“Don’t force yourself, Zax, stop. You should take a break”.
In an incomplete apartment with dust all over and a two meters in diameter hole in the floor, an apartment in Zetsa’s building, a Mor and her Tal were seated in a meditative position.
A month and a half had passed since Zax’s tenth birthday. The date for this year Great Earth’s Core Pursuit has been decided and released to the public. This year the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit will launch earlier than the year before, in the first of April and will continue until the thirtieth of June.
The fourth of April was the designated date for the participants from cave twenty five and the participants from seven other caves.
With another month and a half before the biggest event in every coreless child’s life, not a lot of time remained for Zax to achieve the objective of the taxing soul training his big sister elected for him. Coincidentally, eight days ago Zax’s interaction with the bottleneck of level F has reached a critical stage. Since then, Zax could not enhance his soul anymore by training in the Inner Spirit formation or by performing Somnolence Meditation, each time he tried the results were less and less affective, as if behind the bottleneck was an insatiable abyss that devoured all of his attempts to strengthen himself.
To pass through the difficult bottleneck in time for the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, after consulting with his big sister, Zetsa came up with a method, which was more of a gamble, to improve Zax’s chances in a task that the number of coreless children who faced it before him could be counted on two hands, and for the number of those who passed successfully it one hand was too much.
Environmental Stimulus was the technique in question. It emphasize on training all three aspects of a living being, body, Qi\mist and soul at the same time in rotation in uncommon environments that the participant was unaccustomed for. The belief was that by broadening horizons one can stimulate any of the three aspects or all three; therefore the probability to attain insight in his or her practice could increase significantly. Needless to say the for the chance to gain insight, those who walk on the Martial paths, particularly experts, at the verge of the next phase or level would go to substantial lengths, even risking their lives.
Zetsa was anxious due to the limited time her brother had. She selected four different locations for Zax to stay in and survey himself, hoping for a glint of accomplishment to appear in his eyes as soon as possible. During this period of introspection Zetsa chose to be at Zax’s side every second of the day. The bottleneck to level F was not the same as the bottleneck to level E and D. Although it seemed insignificant, since any child above the age of ten who participated in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit has afterwards crossed it, it was really misconception to believe that it is so simple. Only those who reached naturally to level F, that is, without an Earth’s Core, or researched the matter were able to realize what sort of juncture it is, comparable even to the bottleneck to level C!
The first location that Zetsa chose was their grandparents’ farm. There, she reminded to Zax that it is a form of training before instructing him to do whatever he feels like doing, so they walked.
Leaving Zetsa’s Sun K-79 behind, they walked for hours, from the early morning till late at night when eventually they ended up arriving home. Since the mentioning of the word “training” Zetsa noticed that her Tal interpreted the meaning of this method of exercise in a much complex manner than it was.
Admittedly she did not explain to Zax the concept of Environmental Stimulus, for it was something he had to find out for himself, but as a result it turned out counterproductive. Still, Zetsa did not say anything to Zax and at the second day she informed to pack a small backpack cause they were going back to get her Sun K-79. The predetermined second location had been replaced. The new second location was the road.
Going forward to a day later, Zetsa took Zax to the apartment building she owned. There, she picked one of the incomplete apartments, one with a giant hole in the floor, and told him to just seat down however likes. For two days they walked. On the first day the agricultural vicinity was the epicenter of Zax’s environmental perception. On the second day it was the road and familiar buildings that were emptier than he recognized. It was the silent scenery that only a child who did not go to school nor have to work could encounter. At the third day Zetsa wanted for Zax find to be at ease and merge with an incomplete form, obviously, she did not tell him that either.
The fourth location was so radical that Zax lost the feeling in his legs when he and Zetsa arrived there. It was a little bit past tunnel seventy eight, one of the border tunnels between humanity’s territory and the beasts’.
“Big sis… staying here is illegal for minors, you’ll be in trouble…” Zax tried to alter her decision.
“No one will know, come on, there is a hill a kilometer that way”. Zetsa ignored Zax’s pleas. She grabbed his hand and pulled him after her apathetically to his fears.
In New Earth any cave visited by a member of humanity, even those in the beasts’ territory, was numbered. There was only a slight difference in the numbering process between the caves in humanity’s territory and the beasts’. The first difference was that beasts’ caves that were numbered had zero as an initial digit. The second difference was a rule that required the humans who ventured into caves in the beasts’ territory to fully map them before retreating.
Cave zero eight was a soundless jungle. It gave the impression that the only beasts roaming were the spirits of dead ones. Nevertheless, here and there were signs of large and small footprints and gusts of wind rattled the thick vegetation, carrying uniquely refreshing smells.
The hill that Zetsa took Zax was around a hundred meters tall. Many of the surrounding trees were much taller, though, and were able to provide shelter from the constant baring light of the Sun Stones at the high ceiling of the cave, since it did not have anything like the Nightly Cover formation applied to it.
