm, as well as their first gamble with their life; if the cultivator is capable of withstanding the strike of divine essence with their weakened physique and soul, then they are permitted to enter the Mortal Tribulation Realm. If they are unable to persist through the agony and destruction and ultimately perish, then Heaven's Will attacks the roots of the cultivator's karma extending in both directions - from familial relations extending towards the ninth generation, and those with direct relationships to the cultivator all suffer from heavenly calamity and grand misfortune. Heaven's Will attacks in both directions regarding a cultivator's karma - as such, both those of ascendant and descendant generations are afflicted by the calamity.
In the event that the cultivator does indeed achieve entry into the Mortal Tribulation Realm, there are a total of ninety-nine Pillars - essentially ninety-nine chances bestowed onto the cultivator. Depending on the number of strikes withstood or challenged by the cultivator, their fate drastically changes. Following the first Tribulation, the fragment of the Divine Embodiment returns to the Realm, and successive Tribulations are triggered by aiming a pure intention towards the skies.
The ultimate fate of a cultivator depends solely on his actions whilst in the Mortal Tribulation Realm. Each Tribulation bestowed from the heavens is a divine strike aimed towards the mortal root instilled within the cultivator - the advents of the Body Tempering Realm, the transformation of the soul by the Spirit Building Realm and Core Formation Realm, as well as the tether that restrains the cultivator to the world - and purges them bit by bit from the cultivator. The purging done within the cultivator's body by the Tribulation reduces the overall strength of their abilities as well as their capability to communicate with the mortal world and their environment, but also weakens the drastic side effects imposed onto the cultivator's soul after their death. The amount of purging done per Tribulation is solely dependant on the cultivator's will; if they are able to comprehend the intention of the heavens as well as the creeping danger on their soul and accept the pain-filled blessing of the Tribulation, then all deficits and hidden dangers on their soul can be purged with a maximum of five Tribulations. Otherwise, depending on their attachment towards the strength and longevity that they had experienced throughout the Nascent Soul Realm, a cultivator can undergo minimal purging even after all ninety-nine strikes of Tribulation. Those who are fully purged through the Nascent Soul Realm at the end of all ninety-nine strikes experience a completely different fate from those who must withstand more:
- Those who can be completely purged of their mortal shackles within a total of ten strikes of Tribulation are directly elevated to the Divine Dao Realm, bypassing the mortal world's restrictions regarding the Consecrated Divine Dao. Their soul is freed from all confinements and restrictions imposed by the mortal world, and the connection with the Underworld Bridge is restored.
- Those who can be completely purged of their mortal shackles within a total of thirty strikes of Tribulation possess a greater chance of ascending into the Divine Dao Realm, and are absolved of the restrictions imposed onto the mortal world regarding the Consecrated Divine Dao. Their soul is also free from the mortal world's confinement, and the connection with the Underworld Bridge is restored, though their soul's priority may be lowered.
- Those who can be completely purged of their mortal shackles within a total of sixty strikes of Tribulation do not receive an increased chance of ascending into the Divine Dao Realm, but are granted a single chance at guaranteed life during the tribulations of the Seven Falls Realm. They are also freed from the mortal world's confinement and the connection with the Underworld Bridge is restored, but their next hundred lifetimes are reduced to an ordinary mortal's fate.
- Those who can be completely purged of their mortal shackles within a total of ninety strikes of Tribulation are barred from entering the Divine Dao Realm, and can only conclude their path of mortal cultivation at the Seven Falls Realm. They are freed from the mortal world's confinement and the connection with the Underworld Bridge is restored, but their next hundred lifetimes are reduced to that of servitude.
- Those who can not be purged of their mortal shackles by all ninety-nine strikes of Tribulation are destined to perish upon the Mortal Death Realm. Their souls are not purged of their fate of decomposing into purified spiritual qi upon their death, and their connection to the Underworld Bridge remains broken.
