430 Each Tougher Than the Last One

    After the failed mission against the second outcast of Iewah's faction, the universe went into an odd time of calm.

    Caught by surprise by the loss of two grand judges, the ruling powers of the universal government took refuge into the monotony of governmental affairs, while handling the most high profile matters in the darkness of the senate's building.

    The time of the competition between civilizations was approaching, and in an effort to unite the factions under the same cause, the government prohibited internal fighting, as well as anything that could endanger the people who, only a few years later, would have to participate in the competition.

    Ever since the last expedition against the Brutal, his oddly violent behaviour suddenly ceased. To the ignorant minds of the population, this change was attributed to the intervention of the ruling members of the government, but that was far from the truth.

    In reality, now that the invader had finally found a trail that could lead him to his objective, there was no more reason for him to cause mayhem. Instead, he began a long pursuit of Jerigh, whom along with the Swordsman, had disappeared, and believed as dead as the rest of the expedition's members.

    This pursuit was unknowingly shared with the explorers, who had been sent by the government in an attempt to interrogate the Swordsman who, according to the words of the other children of Iewah, was still living, about what happened during their encounter with the invader.


    Planet Hiel.

    Within the black castle, was a training room where only a few people were allowed to enter. These people were the leading members of Daniel group, as well as his personal friends. In this room, for the last few months, Daniel had used vast amounts of karmic points with a single purpose. That purpose was not to increase his cultivation, which was now at the hundredth and fortieth phase of true immortality, nor was it comprehend the most difficult concepts of essence which still evaded him.. But to do the unthinkable, and develop the complexity of his mind.

    The complexity of one's mind was directly related to the number of mental powers a person was able to understand. That was usually reflected by one's ascension, which allowed a mental warrior to obtain a deeper comprehension of the power they had the biggest affinity with, in the form of a gift. However, that did not mean that someone would be unable to practice in another power.

    With a complexity that was far beyond the teachings of essence, each mental power would require hundreds of years to master. Luckily, that was not the case for Daniel, for whom this process was vastly hastened by the Karmic System, had a teacher in mental power, and did not require rest to recover his mental power.

    "I understand now. Spatial essence is physical, and by using it, I am anchored to laws of space. By teleporting with mental power, I become my own imagination, and can go anywhere I want as long as I have a clear picture of that place in my mind." Said Daniel to Aeron, who for the past few days, had been trying to show to Daniel the difference between teleporting by using space, and by using mental power.

    Of all of the powers in Aeron's possession, Daniel had chosen teleportation and mind fortitude, and the reason for that was simple. While able to read other people's minds thanks to his deeper mental cultivation, Daniel believed that that power was more of a curse than not. He did not want to be in control of the lives of others, closing himself in a bubble where only his word was trustworthy, and every lie that was told to him, was a lie despite the good intentions of the person who had said it.

    The reason why Daniel chose teleportation was because, after listening to Aeron's explanation, he had understood that there was a drastic difference between space and mind. The mind was not bound by people's powers like space, and could not be caged as long as the enemy did not possess a stronger mind specialized in controlling, or caging other people's consciousness.

    In order to protect himself from these two forms of attack, Daniel had chosen to learn mental fortitude.

    Mental fortitude was the ability to resist the influence of stronger minds, turning one's thoughts into whispers too feeble to be heard, turn memories too blurry to be seen, and shape the mind into something too fluid to be grasped.

    After comprehending mental fortitude, Daniel had started to feel a certain amount of affinity towards the Mindhive's artifact, which until now, had been used by Aeron to cultivate to what could be compared to the hundredth phase of immortal cultivation.

    Now that his comprehension towards teleportation had reached a state where he could teleport freely at a distance of a few hundred kilometers, he was finally able to grasp the nature of the artifact.

    "Finally.." muttered Aeron before standing up from what felt like years of sitting. He then added, "Telepathy, teleportation, and mental fortitude. This should be enough for you to be able to refine the artifact."

    As he finished speaking, the small gem encrusted in the middle of his mask detached itself from it, and quietly floated above his hand.

    Contrary to Aeron, Daniel was not convinced that the complexity of his mind was a match to his companion, but he trusted the former's judgement, so he did not refuse, and quietly followed him into the small portal that had been just created.

    When the two entered, they found themselves back into the first layer of the artifact. The mental power was still present, but to Aeron, it did not feel quite as oppressive as it had the first time he had entered. Every building, office, or structure, had disappeared.

    The two quietly reached the first threshold, which before would have been enough to stop Daniel in his tracks. This time, however, instead of blocking his passage as a solid wall of impenetrable rogue mental power, the barrier became extremely fluid, recognizing his worth as a talented mental warrior, worthy of entering the second layer of the Dream Domain.

