"This is why system skills are so much better than techniques. I just think about using them, and bam, there we go. But techniques? I actually have to consider and practice to use them. How bothersome." Ashlock flexed his Star Core to exert his presence on the pocket realm and tried once again to Spatial Lock Stella in place to prevent her movement, but she effortlessly summoned multiple portals at the click of a finger and got away.

Ten minutes had passed since the start of their practice duel, and Ashlock felt no closer to figuring out the teachings of the Azure Clan contained in that book Stella had shown him.

"It doesn't help that all they provided was the technique's title, 'Spatial Lock,' and a short description of its end result," Ashlock grumbled, "Making portals hadn't been too hard as I had my knowledge from Earth regarding bending space to better convey my intentions to heaven. As without heaven understanding my will, the technique will not manifest."

No wonder everyone wasn't running around with a hundred techniques in their arsenal. They were such bother to find and then learn even with his perfect connection with heaven due to his large Star Core, translation skill, and fragment of divinity, which basically made him one of heaven's chosen.

Meanwhile, Stella hadn't been able to understand a word of the Azure Clan concepts book as it was all written in confusing, nonsensical language, as that's what the heaven's whispers were to the cultivators of this world. A load of indecipherable nonsense that only became clear by piecing the fragments together after years of meditating.

"The problem with this Spatial Lock technique isn't that I can't tell heaven what I want, but rather I have no idea how to make it happen. I've tried to exert my influence and assume control of all the spatial Qi in this pocket realm, but I've had mixed results as the spatial Qi in this pocket realm isn't mine. It belongs to the pocket realm; therefore, assuming total control isn't easy as Stella has tight control of the spatial Qi a meter or two around her."

A loud clang reverberated through the pocket realm dyed in a purple hue as Stella emerged headfirst from a portal and ruthlessly hit one of the swords wielded by his thorn-covered vine with enough force to make the vine yield to her might, and the sword fly out of the vines grasp and clatter to the stone below.

"Whooo! This pocket realm is great!" Stella cheered as a portal snapped into existence below her head before Ashlock could retaliate. She reemerged near the now swordless vine and severed the vine in two with a clean downward cut.

Ashlock withdrew his focus from the vine to numb the pain, and despite the damage she had caused, Stella seemed unsatisfied as she paused beside the vine, lost in thought.

"Something the matter?" Ashlock asked through {Abyssal Whispers}. Not getting an answer, he asked, "How are you finding fighting in the pocket realm?"

"Mhm, this pocket realm is great, as the abundant spatial Qi lets me easily make portals. Which lets me focus more on where I am actually going and fighting back," She then lowered her sword and sighed, "But even with the pocket realm giving me such an environmental advantage, I can't seem to figure out how I could achieve Spatial Step or a sword swing that can cut through reality."

"It will come in time," Ashlock reassured her, "Focus on one of those goals first. How about the Spatial Step technique? What have you tried so far?"

"Not too much, as I can't converse with heaven to form a new technique while mid-fight, but I did have the idea of trying to make a series of portals so it looked like with a single step, I went from one point to another, but that's just an illusion at the end of the day. A really fast line of portals, not a true one-step teleport."

"I think that's the right direction, but you must change your perspective." Ashlock replied, "Portals let one part of you stay still while another pierces through space and appears elsewhere. Think about it: when Nox used Shadow Step, did she leave anything behind? Was she able to Shadow Step her sword forward but stay standing still?"

"No..." Stella tapped her chin, "Their entire body would emerge all at once as if they had always been there."

"Exactly. Maybe think of folding or compressing space instead of piecing it or setting anchors? That way, by taking a single step, you effectively move a long distance at once."

Ashlock was just saying what made sense to him. In truth, he also had no idea how movement techniques like that worked, but that wasn't his problem. He had little use for movement techniques, being a tree and all. His goal instead was to find ways to stop them. He didn't like foes being about to escape his areas of control, either around his main body or that of his offspring.

"Stella, I have a question."

"Sure, what's up?" Stella was broken from the thought and looked up at his canopy shrouded in the purple hue of the slowly decaying pocket realm.

"Spatial Lock, from the description, allows spatial cultivators with a higher cultivation stage to lock onto a target's spatial Qi, preventing them from teleporting or moving using spatial techniques such as portals or Spatial Step within their range. Yet I have run into a slight issue: you have a bubble of spatial Qi firmly in your control around your body. I may be able to stop portals from forming a distance away from you, but as long as you create them nearby, I cannot prevent their creation. How do you think I can get around this?"

Stella tilted her head, "I'm not sure. But if my Qi is what's inconveniencing you, that's what you should focus on controlling." Stella laughed, "Maybe try and convince heaven that my Qi is yours. Never mind, that's too crazy."