The Tribulation removes the brand of spiritual essence that the cultivator seared onto their body and soul through the preceding realms of mortal cultivation, and as such returns them to the status of an ordinary mortal. The "niche" obtained by ascending into the Nascent Soul Realm is removed from their soul's command, the physical structures of the Core Formation Realm disintegrate into pure spiritual essence, the mortal soul is purged of its "bloated" status, and the physical body is removed of its intricate connection to spiritual essence. All in all, the cultivator's body returns to that of its original status prior to entering the path of cultivation, but the total longevity obtained from the Nascent Soul Realm is not lost, nor does the passing of time catch up to their now ordinary and mortal body; the misplaced longevity is fully supported and sustained by the divine essence of the Realm, and the condition of their body is preserved regardless of the time passed. This means that should a Nascent Soul Realm cultivator ascend to the Mortal Tribulation Realm at the end of their millennium, the Mortal Tribulation Realm grants another millennium to withstand the ninety-nine Tribulations. Once the cultivator's physique and soul completely returns to its mortal state prior to even absorbing their first strand of atmospheric spiritual qi, they have completed the purging by Heaven's Will. By accepting the cleanse and purge of the heavens through the Tribulations, the cultivator sacrifices all benefits obtained from the preceding realms of mortal cultivation. However, this is equally compensated by the blessing of Heaven's Will, for cultivators who do achieve purity of their body to a certain extent are granted several abilities in exchange that far exceed the capabilities of the former Realms. The first and foremost blessing is that of the purged mortal soul being elevated to the status of an "ambassador" of the skies; though they lose the massive repository of spiritual qi from the "niche" that was once at their beck and call whilst during the Nascent Soul Realm, they obtain access to mobilize the atmospheric qi of the mortal world via heaven's authority, removing the limits on the volume of spiritual qi the cultivator could wield at any given point of time. Second, as "ambassadors" of the skies, the cultivators of the Mortal Tribulation Realm obtain the ability of free and unrestrained flight, but with a few limitations:
- The ability of free flight is characterized more as "walking" through the air instead of "flying". The cultivator must make the motions as if walking on ground to travel through the boundless skies.
- The speed of which that a cultivator may fly through the skies depends on the purity of their physique and soul, as well as the movement martial arts technique that they had mastered prior to entering the Mortal Tribulation Realm. Those who obtain greater purity are capable of flying at a greater speed, and ultimately are comparable with the speed produced by their martial arts technique. Learning a new movement martial arts technique after entering the Mortal Tribulation Realm does not affect the flying speed.
- The duration of which the cultivator may fly in any single session is limited to the purity of their physique and soul.
Third, each purification bestowed by the Tribulation grants the cultivator a thin sliver of divine essence originating from the Realm. Though held in stasis within the mortal cultivator's soul, of which the latter is unable to manipulate the divine essence in any form whatsoever, the presence of divine essence in a mortal world is a sufficiently overwhelming blessing. Because the divine essence is held in stasis by Heaven's Will, it cannot be expended in martial arts techniques as a source of miraculous energy, nor can it be disrupted the by mutual annihiliation that occurs when divine essence from the Realm intermingles with the spiritual essence of the mortal worlds. As such, though their physical bodies and souls return to their mortal state, Nascent Soul Realm cultivators and those of preceding realms require increased effort to breach the barrier of divine essence that protects the cultivators of the Mortal Tribulation Realm. Furthermore, the passive existence of divine essence ensures that the cultivator's natural movements and attacks resonate with the divine essence's attributes. In the time that it takes for the barrier of divine essence to be broken, a Mortal Tribulation Realm cultivator can sufficiently annihiliate their foes.
