Earth's Core by Lonahora B8 C37 OUT!

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  • Book 1 – Earth’s Core



    Chapter 20 – Qi

     

     

    At a certain point, under the suffocating pressure that the
    old man has put him through, Zax found sanctuary in the depths of his
    consciousness, in his soul. By minimizing the awareness of his soul to the rest
    of the body, although he was still hurting, Zax was able to subdue a substantial
    portion of the pain the old man inflected on him.

    “Haaaa!”

    Something in him that he never could perceive switched and
    suddenly became a new nature. When it happened the echo, which was a side
    effect, began to resonate as means of guidance.

    Zax heard it before, the voice, but could not figure from
    where or when and without realizing his vocal cords started to mimic its rhythm
    in his own voice. Finally he just let it wash him over together with the new sensation.
    Like a cup that is being filled with water, every pore, every nook and cranny
    in his body was brimming with unrestrained energy.

    “Haaaa-”

    The echo stopped abruptly and as Zax gained clarity as to
    what it was; his body already broke into action.

    The old man did not know if to laugh or cry. As if the
    output of pressure that was equal to the Advance phase of an E level Mist User
    was some minor nuisance, the boy he firmly educated fended it off and sprang to
    the air explosively.

    Mr. Martinez eyes widened, same were the eyes of Jinka.
    Apart from the old man, he was at the Beginner phase of a D level Mist User and
    she was at the Beginner phase of a F level Mist User. Both of them could feel
    the pressure Zax was in and knew that there is no normal child in all of
    Kingdom Earth that can withstand it. But when the boy unpredictably acted and
    let out a murderous intent the two were completely baffled.

    A tremendous amount Qi energy, an eruption of Qi steams, burst
    from Zax’s body. His body was mid air, high enough to be at eye level with the
    old man. Seeing his face so clearly, although having the picture of Masela
    Majid in his head for an instant, a turmoil of emotions he could not control
    made him savage and desiring to kill.

    BANG!

    Zax’s structure was struck against the floor like a mad
    beast, spewing blood. The old man increased the pressure, this time he did not
    have an indifferent glance and on the contrary, presented an irritated front.

    The old man sighed. “I didn’t say it before, but truly…
    Remarkable!” His sudden praise surprised, more than anyone else, his great
    great nephew, Mr. Martinez. “A soul attack at your age, in your current level… I
    was skeptic before, willing to damage your spirit to prevent future misgivings,
    as farfetched as it may sound”.

    The old man looked at Zax tentatively. A coreless child with
    such a strong soul and who was able to perceive the existence of Qi in his
    body, even if not in the ideal age... He now recognized the future prospects of
    that not even ten years old boy, and they frighteningly seemed limitless.

    Zax stopped struggling after a few seconds. It was hard to
    guess which factor was responsible for his breakthrough in the perception of
    Qi. It could have been many things… An innate talent, the presence of an
    expert, his big sister, in his life, a secondary effect of his soul training,
    his proximity to Take while he trained under the guidance of his big sister,
    could even be the events of one intensive day or maybe all of the above.

    Either way, the new domain of pain and ordeals under the old
    man supplied the definitive stimulation that he needed to achieve a
    breakthrough. Afterwards, the new found feeling was so invigorating that it swept
    all reason. A recent memory that he unconsciously summoned put him on his feet
    and higher and what followed was a condense Qi punch that fell through before
    it got to its destination.

    Now that he returned to the hard stairwell’s floor, engulfed
    by a veil of nothingness, Zax met the same fate as Turan.

    “Em,” the old man directed his voice to Mr. Martinez’s ears
    only. “The moment I’m gonna strike the decisive blow to end the boy life, take
    care of the Miss first and then kill the three kids”.

    “Great great uncle?” Mr. Martinez winced. He also
    acknowledged Zax’s potential and understood the importance of eliminating this
    future threat who might seek revenge on their family. Whether killing the boy
    or not was not a decision that they could compromise over. Killing the
    defenseless woman and three children, on the other hand… Looking back at the
    past seventeen years, since he inherited the position of the head of the
    family, he could not remember himself committing or initiating such heinous deed
    toward others whom he or the family had no animosity against.

    “Don’t you dare falter!” The old man’s bark reached every
    corner of the stairwell but no farther. Because of whom was he about to substitute
    a severe punishment with death? Was it no his great great nephew and his
    spoiled son who started it all?

    Killing a coreless boy… He cursed Zax, too, for revealing
    his true potential and at the same time felt fortunate for not missing it. The
    old man cursed himself, too.

    Four low class eyewitnesses. The old man could not allow
    that. Now, he no longer doubted over the existence of an expert behind Zax and
    was not keen on betting on his and the family’s capabilities with dealing with
    the mysterious expert who could foster such talent. Therefore, the old man
    reached the conclusion that no eyewitnesses, not anyone who has the slightest
    knowledge of what went on between this stairwell’s walls, should be allowed to
    live.

    He will kill Zax, for his own peace and quiet. Em will kill
    the other four at the same moment. Later he will order Em to use the family’s resources
    to deal with Turan’s friends, as well, and even the C level Mist User, Core
    Breaker, Mishe, which served the family for nearly three decades. That was the
    most potent way to get rid from any loose ends.

    Watching the rag like figure of the boy at his feet, the old man
    decided to at least send him off serenely. He released the pressure and the feeble
    body beneath him rose somewhat, indicating the expansion of the lungs as the unconscious
    Zax breathed freely.

    “Die-”

    “Hahaha, very cunning, very cunning, hahaha…”

    Zax’s execution was cut short by a new guest who entered the
    stairwell in high spirit. The old man stared at the intruder perplexed. Just
    now, if he proceeded with the killing blow, his intuition told him that he
    would die next.

    Mr. Martinez’s intuition, in comparison to the old man’s, did not was quite
    as sharp. When he felt his great great uncle’s killing intent, his body charged
    behind Jinka instantly. He was about to kill her smoothly and then the three
    kids as his great great uncle instructed him. Regrettably, he was one moment
    too late and so could not avoid the surge of light gold mist energy, nor block
    it properly with his dark brown mist energy. Mr. Martinez was thrown back like a bug
    in a strong wind.

    “Habul Majid!” The old man cried, revealing the color of his
    pure silver aura for the first time, as if it could intimidate the brown
    bearded man.

    “Gerardo, do my eyes deceive me or are you also accepting challengers
    like the lads on the rings?” Mr. Majid laughed and stroked his long beard.

    “Damn you, Habul!” The old man, Gerardo Martinez, his face flushed
    red yet he managed to swallow his rage. How long has it been since he was last taunted?
    To guess one would need to count in centuries. “He broke the formation that I
    set”. Gerardo noticed and actually took it reasonably.

    Strictly speaking, it was not because Mr. Majid was two
    phases above Gerardo Martinez or past the bottleneck of the Mist Lord level
    that he could easily shatter Gerardo’s formation. That is because formations
    require more than high Martial level. Theoretically every Mist User can execute
    any formation in a class corresponding or bellow to his or her level. However,
    the higher the class of the formation the more versed the Mist User has to be
    in its complex foundation and structure. To fully grasp the essence of a
    formation could take between days to hundreds of years, depending on the class
    of the formation and the Mist User’s aptitude.

    Gerardo had beneath average aptitude to study formation,
    therefore he did not bother learning any C class formations or above, which in
    this particular case was the reason for as to why Mr. Majid could so
    effortlessly surpass his formation till it broke.

    “Haha… Mr. Majid. I planned to greet you later, how kind of you to
    greet me first”. Gerardo acted as if he shared a laugh with Mr. Majid.

    “Oh, but I’m not here for you, Gerardo. I’m here to gather my
    daughter’s young friends for the exhibition fights. You and your nephew
    should also hurry; these fights are really fun to watch”.

    Hearing so and realizing that he is about to lose someone who in
    the future might turn into a terrifying enemy, Gerardo immediately sought to
    sway Mr. Majid’s, the Beginner phase Mist Lord’s,  mind.

    “Will money do?” Gerardo pondered. He did not know how deep the relationship
    between Mr. Majid and Zax and that actually there was not any. He did know of
    Mr. Majid’s personality so he tried to approach from an angle that will not irritate
    an expert who thought little of exposing his strength in order to impose his
    will, nor an angle which will reveal how desperate he was. “Preposterous!” He
    concluded that it will be inefficient.

    “Mr. Majid”, Mr. Martinez stepped forward and bowed. “Will you be gracious
    and leave the boy in our hands? Of course, please do as you like with the other
    kids and the Miss”. He did not dare to raise his head, not while his facial expression
    still showed malice.

    “What are you thinking, Em”. Gerardo glared at his great great
    nephew. “Is the head of our family foolishly trying to deceive a Mist Lord? You
    should know better, Em, does a beast that hides its fangs considered herbivore?”

    “I can take the woman and those kids, but not the boy? How long are
    you planning to pick on coreless boy, Em Martinez?” Mr. Majid lost any hint of amusement
    in his tone. “Lift him gently and bring him to my hands”. He ordered.

    “Please reconsider-”

    A furious bright golden aura shot at Mr. Martinez and restricted
    his every movement, much like how Mishe’s aura locked the two groups of kids in
    their position. “The boy”. Mr. Majid voiced only these two words and pulled
    back his aura.

    Reluctantly, Mr. Martinez lifted Zax from the floor, but instead of
    handing him over to Mr. Majid he lingered. “This boy… Why come for him now, Mr.
    Majid? Were you not aware of his action toward my son or what I did him in
    return? Is your mind so warped that you enjoy watching children being tortured
    to the verge of death?” Mr. Martinez could care less that he, too, relished in
    Zax’s pain. He rationalized his perverseness by following the notion that he
    had the right to inflict the low class boy who harmed his son a slow death.

    “Ugh!” Mr. Martinez’s face turned and blood filled his mouth. He
    was slapped by his great great uncle and before a drop of blood from the
    mouthful that he spat could spill on Zax’s forehead, the boy was already
    exchanging arms from Gerardo to Mr. Majid.

    “I’d say that you just salvaged your successor life… Regrettably,
    that would only be from my hands”. Mr. Majid said to Gerardo incidentally.

    “?” Gerardo stared blankly at Mr. Majid, and then a terrible
    thought came to his head. “The expert behind this boy is Habul Majid!” As the
    founder of the family, Gerardo knew best its capabilities. He himself was the
    major force of the family; anything and anyone else were less than secondary.
    Apart from investing in the family’s younger generation and waiting for the
    cultivated seeds to sprout, the only possible way for the family to maintain
    its statues was by hiring experts to its services – as most high class families
    tended to do.

    Gerardo felt complete resent toward Mr. Majid. “Is all that has
    happened has been evaluated in advance to be a test for his disciple?” Gerardo,
    even though at a lower level as a Mist User than Habul Majid, could not accept
    such condescending treatment. “Don’t underestimate my family, Mr. Majid”,
    Gerardo refrained from making these few words sound like a warning, yet said
    them in a stern voice to emphasize his disposition. “Some of our young ones
    have an even greater talent than I had at their age. Your disciple is
    unquestionably exceptional, but unless you plan to disinherit your sons and
    daughters and instead have this boy as your heir, against my family he will
    still be a single person”.

    “Disciple? Heir?” Mr. Majid raised an eyebrow. “It seems that you
    misunderstood me… Did I not say that the boy is my daughter’s friend? Yes, a
    talented little friend, but nothing more than that, Gerardo”.

    “Nothing more than a friend to your daughter?” Gerardo was so
    stunned that he had to repeat. “Than on what grounds can you say that Em’s life
    is in danger? Mr. Majid, your Martial achievements are superior to mine and for
    that I lower my grace before you, but that boy that you insist to shield for
    such a stingy reason… Do you think that I will wait for him to mature if no one
    backing him?” His inability to act now and Mr. Majid’s overbearing behavior
    made Gerardo gasp.

    “That’s what I’m trying to tell you, hahaha…” Mr. Majid considered
    Gerardo’s disorientation to be entertaining. “Bring the children Miss, the show
    has already begun”. He turned to the bit suspicious, more than thankful Jinka
    and without hesitation she dragged Serah, Dane and Anet back to the fifth floor
    with a constant eye on Mr. Majid, to make sure he is following with Zax.

    “You know from which cave this fellow is from, right?” Mr. Majid
    turned to leave and asked Gerardo.

    “Cave twenty five, it’s under the dominion of El-Eden”.

    “Then, have you bothered asking for the boy’s name?”

    Gerardo did not ask nor instructed Em to ask for Zax’s name.
    After learning that cave twenty five had no known experts, he deemed farther
    investigation as unnecessary. Only after being told so Gerardo figured that if
    he had asked the boy’s name from the begging he could have acted in a more
    deliberate manner.

    “You were too pompous to care… The boy name is Zax Zel”.

    “His last name his “Zel”, it tells me nothing. How his last
    name can tell me anything about his Mor? Yes, there is no point in hiding it.
    As talented as the boy is, there is no way that he isn’t cultivated by
    someone!”

    “I didn’t try to hide the identity of his teacher, just
    wondered if you can make the connection yourself. It seems that the power tussles
    in Tongguo taking too much of your attention… How about this for a clue “Nineteen
    years old Mist Master””.

    “Nineteen years… You mean to say he is her Tal?!” Recalling
    a shocking event from not too long ago actually mage Gerardo stumbled backwards.

    “Hahaha… Still so blockheaded, Hahaha… Messing around with
    your kind is indeed more amusing than watching brats fight. Remember her name,
    Gerardo, she kept a low profile but it can’t be that you’ve forgotten her
    name”.

    Recollecting every detail from the announcement which shook all of
    Kingdom Earth two years ago, Gerardo closed his black eyes and opened them
    right after with a glint of disbelief in them.

    In the passage of time, experts have learned different techniques
    to enchant their long term memory. Ultimately, the technique that was picked as
    the most excellent turned out to be the most basic one. It was an innate
    ability of the outer and inner mind. Much like their original function, in
    this instance, early memories were managed by the outer mind and distant
    memories were managed by the inner mind. To evaluate what can be considered as
    an early memory or distant memory or how much details each type of memory could
    supply, was relative to the Mist User’s level. The stronger the soul the more
    capable the outer and inner mind could be, and if one had to remember a memory
    that was not located in the outer mind all he or she had to do was easily
    locate it in the inner mind.

    “Zetsa Zel! She is blood relative of the boy…!” Gerardo
    murmured, but Mr. Majid took it as a question.

    “According to my sources she is his big sister”.

    “A nineteen years old Mist Master…” Gerardo grabbed his bald
    chin and surveyed his mind for a way to take control of the situation which
    continued to aggravate. After thinking on something he raised his head in
    defiance. “If she had reached the Mist Lord level I’m sure the whole kingdom
    would have known by now. No, she only made it to the Mist Master level two
    years ago, even someone like her must be still struggling at the Beginner phase
    of the Mist Master level, at worst the Intermediate phase.  And if so, then what would be the problem? My
    centuries of accumulated experience can topple her talent!”

    “That might be so, but will you dare trying? No one knows her
    current Martial abilities. Do you think brats like her are the same as you and
    I? Do you think that if everything about her is quiet at the moment it’s
    because the Super Experts treat her as irrelevant? That lass is a monster, and
    monsters should not be shackled”.

    “You classify her as a “Monster”? Aren’t you exaggerating right now?
    Mist Master at the age of nineteen… She is not the first, second, third, nor
    the youngest! If she is a monster then my family is grooming a herd of monsters!”
    Gerardo exclaimed defensively.

    “Yes, there are monsters everywhere today…” As he said so, Mr.
    Majid glanced at Zax and left the stairwell. “Even monsters among monsters”.

     


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 1 – Overview

     

     

    When Zax woke up the Young Mist Users Conference was already
    over. Actually, it ended two days ago and Zax’s whereabouts were currently in
    his house, lying on his bed.

    The sequence of events after the encounter with the Martinez’s
    family members went on the following way… For obvious reasons, when Mr. Majid
    returned to the fifth floor with Zax and met with Jinka, neither she nor the
    other three kids felt eager to watch the exhibition fights. The four of them
    were utterly exhausted mentally and physically.

    Taking into account the condition of the four, when they expressed
    their desire to leave Mr. Majid ordered his own driver to take them back to
    their homes at cave twenty five, that, of course, after he assured all of them
    that Zax do not require any special treatment but rest and time to heal. He did
    recommended, before they left, that Zax should receive something called “Three
    Ways To Heaven” therapy, but did not elaborate what sort of treatment it was,
    simply asked Jinka to pass his counsel to Zax’s family – in hindsight, he most
    likely intended it to get to the expert in the family, Zax’s big sister, Zetsa
    Zel.

    Zax got up slowly from his bed. Even though he rested for
    two days, his soul was the only thing which entirely healed after this time
    fiasco. His body, in comparison, was sore all over and his Qi channels, which
    were already miserably small much like any child who never trained in Qi refining
    techniques, shrunk even more to the point that he nearly forgotten the newfound
    contact that he established with this aspect of the human body.

    “You really should learn how to pick your battles, Zax”. Zetsa
    sat in a meditative pose, approximately one meter from Zax, but until she opened
    her mouth and spoken her presence was undetectable.

    “Big sis?” Zax ably fended the surprise. Somewhat, he felt contented
    with himself without knowing why. The reason that he did not dwell about was, in
    fact, deeply repressed in his mind. His recent escape from death.

    When his soul first perceived Gerardo’s intention, as a
    means to tolerate and defend itself it shrouded its core, the spirit, from the noxious
    killing intent. This spontaneous effect, similarly to the soul energy
    manipulation, was not within the capabilities of someone at Zax’s level, or perhaps
    talent? In addition, this was just a temporary effect that meant to hold for an
    unknown period of time and eventually compel Zax to deal with the pent up
    pressure, hopefully, after attaining a better insight of his soul rather than
    advancing its level.

    “Have you heard me?!” Zetsa burst involuntarily. “Jinka
    returned here with your friends two day ago, and guess what, you were also with
    them, carried like a bag of potatoes! Do you think that mom and dad cared for
    an explanation before imagining the worst?”

    “What? Two days? Have Serah and Dane told you exactly what
    happened? It wasn’t my fault!” Zax talked back angrily.

    “Would it matter if you were dead?!” Zetsa replied instantly
    and the two stared at each other unbending. “Come here and sit down in the same
    position”. She changed her tone to the one she used with Take and lately with
    Zax, too. She radiated the bearing of a Mor. “Tell me your side of what happened”.

    Submissively, Zax obeyed and began to explain in detail his
    part, above and under the surface... The look on Zetsa’s face did not change
    from beginning to end, but inwardly she felt as if struck by lightning twice
    during Zax’s description. Although there were no thunder and lightning storms in
    New Earth, the old sayings still applied to the local phenomenon of light rays…
    Lightning did struck today and twice at the same place.

    Zetsa’s heart wavered when Zax’s started telling her how he
    could suddenly sense his Qi, but a bit earlier even more when he told her about
    how he first nearly reached the realm of outer and inner mind then later tried
    and succeeded to attack Turan’s soul.

    Before, when Jinka told her and their parents the part about
    the Qi that she saw in her own eyes and the part about the soul attack that she
    heard from the two men of the Martinez family, Zetsa reacted only to calm her
    parents and promise them that everything will be fine and that she is familiar
    with the Three Ways To Heaven therapy. Afterwards, Marco and Laylen, knowing
    that if Zetsa said so things will be alright, changed their initial distress to
    sheer excitement for their son’s unparalleled achievements and the benefits
    that they can supply in his future!

    Zax quieted down as there was nothing more to say that he
    could remember and reading his big sister’s serious expression, was impossible
    for him, so he waited with anticipation for her response.

    “Ahmm… I’ve also investigated the case and apparently neither
    side twisted the truth to their favor”. Zetsa said in a low voice.

    “Did you expect me to lie?” Zax frowned.

    “Of course not, it’s just that the Martinez family really do
    not seem afraid of the consequences of this incident”.

    “Then go beat them up. I’m too weak, but you can hurt them
    like they hurt me and my friends!”

    Zax was not the type to ask for help, but he was consumed
    with hatred toward any of the three figures that he met who belonged to the
    Martinez family. Unexpectedly, Gerardo was not the one he hated the most,
    rather the most insignificant of the three, Turan, the one who made Anet fear
    so much with the threat that he will cause her pain unless she will give up her
    seat. In the end, that was what she did, and then she left them.

    Although it turned out later that Anet left to bring Jinka,
    by then Zax was not in a state of mind to distinguish anyone existence apart from
    Gerardo. Ultimately, Zax will learn the truth behind Anet’s actions, but that
    will not be from Zetsa.

    “Stop spouting nonsense, Zax!” Zetsa rebuked. “Have I not
    thought you better than this? Say that I’ll take revenge, what will happen
    then? When adults fall into conflict it’s not the same as kids’ quarrel. There
    are many things involve that determined which side will suffer less. There are
    no winners, remember. Even if my Martial powers are stronger than anyone in the
    Martinez family, they are a high class family with a wide web of influence.
    When they’ll see that they can’t hurt me, do guess what they’ll do next?” It
    was not another lesson that she simply tried to install in him. When she will tell
    him her decision, Zetsa wanted Zax’s comprehension to be right there with her.

    “Well… Have you come up with an answer?”

    “They’ll hurt others…” Zax said softly.

    “Yes! Right now, the child that you nearly killed – that’s
    what you almost did and we’ll talk about that later, he and his parents hold
    great animosity towards you. The father is the head of the Martinez family, a
    valued high class family in Tongguo. If he and I were impulsive like two kids,
    he would have hired experts to take get revenge for what you did to his son,
    and I... I would have done something awful in return”.

    When Zetsa saw that Zax attentively listened she proceeded.
    “If they won’t be able to hurt me directly, they will look for people who are
    close to me and through them indirectly hurt me. Mom and dad first, other
    family members, friends, neighbors. They won’t shy from seeking people related
    to you, either. Jinka, Serah, Dane, Anet… They saw them in the Young Mist Users
    Conference, right…?”

    Zetsa paused and looked at Zax straight in the eye. “Your
    big sister is strong, stronger than I let most people know”. She sounded as if
    she revealed a personal secret. Zax sensed a tingle in his heart, rarely his
    big sister showed weakness in front of him. The handful of times that it
    happened never caused the atmosphere to darken like now.

    “Do you want me to kill those who hurt you?” She asked out
    of the blue. Her eyes emitted a cold and sinister sensation that reached Zax
    soul. Right then, he knew that if he will say “Yes”, his big sister will certainly
    abide.

    “N… no…” Zax’s voice trembled. Something inside him was
    suddenly afraid of the idea to take life, to lose life, to be beside this big
    sister of his with the willingness to murder in her eyes. He steadied himself
    and repeated. “NO!”

    In compliant with his response, Zetsa closed her eyes. What
    seemed like a second to Zax was infinite time of domineering battle to subdue
    her raging murderous craving that she held up till this moment. When Zetsa
    opened her eyes again, the same warm glint that brightened her face whenever
    she looked at him emerged. “Continue to grow well, little Zi”. She smiled and
    rubbed Zax’s head.

    “Big sis… What shall we do?” Zax’s temperament regressed to
    that of a docile nine years old boy.

    “Don’t be mistaken, your big sister care for you more than
    anyone else in the world, therefore this matter has already been solved long
    before we started this talk”.

    “Ah! How?!” Zax’s asked flabbergasted.

    “Don’t’ concern yourself with knowing. You gave me too much
    trouble. I’m not gonna answer that one, just understand that your big sister is
    almighty”. Zetsa raised her head and mocked with a smile. She wanted to
    distract Zax by annoying him and readily change the subject. “Here…” she tossed
    a round colorful object to Zax’s gaping mouth and grabbed his head to close his
    jaw before he could retort.

    The round object was at the size of a baby’s clenched hand
    and had a rough surface which tasted terribly bitter but because Zetsa forced
    Zax’s mouth shut he could not spit it. Zax grabbed his big sister’s hands and
    tried to push her away but the difference in strength between a talented
    coreless child and a talented level B Mist Master was the same as the never
    forgotten heaven and the ever surrounding earth.

    “Ignore the taste, little Zi, this pill will help you to get
    back into full shape”. Zetsa said. With one hand she pulled Zax to her bosom
    and with the other she covered his mouth.

    Unable to move or open his mouth, Zax stopped fighting and
    listened to his big sister. After all, Zax was not like any other coreless kid,
    his soul was at the Advanced phase of level G, for that he was slightly more
    mature than other kids in his age and had an eccentric quick mind.

    “Good boy… This Three Ways To Heaven therapy pill cost me a
    few favors, little Zi, you know that I don’t work. See, I meant that when I
    said that I care for you, you should appreciate your big sister more, little
    Zi…”

    Zax rolled his eyes as the Three Ways To Heaven therapy pill
    slowly melted in his mouth and a strange gas that formed spread throughout his
    body, his dantian and his consciousness. Somewhere along the way of Zetsa
    explanation the strict Mor totally vanished and the overly loving big sister
    with a little brother complex rubbed her cheek against his head.

    After half an hour Zetsa asked. “Are you still feeling the
    gas?”

    Her hand was still covering Zax’s mouth so the only way for
    him to answer was by nodding his head.

    “Splendid. Now listen closely, Zax, for seven days from now you
    are prohibited from training or execute yourself in any from or way. The Three
    Ways To Heaven therapy takes about a week to achieve its full effect. If you’ll
    hinder it by training, more than half of its healing properties will dispersed.
    Understand?”

    Zax nodded again, yet his eyes shown with inconvenience.

    “Avert this obstinate gaze. You are in vacation till the end
    of the month, go play with your friends. You have progressed so well, if you’ll
    become aloof because of training I’ll get mad…”

    Zax lowered his head, not feeling like nodding again he let
    out an unintelligible voice. “Mmaay…”

    “Good. Let’s talk now about the fights that you had, the soul
    attack and perception of Qi”.

    Zetsa deliberately did not query about the forced attempt to
    reach the realm of outer and inner mind, it will naturally manifest when his
    soul will reach the beginner phase of a level F Mist User. Besides, she already
    heard about it, including the soul attack and display of Qi when she went to
    see that man... Now she wanted to hear it from Zax’s perspective.

    She sat Zax down in front of her but before she phrased the
    next sentence she casually remembered three promising words, “leaps and
    bounds”. Those were the words she used to describe him his improvement pace in
    the near future not too long ago. Reminiscing, the memory resurfaced on its own
    and caused Zetsa to smile and sigh silently.

    “Let’s start with the Qi. What was it like when you first
    sensed it?”

    “Mmm…” Zax Pondered. He was at a frantic state of mind,
    constantly bashed by Gerardo Martinez’s Mist and the dominating pressure that
    oozed out of him. To survive he had to rely solely on his control over the
    awareness of his soul to gourd him from the agonizing pain like a cocoon.  Therefore he did not remember much. “I just recall
    it feeling natural. Now also, but you said not to train… Can I show you just a
    little-”

    “No! Don’t make any use of your soul or Qi and don’t strain
    your body for a week as I said. And don’t ask again, just listen!” Zetsa
    reverted to her strict mien and when she finished lecturing she softened again.
    “If you say that it felt natural then it’s all I wanted to be sure of. Now tell
    me about the soul attack”.

    Zax nodded and opened excitedly. “That was even more
    amazing! It was difficult controlling it, really difficult! It happened during
    the fight with that Turan kid. I suddenly felt that the soul energy moved
    according to my whim much smoothly than ever before and could extend to wherever
    that I wanted in my body and even out of it, thought this was the difficult
    part. Did I cross to the Advanced phase of level G, big sis? I think so. I
    definitely feel that apart from better control, my soul also became a lot
    stronger!” The effects of the spontaneous progress were abundant, nothing like
    before, more than just sharpening the senses and Zax was ecstatic.

    “Let me see, but you are probably right. Just by looking at
    you I can tell that your soul is not the same as last time I examined it”. Zetsa
    said and by making eye contact with Zax she infiltrated his consciousness with
    the power of her own soul, extending it as he defined, there she assessed the transformations
    in the black space and the distorted blur as best as she could without a proper
    soul testing technique before retreating out.

    “It seems that you are no longer at the Intermediate phase
    of level G. By the look of things you are quite near the Top phase, maybe after
    a month of training…” Zetsa confirmed, though the last part she said loud
    enough only for herself to hear for two reasons. One, she did not want to goad
    Zax when a moment ago she forbade him to train. Second, she could not be a
    hundred percent sure without a soul testing technique. Beyond that, Zetsa also
    confirmed her assumption… “There aren’t many examples, but the breakthrough to
    the Advanced phase increased his internal sensitivity to the point of
    perceiving his Qi”.

    “Then how many can my soul withstand now?” Zax leaned
    forward with a devilish smile.

    “Withstand what?”

    “Waves, big sis, if you test me now can I go past twenty?”

    “Oh… I can’t tell for certain without testing you, but above
    twenty waves might be possible. However, little Zi, this technique of testing,
    the Soul Pressure formation, lost its effectiveness”.

    “Why? By me reaching the Advanced phase?”

    “That has nothing to do with it. Typically this sort of soul
    testing is sufficient up to the top phase of D level Earths’ Core Holder. The
    reason is the bottleneck of the Core Breaker’s level. When a Mist User can perceive
    the Core Breaker’s bottleneck the soul starts to go through some profound changes.
    When the process is over it promotes the foundation of the soul, making it more
    radiant and bestows the Mist User unfathomable clarity in comparison to the
    former level“.

    “One of the gains is the ability to extend soul energy
    outside of the consciousness to perform a soul attack. From that point on, to
    determine the level of a soul, a more precise techniques than the Soul Pressure
    formation are necessary. Simply put, since you are able to execute a soul
    attack, even though you are at the Advanced phase of level G, testing your soul
    with the Soul Pressure formation will provide inaccurate results”.

    “If it’s something possible only at the Core Breaker’s level
    how come I can extend my soul? And does big sis know other technique to test my
    soul?”

    “Of that I have no clue”. Zetsa answered in all honesty to
    the first question. She tried to associate Zax’s abnormal feat with his
    training in the Inner Spirit formation, but even if he had perfect affinity to
    the principal behind the Inner Spirit formation and soul refining techniques in
    general it still seemed farfetched that a boy, not even at the lowest Earth’s
    Core Holder’s level, could possibly perform a soul attack. “In regard to other
    soul testing technique… There is another one that I’m familiar with, but let’s
    put it aside for a moment. More importantly, we haven’t got to you nearly
    killing a boy for a stupid seat!” Getting to the subject, Zetsa switched to her
    serious tone and release a baleful silver aura.

    “T… That…!” Zax stuttered and his heart missed a beat.

    After a variety of colorful reprimands, needless to say Zax
    learned his lesson and would never attempt a soul attack for a second row seat.
    EVER!

     

    Cave eleven, a day ago.

    Within a private villa at the southern high edge of cave
    eleven, two figures faced each other. They were in the villa’s dojo as one of
    the two was seating with folded hands on a rook with flat surface and the other
    straightened up after a slight bow.

    “This is a meditation room, my dear. Etiquette should be
    reserved to formal occasions. I’ll not address you with the same courtesy;
    otherwise I would have met you in a more suitable place”. Habul Majid, the
    owner of the private villa, was wearing a gray robe and was surrounded by a
    light golden glow.

    “You saved my little brother, Habul Ram, how can I not be courteous?”
    Zetsa Zel stood with a look of gratitude toward Mr. Majid.

    Mr. Majid sighed. The lass was more imposing and stubborn
    than even his youngest and only daughter, Masela. She even called him “Habul
    Ram”, which was out of respect for him saving her little brother and his
    friends and had nothing to do with his superior Martial accomplishments. “Maybe
    monsters can only recognize other monsters?” In his age of more than three
    hundred years there were not many mysteries left in this world for him to
    solve, he believed. Among the few that he still could not figure, the mindset
    of those with great talent still mystified him.

    “How is he, Zax?” Mr. Majid accepted Zetsa’s way of conduct,
    yet he also stuck to his.

    “Thanks to Habul Ram’s counsel he will briefly recover”.

    “You are exaggerating. I kept an eye on the boy since he
    entered the ring, apart from my Masela, of all the other children who were present,
    he was the only one exceptional”.

    “The ring?” Zetsa seemed confused.

    “They did not tell you? Most likely not. The Miss was not in
    the fifth floor during the fight and the children must have forgotten after the
    unfortunate encounter…” Mr. Majid gestured for Zetsa to seat on a similar rock
    four meters away. “Try it. I got this Hot Rock from an outer cave in the
    beast’s territory. Its volcanic attributes helps with cultivations and quite
    soothing, but only Mist Master or above can handle its high temperature. If you
    noticed, the dojo’s flooring is also unique-”

    “Misty Wood…” Zetsa displayed her knowledge out of
    discomfort. He little brother was recuperating in home and she has yet to perceive
    the full picture of the day before.

    Misty Wood? The kind of wood that can only be found in the
    outer beasts’ territory and can concentrate all the heat around it to a single
    point… That and the Hot Rock she saw countless of them, quarries and whole
    forests.

    “Very keen eye”. Mr. Majid praised but was not surprised.
    Many Mist Users, when reaching to the Mist Master level, seek to overcome the
    challenges of the beasts’ territory. Many even see it as a personal initiation
    rite, and those who prevail discover the immense benefits of life and death tryouts.

    “Then, Habul Ram, please, may we…”

    “Very well, very well”, Mr. Majid was also a sharp observer
    and could tell that the lass before him had little to zero interest in his peculiar
    meditation room. He proceeded by telling her of Zax and Masela fight with Clergyman.
    How the boy, her little brother, aroused his curiosity. He even shamelessly
    told her how he watched from the side when Zax faced Turan’s and then Gerardo’s
    assaults, though he noted that he did not interfered simply because “With every
    push the boy astonishingly demonstrated a new level of proficiency”.

    Learning what happened from seemingly a neutral source,
    Zetsa assumed that only two things were needed for her to conclude this incident,
    none of which depended on her.

    The first was to wait a few hours for the assimilation of
    material which forms the Three Ways To Heaven therapy pill. It was done by a renowned
    pills maker in Shitou. To have the pill ready as soon as possible Zetsa had to
    pay a hefty price.

    The second was Mr. Majid’s consent to be the mediator between
    Zetsa and the founder of the Martinez family, Gerardo Martinez, since Zetsa was
    not convinced that she will be able to reach an agreement with the head for the
    family, Em Martinez.

    “I already interfered, so of course I won’t mind. Besides, I
    would rather deepen my bounds with you and young Zax, haha…” Mr. Majid laughed.

    “You flatter me too much, Habul Ram”. Zetsa bowed.

    “Not at all, hahaha…” Mr. Majid got up from the Hot Rock,
    escorted Zetsa out of the dojo and slickly moved to a more pressing subject. “A
    lass like you would be a perfect match for my fifth son, he is strong and smart
    and fairly good looking, what do you say, Miss Zetsa”, he said so less than
    half comically more than half earnestly as he held her hands. They left the
    dojo and right now he escorted her as the master of the house, so etiquette was
    both customary and obligatory. “I offer my fifth son because my eldest four
    already married and frankly too old. My fifth son, however, is in his thirties.
    Currently my great grandson acts as the head of the Majid family, but if you
    will agree to tie the knot with my fifth son I won’t mind letting you take over”.

    Zetsa was momentarily shocked. “I can’t marry a person that
    I’ve never met”. She said hurriedly and apologetically. “And I’m preoccupied
    with my training to start a relationship…” In all honesty that was too abrupt.
    Zetsa had a troubled look on her face. “Will Habul Ram take back his consent to
    be the mediator?” The thought circled in her mind.

    “No need to answer now, my dear, training and cultivation
    should take first priority to any Mist User on the Martial path”. Mr. Majid reassured
    her.

    “Thank you for understanding”. Zetsa bowed for the last
    time. “Then I take my leave”.

    Mr. Majid responded with a smile as the two parted,
    repeating to himself solemnly. “Such a terrifying lass… In the future a calamity
    is likely to befall upon your family, Gerardo. At that time, I trust you will
    follow your own lesson and blame only yourself”. He chuckled.

    Zetsa had another destination before getting back home, cave
    four hundred and seventy in Shitou. “When Zax wakes up we will have much to
    talk about”.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 2 – Amends

     

    August seventeen, year 5784. Cave twenty four.

    Several days after the Young Mist Users Conference Jinka
    returned to work with a heavy heart. The past few days were hard to bear.
    Informing Troel about what happened and the other kids’ parents, not being
    there when the kids under her care needed her, when her own daughter, Serah, was
    assaulted had made her feel guilty and shameful, unqualified as a mother or an
    adult.

    None of the kids’ parents, when learning of the incident and
    that the one addressing it is Miss Zetsa, had harbored resentment nor blamed
    Jinka of what happened. On the contrary, all of them were very sympathetic and
    tried to empathize. When Jinka kept lowering her head and apologizing some of
    them even attempted to pass it on by concentrating on the part of the glass
    that was half full, uttering stuff like… “He is fine” or “She came back safe
    and sound. Let’s trust in Miss Zetsa”.

    Jinka heard it all and could do nothing but nod. Just like
    her daughter was the core in that group of little kids, she had similar
    relationship with their parents. What they all agreed about was taking their
    children for a physical inspection and monitoring them themselves for a few
    days to make sure that psychological damage has not been done before deciding
    if to take them to a child therapist or not.

    Eventually, apart from one, neither of the children suffered
    any serious physical injury. Serah herself only had a broken tooth. Mentally
    was a little harder to determine, but with regard to their daughter, after two
    days Jinka and Troel safely validated that Serah was fine. Her concern for her
    friends and more than anyone else, Zax, made them rediscover their little girl’s
    assertive personality.

    Jinka stirred the soup of the evening's menu, unaware of the
    burning smell until it was scorching in her nose.

    “Jinka!” Alinor, the chef of Fourchettes Et Couteaux, rebuked.

    “Ah…?!” Jinka was thrown off balance, her stirring hands was
    shaking and her eyes tearing up. “I’m sorry”. Jinka said in a trembling voice.

    “Concentrate on your servings!” Alinor barked at the kitchen’s
    staff that diverted stupefied looks at their sous chef. Hastily, sound of
    cutting knifes, meat grinding, ovens opening up and closing, pans falling and
    rising from the stoves and so on… brought back to initial livelihood of a hard
    working kitchen.

    “Come with me to the back, Jinka. Dutseka, see if you can
    save the soup, otherwise tell the waiters to take it down from the menu”.
    Alinor instructed, then turned and exited first through the door to the alley
    beyond the kitchen. “Spill it, Jinka, what happened to you today? Since morning
    you are moving around the kitchen as if you are being possessed. I assumed that
    it’s related to the two days off that you’ve asked for… I didn’t ask in case
    it’s a personal matter, but this is the evening rush! I can’t let this go on,
    you know!”

    “I’m very sorry, chef, I… I…” Jinka could not hold the frustration
    inside her anymore. The pressure accumulated in the past few days broke out.
    She lost her footing, fell on her knees and sobbed and sobbed.

    “No, no, no, what happened to you Jinka?!” Alinor grabbed
    and lifted Jinka to her embrace.

    One lived in cave twenty four, the other in cave twenty
    five. They met each other only at work and rarely got together afterwards with
    the other kitchen’s staff. Nevertheless, they knew each other for a long time,
    so even if there was not deep amity between them they still could not avert
    their emotions when the other was in a time of crisis.

    After ten minutes Jinka raised her head, her eyes were red
    and her fists were clenching Alinor’s chef coat. She opened her mouth and
    finally felt willing to let somebody in on the agony she had repressed and
    thought that she was accountable for.

    “Oh, Jinka… You should not torment yourself over it. The
    differences in classes are inequitable. There was nothing which you could have
    done. Blaming yourself will only make you pointlessly drown in sorrow. Jinka,
    will you listen to my proposal?”

    Although she lived in cave twenty four, Alinor was from the
    upper middle class. Like the parents of Serah’ friends, she, too, could empathize
    with Jinka. Furthermore, as the chef of a modest restaurant she was invited,
    sometimes as a guest, sometimes to cater, to numerous events and so met many of
    the high class’s faces.

    They, Alinor, Jinka, all the people who were close to them
    were simple people with simple ambitions, simple way of life. To them the
    saying “Those who do not march on the Martial path would forever be counted
    among the powerless” did not intend to undermine their confidence or be unfair,
    much like them it was the simple truth of this day and age and the powerless
    had to cope.

    Anyone below the high class or with insufficient Martial
    achievements was considered “Powerless”, which were more than seventy five percent
    of Kingdom Earth’s population.

    Alinor could not scheme a grandiose plan to alleviate Jinka’s
    trauma which was created by the two men of the Martinez family, but she could
    help her in another way, toward those who truly mattered to Jinka and shared the
    difficulties of the incident she told her about.

     

    August nineteen, year 5784. Cave twenty four.

    Fourchettes Et Couteaux closed early for a private occasion.
    Per Alinor’s instruction Jinka invited Zax, Dane, Anet and their parents to a compensatory
    evening in Fourchettes Et Couteaux in the pretense that the owner of the restaurant,
    Mitchello, want to express his deepest regrets for what happened in the Young
    Mist Users Conference, because he was the one who urged Jinka to take the
    tickets to the event and most definitely go.

    Of course, Alison took care of everything on owner
    Mitchello’s end. When the easy going man learned from her about the incident
    she even had to threaten him to not come so Jinka will not lose face in front
    of her guests by associating with the person responsible for alluring her to
    what concluded as a terribly unforgettable day.

    Zax, Serah, Dane and Anet sat at a small round table. Their
    parents were not so far away, at a relative distance so each side will have its
    own privacy.

    The four children were served all kinds of delicacies as appetizers.
    Fourchettes Et Couteaux did not have children’s menu, so to compensate whatever
    the kids wanted, as long as the ingredients were in the pantry, Alinor cocked
    and served with her own touch to take the dish a step farther.

    From afar the adults were conversing delightedly. Oppositely,
    their kids played with their forks or spoons or the food on the table. Since
    the Young Mist Users Conference they did not see or talk to each other. Their inability
    to help each other set up an invisible barrier around their friendship and the
    words to break it seemed feeble.

    “I’m… I’m ordering a giant cheese cake with chocolate
    topping and all the ice cream’s flavors that they have!” Dane jumped up on his
    sit declaring and was the first to disrupt the silence.

    A cheerful waiter that heard Dane approached their table. “A
    fine choice, young sir”, he complimented Dane who embarrassedly returned to his
    sit. “Did anyone else also decided?” He asked Zex, Serah and Anet.

    “Spaghetti with meat balls”. Anet said in a low voice.

    “I want the Chocolate Castle”. Serah, who was familiar with
    some of the restaurant’s deserts, knew what she wanted from the start but wait
    for someone else to order first. She ended up being the third one to order,
    though, only two seconds after Anet.

    “Young sir?” The waiter asked Zax.

    “I’m not hungry”. Zax responded indignantly.

    “You can call me whenever you wants, young sir, just don’t
    filled up from the appetizers. It will truly be a shame”. The waiter smilingly
    said and headed to the kitchen with the three orders.

    “Why didn’t you order?” Dane asked Zax. He, Serah and Anet
    noticed Zax’s attitude from the beginning of the evening. Knowing what he has
    been through, they were unsure of how to talk to him, how to say that they are
    sorry.

    “Cause I don’t”. Zax casted a quick look at Anet and shifted
    it right away.

    Before the quiet could set in again, Dane turned to Serah.
    “How are you?” He asked, remembering how Gerardo made her spit mouthful of
    blood when he interrogated them.

    “I’m fine now. It only hurt a little bit”. Serah answered.
    She did not want to mention the broken tooth even though it was already fixed.
    “Are… Are you, guys, okay?”

    “Okay? Why are you asking about everyone when I was the only
    one who got hurt, what happened to you?” Zax asked mildly irritated. He was conscious
    when Em and the old man allowed the group of kids from Molten Core to leave the
    stairwell
    yet forbade Serah and Dane to do the same. When Serah got hurt he could not
    recognize anyone anymore, apart from the old man, but afterwards, at home, the
    thought crossed his mind that his friends perhaps also been through something
    bad when he was out of it.

    “You did not see?” Dane asked and started reciting.

    All the while that the three were talking Anet was the quietest
    one. She spotted how Zax looked at her and how leaned to the right, the
    opposite side of her, when she asked for spaghetti. For some
    reason that made her feel like a bone was stuck in her throat. Was it because
    she gave up her seat? Because she was against fighting with the other group of
    kids? “Is he… Is he upset with me?”

    “She got back with aunty!”

    Suddenly with a “BUMP!” on the table Anet lifted her head in
    surprise and saw Zax looking at her. His light brown eyes were clear from the initial
    aggression and were stun just as hers.

    As if a sea of regret overwhelmed him, Zax recollected the
    sounds, the sights, even the smell of blood in the stairwell, all of those
    things that the outer mind of a Mist User might lose track from but the inner
    mind will record instinctively… His mind was not at that level yet, but he was
    close, and it happened just a few days ago so remembering under a sudden
    circumstance was feasible.

    “Anet…” Zax felt that he mistreated her, that he mistreated
    Serah and Dane, too. If it were not for his excessive self confidence neither
    of them would have been hurt. Tears began to dirty his face, two salty streams
    that following them he lost total control of his emotions, sat down and buried
    his head on his knees.

    The group of parents that watched from afar since the BUMP
    on the table stopped themselves from getting up to comfort the poor kid. Marco
    and Laylen restrained themselves with aching hearts. The pleasant waiter, too,
    waited patiently holding a tray of refreshments.

    Anyone who was not part of the small table just watched as
    the other three children gathered closely around their crying friend, crouching
    beside him, softly caressing his head and back, shading their pent up tears and
    grief while hugging him till all that remained was an unbreakable one loving
    bond.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 3 – E Level Mist User, Take Edomachi

     

    One day remained to the restricting one week without any
    sort of training that Zetsa imposed on Zax. Thankfully, today Zax had things on
    his mind.

    Zax, Zetsa, Marco and Laylen were sited in a long black luxury
    vehicle which was the property of cave twenty four’s governor, Xingze Edomachi.
    The four of them were invited to the governor’s manor in cave twenty four to a boisterous
    celebration in the name of Take Edomachi.

    As it so happened, in less than two months, a short passage
    of time after the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, Take Edomachi succeeded in
    advancing from the intermediate phase of a F level Mist User, to the beginner
    phase of an E level Mist User.

    This great accomplishment was possible due to two factors.
    The first one was the high quality F level Earth’s Core that Take managed to
    find with the help of his Mor in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. The second was
    his diligent training in the Radical Fiery Icy Provocation Qi refining technique.

    Zax excitedly watched outside from the vehicle’s window as
    it drove up to the governor’s manor. He had not met Take since the last time
    Zetsa took him to be present in their training session. Take was his first
    friend closest to him in age that attained an Earth’s Core and Zax could not
    wait to see how powerful he had become – mainly because any Mist User on the
    Martial path, regardless of his or her level, was a glamorous entity in the
    eyes of coreless children.

    Zax knew from Take that his father impels him toward the
    direction of the Martial path, which he also interested in, otherwise how could
    he convince Zetsa to spend her time cultivating him?

    When they got out of the vehicle Zax noticed that his
    parents were tense. There were quite a few vehicles parking at the manor’s
    grounds and at the entrance to the manor, its owner and his wife accepted their
    esteem guests.

    “Miss Zetsa!” Governor Edomachi abandoned the reception of
    his guests over to the old maid and the white suit bodyguard and with his wife
    and hands spread wide open in the air rushed to welcome his son’s Mor and her
    family.

    “Xingze, Slovet, please meet my parents, Marco and Laylen
    Zel”. Zetsa made an introduction. She did not mention Zax because the Edomachi
    duo already knew him.

    At the time, Marco and Laylen, who never were in contact
    with high class personnel or even came close to the property of someone of the
    high class, were oblivious to how they should conduct themselves so that they
    will not embarrass themselves or their amazing daughter.

    “Oh, Hahaha…” Governor Edomachi laughed coarsely, he was in
    such a good mood that when he saw Zetsa, the one responsible for his son’s abundant
    fortune, that he lost all traces of restraint and almost skipped his way to
    hold the hands of this extraordinary beautiful young woman. “Hahaha, you do me
    and my wife the honor, Mist Zetsa! It’s pleasure to meet you Marco Ram, Laylen
    Ram, young master Zax!”

    “Marco Ram, Laylen Ram, forgive my husband’s boisterous
    manners. Take’s advancement brought extreme joy to all of us”. Mrs. Edomachi
    was more reserved than her husband.

    “Marco Ram”? “Laylen Ram”? Both Marco and Laylen were speechless.
    Who could ever imagine that they will be referred to with such an honorary
    title? And by someone of higher statues than theirs, nonetheless!

    “You treat us too well, Mr. Edomachi, Mrs. Edomachi”. Marco
    turned to them in an orthodox manner. To even gesture back the honorary title was
    beyond his and his wife capacity.

    “Marco Ram, I’ll lose face, I’ll lose face, hahaha… Your
    daughter refers to me and my wife by our first names only and you do so as if
    we are strangers. Nonsenses! I can’t accept such treatment. My name is Xingze
    and my wife’s is Slovet. Please, you and your wife may use them however you
    like”. Governor Edomachi was a D level Mist User and in his current temperament
    he was very oppressive. He walked with Marco under his arm as if they were old
    friends while Mrs. Edomachi accompanied Zetsa, Laylen and Zax to the manor.

    “Big sis, why governor Edomachi refers to mom and dad with
    “Ram”, to you with “Miss” and to me with “Master”? Why each of us get a
    different title?” Zax whispered.

    “That’s because, like mom and dad, I also more used to the orthodox
    manner. High class people, on the other hand, will use whichever they feel
    appropriate to the person in front of them. At first Xingze referred to me with
    “Ram” too, but it felt uncomfortable so I made him settle for “Miss”. To you he
    refers with “Master” because that’s how most high class children are referred
    to by adults who acknowledge them”.

    Many of the guests knew or heard about one another even
    before arriving to the Edomachi’s estate. Being members of the highest tier of
    population in Kingdom Earth, through their various connections, they obtained
    the guests list of the event to assert those who will come for numerous
    reasons, such as knowing from whom they should be aware of or for whom they
    should exploit this opportunity to start a formal relationship with.

    When the distinguished guests watched from the side as their
    host ignored them in favor of other guests who seemed to have miserably simple
    appearance and were unknown to them, they felt deeply insulted. Then again, as Governor
    Edomachi together with his wife passed the rest of their guests with the Zel
    family, no one dared to make a fuss and admit his or her degradation.

    The tables in the great dining hall were set with all kinds
    of drinks and delicacies. Zax and his family sat beside the Edomachi family.
    Governor Edomachi was in the center of the table, Take to his right and Mrs.
    Edomachi to his left. To Take’s right sat his Mor, Zetsa, and next to her were
    Laylen, Marco and Zax. Governor Edomachi raised a glass in honor of his son and
    then called for the performers to begin and the maids to arrive with the main
    courses of the celebration.

    Following the performance and the feast, the guests that
    wanted to put their own show and publicly express their compliments and blessings,
    rather than hand over their gifts to the serving staff that was stationed to accept
    them, stepped forward in front of their host, his wife and their son.

    To be honest, the line was not that long. Although an E
    level Mist Users at the age of ten years old did not appear very frequently, commonly,
    in Kingdom Earth every few decades many were born that surpassed the older
    generations, though the reason behind this occurrence was the improvement in
    Qi\Mist and soul refining techniques. What was one more lucky child that had
    his parents to probably waste part of their wealth to acquire such technique?
    In a few years’ time others will be born anyway and more high level techniques
    will be available to the public.

    Now, if the boy in question would have achieved his current
    level by sheer talent that would have been something else entirely!

    Zax and Take sneaked out of the designated guests’ room that
    was prepared to accommodate and keep entertaining the guests after the feast.

    “Can you believe how many presents I received?!” Take boasted.
    Rubbing Zax’s head that was shorter than his in ten centimeters or so, he said.
    “You can help me unwrapped them later and take those you’ll fancy”. Take truly
    meant it for couple of reasons. First, as the son of a cave governor the
    material things that he lacked in his life could be counted on one hand.
    Second, how can he be parsimonious toward his dear Mor’s little borther? Third,
    being still a child he might have not fully comprehended his emotions for Zax,
    however, if one looked from the side the only impression that he or she will perceive
    from Take’s manner will be that of a caring older brother.

    “That will be awesome!” Zax replied. Being immersed in training
    most of the time did not repress his childish desires completely. If one of the
    presents contained a mechanical pet, a new generation Caller, a premium account
    card of the popular online game Mocca Kart that he could show off to Serah – presumably
    until he will realize that he does not care about it and give it to her – or
    maybe even a low grade Martial technique…! For the last one his aspiration most
    certainly overreached, nevertheless, any of the other previous three would
    surly more than satisfy Zax.

    “Say, Take, did you become an E level Mist User because of
    big sis’s Qi refining technique?” Zax probed.

    “Hmm”, Take nodded. “But me and Zetsa Mor call it now
    “Radical Fiery Icy Provocation MIST refining technique” since all my Qi converted
    to mist energy. If I wasn’t training in it, then it would have taken me at
    least a year to break through the bottleneck of an E level Earth’s Core Holder”.

    “Just a year? I read online that to the average Mist User
    who trains in mist refining techniques it could take around three years to
    advance from the F level to the E level!” Zax was astonished at Take’s remark.
    Little did he know that Take obtained a high quality F level Earth’s Core in
    the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit with the help of his big sister. Yet that was a
    secret Zetsa forbade Take to reveal to anyone. At most he could tell his doting
    father that he was lucky at the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit.

    Take’s chattering caused him to a slip of the tongue. To fix
    his mistake he puffed out his chest and gave Zax a noogie. “You presume this
    older brother of yours is the same as a mere average Mist User?!”

    Even though the age gap between them was less than a year, a
    coreless child, no matter how talented and cultivated, frankly had no chance
    against a Mist User of the same age. “Sorry, I’m sorry, Take!” As much as a
    noogie can be painful and annoying, it did not feel like Take was bullying him.
    Rather, that Zax had it coming for underestimating “this older brother”.

    One thing that should be noted is if Zax would have used a soul
    attack to repel Take, its effectiveness would have been nearly identical to how
    it affected Turan. The reason was that E level Mist Users could not utilize
    their soul energy for offence or defense, so even if Take’s soul was two levels
    higher than Zax’s, at best he could only withstand the impact of Zax’s soul
    attack at the price of becoming bedridden for about a month. Then again, Zax
    learned his lesson of how much dangerous soul attacks are and how inexperience
    he was in implementing them. Even as a joke we would not use a soul attack on a
    friend, nor an enemy that he could avoid in every other possible way. That being
    said, there was still one more day before he could train or use his soul or Qi.

    “Good, don’t forget how spectacular I am! Hahaha…” Take’s
    laugher was akin to his father.

    The two wandered around the manor, playing jokes on each
    other, checking once in a while on Zax’s parents or if the other guests already
    left so it will not be rude to open up the presents. Zax did not mention
    anything of his experience in the Young Mist Users Conference. He reconciled
    with his friends a few days back when they and their parents were invited to a dinner
    at Fourchettes Et Couteaux. Reminiscing the past when he was at peace with
    himself would have thrown him into gloomy state of mind.

    Take told Zax about his own experience in the Great Earth’s
    Core Pursuit in a nutshell since it was not a guarded secret or anything and
    much about the event can be found online.

    “They send you off together with tens of thousands of kids
    to search for an Earth’s Core in a cave that throughout the year is part of the
    beasts’ territory. Listen to my advice, Zax, and maybe you, too, will be
    fortunate. When they’ll tell you to enter the cave, follow the Guardians who go
    to patrol at the far end of the cave. In past years, and this is something you
    can’t even read about, all the decent to high quality Earth’s Cores were found
    a few kilometers from the tunnel to the unsafe zone. Obviously, you should not venture
    close to that tunnel no matter what!

    “If Zetsa Mor will accompany you to the to the Great Earth’s
    Core Pursuit, that will be good. As a Mist User at the level of a Mist Master
    she can asset for you the value of an Earth’s Core. If she won’t go with you,
    then it’s best if you keep to yourself and stay away from the other Guardians.
    Some of them, I’ve heard, will even steal a high quality Earth’s Core if they’ll
    know that some kid found one…”

    Zax attentively listened to Take’s pointers and warning. In
    January the new date of the next Great Earth’s Core Pursuit will be decided. By
    then he will already be in fourth grade, reach the age of ten and eligible to
    take part in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. When the time comes, any kind of
    information that he could obtain in advance would be beneficial.

    “Good luck on your chosen path, master Take”.

    “Do your parents well, son”.

    “You have a marvelous ahead of you, Take Edomachi”.