“There are four tunnels connecting to this cave, Zax. One leads to cave twenty five while the other three to deeper parts in the beasts’ territory”. Zetsa lower her head as she explained to Zax. Her little Tal stuck so close to her that his breath tickled her exposed bellybutton. The only thing that he was shy of doing was cling to her leg, like his third years old self whenever she was about to leave home.
Zetsa pushed Zax away with an impervious facial expression, indicating that she was not joking and this is exactly the fourth location. “In a couple of hours I’ll return to take you back, Zax. Where I go is doesn’t matter, why can’t I stay you should not ask and getting back on your own is on you, Zax”. Her tone was rigid and callous. It was worse than a stab to the chest, treating he beloved little brother in such a harsh manner, but it was for his sake. There was not a lot of time remaining for the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit and if Zax’s soul will not reach level F before that, much of his future prospects will diminish.
“No… no… You can’t leave me her, big sis, I want to go, take me back…” Zax was on the verge of crying. What he could not understand was why he was so uncomfortable, why the concept of being in the beasts’ territory frightened him to this degree.
Well, there was an answer, one which Zetsa was aware of and hoped that her little brother will be able to prevail against it. The answer was Zax’s highly sensitive soul. Whether it was a coreless boy or a Mist User at the Core Breaker level, if either of them was here instead of Zax, he or she would not have felt any different than how he or she felt on the safe side of New Earth.
Of the three aspects of a living being, two are capable of sensing the environment. The basic one is the body of a living being, whatever it may be. The more complicated one is the soul of a living being. A Mist User can first utilize the soul to sense the environment at the Beginner phase of the Core Breaker level, to what extent is a whole different story.
Zax’s soul level was only at the top phase of level G. Common sense dictate that he should not be able to sense the environment with his soul, especially involuntarily. Zax, however, was an enigma beyond common sense. In comparison to a Core Breaker, his soul was of lower quality and his soul energy in lesser quantity. From some reason, though, he still was able to perform a soul attack, even if by the simpler method there is. Sensing the environment, although a far more difficult feat, to a certain degree, by experimenting for a while with the new grasp of his soul energy, has made possible for it to developed on its own.
On top of the desolated hill, Zax stood alone. Zetsa disappeared in a speed he could not comprehend. Being there on his own, Zax’s Soul Sense could extend only as far as the skin on his body. Generally, he was not able to perceive farther than his body sense of touch, but when he came to contact with specks of the environmental essence he could feel a minuscule bit of the terror it carried. As to what specifically was the source of the invisible terror, that was too hard to tell.
Zax waited for hours, not daring to leave to hill, afraid to even move from his initial place. Misperception of sounds and shadows deluded him to think that sometimes something was watching him, sometimes he himself saw something besides the thick vegetation, other times to even feel warm breaths at the back of his neck.
Where was his More? Where was Zetsa? Where was his overprotective big sister?
Zax asked himself countless time. “It’s not right… It’s not right…” Sensing one thing with his Soul Sense but been unable to perceive it with his body five sense threw him off balance. Hours later, when the light in the far away tunnel to cave twenty five dimmed, Zetsa returned. She did not say anything nor assessed the tensed Zax from up close. She grabbed his hand and pulled him back after her apathetically.
Another three days passed. Now.
“Forcing a breakthrough is impossible, Zax”. Zetsa sat next to him in the incomplete apartment, giving only this advice, and then quietly continued to watch him.
Zax did not care. He was restless. He could not train or meditate like he used to. Not only that, he was stuck in the same juncture for such a long time. It was a first for him to really struggle. In the past the path of training laid all he had to do before him. Staying in the activated Inner Spirit formation for as long as he can, dismantling the icy grains or replacing steady sleep with Somnolence Meditation. He had done them all. None of them was easy to begin with but at least they were not obscure.
The bottleneck of level G? He tried to remember how he broke through it, but back than it happened spontaneously and since the differences between the Advanced and Top phases of the previous level and the early phases of level G were typically infinitesimal, he could not grasp any insight in relations to the process.
Most of all, there was tomorrow. The return to the fourth location. Zax had nightmares for three consecutive nights. In those dream he stood at the top of the hill, waiting for his big sister. The giant trees were overbearing than in reality. Their height was unfathomable. They loomed above Zax’s head, hiding the cave’s ceiling, enabling a scarce number of light rays to penetrate through the leaves and branches and illuminate the closest layer of tree trunks that surrounded him. And from the darkness, the darkness behind the first layer of three trunks, Zax could sense his fears taking form and approaching.
March thirty one.
On top of a small hill in the beasts’ territory, approximately a kilometer from the tunnel to humanity’s “safe zone”, Zax sat on his bottom. He sat for two hours since the day has started a cave away. His back by now was bending forward and his neck was down. He was tired but he could not sleep.
“If I close my eyes they will appear”.
“They” were the surreal things that terrorized him in his dreams, which were the reason for his lack of sleep for the past month and a half. He never saw or heard them, but he did smell and felt them, and even more so on top of the cursed hill.
