August thirty one, year 5784. Last vacation day.
After much consideration, Marco and Laylen Zel arrived to the conclusion that it will be better to wait to after the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit before enrolling Zax to a post Core School.
For the past month they weighed the pros and cons of sending their young boy to a post Core School right after his vacation. It was a dilemma of many parents in Kingdom Earth.
The fourth grade was unique. Unlike any other grade, although still legally obliged to enroll, enrollment to fourth grade was allowed to be postponed until January. Then, when the date to the next Great Earth’s Core Pursuit is revealed to the public and is not later than the following June, enrollment can be postponed until then.
The reason of this leniency was the various changes that children go through after absorbing an Earth’s Core… When registering to a new school year, especially at post Core Schools, switching schools is not permitted throughout the year. In the fourth grade children are mostly being prepared to the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. During this event, the potential of many children to embark on the Martial path is easier to assess when they are participating in the last stage of the event. Therein lies the problem, if by chance a child shows great promise in the evaluation method, his or her name will then be entered to a special registration list that mostly high tier Martial schools, high class families, successful organizations and such… dare to spend vast amount of their money for its yearly subscription. If a child’s future prospects are determined as “above average”, but the child already enrolled to a post Core School and the school finds out the results of its student in the evaluation method, it might not let go so easily from this “raw gem” and try anything to preserve it, resulting in even harming the potential of the child by rough and rush polishing.
Marco and Laylen made their decision by having faith in the potential of their son. He was milder than their older daughter, Zetsa, and they put a lot of effort not to make the same mistakes with him, but by doing so they overlooked and missed his uniqueness up until they learned of his extraordinary accomplishments in the Young Mist Users Conference.
For the time being Marco and Laylen gave their consent to the intense training regime that Zetsa formulated to Zax.
December thirty one, year 5784.
Zax sat on the white mattress in his big sister’s one-room apartment. The yellow patterns and diverse symbols of the activated Inner Spirit formation covered the four walls, floor and ceiling with blinding light. Nearly five hours have passed since Zax began his training. A layer of frost covered him, giving the impression of an ice statue.
Hot cloud of steam came out of Zax’s mouth as he breathed steadily. The temperature lowered again and the breeze, which struck like a cluster of throwing knives, pierced through the outermost layer of his skin as it passed.
Zax released another cloud of steam and waited patiently. It was still too early. The temperature was not cold enough and the wind was too weak.
Five hours were a long time to spend in the Inner Spirit formation, but Zax was not worried that the time outside of it will elapse as fast as it happened a few times in the past. Presently, the formation restrictions remained at the same level that they had been before he reached the Advanced phase of level G and by now he already properly crossed to the Top phase. With his ability to cope with the formation’s current level strengthening, though the effect of the training was reduced, the gap between the outside world and the inner world was shrinking.
An additional benefit of keeping the restrictions on the formation was the longest time Zax spent in the Inner Spirit formations the more insights he attained. For instance, when he first started training after crossing to the Advanced phase of level G, Zax realized that the body that froze and shattered every time he trained was a manifestation of his soul. Grasping this discovery, Zax began to experiment, using his soul energy while training in the formation as if it was Qi or Mist energy. By doing so he found out that it is ten times simpler to perform a soul defense than a soul attack, which in turn made it possible for him to drag his training for hours on.
Now, whether a coreless boy at the Top phase of level G should be able to perform either soul defense or a soul attack was another matter entirely that Zetsa, after having the conversation with Zax about what happened in the Young Mist Users Conference, made sure he will not reveal before she will obtain a clear understanding of how he managed to execute this wonder.
The low temperature finally began to affect Zax’s efforts to endure with the soul defense. “Qi is useless…” Zax gritted his teeth. He attempted before to have his Qi energy as an additional support against the formation’s extreme cold but it ended up being unproductive. The formation severed the connection between the body and soul. The fists that he clenched, the teeth that he gritted the breath that his lungs released, just like the cold and the wind, they were all an illusion. Hence, the Inner Spirit formation’s categorization as an illusionary formation.
After seven hours and thirty nine minutes Zax’s neck cracked and his head fell to his lap. Following a warm slender touch at the center of his chest, a gushing river of lava spread across the broken fragments of Zax’s body. A short while later Zax opened his eyes, facing once again the windowless, dark one-room apartment.
