The sound of the bell urged the students to get into their classrooms. It was about to be eight o’clock and tens of first graders, second graders and third graders sat in their places. It did not matter if you were the youngest five years old who just enrolled or the oldest nine years old that no one dared to mess with. All children knew that if one risked getting to class after the homeroom teacher, the whole class will be punished.
Zax Zel lived in cave number twenty-five, a fairly big cave that was mainly populated by middle class families and Zax’s was one of them. Right now he stood behind a decorative tree on the other side of the street in front his school. Like every Sunday he arrived after the school’s gates were closed, and like every Sunday he could blame only himself.
Then again, why should he? He is just a third grader, just a nine year old. Everybody knows that school life become significant only when you hit two-digit in age and enter the fourth grade. Plus, it’s not like he was playing around that he was late, always late… Getting back to school after the weekend is just too tiring. If others knew what he was doing they definitely won’t bother him, even the teachers won’t dare! So maybe why should not he tell them what he was doing every weekend for the last eight months? That’s it, he will tell them and they all be in awe, and if Mr. Ogler will give him troubles he will put him in his place by simply mentioning his big sister’s name. Then, no one will be punished because of him anymore and he no longer be afraid of being late.
With little effort Zax climbed over the school gates, fast like a cat he entered the main building, avoided the old granny that volunteered for community service as the annoying hallway monitor and burst into his classroom with a mean smile on his face. “Listen to me now and listen to me good, Mr. Ogler!”
Mr. Ogler, a skinny, fifty something years old man with a face full of stubble, stopped typing on the little keyboard on his desk and all of Zax’s forty classmates averted their eyes from the giant screen on the class’s wall.
“Yet another Sunday you are being late, Zax…” Mr. Ogler’s chilly gaze was like sharp needles, but Zax was determined!
“Mr. Ogler, everyone, I have a perfectly good excuse, be prepared. I, Zax Zel, have spent every weekend in the past eight months-”
“Watching late night Earth’s Core’s showdowns, you brat”.
Zax felt a sudden pain, his head flew backwards and he tasted blood in his mouth. “I bit my tongue…” He held back the tears. “Ouch!” He touched the center of his forehead, there was a small bump.
“I have called your home, Zax, and Miss Zetsa explained everything to me”. Mr. Ogler stood beside Zax, rolling a small rubber ball between his fingers.
“Big sis explained?” Zax replied, frightened.
“Indeed. She also apologized in your name and promised that your tardiness will cease to happen. Therefore, for today you will run only twenty laps around the school”.
“Only twenty laps!” Zax felt a sense of relief. Usually it is five times the amount. And not just Zax was happy. Since Mr. Ogler gives collective punishments, all the class will have to participate in the laps and twenty are a lot less than a hundred.
Outside the school’s building.
“Look at this jerk”.
“Yeah, get us in troubles again”.
“Earth’s Core Freak”.
Even children as young as nine years old can hold grudge. Many among Zax’s classmates were fed up with being in the only class that run morning laps every Sunday because one student is too lazy to get up on time. Zax’s obsession over Earth’s Cores was also common knowledge. He could barely keep up in subjects such as math, history or science, but was a freaking enthusiastic in any Earth’s Core related topic.
Apart from being the reason for their weekly morning torture, the boys in Zax’s class mostly could not stand him for being the best at any kind of sports, which made it hard to beat him up.
The girls in Zax’s class did not have much reason to pay him attention because of his average looks, light brown hair and eyes, not the shortest but also not that tall compared to many other boys. So their evaluation of him was based by the number of times they got punished because of him.
“Eighteen. Two more laps”. Zax was ahead of everyone in his class by far. Second place was Tania who just completed her fifteenth lap and third was Naga who ran already eleven laps. With regard to others opinion of him, Zax did not care. In his three years of pre Core School he made four to five good friends and only one of them was in his class. If the boys in his calls want to start a fight with him to get even, let them try. What girls thought of him? Who cares?
