A breeze of refinement blew and passed in every reach of Zax’s consciousness. The force of perfect completion originated from Zax’s newly transformed soul.
Deep within the soul itself, the embodiment of existence, the spirit, has taken the shape of a petrified, curled up ten years old boy.
“Puah!” The boy opened his sealed mouth, releasing a breath of black particles. The small lifelike particles spun around the spirit and merged with the inward layer of Zax’s soul. When the inside of the soul reverted back to serenity, a beat of awakening transpired from the spirit and the shut eyes of the boy rekindled in black luster.
August twenty nine, year 5785.
Little by little Zax opened his eyes as if they were rusted shutters. The lights in the room were turned off, but a machine that was also connected to him and hummed next to his right ear had a small bulb that kept on blinking in green light.
“I can’t see much”. Zax said in mind. For some reason it felt like a burden to use his voice. “It hurts when I try to move”. It more like felt like he was shackled to the bed he was lying on. “Why am I so weak?” Yet, somehow, despite awaking to find that he was having an extreme discomfort to even let his eyelids stay open, Zax still asked himself coolheaded.
“My head… my mind… it feels so refreshed!” Zax lowered his eyelids and mused on the great feeling in his sea of consciousness. “Is that my soul?” What he found nearly made his body flip, if only he had the strength. The blur that he could never grasp clearly, its appearance was still intangible; however there was something new to it. “No way! Why does it emit the black radiance like the…” Just when he was about to think of it, Zax found it. “The Black Core is in my dantian and also… the E level Earth’s Core also there, and its color also changed to black?! How can that be possible?”
Thoughts ran through his mind, sharper, faster and calmer than ever before, regardless of how puzzled and distracted that made him.
“I can’t make up what’s happing, how can I have two Earth’s Cores? Or is it one and another which is… a Black Core?” For whatever reason the Black Core did not seem to him the same as a regular Earth’s Core now that he was in possession of it. Or rather he knew that the two were different, but he could not point out in what manner.
“Maybe big sis will know, or mommy or daddy”. Even though he was not affected by the passage of time because of the dormancy and before that was partly under the control of the Black Core, as Zax thought of those he had not seen since the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit and were missing to him in moments when he was alone, thinking that he will die in spite of his confidence, a pressing ache surge in his heart and tears began to flow from his eyes.
“Moooom! Daaaad! Zetsaaa!” Zax cried. His memories of his experience in the beasts’ territory were clear and unhindered by strange sensations or black radiance. The tiny bit of his awareness that was present and witnessed back then emerged from where it was submerged and made all the pent up stress erupt in one go.
“Mom! Mom! Dad…” Zax called for his parents. He barely gave notion to how in one moment his mind was so sober and in another he lost himself to mere feelings. But children do not acknowledge their weaknesses and limitations. Those things are a part of them that they do not question and can only concur by slowly maturing. Zax might have a soul that is on an equal level as a D level Mist User and most definitely more capable. His soul can grant him a clearer insight and comprehension than anyone whose soul level is lower, but having a better tool does not affect the proficiency of the user until they diligently train in it. Thus, Zax kept crying in a hoarse voice like a lost child.
“Heavens, Laylen! Thank our Supreme Rulers! Our son has opened his eyes!” Marco burst, shirtless, wearing only pants, into Zax’s room, roaring for his wife as he flung to son’s side. He heard to voices from his son’s room in his sleep and awakened before his wife.
The tears were mutual. Marco knew that he cannot lift Zax from the bed, so he bent his back and hugged him gently, caressing one cheek with his hand and rubbing his face and tears in the other.
“Dear!” Laylen screamed. Unlike her husband she did not approach her son instantly. When she saw that Marco was already there and her son crying on his shoulder, like the child that he actually was and sometimes she forgotten about since he grew so fast and chose to follow her daughter, Laylen stood on the threshold of the door and fallen to her knees moping. How could a mother lose her child and be depended on others to find him?
“Mooom!” When the sound of Zax’s hoarse voice reached Laylen, she stopped thinking and ran to him with red eyes.
