The revelation of possessing the wrong Earth’s Core and its presence in his dantian enlightened Zax’s conception and granted him the knowledge of what was the thing he felt immense regret for and what he had to do to fix it.
Jergaria, who for time strolled between the participants, for time stood in one place waited for the majority to complete the first phase, Link Forming, and once she decided they were ready, she opened up with her amplified voice. “Good, good, everyone, you’re doing well. I’ll now proceed to narrate the second phase, ”Grasping”. Those who still did not complete the first phase, keep concentrate on it. The staff members, representative Guardians and I, as well, will repeat the instructions how many times you need”.
“Now that you have Earth’s Cores in your dantian, the flow of Qi in your body should be more apparent. Do not force yourselves to feel the flow of Qi right after the Earth’s Core disappears from your hands. Wait a little bit; Earth’s Cores have a particular attractive influence on Qi. It will take a while, could be seconds, minutes or a few hours, but eventually, the accumulated Qi in your body will stream to the lower dantian all on its own, and when enough Qi will pass through the Qi channels of the lower dantian, it will be impossible not to sense it”.
Jergaria’s description of the effect of Earth’s Cores on Qi and the promise to sense it lowered a lot of eyebrows into the combination of enthusiasm and obedience. It was the dream of every coreless child with mild background to feel and control the strange power that only the talented and prestigious of their peers could learn to use like a full fledged Mist Users. It was now the time of everyone to grasp the power which differentiates the weak from the strong in Kingdom Earth.
“When you realize the sensation of Qi that fills your dantian, do not try to form the first crack on the Earth’s Core’s shell just yet, like you might have heard or been told. Let the nesting Qi in your dantian dwell there for a while. Comprehend its circular movement around the Earth’s Core. Once it will seem to you as if it’s alive, look for what makes you think so. This will help improve your control on the Qi before binding it to your will. It’s like shacking and awakening a body part that fell asleep, like a leg that you sat on for too long or the whole body when you wake up in the morning”.
Working with young minds, Jergaria was well versed with the kind of descriptive speech that can arouse the imagination of children in a way that will help them through the process of becoming Mist Users.
She did not wait for all the young participants to complete the second phase, Grasping, since it depended on natural talent. For most, she knew, the second phase will take around an hour, for the talented at most half an hour, for those who lack any affinity it might be even five hours, which Jergaria definitely did not have.
“On to the third and last phase”, Jergaria announced in a loud voice. “Last one you should know is simply called “Cracking””.
Of the few who finished the second phase or were near its end and listened to Jergaria a certain thought popped to mind. “Whoever invented these terms have a terrible naming sense!” Nonetheless they all listened carefully.
“In accordance to its name, the sole purpose of the third phase is to from the first crack on the Earth’s Core’s shell, thus you’ll enter the Beginner phase of level F as Mist Users. How to approach the shell with your Qi I and my associates in guiding you will now reveal to you by using our mist energy externally”.
Following her words, Jergaria raised her right palm and emitted her white mist energy twenty centimeters above it. “Pay attention”. She said to the young participants. Slowly but surely, Jergaria’s mist energy began to take shape. The mist energy swirled and double in size, Jergaria’s face also slightly turned ashen. After ten seconds the mist energy took the shape of a meter long chisel. The shape held itself for three to five seconds, and then it swirled again, taking the form of giant scythe. For two minutes Jergaria’s mist energy took the form of different tools, likewise the mist energy of the staff members and representative Guardians, which none were below the level of Core Breaker, and demonstrated their exquisite control over the mist energy, though only Zetsa’s mist energy and one other representative Guardian were barely see through and sparkled in a silvery light.
When the two minutes passed Jergaria lowered her hand and so did the others. “It is far more difficult to shape mist energy outside the body, so do not be anxious by the task laid before you. Each of you, close your eyes and reach your dantian with your consciousness. To do so easily, if you still did not grasp the technique, sense your Qi attentively and your mind will visualize, on its own, the state and vicinity of the dantian”. Jergaria gave a moment for those who had to follow her instruction before continuing. “In your dantian, shape your Qi to a tool that seems comfortable to use in your eyes, better it will be if it’s a tool meant for penetration. Even a nail will do. When the shape is vivid and you are able to hold it for more than five seconds, use the tool you shaped offensively to from the first crack on the Earth’s Core. Most likely none of you will succeed in the first, second third of sixth attempt, but keep trying. This is the last phase, the last obstacle between you and becoming Mist Users”.
