Book 1 – Earth’s Core
Chapter 20 – Qi
At a certain point, under the suffocating pressure that theold man has put him through, Zax found sanctuary in the depths of hisconsciousness, in his soul. By minimizing the awareness of his soul to the restof the body, although he was still hurting, Zax was able to subdue a substantialportion of the pain the old man inflected on him.
Something in him that he never could perceive switched andsuddenly became a new nature. When it happened the echo, which was a sideeffect, began to resonate as means of guidance.
Zax heard it before, the voice, but could not figure fromwhere or when and without realizing his vocal cords started to mimic its rhythmin 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 crannyin his body was brimming with unrestrained energy.
The echo stopped abruptly and as Zax gained clarity as towhat it was; his body already broke into action.
The old man did not know if to laugh or cry. As if theoutput of pressure that was equal to the Advance phase of an E level Mist Userwas some minor nuisance, the boy he firmly educated fended it off and sprang tothe 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 andshe was at the Beginner phase of a F level Mist User. Both of them could feelthe pressure Zax was in and knew that there is no normal child in all ofKingdom Earth that can withstand it. But when the boy unpredictably acted andlet out a murderous intent the two were completely baffled.
A tremendous amount Qi energy, an eruption of Qi steams, burstfrom Zax’s body. His body was mid air, high enough to be at eye level with theold man. Seeing his face so clearly, although having the picture of MaselaMajid in his head for an instant, a turmoil of emotions he could not controlmade him savage and desiring to kill.
Zax’s structure was struck against the floor like a madbeast, spewing blood. The old man increased the pressure, this time he did nothave 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 greatgreat nephew, Mr. Martinez. “A soul attack at your age, in your current level… Iwas 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 withsuch a strong soul and who was able to perceive the existence of Qi in hisbody, even if not in the ideal age... He now recognized the future prospects ofthat not even ten years old boy, and they frighteningly seemed limitless.
Zax stopped struggling after a few seconds. It was hard toguess which factor was responsible for his breakthrough in the perception ofQi. It could have been many things… An innate talent, the presence of anexpert, 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 oldman supplied the definitive stimulation that he needed to achieve abreakthrough. Afterwards, the new found feeling was so invigorating that it sweptall reason. A recent memory that he unconsciously summoned put him on his feetand higher and what followed was a condense Qi punch that fell through beforeit got to its destination.
Now that he returned to the hard stairwell’s floor, engulfedby a veil of nothingness, Zax met the same fate as Turan.
“Em,” the old man directed his voice to Mr. Martinez’s earsonly. “The moment I’m gonna strike the decisive blow to end the boy life, takecare of the Miss first and then kill the three kids”.
“Great great uncle?” Mr. Martinez winced. He alsoacknowledged Zax’s potential and understood the importance of eliminating thisfuture threat who might seek revenge on their family. Whether killing the boyor not was not a decision that they could compromise over. Killing thedefenseless woman and three children, on the other hand… Looking back at thepast seventeen years, since he inherited the position of the head of thefamily, he could not remember himself committing or initiating such heinous deedtoward others whom he or the family had no animosity against.
“Don’t you dare falter!” The old man’s bark reached everycorner of the stairwell but no farther. Because of whom was he about to substitutea severe punishment with death? Was it no his great great nephew and hisspoiled son who started it all?
Killing a coreless boy… He cursed Zax, too, for revealinghis true potential and at the same time felt fortunate for not missing it. Theold man cursed himself, too.
Four low class eyewitnesses. The old man could not allowthat. Now, he no longer doubted over the existence of an expert behind Zax andwas not keen on betting on his and the family’s capabilities with dealing withthe mysterious expert who could foster such talent. Therefore, the old manreached the conclusion that no eyewitnesses, not anyone who has the slightestknowledge of what went on between this stairwell’s walls, should be allowed tolive.
He will kill Zax, for his own peace and quiet. Em will killthe other four at the same moment. Later he will order Em to use the family’s resourcesto deal with Turan’s friends, as well, and even the C level Mist User, CoreBreaker, Mishe, which served the family for nearly three decades. That was themost potent way to get rid from any loose ends.
Watching the rag like figure of the boy at his feet, the old mandecided to at least send him off serenely. He released the pressure and the feeblebody beneath him rose somewhat, indicating the expansion of the lungs as the unconsciousZax breathed freely.
“Hahaha, very cunning, very cunning, hahaha…”
Zax’s execution was cut short by a new guest who entered thestairwell in high spirit. The old man stared at the intruder perplexed. Justnow, if he proceeded with the killing blow, his intuition told him that hewould die next.
Mr. Martinez’s intuition, in comparison to the old man’s, did not was quiteas sharp. When he felt his great great uncle’s killing intent, his body chargedbehind Jinka instantly. He was about to kill her smoothly and then the threekids as his great great uncle instructed him. Regrettably, he was one momenttoo late and so could not avoid the surge of light gold mist energy, nor blockit properly with his dark brown mist energy. Mr. Martinez was thrown back like a bugin a strong wind.
“Habul Majid!” The old man cried, revealing the color of hispure silver aura for the first time, as if it could intimidate the brownbearded man.
“Gerardo, do my eyes deceive me or are you also accepting challengerslike the lads on the rings?” Mr. Majid laughed and stroked his long beard.
“Damn you, Habul!” The old man, Gerardo Martinez, his face flushedred 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 Iset”. Gerardo noticed and actually took it reasonably.
Strictly speaking, it was not because Mr. Majid was twophases above Gerardo Martinez or past the bottleneck of the Mist Lord levelthat he could easily shatter Gerardo’s formation. That is because formationsrequire more than high Martial level. Theoretically every Mist User can executeany 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 bein its complex foundation and structure. To fully grasp the essence of aformation could take between days to hundreds of years, depending on the classof 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 inthis particular case was the reason for as to why Mr. Majid could soeffortlessly surpass his formation till it broke.
“Haha… Mr. Majid. I planned to greet you later, how kind of you togreet 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 mydaughter’s young friends for the exhibition fights. You and your nephewshould also hurry; these fights are really fun to watch”.
Hearing so and realizing that he is about to lose someone who inthe future might turn into a terrifying enemy, Gerardo immediately sought tosway Mr. Majid’s, the Beginner phase Mist Lord’s, mind.
“Will money do?” Gerardo pondered. He did not know how deep the relationshipbetween Mr. Majid and Zax and that actually there was not any. He did know ofMr. Majid’s personality so he tried to approach from an angle that will not irritatean expert who thought little of exposing his strength in order to impose hiswill, nor an angle which will reveal how desperate he was. “Preposterous!” Heconcluded that it will be inefficient.
“Mr. Majid”, Mr. Martinez stepped forward and bowed. “Will you be graciousand leave the boy in our hands? Of course, please do as you like with the otherkids and the Miss”. He did not dare to raise his head, not while his facial expressionstill showed malice.
“What are you thinking, Em”. Gerardo glared at his great greatnephew. “Is the head of our family foolishly trying to deceive a Mist Lord? Youshould 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 areyou planning to pick on coreless boy, Em Martinez?” Mr. Majid lost any hint of amusementin his tone. “Lift him gently and bring him to my hands”. He ordered.
A furious bright golden aura shot at Mr. Martinez and restrictedhis every movement, much like how Mishe’s aura locked the two groups of kids intheir position. “The boy”. Mr. Majid voiced only these two words and pulledback his aura.
Reluctantly, Mr. Martinez lifted Zax from the floor, but instead ofhanding 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 inreturn? Is your mind so warped that you enjoy watching children being torturedto the verge of death?” Mr. Martinez could care less that he, too, relished inZax’s pain. He rationalized his perverseness by following the notion that hehad 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. Hewas slapped by his great great uncle and before a drop of blood from themouthful that he spat could spill on Zax’s forehead, the boy was alreadyexchanging 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 terriblethought came to his head. “The expert behind this boy is Habul Majid!” As thefounder of the family, Gerardo knew best its capabilities. He himself was themajor force of the family; anything and anyone else were less than secondary.Apart from investing in the family’s younger generation and waiting for thecultivated seeds to sprout, the only possible way for the family to maintainits statues was by hiring experts to its services – as most high class familiestended to do.
Gerardo felt complete resent toward Mr. Majid. “Is all that hashappened 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 acceptsuch condescending treatment. “Don’t underestimate my family, Mr. Majid”,Gerardo refrained from making these few words sound like a warning, yet saidthem in a stern voice to emphasize his disposition. “Some of our young oneshave an even greater talent than I had at their age. Your disciple isunquestionably exceptional, but unless you plan to disinherit your sons anddaughters and instead have this boy as your heir, against my family he willstill be a single person”.
“Disciple? Heir?” Mr. Majid raised an eyebrow. “It seems that youmisunderstood me… Did I not say that the boy is my daughter’s friend? Yes, atalented little friend, but nothing more than that, Gerardo”.
“Nothing more than a friend to your daughter?” Gerardo was sostunned that he had to repeat. “Than on what grounds can you say that Em’s lifeis in danger? Mr. Majid, your Martial achievements are superior to mine and forthat I lower my grace before you, but that boy that you insist to shield forsuch a stingy reason… Do you think that I will wait for him to mature if no onebacking him?” His inability to act now and Mr. Majid’s overbearing behaviormade Gerardo gasp.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, hahaha…” Mr. Majid consideredGerardo’s disorientation to be entertaining. “Bring the children Miss, the showhas already begun”. He turned to the bit suspicious, more than thankful Jinkaand without hesitation she dragged Serah, Dane and Anet back to the fifth floorwith 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. Majidturned 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 fartherinvestigation as unnecessary. Only after being told so Gerardo figured that ifhe had asked the boy’s name from the begging he could have acted in a moredeliberate manner.
“You were too pompous to care… The boy name is Zax Zel”.
“His last name his “Zel”, it tells me nothing. How his lastname 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 bysomeone!”
“I didn’t try to hide the identity of his teacher, justwondered if you can make the connection yourself. It seems that the power tusslesin Tongguo taking too much of your attention… How about this for a clue “Nineteenyears old Mist Master””.
“Nineteen years… You mean to say he is her Tal?!” Recallinga shocking event from not too long ago actually mage Gerardo stumbled backwards.
“Hahaha… Still so blockheaded, Hahaha… Messing around withyour 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 hername”.
Recollecting every detail from the announcement which shook all ofKingdom Earth two years ago, Gerardo closed his black eyes and opened themright after with a glint of disbelief in them.
In the passage of time, experts have learned different techniquesto enchant their long term memory. Ultimately, the technique that was picked asthe most excellent turned out to be the most basic one. It was an innateability of the outer and inner mind. Much like their original function, inthis instance, early memories were managed by the outer mind and distantmemories were managed by the inner mind. To evaluate what can be considered asan early memory or distant memory or how much details each type of memory couldsupply, was relative to the Mist User’s level. The stronger the soul the morecapable the outer and inner mind could be, and if one had to remember a memorythat was not located in the outer mind all he or she had to do was easilylocate it in the inner mind.
“Zetsa Zel! She is blood relative of the boy…!” Gerardomurmured, 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 baldchin and surveyed his mind for a way to take control of the situation whichcontinued to aggravate. After thinking on something he raised his head indefiance. “If she had reached the Mist Lord level I’m sure the whole kingdomwould have known by now. No, she only made it to the Mist Master level twoyears ago, even someone like her must be still struggling at the Beginner phaseof the Mist Master level, at worst the Intermediate phase. And if so, then what would be the problem? Mycenturies of accumulated experience can topple her talent!”
“That might be so, but will you dare trying? No one knows hercurrent Martial abilities. Do you think brats like her are the same as you andI? Do you think that if everything about her is quiet at the moment it’sbecause the Super Experts treat her as irrelevant? That lass is a monster, andmonsters 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, northe 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 alreadyover. Actually, it ended two days ago and Zax’s whereabouts were currently inhis house, lying on his bed.
The sequence of events after the encounter with the Martinez’sfamily members went on the following way… For obvious reasons, when Mr. Majidreturned to the fifth floor with Zax and met with Jinka, neither she nor theother three kids felt eager to watch the exhibition fights. The four of themwere utterly exhausted mentally and physically.
Taking into account the condition of the four, when they expressedtheir desire to leave Mr. Majid ordered his own driver to take them back totheir homes at cave twenty five, that, of course, after he assured all of themthat Zax do not require any special treatment but rest and time to heal. He didrecommended, before they left, that Zax should receive something called “ThreeWays 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 mostlikely intended it to get to the expert in the family, Zax’s big sister, ZetsaZel.
Zax got up slowly from his bed. Even though he rested fortwo days, his soul was the only thing which entirely healed after this timefiasco. His body, in comparison, was sore all over and his Qi channels, whichwere already miserably small much like any child who never trained in Qi refiningtechniques, shrunk even more to the point that he nearly forgotten the newfoundcontact that he established with this aspect of the human body.
“You really should learn how to pick your battles, Zax”. Zetsasat in a meditative pose, approximately one meter from Zax, but until she openedher mouth and spoken her presence was undetectable.
“Big sis?” Zax ably fended the surprise. Somewhat, he felt contentedwith himself without knowing why. The reason that he did not dwell about was, infact, deeply repressed in his mind. His recent escape from death.
When his soul first perceived Gerardo’s intention, as ameans to tolerate and defend itself it shrouded its core, the spirit, from the noxiouskilling intent. This spontaneous effect, similarly to the soul energymanipulation, was not within the capabilities of someone at Zax’s level, or perhapstalent? In addition, this was just a temporary effect that meant to hold for anunknown period of time and eventually compel Zax to deal with the pent uppressure, hopefully, after attaining a better insight of his soul rather thanadvancing its level.
“Have you heard me?!” Zetsa burst involuntarily. “Jinkareturned here with your friends two day ago, and guess what, you were also withthem, carried like a bag of potatoes! Do you think that mom and dad cared foran explanation before imagining the worst?”
“What? Two days? Have Serah and Dane told you exactly whathappened? It wasn’t my fault!” Zax talked back angrily.
“Would it matter if you were dead?!” Zetsa replied instantlyand the two stared at each other unbending. “Come here and sit down in the sameposition”. She changed her tone to the one she used with Take and lately withZax, too. She radiated the bearing of a Mor. “Tell me your side of what happened”.
Submissively, Zax obeyed and began to explain in detail hispart, above and under the surface... The look on Zetsa’s face did not changefrom beginning to end, but inwardly she felt as if struck by lightning twiceduring Zax’s description. Although there were no thunder and lightning storms inNew 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 hecould suddenly sense his Qi, but a bit earlier even more when he told her abouthow he first nearly reached the realm of outer and inner mind then later triedand succeeded to attack Turan’s soul.
Before, when Jinka told her and their parents the part aboutthe Qi that she saw in her own eyes and the part about the soul attack that sheheard from the two men of the Martinez family, Zetsa reacted only to calm herparents and promise them that everything will be fine and that she is familiarwith the Three Ways To Heaven therapy. Afterwards, Marco and Laylen, knowingthat if Zetsa said so things will be alright, changed their initial distress tosheer excitement for their son’s unparalleled achievements and the benefitsthat they can supply in his future!
Zax quieted down as there was nothing more to say that hecould remember and reading his big sister’s serious expression, was impossiblefor him, so he waited with anticipation for her response.
“Ahmm… I’ve also investigated the case and apparently neitherside 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 donot seem afraid of the consequences of this incident”.
“Then go beat them up. I’m too weak, but you can hurt themlike they hurt me and my friends!”
Zax was not the type to ask for help, but he was consumedwith hatred toward any of the three figures that he met who belonged to theMartinez family. Unexpectedly, Gerardo was not the one he hated the most,rather the most insignificant of the three, Turan, the one who made Anet fearso much with the threat that he will cause her pain unless she will give up herseat. 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 fromGerardo. Ultimately, Zax will learn the truth behind Anet’s actions, but thatwill not be from Zetsa.
“Stop spouting nonsense, Zax!” Zetsa rebuked. “Have I notthought you better than this? Say that I’ll take revenge, what will happenthen? When adults fall into conflict it’s not the same as kids’ quarrel. Thereare many things involve that determined which side will suffer less. There areno winners, remember. Even if my Martial powers are stronger than anyone in theMartinez 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?” Itwas not another lesson that she simply tried to install in him. When she will tellhim 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’swhat you almost did and we’ll talk about that later, he and his parents holdgreat animosity towards you. The father is the head of the Martinez family, avalued 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 areclose to me and through them indirectly hurt me. Mom and dad first, otherfamily members, friends, neighbors. They won’t shy from seeking people relatedto you, either. Jinka, Serah, Dane, Anet… They saw them in the Young Mist UsersConference, right…?”
Zetsa paused and looked at Zax straight in the eye. “Yourbig sister is strong, stronger than I let most people know”. She sounded as ifshe revealed a personal secret. Zax sensed a tingle in his heart, rarely hisbig sister showed weakness in front of him. The handful of times that ithappened never caused the atmosphere to darken like now.
“Do you want me to kill those who hurt you?” She asked outof the blue. Her eyes emitted a cold and sinister sensation that reached Zaxsoul. Right then, he knew that if he will say “Yes”, his big sister will certainlyabide.
“N… no…” Zax’s voice trembled. Something inside him wassuddenly afraid of the idea to take life, to lose life, to be beside this bigsister of his with the willingness to murder in her eyes. He steadied himselfand repeated. “NO!”
In compliant with his response, Zetsa closed her eyes. Whatseemed like a second to Zax was infinite time of domineering battle to subdueher raging murderous craving that she held up till this moment. When Zetsaopened her eyes again, the same warm glint that brightened her face whenevershe looked at him emerged. “Continue to grow well, little Zi”. She smiled andrubbed Zax’s head.
“Big sis… What shall we do?” Zax’s temperament regressed tothat of a docile nine years old boy.
“Don’t be mistaken, your big sister care for you more thananyone else in the world, therefore this matter has already been solved longbefore we started this talk”.
“Ah! How?!” Zax’s asked flabbergasted.
“Don’t’ concern yourself with knowing. You gave me too muchtrouble. I’m not gonna answer that one, just understand that your big sister isalmighty”. Zetsa raised her head and mocked with a smile. She wanted todistract Zax by annoying him and readily change the subject. “Here…” she tosseda round colorful object to Zax’s gaping mouth and grabbed his head to close hisjaw before he could retort.
The round object was at the size of a baby’s clenched handand had a rough surface which tasted terribly bitter but because Zetsa forcedZax’s mouth shut he could not spit it. Zax grabbed his big sister’s hands andtried to push her away but the difference in strength between a talentedcoreless child and a talented level B Mist Master was the same as the neverforgotten heaven and the ever surrounding earth.
“Ignore the taste, little Zi, this pill will help you to getback into full shape”. Zetsa said. With one hand she pulled Zax to her bosomand with the other she covered his mouth.
Unable to move or open his mouth, Zax stopped fighting andlistened 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 moremature than other kids in his age and had an eccentric quick mind.
“Good boy… This Three Ways To Heaven therapy pill cost me afew favors, little Zi, you know that I don’t work. See, I meant that when Isaid that I care for you, you should appreciate your big sister more, littleZi…”
Zax rolled his eyes as the Three Ways To Heaven therapy pillslowly melted in his mouth and a strange gas that formed spread throughout hisbody, his dantian and his consciousness. Somewhere along the way of Zetsaexplanation the strict Mor totally vanished and the overly loving big sisterwith a little brother complex rubbed her cheek against his head.
After half an hour Zetsa asked. “Are you still feeling thegas?”
Her hand was still covering Zax’s mouth so the only way forhim to answer was by nodding his head.
“Splendid. Now listen closely, Zax, for seven days from now youare prohibited from training or execute yourself in any from or way. The ThreeWays To Heaven therapy takes about a week to achieve its full effect. If you’llhinder 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 endof the month, go play with your friends. You have progressed so well, if you’llbecome aloof because of training I’ll get mad…”
Zax lowered his head, not feeling like nodding again he letout an unintelligible voice. “Mmaay…”
“Good. Let’s talk now about the fights that you had, the soulattack and perception of Qi”.
Zetsa deliberately did not query about the forced attempt toreach the realm of outer and inner mind, it will naturally manifest when hissoul will reach the beginner phase of a level F Mist User. Besides, she alreadyheard about it, including the soul attack and display of Qi when she went tosee that man... Now she wanted to hear it from Zax’s perspective.
She sat Zax down in front of her but before she phrased thenext sentence she casually remembered three promising words, “leaps andbounds”. Those were the words she used to describe him his improvement pace inthe near future not too long ago. Reminiscing, the memory resurfaced on its ownand caused Zetsa to smile and sigh silently.
“Let’s start with the Qi. What was it like when you firstsensed it?”
“Mmm…” Zax Pondered. He was at a frantic state of mind,constantly bashed by Gerardo Martinez’s Mist and the dominating pressure thatoozed out of him. To survive he had to rely solely on his control over theawareness of his soul to gourd him from the agonizing pain like a cocoon. Therefore he did not remember much. “I just recallit feeling natural. Now also, but you said not to train… Can I show you just alittle-”
“No! Don’t make any use of your soul or Qi and don’t strainyour body for a week as I said. And don’t ask again, just listen!” Zetsareverted 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 tellme about the soul attack”.
Zax nodded and opened excitedly. “That was even moreamazing! It was difficult controlling it, really difficult! It happened duringthe fight with that Turan kid. I suddenly felt that the soul energy movedaccording to my whim much smoothly than ever before and could extend to whereverthat I wanted in my body and even out of it, thought this was the difficultpart. Did I cross to the Advanced phase of level G, big sis? I think so. Idefinitely feel that apart from better control, my soul also became a lotstronger!” The effects of the spontaneous progress were abundant, nothing likebefore, more than just sharpening the senses and Zax was ecstatic.
“Let me see, but you are probably right. Just by looking atyou I can tell that your soul is not the same as last time I examined it”. Zetsasaid and by making eye contact with Zax she infiltrated his consciousness withthe power of her own soul, extending it as he defined, there she assessed the transformationsin the black space and the distorted blur as best as she could without a propersoul testing technique before retreating out.
“It seems that you are no longer at the Intermediate phaseof level G. By the look of things you are quite near the Top phase, maybe aftera month of training…” Zetsa confirmed, though the last part she said loudenough only for herself to hear for two reasons. One, she did not want to goadZax when a moment ago she forbade him to train. Second, she could not be ahundred percent sure without a soul testing technique. Beyond that, Zetsa alsoconfirmed her assumption… “There aren’t many examples, but the breakthrough tothe Advanced phase increased his internal sensitivity to the point ofperceiving his Qi”.
“Then how many can my soul withstand now?” Zax leanedforward with a devilish smile.
“Waves, big sis, if you test me now can I go past twenty?”
“Oh… I can’t tell for certain without testing you, but abovetwenty 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 soultesting is sufficient up to the top phase of D level Earths’ Core Holder. Thereason is the bottleneck of the Core Breaker’s level. When a Mist User can perceivethe 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 moreradiant and bestows the Mist User unfathomable clarity in comparison to theformer level“.
“One of the gains is the ability to extend soul energyoutside of the consciousness to perform a soul attack. From that point on, todetermine the level of a soul, a more precise techniques than the Soul Pressureformation are necessary. Simply put, since you are able to execute a soulattack, even though you are at the Advanced phase of level G, testing your soulwith the Soul Pressure formation will provide inaccurate results”.
“If it’s something possible only at the Core Breaker’s levelhow come I can extend my soul? And does big sis know other technique to test mysoul?”
“Of that I have no clue”. Zetsa answered in all honesty tothe first question. She tried to associate Zax’s abnormal feat with histraining in the Inner Spirit formation, but even if he had perfect affinity tothe principal behind the Inner Spirit formation and soul refining techniques ingeneral it still seemed farfetched that a boy, not even at the lowest Earth’sCore Holder’s level, could possibly perform a soul attack. “In regard to othersoul testing technique… There is another one that I’m familiar with, but let’sput it aside for a moment. More importantly, we haven’t got to you nearlykilling a boy for a stupid seat!” Getting to the subject, Zetsa switched to herserious 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 Zaxlearned 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 caveeleven, two figures faced each other. They were in the villa’s dojo as one ofthe two was seating with folded hands on a rook with flat surface and the otherstraightened up after a slight bow.
“This is a meditation room, my dear. Etiquette should bereserved 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, theowner of the private villa, was wearing a gray robe and was surrounded by alight 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 stubbornthan even his youngest and only daughter, Masela. She even called him “HabulRam”, which was out of respect for him saving her little brother and hisfriends and had nothing to do with his superior Martial accomplishments. “Maybemonsters can only recognize other monsters?” In his age of more than threehundred years there were not many mysteries left in this world for him tosolve, he believed. Among the few that he still could not figure, the mindsetof 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 heentered 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 inthe fifth floor during the fight and the children must have forgotten after theunfortunate encounter…” Mr. Majid gestured for Zetsa to seat on a similar rockfour meters away. “Try it. I got this Hot Rock from an outer cave in thebeast’s territory. Its volcanic attributes helps with cultivations and quitesoothing, but only Mist Master or above can handle its high temperature. If younoticed, the dojo’s flooring is also unique-”
“Misty Wood…” Zetsa displayed her knowledge out ofdiscomfort. He little brother was recuperating in home and she has yet to perceivethe full picture of the day before.
Misty Wood? The kind of wood that can only be found in theouter beasts’ territory and can concentrate all the heat around it to a singlepoint… That and the Hot Rock she saw countless of them, quarries and wholeforests.
“Very keen eye”. Mr. Majid praised but was not surprised.Many Mist Users, when reaching to the Mist Master level, seek to overcome thechallenges of the beasts’ territory. Many even see it as a personal initiationrite, 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 observerand could tell that the lass before him had little to zero interest in his peculiarmeditation room. He proceeded by telling her of Zax and Masela fight with Clergyman.How the boy, her little brother, aroused his curiosity. He even shamelesslytold her how he watched from the side when Zax faced Turan’s and then Gerardo’sassaults, though he noted that he did not interfered simply because “With everypush 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 ofmaterial which forms the Three Ways To Heaven therapy pill. It was done by a renownedpills maker in Shitou. To have the pill ready as soon as possible Zetsa had topay a hefty price.
The second was Mr. Majid’s consent to be the mediator betweenZetsa and the founder of the Martinez family, Gerardo Martinez, since Zetsa wasnot convinced that she will be able to reach an agreement with the head for thefamily, Em Martinez.
“I already interfered, so of course I won’t mind. Besides, Iwould 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. “Alass like you would be a perfect match for my fifth son, he is strong and smartand fairly good looking, what do you say, Miss Zetsa”, he said so less thanhalf comically more than half earnestly as he held her hands. They left thedojo and right now he escorted her as the master of the house, so etiquette wasboth customary and obligatory. “I offer my fifth son because my eldest fouralready 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 youwill 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 thatI’ve never met”. She said hurriedly and apologetically. “And I’m preoccupiedwith 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 tobe the mediator?” The thought circled in her mind.
“No need to answer now, my dear, training and cultivationshould take first priority to any Mist User on the Martial path”. Mr. Majid reassuredher.
“Thank you for understanding”. Zetsa bowed for the lasttime. “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 calamityis likely to befall upon your family, Gerardo. At that time, I trust you willfollow your own lesson and blame only yourself”. He chuckled.
Zetsa had another destination before getting back home, cavefour hundred and seventy in Shitou. “When Zax wakes up we will have much totalk about”.
Chapter 2 – Amends
August seventeen, year 5784. Cave twenty four.
Several days after the Young Mist Users Conference Jinkareturned 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 beingthere when the kids under her care needed her, when her own daughter, Serah, wasassaulted had made her feel guilty and shameful, unqualified as a mother or anadult.
None of the kids’ parents, when learning of the incident andthat the one addressing it is Miss Zetsa, had harbored resentment nor blamedJinka of what happened. On the contrary, all of them were very sympathetic andtried to empathize. When Jinka kept lowering her head and apologizing some ofthem even attempted to pass it on by concentrating on the part of the glassthat was half full, uttering stuff like… “He is fine” or “She came back safeand sound. Let’s trust in Miss Zetsa”.
Jinka heard it all and could do nothing but nod. Just likeher daughter was the core in that group of little kids, she had similarrelationship with their parents. What they all agreed about was taking theirchildren for a physical inspection and monitoring them themselves for a fewdays to make sure that psychological damage has not been done before decidingif to take them to a child therapist or not.
Eventually, apart from one, neither of the children sufferedany serious physical injury. Serah herself only had a broken tooth. Mentallywas a little harder to determine, but with regard to their daughter, after twodays Jinka and Troel safely validated that Serah was fine. Her concern for herfriends and more than anyone else, Zax, made them rediscover their little girl’sassertive personality.
Jinka stirred the soup of the evening's menu, unaware of theburning 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 wasshaking and her eyes tearing up. “I’m sorry”. Jinka said in a trembling voice.
“Concentrate on your servings!” Alinor barked at the kitchen’sstaff that diverted stupefied looks at their sous chef. Hastily, sound ofcutting knifes, meat grinding, ovens opening up and closing, pans falling andrising from the stoves and so on… brought back to initial livelihood of a hardworking kitchen.
“Come with me to the back, Jinka. Dutseka, see if you cansave 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 alleybeyond the kitchen. “Spill it, Jinka, what happened to you today? Since morningyou are moving around the kitchen as if you are being possessed. I assumed thatit’s related to the two days off that you’ve asked for… I didn’t ask in caseit’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 frustrationinside 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 grabbedand lifted Jinka to her embrace.
One lived in cave twenty four, the other in cave twentyfive. They met each other only at work and rarely got together afterwards withthe 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 averttheir emotions when the other was in a time of crisis.
After ten minutes Jinka raised her head, her eyes were redand her fists were clenching Alinor’s chef coat. She opened her mouth andfinally felt willing to let somebody in on the agony she had repressed andthought that she was accountable for.
“Oh, Jinka… You should not torment yourself over it. Thedifferences in classes are inequitable. There was nothing which you could havedone. 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 theupper middle class. Like the parents of Serah’ friends, she, too, could empathizewith 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 ofthe high class’s faces.
They, Alinor, Jinka, all the people who were close to themwere simple people with simple ambitions, simple way of life. To them thesaying “Those who do not march on the Martial path would forever be countedamong 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 powerlesshad to cope.
Anyone below the high class or with insufficient Martialachievements was considered “Powerless”, which were more than seventy five percentof Kingdom Earth’s population.
Alinor could not scheme a grandiose plan to alleviate Jinka’strauma which was created by the two men of the Martinez family, but she couldhelp her in another way, toward those who truly mattered to Jinka and shared thedifficulties 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 compensatoryevening 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 YoungMist Users Conference, because he was the one who urged Jinka to take thetickets to the event and most definitely go.
Of course, Alison took care of everything on ownerMitchello’s end. When the easy going man learned from her about the incidentshe even had to threaten him to not come so Jinka will not lose face in frontof her guests by associating with the person responsible for alluring her towhat concluded as a terribly unforgettable day.
Zax, Serah, Dane and Anet sat at a small round table. Theirparents were not so far away, at a relative distance so each side will have itsown privacy.
The four children were served all kinds of delicacies as appetizers.Fourchettes Et Couteaux did not have children’s menu, so to compensate whateverthe kids wanted, as long as the ingredients were in the pantry, Alinor cockedand 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. Sincethe Young Mist Users Conference they did not see or talk to each other. Their inabilityto help each other set up an invisible barrier around their friendship and thewords to break it seemed feeble.
“I’m… I’m ordering a giant cheese cake with chocolatetopping and all the ice cream’s flavors that they have!” Dane jumped up on hissit declaring and was the first to disrupt the silence.
A cheerful waiter that heard Dane approached their table. “Afine choice, young sir”, he complimented Dane who embarrassedly returned to hissit. “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 withsome of the restaurant’s deserts, knew what she wanted from the start but waitfor 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’tfilled up from the appetizers. It will truly be a shame”. The waiter smilinglysaid and headed to the kitchen with the three orders.
“Why didn’t you order?” Dane asked Zax. He, Serah and Anetnoticed Zax’s attitude from the beginning of the evening. Knowing what he hasbeen through, they were unsure of how to talk to him, how to say that they aresorry.
“Cause I don’t”. Zax casted a quick look at Anet and shiftedit 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 ofblood 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 onlyone who got hurt, what happened to you?” Zax asked mildly irritated. He was consciouswhen Em and the old man allowed the group of kids from Molten Core to leave thestairwellyet forbade Serah and Dane to do the same. When Serah got hurt he could notrecognize anyone anymore, apart from the old man, but afterwards, at home, thethought crossed his mind that his friends perhaps also been through somethingbad 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 quietestone. She spotted how Zax looked at her and how leaned to the right, theopposite side of her, when she asked for spaghetti. For somereason that made her feel like a bone was stuck in her throat. Was it becauseshe gave up her seat? Because she was against fighting with the other group ofkids? “Is he… Is he upset with me?”
“She got back with aunty!”
Suddenly with a “BUMP!” on the table Anet lifted her head insurprise and saw Zax looking at her. His light brown eyes were clear from the initialaggression and were stun just as hers.
As if a sea of regret overwhelmed him, Zax recollected thesounds, the sights, even the smell of blood in the stairwell, all of thosethings that the outer mind of a Mist User might lose track from but the innermind will record instinctively… His mind was not at that level yet, but he wasclose, and it happened just a few days ago so remembering under a suddencircumstance was feasible.
“Anet…” Zax felt that he mistreated her, that he mistreatedSerah and Dane, too. If it were not for his excessive self confidence neitherof them would have been hurt. Tears began to dirty his face, two salty streamsthat following them he lost total control of his emotions, sat down and buriedhis head on his knees.
The group of parents that watched from afar since the BUMPon the table stopped themselves from getting up to comfort the poor kid. Marcoand 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 asthe other three children gathered closely around their crying friend, crouchingbeside him, softly caressing his head and back, shading their pent up tears andgrief while hugging him till all that remained was an unbreakable one lovingbond.
Chapter 3 – E Level Mist User, Take Edomachi
One day remained to the restricting one week without anysort of training that Zetsa imposed on Zax. Thankfully, today Zax had things onhis mind.
Zax, Zetsa, Marco and Laylen were sited in a long black luxuryvehicle 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 boisterouscelebration in the name of Take Edomachi.
As it so happened, in less than two months, a short passageof time after the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, Take Edomachi succeeded inadvancing from the intermediate phase of a F level Mist User, to the beginnerphase 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 tofind with the help of his Mor in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. The second washis diligent training in the Radical Fiery Icy Provocation Qi refining technique.
Zax excitedly watched outside from the vehicle’s window asit drove up to the governor’s manor. He had not met Take since the last timeZetsa took him to be present in their training session. Take was his firstfriend closest to him in age that attained an Earth’s Core and Zax could notwait to see how powerful he had become – mainly because any Mist User on theMartial path, regardless of his or her level, was a glamorous entity in theeyes of coreless children.
Zax knew from Take that his father impels him toward thedirection of the Martial path, which he also interested in, otherwise how couldhe convince Zetsa to spend her time cultivating him?
When they got out of the vehicle Zax noticed that hisparents were tense. There were quite a few vehicles parking at the manor’sgrounds and at the entrance to the manor, its owner and his wife accepted theiresteem guests.
“Miss Zetsa!” Governor Edomachi abandoned the reception ofhis guests over to the old maid and the white suit bodyguard and with his wifeand hands spread wide open in the air rushed to welcome his son’s Mor and herfamily.
“Xingze, Slovet, please meet my parents, Marco and LaylenZel”. Zetsa made an introduction. She did not mention Zax because the Edomachiduo already knew him.
At the time, Marco and Laylen, who never were in contactwith high class personnel or even came close to the property of someone of thehigh class, were oblivious to how they should conduct themselves so that theywill not embarrass themselves or their amazing daughter.
“Oh, Hahaha…” Governor Edomachi laughed coarsely, he was insuch a good mood that when he saw Zetsa, the one responsible for his son’s abundantfortune, that he lost all traces of restraint and almost skipped his way tohold the hands of this extraordinary beautiful young woman. “Hahaha, you do meand my wife the honor, Mist Zetsa! It’s pleasure to meet you Marco Ram, LaylenRam, young master Zax!”
“Marco Ram, Laylen Ram, forgive my husband’s boisterousmanners. Take’s advancement brought extreme joy to all of us”. Mrs. Edomachiwas 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 honorarytitle? And by someone of higher statues than theirs, nonetheless!
“You treat us too well, Mr. Edomachi, Mrs. Edomachi”. Marcoturned to them in an orthodox manner. To even gesture back the honorary title wasbeyond his and his wife capacity.
“Marco Ram, I’ll lose face, I’ll lose face, hahaha… Yourdaughter refers to me and my wife by our first names only and you do so as ifwe are strangers. Nonsenses! I can’t accept such treatment. My name is Xingzeand my wife’s is Slovet. Please, you and your wife may use them however youlike”. Governor Edomachi was a D level Mist User and in his current temperamenthe was very oppressive. He walked with Marco under his arm as if they were oldfriends 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 adifferent title?” Zax whispered.
“That’s because, like mom and dad, I also more used to the orthodoxmanner. High class people, on the other hand, will use whichever they feelappropriate 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 herefers with “Master” because that’s how most high class children are referredto by adults who acknowledge them”.
Many of the guests knew or heard about one another evenbefore arriving to the Edomachi’s estate. Being members of the highest tier ofpopulation in Kingdom Earth, through their various connections, they obtainedthe guests list of the event to assert those who will come for numerousreasons, such as knowing from whom they should be aware of or for whom theyshould exploit this opportunity to start a formal relationship with.
When the distinguished guests watched from the side as theirhost ignored them in favor of other guests who seemed to have miserably simpleappearance and were unknown to them, they felt deeply insulted. Then again, as GovernorEdomachi together with his wife passed the rest of their guests with the Zelfamily, no one dared to make a fuss and admit his or her degradation.
The tables in the great dining hall were set with all kindsof 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 wereLaylen, Marco and Zax. Governor Edomachi raised a glass in honor of his son andthen called for the performers to begin and the maids to arrive with the maincourses of the celebration.
Following the performance and the feast, the guests thatwanted 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 acceptthem, stepped forward in front of their host, his wife and their son.
To be honest, the line was not that long. Although an Elevel 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 oldergenerations, though the reason behind this occurrence was the improvement inQi\Mist and soul refining techniques. What was one more lucky child that hadhis 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 techniqueswill be available to the public.
Now, if the boy in question would have achieved his currentlevel by sheer talent that would have been something else entirely!
Zax and Take sneaked out of the designated guests’ room thatwas 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 trulymeant it for couple of reasons. First, as the son of a cave governor thematerial 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 perceivefrom Take’s manner will be that of a caring older brother.
“That will be awesome!” Zax replied. Being immersed in trainingmost of the time did not repress his childish desires completely. If one of thepresents contained a mechanical pet, a new generation Caller, a premium accountcard of the popular online game Mocca Kart that he could show off to Serah – presumablyuntil he will realize that he does not care about it and give it to her – ormaybe even a low grade Martial technique…! For the last one his aspiration mostcertainly overreached, nevertheless, any of the other previous three wouldsurly more than satisfy Zax.
“Say, Take, did you become an E level Mist User because ofbig 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 convertedto mist energy. If I wasn’t training in it, then it would have taken me atleast 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 Userwho trains in mist refining techniques it could take around three years toadvance 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 inthe Great Earth’s Core Pursuit with the help of his big sister. Yet that was asecret Zetsa forbade Take to reveal to anyone. At most he could tell his dotingfather that he was lucky at the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit.
Take’s chattering caused him to a slip of the tongue. To fixhis mistake he puffed out his chest and gave Zax a noogie. “You presume thisolder brother of yours is the same as a mere average Mist User?!”
Even though the age gap between them was less than a year, acoreless child, no matter how talented and cultivated, frankly had no chanceagainst a Mist User of the same age. “Sorry, I’m sorry, Take!” As much as anoogie 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 soulattack to repel Take, its effectiveness would have been nearly identical to howit affected Turan. The reason was that E level Mist Users could not utilizetheir soul energy for offence or defense, so even if Take’s soul was two levelshigher than Zax’s, at best he could only withstand the impact of Zax’s soulattack at the price of becoming bedridden for about a month. Then again, Zaxlearned his lesson of how much dangerous soul attacks are and how inexperiencehe was in implementing them. Even as a joke we would not use a soul attack on afriend, nor an enemy that he could avoid in every other possible way. That beingsaid, 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’slaugher was akin to his father.
The two wandered around the manor, playing jokes on eachother, checking once in a while on Zax’s parents or if the other guests alreadyleft so it will not be rude to open up the presents. Zax did not mentionanything of his experience in the Young Mist Users Conference. He reconciledwith his friends a few days back when they and their parents were invited to a dinnerat Fourchettes Et Couteaux. Reminiscing the past when he was at peace withhimself would have thrown him into gloomy state of mind.
Take told Zax about his own experience in the Great Earth’sCore Pursuit in a nutshell since it was not a guarded secret or anything andmuch about the event can be found online.
“They send you off together with tens of thousands of kidsto search for an Earth’s Core in a cave that throughout the year is part of thebeasts’ territory. Listen to my advice, Zax, and maybe you, too, will befortunate. When they’ll tell you to enter the cave, follow the Guardians who goto patrol at the far end of the cave. In past years, and this is something youcan’t even read about, all the decent to high quality Earth’s Cores were founda few kilometers from the tunnel to the unsafe zone. Obviously, you should not ventureclose to that tunnel no matter what!
“If Zetsa Mor will accompany you to the to the Great Earth’sCore Pursuit, that will be good. As a Mist User at the level of a Mist Mastershe 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’llknow that some kid found one…”
Zax attentively listened to Take’s pointers and warning. InJanuary the new date of the next Great Earth’s Core Pursuit will be decided. Bythen he will already be in fourth grade, reach the age of ten and eligible totake part in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. When the time comes, any kind ofinformation 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 hadto greet, bow and thank for coming to his celebration and their presents.
When the Nightly Cover formation covered the cave’s ceilingwith sparkling dots of light only Zax and his family remained in the governormanor and a few members of the extended Edomachi family. Governor Edomachithanked Zetsa, Marco and Laylen for joining today and sharing this blessed timeof his, his wife and son. Afterwards he excused himself to privately talk withhis kin.
Zetsa, Marco, Laylen and Slovet sat around a small tablewith cups of green tea in their hands while the two boys opened the presents.
The hour was late and the middle class parents sensed sometime ago that they should also leave, but Mrs. Edomachi insisted that theyshould 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 eachother. Our conversations always so fascinating, and even at times when shedoesn’t have something new to impart, her opinions of the various topics I bringup are wittily thought provoking”. A subtle smile spread across Mrs. Edomachi’srosy cheeks. “It will be a nice change of pace to halt and get to know thepeople who raised this young woman”.
Faced with Mrs. Edomachi’s cordial appeal Marco and Laylen feltcompelled to respect the wishes of their charming hostess. In a way, this wasan opportunity for them as well to learn about their daughter from someone elsepoint of view who knew her intimately.
Zax and Take uncovered very many gifts from the small pilethat was placed at the center of the room. There were expensive mechanicaltoys, most were of great figures of the Martial world, few were of known horrificbeasts and fewer were the Pet type. The pair was disappointed that they did notfind any books of Martial techniques. It appeared that the guests either sawTake as a child or did not want to contribute to the cultivation of a futurepotential of another family. What the two boys were unaware of was that threeguests did gifted Take with books of Martial techniques. There were three intotal, one book from each of the three guests. Two of them were a present fromtwo families that had close relations with the Edomachi family, and the thirdone was from the extended Edomachi family. The three books were not placedamong the other presents and were handed discreetly to governor Edomachi bythose who brought them.
Initially Take had thought of sharing half of his gifts withZax. 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 theMartial path.
Marco and Laylen, in contrast, accepted Take’s generositybut opposed to him giving away his presents to their son. They did not explaintheir decision, either. Fortunately, the boys did not argue and showed a substantialunderstanding 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 donein the past.