“Oh! Zax, Zax, Zax, Zax…” Laylen’s cheek replaced Marco’s hand and she called for her son and kissed him.
Marco buried his face in Zax’s small head. He did not express the sorrow that he felt, the thoughts of his incompetence as a father by calling up his son’s name. He just cried silently.
It was not long before Zax fallen asleep between his parents. Marco and Laylen were awake for a while longer. It was the middle of the night, but to go back to sleep felt like abandoning their son, even though nothing that happened had anything to do with them. Eventually, they fell asleep. Laylen was lying carefully beside Zax and Marco leaned on the bed while sitting on the floor.
Per Doctor Nijima’s instructions, on the morning of the following day Marco changed the fluids in the supportive care unit to a different medicinal fluid which Doctor Nijima prescribed for Zax after he will wake up. The first type of medicinal fluids were to sustain and nourish Zax’s body during the past months, the second type was to rehabilitate his body to perfect shape and could be given only when the body was completely healed.
As a side effect of the rehabilitation process, Zax slept for four consecutive days. By the time he awakened again the supportive care unit has already been returned to the hospital the committee of the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit rented it from. It was also for the better that Zax remained a sleep for a little longer. Since his parents were not much of cultivators and it was their daughter who was in contact with the committee. Since his Qi channels were clogged and his soul jumped to level Zetsa asked of her parents to call her the instant Zax would wake up, before they will replace the fluids, knowing in advance that it will take her a few days to come back. Three days later Zetsa arrived to her parents’ home and a day later she was by her beloved brother side when he woke up.
Zax cried right when he recognize his big sister, the one person beside him. She was there, sitting on his bed as if by intuition she knew that he was awakening. However, Zax’s back to normal voice quickly faded away as he remembered how he wronged his big sister. By looking in Zetsa’s eyes, it was easy to detect that she had similar thoughts, as well.
“Did you calm down?” Zetsa asked. In her voice or facial expression she did not express the same longing for her little brother as their parents did. Zax nodded.
“Good. Sit up”.
Zax was sniffling and rubbing his eyes. He looked away when his big sister made eye contact with him and he noticed that something was amiss in the clear blue eyes that were always smiling at him. That sort of look in his big sister eyes purged his mind from his own selfishness, he was willing to trade everything he had for his big sister’s smile and his parents’ forgiveness, whom he did not forget how they shed tears for him even more so than he did for them.
“Listen to what I have to say and don’t interrupt me”. Zetsa said solemnly, intending to convey for him everything of the past couple of months.
Zetsa first imparted, not immediately rebuked, the kind of repercussions that she and their parents had to deal with because of his incomprehensible thoughtless actions, both from the event’s committee and their own suffering.
“You were lost. Lost! Zax! Taken by a beast!” She gritted her teeth. “An E level Earth’s Core was not enough for you?! How could you be so irresponsible?!”
Hearing his big sister’s voice cracking, Zax was afraid to talk back.
“Well? Tell me, I want to know what was so wrong with an Earth’s Core most people can’t even dream about!”
Realizing that she really was waiting for an answer, Zax gasped for a few seconds and began to narrate his side of his time in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit.
An hour later Zax’s voice silenced and Zetsa was in the midst of processing his bizarre story.
“And you say that there was an orange mist in the cave?“ She said while thinking of something her Martial uncle told her the day he found her little brother and a day before he, unexpectedly, secluded himself in closed doors training.
“Yes”. Zax replied softly, unsure of the temperament in his big sister’s words.
“And the Black Core…”
“There were two, but one is now in my lower dantian with the E level Earth’s Core… It changed its color to black… Big sis, I was waiting for you because I wasn’t sure what to do. My soul I feel has become so much stronger, and my body also feeling better than ever, but I can’t feel my Qi anymore…” Zax pleaded for Zetsa to impart him some guidance.
“Little Zi…” Finally, a shred of affection came out from Zetsa’s lips and the expression on her face softened.
When Doctor Nijima checked Zax’s three aspects the only abnormalities were in Zax’s Qi channels and soul. In regards to his body, something caused it some internal injuries but nothing further. He did not mention the existence of another Earth’s Core in Zax’s dantian nor the a change in the coloring of his E level Earth’s Core that he had yet to crack, and now and in the future he most likely will never succeed in doing so.