    “Promising, promising, hehehe…”

    The visitors gradually began to leave. Each of them Take had
    to greet, bow and thank for coming to his celebration and their presents.

    When the Nightly Cover formation covered the cave’s ceiling
    with sparkling dots of light only Zax and his family remained in the governor
    manor and a few members of the extended Edomachi family. Governor Edomachi
    thanked Zetsa, Marco and Laylen for joining today and sharing this blessed time
    of his, his wife and son. Afterwards he excused himself to privately talk with
    his kin.

    Zetsa, Marco, Laylen and Slovet sat around a small table
    with cups of green tea in their hands while the two boys opened the presents.

    The hour was late and the middle class parents sensed some
    time ago that they should also leave, but Mrs. Edomachi insisted that they
    should join her for a small talk. “During the party I had to indulge in dull conversations”.
    She sighed heavily. “Please, Miss Zetsa and I often sit and talk with each
    other. Our conversations always so fascinating, and even at times when she
    doesn’t have something new to impart, her opinions of the various topics I bring
    up are wittily thought provoking”. A subtle smile spread across Mrs. Edomachi’s
    rosy cheeks. “It will be a nice change of pace to halt and get to know the
    people who raised this young woman”.

    Faced with Mrs. Edomachi’s cordial appeal Marco and Laylen felt
    compelled to respect the wishes of their charming hostess. In a way, this was
    an opportunity for them as well to learn about their daughter from someone else
    point of view who knew her intimately.

    Zax and Take uncovered very many gifts from the small pile
    that was placed at the center of the room. There were expensive mechanical
    toys, most were of great figures of the Martial world, few were of known horrific
    beasts and fewer were the Pet type. The pair was disappointed that they did not
    find any books of Martial techniques. It appeared that the guests either saw
    Take as a child or did not want to contribute to the cultivation of a future
    potential of another family. What the two boys were unaware of was that three
    guests did gifted Take with books of Martial techniques. There were three in
    total, one book from each of the three guests. Two of them were a present from
    two families that had close relations with the Edomachi family, and the third
    one was from the extended Edomachi family. The three books were not placed
    among the other presents and were handed discreetly to governor Edomachi by
    those who brought them.

    Initially Take had thought of sharing half of his gifts with
    Zax. The amount which he received was too much for one boy to indulge with. Moreover,
    all his free time was devoted for training to establish his footing on the
    Martial path.

    Marco and Laylen, in contrast, accepted Take’s generosity
    but opposed to him giving away his presents to their son. They did not explain
    their decision, either. Fortunately, the boys did not argue and showed a substantial
    understanding maturity.

    Mrs. Edomachi was also prepared to rebuke her son if necessary.
    If the presents are not to his linking they will donate them, as they have done
    in the past.

    The stay at the governor manor concluded late at night. Zax
    ended up with two of Take’s presents, a mechanical pet modeled after a cub blue
    scales fox which had blue shining scales on its back and hind leg and blue fur
    on the rest of its body. It had four ears, three eyes and was about twenty
    centimeters long, fourteen centimeters tall. The other present was a Mocca
    Kart’s premium account card. Take received around seven so convincing Zax’s
    parents and his mom was not difficult, in addition, Zetsa intervened for his
    support.

    The Zel family left the way they came, in the governor’s
    black luxury vehicle.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 4 – Birthday At Grandpa’s And Grandma’s Farm

     

    August thirty one, year 5784. Last vacation day.

    After much consideration, Marco and Laylen Zel arrived to
    the conclusion that it will be better to wait to after the Great Earth’s Core
    Pursuit before enrolling Zax to a post Core School.

    For the past month they weighed the pros and cons of sending
    their young boy to a post Core School right after his vacation. It was a
    dilemma of many parents in Kingdom Earth.

    The fourth grade was unique. Unlike any other grade,
    although still legally obliged to enroll, enrollment to fourth grade was
    allowed to be postponed until January. Then, when the date to the next Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit is revealed to the public and is not later than the following
    June, enrollment can be postponed until then.

    The reason of this leniency was the various changes that children
    go through after absorbing an Earth’s Core... When registering to a new school
    year, especially at post Core Schools, switching schools is not permitted
    throughout the year. In the fourth grade children are mostly being prepared to
    the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. During this event, the potential of many
    children to embark on the Martial path is easier to assess when they are
    participating in the last stage of the event. Therein lies the problem, if by
    chance a child shows great promise in the evaluation method, his or her name
    will then be entered to a special registration list that mostly high tier
    Martial schools, high class families, successful organizations and such… dare
    to spend vast amount of their money for its yearly subscription. If a child’s
    future prospects are determined as “above average”, but the child already
    enrolled to a post Core School and the school finds out the results of its
    student in the evaluation method, it might not let go so easily from this “raw
    gem” and try anything to preserve it, resulting in even harming the potential
    of the child by rough and rush polishing.

    Marco and Laylen made their decision by having faith in the
    potential of their son. He was milder than their older daughter, Zetsa, and
    they put a lot of effort not to make the same mistakes with him, but by doing
    so they overlooked and missed his uniqueness up until they learned of his
    extraordinary accomplishments in the Young Mist Users Conference.

    For the time being Marco and Laylen gave their consent to
    the intense training regime that Zetsa formulated to Zax.

     

    December thirty one, year 5784.

    Zax sat on the white mattress in his big sister’s one-room
    apartment. The yellow patterns and diverse symbols of the activated Inner
    Spirit formation covered the four walls, floor and ceiling with blinding light.
    Nearly five hours have passed since Zax began his training. A layer of frost
    covered him, giving the impression of an ice statue.

    Hot cloud of steam came out of Zax’s mouth as he breathed
    steadily. The temperature lowered again and the breeze, which struck like a cluster
    of throwing knives, pierced through the outermost layer of his skin as it
    passed.

    Zax released another cloud of steam and waited patiently. It
    was still too early. The temperature was not cold enough and the wind was too
    weak.

    Five hours were a long time to spend in the Inner Spirit formation,
    but Zax was not worried that the time outside of it will elapse as fast as it
    happened a few times in the past. Presently, the formation restrictions
    remained at the same level that they had been before he reached the Advanced
    phase of level G and by now he already properly crossed to the Top phase. With
    his ability to cope with the formation’s current level strengthening, though
    the effect of the training was reduced, the gap between the outside world and
    the inner world was shrinking.

    An additional benefit of keeping the restrictions on the
    formation was the longest time Zax spent in the Inner Spirit formations the
    more insights he attained. For instance, when he first started training after
    crossing to the Advanced phase of level G, Zax realized that the body that
    froze and shattered every time he trained was a manifestation of his soul.
    Grasping this discovery, Zax began to experiment, using his soul energy while
    training in the formation as if it was Qi or Mist energy. By doing so he found
    out that it is ten times simpler to perform a soul defense than a soul attack,
    which in turn made it possible for him to drag his training for hours on.

    Now, whether a coreless boy at the Top phase of level G
    should be able to perform either soul defense or a soul attack was another
    matter entirely that Zetsa, after having the conversation with Zax about what
    happened in the Young Mist Users Conference, made sure he will not reveal
    before she will obtain a clear understanding of how he managed to execute this
    wonder.

    The low temperature finally began to affect Zax’s efforts to
    endure with the soul defense. “Qi is useless…” Zax gritted his teeth. He
    attempted before to have his Qi energy as an additional support against the
    formation’s extreme cold but it ended up being unproductive. The formation severed
    the connection between the body and soul. The fists that he clenched, the teeth
    that he gritted the breath that his lungs released, just like the cold and the
    wind, they were all an illusion. Hence, the Inner Spirit formation’s
    categorization as an illusionary formation.

    CRACK!

    After seven hours and thirty nine minutes Zax’s neck cracked
    and his head fell to his lap. Following a warm slender touch at the center of
    his chest, a gushing river of lava spread across the broken fragments of Zax’s
    body. A short while later Zax opened his eyes, facing once again the
    windowless, dark one-room apartment.

    While circulating his breathing, Zax took out from a bag
    besides the white mattress a flask of green tea and drank half of it. Next, he
    left the room to check the time in his wristwatch. It was four o’clock in the
    afternoon. He started training in six o’clock in the morning and only ten hours
    have passed, which showed his improvement.

    “Tomorrow is my birthday”. His parents discussed this with
    him couple of time during this month. Tenth birthday had great importance in
    Kingdom Earth, in a way it was what many adults considered for the younger
    generation as the coming of age ceremony.

    “I won’t be able to train…” He pondered if he should go back
    to sleep at home or at his big sister’s place as he done so already since the
    beginning of the new school year. “Got to train, got to train. The bottleneck
    to the next level, a Mist User’s level is so close!” He made up his mind. Zax
    closed the door and went to the white mattress. Sitting and closing his eyes he
    started a Somnolence Meditation.

     

    January one, year 5785.

    “What should I do, grandpa Ger?”

    Being unable to train to his heart's content, Zax helped his
    two grandpas and two grandmas to set up the birthday decoration. It was weird,
    papering your own birthday. Usually loved ones were solely responsible for this
    job, but since Zax did not go to school his mom sent him to help and also spend
    some time with his grandparents.

    “Nothing, Zaxy, Laylen sent you hear because we rarely see
    you this days. Let your grandpas arrange everything. Sit on a chair and tell us
    how have you been doing?”

    Their whereabouts were at Marco’s parents’ farm. Grandpa Ger
    and his wife, Ney, had an agricultural farm. They grew all kinds of vegetables,
    fruits and beneficial plants. Because they lived pretty far, even if in the
    same cave, Zax visited them once a week or so, however, since the new school
    year has started it somewhat stretched to a visit or two in a month.

    Narrating aloud his daily routine, Zax for a time stayed in
    the barn with grandpa Ger and grandpa Shi Chin, Laylen’s father, and for a time
    went to the kitchen to taste the food and refreshments his grandmas were
    making.

    At three o’clock everything was ready, but there were still
    four hours before the birthday party supposed to begin, so Zax and all of his
    grandparents sat together outside for a while and after grandma Ney packed a
    bag of sandwiches and cold drinks they traveled through the pastures to see the
    cattle and sheep, some of the livestock which humanity brought to New Earth and
    managed to restrict their evolution in contrast to those they labeled as
    “Beasts” and had a separate territory in New Earth.

    “Heavens, Zaxy! Is that Qi?” Grandma Shi Oh, Laylen’s
    mother, almost lost her footing and fell backward.

    “My life, Zaxy! No wonder you and Zizi are sister and
    brother!” Granpa Shi Chin helped caught his wife. He had the same startled look
    as the other three elders and could barely believe his eyes. Is own coreless
    grandson could utilize his Qi!

    “Hahaha… Zaxy, unlike Zizi who had a strong soul and could
    use her Qi at an even younger age you are a bit behind, hahaha…” Grandpa Ger
    lifted his juvenile grandson and stroked his hair. “Don’t mind it. I bet there
    isn’t one boy or girl in all of cave twenty five that can use their Qi, hahaha…
    Ain't it proof that you are my blood! Marco, my son, you have pleased me not
    once but twice, hahaha…” Granpa Ger laughed to his heart’s content. In his
    speech he might have discriminated his other children and grandchildren, but as
    the only D level Mist User in the family, the most advanced Mist User in the
    whole family by far, he was extremely overjoyed with his grandchildren who had
    high accomplishments in such a young age.

    “Grandpa Ger, I also have a strong soul”. Zax frowned.

    “Defiantly”, grandpa Ger confirmed. “I didn’t mean to offend
    you, but Zizi was simply a cute little freak since she was born. Shame none of
    us paid her more attention…” He sighed.

    “That is enough, Ger, don’t repeat what you said when the
    others will come”. Grandma Ney snatched Zax from her husband muscular arms.
    “Zaxy, you have impressed all of us. It doesn’t matter if you have a strong soul
    or not”.

    “That is completely correct, sweetheart”. Grandma Shi Oh and
    Grandma Ney cheered Zax together.

    “Listen to your grandmas”. Grandpa Shi Chin told Zax after
    he calmed down.

    In regards to their grandson’s Qi, they all were surprised
    when steams suddenly burst out of Zax’s hand and the annoying calf, that tried
    to bite the blade of grass he waved around, frighteningly ran back to his
    mother.

    With respect to Zax’s soul, apart from his parents and nurse
    Elwood, no one knew that Zax was training in a soul refining techniques under
    the guidance of his big sister, Zizi…

    “Let us head back”. Grandpa Shi Chin held his wife hand and
    together with grandma Ney, who let Zax down, they change the topic.

    “Our grandson Valv proposed to his girlfriend… Isn’t it
    about time?”

    “The lad is in his thirties, how long could he prolong it
    after five years of a relationship?”

    “Don’t dilly dally, Zaxy. You have shown us something
    incredible, but remember that you still have a long road ahead of you, if you
    want to become a strong Mist User like your grandpa Ger!” Grandpa Ger boasted.

    “I want to become a strong Mist User like big sis, a Mist
    Master”. Zax proclaimed.

    “Hahaha, you sure have guts. How about first you surpass
    your grandpa and then talk about Zizi?”

    “Grandpa Ger”, Zax quietly thought to himself for a moment
    before calling. “High five!” mischievous grin was hidden beneath his sweet
    childish face.

    “Hahaha… Give me a strong one, Zaxy”. Grandpa Ger raised his
    hand.

    CALP!

    “Where is your grandpa, Zaxy?” Grandma Ney asked when Zax
    appeared by her side after a short run.

    “He said that he is tired, his bones hurting again and we
    can go ahead first, grandma Ney”.

    “Oh… acting all tough when he is your oldest grandparent”.
    Grandma Ney shook her head.

    “Poor Grandpa Ger”. Zax agreed.

     

    At seven o’clock the guests that arrived first offered to
    help with the food preparation. The adults, mainly, once handing over the
    presents, sorted out a place for the fire and the meat since a lavish barbecue
    was the main course meal of the birthday party.

    The children who were cousins, school mates, neighbors of
    Zax or simply followed their parents who were friends with the Zel family,
    played outside in the fields or around the house and barns.

    This occasion was celebrated in fundamentally different manner
    than a high class celebration like the one that was held a few months ago at
    the Edomachi’s estate in cave twenty four. For obvious there were not any
    maids, servants or guards. Not a special room for just the presents with two attendants.
    No hired performers to entertain everyone. A low class and middle class events
    such as birthdays were celebrated in moderation.

    Saying that, lower class events have their own benefits,
    too, that are basically the opposites of high class events. For example, what
    determined the quality and importance of a high class event are three things,
    the status of the host and guests, the cause for the event and how much money
    has been invested in it. Where in a lower class event there is only one factor
    to determine its quality, without ever mentioning its importance, which is the
    spirit of the people.

    High class events are not about the celebration, but about
    the pretense, flaunting, forming constructive relationships and to gain better reputation
    in the eyes of one’s peers. Honest display of solidarity had nothing to do with
    high class events.

    Lower class events were a different case. Wealth and prestige
    were redundant in the eyes of the common people. In their daily lives all they strived
    for was enough for themselves and loved ones to live a frugal life. To them,
    days of celebrations were a break from the repetitiveness, an opportunity to rejoice
    at another's fortune as if it was theirs.

    By nine o’clock Marco and Laylen have received more than
    four hundred guests. Safe to say that without the consideration of everyone who
    arrived and thought to bring additional food for the celebration, the barbecue
    would have ended earlier in the evening. Luckily, the people of cave twenty
    five, at least, were used to no just enjoy a party, but making sure that it
    will keep going for a long long time. What started with good meat on a giant metallic
    grill, evolved to a lush banquet.

    Occasionally, when Zax was having fun with his friends and
    young family members in the fields, around the long dining tables, circling the
    huge fire (from a safe distance)… his grandpa Ger would toss him furtive
    glances full of astonishment while rubbing his head at the same time.

    When Zetsa greeted her grandpa she noticed his out of
    character behavior, thinking that old age beginning to affect the elderly. She
    did not want to insult the prideful man that was her grandfather by acting
    rashly and offering to replace him at the barbecue work.

    “Thank you, Zizi”. Grandpa Ger took the beer battle Zetsa
    offered him. From hours of work around the fire his clothes were drenched with
    sweat. The temperatures he cocked the meat with were nothing to laugh at.
    Millenniums ago, a human who would have tried to approach this kind of heat
    wearing regular garments could suffer life threatening burns. Granted, back in
    those days the meat was not that durable to cock.

    Drinking the whole bottle of ice cold beer, Grandpa Ger,
    refreshed, turned to his caring granddaughter with a puzzled expression on his
    face. “That Zaxy…” His eyes surveyed this granddaughter of his, who was known
    as the most talented child to inherit the “Zel” surname.

    Grandpa Ger turned his gaze from Zetsa to the meat and
    flames. “A soul attack… soul attack… a coreless boy… soul… attack…” he murmured
    unintelligibly, nodding his head sideways with pale complexion.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 5 – Long Awaited Breakthrough

     

    “Don’t force yourself, Zax, stop. You should take a break”.

    In an incomplete apartment with dust all over and a two
    meters in diameter hole in the floor, an apartment in Zetsa’s building, a Mor
    and her Tal were seated in a meditative position.

    A month and a half had passed since Zax’s tenth birthday.
    The date for this year Great Earth’s Core Pursuit has been decided and released
    to the public. This year the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit will launch earlier
    than the year before, in the first of April and will continue until the thirtieth
    of June.

    The fourth of April was the designated date for the
    participants from cave twenty five and the participants from seven other caves.

    With another month and a half before the biggest event in
    every coreless child’s life, not a lot of time remained for Zax to achieve the objective
    of the taxing soul training his big sister elected for him. Coincidentally, eight
    days ago Zax’s interaction with the bottleneck of level F has reached a
    critical stage. Since then, Zax could not enhance his soul anymore by training
    in the Inner Spirit formation or by performing Somnolence Meditation, each time
    he tried the results were less and less affective, as if behind the bottleneck was
    an insatiable abyss that devoured all of his attempts to strengthen himself.

    To pass through the difficult bottleneck in time for the
    Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, after consulting with his big sister, Zetsa came up
    with a method, which was more of a gamble, to improve Zax’s chances in a task that
    the number of coreless children who faced it before him could be counted on two
    hands, and for the number of those who passed successfully it one hand was too
    much.

    Environmental Stimulus was the technique in question. It
    emphasize on training all three aspects of a living being, body, Qi\mist and
    soul at the same time in rotation in uncommon environments that the participant
    was unaccustomed for. The belief was that by broadening horizons one can
    stimulate any of the three aspects or all three; therefore the probability to
    attain insight in his or her practice could increase significantly. Needless to
    say the for the chance to gain insight, those who walk on the Martial paths,
    particularly experts, at the verge of the next phase or level would go to
    substantial lengths, even risking their lives.

    Zetsa was anxious due to the limited time her brother had.
    She selected four different locations for Zax to stay in and survey himself,
    hoping for a glint of accomplishment to appear in his eyes as soon as possible.
    During this period of introspection Zetsa chose to be at Zax’s side every
    second of the day. The bottleneck to level F was not the same as the bottleneck
    to level E and D. Although it seemed insignificant, since any child above the
    age of ten who participated in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit has afterwards
    crossed it, it was really misconception to believe that it is so simple. Only
    those who reached naturally to level F, that is, without an Earth’s Core, or
    researched the matter were able to realize what sort of juncture it is,
    comparable even to the bottleneck to level C!

    The first location that Zetsa chose was their grandparents’
    farm. There, she reminded to Zax that it is a form of training before instructing
    him to do whatever he feels like doing, so they walked.

    Leaving Zetsa’s Sun K-79 behind, they walked for hours, from
    the early morning till late at night when eventually they ended up arriving
    home. Since the mentioning of the word “training” Zetsa noticed that her Tal interpreted
    the meaning of this method of exercise in a much complex manner than it was.

    Admittedly she did not explain to Zax the concept of
    Environmental Stimulus, for it was something he had to find out for himself,
    but as a result it turned out counterproductive. Still, Zetsa did not say
    anything to Zax and at the second day she informed to pack a small backpack
    cause they were going back to get her Sun K-79. The predetermined second location
    had been replaced. The new second location was the road.

    Going forward to a day later, Zetsa took Zax to the
    apartment building she owned. There, she picked one of the incomplete
    apartments, one with a giant hole in the floor, and told him to just seat down
    however likes. For two days they walked. On the first day the agricultural vicinity
    was the epicenter of Zax’s environmental perception. On the second day it was
    the road and familiar buildings that were emptier than he recognized. It was
    the silent scenery that only a child who did not go to school nor have to work
    could encounter. At the third day Zetsa wanted for Zax find to be at ease and
    merge with an incomplete form, obviously, she did not tell him that either.

    The fourth location was so radical that Zax lost the feeling
    in his legs when he and Zetsa arrived there. It was a little bit past tunnel
    seventy eight, one of the border tunnels between humanity’s territory and the
    beasts’.

    “Big sis… staying here is illegal for minors, you’ll be in
    trouble…” Zax tried to alter her decision.

    “No one will know, come on, there is a hill a kilometer that
    way”. Zetsa ignored Zax’s pleas. She grabbed his hand and pulled him after her apathetically
    to his fears.

    In New Earth any cave visited by a member of humanity, even
    those in the beasts’ territory, was numbered. There was only a slight
    difference in the numbering process between the caves in humanity’s territory
    and the beasts’. The first difference was that beasts’ caves that were numbered
    had zero as an initial digit. The second difference was a rule that required
    the humans who ventured into caves in the beasts’ territory to fully map them
    before retreating.

    Cave zero eight was a soundless jungle. It gave the
    impression that the only beasts roaming were the spirits of dead ones.
    Nevertheless, here and there were signs of large and small footprints and gusts
    of wind rattled the thick vegetation, carrying uniquely refreshing smells.

    The hill that Zetsa took Zax was around a hundred meters
    tall. Many of the surrounding trees were much taller, though, and were able to
    provide shelter from the constant baring light of the Sun Stones at the high
    ceiling of the cave, since it did not have anything like the Nightly Cover
    formation applied to it.

    “There are four tunnels connecting to this cave, Zax. One
    leads to cave twenty five while the other three to deeper parts in the beasts’
    territory”. Zetsa lower her head as she explained to Zax. Her little Tal stuck
    so close to her that his breath tickled her exposed bellybutton. The only thing
    that he was shy of doing was cling to her leg, like his third years old self
    whenever she was about to leave home.

    Zetsa pushed Zax away with an impervious facial expression,
    indicating that she was not joking and this is exactly the fourth location. “In
    a couple of hours I’ll return to take you back, Zax. Where I go is doesn’t
    matter, why can’t I stay you should not ask and getting back on your own is on
    you, Zax”. Her tone was rigid and callous. It was worse than a stab to the
    chest, treating he beloved little brother in such a harsh manner, but it was
    for his sake. There was not a lot of time remaining for the Great Earth’s Core
    Pursuit and if Zax’s soul will not reach level F before that, much of his
    future prospects will diminish.

    “No… no… You can’t leave me her, big sis, I want to go, take
    me back…” Zax was on the verge of crying. What he could not understand was why
    he was so uncomfortable, why the concept of being in the beasts’ territory
    frightened him to this degree.

    Well, there was an answer, one which Zetsa was aware of and
    hoped that her little brother will be able to prevail against it. The answer
    was Zax’s highly sensitive soul. Whether it was a coreless boy or a Mist User
    at the Core Breaker level, if either of them was here instead of Zax, he or she
    would not have felt any different than how he or she felt on the safe side of
    New Earth.

    Of the three aspects of a living being, two are capable of
    sensing the environment. The basic one is the body of a living being, whatever
    it may be. The more complicated one is the soul of a living being. A Mist User
    can first utilize the soul to sense the environment at the Beginner phase of
    the Core Breaker level, to what extent is a whole different story.

    Zax’s soul level was only at the top phase of level G.
    Common sense dictate that he should not be able to sense the environment with
    his soul, especially involuntarily. Zax, however, was an enigma beyond common
    sense. In comparison to a Core Breaker, his soul was of lower quality and his
    soul energy in lesser quantity. From some reason, though, he still was able to
    perform a soul attack, even if by the simpler method there is. Sensing the
    environment, although a far more difficult feat, to a certain degree, by
    experimenting for a while with the new grasp of his soul energy, has made
    possible for it to developed on its own.

    On top of the desolated hill, Zax stood alone. Zetsa
    disappeared in a speed he could not comprehend. Being there on his own, Zax’s Soul
    Sense could extend only as far as the skin on his body. Generally, he was not
    able to perceive farther than his body sense of touch, but when he came to contact
    with specks of the environmental essence he could feel a minuscule bit of the
    terror it carried. As to what specifically was the source of the invisible
    terror, that was too hard to tell.

    Zax waited for hours, not daring to leave to hill, afraid to
    even move from his initial place. Misperception of sounds and shadows deluded
    him to think that sometimes something was watching him, sometimes he himself
    saw something besides the thick vegetation, other times to even feel warm
    breaths at the back of his neck.

    Where was his More? Where was Zetsa? Where was his
    overprotective big sister?

    Zax asked himself countless time. “It’s not right… It’s not
    right…” Sensing one thing with his Soul Sense but been unable to perceive it
    with his body five sense threw him off balance. Hours later, when the light in
    the far away tunnel to cave twenty five dimmed, Zetsa returned. She did not say
    anything nor assessed the tensed Zax from up close. She grabbed his hand and
    pulled him back after her apathetically.

    Another three days passed. Now.

    “Forcing a breakthrough is impossible, Zax”. Zetsa sat next
    to him in the incomplete apartment, giving only this advice, and then quietly
    continued to watch him.

    Zax did not care. He was restless. He could not train or
    meditate like he used to. Not only that, he was stuck in the same juncture for
    such a long time. It was a first for him to really struggle. In the past the
    path of training laid all he had to do before him. Staying in the activated
    Inner Spirit formation for as long as he can, dismantling the icy grains or
    replacing steady sleep with Somnolence Meditation. He had done them all. None
    of them was easy to begin with but at least they were not obscure.

    The bottleneck of level G? He tried to remember how he broke
    through it, but back than it happened spontaneously and since the differences
    between the Advanced and Top phases of the previous level and the early phases
    of level G were typically infinitesimal, he could not grasp any insight in
    relations to the process.

    Most of all, there was tomorrow. The return to the fourth
    location. Zax had nightmares for three consecutive nights. In those dream he
    stood at the top of the hill, waiting for his big sister. The giant trees were
    overbearing than in reality. Their height was unfathomable. They loomed above
    Zax’s head, hiding the cave’s ceiling, enabling a scarce number of light rays
    to penetrate through the leaves and branches and illuminate the closest layer
    of tree trunks that surrounded him. And from the darkness, the darkness behind the
    first layer of three trunks, Zax could sense his fears taking form and
    approaching.

     

    March thirty one.

    On top of a small hill in the beasts’ territory,
    approximately a kilometer from the tunnel to humanity’s “safe zone”, Zax sat on
    his bottom. He sat for two hours since the day has started a cave away. His
    back by now was bending forward and his neck was down. He was tired but he
    could not sleep.

    “If I close my eyes they will appear”.

    “They” were the surreal things that terrorized him in his
    dreams, which were the reason for his lack of sleep for the past month and a
    half. He never saw or heard them, but he did smell and felt them, and even more
    so on top of the cursed hill.

    When one aspect of a living being is in turmoil, the other
    two bound to also suffer. Since the night after his first experience in the
    fourth location, Zax began to develop difficulties controlling his Qi. He
    wanted to put aside the burden of his soul training, however, ignoring the
    disarray of his soul has made it impossible for him to concentrate on an aspect
    he just recently became aware of and did not have time to properly examine.

    His unsettled soul also affected his body. Day by day, Zax
    began to eat less and less. A week has passed and he lost two kilos of his
    weight. At the following week he lost another two, and then four and one… In a
    way, that got Zetsa to worry about him even more so than the inability to control
    his Qi. His parents, as well, started to doubt her methods of training. She
    discussed it with them couple of times during the past month and a half and
    managed to convince them by saying that it all will be over before the Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit and implored them that she knew what she was doing. Zax’s
    big sister and parents ended up supervising him during his meals. They
    forcefully made him eat even if he did not want to, even if he told them that
    he feels nausea. After Zetsa’s explained, Marco and Laylen understood that Zax’s
    body only projected the imbalance of his soul and in truth, no matter how ill
    he seemed to be, The best thing for him was to nurture his body as he regularly
    did.

    “I’m tired… I’m tired…” Zax constantly repeated. “There they
    are! No, there! Behind me? Where are you? Leave me alone!” The instant he
    closed his eyes and slipped into the nightmarish dream world, Zax’s Soul Sense
    intensified, decrypting with almost ease the cautionary tales of the
    environmental essence around him.

    “Big sis!” Zax jumped on his feet,
    calling. He surveyed the area left and right, up and down. When he did not find
    anything he sat again and sobbed for an hour.

    “Why did you do this to me, big
    sis? Why I have to suffer so much, big sis? If it’s for a breakthrough, I no
    longer want it…” Zax rubbed his eyes, his whole face, his head in frustration. “This
    things… I don’t want to stay here anymore, big sis, please come and get me, big
    sis…”

    After three more hours Zax calmed
    down a bit. The body’s fatigue since passed, though only temporarily. Some
    changes also occurred to his soul. None were significant or allowed him to
    finally figure how to break through the bottleneck to level F, but once in a
    while, after this long time of continuous agonizing, were moments of clarity in
    which the stress to his soul was even invigorating.

     Zax took advantage of these tranquil moments to
    meditate. His intentions were not to enrich a part of himself, rather to reminisce
    the better days of his short life from as far as he could remember.

    Remarkably enough, Zax could
    remember as far as his first year in this world, despite the fact that so far
    back these memories were simply tiny fragments of major moments.

    The more Zax drifted in his memory
    line, the better he could make up certain events. One memory caught his
    attention, him at the age of three strolling with his grandparents in their
    farm. It was midday and Zax first time walking freely in the open fields with
    no one in sight, for his grandparents were behind him. He was a small boy in a
    wide space with nothing to obstruct him, and for a split second the moment Zax
    remembered suddenly expended infinitely.

    Another memory, years later from
    the last one, was of Zax’s first day in school. Oddly it was not the school,
    per se, that he remembered, but the flood of people he passed by on his way to
    school with his mom. How lively and exciting were the streets when the road he walked
    on headed to a new place, somewhere that even then he could tell was a step up
    for a child's life. How much Zax yearned for the presence of others right now,
    it was nearly unbearable to his child little heart.

    Led by these lonesome feelings, another
    memory appeared before Zax. His first time at his big sister’s place, his first
    day of training. Throughout all of that day Zax was excited. Excited to be
    trained by his accomplished big sister, excited of going to become strong like
    the fighters in the Earth’s Core’s showdowns, excited that his greatest desire
    was taken seriously by an adult he looked up to. However, during the past month
    and a half he was not so sure anymore. One part of him truly believed that he
    could not handle the drawbacks of his current tribulations, while another part
    that was separated by a miserly narrow line, somewhat still had the forte to
    hold out.

    “That is…” In the blink of an eye the
    memory of him in his big sister apartment vanished and instead a peculiar
    memory creeped on Zax. Following its appearance, along the cruise over the
    fluid like stream made of seemingly white energy, Zax could not locate any
    other memory, recent or distant.

    With but a brief glance, before
    devoting his fully attuned attention to the one picture that stretched high and
    wide beyond whatever he could perceive in his meditative state, Zax recognized
    the scene that took over.

    “The hill!” Zax lost his composure
    and began to panic. “No, no!” He managed to maintain the meditative state reluctantly,
    only to not have this memory embitter these blessed moments of serenity.
    “Away!” Zax madly commanded. “I don’t want to see you! I don’t! Go! Leave me
    alone!” More than anything he was afraid that the memory of the hill, or others
    that were related, will contaminate the previous memories which granted him
    solace.

    Unknowingly, while the soul was on
    the verge of breaking, the body started to heat up as bones emitted sounds of
    cracking and muscles tensed, while correspondingly the Qi frantically gushed
    through the Qi channels in circulation.

    Zax’s body swayed and fell to the
    ground of the hill as blood ejected from his mouth. Nevertheless, his eyes were
    kept closed. Enduring an external and internal eruption of numbing pain, Zax forsook
    his well being wholeheartedly.

    “Away! Away… awa…” As the last of
    his strength faded, only silence remained in his consciousness. Zax’s body
    stopped moving, his Qi settled down and the light of the distorted blur that
    was his soul gradually dimmed.

    “Eh!” A single note of realization
    awakened Zax from his beaten state. He pushed. He separated. He divided his
    mind flawlessly and naturally into two, forming the outer and inner mind state,
    advancing with his soul to a level equal to a F level Mist User.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 6 – A Bit Of Qi Utilization

     

    Approximately three hundred meters from the hill, on which
    Zax was standing with a wide expression of wonder on his face that quickly
    changed to an expression of utmost sense of achievement, Zetsa was watching her
    little brother with bated breath.

    How long as she being doing it, observing Zax from afar
    whenever she left him on top of the chosen fourth location? “Since the very
    beginning” was the answer. Yes, it was not in Zetsa calculation that Zax’s soul
    was so exceptional that it could develop a Soul Sense. Such strange occurrence
    has made it difficult for her to estimate when it happened, which is why up
    until Zax showed the severe reaction to the environmental essence in a cave
    that was part of the beasts’ territory even he was not fully aware of this
    ability.

    “He actually made it”. Zetsa sighed and with no time to
    spend she leaped from one tree’s branch to another, toward the hill. “An F
    level soul that could use soul attacks and has Soul Sense… No! It was within
    his capabilities when his soul was at the top phase of level G! How terrifying,
    little Zi, your strong points differ than mine so I can only guess the benefits
    of naturally breaking through the juncture of level F with your soul”. Zetsa
    praised her little brother\Tal. “Here you are!”

    “Big sis!” For the first time in a long time Zax Jumped on
    his big sister with the affection of a jolly little boy. His enormous
    achievement made him forget his sore body and Qi channels.  “Hahaha… I knew you were behind me without
    even looking, hahaha…” Zax cheerfully declared. He was saying the truth, after
    just advancing to level F the condition of Zax’s soul was at its peak and his Soul
    Sense extended to a radius of a hundred and thirty centimeters in which his
    inner mind was aware of every little thing and change in the environment.
    Because of that, Zax was not surprised to see his big sister suddenly appear
    from behind him and was even the first to call aloud.

    “What was that? You say that you were able to tell that I
    was behind you?!” Zetsa questioned the words she thought came out of Zax’s
    mouth and with him hugging her body like a little monkey she unconsciously
    touched her ears, to see if they were working right.

    “What? You don’t believe me? Fine I’ll show you!” Zax got
    down from his big sister, turned his back to her and walked a few steps. “Do
    anything that you want, but don’t go too far and I’ll tell you exactly what you
    are doing without looking”. He urged her.

    “Do something? Do what, Zax, stop playing. Your body and Qi
    channel went through a great ordeal of stress and tension. Come on, I’ll carry
    you, we are going home”. External appearance was enough for one to grasp the
    state in which Zax’s body was in. A little probing with her own Soul Sense
    allowed Zetsa to also figure the state of his Qi channels. Furthermore, what
    did Zax just ask of her? To entertain the idea that his Soul Sense could extend
    beyond skin and hair, past one meter!

    How could she believe it? A Mist User in the Core Breaker
    level, even at the peak of the exalted level, can extend his or her Soul Sense
    at most to a radius of a hundred and five centimeters. Zax took it one big step
    farther, literally! Zetsa did not accept nor believed that. The benefits of
    naturally advancing to level F, in regards to Soul Sense, she expected them to
    be somewhat beneficial, but not to an extent that surpasses the proficiencies
    of a Mist User in the Core Breaker level!

    “I was four steps from Zax when I arrived behind him,
    roughly the length of one meter. I didn’t hide my presence when I came forward…
    It doesn’t matter. One meter is still too long and he noticed me before I
    approached him. How unreasonable is it?!” Zetsa probed the scenes of a moment
    ago in her mind. “A skill that only Core Breakers can develop, for Zax who now has
    a soul at level F, a radius of ten to twenty centimeters for his Soul Sense is
    already beyond my expectations. Fine, let’s test it”.

    Zetsa stood exactly one hundred and ten centimeters from
    Zax. “Which hand am I holding up?”

    “Your left”. Zax replied instantly. “I can tell even if you
    stood a little bit farther. It’s weird, after I divided my mind I could detect,
    if I wanted, what’s happening around me easily. Even the threatening feeling
    from before, the one that hunted me…” Although he was already past that
    uncontrollable sensation that ran amuck through every fiber of his being,
    addressing it with words or in his inner mind still caused a deep distressing
    response to his soul, especially now that he could interpret its origins.

    “Look here, Zax”. Zetsa bent her legs in a sitting position
    and with her finger drew a short line on ground. “This is the length of one
    centimeter”. She explained. “The thing that enables you to sense the
    environment to a certain degree is called “Soul Sense”. Try to extend the reach
    of your Soul Sense with the inner mind as far as you can and then count how
    many lines like this one you can place in a sequential order. Oh, and start
    from the center, where you are standing”.

    “A hundred and thirty lines, big sis”. Using the perception
    of the inner mind, Zax needed ten seconds to count. He did not have to put any
    effort to the task, though at the Beginner phase of the F level, Zax benefited
    in more than just his Soul Sense. The quality of his soul had no parallel
    within the scope of the F level. To place imaginary lines and count them in a
    certain order in ten seconds was a plain assignment.

    Even so, Zax’s unique soul was not able to process and
    interprets everything within the radius of his Soul Sense as fast as a Core
    Breaker, or even an E level Mist User, if there was one who had a Soul Sense.
    If Zax tried his hardest it still would have taken him at least eight seconds
    to count all the lines.

    “That’s wonderful, little Zi”. Astonished from the
    conformation, Zetsa lifted her brother from the ground and held him with hands
    stretched. “My little Zi is so magnificent!”

    “Haha…” Zax laughed.

    “You’ve done well, little Zi, much better than me, I must
    say”. Zetsa took him close to her bosom, ready to depart from the hill. “Are
    you well?” She asked.

    “Yes”. Zax replied with a soft smile and drained face. A
    warm and fuzzy feeling radiated from his big sister’s body, entered his body
    and slowly relived its soreness like a strong sedative.

    “Then say goodbye. We won’t return here in the near future”.

    “Goodb…” Zax murmured, relaxed finally and with closed eyes.

     

    April First.

    Zax woke up after sleeping soundly for twelve hours. “So
    GOOOOD!” He exclaimed when he realized that his body, Qi channels and soul were
    no longer aching, as he was already used to due to the constant anguish and
    forgot how it felt to wake up peacefully.

    “Grughghg!” Zax’s stomach growled. “I want to eat!” Huge
    appetite suddenly overtook him. “Meat! Eggs! I want to drink orange juice! Mom!
    I’m hungry! Make me something big to eat”. He ran exited to the living room.
    “Mom!”

    “Shhh… Quiet down, Zax”. A silent voice whispered from the
    living room. “Mom and dad are sleeping”.

    “Sleeping?” Zax turned his head to the source of the voice,
    but it was dark in the living room. Actually with was dark all over the house
    and even outside of it. “Big sis?” Using his soul sense he made his away to the
    living room and the sofa on which Zetsa lay.

    “Zax, are you up?” The lights in the living room turned on.
    Marco and Laylen stood next to each other in their pajamas.

    “Make me something to eat, mom, I’m hungry!” Zax pleaded. It
    was night and he spoke aloud, but he really was hungry, too hungry to pay
    attention to the sleepy faces of his parents or slightly care.

    “Zax?” Both Marco and Laylen were surprised at their son
    change of attitude that they continued to stand, holding each other. “Are you
    really hungry, do you want to eat?” Laylen asked gently, afraid of sounding
    imposing, afraid to scare away the spark she had not seen for a long while and
    now, all of a sudden, returned to her son’s eyes.

    “He is well, mom, dad, Zax finished this long session of
    training. He got back to his usual self. His soul advanced to the level of a F
    level Mist User”. Zetsa informed their parents with an apologetic smile.

    They returned home around ten o’clock at night and at that
    time their parents were already asleep. Zetsa decided to wait until the
    morning, but now was as good time as ever to tell them that their little boy “resurrected”.

    “Will you make me something to eat?”

    “Zax!” Laylen burst into tears and grabbed her son tightly
    between her arms. “You are okay, Zax, my Zax, my Zax. Sure honey, anything you
    want, mommy will make anything for you”.

    “Laylen…” Marco eyes reddened. Was it not worried about his
    son? Was he not worried about his wife? He was. The cool head of the family, lenient
    in times, strict in others. He carried himself day in day out with a firm
    disposition for his son to turn to, for his wife to lean on, for his daughter
    to speak unrestrained.

    At last, the pretense was no longer necessary.

    Massaging his forehead and eyes, Marco exhaled heavily once,
    as if released from a great burden. “Our son, a coreless boy, has reached level
    F with his soul, Laylen”. He spread his arms around his wife and son. “Did you
    ever think that it will be possible… for our son, without an Earth’s Core?”

    “It’s not important, Marco. Zax his back, look at him, look
    at his eyes”.

    “And his stomach, mom, don’t forget the stomach! I’m
    hungry!” Zax added.

    “Sure, I won’t dare. Let’s make a feast for all of us to
    enjoy. But don’t make too much noise. It’s still night”. Laylen laughed,
    clearing the streams of tears on her bright face.

     

    After the midnight meal, Zax took a warm shower with Zetsa
    while Marco cleaned the dishes and Laylen prepared new sheets for his bed since
    the old ones were dirtied by his sweaty and dusty clothes that he wore since
    his last session of training and went to sleep in.

    The next morning Zax woke up around seven o’clock in the
    morning. He was not tired, but he felt that if he allowed himself he could
    sleep for the fun of it for days.

    “Don’t gobble. Eat slowly”. Zetsa served him a bowl of hot porridge.

    “But it’s tasty!” Zax said with a full mouth.

    “Your body consumed small portion of food for almost two
    months. If you’ll force too much too fast you’ll harm your body”. Zetsa
    educated, afterwards Zax’s eating pace slowed down a little.

    “What are we gonna do today? Are we going the grandpa Ger’s
    farm?” Zax asked.

    In three days he and all the other ten years old kids of
    cave twenty five will depart to the place where the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit
    will occur and even though he reached the goal of his soul training, he was a
    little bit anxious and did not want to simply wait at home for the awaited date.

    “No, we’ll go to my place. You don’t have enough time for a
    new training session, but don’t you want to learn some cool techniques that you
    can execute with your Qi?”

    “Eh… Ehhhh!”

     

    Outside the abandoned construction site which was Zetsa’s
    incomplete apartment building, what was meant to the receiving lawn by now
    sprout into unruly greenery.

    “Wait a moment on the paved road”. Zetsa told Zax.

    Examining the open at the front of the apartment building,
    Zetsa shifted her gaze to a sufficient area for what she had on mind and
    gracefully raised her hand in a waving motion.

    In the blink on an eye, silvery particles of mist energy
    created a wave of cutting wind that trimmed the greenery to a fine length of
    one centimeter tall in a space twenty meters long, ten meter wide. Right after,
    another gust of wind blew away the remains of the cut vegetation, leaving a
    nice and open field fit for an outdoor training.

    “Whoa!” Zax called out, full of awe. The hasty gardening was
    too fast for him to perceive. In his eyes the scenario was divided into two
    parts, Zetsa waving her hand followed by a sudden explosion in the greenery.
    However it played, it still was amazing to just see the foliage rise to the
    air, as if the earth burped it out.

    “Here is good”. Zetsa took off her shoes and walked
    barefooted on the trimmed and tickling grass. “Come here, little Zi, take off
    your shoes and socks, as well”. Zetsa invited Zax with a smile on her face. In
    a way, it felt like they were on a lovely picnic without anything but a lawn
    available to lie on and the company of each other.

    “Let’s sit down for a bit, little Zi, before I’ll teach you
    the Qi utilization techniques, though, don’t expect much, you should finally
    get to know why I chose to train you in soul refining techniques instead of Qi
    refining techniques”.

    “Isn’t it because the soul is harder to train and so the
    benefits are also bigger?” Zax asked quizzically.

    “Close, little Zie, not “benefits”, but for just one
    “benefit””. Zetsa pointed up a finger. “Do you know what are the changes that convert
    a regular person to a Mist User after absorbing an Earth’s Core?”

    “Hmm… We learned about it last year in school. After
    absorbing an Earth’s Core, through meditation a person needs to form the first
    crack on the Earth’s Core’s shell. When that happens, a person will then become
    a Mist User starting at the lowest phase of the lowest level. Our teacher also
    explained to us that after becoming an Earth’s Core holder of the lowest level,
    no matter whom, anyone will be able to perceive the existence of the merged Qi
    and mist in the body, which will be a level higher than a regular person, and
    similar to the Qi, the soul will also advance a level”.

    “Exactly!” Zetsa shouted. Excitedly she asked Zax another
    question. “And if you are already in that “higher level”, what then?”

    “Then…” Zax repeated, still dumbfounded from his big
    sister’s autistic behavior. “Then…!” He said again and his eyes widened
    abruptly. “Are you saying?!” Zax exclaimed.

    “Yes!” Zetsa lips twisted to a broad grin. “Now that you
    have reached level F with your soul, after you will absorb an Earth’s Core and
    form the first crack in its shell, your soul will instantly advance past the
    bottleneck of the next level, it will reach level E!” Zetsa laughed. “And that
    is not even the kicker, hahaha, unless it’s a medium quality Earth’s Core, or
    having above average talent, even if you reach level F with your Qi, you will
    still not advance to the next level after absorbing an Earth’s Core! Hahaha…
    see why your big sister is so proud of you? See why I pressed you to train in
    soul refining techniques even when you were on the verge of collapse?”

    “In just a few days I’ll become an E level Mist User,
    hahaha! That’s awesome!” Zax jumped on his feet.

    “Your soul will reach the level of an E level Mist User,
    little Zi, in terms of mist you will still be at the lowest level”. Zetsa did
    not want to spoil Zax’s joy; however, misleading him would have wronged him
    even worse. “Nevertheless, the difficulties of wholly advancing one’s level are
    tied to the level of one’s soul. The soul is the nucleus of a living being, it cannot
    maintain control over the Qi or mist even if it’s just a level higher than it. Yet,
    if the soul’s level is the one which is higher, then it can support the
    cultivation and advancement of the Qi or mist up to it matching its level”. She
    hastily added.

    In truth, even if Zax’s soul remain in level F, advancing
    the next two levels still will be far easier than naturally breaking through
    the bottleneck of level F. Until he will reach the bottleneck of level C, it is
    safe to say that the road ahead of him was paved neatly.

    “Now that you understand, let’s proceed to the next matter
    in hand”. Zetsa got up and Zax, who was already on his feet, eagerly clenched
    his fists and dug into the earth with his toes.

    “First, the one and only principle of what you are about to
    learn. What I’ll teach you shouldn’t be taken as a formal technique of any
    sort. To a coreless boy who didn’t even scratch the surface of this abundant
    aspect of himself, there is no way for you to learn in time any real Qi related
    Martial technique. To do that you will first need to follow a Qi refining technique,
    or in the future, mist refining technique. What you are going to learn are superficial
    survival tricks”. Zetsa clarified and made sure that Zax also understood.

    Seeing his consenting node, Zetsa’s eyebrows tensed. “Good.
    Keep your legs steady, close your eyes and try to feel the Qi that flow through
    the Qi channels in your body”. Zetsa instructed.

    “I feel it”. Zax said after but a few seconds.

    “All of it. Once you grasp it, it is not as simple as the
    soul. The Qi isn’t accumulated in one place like the soul, but spread
    throughout your body. Take your time; verify that your consciousness reaches every
    nook and cranny within your body. With the level of your soul you should be
    capable of doing it, just don’t be rush. Even to an Earth’s Core Holder it can
    take hours to form full connection with whole of the mist in the body”.

    Nearly two and a half hours later, Zax concentrated face
    gradually relaxed and a serene expression appeared in his eyes. “When I felt it
    before it wasn’t like this, tangible to this extent…” Maybe only in his
    explosive first time, though back then he definitely was not in control.

    Zetsa watched him and slightly nodded with approval. “Being repeatedly
    pushed to the verge of life and death has bestowed many advantages upon you,
    Zax”. She said to herself.

    “It’s the deference between grasping a portion of your Qi
    and all of it”. Zetsa opened. “Remember to reach this proficiency whenever you
    use your Qi or soul energy. No matter which aspect of your being you utilize,
    you should not treat it halfheartedly. When you’ll return from the Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit, this will become your first method of training before
    proceeding to mist refining techniques”.

    “Okay, big sis, what now?” Zax took to heart Zetsa’s
    teaching and awaited for further instructions.

    “Now, Zax, you will observe and imitate what I’ll do. Move
    back a little and don’t use your soul sense no matter what!” After saying so,
    Zetsa followed her own directives ostentatiously in order for the steps to
    truly be engraved in Zax’s mind.

    A silvery thick misty aura immerged from Zetsa body
    instantly. Distortions in the air signified the vast power Zetsa withheld. “I’ll
    use my aura to help you visualize the process, but I’ll do so only once so pat
    attention”. Spreading her arms to the sides she kept saying. “This is a hundred
    percent usage of my mist energy, gashing out from every pore of my body. Try it
    yourself”.

    Zax watched and obeyed. Spreading his arms in the same
    manner, the best that he could do with his Qi was let it flow throughout his
    body as it did before, while this time maintaining a thread of consciousness
    for instant take over.

    Five minutes had passed. Zax’s calmed demeanor began to
    frown has time passed. Even though he extended only a thread of his consciousness,
    it was difficult to wield over time.

    “You can stop”. Zetsa said, yet she kept showing of her
    aura. “The quality and amount of Qi you possess is insufficient for a prolong
    usage. Rest for ten minutes, let your Qi channels recuperate”.

    Ten minutes later.

    “Times up. Get a grip on all of your Qi again”. Zetsa said
    since Zax ceased the thread of consciousness.

    This time it took Zax two hours to gain full awareness to
    all of his Qi.

    “Arms to the sides”. Zetsa said and spread her arms also. “The
    first time was to let you realize that even if you don’t execute a profound Qi
    or mist technique, it’s still hard to maintain for a long time. Qi is energy,
    any usage of it, and basically any action count as a usage, spend your Qi. But
    it doesn’t mean that you only have a limited amount of Qi to spend in your
    entire life.”

    “Let me simplify it. Think of Qi and Qi channels like an
    extension of your body. If you run for a long time the body gets tired and weak.
    What then you do? You rest and nourish the body to renew its strength. Excessive
    use of Qi, in cases like yours even a little usage, will reduce the Qi in your
    body and tire the Qi channels, to recuperate what you do?”

    “Rest”. Zax answered involuntarily, but he began to feel
    tired again and wished his sister will hurry.

    “Much like what you do when the body is exhausted, you rest
    and nourish the Qi by nourishing the body with healthy food. Just so you know,
    there are other ways to nourish the Qi, but they aren’t easy to come by. Never
    forget, exhausting completely one of the three aspects of a living being, soul,
    body or Qi will result in certain death! ”. Zetsa talking pace stayed indolent.

    Two minutes after.

    “You can stop to rest. After ten minutes, repeat the exercise”.

    Two hours and fifteen minutes later.

    “Watch clearly and try to imitate the movement of my aura
    with your Qi”. Arms to the sides, Zetsa’s aura began to move slowly from her
    left side of the body to accumulate only in the right side.

    Imitating his Mor, Zax controlled the Qi in his body and
    allocated it to only the right side of his body.

    “Excellent. On to the next step”. Zetsa complimented and
    shifted her aura only to the upper right side of her body.

    Once again imitating his Mor, it took Zax a few seconds this
    time to concentrate his Qi only in the upper right side of his body.

    “You are doing well, Zax, two more steps”. Zetsa said. Her full
    aura then moved to cover only her right arm. The great concentration of silvery
    particles made it seem as if Zetsa’s arm was made out of pure silver.

    “Urgg…” Zax shrieked. The more Qi he accumulated onto one
    place and the smallest that place was, the more it felt like filling a half a
    liter bottle with a greater and greater amount of water.

    “Remember this feeling. That’s your current limit”. It was
    already within Zetsa’s predications and a good lesson for Zax. “If you’ll try
    to concentrate your Qi in an even smallest space in your body, your Qi channels
    may tear apart. Helping you then, even I don’t have the confidence, so don’t
    push yourself!”

    “Okay, big sis, last step, last step”. Zax winced.

    “The last step”, Zetsa smiled and decided to spare the surroundings.
    “Punch the ground!”

  • Your backstory is waaay too long! 5 chapters of prologue and you introduced characters that I doubt we'll ever see again (the doctor, the bartender, the first guy who got a core, Danny....) if you added more details it would make an excellent prequel. Take a page from the masters you keep your audience better if you keep your intros short or better yet none at all. An air of mystery for what happened does some wonders and you could slowly peel back the history of the world. You gave yourself some great chances too! The museum, school, Zax talking to his parents/grandparents/sister about his schooling... I actually ended up just skimming the intro once I figured out that that's what it was (Chapter 3 from the title). Once we get to the actual story though it becomes great! Your cultivation process is unique and interesting too. There are errors here and there, but who cares the story is great! Keep up the good work I hope to read more soon.
  • JustBCOS said:

    Your backstory is waaay too long! 5 chapters of prologue and you introduced characters that I doubt we'll ever see again (the doctor, the bartender, the first guy who got a core, Danny....) if you added more details it would make an excellent prequel. Take a page from the masters you keep your audience better if you keep your intros short or better yet none at all. An air of mystery for what happened does some wonders and you could slowly peel back the history of the world. You gave yourself some great chances too! The museum, school, Zax talking to his parents/grandparents/sister about his schooling... I actually ended up just skimming the intro once I figured out that that's what it was (Chapter 3 from the title). Once we get to the actual story though it becomes great! Your cultivation process is unique and interesting too. There are errors here and there, but who cares the story is great! Keep up the good work I hope to read more soon.



    Thanks for the review!

    I did not intend for the prologue to be that long, but sometimes the story goes out of control... To make it into sometime more or less was to force myself to readjust something I was already fine with...

    I still strive to improve my technique and English, though, and hopefully I manage to do it.





    Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 7 – The Beginning of The Great Earth’s Core Pursuit

     

     

    The second in April, year 5785.

    Three o’clock in the afternoon.

    A line of eleven parked busses stretched to a bit over a
    hundred meters at the entrance to tunnel seventy seven from cave twenty five.

    Families from all over cave twenty five accompanied their eligible
    youngsters and saw them get on the busses. Approximately six hundred and forty
    participants were about to be sent from cave twenty five, this year.

    For the second consecutive year Zetsa volunteered as the representative
    Guardian of cave twenty five’s participants. She walked toward the first bus,
    where her parents, her little brother, his friends and their parents waited.

     

    Eight o’clock in the morning, the very same day.

    Zetsa was on her way to leave her parents’ house to the
    cave’s management office. “Zax”, she called him. “Come here”. She asked in a
    low voice.

    Putting down the fork on the breakfast plate, Zax got up to
    send off his big sister. “I’ll see later, big sis”.

    “I know you will. I didn’t call you for that”. Zetsa rubbed
    his unruly morning hair. “Listen, Zax, I’m telling you now cause later I simply
    won’t have the opportunity. In the search big sis won’t be able to help you
    find Earth’s Cores. It’s against the representative Guardian’s event rules; at
    most I can appraise the Earth’s Core or Earth’s Cores that you will find. But”,
    Zetsa said before Zax pouted. The next part was of utmost importance for her to
    impart on him. “Even if you won’t find an Earth’s Core, you will still receive
    a compensatory one at the end of the search, that, however, is not what I want
    you to remember, Zax. What you should remember is that even if you will be
    forced to absorb the Earth’s Core that the event’s committee arranged for those
    who didn’t find during the search, by no means try to form the first crack or
    any crack on the Earth’s Core’s shell”.

    Zetsa bent closer to Zax’s ear. “As long as the Earth’s Core
    is intact in your dantian, you can use your unique soul to push it out. Don’t
    do it in front of others, if you already absorbed the Earth’s Core wait for me
    to take care of things”.

    Listening to his big sister, at first Zax wanted to ask her
    if it is really possibly to remove an absorbed Earth’s Core, yet when he was
    about to ask her, a more pressing question came out. “If I’ll take out the
    Earth’s Core, what then?”

    “Then, although it may take some time, your big sis will do
    a few favors and get you a better Earth’s Core than you can get from the
    event’s committee”.

    “Good quality Earth’s Core?!” Zax nearly jumped of
    excitement.

    “Do not let your imagination get carried away, little Zi.
    Your big sis will do her best”. Zetsa refrained from promising something too
    good. E level Earth’s Core, if she could get the lowest quality of that level,
    it will already be above and beyond.

