The young maid led Zax to the manor’s greenhouse. Two figures, Zetsa and Mrs. Edomachi, sat beside the glass table with cold drinks and sweets and had a pleasant chat. The two women, one B level Mist User, the other, E level Mist User, sensed Zax and the young maid long before they arrived and were ready to meet them.
“Nura, offer our young guest refreshment and bring a tray of peeled fruits”. Mrs. Edomachi requested and the young maid, Nura, nodded her head obediently and left to the manor’s kitchen.
“There is no need, Slovet”, Zetsa motioned for Zax to come closer. How pale he was made her stomach twitch. He was fine, or rather, he will be, after a long rest, she knew that quite well. She will never put him in any danger. That is why, as difficult as the demands of his training were, she already judged any threshold Zax will have to break through and knew what will be his limits. The reason that she felt anxious was simple, her beloved little brother went through a harsh exercise that exhausted his strength to the point that he could barely stand on his own two feet.
“Here, drink the all glass”. Zetsa handed over her glass to Zax and basically forced him to drink the apple flavor cold tea to the last drop and another glass when he emptied the first.
“We will be leaving now, Slovet”. Zetsa got up from the wicker chair.
“But I had no time to play with Take…” Zax sulked.
“Stop it, Zax, you got to see and train with him. And you’re in no condition to mess around, Take neither. His body is in worse shape than yours”. Zetsa explained.
“Next time, sweetie”. Mrs. Edomachi also insisted.
Mrs. Edomachi accompanied Zax and Zetsa to the manor’s entrance. Unlike her husband she had no desire for a constant escort nor saw the need to have one. On their way they passed Nura, who silently returned to the kitchen with the tray she carried after receiving a wave of hand from Mrs. Edomachi.
“Farewell”. The three exchanged their goodbyes and Zetsa and Zax drove back to cave twenty five on the Sun K-79.
Back at home, per her daughter request, Laylen made porridge for Zax and despite him claiming that his is not hungry; Zetsa ordered him to eat as much as four bowls and afterwards go to sleep.
The next day was finally Saturday. The day before Zax and Zetsa returned home at around eight o’clock in the evening. After closing his eyes Zax fell asleep in but an instant and woke up the next day at ten o’clock in the morning, nearly fourteen hours later.
After a light breakfast Zetsa and Zax left to her flat in the abandoned construction site that she owned. The door to the one room apartment was left open to let some light in and the white mattress was moved to the side of the room.
Zax stood with his back to his big sister, a bit shivering. The test to see his improvement was not stress free at all since it examined the level of his soul, the most fundamental vital aspect of any being.
“Breath freely”. Zetsa instructed, the palm of her right hand on Zax’s back. Pure silver mist energy slowly formed all over her body. To make it a test and not an assault she had to have full control over the formation she was about to execute.
“Are you ready?” She asked to be reassured that Zax is prepared to withstand the coming impact of the formation. There was not a second time if he will flinch or misjudge his temperament before the test will instigate.
“Yes”. Zax answered calmly.
Without accepting his respond Zetsa’s left hand began to flash with dozens of hands signs. In less than a second a silvery character was created on the back and palm of her left hand. That was the Soul Pressure formation that she used to check her little brother’s progress almost every Saturday for the last eight months.
Zetsa spared Zax a word of warning and struck his head with the palm of her left hand.
Right away Zax felt immense pressure passing through his consciousness and colliding with his soul. The pressure came in the form of a tidal wave, but when it hit Zax’s soul it immediately dispersed as if it struck against the base of a formidable mountain.
Another wave of pressure followed, bigger than the first one and with greater velocity, but as it struck Zax’s soul the second wave, too, dispersed to nothingness.
“Two strikes…” Although Zetsa spoke out Zax could not hear her.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Zax’s soul withstood five waves of pressure with little difficulties.
“Grr…” Zax uttered while clenching his teeth. His eyes were close and he concentrated on defending his soul so he was not aware of his physical reaction.
On Zax’s head Zetsa’s hand shone a little brighter than before. “The sixth increase in pressure rubbed his soul”. Zetsa stated to herself and her right hand on the back of Zax’s back also appeared glowing.
