The second in April, year 5785.
Three o’clock in the afternoon.
A line of eleven parked busses stretched to a bit over a hundred meters at the entrance to tunnel seventy seven from cave twenty five.
Families from all over cave twenty five accompanied their eligible youngsters and saw them get on the busses. Approximately six hundred and forty participants were about to be sent from cave twenty five, this year.
For the second consecutive year Zetsa volunteered as the representative Guardian of cave twenty five’s participants. She walked toward the first bus, where her parents, her little brother, his friends and their parents waited.
Eight o’clock in the morning, the very same day.
Zetsa was on her way to leave her parents’ house to the cave’s management office. “Zax”, she called him. “Come here”. She asked in a low voice.
Putting down the fork on the breakfast plate, Zax got up to send off his big sister. “I’ll see later, big sis”.
“I know you will. I didn’t call you for that”. Zetsa rubbed his unruly morning hair. “Listen, Zax, I’m telling you now cause later I simply won’t have the opportunity. In the search big sis won’t be able to help you find Earth’s Cores. It’s against the representative Guardian’s event rules; at most I can appraise the Earth’s Core or Earth’s Cores that you will find. But”, Zetsa said before Zax pouted. The next part was of utmost importance for her to impart on him. “Even if you won’t find an Earth’s Core, you will still receive a compensatory one at the end of the search, that, however, is not what I want you to remember, Zax. What you should remember is that even if you will be forced to absorb the Earth’s Core that the event’s committee arranged for those who didn’t find during the search, by no means try to form the first crack or any crack on the Earth’s Core’s shell”.
Zetsa bent closer to Zax’s ear. “As long as the Earth’s Core is intact in your dantian, you can use your unique soul to push it out. Don’t do it in front of others, if you already absorbed the Earth’s Core wait for me to take care of things”.
Listening to his big sister, at first Zax wanted to ask her if it is really possibly to remove an absorbed Earth’s Core, yet when he was about to ask her, a more pressing question came out. “If I’ll take out the Earth’s Core, what then?”
“Then, although it may take some time, your big sis will do a few favors and get you a better Earth’s Core than you can get from the event’s committee”.
“Good quality Earth’s Core?!” Zax nearly jumped of excitement.
“Do not let your imagination get carried away, little Zi. Your big sis will do her best”. Zetsa refrained from promising something too good. E level Earth’s Core, if she could get the lowest quality of that level, it will already be above and beyond.
“Now that you know finish your breakfast, I’m off”.
Back to current time.
Alongside Zetsa walked a happy looking, tall and ridden man with a black wig on his head. He was the head manager of cave twenty five’s management office, Nuci Poweil. Unlike governor Edomachi, Nuci Poweil did not possess the “Governor” title and was a mere representative of the esteemed high class Poweil family that managed several other caves in El-Eden.
“This year our children are within the first groups in the queue, hahaha…” Head manager Nuci was satisfied with this year arrangement. “Their chances of finding good Earth’s Cores are a lot better than the previous years, isn’t that right, Miss Zetsa? Hahaha…”
“Who knows”, Zetsa answered honestly. “A decade ago, I remember, that there was a kid who was in the last batch and found a high quality Earth’s Core, while two years ago, within the first five groups from Tongguo who entered the search cave in their region, each and every child came back empty handed. If anything, I’d say that it is all about luck”.
“Well, luck is something that none of us can control. In this case it’s best to be among the first groups and hope the heavens and Supreme Ruler look fairly on all of our children”. Head manager Nuci was in his late seventies and managed cave twenty five for more than forty years. Over the years he sent thousands upon thousands of participants to take part in the Great Erath’s Core Pursuit. Obviously he had a better insight in regards to the matter in question, thus, Zetsa could not contradict his pearls of accumulated wisdom and had to agree with him, even if she did not believe that the “Heavens” or Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch have anything to do with the luck of the young participants.
When all the kids sat in the busses, placing their provisions backpacks on their knees and before their families waved them good luck and goodbye, Head manager Nuci, a C level Mist User, Core Breaker, amplified his voice with his mist energy and delivered a customary speech.
“Young future Mist Users and valued families members. It is a great honor for me that today I, Nuci Poweil, get to send once more and for the forty fourth time as the head manager of cave twenty five, our young ones onto their most significant journey in their life.
“Children of cave twenty five, tomorrow you will face the most taxing challenge that any coreless child faces once in his and her life that will determine how great your future is going to be.
“It is not a challenge that you should be afraid of. On the contrary, it is your moment to transcend the limitation you have been living with so far, from coreless children to full fledged Mist Users!