The stay at the governor manor concluded late at night. Zaxended up with two of Take’s presents, a mechanical pet modeled after a cub bluescales fox which had blue shining scales on its back and hind leg and blue furon the rest of its body. It had four ears, three eyes and was about twentycentimeters long, fourteen centimeters tall. The other present was a MoccaKart’s premium account card. Take received around seven so convincing Zax’sparents and his mom was not difficult, in addition, Zetsa intervened for hissupport.
The Zel family left the way they came, in the governor’sblack luxury vehicle.
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 tothe conclusion that it will be better to wait to after the Great Earth’s CorePursuit before enrolling Zax to a post Core School.
For the past month they weighed the pros and cons of sendingtheir young boy to a post Core School right after his vacation. It was adilemma 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 wasallowed to be postponed until January. Then, when the date to the next GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit is revealed to the public and is not later than the followingJune, enrollment can be postponed until then.
The reason of this leniency was the various changes that childrengo through after absorbing an Earth’s Core... When registering to a new schoolyear, especially at post Core Schools, switching schools is not permittedthroughout the year. In the fourth grade children are mostly being prepared tothe Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. During this event, the potential of manychildren to embark on the Martial path is easier to assess when they areparticipating in the last stage of the event. Therein lies the problem, if bychance a child shows great promise in the evaluation method, his or her namewill then be entered to a special registration list that mostly high tierMartial schools, high class families, successful organizations and such… dareto spend vast amount of their money for its yearly subscription. If a child’sfuture prospects are determined as “above average”, but the child alreadyenrolled to a post Core School and the school finds out the results of itsstudent in the evaluation method, it might not let go so easily from this “rawgem” and try anything to preserve it, resulting in even harming the potentialof the child by rough and rush polishing.
Marco and Laylen made their decision by having faith in thepotential of their son. He was milder than their older daughter, Zetsa, andthey put a lot of effort not to make the same mistakes with him, but by doingso they overlooked and missed his uniqueness up until they learned of hisextraordinary accomplishments in the Young Mist Users Conference.
For the time being Marco and Laylen gave their consent tothe 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-roomapartment. The yellow patterns and diverse symbols of the activated InnerSpirit formation covered the four walls, floor and ceiling with blinding light.Nearly five hours have passed since Zax began his training. A layer of frostcovered him, giving the impression of an ice statue.
Hot cloud of steam came out of Zax’s mouth as he breathedsteadily. The temperature lowered again and the breeze, which struck like a clusterof throwing knives, pierced through the outermost layer of his skin as itpassed.
Zax released another cloud of steam and waited patiently. Itwas still too early. The temperature was not cold enough and the wind was tooweak.
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 ithappened a few times in the past. Presently, the formation restrictionsremained at the same level that they had been before he reached the Advancedphase of level G and by now he already properly crossed to the Top phase. Withhis ability to cope with the formation’s current level strengthening, thoughthe effect of the training was reduced, the gap between the outside world andthe inner world was shrinking.
An additional benefit of keeping the restrictions on theformation was the longest time Zax spent in the Inner Spirit formations themore insights he attained. For instance, when he first started training aftercrossing to the Advanced phase of level G, Zax realized that the body thatfroze and shattered every time he trained was a manifestation of his soul.Grasping this discovery, Zax began to experiment, using his soul energy whiletraining in the formation as if it was Qi or Mist energy. By doing so he foundout 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 Gshould be able to perform either soul defense or a soul attack was anothermatter entirely that Zetsa, after having the conversation with Zax about whathappened in the Young Mist Users Conference, made sure he will not revealbefore she will obtain a clear understanding of how he managed to execute thiswonder.
The low temperature finally began to affect Zax’s efforts toendure with the soul defense. “Qi is useless…” Zax gritted his teeth. Heattempted before to have his Qi energy as an additional support against theformation’s extreme cold but it ended up being unproductive. The formation severedthe connection between the body and soul. The fists that he clenched, the teeththat he gritted the breath that his lungs released, just like the cold and thewind, they were all an illusion. Hence, the Inner Spirit formation’scategorization as an illusionary formation.
After seven hours and thirty nine minutes Zax’s neck crackedand his head fell to his lap. Following a warm slender touch at the center ofhis chest, a gushing river of lava spread across the broken fragments of Zax’sbody. A short while later Zax opened his eyes, facing once again thewindowless, dark one-room apartment.
While circulating his breathing, Zax took out from a bagbesides the white mattress a flask of green tea and drank half of it. Next, heleft the room to check the time in his wristwatch. It was four o’clock in theafternoon. He started training in six o’clock in the morning and only ten hourshave passed, which showed his improvement.
“Tomorrow is my birthday”. His parents discussed this withhim couple of time during this month. Tenth birthday had great importance inKingdom Earth, in a way it was what many adults considered for the youngergeneration as the coming of age ceremony.
“I won’t be able to train…” He pondered if he should go backto sleep at home or at his big sister’s place as he done so already since thebeginning of the new school year. “Got to train, got to train. The bottleneckto the next level, a Mist User’s level is so close!” He made up his mind. Zaxclosed the door and went to the white mattress. Sitting and closing his eyes hestarted a Somnolence Meditation.
January one, year 5785.
“What should I do, grandpa Ger?”
Being unable to train to his heart's content, Zax helped histwo grandpas and two grandmas to set up the birthday decoration. It was weird,papering your own birthday. Usually loved ones were solely responsible for thisjob, but since Zax did not go to school his mom sent him to help and also spendsome time with his grandparents.
“Nothing, Zaxy, Laylen sent you hear because we rarely seeyou this days. Let your grandpas arrange everything. Sit on a chair and tell ushow have you been doing?”
Their whereabouts were at Marco’s parents’ farm. Grandpa Gerand 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 thesame cave, Zax visited them once a week or so, however, since the new schoolyear has started it somewhat stretched to a visit or two in a month.
Narrating aloud his daily routine, Zax for a time stayed inthe barn with grandpa Ger and grandpa Shi Chin, Laylen’s father, and for a timewent to the kitchen to taste the food and refreshments his grandmas weremaking.
At three o’clock everything was ready, but there were stillfour hours before the birthday party supposed to begin, so Zax and all of hisgrandparents sat together outside for a while and after grandma Ney packed abag of sandwiches and cold drinks they traveled through the pastures to see thecattle and sheep, some of the livestock which humanity brought to New Earth andmanaged 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’smother, almost lost her footing and fell backward.
“My life, Zaxy! No wonder you and Zizi are sister andbrother!” Granpa Shi Chin helped caught his wife. He had the same startled lookas the other three elders and could barely believe his eyes. Is own corelessgrandson could utilize his Qi!
“Hahaha… Zaxy, unlike Zizi who had a strong soul and coulduse her Qi at an even younger age you are a bit behind, hahaha…” Grandpa Gerlifted his juvenile grandson and stroked his hair. “Don’t mind it. I bet thereisn’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 notonce but twice, hahaha…” Granpa Ger laughed to his heart’s content. In hisspeech he might have discriminated his other children and grandchildren, but asthe only D level Mist User in the family, the most advanced Mist User in thewhole family by far, he was extremely overjoyed with his grandchildren who hadhigh 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 offendyou, but Zizi was simply a cute little freak since she was born. Shame none ofus paid her more attention…” He sighed.
“That is enough, Ger, don’t repeat what you said when theothers 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 soulor not”.
“That is completely correct, sweetheart”. Grandma Shi Oh andGrandma Ney cheered Zax together.
“Listen to your grandmas”. Grandpa Shi Chin told Zax afterhe calmed down.
In regards to their grandson’s Qi, they all were surprisedwhen steams suddenly burst out of Zax’s hand and the annoying calf, that triedto bite the blade of grass he waved around, frighteningly ran back to hismother.
With respect to Zax’s soul, apart from his parents and nurseElwood, no one knew that Zax was training in a soul refining techniques underthe guidance of his big sister, Zizi…
“Let us head back”. Grandpa Shi Chin held his wife hand andtogether with grandma Ney, who let Zax down, they change the topic.
“Our grandson Valv proposed to his girlfriend… Isn’t itabout time?”
“The lad is in his thirties, how long could he prolong itafter five years of a relationship?”
“Don’t dilly dally, Zaxy. You have shown us somethingincredible, but remember that you still have a long road ahead of you, if youwant 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 MistMaster”. Zax proclaimed.
“Hahaha, you sure have guts. How about first you surpassyour grandpa and then talk about Zizi?”
“Grandpa Ger”, Zax quietly thought to himself for a momentbefore calling. “High five!” mischievous grin was hidden beneath his sweetchildish face.
“Hahaha… Give me a strong one, Zaxy”. Grandpa Ger raised hishand.
“Where is your grandpa, Zaxy?” Grandma Ney asked when Zaxappeared by her side after a short run.
“He said that he is tired, his bones hurting again and wecan 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 tohelp with the food preparation. The adults, mainly, once handing over thepresents, sorted out a place for the fire and the meat since a lavish barbecuewas the main course meal of the birthday party.
The children who were cousins, school mates, neighbors ofZax 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 mannerthan a high class celebration like the one that was held a few months ago atthe Edomachi’s estate in cave twenty four. For obvious there were not anymaids, 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 eventssuch 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, whatdetermined 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 moneyhas been invested in it. Where in a lower class event there is only one factorto determine its quality, without ever mentioning its importance, which is thespirit of the people.
High class events are not about the celebration, but aboutthe pretense, flaunting, forming constructive relationships and to gain better reputationin the eyes of one’s peers. Honest display of solidarity had nothing to do withhigh class events.
Lower class events were a different case. Wealth and prestigewere redundant in the eyes of the common people. In their daily lives all they strivedfor 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 rejoiceat another's fortune as if it was theirs.
By nine o’clock Marco and Laylen have received more thanfour hundred guests. Safe to say that without the consideration of everyone whoarrived and thought to bring additional food for the celebration, the barbecuewould have ended earlier in the evening. Luckily, the people of cave twentyfive, at least, were used to no just enjoy a party, but making sure that itwill keep going for a long long time. What started with good meat on a giant metallicgrill, evolved to a lush banquet.
Occasionally, when Zax was having fun with his friends andyoung family members in the fields, around the long dining tables, circling thehuge fire (from a safe distance)… his grandpa Ger would toss him furtiveglances full of astonishment while rubbing his head at the same time.
When Zetsa greeted her grandpa she noticed his out ofcharacter behavior, thinking that old age beginning to affect the elderly. Shedid not want to insult the prideful man that was her grandfather by actingrashly and offering to replace him at the barbecue work.
“Thank you, Zizi”. Grandpa Ger took the beer battle Zetsaoffered him. From hours of work around the fire his clothes were drenched withsweat. 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 heatwearing regular garments could suffer life threatening burns. Granted, back inthose 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 hisface. “That Zaxy…” His eyes surveyed this granddaughter of his, who was knownas the most talented child to inherit the “Zel” surname.
Grandpa Ger turned his gaze from Zetsa to the meat andflames. “A soul attack… soul attack… a coreless boy… soul… attack…” he murmuredunintelligibly, nodding his head sideways with pale complexion.
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 twometers in diameter hole in the floor, an apartment in Zetsa’s building, a Morand 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 releasedto the public. This year the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit will launch earlierthan the year before, in the first of April and will continue until the thirtiethof June.
The fourth of April was the designated date for theparticipants from cave twenty five and the participants from seven other caves.
With another month and a half before the biggest event inevery coreless child’s life, not a lot of time remained for Zax to achieve the objectiveof the taxing soul training his big sister elected for him. Coincidentally, eightdays ago Zax’s interaction with the bottleneck of level F has reached acritical stage. Since then, Zax could not enhance his soul anymore by trainingin the Inner Spirit formation or by performing Somnolence Meditation, each timehe tried the results were less and less affective, as if behind the bottleneck wasan insatiable abyss that devoured all of his attempts to strengthen himself.
To pass through the difficult bottleneck in time for theGreat Earth’s Core Pursuit, after consulting with his big sister, Zetsa came upwith a method, which was more of a gamble, to improve Zax’s chances in a task thatthe number of coreless children who faced it before him could be counted on twohands, and for the number of those who passed successfully it one hand was toomuch.
Environmental Stimulus was the technique in question. Itemphasize on training all three aspects of a living being, body, Qi\mist andsoul at the same time in rotation in uncommon environments that the participantwas unaccustomed for. The belief was that by broadening horizons one canstimulate any of the three aspects or all three; therefore the probability toattain insight in his or her practice could increase significantly. Needless tosay 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 tosubstantial 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 everysecond of the day. The bottleneck to level F was not the same as the bottleneckto level E and D. Although it seemed insignificant, since any child above theage of ten who participated in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit has afterwardscrossed it, it was really misconception to believe that it is so simple. Onlythose who reached naturally to level F, that is, without an Earth’s Core, orresearched 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 instructinghim to do whatever he feels like doing, so they walked.
Leaving Zetsa’s Sun K-79 behind, they walked for hours, fromthe early morning till late at night when eventually they ended up arrivinghome. Since the mentioning of the word “training” Zetsa noticed that her Tal interpretedthe meaning of this method of exercise in a much complex manner than it was.
Admittedly she did not explain to Zax the concept ofEnvironmental Stimulus, for it was something he had to find out for himself,but as a result it turned out counterproductive. Still, Zetsa did not sayanything to Zax and at the second day she informed to pack a small backpackcause they were going back to get her Sun K-79. The predetermined second locationhad been replaced. The new second location was the road.
Going forward to a day later, Zetsa took Zax to theapartment building she owned. There, she picked one of the incompleteapartments, one with a giant hole in the floor, and told him to just seat downhowever likes. For two days they walked. On the first day the agricultural vicinitywas the epicenter of Zax’s environmental perception. On the second day it wasthe road and familiar buildings that were emptier than he recognized. It wasthe silent scenery that only a child who did not go to school nor have to workcould encounter. At the third day Zetsa wanted for Zax find to be at ease andmerge with an incomplete form, obviously, she did not tell him that either.
The fourth location was so radical that Zax lost the feelingin his legs when he and Zetsa arrived there. It was a little bit past tunnelseventy eight, one of the border tunnels between humanity’s territory and thebeasts’.
“Big sis… staying here is illegal for minors, you’ll be introuble…” Zax tried to alter her decision.
“No one will know, come on, there is a hill a kilometer thatway”. Zetsa ignored Zax’s pleas. She grabbed his hand and pulled him after her apatheticallyto his fears.
In New Earth any cave visited by a member of humanity, eventhose in the beasts’ territory, was numbered. There was only a slightdifference in the numbering process between the caves in humanity’s territoryand the beasts’. The first difference was that beasts’ caves that were numberedhad zero as an initial digit. The second difference was a rule that requiredthe humans who ventured into caves in the beasts’ territory to fully map thembefore retreating.
Cave zero eight was a soundless jungle. It gave theimpression that the only beasts roaming were the spirits of dead ones.Nevertheless, here and there were signs of large and small footprints and gustsof wind rattled the thick vegetation, carrying uniquely refreshing smells.
The hill that Zetsa took Zax was around a hundred meterstall. Many of the surrounding trees were much taller, though, and were able toprovide shelter from the constant baring light of the Sun Stones at the highceiling of the cave, since it did not have anything like the Nightly Coverformation applied to it.
“There are four tunnels connecting to this cave, Zax. Oneleads 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 stuckso close to her that his breath tickled her exposed bellybutton. The only thingthat he was shy of doing was cling to her leg, like his third years old selfwhenever 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. “Ina couple of hours I’ll return to take you back, Zax. Where I go is doesn’tmatter, why can’t I stay you should not ask and getting back on your own is onyou, Zax”. Her tone was rigid and callous. It was worse than a stab to thechest, treating he beloved little brother in such a harsh manner, but it wasfor his sake. There was not a lot of time remaining for the Great Earth’s CorePursuit and if Zax’s soul will not reach level F before that, much of hisfuture prospects will diminish.
“No… no… You can’t leave me her, big sis, I want to go, takeme back…” Zax was on the verge of crying. What he could not understand was whyhe was so uncomfortable, why the concept of being in the beasts’ territoryfrightened him to this degree.
Well, there was an answer, one which Zetsa was aware of andhoped that her little brother will be able to prevail against it. The answerwas Zax’s highly sensitive soul. Whether it was a coreless boy or a Mist Userat the Core Breaker level, if either of them was here instead of Zax, he or shewould not have felt any different than how he or she felt on the safe side ofNew Earth.
Of the three aspects of a living being, two are capable ofsensing the environment. The basic one is the body of a living being, whateverit may be. The more complicated one is the soul of a living being. A Mist Usercan first utilize the soul to sense the environment at the Beginner phase ofthe 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 withhis soul, especially involuntarily. Zax, however, was an enigma beyond commonsense. In comparison to a Core Breaker, his soul was of lower quality and hissoul energy in lesser quantity. From some reason, though, he still was able toperform a soul attack, even if by the simpler method there is. Sensing theenvironment, although a far more difficult feat, to a certain degree, byexperimenting for a while with the new grasp of his soul energy, has madepossible for it to developed on its own.
On top of the desolated hill, Zax stood alone. Zetsadisappeared in a speed he could not comprehend. Being there on his own, Zax’s SoulSense could extend only as far as the skin on his body. Generally, he was notable to perceive farther than his body sense of touch, but when he came to contactwith specks of the environmental essence he could feel a minuscule bit of theterror it carried. As to what specifically was the source of the invisibleterror, that was too hard to tell.
Zax waited for hours, not daring to leave to hill, afraid toeven move from his initial place. Misperception of sounds and shadows deludedhim to think that sometimes something was watching him, sometimes he himselfsaw something besides the thick vegetation, other times to even feel warmbreaths at the back of his neck.
Where was his More? Where was Zetsa? Where was hisoverprotective big sister?
Zax asked himself countless time. “It’s not right… It’s notright…” Sensing one thing with his Soul Sense but been unable to perceive itwith his body five sense threw him off balance. Hours later, when the light inthe far away tunnel to cave twenty five dimmed, Zetsa returned. She did not sayanything nor assessed the tensed Zax from up close. She grabbed his hand andpulled him back after her apathetically.
Another three days passed. Now.
“Forcing a breakthrough is impossible, Zax”. Zetsa sat nextto him in the incomplete apartment, giving only this advice, and then quietlycontinued to watch him.
Zax did not care. He was restless. He could not train ormeditate like he used to. Not only that, he was stuck in the same juncture forsuch a long time. It was a first for him to really struggle. In the past thepath of training laid all he had to do before him. Staying in the activatedInner Spirit formation for as long as he can, dismantling the icy grains orreplacing steady sleep with Somnolence Meditation. He had done them all. Noneof them was easy to begin with but at least they were not obscure.
The bottleneck of level G? He tried to remember how he brokethrough it, but back than it happened spontaneously and since the differencesbetween the Advanced and Top phases of the previous level and the early phasesof level G were typically infinitesimal, he could not grasp any insight inrelations to the process.
Most of all, there was tomorrow. The return to the fourthlocation. Zax had nightmares for three consecutive nights. In those dream hestood at the top of the hill, waiting for his big sister. The giant trees wereoverbearing than in reality. Their height was unfathomable. They loomed aboveZax’s head, hiding the cave’s ceiling, enabling a scarce number of light raysto penetrate through the leaves and branches and illuminate the closest layerof tree trunks that surrounded him. And from the darkness, the darkness behind thefirst layer of three trunks, Zax could sense his fears taking form andapproaching.
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 onhis bottom. He sat for two hours since the day has started a cave away. Hisback by now was bending forward and his neck was down. He was tired but hecould not sleep.
“If I close my eyes they will appear”.
“They” were the surreal things that terrorized him in hisdreams, which were the reason for his lack of sleep for the past month and ahalf. He never saw or heard them, but he did smell and felt them, and even moreso on top of the cursed hill.
When one aspect of a living being is in turmoil, the othertwo bound to also suffer. Since the night after his first experience in thefourth location, Zax began to develop difficulties controlling his Qi. Hewanted to put aside the burden of his soul training, however, ignoring thedisarray of his soul has made it impossible for him to concentrate on an aspecthe just recently became aware of and did not have time to properly examine.
His unsettled soul also affected his body. Day by day, Zaxbegan to eat less and less. A week has passed and he lost two kilos of hisweight. At the following week he lost another two, and then four and one… In away, that got Zetsa to worry about him even more so than the inability to controlhis Qi. His parents, as well, started to doubt her methods of training. Shediscussed it with them couple of times during the past month and a half andmanaged to convince them by saying that it all will be over before the GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit and implored them that she knew what she was doing. Zax’sbig sister and parents ended up supervising him during his meals. Theyforcefully made him eat even if he did not want to, even if he told them thathe feels nausea. After Zetsa’s explained, Marco and Laylen understood that Zax’sbody only projected the imbalance of his soul and in truth, no matter how illhe seemed to be, The best thing for him was to nurture his body as he regularlydid.
“I’m tired… I’m tired…” Zax constantly repeated. “There theyare! No, there! Behind me? Where are you? Leave me alone!” The instant heclosed his eyes and slipped into the nightmarish dream world, Zax’s Soul Senseintensified, decrypting with almost ease the cautionary tales of theenvironmental 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 findanything he sat again and sobbed for an hour.
“Why did you do this to me, bigsis? Why I have to suffer so much, big sis? If it’s for a breakthrough, I nolonger want it…” Zax rubbed his eyes, his whole face, his head in frustration. “Thisthings… I don’t want to stay here anymore, big sis, please come and get me, bigsis…”
After three more hours Zax calmeddown a bit. The body’s fatigue since passed, though only temporarily. Somechanges also occurred to his soul. None were significant or allowed him tofinally figure how to break through the bottleneck to level F, but once in awhile, after this long time of continuous agonizing, were moments of clarity inwhich the stress to his soul was even invigorating.
Zax took advantage of these tranquil moments tomeditate. His intentions were not to enrich a part of himself, rather to reminiscethe better days of his short life from as far as he could remember.
Remarkably enough, Zax couldremember as far as his first year in this world, despite the fact that so farback these memories were simply tiny fragments of major moments.
The more Zax drifted in his memoryline, the better he could make up certain events. One memory caught hisattention, him at the age of three strolling with his grandparents in theirfarm. It was midday and Zax first time walking freely in the open fields withno one in sight, for his grandparents were behind him. He was a small boy in awide space with nothing to obstruct him, and for a split second the moment Zaxremembered suddenly expended infinitely.
Another memory, years later fromthe 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 toschool with his mom. How lively and exciting were the streets when the road he walkedon headed to a new place, somewhere that even then he could tell was a step upfor 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, anothermemory appeared before Zax. His first time at his big sister’s place, his firstday of training. Throughout all of that day Zax was excited. Excited to betrained by his accomplished big sister, excited of going to become strong likethe fighters in the Earth’s Core’s showdowns, excited that his greatest desirewas taken seriously by an adult he looked up to. However, during the past monthand a half he was not so sure anymore. One part of him truly believed that hecould not handle the drawbacks of his current tribulations, while another partthat was separated by a miserly narrow line, somewhat still had the forte tohold out.
“That is…” In the blink of an eye thememory of him in his big sister apartment vanished and instead a peculiarmemory creeped on Zax. Following its appearance, along the cruise over thefluid like stream made of seemingly white energy, Zax could not locate anyother memory, recent or distant.
With but a brief glance, beforedevoting his fully attuned attention to the one picture that stretched high andwide beyond whatever he could perceive in his meditative state, Zax recognizedthe scene that took over.
“The hill!” Zax lost his composureand 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 mealone!” More than anything he was afraid that the memory of the hill, or othersthat were related, will contaminate the previous memories which granted himsolace.
Unknowingly, while the soul was onthe verge of breaking, the body started to heat up as bones emitted sounds ofcracking and muscles tensed, while correspondingly the Qi frantically gushedthrough the Qi channels in circulation.
Zax’s body swayed and fell to theground of the hill as blood ejected from his mouth. Nevertheless, his eyes werekept closed. Enduring an external and internal eruption of numbing pain, Zax forsookhis well being wholeheartedly.
“Away! Away… awa…” As the last ofhis strength faded, only silence remained in his consciousness. Zax’s bodystopped moving, his Qi settled down and the light of the distorted blur thatwas his soul gradually dimmed.
“Eh!” A single note of realizationawakened Zax from his beaten state. He pushed. He separated. He divided hismind 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.
Chapter 6 – A Bit Of Qi Utilization
Approximately three hundred meters from the hill, on whichZax was standing with a wide expression of wonder on his face that quicklychanged to an expression of utmost sense of achievement, Zetsa was watching herlittle brother with bated breath.
How long as she being doing it, observing Zax from afarwhenever she left him on top of the chosen fourth location? “Since the verybeginning” was the answer. Yes, it was not in Zetsa calculation that Zax’s soulwas so exceptional that it could develop a Soul Sense. Such strange occurrencehas made it difficult for her to estimate when it happened, which is why upuntil Zax showed the severe reaction to the environmental essence in a cavethat was part of the beasts’ territory even he was not fully aware of thisability.
“He actually made it”. Zetsa sighed and with no time tospend she leaped from one tree’s branch to another, toward the hill. “An Flevel soul that could use soul attacks and has Soul Sense… No! It was withinhis 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 benefitsof naturally breaking through the juncture of level F with your soul”. Zetsapraised her little brother\Tal. “Here you are!”
“Big sis!” For the first time in a long time Zax Jumped onhis big sister with the affection of a jolly little boy. His enormousachievement made him forget his sore body and Qi channels. “Hahaha… I knew you were behind me withouteven looking, hahaha…” Zax cheerfully declared. He was saying the truth, afterjust advancing to level F the condition of Zax’s soul was at its peak and his SoulSense extended to a radius of a hundred and thirty centimeters in which hisinner 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 appearfrom behind him and was even the first to call aloud.
“What was that? You say that you were able to tell that Iwas behind you?!” Zetsa questioned the words she thought came out of Zax’smouth and with him hugging her body like a little monkey she unconsciouslytouched her ears, to see if they were working right.
“What? You don’t believe me? Fine I’ll show you!” Zax gotdown from his big sister, turned his back to her and walked a few steps. “Doanything that you want, but don’t go too far and I’ll tell you exactly what youare doing without looking”. He urged her.
“Do something? Do what, Zax, stop playing. Your body and Qichannel went through a great ordeal of stress and tension. Come on, I’ll carryyou, we are going home”. External appearance was enough for one to grasp thestate in which Zax’s body was in. A little probing with her own Soul Senseallowed Zetsa to also figure the state of his Qi channels. Furthermore, whatdid Zax just ask of her? To entertain the idea that his Soul Sense could extendbeyond skin and hair, past one meter!
How could she believe it? A Mist User in the Core Breakerlevel, even at the peak of the exalted level, can extend his or her Soul Senseat most to a radius of a hundred and five centimeters. Zax took it one big stepfarther, literally! Zetsa did not accept nor believed that. The benefits ofnaturally advancing to level F, in regards to Soul Sense, she expected them tobe somewhat beneficial, but not to an extent that surpasses the proficienciesof 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 Iapproached him. How unreasonable is it?!” Zetsa probed the scenes of a momentago in her mind. “A skill that only Core Breakers can develop, for Zax who now hasa soul at level F, a radius of ten to twenty centimeters for his Soul Sense isalready beyond my expectations. Fine, let’s test it”.
Zetsa stood exactly one hundred and ten centimeters fromZax. “Which hand am I holding up?”
“Your left”. Zax replied instantly. “I can tell even if youstood 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 feelingfrom before, the one that hunted me…” Although he was already past thatuncontrollable sensation that ran amuck through every fiber of his being,addressing it with words or in his inner mind still caused a deep distressingresponse to his soul, especially now that he could interpret its origins.
“Look here, Zax”. Zetsa bent her legs in a sitting positionand with her finger drew a short line on ground. “This is the length of onecentimeter”. She explained. “The thing that enables you to sense theenvironment to a certain degree is called “Soul Sense”. Try to extend the reachof your Soul Sense with the inner mind as far as you can and then count howmany lines like this one you can place in a sequential order. Oh, and startfrom the center, where you are standing”.
“A hundred and thirty lines, big sis”. Using the perceptionof the inner mind, Zax needed ten seconds to count. He did not have to put anyeffort to the task, though at the Beginner phase of the F level, Zax benefitedin more than just his Soul Sense. The quality of his soul had no parallelwithin the scope of the F level. To place imaginary lines and count them in acertain order in ten seconds was a plain assignment.
Even so, Zax’s unique soul was not able to process andinterprets everything within the radius of his Soul Sense as fast as a CoreBreaker, 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 secondsto count all the lines.
“That’s wonderful, little Zi”. Astonished from theconformation, Zetsa lifted her brother from the ground and held him with handsstretched. “My little Zi is so magnificent!”
“Haha…” Zax laughed.
“You’ve done well, little Zi, much better than me, I mustsay”. Zetsa took him close to her bosom, ready to depart from the hill. “Areyou well?” She asked.
“Yes”. Zax replied with a soft smile and drained face. Awarm and fuzzy feeling radiated from his big sister’s body, entered his bodyand 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.
Zax woke up after sleeping soundly for twelve hours. “SoGOOOOD!” He exclaimed when he realized that his body, Qi channels and soul wereno longer aching, as he was already used to due to the constant anguish andforgot how it felt to wake up peacefully.
“Grughghg!” Zax’s stomach growled. “I want to eat!” Hugeappetite 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 theliving 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 houseand even outside of it. “Big sis?” Using his soul sense he made his away to theliving 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. Itwas night and he spoke aloud, but he really was hungry, too hungry to payattention to the sleepy faces of his parents or slightly care.
“Zax?” Both Marco and Laylen were surprised at their sonchange of attitude that they continued to stand, holding each other. “Are youreally hungry, do you want to eat?” Laylen asked gently, afraid of soundingimposing, afraid to scare away the spark she had not seen for a long while andnow, all of a sudden, returned to her son’s eyes.
“He is well, mom, dad, Zax finished this long session oftraining. He got back to his usual self. His soul advanced to the level of a Flevel Mist User”. Zetsa informed their parents with an apologetic smile.
They returned home around ten o’clock at night and at thattime their parents were already asleep. Zetsa decided to wait until themorning, 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 tightlybetween her arms. “You are okay, Zax, my Zax, my Zax. Sure honey, anything youwant, mommy will make anything for you”.
“Laylen…” Marco eyes reddened. Was it not worried about hisson? Was he not worried about his wife? He was. The cool head of the family, lenientin times, strict in others. He carried himself day in day out with a firmdisposition for his son to turn to, for his wife to lean on, for his daughterto 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 levelF with his soul, Laylen”. He spread his arms around his wife and son. “Did youever 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, lookat his eyes”.
“And his stomach, mom, don’t forget the stomach! I’mhungry!” Zax added.
“Sure, I won’t dare. Let’s make a feast for all of us toenjoy. 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 Zetsawhile Marco cleaned the dishes and Laylen prepared new sheets for his bed sincethe old ones were dirtied by his sweaty and dusty clothes that he wore sincehis last session of training and went to sleep in.
The next morning Zax woke up around seven o’clock in themorning. He was not tired, but he felt that if he allowed himself he couldsleep 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 twomonths. If you’ll force too much too fast you’ll harm your body”. Zetsaeducated, afterwards Zax’s eating pace slowed down a little.
“What are we gonna do today? Are we going the grandpa Ger’sfarm?” Zax asked.
In three days he and all the other ten years old kids ofcave twenty five will depart to the place where the Great Earth’s Core Pursuitwill occur and even though he reached the goal of his soul training, he was alittle 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 anew training session, but don’t you want to learn some cool techniques that youcan execute with your Qi?”
Outside the abandoned construction site which was Zetsa’sincomplete apartment building, what was meant to the receiving lawn by nowsprout 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 andgracefully raised her hand in a waving motion.
In the blink on an eye, silvery particles of mist energycreated a wave of cutting wind that trimmed the greenery to a fine length ofone 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 anice and open field fit for an outdoor training.
“Whoa!” Zax called out, full of awe. The hasty gardening wastoo fast for him to perceive. In his eyes the scenario was divided into twoparts, 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 theair, as if the earth burped it out.
“Here is good”. Zetsa took off her shoes and walkedbarefooted on the trimmed and tickling grass. “Come here, little Zi, take offyour shoes and socks, as well”. Zetsa invited Zax with a smile on her face. Ina way, it felt like they were on a lovely picnic without anything but a lawnavailable to lie on and the company of each other.
“Let’s sit down for a bit, little Zi, before I’ll teach youthe Qi utilization techniques, though, don’t expect much, you should finallyget to know why I chose to train you in soul refining techniques instead of Qirefining techniques”.
“Isn’t it because the soul is harder to train and so thebenefits 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 converta regular person to a Mist User after absorbing an Earth’s Core?”
“Hmm… We learned about it last year in school. Afterabsorbing an Earth’s Core, through meditation a person needs to form the firstcrack on the Earth’s Core’s shell. When that happens, a person will then becomea Mist User starting at the lowest phase of the lowest level. Our teacher alsoexplained 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 Qiand mist in the body, which will be a level higher than a regular person, andsimilar to the Qi, the soul will also advance a level”.
“Exactly!” Zetsa shouted. Excitedly she asked Zax anotherquestion. “And if you are already in that “higher level”, what then?”
“Then…” Zax repeated, still dumbfounded from his bigsister’s autistic behavior. “Then…!” He said again and his eyes widenedabruptly. “Are you saying?!” Zax exclaimed.
“Yes!” Zetsa lips twisted to a broad grin. “Now that youhave reached level F with your soul, after you will absorb an Earth’s Core andform the first crack in its shell, your soul will instantly advance past thebottleneck of the next level, it will reach level E!” Zetsa laughed. “And thatis not even the kicker, hahaha, unless it’s a medium quality Earth’s Core, orhaving above average talent, even if you reach level F with your Qi, you willstill 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 insoul 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 didnot want to spoil Zax’s joy; however, misleading him would have wronged himeven worse. “Nevertheless, the difficulties of wholly advancing one’s level aretied to the level of one’s soul. The soul is the nucleus of a living being, it cannotmaintain 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 thecultivation and advancement of the Qi or mist up to it matching its level”. Shehastily added.
In truth, even if Zax’s soul remain in level F, advancingthe next two levels still will be far easier than naturally breaking throughthe bottleneck of level F. Until he will reach the bottleneck of level C, it issafe to say that the road ahead of him was paved neatly.
“Now that you understand, let’s proceed to the next matterin hand”. Zetsa got up and Zax, who was already on his feet, eagerly clenchedhis fists and dug into the earth with his toes.
“First, the one and only principle of what you are about tolearn. What I’ll teach you shouldn’t be taken as a formal technique of anysort. To a coreless boy who didn’t even scratch the surface of this abundantaspect of himself, there is no way for you to learn in time any real Qi relatedMartial 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 superficialsurvival 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 throughthe 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 thesoul. The Qi isn’t accumulated in one place like the soul, but spreadthroughout your body. Take your time; verify that your consciousness reaches everynook and cranny within your body. With the level of your soul you should becapable of doing it, just don’t be rush. Even to an Earth’s Core Holder it cantake hours to form full connection with whole of the mist in the body”.
Nearly two and a half hours later, Zax concentrated facegradually relaxed and a serene expression appeared in his eyes. “When I felt itbefore it wasn’t like this, tangible to this extent…” Maybe only in hisexplosive first time, though back then he definitely was not in control.
Zetsa watched him and slightly nodded with approval. “Being repeatedlypushed 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 Qiand all of it”. Zetsa opened. “Remember to reach this proficiency whenever youuse 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 GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit, this will become your first method of training beforeproceeding to mist refining techniques”.
“Okay, big sis, what now?” Zax took to heart Zetsa’steaching and awaited for further instructions.
“Now, Zax, you will observe and imitate what I’ll do. Moveback 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 totruly be engraved in Zax’s mind.
A silvery thick misty aura immerged from Zetsa bodyinstantly. Distortions in the air signified the vast power Zetsa withheld. “I’lluse my aura to help you visualize the process, but I’ll do so only once so patattention”. Spreading her arms to the sides she kept saying. “This is a hundredpercent usage of my mist energy, gashing out from every pore of my body. Try ityourself”.
Zax watched and obeyed. Spreading his arms in the samemanner, the best that he could do with his Qi was let it flow throughout hisbody as it did before, while this time maintaining a thread of consciousnessfor instant take over.
Five minutes had passed. Zax’s calmed demeanor began tofrown 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 heraura. “The quality and amount of Qi you possess is insufficient for a prolongusage. Rest for ten minutes, let your Qi channels recuperate”.
Ten minutes later.
“Times up. Get a grip on all of your Qi again”. Zetsa saidsince Zax ceased the thread of consciousness.
This time it took Zax two hours to gain full awareness toall of his Qi.
“Arms to the sides”. Zetsa said and spread her arms also. “Thefirst time was to let you realize that even if you don’t execute a profound Qior 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. Butit doesn’t mean that you only have a limited amount of Qi to spend in yourentire life.”
“Let me simplify it. Think of Qi and Qi channels like anextension 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. Excessiveuse of Qi, in cases like yours even a little usage, will reduce the Qi in yourbody and tire the Qi channels, to recuperate what you do?”
“Rest”. Zax answered involuntarily, but he began to feeltired again and wished his sister will hurry.
“Much like what you do when the body is exhausted, you restand 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. Neverforget, 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 aurawith your Qi”. Arms to the sides, Zetsa’s aura began to move slowly from herleft side of the body to accumulate only in the right side.
Imitating his Mor, Zax controlled the Qi in his body andallocated it to only the right side of his body.
“Excellent. On to the next step”. Zetsa complimented andshifted her aura only to the upper right side of her body.
Once again imitating his Mor, it took Zax a few seconds thistime to concentrate his Qi only in the upper right side of his body.
“You are doing well, Zax, two more steps”. Zetsa said. Her fullaura then moved to cover only her right arm. The great concentration of silveryparticles made it seem as if Zetsa’s arm was made out of pure silver.
“Urgg…” Zax shrieked. The more Qi he accumulated onto oneplace and the smallest that place was, the more it felt like filling a half aliter bottle with a greater and greater amount of water.
“Remember this feeling. That’s your current limit”. It wasalready within Zetsa’s predications and a good lesson for Zax. “If you’ll tryto concentrate your Qi in an even smallest space in your body, your Qi channelsmay tear apart. Helping you then, even I don’t have the confidence, so don’tpush yourself!”
“Okay, big sis, last step, last step”. Zax winced.
“The last step”, Zetsa smiled and decided to spare the surroundings.“Punch the ground!”
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.
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.
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 ahundred meters at the entrance to tunnel seventy seven from cave twenty five.
Families from all over cave twenty five accompanied their eligibleyoungsters and saw them get on the busses. Approximately six hundred and fortyparticipants were about to be sent from cave twenty five, this year.
For the second consecutive year Zetsa volunteered as the representativeGuardian 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 thecave’s management office. “Zax”, she called him. “Come here”. She asked in alow voice.
Putting down the fork on the breakfast plate, Zax got up tosend off his big sister. “I’ll see later, big sis”.
“I know you will. I didn’t call you for that”. Zetsa rubbedhis unruly morning hair. “Listen, Zax, I’m telling you now cause later I simplywon’t have the opportunity. In the search big sis won’t be able to help youfind Earth’s Cores. It’s against the representative Guardian’s event rules; atmost 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 toimpart on him. “Even if you won’t find an Earth’s Core, you will still receivea compensatory one at the end of the search, that, however, is not what I wantyou to remember, Zax. What you should remember is that even if you will beforced to absorb the Earth’s Core that the event’s committee arranged for thosewho didn’t find during the search, by no means try to form the first crack orany crack on the Earth’s Core’s shell”.
Zetsa bent closer to Zax’s ear. “As long as the Earth’s Coreis intact in your dantian, you can use your unique soul to push it out. Don’tdo it in front of others, if you already absorbed the Earth’s Core wait for meto take care of things”.
Listening to his big sister, at first Zax wanted to ask herif it is really possibly to remove an absorbed Earth’s Core, yet when he wasabout to ask her, a more pressing question came out. “If I’ll take out theEarth’s Core, what then?”
“Then, although it may take some time, your big sis will doa few favors and get you a better Earth’s Core than you can get from theevent’s committee”.
“Good quality Earth’s Core?!” Zax nearly jumped ofexcitement.
“Do not let your imagination get carried away, little Zi.Your big sis will do her best”. Zetsa refrained from promising something toogood. 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 manwith a black wig on his head. He was the head manager of cave twenty five’smanagement office, Nuci Poweil. Unlike governor Edomachi, Nuci Poweil did notpossess the “Governor” title and was a mere representative of the esteemed highclass 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. “Theirchances 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, Iremember, that there was a kid who was in the last batch and found a highquality Earth’s Core, while two years ago, within the first five groups from Tongguowho entered the search cave in their region, each and every child came backempty handed. If anything, I’d say that it is all about luck”.
“Well, luck is something that none of us can control. Inthis case it’s best to be among the first groups and hope the heavens andSupreme Ruler look fairly on all of our children”. Head manager Nuci was in hislate seventies and managed cave twenty five for more than forty years. Over theyears he sent thousands upon thousands of participants to take part in theGreat Erath’s Core Pursuit. Obviously he had a better insight in regards to thematter in question, thus, Zetsa could not contradict his pearls of accumulatedwisdom 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 theyoung participants.
When all the kids sat in the busses, placing their provisionsbackpacks on their knees and before their families waved them good luck andgoodbye, Head manager Nuci, a C level Mist User, Core Breaker, amplified hisvoice with his mist energy and delivered a customary speech.
“Young future Mist Users and valued families members. It isa great honor for me that today I, Nuci Poweil, get to send once more and forthe forty fourth time as the head manager of cave twenty five, our young ones ontotheir most significant journey in their life.
“Children of cave twenty five, tomorrow you will face themost taxing challenge that any coreless child faces once in his and her lifethat will determine how great your future is going to be.
“It is not a challenge that you should be afraid of. On thecontrary, it is your moment to transcend the limitation you have been livingwith so far, from coreless children to full fledged Mist Users!
“Children of cave twenty five, I wish you the watchful andblessed eye of the heavens and our Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch”.
Head manager Nuci finished with abow, turned his head to Zetsa, who sat near the driver on the first bus, andwith a slight node wished her an ample journey.
Zax sat at the back of the bus withSerah, Dane, Anet and a few other kids from his old school.
“My sister participated two yearsago in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, you know”, Zushi Sarker, a short, blondhair blue eyes kid lowered his head and talked with a hand on his mouth. “Shetold me that no matter what, me, and my friends better form a group beforeentering the search cave”. His blue eyes turned to the seven kids next to himand 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?” WeyseyInoki, a black hair green eyes boy raised the question before Zushi got tofinish what he was saying.
“Think about it yourself. What willhappen if you’ll find an Earth’s Core?” Zushi asked.
“The rules state that if aparticipant finds an Earth’s Core he or she has to leave the cave and show itto the attendant who stays at the entrance of the cave”. Weysey answered as ifhe was quoting his homeroom teacher.
“See, here is the problem. What ifyou will come across other participants on your way to the attendant?” Zushiswept his gaze across the understanding faces of his friends. “I’m not sayingthat we should form a group to steal from others, only to protect ourselves. Mysister told me that the representative Guardians aren’t really there to keep usin order or so that no harm will come us, at least not from other participants”.
“I’m okay with forming a group, ifit’s only to protect ourselves”. Serah said.
“Me too”. Anet also agreed and theother five, beside Zushi who came up with the idea, including Zax also noddedin agreement.
“If we form a group we need aleader”. Merly stated.
“Sure. Zax, you’ll be the leader”.Zushi said without hesitating even though the idea was his.
“Me?” Zax felt a bit uncomfortableacting as the leader.
“You were the strongest boy in preCore School, plus you are Miss Zetsa little brother, how can you be anythingless?” Truly, if not on the Martial path, then at least on the political oneZushi will most definitely have a bright future!