    “Now that you know finish your breakfast, I’m off”.

     

    Back to current time.

    Alongside Zetsa walked a happy looking, tall and ridden man
    with a black wig on his head. He was the head manager of cave twenty five’s
    management office, Nuci Poweil. Unlike governor Edomachi, Nuci Poweil did not
    possess the “Governor” title and was a mere representative of the esteemed high
    class Poweil family that managed several other caves in El-Eden.

    “This year our children are within the first groups in the queue,
    hahaha…” Head manager Nuci was satisfied with this year arrangement. “Their
    chances of finding good Earth’s Cores are a lot better than the previous years,
    isn’t that right, Miss Zetsa? Hahaha…”

    “Who knows”, Zetsa answered honestly. “A decade ago, I
    remember, that there was a kid who was in the last batch and found a high
    quality Earth’s Core, while two years ago, within the first five groups from Tongguo
    who entered the search cave in their region, each and every child came back
    empty handed. If anything, I’d say that it is all about luck”.

    “Well, luck is something that none of us can control. In
    this case it’s best to be among the first groups and hope the heavens and
    Supreme Ruler look fairly on all of our children”. Head manager Nuci was in his
    late seventies and managed cave twenty five for more than forty years. Over the
    years he sent thousands upon thousands of participants to take part in the
    Great Erath’s Core Pursuit. Obviously he had a better insight in regards to the
    matter in question, thus, Zetsa could not contradict his pearls of accumulated
    wisdom and had to agree with him, even if she did not believe that the
    “Heavens” or Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch have anything to do with the luck of the
    young participants.

    When all the kids sat in the busses, placing their provisions
    backpacks on their knees and before their families waved them good luck and
    goodbye, Head manager Nuci, a C level Mist User, Core Breaker, amplified his
    voice with his mist energy and delivered a customary speech.

    “Young future Mist Users and valued families members. It is
    a great honor for me that today I, Nuci Poweil, get to send once more and for
    the forty fourth time as the head manager of cave twenty five, our young ones onto
    their most significant journey in their life.

    “Children of cave twenty five, tomorrow you will face the
    most taxing challenge that any coreless child faces once in his and her life
    that will determine how great your future is going to be.

    “It is not a challenge that you should be afraid of. On the
    contrary, it is your moment to transcend the limitation you have been living
    with so far, from coreless children to full fledged Mist Users!

    “Children of cave twenty five, I wish you the watchful and
    blessed eye of the heavens and our Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch”.

    Head manager Nuci finished with a
    bow, turned his head to Zetsa, who sat near the driver on the first bus, and
    with a slight node wished her an ample journey.

     

    Zax sat at the back of the bus with
    Serah, Dane, Anet and a few other kids from his old school.

    “My sister participated two years
    ago in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, you know”, Zushi Sarker, a short, blond
    hair blue eyes kid lowered his head and talked with a hand on his mouth. “She
    told me that no matter what, me, and my friends better form a group before
    entering the search cave”. His blue eyes turned to the seven kids next to him
    and revealed his intentions.

    “Why do we need to form a group?
    Won’t we have a better chance to find more Earth’s Cores if we spread?” Weysey
    Inoki, a black hair green eyes boy raised the question before Zushi got to
    finish what he was saying.

    “Think about it yourself. What will
    happen if you’ll find an Earth’s Core?” Zushi asked.

    “The rules state that if a
    participant finds an Earth’s Core he or she has to leave the cave and show it
    to the attendant who stays at the entrance of the cave”. Weysey answered as if
    he was quoting his homeroom teacher.

    “See, here is the problem. What if
    you will come across other participants on your way to the attendant?” Zushi
    swept his gaze across the understanding faces of his friends. “I’m not saying
    that we should form a group to steal from others, only to protect ourselves. My
    sister told me that the representative Guardians aren’t really there to keep us
    in order or so that no harm will come us, at least not from other participants”.

    “I’m okay with forming a group, if
    it’s only to protect ourselves”. Serah said.

    “Me too”. Anet also agreed and the
    other five, beside Zushi who came up with the idea, including Zax also nodded
    in agreement.

    “If we form a group we need a
    leader”. Merly stated.

    “Sure. Zax, you’ll be the leader”.
    Zushi said without hesitating even though the idea was his.

    “Me?” Zax felt a bit uncomfortable
    acting as the leader.

    “You were the strongest boy in pre
    Core School, plus you are Miss Zetsa little brother, how can you be anything
    less?” Truly, if not on the Martial path, then at least on the political one
    Zushi will most definitely have a bright future!

    “Fine, if that’s what everyone
    wants”.

    Sure enough everyone nodded in
    agreement.

    “But how will we decide how to
    divide the Earth’s Cores if we’ll found any?” Dane raised up the question.

    “We can do it like this”, Zushi
    began to explain. “If one of us finds an Earth’s Core, that is, the first to
    locate it with the eyes, then he or she will call “not here”, best if it would
    be loud enough only for the members in our group to hear, and the Earth’s Core
    will be his or her. If more than one member of the group calls “not here” at
    the same time for the same Earth’s Core, then those who called “not here” will
    decide who gets the Earth’s Core by a game of rock paper scissors”.

    “Sound reasonable”, Dane felt the
    need to give his approval. “But what if you already found an Earth’s Core and
    locates another one?”

    “Well, the only opportunity for
    someone who already has an Earth’s Core to find another one will be when the
    rest of the group will escort him or her to the attendant at the entrance to
    the cave. If that happens, then those who found another Earth’s Core can choose
    which Earth’s Core they want to keep and the rest of the group will play a few
    rounds of rock paper scissors to decide who will get the other Earth’s Core”.
    Zushi paused, to make sure that his explanation was clear to everyone. “Are we
    a group?” He whispered.

    “We are”. The other seven whispered
    back, among others who had the same idea.

     

    Cave one hundred and thirty nine
    was a border cave within Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch’s region, El-Eden, and the
    gathering cave for all of the ten years old participants of El-Eden and their representative
    Guardians.

    Lines of busses from all over
    El-Eden who carried tomorrow’s participants were parking in a giant parking lot
    near a dome like compound. Besides the compound, which was more than a thousand
    hundred meters long, six hundred meters wide and ninty meter tall, were various
    tents and two other square buildings that were each about a sixth of the
    compound’s size.

    “Participants of cave eighty seven,
    join here in rows of forty…”

    “Participants of cave three, join
    here in rows of seventy four…”

    “Participants of cave one hundred
    and forty one, gather up here in rows of fifty…”

    “Participants of cave twenty five,
    assemble here in rows of forty…”

    “Participants of cave eight, join
    here in rows of sixty…”

    “Participants of cave one hundred
    and one, join here in rows of thirty…”

    “Participants of cave ninety nine, assemble
    here in rows of fifty five…”

    The seven representative Guardians
    from the seven caves of tomorrow participants ordered the soon to be “Young
    Mist Users” under his or her care. Some even utilized their mist energy and
    with gentle touches of their aura helped the young ones to construct the rows.

    When the first group was ready, its
    representative Guardians led it to the closest tent to the parking lot where a
    big sign read: “Registration Stand To The Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. Year
    5785!”.

    Zax and his group of eight managed
    to sneak themselves to the head of one of the eleven rows to watch carefully
    the registration process which sparked their and every other coreless child
    present, for that matter, curiosity.

    A good looking woman, wearing blue
    uniforms with a white ribbon that stretched diagonally across her left shoulder
    to her waist and read: “GECP STAFF”, accepted Zetsa and the group from cave
    twenty five. Since the small tent only meant to house the woman and a small
    desk with a computer on it, Zetsa actually stood outside of it.

    “Here, the list of participants
    from cave twenty five and my contact information as their representative
    Guardian”. Zetsa handed the woman a small rectangle yellow chip. The staff
    member woman inserted the chip to the computer and a few seconds later took out,
    from a box beneath the table, a red ribbon which read in golden letters: “GECP GUARDIAN”.

    “Please wear it in all times”. The
    woman gave the ribbon to Zetsa, who immediately wore it in the same manner as
    she did. She also gave her a piece of paper, on which she wrote a few numbers.
    and returned the chip before directing her to the next tent.

    Passing one of the medical tents,
    Zetsa led her group to a tent near the entrance to the compound that had a sign
    beside it which read: “Time Bracelets Registration Stand”.

    “Tomorrow’s participants…” The man
    in in the Time Bracelets Registration Stand said to himself. The Time Bracelets
    Registration stand had a huge tent filled with sealed boxes. Like in the
    previous tent, Zetsa did not enter, but waited outside for the staff member to
    approach her.

    “Serialization token”. The man, who
    was short with words, said to Zetsa. Zetsa gave the piece of paper she received
    from the woman at the initial registration stand.

    The man looked at the serialization
    token and sighed. “This year they send the smaller group first…” He then turned
    his back to Zetsa. “You are good”. After so Zetsa turned as well and entered
    with her group to the giant compound.

    Thousands of neat bunk beds filled
    more than two thirds of the compound. Beside them were showers and bathrooms. At
    one corner of the compound was a staircase to a second floor and at the center
    of the compound was a lectern.

    Zetsa was the second representative
    Guardians to lead her group into the compound. The first representative Guardians
    to arrive already ordered the boys in his group to settle and choose bunk beds.

    “Boys of cave twenty five”, Zetsa
    opened aloud when the last of her group entered the compound. “Choose any of
    the bunk beds over there and settle your backpacks on them. Keep together and
    don’t seek only bottom bunk beds. No one is allowed to go to the second floor
    and no one is allowed to occupy an empty bottom bunk bed if there are empty
    upper bunk beds with participants from our cave, cave twenty five, who already picked
    the bottom ones! Go, you have ten minutes to choose beds in orderly fashion and
    return.

    “Girls of cave twenty five, wait
    for a while. Your bunk beds are in the second floor. Obey the same rules as the
    boys when you go up there. I’ll help you find a side for our group and when
    I’ll leave none of you is allowed to go to the first floor until I’ll return!”

    Zax’s group consisted of five boys
    and three girls. Before the five boys left they agreed with the girls no to
    mention anything about their already formed group and that if someone would
    ask, either the boys or the girls, to join some other group they will say that
    they have to think about it.

    Thirty minutes after the last of
    the representative Guardians arrived with her group to the compound and the last
    participant from her cave laid his backpack on an upper bunk bed, a stern
    elderly staff member with a black ribbon across his chest, reading in red
    letters: “GECP DISCIPLINARY SUPERVISOR”, walked into the compound and stopped
    in front of the lectern.

    “Silence!” The elderly man, who,
    according to his ribbon, was the disciplinary supervisor of the Great Earth’s
    Core Pursuit event, amplified his voice with his mist energy and the dominating
    aura of a Beginner phase Mist Lord exploded out him upward.

    Instantly the more than five
    thousands coreless participants, and even four of the representative Guardians,
    were paralyzed.

    “Welcome to the one in a life time
    event, the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit”. 
    The elderly man spoke with an indifferent tone and eyes that gave the
    impression that they could inspect every detail of every person in the
    compound, altogether!

    “I’m the disciplinary supervisor of
    the event and the man who is responsible for overwatching the proceeding of the
    event in cave zero thirty nine, El-Eden’s designated cave”. The disciplinary
    supervisor drew back his aura but kept his harsh tone.

    “Participants and representative
    Guardians, every year there are tens of thousands new participants in the Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit. To ensure a safe and bright hunt for each and every one
    of the tens of thousands participant, a set of rules has to be enforced.

    “The rules are not complex.
    Starting with the first and most important one, participants are not allowed to
    enter the unsafe zone!  Inside cave zero
    thirty nine are two tunnels, of which, one is a forbidden tunnel leading deeper
    into the beasts’ territory. The unsafe zone is guarded at all times by the event’s
    Guardians that will disqualify any participant who will try to go through any tunnel
    besides the one he or she entered from to cave zero thirty nine.

    “The second rule should already be
    known to most of you but still require clarification. Twenty four hours after
    the beginning of the event, all participants, whether if you found an Earth’s
    Core or did not, must get back immediately to the attendant at the entrance of
    cave zero thirty nine to sign that you participated in the event and your
    finds.

    “DON’T BE MISTAKEN!” The
    disciplinary supervisor hastened to say. The preceding part was always the
    cause for many misunderstandings that he had no patient to deal with. “Even if
    you come by with empty hands, the event’s organizers, our Supreme Rulers,
    directed us, staff members of the event, to keep a stock of Earth’s Cores
    available for distribution to any of the unlucky ones. Please realize, all of
    you, participation in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit is not a chance for you to
    gain Earth’s Cores in order to become Mist Users. “Participation” means that
    you get one chance to find the best Earth’s Core out there to better your position
    and future prospects as dignified Mist User!”

    “Best Earth’s Core?”

    “High quality Earth’s Cores?”

    “They definitely won’t give those
    who come back empty handed any good Earth’s Cores”.

    “Yeah, probably the lowest quality
    Earth’s Cores…”

    “Common Earth’s Cores like my mom’s
    and dad’s…”

    “High quality Earth’s Core! High
    quality Earth’s Core! High quality Earth’s Core!”

    “Oooo!”

    A wave of whispers and speculation
    mixed with cries of excitement could not help but resonate in the compound. To
    the ten years old coreless children the knowledge that they will soon pass the threshold
    toward the greatest opportunity that they will ever get in their entire life, to
    receive the chance to search for those legendary Earth’s Core that only one in
    a million can find, made many of them drool buckets.

    “Settle down, settle down…” The
    elderly man said mildly. Although the disciplinary supervisor, he still gave
    his consent, to some degree, for the children’s boisterous excitement. After
    all, with children the louder the noise the higher the spirit and in a pitiful
    event, such as the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, sometimes high spirit was adequate
    to compensate the lack of fortune that many will encounter.

    “Participants of cave eighty seven,
    quiet down!”

    “Participants of cave three, stop
    talking!”

    “Participants of cave one hundred
    and forty one, keep it down!”

    The representative Guardians saw
    that the disciplinary supervisor, an A level Mist User they all respected, did
    not want to topple the children’s enthusiasm by force like when he entered, so
    they used their own aura to aid him, since their aura and voices were both
    familiar and, in a way, more authoritative from the perspective of the children
    they were responsible of.

    “Now that all of you have calmed
    down, know that I will not accept any more interruption. Try me and I will cut
    hours from your time of the hunt!” The voice of elderly disciplinary supervisor
    sounded resolute and right after it sank in the mind of every child in the
    compound, a hush fell over.

    “The third rule I should mention is
    an extension of the second rule and it is about the time bracelets. Tomorrow,
    before entering cave zero thirty nine, each of you will receive a time bracelet
    which function as a timer that will show you how long do you have in the hunt
    until you have to return. The time bracelets are green and in addition to time,
    they can also tell your geographical location in cave zero thirty nine. The
    time bracelet will calculate your remaining time and distant from tunnel three
    hundred and twelve and will turn red to notify that you should head back before
    the end of the twenty four hours you each have in the hunt. Anyone who will
    dare to be late will not receive an Earth’s Core, whether if he or she found
    one or not, until a month after the official end day of the event!”

  • edited September 2015

    Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 8 – Pursuing Earth’s Cores

     

     

    “Now then, the fourth and last rule…” The disciplinary
    supervisor nocked on the lectern. “No one is allowed to venture outside of your
    residency. To those of you who have difficulties to understand, you cannot
    leave to compound we are currently in. And once you will be divided and
    transferred to the two square buildings, you cannot leave them, either, without
    permission! There will not be farther explanations. Disobey any of the four
    rules and think of it as if you brought upon yourselves the wrath of Supreme
    Rulers! ” The disciplinary supervisor turned and left the compound with his
    last warning still roaming in the air.

    From start to finish the elderly disciplinary supervisor did
    not say anything regarding fights, thefts or even grouping many against one
    during the “Hunt”, as he named the pinnacle part of the “Great Earth’s Core
    Pursuit”. Only the participants who were in organized group took notice of it,
    some wondering, others secretly rejoicing. Of course, the seven representative
    Guardians already knew the reason why the disciplinary supervisor did not say
    anything about these conducts. Regardless of the young participants’ success
    rate in this event, in the end there will not be a child who will not have an
    Earth’s Core. So why not? Why not add a little bit more challenge besides the required
    luck? The earlier these children will learn how to safeguard their fortune, the
    more they will deserve to keep it.

    There were not any quarrels or arguments about bottom bunk
    beds or who showers first when the representative Guardians finished helping
    the girls settle in the second floor and afterwards left the compound.

    In eight o’clock in the evening, after snacking on some of
    their rotations, Zax and the thousands other boys and girls received one
    nutrition tablet, each, from a group of fifty or so stuff members which came by
    the compound and had white ribbons hanging from their shoulders to their waist,
    which read in brown letter: ”GECP SERVING STAFF”.

    The tablets were orange with smooth surface and seemed easy
    enough to swallow.

    “Listen, everyone, the nutrition tablets that you received
    should last you for twenty four hours. You should take them on an empty stomach
    tomorrow morning, so if you brought food with you, either eat it now or after
    the event, otherwise you’ll feel nausea and abdominal pains. If some of you
    still can’t swallow tablets, it is fine to also chew on them or drink them with
    water, however the taste will be awfully bitter so be aware and don’t waste
    them by spiting them out. Eat them and your energy will last till the end of
    your search”. One stuff member on each floor explained to the groups of boys
    and girls. When the stuff members finished distributing the nutrition tablets
    they bid the young participants good night and a bountiful search.

    The next morning at four o’clock, thousands of snack
    wrappers were thrown around the compound. The representative Guardians who came
    to gather their groups were momentarily stunned by the sight of so much littering.
    It appeared that during the night someone managed to jam the compound trash
    chutes, all twenty in the boys’ floor.

    The seven representative Guardians sighed in union. The
    disciplinary supervisor will rebuke them no doubt.

    “Participants of cave eighty seven,
    get yourself organized and ready to leave…”

    “Participants of cave three collect
    your backpacks and get ready to leave…”

    “Participants of cave one hundred
    and forty one, you have ten minutes to get organized…”

    The seven representative Guardians led their groups in seven
    long lines to the entrance of tunnel three hundred and twelve.

    Tunnel three hundred and twelve was extremely large! At
    least three hundred meters wide and two hundred and fifty meters tall. Its
    length from cave one hundred and thirty nine to cave zero thirty nine was also
    no joke, about seven hundred meters. A white partition of identical length
    split the tunnel into two sides, one for the returning participants of the previous
    day who came in bunches, the other for the new participants and their leading
    representative Guardians.

    Zax and his group of eight converged at the head of the row
    they were part from during the long walk to the other side of the tunnel.

    “Did you take the nutrition tablets, Zax?” Zetsa asked.

    To not seem partial she tilted her head toward the rest of
    the group. She did so even though she was not obligated to do more than her
    representative Guardian’s duties, which were similar to the event’s Guardians’
    duties.

    “Not yet”. Zax answered.

    “Good. Take it two hours after the beginning of the search”.
    Zetsa respond.

    “Seriously, Zax, how lucky of you to have a Mist Master for
    an elder sister”. Merly babbled.

    “Did he say…?!”

    Not many of cave twenty five’s participants knew of the
    special relationship between one of their peers and their representative
    Guardian. Because of their parents they all knew that Zetsa was actually “Miss
    Zetsa”, a B level Mist User, Mist Master, capable of appraising the density of
    the mist inside an Earth’s Core and determine its quality. Hearing what that
    one boy said to that other boy, who were both clenched together with six other
    kids, about Zetsa, a Mist Master, all the close by participants from cave
    twenty five wanted to puke their guts from envy.

    “That boy… was “Zax” his name? Is he Miss Zetsa’s little
    brother?!”

    “Why didn’t you try to approach him?!”

    “How should I have known?!”

    “That boy is cute, kinda…”

    “Crap, it looks like he is already in a group!”

    “See how they walk close to each other… Try convincing him
    to join us”.

    “That girl is not his girlfriend, is she?”

    “I’m much prettier than that one, urgh…”

    “You try! Argh… he is avoiding stares, he can hear us, how pathetic
    are we…”

    “You’re pathetic! He freaking has a Mist Master to his
    disposal!”

    Silent whispers escalated to loud whimpers. Soon every
    participant knew about and cursed that one kid from cave twenty five who was
    the little brother of a Mist Master representative Guardian. Luckily, not
    everyone was sure who the specific boy everybody talked about was since there
    were thousands all around them.

    In Zax’s group of eight, seven pairs of eyes looked at Merly
    with furious expressions.

    “Argh… I’m sorry everyone!” Merly lowered his flushed
    cheeks. “But… but… now that they know that Zax is Miss Zetsa’s little brother,
    maybe nobody will mess with our group”. Merly did not have the same level of
    sharpness and adulation as Zushi or the confidence to look at his friends’ eyes
    as he made up the excuse.

    “They can still follow us and grab the Earth’s Cores on our
    path before we do. Do you think Miss Zetsa is the kind of person to threaten children
    if that’ll happen?” Dane said.

    “But they don’t know-”

    “Yeah, I’ll bet some of them will be willing to try their
    chances anyway. Miss Zetsa as her own duties in this event…”

    The group’s internal conversation was in low voices so that
    others will not listen. However, that only heightened the agitation among the
    eight participants.

    “Stop arguing, it doesn’t matter anymore what others have
    heard. When the search will start just keep your eyes on the surrounding and if
    anyone will follow you, put a hostile front together to scare them”. Zetsa
    interfered. Her voice reached only the ears of her little brother’s friends. “I
    and the other representative Guardians, most of the time, will do patrols
    around the cave. If you want me to appraise Earth’s Cores, you can meet me
    every three hours beneath the Hooked Beak rock, it’s a forty meters tall rock,
    twenty meter wide from its base, seven kilometers west of the other side of the
    tunnel”.

    Zetsa’s offer brought excited smiles on the little faces of
    Zax’s friends. To have the support of a Mist Master they all were utterly
    thankful to the magnificent Miss Zetsa.

     “Zax”, Zetsa focused her
    voice only for her little brother to hear. “When we’ll get to the other side of
    the tunnel read my aura briefly with your Soul Sense. I’ll show you the exact
    direction to the Hooked Beak rock”.

    Along the path to the other side of the tunnel nearly a
    hundred staff members distributed green bracelets that showed “24:00:00” in
    neon colors, bright orange red.

    “The timer will start when you’ll enter cave zero thirty
    nine. Remember to return when its color change to red!” Some of the staff
    membered bothered to explain.

    At the end of the tunnel the seven representative Guardians
    stopped. Right where the partition ended, a tall old lady stood. By the look of
    it the old lady was the attendant responsible to sign the returning
    participants and their findings and collect from them the time bracelets.

    The seven representative Guardians bowed respectfully toward
    the old lady. Clearly she was not as simple as her outward appearance.

    “May I?” One of the seven representative Guardians asked the
    other six and they all nodded or shrugged.

    The representative Guardian turned to the thousands of
    coreless participants behind him with a deep voice. “Twenty four hours. That’s
    all you have. Now, there will be no pushing or shoving until everybody is out
    of the tunnel. You lot, head out…” The representative Guardian then began to
    send group, after group, after group of participants to cave zero thirty nine
    in bunches of fifty.

    Since Zax’s group was at the head of their row, they got to
    be among the firsts to enter cave zero thirty nine. Zax remembered what Zetsa
    told him and for a split second extended his Soul Sense when he passed by her.
    He did not know how, but when Zetsa was in the range of his Soul Sense a
    minuscule portion of an environmental essence flashed in his inner mind and
    left a gut feeling that acted as a trail to the Hooked Beak rock, that is, as long
    as was willing to follow it.

    “Come on, there are too many participants coming out. Let’s
    get far enough so no one will be able to follow!” Zax said and the other seven
    agreed. A warm tingly feeling spread through their bodies, the hair on their
    hands and legs stood on end and a shining glint appeared in everybody eyes. The
    hunt as began!

     

    Cave zero thirty nine was vast like a small city cave. The
    shape of the cave was not a perfect square, but it was one more than it was a
    circle. The cave stretched far and wide, nine kilometers or so in each
    direction. It was more similar to the nature reserve caves than cave zero
    eight. Though it had its wild element in the lush vegetation and rough terrain,
    there were also unpaved roads, shoes footprints and unsurprisingly and quite
    sadly, candy wrappers…

    After two hour in the search Zax’s group took their
    nutrition tablets. As they advanced deeper into the cave they became more
    pumped up for the search. They were all aware of the process of finding Earth’s
    Cores since it was not complicated.

    Earth’s Cores were most of the time beneath the earth. In
    the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit to find Earth’s Core there were only three ways.
    The first way was the most draining and uncertain, digging. Finding a spot which
    pleases the eye, kneeling and hoping that underneath it there is an Earth’s
    Core.

    The second way was venturing throughout the cave. There was
    not a shortage of Earth’s Cores that were partly above the surface, stuck to
    heavy rock or completely out of the ground. The challenge was detecting them
    between the dense vegetation and even the earth that had similar shades of
    color. If following the second way, one can find an Earth’s Core ten minutes
    into the search or come back empty handed. Regardless of the results, one will
    benefit from a bit of insight into the beasts’ vicinity and a great adventure
    story.

    The third way was the least demanding but the most heinous
    and did not require any profound explanation. The third way was grouping
    against and stealing from other participants.

    “I bet the nature reserve caves have plenty Earth’s Core
    scatter around”. Serah groaned. It has been three hours since their group of eight
    entered cave zero thirty nine and yet they could not find one Earth’s Core in
    this miserly cave.

    “There can be hundreds of thousands of Earth’s Core in the
    nature reserve caves, and it still will not change anything. No one is allowed,
    apart from the Supreme Rulers and selected few, to go beyond the paved roads
    without a permit, and they don’t give any for Earth’s Cores hunting”. Zushi
    said aloud what everyone already thought in respond, even Serah.

    In the residential caves of Kingdom Earth it had been couple
    of hundred years since someone, literally, stumbled upon an Earth’s Core. For
    various reasons, fanaticism – which can be interpreted as fear of Nature – as
    the most prominent, pursuing Earth’s Cores in Kingdom Earth was an illegal
    activity. If someone accidentally found one in a residential cave it still
    would have been tolerable, but if someone dared trespassing into the secure
    areas of the nature reserve caves, a severe punishment will be inflicted upon
    them.

    Now, why would someone want an Earth’s Core when everyone in
    the general public already had one? Well, the common answer will be for money.
    Pursuing Earth’s Cores the conventional way in Kingdom Earth was indeed
    illegal, but selling and buying Earth’s Cores was the unconventional market
    that only the top tier of the high class of Kingdom Earth got to enjoy, since
    they, basically, were the only ones who could afford it.

    Normally, in Kingdom Earth, Earth’s Cores are divided one
    per person regardless of statues. The exceptions are often Earth’s Cores that
    are donated to Martial or scientific research, and less often, Earth’s Cores
    that are found by Mist Users who ventured in the beasts’ territory.

    “I wonder…” Zax said in a speculating tone.

    “What’s up, Zax?” Merly asked.

    “Stop everyone”. Zax did not give an answer right away. The
    group was deep into the forest; about two kilometers from where they came from,
    lifting small rocks and blowing leaves that concealed the ground.

    “Did you find an Earth’s Core?” Anet was the first to ask
    and besides her the rest of the group waited in anticipation for good news.

    “No, I didn’t”. Zax waved his hand casually, shattering the
    hope of his friends. “But wait… Big sis taught me something which might help…” Zax
    said vaguely on purpose. Anything that was related to his training could not be
    shared with others without his Mor’s permission first.

    Focusing with his inner minds, Zax used his Soul Sense to
    the best of his abilities to grasp some of the secrets of his surroundings. An
    invisible force in the shape of a bubble released from Zax’s soul and surveyed
    the space in its small domain.

    Zax frowned, though his Soul Sense was much more helpful
    than all his other senses in this situation, it was still very limited. Zax
    walked like a nomad, not doing his baffled friends the favor of illuminating
    their wondering minds of what he was doing, nor paying attention to them at
    all. Using his Soul Sense was very straining and demanded Zax to maintain his
    utmost level of concentration. Then again, after ten minutes it undeniably paid
    off marvelously! 

    “Hahaha!” Zax laughed as his hands dug into the ground.

    “Show it to us, Zax, what are you digging?”

    “Zax, come on. You have been quiet for some time. Did you
    find an Earth’s Core? What did Miss Zetsa taught you?”

    “Dig there!” Zax pointed his finger without even raising his
    gaze from the hard soil. “Pick a sharp stone to cut it. It’s just beneath the
    rightmost tree’s root!”

    Zax dug nine centimeters before the tip of his index finger
    felt the buried, roundish smooth surface. The light reflected from the smooth
    surface of the first Earth’s that he found mirror the exquisite mist that was
    trap inside.

    “By our glorious Supreme Ruler!” Weysey cried. “There are
    two! Guys, there are two Earth’s Cores under the root!”

    “What?” Even Zax was in shock. He was sure that there was
    only one Earth’s Core buried two centimeters under the bulk root.

    “One here, two less than a meter over there!” Mi, the shyest
    member of the group, gasped stupefied. “Amazing, Zax, you are too amazing”. She
    said in total admiration and jumped on Zax’s back.

    “Ah?” Zax felt awkward.

    “Amazing!” Dane burst laughing. “O, almighty lord Zax, allow
    me to show you my deepest affection as well”. He jumped on Zax with perky lips,
    ready to kiss him.

    Before Zax had the chance to react. “Me too, hahaha, make
    place, Mi, Dane”. Merly butted in with more than fifty kilos of pure fat
    dangling in his stomach as he prepared himself to jump on Zax.

    Sensing an impending disaster, with a swift motion Zax
    pushed Mi and Dance off his back rolled with the newfound Earth’s Core in his
    right hand before Merly crashed on him.

    “Stop it!” Serah reprimanded the three overexcited group
    members. As a matter of fact, she, too, was beyond words a moment ago. However,
    when she saw how friendly Mi let herself be with Zax, it pissed her somewhat.

    “Are you okay?” Anet, much like Serah, felt uneasy seeing
    how affectionate Mi was with Zax. Nonetheless, she was too reserved to show it.

    “Yeah, sure”. Zax got up with a grin. He retrieved his Soul
    Sense and shifted his consciousness back to the outer mind. “Look”. He lifted
    his hand for Anet and Serah, the two closest to him, to see the thing which
    everyone currently in cave zero thirty nine coveted.

    “Hahaha, Zax, if you can repeat whatever you did to find these
    Earth’s Cores our search will end earlier than we expected”. Zushi and Weysey
    stepped forward together, each holding a round and brownish Earth’s Core.

    “You are exaggerating, Zushi, I only found two Earth’s
    Cores. The third on was unexpected”.

    A bit reluctant, Zushi and Weysey passed the two Earth’s
    Cores to Zax. “Which one are you planning to take for yourself?” Zushi asked.

    Seeing the envious glances of his friends Zax sighed
    inwardly and looked at the three Earth’s Cores in his hands. He was interested
    in the Earth’s Core that he missed. Using his Soul Sense one more time, he was
    curious if he could perceive its existence. Oddly enough, there were no
    problems sensing it at all. His Soul Sense detected three round objects with
    smooth surfaces. Now if Zax had a soul comparable to that of a Mist Master’s,
    his Soul Sense could then have penetrated the Earth’s Cores’ shells to
    determine their quality.

    “The seven of you can compete for all three”. Zax gave the
    three Earth’s Cores back to Zushi. He decided to relinquish is right as the one
    who discover them, according to their prior agreement, in favor of his friends.
    “We’ll find more anyway”. Though he sounded confident, Zax knew that he was
    insanely lucky to already find three Earth’s Cores. Soul Sense or not, it will
    not be easy to find another five.

    “Zax…” Amazed, Serah wanted to sway his mind, but Zax turned
    his back before she could say anything.

    “Are you sure Zax?” Dane asked.

    “Yeah, don’t be overconfident. We are not the first group in
    this year event. More than ten thousand participants already were here before
    us…” Zushi reminded.

    Although each of his friends tried to convince him, Zax knew
    that they also coveted these three Earth’s Cores very much. The chances of them
    being of better quality than the ones the event’s organizers have kept aside
    were a lot higher.

    “Forget it. I’ve already made up my mind. Do rock paper
    scissor already, the bracelets show that we still have more than twenty hours.
    Who knows, maybe in another three hours we will find three more Earth’s Core”.

    Having nothing more to say, the seven looked at each other
    and raised their hand.

    “I wonder who will win…” Zax saw a big rock with flat
    surface and sat on it. “Let’s see if I can predict what each will do”. The
    eight were pretty close to him, within the range of his Soul Sense. “Eh!” Zax
    cried astonished beyond belief. He jumped on his feet, distracting his friends
    from the first round of rock paper scissor.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 9 – Earth’s Cores Are Peculiar

     

    Staring at the rock he sat on, and then confirming yet again
    with his Soul Sense, a stupefied expression spread on Zax’s face.

    A stash of Earth’s Cores! A cluster of more than one hundred
    Earth’s Cores! Some embedded in the rock, some underneath it.

    “Such a great number! At least one must be! At least one!”
    Among the so many Earth’s Cores Zax nervously said to himself. “D… D… At least
    one golden pillow, D level Earth’s Core!” The one in a million Earth’s Core…
    Was it really impossible?

    “Zax?” His friends asked. Looking at his fervent behavior a
    daring thought popped up in their mind which they were too afraid to say aloud.
    “More Earth’s Cores?!”

    Ignoring his friends, Zax pulled his right arm to his waist.
    A concentration of Qi swirled in his upper right side of the body.

    “Ah!” Zax bellowed, throwing a straight punch at the rook.

    BAM!

    The rock shivered however there was not even a sign of a
    crack.

    Seeing how solid the rock was and how his punch barely moved
    it, Zax did not care and readied himself to punch once more.

    BAM!

    Zax’s punch connected with the rock. The accumulated Qi in
    his arm strengthened his muscles, bones and toughen his skin, yet the rock
    still only shivered.

    The reasons for Zax’s inability to break the rock were not
    because the condense amount of Earth’s Cores that somehow affected the rock
    structure. The rock itself had nothing special to it. Zax’s inability was due
    to the low level of his Qi, his lack of technique in both controlling his Qi
    and the proper movement of his body and the use of the two simultaneously.

    At the moment Zax was not aware of his gauche internal and
    external properties nor had the guidance and time to learn how to be more proficient
    in any of them.

    BAM!

    In the third punch Zax’s fingers began to tingle.

    BAM!

    After the forth punch all five finger were numb.

    “Tell us, Zax, did you find more…?” Weysey asked.

    The seven completely forgotten about the rock paper scissor
    and the three Earth’s Core they had to compete for. Zax wild manner upset them.
    Among the seven only three were familiar with Zax’s fierceness and even their
    hearts shook each time a “BAM” echoed. If it was them, broken bones would have
    bulge from their hands after the first punch, that is, if they had to guts to
    punch with will all of their might like Zax.

    “Gather rocks, help him!” Zushi instructed the others. As
    the most poised he came to the decision. He trusted Zax intuition and the weird
    technique, or what not, that Miss Zetsa taught him in order to find Earth’s
    Cores.

    Immediately the others started to look for sturdy rocks that
    they could lift, however…

     BAM!

    “Can we even get close?” Mi hesitated.

    The rock in question was big enough for one person to sit
    on, but not for five to hit at the same time and Zax did not leave any opening
    for the others to join in.

    BAM!

    CRACK!

    After the sixth punch Zax fell on his butt and a small crack
    finally appeared on the rock. Panting Zax looked at his right hand. It seems
    that even with the support of his Qi he could not avoid breaking skin and shedding
    some blood.

    “Why'd you have to go so far?!” Surprisingly Anet beat Serah
    in being the first one to scold Zax. “Give me your hand”. She sat down next to
    him and from her backpack took out antiseptic spray and a bandage roll.

    “It’s not hurting”. Zax said with a smile. He finally
    cracked the rock. Unfortunately, he dispersed too much Qi executing his
    unrefined technique and had to rest before his body could replenish his internal
    reservoirs. Thankfully, the nutrition tablet helped speed up the process.

    “Try to break the rock were I cracked it”. Zax pointed at
    the line that appeared on the rock’s surface. “Don’t force yourself and be
    careful”. Since his friends could not use Qi to strengthen the skin of their
    hands, it was clear to him that even if by smashing rock against rock the force
    of the thrust will suffice to hurt their hand worse than his.

    Dane was the first to check out the rock. He looked through
    the crack but it was too thin. “Are there really Earth’s Cores in there?” He
    surveyed the stone that he held, it weighted approximately four kilos. To use
    it to break a rock that seemed to weight ninety kilos was exhausting just by
    thinking of all the efforts involved.

    “Trust me, it won’t take too long and you’ll see for
    yourself”. Zas reassured his friends. He was also sure that with the great
    number of Earth’s Cores inside the rock, it was not that much solid inside. The
    crack that he made appeared thin and meaningless on the outside, but on the
    inside…

    Zax used his Soul Sense to assess how deep the fracture spread.
    “Should be deep”. He said to himself. Though the surface of the rock cracked
    only after the sixth punch, it was probable that the crack initiated from the
    inside. “Eh!” Zax sprang to his feet. “Where are they? Where are they?” He was
    utterly frantic. “The Earth’s Cores”, he cried. “I can’t find them… Not inside
    the rock. Not beneath it. There were more than a hundred. WHERE ARE THEY?!”

    “A hundred Earth’s Cores!” The seven gasped. Such a ridiculous
    notion was on the verge of insanity.

    With no regard to his current physical and internal state,
    Zax accumulated his Qi instinctively in the right half of his body. His face
    went pale, but it happened so fast. He no longer repeated the same kind of movement
    for a fist and a punch. He unconsciously remembered a certain move that he saw;
    watching the Earth’s Core’s showdowns and his inner mind gave the instruction.
    The fingers in his right hand stretched, his hand actually formed the shape of
    a spearhead, the rotation of his body originated from the toe in his right foot
    and from there his Qi surged up with the rotation.

    “Graah!” Zax roared.

    PENG!

    Zax’s right hand penetrated through the crack. His hand sank
    into the rock up to the wrist. In a scorch sound the rock split in two. The
    shocking thing was that inside there was truly nothing.

    “It can’t be!” Zax was dazed. Blood covered his fingers and
    dripped from them to ground. Using his Soul Sense Zax ran around, searching for
    the lost Earth’s Cores.

    “Stop him!” Dane called. He was sorry that he asked Zax if
    there were Earth’s Cores in the rock. Because of him, he thought, Zax went
    crazy and broke two of his own fingers, maybe more. “Help me stop him!” Dane
    grab Zax by the shoulders and Merly helped him. “Zax! Your hand, Zax! Stop
    struggling!” The two screamed at him.

    Zushi and Weysey also tried to block Zax from the front, but
    the look in his eyes was strange, as if he did not see or hear them. To just
    two of them Zax was too strong to stop, but with Zushi and Weysey they managed
    to pin him to the ground. It also helped that he did not fight back and lost consciousness.

    Five hours later.

    Zax regained consciousness. Opening his eyes he saw the
    trees’ branches above him. Beneath his head he felt something soft, a backpack.
    Moving himself a little he found his friends around him, digging, moving rocks,
    tearing roots.

    “Wha-” An excruciating pain in his right hand made him gulp
    his words. Zax looked at his right hand. A hardening bandage was wrapped around
    it and prevented him from moving his fingers. He also felt something cold
    covering his hand, but could not tell what it was just by feeling.

    “Hey, Zax woke up”. Mi that was searching nearest to him
    informed the others.

    “Idiot! Stupid! Brute!” Serah cursed Zax. Her eyes were red,
    she held back her tears. She did not want to cry for the idiot who scared her.
    Once was more than enough…

    “What? Why did I do?” Zax asked baffled. Serah and Anet were
    holding each other hands. Zushi, Dane, Weysey and Merly also stared at him
    angrily. The seven gathered together around Zax.

    “What sort of technique did Miss Zetsa taught you to
    discover Earth’s Cores”? Zushi inquired. He was sure that Zax’s method was more
    than a trick, picking up an irregularity in the surrounding that indicated the presence
    of an Earth’s Core. Definitely a technique!

    After Zax lost consciousness they all started to speculate.
    A technique to find Earth’s Cores… How come they never heard of such thing?
    Since the seven of them enrolled to post Core School, most of what they were
    learning was how to prepare themselves to the greatest event in a coreless
    child’s life, how to conduct themselves in this event and what to do after,
    when they will hold their one and only Earth’s Core in their hands.

    The curriculum was identical to an almost equal extent in
    all schools. If there was a technique, a method to better the chances of the
    younger generation would they been kept secret? Only if it was dangerous, the
    seven reached to the same conclusion.

    Zax was lost of words. What sort of technique did he learn
    from his big sis? None that was related to finding Earth’s Cores. All he used
    was his Soul Sense, but he could not tell that to his friend so he had to make
    up an excuse.

    “Never mind that”. Zax replied at last in an attempt to
    change the subject. “What have you done to the roots and earth?” His friends
    looked like minute size land workers, soiled from head to toe.

    “We were searching your Earth’s Cores”. Wesey said as though
    it was obvious.

    “My Earth’s Cores? The hundred Earth’s Cores!” Zax
    remembered. He was about to use his Soul Sense, but he noticed the rook that he
    split to two.

    The insides of the two halves were completely solid. “The
    fracture…” Zax searched for what gave him the confidence to put his all for
    breaking the, estimated, ninety kilos rock. “How deep did the fracture go in?
    Was there a fracture at all?” There were no Earth’s Cores inside, so the
    internal structure of the rock could not be anything but solid. The crack that
    he made with his punches, it was as deep as the eyes close, that is, not at
    all.

    On one hand, Zax was extremely disappointment and confuses,
    he definitely sensed them, the Earth’s Cores, but after going through so much
    trouble, where were they? On the other hand he was absolutely astonished. “I
    split a solid rock in one move that I unintentionally remembered and never
    before practiced?”

    The punches were the product of a basic Qi utilization
    technique that he learnt from his big sister to strengthen a specific part of
    his body. In contrast, the spearhead strike was a genuine offensive technique
    that he merely saw on screen. Zax did not even know the name of the spearhead
    strike and when he thought to review what he did with his inner mind it was too
    hazy. What he tried to remember was more than sights and sounds; it was the concerted
    movement of his body and Qi. To survey the past of these two profound aspects
    was still beyond his soul’s level.

    “Forget about it”. Zushi said to everyone. “Zax awake now.
    Anet, Merly and Dane won each of the three Earth’s Cores, unless you do want
    one of them, Zax?”

    “I’m good”. Zax replied, got up on his feet and picked his
    backpack.

    “Then let’s keep searching. We have more than thirteen hours
    to find five more Earth’s Cores. We can go deeper into the cave, or go to the
    direction of the Hooked Beak rock. If we get there under a hour we might catch
    Miss Zetsa and she will appraise the three Earth’s Cores. Maybe we’ll find more
    on our way”.

    “Let’s keep heading deeper. It’s not like we have additional
    Earth’s Cores to replace the ones we already got if their quality is bad. We
    should keep searching and go in the direction that Zax found the three Earth’s
    Cores”. Dane said. He was right on mark. With only three Earth’s Cores, even if
    each of them had an Earth’s Core, it was pointless to assess their quality, at
    most for personal knowledge.

     “Everyone agree with
    Dane’s suggestion?” Zushi asked.

    Everyone nodded. Somehow and somewhere during their search,
    the role of the group’s leader was passed on to him without anyone noticing. It
    did not even crossed Zax’s mind that Zushi did not ask for his approval, and
    Zushi also did not realize that he was the one who led the decisions making. Zax
    from the beginning was good in being just a member of the group, and Zushi just
    wanted a righteous search for the whole group. Taking one’s position without
    him dwelling on it was part of the beautiful simplicity of a child’s mind.

    “A friend of mine told me that the best Earth’s Cores can be
    found around the unsafe zone”. Zax recalled Take’s advice. “We don’t need to
    enter the unsafe zone, just a few kilometers from it should be fine”. He hastily
    added.

    A distant location but with a higher success rate for
    finding quality Earth’s Cores was as good or better location than anywhere
    around. The only thing they had to lose was time. Than again, at worse, they
    will return late from the search, but the Earth’s Cores that they will find
    will eventually still be theirs.

    “Sounds good, but it’s really far. We should make haste”.
    Zushi smiled.

    Zushi’s group of eight proceeded in direction of the two
    Earth’s Cores that Weysey dug out. They kept searching with their eyes alone since
    they wanted to move quickly.

    A short unproductive hour had passed.

    “It’s useless. That group went east of us-” Mi talked about
    a group that they encountered around twenty minutes ago.

    They were a group of four girls and two boys. When they met
    no one bothered to exchange any words. Each group was satisfied with the number
    of its members and neither suspected that the other already found Earth’s
    Cores, or so it seemed.

    “West of us”. Zushi corrected her. “East is the other side.
    And why are you mentioning them? Do you want us to follow?”

    “We can… can’t we?” Being asked for her opinion in a matter
    that regarded the course of the whole group has put Mi in an awkward position
    to her personality. “They went northwest…” She waited for Zushi to correct her
    again, in case the second time she was wrong. Zushi said nothing and so she
    continued. “They did not look around for Earth’s Cores when they passed us. It
    felt like they had a place in mind-”

    “We also have a place in mind”. Weysey said.

    “Yes, but we are keep searching for Earth’s Cores and it
    slowing us down”.

    “You’ve got a point”. Zushi backed Mi. “Northwest will not
    set us out of our course in a great margin. Actually, it’s not like any of us
    knows the way to the unsafe zone. Amm… I’m up with going northwest. After all,
    we’ll still be heading to the opposite direction from tunnel three hundred and
    twelve”.

    “If Zushi says so…” Weysey shrugged his shoulders.

    “Dane, Anet, Zax, Merly, Serah?” Zushi asked.

    “Okay”.

    “Yes”.

    “I’m fine either way”.

    “Of course you are. You already got an Earth’s Core. I’m
    fine as well”.

    “Zax?” Zushi turned to Zax who strolled at the back of the
    group. “What’s up? You did not speak a lot since you woke up”.

    Zax’s expression was fixated on the ground. When he heard
    Zushi calls him he raised he head as if he woke up from a dream. “What? Yes.
    Let’s go northwest… sorry, I’m just thinking”. He said and lowered his reflective
    gaze to the ground once more.

    When the group changed course northwest, Zax was preoccupied
    with pondering at the back.

    An Earth’s Core that in retrospect should have been in the
    range of his Soul Sense he missed… A cluster of Earth’s Cores that essentially
    was not there he supposedly discovered… What was there, his Soul Sense missed
    and what was not, he found.

    “What’s wrong with my Soul Sense?” Zax pondered. “The
    Earth’s Cores… I was sure that inside the rock and beneath it were more than a
    hundred Earth’s Cores, but when I checked again they completely disappeared and
    then I lost control of myself”. The scenes of him parting the rock, frantically
    looking for the absent Earth’s Core, ignoring the calls of his friends and
    fainting played in his inner mind over and over.

    “Did I really lose control?” As his insight sharpened Zax
    began to question. When it happened, was his mind not as clear as it is now? “I
    was fully aware”. Parting a ninety kilo rock? “Am I not the Tal of my
    remarkable big sis? With my best it’s not impossible”. He started answering his
    own doubts. Frantically searching? “How can I not look where a hundred Earth’s
    Core disappeared to?” Ignoring the calls of his friends? “They don’t have a
    Soul Sense… they could not understand, I didn’t ignore them, finding the
    Earth’s Core was just too urgent”. Fainting? “Big sis told me not to exhaust my
    Qi”.

    Nevertheless, and with all the answers that he came up with,
    Zax still hesitated to try out his Soul Sense. There was one thing that was
    tied to his use of Soul Sense which scared him, one question. The environmental
    essence of cave zero thirty nine, a beasts’ cave. “Am I incapable of dealing
    with it for a prolonged time?”

    After Zax’s soul advanced to level F, he did not have the
    time to experiment with his new found ability that he suddenly was able to
    control. Using his Soul Sense to search for Earth’s Core was truly a brilliant
    idea, but was he so wretch that he was limited to a place where the
    environmental essence was less wild than the most meager of the beasts’ caves,
    a border cave?

    Zax refused to believe it. “The environmental essence of
    this cave, of any border cave, if not before then I’ll do it right now. I’ll
    surpass it!”

    A shimmer glistened in Zax’s resolute eyes, his Soul Sense explosively
    emerged and extended to a radius of a hundred and thirty five centimeters.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 10 – One Of Three Options

     

    A hundred and thirty five centimeters. By unsheathing his
    resolve and going all out, Zax actually extended the reach of his Soul Sense’s
    radius by an additional five centimeters.

    This achievement was far from expected, almost unprecedented.
    Not only his Soul Sense surpassed the reach of the common C level Mist User,
    Core Breaker, at the moment of his advancement, even at its current level,
    which in soul energy was equivalent to F level Mist User, it still was in its
    growing period.

    The reason for that, although unknown or maybe was just of
    little importance to Zax, was the shock that he suffered merely six hours ago
    or so.

    “Hmm… I can feel it, the environmental essence of this cave”.
    The microscopic particles, which were invisible to the naked eye, floated in
    the air, embedded the soil, stones and vegetation. To interpret the past of
    each particle was beyond Zax’s abilities, at most he could perceive an obscure
    hunch, an idea – like the one he had of cave zero eight’s lethal environment
    essence – of what roamed cave zero thirty nine in the other nine months of the
    year.

    Nevertheless, Zax rejoiced. The environment essence of cave
    zero thirty nine was not in any way tyrannical, on the contrary, it was quite placid.
    “If beasts live in this cave they must be very peaceful. In cave zero eight…”
    Zax shivered. If he will associate the beasts with the environmental essence,
    then cave zero thirty nine was the burrow of rabbits and cave zero eight was
    the den of tigers.

    A sudden realization dawned on Zax. “If it’s not the
    environment essence that made me… act rashly. Then, could it be the Earth’s
    Cores?” Zax gazed upon the backpacks of Merly, Anet. Inside each of them was
    one brownish Earth’s Core. “At first I thought that it was the environmental essence
    that fooled my Soul Sense to think that inside and beneath the rock there was a
    cluster of Earth’s Cores. But it doesn’t explain why I didn’t locate the third
    Earth’s Core Weysey found. If it’s not the environment essence…” Zax rehearsed
    his hypothesis. “Then it must be the Earth’s Cores!”

    “Zax”, Serah called him. “Zax!” She raised her voice.

    “Serah?” Zax’s gaze traveled impassively from the three
    backpacks to Serah’s flushed face.

    “Well, are you coming or just keep standing there?”

    “Ah… Yes!” Zax answered hastily. He was so focused on the
    three backpacks that he did not notice the growing distance between him and the
    rest of the group.

    “What were you daydreaming about?” Serah asked. Amusingly
    she, too, was a few steps behind everyone. Closest to her were Mi, Merly and
    Anet who seemed to talk about school. And at the front were Dane, Weysey and
    Zushi who also talked about something.

    “Nothing”, Zax replied. “Just thinking about Earth’s Cores,
    you know…”

    “Hmm… are you sorry for not choosing one when you had the
    chance?”

    “No”. Zax answered simply.

    Though Serah already knew that he was not the type who has a
    temperamental personality, with the subject of Earth’s Cores on the line even a
    leopard might change his spots. Be that as it may, Zax was confident in his
    friendship with Serah. Did he not give her a premium account card of the “greatest
    game in the whole wide world”, Mocca Kart, less than half a year ago? In this
    particular case, even if he met Serah for the first time in his life five
    minutes ago and gave her the premium account card she would have been so awestruck,
    she would have let him open a second in game character and choose his own kart!

    “Then, is it about the thing that big sister Zetsa taught
    you in order to find Earth’s Cores?”

    Zax hesitated to answer. Lying to the whole group and lying
    to his best friend in the face was entirely different.

    “I’m right”. Serah proclaimed. “Why do you still want to use
    what big sister Zetsa taught you? You tried before and yeah, you found three
    Earth’s Cores, but you also wasted us five hours, not to mention that when you
    went wild and broke your fingers!” As his best friend, Serah, clearly, was
    without restraint when she reprimanded Zax. And she would have done so even if
    she received one of the three Earth’s Cores.

    “Sorry…” Angry Serah reminded Zax of angry Zetsa. Avoiding
    her stern eyes, Zax, at least, was grateful that she did not ask about what his
    big sister “taught” him to find Earth’s Cores. “Could big sis have not told me
    because she thought that using Soul Sense to search for Earth’s Cores will be
    straining? Or is it because she has known that Earth’s Cores can distort the mind
    and perception of a Soul Sense?”

    Seeing how Zax lost himself in thoughts right after
    apologizing, ticked Serah off. “Whatever”, she sneered and grabbed his left
    hand. “Daydream what you want, just keep up the pace!”

    “No Earth’s Cores here either”. Zax was disappointed. When
    he just started to search with his Soul Sense he managed to find two Earth’s
    Cores and a bonus one in just ten minutes. Apart from his original goal, Zax
    wanted to find an Earth’s Core to see how his Soul Sense will react to it, but
    he had two difficulties. The first one was that Earth’s Cores were not as
    abundant and easy to find as he initially hoped. The second difficulty was his
    Soul Sense, ten to fifteen minutes was the longest that he could sustain it before
    having to rest for about the same length of time.

    Sweeping his eyes for maybe the fiftieth time at the two
    backpacks ahead of him, which belonged to Anet and Merly, and then shaking his
    head in disapproval. “It’s not the same as back then. Is it because they were
    moved or touched?”

    The two Earth’s Cores, hidden inside the inner pockets of
    the two’s backpacks, had a lingering sensation that repressed the natural
    essence, which previously reigned around the Earth’s Cores, and little by
    little resembled the presence of Anet and Merly when they were within the
    domain of his Soul Sense.

    Zax waited for two more minutes and resumed using his Soul
    Sense to search.

    “Water?” Zax sensed. Through the trees roots that entered
    and exited the domain of his Soul Sense, as he and Serah followed hand in hand
    the rest of the group, Zax grasped the obscure origin of the water in the trees
    roots and could tell that in the direction that they were heading was a large
    water reservoir. “West of us… a lake? Hard to tell. But up ahead I’m sure, less
    than a hundred meters, behind those trees there is a flowing river”. Of the
    latter part he was certain.

    As his Soul Sense indicated, roughly a hundred meter behind
    a small grove was a narrow river. Alongside the river and in it were hundreds
    of participants. The many participants numbered, more or less, a sixth of the
    event’s participants. So many that nobody batted an eyelid at the group of
    eight that Zushi led.

    “They are searching here…” Merly pointed to the obvious.
    “There is the group from before!”

    The hundreds of young participants search for Earth’s Cores
    within the calm water of the river or at its banks

    “Excuse me”, Zushi turned to a boy not far from it.

    “Yeah, what?” The boy walked barefooted along the river’s
    banks. His eyes were fixated on the muddy earth.

    “Our group heard the flowing water and came here to fill our
    empty bottles. We didn’t expect to see so many participants searching here… Can
    you tell us why you are search here and not spread around the cave?” Zushi told
    a little lie to not arouse the suspicions of the boy. By the way it looked, anyone
    who got here done it knowingly with the purpose of searching here for Earth’s
    Cores in mind. Saying that they came to fill up their water bottles was a safe
    excuse rather than saying that they followed some other group, since even after
    taking the nutrition tablets one can still exhaust himself or herself and get
    thirsty.

    “You came to fill up your water?” The boy stopped walking
    and raised an eyebrow as he surveyed Zushi’s group of eight. “From which cave
    are you?”

    “Cave twenty five”. Zushi answered.

    “Cave twenty five… the cave whose one of its participants
    the little bro of their representative Guardian!” The boy exclaimed. “Nah…
    probably none of you guys. Otherwise you would have known about the river. Or
    maybe not all of the representative Guardians know about it…?” The boy
    speculated aloud.

    “Know what about the river?” Zushi pushed for an answer.

    “Well… it won’t hurt telling you guys, you can probably
    figure it out for yourself and then it won’t matter how much you know”. The boy
    reasoned with himself. “This river is flowing from the inner beasts’ territory,
    which is past the unsafe zone, to a lake a few kilometers from where we are”.
    The boy leaned down and drew on the muddy ground with his finger. “Most of the
    guys and gals here that I met are from the same cave as I, cave three. Searching
    in and around the lake, I heard that groups of cave eight and ninety nine are
    there. Anyway, our representative Guardian told us that the river carries
    Earth’s Cores from the inner beasts’ territory”.

    “So that’s why!” Zushi eyes flew open and the others in his
    group also were thrilled.

    “You realized”. The boy said in an indifferent tone. “Some
    Earth’s Cores sink to the bottom of the river, others around the banks of the
    river and others reach the lake and sink to its depths… Eh?” The boy abruptly ceased
    talking with the group and called. “Odil! I cut my foot!”