“Could it be as a result of what changed Zax’s soul? Did uncle hide something from me?” Zetsa pondered. The things which Zax told her were unheard of, but also the condition of two of his three aspects!
“Zax, Doctor Nijima said that when you will wake up, your soul should be the same as a D level Earth’s Core Holder. Try to see how far can you expend your Soul Sense?” If she had to inform Zax of the analysis of Doctor Nijima, she preferred to start with something that will not impede his attentive state of mind.
“Okay”. With his big sister next to him, the feeling of vigorous power in his soul and the freedom from being under the control of the Black Core, Zax agreed and even smiled when he done so.
Releasing the restrained force of his soul, the one he was afraid to use when he realized in the search that it makes him act funny, to say the least, Zax let loose his Soul Sense to the fullest.
“It’s going! It’s still going!” Zax was avid. His Soul Sense spread out side of his soul like never before, easily passing a meter and thirty five, his lost limit, and it kept going to every side like a sphere which he was its center.
“Ten meters! Fifteen meters! Twenty! Thirty…” He counted by remembering the length of a centimeter that Zetsa showed him in the past. He effortlessly lined in his mind, one centimeter after the other, and watched with glee as they did not come to an end. After five thousand centimeters or fifty meters, Zax stopped counting. His perception was as fast as the progression of his Soul Sense and in the current level of his soul he could spend in thoughts on seconds as if it was half a hour.
“Well, is he going to use his Soul Sense?” Zetsa started at Zax, stumped. As someone with a higher level soul she should have felt when Zax used his Soul Sense, but right now she still did not sense the anticipated fluctuation that a soul beneath the level of Core Breaker creates. “Zax-”
“Big sis! Big sis! One hundred and fifty meter! One hundred and fifty meter! I can sense so much, big sis! Fifteen thousand centimeters! One hundred and fifty meters!” Zax called aloud and jumped to his feet, losing his balance and fell on the floor, laughing.
“One hundred and fifty meters!” Zetsa actually screamed with bulging eyes. “That… That… That’s the length of an Intermediate Mist Lord’s Soul Sense!”
“It’s like I’m everywhere, big sis”. The sheer excitement and immense sense of exaltation were high and beyond his first time using his Soul Sense, so much that Zax was unable to address to Zetsa’s remark and continued describing. “The first and the times after that, big sis, all my Soul Sense could perceive raw shapes and environmental essence. Now, big sis, my Soul Sense can perceive the same way my other five senses do and even better! I can see the textures and colors of what people wear outside as though I look at them through an optical lense. I can smell the breath of those who pass or are within the domain of my Soul Sense, even know how a plank of wood that is thrown on the other side of the street feels… Big sis, it’s amazing!” Zax gasped heavily.
“This is unfathomable! Zax’s potential of the soul is simply unfathomable!” Zetsa deduced. After she tested him when his soul reached level F, Zetsa acknowledged the unexplained uniqueness of her little brother soul. Reaching this level on one’s own efforts was a feat very few had done before. Reaching level D with one’s soul, as a mere ten years old and without cultivating as a Mist User… Should she dare doubt her little brother?
“Big sis”, Zax said a tad calmer.
“Yes?” Zetsa answered with a tranquil tone and warmly raised Zax to her lap.
“It’s flowing like water and I can control it by just thinking where I want it to go”. Zax’s eyes were closed, immersed by what he peacefully was doing.
“What is?” Zetsa had an idea of what he was talking, but the conversation took a sudden turn to an insightful and composed level. If they will be able to keep it up, it might be easier when she will tell him…
“My soul energy. It’s flowing leisurely in my body. Smoother than my Qi, big sis. In a thought I can accumulate it in the tip of my finger on one hand, and in a second thought have it all in the tip of another finger on my other hand”.
“Little Zi, your proficiency with the soul has surpassed my own. Your big sis feels both ashamed for myself and proud of my little Zi”. Zetsa caressed Zax hair as he started at her dumbfounded. For her to praise him to this degree, saying that he surpassed his perfect role model, his idol. It was enticing and difficult to accept.