“Fine, if that’s what everyonewants”.
Sure enough everyone nodded inagreement.
“But how will we decide how todivide the Earth’s Cores if we’ll found any?” Dane raised up the question.
“We can do it like this”, Zushibegan to explain. “If one of us finds an Earth’s Core, that is, the first tolocate it with the eyes, then he or she will call “not here”, best if it wouldbe loud enough only for the members in our group to hear, and the Earth’s Corewill be his or her. If more than one member of the group calls “not here” atthe same time for the same Earth’s Core, then those who called “not here” willdecide who gets the Earth’s Core by a game of rock paper scissors”.
“Sound reasonable”, Dane felt theneed to give his approval. “But what if you already found an Earth’s Core andlocates another one?”
“Well, the only opportunity forsomeone who already has an Earth’s Core to find another one will be when therest of the group will escort him or her to the attendant at the entrance tothe cave. If that happens, then those who found another Earth’s Core can choosewhich Earth’s Core they want to keep and the rest of the group will play a fewrounds 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 wea group?” He whispered.
“We are”. The other seven whisperedback, among others who had the same idea.
Cave one hundred and thirty ninewas a border cave within Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch’s region, El-Eden, and thegathering cave for all of the ten years old participants of El-Eden and their representativeGuardians.
Lines of busses from all overEl-Eden who carried tomorrow’s participants were parking in a giant parking lotnear a dome like compound. Besides the compound, which was more than a thousandhundred meters long, six hundred meters wide and ninty meter tall, were varioustents and two other square buildings that were each about a sixth of thecompound’s size.
“Participants of cave eighty seven,join here in rows of forty…”
“Participants of cave three, joinhere in rows of seventy four…”
“Participants of cave one hundredand forty one, gather up here in rows of fifty…”
“Participants of cave twenty five,assemble here in rows of forty…”
“Participants of cave eight, joinhere in rows of sixty…”
“Participants of cave one hundredand one, join here in rows of thirty…”
“Participants of cave ninety nine, assemblehere in rows of fifty five…”
The seven representative Guardiansfrom the seven caves of tomorrow participants ordered the soon to be “YoungMist Users” under his or her care. Some even utilized their mist energy andwith gentle touches of their aura helped the young ones to construct the rows.
When the first group was ready, itsrepresentative Guardians led it to the closest tent to the parking lot where abig sign read: “Registration Stand To The Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. Year5785!”.
Zax and his group of eight managedto sneak themselves to the head of one of the eleven rows to watch carefullythe registration process which sparked their and every other coreless childpresent, for that matter, curiosity.
A good looking woman, wearing blueuniforms with a white ribbon that stretched diagonally across her left shoulderto her waist and read: “GECP STAFF”, accepted Zetsa and the group from cavetwenty five. Since the small tent only meant to house the woman and a smalldesk with a computer on it, Zetsa actually stood outside of it.
“Here, the list of participantsfrom cave twenty five and my contact information as their representativeGuardian”. Zetsa handed the woman a small rectangle yellow chip. The staffmember 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”. Thewoman gave the ribbon to Zetsa, who immediately wore it in the same manner asshe 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 signbeside it which read: “Time Bracelets Registration Stand”.
“Tomorrow’s participants…” The manin in the Time Bracelets Registration Stand said to himself. The Time BraceletsRegistration stand had a huge tent filled with sealed boxes. Like in theprevious tent, Zetsa did not enter, but waited outside for the staff member toapproach her.
“Serialization token”. The man, whowas short with words, said to Zetsa. Zetsa gave the piece of paper she receivedfrom the woman at the initial registration stand.
The man looked at the serializationtoken and sighed. “This year they send the smaller group first…” He then turnedhis back to Zetsa. “You are good”. After so Zetsa turned as well and enteredwith her group to the giant compound.
Thousands of neat bunk beds filledmore than two thirds of the compound. Beside them were showers and bathrooms. Atone corner of the compound was a staircase to a second floor and at the centerof the compound was a lectern.
Zetsa was the second representativeGuardians to lead her group into the compound. The first representative Guardiansto arrive already ordered the boys in his group to settle and choose bunk beds.
“Boys of cave twenty five”, Zetsaopened aloud when the last of her group entered the compound. “Choose any ofthe bunk beds over there and settle your backpacks on them. Keep together anddon’t seek only bottom bunk beds. No one is allowed to go to the second floorand no one is allowed to occupy an empty bottom bunk bed if there are emptyupper bunk beds with participants from our cave, cave twenty five, who already pickedthe bottom ones! Go, you have ten minutes to choose beds in orderly fashion andreturn.
“Girls of cave twenty five, waitfor a while. Your bunk beds are in the second floor. Obey the same rules as theboys when you go up there. I’ll help you find a side for our group and whenI’ll leave none of you is allowed to go to the first floor until I’ll return!”
Zax’s group consisted of five boysand three girls. Before the five boys left they agreed with the girls no tomention anything about their already formed group and that if someone wouldask, either the boys or the girls, to join some other group they will say thatthey have to think about it.
Thirty minutes after the last ofthe representative Guardians arrived with her group to the compound and the lastparticipant from her cave laid his backpack on an upper bunk bed, a sternelderly staff member with a black ribbon across his chest, reading in redletters: “GECP DISCIPLINARY SUPERVISOR”, walked into the compound and stoppedin front of the lectern.
“Silence!” The elderly man, who,according to his ribbon, was the disciplinary supervisor of the Great Earth’sCore Pursuit event, amplified his voice with his mist energy and the dominatingaura of a Beginner phase Mist Lord exploded out him upward.
Instantly the more than fivethousands coreless participants, and even four of the representative Guardians,were paralyzed.
“Welcome to the one in a life timeevent, the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit”. The elderly man spoke with an indifferent tone and eyes that gave theimpression that they could inspect every detail of every person in thecompound, altogether!
“I’m the disciplinary supervisor ofthe event and the man who is responsible for overwatching the proceeding of theevent in cave zero thirty nine, El-Eden’s designated cave”. The disciplinarysupervisor drew back his aura but kept his harsh tone.
“Participants and representativeGuardians, every year there are tens of thousands new participants in the GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit. To ensure a safe and bright hunt for each and every oneof 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 toenter the unsafe zone! Inside cave zerothirty nine are two tunnels, of which, one is a forbidden tunnel leading deeperinto the beasts’ territory. The unsafe zone is guarded at all times by the event’sGuardians that will disqualify any participant who will try to go through any tunnelbesides the one he or she entered from to cave zero thirty nine.
“The second rule should already beknown to most of you but still require clarification. Twenty four hours afterthe beginning of the event, all participants, whether if you found an Earth’sCore or did not, must get back immediately to the attendant at the entrance ofcave zero thirty nine to sign that you participated in the event and yourfinds.
“DON’T BE MISTAKEN!” Thedisciplinary supervisor hastened to say. The preceding part was always thecause for many misunderstandings that he had no patient to deal with. “Even ifyou 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 Coresavailable for distribution to any of the unlucky ones. Please realize, all ofyou, participation in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit is not a chance for you togain Earth’s Cores in order to become Mist Users. “Participation” means thatyou get one chance to find the best Earth’s Core out there to better your positionand future prospects as dignified Mist User!”
“Best Earth’s Core?”
“High quality Earth’s Cores?”
“They definitely won’t give thosewho come back empty handed any good Earth’s Cores”.
“Yeah, probably the lowest qualityEarth’s Cores…”
“Common Earth’s Cores like my mom’sand dad’s…”
“High quality Earth’s Core! Highquality Earth’s Core! High quality Earth’s Core!”
A wave of whispers and speculationmixed with cries of excitement could not help but resonate in the compound. Tothe ten years old coreless children the knowledge that they will soon pass the thresholdtoward the greatest opportunity that they will ever get in their entire life, toreceive the chance to search for those legendary Earth’s Core that only one ina million can find, made many of them drool buckets.
“Settle down, settle down…” Theelderly man said mildly. Although the disciplinary supervisor, he still gavehis consent, to some degree, for the children’s boisterous excitement. Afterall, with children the louder the noise the higher the spirit and in a pitifulevent, such as the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, sometimes high spirit was adequateto compensate the lack of fortune that many will encounter.
“Participants of cave eighty seven,quiet down!”
“Participants of cave three, stoptalking!”
“Participants of cave one hundredand forty one, keep it down!”
The representative Guardians sawthat the disciplinary supervisor, an A level Mist User they all respected, didnot want to topple the children’s enthusiasm by force like when he entered, sothey used their own aura to aid him, since their aura and voices were bothfamiliar and, in a way, more authoritative from the perspective of the childrenthey were responsible of.
“Now that all of you have calmeddown, know that I will not accept any more interruption. Try me and I will cuthours from your time of the hunt!” The voice of elderly disciplinary supervisorsounded resolute and right after it sank in the mind of every child in thecompound, a hush fell over.
“The third rule I should mention isan 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 braceletwhich function as a timer that will show you how long do you have in the huntuntil 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. Thetime bracelet will calculate your remaining time and distant from tunnel threehundred and twelve and will turn red to notify that you should head back beforethe end of the twenty four hours you each have in the hunt. Anyone who willdare to be late will not receive an Earth’s Core, whether if he or she foundone or not, until a month after the official end day of the event!”
Chapter 8 – Pursuing Earth’s Cores
“Now then, the fourth and last rule…” The disciplinarysupervisor nocked on the lectern. “No one is allowed to venture outside of yourresidency. To those of you who have difficulties to understand, you cannotleave to compound we are currently in. And once you will be divided andtransferred to the two square buildings, you cannot leave them, either, withoutpermission! There will not be farther explanations. Disobey any of the fourrules and think of it as if you brought upon yourselves the wrath of SupremeRulers! ” The disciplinary supervisor turned and left the compound with hislast warning still roaming in the air.
From start to finish the elderly disciplinary supervisor didnot say anything regarding fights, thefts or even grouping many against oneduring the “Hunt”, as he named the pinnacle part of the “Great Earth’s CorePursuit”. Only the participants who were in organized group took notice of it,some wondering, others secretly rejoicing. Of course, the seven representativeGuardians already knew the reason why the disciplinary supervisor did not sayanything about these conducts. Regardless of the young participants’ successrate in this event, in the end there will not be a child who will not have anEarth’s Core. So why not? Why not add a little bit more challenge besides the requiredluck? The earlier these children will learn how to safeguard their fortune, themore they will deserve to keep it.
There were not any quarrels or arguments about bottom bunkbeds or who showers first when the representative Guardians finished helpingthe girls settle in the second floor and afterwards left the compound.
In eight o’clock in the evening, after snacking on some oftheir rotations, Zax and the thousands other boys and girls received onenutrition tablet, each, from a group of fifty or so stuff members which came bythe 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 easyenough to swallow.
“Listen, everyone, the nutrition tablets that you receivedshould last you for twenty four hours. You should take them on an empty stomachtomorrow morning, so if you brought food with you, either eat it now or afterthe event, otherwise you’ll feel nausea and abdominal pains. If some of youstill can’t swallow tablets, it is fine to also chew on them or drink them withwater, however the taste will be awfully bitter so be aware and don’t wastethem by spiting them out. Eat them and your energy will last till the end ofyour search”. One stuff member on each floor explained to the groups of boysand girls. When the stuff members finished distributing the nutrition tabletsthey bid the young participants good night and a bountiful search.
The next morning at four o’clock, thousands of snackwrappers were thrown around the compound. The representative Guardians who cameto 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 trashchutes, all twenty in the boys’ floor.
The seven representative Guardians sighed in union. Thedisciplinary supervisor will rebuke them no doubt.
“Participants of cave eighty seven,get yourself organized and ready to leave…”
“Participants of cave three collectyour backpacks and get ready to leave…”
“Participants of cave one hundredand forty one, you have ten minutes to get organized…”
The seven representative Guardians led their groups in sevenlong lines to the entrance of tunnel three hundred and twelve.
Tunnel three hundred and twelve was extremely large! Atleast three hundred meters wide and two hundred and fifty meters tall. Itslength from cave one hundred and thirty nine to cave zero thirty nine was alsono joke, about seven hundred meters. A white partition of identical lengthsplit the tunnel into two sides, one for the returning participants of the previousday who came in bunches, the other for the new participants and their leadingrepresentative Guardians.
Zax and his group of eight converged at the head of the rowthey 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 ofthe group. She did so even though she was not obligated to do more than herrepresentative 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 foran elder sister”. Merly babbled.
“Did he say…?!”
Not many of cave twenty five’s participants knew of thespecial relationship between one of their peers and their representativeGuardian. Because of their parents they all knew that Zetsa was actually “MissZetsa”, a B level Mist User, Mist Master, capable of appraising the density ofthe mist inside an Earth’s Core and determine its quality. Hearing what thatone boy said to that other boy, who were both clenched together with six otherkids, about Zetsa, a Mist Master, all the close by participants from cavetwenty five wanted to puke their guts from envy.
“That boy… was “Zax” his name? Is he Miss Zetsa’s littlebrother?!”
“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 himto 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 patheticare we…”
“You’re pathetic! He freaking has a Mist Master to hisdisposal!”
Silent whispers escalated to loud whimpers. Soon everyparticipant knew about and cursed that one kid from cave twenty five who wasthe little brother of a Mist Master representative Guardian. Luckily, noteveryone was sure who the specific boy everybody talked about was since therewere thousands all around them.
In Zax’s group of eight, seven pairs of eyes looked at Merlywith furious expressions.
“Argh… I’m sorry everyone!” Merly lowered his flushedcheeks. “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 ofsharpness and adulation as Zushi or the confidence to look at his friends’ eyesas he made up the excuse.
“They can still follow us and grab the Earth’s Cores on ourpath before we do. Do you think Miss Zetsa is the kind of person to threaten childrenif that’ll happen?” Dane said.
“But they don’t know-”
“Yeah, I’ll bet some of them will be willing to try theirchances anyway. Miss Zetsa as her own duties in this event…”
The group’s internal conversation was in low voices so thatothers will not listen. However, that only heightened the agitation among theeight participants.
“Stop arguing, it doesn’t matter anymore what others haveheard. When the search will start just keep your eyes on the surrounding and ifanyone will follow you, put a hostile front together to scare them”. Zetsainterfered. Her voice reached only the ears of her little brother’s friends. “Iand the other representative Guardians, most of the time, will do patrolsaround the cave. If you want me to appraise Earth’s Cores, you can meet meevery 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 thetunnel”.
Zetsa’s offer brought excited smiles on the little faces ofZax’s friends. To have the support of a Mist Master they all were utterlythankful to the magnificent Miss Zetsa.
“Zax”, Zetsa focused hervoice only for her little brother to hear. “When we’ll get to the other side ofthe tunnel read my aura briefly with your Soul Sense. I’ll show you the exactdirection to the Hooked Beak rock”.
Along the path to the other side of the tunnel nearly ahundred staff members distributed green bracelets that showed “24:00:00” inneon colors, bright orange red.
“The timer will start when you’ll enter cave zero thirtynine. Remember to return when its color change to red!” Some of the staffmembered bothered to explain.
At the end of the tunnel the seven representative Guardiansstopped. Right where the partition ended, a tall old lady stood. By the look ofit the old lady was the attendant responsible to sign the returningparticipants and their findings and collect from them the time bracelets.
The seven representative Guardians bowed respectfully towardthe old lady. Clearly she was not as simple as her outward appearance.
“May I?” One of the seven representative Guardians asked theother six and they all nodded or shrugged.
The representative Guardian turned to the thousands ofcoreless participants behind him with a deep voice. “Twenty four hours. That’sall you have. Now, there will be no pushing or shoving until everybody is outof the tunnel. You lot, head out…” The representative Guardian then began tosend group, after group, after group of participants to cave zero thirty ninein bunches of fifty.
Since Zax’s group was at the head of their row, they got tobe among the firsts to enter cave zero thirty nine. Zax remembered what Zetsatold 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 aminuscule portion of an environmental essence flashed in his inner mind andleft a gut feeling that acted as a trail to the Hooked Beak rock, that is, as longas was willing to follow it.
“Come on, there are too many participants coming out. Let’sget far enough so no one will be able to follow!” Zax said and the other sevenagreed. A warm tingly feeling spread through their bodies, the hair on theirhands and legs stood on end and a shining glint appeared in everybody eyes. Thehunt as began!
Cave zero thirty nine was vast like a small city cave. Theshape of the cave was not a perfect square, but it was one more than it was acircle. The cave stretched far and wide, nine kilometers or so in eachdirection. It was more similar to the nature reserve caves than cave zeroeight. Though it had its wild element in the lush vegetation and rough terrain,there were also unpaved roads, shoes footprints and unsurprisingly and quitesadly, candy wrappers…
After two hour in the search Zax’s group took theirnutrition tablets. As they advanced deeper into the cave they became morepumped up for the search. They were all aware of the process of finding Earth’sCores since it was not complicated.
Earth’s Cores were most of the time beneath the earth. Inthe 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 whichpleases the eye, kneeling and hoping that underneath it there is an Earth’sCore.
The second way was venturing throughout the cave. There wasnot a shortage of Earth’s Cores that were partly above the surface, stuck toheavy rock or completely out of the ground. The challenge was detecting thembetween the dense vegetation and even the earth that had similar shades ofcolor. If following the second way, one can find an Earth’s Core ten minutesinto the search or come back empty handed. Regardless of the results, one willbenefit from a bit of insight into the beasts’ vicinity and a great adventurestory.
The third way was the least demanding but the most heinousand did not require any profound explanation. The third way was groupingagainst and stealing from other participants.
“I bet the nature reserve caves have plenty Earth’s Corescatter around”. Serah groaned. It has been three hours since their group of eightentered cave zero thirty nine and yet they could not find one Earth’s Core inthis miserly cave.
“There can be hundreds of thousands of Earth’s Core in thenature 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 roadswithout a permit, and they don’t give any for Earth’s Cores hunting”. Zushisaid aloud what everyone already thought in respond, even Serah.
In the residential caves of Kingdom Earth it had been coupleof hundred years since someone, literally, stumbled upon an Earth’s Core. Forvarious reasons, fanaticism – which can be interpreted as fear of Nature – asthe most prominent, pursuing Earth’s Cores in Kingdom Earth was an illegalactivity. If someone accidentally found one in a residential cave it stillwould have been tolerable, but if someone dared trespassing into the secureareas of the nature reserve caves, a severe punishment will be inflicted uponthem.
Now, why would someone want an Earth’s Core when everyone inthe general public already had one? Well, the common answer will be for money.Pursuing Earth’s Cores the conventional way in Kingdom Earth was indeedillegal, but selling and buying Earth’s Cores was the unconventional marketthat only the top tier of the high class of Kingdom Earth got to enjoy, sincethey, basically, were the only ones who could afford it.
Normally, in Kingdom Earth, Earth’s Cores are divided oneper person regardless of statues. The exceptions are often Earth’s Cores thatare donated to Martial or scientific research, and less often, Earth’s Coresthat 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. Thegroup 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 askand besides her the rest of the group waited in anticipation for good news.
“No, I didn’t”. Zax waved his hand casually, shattering thehope of his friends. “But wait… Big sis taught me something which might help…” Zaxsaid vaguely on purpose. Anything that was related to his training could not beshared with others without his Mor’s permission first.
Focusing with his inner minds, Zax used his Soul Sense tothe best of his abilities to grasp some of the secrets of his surroundings. Aninvisible force in the shape of a bubble released from Zax’s soul and surveyedthe space in its small domain.
Zax frowned, though his Soul Sense was much more helpfulthan all his other senses in this situation, it was still very limited. Zaxwalked like a nomad, not doing his baffled friends the favor of illuminatingtheir wondering minds of what he was doing, nor paying attention to them atall. Using his Soul Sense was very straining and demanded Zax to maintain hisutmost level of concentration. Then again, after ten minutes it undeniably paidoff 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 youfind an Earth’s Core? What did Miss Zetsa taught you?”
“Dig there!” Zax pointed his finger without even raising hisgaze from the hard soil. “Pick a sharp stone to cut it. It’s just beneath therightmost tree’s root!”
Zax dug nine centimeters before the tip of his index fingerfelt the buried, roundish smooth surface. The light reflected from the smoothsurface of the first Earth’s that he found mirror the exquisite mist that wastrap inside.
“By our glorious Supreme Ruler!” Weysey cried. “There aretwo! Guys, there are two Earth’s Cores under the root!”
“What?” Even Zax was in shock. He was sure that there wasonly one Earth’s Core buried two centimeters under the bulk root.
“One here, two less than a meter over there!” Mi, the shyestmember of the group, gasped stupefied. “Amazing, Zax, you are too amazing”. Shesaid in total admiration and jumped on Zax’s back.
“Ah?” Zax felt awkward.
“Amazing!” Dane burst laughing. “O, almighty lord Zax, allowme 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, makeplace, Mi, Dane”. Merly butted in with more than fifty kilos of pure fatdangling in his stomach as he prepared himself to jump on Zax.
Sensing an impending disaster, with a swift motion Zaxpushed Mi and Dance off his back rolled with the newfound Earth’s Core in hisright hand before Merly crashed on him.
“Stop it!” Serah reprimanded the three overexcited groupmembers. 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 seeinghow affectionate Mi was with Zax. Nonetheless, she was too reserved to show it.
“Yeah, sure”. Zax got up with a grin. He retrieved his SoulSense and shifted his consciousness back to the outer mind. “Look”. He liftedhis hand for Anet and Serah, the two closest to him, to see the thing whicheveryone currently in cave zero thirty nine coveted.
“Hahaha, Zax, if you can repeat whatever you did to find theseEarth’s Cores our search will end earlier than we expected”. Zushi and Weyseystepped forward together, each holding a round and brownish Earth’s Core.
“You are exaggerating, Zushi, I only found two Earth’sCores. The third on was unexpected”.
A bit reluctant, Zushi and Weysey passed the two Earth’sCores to Zax. “Which one are you planning to take for yourself?” Zushi asked.
Seeing the envious glances of his friends Zax sighedinwardly and looked at the three Earth’s Cores in his hands. He was interestedin the Earth’s Core that he missed. Using his Soul Sense one more time, he wascurious if he could perceive its existence. Oddly enough, there were noproblems sensing it at all. His Soul Sense detected three round objects withsmooth 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 todetermine their quality.
“The seven of you can compete for all three”. Zax gave thethree Earth’s Cores back to Zushi. He decided to relinquish is right as the onewho 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 wasinsanely lucky to already find three Earth’s Cores. Soul Sense or not, it willnot be easy to find another five.
“Zax…” Amazed, Serah wanted to sway his mind, but Zax turnedhis back before she could say anything.
“Are you sure Zax?” Dane asked.
“Yeah, don’t be overconfident. We are not the first group inthis year event. More than ten thousand participants already were here beforeus…” Zushi reminded.
Although each of his friends tried to convince him, Zax knewthat they also coveted these three Earth’s Cores very much. The chances of thembeing of better quality than the ones the event’s organizers have kept asidewere a lot higher.
“Forget it. I’ve already made up my mind. Do rock paperscissor 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 otherand raised their hand.
“I wonder who will win…” Zax saw a big rock with flatsurface and sat on it. “Let’s see if I can predict what each will do”. Theeight were pretty close to him, within the range of his Soul Sense. “Eh!” Zaxcried astonished beyond belief. He jumped on his feet, distracting his friendsfrom the first round of rock paper scissor.
Chapter 9 – Earth’s Cores Are Peculiar
Staring at the rock he sat on, and then confirming yet againwith his Soul Sense, a stupefied expression spread on Zax’s face.
A stash of Earth’s Cores! A cluster of more than one hundredEarth’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 leastone 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 adaring 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.
The rock shivered however there was not even a sign of acrack.
Seeing how solid the rock was and how his punch barely movedit, Zax did not care and readied himself to punch once more.
Zax’s punch connected with the rock. The accumulated Qi inhis arm strengthened his muscles, bones and toughen his skin, yet the rockstill only shivered.
The reasons for Zax’s inability to break the rock were notbecause the condense amount of Earth’s Cores that somehow affected the rockstructure. The rock itself had nothing special to it. Zax’s inability was dueto the low level of his Qi, his lack of technique in both controlling his Qiand the proper movement of his body and the use of the two simultaneously.
At the moment Zax was not aware of his gauche internal andexternal properties nor had the guidance and time to learn how to be more proficientin any of them.
In the third punch Zax’s fingers began to tingle.
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 scissorand 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 theirhearts shook each time a “BAM” echoed. If it was them, broken bones would havebulge from their hands after the first punch, that is, if they had to guts topunch with will all of their might like Zax.
“Gather rocks, help him!” Zushi instructed the others. Asthe most poised he came to the decision. He trusted Zax intuition and the weirdtechnique, or what not, that Miss Zetsa taught him in order to find Earth’sCores.
Immediately the others started to look for sturdy rocks thatthey could lift, however…
“Can we even get close?” Mi hesitated.
The rock in question was big enough for one person to siton, but not for five to hit at the same time and Zax did not leave any openingfor the others to join in.
After the sixth punch Zax fell on his butt and a small crackfinally appeared on the rock. Panting Zax looked at his right hand. It seemsthat even with the support of his Qi he could not avoid breaking skin and sheddingsome blood.
“Why'd you have to go so far?!” Surprisingly Anet beat Serahin being the first one to scold Zax. “Give me your hand”. She sat down next tohim and from her backpack took out antiseptic spray and a bandage roll.
“It’s not hurting”. Zax said with a smile. He finallycracked the rock. Unfortunately, he dispersed too much Qi executing hisunrefined technique and had to rest before his body could replenish his internalreservoirs. Thankfully, the nutrition tablet helped speed up the process.
“Try to break the rock were I cracked it”. Zax pointed atthe line that appeared on the rock’s surface. “Don’t force yourself and becareful”. Since his friends could not use Qi to strengthen the skin of theirhands, it was clear to him that even if by smashing rock against rock the forceof the thrust will suffice to hurt their hand worse than his.
Dane was the first to check out the rock. He looked throughthe crack but it was too thin. “Are there really Earth’s Cores in there?” Hesurveyed the stone that he held, it weighted approximately four kilos. To useit to break a rock that seemed to weight ninety kilos was exhausting just bythinking of all the efforts involved.
“Trust me, it won’t take too long and you’ll see foryourself”. Zas reassured his friends. He was also sure that with the greatnumber of Earth’s Cores inside the rock, it was not that much solid inside. Thecrack that he made appeared thin and meaningless on the outside, but on theinside…
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 crackedonly after the sixth punch, it was probable that the crack initiated from theinside. “Eh!” Zax sprang to his feet. “Where are they? Where are they?” He wasutterly frantic. “The Earth’s Cores”, he cried. “I can’t find them… Not insidethe rock. Not beneath it. There were more than a hundred. WHERE ARE THEY?!”
“A hundred Earth’s Cores!” The seven gasped. Such a ridiculousnotion 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 facewent pale, but it happened so fast. He no longer repeated the same kind of movementfor 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 ofa spearhead, the rotation of his body originated from the toe in his right footand from there his Qi surged up with the rotation.
“Graah!” Zax roared.
Zax’s right hand penetrated through the crack. His hand sankinto the rock up to the wrist. In a scorch sound the rock split in two. Theshocking thing was that inside there was truly nothing.
“It can’t be!” Zax was dazed. Blood covered his fingers anddripped from them to ground. Using his Soul Sense Zax ran around, searching forthe lost Earth’s Cores.
“Stop him!” Dane called. He was sorry that he asked Zax ifthere were Earth’s Cores in the rock. Because of him, he thought, Zax wentcrazy and broke two of his own fingers, maybe more. “Help me stop him!” Danegrab Zax by the shoulders and Merly helped him. “Zax! Your hand, Zax! Stopstruggling!” The two screamed at him.
Zushi and Weysey also tried to block Zax from the front, butthe look in his eyes was strange, as if he did not see or hear them. To justtwo of them Zax was too strong to stop, but with Zushi and Weysey they managedto 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 thetrees’ 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 gulphis words. Zax looked at his right hand. A hardening bandage was wrapped aroundit and prevented him from moving his fingers. He also felt something coldcovering his hand, but could not tell what it was just by feeling.
“Hey, Zax woke up”. Mi that was searching nearest to himinformed 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 wereholding each other hands. Zushi, Dane, Weysey and Merly also stared at himangrily. The seven gathered together around Zax.
“What sort of technique did Miss Zetsa taught you todiscover Earth’s Cores”? Zushi inquired. He was sure that Zax’s method was morethan a trick, picking up an irregularity in the surrounding that indicated the presenceof 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 werelearning was how to prepare themselves to the greatest event in a corelesschild’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 inall schools. If there was a technique, a method to better the chances of theyounger generation would they been kept secret? Only if it was dangerous, theseven reached to the same conclusion.
Zax was lost of words. What sort of technique did he learnfrom his big sis? None that was related to finding Earth’s Cores. All he usedwas his Soul Sense, but he could not tell that to his friend so he had to makeup an excuse.
“Never mind that”. Zax replied at last in an attempt tochange the subject. “What have you done to the roots and earth?” His friendslooked like minute size land workers, soiled from head to toe.
“We were searching your Earth’s Cores”. Wesey said as thoughit was obvious.
“My Earth’s Cores? The hundred Earth’s Cores!” Zaxremembered. He was about to use his Soul Sense, but he noticed the rook that hesplit to two.
The insides of the two halves were completely solid. “Thefracture…” Zax searched for what gave him the confidence to put his all forbreaking 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 theinternal structure of the rock could not be anything but solid. The crack thathe made with his punches, it was as deep as the eyes close, that is, not atall.
On one hand, Zax was extremely disappointment and confuses,he definitely sensed them, the Earth’s Cores, but after going through so muchtrouble, where were they? On the other hand he was absolutely astonished. “Isplit a solid rock in one move that I unintentionally remembered and neverbefore practiced?”
The punches were the product of a basic Qi utilizationtechnique that he learnt from his big sister to strengthen a specific part ofhis body. In contrast, the spearhead strike was a genuine offensive techniquethat he merely saw on screen. Zax did not even know the name of the spearheadstrike and when he thought to review what he did with his inner mind it was toohazy. What he tried to remember was more than sights and sounds; it was the concertedmovement of his body and Qi. To survey the past of these two profound aspectswas 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 wantone of them, Zax?”
“I’m good”. Zax replied, got up on his feet and picked hisbackpack.
“Then let’s keep searching. We have more than thirteen hoursto find five more Earth’s Cores. We can go deeper into the cave, or go to thedirection of the Hooked Beak rock. If we get there under a hour we might catchMiss Zetsa and she will appraise the three Earth’s Cores. Maybe we’ll find moreon our way”.
“Let’s keep heading deeper. It’s not like we have additionalEarth’s Cores to replace the ones we already got if their quality is bad. Weshould keep searching and go in the direction that Zax found the three Earth’sCores”. Dane said. He was right on mark. With only three Earth’s Cores, even ifeach of them had an Earth’s Core, it was pointless to assess their quality, atmost for personal knowledge.
“Everyone agree withDane’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. Itdid not even crossed Zax’s mind that Zushi did not ask for his approval, andZushi also did not realize that he was the one who led the decisions making. Zaxfrom the beginning was good in being just a member of the group, and Zushi justwanted a righteous search for the whole group. Taking one’s position withouthim 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 befound around the unsafe zone”. Zax recalled Take’s advice. “We don’t need toenter the unsafe zone, just a few kilometers from it should be fine”. He hastilyadded.
A distant location but with a higher success rate forfinding quality Earth’s Cores was as good or better location than anywherearound. The only thing they had to lose was time. Than again, at worse, theywill return late from the search, but the Earth’s Cores that they will findwill 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 twoEarth’s Cores that Weysey dug out. They kept searching with their eyes alone sincethey wanted to move quickly.
A short unproductive hour had passed.
“It’s useless. That group went east of us-” Mi talked abouta group that they encountered around twenty minutes ago.
They were a group of four girls and two boys. When they metno one bothered to exchange any words. Each group was satisfied with the numberof its members and neither suspected that the other already found Earth’sCores, 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 matterthat regarded the course of the whole group has put Mi in an awkward positionto her personality. “They went northwest…” She waited for Zushi to correct heragain, in case the second time she was wrong. Zushi said nothing and so shecontinued. “They did not look around for Earth’s Cores when they passed us. Itfelt 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 itslowing us down”.
“You’ve got a point”. Zushi backed Mi. “Northwest will notset us out of our course in a great margin. Actually, it’s not like any of usknows 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 andtwelve”.
“If Zushi says so…” Weysey shrugged his shoulders.
“Dane, Anet, Zax, Merly, Serah?” Zushi asked.
“I’m fine either way”.
“Of course you are. You already got an Earth’s Core. I’mfine as well”.
“Zax?” Zushi turned to Zax who strolled at the back of thegroup. “What’s up? You did not speak a lot since you woke up”.
Zax’s expression was fixated on the ground. When he heardZushi 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 reflectivegaze to the ground once more.
When the group changed course northwest, Zax was preoccupiedwith pondering at the back.
An Earth’s Core that in retrospect should have been in therange of his Soul Sense he missed… A cluster of Earth’s Cores that essentiallywas not there he supposedly discovered… What was there, his Soul Sense missedand what was not, he found.
“What’s wrong with my Soul Sense?” Zax pondered. “TheEarth’s Cores… I was sure that inside the rock and beneath it were more than ahundred Earth’s Cores, but when I checked again they completely disappeared andthen I lost control of myself”. The scenes of him parting the rock, franticallylooking for the absent Earth’s Core, ignoring the calls of his friends andfainting played in his inner mind over and over.
“Did I really lose control?” As his insight sharpened Zaxbegan to question. When it happened, was his mind not as clear as it is now? “Iwas fully aware”. Parting a ninety kilo rock? “Am I not the Tal of myremarkable big sis? With my best it’s not impossible”. He started answering hisown doubts. Frantically searching? “How can I not look where a hundred Earth’sCore disappeared to?” Ignoring the calls of his friends? “They don’t have aSoul Sense… they could not understand, I didn’t ignore them, finding theEarth’s Core was just too urgent”. Fainting? “Big sis told me not to exhaust myQi”.
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 wastied to his use of Soul Sense which scared him, one question. The environmentalessence of cave zero thirty nine, a beasts’ cave. “Am I incapable of dealingwith it for a prolonged time?”
After Zax’s soul advanced to level F, he did not have thetime to experiment with his new found ability that he suddenly was able tocontrol. Using his Soul Sense to search for Earth’s Core was truly a brilliantidea, but was he so wretch that he was limited to a place where theenvironmental essence was less wild than the most meager of the beasts’ caves,a border cave?
Zax refused to believe it. “The environmental essence ofthis cave, of any border cave, if not before then I’ll do it right now. I’llsurpass it!”
A shimmer glistened in Zax’s resolute eyes, his Soul Sense explosivelyemerged and extended to a radius of a hundred and thirty five centimeters.
Chapter 10 – One Of Three Options
A hundred and thirty five centimeters. By unsheathing hisresolve and going all out, Zax actually extended the reach of his Soul Sense’sradius 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 itsgrowing period.
The reason for that, although unknown or maybe was just oflittle importance to Zax, was the shock that he suffered merely six hours agoor so.
“Hmm… I can feel it, the environmental essence of this cave”.The microscopic particles, which were invisible to the naked eye, floated inthe air, embedded the soil, stones and vegetation. To interpret the past ofeach particle was beyond Zax’s abilities, at most he could perceive an obscurehunch, an idea – like the one he had of cave zero eight’s lethal environmentessence – of what roamed cave zero thirty nine in the other nine months of theyear.
Nevertheless, Zax rejoiced. The environment essence of cavezero 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 wasthe den of tigers.
A sudden realization dawned on Zax. “If it’s not theenvironment essence that made me… act rashly. Then, could it be the Earth’sCores?” Zax gazed upon the backpacks of Merly, Anet. Inside each of them wasone brownish Earth’s Core. “At first I thought that it was the environmental essencethat fooled my Soul Sense to think that inside and beneath the rock there was acluster of Earth’s Cores. But it doesn’t explain why I didn’t locate the thirdEarth’s Core Weysey found. If it’s not the environment essence…” Zax rehearsedhis 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 threebackpacks to Serah’s flushed face.
“Well, are you coming or just keep standing there?”
“Ah… Yes!” Zax answered hastily. He was so focused on thethree backpacks that he did not notice the growing distance between him and therest of the group.
“What were you daydreaming about?” Serah asked. Amusinglyshe, too, was a few steps behind everyone. Closest to her were Mi, Merly andAnet who seemed to talk about school. And at the front were Dane, Weysey andZushi 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 thechance?”
“No”. Zax answered simply.
Though Serah already knew that he was not the type who has atemperamental personality, with the subject of Earth’s Cores on the line even aleopard might change his spots. Be that as it may, Zax was confident in hisfriendship with Serah. Did he not give her a premium account card of the “greatestgame in the whole wide world”, Mocca Kart, less than half a year ago? In thisparticular case, even if he met Serah for the first time in his life fiveminutes 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 taughtyou in order to find Earth’s Cores?”
Zax hesitated to answer. Lying to the whole group and lyingto his best friend in the face was entirely different.
“I’m right”. Serah proclaimed. “Why do you still want to usewhat big sister Zetsa taught you? You tried before and yeah, you found threeEarth’s Cores, but you also wasted us five hours, not to mention that when youwent wild and broke your fingers!” As his best friend, Serah, clearly, waswithout restraint when she reprimanded Zax. And she would have done so even ifshe received one of the three Earth’s Cores.
“Sorry…” Angry Serah reminded Zax of angry Zetsa. Avoidingher stern eyes, Zax, at least, was grateful that she did not ask about what hisbig sister “taught” him to find Earth’s Cores. “Could big sis have not told mebecause she thought that using Soul Sense to search for Earth’s Cores will bestraining? Or is it because she has known that Earth’s Cores can distort the mindand perception of a Soul Sense?”
Seeing how Zax lost himself in thoughts right afterapologizing, ticked Serah off. “Whatever”, she sneered and grabbed his lefthand. “Daydream what you want, just keep up the pace!”
“No Earth’s Cores here either”. Zax was disappointed. Whenhe just started to search with his Soul Sense he managed to find two Earth’sCores and a bonus one in just ten minutes. Apart from his original goal, Zaxwanted to find an Earth’s Core to see how his Soul Sense will react to it, buthe had two difficulties. The first one was that Earth’s Cores were not asabundant and easy to find as he initially hoped. The second difficulty was hisSoul Sense, ten to fifteen minutes was the longest that he could sustain it beforehaving to rest for about the same length of time.
Sweeping his eyes for maybe the fiftieth time at the twobackpacks ahead of him, which belonged to Anet and Merly, and then shaking hishead in disapproval. “It’s not the same as back then. Is it because they weremoved or touched?”
The two Earth’s Cores, hidden inside the inner pockets ofthe two’s backpacks, had a lingering sensation that repressed the naturalessence, which previously reigned around the Earth’s Cores, and little bylittle resembled the presence of Anet and Merly when they were within thedomain of his Soul Sense.
Zax waited for two more minutes and resumed using his SoulSense to search.
“Water?” Zax sensed. Through the trees roots that enteredand exited the domain of his Soul Sense, as he and Serah followed hand in handthe rest of the group, Zax grasped the obscure origin of the water in the treesroots and could tell that in the direction that they were heading was a largewater reservoir. “West of us… a lake? Hard to tell. But up ahead I’m sure, lessthan a hundred meters, behind those trees there is a flowing river”. Of thelatter part he was certain.
As his Soul Sense indicated, roughly a hundred meter behinda small grove was a narrow river. Alongside the river and in it were hundredsof participants. The many participants numbered, more or less, a sixth of theevent’s participants. So many that nobody batted an eyelid at the group ofeight 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 Coreswithin 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’sbanks. His eyes were fixated on the muddy earth.
“Our group heard the flowing water and came here to fill ourempty bottles. We didn’t expect to see so many participants searching here… Canyou tell us why you are search here and not spread around the cave?” Zushi tolda little lie to not arouse the suspicions of the boy. By the way it looked, anyonewho got here done it knowingly with the purpose of searching here for Earth’sCores in mind. Saying that they came to fill up their water bottles was a safeexcuse rather than saying that they followed some other group, since even aftertaking the nutrition tablets one can still exhaust himself or herself and getthirsty.
“You came to fill up your water?” The boy stopped walkingand raised an eyebrow as he surveyed Zushi’s group of eight. “From which caveare you?”
“Cave twenty five”. Zushi answered.
“Cave twenty five… the cave whose one of its participantsthe little bro of their representative Guardian!” The boy exclaimed. “Nah…probably none of you guys. Otherwise you would have known about the river. Ormaybe not all of the representative Guardians know about it…?” The boyspeculated aloud.
“Know what about the river?” Zushi pushed for an answer.
“Well… it won’t hurt telling you guys, you can probablyfigure it out for yourself and then it won’t matter how much you know”. The boyreasoned 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 theguys and gals here that I met are from the same cave as I, cave three. Searchingin and around the lake, I heard that groups of cave eight and ninety nine arethere. Anyway, our representative Guardian told us that the river carriesEarth’s Cores from the inner beasts’ territory”.
“So that’s why!” Zushi eyes flew open and the others in hisgroup also were thrilled.
“You realized”. The boy said in an indifferent tone. “SomeEarth’s Cores sink to the bottom of the river, others around the banks of theriver and others reach the lake and sink to its depths… Eh?” The boy abruptly ceasedtalking 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 youwant”. 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 hisfoot 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 toleave already. “Oh”, he actually had one more piece of advice, maybe out of thegoodness that Anet conveyed to him. “If you search, don’t go to the lake. Evenif its bottom is full of Earth’s Core it’s way too deep to dive. Some even saythat there are beasts in it and that is why the representative Guardians ofcaves eight and ninety nine patrolling there…”
“Thank you for telling us”. Zushi said and led his groupback to the forest.
With one eye on the populated river and another eye on hisfriends, Zushi leaned on tree and said. “Before I’ll present our options, doesanyone wishes we go to the lake?” Since no one answered Zushi continued. “The firstoption is heading to the unsafe zone through the dense flora, like before. Youalready know how it is…”
“The second option is going along the river’s banks, seeingas it will definitely lead us to the unsafe zone. By choosing the second optionwe 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 luckyand 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 hisfriends 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 reducingour chances in the forest. It’s not like we know which of the unpaved roadsthat passed through it can lead us to the unsafe zone…” Zax also agreed.
Finding Earth’s Cores in the river with his Soul Sense wasan attractive prospect. Not only could he test his Soul Sense with Earth’s Corethat were not touched by participants, supposedly, there were more Earth’sCores accumulated in the river and lake than anywhere else in cave zero thirtynine. And then there was that last thing… All the Earth’s Cores in the riverand lake were said to come from beyond the unsafe zone, the acclaimeddestination 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”. Danesuggested.
“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’sbanks we will proceed by walking in the river. Look at these guys, the river isnot that deep. At its center the water is waist-high. If the stream remainssteady, 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 andcons. “If we walk in the river we might spend all of our time before gettingclose to the unsafe zone. On the other hand, if there really is in the river alarge amount of Earth’s Cores we might not need going to the unsafe zone afterall”.
“The water in the river isn’t deep, but watch how they struggleto walk in it”. Serah gestured at the participants in the river. “To reach theunsafe zone we will have to go against the stream. Let alone getting wet, doany of you feels like tiring yourself without knowing for sure that you willfind an Earth’s Core?”
“I only have my pajama… No one said that we’ll need a secondpair of clothes…” Mi sulked.
“You brought a pajama?” Weysey was taken aback. In hisdefense he grew in a farm. In weekends, when school was closed, he used to campwith his big brothers, wearing the same outfit for days.
“Only one pair…” Mi seemed even more depressed since therestill 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 intelligentas he was, how could a ten years old boy understand the mindset of a delicatelittle 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 onthe river’s banks?”
Surprisingly, everyone but Weysey raised their hands.