However, after the development of the Divine Palace, the Immortals of the Realm bestowed a ban onto all mortal worlds, forbidding the cultivation of the Mortal Tribulation Realm by purification. Instead, the laws of the mortal worlds were adjusted that the purification of the mortal body and soul was accompanied by sheer torment and an unwithstandable pain, causing the cultivators to adjust their techniques to morph into one that forcefully resisted against the Tribulation and instead assimilated the divine essence into their bodies, seizing the benefit of increased lifespan for themselves at the expense of sacrificing the ability of flight and the bestowment of divine essence. Because this method of forcefully resisting the purification, the mortal cultivators retain the benefits from the Nascent Soul Realm and that of those below, and has been adopted as the orthodox method of cultivating through the Mortal Tribulation since. Cultivators who then survive all ninety-nine strikes of Tribulation then ascend into the Mortal Life Realm, instead of adopting the route of purification and ascending directly into the Divine Dao Realm. If a cultivator is unable to become completely purified by the Tribulation and instead progresses into the Mortal Life Realm, then the strand of divine essence is stripped from their body, and they regain their access to the benefits that belonged to the Nascent Soul Realm and below. In exchange, all benefits from the Mortal Tribulation Realm are deemed invalid, and even the ability of flight is lost. In the Shattered Star Continent and even the Natural Domains, the only knowledge of the Mortal Tribulation Realm is limited to forcefully resisting the Tribulation's purge, and instead transpiring towards the Mortal Life Realm. Only a few individual mortal cultivators who lacked any "orthodox" cultivation method for the Mortal Tribulation Realm and were desperate enough could obtain the chance to ascend to the Consecrated Divine Dao via purification. Any cultivator of the Mortal Tribulation Realm can, at any time, call forth a Tribulation to strike their foe instead of withstanding another round of purification. This doesn't result in any positive or negative side effects save for a lost chance of purifying their mortal roots.
"This gift of eternal life, can you withstand?"
The specific method of ascension into the Mortal Life Realm is unknown to many, and the knowledge is strictly regulated by Prime Minister Fang Moyun and the Fifth Progenitor Wen Jingxuan. The stated reason is unknown, but many Immortals who have successfully developed their territory to Earthly Charters are able to pry into the secrets hidden underneath. On the surface, however, the rumored method of breaching into the Mortal Life Realm is by resisting or evading the effects of all ninety-nine strikes of the Mortal Tribulation Realm. Once the final Tribulation is withstood, the blessing of the heavens vanishes from the cultivator, removing the strand of divine essence from their body as well as crippling the ability to fly unhindered through the air. Instead, the mortal earth bestows a blessing onto the mortal cultivator, the specific means and process unknown. Upon entering a dreamstate whilst entering the Mortal Life Realm, the mortal cultivators are asked a single question from an unknown identity (later revealed to be The Second Progenitor Hlidskjalf's question to the Forefather):
"What is the purpose of life?"
There are a total of thirteen Pillars of the Mortal Life Realm, and a total of thirteen attempts for the cultivator to answer the question. Each attempt of answering equates to the progress of a Pillar, and progression throughout the Mortal Life Realm is far different from its preceding Realms. Regardless of the cultivator's answer to the question is the correct one as demanded by the mysterious entity, they progress a Pillar throughout the Mortal Life Realm. Subsequently, they receive a random amount of longevity per attempt, ranging from a millennia to five millennia of lifespan. The Mortal Life Realm offers no other benefit save for a massive extension of lifespan.
However, when the cultivator utilizes all thirteen of their attempts and still fails to answer Hlidskjalf's question, then their lives are automatically forfeit on their thirteenth attempt. Their souls are destined to decay into the purest of materials containing unfiltered, enriched spiritual essence whilst their body decomposes into the highest quality of raw material suitable for consumption by mortal cultivators; by the standards of most mortal worlds, the soul of a perished Mortal Life Realm cultivator is considered as the ultimate spiritual panacea for a cultivator, capable of instantly elevating any mortal creature to that of the Nascent Soul Realm. Similarly, spiritual artefacts refined utilizing the physical remnants of the Mortal Life Realm cultivator's body are comparable to that of naturally formed divine-grade artefacts known to mortal worlds. While the soul does disintegrate and later assimilated into other cultivators' souls if the remnant spiritual essence is absorbed, the actual consciousness of the Mortal Life Realm cultivator does linger on. In this circumstance, they aren't capable of physically controlling the host's body, but can influence their personalities and incite them to relinquish a certain extent of control over their behaviors through temptation.
Failure to successfully answer the Second Progenitor's question results in the mortal cultivator obtaining eternal life in exchange for their entire persona and consciousness. Before consuming their thirteenth attempt, a Mortal Life Realm cultivator obtains the temporary ability to wield the pure vitality of the earth. They outlive any injury or illness by sheer vitality, as well as transfer the raw lifeforce towards others without any deficit to their own cultivation as well as accurately gauge the remaining lifespan of any person; the limit of transferrable lifeforce at any given moment is five hundred years, of which any more will consume twice as much from the cultivator manipulating the earth's lifespan. Upon succeeding, however, the cultivator advances to the Mortal Death Realm.