    “Do you need help?” Anet stepped aside and asked.

    “No!” The boy nearly shouted. “No”. He repeated more calmly.
    “My friends will help me. Okay, I said enough. You guys should go do what you
    want”. Somehow the boy attitude seemed anxious.

    “Are you sure that you are fine?” Zushi pressed. He, Weysey,
    Dane, Serah and Zax, after hearing him out, imagined how severe the cut to his
    foot was…

    “Brabra”, a group of ten boys and girls arrived to the boy’s,
    Brabra’s, side in a hurry.

    “Yes, yes, yes. My friends are here now. You can go search”.
    Even with his friends around him Brabra wished for Zushi and the others to
    leave already. “Oh”, he actually had one more piece of advice, maybe out of the
    goodness that Anet conveyed to him. “If you search, don’t go to the lake. Even
    if its bottom is full of Earth’s Core it’s way too deep to dive. Some even say
    that there are beasts in it and that is why the representative Guardians of
    caves eight and ninety nine patrolling there…”

    “Thank you for telling us”. Zushi said and led his group
    back to the forest.

    With one eye on the populated river and another eye on his
    friends, Zushi leaned on tree and said. “Before I’ll present our options, does
    anyone wishes we go to the lake?” Since no one answered Zushi continued. “The first
    option is heading to the unsafe zone through the dense flora, like before. You
    already know how it is…”

    “The second option is going along the river’s banks, seeing
    as it will definitely lead us to the unsafe zone. By choosing the second option
    we will proceed faster and our chances of finding Earth’s Core might increase.
    The only problem is the many participants around the river. If we do get lucky
    and someone who belongs to a big group will notice us… You saw how that boy,
    Brabra, suddenly called “I cut my foot”. I’m sure that was a sign to his
    friends that he found an Earth’s Core. If we can guess other groups’ signs,
    they, most likely, can guess ours”.

    “The second option isn’t that bad. We just need to be cautious”.
    Serah said.

    “I also think that it will better than wasting time and reducing
    our chances in the forest. It’s not like we know which of the unpaved roads
    that passed through it can lead us to the unsafe zone…” Zax also agreed.

    Finding Earth’s Cores in the river with his Soul Sense was
    an attractive prospect. Not only could he test his Soul Sense with Earth’s Core
    that were not touched by participants, supposedly, there were more Earth’s
    Cores accumulated in the river and lake than anywhere else in cave zero thirty
    nine. And then there was that last thing… All the Earth’s Cores in the river
    and lake were said to come from beyond the unsafe zone, the acclaimed
    destination they planned to get close to as much as they were allowed, that is,
    stay couple kilometers away from it.

    “Let’s hear the third option before deciding”. Dane
    suggested.

    “Yes, maybe it’s better than the other two, is it, Zushi?”
    Merly asked.

    “Well… the third option has its pros and cons. Basically,
    it’s the same as the second options, but instead of going along the river’s
    banks we will proceed by walking in the river. Look at these guys, the river is
    not that deep. At its center the water is waist-high. If the stream remains
    steady, going in the river, not necessarily at its center, should be fine”.

    “It will slow us down significantly”. Weysey pointed.

    “That’s the drawback”, Zushi began to explain the pros and
    cons. “If we walk in the river we might spend all of our time before getting
    close to the unsafe zone. On the other hand, if there really is in the river a
    large amount of Earth’s Cores we might not need going to the unsafe zone after
    all”.

    “The water in the river isn’t deep, but watch how they struggle
    to walk in it”. Serah gestured at the participants in the river. “To reach the
    unsafe zone we will have to go against the stream. Let alone getting wet, do
    any of you feels like tiring yourself without knowing for sure that you will
    find an Earth’s Core?”

    “I only have my pajama… No one said that we’ll need a second
    pair of clothes…” Mi sulked.

    “You brought a pajama?” Weysey was taken aback. In his
    defense he grew in a farm. In weekends, when school was closed, he used to camp
    with his big brothers, wearing the same outfit for days.

    “Only one pair…” Mi seemed even more depressed since there
    still was one more night for them to spend in the event before going back home.

    “Let’s vote and be done with it”. Zushi frowned. As intelligent
    as he was, how could a ten years old boy understand the mindset of a delicate
    little girl?

    “By show of hands, who wants to search through the forest?”
    No one raised a hand and Zushi continued. “Who wants to follow and search on
    the river’s banks?”

    Surprisingly, everyone but Weysey raised their hands.

  • edited September 2015

    Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 11 – Losing
    It

    Of Zushi’s group of
    eight, the five boys walked barefooted in the shallow water of the river,
    less than a meter from the river’s banks, where the three girls followed at the
    same pace.

    Zax turned his Soul Sense On and Off every ten minutes as if
    it was a light switch. If there were Earth’s Cores in the river, his Soul Sense
    only enabled him to tell where they were not. One positive thing, which evolved
    from this tedious repetitiveness, was that little by little Zax got more used
    to the oppressive environmental essence of cave zero thirty nine and could
    separate tiny bits of its various past residues. This helped Zax to keep clear
    mind, outer and inner alike, and distinguish between the illusion of the past
    and his Soul Sense’s present discoveries.

    As time progressed, many grim faces, sullen faces, pouty
    faces and many more facial expressions could be seen around the flowing river.
    Cave zero thirty nine was one of the tree searching grounds of the Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit. It had meadows, forests, hills, which were not far off
    from being called “Mountains”, a very deep and large lake and a river that was
    flowing to it.

    Of all the wonders of cave zero thirty nine, two places where
    the epicenter for most of the participants in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. Throughout
    the cave, they were told by their representative Guardians, the lake and the
    river possessed the greatest deposits of Earth’s Cores. But did it mean that
    whoever searches in those wondrous places could really find an Earth’s Core?
    The answer was unequivocally No. What the representative Guardians of cave
    three, eight and ninety nine meant when they recommended the young participants
    of their caves to search in the said two locations, was that they, the young
    participants, will have a higher success rate for finding Earth’s Cores in the
    lake and the river than anywhere else in cave zero thirty nine.

    This transparent interpolation of the representative
    Guardians’ words, only at the latter half of the event, became evident to the
    many young participants.

    “There it is!” Zax nearly announced aloud. “Almost missed
    it. Truly can’t trust our eyes, lucky my Soul sense detected it”. It has been a
    hour or so since they started searching in the river and while doing so it was
    difficult to determine by eye sight which stone was a dark pebble and which one
    could be an Earth’s Core.

    “Dane, Dane, pass on some of your snacks”. Zax called using
    their new agreed upon sign, repeating twice the name of the last of them who
    spoke, which meant for everyone to stop and gather beside the one who called
    it.

    “The nutrition tablets filled us”. Anet politely declined. In
    her response she actually included Mi and Serah who looked at her perplexed.

    “Wha- Anet… A fair warning, we will eat up all the snacks.
    If you don’t eat some with us now, don’t complain later…” The confused Weysey
    tried to sway her mind. An ugly expression was on his face. “Anet, Serah, Mi,
    come!”

    “I don’t feel like eating snacks, either”, Zushi surprised
    everyone and completely shocked Weysey. “And my legs are cold. I’m going ahead
    with the girls on the river’s banks”.

    “What?!” Merly was about to oppose this madness, but then…

    ‘Okay”, Dane lowered his head to his open backpack. “Us four
    will eat by ourselves”. His tone sounded as if he was smiling.

    “Hahaha… your loss, guys”. Zax stuck out his tongue. At that
    moment it hit Merly and Weysey, too.

    The girls, Anet, to be precise, might have found another
    Earth’s Core! At the same time as Weysey, Merly, Mi and Serah reached that
    conclusion, they also understood why she did not use the sign. Calling twice in
    Zax’s name right after he called twice in Dane’s name would have made it too
    obvious.

    Zax did not rush to pick up the Earth’s Core that was five
    centimeters behind Dane’s foot. Since it was too sudden, he could not grasp
    more than the external shape and so it still was not conclusive that the round
    object his Soul Sense located bulging from the bottom of the river was an
    Earth’s Core. A perfect sphere with a smooth surface, yes, an Earth’s Core… Zax
    reached out for the candy bar Dane offered him. “Let’s see”. He whispered as he
    took the first sweet bite and wrapped his Soul Sense around the stone.

    Unlike the earth and pebbles, Zax’s Soul Sense could not
    probe into the round stone, therefore he asserted with absolute certainty. “An
    Earth’s Core!” Slightly hesitating, Zax accepted the opportunity to survey the
    surrounding of the Earth’s Core, the environmental essence around it and
    finally the Earth’s Core itself.

    “Will it be like before?” The question played in his mind as
    he waited for the answer. No. It was not. Or at least not right away. First was
    the bottom of the river that the Earth’s Core was stuck to. Soil and small
    pebbles, there was nothing to elaborate about it. Next was the environmental
    essence. Water and sparkling shreds, fragments really, that when he split them
    were arduous to interpret. However, when he looked at them in his mind, like
    the pieces of a great puzzle, he sort of could, inconsistency, see, hear,
    touch, smell and taste the nature’s of this portion of cave zero thirty nine.

    What it was, an Earth’s Core? Then he moved onto his last
    hurdle. He tried to understand what his Soul Sense perceived when it wrapped
    the brownish stone he determined to be the subject of his pursuit. “Tough”, Zax
    first analyzed. “Impenetrable”, at the very least to an inexpert ten years old
    boy. “More? Try to get more of it!” Zax scolded himself, but apart from
    external analysis, he acquired nothing from the abnormal object that was an
    Earth’s Core.

    All this probing of the surrounding, the environmental
    essence and finally the Earth’s Core only took place in the span of three bites
    and the time it took Zax to bend the knee and reach out with his hand for the
    Earth’s Core. In spite of this, as fast as it was, getting into the root of a
    matter, formless or not, was several times more tasking than grasping the
    considerable presences of anything that passed in the domain of his Soul Sense.

    By when Zax’s fingers felt the half shape of the Earth’s
    Core that bulged from the bottom of the river, he depleted a third of his soul
    energy and was ruled by a couple of flustering emotions. “Is that it? Then what
    was the cause of the misperception I had before?” He thought of the
    contradictions of the Earth’s Core that was not there and the many that were.
    “Environment essence, was this all the cause of adjusting to the environmental
    essence?”

    Zax concentrated his Qi in his left arm, and as much as he
    could in the tip of each finger. He grabbed the Earth’s Core and pulled it out
    with ease. “Eh…?”  He noticed something
    in the water, floating on the river. The sheer bewilderment made him stood up,
    holding the Earth’s Core in the open for others to see, that is, not bothering
    hiding it.

    “Zax”, Dane said in a subtle voice. “Zax…”

    “Quick, Zax, what are you doing?” Merly moved to one side,
    Weysey to the other, both of them covered Zax.

    “Why aren’t you picking them up?!” Zax voice ranged. There
    were just so many, enough for every participant for the next couple of days.
    “So many Earth’s Core!” Pronouncing it aloud, Zax immediately got the attention
    of all of the participants searching in the river and river’s banks.

    “Crap! I think he lost it again!” Dane said to Merly and
    Weysey. The look in Zax eyes before he turned, his imprudent conduct with the
    Earth’s Core that he picked and his disregard of his friends and the other
    participants around them. “Don’t let him lose control again!” Dane called for
    Zushi and the girls so they will also pay heed to Zax before he will start
    breaking rock, or his bones…

    Unfortunately it was too late. With a swift movement Zax
    slipped through the enclosure of Dane, Weysey and Merly. It did not seem
    intentionally or with effort to not allow them the chance to hold him back. His
    body moved on its own. His Qi energy supplied enhancement for physical
    superiority and his mind, inner mind, was already at the level of F level Mist
    User. It was ridiculous to expect from three average ten years old boys to keep
    Zax in place.

    “One for Serah, one for Zushi, one for Weysey, one for Mi,
    one for me, thousands for all of us to pick!”

    Zax actions confused not just his friends who were helplessly
    chasing after him but also the other participants who heard him mindlessly
    talking to himself and picking what seemed to be imaginary Earth’s Cores.

    “This guy… he can use Qi!” Some stared with awe at Zax’s
    light and agile movements, knowing that obviously it was due to Qi utilization.

    “Yeah, but what good is it for him if he lost it?” Others
    were able to hold their disbelief at bay.

    Among the thousands participants it was not unimaginable if
    there was a double digit number of participants who could utilize their Qi.
    Still, though, it was rare to meet them. A participant that could utilize his
    or her Qi would usually – according the gossip and rumors that originated from
    the mere stories of participants from previous year – ventured to the most hard
    to reach places, in the designated cave for the search, after high end Earth’s
    Cores.

    “Poor guy… Is that an Earth’s Core he is holding?!”

    “How many are we?” Someone immediately asked.

    “We share the same idea?” Another replied.

    “Three guys are already after him”. A fatty boy pointed.

    “I think they are his friends”.

    “Only three!” The same fatty boy who pointed at Dane, Weysey
    and Merly changed his view.

    “And one that could not preserve against the pressure of the
    event and is rashly kicking, flipping rocks and swinging his hands around. Who
    wants to be the first to approach him?” A tall girl said.

    “Let’s keep searching…”

     

    Zax ran across the river as if he was infatuated with each
    Earth’s Core of the many that covered the river. An unexplainable attraction
    oozed from both the environmental essence and the Earth’s Core he thought were
    piling in his backpack, and seeped into his consciousness.

    There were no words for Zax to describe the strange pull
    toward wherever he headed, nor could he distinguish his own actions. Slowly his
    mind stopped caring for the floating Earth’s Cores or those that he picked up.
    The more he advanced up the river the more he treated the Earth’s Cores as
    breadcrumbs, leading to the bakery.

    When Zax’s backpack was too heavy to carry he tossed it away,
    that was when the many Earth’s Core also disappeared and when his Qi was
    alarmingly near depletion. Zax’s soul energy, on the other hand, was vigorous.
    His Soul Sense was drawn back the moment he picked up the first Earth’s Core,
    so he did not exhausted it, and since then it was like when he tried to break
    through the bottleneck of level F. His soul’s extraordinary sensitivity confronted
    with an imposing force that mentally affected Zax, demanded of him to run.

    “I don’t… I don’t think that we can go farther than this”.
    Zushi was panting and the other six members of the group also.

    “Tell… Tell… HIM!” Serah huffed.

    On the time bracelets fifteen of the twenty four hours had
    passed. In the river and the river’s banks the nearest group of participates
    was two to three kilometers behind them. Unlike Zax’s relentless pursuit
    forward, they, the rest of the group, did not have the same disposition. The
    fatigue took a heavy toll on them, even if the color of the time bracelets
    still remained green, will they be able to return before the color changes to
    red?

    Zax had no idea how far he ran, how close he was to the
    unsafe zone, how certain it was for him and his friends to return late from the
    search and be punished for it. For Zax it all seemed like a dream, out of his
    control, comfortably dominated by his subconscious.

    A green silhouette leaped and vanished from an unknown
    location, then reappeared in front of Zax, halting his steps.

    “Are you, kidos, looking to be disqualified from the Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit?”

    A well built middle age man in green uniforms and a silver
    colored ribbon that stretched diagonally across his left shoulder to his waist
    and read: “GECP EVENT’S GUARDIAN”, reprimanded Zax and the other seven that followed
    him.

    Zax stopped long enough for the buffed event’s Guardian to
    finish his sentence, yet the instant his subconscious comprehended the
    unexpected obstacle he tried to pass him.

    Out of breath, Zushi and the other six could only watch with
    conflicting emotions as the event’s Guardian kicked Zax to the air with mild
    force and grabbed his feet like chicken before slaughter. They were torn
    between whether to be glad that someone finally stopped Zax or frightened since
    that “someone” was an event’s Guardian whom it was very unlikely for them to
    meet unless they got really close to the unsafe zone – not to mention that Zax
    just ignored the presence of the event’s Guardian and tried to go past him.

    “The heck are you doing brat…?!” The event’s Guardian raised
    his hand about to slap Zax back to his senses, when he out of the blue
    swallowed his words and winced. “You…” The event’s Guardian glared at Zax with
    disdain in his eyes.

    Right before he readied himself to personally educate the
    insolent young participant who did not know what was good for him unless it
    struck him in the face, Zax raised both of his hands to the event’s Guardian’s
    torso and dealt him a soul attack.

    “What are you?” The event’s Guardian asked, but seeing how
    the boy struggled in his hand he realized that, although exceptional and
    probably with unique background, the boy could not handle the pressure of the
    event and, as one of the participants before suggested, lost it.

    Using his white Core Breaker’s aura the event’s Guardian put
    Zax to sleep with a little bit of his overbearing mist energy. After Zax lost
    his consciousness the event’s Guardian turned him upside down and took a
    careful look on his face. “Little monster”. It sounded as if he murmured in
    amusement.

    “Did you, brats, decided to crap all over the event’s
    rules?!” The event’s Guardian’s face darkened. He turned his head to Zushi and
    the others and barked.

    The three girls and four boys flinched with no words to respond.
    Even if they had something to say, to explain, they, each and every one of the
    seven, knew better than confronting with an event’s Guardian.

    “Nothing to say…” Not that the event’s Guardian expected
    them to answer his rhetorical question. “To which cave do you belong, and who’s
    the representative Guardian responsible for you?” The event’s Guardian changed
    the tone of his voice to be more restrained.

    “The eight of us are from cave twenty five”, Zushi, though
    not composed as he usually was, was better than any of the others in answering
    the event’s Guardian’s questions. “Our representative Guardian is Miss Zetsa
    Zell, Zax’s”, his gaze moved to the unconscious Zax in the hands of the arms of
    the event’s Guardian. “Big sister”.

    “Zetsa Zell…” Were all Zushi and the others could hear from
    the event’s Guardian verbal reaction. His face and posture did not change, nor
    how tightly he held Zax, as if he was familiar with the name and level of
    cultivation that was tied to the very same young woman, but was unconcerned of
    neither.

    “Ignorant brats”, the event’s Guardian turned to the seven. “Do
    you think that you can make it back in time just because the time bracelets are
    still green?”

    “The disciplinary supervisor said-” Zushi spoke in a weak
    voice, however quieted and closed his mouth when he noticed the quiver of the
    event’s Guardian’s lips before he was about to speak.

    “You were also told not to enter the unsafe zone!”

    Zushi’s group of eight was still a distance away from the
    unsafe zone, but none of the conscious seven was willing to refute the event’s
    Guardian’s scolding.

    Sighing to himself after arriving to some sort of a
    sympathetic conclusion the event’s Guardian said. “If you followed the rules
    diligently, things wouldn’t have come to this. Can’t do anything about it now,
    either…”

    The event’s Guardian laid Zax softly on the ground and took
    out from a pocket a squared device with a three dimensional screen. His finger
    slid across the screen and a three dimensional layout of the cave appeared on
    it.

    The structure of map was hard to for the seven children to
    understand, but seeing the colorful lights that intersected and then formed the
    hologram completely made them forget about it or the situation they were in.

    A three dimensional display was currently the peak of
    humanity’s display technology. It was such a costly expense that even for a
    high class family it was rare to own just a simple design, needless mentioning
    a complex design with two hundred and fifty six colors like the one the event’s
    Guardian presented before the seven middle class children.

    “This here is where we are. The eight green dots are you”,
    the event’s Guardian explained to Zushi and the others. He touched one of the
    green dots and a panel with numbers appeared above it. “Here is an estimated time
    of how long it will take you to return and analysis of physical condition. Last
    is the duration of effect of the nutrition tablets that you took. Assuming that
    all of you are at the same physical state, you have an hour until your body
    will burn the remnants of the nutrition tablets in your blood”. The event’s
    Guardian thought for a second, and then rephrased himself. “More or less than
    an hour, depending on how much you’ll keep exhausting yourselves”.

    “What… What will happen after an hour?” Mi’s facial expression
    paled and she asked in a shaking voice. With the way the event’s Guardian
    explained their current state with the impressive hologram, she reluctantly
    started to imagine her body dehydrate to the point where there are no more
    fluids in it and she looks like a hundred years old corpse that with the
    smallest disturbance can crumble.

    “You’ll become tired, really tired, and very thirsty-”

    “Like a hundred years old corpse…” Mi could not help but
    continue in her mind with outmost certainty – so was the mind of a child.

    “But you’ll be fine if afterwards you’ll just drink a lot
    and eat sugary stuff”.

    “Not become a hundred years old corpse?” Mi accidently let
    out.

    “What?” The event’s Guardian asked confused, yet Mi was
    simply happy to known that nothing bad will happen so she remained awkwardly
    silent.

    The event’s Guardian rubbed the back of his neck, gauged the
    seven children and the one that surprised him beyond anything he could have
    thought a ten years old boy can do to surprise him and offered. “Don’t go any
    farther than here and don’t spread in the dense flora. In an hour I’ll return to
    take you back”. He said and in the swift manner of his appearance he
    also vanished.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 12 – Becoming Mist Users

     

     

    “Wait…!” Zax screamed when he awaked. For a few second his
    heart was pounding in an accelerating rate and his mind was disoriented. Without
    knowing what it was, a deep anxiety enveloped Zax’s soul. A disgusting sensation
    which made him vomit as he repeated again, in the midst of forgetting toward
    who, what or where. “Wait-”

    “Zax!”

    A voice entered through his ears and rang in his head. Zax did
    not recognize who it was. His body bent by a reflex when he felt the surge of
    fluids coming up from his stomach, and though his eyes were wide open, his
    vision was too blurry to even count the shadows surrounding him.

    “Not again-” Zax cried in his mind. The taste of the
    digested candy bar that he ate earlier was way too abusive to his taste buds as
    it came out, enough to never want to eat another sour chocolate candy bar again
    in his life. What Zax did not know was that most of what he tasted, and was reluctant
    to taste again, was a side effect of the nutrition tablets that was meant to
    leave his body in the conventional way…

    “Are you fine now?”

    This time the voice was clearer and recognizable, yet Zax
    was not confident that it was the same one from before. It was Merly, and
    according to his voice he stood two meters to his left, with his back turned to
    him and a sickly expression on his face. Zax did not hold Merly’s distant attitude
    against him since he came to learn, during their last school year, that he has
    a weak stomach. Zax appreciated Merly’s effort to ask how he was.

    “Yes”. Zax answered and straightened up. In the first place,
    apart from the candy bar, Zax did not eat anything since the evening before the
    search.

    Seeing his friends surrounding him and Merly coming over
    with eyes up, it took Zax a moment to examine their facial expressions and
    where they were. Their faces had a contrasting mixture of worry, satisfaction, nausea
    – the only one which Zax could understand – and excitement. Zax eventually
    could not figure what his friends were and he did not want to make any
    assumption since he did remember that they currently participate in the Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit. However, they now were near tunnel three hundred and
    twelve, which led back to cave one hundred and thirty nine, and on the ground
    around them was a big pile of small rocks. There were also many other
    participants also appeared in the vicinity, talking to each other, waiting or
    returning from the search.

    A silent groan left Zax’s mouth when he stood up and dizziness
    struck his head.

    “Drink water”. Weysey, who was the tallest of the all group
    and sturdiest among the eight, apart from Zax, supported Zax as he drank from
    the bottle while the group walked away from the smelly puddle.

    “Why are we back?” Zax asked.

    The other seven members of the group behaved discreetly and
    withdrawn. They picked a remote place to talk, a hundred meter from the tunnel,
    where others could still see them, but not hear, and it seemed that this was
    what they wanted.

    “Before we tell you, you should also eat something”. Zushi
    said.

    “I’m not hungry”. Zax frowned. Not because it could be seen
    that he still was not feeling well, but because of the thought of putting food
    in his mouth.

    “You should eat anyway”. Zushi insisted and the others tried
    to push they left over snacks to Zax.

    Forced by his friends and without the strength to resist,
    given that all the muscles in his body were sore, Zax picked the fruity jelly
    beetles that Mi offered him.

    “Now can you tell me why we are back? How much time we have
    till the end of the event?” Since he could answer the latter question, Zax
    looked at his time bracelet and was astonished to discover that there were less
    than fifteen minutes for them to spend before having to go back through the
    tunnel.

    “How can it be?! We just were searching in the river!” Zax
    called in disbelief.

    “You don’t remember?” Dane asked. “That’s because you’ve
    done it again, did you, Zax?”

    “Done what?” Zax asked baffled.

    “You used big sister Zetsa’s trick to find Earth’s Core and
    it made you go crazy, again”. Serah answered.

    “Big sis’s trick…?” Zax asked himself and finally recalled.
    I dawned on him what possibly happened, though, once more, he was not sure why.
    “I picked up the Earth’s Core in the river, my Soul Sense did not detected
    anything odd about it or the environmental essence. Then why? Why I don’t
    remember anything that happened afterwards and why…” The one question which
    boggled him the most, the one that was related to the distress that was in his
    voice when he woke up and called the word “Wait”, Zax could not make up the
    words to express. At most, he found a way to rephrased it. “Why I want… No!
    Need to go back?!”

    “Let him see, Zushi, let him see”. The voice of Merly
    pressing Zushi to show him something brought Zax back from his pondering state.

    “Don’t shove me, Merly. Fine, I’ll show him. Don’t be
    impatient!” Zushi shoved Merly back and turned his head to the others. “Let’s
    make it look like we are eating snacks. I’ll show Zax and all of you act normal”.

    As if it was decided in advance, Serah, Dane, Anet, Mi,
    Merly and Weysey, each opened up one of his or her snacks and tried to hide
    Zushi and Zax without looking suspicious.

    Zushi handed Zax his backpack that he carried for him when
    the move from where they previously were. “Open it up”. He grinned and told
    Zax.

    Doing as Zushi said, Zax took back his backpack and saw what
    was inside it that everyone wanted him to see.

    “An Earth’s Core?” Zax said quietly and raised an eyebrow.

    “Bet Miss Zetsa did not teach you that…” The grin on Zushi’s
    face spread to a wide smile. “You can’t assess the quality of an Earth’s Core,
    hehehe…”

    “Of course I can’t. Only Mist Masters or stronger can assess
    the quality of an Earth’s Core”. Zax responded defensively. What his friends
    thought him to be? As a Mist Master, his big sister could definitely tell the
    quality of an Earth’s Core, but he barely was qualified to be called an F level
    Mist User and even that, only from the neck up.

    “They think big sis taught a method to find out the quality
    of an Earth’s Core because I lied about my Soul Sense…” Zax understood.

    As if to reaffirm his conjecture, Zushi continued. “No. If
    you were able to do that, then the rest of us should really be ashamed of our uselessness”.
    Though he said it as a joke, if Zax was old enough and wiser he could tell that
    the ten years old Zushi was content with such words.

    “Is this the Earth’s Core that I picked in the river?”

    “One of them”.

    “One of…!”

    Zushi’s hand moved quickly and covered Zax’s mouth. His
    smile appeared more genuine than a moment ago. “Unfortunately, among the
    seventeen that you found – including the three in the forest – this one was the
    only medium quality E level Earth’s Core”.

    Feeling his body shaking and his eyes bulging out from their
    sockets, Zax did not believe that Zushi could lie over such a sensitive subject
    in such a sensitive time. Not even for an incy wincy joke!

    “An E level Earth’s Core”. Zax gulped. “H… Ho…”

    ‘How?” Zushi helped him and in return Zax only nodded.

    Zushi closed Zax’s backpack for him and the others relaxed
    their “Normal” postures.

    “Fourteen from the seventeen Earth’s Cores that you found
    were of high quality. How you managed to find so many great Earth’s Cores… ask
    the Supreme Rulers”. Zushi leaned on the cave’s well, started eating his own
    snack and delved deeper in the explanation. “I’m assuming you don’t remember
    running like a crazy person in the river, picking up small rocks and Earth’s
    Core and piling them in your backpack?”

    In response, Zax shook his head.

    “Thought so… I also didn’t see how it started, since I
    joined Anet to see if she really found an Earth’s Core right after you found
    one. Dane told us that when you reached down for the Earth’s Core you suddenly
    began to panic, ran and jump around. By then, not only me, Anet, Serah and Mi
    noticed. All the other participated watched you and said that you went crazy
    because of the event’s pressure. We, on the other hand, saw you act weird
    before and could connect your behavior to the technique that Miss Zetsa taught
    you”.

    Zushi went on, telling Zax how they chased after him, met
    the event’s Guardian who at first Zax tried to hit, but then he knocked him out
    and rebuked the rest of them and in the end and unpredictably – after showing
    them the features of the time bracelets with a three dimensional device –
    allowed them to search near the unsafe zone for an hour. He then continued
    telling how the event’s Guardian came back with none other than Miss Zetsa to
    carry them back with the help of a mysterious technique, which they performed
    together, that made them float behind the event’s Guardian and Miss Zetsa as
    they rushed through the cave to the entrance.

    “When we got here Miss Zetsa was the one who noticed your
    packed backpack, though Weysey was the one who carried it”. Zushi finally
    reached the part about the Earth’s Cores and there was not a lot of time till
    they had to go back to cave one hundred and thirty nine. “Can you imagine her
    face – our faces – when she emptied your backpack from the rocks that you
    picked up and then revealed to us a batch of fourteen Earth’s Cores? No to
    mention us seven, even Miss Zetsa was dumbstruck. Luckily, the event’s Guardian
    left before Miss Zetsa found the Earth’s Cores, or that at least was what Miss
    Zetsa said without explaining why. She just told us not to tell anyone about
    the amount of Earth’s Cores that you found or how you found them”.

    “Maybe it’s forbidden to pick up more than one Earth’s
    Core”. Weysey on the side speculated.

    “I thought so too, at first, but the disciplinary supervisor
    didn’t mention any rule about it”. Zushi said. “Doesn’t matter now, we all have
    great Earth’s Cores and the rest aren’t here anymore”.

    “Not here?” Zax asked.

    “After finding the Earth’s Cores in your backpack, Miss
    Zetsa assessed the quality. The best one among them you got. The second best
    Earth’s Core was a low quality E level Earth’s Core, then four high quality F
    level Earth’s Cores and eight medium quality F level Earth’s Cores. We played
    rock paper scissors for the Earth’s Cores. Anet won the low quality E level
    Earth’s Core. I, Weysey, Serah and Dane won the four high quality F level
    Earth’s Cores and Mi and Merly got two medium quality F level Earth’s Cores.
    The rest Miss Zetsa took when she left”.

    “A medium quality E level Earth’s Core…” Zax sighed after a
    while of silence.

    “Thanks to you we all got lucky”. Zushi said and got up.

    There was less than two minutes to the end of the event for
    their group and a new batch of participants began to emerge from the tunnel
    while those of Zax’s batch were ordered to head back by the meticulous timer of
    their time bracelets.

    As they took off the time bracelets and throw them in a crate
    with wheels that stood on a rail beside the entrance to the tunnel, the old
    lady, the attendant at the entrance to cave zero thirty nine, typed on a twenty
    five centimeters screen the names of the returning participants and their
    results, though, she done so without paying particular attention to anyone but
    the screen in her right hand and whenever a participant stepped forward to sign
    himself she simply nudge him away.

    “Zax”, Zushi had one last thing to add. “Miss Zetsa also
    told us to inform you that you’re in big trouble for breaking your finger”.

    “…”

     

    On the other side of tunnel three hundred and twelve, in
    cave one hundred and thirty nine.

    “Participants of cave eighty seven,
    join here in rows of forty…”

    “Participants of cave three, join
    here in rows of seventy four…”

    “Participants of cave one hundred
    and forty one, gather up here in rows of fifty…”

    “Participants of cave twenty five,
    assemble here in rows of forty…”

    The seven representative Guardians were already waiting to the
    participants under their care. When the last participant of each group arrived
    from the tunnel, the representative Guardian led his or her group to one of the
    two square buildings on the premises.

    Inside the square building that Zetsa led the group of cave
    twenty five were thousands of square floor seats. Each upholstered seat was
    fifteen centimeters deep into the floor and had a seating space large enough
    for only a child to sit in. The margin between square seats was wide enough for
    adults to walk on one at a time, and so, alongside the thousands of seats were
    a hundred or so brown uniforms staff members of the event, spread around
    holding large sealed cases.

    “Please hurry them, the future Mist Users, to any of the
    seats”. A female staff member in brown uniform with a yellow ribbon that stretched
    diagonally across her left shoulder to her waist and read: “GECP CORE
    INSTURCTER”, approached the representative Guardians and asked of them.

    Immediately after, of the four of the seven groups that
    finished the search and came by the same square building as Zetsa’s group, the
    representative Guardians guided the young participants to their arranged seats.

    “Everyone sit, sit in your places. Those who did not fare
    well in the hunt raise your hands. Staff members will now distribute compensatory
    Earth’s Core. Take them and hold them with two hands beneath the navel – no
    need to raise your shirts – that is where your lower dantian is located. Sit in
    a cross legged position and wait for farther instruction”. The fairly young
    staff member, core instructor, amplified her voice with her mist energy and a
    white disciplinary aura that signified the cultivation of a C level Mist User,
    Core Breaker, emitted from her.

    Following the directions of the core instructor more than
    fifteen hundreds hands went into the air, some just standing like columns,
    others impatiently waving.

    After a short ten minutes every young participant held
    beneath his or her navel the brownish sphere that was an Earth’s Core, in anticipation
    to finally become a Mist User.

    “Greetings everyone, my name is Jergaria Lus. I am one of
    the two core instructors in this year’s event, and that means that my job in
    the last phase of the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit is to guide you through the
    process of becoming Mist Users”. Jergaria, the core instructor, spoke confidently
    in a soothing tone. “Now, you all should know that once a mental link is
    subconsciously formed between you and the Earth’s Cores in your hands, the
    Earth’s Core will merge with your body and enter your lower dantian. Since this
    can happen anytime, I ask of you to not get nervous. You should have learned
    about the phases of the process at school, but in practice it’s quite
    different, therefore, you have me, the staff members around you and your
    representative Guardians as support”.

    Jergaria halted to read the complexion and atmosphere of the
    young participants. “Before we begin”, the results were the same every time, so
    the right words were already at the tip of her tongue. “Let me say that I know
    that all of you are tired. It has been twenty four hours since you took the nutrition
    tablets and the energized effect currently wearing off”.

    Some of the participant looked at Jergaria as she talked,
    some stared at their Earth’s Cores and some sat with closed eyes.

    “Do not let the fatigue wear your spirit.  When you’ll start the first phase, Link
    Forming, it will fill your body with vigor. Your untapped Qi will, for some,
    become noticeable and for a short time, which should be until you’ll start the
    second phase, a surge of new found strength will renew your wakefulness”.

    Jergaria waited for the spread staff members and
    representative Guardians to insure the readiness of the young participant. To
    not distract anyone from her, the only voice in the square building was Jergaria’s,
    therefore they answered her by nodding slightly.

    “Beginning the first phase, Link Forming”, Jergaria
    announced. “Hold the Earth’s Cores in your hands near the lower dantian. Allow
    it to touch the body below the navel, through the shirt should also be fine.
    With eyes open don’t concentrate on anything particular in your line of sight,
    but try to imagine the shape, texture, color and even the inside mist of the
    Earth’s Cores that you found or received. See it in your mind’s eye as if it’s
    right in front you, I repeat, imagine the Earth’s Core, do not look at the one
    that you hold and do so with eyes open”.

    Zax listened to Jergaria’s voice. “Link Forming” He repeated
    how she named the first phase and thought about how obscure its process
    sounded. Nevertheless, unlike the many others which sat around him, it was not
    the first phase that caused the frown to his face.

    “The Link Forming”, Zax figured it out from the start. “It’s
    soul energy”.

    How many like him were in the short history of Kingdom
    Earth? Coreless ten years olds with soul at level F… One who cared would not
    even bother counting with two hands.

    Zax felt it, how threads of soul energy moved around from
    his consciousness to various body parts and retreated, like a living being
    looking for food in odd place, using only the sense of smell. Zax could also
    now feel the attraction that radiated from the Earth’s Core, the vile
    attraction that the threads of soul energy were drawn to.

    When the first thread made contact with the Earth’s Core,
    Zax could so easily and disgustedly feel and hear it, a high pitch “Ding” sound
    that echoed in his consciousness and shook the foundations of his soul.

    “It’s not it” Zax somewhat determined without even knowing
    what was that he found wrong. “No! No! No!” More threads reached for the
    Earth’s Core, the prestigious medium quality E level Earth’s Core, and the grievance
    grew with each Ding. But Zax, who with a simple thought could take control on
    the living threads, without understanding what was it that unnerved him so
    much, could not bring himself to stop the process he, since his earliest
    memories, wished for.

    The Earth’s Core was finally there, in Zax’s dantian, like
    in many others participants and the first phase was complete.

    “That’s what’s amiss, this Earth’s Core, I can’t… I can’t…”
    With the Earth’s Core in his dantian it became well defined to Zax. “I can’t
    keep it”.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 13 – Going Back

     

     

    The revelation of possessing the wrong Earth’s Core and its
    presence in his dantian enlightened Zax’s conception and granted him the
    knowledge of what was the thing he felt immense regret for and what he had to
    do to fix it.

    Jergaria, who for time strolled between the participants,
    for time stood in one place waited for the majority to complete the first phase,
    Link Forming, and once she decided they were ready, she opened up with her
    amplified voice. “Good, good, everyone, you’re doing well. I’ll now proceed to narrate
    the second phase, ”Grasping”. Those who still did not complete the first phase,
    keep concentrate on it. The staff members, representative Guardians and I, as
    well, will repeat the instructions how many times you need”.

    “Now that you have Earth’s Cores in your dantian, the flow
    of Qi in your body should be more apparent. Do not force yourselves to feel the
    flow of Qi right after the Earth’s Core disappears from your hands. Wait a
    little bit; Earth’s Cores have a particular attractive influence on Qi. It will
    take a while, could be seconds, minutes or a few hours, but eventually, the
    accumulated Qi in your body will stream to the lower dantian all on its own,
    and when enough Qi will pass through the Qi channels of the lower dantian, it
    will be impossible not to sense it”.

    Jergaria’s description of the effect of Earth’s Cores on Qi
    and the promise to sense it lowered a lot of eyebrows into the combination of
    enthusiasm and obedience. It was the dream of every coreless child with mild
    background to feel and control the strange power that only the talented and prestigious
    of their peers could learn to use like a full fledged Mist Users. It was now
    the time of everyone to grasp the power which differentiates the weak from the
    strong in Kingdom Earth.

    “When you realize the sensation of Qi that fills your
    dantian, do not try to form the first crack on the Earth’s Core’s shell just
    yet, like you might have heard or been told. Let the nesting Qi in your dantian
    dwell there for a while. Comprehend its circular movement around the Earth’s
    Core. Once it will seem to you as if it’s alive, look for what makes you think
    so. This will help improve your control on the Qi before binding it to your
    will. It’s like shacking and awakening a body part that fell asleep, like a leg
    that you sat on for too long or the whole body when you wake up in the morning”.

    Working with young minds, Jergaria was well versed with the
    kind of descriptive speech that can arouse the imagination of children in a way
    that will help them through the process of becoming Mist Users.

    She did not wait for all the young participants to complete
    the second phase, Grasping, since it depended on natural talent. For most, she
    knew, the second phase will take around an hour, for the talented at most half
    an hour, for those who lack any affinity it might be even five hours, which
    Jergaria definitely did not have.

    “On to the third and last phase”, Jergaria announced in a
    loud voice. “Last one you should know is simply called “Cracking””.

    Of the few who finished the second phase or were near its
    end and listened to Jergaria a certain thought popped to mind. “Whoever
    invented these terms have a terrible naming sense!” Nonetheless they all
    listened carefully.

    “In accordance to its name, the sole purpose of the third
    phase is to from the first crack on the Earth’s Core’s shell, thus you’ll enter
    the Beginner phase of level F as Mist Users. How to approach the shell with
    your Qi I and my associates in guiding you will now reveal to you by using our
    mist energy externally”.

    Following her words, Jergaria raised her right palm and
    emitted her white mist energy twenty centimeters above it. “Pay attention”. She
    said to the young participants. Slowly but surely, Jergaria’s mist energy began
    to take shape. The mist energy swirled and double in size, Jergaria’s face also
    slightly turned ashen. After ten seconds the mist energy took the shape of a
    meter long chisel. The shape held itself for three to five seconds, and then it
    swirled again, taking the form of giant scythe. For two minutes Jergaria’s mist
    energy took the form of different tools, likewise the mist energy of the staff
    members and representative Guardians, which none were below the level of Core
    Breaker, and demonstrated their exquisite control over the mist energy, though
    only Zetsa’s mist energy and one other representative Guardian were barely see
    through and sparkled in a silvery light.

    When the two minutes passed Jergaria lowered her hand and so
    did the others. “It is far more difficult to shape mist energy outside the
    body, so do not be anxious by the task laid before you. Each of you, close your
    eyes and reach your dantian with your consciousness. To do so easily, if you
    still did not grasp the technique, sense your Qi attentively and your mind will
    visualize, on its own, the state and vicinity of the dantian”. Jergaria gave a
    moment for those who had to follow her instruction before continuing. “In your
    dantian, shape your Qi to a tool that seems comfortable to use in your eyes,
    better it will be if it’s a tool meant for penetration. Even a nail will do.
    When the shape is vivid and you are able to hold it for more than five seconds,
    use the tool you shaped offensively to from the first crack on the Earth’s
    Core. Most likely none of you will succeed in the first, second third of sixth
    attempt, but keep trying. This is the last phase, the last obstacle between you
    and becoming Mist Users”.

    For her last words Jergaria, like with every group she had
    seen through the process, encouraged the young participants and then began to
    walk around them to personally assist those who struggled.

    Zax waited, against all his inner discomfort he waited and
    contemplated. To do what he planned he had to muster his courage and
    determination. Till it was done Zax also listened curiously to Jergaria and
    thanks to his unique soul and low proficiency with his Qi, it was not hard to
    follow the steps in her instruction. Nevertheless, for his plan to work he
    could not and had no intention to crack the Earth’s Core in his dantian.

    Zax had to partly thank his big sister for what gave him the
    confident to carry his plan. It was the knowledge that she shared with him
    regarding the possibility to remove an Earth’s Core from the dantian so long
    that it has not been cracked. It was possible due to Zax’s soul’s level and
    during the first phase that Jergaria taught he also understood why.

    “Now is a good time as any... Please don’t suspect anything,
    big sis”. Zax sighed inwardly. Since the Earth’s Core that he found was of
    great quality, there was no reason anymore to act as his big sister told him.
    He saw it in her eyes when the group of cave twenty five formed their lines
    when they returned from the search. She was pleased with his finding and
    expected him to return home with everyone as a Mist User.

    Holding back the Qi from streaming to his dantian was like
    holding back an itch. Zax, however, did so almost effortlessly. Zax was able to
    hold back since a part from some level of proficiency in handling Qi, to go
    against a natural flow one also had to have the discipline properties which
    only the soul of a Mist User in the level of Core Breaker has, and apart from
    quantity and quality of soul energy, Zax’s soul was not inferior to that of any
    Core Breaker.

    “Burrraa…” Out of the blue Zax leaned forward and puked.

    Luckily to the boy in front of him, it was Qi which mostly
    sustained Zax and he did not ate a lot of candies when he sat with his friends
    near the tunnel after he woke up, again. Still… it was the sound that terrified
    the boy and made him leap from the ground seat and caught the attention of
    Jergaria and the other helpers.

    Moving in a manner that seemed to the young onlookers as if
    her body flashed from one place to another, Zetsa, and two seconds after her,
    Jergaria, reached Zax.

    “What happened, Zax?” Zetsa lifted his face and raised him
    from his seat the moment he stopped puking.

    Zax’s complexion was pale, a white gray color. A bit of foams
    stained his lips. He wanted to regret his stupid plan, but it was too late so
    he whispered with the little bit of voice that he had. “My stomach hurt”.

    Being close enough to hear him as well, Jergaria guessed
    what happened to Zax and told Zetsa to come to the entrance of the square
    building with her.

    “Poor boy”, Jergaria told Zetsa as Zax leaned his head
    against her shoulder, sleeping. They were waiting for a staff member to arrive.
    “It happens rarely. The Qi backlash when a kid tries to form the first crack.
    They rush and skip the completion of the second phase almost without even
    trying. The body cannot stand the backlash and suffers the most. Fortunately,
    there is not permanent damage. Some can even start working again on the second
    phase after a day’s rest”.

    Jergaria reassured Zetsa, who knew the effect of a backlash
    in the dantian and that essentially there was not a severe case of a child that
    tried to form the first crack on an Earth’s Core’s shell, but Zax was Zetsa’s
    beloved younger brother and she could not betray her feelings for him in front
    of anyone. Jergaria, who was of aware that as a Mist Master Zetsa should know
    the meaning of a Qi backlash in the dantian, realized that between the boy and
    the representative Guardian there was some sort of a relationship and so
    explained out of courtesy.

    “You should not worry. He will be taken care of. You can
    come back for him the moment you will return the group of participants under
    your care to their home cave”. In an attempt to do good, Jergaria reminded
    Zetsa her obligations as a representative Guardian which meant that in a few
    hours, when the last participant from cave twenty five will finally become a
    Mist User, she would have to take the group back home, leaving Zax behind.

     

    When Zax opened his eyes the Nightly Cover formation of cave
    one hundred and thirty nine was already active.

    “Urg…” Zax groaned. “It was much worse than I thought it
    will be…” He said to himself and recalled his own action.

    The only way for him to avoid this latter part of the Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit, forming a crack on the Earth’s Core in his dantian and
    becoming a Mist User, he had to take drastic action. What Zax did was separate
    the flow of his Qi to two opposite streams and made them collide in his
    dantian, yet in manner that will not affect the Earth’s Core in there. The
    results were agonizing to the point that the part of him losing consciousness
    afterwards was beyond his calculation and what he thought he could withstand
    and what he cannot.

    “The Earth’s Core isn’t cracked”. Zax breathed a sigh of
    relief. He paid less attention to his properly bandaged right hand or his shoes
    and clothes that were somewhat clean. His fears were that during the time that
    he slept the Qi flow returned to normal and again was attracted to the Earth’s
    Core. Surveying the condition of his Qi and Qi channels, it seemed that he was
    still slowly healing and the natural order had yet stabilized. For now, he
    decided not to use his Qi.

    Zax changed position from lying to sitting, noticing in the
    process that he was inside a large tent with a pile of folding beds to one
    side, a few closets with labels “Medicine Cabinet 1” and 2 and 3 up to 15.

    “Is that the doctor?” On a bed a few meters away from his a
    blond girl in blue scrubs, looking around thirty years old, was comfortably
    sleeping.

    Looking at his bruised wristwatch that suffered ill
    treatment during the search, though the display of the seconds and milo seconds
    was jumpy and the date, minutes and hours were readable. The time was past
    twelve o’clock midnight, April fifth.

    “Whaa…! Less than four hours are left! I’ve got to get
    going”. Knowing that he cannot make any sound from now on, Zax slowly got up
    from the bed, but right as his feet touched the floor he felt dizziness threatening
    to put him down.

    His body’s lack of nutrition could not be ignored anymore.
    On the chair besides his bed was Zax’s backpack. Zax recognized it by the color
    of the straps and the torn logo on the front side of the backpack which read:
    “Earth’s Core’s Showdo”. The missing “wns” were torn long before the Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit.

    “It’s full”, to his surprise, Zax found all kinds of snacks
    filling his backpack. “They gave me their leftover snacks”. In this moment Zax
    was really happy for his choice in friends.

    Since water was the only thing he did not have, Zax took two
    sealed water bottles from a crate besides Medicine Cabinet 8 and headed out
    from the back side of the tent.

    Being nighttime, the amount of staff members walking around,
    performing their jobs, was nearly zero. Even the welcoming tents were closed.
    All of that was perfect for Zax’s plan since there were not many places that he
    could conceal himself.

    Zax’s destination was the dome like compound that all the
    participants were gathered in for their last night before the search.

    Two staff members were drinking near the entrance to the
    compound. Zax frowned. He remembered that when it was his group in there, some
    kids opened the compound’s doors on a dare, so it was not really a problem to
    go in or out, only, if one gets discovered he or she would be in a lot of
    troubles.

    After couple of minutes of waiting in frustration the two
    staff members emptied their cups and strolled on, allowing Zax to approach
    safely to the compound’s doors.

     

    CREAK!

    Zax opened the compound’s doors and instantly met a bunch of
    new participants, contemplating the same mischievous pranks that during his
    stay in the compound, among other things, managed to jam the trash chutes.

    “Who are you?” Some boy with curly hair asked. Under the dim
    lights of the compound the group that hung near the doors was composed of ten
    to twenty young participants.

    The twenty boys looked at Zax as if they saw a ghost, they
    played around the compound’s entrance since they got here and none of them saw
    a participant leaving. Furthermore, when the doors started moving they all
    thought the whoever opens them was a staff member or one of the representative
    Guardians, so their hearts jumped in fear, thinking that they were going to get
    caught.

    “I wasn’t feeling well so they took me to the Medical Tent
    when my group arrived”. Zax thought beforehand what he would say if anyone who
    had seen him entering the compound late at night will start to question him.

    Claiming that he was sick was a lot mellow than bragging
    that he sneaked out. No one will think much of a kid who probably got so
    excited that he got cramps or something, especially not other kids. On the
    other hand, if word got out that some kid had the nerves to sneak outside the
    compound in the middle of the night, he or she would defiantly become the talk
    of all the other kids and will easily be discovered by staff members or representative
    Guardians.

    Since Zax really was still recovering, even under the dim
    lights of the compound it was possible to see his pale complexion. The group of
    kids calmed down from the initial fright and made way for Zax to go to
    whichever group that he belonged.

    Zax found an empty upper bunk bed within an area of sleeping
    participants. He climbed the bunk bed quietly and closed his eyes to rest. In a
    couple of hours the riskiest part of his plan will commence.

     

    Similar to the sequence of events in the morning of Zax’s
    search, at four o’clock in the morning the representative Guardians arrived,
    called and organized their groups by showering the young participants under
    their with commands to get ready.

    Zax mingled within the group of participant he slept in the
    same area with. No one was able to suspect him because no one knew everyone
    among the thousands of participant whether if they were in the same batch or
    even the same cave group. And since the official procedures or over the day
    before, even the representative Guardians did not suspect the stowaway within
    their midst. Besides, such a farfetched thing as a stowaway participant has never
    happened in the past, so no one could even assume that it was happening right
    now.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 14 – The Dangers Of The Unsafe Zone

     

     

    Going along with his plan, Zax had a few things to fear from
    but each had the potential to end his endeavor.

    One was the nurse or the doctor, whichever she was. If she
    would awake up to see that he is not in the resting bed and alert the staff
    members and representative Guardians before he will enter cave zero thirty nine
    again then his plan will most likely fail.

    Second were the staff members that distribute the green time
    bracelets. If even one of them will notice that they are missing one time
    bracelet and will figure out Zax’s plan, what will follow will only be Zax’s
    plan failing. Not being caught by the staff members was only half of why Zax
    tried to avoid them. Zax also did not want to enter cave zero thirty nine with
    a time bracelet. Zushi told Zax of the different features that the time
    bracelets have and that one of them allow the event’s Guardian and possibly the
    representative Guardians, as well, to track the participants.

    Third thing was that his big sister, Zetsa. Yes, Zax
    realized that his big sister could not stay with him and had to return the
    group of participants back to cave twenty five. If she would return and notice
    that he was gone before he will enter cave zero thirty nine, she might figure
    out what he was doing, which will most definitely cause his plain to fail. Zax
    hopped that when the group of cave twenty five left cave one hundred and thirty
    nine it was already late and that was why his big sister did not return for him
    yet.

    The last thing Zax was scared of was the old lady, the
    attendant, at the end of tunnel three hundred and twelve. If that old lady was
    at the level of a Mist Master or worse, a Mist Lord, and used her Soul Sense to
    note who leaves or enters cave zero thirty nine, she would definitely discover
    Zax and right there and then his plan will...

    Zax could not do anything about the nurse\ doctor waking up
    or when his big sister will return. He decided to leave this worries at the
    back of his mind as the group he mingled into passed the entrance to tunnel
    three hundred and twelve.

    So as not to arouse the suspicions of the hundred staff
    members in the tunnel as they distributed the time bracelets, Zax switched
    lines whenever a staff member was about to approach with a time bracelet to the
    place in Zax walked in the line.

    Using his Soul Sense, it was easy workout. With the space
    between rows and lines being so dense it was difficult from the sidelines to
    notice his movement if one did not specifically looked for him. Within the rows
    and lines, as long as it also was within the domain of his Soul Sense, Zax
    could read the body movement of those around him, so to not even bother or make
    the other participants notice what he was doing.

    Finally he was about to reach the end of the tunnel. Zax hid
    his hands in his pockets, to not reveal to anyone that he did not get a time
    bracelet. The representative Guardians turned to the groups of participants
    under their care after receiving the approval of the old lady and deciding
    between themselves who will send the young participants off.

    One representative Guardians began to talk, but Zax did not
    listen to what he said. Zax read about how expert can notice if one among ten
    thousand looking at them in an eerie way and even to locate the one among ten
    thousand who looked at them. To avoid this mistake, Zax lowered his head till
    he felt the participant around him begin to move a fading “…head out”.

    Running to the cave, Zax did not dare to look back or even
    ask why or wonder if the old lady, the same one from two days back that saw his
    batch dashing to their search, used her Soul Sense or not. All that he cared
    about at that moment was keep running and keep hiding his hands. He was in and
    nothing would make him turn back.

    Little did Zax know that the old lady only covers only the
    left side of the tunnel, the return side, with her Soul Sense to count and
    evaluate the results of the young participants. Before that, when the participants
    head off to the cave, it is the job of the representative Guardians to know how
    many entering and later inform her.

     

    Four hours after the beginning of the search, eight o’clock
    in the morning.

    For the past four hours Zax looked for the river he and his
    friends followed. It took him a few hours to get to the river since he wasted
    time avoiding other participant and by being maybe too cautious from being
    discovered by the event’s Guardians or representative Guardians. Zax knew that
    if they will detect him in any other way but their special sensor, his second
    attempt in the search will end. So he could not allow himself to be casually
    seen or heard.

    Luckily for Zax, among the different kinds of Guardian which
    roamed in cave zero thirty nine, only one was at the level of a Mist Master. So
    even if his presence in the cave will be known and the Guardians will use their
    Soul Senses as a last measure to find him, he will only have to worry about
    this one Mist Master.

    Zax did not know the compass of a Mist Master’s Soul Sense,
    but he was sure that it is not large enough to detect him by engulfing a large
    space. Only by reading the environmental essence and detecting his unique print
    he will be found. And that was also a temporary expedient since – unless one
    creates some sort of an impact on the environment – a person’s unique print
    does not linger and fade quickly. It was something which Zax discovered accidently
    and up till not did not think much about it.

    In the end it was unavoidable for some participants to see
    Zax when he reached the river and began to follow along the river’s banks. From
    there it also was redundant to keep avoiding prying eyes. When participants
    found a searching ground they stuck to it and did not care who come by, unless
    he or she interrupt them or got their hands on the price they were looking for.

    Since he entered to the cave Zax had not used his Soul
    Sense. He was worried that the moment that he will use it, he will lose control
    on himself, if because the environmental essence of the cave, the hidden
    Earth’s Core or something else entirely.

    “Not before I’ll go far so no one will be able to see me”.
    Zax said to himself. “It’s not like I don’t know where I’m heading, Zushi said
    that I ran to the unsafe zone. And the river of Earth’s Cores… that I remember,
    if just a little bit, it’s…” He continued to reason with himself, however, when
    he attempted to remember the feeling, the desire and need from when he “lost
    it”, it was like trying to express something that just at the tip of the tongue
    but not quite there.

    When it was getting to ten o’clock in the morning, even if
    Zax looked as far back as he could, he did not see any participant. Zax could
    only assume that he reached the unsafe zone.

    “This batch has nine representative Guardians”. Zax lay on
    the ground, hidden beneath a bush, and recalled the seven female Guardians and
    two male Guardians as he pondered on how many event’s Guardians can be beside
    them. “If there is an equal number that would already be too much if all nine
    patrol in the unsafe zone…”

    Though the size of the unsafe zone was not small, Zax did
    not belittle the event’s Guardians who might be guarding in it.

    “I must proceed carefully, can’t use my Soul Sense, either…
    Zushi said that the event’s Guardian caught to the group on the river. They
    probably know that a lot of participant search in the river. In this case, a
    few event’s Guardians might patrol not far from here. I’m also positive that
    there is at least one event’s Guardian on this mountain”.

    It was hard to see it through the dense vegetation, but when
    Zax walked along the river’s banks he did see a mountain couple of hundred
    meters east to the river. It was a good high ground to monitor the clearings in
    the surrounding.