For her last words Jergaria, like with every group she had seen through the process, encouraged the young participants and then began to walk around them to personally assist those who struggled.
Zax waited, against all his inner discomfort he waited and contemplated. To do what he planned he had to muster his courage and determination. Till it was done Zax also listened curiously to Jergaria and thanks to his unique soul and low proficiency with his Qi, it was not hard to follow the steps in her instruction. Nevertheless, for his plan to work he could not and had no intention to crack the Earth’s Core in his dantian.
Zax had to partly thank his big sister for what gave him the confident to carry his plan. It was the knowledge that she shared with him regarding the possibility to remove an Earth’s Core from the dantian so long that it has not been cracked. It was possible due to Zax’s soul’s level and during the first phase that Jergaria taught he also understood why.
“Now is a good time as any… Please don’t suspect anything, big sis”. Zax sighed inwardly. Since the Earth’s Core that he found was of great quality, there was no reason anymore to act as his big sister told him. He saw it in her eyes when the group of cave twenty five formed their lines when they returned from the search. She was pleased with his finding and expected him to return home with everyone as a Mist User.
Holding back the Qi from streaming to his dantian was like holding back an itch. Zax, however, did so almost effortlessly. Zax was able to hold back since a part from some level of proficiency in handling Qi, to go against a natural flow one also had to have the discipline properties which only the soul of a Mist User in the level of Core Breaker has, and apart from quantity and quality of soul energy, Zax’s soul was not inferior to that of any Core Breaker.
“Burrraa…” Out of the blue Zax leaned forward and puked.
Luckily to the boy in front of him, it was Qi which mostly sustained Zax and he did not ate a lot of candies when he sat with his friends near the tunnel after he woke up, again. Still… it was the sound that terrified the boy and made him leap from the ground seat and caught the attention of Jergaria and the other helpers.
Moving in a manner that seemed to the young onlookers as if her body flashed from one place to another, Zetsa, and two seconds after her, Jergaria, reached Zax.
“What happened, Zax?” Zetsa lifted his face and raised him from his seat the moment he stopped puking.
Zax’s complexion was pale, a white gray color. A bit of foams stained his lips. He wanted to regret his stupid plan, but it was too late so he whispered with the little bit of voice that he had. “My stomach hurt”.
Being close enough to hear him as well, Jergaria guessed what happened to Zax and told Zetsa to come to the entrance of the square building with her.
“Poor boy”, Jergaria told Zetsa as Zax leaned his head against her shoulder, sleeping. They were waiting for a staff member to arrive. “It happens rarely. The Qi backlash when a kid tries to form the first crack. They rush and skip the completion of the second phase almost without even trying. The body cannot stand the backlash and suffers the most. Fortunately, there is not permanent damage. Some can even start working again on the second phase after a day’s rest”.
Jergaria reassured Zetsa, who knew the effect of a backlash in the dantian and that essentially there was not a severe case of a child that tried to form the first crack on an Earth’s Core’s shell, but Zax was Zetsa’s beloved younger brother and she could not betray her feelings for him in front of anyone. Jergaria, who was of aware that as a Mist Master Zetsa should know the meaning of a Qi backlash in the dantian, realized that between the boy and the representative Guardian there was some sort of a relationship and so explained out of courtesy.
“You should not worry. He will be taken care of. You can come back for him the moment you will return the group of participants under your care to their home cave”. In an attempt to do good, Jergaria reminded Zetsa her obligations as a representative Guardian which meant that in a few hours, when the last participant from cave twenty five will finally become a Mist User, she would have to take the group back home, leaving Zax behind.
When Zax opened his eyes the Nightly Cover formation of cave one hundred and thirty nine was already active.
“Urg…” Zax groaned. “It was much worse than I thought it will be…” He said to himself and recalled his own action.
The only way for him to avoid this latter part of the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, forming a crack on the Earth’s Core in his dantian and becoming a Mist User, he had to take drastic action. What Zax did was separate the flow of his Qi to two opposite streams and made them collide in his dantian, yet in manner that will not affect the Earth’s Core in there. The results were agonizing to the point that the part of him losing consciousness afterwards was beyond his calculation and what he thought he could withstand and what he cannot.