While circulating his breathing, Zax took out from a bag besides the white mattress a flask of green tea and drank half of it. Next, he left the room to check the time in his wristwatch. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. He started training in six o’clock in the morning and only ten hours have passed, which showed his improvement.
“Tomorrow is my birthday”. His parents discussed this with him couple of time during this month. Tenth birthday had great importance in Kingdom Earth, in a way it was what many adults considered for the younger generation as the coming of age ceremony.
“I won’t be able to train…” He pondered if he should go back to sleep at home or at his big sister’s place as he done so already since the beginning of the new school year. “Got to train, got to train. The bottleneck to the next level, a Mist User’s level is so close!” He made up his mind. Zax closed the door and went to the white mattress. Sitting and closing his eyes he started a Somnolence Meditation.
January one, year 5785.
“What should I do, grandpa Ger?”
Being unable to train to his heart’s content, Zax helped his two grandpas and two grandmas to set up the birthday decoration. It was weird, papering your own birthday. Usually loved ones were solely responsible for this job, but since Zax did not go to school his mom sent him to help and also spend some time with his grandparents.
“Nothing, Zaxy, Laylen sent you hear because we rarely see you this days. Let your grandpas arrange everything. Sit on a chair and tell us how have you been doing?”
Their whereabouts were at Marco’s parents’ farm. Grandpa Ger and his wife, Ney, had an agricultural farm. They grew all kinds of vegetables, fruits and beneficial plants. Because they lived pretty far, even if in the same cave, Zax visited them once a week or so, however, since the new school year has started it somewhat stretched to a visit or two in a month.
Narrating aloud his daily routine, Zax for a time stayed in the barn with grandpa Ger and grandpa Shi Chin, Laylen’s father, and for a time went to the kitchen to taste the food and refreshments his grandmas were making.
At three o’clock everything was ready, but there were still four hours before the birthday party supposed to begin, so Zax and all of his grandparents sat together outside for a while and after grandma Ney packed a bag of sandwiches and cold drinks they traveled through the pastures to see the cattle and sheep, some of the livestock which humanity brought to New Earth and managed to restrict their evolution in contrast to those they labeled as “Beasts” and had a separate territory in New Earth.
“Heavens, Zaxy! Is that Qi?” Grandma Shi Oh, Laylen’s mother, almost lost her footing and fell backward.
“My life, Zaxy! No wonder you and Zizi are sister and brother!” Granpa Shi Chin helped caught his wife. He had the same startled look as the other three elders and could barely believe his eyes. Is own coreless grandson could utilize his Qi!
“Hahaha… Zaxy, unlike Zizi who had a strong soul and could use her Qi at an even younger age you are a bit behind, hahaha…” Grandpa Ger lifted his juvenile grandson and stroked his hair. “Don’t mind it. I bet there isn’t one boy or girl in all of cave twenty five that can use their Qi, hahaha… Ain’t it proof that you are my blood! Marco, my son, you have pleased me not once but twice, hahaha…” Granpa Ger laughed to his heart’s content. In his speech he might have discriminated his other children and grandchildren, but as the only D level Mist User in the family, the most advanced Mist User in the whole family by far, he was extremely overjoyed with his grandchildren who had high accomplishments in such a young age.
“Grandpa Ger, I also have a strong soul”. Zax frowned.
“Defiantly”, grandpa Ger confirmed. “I didn’t mean to offend you, but Zizi was simply a cute little freak since she was born. Shame none of us paid her more attention…” He sighed.
“That is enough, Ger, don’t repeat what you said when the others will come”. Grandma Ney snatched Zax from her husband muscular arms. “Zaxy, you have impressed all of us. It doesn’t matter if you have a strong soul or not”.
“That is completely correct, sweetheart”. Grandma Shi Oh and Grandma Ney cheered Zax together.
“Listen to your grandmas”. Grandpa Shi Chin told Zax after he calmed down.
In regards to their grandson’s Qi, they all were surprised when steams suddenly burst out of Zax’s hand and the annoying calf, that tried to bite the blade of grass he waved around, frighteningly ran back to his mother.
With respect to Zax’s soul, apart from his parents and nurse Elwood, no one knew that Zax was training in a soul refining techniques under the guidance of his big sister, Zizi…
“Let us head back”. Grandpa Shi Chin held his wife hand and together with grandma Ney, who let Zax down, they change the topic.
