The growing hunger could be endured, but it couldn’t be fully denied. The already shocking amounts of lightning that had entered its cells weren’t enough. Nothing could ever be enough. Zac’s Void, to take what was needed and relinquish all else, was a lie—a retreat born from weakness.
The Void Emperor took what he wanted. He seized the Heavens and devoured the Earth, slaughtering any and all that stood in his way.
Hunger warped his perception, but a loud explosion shook Zac awake. Remnant lightning was being forcibly pulled from the ceiling, prompting a violent response. His Draugr body was trying the same thing, but the mysterious monolith in the center of the Ensolus Ruins actually rebuffed his demands.
It had withstood Ultom’s destructive pulses and now endured the call of the Void. Its origin couldn’t be simple. Zac only needed to look around to understand there was more than met the eye to the Ensolus Ruins, but that particular mystery would have to wait. There were more pressing matters on his human side.
One spike after another shattered above the Tempest Throne. Despite two consecutive uses, each spike still held immense amounts of energy, and it was all pouring into the chamber. Zac knew he couldn’t let things go on, and he forcibly stabilized his mind and suppressed his body.
The frenzied swirls in his cells gradually slowed down, though they were still in an agitated state. The insatiable hunger was still there, too. It was a half-measure that proved just enough to stop the destruction that would drown him in unfiltered Tribulation Lightning.
It was just in time. Alarm bells were going off in Zac’s mind as he looked at the crackling storm around him. It looked similar to what he’d used to fuel his rebirth, but its force was far greater. The spikes had adjusted their strength based on his grade during the trial, and those safeguards had failed when the spikes exploded.
Entering the storm meant death without a shadow of a doubt. Absorbing it might work, with the caveat that it would instantly trigger his bloodline evolution. With Emily trapped in the next room, that was a step he could only take as a last-ditch solution. Thankfully, it didn’t get to that point.
The twisted Tribulation Throne provided a small sanctuary through its Earthly domain, though only a pile of molten metal would remain in ten minutes. It should be enough, considering the metallic plating covering the chamber was working hard at absorbing the excess energy. He just needed to stay put for a bit longer. Of course, that plan was out the window if more spikes blew up. Seven was already pushing it.
Zac took a calming breath as he felt himself gradually regaining control over his bodies. The transformation had continued despite his bloodline’s interruption, and it was about to wrap up. It would be a while before the lightning dispersed, so Zac took the opportunity to properly scan his body to figure out what the mysterious rebirth had done to him. If nothing else, it would help distract him from the gnawing hunger that constantly fought for supremacy. The part of him that looked at the lightning as fuel rather than death.
The most obvious change was that he’d shrunk. While retaining his height, he’d lost around 30% of his muscle volume. He was still large but not as aggressively beefed up as before. The mass remained equal—what his reforged muscles lacked in size, they more than made up for in barely restrained power. His muscle tissue had been rearranged and concentrated, further optimizing them for battle.
More surprising was that he’d gained a couple of new muscles and tendons humans normally wouldn’t have. At least not Earth Humans, anyway, whose fundamental physique Zac still shared. It wasn’t anything that noticeably changed his appearance. It seemed as though he’d gained a support system that would let him bring out more explosive force. Zac could not test it out while trapped atop the throne, but he could somewhat intuit he would be able to better utilize his attribute pool as soon as he got used to the changes.
Ultimately, humans weren’t particularly suited for cultivation beyond having the basic physiology most cultivation races shared. If anything, they were considered aggressively mediocre, and many factions sought to improve their genealogy by introducing complementary attributes from other races.
Take Earth Humans, for instance. They had become the apex predator of Earth by developing great endurance and energy conservation. But were those features really the most suited for cultivators with their godlike attribute pools and Cosmic Cores providing energy? Zac guessed the transformation followed that logic, though it failed to explain a few other changes. For instance, why did he suddenly have more teeth than before?
The body transformation left Zac conflicted, even if it was a clear upgrade. It was a step away from his origin, the ‘Earth Zac.’ It was the part that held his mortal heart, acting as a spiritual anchor in a world that grew increasingly grim and confusing.
Then again, if Ogras could deal with becoming a shadow being, then he could deal with some extra teeth and muscles. At least the optimization didn’t come with new limbs or gorilla arms, and the added teeth looked normal enough.
Shape wasn’t the only thing new in his body. His cells were pure, dense, and incredibly stable, like he’d spent the last decade solidifying his foundations. Zac sensed he could break through in his [Void Vajra Sublimation] tomorrow if he had the time, and progress with his Body Tempering Methods would be swift in the short term. The biggest difference, however, was that his constitutions seemed to have formed a stronger connection to his Void Emperor bloodline.
The golden whirlpools had started filling with elusive shadows of Void Energy, and there were hidden currents in the Abyssal ponds. Was it a temporary change because his bloodline was about to break through, or was it related to his choice at the end? Zac’s thoughts drifted back to the primordial cosmos and the lakes of lightning, inwardly shuddering at how close to disaster he’d come.