Beads of sweat began to form on Zax’s forehead. The seventh wave was seven times bigger and wilder than the first and its impact with the soul was almost enough to actually push it from its abode in the consciousness.
“Here come the eighth!” Zax bewailed, yet was not ready to yield. Ten waves! Ten waves! An even, round number was his goal. He improved so much in one week! For the past two months he continually surrendered after the sixth wave and today made it to the seventh! “Three more!” His stubbornness surpassed the dread.
“Arg…!” He withstood the eighth wave, but the impact was worse than getting run over by a vehicle. By now he was panting heavily and held himself up by sheer willpower.
“Here come the ninth”. Zetsa was biting her lips. “Still standing after eight waves…” She was the stabilizing force that managed the output of the Soul Pressure formation, to not discharge a too large level of pressure in one go, but it was up to Zax to decided when he can take no more so his soul will not suffer any harm. If she will intervene and break the connection between Zax and the formation it will create an equal shock to both Zax’s body and soul – which will make it hard to explain to their parents how come their little boy is in a coma, even though it is okay since it is only for about a week…
The size and velocity of the ninth wave were horrendous. Facing the wave, Zax’s soul was comparable to a small flame striving to survive against a strong wind. And so it happened that, although beaten, Zax’s soul indeed survived.
“Release the pressure to my right hand, Zax. You’ve done enough. Don’t try to take the tenth wave!” Zetsa instructed in a firm tone. She allowed him to bear the eighth wave only to be certain of his improvements, which she concluded according to how the eighth wave affected him.
Zax heard Zetsa’s voice resonating in his consciousness, yet he choose to pay no heed to it. He was so close to achieve his goal, withstanding ten waves. This ambition formed in his mind only after he took the fifth wave. It was so weak compared to last time that his aspirations doubled. Now, his soul was already in place and the damage that the ninth wave did it was superficial.
“One more!” Zax was determined.
The tenth wave was on a fixed collision course with Zax’s soul much like the other nine.
“Zax, don’t restrict me! Listen to me or else even if you’ll endure this wave I’ll never train you again!” Zetsa delivered her words as an ultimatum she was fully ready to hold herself up to. “Disregard me and you will regret it forever!”
“Big sis…” Zax was stunned. At once opening a pathway to Zetsa’s mist energy to enter his consciousness, first to block the tenth wave and then to destroy the Soul Pressure formation’s character.
“Stupid and reckless, that’s what you were, Zax!” Zetsa scolded. “You already know that having your soul move from its place could have adversely affects on your regenerative abilities. Why did you not stop?”
Zax had no excuse, or rather he could not think of anything in that moment. When Zetsa’s mist energy and the tenth wave collided he could tell that if he insisted and accepted the tenth wave, it could utterly destroy his soul. Realizing his mistake and the ramifications that he almost suffered, Zax was in a state of a shock and panic. Alternatively, because of him losing himself momentarily Zax could not feel the worn out state of his body.
Reading the frightened expression on her dear little brother’s face and seeing how stiff he was, Zetsa had a change of attitude. She composed herself, landed her two hands on Zax’s shoulders and pulled him to her bosom.
Engrossed in his despair, Zax’s attention was set on his blurred soul. A pure silver energy, emitting from Zetsa, wrapped his body and then a sort of comfort began to also fold around his soul. Blood was pumping to his head, His muscles ached, his skin was dry and burned and his eyes could not open. Despite all of this Zax succumbed to deep slumber in his big sister arms, with a sense of peace in his heart.
Zax woke up on the white mattress, all curled up. A somewhat familiar concentrated sensation on the center of his chest warmed his internals and charged them with vitality.
Zetsa was sitting on the other side of the room in a meditative position. Her air was stuck to her cheeks and neck and her body was shiny with sweat, nevertheless she still smelled good even from afar. She got up on her feet and came to Zax’s side. “Feeling better now?”