    “The place I need to go to… it’s in the other side of the
    next tunnel… in the next beasts’ cave…”

    To say that Zax’s spirit did not waver when he thought about
    and got closer to where that feeling, which was both alien and at the same time
    a part of him, instructed him to go, could only be a wretched lie. Zax was not
    stupid, even if he will overlook his deceiving actions; he knew that the path
    he was taking led to a place much worse and forbidden than the unsafe zone. But
    it was out of his control, the pull that made him keep going tormented his mind
    if even for a split second he thought to oppose it. And when he did as it want,
    it was as if every step forward was like walking on something he only read
    about, walking on a cloud.

    To appease this feeling, to appease himself Zax chose to
    abide regardless of the consequences.

    “The river started in the next cave”, he was told by Brabra,
    “there is no point in finding another path and it’s not like I can go around
    it”. Zax decided to crawl the rest of the way under the vegetation until he
    will see the tunnel to the next cave.

    Crawling for about two and a half hours, the wall of the
    other side of the cave surely became visible, so much that when Zax could see
    it without the interruption of the vegetation, it was possible for him to
    distinguish the shapes of the bigger bulges on it.

    Rumble… Rumble… Rumble…

    Suddenly the earth beneath him began to tremble. Trees fell
    one after the other and the small bushes were torn from the ground.

    “What’s that?” Zax lost his composure and asked aloud,
    terrified.

    A deep growl emerged through the breaking earth. Zax felt a
    sharp pain warping his abdomen and something hard as a rock hitting his head,
    making him lose consciousness.

     

    Zetsa, riding on her Sun K-79, got back to cave one hundred
    and thirty nine at nine forty five in the morning. Since a few kids from her
    group struggled to from the first crack on their Earth’s Cores, the whole group
    had to wait and ended up leaving late.

    Back in cave one hundred and thirty nine Zetsa had only
    three things to do. The first was to sign off Zax from the Medical tent, the
    second was to actually pick up Zax, see how he was doing and the third thing
    was to sign in the event’s Oversight tent that all the participants of cave
    twenty five became Beginners phase F level Mist Users, Earth’s Core Holders.
    Last thing she would have to do, after Zax will from the first crack on his own
    Earth’s Core and they cannot leave before that.

    “Is something wrong?” After she parked her K-79, Zetsa met
    some of the general staff members on her way to the Medical tent.

    The two staff members were restless, walking in a hurried
    pace and completely ignored Zetsa as if they did not notice her at all.

    Since other than her duties as a representative Guardian
    Zetsa did not have any other responsibilities in the event, she shrugged,
    assuming that the staff members were just cramped with too much work and too
    little rest.

    “Doctor Elliot”, Zetsa greeted the blond woman in blue
    scrubs as she entered the Medical tent.

    “Zetsa…” the expression on Doctor Elliot’s face was solemn.
    She stopped filling the papers on her desk and got up from the chair she was
    sitting on.

    “Where is my brother?” Zetsa asked. Matter of fact, after
    Zetsa greeted Doctor Elliot, her gaze immediately turned to find Zax, so she
    did not see Doctor Elliot’s facial expression until she realized that Zax is
    not in the tent and the other woman stood face to face with her.

    “My brother…” The tone in Zetsa voice was less polite this
    time, almost demanding. She remembered the attitude of the two staff members. She
    saw a couple more on her way to the Medical tent and they all looked the same,
    but this is the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, an event of outmost importance and
    those who work in it cannot have an easy time, so once more Zetsa did not pay
    attention to any of the staff members.

    “Please sit, Zetsa”. Doctor Elliot asked. In truth, she was
    just a graduate and did not have a lot of experience with laying bad news.

    “Is something wrong with my little brother?” Zetsa nervously
    asked. “Was something wrong with Zax when we left?” She asked herself as she
    also tried to recollect.

    When Zax groaned in pain and his complexion turned pale in
    the square building, Zetsa did not understand what happened to him. Jergaria
    said that it was a backlash from rushing the process to become a Mist User, but
    was that really the cause? Zax was different from the other participant and
    almost anyone else ever before him, his soul was already in level F and he also
    was aware of his Qi. Jergaria did know that or could imagine that her teachings
    were adhering by such a prodigy; of course she would assume the most common excuse
    to explain Zax’s condition.

    “To force a soul to jump a whole level, from F to E, when it
    just achieved a breakthrough…” Zetsa could not deny the possibility of a
    backlash due to extreme tension on the soul, rather than what Jergaria
    suggested. “Was it too soon?” It was more complicated than this. Even If she
    wanted to keep Zax’s unique soul a secret for the time being, by law, their
    parents were obligated to send him to the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit and until
    Zax will become a Mist User he will remain within the boundaries of that law.

    Zetsa was a B level Mist User. In comparison to her, Doctor
    Elliot was a mere E level Mist User. Zetsa could run in her mind a thousand
    thoughts and speculations before Doctor Elliot could finish forming just the
    one. So between the time that Zetsa was immersing in thoughts and Doctor Elliot
    was about to answer her question, only one second had passed.

    “Your brother, patient Zax Zel… he disappeared during the
    night”. Doctor Elliot said truthfully.

    Releasing a breath of relief and then comprehending what she
    had heard, Zetsa held her voice from shouting. “Zax is gone?! Explain to me
    right now, where is my brother?!”

    “I will answer everything, every question, however, please
    calm down. We received a report not too long ago, we know where he is”. Doctor
    Elliot tried to change her tone to be more soothing, if it could help her. She knew
    that Zetsa was a representative Guardian, and a Mist Master, at that.

    When Zetsa signed in the information of her and patient Zax
    Zel in the medical form that Doctor Elliot gave her, Zetsa wrote herself under
    the “Kin” header as his big sister and under the “Mist User Level” header as a
    Mist Master. Right now it was Doctor Elliot job to break Zetsa the new, and she
    did not want to suffer from a Mist Master’s emotional burst.

    “A hour and half ago…” A hour and half because Doctor Elliot
    slept oh too well, something which she chose not to share with the fretful
    Zetsa. “We could not find your brother near the tents or the buildings.
    Initially we thought that he decided to return home by himself, but there isn’t
    public transportation to or from this area of cave one hundred and thirty nine
    till the end of the event. Still, Mr. Helyon”, Doctor Elliot referred to the disciplinary
    supervisor of the event. “He sent four vehicles to search the roads.”

    “In the meantime he also looked at Zax’s results from the
    hunt… A E level Earth’s Core…” It was reasonably hard for even Doctor Elliot to
    hide the envy in her tone of voice and look in her eyes. “With a price Earth’s
    Core like this we did not believe that Zax will commit an illegal act and try
    to retake the hunt. Nonetheless, while we waited for the staff members that
    searched the roads to update us, Mr. Helyon ordered the staff members that were
    on break to enter cave zero thirty nine to investigate the participants that
    are currently in the hunt. Half an hour ago a few kids admitted that they saw
    last night, entering the participants’ compound…”

    “Then my brother…”

    “All the Guardians are informed, most of the staff members
    also looki-”

    It was futile for Doctor Elliot to finish her last sentence.
    Zetsa upped and disappeared from her line of sight like a violent gust of wind.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 15 – Earth Shattering Brown Digger

     

     

    A strong pungent odor burned Zax’s respiratory system
    through his nostrils and rose to his brain, the body organ which contained the
    soul.

    Zax woke up from the smell, but when his eyes opened what he
    saw was foreign. All he could see as he stared above was the ground as the
    ceiling and a dim light illuminating from somewhere. The last imagery that Zax
    could remember was the earth he was lying on splitting and a black shadow, like
    a long and thick whip, moving quickly out of the cracks, tossing large pieces
    of the shattered earth.

    “Urgh…” Zax moaned when he tried to get up. His stomach and
    back were in pain he was not aware of until he slightly moved himself up. Before
    he could achieve a measly one hundred and sixty degrees position, Zax’s body
    fell back and acute pain circling his abdomen and lower back specify the area
    of his injuries.

    “Gural… Gural… Gural…”

    The sound was getting closer, from the direction that his
    feet were turned to. At the same time Zax also heard “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP…”
    which was the sound of his heart throbbing.

    The same thing that made the “Gural” sound stomped the
    ground.

    “It’s getting closer”. Zax said aloud only because his mind
    was busy sulking in misery.

    “The unsafe zone… it wasn’t unsafe because its proximity to
    the REALLY unsafe beasts cave, but because there were still beasts roaming in
    the searching cave… I was such a fool! How I didn’t think about it?! If it was
    the entrance to the next cave that they didn’t want us to get close to, they
    could have just placed Guardians at the tunnel…” It was the voice of a child
    that learned his lesson which rang in his mind.

    However, apart from his own natural sprouting temperament, there
    was one other voice that Zax listened to and in the past few days it can be
    said, if one looked deeply, that it bewitched his soul, so much that it entwined
    and became an integral part of Zax’s foundations.

    The other voice was soundless, so Zax could only interact
    with it by accepting how it made him feel. The one dominating sensation was
    arrogance. The same arrogance that made Zax to so easily believe that his
    hardships will be to sneak into the batch of new participants and avoid the
    staff members and different Guardians as he crosses the searching cave, than facing
    the populated beasts’ cave he was heading to.

    In this moment, it was the sense of arrogance that made Zax
    to act, rather than keep sulking. Unsure if he should use his Soul Sense and if
    he do how it will affect him, Zax preferred to first bet on his Qi to survive
    the, might be, approaching confrontation, since it felt like his Qi was back in
    order, though surrounding the Earth’s Core in his dantian due to its inexplicable
    powers of attraction.

    Zax folded his knees and in both of his legs started to
    stream and to accumulate his Qi. In his mind he prepared himself to kick with his
    feet, to force himself up and find a way to escape, to threaten the beast –
    because, yes, he was sure that he was brought to this underground place by a
    beast – even to kick the ground and create lots of noise in hope that someone,
    a representative Guardians, an event’s Guardian will hear him and come to his
    rescue.

    Regardless of his chances to preserve his life, Zax was
    determined to retaliate.

    As the beast, a few meters from Zax, noticed his action it
    instantly halted its movement and only its voice continued to reverberate. “Gural…
    Gural… Gural…”

    The growling sounds repeated but the urgency changed.
    Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Those were the only fluctuations that Zax’s
    human ear perceived. What was the meaning, the desire behind those sounds? Even
    if his mind was unruffled by the current situation, there was little chance
    that he will know the answer.

    “Is it not coming?” The question dared to slightly calm the
    uncertainty in his heart.

    As if to give him an answer, or maybe Zax did, unconsciously,
    understand the beast, the creature, which was no more than three meters away
    from his feet, stomped the ground with its heavy steps.

    Until now Zax raised his head to see the appropriate,
    probably futile, moment to kick when the beast came close enough. It hurt more
    in his stomach muscles than in his lower back when he bent his neck and body a
    bit up, but it still did not provide him a clear site of the beast. Zax only
    had a full impression of one part of the beast’s body when it turned around and
    stepped away. What he saw was the perfect shape of the beast’s tail that like a
    thick and long branch, crossed the distance between them and fluttered over his
    body. The whip like tail was covered by brown scales and the moment Zax saw it,
    no more than a meter above him, he knew that he could not obstruct such a
    massive thing.

    “It’s going!” It was like a scene from a dream or a late
    night movie. The monster was leaving and one person, although injured and
    shaken, got to stay alive.

    Zax concentrated his strength and endurance on getting up
    again. Being aware of the pain made it easier the second time, and although it
    was not less painful and felt as if a giant stone was weighing on his stomach,
    Zax managed to gradually move his torso up.

    “Gural… Gural… Gural…” The beast persistently returned and
    this time Zax got to see all of it, or at least from its front appearance,
    recognize it.

    In Kingdom Earth there were only two sole lessons which
    bothered mentioning to children the existence of the beasts. One was History
    lesson where beasts were talked about briefly and to the point. The other one
    was Geography lesson where the students learned in an abbreviated manner about
    the sort of beasts that ruled some of the major mapped caves in the beasts’
    territory.

    To recognize the beast in front of him, it was not thanks to
    the history lessons or geography lessons that Zax knew it, but by watching
    beasts’ related shows on the Screen and being exposed to reading materials
    about the beasts’ territory that experts have published online.

    The beast that dragged him to this cavern was, in its full
    name, an Earth Shattering Brown Digger.

    The Brown Digger was a mammal type beast from the giant rodents’
    family, even though it had brown reptilian scales covering its tail and hind
    legs. Its body shape was similar to that of a rat with brown fur. Its limbs,
    however, were short and vicious, adorned by long and tough claws that could
    tear through the earth as if it was a giant piece of tofu. The head of the
    Brown Digger was its least impacting feature. The head was large and not completely
    round, though it had reptilian eyes, the rest, even the snout, was covered by puffy
    layers of fur. Only the knowledge of its hidden sharp teeth could truly alert
    others from this not far from being adorable face.

    The Brown Digger that appeared before Zax was clearly an
    adult one. From the tip of its tail to its hidden snout the length was more
    than four meters. Its height when on its four limbs was around a meter and
    fifty centimeters.

    Zax stared fixated at Brown Digger preying eyes. When he
    moved up most of the accumulated Qi in his feet dispersed. If the Brown Digger
    could sense his Qi accumulating once more, Zax was afraid that he will strike
    first and kill him. At this point, not even the arrogance sensation could
    supply him with an idea of what to do, for the most part not by using his Qi.

    “Gural… Gural… Gural…”

    The Brown Digger expression was impossible to decipher. It growled
    and motionlessly looked at Zax’s direction. The one thing which differentiated
    it from a statue was the long scaly tail that was swaying and rubbing the
    ground.

    The standstill between the two had mentally and physically
    exhausted Zax. He tried to stay watchful of any sudden movement of the Brown
    Digger, but how long has it been since he last ate or drank something? He was
    not craving food or water due to his emotional state, but his body, the Qi, the
    soul… The three aspects of a living being were hardly bothered by emotional disposition
    when it intersected with the basic need for nourishment, for survival.

    Gazing at his wristwatch could also arouse the Brown
    Digger’s hostility, so Zax could not even tell how long he stood there while
    unknowingly grabbing his stomach right where it hurt.

    It was not long before Zax started panting. A few minutes of
    short and painful breaths brought him back to the coarse earth, this time on
    his bottom.

    “A soul attack…” Zax was panting even slowed the thought in
    his head. If it were not for his inner mind, his head would have being been
    utterly blank. “A soul attack with all my might… and then try to escape…” The
    cavern was embedded with a few Sun Stones in the size of a rise grain. Looking
    past the Brown Digger, because of the dim lighting, Zax was not sure if the
    cavern was sealed by the Brown Digger or connected to a tunnel that might be the
    means for his escape.

    Ten minutes, without a doubt, have passed since his bottom
    touched the earth. Another fifteen minutes as surely also followed as Zax and
    the Brown Digger continued their oppressive standstill.

    “An hour…? An hour has definitely passed since I woke up…
    Two maybe…?” Zax head was boiling. Not just because he fought to restrain his
    bodily needs, but also because of the odor of the cavern. The more and longer
    that the foul odor had entered Zax’s nostrils, the harder it was to bear it.

    In the end, a ten years old is a ten years old and in terms
    of his physique, Zax could only be said to be slightly better than an average
    ten years old boy. Thus, he collapsed.

     

    “Gural… Gural… Gural…”

    The growls hovered so close to his face.

    “Crunch… Crunch… Crunch…”

    Was he been eaten by the Brown Digger?

    “Flup… Flup… Flup…”

    Something wet and smelly, though less smelly than the
    cavern, constantly rub him.

    Zax opened his eyes, wondering if he broke some kind of a
    record in passing out. The thought was not the first thing to cross his mind,
    but for some reason Zax felt that before anything, he should cling to this one
    pearl of amusement, It was his coping mechanism in case the Brown Digger was
    really eating him and his body had been torn to the a state where he could feel
    anything.

    “But then, how am I awake?” The question took the form of a lifeboat,
    the one Zax always saw in Serah’s favorite online game, Mocca Kart, with dirt
    wheels and turbines – real lifeboat were unneeded in Kingdom Earth and today
    the only leftovers from the past were rare pictures and drawings of how it was
    when people lived above the ground.

    As he sailed across the sea of his consciousness, incapable
    of coming up with an answer, finding the most remote island, a metallic, salty
    liquid poured into Zax’s mouth and filled it to the brim in an instant.

    “Blugh…”

    Zax could not help but rise with his back that was lying on
    the ground and hit his head in the Brown Digger’s opened jaw.

    As if it was not worse enough before, Zax found himself
    between the sharp teeth of the Brown Digger as a gush of red green liquid burst
    from his throat and spilled all over his body. The bloody scene was surreal;
    all of Zax five senses suffered an absolute shock.

    Was he awake? Yes. Was it real? Certainly. Was he aware that
    his body was in one piece, up and without pain? Absolutely not.

    Zax’s hand pushed the current of red green liquid in vain.
    The current only stopped when the Brown Digger closed its mouth and Zax was unintentionally
    mimicking it, standing all four on the ground.

    Zax spat the red green liquid that washed his mouth and smeared
    all of his body. Tiny meaty pieces where here and there, on the ground, stuck
    to him or coming out from his mouth. Even without the help of his Soul Sense
    Zax knew the source of this ground meat. “The Brown Digger last meal!” If he
    could, Zax would throw up, but his body was past this poor habit and his gag
    reflex toughened in the past couple of days…

    Ground meat was not the only thing that came out with the
    stream of red green liquid. Thin slices of vegetation, mainly roots, were
    scattered everywhere.

    The red green liquid, Zax assumed, was partly blood, partly fluids
    of the green roots.

    As Zax stood up on his feet with a straight back his gaze
    first fell on the Brown Digger. The beast seemed to be in a laid back mood
    after releasing the tension in its stomach. It did not gaze back at Zax or
    cared for another standstill. It simply dug its face into the earth, licked and
    munched only the meaty pieces of its already digested meal.

    Seeing that the Brown Digger was not concerned with him a
    familiar feeling resurface in Zax. The former arrogance sensation changed back
    into the vague attractive desire, which was responsible for his current
    situation.

    “What’s got into me?” Zax asked, he wanted to hear his voice
    and did not fret about the Brown Digger hearing him. “First I’m using my Soul
    Sense and lose control while partaking in the search. When I return to myself
    it’s only after I faint and wake up, forgetting the stuff others say I did.
    Then, I’m slowly feeling like there is something in the beasts’ cave that’s
    pulling me toward it, making me want… whatever it is... Now I’m stuck in this
    cavern with an adult Brown Digger that first I feel confident enough to take on
    and after it puke on me, it’s all well…”

    As crazy as all of it sounds, Zax knew the origin to the
    madness that befell him. But dealing with it… The origin was the alien
    sensation, desire, need or whichever other name that Zax could find fit to
    describe it. And the problem was that during a short period of time, maybe
    after the second time that Zax lost control, the alien sensation was no longer
    alien and actually became part of him. That part, although messed up, was not
    something Zax could refute, and asking him to ignore or overcome it will be the
    same as asking a kleptomaniac not to steal. Zax’s actions, at first, were not
    done on purpose, but now it was unstoppable, at least until the sensation,
    desire, need or whichever… will be satisfied.

    What Zax cared about after he got up on his feet, apart from
    the sensation, was to clean himself as much as possible from the disgust that
    stuck to his body. Zax went as far as stripping out of his clothes – it was not
    like the only other being around paid attention to him, and even if it did,
    whether its meal was wrap by fabric, scales, feathers, fur or bald, a Brown
    Digger could eat anything.

    “Useless! I need to wash myself”. Zax gave up. When the
    Brown Digger snatched him, his backpack was either left behind or fell
    somewhere along the way to this cavern. If he had it in hand he could have used
    the water from the water bottles to clean himself since he emptied only a third
    of one bottle out of the two that he took from the Medical tent.

    “The pulling and squeezing from the Brown Digger’s tail…” As
    Zax saw his stomach, waist and back a spark of comprehension appeared in his
    eyes and he grimaced. Where the Brown Digger tail wrapped him, a belt of red
    and blue, ground skin and bruises, encircled his waist.

    “The juice of the green roots!” Taking a closer look made Zax
    call in wonderment.

    The red part of the liquid was the blood of the creature the
    Brown Digger ate. The green part of the liquid was the fluids of the roots that
    the Brown Digger ate. When Zax examined his wounds and saw that despite the severity
    of them he did not feel pain while turning, bending and even touching, an absurd
    hypothesis crossed his mind. He discovered that while the blood dried and
    hardened on his skin, the fluids remained gooey, tucked under an armor made of
    blood, as if it was an ointment under a bandage.

    “What the…!” Zax’s gaze shot at the Brown Digger who
    flinched from the quick and sudden movement and stared back at him suspiciously.
    “Your puke has medicinal effect?”

    Obviously the Brown Digger did not answer verbally or even
    treat the sounds coming out from Zax’s mouth as if they held any meaning which
    was directed toward it. Its intelligence was only a little better than that of
    the cattle that was raised in some of cave twenty five’s farms. In response to
    Zax’s subsiding gaze the Brown Digger’s mere action was lowering its head to its
    meal.

    As both kept a mutual distance, Zax drew his attention to
    his slowly healing injuries. To avoid rousing submerged pain, he inspected to
    which extent he could move. As he stretched his arms above his head it abruptly
    occurred to him. “My wristwatch!”

    Not knowing how long it had been since he ended up in the
    Brown Digger’s cavern, Zax lowered his hands to check the time and date in his wristwatch.
    He scraped the blood that smeared the tiny display and frowned right after. The
    date froze on the same day of the search he snuck into and the time also froze
    on an hour which, unless it was a new day, should have passed long ago. “It
    broke…” An immature sigh escaped Zax’s mouth.

    “Well then”, Zax’s hands loosened and fell to the sides of
    his waist. “If it doesn’t gonna eat me and instead chose to treat the wounds
    that its tail caused… Then maybe it won’t stop me from leaving”. Step by step,
    Zax exercised caution as he executed his decision to leave.

    “Not going to stop?” The thought softly wondered as he
    encircled the long body of the Brown Digger.

    The Brown Digger lifted its furry apathetic head from the earth, still chewing the
    ground meat its tongue picked up and stared at Zax. A black radiant appeared in
    between its eyes.

    “STOP!”


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 16 – Black Core

     

    “STOP!”

    The one word suddenly sprouted, not as an external sound of
    the Brown Digger’s voice, but was conveyed like a wave of thought from the
    black radiance between the Brown Digger’s eyes.

    Zax stared at the Brown Digger with a suspended expression
    on his childish face. “It… It…”

    The black radiance, like a charming third eye, hidden
    beneath the Brown Digger fur, still echoed the one word which sounded as if it
    was spoken with Zax’s own vocal cords.

    “STOP!”

    The word repeated, less daunting the second time, though it
    remained firm and forceful. The wave carried another thing when it reached
    Zax’s mind once more, a tint of a submissive mutual desire between the black
    radiance and the domineering sensation that became part of him.

    Without paying heed to his actions, Zax’s right hand reached
    for the Brown Digger’s head. His fingers dug through the layers of fur, where
    the spot of black radiance shone, with each 
    millimeter deeper it felt like the familiarity between the black
    radiance and the domineering sensation was getting stronger, until the fingers
    were surpassed by the toughness of the roots and skull of the Brown Digger.

    Now, so close, as Zax half consciously returned to himself,
    the first thing he somewhat noticed were the Brown Digger’s eyes. The two
    reptilian eye balls seemed lifeless and hazy as fluctuations of brown mist energy
    swirled inside of them.

    Looking at them, Zax had a vague feeling that the Brown
    Digger was at the same state that he was and that maybe in his eyes, it was Qi
    that swirled.

    The Brown Digger, if he was half consciousness like Zax, did
    not oppose Zax closeness or touch. When the two were in contact it made both
    the Brown Digger and Zax experience a sort of kinship that originated from the
    other half of their consciousness. It could be described as if the two were
    under one and the same spell.

    “CLIMB!”

    Another word, with the same voice that sounded like Zax’s,
    but from the black radiance in the Brown Digger’s head.

    Unlike the Brown Digger, Zax sensed that he had a tad more
    control, enough to make the choice if to listen to the voice or ignore it. By
    relaying on how he felt, Zax was partial toward compliance. He had done so much
    for the irrational sensation; it also became an inseparable part of him that
    one could say he had done so much for himself. What was one more thing if it
    will only make him feel better? Not pressed by the need to do something he
    could not rationalize.

    It was already too late to repent, and too early of a ten
    years old child to listen for reason rather than an impulse.

    “Gurglegurglegurgle!”

    Before he even got to clench his hands with a grip of the
    Brown Digger’s fur and climb it, the two were startled by Zax’s stomach growling
    sounds. Zax fell to his bottom, the small bit for energy that he was about to
    extract could not be achieved in his body current state, despite the green gluey
    liquid that was healing his wounds.

    As if something clicked in its mind, the Brown Digger
    regained a miniscule portion of its consciousness. It turned from Zax, walked
    to a certain spot on the ground and in a manner of a few seconds, surprisingly
    dug out Zax’s backpack.

    Since the two shared a cryptic connection, when Zax’s
    stomach was growling, although both were mostly under the influence of the
    source of the connection, the Brown Digger still managed to receive a picture
    of Zax’s backpack and an idea of what its content meant for Zax. Moreover, the
    sound of a growling stomach has held a distinguished note all living beings
    could recognize.

    Zax’s incomplete awareness made him grasp his body movement
    slowly and with no relations to his will. It was the same as watching through
    dreaming eyes and going along with it. Zax grab his backpack from the Brown Digger’s
    mouth, opened it and one by one ate all the remaining snacks and drank all the
    water to his fill.

    The Brown Digger, who was affected by the cravings of Zax’s
    body through the connection, also licked the ground as he done before, only
    this time by what its counterpart projected.

    After couple of long minutes, Zax was sated and the black
    radiance shone brightly in between the Brown Digger’s eyes.

    “LEAVING!”

    One word, which was sufficient for Zax to understand what
    the voice, his voice, implied, caused him to put the backpack on his back and
    climb the Brown Digger’s back.

    “HOLD!”

    How the sound resonated made Zax
    wonder, for a few seconds, in some deep part of his consciousness, whether the
    Brown Digger was just a tool of the black radiance, when in fact it was the
    black radiance that had the connection with him. Could the words that carried
    his voice were actually his own from the start and since a beast like a Brown
    Digger cannot talk, the black radiance pulled the words from his mind and sent
    them back as its own? The question dispersed to nothingness with the first step
    of the Brown Digger out of the cavern to the tunnel that indeed was on the
    other side.

    The Brown Digger’s path was
    illuminated by a handful of grain size Sun Stones and regardless of how it was
    influenced to eat because of Zax, the affect seemed to be one sided.

    The tunnels in the profound world
    of the Brown Diggers were carved in a very systematic order, considering the
    low intelligent of Brown Diggers... Tunnels in and out caverns were slightly
    wide and tall as an adult Brown Digger on all four. Tunnels which functioned as
    paths to different locations beneath the ground were as wide and tall as two
    adult Brown Diggers. Crossroads tunnels were the biggest ones, they were the
    places adults sometimes fought against each other and pups sometimes played in.
    There were several others types of tunnels with different builds which
    signified different stuff for the Brown Digger, but in none of these tunnels
    the Brown Digger carrying Zax crossed.

    Lastly, and not entirely related to
    the tunnels but still part of the profound word of the Brown Diggers... The
    reason for the bad smell in the cavern that Zax was in and most other caverns
    was the method in which the Brown Diggers used to mark their private dwellings…

    Seeing the tender flesh meat
    carried by another of their own, was a sensible reason for Brown Diggers to
    fight over it, to try and snatch it, and most times that exactly what would had
    happened. Yet instead, while Zax rode on the back of the Brown Digger, whenever
    an adult Brown Digger was about to react to his presence, something unexpected
    took place that might have shocked Zax if half of his mind was not unconscious
    and the other half free from the dream like state.

    On the head of every adult Brown
    Digger, in between their eyes, a black radiance shone. The same happened to a
    great number of the Brown Digger pups and those of the little ones whom did not
    display the black radiance were forced to stay in their place by their parents,
    right before they and every other Brown Digger paused their activities. The
    effect of the suspension lasted up until the Brown Digger that carried Zax diverted
    its path to another tunnel and was too far for the other Brown Diggers to
    notice by smell or sight the human on its back.

    Time flew by as seconds turned into
    minutes and minutes to hours, eventually nearly three days had passed. A human
    boy could not withstand such journey without food and rest, but beneath the
    ground, in the world of Brown Diggers there was very little that could pose as nutrition
    for humans.

    The first day and a half was still
    beneath the ground and apart from drinking one time from an underground spring,
    Zax had nothing to satisfy his thirst and hunger. The Brown Digger, who through
    their connection felt that Zax was hungry, left to hunt while Zax rested,
    guarded by another Brown Digger with black radiance on its head. However, when
    it got back with a feathery carcass, Zax, in his half aware state, was reluctant
    to feed on it. Even the word “EAT!” that resonated in Zax mind, a wave in his
    sea of consciousness, it could not compel Zax to eat.

    “EAT!”

    “EAT!”

    “EAT!”

    The Brown Digger left Zax and
    hunted time and time again. It did not let Zax to climb on its back and
    continue when Zax refused to eat, it could not. The thing which controlled the
    Brown Digger sent it to find and bring food to sate Zax’s hunger; otherwise it
    would not let them proceed. In the sixth time the Brown Digger returned from
    the hunt it brought orange juicy fruits. Maybe it was their appearance, maybe
    it was the sensation or maybe Zax really knew what these fruits were… either
    way, he ended up eating them. Afterwards, in the first day and a half, the
    Brown Digger left only once more to bring food and by this time, returned quite
    fast with a branch of the tree that grew the orange fruits.

    The last day of their journey was
    above ground. There was a fairly good reason for a Brown Digger to live underground;
    it was not much of the most threatening beast. Any other beast of the same size
    or even a little smaller that lived above the ground was more dangerous than a
    Brown Digger, as if oversize rodent was still just a rodent. On their way to
    their destination in the last day, after Zax eaten the last orange fruit, the
    Brown Digger did not left to bring more of the fruits or allowed a moment of
    rest to either of them. During the last day the Brown Digger still obeyed the
    black radiance like a robot, but followed its instincts in regards to their
    survival.

    Finally they entered it. The
    entrance tunnel was uniquely small, similar to the in and out tunnels from
    caverns in the Brown Diggers’ world. The cave, however, was as big as any of
    the beasts’ caves, its scenery, on the other hand, was like nothing they
    encountered, whether they paid attention or not.

    Although the tunnel to the cave sank
    into the ground, this appeared to be of no concern to the duo. Smoky mist that
    sprouted from the ground like incomparable hot steam was the thing which
    delayed Zax and the Brown Digger for a short time after they entered. The smoky
    mist had lava like orange color, almost as bright and prominent as gold. It
    blocked the view of the cave and possibly burnt any sign of life that ever
    existed in the cave.

    The black radiance, although it
    deflected the smoky mist from Zax’s and the Brown Digger’s path by creating a
    barrier in the shape of a dome, it could not lower the temperatures of the
    boiling earth. Nonetheless, the Brown Digger, despite burning its paws with
    each step, did not slow down or even flinched from the pain. It continued
    onward for a few hours and collapsed when there was no need for it to go
    farther – that was when the black radiance faded from its head and only the
    barely half aware Zax remained, sort of, awake.

    The two arrived to a rock that
    could be either a base of a mountain the smoky mist cover, or simply a giant
    rock. Besides several cavities of the same size and shape in the rock, embedded
    to it were two fist sizes, glowing spheres which emitted a terrifyingly strong
    black radiance that far repressed the boiling earth and smoky mist’s
    capabilities within a diameter of a few tens of meters.

    The new black radiance, of one
    sphere out of the two, assaulted Zax’s consciousness, but did not harm his
    soul. The black radiance meticulously formed a black membranes armor around
    Zax’s soul. When the armor was indomitable, Zax’s soul was sheltered from any
    outside harmful fluctuations, yet could still interact and perceive as before. Following
    the complete formation of the armor, a black glimmer flashed in Zax’s eyes and
    he regained full consciousness.

    “Mmm…”

    Since he was aware to a certain
    degree of his surroundings and his action, Zax did not immediately react when
    he again looked at the world with clear eyes. The transition from an half aware
    dream state to refreshing clarity was also not abrupt as it is when one wakes
    up for a dream. The transition was subtle and in its process, Zax’s unique soul
    first familiarized itself with the black membranes armor, which seemed to be
    nothing special. At most, a defensive layer that moved along with the movement
    of the soul energy. Second, Zax’s inner mind, unobstructed by the sensation or
    voices that rang in his head, recalled as much as he could of the past two and
    a half days. After a few minutes he was perfectly he was perfectly versed with
    every at any given moment from the journey.

    Zax eyebrows contracted. Looking
    around at the smoky mist and the panting Brown Digger, he said aloud. “It
    wasn’t you, right? You were just a tool to bring me here”. His gaze moved to
    the sphere that formed the black membranes armor. “You guided us here… Are you
    an Earth’s Core?”

    It was ludicrous to ask, but the
    black sphere had the shape of an Earth’s Core and even seemed to have dark swirling
    mist inside of it. In Kingdom Earth there was not ever a known case of an
    Earth’s Core communicating with a person, at least no one ever publish the
    existence of such an extraordinary event. And yet, Zax was confident in his
    beliefs. Being so close to the origin of the black radiance, he did not know
    how it controlled the Brown Digger or him or how it communicated with either of
    them, but he was sure that it was the black sphere, one of the two, that done
    so.

    In spite of Zax’s hopes, the black
    sphere he turned his question to, did not respond. “Should I try it now that
    I’m finally here?” Zax pondered. “…If anything I feel like I should get closer,
    but not leave. No. This Black Core… I’ve done so much… I’ll take it!” Zax made
    up his mind and released his Soul Sense.

    There was nothing to sense. When
    his Soul Sense launched, the black armor also extended itself as part of the border
    of the Soul Sense. The black border severed Zax contact with the environmental
    essence and formed a void sphere with a radius of a hundred and thirty five
    centimeters. Within the void the lack of senses did not scared Zax, on the
    contrary, he felt at peace, like floating inside a mother womb.

    “THUMP!”

    Zax’s hearing was impacted and the
    sound was that of a pulse.

    “THUMP!”

    Zax’s smell returned, next, and the
    odor was sweet and vast.

    “THUMP!”

    Zax’s sight was the only one of his
    senses he was not sure if he had lost or merely darkened by his eyelids. With
    it he discovered a shining distant spot in the black cover of his Soul Sense.

    “THUMP!”

    Zax’s taste intersected with his
    sense of smell and the vast sweetness spread out in his mouth and filled his
    body.

    “THUMP!”

    Zax’s last sense returned. Touch.
    He stopped floating, and could tell that once more he was standing on a solid
    ground.

    “THUMP!”

    Zax five senses led him unanimously
    forward and with his steps getting closer, so was everything he sensed
    intensifying. “There, it’s showing me when I use my Soul Sense!” His right hand
    starched and his five fingers clenched something smooth and round.

    “THUMP!”

    The impulse passed through Zax’s
    hand and shook his whole body from his skin to his bone marrow. Startled, Zax
    fell on his knees. For a split millisecond he saw it, the being that left this
    black Earth’s Core behind. If Zax had to choose one word to describe it, then
    “Colossal!” was the one.

    “Ahaaa…” Other than a crude
    estimation of its size Zax could not fathom the entity’s features. His mouth
    was left opened and an indistinct voice came out. The shortest of moments of
    its true presence blanked his mind. When the moment was over Zax unintentionally
    withdrew his Soul Sense and the Black Core disappeared from the palm of his
    hand.

    “Where did it go?!” Zax’s eyes
    bulged out. A second ago he held the Black Core, one even might say tightly,
    and in the blink of an eye it vanished?

    “My Qi and…!” Inside of his lower dantian,
    the Qi that was swirling around the medium quality E level Core began to stream
    back to all the Qi channels and stir in them. Things were happening to the medium
    quality E level Earth’s Core, as well. Its color started to darkened. The
    Earth’s Core’s shell gradually turned pitch black, so much that it was
    impossible to detect or see with Zax mind’s eye the mist inside of it.

    “What is it doing?” Zax located the
    Black Core. It was right next to the E level Earth’s Core, sending pulses of
    dark radiance to the Earth’s Core, Qi and soul.

    In his dantian, Zax could only feel
    that his soul link with the Earth’s Core and Black Core was slowly fading, but
    in his Qi channels and soul… “AHHHHH!” Excruciating pain cut through Zax two of
    the three aspects, soul and Qi. Zax roared madly, winced and banged his head to
    the ground. “GRHAAAA!” His voice cracked and echoed for hundreds of meters as
    pulses of black radiance were sent from the Black Core and black long spikes pierced
    every fiber of the last aspect, his body. The sudden pain was intolerable to
    the point that Zax could not think straight. He was awfully conscious of
    everything, the piling of his soul, the disintegration of his body, the Qi
    which liquefied and formed crystal like clots in the Qi channels, but his mind…
    it retracted. All of it, in this rare chance, while the protection of the soul
    was wavering, the only safe haven was within the seed of his creation, the
    spirit.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 17 – Diagnosis

     

    While Zax’s body experienced
    convulsions as a result of the intolerable pain, his consciousness abandoned
    the three aspects for a place where none of them could influence him.  Within the sea of his consciousness, in the
    center which was the most conclusive place of the soul, Zax was cuddling, or
    more properly, the spirit that was Zax Zell took the naked form of a ten years
    old boy, holding his folded legs close to his chest, submerged in a deep sleep.

     

    When the Brown Digger woke up, it was no longer under the
    control of the Black Core and the black radiance also vanished from in between
    its eyes. Confused by its surrounding, the burns on its paws and it exhausted
    state; a great hunger howled from its stomach and from his mouth came out a cautionary
    growl toward the ominous smoky mist that its instincts kept warning about.

    “Sniff… Sniff…” The smell of blood was distinct, close by.
    The head of the Brown Digger turned to Zax’s body. With its nose the Brown
    Digger could easily smell the blood splattered beneath Zax torso – he spat it involuntary
    when his body started to spasm. On that note, the Brown Digger sense of smell
    was more unique than strong, since it was known to be capable to actually smell
    Qi or mist energy, even when inside an Earth’s Core’s shell.

    “Gurrrr!” The Brown Digger got close to Zax, his sharp claws
    ready to separate meat from bone.

    “STUMP!”

    A heavy hoof stumped the head of the Brown Digger and a
    voice that was sneering expressed his disdain. “Vermin…”

    “TUMP!”

    Another hoof sent the body of the Brown Digger flying.
    However, before it touched the ground again, the smoky mist corroded the giant
    rodent into nothingness.

    “That stone!” The remaining Black Core caught the attention
    of the husky voice. “I should take it to big brother. Better hurry now,
    creating another entrance would be tiresome”. A pair of black round eyes turned
    to Zax. “A human child… Must be Zetsa’s little brother”. An azure luster gleamed
    in the black round eyes as they surveyed Zax, in and out. When an assessment
    had been made the eyes closed and opened again, the azure luster vanished. Two
    muscular arms adorned by shining black fur picked Zax gently from the ground. “Unfortunate,
    how very unfortunate…”

     

    “I will say it again, my dear, his physical condition is
    stable, and in the past days I treated him to the best of my abilities. As you
    saw, and from what I read in the report, there were none external injuries and
    the inner ones were small and in the process of healing when you already
    brought him. For his body, he will need only couple of months of rest. It is
    also, probably, what prevents him from regaining consciousness. I hope you
    understand that we will have to wait to know for sure?” The man speaking was of
    age, bald and wrinkled, also a proficient practitioner that embarked on the
    path of medicine over a century ago. “His Qi channels and soul however…” The
    man sighed and laid his hand on Zetsa’s shoulder.

    “I don’t understand, Doctor Nijima, that my little brother’s
    body needs to heal to wake up, yes. But what about his Qi channels and soul?”

    Zetsa wished that she could scream at Doctore Nijima, but
    her parents sat not far from them, inside Zax’s room, besides his bed and the
    supportive care unit which was connected to Zax’s vein and supplied him fluids
    – different species, different methods…

    “It’s the third time this week… you said that your research
    will be concluded days ago, instead you came two times to diagnosis my little
    brother’s condition, each time you promise to return with explanation, and this
    is the third time in four days and I still hears the same words. If you cannot accomplish
    anything in your, supposedly, vocation, than ask them to send someone else, a
    team, if needed, but stop dragging time!”

    Nine days had passed since Zetsa returned from the beasts’
    territory with Zax in her arms. When they, the committee of the Great Earth’s
    Core Pursuit, heard of the return of the young felon, they wanted to
    immediately address the matter of Zax’s inexplicable, illicit actions. As it so
    happened, for several reasons, things went the other way and they had to
    restrain themselves.

    First, to hold back the hostile treatment that any who
    breaks the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit’s rules receives, Zetsa sent a detailed
    message to the committee, highlighting the inadequate and irresponsible regulation
    and supervision the event upholds, which allowed a ten years old boy to sneak
    past all the event’s staff and the so called experts that are hired or
    volunteer as staff, and disappeared underneath their noses in the
    hunting\searching cave. Zetsa, with her parents involve, made it clear how far
    and wide the news of a ten years old missing during the event could spread in
    the kingdom.

    Following that, there was the reasoning that the case of a
    participant sneaking to a second hunt was a first and something so implausible,
    that the committee never thought they will have to officially explain it to the
    young participant before their hunt, among the other laws that they inform them
    about. To top the weirdness of such deed, the committee had to deal with the
    fact that the boy, Zax Zell, according to his report, had found and formed a
    Link with a medium quality E level Earth’s Core, in the undisputed names of the
    Supreme Rulers!

    And then there was the matter of the young felon physical
    condition. Frankly, for Zax to be brought back alive, it surprised anyone who
    knew about the case. For Zax to return uninjured, that is externally, was also
    quite a shock. And since regardless of the actions the family of the young felon
    threatened to pursue, in one way or another, the event’s committee had to get
    involve in some way.

    When Zetsa brought over Zax, she took him to the closet
    medical facility, which was the Medical tent of the event in cave one hundred
    and thirty nine. From there, things proceeded as one doctor after another came
    to see Zax only to shake his or her head submissively. The event’s committee
    had the decency to still treat Zax as a participant, and to mellow the
    situation that a mere child caused the used any means to first support the
    family. When their doctors came up with no results, the event’s committee began
    to even develop a sort of personal interest in the wellbeing of the “Felon”,
    “Boy”, “Young participant”, “Zax” – after couple of days each member of the committee
    had given his or her own name when talking about Zax.

    Doctor Nijima had a private practice which only high class
    families could afford. He had no obligation toward the national event, Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit, so naturally the event’s committee had to pay a great sum
    to ask for his diagnosis.

    He ended up being the only medical practitioner that took
    care of Zax in the past four days. In the beginning it was for the money, since
    he was sure that with his century of experience there could not be something
    new with the ability to surprise him. It was easy to point out the physical
    condition of the patient, and so it was the first thing he did. Unfortunately, diagnosing
    the reason for the clots in Zax’s Qi channels, how his Qi liquefied and how the
    soul of a ten years old boy, or a soul in general, could have a hint of black
    in its color, were all things he never encountered which aroused his dormant
    curiosity.

    And what about the public hospitals which were in each
    populated cave in Kingdom Earth? The name would suggest the answer of why not
    turning to them…

    It has been a long time since the last time a family member
    of a patient of his, Doctor Nijima, dared not speak to him in a reserved manner,
    even when he was a sixty years old lad on the path of medicine that already
    could cure most diseases or odd conditions of the three aspects he faced. After
    so many years it was both refreshing and bitter.

    “Would you like some tea?” Doctor Nijima replied to Zetsa calmly.

    “What?” The question startled Zetsa for a short enough
    moment to make her forget her frustration and for Doctor Nijjima to make us of
    it.

    “I have my own kit for making tea, all I need is water”.
    Doctor Nijima spoke with his back to Zetsa, already leading the way to the
    kitchen.

    “Doctor…” Zetsa followed with a mixed expression on her face
    displaying anger and bafflement at the same time.

    “Herbs? No need. I’ll let you taste my personal mixture”.
    Doctor Nijima said nonchalantly. He opened the tap and let the water sprinkle
    on his finger before tasting it. “Terrible, terrible! You want to let an old
    man drink such poisonous water?”

    “What? Poisonous? The plumbing is fairly new…” While saying
    so, Zetsa asked herself why is she the one to speak defensively.

    “Then the water is fairly poisonous”. Doctor Nijima closed
    the tap in dissatisfaction. “Forget it. Go buy a bottle of clean water, it is
    fine, I’m willing to wait”. He sat on a chair and put his bag on the dining
    table.

    “Doctor”, Zetsa felt her head growing dizzy that in any
    moment she could flip and slap the face of the renowned doctored before her.
    “I’m not in the mood for tea and care nothing of how well and tasty you can
    make it. Talk to me about-”

    “Zax, your “little brother”…” He repeated with the same
    sound that her voice carried whenever she mentioned him. “You want me to tell
    you? Fine, there is not much and you can’t do anything with the information,
    but I’ll still do as you wish”. He opened his bag and took out a smell teapot
    made of several types of minerals along with four cups made from the same
    materials. “However we will talk on a cup of tea. So go on, go on, and bring me
    a bottle of clean water. Then and only then I will talk to you”.

    Facing the decisiveness of Doctor Nijima, a man Zetsa just
    realized is not a mere geezer, but an annoying one at that, Zetsa clenched her
    fists and turned to the door with fiery eyes. If only she could use force to
    make Doctor Nijima answer her question, she would have done it already. But
    alas, the annoying geezer was dimensions above her even on the path of her
    choosing, the Martial Path.

    As many who paid attention know, though the primary path of
    Doctor Nijima was that of medicine, one cannot just leave for over a hundred
    and fifty years without also cultivating the three aspects. And as many who
    lived long enough know, the name which virtually known today as Doctor Nijima,
    held two meanings. “Doctor” was not just an attached title due to his
    profession, but after years of painstakingly learning every possible thing on
    his field of research, it has become an inseparable definition of who was the
    Man. “Nijima” was remnant of the past, a name once widely known in Kingdom
    Earth of a boy which by the age of eighteen reached the level of a B level Mist
    User, Mist Master. Some speculate that if that boy had chosen the Martial path,
    he would have reached long ago to profound level of a Core Master, instead of been
    stuck at the Peak of the Mist Lord’s level for so many years.

    Zetsa got back with two cases of water, for the sake that if
    there really is something wrong with the plumbing, her parents and little
    brother, when he will wake, will have clean water to drink until the problem
    will be fixed.

    “Splendid”. Doctor Nijima said as he received a bottle from
    Zetsa and began to brew the pot of tea. Not long after, four cups were filled
    to the brim by a hot aromatic tea. “Bring them to your parents. They stayed in
    Zax’s room since my arrival”. He offered two of the four cups to Zetsa and
    affected by the rich fragrance of the tea, she quietly accepted.

    Couple of minutes late, Zetsa returned, took a seat by the
    dining table and seemed to wait for Doctor Nijima to finally speak.

    It took the all cup of tea for Doctor Nijima to begin
    talking, but eventually he laid the cup on a tray that was part of his kit and
    said. “About the body you already know. It will heal in a few months, as I’ve
    told you before. The Qi channels are a bit difficult to describe… it liquefied
    and formed clots in the Qi channels, that already supposed to mean death
    sentence, but in Zax’s case is body still sustaining. Do you understand my and
    those who checked you little brother astonishment? Put aside that mist energy,
    which is far more pure than Qi, liquefied only when on breaks through the Core
    Master level. However, even a Core Master will die in a matter of days if the
    flow in the mist channels will become clogged. With a superficial observation I
    can tell you that Zax’s Qi and Qi channels have been through some unimaginable
    transformations and that is mostly the reason that he is still alive. But with
    a proper diagnosis I can promise you that even if Zax will wake up, unless he
    will go through another ordeal of transformations, he won’t even be able to use
    his Qi, and the Earth’s Core in his dantian will remain sealed and unproductive
    till the day he will die”.

    “Unable to use his Qi…” The word cut through Zetsa’s heart
    and a great pain in her chest caused her body to shudder. She knew about the
    clots in the Qi channels, but was not sure of their implications until this
    very moment. It is safe to say that she was relieved to know that first and
    foremost Zax will live. However to live and yet never to be able to use his Qi,
    to cultivate, to become a Mist User… She saw the look on her Martial uncle’s
    face when he gave her Zax and could tell now what he avoided from telling her
    back then, when she asked him about Zax’s condition. “How can I ever tell this
    to Zax...?” She knew how much agony this revelation will cause to her little
    brother, “it will destroy him!”

    “Treat-”

    “Treatment?” As if he read her mind, Doctor Nijima said in
    her place. “That is why I told you that you won’t be able to do anything with
    the information. As far as I know, there are no treatment to the condition of
    Zax’s Qi and Qi channel. Granted, if one cultivate incompetently, there are
    ways to deal with clots in the Qi channels, but these ways are clearly
    unsuitable for treating Zax. You see, not only his Qi liquefied; it also did
    not kill him. That is unheard of! If it will be treated commonly, I’m ninety
    nine percent sure that Zax will die”.

    Zetsa wanted to say something in return, but could not find the
    words to rebuke Doctor Nijima or to urge him to find a solution since he said
    so form the beginning that he is still researching.

    “Then his soul, my little brother’s soul?” Hope. She had to
    find some solace. Just a little, it could not be that all is lost!

    Doctor Nijima did not immediately answer; he first finished
    a second cup of tea and motioned for Zetsa to do the same.

    “This is also an untreatable situation. However, after
    overviewing the progression of Zax’s convalescence as a whole… The source of
    the black color still eluded me. It seems in the midst of transforming Zax’s
    soul by eroding pieces of it and recreating them, yet without harming the
    spirit”.

    “Zax’s soul is peeling?!” Zetsa choked and rose from the
    seat. “The… the… the pain he must be going through!” Thought of it nearly made
    her go out of her mind. Any expert should know it… Not to mention peeling a
    soul, a simple soul attack such as one that barely shakes the soul can bring
    down a person. The gap in the severity of pain is even greater than the gap
    between a Core Breaker, the weakest kind of Expert, and a Core Master, a Super
    Expert!

    “Sit down, I have not finished talking. I’m assuming that is
    what it does because I detected in Zax’s consciousness scraps, which radiate
    energy that resemble normal soul energy. What more problematic is that we are
    still very lacking in means to treat a damaged soul. A normal person, in a
    normal case, even someone at your level, would most probably die if something
    will peel three to five percent of your soul. That is because such procedure is
    impossible to perform without creating repels that won’t harm the spirit, at
    the very least, that is what I thought until I met your little brother.”

    “Zax, on the other hand, you told me that his soul reached
    level F and is capable of using a Soul Sense that is stronger than that of a
    Core Breaker? Well, I’ll take that as a confirmation that Zax is not a normal
    person. And now let me indicate that over ninety five percent of his soul has
    been transformed. By that I’m saying bluntly that far more than five percent had
    been peeled from his soul, which in turn makes it a very abnormal case. Is Zax’s
    soul suffering from the transformation? In my uneducated opinion it is not”.

    Doctor Nijima took two more teacups from his bag and poured
    the remaining tea, with a gesture for Zetsa to take them over to her parents
    and closed his eyes, absolving himself from anything she might say in protest
    that he should first finish explaining the matter of her little brother’s soul.

    She returned from the room with the two cups that she
    brought her parents before and Doctor Nijima was pleased that the cups were
    empty.

    “There are all the words in the world for me to pick up,
    only to say what I don’t know about the condition of Zax’s soul. Conversely
    there is one certainty of which I’m one hundred percent confident about. When
    the transformation will be complete and Zax will wake up, his soul level should
    not be below that of a D level Earth’s Core Holder”.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 18 – No Different Than A Cripple

     

     

    A breeze of refinement blew and passed in every reach of
    Zax’s consciousness. The force of perfect completion originated from Zax’s
    newly transformed soul.

    Deep within the soul itself, the embodiment of existence,
    the spirit, has taken the shape of a petrified, curled up ten years old boy.

    “Puah!” The boy opened his sealed mouth, releasing a breath of
    black particles. The small lifelike particles spun around the spirit and merged
    with the inward layer of Zax’s soul. When the inside of the soul reverted back
    to serenity, a beat of awakening transpired from the spirit and the shut eyes
    of the boy rekindled in black luster.

     

    August twenty nine, year 5785.

    Little by little Zax opened his eyes as if they were rusted shutters.
    The lights in the room were turned off, but a machine that was also connected
    to him and hummed next to his right ear had a small bulb that kept on blinking
    in green light.

    “I can’t see much”. Zax said in mind. For some reason it
    felt like a burden to use his voice. “It hurts when I try to move”. It more
    like felt like he was shackled to the bed he was lying on. “Why am I so weak?”
    Yet, somehow, despite awaking to find that he was having an extreme discomfort
    to even let his eyelids stay open, Zax still asked himself coolheaded.

    “My head… my mind… it feels so refreshed!” Zax lowered his
    eyelids and mused on the great feeling in his sea of consciousness. “Is that my
    soul?” What he found nearly made his body flip, if only he had the strength.
    The blur that he could never grasp clearly, its appearance was still intangible;
    however there was something new to it. “No way! Why does it emit the black
    radiance like the…” Just when he was about to think of it, Zax found it. “The
    Black Core is in my dantian and also… the E level Earth’s Core also there, and
    its color also changed to black?! How can that be possible?”

    Thoughts ran through his mind, sharper, faster and calmer
    than ever before, regardless of how puzzled and distracted that made him.

    “I can’t make up what’s happing, how can I have two Earth’s
    Cores? Or is it one and another which is… a Black Core?” For whatever reason
    the Black Core did not seem to him the same as a regular Earth’s Core now that
    he was in possession of it. Or rather he knew that the two were different, but
    he could not point out in what manner.

    “Maybe big sis will know, or mommy or daddy”. Even though he
    was not affected by the passage of time because of the dormancy and before that
    was partly under the control of the Black Core, as Zax thought of those he had
    not seen since the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit and were missing to him in
    moments when he was alone, thinking that he will die in spite of his confidence,
    a pressing ache surge in his heart and tears began to flow from his eyes.

    “Moooom! Daaaad! Zetsaaa!” Zax cried. His memories of his
    experience in the beasts’ territory were clear and unhindered by strange
    sensations or black radiance. The tiny bit of his awareness that was present
    and witnessed back then emerged from where it was submerged and made all the
    pent up stress erupt in one go.

    “Mom! Mom! Dad…” Zax called for his parents. He barely gave
    notion to how in one moment his mind was so sober and in another he lost
    himself to mere feelings. But children do not acknowledge their weaknesses and
    limitations. Those things are a part of them that they do not question and can
    only concur by slowly maturing. Zax might have a soul that is on an equal level
    as a D level Mist User and most definitely more capable. His soul can grant him
    a clearer insight and comprehension than anyone whose soul level is lower, but
    having a better tool does not affect the proficiency of the user until they diligently
    train in it. Thus, Zax kept crying in a hoarse voice like a lost child.

    “Heavens, Laylen! Thank our Supreme Rulers! Our son has
    opened his eyes!” Marco burst, shirtless, wearing only pants, into Zax’s room,
    roaring for his wife as he flung to son’s side. He heard to voices from his
    son’s room in his sleep and awakened before his wife.

    “Daaad!”

    The tears were mutual. Marco knew that he cannot lift Zax
    from the bed, so he bent his back and hugged him gently, caressing one cheek
    with his hand and rubbing his face and tears in the other.

    “Dear!” Laylen screamed. Unlike her husband she did not
    approach her son instantly. When she saw that Marco was already there and her
    son crying on his shoulder, like the child that he actually was and sometimes
    she forgotten about since he grew so fast and chose to follow her daughter,
    Laylen stood on the threshold of the door and fallen to her knees moping. How
    could a mother lose her child and be depended on others to find him?

    “Mooom!” When the sound of Zax’s hoarse voice reached
    Laylen, she stopped thinking and ran to him with red eyes.

    “Oh! Zax, Zax, Zax, Zax…” Laylen’s cheek replaced Marco’s
    hand and she called for her son and kissed him.

    Marco buried his face in Zax’s small head. He did not
    express the sorrow that he felt, the thoughts of his incompetence as a father
    by calling up his son’s name. He just cried silently.

    It was not long before Zax fallen asleep between his
    parents. Marco and Laylen were awake for a while longer. It was the middle of
    the night, but to go back to sleep felt like abandoning their son, even though
    nothing that happened had anything to do with them. Eventually, they fell
    asleep. Laylen was lying carefully beside Zax and Marco leaned on the bed while
    sitting on the floor.