Just as with the Mortal Life Realm, neither the residents of the Realm nor the mortals of their mortal worlds have distinct information regarding the specific method of breakthrough. Upon breaking through into the Mortal Death Realm, the cultivator is asked another question from the Second Progenitor whilst in their period of introspection:
"What is the purpose of death?"
The number of attempts to answer the question posed by the Second Progenitor remains consistent, with thirteen Pillars overseeing the Mortal Death Realm. Regardless of accuracy, each attempt consumes the lifeforce within the cultivator and brings them closer to death as a consequence of completing a Pillar (and wasting a chance of answering); When the cultivator fails with all thirteen attempts, their soul and body disintegrates into a universally toxic substance that fully pervades all aspects of the environment that witnessed their death. The atmospheric spiritual qi, the mortal and spiritual lifeforms living within the vicinity, and other cultivators themselves - they are invaded by the pure essence of death, often transforming into specters and wrathful ghosts that haunt the living. The environment is imbued with a curse that automatically sustains itself for the amount of lifespan snatched from the cultivator; the curse corrodes at the lifespan of anyone who dares enter, inflicting their spiritual essence and cultivation with a difficult-to-remove malignance that distorts the soul to become extremely bloodthirsty and inhumane. After several millennia pass and the curse devouring the region of land becomes diluted by a significant margin, the land is regarded as a "region of death."
The loss of lifespan per advancement in the Mortal Death Realm is not a unilateral process. For every Pillar overcome by the cultivator, they are able to manipulate the aura of death within their surroundings at an extent proportional to the amount of life lost. This includes directly manipulating the death of a person to arrive at a much earlier date than normal, or delaying a person's death up until a milennia of time. Those who are more keen in their perception of the aura of death can grasp onto its thin threads and manipulate them to bring someone back to life - with limits, however. As long as the Impertinence has yet to tether a mortal's soul, the Mortal Death Realm cultivator can restore them back to life.
Restoring life may incur a greater cost for a cultivator of the Mortal Death Realm, but crippling the lifespan of another is mere child's play for someone who had sacrificed at least three attempts to answer the Second Progenitor's query. If sufficiently enraged, a Mortal Death Realm can drain vitality at a rate that not even a Mortal Life Realm cultivator can persist, and killing the latter is no difficult task.
"Thee have tempered greed, lust, envy, wrath, pride, gluttony, and sloth and bound them to thy bidding. But what if they rebel?"
For many save for a select, exclusive few mortal cultivations, the Seven Falls Realm is the culmination of mortal cultivation. It is the closest to the heavens that mortal cultivators are destined to obtain unless they have willingly accepted the purification from the Mortal Tribulation Realm, and possesses a mysterious boundary that many fail to breach in their lifetime. Accomplishing the Seven Falls Realm allows the cultivator to order the earth and command natural phenomenon at their fingertips, existing as a parallel entity as the mortal world's core but with limited lifespan and authority.
The Seven Falls Realm is an elusive quandry for mortal cultivators, in that there is no specific method of grasping the edge of the boundary. It describes the coordinate rebellion of the human sins of greed, sloth, envy, wrath, lust, pride, and gluttony that the mortal cultivator tempers at the Nascent Soul Realm in order to breakthrough into the Mortal Tribulation Realm, but does not specify a certain point in time of which such rebellion occurs. The rebellion and overturning of the cultivator's authority can occur at any time beyond the Nascent Soul Realm, akin to a latent bomb that possess more than sufficient lethality to ruin the cultivator's psyche; for those considered unlucky, the boundary of the Seven Falls Realm even can descend while they are tempering the Soul Calming Lake and Soul Enraging Lake to break through into the Nascent Soul Realm. The only consistency regarding the descension of the Seven Falls Realm is that the edge of the boundary manifests when the cultivator feels extreme emotion that strips them of their intelligence and leaves them exposed to their primal desires.