“Our grandson Valv proposed to his girlfriend… Isn’t it about time?”
“The lad is in his thirties, how long could he prolong it after five years of a relationship?”
“Don’t dilly dally, Zaxy. You have shown us something incredible, but remember that you still have a long road ahead of you, if you want to become a strong Mist User like your grandpa Ger!” Grandpa Ger boasted.
“I want to become a strong Mist User like big sis, a Mist Master”. Zax proclaimed.
“Hahaha, you sure have guts. How about first you surpass your grandpa and then talk about Zizi?”
“Grandpa Ger”, Zax quietly thought to himself for a moment before calling. “High five!” mischievous grin was hidden beneath his sweet childish face.
“Hahaha… Give me a strong one, Zaxy”. Grandpa Ger raised his hand.
“Where is your grandpa, Zaxy?” Grandma Ney asked when Zax appeared by her side after a short run.
“He said that he is tired, his bones hurting again and we can go ahead first, grandma Ney”.
“Oh… acting all tough when he is your oldest grandparent”. Grandma Ney shook her head.
“Poor Grandpa Ger”. Zax agreed.
At seven o’clock the guests that arrived first offered to help with the food preparation. The adults, mainly, once handing over the presents, sorted out a place for the fire and the meat since a lavish barbecue was the main course meal of the birthday party.
The children who were cousins, school mates, neighbors of Zax or simply followed their parents who were friends with the Zel family, played outside in the fields or around the house and barns.
This occasion was celebrated in fundamentally different manner than a high class celebration like the one that was held a few months ago at the Edomachi’s estate in cave twenty four. For obvious there were not any maids, servants or guards. Not a special room for just the presents with two attendants. No hired performers to entertain everyone. A low class and middle class events such as birthdays were celebrated in moderation.
Saying that, lower class events have their own benefits, too, that are basically the opposites of high class events. For example, what determined the quality and importance of a high class event are three things, the status of the host and guests, the cause for the event and how much money has been invested in it. Where in a lower class event there is only one factor to determine its quality, without ever mentioning its importance, which is the spirit of the people.
High class events are not about the celebration, but about the pretense, flaunting, forming constructive relationships and to gain better reputation in the eyes of one’s peers. Honest display of solidarity had nothing to do with high class events.
Lower class events were a different case. Wealth and prestige were redundant in the eyes of the common people. In their daily lives all they strived for was enough for themselves and loved ones to live a frugal life. To them, days of celebrations were a break from the repetitiveness, an opportunity to rejoice at another’s fortune as if it was theirs.
By nine o’clock Marco and Laylen have received more than four hundred guests. Safe to say that without the consideration of everyone who arrived and thought to bring additional food for the celebration, the barbecue would have ended earlier in the evening. Luckily, the people of cave twenty five, at least, were used to no just enjoy a party, but making sure that it will keep going for a long long time. What started with good meat on a giant metallic grill, evolved to a lush banquet.
Occasionally, when Zax was having fun with his friends and young family members in the fields, around the long dining tables, circling the huge fire (from a safe distance)… his grandpa Ger would toss him furtive glances full of astonishment while rubbing his head at the same time.
When Zetsa greeted her grandpa she noticed his out of character behavior, thinking that old age beginning to affect the elderly. She did not want to insult the prideful man that was her grandfather by acting rashly and offering to replace him at the barbecue work.
“Thank you, Zizi”. Grandpa Ger took the beer battle Zetsa offered him. From hours of work around the fire his clothes were drenched with sweat. The temperatures he cooked the meat with were nothing to laugh at. Millenniums ago, a human who would have tried to approach this kind of heat wearing regular garments could suffer life threatening burns. Granted, back in those days the meat was not that durable to cook.
Drinking the whole bottle of ice cold beer, Grandpa Ger, refreshed, turned to his caring granddaughter with a puzzled expression on his face. “That Zaxy…” His eyes surveyed this granddaughter of his, who was known as the most talented child to inherit the “Zel” surname.
Grandpa Ger turned his gaze from Zetsa to the meat and flames. “A soul attack… soul attack… a coreless boy… soul… attack…” he murmured unintelligibly, nodding his head sideways with pale complexion.