     

    Per Doctor Nijima’s instructions, on the morning of the
    following day Marco changed the fluids in the supportive care unit to a
    different medicinal fluid which Doctor Nijima prescribed for Zax after he will
    wake up. The first type of medicinal fluids were to sustain and nourish Zax’s
    body during the past months, the second type was to rehabilitate his body to
    perfect shape and could be given only when the body was completely healed.

    As a side effect of the rehabilitation process, Zax slept
    for four consecutive days. By the time he awakened again the supportive care
    unit has already been returned to the hospital the committee of the Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit rented it from. It was also for the better that Zax
    remained a sleep for a little longer. Since his parents were not much of
    cultivators and it was their daughter who was in contact with the committee.
    Since his Qi channels were clogged and his soul jumped to level Zetsa asked of
    her parents to call her the instant Zax would wake up, before they will replace
    the fluids, knowing in advance that it will take her a few days to come back.
    Three days later Zetsa arrived to her parents’ home and a day later she was by
    her beloved brother side when he woke up.

    Zax cried right when he recognize his big sister, the one
    person beside him. She was there, sitting on his bed as if by intuition she
    knew that he was awakening. However, Zax’s back to normal voice quickly faded
    away as he remembered how he wronged his big sister. By looking in Zetsa’s
    eyes, it was easy to detect that she had similar thoughts, as well.

    “Did you calm down?” Zetsa asked. In her voice or facial
    expression she did not express the same longing for her little brother as their
    parents did. Zax nodded.

    “Good. Sit up”.

    Zax was sniffling and rubbing his eyes. He looked away when
    his big sister made eye contact with him and he noticed that something was
    amiss in the clear blue eyes that were always smiling at him. That sort of look
    in his big sister eyes purged his mind from his own selfishness, he was willing
    to trade everything he had for his big sister’s smile and his parents’ forgiveness,
    whom he did not forget how they shed tears for him even more so than he did for
    them.

    “Listen to what I have to say and don’t interrupt me”. Zetsa
    said solemnly, intending to convey for him everything of the past couple of
    months.

    Zetsa first imparted, not immediately rebuked, the kind of repercussions
    that she and their parents had to deal with because of his incomprehensible thoughtless
    actions, both from the event’s committee and their own suffering.

    “You were lost. Lost! Zax! Taken by a beast!” She gritted
    her teeth. “An E level Earth’s Core was not enough for you?! How could you be
    so irresponsible?!”

    Hearing his big sister’s voice cracking, Zax was afraid to
    talk back.

    “Well? Tell me, I want to know what was so wrong with an
    Earth’s Core most people can’t even dream about!”

    Realizing that she really was waiting for an answer, Zax
    gasped for a few seconds and began to narrate his side of his time in the Great
    Earth’s Core Pursuit.

    An hour later Zax’s voice silenced and Zetsa was in the
    midst of processing his bizarre story.

    “And you say that there was an orange mist in the cave?“ She
    said while thinking of something her Martial uncle told her the day he found
    her little brother and a day before he, unexpectedly, secluded himself in closed
    doors training.

    “Yes”. Zax replied softly, unsure of the temperament in his
    big sister’s words.

    “And the Black Core…”

    “There were two, but one is now in my lower dantian with the
    E level Earth’s Core… It changed its color to black… Big sis, I was waiting for
    you because I wasn’t sure what to do. My soul I feel has become so much
    stronger, and my body also feeling better than ever, but I can’t feel my Qi
    anymore…” Zax pleaded for Zetsa to impart him some guidance.

    “Little Zi…” Finally, a shred of affection came out from
    Zetsa’s lips and the expression on her face softened.

    When Doctor Nijima checked Zax’s three aspects the only
    abnormalities were in Zax’s Qi channels and soul. In regards to his body,
    something caused it some internal injuries but nothing further. He did not
    mention the existence of another Earth’s Core in Zax’s dantian nor the a change
    in the coloring of his E level Earth’s Core that he had yet to crack, and now
    and in the future he most likely will never succeed in doing so.

    “Could it be as a result of what changed Zax’s soul? Did
    uncle hide something from me?” Zetsa pondered. The things which Zax told her
    were unheard of, but also the condition of two of his three aspects!

    “Zax, Doctor Nijima said that when you will wake up, your
    soul should be the same as a D level Earth’s Core Holder. Try to see how far
    can you expend your Soul Sense?” If she had to inform Zax of the analysis of
    Doctor Nijima, she preferred to start with something that will not impede his attentive
    state of mind.

    “Okay”. With his big sister next to him, the feeling of vigorous
    power in his soul and the freedom from being under the control of the Black
    Core, Zax agreed and even smiled when he done so.

    Releasing the restrained force of his soul, the one he was
    afraid to use when he realized in the search that it makes him act funny, to
    say the least, Zax let loose his Soul Sense to the fullest.

    “It’s going! It’s still going!”  Zax was avid. His Soul Sense spread out side
    of his soul like never before, easily passing a meter and thirty five, his lost
    limit, and it kept going to every side like a sphere which he was its center.

    “Ten meters! Fifteen meters! Twenty! Thirty…” He counted by
    remembering the length of a centimeter that Zetsa showed him in the past. He
    effortlessly lined in his mind, one centimeter after the other, and watched with
    glee as they did not come to an end. After five thousand centimeters or fifty
    meters, Zax stopped counting. His perception was as fast as the progression of
    his Soul Sense and in the current level of his soul he could spend in thoughts
    on seconds as if it was half a hour.

    “Well, is he going to use his Soul Sense?” Zetsa started at
    Zax, stumped. As someone with a higher level soul she should have felt when Zax
    used his Soul Sense, but right now she still did not sense the anticipated
    fluctuation that a soul beneath the level of Core Breaker creates. “Zax-”

    “Big sis! Big sis! One hundred and fifty meter! One hundred
    and fifty meter! I can sense so much, big sis! Fifteen thousand centimeters!
    One hundred and fifty meters!” Zax called aloud and jumped to his feet, losing
    his balance and fell on the floor, laughing.

    “One hundred and fifty meters!” Zetsa actually screamed with
    bulging eyes. “That… That... That’s the length of an Intermediate Mist Lord’s
    Soul Sense!”

    “It’s like I’m everywhere, big sis”. The sheer excitement
    and immense sense of exaltation were high and beyond his first time using his
    Soul Sense, so much that Zax was unable to address to Zetsa’s remark and
    continued describing. “The first and the times after that, big sis, all my Soul
    Sense could perceive raw shapes and environmental essence. Now, big sis, my
    Soul Sense can perceive the same way my other five senses do and even better! I
    can see the textures and colors of what people wear outside as though I look at
    them through an optical lense. I can smell the breath of those who pass or are
    within the domain of my Soul Sense, even know how a plank of wood that is
    thrown on the other side of the street feels… Big sis, it’s amazing!” Zax
    gasped heavily.

    “This is unfathomable! Zax’s potential of the soul is simply
    unfathomable!” Zetsa deduced. After she tested him when his soul reached level
    F, Zetsa acknowledged the unexplained uniqueness of her little brother soul.
    Reaching this level on one’s own efforts was a feat very few had done before.
    Reaching level D with one’s soul, as a mere ten years old and without
    cultivating as a Mist User… Should she dare doubt her little brother?

    “Big sis”, Zax said a tad calmer.

    “Yes?” Zetsa answered with a tranquil tone and warmly raised
    Zax to her lap.

    “It’s flowing like water and I can control it by just
    thinking where I want it to go”. Zax’s eyes were closed, immersed by what he
    peacefully was doing.

    “What is?” Zetsa had an idea of what he was talking, but the
    conversation took a sudden turn to an insightful and composed level. If they
    will be able to keep it up, it might be easier when she will tell him…

    “My soul energy. It’s flowing leisurely in my body. Smoother
    than my Qi, big sis. In a thought I can accumulate it in the tip of my finger
    on one hand, and in a second thought have it all in the tip of another finger
    on my other hand”.

    “Little Zi, your proficiency with the soul has surpassed my
    own. Your big sis feels both ashamed for myself and proud of my little Zi”.
    Zetsa caressed Zax hair as he started at her dumbfounded. For her to praise him
    to this degree, saying that he surpassed his perfect role model, his idol. It
    was enticing and difficult to accept.

    “In the future Zax, if you’ll choose to train your soul meticulously
    your future prospects will be beyond comprehension”.

    “If that’s what big sis saying, then I’ll do my best! I also
    want to become strong!” Zax announced sternly.

    Now was the time. Now Zetsa decided to gradually, when the
    mood was at ease, to shift the conversation into the matter of his Qi channels.

    “Zax”, Zatsa stiffened her voice. If she wanted to reveal
    the sorrowful news, she had to compel her little brother into listen through the
    end. She had to make use of the vulnerability that he showed in her company.
    Only then she will manage to mold his understanding of the matter into
    something that he will be willing to accept.

    “Big sis?” The wheels began to turn. Zax was not stupid, not
    when it involved the different modes of his big sister. “Is she going to scold
    me again?” Whatever it was he presented submission, just to be safe.

    “When Doctor Nijima checked your body and soul, he
    determined that their conditions were temporary. Your body was injured and your
    soul was transforming – according to what you told me, both could be due to the
    Black Core that led you to find it and entered your dantian. With respect to
    your Qi or that Black Core… Doctor Nijima did not find anything out of place in
    your dantian or the E level Earth’s Core in there… Can you observe your dantian
    once more for me? Tell me again its state”.

    “She did not scold me!” The first thought in his head was alleviating.
    Zax repressed his joy since Zetsa still called him by his first name, in her
    “don’t mess with me and listen” mode.

    Surveying his lower dantian, things were the same as he told
    her before. The Black Core was near the E level Earth’s Core, which color
    changed to black, and he could not form a mental link with any of the two, nor
    control their placement in his dantian like he should be able to do with his
    soul, like his big sister told him. At most, Zax could only differentiate between
    the two.

    “It’s still the same. The Black Core is right beside the
    Earth’s Core and both are black”. Zax answered.

    “And your mental link with them?”

    “I can’t…” Zax said, disappointed for failing in something
    that should be, that was so simple before.

    Zetsa cogitated in her next order of words. “Zax”, she could
    not help but slightly frown. “The thing inside of you, the “Black Core”, is
    something only you seem to detect. Doctor Nijima, the expert who treated you,
    is a renowned expert in the path of medicine, yet in his analysis even he did
    not detect irregularities in you dantian… Not many know this, Zax, but there
    are things in nature which more often reside in places like unexplored caves in
    the beasts’ territory. I’m afraid that the cave you stumbled upon with the
    Brown Digger was one of those caves, Zax. What happened to you there… it’s
    understandable if even someone as capable as Doctor Nijima was helpless to find
    a solution. I converse with him about it and he also agreed, that is why he did
    not come to check you up after you awakened couple of days ago”.

    “What does it have to do with the two cores, big sis?” Zax
    began to feel impatient, discerning an ominous build up.

    “Zax, look into you Qi channels”.

    Again, Zax closed his eyes. When one’s soul increases in
    level, examining the three aspects becomes much faster and easy to be done.

    “My Qi had changed”, a look of surprise spread across Zax
    face. It appears to be like water and my Qi channels… I can’t feel a thing!” Anxiety
    burst from his mouth. “Big sis, there is something in my Qi channels, something
    blocking them…”

    “That’s enough, Zax, open your eyes”. Zetsa ordered. “Your
    Qi channels are clogged by your liquefied Qi”. She said in a straight face.
    “Having clogged Qi channels means death, Zax, but whatever happened to you had
    managed to keep you alive. Doctor Nijima speculated that like your soul, your
    body also endured a transformation, only it turned out as more severe and
    incomplete and that’s why you were in dormancy for a few months. You hear me,
    Zax? You were, are supposed to be dead!” Zetsa swallowed the bark in her tone; nevertheless
    her voice echoed a glimpse into her fiery rage.

    “I… Big sis…” Zax was speechless. It was the former, absent
    alien sensation which made him trust the Black Core. Is it because of it that
    his Qi channels are clogged? Is it because of what was done to him that he is
    still alive?

    “Doctor Nijima could not treat your Qi channels… no one
    can!”

    Whether for Zax’s sake or just to release bits of her concealed
    furious demeanor, Zetsa lashed out, enabled Zax from speculating anything in
    this point. Otherwise sinking into unprecedented depression will follow, and
    the realization of him never becoming a Mist User, forever remaining the same
    as a cripple, will come next.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 19 – Lost In Struggles

     

     

    “If I can’t use my Qi, how, then, can I crack the shell of
    the Earth’s Core?!” Zax shook his head; brushing away the intolerable thought
    that came into it.

    “You won’t”. Zetsa answered plain and simple. With just two
    words she dropped the anvil on half the fate her little brother had in her.
    “Arguing about it is pointless and won’t bear any fruits no matter how much
    you’ll try to bash your head for a way to unclog your Qi channels. Believe me,
    I tried, Zax”. She said in a harsh, realistic tone, though her words gave the
    impression of being honest and apologetic. Could she not decipher the look in
    her little brother’s eyes?

    “Then I never will become a Mist User, big sis! If I… If I…
    If that’s the truth than everything is meaningless! I’ll stay weak, big sis…
    I’ll never be able to reach you!” There was one other thing which Zax was
    afraid to say aloud, otherwise the word “miserable” undoubtedly will not
    suffice to express his standing among all of humanity, maybe among all of New
    Earth… “If I won’t become a Mist User… there won’t be anyone more useless than
    me in all of Kingdom Earth!” He said to himself, but salient or to the whole
    world, the words had the same devastating effect on his ten years old mind.

    Zax’s body rattled. Beads of sweat slid down his face. His
    stomach felt hot, like something was boiling inside of it, will he puke?

    “Zax”, Zetsa called for him.

    His teeth chattered and his fists clenched. “Ah uh ah uh ah
    uh ah uh…” Zax endlessly panted. “What is it?! What is it?!” An unimaginable
    pain pounded in his chest. “I can’t breathe, big sis! I can’t breathe...” Zax
    forcefully wailed.

    “Little Zi!” Zetsa flinched from her Zax’s odd behavior,
    wondering at first if something was still wrong with him due to his current
    condition or the Black Core he was talking about, but at the very same moment
    of shock she straightaway got a hold on herself. She did not have a medical
    experience, but she watched it on the Screen in various drama series and so could
    recognize a panic attack if she saw one in real life, and Zax was definitely
    having a panic attack.

    In an instant, before Zax’s last word echoed from his mouth
    Zetsa sprang into the kitchen and back with a glass of water. “Calm down,
    little Zi, calm down. You are too stressed, everything is fine, just relax,
    have some water and calm down, little Zi...” She done her best to soothe him,
    talking softly and calling by his nickname, but till the end, she was not sure
    if what she was doing was the right treatment. It was the first time Zetsa
    encountered a person having a panic attack.

    “Water, water…” Zax eyes searched in frenzy. He snatched the
    glass of water from Zetsa’s hands and drank only to cough at the first gulp.

    “Slowly, little Zi, drink the water in small sips”. Zetsa patted
    his back.

    She wished that she could use a technique to help her little
    brother, however she was warned and forbade by Doctor Nijima not to press her
    mist energy as a mean of treatment into Zax’s body, for it might cause his Qi
    channels to rupture, and if that will happen, clogged or not, Doctor Nijima
    assured her that Zax will die. With regard to helping Zax with her soul energy,
    Zetsa could only dream to be this good.

    Couple of minutes later.

    Zax held the glass of water between his hands, his gaze
    engrossed in the last drop of water he was not able to suck from the bottom of
    the glass. This small exercise that he came by on his own soothed his nerves
    and mental pressure.

    “Don’t let your inability to crack the Earth’s Core’s shell,
    use Qi or mist energy discouraged, Zax. Don’t forget that these three stuff
    represent only one aspect of a living being. There are two more aspects, of
    which, even of all three, your true forte is your soul. The venture on the
    Martial path, to become strong, strongest, you can still do so by training just
    one aspect, Zax”.

    Zetsa explanation was on spot and roughly any person on the
    Martial path knew of what she told Zax and most would even agree. Nevertheless,
    people on the Martial path did not keep a balance among the three aspects for
    nothing, and due to a certain two on one fight that Zax participated in the
    past, a memory resurfaced in his mind and filled him with bitterness. With this
    vibrant memory playing in his head, Zax was able to figure why it is best to
    train more than one aspect.

    Zax remembered how helpless he was on the day of the Young
    Mist Users Conference, when he and Masela were the last two to confront Clergyman.
    When Masela used her Qi explosively and attacked Clergyman, Zax place in the
    ring was equivalent to that of a third wheel. Yes, he could see them fight,
    calculate their movements and even cunningly end the fight, but that was simply
    because none of them pain him attention. That day he was the same on the ring
    as a sharp pebble in a playground that a barefooted child might kick or step
    on, and at worse get a little scratch on his foot.

    “You want me to only train my soul?!” Zax shot in anger as
    if he was criticizing his big sister for even brining the idea up.

    “Yes”. Zetsa answered apathetically.

    It did not come up the way she wanted it to be, yet the
    manner of which the conversation evolved has led her to sort through the right
    words she needed to lessen the blow that is the implications of her little
    brother’s condition on his dreams.

    “Your soul is extraordinary to a point where I dare say that
    there is no one with greater potential with the soul in all of New Earth than
    you are”. Zetsa said firmly. “You can like it or not but this is your only
    option. Imagine, if with a level D soul you are able to perform feat that
    should be several levels above your capabilities… Your soul capabilities are a
    step from the capabilities of a Core Master’s soul!”

    “One step from a Core Master…” Zax could not refute how seductive
    were Zetsa’s words of persuasion. He reflected on them for a while, and then said
    decisively. “Who could I beat if my soul could do the same things a Core
    Master’s soul does?”

    “That is…” Zetsa sighed inwardly. If the answer to this
    question was sufficient enough it could have been the key to conclude this
    conversation on agreeable terms. If only it was… “In a fair fight… you will
    lose”. Zetsa did not go around the bush and answered.

    “To whom?”

    “It’s difficult to say. If you can perform a soul attack on
    the same level of skill as a Mist Lord, almost anyone below Intermediate Mist
    Master, including, can lose to you on contact. Conversely, if a physical attack
    of even F level Earth’s Core Holder will manage to slightly strike you, you
    will lose. And there is still the possibility of long range attacks. Only Core
    Breaker and above can perform them… you won’t be able to withstand them, either”.

    “Can Mist Lords… Can Core Master use their soul for long
    range attacks?”

    “No”.

    “…If I choose the Martial path anyway… will I have any
    accomplishments?”

    By “accomplishments” Zax meant, and Zetsa knew, a “Name”, a
    “Statues”, and “Self Realization” in accordance to his ambitions.

    “As a practitioner that rely solely on aspect, there is a
    high possibility that in the future you will unveil the secret potential of the
    soul. That will surely affect New Earth, but if it happens, the time that it
    will take you to achieve it… hundreds if not thousands of years”. Zetsa based
    her evaluation of time on what she learned from the one she refers to as
    “Master”.

    “Regardless of what I choose, I never will become a Mist
    User in the true sense of the words and if I insist on following the Martial
    path, I will live my life in the bottom of this path and most likely will die
    before achieving anything…”

    “If the Martial path is your utmost desire, then you will
    have me by your side for the rest of such life”. Zetsa promised, she had
    nothing else to add.

    “I… I can’t, then, big sis, Zetsa. I can’t accept that, I
    won’t!” Zax said in disagreement. The pain in his chest reemerged, a second panic
    attack was coming and it felt impossible to stop. “The boy who never became a
    Mist User…” Zax struggled but was determined to speak out his mind. “I will
    never… ever agree! Big sis… big sis…”

    Zetsa helped him through the second panic attack without saying
    a single word until it was over. She was not willing to show pity to her little
    brother. In his eyes she could clearly see the two battles that he engaged
    with. One was to stay resolute with his dreams. Another was to not lose to the
    panic attack.

    Zax lay on his bed, covering his red eyes with his arm. Two
    salty streams dirtied his face.

    Zetsa, standing on the doorstep, looked at him and then
    averted her gaze. “Rest. Familiarize yourself with the new power of your soul.
    When you are ready, say the words. I’ll do my best to help you become
    stronger”.

    Like that, Zetsa left.

     

    September sixth, year 5786.

    Nearly two years have passed since Zax’s ten years birthday
    and a tad longer than a year since he woke up to learn that he could never
    become a Mist User.

    During the past year Zax’s life underwent a number of
    personal upheavals that made him secluded toward society, whether family,
    friends or strangers. Although things did not escalate in one day, they sure
    dropped on him one after the other, each one an unending grueling battle,
    starting with the investigator of the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit’s committee
    that arrived on the very same day that Zax awakened.

    Zetsa instructed Zax to answer all of the investigator’s
    questions, but not say anything about the “Black Core” and the “strange
    sensation”, as she put it. Her reasoning was that she and their parents already
    reached a settlement with the event’s committee.

    The investigator knew all about Zax’s condition from his
    clogged Qi channels to his D level soul. During their private conversation,
    which was more like an interrogation, the investigator coldly asked Zax, what
    were the detailed steps that he took to reenter the hunting cave? Why did he do
    so from the beginning? Was he not aware of how rare is an E level Earth’s Core?
    And so on…

    The most difficult question to answer was “What happened to
    you in the beast’s territory?” Which Zax was able to think for some time,
    thanks to his D level soul, instead of answering an uncalculated lie, and still
    make it seem as if his answer was instant. It was doable since both Zax and the
    investigator were discussing by mostly using their outer mind which had low, or
    regular, level of perception.

    Zax used the smoky mist as an excuse to not remembering
    anything after entering the cave the Brown Digger “dragged” him into. The investigator,
    which was an expert on the Mist Master level, heard from his seniors that apart
    from the Peral metal, Sun Stones and Earth’s Core, there are still many
    undiscovered\not understood wonders within the boundaries of New Earth,
    therefore he did not pursue a more elaborate answer from Zax.

    After an hour or so the investigator sat with Zax and his
    family, mainly talking to Zetsa, Marco and Laylen. He wanted to cover the agreements
    of the settlement and wanted for Zax to listen as well.

    First, it was decided to keep the case of Zax Zel a secret, a
    decision that was made for the benefit of the event’s committee, more so than
    the Zel family. Why the committee was willing to not advertise the case and
    publicly punish Zax as a reminder for all, of what happens to those who break
    the event’s rules, was because there was one more factor in this case which
    caught the event’s stuff off guard.

    Put aside that this case was a first and has the capacity to
    expose holes in the regulation and organization of the event that will harm to
    reputation of its chosen committee members, what would happen if people will
    make the wrong assumption if they learn that the same boy who broke the rules,
    ended up with a soul two level higher than any other kid of his age?

    Some may forget entirely that from the start the boy was
    known – later, that is – to possess an already F level soul and others may
    ignore the fact that by breaking the rules he lost the possibility of ever
    becoming a Mist User. Now, why would people still be willing to risk not
    becoming Mist Users? Well, from the simple truth that unless one select a path
    which require the use of Qi or Martial skills, for most everyday vocations, a
    strong soul will be more beneficial. To prevent future Rules Breakers, the
    second thing to be decided, agreed upon by both parties, was keeping Zax’s soul
    level a secret.

    The following two subject of the four parts settlement were
    a bit more sensitive. The first one was Zax’s condition. Though Zetsa told Zax
    that he may never become a Mist User, she was merely preparing him to the
    respond of the committee in regards of finding treatment for his Qi Channels. As
    she predicted, the investigator delivered the same conclusion of Doctor Nijima.

    “None of the doctors and scientists that we approached can unclog
    Zax’s Qi channels”.

    With one sentence and without further explanations, the
    event’s committee demolished Zetsa lost hopes for her little brother.

    The last matter to be discussed was how to announce Zax’s
    condition to the general public. One thing that both sides knew that they could
    not prevent was the public finding out that a ten years old boy from a certain
    cave in El-Eden has clogged Qi channels and is still alive. The scheme of how
    to let the public learn of it without uncovering the Zax Zel case came from the
    event’s committee.

    It was quite a clever idea. The event’s committee will come out
    with a statement that a boy – personal information was censored – who
    participated in the event of year 5785, during the last phase of the event, has
    been found that he was born with a rare syndrome that causes his Qi to
    liquefied and clog his Qi channels. After the initial shock of the public, the committee
    will than come out with a second statement, stating that although life
    threatening, the boy’s condition was discovered in time and was treated by
    experts on the path of medicine. However, the experts were only able to remove
    the risk from the boy’s life, but not unclog his Qi channels. Henceforth, the
    boy will not be able to become a Mist User. Lastly, the committee will ask the
    press to not trouble the family and child.

    Marco and Laylen nodded after hearing the investigator
    narrating the committee’s proposal and Zax, from start to finish, remained
    quiet on his seat.

    Zetsa, on the other hand, mentioned that there are a few
    people who witnessed Zax using Qi in the past. In response, the investigator
    only asked the list of names of these people, and got them from Zetsa and Zax
    after promising that no harm will come to several of them.

    Thus, the case of Zax Zel was officially closed and sealed
    within the archives of the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit.

     

    Next order of business was the struggle Zax had to face,
    following the settlement with the event’s committee, finding a post Core School
    that would accept him.

    By the fourth year of school, the administration of every
    post Core School cannot treats its student as mere children anymore. Whether in
    a Martial program or not, any child that enrolls to a post Core School should
    be considered and treated as a F level Mist User.

    Never in the past had this principle presented a problem. Never
    in the past, since the rule of the Supreme Rulers, there was a child who did
    not become a Mist User after participating in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit.
    In the past year, however, there was such child who tried to enroll into the
    next year of a post Core School, yet was not a Mist User.

    The response was mutual and all the same humiliating among
    all schools toward Zax and his parents.

    “We are very sorry… Our school cannot accept your child”.

    Zax’s identity as the boy with the clogged Qi channels was
    not known and it was not like the various school principals could guess his
    condition on sight. But, since it was inevitable that Zax will need to reveal
    his condition if he wanted to enroll into a school or get a job in the future,
    the committee of the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit prepared a document for Zax’s
    parents to show to any school’s official they will meet.

    The document stated the condition of Zax’s Qi channels, a
    formal recommendation from the said committee and a warning that the
    information in the document should not be disclosed to those who are not
    authorized to read it, and if such thing were to happen, a thorough
    investigation will be carried out and the culprit will suffer the appropriate
    punishment according to section 1.583 of law 87, “Child Care”, of Kingdom
    Earth.

    With that, the schools’ officials that met Zax and his
    parents could not tell anyone about his condition. Yet, it did not mean that
    they had to accept him.

    Their excuse, which was fairly reasonable, was that they are
    not equipped with the necessary resources for a special case like Zax’s. They
    said that there is a reason why coreless children and Mist Users children are
    in separated schools. Children’s activities can sometimes be rough, a coreless
    child cannot contend against a Mist User child, and if the two get into a
    fight…

    “We are sorry. We don’t know of any other school to
    recommend for you. Our best advice is homeschooling”.

    And it was not just the school that made it hard, mostly for
    Zax’s parents. Zax, too, opposed his parents. He did not want to be surrounded
    by people he will never be able to reach. He did not want to be in the company
    of others. He solely asked to be left alone, and when he was not, he ran away
    to all the places he knew others will not bother him in.

    Eventually it took a very long talk between Zax’s and his
    parents. Regardless of his changed rebellious attitude and the condition of his
    Qi channels, his parents were unwilling to let him abstain from proper
    education.

    Six months after he awakened, Zax reached a compromise to be
    homeschooled by his grandma, Grandma Shi Oh, and in return his parents will not
    hinder his desire to train his soul as much as he wants to or force him to meet
    his concerned friends.

    Zax’s friends… avoiding them was his most painful struggle
    of the past year.


  • Book 2 – Black Core



    Chapter 20 – Choose, Staying Or Leaving?

     

     

    At the time of his dormancy, Zax’s friends came to visit him
    on several occasions. Apart from those he grouped with in the Great Earth’s
    Core Pursuit, only a handful of Zax’s former schoolmates had visit him, but of
    the seven whom he got closer to during the event, each and every one of them
    came to visit him as often as he or she could.

    At the week that Zax woke up, Laylen and Marco invited his
    loyal and caring group of friends to surprise their dispirited son. It took a
    little effort since the fourth school year has already started for Zax’s
    friends and due to their luck of being in the same group with Zax, they all
    were accepted to prestige post Core Schools. Anet was even summoned for review
    in one of the Three Martial Schools of Kingdom Earth, El-Eden’s best and only
    Martial school for coreless children, “Eden Formation”, and ended up receiving
    a two years scholarship in their post Core Program!

    When Anet arrived with the others, she even wore the white and
    azure uniforms of Eden Formation, which used the same grading system as Molten
    Core, the darker the shades of the uniforms the higher the grade of the
    student. Anet wore a lighter shade of uniforms, but the golden elaborate
    formation on her shoulder, the school’s symbol which emphasized the mental
    acuity of its students, made her look sublime.

    Zax could not bear seeing his friends. In his lowest moment, the
    closest someone was to him the harder it was to face them and with his seven closest
    friends it was the hardest. That is why he acted rebelliously toward his big
    sister and parents, while toward strangers and distant family members he acted aloof.

    First time seeing his friends after waking up, Zax felt like the
    dimmest Sun Stone on the cave’s ceiling. When some of them, such as Anet,
    Serah, Dane and Weysey, so emotionally hugged him, their soft and warm embrace
    made his lungs to shrink and his affection for them to regress to the deepest
    part of his heart.

    The seven knew of Zax’s condition. They knew of his ability
    to use Qi and of his E level Earth’s Core, therefore representatives of the
    event’s committee came to their homes to ask of them to not disclose this
    matter with anyone. Their parents even had to sign a confidentiality document and
    when Zax’s friends will reach the age of adulthood they will also have to sign
    a similar document.

    As ten years olds, Zax friends did not know how to conduct
    themselves in the presence of a friend who gave them so much only to end up as
    a cripple – a comparison that they either heard from their parents or figured
    out on their own after a few days in their new schools. They asked who he was, can
    he go out to play, if he wants to see the new updates on Mocca Kart, if he can
    eat snacks since “I brought some” Weysey said…

    Zax sat on the living room’s floor and leaned on the living
    room’s table. With every question of his friends a growing discomfort emerged
    in his heart. His responses were also nor positive and not entirely negative,
    but they caused his friends to feel like their company was undesirable.

    To try and dissolve his remote atmosphere, Zax attempted to better
    socialize by returning the same questions to his friends. That did help to
    improve the air around the small gathering that his parents arranged. The mood
    lifted so much that at a certain point Zushi praised and bragged that last
    month Anet became an E level Mist User and he and Dane were not so far behind.

    This revelation was the source of the following distance
    between Zax and his friends. He was happy for them, he cared for them, but he
    also envied their blinding glow.

    In an emotional breakdown Zax made his mind to stay away before
    he will do or say something that will hurt his friends, his big sister and his
    parents. If his future as a Mist User was sealed, then he will concentrate on
    the only thing that was left, his soul. And if in the far future he will
    achieve any perceptible achievement, enough to make him accept the path he unintentionally
    brought upon himself, then he will seek the strength to repent toward those
    whose love for him he discounted.

     

    September sixth, year 5786.

    Zax left grandma Shi Oh’s and grandpa Shi Chin’s small
    apartment after lunch. He used public transportation to get as close as he
    could to where is big sister’s apartment building was and continued onward
    straight into cave zero eight.

    Hidden within a grove Zax sat cross legged with eyes closed.
    Almost a year and a half has passed since he naturally broke through the
    juncture to level F and a year after he woke up at the Beginner phase of level
    D, he managed to reach the next critical juncture in his training, and the
    first to every Mist User, the bottleneck to level C.

    Since Zax did not want to be taken care of even by his
    beloved big sister, he stopped going to her apartment and as a result, stopped
    training in the Inner Spirit Formation. In the past year Zax’s method of
    training was self meditation and a few months after he awakened Zax made a
    breakthrough to the next phase that came after Somnolence Meditation, “Adraak
    Meditation”.

    Although Zax did not have to benefits of the external help
    that soul refining techniques, such as the Inner Spirit Formation, supply, the
    next phase of meditation had its own pros that the Inner Spirit Formation could
    not provide him.

    When exercising in Adraak Meditation Zax’s whole senses were
    engulfed by a void sphere that was similar to the one he experienced when he
    found the Black Core. In a way, the void sphere that the Black Core turned his
    Soul Sense into could be considered as the root to Zax’s breakthrough in
    meditation.

    Inside the void sphere the only sense of existence Zax had originated
    from his conscious mind. That was because the purpose of the Adraak Meditation
    was to utterly separate oneself from the outside world, even memories of it,
    and enrich the soul by uncovering the intimate spiritual knowledge from the subliminal
    mind. Generally, the more profound and insightful the intimate spiritual
    knowledge is, the more demanding it is to cultivate it, obviously the more
    prosperous the results are as well.

    In rare occurrences where a child reaches the phase of Adraak
    Meditation, he or she would be told by their Mor – a good Mor, that is – to
    keep training in Somnolence Meditation. The reason for it is rational and in
    most cases cannot be refute. It is the basic understanding that even if a child
    can learn the secrets of the subliminal mind, the mind itself is still undeveloped.
    The subliminal mind absorbs its knowledge from the outside world of its owner.
    If the owner is immature and lack eventful life, naturally the intimate spiritual
    knowledge of the subliminal mind will not be profound or insightful. Hastily tempering
    the soul in Adraak Meditation and in a young age will be the same to picking a
    fruit before its ripe, one will have fast accomplishments but in the long run
    it will show itself as wasteful and hinder future progress.

    Zax, however, had no one to teach him the consequences of
    training in Adraak Meditation. On the other hand, no other child in Kingdom
    Earth experienced the epiphany Zax did.

    The instant Zax broke through to the phase of Adraak Meditation;
    he encountered a minuscule piece of information from his subliminal mind, a
    piece that seemed like part of an immeasurable puzzle, yet somewhat contained boundless
    profundity.

    The piece was a fragment of the entity Zax saw when the
    Black Core entered his body. In his training Zax studied the piece for hours at
    a time, days if his parents would have let him. In his mind it was a clear
    picture that revealed only numerous hues of black, blending into an undefined
    mess. At first look it was the same as a bland screensaver of an old computer’s
    screen. On a second look, with further investigation, one would notice the
    depth of the piece and its inimitable abundant.

    There was no time limit to how much Zax could stare at the
    piece. But since the results depended on his perception, days could come and
    gone without him undergoing improvement or a few seconds of initial probing,
    right after sitting on his buttock, will show up as productive. Sometimes, as a
    sign of success in his training, a vibration will occur in Zax’s soul and after
    it he could see something new in the piece, new shade of black, new pattern of
    the moving hues, new depth that he had not perceived before and so on…

    By making new discoveries in his training, Zax’s soul
    improved in both quality and quantity of its energy, and because of the
    mysterious piece that was part of a higher entity, in terms of quality Zax
    already reached the purity of a Core Breaker’s soul. After he will break
    through from the top phase of level D, who knows how far he will be able to
    advance in his meditation and then how pure will be his soul!

    Finishing training, Zax proceeded to a correlated activity…
    tackling the impenetrable juncture to level C from every direction possible.

    As a result of surpassing the juncture to level F all on his
    own, Zax gain a sort of familiarity with the ambiguous presence of a
    bottleneck, a feeling only Mist User who broke through level D to level C get
    to know. Although the juncture to level C was as tough if not tougher as the
    juncture to level F, Zax was not stressed by its weight.

    In Zax’s sea of consciousness the bottleneck took the form
    of a white barrier. To transcend beyond it Zax tried to demolish the barrier
    with soul attacks, experimenting with his Soul Sense, probing it the same way
    he probed the piece of the entity. When he failed Zax hoped that all he needed
    his further training, more meditation. The problem was that the more his soul
    energy increased in quantity, the slower his progress in training was, as if
    the barrier compelled him to break through it if he wanted to make
    advancements.

    “AHHHH!” Zax yelled in frustration. “Break! Break! Break!
    Break!” He continued yelling and punched the ground. This behavior was his
    daily display of despairing. “What I’m missing? My training is at its limit!
    The white barrier… I surveyed every centimeter of it! My soul is a hundred
    times stronger than it was a year ago! What else do I need?!”

    Even though he was within a beasts’ cave, Zax was not afraid
    from beast hearing him. From the first place cave zero eight was not prone to
    have many types of beasts in it and even less territorial beasts. During his
    training, when enclosed inside the void sphere, Zax’s Soul Sense would activate
    itself on and off and emit its mightiness; much like how to torn tail of a
    lizard keeps moving after it has been separated from the body. Since the
    quality of Zax’s soul was that of a Core Breaker and within the void sphere he
    would lose contact with his sense, his Soul Sense also would lose all restraint
    and make itself known to any who enter its domain of two hundred meters – the
    increase in length was, of course, due to Zax advancements in the past year.

    Any beast that will stride into the domain of Zax’s Soul
    Sense would get the impression that an existence at the Core Breaker level
    lurks inside the grove. Due to this Zax could yell to his heart's content and
    no beast would dare to bother him.

    “You can come out now”. After he calmed down Zax got up on
    his feet and turn his head to the right. “Congratulations, big sis, for
    becoming a Mist Lord”.

    Out of the dense flora Zetsa emerge with a complicated
    expression on her face. In the past year her relationship with her little
    brother got colder whenever they met with each other. Zax was the one to initiate
    the cold atmosphere. At first she was not willing to unknot their bond, but in
    time, whenever she attempted to get closer to her little brother, it would
    backfire and the next time they will meet he would try to avoid her even more.
    She knew that it was the same with his friends and their parents, but with
    their parents, since Zax still depended on them, the aloofness got to a halt.

    Now, Zetsa came to the place where she was probably the only
    one to know that her little brother will be training in. cave zero eight. When
    she found out months ago that he returned to the beasts’ cave, she did not
    confront him. Instead she watched over him from afar. Nowadays, she let him
    train alone.

    “Little Zi, it’s too early, I’m still a step away from the
    Mist Lord level, only my soul reached it”.

    “Little Zi…” Her voice resonated in Zax’s head. He was aware
    of the pain he causes his beloved ones, and seeing the one whom in her heart he
    knew his place was at the epicenter… Zax wanted to ran to his big sister and
    beg her forgiveness.

    Zax withheld his swaying heart. Training did not tire him,
    but trying to surpass the white barrier did, so he had to exert himself to
    control his emotions.

    “Is there something…?” Zax asked softly.

    Zetsa did not answer immediately. She found a place to sit,
    on a bulky root that breached the ground and was large enough for three to four
    grown men.

    “Come here, Zax. If you finished training for the day come
    sit by my side”.

    “Zax” not “little Zi”, was how she called him, and with this
    little change the tone of her voice also changed from the sweet and loving to
    the severe and sharp. Whether a year or a hundred, Zax could not disregard that
    tone of voice. He obeyed and joined her on the root.

    ‘I sensed your progress, Zax. Without the support of an
    Earth’s Core you made it to the top of level D and the quality of your soul have
    already made it past it. I can tell that you are training in the next phase of
    meditation. Do you know its name?”

    “No”. Zax answered, slightly shocked. Was he so easy to read
    or was it because she was his big sister?

    “The phase after Somnolence Meditation is called “Adraak
    Meditation”. I never thought that you will reach it so fast. I, myself, spent
    five years of training before reaching that phase”.

    “Five years?” Zax repeated in his head, while feeling a
    sense of gratification.

    “And yet I keep training in Somnolence Meditation till this
    day”.

    Zetsa next words startled Zax out of his short moment of
    accomplishment. He could not help but ask. “Why?”

    And then she told him, explained what he would have known if
    his heart was not weak and his mind was not set.

    “But this evidently doesn’t apply to you, does it?” Zetsa
    smiled as if she read his mind.

    “I don’t think so”. Zax shook his head and did not hide
    anything. What was the point?

    “I guessed it, that your subliminal mind may possess
    something special, it had to, considering the condition of you Qi channels.
    That is why I didn’t interfere”.

    “It’s a piece of something that’s related to the Black Core”.
    Zax voluntarily confessed.

    “Another secret of our underground world…” Zetsa sighed.

    “Secret? You know anything about it?!” Zax nearly jumped
    back up. His inner mind instantly pondered the value of such information.
    Additional knowledge about the small piece could lead him to a breakthrough!

    “In Adraak Meditation you have to uncover the spiritual
    knowledge on your own. Others, too, can only give you another perspective, if
    they share the same experiences, but it’s best for you to find different
    outlooks independently. Ultimately, it is your subliminal mind that you
    meditate on”.

    “Hm…” Zax thought about and accepted Zetsa’s advice. With a
    few words she made the remnants feeling of today’s failure disappear. “Ah?”
    Something clicked to him.

    “Big sis, what did you mean by “secret”?” Could it be? The
    reason for her coming to see him… Was it his clogged Qi channels?

    “Oh!” Zetsa waved her hand in deny. “Nothing for you to
    know. Don’t think too much, and it’s time for me to get into why I searched for
    you”.

    “It’s not about me Qi channels…” Zax’s spike in expectation
    diminished his mood. It was his fault for bringing the subject up, even if he
    did not say it aloud.

    “Little Zi, remember when you woke up and we had the
    conversation of what would be the preferable path of your future cultivation?”

    “My soul”. Zax answered as the memory resurfaced. His letdown
    roused his isolated demeanor, so much that he missed the change of how Zetsa
    referred to him.

    “Lift your eyes, little Zi, can you really not stand looking
    at me?” She grabbed his arm and pulled his closer. “Did becoming a Mist User
    really meant to you more than all the people you isolated?!” She reprimanded
    and made his raise his head.

    Zax’s cheeks were red and his eyes teary. Who else but his
    big sister could make him look like that? “I don’t want others to look down on
    me”. He said back with cracking voice.

    “No one is looking down on you, Zax!” Zetsa’s complexion
    also reddened, but while Zax was driven by low self esteem, Zetsa was driven by
    her anger for her little brother’s behavior.

    “You pity me… I look down on myself!” Zax poured out his
    heart.

    Hearing his inner thoughts, his sorrowful confession, Zetsa
    realized something. “He isolated himself from his true feelings, too!” Under
    her grip she felt his useless resistance. “It’s good, it’s good”, she took him
    close to her bosom. “You can cry”. She said inaudibly, and he did.

    When Zax body stopped shacking Zetsa loosen her hold, but
    not exactly let to get away from her.

    “Zax, I got an offer for you”, her breath hit his face like
    a warm breeze that cleanse it from the dry tears. “I told you in the past that
    the soul is your path and your Qi is forever gone, Zax. But those are only two
    aspects. Your body is the third one I said nothing about”.

    Zax listened without saying or asking. “The body…” He only
    thought while resting in her arms. From what was known throughout the kingdom,
    the soul, the Qi and then the mist were the only cultivatable aspects.
    “Cultivating the body…!” It did not require a genius mind to figure that on the
    Martial path cultivating the body could be another method to become stronger. He
    quietly continued to listen.

    “There is another path, the path of the body, Zax”. Zetsa
    confirmed, and as she did, she noticed the increasing pace of Zax’s beating
    heart. “Are you willing to look at me calmly now?”

    In her arms Zax lifted his head. “It’s harsh, Zax, the most
    painful thing that one can experience. It is a path only handful in all of New
    Earth dare venture. Nonetheless, it does exist, it exists and it is mightier than
    any other path, but not here, Zax”.

    “I’m willing. Where?” Zax asked, afterwards Zetsa finally
    let him loose completely.

    “I mean it, Zax. My Master leading me on this path, he is
    leading since I was in your age, and yet I’m falling behind, crawling at the
    lowest level of hell”. A look of bewilderment and distress seemed for a moment
    on Zetsa’s face.

    “I’m willing”. Zax repeated despite the warnings, not even
    caring why now she chose to mention it. “Where?”

    “This place has rules, Zax, if I’ll take you there only my
    Master can let you leave”.

    “Big sis, I’m willing!”

    “Zax! Don’t be hardheaded and actually think before
    answering! I, too, am willing. I’ll take you there if that’s what you really
    want, but not unless you think!” Zetsa scolded.

    “Say it again, big sis, what I need to know”. For a path out
    of his misery, a path that can compensate for his inability to his Qi or mist
    energy, even if Zax knew that acted impulsively, he would still keep saying the
    same thing.

    “Cultivating the body won’t make your strength inferior to
    those who cultivate their mist. On the same level of cultivating no Mist User
    will be your equal, even if they’ll come at you one against a hundred”. It was
    not within Zetsa intention to just talk about the bad. The advancements of body
    cultivation deserved a lot of praises, but the perils of the method deserved
    countless warning.

    “However, whether if you succeed or not on this path, you
    will become a monster. The only different is that by failing, it will be a dead
    monster. Bear in mind, Zax, the method, the bodily refining technique my Master
    developed, its principal is growing through pain, the utmost pain that you can
    suffer. It pushes you to the edge of life and death, it won’t kill you, but it
    can make you long for death. It’s either making it through hell or dying…”

    “Moreover, my Master will never approve of you giving up
    because it’s too hard or will let you go before you will reach a certain level
    of accomplishment. Three years, that’s how long it would take before you will
    be allowed to leave, see our family, your friends, everyone but me. Till then
    you will be bound to one place where escaping means death. After all this, are
    you, from the bottom of your heart, willing to take this path?”

    Not as before, Zax thought of what Zetsa told him. Was he
    prepared to not isolate, but leave completely all the people in his life apart
    from his big sister? To risk his life on a path knew nothing about? Did he not
    have any other way to reface his dreams in concur them? If there was it either
    passed him or move to slow for him to bear.

    “I’m willing!”

    “Is that so…” Zetsa had her doubts. She would have had them
    no matter what; therefore she did not try to persuade Zax again.

    “Yes! So can you tell me now where it is and why you didn’t
    offer this path for me before?”

    “To train you in my Master’s method I have to first bring
    you to him. To get his permission I had to reach the Mist Lord level with my
    soul and even that was a compromise on his side. And the last thing, my answer
    to your ongoing question… It’s within a cave in the beasts’ territory”.

    “Ah! You are taking me to the beasts’ territory?”

    “Aren’t we already here?” Zetsa joked. She got up from the
    root and pulled Zax by the hand to stand next to her. “Let’s go. I already
    talked with mom and dad. You should tell them goodbye”.

    “Now? We are leaving today?”

    “We can’t waste time. We should go to my Master before he
    will change his mind about letting me bring you. Oh! And don’t get surprised by
    my Master appearance”.

    “Why? Is your master a b-”

    “A beast”.


  • Book 3 – Into The Wild



    Chapter 1 – Into The Wild

     

     

    On the way back from home to cave zero eight, Zax was torn
    with his decision to leave his family and friends, even though he stopped
    talking to them, for three years. When he saw his parents’ eyes, Zax traced regret
    in them. It made him ask himself all the more what his big sister told them to make
    them agree to let him go. Ultimately Zax kept his questions buried in his
    wondering mind. ‘Maybe’, he came up with one possible solution. ‘They chose to
    benefit of the doubt in their decision, by believing that they are giving me
    what they denied from big sis, when she was at my age, and her Master, in
    return, gave her…?’

    “It will take us around seven days to reach my Master’s
    cave”. Zetsa informed Zax.

    She parked her Sun K-79 at the entrance to cave zero eight.
    Apart from the clothes he was wearing, Zetsa did not let him bring provisions,
    not even his wristwatch.

    “How many caves do we need to cross before we get there?”
    Zax asked. Any step closer to their destination or away from home made the
    decision easier.

    “Somewhere along the lines of one hundred and seven-eight
    caves, all in the beasts’ territory”. Zetsa mused and said.

    “That much in seven days? On foot?”

    If the caves were paved with proper pedestrian roads, even
    then it would take a day or two to cross one cave.

    “Can’t we go on your Sun?”

    “Relax, little Zi, seven days are more than enough. If I was
    alone then two days would have been enough, three if I took my time. It will
    take us longer because I plan to carry you with my mist energy and let you rest
    during the nights”.

    “On your back?” Zax timidly asked. He was almost twelve and
    the seed of manliness and self awareness has already started to sprout.

    “Only if you wanna”. Zetsa pinched his cheek, smiling. She
    was filled with anxiety for she knew what awaits her little brother, and yet
    happy beyond belief that the relationship between Zax and her was slowly mending.

    At the other end of tunnel seventy eight.

    “Don’t move”. Zetsa ordered Zax as her hands were suddenly
    surrounded by her dark silvery mist energy and emitted a glowing aura of the
    same hues. She drew symbols first on her palms, second on the air, third on
    Zax’s torso. “This formation is infused with both of our energies, mostly mine,
    almost none of yours, but it will exhaust you nonetheless”. Zetsa said as Zax’s
    body gradually rose from the ground until he was twenty centimeters from Zetsa
    and at eye level with her. “Think of it as advanced telekinesis”. She added as
    she watched Zax’s eyes widened in astonishment.

    “Like in the movies?” Zax asked while waving his arms. His
    body was no longer bound by gravity and it was even stranger than being inside
    his sea of consciousness. Any wrong movement could make him flip uncontrollably
    and the only thing that anchored him to the same place was the base symbols on
    his big sister. Wherever she will move to, he will have no choice but to
    follow.

    Telekinesis was the term people used in fiction movies and
    shows. It was different than the ability of an expert Mist User to move
    objects; it did not require mist energy. They called it a Devine Ability in the
    movies.

    “Like if you train hard then in the future you might be able
    to use”. Zetsa replied and stabilize Zax. “It’s a bit tasking, but great for
    extended use of carrying something, or someone, while having to keep your hands
    free and it makes the object half its weight”. Zetsa shrugged and turned her
    back to Zax. “Anyway, if your body starts turning, reach your hands and grab my
    shoulders… or you can just ask and I’ll carry you with my hands”. She smirked
    and, like an arrow leaving the string of a bow, kicked the ground and shot onto
    the air in a piercing jump.

    In the numerous forests, valleys and ridges that Zax and
    Zetsa traveled they encountered all sorts of beast. Some, Zetsa explained, did
    not possess an Earth’s Core and therefore, in terms of ranking, the cultivation
    of their three aspects was lower than level F. However, because of inborn capabilities,
    supreme instincts and physique, some coreless beasts at adulthood could contend,
    by solely relying on their bodies, against Mist Users under the Core Breaker
    level.

    Learning this out only strengthened Zax’s resolve to go
    through the hell his big sister warned him about.

    Apart from learning about the benefit of a strong body, Zax
    also learned a few survival skills and their current whereabouts in the beasts’
    territory.

    The caves they crossed belonged to the outer parts of the
    beasts’ territory and were under the five sovereign tribes – including the cave
    of Zetsa’s Master. There were around twenty to thirty other tribes of beasts in
    the outer parts, but only the five sovereign tribes had experts in the Mist Lord
    level. The strongest beasts in the other twenty to thirty tribes were only at
    the Core Breaker level. Naturally, all the members of every tribe possessed an
    Earth’s Core.

    Except beasts that resided in tribes, there were beasts
    which lived alone or in other forms of the word “Pack” but “Tribe”, and those
    were known as “Wild Beasts”. Wild beasts, such as the Earth Shattering Brown
    Digger, were the beasts that even if they got a hold on an Earth’s Core, lacked
    or did not evolve the minimal mentality to cultivate it or could not break
    through beyond level F or E.

    The outer parts of the beasts’ territory were abundant with
    wild beasts. Though it was not needed – because instincts warned the wild
    beasts from Zetsa’s presence and even Zax’s Soul Sense as he embed an hostile
    intent and used it playfully – Zetsa taught Zax of the unique attributes of the
    flora on their way. She showed him flowers that help disguise one’s own smell,
    trees with edible bark, harmless insect and small beasts that squirt fluids
    that were toxic and can madden certain type of carnivore beasts.

    Zetsa taught Zax to use his Soul Sense not just to make his strength
    clear to aggressive beasts by embedding his intent in it, but to also assess the
    content of fruits and body parts of beasts, once they were sliced open and
    before he ate them, to check if they were not contaminated by their own poison
    at the moment of death.

    Drinking water was the most difficult thing to find in the
    beasts’ territory. Above ground rivers and lakes were in one out of four caves
    and they were usually dominated by packs of territorial wild beasts or were
    shared or fought over by the tribes. If one wanted to drink water in the beasts’
    territory the options were to either risk it in the rivers and lakes or find a
    common type of plant called Blue Bark tree, which was filled with bitter sweet
    water.

    Seven days passed in the blink of an eye and the last tunnel
    on their path to the cave of Zetsa’s Master was a few hundred meters ahead.

    “Remember what I told you, Zax”. Zetsa meant her explanation
    about the beasts in her Master’s cave, which by the way was not numbered. “Try
    to be as you are… as you used to be at home. Putting aside how strict my Master
    is, my Martial uncle and brothers and sisters”, they were her Master’s other
    apprentices and younger brother, the one she told him that found him. “They are
    good natured and receiving. I’ll introduce you to the ones that are currently
    in the cave, since there are always few outside, you won’t get to know them all
    at once, but you still should remember… of my fellow apprentices three are my
    seniors, my two elder Martial brothers and my elder Martial sister. Aside from
    them I have four juniors, two younger Martial brothers and two younger Martial
    sisters. Two of my seniors are always outside, so I’m not sure who you’ll get
    to meet first, either way you should act respectfully to each and every one of
    them without exception”.

    ”Although we will be the only humans, the intelligent of my
    fellow apprentices is not inferior to any human of the same level of
    cultivation!” Zetsa made a point to herself to insert this information to Zax’s
    head every once in a while.

    “Afterwards I’ll introduce you to my Martial uncle. Over a
    year ago he started a session of closed doors training and a month ago he
    finally came out. The position of my Martial uncle is second only to my Master’s,
    but in terms of personality… sometimes they seem alike but it’s easier to get
    along with my Martial uncle, just be extra respectable toward him since he was
    the one to-”

    “To find me…” Zax finished. He asked her once about who they
    will meet when they will reach her Master’s cave and the answer kept replaying
    every day. “Are you going to tell me again about the Krikitory tribe?”

    The beasts of the Krikitory tribe are the original dwellers
    of her Master’s cave. According to what Zetsa taught him, the Krikitory made up
    their name to sound similar to her Master’s name out of their veneration toward
    him. Outside her Master’s cave the Krikitory are formally known as the Deep
    Water Bear tribe, but inside of the cave it is better to refer to them by their
    own chosen name, otherwise thy will get offended.

    The beasts of the Krikitory are herbivores. By Zetsa’s
    description they are a peaceful beast tribe. An adult Krikitory is a meter and
    fifty centimeters tall and has the same facial features of the ancient Black
    Bear – like the one in pre New Earth animal books. Their fur, on the other hand,
    is a mix of blue and brown. What makes the Krikitory special and give them
    their formal name is that when their fur gets wet, it hardens and take the
    shape of small scales. Due to this, the Krikitory are excellent swimmers and
    can stay under water for hours per each breath that they take.

    On the scale of mental evolution the Krikitory are quite
    behind. Only the members who surpassed the Core Breaker level have an
    intelligent which is almost equivalent to that of a human – on a side note, if
    it were not for Zetsa’s Master, the Krikitory never would have found a method
    to cultivate beyond level D, which is the reason for their deep feeling toward
    her Master and why they serve him.

    “Cheeky brat!” Zetsa pinched Zax’s cheeks.

    In the past seven days she noticed that as her little brother
    got closer to his first teenage year, he become more impudent and almost every
    time dared to speak his mind freely. Other than that, she also discovered new
    changes in her little brother which were to her liking. His eyes, for example,
    no longer had the pure look of a child, when she taught him in their journey a
    glint of seriousness was easy to see in them. His intuition was also sharper,
    actually years beyond his age. When he asked question about stuff that she
    taught him they always were on point and usually one explanation was enough for
    him to understand. Most of all, Zetsa was impressed with Zax’s calm and collected
    attitude when she showed him how to dissect a beast’s cadaver and let him try
    to cut one on his own.

    “Nearly there, at the tunnel’s entrance, that is”. Zetsa
    said.

    They traveled in the last cave, both of them on foot, since
    early morning, though it was difficult to tell because the beast’s cave they
    were in, or former ones, did not have a Nightly Cover formation.

    “Big sissster Zetsa!”

    A shout from down their path caught Zax off guard. In this
    beasts’ territory he was used to hearing all kind of communication sounds, but words
    that he could understand were nonexistent.

    From out of nowhere a slim and tall figure appeared before
    them, a humanoid beast with purple scales, a long tail and a snake head with a penetrating
    golden gaze.

    “Ohsss, isss that tender one your little kinss?” The lizard
    type beast spoken in a hissing voice.

