Of Zushi’s group of eight, the five boys walked barefooted in the shallow water of the river, less than a meter from the river’s banks, where the three girls followed at the same pace.
Zax turned his Soul Sense On and Off every ten minutes as if it was a light switch. If there were Earth’s Cores in the river, his Soul Sense only enabled him to tell where they were not. One positive thing, which evolved from this tedious repetitiveness, was that little by little Zax got more used to the oppressive environmental essence of cave zero thirty nine and could separate tiny bits of its various past residues. This helped Zax to keep clear mind, outer and inner alike, and distinguish between the illusion of the past and his Soul Sense’s present discoveries.
As time progressed, many grim faces, sullen faces, pouty faces and many more facial expressions could be seen around the flowing river. Cave zero thirty nine was one of the tree searching grounds of the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. It had meadows, forests, hills, which were not far off from being called “Mountains”, a very deep and large lake and a river that was flowing to it.
Of all the wonders of cave zero thirty nine, two places where the epicenter for most of the participants in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. Throughout the cave, they were told by their representative Guardians, the lake and the river possessed the greatest deposits of Earth’s Cores. But did it mean that whoever searches in those wondrous places could really find an Earth’s Core? The answer was unequivocally No. What the representative Guardians of cave three, eight and ninety nine meant when they recommended the young participants of their caves to search in the said two locations, was that they, the young participants, will have a higher success rate for finding Earth’s Cores in the lake and the river than anywhere else in cave zero thirty nine.
This transparent interpolation of the representative Guardians’ words, only at the latter half of the event, became evident to the many young participants.
“There it is!” Zax nearly announced aloud. “Almost missed it. Truly can’t trust our eyes, lucky my Soul sense detected it”. It has been a hour or so since they started searching in the river and while doing so it was difficult to determine by eye sight which stone was a dark pebble and which one could be an Earth’s Core.
“Dane, Dane, pass on some of your snacks”. Zax called using their new agreed upon sign, repeating twice the name of the last of them who spoke, which meant for everyone to stop and gather beside the one who called it.
“The nutrition tablets filled us”. Anet politely declined. In her response she actually included Mi and Serah who looked at her perplexed.
“Wha- Anet… A fair warning, we will eat up all the snacks. If you don’t eat some with us now, don’t complain later…” The confused Weysey tried to sway her mind. An ugly expression was on his face. “Anet, Serah, Mi, come!”
“I don’t feel like eating snacks, either”, Zushi surprised everyone and completely shocked Weysey. “And my legs are cold. I’m going ahead with the girls on the river’s banks”.
“What?!” Merly was about to oppose this madness, but then…
‘Okay”, Dane lowered his head to his open backpack. “Us four will eat by ourselves”. His tone sounded as if he was smiling.
“Hahaha… your loss, guys”. Zax stuck out his tongue. At that moment it hit Merly and Weysey, too.
The girls, Anet, to be precise, might have found another Earth’s Core! At the same time as Weysey, Merly, Mi and Serah reached that conclusion, they also understood why she did not use the sign. Calling twice in Zax’s name right after he called twice in Dane’s name would have made it too obvious.
Zax did not rush to pick up the Earth’s Core that was five centimeters behind Dane’s foot. Since it was too sudden, he could not grasp more than the external shape and so it still was not conclusive that the round object his Soul Sense located bulging from the bottom of the river was an Earth’s Core. A perfect sphere with a smooth surface, yes, an Earth’s Core… Zax reached out for the candy bar Dane offered him. “Let’s see”. He whispered as he took the first sweet bite and wrapped his Soul Sense around the stone.
Unlike the earth and pebbles, Zax’s Soul Sense could not probe into the round stone, therefore he asserted with absolute certainty. “An Earth’s Core!” Slightly hesitating, Zax accepted the opportunity to survey the surrounding of the Earth’s Core, the environmental essence around it and finally the Earth’s Core itself.