When one aspect of a living being is in turmoil, the other two bound to also suffer. Since the night after his first experience in the fourth location, Zax began to develop difficulties controlling his Qi. He wanted to put aside the burden of his soul training, however, ignoring the disarray of his soul has made it impossible for him to concentrate on an aspect he just recently became aware of and did not have time to properly examine.
His unsettled soul also affected his body. Day by day, Zax began to eat less and less. A week has passed and he lost two kilos of his weight. At the following week he lost another two, and then four and one… In a way, that got Zetsa to worry about him even more so than the inability to control his Qi. His parents, as well, started to doubt her methods of training. She discussed it with them couple of times during the past month and a half and managed to convince them by saying that it all will be over before the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit and implored them that she knew what she was doing. Zax’s big sister and parents ended up supervising him during his meals. They forcefully made him eat even if he did not want to, even if he told them that he feels nausea. After Zetsa’s explained, Marco and Laylen understood that Zax’s body only projected the imbalance of his soul and in truth, no matter how ill he seemed to be, The best thing for him was to nurture his body as he regularly did.
“I’m tired… I’m tired…” Zax constantly repeated. “There they are! No, there! Behind me? Where are you? Leave me alone!” The instant he closed his eyes and slipped into the nightmarish dream world, Zax’s Soul Sense intensified, decrypting with almost ease the cautionary tales of the environmental essence around him.
“Big sis!” Zax jumped on his feet, calling. He surveyed the area left and right, up and down. When he did not find anything he sat again and sobbed for an hour.
“Why did you do this to me, big sis? Why I have to suffer so much, big sis? If it’s for a breakthrough, I no longer want it…” Zax rubbed his eyes, his whole face, his head in frustration. “This things… I don’t want to stay here anymore, big sis, please come and get me, big sis…”
After three more hours Zax calmed down a bit. The body’s fatigue since passed, though only temporarily. Some changes also occurred to his soul. None were significant or allowed him to finally figure how to break through the bottleneck to level F, but once in a while, after this long time of continuous agonizing, were moments of clarity in which the stress to his soul was even invigorating.
Zax took advantage of these tranquil moments to meditate. His intentions were not to enrich a part of himself, rather to reminisce the better days of his short life from as far as he could remember.
Remarkably enough, Zax could remember as far as his first year in this world, despite the fact that so far back these memories were simply tiny fragments of major moments.
The more Zax drifted in his memory line, the better he could make up certain events. One memory caught his attention, him at the age of three strolling with his grandparents in their farm. It was midday and Zax first time walking freely in the open fields with no one in sight, for his grandparents were behind him. He was a small boy in a wide space with nothing to obstruct him, and for a split second the moment Zax remembered suddenly expended infinitely.
Another memory, years later from the last one, was of Zax’s first day in school. Oddly it was not the school, per se, that he remembered, but the flood of people he passed by on his way to school with his mom. How lively and exciting were the streets when the road he walked on headed to a new place, somewhere that even then he could tell was a step up for a child’s life. How much Zax yearned for the presence of others right now, it was nearly unbearable to his child little heart.
Led by these lonesome feelings, another memory appeared before Zax. His first time at his big sister’s place, his first day of training. Throughout all of that day Zax was excited. Excited to be trained by his accomplished big sister, excited of going to become strong like the fighters in the Earth’s Core’s showdowns, excited that his greatest desire was taken seriously by an adult he looked up to. However, during the past month and a half he was not so sure anymore. One part of him truly believed that he could not handle the drawbacks of his current tribulations, while another part that was separated by a miserly narrow line, somewhat still had the forte to hold out.
“That is…” In the blink of an eye the memory of him in his big sister apartment vanished and instead a peculiar memory creeped on Zax. Following its appearance, along the cruise over the fluid like stream made of seemingly white energy, Zax could not locate any other memory, recent or distant.
With but a brief glance, before devoting his fully attuned attention to the one picture that stretched high and wide beyond whatever he could perceive in his meditative state, Zax recognized the scene that took over.
“The hill!” Zax lost his composure and began to panic. “No, no!” He managed to maintain the meditative state reluctantly, only to not have this memory embitter these blessed moments of serenity. “Away!” Zax madly commanded. “I don’t want to see you! I don’t! Go! Leave me alone!” More than anything he was afraid that the memory of the hill, or others that were related, will contaminate the previous memories which granted him solace.
Unknowingly, while the soul was on the verge of breaking, the body started to heat up as bones emitted sounds of cracking and muscles tensed, while correspondingly the Qi frantically gushed through the Qi channels in circulation.
Zax’s body swayed and fell to the ground of the hill as blood ejected from his mouth. Nevertheless, his eyes were kept closed. Enduring an external and internal eruption of numbing pain, Zax forsook his well being wholeheartedly.
“Away! Away… awa…” As the last of his strength faded, only silence remained in his consciousness. Zax’s body stopped moving, his Qi settled down and the light of the distorted blur that was his soul gradually dimmed.
“Eh!” A single note of realization awakened Zax from his beaten state. He pushed. He separated. He divided his mind flawlessly and naturally into two, forming the outer and inner mind state, advancing with his soul to a level equal to a F level Mist User.
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