Chapter 11 – LosingIt
Of Zushi’s group ofeight, 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 thesame pace.
Zax turned his Soul Sense On and Off every ten minutes as ifit was a light switch. If there were Earth’s Cores in the river, his Soul Senseonly enabled him to tell where they were not. One positive thing, which evolvedfrom this tedious repetitiveness, was that little by little Zax got more usedto the oppressive environmental essence of cave zero thirty nine and couldseparate tiny bits of its various past residues. This helped Zax to keep clearmind, outer and inner alike, and distinguish between the illusion of the pastand his Soul Sense’s present discoveries.
As time progressed, many grim faces, sullen faces, poutyfaces 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 GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit. It had meadows, forests, hills, which were not far offfrom being called “Mountains”, a very deep and large lake and a river that wasflowing to it.
Of all the wonders of cave zero thirty nine, two places wherethe epicenter for most of the participants in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. Throughoutthe cave, they were told by their representative Guardians, the lake and theriver possessed the greatest deposits of Earth’s Cores. But did it mean thatwhoever searches in those wondrous places could really find an Earth’s Core?The answer was unequivocally No. What the representative Guardians of cavethree, eight and ninety nine meant when they recommended the young participantsof their caves to search in the said two locations, was that they, the youngparticipants, will have a higher success rate for finding Earth’s Cores in thelake and the river than anywhere else in cave zero thirty nine.
This transparent interpolation of the representativeGuardians’ words, only at the latter half of the event, became evident to themany young participants.
“There it is!” Zax nearly announced aloud. “Almost missedit. Truly can’t trust our eyes, lucky my Soul sense detected it”. It has been ahour or so since they started searching in the river and while doing so it wasdifficult to determine by eye sight which stone was a dark pebble and which onecould be an Earth’s Core.
“Dane, Dane, pass on some of your snacks”. Zax called usingtheir new agreed upon sign, repeating twice the name of the last of them whospoke, which meant for everyone to stop and gather beside the one who calledit.
“The nutrition tablets filled us”. Anet politely declined. Inher 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 Weyseytried to sway her mind. An ugly expression was on his face. “Anet, Serah, Mi,come!”
“I don’t feel like eating snacks, either”, Zushi surprisedeveryone and completely shocked Weysey. “And my legs are cold. I’m going aheadwith 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 fourwill eat by ourselves”. His tone sounded as if he was smiling.
“Hahaha… your loss, guys”. Zax stuck out his tongue. At thatmoment it hit Merly and Weysey, too.
The girls, Anet, to be precise, might have found anotherEarth’s Core! At the same time as Weysey, Merly, Mi and Serah reached thatconclusion, they also understood why she did not use the sign. Calling twice inZax’s name right after he called twice in Dane’s name would have made it tooobvious.
Zax did not rush to pick up the Earth’s Core that was fivecentimeters behind Dane’s foot. Since it was too sudden, he could not graspmore than the external shape and so it still was not conclusive that the roundobject his Soul Sense located bulging from the bottom of the river was anEarth’s Core. A perfect sphere with a smooth surface, yes, an Earth’s Core… Zaxreached out for the candy bar Dane offered him. “Let’s see”. He whispered as hetook the first sweet bite and wrapped his Soul Sense around the stone.
Unlike the earth and pebbles, Zax’s Soul Sense could notprobe into the round stone, therefore he asserted with absolute certainty. “AnEarth’s Core!” Slightly hesitating, Zax accepted the opportunity to survey thesurrounding of the Earth’s Core, the environmental essence around it andfinally the Earth’s Core itself.
“Will it be like before?” The question played in his mind ashe waited for the answer. No. It was not. Or at least not right away. First wasthe bottom of the river that the Earth’s Core was stuck to. Soil and smallpebbles, there was nothing to elaborate about it. Next was the environmentalessence. Water and sparkling shreds, fragments really, that when he split themwere arduous to interpret. However, when he looked at them in his mind, likethe 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 lasthurdle. He tried to understand what his Soul Sense perceived when it wrappedthe brownish stone he determined to be the subject of his pursuit. “Tough”, Zaxfirst analyzed. “Impenetrable”, at the very least to an inexpert ten years oldboy. “More? Try to get more of it!” Zax scolded himself, but apart fromexternal analysis, he acquired nothing from the abnormal object that was anEarth’s Core.
All this probing of the surrounding, the environmentalessence and finally the Earth’s Core only took place in the span of three bitesand the time it took Zax to bend the knee and reach out with his hand for theEarth’s Core. In spite of this, as fast as it was, getting into the root of amatter, formless or not, was several times more tasking than grasping theconsiderable presences of anything that passed in the domain of his Soul Sense.
By when Zax’s fingers felt the half shape of the Earth’sCore that bulged from the bottom of the river, he depleted a third of his soulenergy and was ruled by a couple of flustering emotions. “Is that it? Then whatwas the cause of the misperception I had before?” He thought of thecontradictions 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 environmentalessence?”
Zax concentrated his Qi in his left arm, and as much as hecould in the tip of each finger. He grabbed the Earth’s Core and pulled it outwith ease. “Eh…?” He noticed somethingin 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 botheringhiding 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. Therewere 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 attentionof all of the participants searching in the river and river’s banks.
“Crap! I think he lost it again!” Dane said to Merly andWeysey. The look in Zax eyes before he turned, his imprudent conduct with theEarth’s Core that he picked and his disregard of his friends and the otherparticipants around them. “Don’t let him lose control again!” Dane called forZushi and the girls so they will also pay heed to Zax before he will startbreaking rock, or his bones…
Unfortunately it was too late. With a swift movement Zaxslipped through the enclosure of Dane, Weysey and Merly. It did not seemintentionally or with effort to not allow them the chance to hold him back. Hisbody moved on its own. His Qi energy supplied enhancement for physicalsuperiority and his mind, inner mind, was already at the level of F level MistUser. It was ridiculous to expect from three average ten years old boys to keepZax 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 helplesslychasing after him but also the other participants who heard him mindlesslytalking to himself and picking what seemed to be imaginary Earth’s Cores.
“This guy… he can use Qi!” Some stared with awe at Zax’slight and agile movements, knowing that obviously it was due to Qi utilization.
“Yeah, but what good is it for him if he lost it?” Otherswere able to hold their disbelief at bay.
Among the thousands participants it was not unimaginable ifthere 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 hisor her Qi would usually – according the gossip and rumors that originated fromthe mere stories of participants from previous year – ventured to the most hardto reach places, in the designated cave for the search, after high end Earth’sCores.
“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, Weyseyand Merly changed his view.
“And one that could not preserve against the pressure of theevent and is rashly kicking, flipping rocks and swinging his hands around. Whowants 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 eachEarth’s Core of the many that covered the river. An unexplainable attractionoozed from both the environmental essence and the Earth’s Core he thought werepiling in his backpack, and seeped into his consciousness.
There were no words for Zax to describe the strange pulltoward wherever he headed, nor could he distinguish his own actions. Slowly hismind 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 asbreadcrumbs, 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 wasalarmingly 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 breakthrough the bottleneck of level F. His soul’s extraordinary sensitivity confrontedwith 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 hadpassed. In the river and the river’s banks the nearest group of participateswas two to three kilometers behind them. Unlike Zax’s relentless pursuitforward, they, the rest of the group, did not have the same disposition. Thefatigue took a heavy toll on them, even if the color of the time braceletsstill remained green, will they be able to return before the color changes tored?
Zax had no idea how far he ran, how close he was to theunsafe zone, how certain it was for him and his friends to return late from thesearch and be punished for it. For Zax it all seemed like a dream, out of hiscontrol, comfortably dominated by his subconscious.
A green silhouette leaped and vanished from an unknownlocation, then reappeared in front of Zax, halting his steps.
“Are you, kidos, looking to be disqualified from the GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit?”
A well built middle age man in green uniforms and a silvercolored ribbon that stretched diagonally across his left shoulder to his waistand read: “GECP EVENT’S GUARDIAN”, reprimanded Zax and the other seven that followedhim.
Zax stopped long enough for the buffed event’s Guardian tofinish his sentence, yet the instant his subconscious comprehended theunexpected obstacle he tried to pass him.
Out of breath, Zushi and the other six could only watch withconflicting emotions as the event’s Guardian kicked Zax to the air with mildforce and grabbed his feet like chicken before slaughter. They were tornbetween whether to be glad that someone finally stopped Zax or frightened sincethat “someone” was an event’s Guardian whom it was very unlikely for them tomeet unless they got really close to the unsafe zone – not to mention that Zaxjust ignored the presence of the event’s Guardian and tried to go past him.
“The heck are you doing brat…?!” The event’s Guardian raisedhis hand about to slap Zax back to his senses, when he out of the blueswallowed his words and winced. “You…” The event’s Guardian glared at Zax withdisdain in his eyes.
Right before he readied himself to personally educate theinsolent young participant who did not know what was good for him unless itstruck him in the face, Zax raised both of his hands to the event’s Guardian’storso and dealt him a soul attack.
“What are you?” The event’s Guardian asked, but seeing howthe boy struggled in his hand he realized that, although exceptional andprobably with unique background, the boy could not handle the pressure of theevent and, as one of the participants before suggested, lost it.
Using his white Core Breaker’s aura the event’s Guardian putZax to sleep with a little bit of his overbearing mist energy. After Zax losthis consciousness the event’s Guardian turned him upside down and took acareful look on his face. “Little monster”. It sounded as if he murmured inamusement.
“Did you, brats, decided to crap all over the event’srules?!” The event’s Guardian’s face darkened. He turned his head to Zushi andthe 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 theseven, knew better than confronting with an event’s Guardian.
“Nothing to say…” Not that the event’s Guardian expectedthem to answer his rhetorical question. “To which cave do you belong, and who’sthe representative Guardian responsible for you?” The event’s Guardian changedthe tone of his voice to be more restrained.
“The eight of us are from cave twenty five”, Zushi, thoughnot composed as he usually was, was better than any of the others in answeringthe event’s Guardian’s questions. “Our representative Guardian is Miss ZetsaZell, Zax’s”, his gaze moved to the unconscious Zax in the hands of the arms ofthe event’s Guardian. “Big sister”.
“Zetsa Zell…” Were all Zushi and the others could hear fromthe event’s Guardian verbal reaction. His face and posture did not change, norhow tightly he held Zax, as if he was familiar with the name and level ofcultivation that was tied to the very same young woman, but was unconcerned ofneither.
“Ignorant brats”, the event’s Guardian turned to the seven. “Doyou think that you can make it back in time just because the time bracelets arestill green?”
“The disciplinary supervisor said-” Zushi spoke in a weakvoice, however quieted and closed his mouth when he noticed the quiver of theevent’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 theunsafe zone, but none of the conscious seven was willing to refute the event’sGuardian’s scolding.
Sighing to himself after arriving to some sort of asympathetic conclusion the event’s Guardian said. “If you followed the rulesdiligently, 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 tookout from a pocket a squared device with a three dimensional screen. His fingerslid across the screen and a three dimensional layout of the cave appeared onit.
The structure of map was hard to for the seven children tounderstand, but seeing the colorful lights that intersected and then formed thehologram completely made them forget about it or the situation they were in.
A three dimensional display was currently the peak ofhumanity’s display technology. It was such a costly expense that even for ahigh class family it was rare to own just a simple design, needless mentioninga complex design with two hundred and fifty six colors like the one the event’sGuardian 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 thegreen dots and a panel with numbers appeared above it. “Here is an estimated timeof how long it will take you to return and analysis of physical condition. Lastis the duration of effect of the nutrition tablets that you took. Assuming thatall of you are at the same physical state, you have an hour until your bodywill burn the remnants of the nutrition tablets in your blood”. The event’sGuardian thought for a second, and then rephrased himself. “More or less thanan hour, depending on how much you’ll keep exhausting yourselves”.
“What… What will happen after an hour?” Mi’s facial expressionpaled and she asked in a shaking voice. With the way the event’s Guardianexplained their current state with the impressive hologram, she reluctantlystarted to imagine her body dehydrate to the point where there are no morefluids in it and she looks like a hundred years old corpse that with thesmallest disturbance can crumble.
“You’ll become tired, really tired, and very thirsty-”
“Like a hundred years old corpse…” Mi could not help butcontinue 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 lotand eat sugary stuff”.
“Not become a hundred years old corpse?” Mi accidently letout.
“What?” The event’s Guardian asked confused, yet Mi wassimply happy to known that nothing bad will happen so she remained awkwardlysilent.
The event’s Guardian rubbed the back of his neck, gauged theseven children and the one that surprised him beyond anything he could havethought a ten years old boy can do to surprise him and offered. “Don’t go anyfarther than here and don’t spread in the dense flora. In an hour I’ll return totake you back”. He said and in the swift manner of his appearance healso vanished.
Chapter 12 – Becoming Mist Users
“Wait…!” Zax screamed when he awaked. For a few second hisheart was pounding in an accelerating rate and his mind was disoriented. Withoutknowing what it was, a deep anxiety enveloped Zax’s soul. A disgusting sensationwhich made him vomit as he repeated again, in the midst of forgetting towardwho, what or where. “Wait-”
A voice entered through his ears and rang in his head. Zax didnot recognize who it was. His body bent by a reflex when he felt the surge offluids coming up from his stomach, and though his eyes were wide open, hisvision was too blurry to even count the shadows surrounding him.
“Not again-” Zax cried in his mind. The taste of thedigested candy bar that he ate earlier was way too abusive to his taste buds asit came out, enough to never want to eat another sour chocolate candy bar againin his life. What Zax did not know was that most of what he tasted, and was reluctantto taste again, was a side effect of the nutrition tablets that was meant toleave his body in the conventional way…
“Are you fine now?”
This time the voice was clearer and recognizable, yet Zaxwas not confident that it was the same one from before. It was Merly, andaccording to his voice he stood two meters to his left, with his back turned tohim and a sickly expression on his face. Zax did not hold Merly’s distant attitudeagainst him since he came to learn, during their last school year, that he hasa 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 thesearch.
Seeing his friends surrounding him and Merly coming overwith eyes up, it took Zax a moment to examine their facial expressions andwhere they were. Their faces had a contrasting mixture of worry, satisfaction, nausea– the only one which Zax could understand – and excitement. Zax eventuallycould not figure what his friends were and he did not want to make anyassumption since he did remember that they currently participate in the GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit. However, they now were near tunnel three hundred andtwelve, which led back to cave one hundred and thirty nine, and on the groundaround them was a big pile of small rocks. There were also many otherparticipants also appeared in the vicinity, talking to each other, waiting orreturning from the search.
A silent groan left Zax’s mouth when he stood up and dizzinessstruck his head.
“Drink water”. Weysey, who was the tallest of the all groupand sturdiest among the eight, apart from Zax, supported Zax as he drank fromthe 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 andwithdrawn. 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 waswhat they wanted.
“Before we tell you, you should also eat something”. Zushisaid.
“I’m not hungry”. Zax frowned. Not because it could be seenthat he still was not feeling well, but because of the thought of putting foodin his mouth.
“You should eat anyway”. Zushi insisted and the others triedto 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 jellybeetles that Mi offered him.
“Now can you tell me why we are back? How much time we havetill the end of the event?” Since he could answer the latter question, Zaxlooked at his time bracelet and was astonished to discover that there were lessthan fifteen minutes for them to spend before having to go back through thetunnel.
“How can it be?! We just were searching in the river!” Zaxcalled in disbelief.
“You don’t remember?” Dane asked. “That’s because you’vedone it again, did you, Zax?”
“Done what?” Zax asked baffled.
“You used big sister Zetsa’s trick to find Earth’s Core andit 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 detectedanything odd about it or the environmental essence. Then why? Why I don’tremember anything that happened afterwards and why…” The one question whichboggled him the most, the one that was related to the distress that was in hisvoice when he woke up and called the word “Wait”, Zax could not make up thewords 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 Merlypressing Zushi to show him something brought Zax back from his pondering state.
“Don’t shove me, Merly. Fine, I’ll show him. Don’t beimpatient!” Zushi shoved Merly back and turned his head to the others. “Let’smake 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 hideZushi and Zax without looking suspicious.
Zushi handed Zax his backpack that he carried for him whenthe move from where they previously were. “Open it up”. He grinned and toldZax.
Doing as Zushi said, Zax took back his backpack and saw whatwas 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’sface 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 assessthe quality of an Earth’s Core”. Zax responded defensively. What his friendsthought him to be? As a Mist Master, his big sister could definitely tell thequality of an Earth’s Core, but he barely was qualified to be called an F levelMist User and even that, only from the neck up.
“They think big sis taught a method to find out the qualityof an Earth’s Core because I lied about my Soul Sense…” Zax understood.
As if to reaffirm his conjecture, Zushi continued. “No. Ifyou 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 thatthe ten years old Zushi was content with such words.
“Is this the Earth’s Core that I picked in the river?”
“One of them”.
Zushi’s hand moved quickly and covered Zax’s mouth. Hissmile appeared more genuine than a moment ago. “Unfortunately, among theseventeen that you found – including the three in the forest – this one was theonly medium quality E level Earth’s Core”.
Feeling his body shaking and his eyes bulging out from theirsockets, Zax did not believe that Zushi could lie over such a sensitive subjectin 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 relaxedtheir “Normal” postures.
“Fourteen from the seventeen Earth’s Cores that you foundwere of high quality. How you managed to find so many great Earth’s Cores… askthe Supreme Rulers”. Zushi leaned on the cave’s well, started eating his ownsnack and delved deeper in the explanation. “I’m assuming you don’t rememberrunning like a crazy person in the river, picking up small rocks and Earth’sCore and piling them in your backpack?”
In response, Zax shook his head.
“Thought so… I also didn’t see how it started, since Ijoined Anet to see if she really found an Earth’s Core right after you foundone. Dane told us that when you reached down for the Earth’s Core you suddenlybegan to panic, ran and jump around. By then, not only me, Anet, Serah and Minoticed. All the other participated watched you and said that you went crazybecause of the event’s pressure. We, on the other hand, saw you act weirdbefore and could connect your behavior to the technique that Miss Zetsa taughtyou”.
Zushi went on, telling Zax how they chased after him, metthe event’s Guardian who at first Zax tried to hit, but then he knocked him outand rebuked the rest of them and in the end and unpredictably – after showingthem the features of the time bracelets with a three dimensional device –allowed them to search near the unsafe zone for an hour. He then continuedtelling how the event’s Guardian came back with none other than Miss Zetsa tocarry them back with the help of a mysterious technique, which they performedtogether, that made them float behind the event’s Guardian and Miss Zetsa asthey rushed through the cave to the entrance.
“When we got here Miss Zetsa was the one who noticed yourpacked backpack, though Weysey was the one who carried it”. Zushi finallyreached the part about the Earth’s Cores and there was not a lot of time tillthey had to go back to cave one hundred and thirty nine. “Can you imagine herface – our faces – when she emptied your backpack from the rocks that youpicked up and then revealed to us a batch of fourteen Earth’s Cores? No tomention us seven, even Miss Zetsa was dumbstruck. Luckily, the event’s Guardianleft before Miss Zetsa found the Earth’s Cores, or that at least was what MissZetsa said without explaining why. She just told us not to tell anyone aboutthe amount of Earth’s Cores that you found or how you found them”.
“Maybe it’s forbidden to pick up more than one Earth’sCore”. Weysey on the side speculated.
“I thought so too, at first, but the disciplinary supervisordidn’t mention any rule about it”. Zushi said. “Doesn’t matter now, we all havegreat Earth’s Cores and the rest aren’t here anymore”.
“Not here?” Zax asked.
“After finding the Earth’s Cores in your backpack, MissZetsa assessed the quality. The best one among them you got. The second bestEarth’s Core was a low quality E level Earth’s Core, then four high quality Flevel Earth’s Cores and eight medium quality F level Earth’s Cores. We playedrock paper scissors for the Earth’s Cores. Anet won the low quality E levelEarth’s Core. I, Weysey, Serah and Dane won the four high quality F levelEarth’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 awhile 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 fortheir group and a new batch of participants began to emerge from the tunnelwhile those of Zax’s batch were ordered to head back by the meticulous timer oftheir time bracelets.
As they took off the time bracelets and throw them in a cratewith wheels that stood on a rail beside the entrance to the tunnel, the oldlady, the attendant at the entrance to cave zero thirty nine, typed on a twentyfive centimeters screen the names of the returning participants and theirresults, though, she done so without paying particular attention to anyone butthe screen in her right hand and whenever a participant stepped forward to signhimself she simply nudge him away.
“Zax”, Zushi had one last thing to add. “Miss Zetsa alsotold us to inform you that you’re in big trouble for breaking your finger”.
On the other side of tunnel three hundred and twelve, incave one hundred and thirty nine.
The seven representative Guardians were already waiting to theparticipants under their care. When the last participant of each group arrivedfrom the tunnel, the representative Guardian led his or her group to one of thetwo square buildings on the premises.
Inside the square building that Zetsa led the group of cavetwenty five were thousands of square floor seats. Each upholstered seat wasfifteen centimeters deep into the floor and had a seating space large enoughfor only a child to sit in. The margin between square seats was wide enough foradults to walk on one at a time, and so, alongside the thousands of seats werea hundred or so brown uniforms staff members of the event, spread aroundholding large sealed cases.
“Please hurry them, the future Mist Users, to any of theseats”. A female staff member in brown uniform with a yellow ribbon that stretcheddiagonally across her left shoulder to her waist and read: “GECP COREINSTURCTER”, approached the representative Guardians and asked of them.
Immediately after, of the four of the seven groups thatfinished the search and came by the same square building as Zetsa’s group, therepresentative Guardians guided the young participants to their arranged seats.
“Everyone sit, sit in your places. Those who did not farewell in the hunt raise your hands. Staff members will now distribute compensatoryEarth’s Core. Take them and hold them with two hands beneath the navel – noneed to raise your shirts – that is where your lower dantian is located. Sit ina cross legged position and wait for farther instruction”. The fairly youngstaff member, core instructor, amplified her voice with her mist energy and awhite 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 thanfifteen hundreds hands went into the air, some just standing like columns,others impatiently waving.
After a short ten minutes every young participant heldbeneath his or her navel the brownish sphere that was an Earth’s Core, in anticipationto finally become a Mist User.
“Greetings everyone, my name is Jergaria Lus. I am one ofthe two core instructors in this year’s event, and that means that my job inthe last phase of the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit is to guide you through theprocess of becoming Mist Users”. Jergaria, the core instructor, spoke confidentlyin a soothing tone. “Now, you all should know that once a mental link issubconsciously formed between you and the Earth’s Cores in your hands, theEarth’s Core will merge with your body and enter your lower dantian. Since thiscan happen anytime, I ask of you to not get nervous. You should have learnedabout the phases of the process at school, but in practice it’s quitedifferent, therefore, you have me, the staff members around you and yourrepresentative Guardians as support”.
Jergaria halted to read the complexion and atmosphere of theyoung participants. “Before we begin”, the results were the same every time, sothe right words were already at the tip of her tongue. “Let me say that I knowthat all of you are tired. It has been twenty four hours since you took the nutritiontablets 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, LinkForming, 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 thesecond phase, a surge of new found strength will renew your wakefulness”.
Jergaria waited for the spread staff members andrepresentative Guardians to insure the readiness of the young participant. Tonot 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”, Jergariaannounced. “Hold the Earth’s Cores in your hands near the lower dantian. Allowit 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 theEarth’s Cores that you found or received. See it in your mind’s eye as if it’sright in front you, I repeat, imagine the Earth’s Core, do not look at the onethat you hold and do so with eyes open”.
Zax listened to Jergaria’s voice. “Link Forming” He repeatedhow she named the first phase and thought about how obscure its processsounded. Nevertheless, unlike the many others which sat around him, it was notthe first phase that caused the frown to his face.
“The Link Forming”, Zax figured it out from the start. “It’ssoul energy”.
How many like him were in the short history of KingdomEarth? Coreless ten years olds with soul at level F… One who cared would noteven bother counting with two hands.
Zax felt it, how threads of soul energy moved around fromhis consciousness to various body parts and retreated, like a living beinglooking for food in odd place, using only the sense of smell. Zax could alsonow feel the attraction that radiated from the Earth’s Core, the vileattraction 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” soundthat echoed in his consciousness and shook the foundations of his soul.
“It’s not it” Zax somewhat determined without even knowingwhat was that he found wrong. “No! No! No!” More threads reached for theEarth’s Core, the prestigious medium quality E level Earth’s Core, and the grievancegrew with each Ding. But Zax, who with a simple thought could take control onthe living threads, without understanding what was it that unnerved him somuch, could not bring himself to stop the process he, since his earliestmemories, wished for.
The Earth’s Core was finally there, in Zax’s dantian, likein 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’tkeep it”.
Chapter 13 – Going Back
The revelation of possessing the wrong Earth’s Core and itspresence in his dantian enlightened Zax’s conception and granted him theknowledge of what was the thing he felt immense regret for and what he had todo 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 heramplified voice. “Good, good, everyone, you’re doing well. I’ll now proceed to narratethe second phase, ”Grasping”. Those who still did not complete the first phase,keep concentrate on it. The staff members, representative Guardians and I, aswell, will repeat the instructions how many times you need”.
“Now that you have Earth’s Cores in your dantian, the flowof Qi in your body should be more apparent. Do not force yourselves to feel theflow of Qi right after the Earth’s Core disappears from your hands. Wait alittle bit; Earth’s Cores have a particular attractive influence on Qi. It willtake a while, could be seconds, minutes or a few hours, but eventually, theaccumulated 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, itwill be impossible not to sense it”.
Jergaria’s description of the effect of Earth’s Cores on Qiand the promise to sense it lowered a lot of eyebrows into the combination ofenthusiasm and obedience. It was the dream of every coreless child with mildbackground to feel and control the strange power that only the talented and prestigiousof their peers could learn to use like a full fledged Mist Users. It was nowthe time of everyone to grasp the power which differentiates the weak from thestrong in Kingdom Earth.
“When you realize the sensation of Qi that fills yourdantian, do not try to form the first crack on the Earth’s Core’s shell justyet, like you might have heard or been told. Let the nesting Qi in your dantiandwell there for a while. Comprehend its circular movement around the Earth’sCore. Once it will seem to you as if it’s alive, look for what makes you thinkso. This will help improve your control on the Qi before binding it to yourwill. It’s like shacking and awakening a body part that fell asleep, like a legthat 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 thekind of descriptive speech that can arouse the imagination of children in a waythat will help them through the process of becoming Mist Users.
She did not wait for all the young participants to completethe second phase, Grasping, since it depended on natural talent. For most, sheknew, the second phase will take around an hour, for the talented at most halfan hour, for those who lack any affinity it might be even five hours, whichJergaria definitely did not have.
“On to the third and last phase”, Jergaria announced in aloud voice. “Last one you should know is simply called “Cracking””.
Of the few who finished the second phase or were near itsend and listened to Jergaria a certain thought popped to mind. “Whoeverinvented these terms have a terrible naming sense!” Nonetheless they alllistened carefully.
“In accordance to its name, the sole purpose of the thirdphase is to from the first crack on the Earth’s Core’s shell, thus you’ll enterthe Beginner phase of level F as Mist Users. How to approach the shell withyour Qi I and my associates in guiding you will now reveal to you by using ourmist energy externally”.
Following her words, Jergaria raised her right palm andemitted her white mist energy twenty centimeters above it. “Pay attention”. Shesaid to the young participants. Slowly but surely, Jergaria’s mist energy beganto take shape. The mist energy swirled and double in size, Jergaria’s face alsoslightly turned ashen. After ten seconds the mist energy took the shape of ameter long chisel. The shape held itself for three to five seconds, and then itswirled again, taking the form of giant scythe. For two minutes Jergaria’s mistenergy took the form of different tools, likewise the mist energy of the staffmembers and representative Guardians, which none were below the level of CoreBreaker, and demonstrated their exquisite control over the mist energy, thoughonly Zetsa’s mist energy and one other representative Guardian were barely seethrough and sparkled in a silvery light.
When the two minutes passed Jergaria lowered her hand and sodid the others. “It is far more difficult to shape mist energy outside thebody, so do not be anxious by the task laid before you. Each of you, close youreyes and reach your dantian with your consciousness. To do so easily, if youstill did not grasp the technique, sense your Qi attentively and your mind willvisualize, on its own, the state and vicinity of the dantian”. Jergaria gave amoment for those who had to follow her instruction before continuing. “In yourdantian, 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’sCore. Most likely none of you will succeed in the first, second third of sixthattempt, but keep trying. This is the last phase, the last obstacle between youand becoming Mist Users”.
For her last words Jergaria, like with every group she hadseen through the process, encouraged the young participants and then began towalk around them to personally assist those who struggled.
Zax waited, against all his inner discomfort he waited andcontemplated. To do what he planned he had to muster his courage anddetermination. Till it was done Zax also listened curiously to Jergaria andthanks to his unique soul and low proficiency with his Qi, it was not hard tofollow the steps in her instruction. Nevertheless, for his plan to work hecould 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 theconfident to carry his plan. It was the knowledge that she shared with himregarding the possibility to remove an Earth’s Core from the dantian so longthat it has not been cracked. It was possible due to Zax’s soul’s level andduring 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 ofgreat 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 lineswhen they returned from the search. She was pleased with his finding andexpected him to return home with everyone as a Mist User.
Holding back the Qi from streaming to his dantian was likeholding back an itch. Zax, however, did so almost effortlessly. Zax was able tohold back since a part from some level of proficiency in handling Qi, to goagainst a natural flow one also had to have the discipline properties whichonly the soul of a Mist User in the level of Core Breaker has, and apart fromquantity and quality of soul energy, Zax’s soul was not inferior to that of anyCore Breaker.
“Burrraa…” Out of the blue Zax leaned forward and puked.
Luckily to the boy in front of him, it was Qi which mostlysustained Zax and he did not ate a lot of candies when he sat with his friendsnear the tunnel after he woke up, again. Still… it was the sound that terrifiedthe boy and made him leap from the ground seat and caught the attention ofJergaria and the other helpers.
Moving in a manner that seemed to the young onlookers as ifher 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 himfrom his seat the moment he stopped puking.
Zax’s complexion was pale, a white gray color. A bit of foamsstained his lips. He wanted to regret his stupid plan, but it was too late sohe whispered with the little bit of voice that he had. “My stomach hurt”.
Being close enough to hear him as well, Jergaria guessedwhat happened to Zax and told Zetsa to come to the entrance of the squarebuilding with her.
“Poor boy”, Jergaria told Zetsa as Zax leaned his headagainst 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 eventrying. The body cannot stand the backlash and suffers the most. Fortunately,there is not permanent damage. Some can even start working again on the secondphase after a day’s rest”.
Jergaria reassured Zetsa, who knew the effect of a backlashin the dantian and that essentially there was not a severe case of a child thattried to form the first crack on an Earth’s Core’s shell, but Zax was Zetsa’sbeloved younger brother and she could not betray her feelings for him in frontof anyone. Jergaria, who was of aware that as a Mist Master Zetsa should knowthe meaning of a Qi backlash in the dantian, realized that between the boy andthe representative Guardian there was some sort of a relationship and soexplained out of courtesy.
“You should not worry. He will be taken care of. You cancome back for him the moment you will return the group of participants underyour care to their home cave”. In an attempt to do good, Jergaria remindedZetsa her obligations as a representative Guardian which meant that in a fewhours, when the last participant from cave twenty five will finally become aMist User, she would have to take the group back home, leaving Zax behind.
When Zax opened his eyes the Nightly Cover formation of caveone hundred and thirty nine was already active.
“Urg…” Zax groaned. “It was much worse than I thought itwill be…” He said to himself and recalled his own action.
The only way for him to avoid this latter part of the GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit, forming a crack on the Earth’s Core in his dantian andbecoming a Mist User, he had to take drastic action. What Zax did was separatethe flow of his Qi to two opposite streams and made them collide in hisdantian, yet in manner that will not affect the Earth’s Core in there. Theresults were agonizing to the point that the part of him losing consciousnessafterwards was beyond his calculation and what he thought he could withstandand what he cannot.
“The Earth’s Core isn’t cracked”. Zax breathed a sigh ofrelief. He paid less attention to his properly bandaged right hand or his shoesand clothes that were somewhat clean. His fears were that during the time thathe slept the Qi flow returned to normal and again was attracted to the Earth’sCore. Surveying the condition of his Qi and Qi channels, it seemed that he wasstill slowly healing and the natural order had yet stabilized. For now, hedecided not to use his Qi.
Zax changed position from lying to sitting, noticing in theprocess that he was inside a large tent with a pile of folding beds to oneside, 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 ablond girl in blue scrubs, looking around thirty years old, was comfortablysleeping.
Looking at his bruised wristwatch that suffered illtreatment during the search, though the display of the seconds and milo secondswas jumpy and the date, minutes and hours were readable. The time was pasttwelve o’clock midnight, April fifth.
“Whaa…! Less than four hours are left! I’ve got to getgoing”. Knowing that he cannot make any sound from now on, Zax slowly got upfrom the bed, but right as his feet touched the floor he felt dizziness threateningto 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 colorof 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 GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit.
“It’s full”, to his surprise, Zax found all kinds of snacksfilling his backpack. “They gave me their leftover snacks”. In this moment Zaxwas really happy for his choice in friends.
Since water was the only thing he did not have, Zax took twosealed water bottles from a crate besides Medicine Cabinet 8 and headed outfrom 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 hecould conceal himself.
Zax’s destination was the dome like compound that all theparticipants were gathered in for their last night before the search.
Two staff members were drinking near the entrance to thecompound. Zax frowned. He remembered that when it was his group in there, somekids opened the compound’s doors on a dare, so it was not really a problem togo in or out, only, if one gets discovered he or she would be in a lot oftroubles.
After couple of minutes of waiting in frustration the twostaff members emptied their cups and strolled on, allowing Zax to approachsafely to the compound’s doors.
Zax opened the compound’s doors and instantly met a bunch ofnew participants, contemplating the same mischievous pranks that during hisstay in the compound, among other things, managed to jam the trash chutes.
“Who are you?” Some boy with curly hair asked. Under the dimlights of the compound the group that hung near the doors was composed of tento twenty young participants.
The twenty boys looked at Zax as if they saw a ghost, theyplayed around the compound’s entrance since they got here and none of them sawa participant leaving. Furthermore, when the doors started moving they allthought the whoever opens them was a staff member or one of the representativeGuardians, so their hearts jumped in fear, thinking that they were going to getcaught.
“I wasn’t feeling well so they took me to the Medical Tentwhen my group arrived”. Zax thought beforehand what he would say if anyone whohad seen him entering the compound late at night will start to question him.
Claiming that he was sick was a lot mellow than braggingthat he sneaked out. No one will think much of a kid who probably got soexcited that he got cramps or something, especially not other kids. On theother hand, if word got out that some kid had the nerves to sneak outside thecompound in the middle of the night, he or she would defiantly become the talkof all the other kids and will easily be discovered by staff members or representativeGuardians.
Since Zax really was still recovering, even under the dimlights of the compound it was possible to see his pale complexion. The group ofkids calmed down from the initial fright and made way for Zax to go towhichever group that he belonged.
Zax found an empty upper bunk bed within an area of sleepingparticipants. He climbed the bunk bed quietly and closed his eyes to rest. In acouple of hours the riskiest part of his plan will commence.
Similar to the sequence of events in the morning of Zax’ssearch, at four o’clock in the morning the representative Guardians arrived,called and organized their groups by showering the young participants undertheir with commands to get ready.
Zax mingled within the group of participant he slept in thesame area with. No one was able to suspect him because no one knew everyoneamong the thousands of participant whether if they were in the same batch oreven the same cave group. And since the official procedures or over the daybefore, even the representative Guardians did not suspect the stowaway withintheir midst. Besides, such a farfetched thing as a stowaway participant has neverhappened in the past, so no one could even assume that it was happening rightnow.
Chapter 14 – The Dangers Of The Unsafe Zone
Going along with his plan, Zax had a few things to fear frombut each had the potential to end his endeavor.
One was the nurse or the doctor, whichever she was. If shewould awake up to see that he is not in the resting bed and alert the staffmembers and representative Guardians before he will enter cave zero thirty nineagain then his plan will most likely fail.
Second were the staff members that distribute the green timebracelets. If even one of them will notice that they are missing one timebracelet and will figure out Zax’s plan, what will follow will only be Zax’splan failing. Not being caught by the staff members was only half of why Zaxtried to avoid them. Zax also did not want to enter cave zero thirty nine witha time bracelet. Zushi told Zax of the different features that the timebracelets have and that one of them allow the event’s Guardian and possibly therepresentative Guardians, as well, to track the participants.
Third thing was that his big sister, Zetsa. Yes, Zaxrealized that his big sister could not stay with him and had to return thegroup of participants back to cave twenty five. If she would return and noticethat he was gone before he will enter cave zero thirty nine, she might figureout what he was doing, which will most definitely cause his plain to fail. Zaxhopped that when the group of cave twenty five left cave one hundred and thirtynine it was already late and that was why his big sister did not return for himyet.
The last thing Zax was scared of was the old lady, theattendant, at the end of tunnel three hundred and twelve. If that old lady wasat the level of a Mist Master or worse, a Mist Lord, and used her Soul Sense tonote who leaves or enters cave zero thirty nine, she would definitely discoverZax and right there and then his plan will...
Zax could not do anything about the nurse\ doctor waking upor when his big sister will return. He decided to leave this worries at theback of his mind as the group he mingled into passed the entrance to tunnelthree hundred and twelve.
So as not to arouse the suspicions of the hundred staffmembers in the tunnel as they distributed the time bracelets, Zax switchedlines whenever a staff member was about to approach with a time bracelet to theplace in Zax walked in the line.
Using his Soul Sense, it was easy workout. With the spacebetween rows and lines being so dense it was difficult from the sidelines tonotice his movement if one did not specifically looked for him. Within the rowsand lines, as long as it also was within the domain of his Soul Sense, Zaxcould read the body movement of those around him, so to not even bother or makethe other participants notice what he was doing.
Finally he was about to reach the end of the tunnel. Zax hidhis hands in his pockets, to not reveal to anyone that he did not get a timebracelet. The representative Guardians turned to the groups of participantsunder their care after receiving the approval of the old lady and decidingbetween themselves who will send the young participants off.
One representative Guardians began to talk, but Zax did notlisten to what he said. Zax read about how expert can notice if one among tenthousand looking at them in an eerie way and even to locate the one among tenthousand who looked at them. To avoid this mistake, Zax lowered his head tillhe felt the participant around him begin to move a fading “…head out”.
Running to the cave, Zax did not dare to look back or evenask why or wonder if the old lady, the same one from two days back that saw hisbatch dashing to their search, used her Soul Sense or not. All that he caredabout at that moment was keep running and keep hiding his hands. He was in andnothing would make him turn back.
Little did Zax know that the old lady only covers only theleft side of the tunnel, the return side, with her Soul Sense to count andevaluate the results of the young participants. Before that, when the participantshead off to the cave, it is the job of the representative Guardians to know howmany entering and later inform her.
Four hours after the beginning of the search, eight o’clockin the morning.
For the past four hours Zax looked for the river he and hisfriends followed. It took him a few hours to get to the river since he wastedtime avoiding other participant and by being maybe too cautious from beingdiscovered by the event’s Guardians or representative Guardians. Zax knew thatif they will detect him in any other way but their special sensor, his secondattempt in the search will end. So he could not allow himself to be casuallyseen or heard.
Luckily for Zax, among the different kinds of Guardian whichroamed in cave zero thirty nine, only one was at the level of a Mist Master. Soeven if his presence in the cave will be known and the Guardians will use theirSoul Senses as a last measure to find him, he will only have to worry aboutthis 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 largespace. Only by reading the environmental essence and detecting his unique printhe will be found. And that was also a temporary expedient since – unless onecreates some sort of an impact on the environment – a person’s unique printdoes not linger and fade quickly. It was something which Zax discovered accidentlyand up till not did not think much about it.
In the end it was unavoidable for some participants to seeZax when he reached the river and began to follow along the river’s banks. Fromthere it also was redundant to keep avoiding prying eyes. When participantsfound a searching ground they stuck to it and did not care who come by, unlesshe 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 SoulSense. He was worried that the moment that he will use it, he will lose controlon himself, if because the environmental essence of the cave, the hiddenEarth’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 saidthat 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, whenhe attempted to remember the feeling, the desire and need from when he “lostit”, it was like trying to express something that just at the tip of the tonguebut not quite there.
When it was getting to ten o’clock in the morning, even ifZax looked as far back as he could, he did not see any participant. Zax couldonly assume that he reached the unsafe zone.
“This batch has nine representative Guardians”. Zax lay onthe ground, hidden beneath a bush, and recalled the seven female Guardians andtwo male Guardians as he pondered on how many event’s Guardians can be besidethem. “If there is an equal number that would already be too much if all ninepatrol in the unsafe zone…”
Though the size of the unsafe zone was not small, Zax didnot 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. Theyprobably know that a lot of participant search in the river. In this case, afew event’s Guardians might patrol not far from here. I’m also positive thatthere is at least one event’s Guardian on this mountain”.
It was hard to see it through the dense vegetation, but whenZax walked along the river’s banks he did see a mountain couple of hundredmeters east to the river. It was a good high ground to monitor the clearings inthe surrounding.
“The place I need to go to… it’s in the other side of thenext tunnel… in the next beasts’ cave…”
To say that Zax’s spirit did not waver when he thought aboutand got closer to where that feeling, which was both alien and at the same timea part of him, instructed him to go, could only be a wretched lie. Zax was notstupid, even if he will overlook his deceiving actions; he knew that the pathhe was taking led to a place much worse and forbidden than the unsafe zone. Butit was out of his control, the pull that made him keep going tormented his mindif 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 readabout, walking on a cloud.
To appease this feeling, to appease himself Zax chose toabide 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 aroundit”. Zax decided to crawl the rest of the way under the vegetation until hewill see the tunnel to the next cave.
Crawling for about two and a half hours, the wall of theother side of the cave surely became visible, so much that when Zax could seeit without the interruption of the vegetation, it was possible for him todistinguish the shapes of the bigger bulges on it.
Rumble… Rumble… Rumble…
Suddenly the earth beneath him began to tremble. Trees fellone 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 asharp 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 hundredand thirty nine at nine forty five in the morning. Since a few kids from hergroup struggled to from the first crack on their Earth’s Cores, the whole grouphad to wait and ended up leaving late.
Back in cave one hundred and thirty nine Zetsa had onlythree things to do. The first was to sign off Zax from the Medical tent, thesecond was to actually pick up Zax, see how he was doing and the third thingwas to sign in the event’s Oversight tent that all the participants of cavetwenty 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 ownEarth’s Core and they cannot leave before that.
“Is something wrong?” After she parked her K-79, Zetsa metsome of the general staff members on her way to the Medical tent.
The two staff members were restless, walking in a hurriedpace and completely ignored Zetsa as if they did not notice her at all.
Since other than her duties as a representative GuardianZetsa did not have any other responsibilities in the event, she shrugged,assuming that the staff members were just cramped with too much work and toolittle rest.
“Doctor Elliot”, Zetsa greeted the blond woman in bluescrubs 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 wassitting on.
“Where is my brother?” Zetsa asked. Matter of fact, afterZetsa greeted Doctor Elliot, her gaze immediately turned to find Zax, so shedid not see Doctor Elliot’s facial expression until she realized that Zax isnot in the tent and the other woman stood face to face with her.
“My brother…” The tone in Zetsa voice was less polite thistime, almost demanding. She remembered the attitude of the two staff members. Shesaw 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 andthose who work in it cannot have an easy time, so once more Zetsa did not payattention to any of the staff members.
“Please sit, Zetsa”. Doctor Elliot asked. In truth, she wasjust a graduate and did not have a lot of experience with laying bad news.
“Is something wrong with my little brother?” Zetsa nervouslyasked. “Was something wrong with Zax when we left?” She asked herself as shealso tried to recollect.