“Will it be like before?” The question played in his mind as he waited for the answer. No. It was not. Or at least not right away. First was the bottom of the river that the Earth’s Core was stuck to. Soil and small pebbles, there was nothing to elaborate about it. Next was the environmental essence. Water and sparkling shreds, fragments really, that when he split them were arduous to interpret. However, when he looked at them in his mind, like the pieces of a great puzzle, he sort of could, inconsistency, see, hear, touch, smell and taste the nature’s of this portion of cave zero thirty nine.
What it was, an Earth’s Core? Then he moved onto his last hurdle. He tried to understand what his Soul Sense perceived when it wrapped the brownish stone he determined to be the subject of his pursuit. “Tough”, Zax first analyzed. “Impenetrable”, at the very least to an inexpert ten years old boy. “More? Try to get more of it!” Zax scolded himself, but apart from external analysis, he acquired nothing from the abnormal object that was an Earth’s Core.
All this probing of the surrounding, the environmental essence and finally the Earth’s Core only took place in the span of three bites and the time it took Zax to bend the knee and reach out with his hand for the Earth’s Core. In spite of this, as fast as it was, getting into the root of a matter, formless or not, was several times more tasking than grasping the considerable presences of anything that passed in the domain of his Soul Sense.
By when Zax’s fingers felt the half shape of the Earth’s Core that bulged from the bottom of the river, he depleted a third of his soul energy and was ruled by a couple of flustering emotions. “Is that it? Then what was the cause of the misperception I had before?” He thought of the contradictions of the Earth’s Core that was not there and the many that were. “Environment essence, was this all the cause of adjusting to the environmental essence?”
Zax concentrated his Qi in his left arm, and as much as he could in the tip of each finger. He grabbed the Earth’s Core and pulled it out with ease. “Eh…?” He noticed something in the water, floating on the river. The sheer bewilderment made him stood up, holding the Earth’s Core in the open for others to see, that is, not bothering hiding it.
“Zax”, Dane said in a subtle voice. “Zax…”
“Quick, Zax, what are you doing?” Merly moved to one side, Weysey to the other, both of them covered Zax.
“Why aren’t you picking them up?!” Zax voice ranged. There were just so many, enough for every participant for the next couple of days. “So many Earth’s Core!” Pronouncing it aloud, Zax immediately got the attention of all of the participants searching in the river and river’s banks.
“C**p! I think he lost it again!” Dane said to Merly and Weysey. The look in Zax eyes before he turned, his imprudent conduct with the Earth’s Core that he picked and his disregard of his friends and the other participants around them. “Don’t let him lose control again!” Dane called for Zushi and the girls so they will also pay heed to Zax before he will start breaking rock, or his bones…
Unfortunately it was too late. With a swift movement Zax slipped through the enclosure of Dane, Weysey and Merly. It did not seem intentionally or with effort to not allow them the chance to hold him back. His body moved on its own. His Qi energy supplied enhancement for physical superiority and his mind, inner mind, was already at the level of F level Mist User. It was ridiculous to expect from three average ten years old boys to keep Zax in place.
“One for Serah, one for Zushi, one for Weysey, one for Mi, one for me, thousands for all of us to pick!”
Zax actions confused not just his friends who were helplessly chasing after him but also the other participants who heard him mindlessly talking to himself and picking what seemed to be imaginary Earth’s Cores.
“This guy… he can use Qi!” Some stared with awe at Zax’s light and agile movements, knowing that obviously it was due to Qi utilization.
“Yeah, but what good is it for him if he lost it?” Others were able to hold their disbelief at bay.
Among the thousands participants it was not unimaginable if there was a double digit number of participants who could utilize their Qi. Still, though, it was rare to meet them. A participant that could utilize his or her Qi would usually – according the gossip and rumors that originated from the mere stories of participants from previous year – ventured to the most hard to reach places, in the designated cave for the search, after high end Earth’s Cores.
“Poor guy… Is that an Earth’s Core he is holding?!”