"No, hold on... you might be onto something," Ashlock replied. It did sound ridiculous, but she was right. Either he needed to somehow isolate Stella and her Qi from heaven so she couldn't use techniques or somehow gain control of her own Qi.

"Spatial Lock is a far more sinister technique than I anticipated," Ashlock mused, "I might need to learn a few stepping stone techniques first, like finer Qi control or how to isolate people."

A moment passed, and Ashlock decided he would ponder on this later. Checking his sign-in system, he noted that less than a hundred credits remained, so it was about time to wrap this training session up and dismiss this pocket realm, but there was one thing left he wanted to test.

"Stella, I can't hold this pocket realm open much longer, and the Qi density has decreased significantly to the point it's not that much better than the area around the spatial affinity trees outside, so further cultivation or fighting in here is a waste of my energy," Ashlock explained, "But I do want to test how well this pocket realm works as a defensive shield. Could you go outside and try and blast it with spatial Qi attacks?"

Stella grinned, "Would be my pleasure." With that, she turned and left, exiting the spatial realm as easily as she came.

Ashlock's vision blurred, and he joined her outside by looking through a root. The purple hue of the pocket realm had lightened considerably, and he could now see the shadow of his giant trunk lurking within.

There were also two other people here.

Elaine was bent over her knees, gasping for breath as if she had just run a marathon in the desert heat. Meanwhile, Diana calmly stood beside her, retracting her raven wings into her back.

"Oh hey Diana," Stella said, waving to the demoness as she emerged from the pocket realm, "Why's Elaine here?"

Diana grinned, showing her fangs, "Douglas was throwing a fit over being asked to fix the destroyed palace without the assistance of Geb and demanding someone went to help him hire earth cultivators to assist him, so me and Elaine snuck away and left the Grand Elder or Elder Margret to deal with it."

Stella snorted, "Douglas will get over it. The palace needed a redo anyway."

"So what are you up to?" Diana asked, "Anything fun?"

"Oh yeah, Ash wanted me to test if the pocket realm could be used as a defensive shield, so I am going to blast it." Stella smirked, "Want to have a go after me? Assuming there's anything left."

"You don't have to ask twice," Diana rolled her shoulders as she walked over and cracked her neck, "I've got some demonic Qi that I need to splurge."

"Perfect!" Stella twirled back to face the pocket realm and gathered spatial Qi into a ball over her hand that swirled and compressed in and out as if trying to eat itself. Her blonde hair fluttered around as sparks of spatial Qi lashed out at the surroundings, tearing cracks in reality and making the air shudder as the ball gathered more Qi from Stella's Star Core.

"Is she trying to make a miniature black hole?" Ashlock wondered as he witnessed Stella waste a bit more Qi than she probably should on such an experiment. A sword slash or two embued with spatial Qi would have sufficed. "Whatever, it's fine. The mystic realm opens up soon, so any Qi spent now won't matter too much as her cultivation will soar by leaps and bounds by spending a month in a pocket realm far better than this one."

"Take this!" Stella shouted as she drew her hand back and hurled the ball of spatial Qi across the mountain peak cricket ball style. The swirling condensed mass of spatial Qi tore through the air and smashed into the outer layer of the pocket realm.

Ashlock switched his view to inside the pocket realm and watched as the ball splattered on the bubble. A wave of purple spread out through the pocket realm from the impact point but soon fizzled out and dispersed.

"Hardly any damage," Ashlock noted and relayed to Stella, "It seems this pocket realm can be used as a shield against spatial Qi."

Stella seemed miffed about the performance of her overpowered attack.

Ashlock wondered if she was about to try and attack again, but to his surprise, she turned and shouted at the pile of healing Ents.

"Zeus! Smite me down where I stand so I may harness your heavenly spark and defeat this stupid thing!"

"He is healing, Stella," Ashlock chuckled, "And don't go asking him to smite you. You aren't totally lightning resistant, and there's no telling how much your body can absorb before you explode."

"Yeah, yeah," Stella grumbled as she looked at Diana, "I guess it's your turn."

"Don't get too jealous when I destroy it," Diana laughed as she dashed forward. Raven wings thrice her size sprouted from her back, giving her a boost in speed as claws of demonic Qi manifested around her hands, and she charged straight into the pocket realm.

The moment her claws made contact with the spatial bubble, there was an intense ripple across the pocket realm's surface. With Diana as the epicenter, black corruption spread throughout the pocket realm like wildfire, causing the whole thing to collapse and eventually pop like a balloon out of existence.