    “Mes! Are you looking to make trouble for us?!” Zetsa
    scolded. She held Zax hand, so she felt the cold sweat forming on his palm. It
    was not why she scolded her little Martial brother, Mes, but because he did not
    bother to conceal his oppressing Mist Lord aura.

    “No waysss, I know better, sissster Zetsa. I was jussst
    eagerly waiting for your return to show you my recent breakthrough. Pleassse
    forgive me and don’t tell Master!” Mes pleaded like a scared child.

    Watching this bizarre scene of a Mist Lord humbly lowering
    his head to a Mist Master awestruck Zax for the first couple of seconds. However,
    Zax quickly remembered what Zetsa told him and collected himself.

    “Greetings, senior Martial brother Mes, this one is Zax Zel,
    nice to meet you!” He lowered his head to pay his respect to the beast before
    him, using the same exact words his big sister made him memorize.

    “Ssss, tender one, Zaxss, it’s a good thing for us to meet.
    But I, who might be your future elder Martial brother, presenting you with this
    embarrassing first impressionss… Big sisster Zetsa, do these two right and
    forget seeing me here”. Mes worked his kindly words and the introduction to slide
    around his actual mistake of shouting in a sensitive area.

    “If you’ll remember not to show off again in the future,
    I’ll forgive you”. Zetsa conceded. “Now go back and inform everyone that I’m
    back with a new addition to the family”.

    Grateful, a bright golden light emitted from Mes’s golden
    eyes and his figure disappeared.

    “A Mist Lord…” Zax murmured. Mes was the first Mist Lord that
    Zax laid his own two eyes on, not to mention the first intelligent humanoid
    beast! “He is a Mist Lord and he is younger than you are, big sis?” He asked
    intently. He and Zetsa were striding in the kilometer long tunnel to their
    final cave destination. “Beasts are sure amazing…”

    “Mes is not younger than me, little Zi”, Zetsa replied
    amused. “He has tens of years over me. The reason that I’m is big sister is
    because of two things. One is the word of our Master since he decided it,
    seconds it’s because that on the same level I’m far more stronger than Mes. It’s
    just that our methods of training are different; mine a lot harder to
    comprehend and achieve advancements”.

    They spent around fifteen minutes walking in the tunnel,
    hand in hand. Zax felt his head spinning from excitement, more thrilled than
    the day his big sister agreed to train him!

    “That’s it, my Master’s cave…” Zetsa pushed Zax forward in
    surprise.

    Stumbling on his feet, Zax walked a few steps and raised his
    head to meet the rural landscape.

    “Amazing!” Zax uttered.

    From the cave’s entrance to couple of kilometers ahead grew fields
    of flowers in rainbow like colors. There was a sort of a path right from the
    entrance through the fields that led past a forest, into a mountain range, to a
    place far away onwards...

    At a certain point the path split westwards, right before
    the first trees of the forest, up a small and wide hill to a distant village.

    “They are waiting for us at the village”. Zetsa said and
    bypassed Zax.

    “Ah… yes!” Zax joined her at his own pace.

    The scent of the fields was intoxicating and beside it was
    the sound of flowing water, left and right, like a melody of creeks.

    It took them a hour before they finally made it to the
    village, by then Zetsa told Zax that the tribe has six more villages spread
    within the cave and that this one belonged to the fields workers. As she
    explained, Zax himself was also getting use to the sight of the field workers
    Krikitories. They industriously collected any flower in full bloom and threw it
    inside big baskets on their backs. The Krikitories workers were not disturbed
    by the pair of humans and a handful waved their paws to Zetsa.

    “Utotive! Utotive!” Tiny members of the tribe, children
    Krikitories, fifty centimeters tall or so, ran to welcome Zax and Zetsa with
    wooden cups of water. “Utotive, wamp! Wamp!” They pushed the cups for Zetsa to
    take and drink them.

    “Big sis…” Zax said helplessly. There were over twenty young
    Krikitories and six of them forced their cups of water on Zax, calling…
    “Bukibi, wamp!”

    “Wamp, Zax. They knew we were coming and came to greet us.
    ‘Utotive’, ‘Blue Olive’, is what the small ones find easy to call me. ‘Bukibi’,
    ’Light Brown’, appears to be your new name… anyway, ‘wamp’ means to drink. Pick
    a cup and drink the water”. Zetsa said and picked one of the offered cups.

    The young Krikitory seemed overjoyed as she – the females
    were distinguishable by the braids that were embroidered to their fur – ran
    back to her mother’s arms, forgetting the cups with Zetsa.

    The other disappointed fifteen to eighteen young Krikitories
    glumly moved to Zax. “Bukibi, wamp! Wamp!”

    Seeing how the young Krikitories got sad and mournful because
    they were not picked, Zax felt a pinch in his heart. It was the first time for
    him to be in a situation where the happiness of those younger than him depended
    on his actions. In his eyes the young Krikitories reminded him of his younger
    cousins or first graders in his last year of school. Now a bunch of them looked
    for his affection and he could give it to only one of them…

    “Fine”. Zax surrendered. He could not pick one Krikitory
    over the other so he chose to accept all the cups that were offered to him.

    Looking at him drinking cup after cup, Zetsa pouted. “Little
    Zi, you can’t pamper them like this, otherwise they’ll come to you whenever
    they want to get praised by their mothers”. She said, yet when the young
    Krikitory that gave her water returned for her cup, she ended up accepting more
    of them, mostly for Zax’s sake.

    “This will be the last time”. Zetsa told Zax. “These guys are
    about the same age as two or three years old humans. They don’t know how to
    stop and their mothers won’t stop them either since the grownups admire anyone
    that Master allows into the cave…”

    The two left the young and the adults to their business.
    Zetsa led Zax to a large wooden pavilion on the outskirts of the village.
    Inside the pavilion five figures were waiting for them.


  • Book 3 – Into The Wild



    Chapter 2 – Martial Son

     

     

    Mes was the first that stepped forward to welcome Zetsa and
    Zax. “Big sissster Zetsa, I did as you bid. Martial uncle isss one hisss way”.

    “Good”. Zetsa smiled and squeezed Zax’s arm to release him
    of the bewilderment.

    Under the large pavilion, the other four figures lowered the
    wooden cups in their hands to the table at the center of their gathering, got
    up and approached the two arrivals.

    “Elder Martial sister Zetsa”.

    “Elder Martial sister Zetsa”.

    Two of the four lowered their heads and said in union while
    one, a bird type beast, just performed the same greeting gesture.

    The three were three humanoid beasts. The biggest one was
    nearly four meters tall, with yellow spotted fur over his body and a jaguar head.
    The second biggest was the same height as Mes, around two meters tall, and
    another lizard type beast but of different species. Her scales were fiery
    crimson and two silver horns grew out from the sides of her lizard head. The last
    of the three shared a similar height with Zetsa and was the bird type beast
    that stayed quiet. Her body was covered by dark blue feathers, she had two
    black eagle legs, which complemented her griffon head, and her upper limbs
    looked like folded wings that made up the shape of two arms.

    “Zax, these are my junior Martial brothers. This one is
    Tularg, he is a Dotted Jaguar”, Zetsa gestured over the jaguar head beast.
    “After me he is the oldest. Rarahel is the third youngest and is a Silver Horns
    Dragon”. Next she gestured over the silver horns beast. “Mes, that you already
    know, is the second youngest. His species is Thousand Meters Viper. And Shulip
    is the youngest, Lakes Griffon”. Last was the beast type bird.

    “Greetings, senior Martial brother Tularg, senior Martial
    sister Rarahel, senior Martial sister Shulip, this one is Zax Zel, nice to meet
    you!” As he done in front of Mes, Zax lowered his head to pay his respect to
    the three beasts.

    “Little brother Zax”. Tularg offered his hand for Zax to
    shake. He learned of this ritualistic greeting that was common in humanity’s
    territory from his big sister Zetsa.

    Zax reached for Tularg’s hand and his hand instantly swallowed
    within the animalistic grip. The pressure of the grip was a bit strong, but the
    sensation of physical contact with such of a formidable wild existence gave Zax
    a rush of excitement.

    “Can’t take it back now, big sister Zetsa”. Rarahel said.
    Although she was of the same type of beast as Mes, she did not seem to have any
    speech impediment.

    “Little Rara, stop antagonizing your elder sister”. The
    final, fourth beast, came forward and as he did, the other three made way.

    “Elder Martial brother Simel”, Zetsa said respectfully. “The
    issue between me and little sister Rarahel is personal. Please forget what she
    said”.

    As he heard his big sister talk, Zax realized two important
    things. The first was that the ape type beast, Simel, was one of the three
    elder apprentices of his big sister’s Master, and was genuinely grander than
    Zetsa herself. The second thing was that, despite her greeting, between his big
    sister and that silver horn Rarahel was a cold and complicated relationship.

    “Nonsense, little Zetsa!” Simel raised his voice in disagreement.

    Though he was the eldest of the present apprentices of the
    same Master, his appearance as a beast could only be counted as meager in
    comparison to the other four beasts. Being a Silver Skin Gorilla, most of
    Simel’s body looked like that of a hairy muscular silvery man, around a meter
    and ninety centimeters tall, with a piece of leather cloth covering the
    loincloth and a gorilla head. Nonetheless, his tone of voice possessed a unique
    noble sound and his demeanor when he spoke his mind was highly oppressing.

    “When brothers and sisters fight, parents are punished!” His
    words held meaning that was mutual to all of his junior apprentices and there
    was nothing else he needed to add to make them submit.

    “Greetings, senior Martial brother Simel, this one is Zax
    Zel, nice to meet you!” Zax hurriedly said when Simel disregarded the others
    and approached him.

    “Hmm…” Was Simel’s first response after an azure luster gleamed
    in his eyes. ‘I see what uncle talked about... brave boy!’ He said to himself. ‘Poor
    sister…’ He thought back to how Zetsa must feel, knowing for what she brought
    him.

    “Say, little brother”, Simel turned to Zax. “What kind of
    beast’s meat, did little sister Zetsa made you eat on your journey here?”

    “What?” Zax was dumbfounded by the question and why it was
    asked. It was true that on their way to this cave Zetsa hunted and cocked for
    him some beast’s meat, but was it safe to admit it to another beast?!

    “Big brother Simel, we had no time to properly search for
    something special… the best was a shallow water turtle”. Zetsa answered in
    Zax’s stead.

    “‘Shallow water turtle’? Ba!” Simel spat. “Don’t reduce
    yourself again for this crappy wild beast, little sister Zetsa. Listen up,
    little one”, he turned to Zax. “If our Master will truly accept you, I
    personally will take you for a hunt, and so will the others!” Simel promise was
    absolute and even the others had to give their consent, primarily because it
    was an actual tradition that started by their eldest Martial brother.

    “Martial uncle!” Simel suddenly turned and called out. The
    other five, excluding Zax, were a bit slower to call in the same obsequious
    conduct.

    ‘Big sis’s Martial uncle? Is he the one who found me?’ Zax
    pondered. For a few seconds now his big sister’s brothers and sisters kept
    their bowing posture in austerity. They did not emitted mist or soul energy;
    however, the air they were giving became tense and sultry, so much that Zax
    found himself spellbound with his gaze to the ground.

    “Martial nephews and nieces”. A husky voice broke the
    silence and the six apprentices straightened, Simel first, Shulip last and Zax imitated.

    The imperious figure of Martial uncle overshadowed the
    impression that Zax received from the five beasts apprentices. Martial uncle
    figure was completely black from his hoofs to the tip of his crown like set of
    horns atop his stag head. Except for his posture only his burly torso looked
    like that of a man, though it was coated by shining black fur. These two
    features of him were the sole indications that he, too, was a humanoid beast.

    “Zax, he is my esteem Martial uncle Kartius, hurry up and
    greet him!” Zetsa urged Zax.

    “Greetings, senior Martial uncle Kartius, this one is Zax
    Zel, nice to meet you!” Zax said and as he lowered his head again he had an
    acute feeling that something was off with this Martial uncle, yet he could not determine
    what it was.

    “Joined me around the table”. Kartius told Zax and the
    others and proceeded to sit next to the table.

    “Martial uncle, what about Master?” Zetsa asked. She hopped
    that her Master will be more amenable toward her brother if he will meet him
    and see in him what he saw in her.

    “Big brother won’t come”. Kartius said bluntly.

    “Did you not call him, Mes?” Zetsa looked at her Martial
    little brother heatedly, pondering if he had the audacity to disobey her in
    fear that their Master will catch on about him doing something stupid.

    “No, no, no, big sissster Zetsa! Martial uncle toldsss me
    not to call Master!” Mes said defensively.

    “Indeed I told him”. Kartius responded to Mes’s imploring
    gaze for help. “Zax’s stay here was left for me to decide”. Saying so far, the
    six apprentices understood their Master’s intention.

    Zax was allowed to stay in the cave, but his cultivation
    will not be supported by Master’s care.

    “Martial uncle Kartius!” Zax abruptly raised his voice
    firmly, shocking the six.

    Which one of them, ever in his or her life, dared raising
    their manner of speech in front of their Martial uncle?

    “Please allow me to stay and train and become as strong as
    my big sis… No! Stronger than anyone here!”

    “Zax!” Zetsa barked.

    “Bahaha!” Simel burst out laughing.

    “How impudent!” Rarahel criticized.

    “Ssss, future Martial brother Zax, ssss”. Mes was also
    amused.

     Tularg and Shulip
    preferred to keep their opinion privately.

    Zax ignored everyone but Kartius. He thought that it will be
    more appropriate for him to bow his head when he opened his mouth and shocked
    everyone, but an audacious feeling in his heart instructed him to stay unyielding
    as his will and the person that he aspires to be.

    “Boy”, Kartius said and everyone fell silent. “Don’t let
    your condition abolish rational thinking. I see that your soul is at the top of
    level D. That fast of a progress combined with the only other path that you
    have, certainly makes you a promising practitioner of the Martial path. But,
    the path to becoming stronger is embedded with more than just the difficulty of
    cultivation. On your own territory it won’t mean much, but here it’s a
    different matter. I’ll say without beating around the bush, stay here and it’s
    more likely that you will lose something important or die by someone else,
    sooner than you may imagine!”

    Kartius crossed his arms and surveyed Zax as he done the
    first time he saw him. The state of the boy’s Qi channels remained the same,
    but his soul became terrifyingly strong to his level and had something else in
    it. That something else was the reason for him not using a murderous intent to
    give the boy a peek to the abyss that is known as the Martial path.

    Zax had countless things to say in return. How he already
    lost something important. How he continues to lose important things deliberately
    and without restraint. How he is not scared. How he fared against death more
    times in the past than any child should. How he himself considered death as
    better than living at one point during this year, since he woke up…

    At the end, he chose to say nothing. Everything sounded the
    same and shared the same purpose, to stand his ground with his resolution. Enduring
    quietly was akin to showing that his mind did not sway by this Martial uncle’s cautionary
    words.

    “Very well, boy, Zax, you have my approval, you can stay”.

    “Martial uncle is generous, thank you, Martial uncle!” Zetsa
    was fast to react and singled Zax to do the same.

    “Thank you, Martial uncle!” Zax said.

    “Congratulations, Zaxss, from now on you are the youngest
    Martial brother of usss six and the other two that are currently out”. Mes’s
    golden eyes narrowed in delight.

    “Swhit! Swhit!” Shulip whistled.

    “Shulip is also happy not to be the youngest sister
    anymore”.  Tularg interpreted and then he
    explained to Zax. “Bird type beasts have hard time changing their vocal cords
    to reproduce sounds other than whistles. Wait for her to reach the Core Master
    level for her to tell you herself how happy she is to have a younger brother”.
    He chuckled.

     “Swhit! Swhit! Swhit!”
    Shulip waved her arms, which turned into two marvelous wings, and sent gusts of
    winds to strike Tularg.

    “Grahahah…” Tularg half laughed half roared and with a
    slight move of hand canceled the four blades of wind. “She thinks that I’m
    embarrassing her in front of her new younger brother”.

    “Enough of this juvenile behavior!” Just as Zax was about to
    get out of his awe toward these two beasts, whom with barely moving caused havoc
    in the air, Kartius raised his voice in mild anger. “If you will destroy the
    pavilion I’ll have you drink thousand cups of water a day for ten generations of
    the Krikitories!”

    What may sound as a joke clearly was not treated as such by
    Tularg, Shulip or any of their Martial brothers and sisters. The two apologized
    right away.

    “Sorry, Martial uncle, he won’t dream of harming the
    pavilion”.

    “Swhit! Swhit! Swhit!”

    In truth, even if he did not say anything, the two would
    never have the nerve to make the tiniest of scratches on the pavilion’s wooden
    beams and roof or marble floor. It was a gift from the Krikitory tribe to
    someone that none of those who attended this welcoming gathering will think to
    offend.

    “As long as you remember…” Kartius said to the two and got
    up on his hoofs. “Regarding the matter of a new Martial brother to you lot… Zax
    will join our Martial family and you will get a new junior apprentice, however,
    not as a Martial brother, but a Martial cousin”.

    “Uncle Kartius, you mean?!” Simel said in disbelief.

    “Martial uncle?!” The other apprentices had the same
    expression as Simel.

    “I mean that I discussed it with big brother, your Master.
    Zax will join us as my apprentice, if he will accept me as his Master”.
    Kartius’s eyes fell on Zax, his crown of black horns made him almost look sacred.

    Initially Zax thought that his big sister will continue to
    be his Mor and teach him all about the bodily refining technique. Yet, as he
    met eyes with Kartius, Zax sensed once more that this beast possesses some profound
    secret that he must uncover. “Master!”

    Zax recalled an old martial arts movie that he saw at Dane’s
    house. The protagonist dropped to his knees and called “Mor!” to the old man
    that accepted him as an apprentice. Zax copied the protagonist but instead of
    “Mor” called “Master”, since this was how his big sister and her Martial
    brothers and sisters referred to their teacher and how Kartius referred to
    himself.

    “Martial son!” Kartius answered.

    “Congratulations, Martial uncle! Congratulations, Martial cousin!”

    The six who watched the exchange from the side applauded
    their new junior and even more so, their Martial uncle.

    “Little brother Zax, you might not know it, but you are the
    first apprentice, Martial son, that Martial uncle has ever accepted!”

    “Thank you, Martial uncle, for seeing in my little brother
    what my Master saw in me”. Zetsa thanked. It was obvious to her that just by
    staying in her Master’s cave, without getting his support, becoming an official
    apprentice; he will have hard time cultivating the bodily refining technique. Even
    her two elder Martial brothers and elder Martial sister will not be able to
    provide the required assistant.

    Her Martial uncle never had an apprentice before. Therefore,
    in a normal situation Zetsa would have preferred for her Master to accept Zax
    as an apprentice. However, this situation contained a couple of complications which
    no one could help with. Due to these complications Zetsa had to agree that Zax
    will benefit more from having her Martial uncle as a Master, than her own
    Master.

    “Zax”, Kartius turned to his first apprentice. “From now on
    you can either call me ‘Father’ or ‘Master’, they both hold the same meaning,
    ‘a teacher of the Martial path’, so I’ll let you choose. When you decide, get
    up and never kneel as frivolously as you do now! Learn first what the
    difference between bowing slightly, as your seniors do, and kneeling!” Kartius
    said in a stern voice. “For mutual respect your knees should never touch the
    ground... That is all I’m going to say on the matter”.

    Zax gulped every word like the first drops of water after a
    long drought, which was a thing of the past in New Earth but still a taught
    subject in schools.

    “Master!” Zax repeated and stood up. Although Kartius said
    that both forms of addressing were the same, to Zax they meant two different
    things. Besides, his big sister referred to her Master equally the same and
    frankly, Zax still did not know what was wrong with “Tal” and “Mor”.

    “Then it’s settled”. Kartius said. “Zax, and you too should
    listen”, he turned to the others. “While I said that Zax can stay, my approval
    is only temporary. Even if I accepted him as my Martial son, he still needs to
    receive big brother’s own approval. If it was ten years ago, big brother would
    not have mind to give him the same chance he gave Zetsa. Unfortunately, these
    days big brother is very… anxious. To let Zax stay indefinitely, when the time
    comes big brother will want to test Zax’s abilities, he has the right to and a
    good reason. To make sure that my Martial son won’t disappoint, I received
    three years to prep him, Zetsa, I believe, already mentioned that to my Martial
    son and now I want all of you to know as well”.

    The sternness in Kartius’s voice vanished, his speech
    mellowed as his next words were spoken from his sincere heart.

    “For the next three years I plan to concentrate every second
    on preparing Zax, not just for big brother… During this period of time you can
    treat us as if we entered closed doors training”.

    “Martial uncle, are you planning to take Zax?!” Zetsa unintentionally
    blurted. Her relationship with Zax has just got better and now she will not be
    able to see him for three years!

    “We will not be interrupted unless it is big brother who is
    calling for either of us!” Kartius stated as an undisputable fact. “Nevertheless,
    it is very improbable that big brother, in his current temperament, will send a
    call for us. Because of this, my request for you, Martial nephews and nieces,
    is to please take care of big brother in my absence. His anxiety hampers his
    training… Your senior apprentices already doing the best they can, so they
    won’t be able to help if something were to happen in that cave”.

    “We know and understand, Martial uncle”. As the eldest, Simel’s
    response represented the other five apprentices as well.

    “I’m grateful”. Kartius said. This will be the second time
    in a short period of time that he will not be by his big brother’s side. He
    could only trust on his big brother’s sons and daughters to fill in for him.

    “Say your goodbyes to your Martial brothers and sisters,
    Zax”. Kartius told him.

    ‘Three years…’ Zax lingered in his inner mind on the notion
    of separating from his big sister again. Nevertheless his decision was made the
    moment his Master instructed him to say goodbye and he very well understood it.

    Zax said his thanks and goodbyes to his new Martial brothers
    and sisters and could not stop himself from running into his big sister’s arms
    for a hug that would last him for three long years.


  • Book 3 – Into The Wild



    Chapter 3 – Martial Father’s Teachings

     

     

    Kartius left the Krikitory village with Zax right as he
    finished saying his goodbye for the next three years.

    They went back on the path from the village and when the path
    split into the forest or the cave’s entrance, Kartius chose the former.

    Past the forest was the mountain range, there, Kartius
    forced Zax to climb relaying on his own strength. At most, he showed him a bear
    claws sign that marked a couple of rocks and told him to look for more signs.

    “They were made by the Krikitory village that resides on the
    mountains and take care of the various hot springs. The bear claws signs
    indicate the paths that they use to climb down or up the mountain. I’ll be
    climbing ahead of you, so search for the signs that lead to my direction”.

    It was two and a half weeks’ worth of a journey. In it, apart
    from the advice that Zax received from his Master, Kartius only helped Zax with
    food and water and the Krikitory’s path that he followed supplied him the rest.
    Warm places within the mountains to sleep at nights, hot spring pools to clean
    himself and enjoy for the first time in his life; Zax even met a few adult
    Krikitories, some of the caretakers, who were suspicious of him at first but once
    he mentioned the name of his Master, turned gracious.

    The Krikitories showed him the edible plant that grew around
    the hot springs. They told him which ones were testier after boiling in the hot
    springs and, after taking a look at his bruises from the climbing, which, if
    mushed, were good for making ointment for small injuries.

    When he reached the flat peak of the mountain Kartius led
    him to, Zax discovered an unbelievable spectacle. Atop of the highest mountain
    in the mountain range, a mountain couple of hundred meters higher than the
    other mountains and probably under the tallest cave’s ceiling in all of New
    Earth, was a tower made out from sparkling blue stones.

    Kartius did not say anything about the tower. From the top
    of the flat mountain he simply created a mantle from his mist energy around Zax
    and jumped crushed at the other side of the flat peak mountain’s valley.

    “Use your Soul Sense!” Kartius told Zax and formed a fist
    above his head that contained his Core Master’s might.

    “BOOM!”

    The ground shook.

    “BOOM!”

    Rocks spread all over.

    “BOOM!”

    A clear path appeared beneath the ground.

    “Ah?!” Zax was stunned. He listened to his Master and used
    his Soul Sense but still could not detect the underground path.

    “Do not be surprised. This place is one of the secret
    wonders of New Earth and cannot be detected by Soul Sense. Now brace yourself!”
    Kartius said. His mantle around Zax intensified and in his full speed he dashed
    into the path.

    Within the mantle Zax was not affected by the extreme speed,
    but until Kartius stopped he could not perceive anything of the surrounding, at
    best he saw flashes of reddish colors.

    The mantle around Zax fades a second before he came to
    himself and the duo of Master and apprentice arrived to the inside a spacious
    cabin.

    The interior of the cabin was mediocre. A large beast fur
    carpet, a square box around a meter tall and wide and two gigantic clay jars
    that Zax himself could fit in several times. From the two jars, through their
    wooden sealing, a sweet herbal fragrance arose and filled the cabin.

    “Sit down”. Kartius instructed Zax and sat first on the
    carpet.

    “Yes, Master”. Zax joined obediently.

    “Good. First, let us have a proper introduction. My name is
    Kartius, a Black Stag beast formerly from the Black Horns tribe”. It was a
    short introduction, but it covered all that Kartius wished to share with his
    Martial son in this moment in time.

    “My name is Zax Zel, human. From El-Eden”. Zax copied his
    Master. However it seemed too short, so he thought more for a bit and then said
    on the verge of lowering his head. “I thank Master for saving my life when I
    ventured and was lost in the beasts’ territory!”

    “Do you remember or Martial niece Zetsa told you that I
    saved you?” Kartius asked.

    “I remember my experience in the beast’s territory, but not
    Master saving me. Big sis was the one who told me”.

    “I see…” Kartius nodded. “You should stop naming the place
    besides your ‘Kingdom Earth’, ‘the beasts’ territory. Our three hundred and
    seventeen caves also have a name. Here we call our territory ‘Valgarel’; it
    means ‘Beasts’”. The first thing Zax learned from his Master, the name of the
    place he will stay in for the next three years, at the very least. “Repeat it”.

    “Valgarel”.

    “From now on, if something has a name and you know it, use
    it instead of referring to it with something else. If you don’t know the name
    of a person or a place, seek the opportunity and ask for the name. Knowing the
    right names is the minimal commodity to preserve one’s life on the Martial path.
    Do you understand why?”

    Zax did not answer right away. He thought of what his Master
    said and then remembered a certain event couple of years back. He reminisced
    the day of the Young Mist Users Conference. Back then he was saved by Habul
    Majid. If he ever met the man again or get into a conflict with someone like
    those from the Martinez family, will it not be useful to have the reputable name
    that supported him once in the past at his disposal?

    “Yes, Master”.

    “Then I won’t dwell on the subject”. If Zax answered promptly,
    Kartius would have asked him to clarify his answer. Since he did not, Kartius
    preferred to study his Martial son by watching rather than probing him.

    “Zax, tell me about what happened to you in Valgarel, your
    experience from the moment that you encountered the Brown Digger”. Kartius
    frowned when he recalled the beasts, the vermin. The topic may also seem like
    he probed into his Martial son’s business in contrast to his decision, but it
    was a matter that was correlated to Zax’s condition and as his Martial father,
    it would be negligent for him to not inquire.

    Zax did not hide anything from his Master. He began reciting
    from the very start, the first moment of craziness in which he spent his Qi
    trying to penetrate a rock for imaginary Earth’s Cores. He finished with
    revealing its relations to his practice in Adraak Meditation.

    Kartius heard the story and receded to telling his part just
    about when Zax fainted near the Brown Digger.

    “For now forget the Black Core. You have my approval to
    continue meditating as you usually do. For now it should suffice as the only
    soul refining technique that you should practice. The day you’ll breakthrough
    with your soul to the level of Mist Master, we will reevaluate your soul and
    what it requires for further growth”. Thus, Kartius put aside his Martial son’s
    earlier experience in Valgarel and proceeded to prep him for his big brother’s
    test in three years.

    “Let me see now, how well is you basic knowledge. Tell me
    all you know about the three aspects of a living being in order of their
    importance to a living being. Start with the least important.”

    ‘The least important of the three aspects…’ Zax thought for
    a short while. “The least important should be the body”. He said confidently.
    “I think so, because of the three aspects, in normal cases, the body is the
    only one that can be harmed to the extent that even if half of it is lost, a
    person can still stay alive with the help of medical instruments. With regards
    to Qi or mist, they both flow in the body through Qi or mist channels. Although
    my case is too odd, there is still no better example than what happened to my
    Qi channels. They are clogged, still in perfect shape, but with just being
    clogged, if it wasn’t a special case, big sis told me that I should have died.
    So in my opinion, in terms of importance, Qi or mist is in the middle”.

    “The most important I say is the soul. To my knowledge, if
    the soul will get even a light damage the person still would die. I don’t
    believe that special cases exist with the soul. It is the aspect I cultivate
    every day for the past year. Big sis says that my soul is unique, that it can accomplish
    things beyond its level. Well, I say, knowing my soul better than anyone else,
    that if something were to happen to my soul I will die. And if what I read
    online has a hint of truth in it, than I won’t get to reincarnate either! Oh…
    Does Master know about Going Online?”

    “You mean seeking information using your Computers and
    Screens?”

    “So you do know, Master!” Zax was relieved. What good would
    be his reasoning if his Master could not understand the idioms he used?

    “Don’t look down on your Martial father, Zax. Beasts are not
    oblivious to human’s technology”. Kartius snorted.

    “Sorry, Master!” Zax sensed the contempt in his Master’s
    tone and hurried to apologize.

    “Don’t make assumptions over things you haven’t first studied
    to the best of your ability on your own. Only then it’s fine to be wrong once
    in a while. And with respect to your one year of training your unique soul, so
    what?! Your soul is nothing but premature and your understanding, even of your
    own soul, cannot compare to the knowledge that is outside of the boundaries of
    your comprehension. There are experts and super experts that cultivated their
    soul for hundreds of years and still admit to know nothing”. Kartius said calmly.
    “Now, are you satisfied with your order of the three aspects?” He got back to
    the main subject.

    Though it could have been a coincidence, or maybe just his
    Master’s plan, but after getting lectured by his Master, Zax was not as confident
    as before with his ordering. “I was, Master”, Zax first admitted. “Now, not so
    sure…” It was not a way to escape from a wrong answer, but how he honestly felt.

    “Then let me educate you. As your Martial father, even if we
    are two individuals, through our mutual bond of Master and apprentice, it is
    fine for you to accept my wisdom as if it was your own from the first place”.
    Kartius stated the truth that tied every Master and apprentice. It was an essential
    concept an apprentice had to be aware of in order to accept wholeheartedly his
    or her Master’s teachings.

    Constantly watching over his apprentice’s expression,
    Kartius looked for conflicting thoughts by reading Zax’s body language and
    fluctuations of his soul. He said what he believed every Master should say to
    his apprentice. Some staff he figured on his own, others his big brother taught
    him. Regardless from whom he gained his knowledge, Zax was his first apprentice
    and his demeanor as a Master has also just begun to form and reshape.

    “Of the three aspects, for sustaining the life of a living
    being, the Qi is the least important. To understand why, you should firstly
    learn the natural role of each aspect. The natural role of ‘Qi’ is to be the nurturing
    energy that feed the body. Qi can replenish itself in a few ways. The Two most
    commons are rest and nutrition, food and water. At a certain level it is also
    possible to replenish your Qi through cultivation. Whichever way you choose,
    the main contribution Qi has for the life of a living being is sustaining the
    body. To simplify it, the Qi is like the Sun Stone in Martial niece Zetsa’s vehicle”.

    “If the body relies on Qi, than isn’t Qi supposed to be more
    important?” Zax asked.

    “That may sound like it, and I will explain it, but aren’t
    you more curious of why you, with clogged Qi channels, can still move your body
    around?” Catching Zax’s reaction as he was about to change his question,
    Kartius pointed at his dantian and carried on with the answer. “It is because
    of the Black Core in your dantian. It somehow acts as a Qi substitute for the
    body, or at least that’s my hypothesis. We will know for certain after you’ll
    start training in the bodily refining technique”.

    “And if Master will change his mind?”

    “Then it means that there is a different explanation.
    However, if I’ll end up being right, it means that between you and the Black
    Core there is a mental link, as for how it can help you, saved that one for
    later... My hypothesis is also based on the fact that only you can observe the
    Black Core in your dantian and the change in coloring that it has done to your
    original Earth’s Core”.

    ‘So Master’s hypothesis depends on my sanity…’ Zax realized.
    “What’s the natural role of the body, Master?” He did not want to go into it
    with his Master so he diverted the conversation back to the lesson at hand.

    “The natural role of the ‘body’ is to be the vessel that
    runs on Qi and safeguards the soul!” Kartius emphasized. “Though it sounds
    simpler than the Qi, as a matter of fact, the second aspect, for lacking a distinctive
    energy the body turns out as far more complicated than the Qi and even the soul!
    That, and the genuine difficulty of forging the body, is why there are maybe
    three bodily refining techniques in all of New Earth!”

    “Besides containing the other two aspects, the body is also the
    thing which connects the two. Qi may flow through the whole body, but its core,
    even for those who don’t possess and Earth’s Core, is within the lower dantian.
    Soul, on the other hand, remains inside the brain. Each in a different place,
    each within the body, Zax. The body can be harmed, like you said, but I tell
    you that if the dominion of Qi, the dantian, is destroyed, a living being can
    still survive. The body may lose its entire accumulated Qi, but as long as the
    Qi channels are intact, there are unique ways to make use of them, to pass
    other energies through them to sustain the body. On the contrary, if a vital
    organ of the body is destroyed, then no matter what the state of the dantian or
    the Qi channels is, there will be no point to them”.

    Kartius’s finger moved from Zax’s dantian to several places
    in the body, which were the places where vital organs were. He stopped,
    pointing at Zax’s forehead. “And that is where the most important is at”. He
    tapped once on Zax’s forehead and drew back his hand. “Qi is the energy which runs
    everything, the body is the container which keeps everything together and safe
    and the soul, the natural role of the soul, is being the last pillar of defense
    that guards the essence of a living being, the core of the soul, the spirit”.

    “Zax, you know about the three aspects, but do you know
    about the ‘spirit’?”

    “Only that it is the core of the soul…” Zax answered sheepishly.
    Was it not what his Master just said? “But, Master, doesn’t the body have a
    core?”

    “That, you’ll come to discover in time, Zax. I know of the
    educational system of you, humans, if it weren’t for your condition, you would
    have probably only started to learn the natural roles of the three aspects. I,
    your Martial father, will not renounce my Martial son for not knowing what I
    did not teach him!” Kartius said decisively. “Ease your heart and pay attention.
    You claimed that a damaged soul is a death sentence, but that is not accurate.
    The soul’s natural role is to protect the spirit, but it does much more than
    that. The soul is also the chronicle of a living being’s persona. It maintains
    the memories, the feelings and growth that make you who you are. When the soul
    is damaged two things that make it seem as if a living being is about to die
    are actually happening. The first is a shock that passes through defenses of
    the soul and affects the spirit. The second, if the spirit survives the initial
    shock, depends of how high the soul’s level, it will begin to slowly recover”.

    Kartius halted his teaching. He saw his Martial son thinking
    of what he said and waited. If there will be a question, he will answer it. If
    not, he will resume. Zax seemed to keep up.

    “Here raises the question. If the soul’s structure is
    fundamentally the same, it doesn’t matter where it’s damaged, than how come it
    is more important than the body, which has life depending vitals? The answer is
    that the soul is the keeper and last defender of the spirit. Unlike the three
    aspects, the spirit is not considered an aspect of a living being, but its essence.
    The spirit is what allows us to be. It is behind our influence, something that
    we cannot hone like the three aspects. It is given to us by Nature. With it,
    even if a living being loses all three aspects it can still enters the realm of
    incarnation. Let it be harmed and you’ll cease to exist. It is said to be the
    core of the soul because if the soul is not damaged it will forever be bound to
    the spirit, even to the next life”.

    “Master, Qi channels if harmed-” Zax was about to say.

    “You will die; depends which one of the many is harmed. However,
    the Qi channels are not a separate aspect. Their connection to the energy which
    runs the body is not the same, but similar to the connection between the soul
    and the spirit. Think of it like the body’s veins”.

    “In any case, these are the natural roles, the crucial truths,
    of the three aspects. Naturally, there is still much that you can learn. You
    will fathom more and more as your cultivation progress. If you have more
    question, put them aside for the moment. Some things are better to comprehend
    on your own”.


  • Book 3 – Into The Wild



    Chapter 4 – Principal Of Pain, The Seven Stages Of Bodily
    Refinement

     

     

    “Now that you know of the three aspects a little more, come
    here, Zax”. Kartius got up from the carpet and walked to one of the two large
    jars.

    Lifting the wooden sealing of one jar, the herbal fragrance
    in the cabin rose exponentially, so much that Zax took a step back and unconsciously
    covered his nose.

    “Do you recognize this smell?” Kartius asked.

    “It smells like a few of the plants that grow on the
    mountains that the Krikitory caretakers of the hot springs use”. Zax replied.

    “In addition to one exceptional plant, the liquid inside this
    jar and the one next to it is the refined extract of the most potent medicinal
    plants that grow beside the mountains’ hot springs”.

    From inside the jar Kartius retrieved a wooden watering cup
    by its long handle. “Remove your clothes Zax. To practice the bodily refining
    technique your whole body has to be rinse by this liquid”.

    As the liquid spilled over Zax’s head and slid on his face a
    refreshing burning sensation aroused his skin and opened up the pores.

    “Lower your hands to the sides and take a deep breath with
    your nose”. Kartius said as he rinsed him again.

    Breathing the fumes that came out of the liquid, Zax felt
    the refreshing burning sensation spreading inside of his body like a ball of
    fire that he swallowed. Instantly, before the burning could cause adverse
    effects, the refreshing trait of the liquid cleansed his airway and filled his
    organs with virtue.

    No matter how much air Zax took in this one breath, his lunges
    kept expanding and his chest kept rising.

    “Now slowly release and repeat. Don’t try to reach the limit
    of your lunges, you may not feel it but they are already stretched beyond their
    limit”. Kartius guided and rinsed him a third time. “Let your muscles loose.
    Use your body’s senses to trail after the liquid, not your Soul Sense”.

    The fourth cup was the last cup. Zax whole body, inwardly
    and outwardly, was bathed by the herbal liquid.

    “That will take some time, however make sure to not move
    until I finish!” Kartius said sharply. His hands began to glow in his azure
    aura and in a manner, which seemed slow due to the after images, but actually
    was too fast, at least for Zax to behold properly, his hands formed strings out
    of his mist energy and knitted them into and egg like shape that surrounded
    Zax.

    Zax watched as the enclosure his Master created become more
    and more opaque. Over an hour passed and Kartius was not finished, but Zax
    could already see nothing but the smooth azure membrane that surrounding him.
    As the procedure went on, the membrane compressed and shrunk from initially
    being a head taller and wider than Zax’s person to two to five centimeters from
    touching him.

    Zax did not have fear from closed places, but being inside
    an impenetrable membrane for over three hours did take its toll. Fortunately,
    since he could not do anything else, it was suitable opportunity for him to
    train his soul. Two surprising things that Zax discovered before he started
    meditating were… even though the membrane was made by mist energy, he could not
    expend his Soul Sense beyond it and if he tried he got a strong feeling of
    being pressed by the membrane. Also, inside his consciousness was the herbal
    fragrance. It did not help him to break through the next level, but it did make
    it more comfortable to study the piece of spiritual knowledge from his subliminal
    mind.

    As it so happened, the hours that passed were parallel to the
    number of cups his Master rinsed him with.

    The membrane in its last phases of completion was the same
    as a second layer of skin. From being oppressive to being light to gradually
    merge with Zax’s body were the last three phases. Kartius finished and Zax
    could no longer see the azure membrane.

    “What I embedded into your body is the nucleus of the bodily
    refining technique that my big brother developed, a formation that is called ‘Seven
    Stages Of Bodily Refinement’”. Kartius introduced the name of the technique
    with great pride. “In knitting this membrane you should know that there is no
    one better than I, your Martial father. But as far as supporting you through
    the cultivation process… Know that from here on there is very little that anyone
    can do”. He picked up Zax clothes and gave them to him. “Get dress, the
    membrane absorbed the liquid. Your body is perfectly clean”.

    Zax stopped meditating during the last phase of the membrane
    creating process. By then he also noticed that the membrane was doing something
    to the liquid, but according to how he saw it, it was more accurate to say that
    the membrane was feeding on the herbal liquid.

    “Master, before you completed the membrane I could sense its
    fragrance in my consciousness and my body also felt refreshed, like after
    bathing in the hot springs, but now I don’t feel anything of the liquid. Is it
    because of the membrane?” Zax was disappointed. He thought that if he could
    maintain the presence of the sweet fragrance in his consciousness he could
    improve the speed of his soul cultivation.

    “Instead of the customary pillars and channels that a
    formation needs to be executed, the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation
    only need doses of the herbal liquid to function. This peculiarity corresponds
    to its class of difficulty, class S”. Kartius explained. “In the future, the
    further you will progress in cultivating your body, the more you will have to
    soak your body with the herbal liquid. For now, the amount of herbal liquid the
    membrane absorbed should be enough for you to reach level E with your body”.

    Hesitating a bit, Zax still forced himself to ask. “Will it
    take long for me to reach E level Mist User with my body?” He remembered Zushi
    saying couple of months ago that Anet has already became an E level Mist User
    and he and Dane were not far behind. Regardless of their current relationship,
    Zax did not want to lag behind the rest of their former Earth’s Core searching
    group.

    Reading his Master’s stag expression, Zax could only assume
    that what appeared on his Master’s face was a sort of a beastly grin. “Outside
    we’ll discuss it. You still have a lot more that you need to learn about the
    Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement and bodily cultivation in general. I’ll tell
    you over your first session of training. Let’s first step outside of the cabin”.
    Kartius said and headed to the cabin’s door.

    As the door opened and Zax’s head popped outside after his
    Master, a familiar sight made him gasp. The cabin and its terrace were engulfed
    by a somewhat transparent layer of brilliant coating. Outside of the layer of
    coating was what shocked Zax. The cabin was surrounded by a smoky mist. From
    each direction Zax looked, the smoky mist sprouted from the ground like in the
    cave he entered to with the Brown Digger and found the Black Core. The only
    differences to the previous cave were in the density of the smoky mist and its
    color. It was doable to look as far as twenty meters into the cave from the
    safe spot on the cabin’s terrace and the color of the smoky mist was earth brown
    instead of lava like orange.

    “Could… Could… it be that we are back in that cave…?” Zax
    stuttered. That accursed cave was the place where he lost his future as a Mist
    User. It was the last place in New Earth that Zax wished to be in.

    “No”. Kartius answered. “But make a wrong step from here on
    and it could be just as worse!” He warned and placed his hand on Zax’s
    shoulder, holding him firmly. “The cabin is protected by a formation that I
    set. What’s around you is the place you will be training in till three years
    from now… Zax”, Kartius’s tone made his apprentice to avert his gaze toward
    him. “Use your Soul Sense to sense your body”.

    Zax nodded and did as his Master instructed. With the
    additional perception of his Soul Sense Zax noticed something foreign attach to
    him like an invisible net. He did not bother to close his eyes to better
    concentrate on his Soul Sense’s finds, he did not need to. As a result, right
    as he probed deeper to figure out what the net actually was, although he
    already had an idea, Zax saw an azure glow originating from beneath his shirt
    and as he lifted it up there were on his abdomen seven azure glowing gates that
    started from his lower dantian and piled up to his clavicle.

    Before he could ask his Master what were the seven gates,
    Zax discovered that the seven gates appeared not just on his body, but more
    vividly and majestically underneath his soul. As if his soul was the jewel
    crown above the uppermost gate!

    “These seven gates represent the seven levels of the body.
    We, beast, number the levels the same way humans do. The lowest and first signifies
    level F and the highest and seventh signifies level S”. Kartius gave voice to
    his apprentice speculations. He stomped outside of the protective formation,
    into the brown smoky mist. “I won’t lie to you, Zax, in the current level of
    your body stepping beyond the protective formation is akin to entering a furnace
    and escaping the pain became impossible the moment the seven gates appeared in
    your consciousness”.

    “That is, however, the main principal of the Seven Stages Of
    Bodily Refinement, the principal of Pain. To be forged with as little
    impurities as possible pain is part and parcel. That is also what makes this
    technique the number one bodily refinement technique in all of New Earth. As
    for how exactly it works, you will be entitled to know only if you step outside
    and endure”.

    ‘All I have to do is endure pain and then my body will
    become the same as that of a Mist User?’ Zax swallowed a too familiar massive bulge
    of self scorn and contempt, which weighed on him for far too long, and occasionally
    surged from his stomach to be stuck in his throat. ‘Endure?’

    In the past year he brought himself to believe that his life
    was meaningless if he could not achieve his goals, childish as they may be. His
    choice of training his soul before becoming a Mist User, which made him strong,
    and his choice of following the weird sensation to find the Black Core, which
    made him pitifully weak, were they not entwined with pain?

    ‘I will embrace it, Master!’ His words were kept to himself,
    but his state of mind also centered on complying with the recognition that he
    received from the one who kept referring to himself his Martial father!

    Zax crossed the protective formation. Right away the inner
    and outer seven gates glow intensified ten folds. The pain was indescribably
    excruciating, robbing Zax of any sense of realism as he tumbled to the ground.

    “Ah?” Zax faintly called.

    The pain stopped.

    Black luster gleamed in Zax’s dumbfounded eyes as black long
    spikes pierced from inside his body, not leaving one millimeter of visible
    piece of skin.

    “Zax!” Kartius sprang for his Martial son’s aid. ‘These
    spikes!’ Kartius matched them with the ones from Zax’s story. Still, not caring
    for what they were, or maybe not having the time to care, an azure aura covered
    his right hand as he launched it to shatter the spikes. He could not afford
    second guessing himself; it was an unexpected development in a very sensitive
    time that could cost his Martial son’s life!

    “Master!” In contrast to the first appearance of the black spikes,
    Zax was absolutely fine. Though the spikes also came out from his eyes, he
    could still see everything as if he watched the surrounding through Sun Stone glasses.
    Kartius, conversely, was on the opposite side of the spectrum of being fine.

    Kartius’s right hand, with all of his Core Master might, was
    pierced by the black spikes as if it was an illusion. Kartius, whom felt
    nothing from the spikes within contact and even with his Soul Sense or mist, stared
    in disbelief at his hand. Heavens knows how tough it was. To be pierced like
    that… All he could do was slip his hand carefully from the spikes and step back
    as his Martial son stood up like the miserable Pincupine of the giant rodents’
    family on two.

    “Master, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to!” Zax took what
    happened as his own fault. He fall backwards in shame as the black spikes faded
    and his appearance returned to normal, though unaffected by the scorching heat
    of the brown smoky mist.

    “Be calm, Zax”. Kartius roared. His Martial son was near
    diminishing himself again by breaking his back. “My hand is fine, look”. He
    presented his right hand. It bled, the palm had two holes and one finger was
    almost torn off, but at the same time his hand was slowly healing. “More
    importantly, remember what I told you!  If
    you still haven’t figured it, think of your worthiness for being my Martial
    son!”

    Facing his Master’s rebuke Zax was speechless. He
    straightened up and toughened the look in his eyes. “Master… I don’t understand
    what happened, I didn’t do anything. The Black Core… it sent a pulse throughout
    my body and then the pain stopped and the spikes came out”. He solemnly
    explained.

    Azure mist swirled around Kartius hand. He used his mist
    energy to hasten the healing of his hand. “Black Core… too bizarre… too
    bizarre…” Kartius murmured. “But it is also a proof, Zax, what the Black Core
    did prove my hypothesis that between you and the Black Core there must be a
    mental link!”

    “But what now, Master?” Zax asked anxiously. “I’m outside of
    the protective formation and don’t feel pain at all… The bodily refining
    technique…” He gritted his teeth and held himself from plummeting into
    depression because of the scourge in his dantian. “It’s not working!”

    “Hush, Zax”. Kartius mused. In the disarray that occurred,
    the seven gates sank inside Zax’s body. “Call up the seven gates again”.

    The seven gates reappeared in turn on Zax’s abdomen. As they
    did, something shocking revealed itself.

    “The first gate…” Kartius said and got closer to Zax. “No.
    Don’t move back. The Black Core did what it coveted, look”.

    Looking below his navel, the first of the seven gates was glowing
    in black radiance. Furthermore, it seemed swollen compare to before and
    steadily keep growing in size.

    “Is that good, Master?” Zax wondered. The expression on his
    Master’s face was difficult to deduce. Their bond was a meager couple of weeks
    old and while on the mountains his Master kept a noticeable distance.

    “Good?” Kartius responded. “It’s blasphemy! How could it be
    so wicked? This terrifying Black Core… Forget about nearly cutting my hand off,
    it crushed and reconstructed the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement that my big
    brother shed blood and tears for tens of years to develop, and made Heavens Looking
    Down On Earth changes!”

    “Then… the Black Core did a good thing?”

    Kartius sighed. “It’s still cultivating… Might as well tell
    you what I promised, Zax”. He referred to the profound method of the Seven
    Stages Of Bodily Refinement. “You may sit or stand. Your body undergoing
    immense changes, until it will finish, I’ll tell you what to expect”.

    As his Master chose to remain on his hoofs, so did Zax
    preferred to stand.

    “The Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement follows three
    principals ‘Pain’, ‘Destruction’ and ‘Rehabilitation’. Pain is the main
    principal. Every living being that can endure pain has a certain threshold. Imagine
    a line that to the left of it written ‘can endure’ and on the right of it
    written ‘can’t endure’”. Kartius used his completely healed right hand to
    neatly sketch on the ground and even write in a human language. “’Can endure’ comprises
    all that you can endure, safely till your breaking point. ‘Can’t endure’ comprises
    only one thing, destruction”.

    Kartius did not seem eager to relay to Zax the full detailed
    explanation now that the most essential principal of his big brother technique
    was shamelessly dumped. ‘Perhaps, as his Martial father I should count it as a
    blessing’. He reasoned with himself.

    “The better the technique for refining the body, the more tormenting
    it is. However Inflicting pain senselessly in hopes for becoming stronger will
    result in nothing but self destruction. Practitioners must judge accordingly
    their limits when training, even more so when cultivating the body, since it differs
    from the other two aspects - its senses are dull. The principle of Pain pushes
    the practitioner to the brink of madness, to as far as to stand on the line
    with face forward the right side, not because it’s what cultivate the body, but
    for the indisputable fact that even the toughest steel have to endure the heat
    of the fire and the strikes of the hummer to remove its impurities and be forge
    into the greatest weapon!”

    “Soul, Qi and mist, the foundation of every refining
    technique of one and the other is to circulate the aspects unique energies in a
    certain manner. The body cannot be forged that way. Since it doesn’t have
    unique energy, the circulation is more perceptible. The body, like steel, has
    to be broken to lose its impurities. That is the principal of Destruction. The
    longest you cultivate a bodily refining technique, in particular the Seven
    Stages Of Bodily Refinement, the higher level of Pain you will have to endure.
    But, if you’ll recognize your threshold and know when to halt, Destruction won’t
    come to be at the cost of your life”.

    “Master, how the ‘Rehabilitation’ principal works? Right now
    I don’t feel influenced by the principal of Pain, but I still dimly detect with
    my Soul Sense that my body is breaking and rebuilding itself, does that mean that
    I don’t have to endure?”

    “Oh… finding out that you are not utterly cursed by the
    Black Core can really invigorate you”. Kartius felt like teasing. It has been a
    long time since he was a child and he usually spent time with his big brother
    or on his own, so he naturally forgotten how abruptly children can swing their
    moods. “Before I’ll proceed to Rehabilitation, you should know that Pain is not
    nuisance. Not for naught it’s the main principal, without it someone who trains
    in bodily refining technique cannot assert his limits and by practicing the Seven
    Stages Of Bodily Refinement your thresholds expends significant, hence
    initiating higher level of cultivation. Then again, with the changes the black
    spikes made…”

    Kartius sighed again. ‘Oh, big brother hard work…!’

    “For now you should not be wary of the consequences of
    Destruction”.

    “The principal of Rehabilitation is the rebuilding that you said
    that you feel. Far from being a simple healing process, it is the most
    complicated part in the creation of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement
    formation. When the formation is done correctly it absorbs the herbal liquid so
    when Destruction comes to pass, Rehabilitation will instantly and meticulously reform
    the body stronger, purer than before. When the body starts to deconstruct
    faster than it reforms, it typically spells failure which interprets to permanent
    disability or death. For you, however, it only means that you should soak in
    the refined extract of the medicinal plants. As for the swollen lowest gate…”


  • Book 3 – Into The Wild



    Chapter 5 – A Year And A Half

     

     

    “Each gate you break through marks your body fitness level.
    The swelling of the lowest gate indicates that your body is currently tackling
    the first level of bodily fitness, level F”.

    “Level F?” Zax understood by the description of the level of
    each gate that he is heading toward the first level of a Mist User, but…
    “Master, how come it’s like this if I never trained my body to surpass level G
    and H like with my soul and Qi?”

    “It’s another difference that is due to the body’s lack of
    unique energy and requires an extensive explanation before you could comprehend
    the meaning of the answer to your question”.

    Kartius did not plan to drop all this information on his
    Martial son in one day. Cultivating in the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement
    can push a practitioner to insanity. It is impossible to keep a clear head. And
    yet, Kartius did not expect the Black Core’s miraculously effect. Because of
    it, as long as his Martial son showed eagerness to learn, there was no reason
    to hold back and with Zax’s unique soul, sustaining an attentiveness state of
    mind was extremely simple.

    “The body, unlike the other aspects, at least after reaching
    level S, doesn’t require the practitioner to attain an insight for a
    breakthrough. And if you’ll know what body fitness level signifies for Mist
    Users you will also understand why”. Kartius scattered his drawing of the interpretation
    of Pain and sketched the seven gates with their corresponding levels.

    “Earth’s Cores have an outstanding innate ability that you
    already should know of, that is, when forming the first crack on an Earth’s
    Core, the mist energy advances all three aspects to level F”.

    Zax nodded in a sign that he did know it.

    “Afterwards, while cultivating mist and advancing as a Mist
    User, the mist energy continues to temper with the soul and the body, but less substantially
    than when forming the first crack. At this point, Mist Users must reach a
    compromise. Cultivating the body is too difficult and cultivating the soul is imperative
    if one wants to cultivate the other two aspects. A weak soul cannot assert
    itself in a stronger body or maintain control over a greater amount of Qi or
    mist. To cultivate without drawbacks, there are many techniques that temper
    with the soul when cultivating mist. But the requirements of such techniques
    are awfully high. A technique that tempers all three aspects is unheard off!
    Therefore, the preferable solution of Mist Users is to cultivate the soul and
    the mist respectively, whilst letting the mist to temper the body at each
    breakthrough. As a result, the body fitness level of a Mist User remains at
    level F until a Mist User breakthrough level B. From level B, the body fitness
    level remains three levels below the mist level”.

    “Oh… Master’s mist is in level S, Core Master, right? Then
    that means that your body is also in level C?” Zax asked. “What it means for my
    cultivation of the body, Master?”

    “What, Zax? You think that I’ll train you in a cultivation
    technique that I, you Martial father, don’t practice? You were right in
    guessing my mist level, but as for my body fitness level… I’ll tell you when
    you reach it”. Kartius taunted. “The point of bodily refinement techniques is
    to transcend from the norm. When I embedded the formation in your body you
    instantly broke through level G. When the first gate will dissipate, your body
    fitness level will reach level F. And as for how a bodily refiner practitioner
    contends against a Mist User…”

    ‘Master is grinning’. Zax finally caught to one of his
    Master’s stag expressions.

    “A practitioner of any bodily refining technique, other than
    the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, can contend again any Mist User that is
    exactly a level higher than him. Those who practice and cultivate in the Seven
    Stages Of Bodily Refinement can contend against Mist Users more than a level
    higher… Your goal in the next three years is to reach level C with your body
    fitness level. A practitioner of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement in the
    Beginner phase of level C can contend against an Advanced phase Mist Master to
    a settlement. You, if the Black Core is truly on your side, in the Beginner
    phase of level C you will be able to contend against a Beginner phase Mist
    Lord!”

    Kartius paused and stared Zax in the eyes. “Should I say
    more?”

    ‘Fighting a Mist Lord as a C level Mist User… No! As a
    bodily refiner practitioner!’ Zax clenched his shirt in his fist, right where
    his dantian was, where the Black Core resided. “Thank you, Master, for educating
    me!” How to describe the feeling in his heart, his sudden affection for his
    Master and Martial father compared to the misery that he knew for the past
    year? Fortunately, he learned the phrase from his Master, as Heavens Looking
    Down On Earth!

     

    April eleventh, year 5788.