    The second threshold was not as welcoming as the first one, and presented itself as a dense syrup which hindered his movements to half his normal speed. The feeling perceived by Daniel was not unlike swimming in honey, or digging through mud.

    Once in the third threshold, Daniel started to feel the difficulty of moving through. The density of the barrier had started to behave strangely, almost as if applying more pressure would cause it to solidify further, instead of causing it to give in to Daniel's passage. Nevertheless, after a full hour, Daniel was still able to make his way through.

    "Are you okay?" Asked Aeron to a visibly tired Daniel.

    The tiredness which Daniel was feeling was not a physical one, nor was it due to sleepiness. These challenges were placed by the artifact not only to stop unworthy people from reaching the deeper layers of the artifact, but to break their mind as well. Each moment the barrier resisted his efforts, Daniel's mind would lose a portion of his fortitude due to the feeling of exasperation, and worry of failure.

    "I am fine. The last one was just a little tough.. Hehe-" Said Daniel after a deep sigh. His arms were folded, and his fingers were tapping on the internal part of his forearm, showing how the loss of mental fortitude had caused him to enter a nervous state of mind.

    Aeron immediately noticed Daniel's state of mind, but instead of helping him through it, he remained quiet. After reaching the fourth threshold, which led to the fifth layer and contained the core of the artifact, Aeron said, "The last barrier won't be as kind as the last three. I will wait for you on the other side." he then walked straight towards the seemingly impenetrable wall of mental power, which instead of hindering his passage, split open to welcome him in.

    "Show off.." muttered Daniel before taking a deep breath. His blood pressure quickly went down, and his nervous tics began to abate. He then stepped towards the barrier, which appeared to not have a reaction to his presence.

    While showing a confused frown, Daniel placed his hand over the surface of the mental barrier, which gave him a feeling of coldness. He was aware that what he was seeing was not physical, but had he not been aware of that, he would have easily believed that he was standing in front of a block of ice as old as the universe itself.

    "I won't let you stop me." He said with conviction before forcibly sinking his fingertips into the surface of the barrier. The sheer hardness of this obstacle made him feel as if the bones of his hand were about to break. It took him for than ten minutes for his fingers to sink down to the knuckle, and more than three hours for his arm to sink to his elbow.

    Once through up to his shoulder, Daniel grabbed a handful of the solid substance of which the barrier was made of, and forcibly pulled himself into it.

    For the following week, Daniel proceeded through the passage by exhausting every bit of physical, spiritual, and mental power he possessed. The dense barrier had seeped into his nostrils, clothes, and even mouth, making it a challenge of patience and willpower like none other he had been through before.

    Finally, after a long week, Aeron was able to see the surface of the barrier curve outward, almost as if trying to oppose the passage of Daniel with a last desperate attempt. Although effective, the opposing force which had tested the limits of this barrier for the last seven days kept on perseveering, fighting tooth and nail against the obstacle this barrier posed.

    At one point, the barrier was unable to hold on any longer, and imitating the noise of a rubber band snapping into two, split open to allow Daniel's hand through.

    This hand was the only thing that had managed to entirely cross through this impressive barrier, and the moment it emerged victorious, instead of stopping, its bent fingers hooked over the barrier's solid surface. The pressure put on the fingers drained them of all the blood within them, and soon enough, a wrist, forearm, elbow, and finally, a second hand gradually emerged.

    Aeron took a step back, aware that if he stepped too close, or even attempted to help Daniel through this last moment, all of the work he had put on would be wasted. Instead, he observed as Daniel took the last few steps.

    During his studies of the artifact, Aeron had realized that the fourth threshold not only worked as a way to keep people out from the fifth layer, and the core of the artifact, but also as a test for those who wished to refine the artifact. This meant that there was a high possibility that this artifact hadn't been created to be used by the Mindhive alone, and that to some extent, he had been forced to reach a certain level of complexity, before being able to refine it himself.

    This had only been discovered due to the many attempts made by the two, as after mastering mental fortitude, Daniel had believed to be able to understand the artifact, but for some reason, he was prohibited from interacting with it.

    Through a process of trial and error, the two had noticed that this veil that separated Daniel from understanding the artifact would not exist, as long as he proceeded through the thresholds by allowing for the barriers to test him, as opposed to using Aeron's help to cheat his way to the core.

    The access to the fifth layer, according to Aeron's calculations, required the mastery of at least three mental powers, and now that Daniel had added Mental Fortitude and teleportation to his repertoire of mental powers, he was finally able to reach the fifth layer, where he could finally be able to interact with the core of the artifact.

    With this objective keeping him sane for the last week, Daniel used all of the powers granted to him by his system, and finally emerged from the surface of the barrier as if pulling himself out of quicksand. However, before being able to celebrate his success, he fell unconscious on the ground, where he entered a state of deep sleep.
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