“In the future Zax, if you’ll choose to train your soul meticulously your future prospects will be beyond comprehension”.
“If that’s what big sis saying, then I’ll do my best! I also want to become strong!” Zax announced sternly.
Now was the time. Now Zetsa decided to gradually, when the mood was at ease, to shift the conversation into the matter of his Qi channels.
“Zax”, Zatsa stiffened her voice. If she wanted to reveal the sorrowful news, she had to compel her little brother into listen through the end. She had to make use of the vulnerability that he showed in her company. Only then she will manage to mold his understanding of the matter into something that he will be willing to accept.
“Big sis?” The wheels began to turn. Zax was not stupid, not when it involved the different modes of his big sister. “Is she going to scold me again?” Whatever it was he presented submission, just to be safe.
“When Doctor Nijima checked your body and soul, he determined that their conditions were temporary. Your body was injured and your soul was transforming – according to what you told me, both could be due to the Black Core that led you to find it and entered your dantian. With respect to your Qi or that Black Core… Doctor Nijima did not find anything out of place in your dantian or the E level Earth’s Core in there… Can you observe your dantian once more for me? Tell me again its state”.
“She did not scold me!” The first thought in his head was alleviating. Zax repressed his joy since Zetsa still called him by his first name, in her “don’t mess with me and listen” mode.
Surveying his lower dantian, things were the same as he told her before. The Black Core was near the E level Earth’s Core, which color changed to black, and he could not form a mental link with any of the two, nor control their placement in his dantian like he should be able to do with his soul, like his big sister told him. At most, Zax could only differentiate between the two.
“It’s still the same. The Black Core is right beside the Earth’s Core and both are black”. Zax answered.
“And your mental link with them?”
“I can’t…” Zax said, disappointed for failing in something that should be, that was so simple before.
Zetsa cogitated in her next order of words. “Zax”, she could not help but slightly frown. “The thing inside of you, the “Black Core”, is something only you seem to detect. Doctor Nijima, the expert who treated you, is a renowned expert in the path of medicine, yet in his analysis even he did not detect irregularities in you dantian… Not many know this, Zax, but there are things in nature which more often reside in places like unexplored caves in the beasts’ territory. I’m afraid that the cave you stumbled upon with the Brown Digger was one of those caves, Zax. What happened to you there… it’s understandable if even someone as capable as Doctor Nijima was helpless to find a solution. I converse with him about it and he also agreed, that is why he did not come to check you up after you awakened couple of days ago”.
“What does it have to do with the two cores, big sis?” Zax began to feel impatient, discerning an ominous build up.
“Zax, look into you Qi channels”.
Again, Zax closed his eyes. When one’s soul increases in level, examining the three aspects becomes much faster and easy to be done.
“My Qi had changed”, a look of surprise spread across Zax face. It appears to be like water and my Qi channels… I can’t feel a thing!” Anxiety burst from his mouth. “Big sis, there is something in my Qi channels, something blocking them…”
“That’s enough, Zax, open your eyes”. Zetsa ordered. “Your Qi channels are clogged by your liquefied Qi”. She said in a straight face. “Having clogged Qi channels means death, Zax, but whatever happened to you had managed to keep you alive. Doctor Nijima speculated that like your soul, your body also endured a transformation, only it turned out as more severe and incomplete and that’s why you were in dormancy for a few months. You hear me, Zax? You were, are supposed to be dead!” Zetsa swallowed the bark in her tone; nevertheless her voice echoed a glimpse into her fiery rage.
“I… Big sis…” Zax was speechless. It was the former, absent alien sensation which made him trust the Black Core. Is it because of it that his Qi channels are clogged? Is it because of what was done to him that he is still alive?
“Doctor Nijima could not treat your Qi channels… no one can!”
Whether for Zax’s sake or just to release bits of her concealed furious demeanor, Zetsa lashed out, enabled Zax from speculating anything in this point. Otherwise sinking into unprecedented depression will follow, and the realization of him never becoming a Mist User, forever remaining the same as a cripple, will come next.