When the seven cardinal sins of man rebel, they fight for control over the cultivator's psyche and soul. If the rebellion succeeds, the cultivator's mind is stripped of all basis of logical deduction, rendering them mentally incapable of anything else but heeding their primal instincts. The soul is corroded of its chance to experience purification by the Tribulation if the cultivator had yet to enter the Mortal Tribulation Realm, and instead enters a divergence route that bypasses directly into the Mortal Life Realm. For those who are usurped from their own minds by the seven cardinal sins, they are forced to witness the cardinal sins manipulate their life into a blurred, inescapable haze of all seven sins, almost like that of an unstoppable hallucination. The rebellion of the Seven Falls Realm cannot be withstood by oneself; because the origin of the problem is rooted deeply within the cultivator's mind and soul, it is nigh impossible to demand the mind to purge itself - which is essentially commanding it to commit suicide. As both the cardinal sins and the cultivator are situated within a single mortal soul, the resources that either party could employ are rather limited in scale. Because of this, spiritual medicines and panaceas can gradually cleanse the mind of the cardinal sin's overwhelming influence and return them to a normal quandry, but the cultivator loses the chance to progress through the Seven Falls Realm as a result. Instead, the mainly adopted solution is to consume the essence of both the Soul Calming Lake and the Soul Enraging Lake, to accelerate the exhaustion of the cardinal sins' rebellion. Ultimately, given time that no external aid is delivered to a cultivator suffering from the rebellion of the cardinal sins, their original persona is erased and replaced with one that only responds intensely to the emotions and intentions associated with greed, lust, pride, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.
The rebellion of the cardinal sins can either be mediated, or forcefully suppressed by the cultivator's soul through sheer resilience and endurance. By negotiating with the cardinal sins and obtaining a compromise, the cultivator can obtain all of the major benefits of the Seven Falls Realm in exchange for a slightly more volatile personality that is contaminated with the presence of the cardinal sins. Additionally, the cultivator could resist through all of the temptations of the seven sins until they exhaust all of their resources, before retaliating and suppressing the other with a single, well-structurered logical argument. Though it is completely possible for a cultivator to forcefully suppress the cardinal sins, they cannot purge them from their soul without the use of external medicines. Either through negotiation or suppression, by overcoming the trials of the Seven Falls Realm, the cultivator obtains two primary abilities: the abiltity to directly command the earth, and to generate seven distinct clones. The former is unlike the authority bestowed onto a cultivator of either the Core Formation to Mortal Death Realms, but instead a direct order the cultivator instills onto the earth, similar to how an Immortal adjusts the mortal world to their liking. Essentially, the cultivator issues a vocal command to the world, in which the demanded phenomenon manifests with certain limitations; the command cannot exceed the capabilities of the current world's timeframe (modernized technologies and societies in an ancient world are not permitted, and vice versa), and the commands are limited to inanimate entities only (cannot create a human out of thin air).
Outside of those limitations, the cultivator who overcomes the Seven Falls Realm can change the weather and their surroundings as they wish, acting on the part of a deity descending onto mankind. Furthermore, every command issued by the cultivator can be rejected by the world core if deemed harmful towards the mortal world; in such circumstance, the expected phenomenon simply does not occur. Producing seven clones of themselves is the byproduct of the seven cardinal sins offering a compromise or surrendering to the cultivator. The clones sustain their own vitality and intelligence, whilst the soul is substituted by the presence of the cardinal sins. The seven sins sever their root that is within the cultivator's soul, transplanting them onto a blank mass of spiritual essence to replicate a mortal soul. The cultivation realm and attainments of the cultivator are fully replicated, and the clones may continue cultivating at will without any barrier restricting their progress. The only considerably hinderance on the clones is the inability to manipulate the blessing of the Seven Falls Realm, of which only the original may uphold such right. The clones generally act independently and on their own accord, but the cultivator may command them if they so desire. As a result, the cultivator loses all connection with the seven cardinal sins, and cannot replicate their associated emotions in any fashion or form. When the cultivator decides to control a clone, they relocate their consciousness into the clone's pseudo-soul, and can freely move the body as well as indulge in new experiences.
A downside of this effect is that whenever the cultivator does migrate their soul, they experience a persistent background influence from the cardinal sin until they return to their original body. If the mortal cultivator was to perish, then their soul resides in one of the seven clones at random, and merges with the sentient cardinal sin at an equal proportion; this process then repeats for every time a clone is killed, until when the cultivator's soul migrates to the last clone, they return to the state prior to experiencing the boundary of the Seven Falls Realm, plagued by the seven cardinal sins that consume man. At that point, the blessing of authority over the earth is lost as well.