When Zax groaned in pain and his complexion turned pale inthe square building, Zetsa did not understand what happened to him. Jergariasaid that it was a backlash from rushing the process to become a Mist User, butwas that really the cause? Zax was different from the other participant andalmost anyone else ever before him, his soul was already in level F and he alsowas aware of his Qi. Jergaria did know that or could imagine that her teachingswere adhering by such a prodigy; of course she would assume the most common excuseto explain Zax’s condition.
“To force a soul to jump a whole level, from F to E, when itjust achieved a breakthrough…” Zetsa could not deny the possibility of abacklash due to extreme tension on the soul, rather than what Jergariasuggested. “Was it too soon?” It was more complicated than this. Even If shewanted to keep Zax’s unique soul a secret for the time being, by law, theirparents were obligated to send him to the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit and untilZax 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, DoctorElliot was a mere E level Mist User. Zetsa could run in her mind a thousandthoughts and speculations before Doctor Elliot could finish forming just theone. So between the time that Zetsa was immersing in thoughts and Doctor Elliotwas about to answer her question, only one second had passed.
“Your brother, patient Zax Zel… he disappeared during thenight”. Doctor Elliot said truthfully.
Releasing a breath of relief and then comprehending what shehad heard, Zetsa held her voice from shouting. “Zax is gone?! Explain to meright now, where is my brother?!”
“I will answer everything, every question, however, pleasecalm down. We received a report not too long ago, we know where he is”. DoctorElliot tried to change her tone to be more soothing, if it could help her. She knewthat Zetsa was a representative Guardian, and a Mist Master, at that.
When Zetsa signed in the information of her and patient ZaxZel in the medical form that Doctor Elliot gave her, Zetsa wrote herself underthe “Kin” header as his big sister and under the “Mist User Level” header as aMist Master. Right now it was Doctor Elliot job to break Zetsa the new, and shedid not want to suffer from a Mist Master’s emotional burst.
“A hour and half ago…” A hour and half because Doctor Elliotslept oh too well, something which she chose not to share with the fretfulZetsa. “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’tpublic transportation to or from this area of cave one hundred and thirty ninetill the end of the event. Still, Mr. Helyon”, Doctor Elliot referred to the disciplinarysupervisor of the event. “He sent four vehicles to search the roads.”
“In the meantime he also looked at Zax’s results from thehunt… A E level Earth’s Core…” It was reasonably hard for even Doctor Elliot tohide the envy in her tone of voice and look in her eyes. “With a price Earth’sCore like this we did not believe that Zax will commit an illegal act and tryto retake the hunt. Nonetheless, while we waited for the staff members thatsearched the roads to update us, Mr. Helyon ordered the staff members that wereon break to enter cave zero thirty nine to investigate the participants thatare currently in the hunt. Half an hour ago a few kids admitted that they sawlast night, entering the participants’ compound…”
“Then my brother…”
“All the Guardians are informed, most of the staff membersalso 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.
Chapter 15 – Earth Shattering Brown Digger
A strong pungent odor burned Zax’s respiratory systemthrough his nostrils and rose to his brain, the body organ which contained thesoul.
Zax woke up from the smell, but when his eyes opened what hesaw was foreign. All he could see as he stared above was the ground as theceiling and a dim light illuminating from somewhere. The last imagery that Zaxcould remember was the earth he was lying on splitting and a black shadow, likea long and thick whip, moving quickly out of the cracks, tossing large piecesof the shattered earth.
“Urgh…” Zax moaned when he tried to get up. His stomach andback were in pain he was not aware of until he slightly moved himself up. Beforehe could achieve a measly one hundred and sixty degrees position, Zax’s bodyfell back and acute pain circling his abdomen and lower back specify the areaof his injuries.
“Gural… Gural… Gural…”
The sound was getting closer, from the direction that hisfeet 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 theground.
“It’s getting closer”. Zax said aloud only because his mindwas busy sulking in misery.
“The unsafe zone… it wasn’t unsafe because its proximity tothe REALLY unsafe beasts cave, but because there were still beasts roaming inthe searching cave… I was such a fool! How I didn’t think about it?! If it wasthe entrance to the next cave that they didn’t want us to get close to, theycould have just placed Guardians at the tunnel…” It was the voice of a childthat learned his lesson which rang in his mind.
However, apart from his own natural sprouting temperament, therewas one other voice that Zax listened to and in the past few days it can besaid, if one looked deeply, that it bewitched his soul, so much that it entwinedand became an integral part of Zax’s foundations.
The other voice was soundless, so Zax could only interactwith it by accepting how it made him feel. The one dominating sensation wasarrogance. The same arrogance that made Zax to so easily believe that hishardships will be to sneak into the batch of new participants and avoid thestaff members and different Guardians as he crosses the searching cave, than facingthe populated beasts’ cave he was heading to.
In this moment, it was the sense of arrogance that made Zaxto act, rather than keep sulking. Unsure if he should use his Soul Sense and ifhe do how it will affect him, Zax preferred to first bet on his Qi to survivethe, might be, approaching confrontation, since it felt like his Qi was back inorder, though surrounding the Earth’s Core in his dantian due to its inexplicablepowers of attraction.
Zax folded his knees and in both of his legs started tostream and to accumulate his Qi. In his mind he prepared himself to kick with hisfeet, 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 abeast – 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 hisrescue.
Regardless of his chances to preserve his life, Zax wasdetermined to retaliate.
As the beast, a few meters from Zax, noticed his action itinstantly 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’shuman ear perceived. What was the meaning, the desire behind those sounds? Evenif his mind was unruffled by the current situation, there was little chancethat he will know the answer.
“Is it not coming?” The question dared to slightly calm theuncertainty 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 awayfrom 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 morein his stomach muscles than in his lower back when he bent his neck and body abit up, but it still did not provide him a clear site of the beast. Zax onlyhad a full impression of one part of the beast’s body when it turned around andstepped away. What he saw was the perfect shape of the beast’s tail that like athick and long branch, crossed the distance between them and fluttered over hisbody. 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 amassive thing.
“It’s going!” It was like a scene from a dream or a latenight movie. The monster was leaving and one person, although injured andshaken, got to stay alive.
Zax concentrated his strength and endurance on getting upagain. Being aware of the pain made it easier the second time, and although itwas 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 andthis 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 whichbothered mentioning to children the existence of the beasts. One was Historylesson where beasts were talked about briefly and to the point. The other onewas Geography lesson where the students learned in an abbreviated manner aboutthe 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 tothe history lessons or geography lessons that Zax knew it, but by watchingbeasts’ related shows on the Screen and being exposed to reading materialsabout the beasts’ territory that experts have published online.
The beast that dragged him to this cavern was, in its fullname, 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 hindlegs. 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 couldtear through the earth as if it was a giant piece of tofu. The head of theBrown Digger was its least impacting feature. The head was large and not completelyround, though it had reptilian eyes, the rest, even the snout, was covered by puffylayers of fur. Only the knowledge of its hidden sharp teeth could truly alertothers from this not far from being adorable face.
The Brown Digger that appeared before Zax was clearly anadult one. From the tip of its tail to its hidden snout the length was morethan four meters. Its height when on its four limbs was around a meter andfifty centimeters.
Zax stared fixated at Brown Digger preying eyes. When hemoved up most of the accumulated Qi in his feet dispersed. If the Brown Diggercould sense his Qi accumulating once more, Zax was afraid that he will strikefirst and kill him. At this point, not even the arrogance sensation couldsupply him with an idea of what to do, for the most part not by using his Qi.
The Brown Digger expression was impossible to decipher. It growledand motionlessly looked at Zax’s direction. The one thing which differentiatedit from a statue was the long scaly tail that was swaying and rubbing theground.
The standstill between the two had mentally and physicallyexhausted Zax. He tried to stay watchful of any sudden movement of the BrownDigger, but how long has it been since he last ate or drank something? He wasnot craving food or water due to his emotional state, but his body, the Qi, thesoul… The three aspects of a living being were hardly bothered by emotional dispositionwhen it intersected with the basic need for nourishment, for survival.
Gazing at his wristwatch could also arouse the BrownDigger’s hostility, so Zax could not even tell how long he stood there whileunknowingly grabbing his stomach right where it hurt.
It was not long before Zax started panting. A few minutes ofshort and painful breaths brought him back to the coarse earth, this time onhis bottom.
“A soul attack…” Zax was panting even slowed the thought inhis head. If it were not for his inner mind, his head would have being beenutterly blank. “A soul attack with all my might… and then try to escape…” Thecavern was embedded with a few Sun Stones in the size of a rise grain. Lookingpast the Brown Digger, because of the dim lighting, Zax was not sure if thecavern was sealed by the Brown Digger or connected to a tunnel that might be themeans for his escape.
Ten minutes, without a doubt, have passed since his bottomtouched the earth. Another fifteen minutes as surely also followed as Zax andthe 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 hisbodily needs, but also because of the odor of the cavern. The more and longerthat 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 termsof his physique, Zax could only be said to be slightly better than an averageten years old boy. Thus, he collapsed.
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 thecavern, constantly rub him.
Zax opened his eyes, wondering if he broke some kind of arecord 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 onepearl of amusement, It was his coping mechanism in case the Brown Digger wasreally eating him and his body had been torn to the a state where he could feelanything.
“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 dirtwheels and turbines – real lifeboat were unneeded in Kingdom Earth and todaythe only leftovers from the past were rare pictures and drawings of how it waswhen people lived above the ground.
As he sailed across the sea of his consciousness, incapableof coming up with an answer, finding the most remote island, a metallic, saltyliquid poured into Zax’s mouth and filled it to the brim in an instant.
Zax could not help but rise with his back that was lying onthe ground and hit his head in the Brown Digger’s opened jaw.
As if it was not worse enough before, Zax found himselfbetween the sharp teeth of the Brown Digger as a gush of red green liquid burstfrom 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 thathis 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 unintentionallymimicking it, standing all four on the ground.
Zax spat the red green liquid that washed his mouth and smearedall of his body. Tiny meaty pieces where here and there, on the ground, stuckto him or coming out from his mouth. Even without the help of his Soul SenseZax knew the source of this ground meat. “The Brown Digger last meal!” If hecould, Zax would throw up, but his body was past this poor habit and his gagreflex toughened in the past couple of days…
Ground meat was not the only thing that came out with thestream of red green liquid. Thin slices of vegetation, mainly roots, werescattered everywhere.
The red green liquid, Zax assumed, was partly blood, partly fluidsof the green roots.
As Zax stood up on his feet with a straight back his gazefirst fell on the Brown Digger. The beast seemed to be in a laid back moodafter releasing the tension in its stomach. It did not gaze back at Zax orcared for another standstill. It simply dug its face into the earth, licked andmunched only the meaty pieces of its already digested meal.
Seeing that the Brown Digger was not concerned with him afamiliar feeling resurface in Zax. The former arrogance sensation changed backinto the vague attractive desire, which was responsible for his currentsituation.
“What’s got into me?” Zax asked, he wanted to hear his voiceand did not fret about the Brown Digger hearing him. “First I’m using my SoulSense and lose control while partaking in the search. When I return to myselfit’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’spulling me toward it, making me want… whatever it is... Now I’m stuck in thiscavern with an adult Brown Digger that first I feel confident enough to take onand after it puke on me, it’s all well…”
As crazy as all of it sounds, Zax knew the origin to themadness that befell him. But dealing with it… The origin was the aliensensation, desire, need or whichever other name that Zax could find fit todescribe it. And the problem was that during a short period of time, maybeafter the second time that Zax lost control, the alien sensation was no longeralien and actually became part of him. That part, although messed up, was notsomething Zax could refute, and asking him to ignore or overcome it will be thesame as asking a kleptomaniac not to steal. Zax’s actions, at first, were notdone 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 fromthe sensation, was to clean himself as much as possible from the disgust thatstuck to his body. Zax went as far as stripping out of his clothes – it was notlike 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 BrownDigger could eat anything.
“Useless! I need to wash myself”. Zax gave up. When theBrown Digger snatched him, his backpack was either left behind or fellsomewhere along the way to this cavern. If he had it in hand he could have usedthe water from the water bottles to clean himself since he emptied only a thirdof one bottle out of the two that he took from the Medical tent.
“The pulling and squeezing from the Brown Digger’s tail…” AsZax saw his stomach, waist and back a spark of comprehension appeared in hiseyes and he grimaced. Where the Brown Digger tail wrapped him, a belt of redand blue, ground skin and bruises, encircled his waist.
“The juice of the green roots!” Taking a closer look made Zaxcall in wonderment.
The red part of the liquid was the blood of the creature theBrown Digger ate. The green part of the liquid was the fluids of the roots thatthe Brown Digger ate. When Zax examined his wounds and saw that despite the severityof them he did not feel pain while turning, bending and even touching, an absurdhypothesis crossed his mind. He discovered that while the blood dried andhardened on his skin, the fluids remained gooey, tucked under an armor made ofblood, as if it was an ointment under a bandage.
“What the…!” Zax’s gaze shot at the Brown Digger whoflinched 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 eventreat the sounds coming out from Zax’s mouth as if they held any meaning whichwas directed toward it. Its intelligence was only a little better than that ofthe cattle that was raised in some of cave twenty five’s farms. In response toZax’s subsiding gaze the Brown Digger’s mere action was lowering its head to itsmeal.
As both kept a mutual distance, Zax drew his attention tohis slowly healing injuries. To avoid rousing submerged pain, he inspected towhich extent he could move. As he stretched his arms above his head it abruptlyoccurred to him. “My wristwatch!”
Not knowing how long it had been since he ended up in theBrown 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. Thedate froze on the same day of the search he snuck into and the time also frozeon an hour which, unless it was a new day, should have passed long ago. “Itbroke…” An immature sigh escaped Zax’s mouth.
“Well then”, Zax’s hands loosened and fell to the sides ofhis waist. “If it doesn’t gonna eat me and instead chose to treat the woundsthat 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 heencircled the long body of the Brown Digger.
The Brown Digger lifted its furry apathetic head from the earth, still chewing theground meat its tongue picked up and stared at Zax. A black radiant appeared inbetween its eyes.
Chapter 16 – Black Core
The one word suddenly sprouted, not as an external sound ofthe Brown Digger’s voice, but was conveyed like a wave of thought from theblack radiance between the Brown Digger’s eyes.
Zax stared at the Brown Digger with a suspended expressionon his childish face. “It… It…”
The black radiance, like a charming third eye, hiddenbeneath the Brown Digger fur, still echoed the one word which sounded as if itwas spoken with Zax’s own vocal cords.
The word repeated, less daunting the second time, though itremained firm and forceful. The wave carried another thing when it reachedZax’s mind once more, a tint of a submissive mutual desire between the blackradiance and the domineering sensation that became part of him.
Without paying heed to his actions, Zax’s right hand reachedfor the Brown Digger’s head. His fingers dug through the layers of fur, wherethe spot of black radiance shone, with each millimeter deeper it felt like the familiarity between the blackradiance and the domineering sensation was getting stronger, until the fingerswere 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 tworeptilian eye balls seemed lifeless and hazy as fluctuations of brown mist energyswirled inside of them.
Looking at them, Zax had a vague feeling that the BrownDigger was at the same state that he was and that maybe in his eyes, it was Qithat swirled.
The Brown Digger, if he was half consciousness like Zax, didnot oppose Zax closeness or touch. When the two were in contact it made boththe Brown Digger and Zax experience a sort of kinship that originated from theother half of their consciousness. It could be described as if the two wereunder one and the same spell.
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 morecontrol, enough to make the choice if to listen to the voice or ignore it. Byrelaying on how he felt, Zax was partial toward compliance. He had done so muchfor the irrational sensation; it also became an inseparable part of him thatone could say he had done so much for himself. What was one more thing if itwill only make him feel better? Not pressed by the need to do something hecould not rationalize.
It was already too late to repent, and too early of a tenyears old child to listen for reason rather than an impulse.
Before he even got to clench his hands with a grip of theBrown Digger’s fur and climb it, the two were startled by Zax’s stomach growlingsounds. Zax fell to his bottom, the small bit for energy that he was about toextract could not be achieved in his body current state, despite the green glueyliquid that was healing his wounds.
As if something clicked in its mind, the Brown Diggerregained a miniscule portion of its consciousness. It turned from Zax, walkedto a certain spot on the ground and in a manner of a few seconds, surprisinglydug out Zax’s backpack.
Since the two shared a cryptic connection, when Zax’sstomach was growling, although both were mostly under the influence of thesource of the connection, the Brown Digger still managed to receive a pictureof Zax’s backpack and an idea of what its content meant for Zax. Moreover, thesound of a growling stomach has held a distinguished note all living beingscould recognize.
Zax’s incomplete awareness made him grasp his body movementslowly and with no relations to his will. It was the same as watching throughdreaming eyes and going along with it. Zax grab his backpack from the Brown Digger’smouth, opened it and one by one ate all the remaining snacks and drank all thewater to his fill.
The Brown Digger, who was affected by the cravings of Zax’sbody through the connection, also licked the ground as he done before, onlythis time by what its counterpart projected.
After couple of long minutes, Zax was sated and the blackradiance shone brightly in between the Brown Digger’s eyes.
One word, which was sufficient for Zax to understand whatthe voice, his voice, implied, caused him to put the backpack on his back andclimb the Brown Digger’s back.
How the sound resonated made Zaxwonder, for a few seconds, in some deep part of his consciousness, whether theBrown Digger was just a tool of the black radiance, when in fact it was theblack radiance that had the connection with him. Could the words that carriedhis voice were actually his own from the start and since a beast like a BrownDigger cannot talk, the black radiance pulled the words from his mind and sentthem back as its own? The question dispersed to nothingness with the first stepof the Brown Digger out of the cavern to the tunnel that indeed was on theother side.
The Brown Digger’s path wasilluminated by a handful of grain size Sun Stones and regardless of how it wasinfluenced to eat because of Zax, the affect seemed to be one sided.
The tunnels in the profound worldof the Brown Diggers were carved in a very systematic order, considering thelow intelligent of Brown Diggers... Tunnels in and out caverns were slightlywide and tall as an adult Brown Digger on all four. Tunnels which functioned aspaths to different locations beneath the ground were as wide and tall as twoadult Brown Diggers. Crossroads tunnels were the biggest ones, they were theplaces adults sometimes fought against each other and pups sometimes played in.There were several others types of tunnels with different builds whichsignified different stuff for the Brown Digger, but in none of these tunnelsthe Brown Digger carrying Zax crossed.
Lastly, and not entirely related tothe tunnels but still part of the profound word of the Brown Diggers... Thereason for the bad smell in the cavern that Zax was in and most other cavernswas the method in which the Brown Diggers used to mark their private dwellings…
Seeing the tender flesh meatcarried by another of their own, was a sensible reason for Brown Diggers tofight over it, to try and snatch it, and most times that exactly what would hadhappened. Yet instead, while Zax rode on the back of the Brown Digger, wheneveran adult Brown Digger was about to react to his presence, something unexpectedtook place that might have shocked Zax if half of his mind was not unconsciousand the other half free from the dream like state.
On the head of every adult BrownDigger, in between their eyes, a black radiance shone. The same happened to agreat number of the Brown Digger pups and those of the little ones whom did notdisplay the black radiance were forced to stay in their place by their parents,right before they and every other Brown Digger paused their activities. Theeffect of the suspension lasted up until the Brown Digger that carried Zax divertedits path to another tunnel and was too far for the other Brown Diggers tonotice by smell or sight the human on its back.
Time flew by as seconds turned intominutes and minutes to hours, eventually nearly three days had passed. A humanboy could not withstand such journey without food and rest, but beneath theground, in the world of Brown Diggers there was very little that could pose as nutritionfor humans.
The first day and a half was stillbeneath 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 throughtheir connection felt that Zax was hungry, left to hunt while Zax rested,guarded by another Brown Digger with black radiance on its head. However, whenit got back with a feathery carcass, Zax, in his half aware state, was reluctantto feed on it. Even the word “EAT!” that resonated in Zax mind, a wave in hissea of consciousness, it could not compel Zax to eat.
The Brown Digger left Zax andhunted time and time again. It did not let Zax to climb on its back andcontinue when Zax refused to eat, it could not. The thing which controlled theBrown Digger sent it to find and bring food to sate Zax’s hunger; otherwise itwould not let them proceed. In the sixth time the Brown Digger returned fromthe hunt it brought orange juicy fruits. Maybe it was their appearance, maybeit was the sensation or maybe Zax really knew what these fruits were… eitherway, he ended up eating them. Afterwards, in the first day and a half, theBrown Digger left only once more to bring food and by this time, returned quitefast with a branch of the tree that grew the orange fruits.
The last day of their journey wasabove 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 sizeor even a little smaller that lived above the ground was more dangerous than aBrown Digger, as if oversize rodent was still just a rodent. On their way totheir destination in the last day, after Zax eaten the last orange fruit, theBrown Digger did not left to bring more of the fruits or allowed a moment ofrest to either of them. During the last day the Brown Digger still obeyed theblack radiance like a robot, but followed its instincts in regards to theirsurvival.
Finally they entered it. Theentrance tunnel was uniquely small, similar to the in and out tunnels fromcaverns in the Brown Diggers’ world. The cave, however, was as big as any ofthe beasts’ caves, its scenery, on the other hand, was like nothing theyencountered, whether they paid attention or not.
Although the tunnel to the cave sankinto the ground, this appeared to be of no concern to the duo. Smoky mist thatsprouted from the ground like incomparable hot steam was the thing whichdelayed Zax and the Brown Digger for a short time after they entered. The smokymist had lava like orange color, almost as bright and prominent as gold. Itblocked the view of the cave and possibly burnt any sign of life that everexisted in the cave.
The black radiance, although itdeflected the smoky mist from Zax’s and the Brown Digger’s path by creating abarrier in the shape of a dome, it could not lower the temperatures of theboiling earth. Nonetheless, the Brown Digger, despite burning its paws witheach step, did not slow down or even flinched from the pain. It continuedonward for a few hours and collapsed when there was no need for it to gofarther – that was when the black radiance faded from its head and only thebarely half aware Zax remained, sort of, awake.
The two arrived to a rock thatcould be either a base of a mountain the smoky mist cover, or simply a giantrock. Besides several cavities of the same size and shape in the rock, embeddedto it were two fist sizes, glowing spheres which emitted a terrifyingly strongblack radiance that far repressed the boiling earth and smoky mist’scapabilities within a diameter of a few tens of meters.
The new black radiance, of onesphere out of the two, assaulted Zax’s consciousness, but did not harm hissoul. The black radiance meticulously formed a black membranes armor aroundZax’s soul. When the armor was indomitable, Zax’s soul was sheltered from anyoutside harmful fluctuations, yet could still interact and perceive as before. Followingthe complete formation of the armor, a black glimmer flashed in Zax’s eyes andhe regained full consciousness.
Since he was aware to a certaindegree of his surroundings and his action, Zax did not immediately react whenhe again looked at the world with clear eyes. The transition from an half awaredream state to refreshing clarity was also not abrupt as it is when one wakesup for a dream. The transition was subtle and in its process, Zax’s unique soulfirst familiarized itself with the black membranes armor, which seemed to benothing special. At most, a defensive layer that moved along with the movementof the soul energy. Second, Zax’s inner mind, unobstructed by the sensation orvoices that rang in his head, recalled as much as he could of the past two anda half days. After a few minutes he was perfectly he was perfectly versed withevery at any given moment from the journey.
Zax eyebrows contracted. Lookingaround at the smoky mist and the panting Brown Digger, he said aloud. “Itwasn’t you, right? You were just a tool to bring me here”. His gaze moved tothe sphere that formed the black membranes armor. “You guided us here… Are youan Earth’s Core?”
It was ludicrous to ask, but theblack sphere had the shape of an Earth’s Core and even seemed to have dark swirlingmist inside of it. In Kingdom Earth there was not ever a known case of anEarth’s Core communicating with a person, at least no one ever publish theexistence of such an extraordinary event. And yet, Zax was confident in hisbeliefs. Being so close to the origin of the black radiance, he did not knowhow it controlled the Brown Digger or him or how it communicated with either ofthem, but he was sure that it was the black sphere, one of the two, that doneso.
In spite of Zax’s hopes, the blacksphere he turned his question to, did not respond. “Should I try it now thatI’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 madeup his mind and released his Soul Sense.
There was nothing to sense. Whenhis Soul Sense launched, the black armor also extended itself as part of the borderof the Soul Sense. The black border severed Zax contact with the environmentalessence and formed a void sphere with a radius of a hundred and thirty fivecentimeters. Within the void the lack of senses did not scared Zax, on thecontrary, he felt at peace, like floating inside a mother womb.
Zax’s hearing was impacted and thesound was that of a pulse.
Zax’s smell returned, next, and theodor was sweet and vast.
Zax’s sight was the only one of hissenses he was not sure if he had lost or merely darkened by his eyelids. Withit he discovered a shining distant spot in the black cover of his Soul Sense.
Zax’s taste intersected with hissense of smell and the vast sweetness spread out in his mouth and filled hisbody.
Zax’s last sense returned. Touch.He stopped floating, and could tell that once more he was standing on a solidground.
Zax five senses led him unanimouslyforward and with his steps getting closer, so was everything he sensedintensifying. “There, it’s showing me when I use my Soul Sense!” His right handstarched and his five fingers clenched something smooth and round.
The impulse passed through Zax’shand and shook his whole body from his skin to his bone marrow. Startled, Zaxfell on his knees. For a split millisecond he saw it, the being that left thisblack Earth’s Core behind. If Zax had to choose one word to describe it, then“Colossal!” was the one.
“Ahaaa…” Other than a crudeestimation of its size Zax could not fathom the entity’s features. His mouthwas left opened and an indistinct voice came out. The shortest of moments ofits true presence blanked his mind. When the moment was over Zax unintentionallywithdrew his Soul Sense and the Black Core disappeared from the palm of hishand.
“Where did it go?!” Zax’s eyesbulged 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 streamback to all the Qi channels and stir in them. Things were happening to the mediumquality E level Earth’s Core, as well. Its color started to darkened. TheEarth’s Core’s shell gradually turned pitch black, so much that it wasimpossible to detect or see with Zax mind’s eye the mist inside of it.
“What is it doing?” Zax located theBlack Core. It was right next to the E level Earth’s Core, sending pulses ofdark radiance to the Earth’s Core, Qi and soul.
In his dantian, Zax could only feelthat his soul link with the Earth’s Core and Black Core was slowly fading, butin his Qi channels and soul… “AHHHHH!” Excruciating pain cut through Zax two ofthe three aspects, soul and Qi. Zax roared madly, winced and banged his head tothe ground. “GRHAAAA!” His voice cracked and echoed for hundreds of meters aspulses of black radiance were sent from the Black Core and black long spikes piercedevery fiber of the last aspect, his body. The sudden pain was intolerable tothe point that Zax could not think straight. He was awfully conscious ofeverything, the piling of his soul, the disintegration of his body, the Qiwhich 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 soulwas wavering, the only safe haven was within the seed of his creation, thespirit.
Chapter 17 – Diagnosis
While Zax’s body experiencedconvulsions as a result of the intolerable pain, his consciousness abandonedthe three aspects for a place where none of them could influence him. Within the sea of his consciousness, in thecenter which was the most conclusive place of the soul, Zax was cuddling, ormore properly, the spirit that was Zax Zell took the naked form of a ten yearsold 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 thecontrol of the Black Core and the black radiance also vanished from in betweenits eyes. Confused by its surrounding, the burns on its paws and it exhaustedstate; a great hunger howled from its stomach and from his mouth came out a cautionarygrowl 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 BrownDigger could easily smell the blood splattered beneath Zax torso – he spat it involuntarywhen his body started to spasm. On that note, the Brown Digger sense of smellwas more unique than strong, since it was known to be capable to actually smellQi or mist energy, even when inside an Earth’s Core’s shell.
“Gurrrr!” The Brown Digger got close to Zax, his sharp clawsready to separate meat from bone.
A heavy hoof stumped the head of the Brown Digger and avoice that was sneering expressed his disdain. “Vermin…”
Another hoof sent the body of the Brown Digger flying.However, before it touched the ground again, the smoky mist corroded the giantrodent into nothingness.
“That stone!” The remaining Black Core caught the attentionof 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 turnedto Zax. “A human child… Must be Zetsa’s little brother”. An azure luster gleamedin the black round eyes as they surveyed Zax, in and out. When an assessmenthad been made the eyes closed and opened again, the azure luster vanished. Twomuscular 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 isstable, and in the past days I treated him to the best of my abilities. As yousaw, and from what I read in the report, there were none external injuries andthe inner ones were small and in the process of healing when you alreadybrought him. For his body, he will need only couple of months of rest. It isalso, probably, what prevents him from regaining consciousness. I hope youunderstand that we will have to wait to know for sure?” The man speaking was ofage, bald and wrinkled, also a proficient practitioner that embarked on thepath of medicine over a century ago. “His Qi channels and soul however…” Theman sighed and laid his hand on Zetsa’s shoulder.
“I don’t understand, Doctor Nijima, that my little brother’sbody needs to heal to wake up, yes. But what about his Qi channels and soul?”
Zetsa wished that she could scream at Doctore Nijima, buther parents sat not far from them, inside Zax’s room, besides his bed and thesupportive 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 researchwill be concluded days ago, instead you came two times to diagnosis my littlebrother’s condition, each time you promise to return with explanation, and thisis the third time in four days and I still hears the same words. If you cannot accomplishanything in your, supposedly, vocation, than ask them to send someone else, ateam, 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’sCore Pursuit, heard of the return of the young felon, they wanted toimmediately address the matter of Zax’s inexplicable, illicit actions. As it sohappened, for several reasons, things went the other way and they had torestrain themselves.
First, to hold back the hostile treatment that any whobreaks the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit’s rules receives, Zetsa sent a detailedmessage to the committee, highlighting the inadequate and irresponsible regulationand supervision the event upholds, which allowed a ten years old boy to sneakpast all the event’s staff and the so called experts that are hired orvolunteer as staff, and disappeared underneath their noses in thehunting\searching cave. Zetsa, with her parents involve, made it clear how farand wide the news of a ten years old missing during the event could spread inthe kingdom.
Following that, there was the reasoning that the case of aparticipant 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 theyoung participant before their hunt, among the other laws that they inform themabout. To top the weirdness of such deed, the committee had to deal with thefact that the boy, Zax Zell, according to his report, had found and formed aLink with a medium quality E level Earth’s Core, in the undisputed names of theSupreme Rulers!
And then there was the matter of the young felon physicalcondition. Frankly, for Zax to be brought back alive, it surprised anyone whoknew about the case. For Zax to return uninjured, that is externally, was alsoquite a shock. And since regardless of the actions the family of the young felonthreatened to pursue, in one way or another, the event’s committee had to getinvolve in some way.
When Zetsa brought over Zax, she took him to the closetmedical facility, which was the Medical tent of the event in cave one hundredand thirty nine. From there, things proceeded as one doctor after another cameto see Zax only to shake his or her head submissively. The event’s committeehad the decency to still treat Zax as a participant, and to mellow thesituation that a mere child caused the used any means to first support thefamily. When their doctors came up with no results, the event’s committee beganto 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 committeehad given his or her own name when talking about Zax.
Doctor Nijima had a private practice which only high classfamilies could afford. He had no obligation toward the national event, GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit, so naturally the event’s committee had to pay a great sumto ask for his diagnosis.
He ended up being the only medical practitioner that tookcare of Zax in the past four days. In the beginning it was for the money, sincehe was sure that with his century of experience there could not be somethingnew with the ability to surprise him. It was easy to point out the physicalcondition of the patient, and so it was the first thing he did. Unfortunately, diagnosingthe reason for the clots in Zax’s Qi channels, how his Qi liquefied and how thesoul of a ten years old boy, or a soul in general, could have a hint of blackin its color, were all things he never encountered which aroused his dormantcuriosity.
And what about the public hospitals which were in eachpopulated cave in Kingdom Earth? The name would suggest the answer of why notturning to them…
It has been a long time since the last time a family memberof 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 alreadycould cure most diseases or odd conditions of the three aspects he faced. Afterso 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 enoughmoment to make her forget her frustration and for Doctor Nijjima to make us ofit.
“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 thekitchen.
“Doctor…” Zetsa followed with a mixed expression on her facedisplaying 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 sprinkleon his finger before tasting it. “Terrible, terrible! You want to let an oldman drink such poisonous water?”
“What? Poisonous? The plumbing is fairly new…” While sayingso, Zetsa asked herself why is she the one to speak defensively.
“Then the water is fairly poisonous”. Doctor Nijima closedthe tap in dissatisfaction. “Forget it. Go buy a bottle of clean water, it isfine, I’m willing to wait”. He sat on a chair and put his bag on the diningtable.
“Doctor”, Zetsa felt her head growing dizzy that in anymoment 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 canmake it. Talk to me about-”
“Zax, your “little brother”…” He repeated with the samesound that her voice carried whenever she mentioned him. “You want me to tellyou? 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 teapotmade of several types of minerals along with four cups made from the samematerials. “However we will talk on a cup of tea. So go on, go on, and bring mea bottle of clean water. Then and only then I will talk to you”.
Facing the decisiveness of Doctor Nijima, a man Zetsa justrealized is not a mere geezer, but an annoying one at that, Zetsa clenched herfists and turned to the door with fiery eyes. If only she could use force tomake Doctor Nijima answer her question, she would have done it already. Butalas, the annoying geezer was dimensions above her even on the path of herchoosing, the Martial Path.
As many who paid attention know, though the primary path ofDoctor Nijima was that of medicine, one cannot just leave for over a hundredand fifty years without also cultivating the three aspects. And as many wholived long enough know, the name which virtually known today as Doctor Nijima,held two meanings. “Doctor” was not just an attached title due to hisprofession, but after years of painstakingly learning every possible thing onhis field of research, it has become an inseparable definition of who was theMan. “Nijima” was remnant of the past, a name once widely known in KingdomEarth of a boy which by the age of eighteen reached the level of a B level MistUser, 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 beenstuck 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 ifthere really is something wrong with the plumbing, her parents and littlebrother, when he will wake, will have clean water to drink until the problemwill be fixed.
“Splendid”. Doctor Nijima said as he received a bottle fromZetsa and began to brew the pot of tea. Not long after, four cups were filledto the brim by a hot aromatic tea. “Bring them to your parents. They stayed inZax’s room since my arrival”. He offered two of the four cups to Zetsa andaffected by the rich fragrance of the tea, she quietly accepted.
Couple of minutes late, Zetsa returned, took a seat by thedining table and seemed to wait for Doctor Nijima to finally speak.
It took the all cup of tea for Doctor Nijima to begintalking, but eventually he laid the cup on a tray that was part of his kit andsaid. “About the body you already know. It will heal in a few months, as I’vetold you before. The Qi channels are a bit difficult to describe… it liquefiedand formed clots in the Qi channels, that already supposed to mean deathsentence, but in Zax’s case is body still sustaining. Do you understand my andthose 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 CoreMaster level. However, even a Core Master will die in a matter of days if theflow in the mist channels will become clogged. With a superficial observation Ican tell you that Zax’s Qi and Qi channels have been through some unimaginabletransformations and that is mostly the reason that he is still alive. But witha proper diagnosis I can promise you that even if Zax will wake up, unless hewill go through another ordeal of transformations, he won’t even be able to usehis Qi, and the Earth’s Core in his dantian will remain sealed and unproductivetill the day he will die”.
“Unable to use his Qi…” The word cut through Zetsa’s heartand a great pain in her chest caused her body to shudder. She knew about theclots in the Qi channels, but was not sure of their implications until thisvery moment. It is safe to say that she was relieved to know that first andforemost 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’sface when he gave her Zax and could tell now what he avoided from telling herback then, when she asked him about Zax’s condition. “How can I ever tell thisto Zax...?” She knew how much agony this revelation will cause to her littlebrother, “it will destroy him!”
“Treatment?” As if he read her mind, Doctor Nijima said inher place. “That is why I told you that you won’t be able to do anything withthe information. As far as I know, there are no treatment to the condition ofZax’s Qi and Qi channel. Granted, if one cultivate incompetently, there areways to deal with clots in the Qi channels, but these ways are clearlyunsuitable for treating Zax. You see, not only his Qi liquefied; it also didnot kill him. That is unheard of! If it will be treated commonly, I’m ninetynine percent sure that Zax will die”.
Zetsa wanted to say something in return, but could not find thewords to rebuke Doctor Nijima or to urge him to find a solution since he saidso form the beginning that he is still researching.
“Then his soul, my little brother’s soul?” Hope. She had tofind some solace. Just a little, it could not be that all is lost!
Doctor Nijima did not immediately answer; he first finisheda second cup of tea and motioned for Zetsa to do the same.
“This is also an untreatable situation. However, afteroverviewing the progression of Zax’s convalescence as a whole… The source ofthe black color still eluded me. It seems in the midst of transforming Zax’ssoul by eroding pieces of it and recreating them, yet without harming thespirit”.
“Zax’s soul is peeling?!” Zetsa choked and rose from theseat. “The… the… the pain he must be going through!” Thought of it nearly madeher go out of her mind. Any expert should know it… Not to mention peeling asoul, a simple soul attack such as one that barely shakes the soul can bringdown a person. The gap in the severity of pain is even greater than the gapbetween a Core Breaker, the weakest kind of Expert, and a Core Master, a SuperExpert!
“Sit down, I have not finished talking. I’m assuming that iswhat it does because I detected in Zax’s consciousness scraps, which radiateenergy that resemble normal soul energy. What more problematic is that we arestill very lacking in means to treat a damaged soul. A normal person, in anormal case, even someone at your level, would most probably die if somethingwill peel three to five percent of your soul. That is because such procedure isimpossible to perform without creating repels that won’t harm the spirit, atthe very least, that is what I thought until I met your little brother.”
“Zax, on the other hand, you told me that his soul reachedlevel F and is capable of using a Soul Sense that is stronger than that of aCore Breaker? Well, I’ll take that as a confirmation that Zax is not a normalperson. And now let me indicate that over ninety five percent of his soul hasbeen transformed. By that I’m saying bluntly that far more than five percent hadbeen peeled from his soul, which in turn makes it a very abnormal case. Is Zax’ssoul suffering from the transformation? In my uneducated opinion it is not”.
Doctor Nijima took two more teacups from his bag and pouredthe remaining tea, with a gesture for Zetsa to take them over to her parentsand closed his eyes, absolving himself from anything she might say in protestthat he should first finish explaining the matter of her little brother’s soul.
She returned from the room with the two cups that shebrought her parents before and Doctor Nijima was pleased that the cups wereempty.
“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. Converselythere is one certainty of which I’m one hundred percent confident about. Whenthe transformation will be complete and Zax will wake up, his soul level shouldnot be below that of a D level Earth’s Core Holder”.
Chapter 18 – No Different Than A Cripple
A breeze of refinement blew and passed in every reach ofZax’s consciousness. The force of perfect completion originated from Zax’snewly 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 ofblack particles. The small lifelike particles spun around the spirit and mergedwith the inward layer of Zax’s soul. When the inside of the soul reverted backto serenity, a beat of awakening transpired from the spirit and the shut eyesof 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 connectedto him and hummed next to his right ear had a small bulb that kept on blinkingin green light.
“I can’t see much”. Zax said in mind. For some reason itfelt like a burden to use his voice. “It hurts when I try to move”. It morelike 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 discomfortto even let his eyelids stay open, Zax still asked himself coolheaded.
“My head… my mind… it feels so refreshed!” Zax lowered hiseyelids and mused on the great feeling in his sea of consciousness. “Is that mysoul?” 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 blackradiance like the…” Just when he was about to think of it, Zax found it. “TheBlack Core is in my dantian and also… the E level Earth’s Core also there, andits color also changed to black?! How can that be possible?”
Thoughts ran through his mind, sharper, faster and calmerthan 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’sCores? Or is it one and another which is… a Black Core?” For whatever reasonthe Black Core did not seem to him the same as a regular Earth’s Core now thathe was in possession of it. Or rather he knew that the two were different, buthe could not point out in what manner.
“Maybe big sis will know, or mommy or daddy”. Even though hewas not affected by the passage of time because of the dormancy and before thatwas partly under the control of the Black Core, as Zax thought of those he hadnot seen since the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit and were missing to him inmoments 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 hisexperience in the beasts’ territory were clear and unhindered by strangesensations or black radiance. The tiny bit of his awareness that was presentand witnessed back then emerged from where it was submerged and made all thepent up stress erupt in one go.
“Mom! Mom! Dad…” Zax called for his parents. He barely gavenotion to how in one moment his mind was so sober and in another he losthimself to mere feelings. But children do not acknowledge their weaknesses andlimitations. Those things are a part of them that they do not question and canonly concur by slowly maturing. Zax might have a soul that is on an equal levelas a D level Mist User and most definitely more capable. His soul can grant hima clearer insight and comprehension than anyone whose soul level is lower, buthaving a better tool does not affect the proficiency of the user until they diligentlytrain in it. Thus, Zax kept crying in a hoarse voice like a lost child.
“Heavens, Laylen! Thank our Supreme Rulers! Our son hasopened 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 hisson’s room in his sleep and awakened before his wife.
The tears were mutual. Marco knew that he cannot lift Zaxfrom the bed, so he bent his back and hugged him gently, caressing one cheekwith his hand and rubbing his face and tears in the other.
“Dear!” Laylen screamed. Unlike her husband she did notapproach her son instantly. When she saw that Marco was already there and herson crying on his shoulder, like the child that he actually was and sometimesshe 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. Howcould a mother lose her child and be depended on others to find him?
“Mooom!” When the sound of Zax’s hoarse voice reachedLaylen, she stopped thinking and ran to him with red eyes.
“Oh! Zax, Zax, Zax, Zax…” Laylen’s cheek replaced Marco’shand and she called for her son and kissed him.
Marco buried his face in Zax’s small head. He did notexpress the sorrow that he felt, the thoughts of his incompetence as a fatherby calling up his son’s name. He just cried silently.
It was not long before Zax fallen asleep between hisparents. Marco and Laylen were awake for a while longer. It was the middle ofthe night, but to go back to sleep felt like abandoning their son, even thoughnothing that happened had anything to do with them. Eventually, they fellasleep. Laylen was lying carefully beside Zax and Marco leaned on the bed whilesitting on the floor.
Per Doctor Nijima’s instructions, on the morning of thefollowing day Marco changed the fluids in the supportive care unit to adifferent medicinal fluid which Doctor Nijima prescribed for Zax after he willwake up. The first type of medicinal fluids were to sustain and nourish Zax’sbody during the past months, the second type was to rehabilitate his body toperfect shape and could be given only when the body was completely healed.
As a side effect of the rehabilitation process, Zax sleptfor four consecutive days. By the time he awakened again the supportive careunit has already been returned to the hospital the committee of the GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit rented it from. It was also for the better that Zaxremained a sleep for a little longer. Since his parents were not much ofcultivators 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 ofher parents to call her the instant Zax would wake up, before they will replacethe 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 byher beloved brother side when he woke up.
Zax cried right when he recognize his big sister, the oneperson beside him. She was there, sitting on his bed as if by intuition sheknew that he was awakening. However, Zax’s back to normal voice quickly fadedaway as he remembered how he wronged his big sister. By looking in Zetsa’seyes, it was easy to detect that she had similar thoughts, as well.
“Did you calm down?” Zetsa asked. In her voice or facialexpression she did not express the same longing for her little brother as theirparents did. Zax nodded.
“Good. Sit up”.
Zax was sniffling and rubbing his eyes. He looked away whenhis big sister made eye contact with him and he noticed that something wasamiss in the clear blue eyes that were always smiling at him. That sort of lookin his big sister eyes purged his mind from his own selfishness, he was willingto 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 forthem.
“Listen to what I have to say and don’t interrupt me”. Zetsasaid solemnly, intending to convey for him everything of the past couple ofmonths.