Recalling the experience almost dragged him out of his Void State, so Zac quickly shifted his attention to his Cosmic Core. Like his body, it had been given the expected cleansing, removing impurities and a good chunk of the remaining imperfections. If his Cosmic Core wasn’t High-quality before, it certainly was now, which meant one of the major roadblocks to Late Hegemony had been dealt with.
More troubling was that his Cosmic Core had undergone a subtle transformation like his physique. A few pathways had been added, and others rerouted or reformed. The difference was less than 1% compared to its original state. One percent was both little and too much, becoming an unwelcome and worrying surprise now that he was so close to Middle Hegemony.
The small alterations meant his prepared blueprint wouldn’t work. He’d encountered similar problems more than once with his Skill Fractals. Even a slight difference would lead to a chain reaction of issues, creating a negative spiral of imperfections and patchwork solutions that left you with something far worse than planned. Zac needed to understand the changes, the theories behind them, and what alterations they necessitated before he could step into Middle Hegemony.
The easier solution would be to revert the changes, though that would also take time. Furthermore, Zac was hesitant to do so since the benefits were undeniable. Somehow, the small alterations improved his energy generation, storage, and transfer by around 10-15%. It even felt like the energy it produced had become slightly purer.
It was a clear buff, but a reshaped body and altered core weren’t enough to fully explain why Zac felt like his body was overflowing with power. He had already formed a hypothesis, and Zac opened his Status Screen to confirm.
Name Zachary Atwood
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Class [D-Arcane] Evolutionary Precursor
Race [D] Human – Void Emperor (Corrupted)
Alignment [Zecia] Atwood Empire – Baron of Conquest
Titles […] Arcane Ascension, Pathbound Core, Peakmender, Destined, Cosmic Introduction
Limited Titles Tower of Eternity Sector All-Star – 14th, Equanimity, Big Axe Gladiator, The Final Twilight – 1st, Gates of Rebirth, Void Road
Dao Branch of the War Axe – Late, Branch of the Kalpataru – Late, Branch of the Pale Seal – Late
Core [D] Evolutionary Core
Strength 125,618 [Increase: 224%. Efficiency: 451%]
Dexterity 56,732 [Increase: 166%. Efficiency: 300%]
Endurance 72,010 [Increase: 190%. Efficiency: 472%]
Vitality 63,369 [Increase: 183%. Efficiency: 450%]
Intelligence 11,393 [Increase: 145%. Efficiency: 300%]
Wisdom 19,678 [Increase: 147%. Efficiency: 315%]
Luck 1,315 [Increase: 174%. Efficiency: 393%]
Free Points 200
Nexus Coins [D] 19 345 883
The Tribulation Throne had provided two more levels, though that obviously wasn’t the reason why his attributes had jumped forward. His eyes moved from the unchanged line for his bloodline before stopping at his Titles. Hegemony hadn’t provided much in the way of Titles thus far. Today, Zac got two. More importantly, one appeared in a manner that made even Zac’s heartbeat accelerate.
[Cosmic Introduction: Achieve Pseudo Low-grade Cosmic Attainment. Reward: All attributes +10%. Effect of Attributes +5%.]
[Void Road (Limited): Reject destiny in pursuit of the unknown. Reward: Luck +100. Exclusive. Upgradeable.]
One normal title and one limited. That alone wasn’t anything special. What made Zac’s eyes burn and heart thump was that it didn’t replace any of his five old ones. It had actually expanded his slots by one, which had only happened twice before despite all he’d been through.
The title itself was nothing to scoff at, either. Despite doing nothing for his combat effectiveness and only providing flat attributes, Void Road was indubitably his strongest title. One hundred flat Luck was a shocking number, and it was the main reason his Luck had increased by a whopping 30% in one go. It provided a monstrous multiplier on one of his strongest points. Certainly, Luck was a double-edged sword where dangers and opportunities came hand in hand, but Zac would take that deal every day.
As if that wasn’t enough, the title sported something Zac had never seen before. It had two descriptors; Exclusive and Upgradeable. Did Exclusive mean it was exclusive to him, or that he could only have one path, like the choice he faced at the end? And was there a different approach to evolving it compared to the other titles he’d upgraded? If he figured it out, could he keep tacking on more Luck to the already incredible tally?
Zac stilled his galloping thoughts and shifted his attention to the other title he’d gained. It provided a decent boost, though not one that would make Zac raise his brows. He found description of the feat more interesting than the title itself. ‘Pseudo Low-grade Cosmic Attainment’ no doubt referred to the changes in his body, further confirming Zac’s hypothesis.
It was becoming clear the Tribulation Throne held two benefits. The first came from the outer circles and their seventeen spikes representing the Heavens. They replicated Tribulation Lightning to shed impurities and imperfections.
This part could only be considered a decent opportunity in today’s cultivation world unless you were a mortal like Zac. However, it was far more valuable in the era of the Limitless Empire. Zac remembered his bloodline visions and the struggle a young Laondio Evrodok was trying to solve—the large amounts of impurities plaguing all cultivators.