“Children of cave twenty five, I wish you the watchful and blessed eye of the heavens and our Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch”.
Head manager Nuci finished with a bow, turned his head to Zetsa, who sat near the driver on the first bus, and with a slight node wished her an ample journey.
Zax sat at the back of the bus with Serah, Dane, Anet and a few other kids from his old school.
“My sister participated two years ago in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, you know”, Zushi Sarker, a short, blond hair blue eyes kid lowered his head and talked with a hand on his mouth. “She told me that no matter what, me, and my friends better form a group before entering the search cave”. His blue eyes turned to the seven kids next to him and revealed his intentions.
“Why do we need to form a group? Won’t we have a better chance to find more Earth’s Cores if we spread?” Weysey Inoki, a black hair green eyes boy raised the question before Zushi got to finish what he was saying.
“Think about it yourself. What will happen if you’ll find an Earth’s Core?” Zushi asked.
“The rules state that if a participant finds an Earth’s Core he or she has to leave the cave and show it to the attendant who stays at the entrance of the cave”. Weysey answered as if he was quoting his homeroom teacher.
“See, here is the problem. What if you will come across other participants on your way to the attendant?” Zushi swept his gaze across the understanding faces of his friends. “I’m not saying that we should form a group to steal from others, only to protect ourselves. My sister told me that the representative Guardians aren’t really there to keep us in order or so that no harm will come us, at least not from other participants”.
“I’m okay with forming a group, if it’s only to protect ourselves”. Serah said.
“Me too”. Anet also agreed and the other five, beside Zushi who came up with the idea, including Zax also nodded in agreement.
“If we form a group we need a leader”. Merly stated.
“Sure. Zax, you’ll be the leader”. Zushi said without hesitating even though the idea was his.
“Me?” Zax felt a bit uncomfortable acting as the leader.
“You were the strongest boy in pre Core School, plus you are Miss Zetsa little brother, how can you be anything less?” Truly, if not on the Martial path, then at least on the political one Zushi will most definitely have a bright future!
“Fine, if that’s what everyone wants”.
Sure enough everyone nodded in agreement.
“But how will we decide how to divide the Earth’s Cores if we’ll found any?” Dane raised up the question.
“We can do it like this”, Zushi began to explain. “If one of us finds an Earth’s Core, that is, the first to locate it with the eyes, then he or she will call “not here”, best if it would be loud enough only for the members in our group to hear, and the Earth’s Core will be his or her. If more than one member of the group calls “not here” at the same time for the same Earth’s Core, then those who called “not here” will decide who gets the Earth’s Core by a game of rock paper scissors”.
“Sound reasonable”, Dane felt the need to give his approval. “But what if you already found an Earth’s Core and locates another one?”
“Well, the only opportunity for someone who already has an Earth’s Core to find another one will be when the rest of the group will escort him or her to the attendant at the entrance to the cave. If that happens, then those who found another Earth’s Core can choose which Earth’s Core they want to keep and the rest of the group will play a few rounds of rock paper scissors to decide who will get the other Earth’s Core”. Zushi paused, to make sure that his explanation was clear to everyone. “Are we a group?” He whispered.
“We are”. The other seven whispered back, among others who had the same idea.
Cave one hundred and thirty nine was a border cave within Supreme Ruler Ariel Dauch’s region, El-Eden, and the gathering cave for all of the ten years old participants of El-Eden and their representative Guardians.
Lines of busses from all over El-Eden who carried tomorrow’s participants were parking in a giant parking lot near a dome like compound. Besides the compound, which was more than a thousand hundred meters long, six hundred meters wide and ninty meter tall, were various tents and two other square buildings that were each about a sixth of the compound’s size.
“Participants of cave eighty seven, join here in rows of forty…”
“Participants of cave three, join here in rows of seventy four…”
“Participants of cave one hundred and forty one, gather up here in rows of fifty…”
“Participants of cave twenty five, assemble here in rows of forty…”
“Participants of cave eight, join here in rows of sixty…”
“Participants of cave one hundred and one, join here in rows of thirty…”
“Participants of cave ninety nine, assemble here in rows of fifty five…”
The seven representative Guardians from the seven caves of tomorrow participants ordered the soon to be “Young Mist Users” under his or her care. Some even utilized their mist energy and with gentle touches of their aura helped the young ones to construct the rows.
When the first group was ready, its representative Guardians led it to the closest tent to the parking lot where a big sign read: “Registration Stand To The Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. Year 5785!”.
Zax and his group of eight managed to sneak themselves to the head of one of the eleven rows to watch carefully the registration process which sparked their and every other coreless child present, for that matter, curiosity.