At the moment there were only two things on his mind. “Big sis called Mr. Ogler!” And, “Was there really an Earth’s Core showdown last night?” From the two only one really mattered. “Big sis found out that I’m getting lazy in the mornings…” If he could keep this secret from her, Zax wouldn’t mind to run a thousand laps around the school.
During lunch break, Zax sat with two of his friends, Dane and Serah.
“Haha, Serah, Earth’s Core Freak, Zax, made your class run laps today, too”. Even his friends used Zax’s notorious nickname.
“Can it, Dane”, Serah really was not in the mood for his taunting. “Because Mr. Ogler lowered the number to twenty laps, he compensated by making us run all of them at full speed”. She, and eighty percent of her class, had leg cramps.
“That Mr. Ogler is too strict”. Dane was taken aback and Serah was willing to bet that any teacher with a student like Zax will lose a screw. “Anyway, I think it’s also your fault. Your apartment building is right next to Zax’s. Why don’t you try waking him up for once?”
“Because she is Mocca Kart addict”. Zax answered while chewing on a meat ball. “She plays the midnight online races. She somehow manages to get to class seconds before Mr. Ogler every day”.
“Better be a Mocca Kart addict than Earth’s Core Freak. I ranked tenth place in all Kingdom Earth last year”. Serah loved to point it out whenever Zax or Dane looked down on her favorite game. “In a year all of us will have an Earth’s Core and we will start learning different cultivation methods, why bother with mid beginner, E level, showdowns?”
A tough question… Actually, Zax stopped watching the Earth’s Core showdowns eight months ago. Though he still gets excited when they are broadcast, nowadays he concentrates all of his attention on one thing that is a secret and supervised by his big sister. Now, for the second time today, he is in a troublesome position that he got into because of this secret, but knowing that his big sister had already created an excuse for him, he will not risk upsetting her by revealing the truth.
“Because D level showdowns and above are pay per view”. It was not far from the truth. Serah and Dane knew that the two gentle souls that are Zax’s mom and dad do not promote this violence use of Earth’s Cores, so naturally they won’t pay for their son to watch them.
At two in the afternoon the school’s bells rang, the last period was over. Before leaving for home the students of each class stood up and bowed toward their teachers. “We thank our teacher and senior in life”. They saluted collectively. Next year they will finish with: “…In life and martial law”.
Some centuries back, the Supreme Rulers pronounced that they are going to split their consolidated regime into three factions. They did not give a special explanation as to what made them come up with such a decision, but to calm the situation created they gave an oath of loyalty to Kingdom Earth and its people. Moreover, they drank a cup of Blood Wine, a wine produced from the rare Blood Red Grapes that grow only in the deep beasts’ territory, to publicly and officially symbolize their brotherhood and sisterhood unification – a move designed to rid of the concerns for internal wars over the whole kingdom from the hearts of the common people.
Cave twenty five was one of the one hundred and fifty caves within sovereign Ariel Dauch’s region, El-Eden. It had about a fifty thousand inhabitants and its industrial activity was primarily agricultural. Zax’s family was of the thirty five percent that chose other kinds of employment and lived in the more urban area of the cave.
There were mostly three to five decades old three-story buildings around the urban area. They were the cheapest structures to live in since they did not have elevators, the locking mechanism in the apartments’ doors was a simple keyhole, instead of the more modern fingerprint scanner, and the buildings themselves were overcrowded with three-room apartments, two bedrooms and a living room. However, there were pros as well. Somehow, these old buildings gave the streets an air of friendliness and closeness as whole families lived next to each other, good neighbors were always there in good and bad times, on special occasions hundreds and thousands were there to celebrate together and the crime rate was very low. Without a doubt, a lovely place to live in.
Zax rushed home straight from school, not waiting for Serah to finish packing her backpack so they could go together, as they did in first and second grade. He had no time to spare.
“Big sis left in the morning and will be back early this time, so I got five days, more or less”. His home was the first apartment on the first floor in a three-story building. His parents were still at work so he greeted himself as he entered and shut the door behind him.
