Book 2 – Black Core, Chapter 14 – The Dangers Of The Unsafe Zone

Going along with his plan, Zax had a few things to fear from but each had the potential to end his endeavor.

One was the nurse or the doctor, whichever she was. If she would awake up to see that he is not in the resting bed and alert the staff members and representative Guardians before he will enter cave zero thirty nine again then his plan will most likely fail.

Second were the staff members that distribute the green time bracelets. If even one of them will notice that they are missing one time bracelet and will figure out Zax’s plan, what will follow will only be Zax’s plan failing. Not being caught by the staff members was only half of why Zax tried to avoid them. Zax also did not want to enter cave zero thirty nine with a time bracelet. Zushi told Zax of the different features that the time bracelets have and that one of them allow the event’s Guardian and possibly the representative Guardians, as well, to track the participants.

Third thing was that his big sister, Zetsa. Yes, Zax realized that his big sister could not stay with him and had to return the group of participants back to cave twenty five. If she would return and notice that he was gone before he will enter cave zero thirty nine, she might figure out what he was doing, which will most definitely cause his plain to fail. Zax hopped that when the group of cave twenty five left cave one hundred and thirty nine it was already late and that was why his big sister did not return for him yet.

The last thing Zax was scared of was the old lady, the attendant, at the end of tunnel three hundred and twelve. If that old lady was at the level of a Mist Master or worse, a Mist Lord, and used her Soul Sense to note who leaves or enters cave zero thirty nine, she would definitely discover Zax and right there and then his plan will…

Zax could not do anything about the nurse\ doctor waking up or when his big sister will return. He decided to leave this worries at the back of his mind as the group he mingled into passed the entrance to tunnel three hundred and twelve.

So as not to arouse the suspicions of the hundred staff members in the tunnel as they distributed the time bracelets, Zax switched lines whenever a staff member was about to approach with a time bracelet to the place in Zax walked in the line.

Using his Soul Sense, it was easy workout. With the space between rows and lines being so dense it was difficult from the sidelines to notice his movement if one did not specifically looked for him. Within the rows and lines, as long as it also was within the domain of his Soul Sense, Zax could read the body movement of those around him, so to not even bother or make the other participants notice what he was doing.

Finally he was about to reach the end of the tunnel. Zax hid his hands in his pockets, to not reveal to anyone that he did not get a time bracelet. The representative Guardians turned to the groups of participants under their care after receiving the approval of the old lady and deciding between themselves who will send the young participants off.

One representative Guardians began to talk, but Zax did not listen to what he said. Zax read about how expert can notice if one among ten thousand looking at them in an eerie way and even to locate the one among ten thousand who looked at them. To avoid this mistake, Zax lowered his head till he felt the participant around him begin to move a fading “…head out”.

Running to the cave, Zax did not dare to look back or even ask why or wonder if the old lady, the same one from two days back that saw his batch dashing to their search, used her Soul Sense or not. All that he cared about at that moment was keep running and keep hiding his hands. He was in and nothing would make him turn back.

Little did Zax know that the old lady only covers only the left side of the tunnel, the return side, with her Soul Sense to count and evaluate the results of the young participants. Before that, when the participants head off to the cave, it is the job of the representative Guardians to know how many entering and later inform her.

Four hours after the beginning of the search, eight o’clock in the morning.

For the past four hours Zax looked for the river he and his friends followed. It took him a few hours to get to the river since he wasted time avoiding other participant and by being maybe too cautious from being discovered by the event’s Guardians or representative Guardians. Zax knew that if they will detect him in any other way but their special sensor, his second attempt in the search will end. So he could not allow himself to be casually seen or heard.

Luckily for Zax, among the different kinds of Guardian which roamed in cave zero thirty nine, only one was at the level of a Mist Master. So even if his presence in the cave will be known and the Guardians will use their Soul Senses as a last measure to find him, he will only have to worry about this 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 large space. Only by reading the environmental essence and detecting his unique print he will be found. And that was also a temporary expedient since – unless one creates some sort of an impact on the environment – a person’s unique print does not linger and fade quickly. It was something which Zax discovered accidently and up till not did not think much about it.

In the end it was unavoidable for some participants to see Zax when he reached the river and began to follow along the river’s banks. From there it also was redundant to keep avoiding prying eyes. When participants found a searching ground they stuck to it and did not care who come by, unless he 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 Soul Sense. He was worried that the moment that he will use it, he will lose control on himself, if because the environmental essence of the cave, the hidden Earth’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 said that 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, when he attempted to remember the feeling, the desire and need from when he “lost it”, it was like trying to express something that just at the tip of the tongue but not quite there.

When it was getting to ten o’clock in the morning, even if Zax looked as far back as he could, he did not see any participant. Zax could only assume that he reached the unsafe zone.

“This batch has nine representative Guardians”. Zax lay on the ground, hidden beneath a bush, and recalled the seven female Guardians and two male Guardians as he pondered on how many event’s Guardians can be beside them. “If there is an equal number that would already be too much if all nine patrol in the unsafe zone…”

Though the size of the unsafe zone was not small, Zax did not 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. They probably know that a lot of participant search in the river. In this case, a few event’s Guardians might patrol not far from here. I’m also positive that there is at least one event’s Guardian on this mountain”.

It was hard to see it through the dense vegetation, but when Zax walked along the river’s banks he did see a mountain couple of hundred meters east to the river. It was a good high ground to monitor the clearings in the surrounding.