Zetsa first imparted, not immediately rebuked, the kind of repercussionsthat she and their parents had to deal with because of his incomprehensible thoughtlessactions, both from the event’s committee and their own suffering.
“You were lost. Lost! Zax! Taken by a beast!” She grittedher teeth. “An E level Earth’s Core was not enough for you?! How could you beso irresponsible?!”
Hearing his big sister’s voice cracking, Zax was afraid totalk back.
“Well? Tell me, I want to know what was so wrong with anEarth’s Core most people can’t even dream about!”
Realizing that she really was waiting for an answer, Zaxgasped for a few seconds and began to narrate his side of his time in the GreatEarth’s Core Pursuit.
An hour later Zax’s voice silenced and Zetsa was in themidst of processing his bizarre story.
“And you say that there was an orange mist in the cave?“ Shesaid while thinking of something her Martial uncle told her the day he foundher little brother and a day before he, unexpectedly, secluded himself in closeddoors training.
“Yes”. Zax replied softly, unsure of the temperament in hisbig sister’s words.
“And the Black Core…”
“There were two, but one is now in my lower dantian with theE level Earth’s Core… It changed its color to black… Big sis, I was waiting foryou because I wasn’t sure what to do. My soul I feel has become so muchstronger, and my body also feeling better than ever, but I can’t feel my Qianymore…” Zax pleaded for Zetsa to impart him some guidance.
“Little Zi…” Finally, a shred of affection came out fromZetsa’s lips and the expression on her face softened.
When Doctor Nijima checked Zax’s three aspects the onlyabnormalities were in Zax’s Qi channels and soul. In regards to his body,something caused it some internal injuries but nothing further. He did notmention the existence of another Earth’s Core in Zax’s dantian nor the a changein the coloring of his E level Earth’s Core that he had yet to crack, and nowand in the future he most likely will never succeed in doing so.
“Could it be as a result of what changed Zax’s soul? Diduncle hide something from me?” Zetsa pondered. The things which Zax told herwere unheard of, but also the condition of two of his three aspects!
“Zax, Doctor Nijima said that when you will wake up, yoursoul should be the same as a D level Earth’s Core Holder. Try to see how farcan you expend your Soul Sense?” If she had to inform Zax of the analysis ofDoctor Nijima, she preferred to start with something that will not impede his attentivestate of mind.
“Okay”. With his big sister next to him, the feeling of vigorouspower in his soul and the freedom from being under the control of the BlackCore, Zax agreed and even smiled when he done so.
Releasing the restrained force of his soul, the one he wasafraid to use when he realized in the search that it makes him act funny, tosay 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 sideof his soul like never before, easily passing a meter and thirty five, his lostlimit, and it kept going to every side like a sphere which he was its center.
“Ten meters! Fifteen meters! Twenty! Thirty…” He counted byremembering the length of a centimeter that Zetsa showed him in the past. Heeffortlessly lined in his mind, one centimeter after the other, and watched withglee as they did not come to an end. After five thousand centimeters or fiftymeters, Zax stopped counting. His perception was as fast as the progression ofhis Soul Sense and in the current level of his soul he could spend in thoughtson seconds as if it was half a hour.
“Well, is he going to use his Soul Sense?” Zetsa started atZax, stumped. As someone with a higher level soul she should have felt when Zaxused his Soul Sense, but right now she still did not sense the anticipatedfluctuation that a soul beneath the level of Core Breaker creates. “Zax-”
“Big sis! Big sis! One hundred and fifty meter! One hundredand 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, losinghis balance and fell on the floor, laughing.
“One hundred and fifty meters!” Zetsa actually screamed withbulging eyes. “That… That... That’s the length of an Intermediate Mist Lord’sSoul Sense!”
“It’s like I’m everywhere, big sis”. The sheer excitementand immense sense of exaltation were high and beyond his first time using hisSoul Sense, so much that Zax was unable to address to Zetsa’s remark andcontinued describing. “The first and the times after that, big sis, all my SoulSense could perceive raw shapes and environmental essence. Now, big sis, mySoul Sense can perceive the same way my other five senses do and even better! Ican see the textures and colors of what people wear outside as though I look atthem through an optical lense. I can smell the breath of those who pass or arewithin the domain of my Soul Sense, even know how a plank of wood that isthrown on the other side of the street feels… Big sis, it’s amazing!” Zaxgasped heavily.
“This is unfathomable! Zax’s potential of the soul is simplyunfathomable!” Zetsa deduced. After she tested him when his soul reached levelF, 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 withoutcultivating 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 raisedZax to her lap.
“It’s flowing like water and I can control it by justthinking where I want it to go”. Zax’s eyes were closed, immersed by what hepeacefully was doing.
“What is?” Zetsa had an idea of what he was talking, but theconversation took a sudden turn to an insightful and composed level. If theywill 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. Smootherthan my Qi, big sis. In a thought I can accumulate it in the tip of my fingeron one hand, and in a second thought have it all in the tip of another fingeron my other hand”.
“Little Zi, your proficiency with the soul has surpassed myown. 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 himto this degree, saying that he surpassed his perfect role model, his idol. Itwas enticing and difficult to accept.
“In the future Zax, if you’ll choose to train your soul meticulouslyyour future prospects will be beyond comprehension”.
“If that’s what big sis saying, then I’ll do my best! I alsowant to become strong!” Zax announced sternly.
Now was the time. Now Zetsa decided to gradually, when themood was at ease, to shift the conversation into the matter of his Qi channels.
“Zax”, Zatsa stiffened her voice. If she wanted to revealthe sorrowful news, she had to compel her little brother into listen through theend. 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 intosomething that he will be willing to accept.
“Big sis?” The wheels began to turn. Zax was not stupid, notwhen it involved the different modes of his big sister. “Is she going to scoldme again?” Whatever it was he presented submission, just to be safe.
“When Doctor Nijima checked your body and soul, hedetermined that their conditions were temporary. Your body was injured and yoursoul was transforming – according to what you told me, both could be due to theBlack Core that led you to find it and entered your dantian. With respect toyour Qi or that Black Core… Doctor Nijima did not find anything out of place inyour dantian or the E level Earth’s Core in there… Can you observe your dantianonce 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 toldher before. The Black Core was near the E level Earth’s Core, which colorchanged to black, and he could not form a mental link with any of the two, norcontrol their placement in his dantian like he should be able to do with hissoul, like his big sister told him. At most, Zax could only differentiate betweenthe two.
“It’s still the same. The Black Core is right beside theEarth’s Core and both are black”. Zax answered.
“And your mental link with them?”
“I can’t…” Zax said, disappointed for failing in somethingthat should be, that was so simple before.
Zetsa cogitated in her next order of words. “Zax”, she couldnot help but slightly frown. “The thing inside of you, the “Black Core”, issomething 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 didnot detect irregularities in you dantian… Not many know this, Zax, but thereare things in nature which more often reside in places like unexplored caves inthe beasts’ territory. I’m afraid that the cave you stumbled upon with theBrown Digger was one of those caves, Zax. What happened to you there… it’sunderstandable if even someone as capable as Doctor Nijima was helpless to finda solution. I converse with him about it and he also agreed, that is why he didnot come to check you up after you awakened couple of days ago”.
“What does it have to do with the two cores, big sis?” Zaxbegan to feel impatient, discerning an ominous build up.
“Zax, look into you Qi channels”.
Again, Zax closed his eyes. When one’s soul increases inlevel, examining the three aspects becomes much faster and easy to be done.
“My Qi had changed”, a look of surprise spread across Zaxface. It appears to be like water and my Qi channels… I can’t feel a thing!” Anxietyburst from his mouth. “Big sis, there is something in my Qi channels, somethingblocking them…”
“That’s enough, Zax, open your eyes”. Zetsa ordered. “YourQi 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 hadmanaged to keep you alive. Doctor Nijima speculated that like your soul, yourbody also endured a transformation, only it turned out as more severe andincomplete 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; neverthelessher voice echoed a glimpse into her fiery rage.
“I… Big sis…” Zax was speechless. It was the former, absentalien sensation which made him trust the Black Core. Is it because of it thathis Qi channels are clogged? Is it because of what was done to him that he isstill alive?
“Doctor Nijima could not treat your Qi channels… no onecan!”
Whether for Zax’s sake or just to release bits of her concealedfurious demeanor, Zetsa lashed out, enabled Zax from speculating anything inthis point. Otherwise sinking into unprecedented depression will follow, andthe realization of him never becoming a Mist User, forever remaining the sameas a cripple, will come next.
Chapter 19 – Lost In Struggles
“If I can’t use my Qi, how, then, can I crack the shell ofthe Earth’s Core?!” Zax shook his head; brushing away the intolerable thoughtthat came into it.
“You won’t”. Zetsa answered plain and simple. With just twowords 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 muchyou’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 theimpression of being honest and apologetic. Could she not decipher the look inher 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 wasafraid to say aloud, otherwise the word “miserable” undoubtedly will notsuffice to express his standing among all of humanity, maybe among all of NewEarth… “If I won’t become a Mist User… there won’t be anyone more useless thanme in all of Kingdom Earth!” He said to himself, but salient or to the wholeworld, the words had the same devastating effect on his ten years old mind.
Zax’s body rattled. Beads of sweat slid down his face. Hisstomach 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 ahuh ah uh…” Zax endlessly panted. “What is it?! What is it?!” An unimaginablepain pounded in his chest. “I can’t breathe, big sis! I can’t breathe...” Zaxforcefully wailed.
“Little Zi!” Zetsa flinched from her Zax’s odd behavior,wondering at first if something was still wrong with him due to his currentcondition or the Black Core he was talking about, but at the very same momentof shock she straightaway got a hold on herself. She did not have a medicalexperience, but she watched it on the Screen in various drama series and so couldrecognize a panic attack if she saw one in real life, and Zax was definitelyhaving a panic attack.
In an instant, before Zax’s last word echoed from his mouthZetsa 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 sureif what she was doing was the right treatment. It was the first time Zetsaencountered a person having a panic attack.
“Water, water…” Zax eyes searched in frenzy. He snatched theglass 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 pattedhis back.
She wished that she could use a technique to help her littlebrother, however she was warned and forbade by Doctor Nijima not to press hermist energy as a mean of treatment into Zax’s body, for it might cause his Qichannels to rupture, and if that will happen, clogged or not, Doctor Nijimaassured 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 gazeengrossed in the last drop of water he was not able to suck from the bottom ofthe glass. This small exercise that he came by on his own soothed his nervesand 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 stuffrepresent only one aspect of a living being. There are two more aspects, ofwhich, even of all three, your true forte is your soul. The venture on theMartial path, to become strong, strongest, you can still do so by training justone aspect, Zax”.
Zetsa explanation was on spot and roughly any person on theMartial 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 fornothing, and due to a certain two on one fight that Zax participated in thepast, a memory resurfaced in his mind and filled him with bitterness. With thisvibrant memory playing in his head, Zax was able to figure why it is best totrain more than one aspect.
Zax remembered how helpless he was on the day of the YoungMist 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 thering 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 simplybecause none of them pain him attention. That day he was the same on the ringas a sharp pebble in a playground that a barefooted child might kick or stepon, and at worse get a little scratch on his foot.
“You want me to only train my soul?!” Zax shot in anger asif 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 themanner of which the conversation evolved has led her to sort through the rightwords she needed to lessen the blow that is the implications of her littlebrother’s condition on his dreams.
“Your soul is extraordinary to a point where I dare say thatthere is no one with greater potential with the soul in all of New Earth thanyou are”. Zetsa said firmly. “You can like it or not but this is your onlyoption. Imagine, if with a level D soul you are able to perform feat thatshould be several levels above your capabilities… Your soul capabilities are astep from the capabilities of a Core Master’s soul!”
“One step from a Core Master…” Zax could not refute how seductivewere Zetsa’s words of persuasion. He reflected on them for a while, and then saiddecisively. “Who could I beat if my soul could do the same things a CoreMaster’s soul does?”
“That is…” Zetsa sighed inwardly. If the answer to thisquestion was sufficient enough it could have been the key to conclude thisconversation on agreeable terms. If only it was… “In a fair fight… you willlose”. Zetsa did not go around the bush and answered.
“It’s difficult to say. If you can perform a soul attack onthe same level of skill as a Mist Lord, almost anyone below Intermediate MistMaster, including, can lose to you on contact. Conversely, if a physical attackof even F level Earth’s Core Holder will manage to slightly strike you, youwill lose. And there is still the possibility of long range attacks. Only CoreBreaker and above can perform them… you won’t be able to withstand them, either”.
“Can Mist Lords… Can Core Master use their soul for longrange attacks?”
“…If I choose the Martial path anyway… will I have anyaccomplishments?”
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 ahigh possibility that in the future you will unveil the secret potential of thesoul. That will surely affect New Earth, but if it happens, the time that itwill take you to achieve it… hundreds if not thousands of years”. Zetsa basedher 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 MistUser in the true sense of the words and if I insist on following the Martialpath, I will live my life in the bottom of this path and most likely will diebefore achieving anything…”
“If the Martial path is your utmost desire, then you willhave me by your side for the rest of such life”. Zetsa promised, she hadnothing else to add.
“I… I can’t, then, big sis, Zetsa. I can’t accept that, Iwon’t!” Zax said in disagreement. The pain in his chest reemerged, a second panicattack was coming and it felt impossible to stop. “The boy who never became aMist User…” Zax struggled but was determined to speak out his mind. “I willnever… ever agree! Big sis… big sis…”
Zetsa helped him through the second panic attack without sayinga single word until it was over. She was not willing to show pity to her littlebrother. In his eyes she could clearly see the two battles that he engagedwith. One was to stay resolute with his dreams. Another was to not lose to thepanic attack.
Zax lay on his bed, covering his red eyes with his arm. Twosalty streams dirtied his face.
Zetsa, standing on the doorstep, looked at him and thenaverted 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 becomestronger”.
Like that, Zetsa left.
September sixth, year 5786.
Nearly two years have passed since Zax’s ten years birthdayand a tad longer than a year since he woke up to learn that he could neverbecome a Mist User.
During the past year Zax’s life underwent a number ofpersonal upheavals that made him secluded toward society, whether family,friends or strangers. Although things did not escalate in one day, they suredropped on him one after the other, each one an unending grueling battle,starting with the investigator of the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit’s committeethat arrived on the very same day that Zax awakened.
Zetsa instructed Zax to answer all of the investigator’squestions, but not say anything about the “Black Core” and the “strangesensation”, as she put it. Her reasoning was that she and their parents alreadyreached a settlement with the event’s committee.
The investigator knew all about Zax’s condition from hisclogged Qi channels to his D level soul. During their private conversation,which was more like an interrogation, the investigator coldly asked Zax, whatwere the detailed steps that he took to reenter the hunting cave? Why did he doso 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 toyou 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 stillmake it seem as if his answer was instant. It was doable since both Zax and theinvestigator were discussing by mostly using their outer mind which had low, orregular, level of perception.
Zax used the smoky mist as an excuse to not rememberinganything 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 apartfrom the Peral metal, Sun Stones and Earth’s Core, there are still manyundiscovered\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 hisfamily, mainly talking to Zetsa, Marco and Laylen. He wanted to cover the agreementsof the settlement and wanted for Zax to listen as well.
First, it was decided to keep the case of Zax Zel a secret, adecision that was made for the benefit of the event’s committee, more so thanthe Zel family. Why the committee was willing to not advertise the case andpublicly punish Zax as a reminder for all, of what happens to those who breakthe event’s rules, was because there was one more factor in this case whichcaught the event’s stuff off guard.
Put aside that this case was a first and has the capacity toexpose holes in the regulation and organization of the event that will harm toreputation of its chosen committee members, what would happen if people willmake 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 wasknown – later, that is – to possess an already F level soul and others mayignore the fact that by breaking the rules he lost the possibility of everbecoming a Mist User. Now, why would people still be willing to risk notbecoming Mist Users? Well, from the simple truth that unless one select a pathwhich require the use of Qi or Martial skills, for most everyday vocations, astrong soul will be more beneficial. To prevent future Rules Breakers, thesecond thing to be decided, agreed upon by both parties, was keeping Zax’s soullevel a secret.
The following two subject of the four parts settlement werea bit more sensitive. The first one was Zax’s condition. Though Zetsa told Zaxthat he may never become a Mist User, she was merely preparing him to therespond of the committee in regards of finding treatment for his Qi Channels. Asshe predicted, the investigator delivered the same conclusion of Doctor Nijima.
“None of the doctors and scientists that we approached can unclogZax’s Qi channels”.
With one sentence and without further explanations, theevent’s committee demolished Zetsa lost hopes for her little brother.
The last matter to be discussed was how to announce Zax’scondition to the general public. One thing that both sides knew that they couldnot prevent was the public finding out that a ten years old boy from a certaincave in El-Eden has clogged Qi channels and is still alive. The scheme of howto let the public learn of it without uncovering the Zax Zel case came from theevent’s committee.
It was quite a clever idea. The event’s committee will come outwith a statement that a boy – personal information was censored – whoparticipated in the event of year 5785, during the last phase of the event, hasbeen found that he was born with a rare syndrome that causes his Qi toliquefied and clog his Qi channels. After the initial shock of the public, the committeewill than come out with a second statement, stating that although lifethreatening, the boy’s condition was discovered in time and was treated byexperts on the path of medicine. However, the experts were only able to removethe risk from the boy’s life, but not unclog his Qi channels. Henceforth, theboy will not be able to become a Mist User. Lastly, the committee will ask thepress to not trouble the family and child.
Marco and Laylen nodded after hearing the investigatornarrating the committee’s proposal and Zax, from start to finish, remainedquiet on his seat.
Zetsa, on the other hand, mentioned that there are a fewpeople who witnessed Zax using Qi in the past. In response, the investigatoronly asked the list of names of these people, and got them from Zetsa and Zaxafter promising that no harm will come to several of them.
Thus, the case of Zax Zel was officially closed and sealedwithin 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 Schoolthat would accept him.
By the fourth year of school, the administration of everypost Core School cannot treats its student as mere children anymore. Whether ina Martial program or not, any child that enrolls to a post Core School shouldbe considered and treated as a F level Mist User.
Never in the past had this principle presented a problem. Neverin the past, since the rule of the Supreme Rulers, there was a child who didnot 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 thenext year of a post Core School, yet was not a Mist User.
The response was mutual and all the same humiliating amongall 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 wasnot known and it was not like the various school principals could guess hiscondition on sight. But, since it was inevitable that Zax will need to revealhis 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’sparents to show to any school’s official they will meet.
The document stated the condition of Zax’s Qi channels, aformal recommendation from the said committee and a warning that theinformation in the document should not be disclosed to those who are notauthorized to read it, and if such thing were to happen, a thoroughinvestigation will be carried out and the culprit will suffer the appropriatepunishment according to section 1.583 of law 87, “Child Care”, of KingdomEarth.
With that, the schools’ officials that met Zax and hisparents could not tell anyone about his condition. Yet, it did not mean thatthey had to accept him.
Their excuse, which was fairly reasonable, was that they arenot equipped with the necessary resources for a special case like Zax’s. Theysaid that there is a reason why coreless children and Mist Users children arein separated schools. Children’s activities can sometimes be rough, a corelesschild cannot contend against a Mist User child, and if the two get into afight…
“We are sorry. We don’t know of any other school torecommend for you. Our best advice is homeschooling”.
And it was not just the school that made it hard, mostly forZax’s parents. Zax, too, opposed his parents. He did not want to be surroundedby people he will never be able to reach. He did not want to be in the companyof others. He solely asked to be left alone, and when he was not, he ran awayto all the places he knew others will not bother him in.
Eventually it took a very long talk between Zax’s and hisparents. Regardless of his changed rebellious attitude and the condition of hisQi channels, his parents were unwilling to let him abstain from propereducation.
Six months after he awakened, Zax reached a compromise to behomeschooled by his grandma, Grandma Shi Oh, and in return his parents will nothinder his desire to train his soul as much as he wants to or force him to meethis concerned friends.
Zax’s friends… avoiding them was his most painful struggleof the past year.
Chapter 20 – Choose, Staying Or Leaving?
At the time of his dormancy, Zax’s friends came to visit himon several occasions. Apart from those he grouped with in the Great Earth’sCore Pursuit, only a handful of Zax’s former schoolmates had visit him, but ofthe seven whom he got closer to during the event, each and every one of themcame to visit him as often as he or she could.
At the week that Zax woke up, Laylen and Marco invited hisloyal and caring group of friends to surprise their dispirited son. It took alittle effort since the fourth school year has already started for Zax’sfriends and due to their luck of being in the same group with Zax, they allwere accepted to prestige post Core Schools. Anet was even summoned for reviewin one of the Three Martial Schools of Kingdom Earth, El-Eden’s best and onlyMartial school for coreless children, “Eden Formation”, and ended up receivinga two years scholarship in their post Core Program!
When Anet arrived with the others, she even wore the white andazure uniforms of Eden Formation, which used the same grading system as MoltenCore, the darker the shades of the uniforms the higher the grade of thestudent. Anet wore a lighter shade of uniforms, but the golden elaborateformation on her shoulder, the school’s symbol which emphasized the mentalacuity of its students, made her look sublime.
Zax could not bear seeing his friends. In his lowest moment, theclosest someone was to him the harder it was to face them and with his seven closestfriends it was the hardest. That is why he acted rebelliously toward his bigsister and parents, while toward strangers and distant family members he acted aloof.
First time seeing his friends after waking up, Zax felt like thedimmest 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 embracemade his lungs to shrink and his affection for them to regress to the deepestpart of his heart.
The seven knew of Zax’s condition. They knew of his abilityto use Qi and of his E level Earth’s Core, therefore representatives of theevent’s committee came to their homes to ask of them to not disclose thismatter with anyone. Their parents even had to sign a confidentiality document andwhen Zax’s friends will reach the age of adulthood they will also have to signa similar document.
As ten years olds, Zax friends did not know how to conductthemselves in the presence of a friend who gave them so much only to end up asa cripple – a comparison that they either heard from their parents or figuredout on their own after a few days in their new schools. They asked who he was, canhe go out to play, if he wants to see the new updates on Mocca Kart, if he caneat snacks since “I brought some” Weysey said…
Zax sat on the living room’s floor and leaned on the livingroom’s table. With every question of his friends a growing discomfort emergedin 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 bettersocialize by returning the same questions to his friends. That did help toimprove the air around the small gathering that his parents arranged. The moodlifted so much that at a certain point Zushi praised and bragged that lastmonth Anet became an E level Mist User and he and Dane were not so far behind.
This revelation was the source of the following distancebetween Zax and his friends. He was happy for them, he cared for them, but healso envied their blinding glow.
In an emotional breakdown Zax made his mind to stay away beforehe will do or say something that will hurt his friends, his big sister and hisparents. If his future as a Mist User was sealed, then he will concentrate onthe only thing that was left, his soul. And if in the far future he willachieve any perceptible achievement, enough to make him accept the path he unintentionallybrought upon himself, then he will seek the strength to repent toward thosewhose love for him he discounted.
Zax left grandma Shi Oh’s and grandpa Shi Chin’s smallapartment after lunch. He used public transportation to get as close as hecould to where is big sister’s apartment building was and continued onwardstraight 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 thejuncture to level F and a year after he woke up at the Beginner phase of levelD, he managed to reach the next critical juncture in his training, and thefirst to every Mist User, the bottleneck to level C.
Since Zax did not want to be taken care of even by hisbeloved big sister, he stopped going to her apartment and as a result, stoppedtraining in the Inner Spirit Formation. In the past year Zax’s method oftraining was self meditation and a few months after he awakened Zax made abreakthrough to the next phase that came after Somnolence Meditation, “AdraakMeditation”.
Although Zax did not have to benefits of the external helpthat soul refining techniques, such as the Inner Spirit Formation, supply, thenext phase of meditation had its own pros that the Inner Spirit Formation couldnot provide him.
When exercising in Adraak Meditation Zax’s whole senses wereengulfed by a void sphere that was similar to the one he experienced when hefound the Black Core. In a way, the void sphere that the Black Core turned hisSoul Sense into could be considered as the root to Zax’s breakthrough inmeditation.
Inside the void sphere the only sense of existence Zax had originatedfrom his conscious mind. That was because the purpose of the Adraak Meditationwas to utterly separate oneself from the outside world, even memories of it,and enrich the soul by uncovering the intimate spiritual knowledge from the subliminalmind. Generally, the more profound and insightful the intimate spiritualknowledge is, the more demanding it is to cultivate it, obviously the moreprosperous the results are as well.
In rare occurrences where a child reaches the phase of AdraakMeditation, he or she would be told by their Mor – a good Mor, that is – tokeep training in Somnolence Meditation. The reason for it is rational and inmost cases cannot be refute. It is the basic understanding that even if a childcan 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 spiritualknowledge of the subliminal mind will not be profound or insightful. Hastily temperingthe soul in Adraak Meditation and in a young age will be the same to picking afruit before its ripe, one will have fast accomplishments but in the long runit will show itself as wasteful and hinder future progress.
Zax, however, had no one to teach him the consequences oftraining in Adraak Meditation. On the other hand, no other child in KingdomEarth 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, apiece that seemed like part of an immeasurable puzzle, yet somewhat contained boundlessprofundity.
The piece was a fragment of the entity Zax saw when theBlack Core entered his body. In his training Zax studied the piece for hours ata time, days if his parents would have let him. In his mind it was a clearpicture that revealed only numerous hues of black, blending into an undefinedmess. At first look it was the same as a bland screensaver of an old computer’sscreen. On a second look, with further investigation, one would notice thedepth of the piece and its inimitable abundant.
There was no time limit to how much Zax could stare at thepiece. But since the results depended on his perception, days could come andgone without him undergoing improvement or a few seconds of initial probing,right after sitting on his buttock, will show up as productive. Sometimes, as asign of success in his training, a vibration will occur in Zax’s soul and afterit he could see something new in the piece, new shade of black, new pattern ofthe moving hues, new depth that he had not perceived before and so on…
By making new discoveries in his training, Zax’s soulimproved in both quality and quantity of its energy, and because of themysterious piece that was part of a higher entity, in terms of quality Zaxalready reached the purity of a Core Breaker’s soul. After he will breakthrough from the top phase of level D, who knows how far he will be able toadvance 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 hisown, Zax gain a sort of familiarity with the ambiguous presence of abottleneck, a feeling only Mist User who broke through level D to level C getto know. Although the juncture to level C was as tough if not tougher as thejuncture to level F, Zax was not stressed by its weight.
In Zax’s sea of consciousness the bottleneck took the formof a white barrier. To transcend beyond it Zax tried to demolish the barrierwith soul attacks, experimenting with his Soul Sense, probing it the same wayhe probed the piece of the entity. When he failed Zax hoped that all he neededhis further training, more meditation. The problem was that the more his soulenergy increased in quantity, the slower his progress in training was, as ifthe barrier compelled him to break through it if he wanted to makeadvancements.
“AHHHH!” Zax yelled in frustration. “Break! Break! Break!Break!” He continued yelling and punched the ground. This behavior was hisdaily 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 hundredtimes stronger than it was a year ago! What else do I need?!”
Even though he was within a beasts’ cave, Zax was not afraidfrom beast hearing him. From the first place cave zero eight was not prone tohave many types of beasts in it and even less territorial beasts. During histraining, when enclosed inside the void sphere, Zax’s Soul Sense would activateitself on and off and emit its mightiness; much like how to torn tail of alizard keeps moving after it has been separated from the body. Since thequality of Zax’s soul was that of a Core Breaker and within the void sphere hewould lose contact with his sense, his Soul Sense also would lose all restraintand make itself known to any who enter its domain of two hundred meters – theincrease in length was, of course, due to Zax advancements in the past year.
Any beast that will stride into the domain of Zax’s SoulSense would get the impression that an existence at the Core Breaker levellurks inside the grove. Due to this Zax could yell to his heart's content andno beast would dare to bother him.
“You can come out now”. After he calmed down Zax got up onhis feet and turn his head to the right. “Congratulations, big sis, forbecoming a Mist Lord”.
Out of the dense flora Zetsa emerge with a complicatedexpression on her face. In the past year her relationship with her littlebrother got colder whenever they met with each other. Zax was the one to initiatethe cold atmosphere. At first she was not willing to unknot their bond, but intime, whenever she attempted to get closer to her little brother, it wouldbackfire 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 withtheir parents, since Zax still depended on them, the aloofness got to a halt.
Now, Zetsa came to the place where she was probably the onlyone to know that her little brother will be training in. cave zero eight. Whenshe found out months ago that he returned to the beasts’ cave, she did notconfront him. Instead she watched over him from afar. Nowadays, she let himtrain alone.
“Little Zi, it’s too early, I’m still a step away from theMist Lord level, only my soul reached it”.
“Little Zi…” Her voice resonated in Zax’s head. He was awareof the pain he causes his beloved ones, and seeing the one whom in her heart heknew his place was at the epicenter… Zax wanted to ran to his big sister andbeg 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 tocontrol 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 fourgrown men.
“Come here, Zax. If you finished training for the day comesit by my side”.
“Zax” not “little Zi”, was how she called him, and with thislittle change the tone of her voice also changed from the sweet and loving tothe severe and sharp. Whether a year or a hundred, Zax could not disregard thattone of voice. He obeyed and joined her on the root.
‘I sensed your progress, Zax. Without the support of anEarth’s Core you made it to the top of level D and the quality of your soul havealready made it past it. I can tell that you are training in the next phase ofmeditation. Do you know its name?”
“No”. Zax answered, slightly shocked. Was he so easy to reador was it because she was his big sister?
“The phase after Somnolence Meditation is called “AdraakMeditation”. I never thought that you will reach it so fast. I, myself, spentfive years of training before reaching that phase”.
“Five years?” Zax repeated in his head, while feeling asense of gratification.
“And yet I keep training in Somnolence Meditation till thisday”.
Zetsa next words startled Zax out of his short moment ofaccomplishment. He could not help but ask. “Why?”
And then she told him, explained what he would have known ifhis heart was not weak and his mind was not set.
“But this evidently doesn’t apply to you, does it?” Zetsasmiled as if she read his mind.
“I don’t think so”. Zax shook his head and did not hideanything. What was the point?
“I guessed it, that your subliminal mind may possesssomething 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 jumpedback 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 spiritualknowledge on your own. Others, too, can only give you another perspective, ifthey share the same experiences, but it’s best for you to find differentoutlooks independently. Ultimately, it is your subliminal mind that youmeditate on”.
“Hm…” Zax thought about and accepted Zetsa’s advice. With afew 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? Thereason for her coming to see him… Was it his clogged Qi channels?
“Oh!” Zetsa waved her hand in deny. “Nothing for you toknow. Don’t think too much, and it’s time for me to get into why I searched foryou”.
“It’s not about me Qi channels…” Zax’s spike in expectationdiminished his mood. It was his fault for bringing the subject up, even if hedid not say it aloud.
“Little Zi, remember when you woke up and we had theconversation of what would be the preferable path of your future cultivation?”
“My soul”. Zax answered as the memory resurfaced. His letdownroused his isolated demeanor, so much that he missed the change of how Zetsareferred to him.
“Lift your eyes, little Zi, can you really not stand lookingat me?” She grabbed his arm and pulled his closer. “Did becoming a Mist Userreally meant to you more than all the people you isolated?!” She reprimandedand made his raise his head.
Zax’s cheeks were red and his eyes teary. Who else but hisbig sister could make him look like that? “I don’t want others to look down onme”. He said back with cracking voice.
“No one is looking down on you, Zax!” Zetsa’s complexionalso reddened, but while Zax was driven by low self esteem, Zetsa was driven byher anger for her little brother’s behavior.
“You pity me… I look down on myself!” Zax poured out hisheart.
Hearing his inner thoughts, his sorrowful confession, Zetsarealized something. “He isolated himself from his true feelings, too!” Underher grip she felt his useless resistance. “It’s good, it’s good”, she took himclose to her bosom. “You can cry”. She said inaudibly, and he did.
When Zax body stopped shacking Zetsa loosen her hold, butnot exactly let to get away from her.
“Zax, I got an offer for you”, her breath hit his face likea warm breeze that cleanse it from the dry tears. “I told you in the past thatthe soul is your path and your Qi is forever gone, Zax. But those are only twoaspects. Your body is the third one I said nothing about”.
Zax listened without saying or asking. “The body…” He onlythought 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 theMartial path cultivating the body could be another method to become stronger. Hequietly continued to listen.
“There is another path, the path of the body, Zax”. Zetsaconfirmed, and as she did, she noticed the increasing pace of Zax’s beatingheart. “Are you willing to look at me calmly now?”
In her arms Zax lifted his head. “It’s harsh, Zax, the mostpainful thing that one can experience. It is a path only handful in all of NewEarth dare venture. Nonetheless, it does exist, it exists and it is mightier thanany other path, but not here, Zax”.
“I’m willing. Where?” Zax asked, afterwards Zetsa finallylet him loose completely.
“I mean it, Zax. My Master leading me on this path, he isleading since I was in your age, and yet I’m falling behind, crawling at thelowest level of hell”. A look of bewilderment and distress seemed for a momenton Zetsa’s face.
“I’m willing”. Zax repeated despite the warnings, not evencaring why now she chose to mention it. “Where?”
“This place has rules, Zax, if I’ll take you there only myMaster can let you leave”.
“Big sis, I’m willing!”
“Zax! Don’t be hardheaded and actually think beforeanswering! I, too, am willing. I’ll take you there if that’s what you reallywant, but not unless you think!” Zetsa scolded.
“Say it again, big sis, what I need to know”. For a path outof his misery, a path that can compensate for his inability to his Qi or mistenergy, even if Zax knew that acted impulsively, he would still keep saying thesame thing.
“Cultivating the body won’t make your strength inferior tothose who cultivate their mist. On the same level of cultivating no Mist Userwill be your equal, even if they’ll come at you one against a hundred”. It wasnot within Zetsa intention to just talk about the bad. The advancements of bodycultivation deserved a lot of praises, but the perils of the method deservedcountless warning.
“However, whether if you succeed or not on this path, youwill become a monster. The only different is that by failing, it will be a deadmonster. Bear in mind, Zax, the method, the bodily refining technique my Masterdeveloped, its principal is growing through pain, the utmost pain that you cansuffer. It pushes you to the edge of life and death, it won’t kill you, but itcan make you long for death. It’s either making it through hell or dying…”
“Moreover, my Master will never approve of you giving upbecause it’s too hard or will let you go before you will reach a certain levelof accomplishment. Three years, that’s how long it would take before you willbe allowed to leave, see our family, your friends, everyone but me. Till thenyou will be bound to one place where escaping means death. After all this, areyou, from the bottom of your heart, willing to take this path?”
Not as before, Zax thought of what Zetsa told him. Was heprepared to not isolate, but leave completely all the people in his life apartfrom his big sister? To risk his life on a path knew nothing about? Did he nothave any other way to reface his dreams in concur them? If there was it eitherpassed him or move to slow for him to bear.
“Is that so…” Zetsa had her doubts. She would have had themno 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’toffer this path for me before?”
“To train you in my Master’s method I have to first bringyou to him. To get his permission I had to reach the Mist Lord level with mysoul and even that was a compromise on his side. And the last thing, my answerto 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 theroot and pulled Zax by the hand to stand next to her. “Let’s go. I alreadytalked 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 hewill change his mind about letting me bring you. Oh! And don’t get surprised bymy Master appearance”.
“Why? Is your master a b-”
Book 3 – Into The Wild
Chapter 1 – Into The Wild
On the way back from home to cave zero eight, Zax was tornwith his decision to leave his family and friends, even though he stoppedtalking to them, for three years. When he saw his parents’ eyes, Zax traced regretin them. It made him ask himself all the more what his big sister told them to makethem agree to let him go. Ultimately Zax kept his questions buried in hiswondering mind. ‘Maybe’, he came up with one possible solution. ‘They chose tobenefit of the doubt in their decision, by believing that they are giving mewhat they denied from big sis, when she was at my age, and her Master, inreturn, gave her…?’
“It will take us around seven days to reach my Master’scave”. 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 thedecision easier.
“Somewhere along the lines of one hundred and seven-eightcaves, 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, eventhen 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 wasalone then two days would have been enough, three if I took my time. It willtake us longer because I plan to carry you with my mist energy and let you restduring the nights”.
“On your back?” Zax timidly asked. He was almost twelve andthe seed of manliness and self awareness has already started to sprout.
“Only if you wanna”. Zetsa pinched his cheek, smiling. Shewas filled with anxiety for she knew what awaits her little brother, and yethappy 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 suddenlysurrounded by her dark silvery mist energy and emitted a glowing aura of thesame hues. She drew symbols first on her palms, second on the air, third onZax’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’sbody gradually rose from the ground until he was twenty centimeters from Zetsaand at eye level with her. “Think of it as advanced telekinesis”. She added asshe watched Zax’s eyes widened in astonishment.
“Like in the movies?” Zax asked while waving his arms. Hisbody was no longer bound by gravity and it was even stranger than being insidehis sea of consciousness. Any wrong movement could make him flip uncontrollablyand the only thing that anchored him to the same place was the base symbols onhis big sister. Wherever she will move to, he will have no choice but tofollow.
Telekinesis was the term people used in fiction movies andshows. It was different than the ability of an expert Mist User to moveobjects; it did not require mist energy. They called it a Devine Ability in themovies.
“Like if you train hard then in the future you might be ableto use”. Zetsa replied and stabilize Zax. “It’s a bit tasking, but great forextended use of carrying something, or someone, while having to keep your handsfree and it makes the object half its weight”. Zetsa shrugged and turned herback to Zax. “Anyway, if your body starts turning, reach your hands and grab myshoulders… or you can just ask and I’ll carry you with my hands”. She smirkedand, like an arrow leaving the string of a bow, kicked the ground and shot ontothe air in a piercing jump.
In the numerous forests, valleys and ridges that Zax andZetsa traveled they encountered all sorts of beast. Some, Zetsa explained, didnot possess an Earth’s Core and therefore, in terms of ranking, the cultivationof 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 Breakerlevel.
Learning this out only strengthened Zax’s resolve to gothrough the hell his big sister warned him about.
Apart from learning about the benefit of a strong body, Zaxalso learned a few survival skills and their current whereabouts in the beasts’territory.
The caves they crossed belonged to the outer parts of thebeasts’ territory and were under the five sovereign tribes – including the caveof Zetsa’s Master. There were around twenty to thirty other tribes of beasts inthe outer parts, but only the five sovereign tribes had experts in the Mist Lordlevel. The strongest beasts in the other twenty to thirty tribes were only atthe Core Breaker level. Naturally, all the members of every tribe possessed anEarth’s Core.
Except beasts that resided in tribes, there were beastswhich lived alone or in other forms of the word “Pack” but “Tribe”, and thosewere known as “Wild Beasts”. Wild beasts, such as the Earth Shattering BrownDigger, were the beasts that even if they got a hold on an Earth’s Core, lackedor did not evolve the minimal mentality to cultivate it or could not breakthrough beyond level F or E.
The outer parts of the beasts’ territory were abundant withwild beasts. Though it was not needed – because instincts warned the wildbeasts from Zetsa’s presence and even Zax’s Soul Sense as he embed an hostileintent and used it playfully – Zetsa taught Zax of the unique attributes of theflora 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 fluidsthat were toxic and can madden certain type of carnivore beasts.
Zetsa taught Zax to use his Soul Sense not just to make his strengthclear to aggressive beasts by embedding his intent in it, but to also assess thecontent of fruits and body parts of beasts, once they were sliced open andbefore he ate them, to check if they were not contaminated by their own poisonat the moment of death.
Drinking water was the most difficult thing to find in thebeasts’ territory. Above ground rivers and lakes were in one out of four cavesand they were usually dominated by packs of territorial wild beasts or wereshared 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 acommon type of plant called Blue Bark tree, which was filled with bitter sweetwater.
Seven days passed in the blink of an eye and the last tunnelon their path to the cave of Zetsa’s Master was a few hundred meters ahead.
“Remember what I told you, Zax”. Zetsa meant her explanationabout the beasts in her Master’s cave, which by the way was not numbered. “Tryto be as you are… as you used to be at home. Putting aside how strict my Masteris, my Martial uncle and brothers and sisters”, they were her Master’s otherapprentices and younger brother, the one she told him that found him. “They aregood natured and receiving. I’ll introduce you to the ones that are currentlyin the cave, since there are always few outside, you won’t get to know them allat once, but you still should remember… of my fellow apprentices three are myseniors, my two elder Martial brothers and my elder Martial sister. Aside fromthem I have four juniors, two younger Martial brothers and two younger Martialsisters. Two of my seniors are always outside, so I’m not sure who you’ll getto meet first, either way you should act respectfully to each and every one ofthem without exception”.
”Although we will be the only humans, the intelligent of myfellow apprentices is not inferior to any human of the same level ofcultivation!” Zetsa made a point to herself to insert this information to Zax’shead every once in a while.
“Afterwards I’ll introduce you to my Martial uncle. Over ayear ago he started a session of closed doors training and a month ago hefinally 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 getalong with my Martial uncle, just be extra respectable toward him since he wasthe one to-”
“To find me…” Zax finished. He asked her once about who theywill meet when they will reach her Master’s cave and the answer kept replayingevery day. “Are you going to tell me again about the Krikitory tribe?”
The beasts of the Krikitory tribe are the original dwellersof her Master’s cave. According to what Zetsa taught him, the Krikitory made uptheir name to sound similar to her Master’s name out of their veneration towardhim. Outside her Master’s cave the Krikitory are formally known as the DeepWater Bear tribe, but inside of the cave it is better to refer to them by theirown chosen name, otherwise thy will get offended.
The beasts of the Krikitory are herbivores. By Zetsa’sdescription they are a peaceful beast tribe. An adult Krikitory is a meter andfifty centimeters tall and has the same facial features of the ancient BlackBear – 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 themtheir formal name is that when their fur gets wet, it hardens and take theshape of small scales. Due to this, the Krikitory are excellent swimmers andcan stay under water for hours per each breath that they take.
On the scale of mental evolution the Krikitory are quitebehind. Only the members who surpassed the Core Breaker level have anintelligent which is almost equivalent to that of a human – on a side note, ifit were not for Zetsa’s Master, the Krikitory never would have found a methodto cultivate beyond level D, which is the reason for their deep feeling towardher Master and why they serve him.
“Cheeky brat!” Zetsa pinched Zax’s cheeks.
In the past seven days she noticed that as her little brothergot closer to his first teenage year, he become more impudent and almost everytime dared to speak his mind freely. Other than that, she also discovered newchanges 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 aglint 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 shetaught him they always were on point and usually one explanation was enough forhim to understand. Most of all, Zetsa was impressed with Zax’s calm and collectedattitude when she showed him how to dissect a beast’s cadaver and let him tryto cut one on his own.
“Nearly there, at the tunnel’s entrance, that is”. Zetsasaid.
They traveled in the last cave, both of them on foot, sinceearly morning, though it was difficult to tell because the beast’s cave theywere 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 thisbeasts’ territory he was used to hearing all kind of communication sounds, but wordsthat he could understand were nonexistent.
From out of nowhere a slim and tall figure appeared beforethem, a humanoid beast with purple scales, a long tail and a snake head with a penetratinggolden gaze.
“Ohsss, isss that tender one your little kinss?” The lizardtype beast spoken in a hissing voice.
“Mes! Are you looking to make trouble for us?!” Zetsascolded. She held Zax hand, so she felt the cold sweat forming on his palm. Itwas not why she scolded her little Martial brother, Mes, but because he did notbother to conceal his oppressing Mist Lord aura.
“No waysss, I know better, sissster Zetsa. I was jusssteagerly waiting for your return to show you my recent breakthrough. Pleassseforgive me and don’t tell Master!” Mes pleaded like a scared child.
Watching this bizarre scene of a Mist Lord humbly loweringhis 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 beforehim, 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 thisembarrassing first impressionss… Big sisster Zetsa, do these two right andforget seeing me here”. Mes worked his kindly words and the introduction to slidearound 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’mback with a new addition to the family”.