The ancient cultivators didn’t have pure Kill Energy to propel them through grades, and even their ‘Dragon Veins’ contained impure energy. Even those who took the slow path and only absorbed energy from the universe would be plagued by impurities. The System had largely solved that issue. Today, the only impurities most people had to deal with were Connate Impurities, Pill Toxins, remnants from Natural Treasures, and sequalae from wounds.
The diluted Four Desolates Tribulation provided the Tribulation Throne’s second benefit. This half was far, far more dangerous than the former, with only Meso Helo having passed it. Zac even suspected those on the higher-grade ladder hadn’t reached that step. Their higher timings were rather the result of each tribulation stage needing more time to unload its energy.
Coming in contact with the Four Desolates early was an invaluable experience to prepare for the real thing, but the Tribulation Throne’s goal was still to provide immediate benefits. It broke down and rebuilt one’s body to better align with the four laws, improving its potential. It was similar to how Catheya’s appearance improved after she awakened her bloodline and improved her affinities, though based on even more profound concepts.
Certainly, the term “Pseudo Low-Grade Cosmic Attainment” meant he’d just dipped his feet in the water, if even that. It still felt like he’d taken the first step in dealing with a troubling roadblock far down the road. Iz once mentioned elite cultivators spent most of their time in the lower grades, shoring up their foundations and accumulating.
Could this be part of it? Ensuring one’s path was aligned with not only the Daos but the Four Laws early could potentially be instrumental in stepping into Divine Monarchy or Autarchy.
The experience also made Zac think of his first meeting with Catheya. Back then, she’d asked what he thought the difference was between modern and ancient cultivators. That question led to the discussion of titles, where Catheya defined them as excavated potential. Wasn’t this pretty much the same thing?
The Tribulation Throne was an archaic Title Generator for the empire’s elites. The method was so dangerous the process could be considered the achievement needed to qualify for a title. In return, its effect would be far more impressive than any of the common titles most people would ever see in today’s age.
Melo Heso had also reached that final stage, though he probably picked one of the options immediately and thus finished the last stage two seconds in. Zac, as Emily predicted, had instead caused trouble, dragging the Void and the Ensolus Ruins into the mix. Zac felt his body’s alignment could explain the additional Limited Title slot, but it could also be related to the unorthodox way he finished the trial.
It was still almost unbelievable how a series of coincidences had worked together to save his life and bring unexpected benefits. If his body hadn’t split during his breakthrough into Hegemony, he would have been forced to give up on the Tribulation Throne early.
Zac only passed the seventeen spikes by spreading the Tribulation Lightning. And if not for his experience in the Abyssal Pond, he wouldn’t have known the method to pass the Four Desolates Tribulation. Not to mention that voice. Zac had consciously avoided the topic since even thinking about such a powerful entity risked drawing fate’s attention.
Because even when dead, the Limitless Emperor was undeniably the main character of this Era.
The aged voice barely sounded anything like the Laondio from Zac’s vision, but who else could it be? Who but the Limitless Emperor could exude such monstrous strength that even beings like Sendor and Eoz paled before them? And who else would say “old friend” when coming in contact with the Void? It could also be Karz, but that made less sense, considering his location.
Zac wasn’t sure if the wisp of Laondio’s will came from the Ensolus monolith or the large amounts of Faith Energy gathered inside the tower. Either case, it had been attracted by his bloodline and how he used the Void to fight the two choices to create a new answer.
It was ironic. He’d rejected the Imperial Fate to stake out his own path, only to have his life saved by the Emperor himself.
Now, every aspect of him had seen subtle alterations. Was that a natural effect of aligning with the Laws, or was it part of some plot? The exact relationship between Karz and Laondio was still a mystery. They were just E-grade cultivators when Zac saw them in his vision, and it would be millions of years before the Limitless Empire would shake the multiverse.
Had the trajectories of his fate been meddled with, like how the Remnants put him on a collision course with their brethren? The System hadn’t warned him of the ‘Terminus,’ but could it be trusted when the conspirator was its creator? The thought filled Zac with exhaustion. He kept fighting to break the chains of fate, yet new fetters kept replacing the old.
The good news was that the Tribulation Throne was limited in its power. The synthetic Four Desolate Tribulation only held a wisp of the real thing, limiting his rebirth to a Pseudo-stage. He also had his inherent resistance to meddling with his Karma, which was likely to grow stronger over time. The Kayar-Elu would undoubtedly have contingencies against the lingering will of Emperor Limitless if they planned to topple the System.
Still, he’d have to keep his eyes peeled. It was a shame Iz hadn’t returned yet. There was no one else he could turn to with matters. Well, there was one. The very notion filled Zac with reluctance and a storm of complicated emotions. He’d talked so big just a few months ago, denouncing and drawing lines. Would he really have to come crawling back now?
Who beyond Leandra held the answers he sought?