From the two bedrooms one belonged to Zax’s parents, the other he used to share with his big sister before she moved. Clothes, Earth’s Core magazines and snacks’ wrappers were all over the place. Apart from the mess, there were two beds and a desk with a dusty computer and above it a bookshelf.
Zax threw his backpack on the corner bed. “Mom coming back late today, so she won’t check for homework”. He reassured himself.
Zax’s mom, Laylen Zel, worked as a veterinarian. On Sundays she visited the eastern farms of cave twenty five and usually returned at night time, which is, after the cave’s Nightly Cover formation activated.
The Nightly Cover formation was designed seventy three years ago by a Mist User named Elisha Habud and soon after was applied in all the populated caves. The formation used six Peral metal rods, two meter in height and ten centimeter width, as both the pillars and the channels of the formation. The rods were placed around the cave’s ceiling, forming a hexagon with no edges, and each of them had one protective formation engraved on it. The formation functioned just like the Sun Stone panels. During day time, approximately from five thirty in the morning till nine forty five in the evening, it was charged by Sun Stones’ radiation and at night time a veil of blue darkness filled the hexagon shape, dimmed the Sun Stones’ brightness and from the ground made it look like the mesmerizing, long forgotten, Starry Night.
Zax’s dad, Marco Zel, on the other hand, worked in the cave’s Management Office at the Department of Water. Everyday he got back home at five o’clock and was far more lenient toward his son than his wife.
Zax heated a premade lunch that consisted of rise with peas and carrots and roast chicken. He gobbled it up under ten minutes, washed the dishes and left to his big sister’s flat. The reason he ate at home and not at his big sister’s was because apart from a mattress, the flat was a completely empty, one room apartment in an old abandoned building at the outskirts of cave twenty five, near one of the border tunnels that separated Kingdom Earth from the beast’s territory.
It was a run of half an hour for Zax to get from his home to his big sister’s. The busses of cave twenty five did not go there because of the proximity to the border tunnel and the closest stop would only cover a third of the way. Therefore, Zax preferred to save money and run.
There was a mass of wild vegetation all over the place. From where Zax stood, in front of the building, he could see the immense, black and yellow, empty checkpoint of the border. The checkpoint was stationed back when the cave’s Management Office financed a project to build a new neighborhood and wanted to make sure that there will be no incidents with beasts that roamed not far from the border – not that there ever were. Eventually, due to internal disagreements the project was terminated and all that remained was an incomplete one-story building that Zax’s big sister bought for close to nothing.
The door to the apartment was unlocked for two reasons. One, everyone in cave twenty five knew that the place belonged to the renowned Miss Zetsa Zel. Second, it was common sense to stay away from abandoned construction sites.
In the past more than a few times beasts migrated from their territory to humanity’s. The cave’s Management Office had to request the help of the Removal Division that was stationed at cave thirty seven to drive back the beasts. It would take a day or two for the Removal Division to send two men unit of Mist Users at the Core Breaker level, and after they dealt with the situation, more often by scaring the beasts back, their report always was the same. The beasts, either at the Earth’s Core Holder level or core less, showed hostility at the beginning, but after being aware to the difference in power they cowered in fear as if they were in the presence of death. Their physique was damaged and spirit was broken. Estimated cause for crossing the border, inability to cope in the wild territory.
Zax stood at the room’s entrance for a while. Inside the room were four walls with no windows. From the open door a bit of light that passed through the floor corridor illuminated the double size white mattress. Zax hated this room. Stepping inside it was the same as entering the mouth of a Three Colors Lion, a beast that even as a coreless cub could match F level Mist Users, which are the weakest Earth’s Core Holders.
Zax released a bated breath, walked in and closed the door. Now there was only sheer darkness, like the belly of a Three Colors Lion. It wasn’t the darkness that Zax hated, but what comes after he sit on the mattress cross-legged and mumble the five words his big sister instructed him to say.