[Dimensional Overlap Destroyed]

A notification sprung into view and vanished as Ashlock felt the world return to normal. The purple hue was gone, and he could now see everyone clearly.

"Okay, demonic Qi is very effective against my dimensional overlap, so it won't be advantageous against the beast tide unless I summon a pocket realm from hell?" Ashlock wondered but became concerned as Diana collapsed to her knees.

Diana shuddered as her long black hair that reached her waist regressed like snakes up her back and reverted to her usual tomboyish hair that obscured her eyes, which shifted from pure black to dull grey. The majestic raven wings sprouting from her shoulder blades and the demonic Qi that had been shrouding her hands in the shape of claws vanished. Finally, her black jeans and white t-shirt became baggy, her body became less voluptuous, and she shrunk an inch or two in height.

She was back to 'normal'.

Exhaling a shaky breath, Diana slowly got to her feet and flexed her hands, "Phew, this feels so much better," She muttered as Stella came running over to her.

"What happened to you?" Stella asked while putting a supporting hand on Diana's shoulder. The previous miffed look on Stella's face had shifted to one of genuine concern for her friend.

"Nothing much. My body's careful balance between demonic and water Qi has been out of wack since the fight with Lucius," Diana offered Stella a weak smile, "If I have too much water Qi in my soul, I lose much of my strength and emotions. But too much demonic Qi and I become overwhelmed with vigor and lose rationality. It's quite vexing, really. I would prefer a more seemingly chilled bloodline like yours."

Stella laughed, "Is that so? I was the one who was jealous of your bloodline. Mine is lame in comparison to turning into a demon."

"You think it's... cool?" Diana blinked, "But I become an irrational monster."

"We've gone over this before, Diana," Stella shook her head and withdrew her hand, "Nobody around here cares if you are half demon or whatever. Actually, I kind of prefer your demon side. You are more fun!"

"More fun, how?" Diana said flatly, "Oh, that reminds me, Elder Margret told me you gave Sebastian his cut from the spatial rings?" Diana presented her empty palm, "You can't be trusted with them. Give them to me. I will use the Silverspire name to hire an appraiser so we can evaluate the artifacts well, sell the ones we don't need, and keep the rest."

Stella pouted as she handed the many silver rings to Diana, "See... this is what I was saying. You're all business and no fun as a human. At least keep the fangs. They were cute."

Diana stowed away the rings and shrugged, "Fine, but right now, I would rather have my emotions suppressed as much as possible after this morning."

"Is that because you met Maple's family?" Stella leaned in a little closer, "Were they also fluffy squirrels? What were they like? Oh wait, didn't they say something about your bloodline—ow."

"Stella, did you forget Maple has been asleep on your head this whole time," Ashlock laughed as the squirrel hissed and rolled back onto its stomach, "Also, don't mention bloodlines unless you want the heavens to strike you down."

"They can darn well try," Stella cursed as she rubbed her forehead, "And that hurt."

"One of Maple's siblings that the Patriarch named Neptune said they wanted to meet me in the Mystic Realm to show me something," Diana sighed, "I don't think I will be able to meditate or sleep for at least a few days after meeting them once, let alone twice."

"It will be fineee," Stella patted Diana on the shoulder, "Just rest up for today, and you will feel better tomorrow."

"Okay, but what are you going to be doing?" Diana asked as Stella began marching across the mountain peak toward Elaine, who had just about recovered her breathing.

"Training our favorite void girl," Stella grinned as she threw a sword. It skidded across the stone and came to a pause at Elaine's feet, "You're coming in the Mystic Realm this time round, whether you like it or not, and Douglas is already grumpy enough without you dying to some void beast, so let's get you trained up. We have ten days."

Elaine hesitantly picked up the sword, gave Stella's enthusiastic expression one look, and then called out to Diana, "Ah! She's the real demon! Diana, help! Can't you train me instead?"

"I need to rest my head for a day or so," Diana sluggishly collapsed on the bench and massaged her temples, "Just bear with Stella for a day or two."

Elaine yelped, "I'm gonna die."

The courtyard soon became filled with the clashes of swords and Elaine begging Stella to relax for just a moment as she hadn't recovered from running across the entire mountain range after Diana.

"A hungry void beast won't care if you're tired," Stella shouted gleefully as she increased the pace.

Ashlock decided to leave them to it and cycled his meditation technique. Occasionally, he would leave the dark recess of his mind to check on things before promptly returning to his consciousness to converse deeply with heaven and further his understanding of spatial techniques.

Hours turned to days, and before Ashlock knew it, a week had passed with the arrival of good news. Elder Brent had returned from his hunting trip with snacks.