“The place I need to go to… it’s in the other side of the next tunnel… in the next beasts’ cave…”

To say that Zax’s spirit did not waver when he thought about and got closer to where that feeling, which was both alien and at the same time a part of him, instructed him to go, could only be a wretched lie. Zax was not stupid, even if he will overlook his deceiving actions; he knew that the path he was taking led to a place much worse and forbidden than the unsafe zone. But it was out of his control, the pull that made him keep going tormented his mind if 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 read about, walking on a cloud.

To appease this feeling, to appease himself Zax chose to abide 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 around it”. Zax decided to crawl the rest of the way under the vegetation until he will see the tunnel to the next cave.

Crawling for about two and a half hours, the wall of the other side of the cave surely became visible, so much that when Zax could see it without the interruption of the vegetation, it was possible for him to distinguish the shapes of the bigger bulges on it.

Rumble… Rumble… Rumble…

Suddenly the earth beneath him began to tremble. Trees fell one 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 a sharp 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 hundred and thirty nine at nine forty five in the morning. Since a few kids from her group struggled to from the first crack on their Earth’s Cores, the whole group had to wait and ended up leaving late.

Back in cave one hundred and thirty nine Zetsa had only three things to do. The first was to sign off Zax from the Medical tent, the second was to actually pick up Zax, see how he was doing and the third thing was to sign in the event’s Oversight tent that all the participants of cave twenty 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 own Earth’s Core and they cannot leave before that.

“Is something wrong?” After she parked her K-79, Zetsa met some of the general staff members on her way to the Medical tent.

The two staff members were restless, walking in a hurried pace and completely ignored Zetsa as if they did not notice her at all.

Since other than her duties as a representative Guardian Zetsa did not have any other responsibilities in the event, she shrugged, assuming that the staff members were just cramped with too much work and too little rest.

“Doctor Elliot”, Zetsa greeted the blond woman in blue scrubs 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 was sitting on.

“Where is my brother?” Zetsa asked. Matter of fact, after Zetsa greeted Doctor Elliot, her gaze immediately turned to find Zax, so she did not see Doctor Elliot’s facial expression until she realized that Zax is not in the tent and the other woman stood face to face with her.

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“My brother…” The tone in Zetsa voice was less polite this time, almost demanding. She remembered the attitude of the two staff members. She saw 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 and those who work in it cannot have an easy time, so once more Zetsa did not pay attention to any of the staff members.

“Please sit, Zetsa”. Doctor Elliot asked. In truth, she was just a graduate and did not have a lot of experience with laying bad news.

“Is something wrong with my little brother?” Zetsa nervously asked. “Was something wrong with Zax when we left?” She asked herself as she also tried to recollect.

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When Zax groaned in pain and his complexion turned pale in the square building, Zetsa did not understand what happened to him. Jergaria said that it was a backlash from rushing the process to become a Mist User, but was that really the cause? Zax was different from the other participant and almost anyone else ever before him, his soul was already in level F and he also was aware of his Qi. Jergaria did know that or could imagine that her teachings were adhering by such a prodigy; of course she would assume the most common excuse to explain Zax’s condition.

“To force a soul to jump a whole level, from F to E, when it just achieved a breakthrough…” Zetsa could not deny the possibility of a backlash due to extreme tension on the soul, rather than what Jergaria suggested. “Was it too soon?” It was more complicated than this. Even If she wanted to keep Zax’s unique soul a secret for the time being, by law, their parents were obligated to send him to the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit and until Zax 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, Doctor Elliot was a mere E level Mist User. Zetsa could run in her mind a thousand thoughts and speculations before Doctor Elliot could finish forming just the one. So between the time that Zetsa was immersing in thoughts and Doctor Elliot was about to answer her question, only one second had passed.

“Your brother, patient Zax Zel… he disappeared during the night”. Doctor Elliot said truthfully.

Releasing a breath of relief and then comprehending what she had heard, Zetsa held her voice from shouting. “Zax is gone?! Explain to me right now, where is my brother?!”

“I will answer everything, every question, however, please calm down. We received a report not too long ago, we know where he is”. Doctor Elliot tried to change her tone to be more soothing, if it could help her. She knew that Zetsa was a representative Guardian, and a Mist Master, at that.

When Zetsa signed in the information of her and patient Zax Zel in the medical form that Doctor Elliot gave her, Zetsa wrote herself under the “Kin” header as his big sister and under the “Mist User Level” header as a Mist Master. Right now it was Doctor Elliot job to break Zetsa the new, and she did not want to suffer from a Mist Master’s emotional burst.

“A hour and half ago…” A hour and half because Doctor Elliot slept oh too well, something which she chose not to share with the fretful Zetsa. “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’t public transportation to or from this area of cave one hundred and thirty nine till the end of the event. Still, Mr. Helyon”, Doctor Elliot referred to the disciplinary supervisor of the event. “He sent four vehicles to search the roads.”

“In the meantime he also looked at Zax’s results from the hunt… A E level Earth’s Core…” It was reasonably hard for even Doctor Elliot to hide the envy in her tone of voice and look in her eyes. “With a price Earth’s Core like this we did not believe that Zax will commit an illegal act and try to retake the hunt. Nonetheless, while we waited for the staff members that searched the roads to update us, Mr. Helyon ordered the staff members that were on break to enter cave zero thirty nine to investigate the participants that are currently in the hunt. Half an hour ago a few kids admitted that they saw last night, entering the participants’ compound…”

“Then my brother…”

“All the Guardians are informed, most of the staff members also 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.

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