“How many are we?” Someone immediately asked.
“We share the same idea?” Another replied.
“Three guys are already after him”. A fatty boy pointed.
“I think they are his friends”.
“Only three!” The same fatty boy who pointed at Dane, Weysey and Merly changed his view.
“And one that could not preserve against the pressure of the event and is rashly kicking, flipping rocks and swinging his hands around. Who wants to be the first to approach him?” A tall girl said.
“Let’s keep searching…”
Zax ran across the river as if he was infatuated with each Earth’s Core of the many that covered the river. An unexplainable attraction oozed from both the environmental essence and the Earth’s Core he thought were piling in his backpack, and seeped into his consciousness.
There were no words for Zax to describe the strange pull toward wherever he headed, nor could he distinguish his own actions. Slowly his mind stopped caring for the floating Earth’s Cores or those that he picked up. The more he advanced up the river the more he treated the Earth’s Cores as breadcrumbs, leading to the bakery.
When Zax’s backpack was too heavy to carry he tossed it away, that was when the many Earth’s Core also disappeared and when his Qi was alarmingly near depletion. Zax’s soul energy, on the other hand, was vigorous. His Soul Sense was drawn back the moment he picked up the first Earth’s Core, so he did not exhausted it, and since then it was like when he tried to break through the bottleneck of level F. His soul’s extraordinary sensitivity confronted with an imposing force that mentally affected Zax, demanded of him to run.
“I don’t… I don’t think that we can go farther than this”. Zushi was panting and the other six members of the group also.
“Tell… Tell… HIM!” Serah huffed.
On the time bracelets fifteen of the twenty four hours had passed. In the river and the river’s banks the nearest group of participates was two to three kilometers behind them. Unlike Zax’s relentless pursuit forward, they, the rest of the group, did not have the same disposition. The fatigue took a heavy toll on them, even if the color of the time bracelets still remained green, will they be able to return before the color changes to red?
Zax had no idea how far he ran, how close he was to the unsafe zone, how certain it was for him and his friends to return late from the search and be punished for it. For Zax it all seemed like a dream, out of his control, comfortably dominated by his subconscious.
A green silhouette leaped and vanished from an unknown location, then reappeared in front of Zax, halting his steps.
“Are you, kidos, looking to be disqualified from the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit?”
A well built middle age man in green uniforms and a silver colored ribbon that stretched diagonally across his left shoulder to his waist and read: “GECP EVENT’S GUARDIAN”, reprimanded Zax and the other seven that followed him.
Zax stopped long enough for the buffed event’s Guardian to finish his sentence, yet the instant his subconscious comprehended the unexpected obstacle he tried to pass him.
Out of breath, Zushi and the other six could only watch with conflicting emotions as the event’s Guardian kicked Zax to the air with mild force and grabbed his feet like chicken before slaughter. They were torn between whether to be glad that someone finally stopped Zax or frightened since that “someone” was an event’s Guardian whom it was very unlikely for them to meet unless they got really close to the unsafe zone – not to mention that Zax just ignored the presence of the event’s Guardian and tried to go past him.
“The heck are you doing brat…?!” The event’s Guardian raised his hand about to slap Zax back to his senses, when he out of the blue swallowed his words and winced. “You…” The event’s Guardian glared at Zax with disdain in his eyes.
Right before he readied himself to personally educate the insolent young participant who did not know what was good for him unless it struck him in the face, Zax raised both of his hands to the event’s Guardian’s torso and dealt him a soul attack.
“What are you?” The event’s Guardian asked, but seeing how the boy struggled in his hand he realized that, although exceptional and probably with unique background, the boy could not handle the pressure of the event and, as one of the participants before suggested, lost it.
Using his white Core Breaker’s aura the event’s Guardian put Zax to sleep with a little bit of his overbearing mist energy. After Zax lost his consciousness the event’s Guardian turned him upside down and took a careful look on his face. “Little monster”. It sounded as if he murmured in amusement.