“Yes”. Zax rubbed his arms and starched his face. “What day it is?” He felt like he was asleep for a day or two and was not sure if he that much exhausted himself during the test and ended up resting in his big sister’s place for a few days. Zax had a basis for assuming that much. Usually he is so tired after the test, which is meant for F level Mist Users at the very least, that right after it is over, Zetsa takes him back home and he falls asleep till the next day.
“Saturday. You rested for two hours”. Zetsa replied.
“Two hours! But, but-” Zax was baffled.
“What do you expect? From now on you’ll improve leaps and bounds”. Zetsa words were not meant to encourage Zax. After she evaluated his limits last week and found that he reached his first threshold, the long awaited breakthrough was no longer out of site. Until Zax will reach it he will only continue to improve and if he will truly attain it before the appointed time…
“Nine waves!” Zax sprang to his feet and was jumping around, already forgetting the tenth he did not even have the opportunity to fail. Moreover, a compliment from his big sister was a thousand times better, so what did he have to sulk for?
“Perfect score…” Zetsa said to herself. In fact, for any nine years old to withstand nine waves was far from perfect, it was extraordinary! But with respect to the outcomes of the test, “Perfect Score” was the appropriate term to describe Zax’s results.
“Next week ten, okay big sis?!” Zax half proclaimed half asked the approval of his big sister.
“Again being stupid and reckless?” Zetsa frowned and Zax calmed down, lowering his head. “You felt it yourself, right? Tell me, Zax, what was the difference between the tenth wave and the rest of the waves?” Zetsa asked with the mindset of a Mor, quizzing her Tal.
“It was stronger-”
“Answer in detail! Of course it was stronger. Each wave was stronger from its precursor!”
“The pressure of each wave was ten percent higher than the last one, but the pressure of the tenth wave was fifty percent higher than the ninth’s!” Zax straightened up and hurried to say.
“So you see”, Zetsa pointed out. “I may have control over the output of the Soul Pressure formation, but in its core, after every nine soul attacks the tenth one and the following nine will be one level higher”.
“Then how long do I need to train to withstand the tenth wave and how much stronger did my soul became?”
“If you will practice diligently four to five times a week in the Inner Spirit formation, maybe after a month or so you’ll be capable to face on your own the tenth wave”. Zetsa answered on the first part of the question and thought deeply how to phrase the more abstruse second part. Meanwhile, Zax tried to calculate quietly how long it will be before he could handle the tenth wave if he will practice for seven days a week.
“To determined not just how strong you’ll need to be but also your current level, I’ll rate it in an unofficial way but will use a manner which you’ll better understand, agree?” Zetsa suggested merely for Zax to have an idea of where he is and where he should aim to reach.
“Did you learn what the seven levels of Mist Users are in the annual field trip?”
“In the annual field trip?” Zax laughed inside. Would he be nicknamed “Earth’s Core FREAK” if he did not know years ago the seven levels of Mist Users? Is there any kid today above the age of five who does not know the seven levels of Mist Users?
To not be scold again, Zax answered fully. “F, E and D are the three levels of an Earth’s Core Holder. C is the level of a Core Breaker. B is like you, Mist Master”. He said in awe. “A is Mist Lord and S is the highest level, Core Master”. He finished with a proud smile on his face.
“That’s right. But to categorize your level, two more must be added”. Zetsa walked Zax out of the apartment and the both of them leaned on a rusty iron railing. “G and H. H, you could say, is the level of an average person who never trained in a soul refining techniques or acquired an Earth’s Core. In the past there were many people in the H level, but thanks to the regime of the Supreme Rulers every person today can own an Earth’s Core at the age of ten years old, which will then increase and rate the power of their mist energy and soul’s strength at level F. G is the level that most of those who train in soul refining techniques reach after a hectic training regimen. So far it is clear?”
“Yes”. Zax was attentive and swallowed every word Zetsa said. “Two more levels! Then where am I? It’s been eight months…” He pondered.
“To put it mildly, your advancement is above average. Eight months ago, when I first checked your level, you already were in the midst of moving towards level G naturally, and four days later you reached it”.