    A year and a half passed since Zax became Kartius’s
    apprentice and Martial son. During this year and a half, the now thirteen years
    old Zax and his unparalleled Master have come to understand a little better the
    will of the Black Core and the entity that left it for Zax to find.

    After the first session of cultivating the Seven Stages Of
    Bodily Refinement, Kartius was stunned that the amount of the refined extract of
    the medicinal plants that he rinsed Zax with and should have been enough for
    him till breaking through the second gate, was completely consumed. Granted, by
    not having to worry about Pain and utter Destruction, Zax could practice for as
    long as the accumulated herbal liquid that the membrane absorbed was not spent,
    but to finish it in one day without a sign of a breakthrough…

    The dispirited Kartius thought back to his big brother and
    poured the quadruple amount of the precious refined extract of the medicinal
    plants on Zax, an amount that typically should suffice from reaching from the
    Beginner phase of level E to the top phase of level D.

    When a week of solely meditating elapsed – since to
    cultivate his body Zax only had to sit outside of the cabin’s protective formation,
    his Master instructed him to meditate until his soul will break through level D
    – Zax finally broke through the first gate and his body fitness level reached
    level F. At the same time, Zax felt another pulse passing throughout his body
    and black spikes pierced every millimeter of his body. When the black spikes
    faded, the second gate that represented level E was glowing in black radiance.

    Seven months of training in just the very same manner, Zax’s
    body was already at the Advanced phase of level E, the third gate was glowing
    in black radiance, Kartius had one less jar of herbal liquid in his cabin –
    waiting for another to be prepared by the Krikitory caretakers of the hot
    springs – and the piece of spiritual knowledge, fragment of the entity, that
    Zax studied had also became fully appreciated.

    With respect to the petite remnant of the colossal entity,
    even when fully appreciated and clear, the piece did not transmit a lot. Upon
    perfecting his study of it, Zax grasped the complex framework of the patterns
    that the moving black hues had made. It enabled him a one piece peek at the external
    appearance of the entity, which was nothing that made sense.

    Following Zax’s achievement in Adraak Meditation, a bundle
    of new pieces emerged from his subliminal mind, all obscure and unfathomable
    like the first piece was in the beginning, but by making this one step forward,
    the white barrier, the bottleneck to level C, was effortlessly dispersed.

    Seven months into his training Zax bellowed triumphantly to
    the cave’s ceiling he knew as skies!

    The day his Martial son completed his task of reaching level
    C with his soul, Kartius just watched Zax in astonishment, remembering the boy
    he carried with his own hands and brought back to his Martial niece. A boy
    without future on the Martial path, whose sole achievement was breaking through
    level F with his soul on his own.

    The reimbursements of the diligent training were beyond
    common sense. In terms of quality, Zax’s soul at the Beginner phase of level C
    was equal to the Advanced phase of the same level of any other Mist User. With
    his Soul Sense, Zax accomplished unprecedented feats than anyone of the same
    level. One thousand and two hundred meters was the new limit of his Soul Sense,
    two hundred meters farther than any Beginner phase Core Master!

    That day Kartius praised his Martial son and was truly
    joyful with his decision to make him his apprentice. The day after, Zax’s new
    training regime started.

    As his body cultivated according to the changes of the Black
    Core, Zax was taught by his Master six sequences of bodily maneuvers, each comprising
    a hundred and eight or nine moves, in total six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers.
    Slow gestures, fast strikes, turning from a certain position, jumping and
    standing awkwardly. The sequences were odd, no Martial technique or attack or
    defense forms. They were more like a dance with consecutive rhythm, regardless
    of how impracticable it seemed to get from one position to the next.

    Kartius did not give Zax time to meditate for soul
    cultivation. A day after his soul reached level C, Zax was told to familiarize
    himself with the new prowess of his soul and then was ordered to exercise only
    the bodily maneuvers for days, sometimes for weeks at a time.

    Five months since Zax began training the six sequences he could
    finally remember the precise implementation of each move. Thus, his proficiency
    in executing them had made it to the Beginner phase, as said by his Master.

    At the same time, Zax was Twelve months into his training in
    the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement and the fourth gate was glowing in black
    radiance. He no longer practiced in a safe distance from the protective
    formation and the accommodating cabin of his Master, but deeper inside the desolated
    cave, surrounded by white smoky mist.

    At the time of training for twelve months, Zax learned from
    his Master their whereabouts in Valgarel and the origin of the smoky mist
    occupying it.

    “We are in a relatively small cave that’s connected to big
    brother’s cave. No one can get to us without crossing big brother’s cave, and
    big brother’s apprentices know not to bother us, either”. Kartius started with
    the simple stuff.

    “Caves such as this are small in number, handful all over
    New Earth and considered part of the secret wonders of our world. This cave,
    and others like it, is called ‘Essence Cave’. What’s particular about them and liable
    for their name is the smoky mist which dominates their environment. It is the
    essence of numerous deposits of Earth’s Cores, Sun Stones and other minerals
    that penetrate the shells of the stones, mix the essences and cause their
    energies to burst from the ground in the form of acidic smoke and mist. The
    acid level in the smoke and its density corresponds with its color. Light to
    dark brown smoke possesses the lowest degree of acid, white to gray smoke has a
    medium accumulation of acid and yellow to red-orange has the highest. The area
    where the cabin is has a low density of the brown smoke. The entrances of
    Essence Caves, on the other hand, always seem to have a high density of red-orange
    smoke, which bring about its walls and tunnel to collapse and seal them. That’s
    what makes this cave so hard to find”.

    From the clarification of the smoky mist, Zax understood
    that his body fitness level was the variable that dictated within which area
    and type of smoky mist his training will be carried out.

    Zax was told by his Master that the effect of the Seven
    Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation is the reason he can stay idly outside of
    the protective formation, and because of the Black Core he do not need to worry
    about Pain or Destruction due to excessive training. The Black Core made it so
    that Rehabilitation will halt his cultivation and the adversities of
    Destruction when the herbal liquid is spent. So Zax wondered, “Master, won’t it
    be more affective if I’ll cultivate where the red-orange smoky mist is? Won’t
    it be faster?”

    “Not unless you want to die”. Kartius laughed, not over the
    question, but because he anticipated it to arise eventually. “Even if you are
    not hindered by Pain and Destruction, your adaptability is limited by your
    fitness level. That, even the Black Core cannot change, or at least it did not
    do anything about”. He was unambiguous in his words. “Continue training, your transitions
    are still clumsy… If I could, I would have shown you how to keep a smooth
    rhythm, but modifying the sequences to be suitable for a growing human’s muscles
    was arduous for your Martial father in itself”.

    A year and a half, half the time before Kartius’s and Zax’s
    return, went by in a blink of an eye. Since breaking through level E, Zax had
    to be rinsed by fifty to sixty liters of herbal liquid a day to sustain the
    Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation embedded in his body. To keep up
    with the demand for the refined extract of the medicinal plants, Kartius asked
    for the help of the entire mountain village. The hard working Krikitories
    readily complied with the request, however they had only so much of the
    gigantic clay jars. To maintain a constant flow of the herbal liquid, the
    Krikitories filled tens of five and six liters jars for Kartius to pick up once
    a week. As a result, Kartius’s cabin looked like the gathering place of a private
    pottery class.

    Exercising the sequences of six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers,
    Zax barely paid attention to the passage of time. He did not have his
    wristwatch; the cabin did not have electronic devices or even a calendar and
    the smoky mist of the Essence Cave would have ruined the materials that made
    the Nightly Cover formation – if anyone had bothered to install it. A year and
    a half had passed and Zax was not even aware that he already was a year into
    his teenage years, a thirteen years old young man.

    The density of the smoky gray mist was fairly high. Zax’s incessant
    maneuvers scattered the smoky mist for fraction of a second before it condensed
    again. “Ah!” Some steps and gestures were trickier than the rest and Zax, with
    his body fitness at the top phase of level D, was forced to breathe out
    violently.

    “Ah!”

    “Foo!”

    “Hu!”

    Half a year ago he huffed and puffed like a battered old man
    after persisting to perform tenth of the bodily maneuvers. Four months ago he
    reached this state after the three hundredth move of the fourth sequence. A
    month ago he completed all six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers before tottering
    on his feet. As Zax improved his proficiency everyday by practicing nonstop, within
    a sheer six months, only very few moves made him pant.

    “Ah?! I’m flying!”

    The last leg swipe sent him to the air, as it supposed to,
    and Zax felt his body rising and rising without the setback of gravity or the heaviness
    which was the product of his standard physical fatigue.

    Falling back on his feet, Zax ceased the sequence and stood
    in his place. “A hint! Definitely, a hint for the next level”. Being used by
    now to bodily breakthroughs, Zax was sure of his assumption. He closed his eyes
    and reviewed the last sequence assiduously.

    “Could it be…?” Zax got a sort of an idea and was anxious to
    try it. He immediately opened his eyes and resumed the sequence from its first
    move. First he wanted to repeat the moves the same way he usually performs
    them. Getting to the leg swipe and rising up from the ground, the sensation of
    flying was absent.

    “As expected”. Zax said indifferently. It was the execution
    of his idea which he entrusted his expatiations in. He picked up again from the
    beginning of the sequence, only the second time was an exact imitation of the sequence
    before last.

    “Ah!”

    “Foo!”

    “Hu!”

    Even his breaths had the same rhythm. Zax launched into the
    air and…

    “Damn!” He fell down angry. “Again!”

    Funny enough, the loud panting of the past six months were
    the cause for Zax’s habit of speaking to himself when excited or frustrated.

    Turning, bending, leg swiping, rising up and falling down
    were the core moves in the said sequence. After seventeen failures Zax was fed
    up.

    “I’m doing something wrong. I really thought that if my
    breathing will be the same as it was when it felt like I was flying, then I’ll
    gain insight into the objective of the maneuvers that Master taught me”. In his
    mind, when he checked and rechecked what could be different, only the rhythm of
    his breaths stood out.

    “Ah! Foo! Hu! Ah! Foo! Hu...” Zax sat and reiterated the rhythm
    of the breaths for hours. “Ah! Foo! Hu! Ah! Ah…!” An impatient slip broke the
    rhythm and Zax felt something in his head going “BANG!” as if hit by a boulder.

    “Stupid! How could I not see it! Oh… if Master saw me
    struggling over something so simple, he would think that the Black Core wasted
    its modifications on the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation for a
    buffoon!” Zax said with a crooked smile and without further ado he began the
    six sequences from the start.

    “Ah!”

    “Foo!”

    “Hu!”

    ‘Leg swipe!’ Zax exclaimed in his mind.

    Several meters above the ground, Zax felt himself carried by
    an air current that gushed from inside his body. His body did not actually rise
    higher, but attained a rich sense of freedom which made it feel like it defied
    gravity.

    Landing, Zax was enthusiastic.

    “I can’t just start from the middle; the breaths also have a
    sequence. By starting from the fourth sequence, I foolishly separated the links
    and broken the chain!” Zax’s body was vibrating with emotion.

    “Congratulations! Oh congratulations, little Zax! In only a
    year and a half… I’m so proud of you, little Zax!”

    A voice that did not seem to come from any direction
    resonated in Zax’s mind. Zax was startled, but as the voice continued praising
    him gleefully it sounded so lovely, like that of his big sister when she was
    happy with him, yet more mature and with boundless affection.


  • Book 3 – Into The Wild



    Chapter 6 – Savage Caves

     

     

    Kartius sat inside a fifty meters deep gorge, shrouded in
    lava like smoky mist. In his hands he was clasping a black sphere, a Black
    Core, and on his chest, up where his clavicle was, a lone azure gate was
    glowing.

    “Hmm…” Kartius circulated his breath. It helped to bare the
    pain a little longer, and when it did not, it was good to have the indissoluble
    Black Core in his hands, to alleviate some of the stress…

    ‘Absolved from Pain and Destruction… Zax, my Martial son…’
    For a year and a half now, whenever Kartius was by himself, in another session
    of training, he pondered about Zax and the inconceivable heaven given gift in
    his dantian and directed each thought to the Black Core in his possession.

    ‘At the beginning, big brother was interested in the Black
    Core no less than I am. But because of his condition he had to let it go, it
    was useless for him. So I entered a closed doors training to take you for my
    own’.

    His hands clenched the Black Core without conserving
    strength. His soul could not support him, to lessen the Pain – it was part of
    the burden of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation in his body. But
    matters that weighed on his mind made it possible to avert his attention.

    ‘Coming out with no results, I convinced big brother to let
    Martial niece Zetsa bring her little brother to his cave. Who would have
    thought that afterwards I’ll boldly take him as my first apprentice…? There was
    no other way for me to investigate the effects of a Black Core on a body that
    received it... But it turned out that apart from Zax, no one can detect the
    Black Core or what he proclaims it had done to the Earth’s Core in his dantian.
    If I was not present there myself and saw the same shape and size cavities on
    the flat mountain wall and sensed the radiance reforming his Qi and Qi channels,
    how could I believe it myself?’

    Kartius got up and fought back the instinct to call forth a
    layer of defensive mantel. The mist energy of a Core Master will do little to
    nothing against this level of smoky mist anyway. Instead, Kartius started to
    exercise sequences of bodily maneuvers.

    If Zax were to see his Master right now, his mouth would
    have hung opened.

    Kartius’s bodily might was on a rampage. Attacking was not
    his intention, but where he passed rocks and earth split apart and then
    shattered to smithereens and the gorge, in no time, gained the appearance of a battlefield.

    ‘And today”, Kartius kept reflecting, ‘after a year and a
    half, before I was able to conceive substantial finds that will help me attain
    the energy of the Black Core, I actually see and care for him as a son…’

    As a Martial cultivator, Kartius reached a fork on his path.

    It took him hundreds of years to reach his current place,
    and during this period of time, in terms of cultivation, he only had himself to
    worry about. That was one side of the path, the selfish and egoistic, lonesome
    path that will benefit more the cultivation of a practitioner of the Martial
    path.

    The other side was nearly identical. The difference was that
    if a practitioner were to choose it, sacrifices will have to be made on his or
    her expanse, to support the growth of someone else, a new generation.

    Kartius was swaying, for a certain amount of time favoring one
    side over the other and then swaying back to the inception of the fork.

     

    “You broke through the fourth gate!” The voice declared jubilantly
    in Zax’s head. “Magnificent! You are magnificent, little Zax!”

    “The Core Breaker gate!” Zax entered his sea of consciousness.
    The fourth gate was in the midst of fading. Black spikes sprout from Zax’s
    body. The fifth gate’s azure radiance transformed to black. “Hahaha! I made it!
    In just a year and a half… I’m a Core Breaker, I’m a Core Breaker!” Zax shouted
    and expressed his joy by showing off his new bodily capabilities.

    “What ridiculous things are you spouting? There is no Core
    Breaker that can match you. Have you forgotten what your Master said? Even Mist
    Users in Beginner phase of the Mist Lord level cannot bully you now!” The voice
    proclaimed as if it was it that achieved the breakthrough.

    “Ah, who is it?” Zax took notice of the odd voice and spread
    his Soul Sense around, but could not discover anyone in its radius.

    “Don’t bother, little Zax, you won’t be able to find me”.
    The voice said in amusement. “You are cute, but I don’t think that we are ready
    to meet”.

    Someone that could converse with him without being found…
    Zax thought of the possibilities of whom it could be, knowing that whoever it
    was, the feminine voice signified that it was a woman and definitely a senior
    on the Martial path.

    “Senior, are you by any chance big sis Zetsa’s elder Martial
    sister?” Zax asked. Out of his big sister Martial brothers and sister, Zax had
    yet to meet two of Zetsa’s elder Martial apprentices. One of which, Zax
    remembered, was a sister and he suspected that the voice belonged to her.

    “Little Zetsa is also cute”, the voice replied. “But to me
    she is more than a little sister”.

    “Senior-”

    “Stop calling me ‘Senior’. Would you call the man that hurt
    you a senior just because he is older and stronger?”

    “The man who hurt me?” Zax was confused. “Who are you
    referring to?” It sounded like the feminine voice had someone specific in mind,
    but who was behind the voice that knew stuff about him? “…and how should I call
    you?”

    “Of course, the man of the Martinez family that assaulted
    you in the Young Mist Users Conference. Who else?”

    “You know of what happened in the Young Mist Users Conference?!”
    Zax called out in surprised and his face frowned. “Are you a figment of my
    imagination?“

    “That’s rude!” The feminine voice was offended. “I know what
    I know because Zetsa told me. Your sanity is in place and I’m most definitely
    real!” The feminine voice affirmed and went silent. “If I tell you my name, can
    you promise not to tell anyone that we talked?”

    “Can we meet?” If it was the voice of lunacy it could say
    anything. While conversing, Zax also delved into his sea of consciousness, to
    check for quirky fluctuations. His sea of consciousness was serene.

    “Little Zax, as much as I would like to meet you, he would
    not allow it. In his eyes you are still not qualified and even if you were,
    you’ll have to rely on your own prowess to come meet me. As you are now, your
    level of cultivation is low”.

    ‘Mmm… why do I get the sense that big sis’s Master is that
    one that doesn’t see me qualified?’ Zax was not stupid. He maybe not knew who
    the voice was, but he did know in whose territory he was in and whose approval
    his Master train him to receive.

    “I won’t tell anyone that we talked”. There was nothing
    else, so Zax agreed.

    “I’m glad, little Zax, that you trust me. I also trust your
    judgment. My name, little Zax, is Laivien… I reside in this Essence Cave for a
    very long time”. The feminine voice, Laivien, sounded melancholy, however her
    tone became lively as she went on saying. “For the past year and a half I’ve
    watched you train diligently, advance faster than anyone before you, and
    celebrates each breakthrough with great exhilaration. It made me joyous…”

    Laivien’s sincere confession somehow made Zax’s heart
    quiver. The sound of her voice transmitted gratitude and dependence. It was weird
    to have someone he did not know be so affectionate toward him.

    In Zax’s mind appeared his mother, as if she was saying
    those things to him. Her eyes were tearing, but on her lips was a smile.

    “Laivien, if you watched for the year and a half, why only
    now you speak to me?”

    “Little Zax, there are many things you don’t know, were not
    told, about Valgarel. It’s not my place to tell you of them, but your Master’s.
    I chose to speak to you today because, otherwise than your Master, I think that
    you are ready for the Savage Caves”.

    “’The Savage Caves’, what are those?”

    “In New Earth the Essence Caves are considered secret
    wonders for being hard to find, for being the ideal place to practice bodily
    refining technique and for having an immense source of energy, though only
    humans manage to harvest it. When Essence Caves are good for bodily refinement,
    the Savage Caves are good for soul refinement”.

    “So there is another type of caves!” Zax understood. “But,
    Laivien, if you not just watched but heard me and Master talk, Master said that
    I can keep training my soul by exercising in Adraak Meditation until I’ll
    breakthrough to the next level with my soul”.

    “I’m aware of your Master’s decision. However, I say that he
    is wrong. If you wait for your soul to breakthrough, because of your Master’s uncertainties
    you will shamelessly waste an unprecedented opportunity!”

    “How dare you to belittle my Master!” Zax got angry.

    How could he not? What was his Master for him in the past
    year and a half? A Master of the Martial path during his training sessions and
    the rest of the time… who could say that he also was not like a parent?

    “Martial father”

    “Martial father”

    “Martial father”

    That was all Kartius used in order to refer to himself in
    the content of his relationship with Zax. After a year and a half, of course
    Zax could no longer look at his Master as nothing but a Mor. When he was
    resting after an exhausting training session, Kartius brought food and cooked
    for him. When the belly was full but the rest was not enough, Kartius arranged
    a place for Zax to sleep in his cabin, a comfortable mattress made out of countless
    paper thin vines. As they grew used to each other, was there a thing that Zax
    still concealed from with his Master? Absolutely not!

    Zax’s repressed concerns of his ruined relationship with his
    friends and family was a constant reminder, that although he found himself a
    path to follow according to his dreams and aspirations, there were still things
    that he had to make amends for. And the better Zax got due to his fast
    improvements, the more he realized that his friends and family were no less
    important to him than being a mighty Mist User.

    To deal with this burden, it was his Master that talked to
    him, assured him that in this world there is not something that cannot be fixed.

    “A damaged relationship with someone that is close to you is
    one of the easiest. All you need his courage”. It might be obvious, but
    sometimes simple answers had to be said in a certain manner that only few could
    express. Kartius always managed to advise Zax in a way that strengthened his
    resolve.

    In a year and a half, Kartius had already attained the
    position of a father figure in the eyes of his apprentice. The reasons that Zax
    kept called him “Master” instead of “Martial father”, were that he was shy and
    already used to the former manner of addressing.

    “You claim to know better, to hear and see everything since
    Master brought me here, but where were you this all time? Only now popping up
    out of nowhere, speaking to me without showing your face and still daring to
    speak badly on my Master!”

    “Little Zax!” Laivien rebuked. A surge of pressure that was
    only inferior to that caused by the Black Core and the entity, engulfed Zax’s
    whole sea of consciousness, as if it was an ant in a human’s hand. “I chose to
    turn to you now out of care and I’ll never ever speak badly of your Master!”
    Laivien clearly was furious. “I’m not suggesting something that your Master did
    not consider, I simply give words to what he hold himself back from saying”.

    “I don’t understand you! Why would Master deliberately impede
    my training?!” Zax threw back.

    “Because of your abnormal improvement and the hint of dark
    attribute in your soul!” surveying Zax’s expression from someplace far far
    away, Laivien saw that he was not aware of the latter part of what she was
    saying. “You don’t know… I get it now. That Master of yours had really changed!”
    A soft sigh reverberated in Zax head and spread tranquility.

    “The Black Core has done to your soul more than raising its
    level, little Zax, it left a remnant of dark attribute... an elemental energy
    you should not seek answers to understand right now. All that you should know
    is that at the moment, the dark attribute is dormant. If, however, your soul
    will be under a great deal of pressure it would awaken and convert your soul.
    You can’t withstand the intensity of the conversation in your current level.
    Even I and your Master can’t… But that still don’t change the fact that the
    Savages Cages are the best place for you to make up for tossing the principal
    of Pain”.

    “How is that related? The principal of Pain is a principal
    of a bodily refining technique. You said that the Savages Caves are for soul
    training”. Zax was not satisfied with Laivien reasoning mostly because he did
    not get it.

    “The principal of Pain in the Seven Stages Of Bodily
    Refinement has more than one purpose. Aside from supporting the cultivation
    process, it also builds your character as a Martial cultivator. I won’t tell
    you much of it because the Black Core has already outdone it, but without
    letting you to be forge in the true way of the Seven Stages Of Bodily
    Refinement, even at the risk of awakening the dark attribute, you will never be
    qualified as a Martial cultivator!”

    “Master said that I should wait to reach the next level,
    maybe then he will talk to me about the Savages Caves”. Zax began to consider
    her remarks. His Master did tell him to wait after all.

    “I believed him too, at first”, Laivien said. “Up until he
    decided to teach you the bodily maneuvers and told you to stop cultivating the
    soul. Your Master is impeding your training for caring too much for his
    apprentice. Let me explain, the ‘Savage Caves’ is not a mere name, all who
    enter them will be affected by a mental boundary that arouse the savage
    instinct in beasts and human alike. The Savage Caves known to have at least three
    caves of savagery, but up to date; no one has managed to cross the third cave
    and so only three are really counted”.

    ”There is only one tunnel that allows entrance to the first
    Savage Cave, and one tunnel between each Savage Cave.  There are many experts who think that they can
    venture into the Savage Caves, but for one to cross from the first cave to the
    second, the soul must be at the Core Master level. That said, so long that you
    don’t fall to complete savagery and survive the first cave, the benefits will
    be substantial, even more so than those of the principal of Pain!”

    “Better than the main principal of the Seven Stages Of
    Bodily Refinement…” Zax muttered.

    “And it’s not all. Because of the Black Core’s modification
    to the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, the herbal liquid is not sufficient
    anymore to sustain the formation. On the other hand, at one point or another, a
    trip to the Savage Caves will be unavoidable since only there the medicinal plants
    that can sustain the last stage of the formation are growing. In your case, it
    will take years and an inconceivable amount of the current herbal liquid for
    you to break through the next gate. You are already in need for the Savage
    Caves’ medicinal plants”.

    “Little Zax, do I give you the impression that I harbor malice
    animosity toward you?” Laivien suddenly asked.

    “No”. Zax answered plainly. From start to finish, Laivien
    might have said things that he did not appreciate to hear, but not once he felt
    her trying trick him. At most he could just say that there was a tension
    between their opinions due to disagreement. Besides, after the surge of
    pressure Zax had no doubt that if Laivien wanted to harm him, she did not need
    to put much effort.

    “Then agree to go to the Savage Caves. I believe that with
    the unique soul that you have, you will be able to surpass the hurdles of the
    first cave, and when you’ll return, we could finally meet!”

    Laivien’s powers of persuasion succeeded to tempt Zax. He
    was about to agree when he realized… “Laivien, even if I want to go, how am I
    supposed to tell this to Master? Master will surely want to know from whom I
    learned about the Savage Caves and then I’ll have to tell him that we talked!”

    “Be at ease, little Zax. In the end going or not is your
    decision. If you’ll make it wholeheartedly, I’ll take care of your Master”.
    Laivien said confidently.

    “I’m still unsure…” Was he supposed to let his master talk
    to him about the Savage Caves himself and act as if he did not know anything
    about them? That will be the same as deceiving him, and how could he? He is no
    more the young boy who said white lies to hide his training sessions from his
    parents.

    In the past year and a half, even if his Master was not
    awfully strict, Zax still developed a sense of discipline toward him.

    “Little Zax, let’s make a compromise. If you truly want to
    go, then no matter what I’ll support you with dealing with your Master and if later
    you still won’t feel comfortable with him, then I will not mind you telling him
    that we talked. Is that fine?” Laivien sounded like a mother who tries to help
    her son confess to his father something bad that he had done.

    “It’s fine”. Zax answered like an obedient child.


  • Book 3 – Into The Wild



    Chapter 7 – Leaving

     

     

    Kartius was making his way to the cabin, back from the gorge.
    It was a journey of fifteen to twenty minutes in his top speed, but there was
    no reason for him to hurry, therefore he stride idly as he mused over his internal
    conflicts.

    “Laivien”, his attention shifted to the foreign presence
    that entered his mind. “Is everything fine? Do you need anything?”

    “Only that you come visit me more often, big brother”.
    Laivien tone was playful. Not for naught she sought her big brother, but before
    she could reveal her true intentions, she had to soften him.

    “You know that I would if I had the strength”. Kartius said,
    nearly apologizing. “And I don’t want to be a nuisance when big brother spends
    time with you”.

    “Mmm… you don’t need to rely on Kartion. I’m sure there are
    other means…”

    There sure were other means, treasures of him, Kartius,
    which he cannot misuse if even to visit his little sister. “Little sister, how
    about this. I’ll come to visit you whenever you want after my next
    breakthrough. Are you pleased?”

    “Huhuhu! Big brother is very considerate of his little
    sister”. Laivien knew that she hit a sensitive spot and when to withdraw before
    it will explode. In addition, Kartius depended on his treasures to surpass the
    last gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement and it was not only for his
    sake…

    “Little sister, now that you extorted a promise from me,
    what is it that you truly want?” Kartius was no fool and definitely not a
    plaything for his little sister. Her and his big brother’s situation was the
    reason for his submissive behavior. His heart ached for them. Nevertheless, now
    that he showed her that he is in a benevolent mood, she will get right into why
    she used her own treasure to reach him.

    “I’ll get right to the point, if big brother is so willing
    to comply”. Laivien said.

    “What is it?”

    After a short pause Laivien finally opened. “I want you to
    send Zax to the Savage Caves”.

    “What!” Kartius was startled.

    “All of Kartion’s apprentices have been there. It’s about
    time to send yours as well”.

    “Little sister, I don’t know from where this is coming, regardless
    of what you heard and saw from my own apprentice, he is still too young and inexperienced!
    Besides, big brother spent treasures, which I don’t have, when he sent
    apprentices!” Kartius retorted.

    “Big brother, you should remember that not only Zax’s words
    and action I hear and see. Yours are not hidden from me, either”. Laivien shot
    back. “But I will not repeat what you already know as truth, only state the
    facts”.

    “And what facts are there, that makes you know better than
    me what’s good for my Martial son?”

    “First, you should know that your Martial son had broken
    through the fourth gate”.

    “He made it past the fourth gate!” Kartius was astonished. In
    the past year and a half his exaptation of Zax to reach the goals he set for
    him, sooner than three years, grew absolute. Be that as it may, he still
    assumed that at least half a year would pass before Zax will make another
    breakthrough.

    “Second”, Laivien ignored his reaction and kept going. “His
    soul’s capabilities already match those of a Beginner phase Core Master. It is
    only because that the quality and quantity of his soul energy are in the Core
    Breaker level that the first cave is still good for him. If you keep delaying
    him until the next level, with his unique soul, the effect of the cave will
    lessen tremendously and the second cave will still be out of reach. Third, with
    regard to his bodily cultivation, he needs the herbal liquid of the plants in
    the Savage Caves and in great quantity, at that. Otherwise, forget him making
    progress!”

    “The hint of dark attribute I will not even mention since
    there is nothing you can say to disregard what would happen if it will burst.
    And his body fitness level is still not sufficient”. Kartius got back to his
    senses. “Should I recite you the dangers of the Savage Caves?!”

    “No need if you already started to prepare him to deal with
    those dangers. For what other reason did you stop him from cultivating the soul
    and taught him the bodily maneuvers? Your Martial son is not a slow learner
    even if his advancements are not aided by the Black Core. He broke through the
    fourth gate at the same of partly figuring the breathing sequence and a few of
    the breaths. In a couple of months I am certain that he will hone it to the
    degree of knowing the corresponding breath of each move!” Laivien did not say
    anything about the dark attribute. Certainly it was a subject she could not
    refute.

    “Knowing the breathing sequence will not progress Zax to the
    second phase of the bodily maneuvers exercise. If they’ll chase him, he will
    get caught, and in the Savage Cave it will be on a whole other level of
    difficulty!”

    Laivien was perfectly aware to whom her big brother meant by
    calling “They”, however, her opinion stayed the same and her response even more
    so inflamed. “Their scouts won’t attack him right away, they’ll first follow
    him. Because they won’t be able to detect his body fitness level and the
    Earth’s Core in his dantian, they’ll think that he is just a coreless boy,
    another human ‘in our service’ that practice the body refinement technique.
    Therefore they won’t inform their elders until he will already arrive to the
    first Savage Cave and by then it will be too late, since none of their scouts
    is past the Core Master level”.

    “Then they’ll simply leave their scouts outside of the first
    cave for a period of time and if Zax won’t return they’ll either presume that
    he died or will send a Core Master to check for him”.

    “By that time it will truly be too late”. Laivien said emphatically.
    “If he’ll learn the overall breathing sequence, it will take him a mere few
    months to unify all three and reach the Intermediate phase. If beforehand he
    will also reach the Advanced phase of his current body fitness level, even
    Beginner Core Masters won’t be able to catch him, and anyone below the core
    master level, better won’t dare”.

    “Indeed, but you said it yourself, with the current herbal liquid,
    forget the Intermediate phase, he won’t be able to Advance to the Intermediate
    phase of his current body fitness level”.

    “That is correct, and that is why I wonder how much my big
    brother care for his only son”.

    “Don’t speak in riddles, say what you-” A bit slow, but
    Kartius understood what his little was saying.

    “My own stock…” His own treasures.

    “Your puny stock, big brother”. Laivien reminded him.

    Kartius sighed. Due to this talk, at the moment he also
    swayed toward the side of a Martial father, ever so far from the side of a
    Martial cultivator.

    Simultaneously a terrible thought aroused in his mind. Did
    his little sister spoke with his Martial son? One way or another, Kartius
    reminded to himself that speech is silver and silence is gold.

     

    “Little Zax, it is
    done. In time, your Master will send you to the Savage Caves. When exactly
    depends on your achievements in the coming months”. Laivien informed Zax.

    “Will… Will Master
    say or ask anything that’s related to you?” Forget about the dangers of the
    Savage Caves, what Zax worried of the most was his Master inquiring about if he
    did or did not speak with Laivien.

    “Rest easy, little
    Zax”, Laivien said happily. “Your Master’s temperament will be as usual and no
    question, answers or explanations will arise”. She assured him and her presence
    faded from his consciousness.

    To celebrate Zax’s
    breakthrough into the experts’ circle, Kartius hunted a beast which was at the
    Mist Master level to cook for his apprentice. Kartius cooking skills were below
    average compared to the common human’s skills. Fortunately, he knew how to prepare
    the meat, and by itself it was a delicacy Zax never tasted before. Later, the
    two shared Zax’s first cup of wine, which Zax handled better than most humans,
    after all, his tolerance for alcohol was an additional component that improved
    as his body did. Still, the taste of the alcohol was unpleasant.

    “Since your body fitness level is at the same phase and
    level as your soul, tomorrow you will resume cultivating your soul. You will
    spend eight hours of the day exercising the bodily maneuvers and the rest of
    the time meditating, therefore you will also not get to sleep anymore, so be
    prepared!” Kartius said during the meal.

    Zax did not ask or said anything about the Savage Caves and
    just listened to his Master instructions in anticipation.

     

    And so, five more months have passed.

    In those five months, Zax’s days started by first soaking in
    the herbal liquid, which he noticed was different by its smell. The fragrance
    was highly concentrated, its sweetness reached the boundaries of sickening. Zax
    was sure that it was not the same herbal liquid he used the days before – the
    old him would have faint from an ounce of this fragrance, and that was no joke
    – but when he raised the question to his Master, “Get inside!” was his Master’s
    miserable response.

    When the formation embedded to his body got his fill of the
    herbal liquid, next order of business was Zax’s daily training in the bodily
    maneuvers. Under the constant supervision of his Master, in the past five
    months, Zax’s experienced the most rigorous manner of training. It concluded
    after eight hours whether Zax wanted to or not, since Kartius pushed his body
    to the limit constantly.

    Despite the intensity of Kartius’ training regimen, Zax
    still did not proceed to the more dense and high level smoky mist areas.

    Kartius did explain why. “If your body fitness level will
    improve faster than your soul, than a heavy setback will befall on you and it
    is hard to estimate how long it will take for you to surpass it”.

    Staying in the same area might have slowed Zax’s bodily
    cultivation, but it did stabilize and kept his training schedule in order of
    importance.

    As Zax got back to mediating, he noticed that the pieces,
    fragments of the entity, from his subliminal mind counted by the dozens.
    Seventy nine pieces, to be exact. Now that Zax was past fully appreciating one
    piece, it was not hard to study the others. However, his progress was not as
    fast as it was when he studied the first piece. Of the seventy nine that
    appeared after the first, after fully appreciating one, the advancements were
    meager, at best, and another eight to eleven more pieces resurfaced from his subliminal
    mind.

    In the end, breakthroughs and insights were achieved in the
    following order.

    First, of the five months, it took Zax around four months to
    seize the perfect breathing sequence. As for keeping up with its rhythm… that
    was still too difficult. Nevertheless, Zax’s control of his body seemed to improve
    greatly due to him diligently training as his Master instructed, and Zax
    himself noticed it when he exercised all six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers
    more easily.

    Second, on the side of Adraak Meditation, Zax reached the Advanced phase of his current soul
    level after nearly consuming the whole five months. Afterwards, the quality of
    his soul had only progress to the peak of level C.

    Lastly, without
    knowing of his Master, Martial father’s sacrifice… Zax’s body fitness reached,
    as well, to the Advanced phase of level C a little after his soul. By
    testing his strength, speed and reaction, Kartius proudly told his Martial son
    that unless the opponent is a Peak phase Mist Lord or above, he has nothing to
    worry about.

     

    Within Kartius’s cabin.

    “Memorize this map”. Kartius drew a map of the rough layout
    of the caves from his big brother’s cave to the first Savage Cave. He drew it
    on an old piece of beast skin, using a drop of blood since there was not
    anything else as replacement for ink.

    Zax carefully memorized the map. There were one hundred and
    seven caves between here and the first Savage Cave. Zax did not ponder over why
    he should memorize the route instead of tacking the map, with his current soul
    level it will not made a difference either way.

    “Done, Master”. Zax said. ‘A week or two journey into the inner
    parts of Valgarel’. He was excited. His Master already informed that he will
    not be there to accompany him and that only added to the rush.

    “These are the plants that you should look for in the Savage
    Cave”. Kartius showed Zax an old drawn picture of two types of flowers. One had
    a red stalk with seven white petals and a lone orange stamen. The other had a
    green stalk with two purple petals and a lone green stamen. “There aren’t many
    of them in the first Savage Cave. After you hone your soul and character, get a
    sense of time with your inner mind and seek as many as you can in a day’s time.
    Even if it’s only one or two, remember that no matter what, you are not to
    enter the second cave!” he said unequivocally.

    As Zax studied the shape and color of the flowers, Kartius
    turned to the square box and removed its wooden lid. He returned to Zax holding
    a sleeveless fur coat.

    “The beast it belonged to was a Two Headed Beaver at the
    Core Master level, therefore his skin and fur are at the Core Breaker level.
    Think of it as a second skin, as long as you wear it others, who never
    encountered a Two Headed Beaver, won’t be able to discern if you are a human or
    a beast”.

    “Thank you, Master”. Zax said happily, wondering if other
    beasts will really take him for a humanoid beast if he’ll wear it, knowing that
    he will have the answer in a while.

    “Hearing about them now is not that time, no until my big
    brother say so. I’ll remind you only this, outside of the cave there are enemies
    who oppose my big brother and those by his side. Although those outside won’t
    be able to harm you, if they’ll call for reinforcement you will be in trouble. For
    a safe journey you only have two priorities, keeping you identity a secret and
    getting to the Savage Caves as fast as possible!” Kartius empathized to the
    point that it was useless to ask if Zax understand.

    Zax, too, did not ask questions about the enemies. His Master
    warned him of the wild before he accepted him. Besides, for some reason he did
    not feel threaten. Beast Mist Users or human Mist Users, if all that he needs
    to be careful from are Peak phase Mist Lord then what are the chances that he
    will face one?

    An azure mantle wrapped Zax.

    “I will see you off outside of the Essence Cave”. Kartius’s
    hand reached for Zax’s head through the mantle. It was the first time that he caressed
    it and Zax could not help but lower his gaze from this Martial father.

     

    Zax decided to pass through the Krikitory village of the Krikitories
    field workers for a chance to see his big sister. As soon as the young
    Krikitories saw approaches, they ran home and back outside and jump him with
    tens cups of water. Zax could not comply with what Zetsa told him about the
    mentality of the young Krikitories and could not bring himself to disappoint
    any of the little ones. And so he drank all the cups of water.

    In the village, no one of his Martial brothers and sisters
    were or his real blood sister was. The adult Krikitories also did not know
    where they were, and so, disappointed, Zax left to the cave’s entrance.

    “Oh, out and so soon?” Guarding, or so it seemed to look
    like, was Rarahel. She saw Zax and spoke from afar. Her draconic complexion was
    surprised for a moment before it returned to normal.

    “Big sister Rarahel”. Zax said respectfully. He did not
    forget how detached from each other his big sister and Rarahel were the first
    time he met her. Not knowing if she will act the same way with him, Zax still
    chose to start off humbly.

    “Congratulation for making it to level C, little brother
    Zax” Unexpectedly, Rarahel answered back warmly.

    Zax could tell that Rarahel looked at him differently than
    she looked at his big sister because, after living for nearly two years with
    just one person that was a humanoid beast, Zax intuition and ability to read
    the facial expressions of beasts was as good as it was with humans.

    “Thank you, big sister Rarahel”. Zax said.

    “You actually broke big sister Zetsa record. I’m starting to
    wonder if it’s only you two or that all humans are freaks, hahaha…” She
    actually felt opened enough to laugh and that even more caught Zax off guard.

    Zax thought again if his first impression of Rarahel was
    accurate or poorly timed. He thought of her as the cold and rigid type, but she
    turned out… okay. It made him wonder what her deal was with his big sister. Still,
    Zax refrained from asking.

    “Well… I doubt that you didn’t work hard for it”. Rarahel
    said in a serious tone. She, too, trained in the Seven Stages Of Bodily
    Refinement.

    “Master taught me well”. Zax replied, adding to himself, ‘if
    only she knew…’

    “But didn’t you Master said that your training should last
    for three years. Even if your progress is that amazing, going back home for a
    break will be a waste. Don’t underestimate my Master’s evaluation if you want
    him to accept you”. That she said strictly.

    “Big sister Rarahel, I’m not taking a break from training.
    Master sends me to train my soul in the Savage Caves”.

    “What!” Rarahel bellowed. “What does Martial uncle think?!” Making
    a stumped expression, she grabbed Zax, almost preventing him from leaving the
    cave.

    “Big sister Rarahel, Master told me of the Savage Caves
    enough to know that going there will only do me good and I’ll be fine”. Zax let
    loose his consent in his speech.

    “It’s not about being physically strong there…” Rarahel had
    more to say, however she did not know what her Martial uncle wish to share or
    withheld from his only apprentice. She had no right to undermine her Martial
    uncle, so she reluctantly stopped deterring Zax and quietly said. “You are
    simply too young!”

     “Goodbye, big sister
    Rarahel”. Since Zax could not agree with her, he responded silently, as well,
    and he left, accompanied by her last words...

    “Beware of the true form of the wild…”


  • Book 3 – Into The Wild



    Chapter 8 – Twenty One

     

     

    Outside of the cave was the lush vegetation that the Essence
    Cave Zax livid in for a year and eleven months could never sustain and the cave
    of his big sister’s Master’s lacked in compression.

    Heeding his Master’s and Martial sister’s, Rarahel,
    warnings, as Zax stepped outside he casted his Soul Sense to detect hidden
    enemies. After reaching the Advanced phase of level C with his soul, Zax’s Soul
    Sense could extend for one thousand and seven hundred meters. Other than the foliage,
    Zax did not discover any other life forms.

    “They are either too far or waiting in the neighboring
    caves”. Zax thought aloud.

    He did not waste time because of enemies he could not find.
    Recalling the first direction he had to turn to, Zax’s body flickered onwards.

    ‘I traveled the outer parts of Valgarel with big sister. Other
    than the experts of the five sovereign tribes, there is no one that I should be
    afraid off. I wonder what could be different in the inner territory…’

    Zax felt confidence in his chance to at least escape if dangers
    arise. While training in the bodily maneuvers exercise, he was chased by his
    Master and at unpredictable moments even had to avoid his Master’s mist attacks.
    Sure, none of his Master’s mist attacks were aim to kill, but critically injure
    him was highly acceptable by his Master.

    “It’s fine to lose an arm or a leg”, Kartius actually said.
    “Your regenerative abilities can deal with the loss thanks to the changes the
    Black Core had made. Otherwise, only as a B level practitioner of the Seven
    Stages Of Bodily Refinement you could grow back limbs”. That day Kartius sent a
    mist attack that nearly decimated all of Zax’s four limbs. “Still, this is not
    an excuse to be complacent! You don’t have the mist energy to spend on your
    body. Without external help similar to the herbal fluid, your body won’t
    receive the nourishment to come up with the energy to regrow one limb!” At the
    end of that training session, Zax truly lost a limb and only after two weeks it
    grew back.

    Zax followed the map he craved to his mind and in four days
    reached the boundaries of the outer parts of Valgarel.

    There, he noticed humanoid beasts with bull heads, guarding
    the tunnel to the inner territory. There were seven beasts. Zax first detected
    them with his bodily senses. In his body fitness level his senses were a lot
    sharper than most beasts. To determine the level of the guards he used his Soul
    Sense.

    “Six Core Breakers and one Mist Master”. According to their
    souls levels they ranged between these levels.

    Since he did not know the procedure of crossing territories,
    Zax remained at a distance greater than their senses. To not cause unnecessary troubles,
    he picked up and threw several big rocks to distract the guards. All he need
    was for all seven to shift their gaze together for a few seconds.

    The impact of the rocks with the trees Zax aimed them at
    created two explosions and a rain of leaves and splinters.

    Two guards were sent to investigate as the others watched
    them from their post at the cave entrance. When the remaining five bull heads
    shifted their gazes all that they could perceive of Zax was the guest of wind
    his fast movement created as he passed them in practically an instant,
    extremely entertained.

    “That was easy!” Zax was truly overjoyed. Two years ago who
    would have dare to imagine, especially him, that the boy with clogged Qi
    channels could ever give such a show!

    On the second week of his journey Zax used his Soul Sense
    spontaneously, as he continuously used it to avoid unwanted surprises. It was a
    habit he developed after the encounter with the bull headed guards. Though they
    did not discover him, if he had used his Soul Sense back then, he himself would
    have sense them a lot earlier than his bodily senses.

    A few figures were following him.

    “Hunters or Master’s enemies?” Zax asked himself. Four days
    ago he met with a party of humanoid beasts that acted as hunters and the day
    after with a group that was actually led by a human and while the other members
    were on all four. In both occasions Zax sprinted before they could make up the
    color of his fur coat. Besides the human, not the beasts in his party or the
    humanoid beasts of the day before were above level E.

    This time, however, things were a bit different. Zax’s speed
    was not at its peak and he did not want to alert them, if those after him were
    indeed enemies. Relying on his Soul Sense he learned that the pursuers were
    fifteen in number, ten Core Breakers and five Mist Masters. Zax wondered how he
    can fare against this great number of experts, but remembering his Master’s
    warning, he simply surveyed their speed and allowed them to follow him up to
    the entrance of the first Savage Cave. There he in fact discovered that six
    more enemies, most likely, were waiting for him.

    Suddenly.

    “Told you, boss”.

    The group of fifteen caught up, becoming with those who
    waited a group of twenty one. All the beasts looked humanoid with vicious canine
    heads.

    “My sense of smell is the best in our unit, boss. Known as
    the thousand odors snout! With a sniff I could tell that this is just a human
    boy wearing a Two Headed Beaver fur coat!” One juvenile canine boasted.

    “Freaking pup”, the one the juvenile canine talked to, the
    boss, was a large humanoid beast with a wolf head in the Mist Master level. The
    wolf boss slapped the head of the juvenile canine and averted his gaze toward
    Zax, who stood between the six that were waiting and the fifteen that trailed.

    “Who would have thought that such a young child is
    practicing that body refining technique…?” The wolf boss seemed a bit shaken.

    How could he not? They trailed Zax since the very same day
    he left that cave… always at a distance of two kilometers or more from him, but
    six days ago they actually lost him! Luckily, one of his pack members was
    familiar with the scent of a Two Headed Beaver and besides being able to tell
    that it was a human wearing its fur coat, he could retrace Zax’s steps, which
    helped the wolf boss to guess Zax’s destination and send a member of his pack
    to arrange a blockade at the cave’s entrance, in case he and his unit will not
    catch up to Zax.

    “I can’t assert his powers, boss”, another canine said.

    “Me neither”. The wolf boss replied with a growl. “It can’t
    be that his soul level is higher than a Mist Master. It must be the fur coat or
    a treasure for the cave... Calrob, can you tell the level of the Two Headed Beaver
    it belonged to?”

    “Afraid not, boss. Even if my mist energy stimulates my eyes
    and nose to the limit, I can only detect the leftover essence of a Mist Lord.
    This fur coat belonged to at least a Core Master Two Headed Beaver”. The canine
    head that spoke was part of the six that were waiting for Zax.

    “Grrr…” The wolf boss growled once more.

    ‘These guys are quite haughty…’ Zax quietly watched them.
    ‘Talking about me as if I don’t have a say in what they are planning’.

    He did not try to forcefully enter the cave since the six in
    front of him clearly were not willing to let him and also… now that he was so
    close to the first Savage Cave, if his pursuers were reluctant to follow
    inside, than it was also a good opportunity to consider again how he will fare
    against so many experts. Zax felt goosebumps all over his body. After almost
    two years of isolated training with his Master and a voice in his head, these
    guys were going to be his first real interaction… a clash of experts!

    ‘Fourteen Core Breakers, seven Mist Master, twenty one in
    total!’

    WUSH!

    The longer Zax trained in the six sequences of bodily maneuvers
    the swifter and more agile his control over his body became. Although he knew
    all six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers and the perfect breathing sequence
    his rhythm was still behind the Intermediate phase. But, classifying two in the
    same phase does not mean that their proficiency is equal. To classify Zax at
    the Beginner phase is akin to saying that he is in the Advanced phase of the
    Beginner phase. Not exactly the most sophisticated way to put it, but it did
    not matter since a large gulf separated Zax’s level of control of the body and
    the twenty one canine heads’!

    Apart from the seven Mist Masters, the others could only
    hear the sound of Zax movement as he reached in a flash to the canine that
    evaluated his fur coat.

    “Calrob, right? Can you tell what level am I?” Zax smirked.

    Calrob’s dog face paled. He was one of the Core Breaker
    experts and those who saw nothing but a flash or a shadow as Zax made his move.

    SLASH!

    The two Mist Master next to Calrob launched their claws at
    Zax. However they were too slow and too obvious in their movement. With a
    “WUSH” sound Zax slide back to the center of the twenty one experts.

    ‘If that’s their top speed…’ Zax smiled. “Well, my Master
    warned my about you. Are you supposed to be Master Kartius’s enemies?” He taunted.

    “Lowly mutt!” The wolf boss called in anger. “Listen up,
    Fangs, this one body fitness level is definitely at level C! Revert to your
    beast form!” Following his order something strange happened.

    Despite the astonished expression of the other twenty, not
    one of them argued with their boss and in several seconds, Zax learned
    something new and finally understood what Martial sister Rarahel meant by
    warning him of the true from of the wild.

    The twenty one canine heads all transformed from their
    humanoid physique to their true animalistic appearance. Surrounding Zax, within
    the length of two short breaths, were two to three and a half meters tall, two
    and a half to five meters long twenty one true canines on all four.

    Zax was utterly shocked! He could tell with his Soul Sense
    that the Mist User level of the twenty one remained the same, but their bodies,
    on the other hand, increased in both power, speed and for sure, control!

    Was Rarahel alerting Zax of some beasts’ secret when she
    told him to beware of the true form of the wild? “No” is the answer. She was
    merely reciting a phrase of Valgarel. The reason Zax did not know that – by
    meeting certain conditions – beasts had the ability to change appearance from
    humanoid to animalistic or vice versa, was lack of proper education. Children
    in Kingdom Earth learn of the beasts’ ability to transform only in the second
    year of post Core School. Since Zax never been to one how could he possibly know
    it? Since for beasts this is an innate knowledge, his Master also did not
    bother to mention it and his big sister had long ago stopped thinking about it
    as something odd.

    Zax composed himself. ‘I’m still faster and stronger! Let’s
    see if their numbers can do them any good’. He sure felt valiant.

    “Arhwoo!” The wolf boss, the third biggest in size, howled and
    the twenty one canines moved in union. They ran in circles around Zax.

    ‘Is that what they call a Battle formation?’ Zax wondered
    while patiently waiting for the canines’ first move.

    SLASH!

    SLASH!

    Two canines jumped at Zax, sent a paw strikes and retreated.
    The two missed Zax, but it seemed that their primary intention was to test Zax,
    which, as the wolf boss predicted, avoided the two paw strikes.

    SLASH!

    SLASH!

    SLASH!

    SLASH!

    The canines doubled their numbers.

    “Hahah!” Zax swiftly avoided and laughed. “Too few, too few,
    stupid dogs, come at me in double digits”. Since he also tested himself and
    felt assured with his abilities, Zax did not fight back. He utilized the
    results of his training in the bodily maneuvers and moved like a typhoon inside
    the circle.

    “Arhwoo!” The wolf boss retorted, opening his jaw his voice
    come out again in a human speech. “Kill! Kill! Kill!” He was not hotheaded, but
    driven by the instinct to kill his tribe’s enemy!

    Instantly, the canine complied to both their boss’s commend
    and Zax’s insult and eleven out of the twenty one jumped inside the circle as
    the remaining ten shrank its scope.

    Attacking with their paws and fangs, the canines used their
    mist energy to strengthen further their bodies and around them white and
    silvery aura spread outward.

    “Not enough space”. Zax muttered. He wanted to evade the
    smallest touch with even the canines’ tails and fur; however the eleven were synchronized
    with each other and could deal with the crowded area of attack. “Time to leave
    the circle”. He made up his mind. The canines were clearly experienced in
    fighting using this formation.

    The ten canines that made up the border of the circled
    formation were fast, but not enough to prevent Zax from slipping outside of the
    formation.

    Within three steps Zax arrived to the border of the circle
    and ran along it. He mimicked the pace of two of the ten canines, two Core
    Breaker, that made the border and eyed the space between them.

    WUSH!

    Zax kicked the ground and dashed forward. Naturally he could
    also jump above the border, but where was the fun in it?

    BANG!

    A mixed wave of white and silver mist energy struck Zax and
    flung him back.

    SLASH!

    A huge paw followed promptly and hit Zax in the back.

    “Humph!” Zax sneered and dodged a bite that was aimed to his
    right arm. “The fur coat really held up!” He was satisfied with his Master’s
    present, even if against this sort of foes he could also do without it. “This
    border is supported with mist energy”. His inability to use his Qi fired him
    up. “Where are the doggies that hit me and tried to bite my arm?”

    “Die, human!” The canines were also enraged. Zax himself was
    not much in their eyes, they fought beasts in the past that were below their
    level yet to slippery to catch, but the Two Headed Beaver fur coat was
    troublesome to deal with.

    “There!” Zax found the two canines that annoyed him.

    The two were Mist Master and could somewhat see that they
    were targeted by the human. Knowing their limit, they still tried to meet Zax
    in a joint onslaught.

    Explosive mist energy burst from the two canines, the other
    nine in the circle moved from their way. Violent mist energy hissed and the two
    canines pounced at Zax, baring their most noteworthy feature, their fangs,
    which glowed in condensed pure silver color.

    Four fangs, two hands.

    The glowing fangs remained Zax two kids in his pre Core
    School that fought one day and how one kid broke the other’s front teeth when
    he punched him in the face.

    Well, the space between fangs in the canines’ mouths was too
    wide to break two with one punch.

    ‘All out!’ Zax felt a surge of unrestrained excitement
    filling his sea of consciousness and spreads to every nook and cranny in his
    body. He summoned up his full strength and sent his hand to meet with the
    canines’ fangs attack.

    BANG!

    The three clashed. The two canines, in total bewilderment,
    felt like they hit an unmovable wall. Zax hands grabbed one fang of which
    canine and stopped them in the collision.

    CRACK!

    The sound came from the two fangs in Zax’s grip. He swung
    his hands to the sides, pulling the two canine heads and…

    BANG!

    The two heads collided, two fangs broke each other and the
    other two were shattered in Zax’s grip.

    The impact stirred the two canines’ brain, they collapsed,
    unaware of the poor state of their jaws.

    Watching how two of their experts in the Intermediate phase
    of the Mist Master level could not budge a single human boy, not even half
    their size, and then losing to him so effortlessly, the nine canines still in the
    circle joined the others in the border.

    “What? Don’t tell me that this is all you got, little
    doggies”. Zax mocked. These were the enemies of his Master? Laughable!

    “Arhwoo!” The wolf boss howled. Two of the canines left the
    formation in full speed.

    “Calling for help?” Zax immediately realized their
    intention.

    He did not plan to stay for Mist Lord level canines to join
    the fight, but those who held the formation seemed bound on not attacking, nor
    letting him out.

    “Good, good! Won’t be any fun unless we see how long you can
    contain me!” This time nothing obstructed him from coming straight at the
    border, not that in the previous attempt it was a difficulty, and Zax also
    wanted to break it in its strongest point, not trying to jump above it or going
    at any canine other than the wolf boss.

    A series of collisions resonated like the sound of giant
    bells each time Zax punched or kicked the placement of the wolf boss in the
    formations. The united white and silver mist energy formed a mantle that
    protected the canines and attacked Zax much more brutally than the fang attack
    of the two canines.

    “Hahaha! Here is more power and more power!” Zax did not go
    all out from the beginning. He gradually raised the strength of his attacks.
    This attitude served him as an outlet to his dormant frustration, and he wanted
    to free himself from all of it! To cleanse himself before he will make this one
    more step in the path his Martial prepped him for.

    “Use more of your mist energy! His attacks are getting
    stronger!” The wolf boss barked in vexation. How was it possible? He knew that
    the human before him is just a boy, probably not two tenth of his age, so how
    come he become that much strong in such a young age?! Was that body refining
    technique really that formidable?!

    ‘This cannot be allowed to go on! We must restrain, otherwise
    he’ll become a huge threat to the elders’ goal and our tribe! We must endure
    until a captain will arrive… and hope that it will be a Core Master!’

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