“Did you, brats, decided to c**p all over the event’s rules?!” The event’s Guardian’s face darkened. He turned his head to Zushi and the others and barked.
The three girls and four boys flinched with no words to respond. Even if they had something to say, to explain, they, each and every one of the seven, knew better than confronting with an event’s Guardian.
“Nothing to say…” Not that the event’s Guardian expected them to answer his rhetorical question. “To which cave do you belong, and who’s the representative Guardian responsible for you?” The event’s Guardian changed the tone of his voice to be more restrained.
“The eight of us are from cave twenty five”, Zushi, though not composed as he usually was, was better than any of the others in answering the event’s Guardian’s questions. “Our representative Guardian is Miss Zetsa Zell, Zax’s”, his gaze moved to the unconscious Zax in the hands of the arms of the event’s Guardian. “Big sister”.
“Zetsa Zell…” Were all Zushi and the others could hear from the event’s Guardian verbal reaction. His face and posture did not change, nor how tightly he held Zax, as if he was familiar with the name and level of cultivation that was tied to the very same young woman, but was unconcerned of neither.
“Ignorant brats”, the event’s Guardian turned to the seven. “Do you think that you can make it back in time just because the time bracelets are still green?”
“The disciplinary supervisor said-” Zushi spoke in a weak voice, however quieted and closed his mouth when he noticed the quiver of the event’s Guardian’s lips before he was about to speak.
“You were also told not to enter the unsafe zone!”
Zushi’s group of eight was still a distance away from the unsafe zone, but none of the conscious seven was willing to refute the event’s Guardian’s scolding.
Sighing to himself after arriving to some sort of a sympathetic conclusion the event’s Guardian said. “If you followed the rules diligently, things wouldn’t have come to this. Can’t do anything about it now, either…”
The event’s Guardian laid Zax softly on the ground and took out from a pocket a squared device with a three dimensional screen. His finger slid across the screen and a three dimensional layout of the cave appeared on it.
The structure of map was hard to for the seven children to understand, but seeing the colorful lights that intersected and then formed the hologram completely made them forget about it or the situation they were in.
A three dimensional display was currently the peak of humanity’s display technology. It was such a costly expense that even for a high class family it was rare to own just a simple design, needless mentioning a complex design with two hundred and fifty six colors like the one the event’s Guardian presented before the seven middle class children.
“This here is where we are. The eight green dots are you”, the event’s Guardian explained to Zushi and the others. He touched one of the green dots and a panel with numbers appeared above it. “Here is an estimated time of how long it will take you to return and analysis of physical condition. Last is the duration of effect of the nutrition tablets that you took. Assuming that all of you are at the same physical state, you have an hour until your body will burn the remnants of the nutrition tablets in your blood”. The event’s Guardian thought for a second, and then rephrased himself. “More or less than an hour, depending on how much you’ll keep exhausting yourselves”.
“What… What will happen after an hour?” Mi’s facial expression paled and she asked in a shaking voice. With the way the event’s Guardian explained their current state with the impressive hologram, she reluctantly started to imagine her body dehydrate to the point where there are no more fluids in it and she looks like a hundred years old corpse that with the smallest disturbance can crumble.
“You’ll become tired, really tired, and very thirsty-”
“Like a hundred years old corpse…” Mi could not help but continue in her mind with outmost certainty – so was the mind of a child.
“But you’ll be fine if afterwards you’ll just drink a lot and eat sugary stuff”.
“Not become a hundred years old corpse?” Mi accidently let out.
“What?” The event’s Guardian asked confused, yet Mi was simply happy to known that nothing bad will happen so she remained awkwardly silent.
The event’s Guardian rubbed the back of his neck, gauged the seven children and the one that surprised him beyond anything he could have thought a ten years old boy can do to surprise him and offered. “Don’t go any farther than here and don’t spread in the dense flora. In an hour I’ll return to take you back”. He said and in the swift manner of his appearance he also vanished.
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