“The Earth’s Core isn’t cracked”. Zax breathed a sigh of relief. He paid less attention to his properly bandaged right hand or his shoes and clothes that were somewhat clean. His fears were that during the time that he slept the Qi flow returned to normal and again was attracted to the Earth’s Core. Surveying the condition of his Qi and Qi channels, it seemed that he was still slowly healing and the natural order had yet stabilized. For now, he decided not to use his Qi.
Zax changed position from lying to sitting, noticing in the process that he was inside a large tent with a pile of folding beds to one side, a few closets with labels “Medicine Cabinet 1” and 2 and 3 up to 15.
“Is that the doctor?” On a bed a few meters away from his a blond girl in blue scrubs, looking around thirty years old, was comfortably sleeping.
Looking at his bruised wristwatch that suffered ill treatment during the search, though the display of the seconds and milo seconds was jumpy and the date, minutes and hours were readable. The time was past twelve o’clock midnight, April fifth.
“Whaa…! Less than four hours are left! I’ve got to get going”. Knowing that he cannot make any sound from now on, Zax slowly got up from the bed, but right as his feet touched the floor he felt dizziness threatening to put him down.
His body’s lack of nutrition could not be ignored anymore. On the chair besides his bed was Zax’s backpack. Zax recognized it by the color of the straps and the torn logo on the front side of the backpack which read: “Earth’s Core’s Showdo”. The missing “wns” were torn long before the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit.
“It’s full”, to his surprise, Zax found all kinds of snacks filling his backpack. “They gave me their leftover snacks”. In this moment Zax was really happy for his choice in friends.
Since water was the only thing he did not have, Zax took two sealed water bottles from a crate besides Medicine Cabinet 8 and headed out from the back side of the tent.
Being nighttime, the amount of staff members walking around, performing their jobs, was nearly zero. Even the welcoming tents were closed. All of that was perfect for Zax’s plan since there were not many places that he could conceal himself.
Zax’s destination was the dome like compound that all the participants were gathered in for their last night before the search.
Two staff members were drinking near the entrance to the compound. Zax frowned. He remembered that when it was his group in there, some kids opened the compound’s doors on a dare, so it was not really a problem to go in or out, only, if one gets discovered he or she would be in a lot of troubles.
After couple of minutes of waiting in frustration the two staff members emptied their cups and strolled on, allowing Zax to approach safely to the compound’s doors.
Zax opened the compound’s doors and instantly met a bunch of new participants, contemplating the same mischievous pranks that during his stay in the compound, among other things, managed to jam the trash chutes.
“Who are you?” Some boy with curly hair asked. Under the dim lights of the compound the group that hung near the doors was composed of ten to twenty young participants.
The twenty boys looked at Zax as if they saw a ghost, they played around the compound’s entrance since they got here and none of them saw a participant leaving. Furthermore, when the doors started moving they all thought the whoever opens them was a staff member or one of the representative Guardians, so their hearts jumped in fear, thinking that they were going to get caught.
“I wasn’t feeling well so they took me to the Medical Tent when my group arrived”. Zax thought beforehand what he would say if anyone who had seen him entering the compound late at night will start to question him.
Claiming that he was sick was a lot mellow than bragging that he sneaked out. No one will think much of a kid who probably got so excited that he got cramps or something, especially not other kids. On the other hand, if word got out that some kid had the nerves to sneak outside the compound in the middle of the night, he or she would defiantly become the talk of all the other kids and will easily be discovered by staff members or representative Guardians.
Since Zax really was still recovering, even under the dim lights of the compound it was possible to see his pale complexion. The group of kids calmed down from the initial fright and made way for Zax to go to whichever group that he belonged.
Zax found an empty upper bunk bed within an area of sleeping participants. He climbed the bunk bed quietly and closed his eyes to rest. In a couple of hours the riskiest part of his plan will commence.
Similar to the sequence of events in the morning of Zax’s search, at four o’clock in the morning the representative Guardians arrived, called and organized their groups by showering the young participants under their with commands to get ready.
Zax mingled within the group of participant he slept in the same area with. No one was able to suspect him because no one knew everyone among the thousands of participant whether if they were in the same batch or even the same cave group. And since the official procedures or over the day before, even the representative Guardians did not suspect the stowaway within their midst. Besides, such a farfetched thing as a stowaway participant has never happened in the past, so no one could even assume that it was happening right now.