Grateful, a bright golden light emitted from Mes’s goldeneyes and his figure disappeared.
“A Mist Lord…” Zax murmured. Mes was the first Mist Lord thatZax laid his own two eyes on, not to mention the first intelligent humanoidbeast! “He is a Mist Lord and he is younger than you are, big sis?” He askedintently. He and Zetsa were striding in the kilometer long tunnel to theirfinal cave destination. “Beasts are sure amazing…”
“Mes is not younger than me, little Zi”, Zetsa repliedamused. “He has tens of years over me. The reason that I’m is big sister isbecause 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’sjust that our methods of training are different; mine a lot harder tocomprehend and achieve advancements”.
They spent around fifteen minutes walking in the tunnel,hand in hand. Zax felt his head spinning from excitement, more thrilled thanthe day his big sister agreed to train him!
“That’s it, my Master’s cave…” Zetsa pushed Zax forward insurprise.
Stumbling on his feet, Zax walked a few steps and raised hishead to meet the rural landscape.
“Amazing!” Zax uttered.
From the cave’s entrance to couple of kilometers ahead grew fieldsof flowers in rainbow like colors. There was a sort of a path right from theentrance through the fields that led past a forest, into a mountain range, to aplace far away onwards...
At a certain point the path split westwards, right beforethe 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 andbypassed Zax.
“Ah… yes!” Zax joined her at his own pace.
The scent of the fields was intoxicating and beside it wasthe sound of flowing water, left and right, like a melody of creeks.
It took them a hour before they finally made it to thevillage, by then Zetsa told Zax that the tribe has six more villages spreadwithin the cave and that this one belonged to the fields workers. As sheexplained, Zax himself was also getting use to the sight of the field workersKrikitories. They industriously collected any flower in full bloom and threw itinside big baskets on their backs. The Krikitories workers were not disturbedby the pair of humans and a handful waved their paws to Zetsa.
“Utotive! Utotive!” Tiny members of the tribe, childrenKrikitories, fifty centimeters tall or so, ran to welcome Zax and Zetsa withwooden cups of water. “Utotive, wamp! Wamp!” They pushed the cups for Zetsa totake and drink them.
“Big sis…” Zax said helplessly. There were over twenty youngKrikitories 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. Picka cup and drink the water”. Zetsa said and picked one of the offered cups.
The young Krikitory seemed overjoyed as she – the femaleswere distinguishable by the braids that were embroidered to their fur – ranback to her mother’s arms, forgetting the cups with Zetsa.
The other disappointed fifteen to eighteen young Krikitoriesglumly moved to Zax. “Bukibi, wamp! Wamp!”
Seeing how the young Krikitories got sad and mournful becausethey were not picked, Zax felt a pinch in his heart. It was the first time forhim to be in a situation where the happiness of those younger than him dependedon his actions. In his eyes the young Krikitories reminded him of his youngercousins or first graders in his last year of school. Now a bunch of them lookedfor his affection and he could give it to only one of them…
“Fine”. Zax surrendered. He could not pick one Krikitoryover the other so he chose to accept all the cups that were offered to him.
Looking at him drinking cup after cup, Zetsa pouted. “LittleZi, you can’t pamper them like this, otherwise they’ll come to you wheneverthey want to get praised by their mothers”. She said, yet when the youngKrikitory that gave her water returned for her cup, she ended up accepting moreof them, mostly for Zax’s sake.
“This will be the last time”. Zetsa told Zax. “These guys areabout the same age as two or three years old humans. They don’t know how tostop and their mothers won’t stop them either since the grownups admire anyonethat 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.
Chapter 2 – Martial Son
Mes was the first that stepped forward to welcome Zetsa andZax. “Big sissster Zetsa, I did as you bid. Martial uncle isss one hisss way”.
“Good”. Zetsa smiled and squeezed Zax’s arm to release himof the bewilderment.
Under the large pavilion, the other four figures lowered thewooden cups in their hands to the table at the center of their gathering, gotup and approached the two arrivals.
“Elder Martial sister Zetsa”.
Two of the four lowered their heads and said in union whileone, a bird type beast, just performed the same greeting gesture.
The three were three humanoid beasts. The biggest one wasnearly 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, andanother lizard type beast but of different species. Her scales were fierycrimson and two silver horns grew out from the sides of her lizard head. The lastof the three shared a similar height with Zetsa and was the bird type beastthat stayed quiet. Her body was covered by dark blue feathers, she had twoblack eagle legs, which complemented her griffon head, and her upper limbslooked like folded wings that made up the shape of two arms.
“Zax, these are my junior Martial brothers. This one isTularg, 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 HornsDragon”. Next she gestured over the silver horns beast. “Mes, that you alreadyknow, is the second youngest. His species is Thousand Meters Viper. And Shulipis the youngest, Lakes Griffon”. Last was the beast type bird.
“Greetings, senior Martial brother Tularg, senior Martialsister Rarahel, senior Martial sister Shulip, this one is Zax Zel, nice to meetyou!” As he done in front of Mes, Zax lowered his head to pay his respect tothe three beasts.
“Little brother Zax”. Tularg offered his hand for Zax toshake. He learned of this ritualistic greeting that was common in humanity’sterritory from his big sister Zetsa.
Zax reached for Tularg’s hand and his hand instantly swallowedwithin the animalistic grip. The pressure of the grip was a bit strong, but thesensation of physical contact with such of a formidable wild existence gave Zaxa 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 anyspeech impediment.
“Little Rara, stop antagonizing your elder sister”. Thefinal, fourth beast, came forward and as he did, the other three made way.
“Elder Martial brother Simel”, Zetsa said respectfully. “Theissue between me and little sister Rarahel is personal. Please forget what shesaid”.
As he heard his big sister talk, Zax realized two importantthings. The first was that the ape type beast, Simel, was one of the threeelder apprentices of his big sister’s Master, and was genuinely grander thanZetsa herself. The second thing was that, despite her greeting, between his bigsister 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 thesame Master, his appearance as a beast could only be counted as meager incomparison to the other four beasts. Being a Silver Skin Gorilla, most ofSimel’s body looked like that of a hairy muscular silvery man, around a meterand ninety centimeters tall, with a piece of leather cloth covering theloincloth and a gorilla head. Nonetheless, his tone of voice possessed a uniquenoble sound and his demeanor when he spoke his mind was highly oppressing.
“When brothers and sisters fight, parents are punished!” Hiswords held meaning that was mutual to all of his junior apprentices and therewas nothing else he needed to add to make them submit.
“Greetings, senior Martial brother Simel, this one is ZaxZel, nice to meet you!” Zax hurriedly said when Simel disregarded the othersand approached him.
“Hmm…” Was Simel’s first response after an azure luster gleamedin his eyes. ‘I see what uncle talked about... brave boy!’ He said to himself. ‘Poorsister…’ He thought back to how Zetsa must feel, knowing for what she broughthim.
“Say, little brother”, Simel turned to Zax. “What kind ofbeast’s meat, did little sister Zetsa made you eat on your journey here?”
“What?” Zax was dumbfounded by the question and why it wasasked. It was true that on their way to this cave Zetsa hunted and cocked forhim some beast’s meat, but was it safe to admit it to another beast?!
“Big brother Simel, we had no time to properly search forsomething special… the best was a shallow water turtle”. Zetsa answered inZax’s stead.
“‘Shallow water turtle’? Ba!” Simel spat. “Don’t reduceyourself again for this crappy wild beast, little sister Zetsa. Listen up,little one”, he turned to Zax. “If our Master will truly accept you, Ipersonally will take you for a hunt, and so will the others!” Simel promise wasabsolute and even the others had to give their consent, primarily because itwas an actual tradition that started by their eldest Martial brother.
“Martial uncle!” Simel suddenly turned and called out. Theother five, excluding Zax, were a bit slower to call in the same obsequiousconduct.
‘Big sis’s Martial uncle? Is he the one who found me?’ Zaxpondered. For a few seconds now his big sister’s brothers and sisters kepttheir 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 Zaxfound himself spellbound with his gaze to the ground.
“Martial nephews and nieces”. A husky voice broke thesilence and the six apprentices straightened, Simel first, Shulip last and Zax imitated.
The imperious figure of Martial uncle overshadowed theimpression that Zax received from the five beasts apprentices. Martial unclefigure was completely black from his hoofs to the tip of his crown like set ofhorns atop his stag head. Except for his posture only his burly torso lookedlike that of a man, though it was coated by shining black fur. These twofeatures of him were the sole indications that he, too, was a humanoid beast.
“Zax, he is my esteem Martial uncle Kartius, hurry up andgreet him!” Zetsa urged Zax.
“Greetings, senior Martial uncle Kartius, this one is ZaxZel, nice to meet you!” Zax said and as he lowered his head again he had anacute feeling that something was off with this Martial uncle, yet he could not determinewhat it was.
“Joined me around the table”. Kartius told Zax and theothers and proceeded to sit next to the table.
“Martial uncle, what about Master?” Zetsa asked. She hoppedthat her Master will be more amenable toward her brother if he will meet himand 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 Martiallittle brother heatedly, pondering if he had the audacity to disobey her infear that their Master will catch on about him doing something stupid.
“No, no, no, big sissster Zetsa! Martial uncle toldsss menot to call Master!” Mes said defensively.
“Indeed I told him”. Kartius responded to Mes’s imploringgaze for help. “Zax’s stay here was left for me to decide”. Saying so far, thesix apprentices understood their Master’s intention.
Zax was allowed to stay in the cave, but his cultivationwill not be supported by Master’s care.
“Martial uncle Kartius!” Zax abruptly raised his voicefirmly, shocking the six.
Which one of them, ever in his or her life, dared raisingtheir manner of speech in front of their Martial uncle?
“Please allow me to stay and train and become as strong asmy 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 alsoamused.
Tularg and Shulippreferred to keep their opinion privately.
Zax ignored everyone but Kartius. He thought that it will bemore appropriate for him to bow his head when he opened his mouth and shockedeveryone, but an audacious feeling in his heart instructed him to stay unyieldingas his will and the person that he aspires to be.
“Boy”, Kartius said and everyone fell silent. “Don’t letyour condition abolish rational thinking. I see that your soul is at the top oflevel D. That fast of a progress combined with the only other path that youhave, certainly makes you a promising practitioner of the Martial path. But,the path to becoming stronger is embedded with more than just the difficulty ofcultivation. On your own territory it won’t mean much, but here it’s adifferent matter. I’ll say without beating around the bush, stay here and it’smore 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 thefirst 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 init. That something else was the reason for him not using a murderous intent togive the boy a peek to the abyss that is known as the Martial path.
Zax had countless things to say in return. How he alreadylost something important. How he continues to lose important things deliberatelyand without restraint. How he is not scared. How he fared against death moretimes in the past than any child should. How he himself considered death asbetter than living at one point during this year, since he woke up…
At the end, he chose to say nothing. Everything sounded thesame and shared the same purpose, to stand his ground with his resolution. Enduringquietly was akin to showing that his mind did not sway by this Martial uncle’s cautionarywords.
“Very well, boy, Zax, you have my approval, you can stay”.
“Martial uncle is generous, thank you, Martial uncle!” Zetsawas fast to react and singled Zax to do the same.
“Thank you, Martial uncle!” Zax said.
“Congratulations, Zaxss, from now on you are the youngestMartial brother of usss six and the other two that are currently out”. Mes’sgolden eyes narrowed in delight.
“Swhit! Swhit!” Shulip whistled.
“Shulip is also happy not to be the youngest sisteranymore”. Tularg interpreted and then heexplained to Zax. “Bird type beasts have hard time changing their vocal cordsto reproduce sounds other than whistles. Wait for her to reach the Core Masterlevel 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 ofwinds to strike Tularg.
“Grahahah…” Tularg half laughed half roared and with aslight move of hand canceled the four blades of wind. “She thinks that I’membarrassing her in front of her new younger brother”.
“Enough of this juvenile behavior!” Just as Zax was about toget out of his awe toward these two beasts, whom with barely moving caused havocin the air, Kartius raised his voice in mild anger. “If you will destroy thepavilion I’ll have you drink thousand cups of water a day for ten generations ofthe Krikitories!”
What may sound as a joke clearly was not treated as such byTularg, Shulip or any of their Martial brothers and sisters. The two apologizedright away.
“Sorry, Martial uncle, he won’t dream of harming thepavilion”.
“Swhit! Swhit! Swhit!”
In truth, even if he did not say anything, the two wouldnever have the nerve to make the tiniest of scratches on the pavilion’s woodenbeams and roof or marble floor. It was a gift from the Krikitory tribe tosomeone that none of those who attended this welcoming gathering will think tooffend.
“As long as you remember…” Kartius said to the two and gotup on his hoofs. “Regarding the matter of a new Martial brother to you lot… Zaxwill 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 sameexpression 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 tobe his Mor and teach him all about the bodily refining technique. Yet, as hemet eyes with Kartius, Zax sensed once more that this beast possesses some profoundsecret that he must uncover. “Master!”
Zax recalled an old martial arts movie that he saw at Dane’shouse. The protagonist dropped to his knees and called “Mor!” to the old manthat accepted him as an apprentice. Zax copied the protagonist but instead of“Mor” called “Master”, since this was how his big sister and her Martialbrothers and sisters referred to their teacher and how Kartius referred tohimself.
“Martial son!” Kartius answered.
“Congratulations, Martial uncle! Congratulations, Martial cousin!”
The six who watched the exchange from the side applaudedtheir new junior and even more so, their Martial uncle.
“Little brother Zax, you might not know it, but you are thefirst apprentice, Martial son, that Martial uncle has ever accepted!”
“Thank you, Martial uncle, for seeing in my little brotherwhat my Master saw in me”. Zetsa thanked. It was obvious to her that just bystaying in her Master’s cave, without getting his support, becoming an officialapprentice; he will have hard time cultivating the bodily refining technique. Evenher two elder Martial brothers and elder Martial sister will not be able toprovide 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 Zaxas an apprentice. However, this situation contained a couple of complications whichno one could help with. Due to these complications Zetsa had to agree that Zaxwill benefit more from having her Martial uncle as a Master, than her ownMaster.
“Zax”, Kartius turned to his first apprentice. “From now onyou 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, getup and never kneel as frivolously as you do now! Learn first what thedifference between bowing slightly, as your seniors do, and kneeling!” Kartiussaid in a stern voice. “For mutual respect your knees should never touch theground... That is all I’m going to say on the matter”.
Zax gulped every word like the first drops of water after along drought, which was a thing of the past in New Earth but still a taughtsubject in schools.
“Master!” Zax repeated and stood up. Although Kartius saidthat both forms of addressing were the same, to Zax they meant two differentthings. Besides, his big sister referred to her Master equally the same andfrankly, Zax still did not know what was wrong with “Tal” and “Mor”.
“Then it’s settled”. Kartius said. “Zax, and you too shouldlisten”, he turned to the others. “While I said that Zax can stay, my approvalis only temporary. Even if I accepted him as my Martial son, he still needs toreceive big brother’s own approval. If it was ten years ago, big brother wouldnot have mind to give him the same chance he gave Zetsa. Unfortunately, thesedays big brother is very… anxious. To let Zax stay indefinitely, when the timecomes big brother will want to test Zax’s abilities, he has the right to and agood reason. To make sure that my Martial son won’t disappoint, I receivedthree years to prep him, Zetsa, I believe, already mentioned that to my Martialson and now I want all of you to know as well”.
The sternness in Kartius’s voice vanished, his speechmellowed as his next words were spoken from his sincere heart.
“For the next three years I plan to concentrate every secondon preparing Zax, not just for big brother… During this period of time you cantreat us as if we entered closed doors training”.
“Martial uncle, are you planning to take Zax?!” Zetsa unintentionallyblurted. Her relationship with Zax has just got better and now she will not beable to see him for three years!
“We will not be interrupted unless it is big brother who iscalling for either of us!” Kartius stated as an undisputable fact. “Nevertheless,it is very improbable that big brother, in his current temperament, will send acall 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 histraining… Your senior apprentices already doing the best they can, so theywon’t be able to help if something were to happen in that cave”.
“We know and understand, Martial uncle”. As the eldest, Simel’sresponse represented the other five apprentices as well.
“I’m grateful”. Kartius said. This will be the second timein a short period of time that he will not be by his big brother’s side. Hecould 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 notionof separating from his big sister again. Nevertheless his decision was made themoment his Master instructed him to say goodbye and he very well understood it.
Zax said his thanks and goodbyes to his new Martial brothersand sisters and could not stop himself from running into his big sister’s armsfor a hug that would last him for three long years.
Chapter 3 – Martial Father’s Teachings
Kartius left the Krikitory village with Zax right as hefinished saying his goodbye for the next three years.
They went back on the path from the village and when the pathsplit into the forest or the cave’s entrance, Kartius chose the former.
Past the forest was the mountain range, there, Kartiusforced Zax to climb relaying on his own strength. At most, he showed him a bearclaws 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 themountains and take care of the various hot springs. The bear claws signsindicate the paths that they use to climb down or up the mountain. I’ll beclimbing 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, apartfrom the advice that Zax received from his Master, Kartius only helped Zax withfood 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 cleanhimself and enjoy for the first time in his life; Zax even met a few adultKrikitories, some of the caretakers, who were suspicious of him at first but oncehe mentioned the name of his Master, turned gracious.
The Krikitories showed him the edible plant that grew aroundthe hot springs. They told him which ones were testier after boiling in the hotsprings and, after taking a look at his bruises from the climbing, which, ifmushed, were good for making ointment for small injuries.
When he reached the flat peak of the mountain Kartius ledhim to, Zax discovered an unbelievable spectacle. Atop of the highest mountainin the mountain range, a mountain couple of hundred meters higher than theother mountains and probably under the tallest cave’s ceiling in all of NewEarth, was a tower made out from sparkling blue stones.
Kartius did not say anything about the tower. From the topof the flat mountain he simply created a mantle from his mist energy around Zaxand jumped crushed at the other side of the flat peak mountain’s valley.
“Use your Soul Sense!” Kartius told Zax and formed a fistabove his head that contained his Core Master’s might.
The ground shook.
Rocks spread all over.
A clear path appeared beneath the ground.
“Ah?!” Zax was stunned. He listened to his Master and usedhis Soul Sense but still could not detect the underground path.
“Do not be surprised. This place is one of the secretwonders 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 dashedinto 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, atbest he saw flashes of reddish colors.
The mantle around Zax fades a second before he came tohimself and the duo of Master and apprentice arrived to the inside a spaciouscabin.
The interior of the cabin was mediocre. A large beast furcarpet, a square box around a meter tall and wide and two gigantic clay jarsthat Zax himself could fit in several times. From the two jars, through theirwooden sealing, a sweet herbal fragrance arose and filled the cabin.
“Sit down”. Kartius instructed Zax and sat first on thecarpet.
“Yes, Master”. Zax joined obediently.
“Good. First, let us have a proper introduction. My name isKartius, a Black Stag beast formerly from the Black Horns tribe”. It was ashort introduction, but it covered all that Kartius wished to share with hisMartial son in this moment in time.
“My name is Zax Zel, human. From El-Eden”. Zax copied hisMaster. However it seemed too short, so he thought more for a bit and then saidon the verge of lowering his head. “I thank Master for saving my life when Iventured and was lost in the beasts’ territory!”
“Do you remember or Martial niece Zetsa told you that Isaved you?” Kartius asked.
“I remember my experience in the beast’s territory, but notMaster saving me. Big sis was the one who told me”.
“I see…” Kartius nodded. “You should stop naming the placebesides your ‘Kingdom Earth’, ‘the beasts’ territory. Our three hundred andseventeen caves also have a name. Here we call our territory ‘Valgarel’; itmeans ‘Beasts’”. The first thing Zax learned from his Master, the name of theplace he will stay in for the next three years, at the very least. “Repeat it”.
“From now on, if something has a name and you know it, useit instead of referring to it with something else. If you don’t know the nameof a person or a place, seek the opportunity and ask for the name. Knowing theright 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 Mastersaid and then remembered a certain event couple of years back. He reminiscedthe day of the Young Mist Users Conference. Back then he was saved by HabulMajid. If he ever met the man again or get into a conflict with someone likethose from the Martinez family, will it not be useful to have the reputable namethat supported him once in the past at his disposal?
“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, Kartiuspreferred to study his Martial son by watching rather than probing him.
“Zax, tell me about what happened to you in Valgarel, yourexperience from the moment that you encountered the Brown Digger”. Kartiusfrowned when he recalled the beasts, the vermin. The topic may also seem likehe probed into his Martial son’s business in contrast to his decision, but itwas 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 recitingfrom the very start, the first moment of craziness in which he spent his Qitrying to penetrate a rock for imaginary Earth’s Cores. He finished withrevealing its relations to his practice in Adraak Meditation.
Kartius heard the story and receded to telling his part justabout when Zax fainted near the Brown Digger.
“For now forget the Black Core. You have my approval tocontinue meditating as you usually do. For now it should suffice as the onlysoul refining technique that you should practice. The day you’ll breakthroughwith your soul to the level of Mist Master, we will reevaluate your soul andwhat it requires for further growth”. Thus, Kartius put aside his Martial son’searlier experience in Valgarel and proceeded to prep him for his big brother’stest in three years.
“Let me see now, how well is you basic knowledge. Tell meall you know about the three aspects of a living being in order of theirimportance to a living being. Start with the least important.”
‘The least important of the three aspects…’ Zax thought fora 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 theonly one that can be harmed to the extent that even if half of it is lost, aperson can still stay alive with the help of medical instruments. With regardsto Qi or mist, they both flow in the body through Qi or mist channels. Althoughmy case is too odd, there is still no better example than what happened to myQi channels. They are clogged, still in perfect shape, but with just beingclogged, 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, ifthe soul will get even a light damage the person still would die. I don’tbelieve that special cases exist with the soul. It is the aspect I cultivateevery day for the past year. Big sis says that my soul is unique, that it can accomplishthings 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 readonline 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 andScreens?”
“So you do know, Master!” Zax was relieved. What good wouldbe his reasoning if his Master could not understand the idioms he used?
“Don’t look down on your Martial father, Zax. Beasts are notoblivious to human’s technology”. Kartius snorted.
“Sorry, Master!” Zax sensed the contempt in his Master’stone and hurried to apologize.
“Don’t make assumptions over things you haven’t first studiedto the best of your ability on your own. Only then it’s fine to be wrong oncein a while. And with respect to your one year of training your unique soul, sowhat?! Your soul is nothing but premature and your understanding, even of yourown soul, cannot compare to the knowledge that is outside of the boundaries ofyour comprehension. There are experts and super experts that cultivated theirsoul 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 tothe main subject.
Though it could have been a coincidence, or maybe just hisMaster’s plan, but after getting lectured by his Master, Zax was not as confidentas before with his ordering. “I was, Master”, Zax first admitted. “Now, not sosure…” 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 weare two individuals, through our mutual bond of Master and apprentice, it isfine 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 essentialconcept an apprentice had to be aware of in order to accept wholeheartedly hisor her Master’s teachings.
Constantly watching over his apprentice’s expression,Kartius looked for conflicting thoughts by reading Zax’s body language andfluctuations of his soul. He said what he believed every Master should say tohis apprentice. Some staff he figured on his own, others his big brother taughthim. Regardless from whom he gained his knowledge, Zax was his first apprenticeand his demeanor as a Master has also just begun to form and reshape.
“Of the three aspects, for sustaining the life of a livingbeing, the Qi is the least important. To understand why, you should firstlylearn the natural role of each aspect. The natural role of ‘Qi’ is to be the nurturingenergy that feed the body. Qi can replenish itself in a few ways. The Two mostcommons are rest and nutrition, food and water. At a certain level it is alsopossible to replenish your Qi through cultivation. Whichever way you choose,the main contribution Qi has for the life of a living being is sustaining thebody. 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 moreimportant?” Zax asked.
“That may sound like it, and I will explain it, but aren’tyou more curious of why you, with clogged Qi channels, can still move your bodyaround?” 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 becauseof the Black Core in your dantian. It somehow acts as a Qi substitute for thebody, or at least that’s my hypothesis. We will know for certain after you’llstart 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 BlackCore there is a mental link, as for how it can help you, saved that one forlater... My hypothesis is also based on the fact that only you can observe theBlack Core in your dantian and the change in coloring that it has done to youroriginal 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 itwith his Master so he diverted the conversation back to the lesson at hand.
“The natural role of the ‘body’ is to be the vessel thatruns on Qi and safeguards the soul!” Kartius emphasized. “Though it soundssimpler than the Qi, as a matter of fact, the second aspect, for lacking a distinctiveenergy 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 maybethree bodily refining techniques in all of New Earth!”
“Besides containing the other two aspects, the body is also thething 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 tellyou that if the dominion of Qi, the dantian, is destroyed, a living being canstill survive. The body may lose its entire accumulated Qi, but as long as theQi channels are intact, there are unique ways to make use of them, to passother energies through them to sustain the body. On the contrary, if a vitalorgan of the body is destroyed, then no matter what the state of the dantian orthe Qi channels is, there will be no point to them”.
Kartius’s finger moved from Zax’s dantian to several placesin 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”. Hetapped once on Zax’s forehead and drew back his hand. “Qi is the energy which runseverything, the body is the container which keeps everything together and safeand the soul, the natural role of the soul, is being the last pillar of defensethat guards the essence of a living being, the core of the soul, the spirit”.
“Zax, you know about the three aspects, but do you knowabout 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 acore?”
“That, you’ll come to discover in time, Zax. I know of theeducational system of you, humans, if it weren’t for your condition, you wouldhave 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 Idid 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 thanthat. The soul is also the chronicle of a living being’s persona. It maintainsthe memories, the feelings and growth that make you who you are. When the soulis damaged two things that make it seem as if a living being is about to dieare actually happening. The first is a shock that passes through defenses ofthe soul and affects the spirit. The second, if the spirit survives the initialshock, depends of how high the soul’s level, it will begin to slowly recover”.
Kartius halted his teaching. He saw his Martial son thinkingof what he said and waited. If there will be a question, he will answer it. Ifnot, he will resume. Zax seemed to keep up.
“Here raises the question. If the soul’s structure isfundamentally the same, it doesn’t matter where it’s damaged, than how come itis more important than the body, which has life depending vitals? The answer isthat the soul is the keeper and last defender of the spirit. Unlike the threeaspects, 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 thatwe 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 ofincarnation. Let it be harmed and you’ll cease to exist. It is said to be thecore of the soul because if the soul is not damaged it will forever be bound tothe 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 whichruns the body is not the same, but similar to the connection between the souland 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. Youwill fathom more and more as your cultivation progress. If you have morequestion, put them aside for the moment. Some things are better to comprehendon your own”.
Chapter 4 – Principal Of Pain, The Seven Stages Of BodilyRefinement
“Now that you know of the three aspects a little more, comehere, Zax”. Kartius got up from the carpet and walked to one of the two largejars.
Lifting the wooden sealing of one jar, the herbal fragrancein the cabin rose exponentially, so much that Zax took a step back and unconsciouslycovered his nose.
“Do you recognize this smell?” Kartius asked.
“It smells like a few of the plants that grow on themountains that the Krikitory caretakers of the hot springs use”. Zax replied.
“In addition to one exceptional plant, the liquid inside thisjar and the one next to it is the refined extract of the most potent medicinalplants that grow beside the mountains’ hot springs”.
From inside the jar Kartius retrieved a wooden watering cupby its long handle. “Remove your clothes Zax. To practice the bodily refiningtechnique your whole body has to be rinse by this liquid”.
As the liquid spilled over Zax’s head and slid on his face arefreshing burning sensation aroused his skin and opened up the pores.
“Lower your hands to the sides and take a deep breath withyour nose”. Kartius said as he rinsed him again.
Breathing the fumes that came out of the liquid, Zax feltthe refreshing burning sensation spreading inside of his body like a ball offire that he swallowed. Instantly, before the burning could cause adverseeffects, the refreshing trait of the liquid cleansed his airway and filled hisorgans with virtue.
No matter how much air Zax took in this one breath, his lungeskept expanding and his chest kept rising.
“Now slowly release and repeat. Don’t try to reach the limitof your lunges, you may not feel it but they are already stretched beyond theirlimit”. 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, inwardlyand outwardly, was bathed by the herbal liquid.
“That will take some time, however make sure to not moveuntil I finish!” Kartius said sharply. His hands began to glow in his azureaura and in a manner, which seemed slow due to the after images, but actuallywas too fast, at least for Zax to behold properly, his hands formed strings outof his mist energy and knitted them into and egg like shape that surroundedZax.
Zax watched as the enclosure his Master created become moreand more opaque. Over an hour passed and Kartius was not finished, but Zaxcould already see nothing but the smooth azure membrane that surrounding him.As the procedure went on, the membrane compressed and shrunk from initiallybeing a head taller and wider than Zax’s person to two to five centimeters fromtouching him.
Zax did not have fear from closed places, but being insidean impenetrable membrane for over three hours did take its toll. Fortunately,since he could not do anything else, it was suitable opportunity for him totrain his soul. Two surprising things that Zax discovered before he startedmeditating were… even though the membrane was made by mist energy, he could notexpend his Soul Sense beyond it and if he tried he got a strong feeling ofbeing pressed by the membrane. Also, inside his consciousness was the herbalfragrance. It did not help him to break through the next level, but it did makeit more comfortable to study the piece of spiritual knowledge from his subliminalmind.
As it so happened, the hours that passed were parallel to thenumber of cups his Master rinsed him with.
The membrane in its last phases of completion was the sameas a second layer of skin. From being oppressive to being light to graduallymerge with Zax’s body were the last three phases. Kartius finished and Zaxcould no longer see the azure membrane.
“What I embedded into your body is the nucleus of the bodilyrefining technique that my big brother developed, a formation that is called ‘SevenStages Of Bodily Refinement’”. Kartius introduced the name of the techniquewith great pride. “In knitting this membrane you should know that there is noone better than I, your Martial father. But as far as supporting you throughthe cultivation process… Know that from here on there is very little that anyonecan do”. He picked up Zax clothes and gave them to him. “Get dress, themembrane absorbed the liquid. Your body is perfectly clean”.
Zax stopped meditating during the last phase of the membranecreating process. By then he also noticed that the membrane was doing somethingto the liquid, but according to how he saw it, it was more accurate to say thatthe membrane was feeding on the herbal liquid.
“Master, before you completed the membrane I could sense itsfragrance in my consciousness and my body also felt refreshed, like afterbathing in the hot springs, but now I don’t feel anything of the liquid. Is itbecause of the membrane?” Zax was disappointed. He thought that if he couldmaintain the presence of the sweet fragrance in his consciousness he couldimprove the speed of his soul cultivation.
“Instead of the customary pillars and channels that aformation needs to be executed, the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formationonly need doses of the herbal liquid to function. This peculiarity correspondsto its class of difficulty, class S”. Kartius explained. “In the future, thefurther you will progress in cultivating your body, the more you will have tosoak your body with the herbal liquid. For now, the amount of herbal liquid themembrane absorbed should be enough for you to reach level E with your body”.
Hesitating a bit, Zax still forced himself to ask. “Will ittake long for me to reach E level Mist User with my body?” He remembered Zushisaying couple of months ago that Anet has already became an E level Mist Userand 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 searchinggroup.
Reading his Master’s stag expression, Zax could only assumethat what appeared on his Master’s face was a sort of a beastly grin. “Outsidewe’ll discuss it. You still have a lot more that you need to learn about theSeven Stages Of Bodily Refinement and bodily cultivation in general. I’ll tellyou 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 hisMaster, a familiar sight made him gasp. The cabin and its terrace were engulfedby a somewhat transparent layer of brilliant coating. Outside of the layer ofcoating was what shocked Zax. The cabin was surrounded by a smoky mist. Fromeach direction Zax looked, the smoky mist sprouted from the ground like in thecave he entered to with the Brown Digger and found the Black Core. The onlydifferences to the previous cave were in the density of the smoky mist and itscolor. It was doable to look as far as twenty meters into the cave from thesafe spot on the cabin’s terrace and the color of the smoky mist was earth browninstead of lava like orange.
“Could… Could… it be that we are back in that cave…?” Zaxstuttered. That accursed cave was the place where he lost his future as a MistUser. It was the last place in New Earth that Zax wished to be in.
“No”. Kartius answered. “But make a wrong step from here onand it could be just as worse!” He warned and placed his hand on Zax’sshoulder, holding him firmly. “The cabin is protected by a formation that Iset. What’s around you is the place you will be training in till three yearsfrom now… Zax”, Kartius’s tone made his apprentice to avert his gaze towardhim. “Use your Soul Sense to sense your body”.
Zax nodded and did as his Master instructed. With theadditional perception of his Soul Sense Zax noticed something foreign attach tohim like an invisible net. He did not bother to close his eyes to betterconcentrate on his Soul Sense’s finds, he did not need to. As a result, rightas he probed deeper to figure out what the net actually was, although healready had an idea, Zax saw an azure glow originating from beneath his shirtand as he lifted it up there were on his abdomen seven azure glowing gates thatstarted 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 morevividly and majestically underneath his soul. As if his soul was the jewelcrown 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 signifieslevel F and the highest and seventh signifies level S”. Kartius gave voice tohis 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 ofyour body stepping beyond the protective formation is akin to entering a furnaceand escaping the pain became impossible the moment the seven gates appeared inyour consciousness”.
“That is, however, the main principal of the Seven Stages OfBodily Refinement, the principal of Pain. To be forged with as littleimpurities as possible pain is part and parcel. That is also what makes thistechnique the number one bodily refinement technique in all of New Earth. Asfor how exactly it works, you will be entitled to know only if you step outsideand endure”.
‘All I have to do is endure pain and then my body willbecome the same as that of a Mist User?’ Zax swallowed a too familiar massive bulgeof self scorn and contempt, which weighed on him for far too long, and occasionallysurged from his stomach to be stuck in his throat. ‘Endure?’
In the past year he brought himself to believe that his lifewas meaningless if he could not achieve his goals, childish as they may be. Hischoice 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, whichmade 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 hereceived from the one who kept referring to himself his Martial father!
Zax crossed the protective formation. Right away the innerand outer seven gates glow intensified ten folds. The pain was indescribablyexcruciating, 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 longspikes pierced from inside his body, not leaving one millimeter of visiblepiece of skin.
“Zax!” Kartius sprang for his Martial son’s aid. ‘Thesespikes!’ Kartius matched them with the ones from Zax’s story. Still, not caringfor what they were, or maybe not having the time to care, an azure aura coveredhis right hand as he launched it to shatter the spikes. He could not affordsecond guessing himself; it was an unexpected development in a very sensitivetime 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, hecould 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, waspierced by the black spikes as if it was an illusion. Kartius, whom feltnothing from the spikes within contact and even with his Soul Sense or mist, staredin disbelief at his hand. Heavens knows how tough it was. To be pierced likethat… All he could do was slip his hand carefully from the spikes and step backas 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 whathappened as his own fault. He fall backwards in shame as the black spikes fadedand his appearance returned to normal, though unaffected by the scorching heatof the brown smoky mist.
“Be calm, Zax”. Kartius roared. His Martial son was neardiminishing himself again by breaking his back. “My hand is fine, look”. Hepresented his right hand. It bled, the palm had two holes and one finger wasalmost torn off, but at the same time his hand was slowly healing. “Moreimportantly, remember what I told you! Ifyou still haven’t figured it, think of your worthiness for being my Martialson!”
Facing his Master’s rebuke Zax was speechless. Hestraightened up and toughened the look in his eyes. “Master… I don’t understandwhat happened, I didn’t do anything. The Black Core… it sent a pulse throughoutmy body and then the pain stopped and the spikes came out”. He solemnlyexplained.
Azure mist swirled around Kartius hand. He used his mistenergy to hasten the healing of his hand. “Black Core… too bizarre… toobizarre…” Kartius murmured. “But it is also a proof, Zax, what the Black Coredid prove my hypothesis that between you and the Black Core there must be amental link!”
“But what now, Master?” Zax asked anxiously. “I’m outside ofthe protective formation and don’t feel pain at all… The bodily refiningtechnique…” He gritted his teeth and held himself from plummeting intodepression 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 theydid, 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 glowingin black radiance. Furthermore, it seemed swollen compare to before andsteadily keep growing in size.
“Is that good, Master?” Zax wondered. The expression on hisMaster’s face was difficult to deduce. Their bond was a meager couple of weeksold and while on the mountains his Master kept a noticeable distance.
“Good?” Kartius responded. “It’s blasphemy! How could it beso wicked? This terrifying Black Core… Forget about nearly cutting my hand off,it crushed and reconstructed the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement that my bigbrother shed blood and tears for tens of years to develop, and made Heavens LookingDown On Earth changes!”
“Then… the Black Core did a good thing?”
Kartius sighed. “It’s still cultivating… Might as well tellyou what I promised, Zax”. He referred to the profound method of the SevenStages Of Bodily Refinement. “You may sit or stand. Your body undergoingimmense changes, until it will finish, I’ll tell you what to expect”.
As his Master chose to remain on his hoofs, so did Zaxpreferred to stand.
“The Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement follows threeprincipals ‘Pain’, ‘Destruction’ and ‘Rehabilitation’. Pain is the mainprincipal. Every living being that can endure pain has a certain threshold. Imaginea line that to the left of it written ‘can endure’ and on the right of itwritten ‘can’t endure’”. Kartius used his completely healed right hand toneatly sketch on the ground and even write in a human language. “’Can endure’ comprisesall that you can endure, safely till your breaking point. ‘Can’t endure’ comprisesonly one thing, destruction”.
Kartius did not seem eager to relay to Zax the full detailedexplanation now that the most essential principal of his big brother techniquewas shamelessly dumped. ‘Perhaps, as his Martial father I should count it as ablessing’. He reasoned with himself.
“The better the technique for refining the body, the more tormentingit is. However Inflicting pain senselessly in hopes for becoming stronger willresult in nothing but self destruction. Practitioners must judge accordinglytheir limits when training, even more so when cultivating the body, since it differsfrom the other two aspects - its senses are dull. The principle of Pain pushesthe practitioner to the brink of madness, to as far as to stand on the linewith face forward the right side, not because it’s what cultivate the body, butfor the indisputable fact that even the toughest steel have to endure the heatof the fire and the strikes of the hummer to remove its impurities and be forgeinto the greatest weapon!”
“Soul, Qi and mist, the foundation of every refiningtechnique of one and the other is to circulate the aspects unique energies in acertain manner. The body cannot be forged that way. Since it doesn’t haveunique energy, the circulation is more perceptible. The body, like steel, hasto be broken to lose its impurities. That is the principal of Destruction. Thelongest you cultivate a bodily refining technique, in particular the SevenStages 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’tcome to be at the cost of your life”.
“Master, how the ‘Rehabilitation’ principal works? Right nowI don’t feel influenced by the principal of Pain, but I still dimly detect withmy Soul Sense that my body is breaking and rebuilding itself, does that mean thatI don’t have to endure?”
“Oh… finding out that you are not utterly cursed by theBlack Core can really invigorate you”. Kartius felt like teasing. It has been along time since he was a child and he usually spent time with his big brotheror on his own, so he naturally forgotten how abruptly children can swing theirmoods. “Before I’ll proceed to Rehabilitation, you should know that Pain is notnuisance. Not for naught it’s the main principal, without it someone who trainsin bodily refining technique cannot assert his limits and by practicing the SevenStages Of Bodily Refinement your thresholds expends significant, henceinitiating higher level of cultivation. Then again, with the changes the blackspikes made…”
Kartius sighed again. ‘Oh, big brother hard work…!’
“For now you should not be wary of the consequences ofDestruction”.
“The principal of Rehabilitation is the rebuilding that you saidthat you feel. Far from being a simple healing process, it is the mostcomplicated part in the creation of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinementformation. When the formation is done correctly it absorbs the herbal liquid sowhen Destruction comes to pass, Rehabilitation will instantly and meticulously reformthe body stronger, purer than before. When the body starts to deconstructfaster than it reforms, it typically spells failure which interprets to permanentdisability or death. For you, however, it only means that you should soak inthe refined extract of the medicinal plants. As for the swollen lowest gate…”
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 tacklingthe first level of bodily fitness, level F”.
“Level F?” Zax understood by the description of the level ofeach 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 Gand H like with my soul and Qi?”
“It’s another difference that is due to the body’s lack ofunique energy and requires an extensive explanation before you could comprehendthe meaning of the answer to your question”.
Kartius did not plan to drop all this information on hisMartial son in one day. Cultivating in the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinementcan push a practitioner to insanity. It is impossible to keep a clear head. Andyet, Kartius did not expect the Black Core’s miraculously effect. Because ofit, as long as his Martial son showed eagerness to learn, there was no reasonto hold back and with Zax’s unique soul, sustaining an attentiveness state ofmind was extremely simple.
“The body, unlike the other aspects, at least after reachinglevel S, doesn’t require the practitioner to attain an insight for abreakthrough. And if you’ll know what body fitness level signifies for MistUsers you will also understand why”. Kartius scattered his drawing of the interpretationof Pain and sketched the seven gates with their corresponding levels.
“Earth’s Cores have an outstanding innate ability that youalready should know of, that is, when forming the first crack on an Earth’sCore, 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 MistUser, the mist energy continues to temper with the soul and the body, but less substantiallythan when forming the first crack. At this point, Mist Users must reach acompromise. Cultivating the body is too difficult and cultivating the soul is imperativeif one wants to cultivate the other two aspects. A weak soul cannot assertitself in a stronger body or maintain control over a greater amount of Qi ormist. To cultivate without drawbacks, there are many techniques that temperwith the soul when cultivating mist. But the requirements of such techniquesare awfully high. A technique that tempers all three aspects is unheard off!Therefore, the preferable solution of Mist Users is to cultivate the soul andthe mist respectively, whilst letting the mist to temper the body at eachbreakthrough. As a result, the body fitness level of a Mist User remains atlevel F until a Mist User breakthrough level B. From level B, the body fitnesslevel remains three levels below the mist level”.
“Oh… Master’s mist is in level S, Core Master, right? Thenthat means that your body is also in level C?” Zax asked. “What it means for mycultivation of the body, Master?”
“What, Zax? You think that I’ll train you in a cultivationtechnique that I, you Martial father, don’t practice? You were right inguessing my mist level, but as for my body fitness level… I’ll tell you whenyou reach it”. Kartius taunted. “The point of bodily refinement techniques isto transcend from the norm. When I embedded the formation in your body youinstantly broke through level G. When the first gate will dissipate, your bodyfitness level will reach level F. And as for how a bodily refiner practitionercontends against a Mist User…”
‘Master is grinning’. Zax finally caught to one of hisMaster’s stag expressions.
“A practitioner of any bodily refining technique, other thanthe Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, can contend again any Mist User that isexactly a level higher than him. Those who practice and cultivate in the SevenStages Of Bodily Refinement can contend against Mist Users more than a levelhigher… Your goal in the next three years is to reach level C with your bodyfitness level. A practitioner of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement in theBeginner phase of level C can contend against an Advanced phase Mist Master toa settlement. You, if the Black Core is truly on your side, in the Beginnerphase of level C you will be able to contend against a Beginner phase MistLord!”
Kartius paused and stared Zax in the eyes. “Should I saymore?”
‘Fighting a Mist Lord as a C level Mist User… No! As abodily refiner practitioner!’ Zax clenched his shirt in his fist, right wherehis dantian was, where the Black Core resided. “Thank you, Master, for educatingme!” How to describe the feeling in his heart, his sudden affection for hisMaster and Martial father compared to the misery that he knew for the pastyear? Fortunately, he learned the phrase from his Master, as Heavens LookingDown On Earth!
April eleventh, year 5788.
A year and a half passed since Zax became Kartius’sapprentice and Martial son. During this year and a half, the now thirteen yearsold Zax and his unparalleled Master have come to understand a little better thewill of the Black Core and the entity that left it for Zax to find.