“First time you tested me I was able to withstand three waves and second time it were five waves. What does that means? Is my soul strength comparable to level F Mist Users if I’m already able to withstand nine waves?” Zax asked excitingly.
“That will be too much, Zax. Apart from the seven levels of Mist Users, each level also has four phases”.
“Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Top…”
“You know that as well?”
“Everybody know the levels and phases in my class, big sis!” Zax got to the point where Zatsa’s perception of him was starting to offend.
“Sorry, sorry, little Zi” Conversing with her little brother really changed to mood around Zetsa. Watching Zax’s remorseful, surprise, amazed, wondering and all his other different faces, who could blame her that during the explanation she reversed from a tough Mor to a big sister with a brother complex?
Zax blew air from his nostrils.
“You are not wrong. These are the phases of approximately each level and mosy techniques. The ‘Tops’ phase is the exceptional, though. To Earth’s Core Holders reaching the Top phase of their level is a small matter. Only after becoming a Core Breaker or a higher level expert does the fourth phase make a substantial difference. To them the fourth phase do not called ‘Top’, but ‘Peak’, to imply that one is in the summit of a Martial level”.
The hour was mid noon and other than running water, Zatsa did not have anything edible in her apartment. A few trees down the street, around the border tunnels, grew some green, apples like, fruits named Tlipilirs, but since it was not season they were sour. Before Zax had the chance to blink three times, Zetsa leaped back and forth with four Tlipilirs in her hands and shared with him two.
The pair was truly brother and sister, both of them pouted while enjoying the juicy sour taste of the Tlipilirs.
“They don’t teach this in school”. Zetsa stated with stuffed face.
“The teachers tell us not to pick fruits or veggies from the school’s garden and pots”.
“No, dummy, they don’t teach you about the difference between ‘Top’ and ‘Peak’”.
“They will probably next year”.
“Not even then. There is a rationale to that, little Zi. Less than seventy percent of Kingdom Earth’s population reaches the level of Core Breaker. As a child it’s easy to say that in the future you want to be a strong Mist Users, but to actually achieve that can take tens of years. Most people just want to live an honest life…” Zetsa refrained from elaborating too much. Zax was but a nine years old boy. Even if his soul was above average it did not affect his views as a child. “To most people the Martial path requires countless sacrifices that they are not ready to make. There is no point in teaching a concept which means nothing to the one who learn it. The day you will become a Core Breaker is the day in which what I told will signify your progress on the Martial path”.
Zetsa stopped talking to finish in two bites the second Tlipilir. Zax, on the other hand, was immersed in deep thinking and only took small bites from the Tlipilir.
“Do you want to know now at what phase you are in, little Zi?”
Zax nodded in respond. If his soul was not at level F, comparable to the lowest Earth’s Core Holder, he at least wanted to know how far he is from that level.
“At the beginning of this week you were in the beginner phase of level G. Thanks to one day of training in the modified Inner Spirit formation, meditating all week and merging the dismantled grains with your soul, you have crossed to the intermediate phase”.
“Only in the intermediate phase…” Zax remarked in disappointment.
“Don’t disparage. You started training at the age of eight and in less than a year reached the intermediate phase. High class families have their children train from the age of two to four years old in soul refining techniques and just a small percentage of these children achieve your profound results after years of training. If I thought that you’re in that small percentage I would rather train you in Qi refining techniques like Take, but your potential is far greater than these children”.
“Like how you were in my age?” In Zax’s opinion and many children in cave twenty five who wished to embark into the Martial path Zetsa was the ideal role model. At the age of nineteen she became a B level Mist User, Mist Master. High class families tried to recruit her with grandiose offers. Even emissaries of the Supreme Rulers approached her, yet, for her own reasons, she respectfully declined them all. Whoever had the guts to turn down an invitation from the Supreme Rulers must be unique and special!
“If you’ll keep training properly in the Inner Spirit formation and meditate day and night, then who knows? You might be able to surpass me”. Zetsa got back to the apartment and moved the mattress to the center of the room. “That is, only if you’ll train conscientiously in the hellish training routine that I prepared for you”. Said the Mor to her Tal.