"The Dao is the path of knowing one's fate. Do you know the fate of the path you walk on?" The Divine Dao is the final stage of mortal cultivation for those who had received the purification of the Mortal Tribulation Realm, and fully cleanse their entire being within thirty strikes or fewer. It, like the Seven Falls Realm, is propagated with a number of special conditions and properties that causes it to be eluded behind a dense shroud of mystery. The only major criterion to achieve the Divine Dao is to obtain the recognition of both earth and heaven, though the specific requirements are unique per cultivator. The most common method of achieving the Divine Dao is to undergo complete purification within five Tribulations, which would propel the cultivator directly into the Divine Dao Realm. Accomplishing the Divine Dao allows for a cultivator to truly wield the world in their palm, from a metaphorical and literal perspective. Obtaining the recognition of both the heavens and the earth is a rather daunting yet simple task. Recognition is merely recognition; a mortal can only cultivate via the atmospheric spiritual qi only when their soul had obtained the recognition of the earth. Otherwise, they simply would be unable to retain any spiritual qi into their body, and as such, be unable to break free of their constraints as ordinary mortal beings. Obtaining aknowledgement from the earth is most often achieved by possessing a great aplitude with a specific attribute of spiritual qi, of which a distinct connection between the cultivator and the earth is established. As for obtaining the recognition of the heavens, such a feat required the cultivator to be of at least the Peak of the Nascent Soul Realm, directly before the first Mortal Tribulation. The one and only method of attaining a profound connection between the cultivator and the heavens was to trigger the phenomenon of purification on the first Tribulation; failing to accomplish this condition often resulted in cultivators losing eventually losing the heaven's recognition as they gradually became desperate for more power. After obtaining the recognition and in due part the connection to both the earth and the heavens, it is paramount for the cultivator in maintaining such connections, otherwise risk losing everything. This meant that the cultivator couldn't ingest any spiritual panaceas that could alter his affinity with the initially chosen attribute of spiritual qi, and diverge onto the path of Mortal Life and Death. Upon reaching the threshold of Divine Dao, there are only two options for the cultivator to partake in:
- Consecrated Divine Dao
- Grand Divine Dao
The path of the Consecrated Divine Dao refers to the path of holding the heavens in one palm and the earth in the other. By synchronizing the soul with the spiritual fluctuations of the mortal world's core permeating the land and atmosphere, the cultivator must trace the fluctuations back to the world's core, and brand the character of their soul onto its surface. Every mortal world that allows for the practice of cultivation has a fluid world's core; as such, the world's core can change its location instantaneously to any location it so desires given that it exists on the earth, the cultivator must expend all of their efforts in tracking the world's core down. Finding the world's core and tracking it down is no easy task, but many only initiate the relocation process when there exists no anomaly in the region of land surrounding it, and is rather considerably easy to lure and trap. Once trapping the world's core, the cultivator must find the character of their soul and write it onto the core of the mortal world, claiming ownership over both it and the mortal world. Questioning one's identity and tracing themselves to their roots is not a task any cultivator an easily accomplish, and added with the pressure that their character must be imprinted onto the world's core within the period of time that it remains in the trap's location, many require numerous opportunities before they finally achieve success. If they do manage to successfully imprint the character of their soul, the mortal world belongs as their possession, and all administrative rights are transferred to the cultivator, achieving the state of Consecrated Divine Dao.
As a cultivator of the Consecrated Divine Dao, the cultivator literally has the world in their possession after obtaining ownership of the mortal world's core. Other than deconstructing the mortal world, which would violate the principles of the Construct that formed it in the first place - the cultivator possesses the full authority to alter the world as they wish. Storms can be called upon and halted upon a flicker of their will, the magnetic poles of the earth can be reversed upon a wave of their hand, and they could even replace spiritual essence with a completely different energy. The only requirement the cultivator must adhere to at all costs, is that every replacement must possess the same properties as the original, even though the specifications may be different. The balance established by the Construct must be upheld, otherwise the cultivator is unilaterally stripped of their authority. Nonetheless, until the point that the cultivator wishes to face Divine Ascension, the mortal world can even be considered their playhome - the place of which they uphold an identity infinitely close to that of God. Outside of interfering with the natural processes of the Realm such as that of the Underworld Bridge and the Tianzun Imperial Court, the Consecrated Divine Dao cultivator could act as carefreely as they wish. As long as the world existed, so did they - their lifespan was theoretically infinite.