After the first session of cultivating the Seven Stages OfBodily Refinement, Kartius was stunned that the amount of the refined extract ofthe medicinal plants that he rinsed Zax with and should have been enough forhim till breaking through the second gate, was completely consumed. Granted, bynot having to worry about Pain and utter Destruction, Zax could practice for aslong 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 andpoured the quadruple amount of the precious refined extract of the medicinalplants on Zax, an amount that typically should suffice from reaching from theBeginner phase of level E to the top phase of level D.
When a week of solely meditating elapsed – since tocultivate 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 reachedlevel F. At the same time, Zax felt another pulse passing throughout his bodyand black spikes pierced every millimeter of his body. When the black spikesfaded, the second gate that represented level E was glowing in black radiance.
Seven months of training in just the very same manner, Zax’sbody was already at the Advanced phase of level E, the third gate was glowingin 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 hotsprings – and the piece of spiritual knowledge, fragment of the entity, thatZax 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. Uponperfecting his study of it, Zax grasped the complex framework of the patternsthat the moving black hues had made. It enabled him a one piece peek at the externalappearance of the entity, which was nothing that made sense.
Following Zax’s achievement in Adraak Meditation, a bundleof new pieces emerged from his subliminal mind, all obscure and unfathomablelike 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 tothe cave’s ceiling he knew as skies!
The day his Martial son completed his task of reaching levelC with his soul, Kartius just watched Zax in astonishment, remembering the boyhe carried with his own hands and brought back to his Martial niece. A boywithout future on the Martial path, whose sole achievement was breaking throughlevel F with his soul on his own.
The reimbursements of the diligent training were beyondcommon sense. In terms of quality, Zax’s soul at the Beginner phase of level Cwas equal to the Advanced phase of the same level of any other Mist User. Withhis Soul Sense, Zax accomplished unprecedented feats than anyone of the samelevel. 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 trulyjoyful with his decision to make him his apprentice. The day after, Zax’s newtraining regime started.
As his body cultivated according to the changes of the BlackCore, Zax was taught by his Master six sequences of bodily maneuvers, each comprisinga hundred and eight or nine moves, in total six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers.Slow gestures, fast strikes, turning from a certain position, jumping andstanding awkwardly. The sequences were odd, no Martial technique or attack ordefense forms. They were more like a dance with consecutive rhythm, regardlessof how impracticable it seemed to get from one position to the next.
Kartius did not give Zax time to meditate for soulcultivation. A day after his soul reached level C, Zax was told to familiarizehimself with the new prowess of his soul and then was ordered to exercise onlythe bodily maneuvers for days, sometimes for weeks at a time.
Five months since Zax began training the six sequences he couldfinally remember the precise implementation of each move. Thus, his proficiencyin 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 inthe Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement and the fourth gate was glowing in blackradiance. He no longer practiced in a safe distance from the protectiveformation and the accommodating cabin of his Master, but deeper inside the desolatedcave, surrounded by white smoky mist.
At the time of training for twelve months, Zax learned fromhis Master their whereabouts in Valgarel and the origin of the smoky mistoccupying it.
“We are in a relatively small cave that’s connected to bigbrother’s cave. No one can get to us without crossing big brother’s cave, andbig brother’s apprentices know not to bother us, either”. Kartius started withthe simple stuff.
“Caves such as this are small in number, handful all overNew 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 liablefor their name is the smoky mist which dominates their environment. It is theessence of numerous deposits of Earth’s Cores, Sun Stones and other mineralsthat penetrate the shells of the stones, mix the essences and cause theirenergies to burst from the ground in the form of acidic smoke and mist. Theacid level in the smoke and its density corresponds with its color. Light todark brown smoke possesses the lowest degree of acid, white to gray smoke has amedium accumulation of acid and yellow to red-orange has the highest. The areawhere the cabin is has a low density of the brown smoke. The entrances ofEssence Caves, on the other hand, always seem to have a high density of red-orangesmoke, which bring about its walls and tunnel to collapse and seal them. That’swhat makes this cave so hard to find”.
From the clarification of the smoky mist, Zax understoodthat his body fitness level was the variable that dictated within which areaand type of smoky mist his training will be carried out.
Zax was told by his Master that the effect of the SevenStages Of Bodily Refinement formation is the reason he can stay idly outside ofthe protective formation, and because of the Black Core he do not need to worryabout Pain or Destruction due to excessive training. The Black Core made it sothat Rehabilitation will halt his cultivation and the adversities ofDestruction when the herbal liquid is spent. So Zax wondered, “Master, won’t itbe more affective if I’ll cultivate where the red-orange smoky mist is? Won’tit be faster?”
“Not unless you want to die”. Kartius laughed, not over thequestion, but because he anticipated it to arise eventually. “Even if you arenot hindered by Pain and Destruction, your adaptability is limited by yourfitness level. That, even the Black Core cannot change, or at least it did notdo anything about”. He was unambiguous in his words. “Continue training, your transitionsare still clumsy… If I could, I would have shown you how to keep a smoothrhythm, but modifying the sequences to be suitable for a growing human’s muscleswas arduous for your Martial father in itself”.
A year and a half, half the time before Kartius’s and Zax’sreturn, went by in a blink of an eye. Since breaking through level E, Zax hadto be rinsed by fifty to sixty liters of herbal liquid a day to sustain theSeven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation embedded in his body. To keep upwith the demand for the refined extract of the medicinal plants, Kartius askedfor the help of the entire mountain village. The hard working Krikitoriesreadily complied with the request, however they had only so much of thegigantic clay jars. To maintain a constant flow of the herbal liquid, theKrikitories filled tens of five and six liters jars for Kartius to pick up oncea week. As a result, Kartius’s cabin looked like the gathering place of a privatepottery class.
Exercising the sequences of six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers,Zax barely paid attention to the passage of time. He did not have hiswristwatch; the cabin did not have electronic devices or even a calendar andthe smoky mist of the Essence Cave would have ruined the materials that madethe Nightly Cover formation – if anyone had bothered to install it. A year anda half had passed and Zax was not even aware that he already was a year intohis teenage years, a thirteen years old young man.
The density of the smoky gray mist was fairly high. Zax’s incessantmaneuvers scattered the smoky mist for fraction of a second before it condensedagain. “Ah!” Some steps and gestures were trickier than the rest and Zax, withhis body fitness at the top phase of level D, was forced to breathe outviolently.
Half a year ago he huffed and puffed like a battered old manafter persisting to perform tenth of the bodily maneuvers. Four months ago hereached this state after the three hundredth move of the fourth sequence. Amonth ago he completed all six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers before totteringon his feet. As Zax improved his proficiency everyday by practicing nonstop, withina 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 heavinesswhich was the product of his standard physical fatigue.
Falling back on his feet, Zax ceased the sequence and stoodin his place. “A hint! Definitely, a hint for the next level”. Being used bynow to bodily breakthroughs, Zax was sure of his assumption. He closed his eyesand reviewed the last sequence assiduously.
“Could it be…?” Zax got a sort of an idea and was anxious totry it. He immediately opened his eyes and resumed the sequence from its firstmove. First he wanted to repeat the moves the same way he usually performsthem. Getting to the leg swipe and rising up from the ground, the sensation offlying was absent.
“As expected”. Zax said indifferently. It was the executionof his idea which he entrusted his expatiations in. He picked up again from thebeginning of the sequence, only the second time was an exact imitation of the sequencebefore last.
Even his breaths had the same rhythm. Zax launched into theair and…
“Damn!” He fell down angry. “Again!”
Funny enough, the loud panting of the past six months werethe cause for Zax’s habit of speaking to himself when excited or frustrated.
Turning, bending, leg swiping, rising up and falling downwere the core moves in the said sequence. After seventeen failures Zax was fedup.
“I’m doing something wrong. I really thought that if mybreathing will be the same as it was when it felt like I was flying, then I’llgain insight into the objective of the maneuvers that Master taught me”. In hismind, when he checked and rechecked what could be different, only the rhythm ofhis breaths stood out.
“Ah! Foo! Hu! Ah! Foo! Hu...” Zax sat and reiterated the rhythmof the breaths for hours. “Ah! Foo! Hu! Ah! Ah…!” An impatient slip broke therhythm 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 mestruggling over something so simple, he would think that the Black Core wastedits modifications on the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation for abuffoon!” Zax said with a crooked smile and without further ado he began thesix sequences from the start.
‘Leg swipe!’ Zax exclaimed in his mind.
Several meters above the ground, Zax felt himself carried byan air current that gushed from inside his body. His body did not actually risehigher, but attained a rich sense of freedom which made it feel like it defiedgravity.
Landing, Zax was enthusiastic.
“I can’t just start from the middle; the breaths also have asequence. By starting from the fourth sequence, I foolishly separated the linksand broken the chain!” Zax’s body was vibrating with emotion.
“Congratulations! Oh congratulations, little Zax! In only ayear and a half… I’m so proud of you, little Zax!”
A voice that did not seem to come from any directionresonated in Zax’s mind. Zax was startled, but as the voice continued praisinghim gleefully it sounded so lovely, like that of his big sister when she washappy with him, yet more mature and with boundless affection.
Chapter 6 – Savage Caves
Kartius sat inside a fifty meters deep gorge, shrouded inlava like smoky mist. In his hands he was clasping a black sphere, a BlackCore, and on his chest, up where his clavicle was, a lone azure gate wasglowing.
“Hmm…” Kartius circulated his breath. It helped to bare thepain a little longer, and when it did not, it was good to have the indissolubleBlack 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 sessionof training, he pondered about Zax and the inconceivable heaven given gift inhis dantian and directed each thought to the Black Core in his possession.
‘At the beginning, big brother was interested in the BlackCore no less than I am. But because of his condition he had to let it go, itwas useless for him. So I entered a closed doors training to take you for myown’.
His hands clenched the Black Core without conservingstrength. His soul could not support him, to lessen the Pain – it was part ofthe burden of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation in his body. Butmatters that weighed on his mind made it possible to avert his attention.
‘Coming out with no results, I convinced big brother to letMartial niece Zetsa bring her little brother to his cave. Who would havethought that afterwards I’ll boldly take him as my first apprentice…? There wasno other way for me to investigate the effects of a Black Core on a body thatreceived it... But it turned out that apart from Zax, no one can detect theBlack 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 onthe 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 alayer of defensive mantel. The mist energy of a Core Master will do little tonothing against this level of smoky mist anyway. Instead, Kartius started toexercise sequences of bodily maneuvers.
If Zax were to see his Master right now, his mouth wouldhave hung opened.
Kartius’s bodily might was on a rampage. Attacking was nothis intention, but where he passed rocks and earth split apart and thenshattered to smithereens and the gorge, in no time, gained the appearance of a battlefield.
‘And today”, Kartius kept reflecting, ‘after a year and ahalf, before I was able to conceive substantial finds that will help me attainthe 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 toworry about. That was one side of the path, the selfish and egoistic, lonesomepath that will benefit more the cultivation of a practitioner of the Martialpath.
The other side was nearly identical. The difference was thatif a practitioner were to choose it, sacrifices will have to be made on his orher expanse, to support the growth of someone else, a new generation.
Kartius was swaying, for a certain amount of time favoring oneside over the other and then swaying back to the inception of the fork.
“You broke through the fourth gate!” The voice declared jubilantlyin 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’sbody. 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 shoutedand expressed his joy by showing off his new bodily capabilities.
“What ridiculous things are you spouting? There is no CoreBreaker that can match you. Have you forgotten what your Master said? Even MistUsers in Beginner phase of the Mist Lord level cannot bully you now!” The voiceproclaimed as if it was it that achieved the breakthrough.
“Ah, who is it?” Zax took notice of the odd voice and spreadhis 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 readyto meet”.
Someone that could converse with him without being found…Zax thought of the possibilities of whom it could be, knowing that whoever itwas, the feminine voice signified that it was a woman and definitely a senioron the Martial path.
“Senior, are you by any chance big sis Zetsa’s elder Martialsister?” Zax asked. Out of his big sister Martial brothers and sister, Zax hadyet to meet two of Zetsa’s elder Martial apprentices. One of which, Zaxremembered, was a sister and he suspected that the voice belonged to her.
“Little Zetsa is also cute”, the voice replied. “But to meshe is more than a little sister”.
“Stop calling me ‘Senior’. Would you call the man that hurtyou a senior just because he is older and stronger?”
“The man who hurt me?” Zax was confused. “Who are youreferring 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 callyou?”
“Of course, the man of the Martinez family that assaultedyou 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 myimagination?“
“That’s rude!” The feminine voice was offended. “I know whatI know because Zetsa told me. Your sanity is in place and I’m most definitelyreal!” The feminine voice affirmed and went silent. “If I tell you my name, canyou promise not to tell anyone that we talked?”
“Can we meet?” If it was the voice of lunacy it could sayanything. While conversing, Zax also delved into his sea of consciousness, tocheck for quirky fluctuations. His sea of consciousness was serene.
“Little Zax, as much as I would like to meet you, he wouldnot 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, yourlevel of cultivation is low”.
‘Mmm… why do I get the sense that big sis’s Master is thatone that doesn’t see me qualified?’ Zax was not stupid. He maybe not knew whothe voice was, but he did know in whose territory he was in and whose approvalhis Master train him to receive.
“I won’t tell anyone that we talked”. There was nothingelse, so Zax agreed.
“I’m glad, little Zax, that you trust me. I also trust yourjudgment. My name, little Zax, is Laivien… I reside in this Essence Cave for avery long time”. The feminine voice, Laivien, sounded melancholy, however hertone became lively as she went on saying. “For the past year and a half I’vewatched you train diligently, advance faster than anyone before you, andcelebrates each breakthrough with great exhilaration. It made me joyous…”
Laivien’s sincere confession somehow made Zax’s heartquiver. The sound of her voice transmitted gratitude and dependence. It was weirdto have someone he did not know be so affectionate toward him.
In Zax’s mind appeared his mother, as if she was sayingthose 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 onlynow you speak to me?”
“Little Zax, there are many things you don’t know, were nottold, 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 thatyou are ready for the Savage Caves”.
“’The Savage Caves’, what are those?”
“In New Earth the Essence Caves are considered secretwonders for being hard to find, for being the ideal place to practice bodilyrefining technique and for having an immense source of energy, though onlyhumans 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 thatI can keep training my soul by exercising in Adraak Meditation until I’llbreakthrough to the next level with my soul”.
“I’m aware of your Master’s decision. However, I say that heis wrong. If you wait for your soul to breakthrough, because of your Master’s uncertaintiesyou 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 pastyear and a half? A Master of the Martial path during his training sessions andthe rest of the time… who could say that he also was not like a parent?
That was all Kartius used in order to refer to himself inthe content of his relationship with Zax. After a year and a half, of courseZax could no longer look at his Master as nothing but a Mor. When he wasresting after an exhausting training session, Kartius brought food and cookedfor him. When the belly was full but the rest was not enough, Kartius arrangeda place for Zax to sleep in his cabin, a comfortable mattress made out of countlesspaper thin vines. As they grew used to each other, was there a thing that Zaxstill concealed from with his Master? Absolutely not!
Zax’s repressed concerns of his ruined relationship with hisfriends and family was a constant reminder, that although he found himself apath to follow according to his dreams and aspirations, there were still thingsthat he had to make amends for. And the better Zax got due to his fastimprovements, the more he realized that his friends and family were no lessimportant to him than being a mighty Mist User.
To deal with this burden, it was his Master that talked tohim, assured him that in this world there is not something that cannot be fixed.
“A damaged relationship with someone that is close to you isone of the easiest. All you need his courage”. It might be obvious, butsometimes simple answers had to be said in a certain manner that only few couldexpress. Kartius always managed to advise Zax in a way that strengthened hisresolve.
In a year and a half, Kartius had already attained theposition of a father figure in the eyes of his apprentice. The reasons that Zaxkept called him “Master” instead of “Martial father”, were that he was shy andalready used to the former manner of addressing.
“You claim to know better, to hear and see everything sinceMaster brought me here, but where were you this all time? Only now popping upout of nowhere, speaking to me without showing your face and still daring tospeak badly on my Master!”
“Little Zax!” Laivien rebuked. A surge of pressure that wasonly inferior to that caused by the Black Core and the entity, engulfed Zax’swhole sea of consciousness, as if it was an ant in a human’s hand. “I chose toturn 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 didnot consider, I simply give words to what he hold himself back from saying”.
“I don’t understand you! Why would Master deliberately impedemy training?!” Zax threw back.
“Because of your abnormal improvement and the hint of darkattribute in your soul!” surveying Zax’s expression from someplace far faraway, Laivien saw that he was not aware of the latter part of what she wassaying. “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 itslevel, little Zax, it left a remnant of dark attribute... an elemental energyyou should not seek answers to understand right now. All that you should knowis that at the moment, the dark attribute is dormant. If, however, your soulwill 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 theSavages Cages are the best place for you to make up for tossing the principalof Pain”.
“How is that related? The principal of Pain is a principalof a bodily refining technique. You said that the Savages Caves are for soultraining”. Zax was not satisfied with Laivien reasoning mostly because he didnot get it.
“The principal of Pain in the Seven Stages Of BodilyRefinement has more than one purpose. Aside from supporting the cultivationprocess, it also builds your character as a Martial cultivator. I won’t tellyou much of it because the Black Core has already outdone it, but withoutletting you to be forge in the true way of the Seven Stages Of BodilyRefinement, even at the risk of awakening the dark attribute, you will never bequalified 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 considerher remarks. His Master did tell him to wait after all.
“I believed him too, at first”, Laivien said. “Up until hedecided to teach you the bodily maneuvers and told you to stop cultivating thesoul. Your Master is impeding your training for caring too much for hisapprentice. Let me explain, the ‘Savage Caves’ is not a mere name, all whoenter them will be affected by a mental boundary that arouse the savageinstinct in beasts and human alike. The Savage Caves known to have at least threecaves of savagery, but up to date; no one has managed to cross the third caveand so only three are really counted”.
”There is only one tunnel that allows entrance to the firstSavage Cave, and one tunnel between each Savage Cave. There are many experts who think that they canventure into the Savage Caves, but for one to cross from the first cave to thesecond, the soul must be at the Core Master level. That said, so long that youdon’t fall to complete savagery and survive the first cave, the benefits willbe substantial, even more so than those of the principal of Pain!”
“Better than the main principal of the Seven Stages OfBodily Refinement…” Zax muttered.
“And it’s not all. Because of the Black Core’s modificationto the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, the herbal liquid is not sufficientanymore to sustain the formation. On the other hand, at one point or another, atrip to the Savage Caves will be unavoidable since only there the medicinal plantsthat can sustain the last stage of the formation are growing. In your case, itwill take years and an inconceivable amount of the current herbal liquid foryou to break through the next gate. You are already in need for the SavageCaves’ medicinal plants”.
“Little Zax, do I give you the impression that I harbor maliceanimosity toward you?” Laivien suddenly asked.
“No”. Zax answered plainly. From start to finish, Laivienmight have said things that he did not appreciate to hear, but not once he felther trying trick him. At most he could just say that there was a tensionbetween their opinions due to disagreement. Besides, after the surge ofpressure Zax had no doubt that if Laivien wanted to harm him, she did not needto put much effort.
“Then agree to go to the Savage Caves. I believe that withthe unique soul that you have, you will be able to surpass the hurdles of thefirst cave, and when you’ll return, we could finally meet!”
Laivien’s powers of persuasion succeeded to tempt Zax. Hewas about to agree when he realized… “Laivien, even if I want to go, how am Isupposed to tell this to Master? Master will surely want to know from whom Ilearned 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 yourdecision. 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 talkto him about the Savage Caves himself and act as if he did not know anythingabout them? That will be the same as deceiving him, and how could he? He is nomore the young boy who said white lies to hide his training sessions from hisparents.
In the past year and a half, even if his Master was notawfully strict, Zax still developed a sense of discipline toward him.
“Little Zax, let’s make a compromise. If you truly want togo, then no matter what I’ll support you with dealing with your Master and if lateryou still won’t feel comfortable with him, then I will not mind you telling himthat we talked. Is that fine?” Laivien sounded like a mother who tries to helpher son confess to his father something bad that he had done.
“It’s fine”. Zax answered like an obedient child.
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 wasno reason for him to hurry, therefore he stride idly as he mused over his internalconflicts.
“Laivien”, his attention shifted to the foreign presencethat 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 beforeshe 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 spendstime with you”.
“Mmm… you don’t need to rely on Kartion. I’m sure there areother means…”
There sure were other means, treasures of him, Kartius,which he cannot misuse if even to visit his little sister. “Little sister, howabout this. I’ll come to visit you whenever you want after my nextbreakthrough. Are you pleased?”
“Huhuhu! Big brother is very considerate of his littlesister”. Laivien knew that she hit a sensitive spot and when to withdraw beforeit will explode. In addition, Kartius depended on his treasures to surpass thelast gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement and it was not only for hissake…
“Little sister, now that you extorted a promise from me,what is it that you truly want?” Kartius was no fool and definitely not aplaything for his little sister. Her and his big brother’s situation was thereason for his submissive behavior. His heart ached for them. Nevertheless, nowthat he showed her that he is in a benevolent mood, she will get right into whyshe used her own treasure to reach him.
“I’ll get right to the point, if big brother is so willingto comply”. Laivien said.
“What is it?”
After a short pause Laivien finally opened. “I want you tosend Zax to the Savage Caves”.
“What!” Kartius was startled.
“All of Kartion’s apprentices have been there. It’s abouttime to send yours as well”.
“Little sister, I don’t know from where this is coming, regardlessof 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 sentapprentices!” Kartius retorted.
“Big brother, you should remember that not only Zax’s wordsand action I hear and see. Yours are not hidden from me, either”. Laivien shotback. “But I will not repeat what you already know as truth, only state thefacts”.
“And what facts are there, that makes you know better thanme what’s good for my Martial son?”
“First, you should know that your Martial son had brokenthrough the fourth gate”.
“He made it past the fourth gate!” Kartius was astonished. Inthe past year and a half his exaptation of Zax to reach the goals he set forhim, sooner than three years, grew absolute. Be that as it may, he stillassumed that at least half a year would pass before Zax will make anotherbreakthrough.
“Second”, Laivien ignored his reaction and kept going. “Hissoul’s capabilities already match those of a Beginner phase Core Master. It isonly because that the quality and quantity of his soul energy are in the CoreBreaker level that the first cave is still good for him. If you keep delayinghim until the next level, with his unique soul, the effect of the cave willlessen tremendously and the second cave will still be out of reach. Third, withregard to his bodily cultivation, he needs the herbal liquid of the plants inthe Savage Caves and in great quantity, at that. Otherwise, forget him makingprogress!”
“The hint of dark attribute I will not even mention sincethere 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 hissenses. “Should I recite you the dangers of the Savage Caves?!”
“No need if you already started to prepare him to deal withthose dangers. For what other reason did you stop him from cultivating the souland taught him the bodily maneuvers? Your Martial son is not a slow learnereven if his advancements are not aided by the Black Core. He broke through thefourth gate at the same of partly figuring the breathing sequence and a few ofthe breaths. In a couple of months I am certain that he will hone it to thedegree of knowing the corresponding breath of each move!” Laivien did not sayanything about the dark attribute. Certainly it was a subject she could notrefute.
“Knowing the breathing sequence will not progress Zax to thesecond phase of the bodily maneuvers exercise. If they’ll chase him, he willget caught, and in the Savage Cave it will be on a whole other level ofdifficulty!”
Laivien was perfectly aware to whom her big brother meant bycalling “They”, however, her opinion stayed the same and her response even moreso inflamed. “Their scouts won’t attack him right away, they’ll first followhim. Because they won’t be able to detect his body fitness level and theEarth’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 thefirst Savage Cave and by then it will be too late, since none of their scoutsis past the Core Master level”.
“Then they’ll simply leave their scouts outside of the firstcave for a period of time and if Zax won’t return they’ll either presume thathe 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 fewmonths to unify all three and reach the Intermediate phase. If beforehand hewill also reach the Advanced phase of his current body fitness level, evenBeginner Core Masters won’t be able to catch him, and anyone below the coremaster 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 Intermediatephase of his current body fitness level”.
“That is correct, and that is why I wonder how much my bigbrother care for his only son”.
“Don’t speak in riddles, say what you-” A bit slow, butKartius 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 alsoswayed toward the side of a Martial father, ever so far from the side of aMartial cultivator.
Simultaneously a terrible thought aroused in his mind. Didhis little sister spoke with his Martial son? One way or another, Kartiusreminded to himself that speech is silver and silence is gold.
“Little Zax, it isdone. In time, your Master will send you to the Savage Caves. When exactlydepends on your achievements in the coming months”. Laivien informed Zax.
“Will… Will Mastersay or ask anything that’s related to you?” Forget about the dangers of theSavage Caves, what Zax worried of the most was his Master inquiring about if hedid or did not speak with Laivien.
“Rest easy, littleZax”, Laivien said happily. “Your Master’s temperament will be as usual and noquestion, answers or explanations will arise”. She assured him and her presencefaded from his consciousness.
To celebrate Zax’sbreakthrough into the experts’ circle, Kartius hunted a beast which was at theMist Master level to cook for his apprentice. Kartius cooking skills were belowaverage compared to the common human’s skills. Fortunately, he knew how to preparethe meat, and by itself it was a delicacy Zax never tasted before. Later, thetwo 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 improvedas his body did. Still, the taste of the alcohol was unpleasant.
“Since your body fitness level is at the same phase andlevel as your soul, tomorrow you will resume cultivating your soul. You willspend eight hours of the day exercising the bodily maneuvers and the rest ofthe time meditating, therefore you will also not get to sleep anymore, so beprepared!” Kartius said during the meal.
Zax did not ask or said anything about the Savage Caves andjust 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 inthe herbal liquid, which he noticed was different by its smell. The fragrancewas highly concentrated, its sweetness reached the boundaries of sickening. Zaxwas sure that it was not the same herbal liquid he used the days before – theold 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’smiserable response.
When the formation embedded to his body got his fill of theherbal liquid, next order of business was Zax’s daily training in the bodilymaneuvers. Under the constant supervision of his Master, in the past fivemonths, Zax’s experienced the most rigorous manner of training. It concludedafter eight hours whether Zax wanted to or not, since Kartius pushed his bodyto the limit constantly.
Despite the intensity of Kartius’ training regimen, Zaxstill did not proceed to the more dense and high level smoky mist areas.
Kartius did explain why. “If your body fitness level willimprove faster than your soul, than a heavy setback will befall on you and itis hard to estimate how long it will take for you to surpass it”.
Staying in the same area might have slowed Zax’s bodilycultivation, but it did stabilize and kept his training schedule in order ofimportance.
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 onepiece, it was not hard to study the others. However, his progress was not asfast as it was when he studied the first piece. Of the seventy nine thatappeared after the first, after fully appreciating one, the advancements weremeager, at best, and another eight to eleven more pieces resurfaced from his subliminalmind.
In the end, breakthroughs and insights were achieved in thefollowing order.
First, of the five months, it took Zax around four months toseize the perfect breathing sequence. As for keeping up with its rhythm… thatwas still too difficult. Nevertheless, Zax’s control of his body seemed to improvegreatly due to him diligently training as his Master instructed, and Zaxhimself noticed it when he exercised all six hundred and fifty bodily maneuversmore easily.
Second, on the side of Adraak Meditation, Zax reached the Advanced phase of his current soullevel after nearly consuming the whole five months. Afterwards, the quality ofhis soul had only progress to the peak of level C.
Lastly, withoutknowing 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. Bytesting his strength, speed and reaction, Kartius proudly told his Martial sonthat unless the opponent is a Peak phase Mist Lord or above, he has nothing toworry about.
Within Kartius’s cabin.
“Memorize this map”. Kartius drew a map of the rough layoutof the caves from his big brother’s cave to the first Savage Cave. He drew iton an old piece of beast skin, using a drop of blood since there was notanything else as replacement for ink.
Zax carefully memorized the map. There were one hundred andseven caves between here and the first Savage Cave. Zax did not ponder over whyhe should memorize the route instead of tacking the map, with his current soullevel it will not made a difference either way.
“Done, Master”. Zax said. ‘A week or two journey into the innerparts of Valgarel’. He was excited. His Master already informed that he willnot be there to accompany him and that only added to the rush.
“These are the plants that you should look for in the SavageCave”. Kartius showed Zax an old drawn picture of two types of flowers. One hada red stalk with seven white petals and a lone orange stamen. The other had agreen stalk with two purple petals and a lone green stamen. “There aren’t manyof them in the first Savage Cave. After you hone your soul and character, get asense 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 toenter the second cave!” he said unequivocally.
As Zax studied the shape and color of the flowers, Kartiusturned to the square box and removed its wooden lid. He returned to Zax holdinga sleeveless fur coat.
“The beast it belonged to was a Two Headed Beaver at theCore 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 neverencountered a Two Headed Beaver, won’t be able to discern if you are a human ora beast”.
“Thank you, Master”. Zax said happily, wondering if otherbeasts will really take him for a humanoid beast if he’ll wear it, knowing thathe will have the answer in a while.
“Hearing about them now is not that time, no until my bigbrother say so. I’ll remind you only this, outside of the cave there are enemieswho oppose my big brother and those by his side. Although those outside won’tbe able to harm you, if they’ll call for reinforcement you will be in trouble. Fora safe journey you only have two priorities, keeping you identity a secret andgetting to the Savage Caves as fast as possible!” Kartius empathized to thepoint that it was useless to ask if Zax understand.
Zax, too, did not ask questions about the enemies. His Masterwarned him of the wild before he accepted him. Besides, for some reason he didnot feel threaten. Beast Mist Users or human Mist Users, if all that he needsto be careful from are Peak phase Mist Lord then what are the chances that hewill face one?
An azure mantle wrapped Zax.
“I will see you off outside of the Essence Cave”. Kartius’shand reached for Zax’s head through the mantle. It was the first time that he caressedit and Zax could not help but lower his gaze from this Martial father.
Zax decided to pass through the Krikitory village of the Krikitoriesfield workers for a chance to see his big sister. As soon as the youngKrikitories saw approaches, they ran home and back outside and jump him withtens cups of water. Zax could not comply with what Zetsa told him about thementality of the young Krikitories and could not bring himself to disappointany of the little ones. And so he drank all the cups of water.
In the village, no one of his Martial brothers and sisterswere or his real blood sister was. The adult Krikitories also did not knowwhere they were, and so, disappointed, Zax left to the cave’s entrance.
“Oh, out and so soon?” Guarding, or so it seemed to looklike, was Rarahel. She saw Zax and spoke from afar. Her draconic complexion wassurprised for a moment before it returned to normal.
“Big sister Rarahel”. Zax said respectfully. He did notforget how detached from each other his big sister and Rarahel were the firsttime he met her. Not knowing if she will act the same way with him, Zax stillchose to start off humbly.
“Congratulation for making it to level C, little brotherZax” Unexpectedly, Rarahel answered back warmly.
Zax could tell that Rarahel looked at him differently thanshe looked at his big sister because, after living for nearly two years withjust one person that was a humanoid beast, Zax intuition and ability to readthe 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 towonder if it’s only you two or that all humans are freaks, hahaha…” Sheactually felt opened enough to laugh and that even more caught Zax off guard.
Zax thought again if his first impression of Rarahel wasaccurate or poorly timed. He thought of her as the cold and rigid type, but sheturned 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”. Rarahelsaid in a serious tone. She, too, trained in the Seven Stages Of BodilyRefinement.
“Master taught me well”. Zax replied, adding to himself, ‘ifonly she knew…’
“But didn’t you Master said that your training should lastfor three years. Even if your progress is that amazing, going back home for abreak will be a waste. Don’t underestimate my Master’s evaluation if you wanthim 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?!” Makinga stumped expression, she grabbed Zax, almost preventing him from leaving thecave.
“Big sister Rarahel, Master told me of the Savage Cavesenough to know that going there will only do me good and I’ll be fine”. Zax letloose his consent in his speech.
“It’s not about being physically strong there…” Rarahel hadmore to say, however she did not know what her Martial uncle wish to share orwithheld from his only apprentice. She had no right to undermine her Martialuncle, so she reluctantly stopped deterring Zax and quietly said. “You aresimply too young!”
“Goodbye, big sisterRarahel”. 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…”
Chapter 8 – Twenty One
Outside of the cave was the lush vegetation that the EssenceCave Zax livid in for a year and eleven months could never sustain and the caveof 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 hiddenenemies. After reaching the Advanced phase of level C with his soul, Zax’s SoulSense 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 neighboringcaves”. 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. Otherthan the experts of the five sovereign tribes, there is no one that I should beafraid off. I wonder what could be different in the inner territory…’
Zax felt confidence in his chance to at least escape if dangersarise. While training in the bodily maneuvers exercise, he was chased by hisMaster 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 injurehim 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 theBlack Core had made. Otherwise, only as a B level practitioner of the SevenStages Of Bodily Refinement you could grow back limbs”. That day Kartius sent amist attack that nearly decimated all of Zax’s four limbs. “Still, this is notan excuse to be complacent! You don’t have the mist energy to spend on yourbody. Without external help similar to the herbal fluid, your body won’treceive the nourishment to come up with the energy to regrow one limb!” At theend of that training session, Zax truly lost a limb and only after two weeks itgrew back.
Zax followed the map he craved to his mind and in four daysreached the boundaries of the outer parts of Valgarel.
There, he noticed humanoid beasts with bull heads, guardingthe tunnel to the inner territory. There were seven beasts. Zax first detectedthem with his bodily senses. In his body fitness level his senses were a lotsharper than most beasts. To determine the level of the guards he used his SoulSense.
“Six Core Breakers and one Mist Master”. According to theirsouls 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 needwas for all seven to shift their gaze together for a few seconds.
The impact of the rocks with the trees Zax aimed them atcreated two explosions and a rain of leaves and splinters.
Two guards were sent to investigate as the others watchedthem from their post at the cave entrance. When the remaining five bull headsshifted their gazes all that they could perceive of Zax was the guest of windhis fast movement created as he passed them in practically an instant,extremely entertained.
“That was easy!” Zax was truly overjoyed. Two years ago whowould have dare to imagine, especially him, that the boy with clogged Qichannels could ever give such a show!
On the second week of his journey Zax used his Soul Sensespontaneously, as he continuously used it to avoid unwanted surprises. It was ahabit he developed after the encounter with the bull headed guards. Though theydid not discover him, if he had used his Soul Sense back then, he himself wouldhave sense them a lot earlier than his bodily senses.
A few figures were following him.
“Hunters or Master’s enemies?” Zax asked himself. Four daysago he met with a party of humanoid beasts that acted as hunters and the dayafter with a group that was actually led by a human and while the other memberswere on all four. In both occasions Zax sprinted before they could make up thecolor of his fur coat. Besides the human, not the beasts in his party or thehumanoid beasts of the day before were above level E.
This time, however, things were a bit different. Zax’s speedwas not at its peak and he did not want to alert them, if those after him wereindeed enemies. Relying on his Soul Sense he learned that the pursuers werefifteen in number, ten Core Breakers and five Mist Masters. Zax wondered how hecan fare against this great number of experts, but remembering his Master’swarning, he simply surveyed their speed and allowed them to follow him up tothe entrance of the first Savage Cave. There he in fact discovered that sixmore enemies, most likely, were waiting for him.
“Told you, boss”.
The group of fifteen caught up, becoming with those whowaited a group of twenty one. All the beasts looked humanoid with vicious canineheads.
“My sense of smell is the best in our unit, boss. Known asthe thousand odors snout! With a sniff I could tell that this is just a humanboy wearing a Two Headed Beaver fur coat!” One juvenile canine boasted.
“Freaking pup”, the one the juvenile canine talked to, theboss, was a large humanoid beast with a wolf head in the Mist Master level. Thewolf boss slapped the head of the juvenile canine and averted his gaze towardZax, who stood between the six that were waiting and the fifteen that trailed.
“Who would have thought that such a young child ispracticing that body refining technique…?” The wolf boss seemed a bit shaken.
How could he not? They trailed Zax since the very same dayhe left that cave… always at a distance of two kilometers or more from him, butsix days ago they actually lost him! Luckily, one of his pack members wasfamiliar with the scent of a Two Headed Beaver and besides being able to tellthat it was a human wearing its fur coat, he could retrace Zax’s steps, whichhelped the wolf boss to guess Zax’s destination and send a member of his packto arrange a blockade at the cave’s entrance, in case he and his unit will notcatch up to Zax.
“I can’t assert his powers, boss”, another canine said.
“Me neither”. The wolf boss replied with a growl. “It can’tbe that his soul level is higher than a Mist Master. It must be the fur coat ora treasure for the cave... Calrob, can you tell the level of the Two Headed Beaverit belonged to?”
“Afraid not, boss. Even if my mist energy stimulates my eyesand 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 caninehead 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 infront of him clearly were not willing to let him and also… now that he was soclose to the first Savage Cave, if his pursuers were reluctant to followinside, than it was also a good opportunity to consider again how he will fareagainst so many experts. Zax felt goosebumps all over his body. After almosttwo years of isolated training with his Master and a voice in his head, theseguys were going to be his first real interaction… a clash of experts!
‘Fourteen Core Breakers, seven Mist Master, twenty one intotal!’
The longer Zax trained in the six sequences of bodily maneuversthe swifter and more agile his control over his body became. Although he knewall six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers and the perfect breathing sequencehis rhythm was still behind the Intermediate phase. But, classifying two in thesame phase does not mean that their proficiency is equal. To classify Zax atthe Beginner phase is akin to saying that he is in the Advanced phase of theBeginner phase. Not exactly the most sophisticated way to put it, but it didnot matter since a large gulf separated Zax’s level of control of the body andthe twenty one canine heads’!
Apart from the seven Mist Masters, the others could onlyhear the sound of Zax movement as he reached in a flash to the canine thatevaluated 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 Breakerexperts and those who saw nothing but a flash or a shadow as Zax made his move.
The two Mist Master next to Calrob launched their claws atZax. 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 Masterwarned 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 yourbeast form!” Following his order something strange happened.
Despite the astonished expression of the other twenty, notone of them argued with their boss and in several seconds, Zax learnedsomething new and finally understood what Martial sister Rarahel meant bywarning him of the true from of the wild.
The twenty one canine heads all transformed from theirhumanoid physique to their true animalistic appearance. Surrounding Zax, withinthe length of two short breaths, were two to three and a half meters tall, twoand a half to five meters long twenty one true canines on all four.
Zax was utterly shocked! He could tell with his Soul Sensethat 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 shetold him to beware of the true form of the wild? “No” is the answer. She wasmerely reciting a phrase of Valgarel. The reason Zax did not know that – bymeeting certain conditions – beasts had the ability to change appearance fromhumanoid to animalistic or vice versa, was lack of proper education. Childrenin Kingdom Earth learn of the beasts’ ability to transform only in the secondyear of post Core School. Since Zax never been to one how could he possibly knowit? Since for beasts this is an innate knowledge, his Master also did notbother to mention it and his big sister had long ago stopped thinking about itas something odd.
Zax composed himself. ‘I’m still faster and stronger! Let’ssee if their numbers can do them any good’. He sure felt valiant.
“Arhwoo!” The wolf boss, the third biggest in size, howled andthe twenty one canines moved in union. They ran in circles around Zax.
‘Is that what they call a Battle formation?’ Zax wonderedwhile patiently waiting for the canines’ first move.
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.
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 andfelt assured with his abilities, Zax did not fight back. He utilized theresults of his training in the bodily maneuvers and moved like a typhoon insidethe circle.
“Arhwoo!” The wolf boss retorted, opening his jaw his voicecome out again in a human speech. “Kill! Kill! Kill!” He was not hotheaded, butdriven by the instinct to kill his tribe’s enemy!
Instantly, the canine complied to both their boss’s commendand Zax’s insult and eleven out of the twenty one jumped inside the circle asthe remaining ten shrank its scope.
Attacking with their paws and fangs, the canines used theirmist energy to strengthen further their bodies and around them white andsilvery aura spread outward.
“Not enough space”. Zax muttered. He wanted to evade thesmallest touch with even the canines’ tails and fur; however the eleven were synchronizedwith each other and could deal with the crowded area of attack. “Time to leavethe circle”. He made up his mind. The canines were clearly experienced infighting using this formation.
The ten canines that made up the border of the circledformation were fast, but not enough to prevent Zax from slipping outside of theformation.
Within three steps Zax arrived to the border of the circleand ran along it. He mimicked the pace of two of the ten canines, two CoreBreaker, that made the border and eyed the space between them.
Zax kicked the ground and dashed forward. Naturally he couldalso jump above the border, but where was the fun in it?
A mixed wave of white and silver mist energy struck Zax andflung him back.
A huge paw followed promptly and hit Zax in the back.
“Humph!” Zax sneered and dodged a bite that was aimed to hisright arm. “The fur coat really held up!” He was satisfied with his Master’spresent, even if against this sort of foes he could also do without it. “Thisborder is supported with mist energy”. His inability to use his Qi fired himup. “Where are the doggies that hit me and tried to bite my arm?”
“Die, human!” The canines were also enraged. Zax himself wasnot much in their eyes, they fought beasts in the past that were below theirlevel yet to slippery to catch, but the Two Headed Beaver fur coat wastroublesome to deal with.
“There!” Zax found the two canines that annoyed him.
The two were Mist Master and could somewhat see that theywere targeted by the human. Knowing their limit, they still tried to meet Zaxin a joint onslaught.
Explosive mist energy burst from the two canines, the othernine in the circle moved from their way. Violent mist energy hissed and the twocanines 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 CoreSchool that fought one day and how one kid broke the other’s front teeth whenhe punched him in the face.
Well, the space between fangs in the canines’ mouths was toowide to break two with one punch.
‘All out!’ Zax felt a surge of unrestrained excitementfilling his sea of consciousness and spreads to every nook and cranny in hisbody. He summoned up his full strength and sent his hand to meet with thecanines’ fangs attack.
The three clashed. The two canines, in total bewilderment,felt like they hit an unmovable wall. Zax hands grabbed one fang of whichcanine and stopped them in the collision.
The sound came from the two fangs in Zax’s grip. He swunghis hands to the sides, pulling the two canine heads and…
The two heads collided, two fangs broke each other and theother 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 phaseof the Mist Master level could not budge a single human boy, not even halftheir size, and then losing to him so effortlessly, the nine canines still in thecircle joined the others in the border.
“What? Don’t tell me that this is all you got, littledoggies”. Zax mocked. These were the enemies of his Master? Laughable!
“Arhwoo!” The wolf boss howled. Two of the canines left theformation in full speed.
“Calling for help?” Zax immediately realized theirintention.
He did not plan to stay for Mist Lord level canines to jointhe fight, but those who held the formation seemed bound on not attacking, norletting him out.
“Good, good! Won’t be any fun unless we see how long you cancontain me!” This time nothing obstructed him from coming straight at theborder, not that in the previous attempt it was a difficulty, and Zax alsowanted to break it in its strongest point, not trying to jump above it or goingat any canine other than the wolf boss.
A series of collisions resonated like the sound of giantbells each time Zax punched or kicked the placement of the wolf boss in theformations. The united white and silver mist energy formed a mantle thatprotected the canines and attacked Zax much more brutally than the fang attackof the two canines.
“Hahaha! Here is more power and more power!” Zax did not goall 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 wantedto free himself from all of it! To cleanse himself before he will make this onemore step in the path his Martial prepped him for.
“Use more of your mist energy! His attacks are gettingstronger!” The wolf boss barked in vexation. How was it possible? He knew thatthe human before him is just a boy, probably not two tenth of his age, so howcome he become that much strong in such a young age?! Was that body refiningtechnique really that formidable?!
‘This cannot be allowed to go on! We must restrain, otherwisehe’ll become a huge threat to the elders’ goal and our tribe! We must endureuntil a captain will arrive… and hope that it will be a Core Master!’