The path of the Grand Divine Dao refers to the path of attaining a status worthy of eternal legend, one meant to last for endless generations after one another. Compared to its counterpart, the Consecrated Divine Dao, upon which the cultivator must capture the world's core and forcibly attain ownership of it, the Grand Divine Dao requires the mortal - not necessarily a cultivator - to firmly imprint their legacy into the hearts of the majority of sentient beings of the same race in the mortal world. This can either be achieved by becoming the strongest known cultivator of the world, or firmly establishing a religion, culture, or a set of ideological beliefs; the only criterion is that such legacy must be honored, revered, and dutifully acknowledged by the majority of humans of the mortal world if the originator was a human. If they successfully create and imprint their legacy onto the history and civilization of mortals, the mortal receives the unified blessing of all mortal creatures; they are immediately elevated to the standard of the Grand Divine Dao, and are tasked with the responsibility oversight and maintenance of their legacy. Such people are remembered as "Saints," and are often the founders of a certain movement of ideology or religion that drastically changes the overlook of the mortal world and human civilization itself. In the case of the Shattered Star Continent, the most prominent "Saints" are Kong Qiu of Confucianism, Laozi of Daoism, and the Siddhartha Guatama of Buddhism. All three "Saints," however, are not native to the Shattered Star Continent.
As a mortal of the Grand Divine Dao, the mortal unifies the entire human consciousness into a singular set of ideologies that constitutes the legacy they had raised from their own hands. The process of merging the human collective consciousness onto a singular mode of ideological thought inevitably causes the mortal world to recognize the entire human population as a single entity, and as such, the proportion of the blessings bestowed onto the mortal of the Grand Divine Dao far exceeds what any supreme cultivator could possibly attain. The natural concentration of spiritual qi in one's body due to a person's breathing and absorption of vitality through consumption, the expansion of the soul, the comprehension of the mortal world and the natural laws; the mortal of the Grand Divine Dao represents the entire human population as a singular, unified being, and displays their complete potential. When the latent potential of humans is weak due to infighting and conflict over domestic authority, the "Saint" loses an equal proportion of their abilities to the proportion of people locked in the desperate struggle of conflicted thinking. On the other hand, the opposite is entirely true; if the human potential exceeds its previous limit, then the "Saint" experiences an unprecendented increase in their capabilities. Compared to the Consecrated Divine Dao's direct ownership of the mortal world, the Grand Divine Dao attempts to install itself as a deity figure, for it requires the complete allegiance to the mortal's legacy and beliefs for the latter to ascend and become a "Saint".
There may be as numerous Consecrated Divine Dao cultivators as long as they attain the necessary qualifications. On the other hand, the path of the Grand Divine Dao can only be achieved by a single person nominated by the mortal world's core itself, and one person only. Elsewise, should there be more than one "Saint" in a mortal world, the Realm will immediately secure and imprison them within the Temple of Twilight.
The altar of Divine Ascension is the final barrier that separates the mortal world from the Realm. Cultivators who are of the Divine Dao Realm can attempt to ascend into the Realm by breaking through the mortal world's membrane. Accomplishing Divine Ascension requires the ignition of the Altar of Divine Ascension - a ideological and spiritual node that is unique to each and every mortal cultivator. To ignite the altar requires a great sacrifice - be it morality, intellectual ability, strength, or even identity.
Those of the Consecrated Divine Dao may choose to sacrifice their authority within the mortal world and ascend to the Realm at any time as they wish. However, just as any other ascended Immortal Being, they will never step beyond the Half-Step Immortal Domain.
There are several special circumstances that allow mortals to ascend much earlier than the Divine Dao Realm, but the majority involve the situation in which a mortal is in possession of their unique Construct and has successfully awakened it - consciously or not.