A good looking woman, wearing blue uniforms with a white ribbon that stretched diagonally across her left shoulder to her waist and read: “GECP STAFF”, accepted Zetsa and the group from cave twenty five. Since the small tent only meant to house the woman and a small desk with a computer on it, Zetsa actually stood outside of it.
“Here, the list of participants from cave twenty five and my contact information as their representative Guardian”. Zetsa handed the woman a small rectangle yellow chip. The staff member woman inserted the chip to the computer and a few seconds later took out, from a box beneath the table, a red ribbon which read in golden letters: “GECP GUARDIAN”.
“Please wear it in all times”. The woman gave the ribbon to Zetsa, who immediately wore it in the same manner as she did. She also gave her a piece of paper, on which she wrote a few numbers. and returned the chip before directing her to the next tent.
Passing one of the medical tents, Zetsa led her group to a tent near the entrance to the compound that had a sign beside it which read: “Time Bracelets Registration Stand”.
“Tomorrow’s participants…” The man in in the Time Bracelets Registration Stand said to himself. The Time Bracelets Registration stand had a huge tent filled with sealed boxes. Like in the previous tent, Zetsa did not enter, but waited outside for the staff member to approach her.
“Serialization token”. The man, who was short with words, said to Zetsa. Zetsa gave the piece of paper she received from the woman at the initial registration stand.
The man looked at the serialization token and sighed. “This year they send the smaller group first…” He then turned his back to Zetsa. “You are good”. After so Zetsa turned as well and entered with her group to the giant compound.
Thousands of neat bunk beds filled more than two thirds of the compound. Beside them were showers and bathrooms. At one corner of the compound was a staircase to a second floor and at the center of the compound was a lectern.
Zetsa was the second representative Guardians to lead her group into the compound. The first representative Guardians to arrive already ordered the boys in his group to settle and choose bunk beds.
“Boys of cave twenty five”, Zetsa opened aloud when the last of her group entered the compound. “Choose any of the bunk beds over there and settle your backpacks on them. Keep together and don’t seek only bottom bunk beds. No one is allowed to go to the second floor and no one is allowed to occupy an empty bottom bunk bed if there are empty upper bunk beds with participants from our cave, cave twenty five, who already picked the bottom ones! Go, you have ten minutes to choose beds in orderly fashion and return.
“Girls of cave twenty five, wait for a while. Your bunk beds are in the second floor. Obey the same rules as the boys when you go up there. I’ll help you find a side for our group and when I’ll leave none of you is allowed to go to the first floor until I’ll return!”
Zax’s group consisted of five boys and three girls. Before the five boys left they agreed with the girls no to mention anything about their already formed group and that if someone would ask, either the boys or the girls, to join some other group they will say that they have to think about it.
Thirty minutes after the last of the representative Guardians arrived with her group to the compound and the last participant from her cave laid his backpack on an upper bunk bed, a stern elderly staff member with a black ribbon across his chest, reading in red letters: “GECP DISCIPLINARY SUPERVISOR”, walked into the compound and stopped in front of the lectern.
“Silence!” The elderly man, who, according to his ribbon, was the disciplinary supervisor of the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit event, amplified his voice with his mist energy and the dominating aura of a Beginner phase Mist Lord exploded out him upward.
Instantly the more than five thousands coreless participants, and even four of the representative Guardians, were paralyzed.
“Welcome to the one in a life time event, the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit”. The elderly man spoke with an indifferent tone and eyes that gave the impression that they could inspect every detail of every person in the compound, altogether!
“I’m the disciplinary supervisor of the event and the man who is responsible for overwatching the proceeding of the event in cave zero thirty nine, El-Eden’s designated cave”. The disciplinary supervisor drew back his aura but kept his harsh tone.
“Participants and representative Guardians, every year there are tens of thousands new participants in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit. To ensure a safe and bright hunt for each and every one of the tens of thousands participant, a set of rules has to be enforced.
“The rules are not complex. Starting with the first and most important one, participants are not allowed to enter the unsafe zone! Inside cave zero thirty nine are two tunnels, of which, one is a forbidden tunnel leading deeper into the beasts’ territory. The unsafe zone is guarded at all times by the event’s Guardians that will disqualify any participant who will try to go through any tunnel besides the one he or she entered from to cave zero thirty nine.
“The second rule should already be known to most of you but still require clarification. Twenty four hours after the beginning of the event, all participants, whether if you found an Earth’s Core or did not, must get back immediately to the attendant at the entrance of cave zero thirty nine to sign that you participated in the event and your finds.
“DON’T BE MISTAKEN!” The disciplinary supervisor hastened to say. The preceding part was always the cause for many misunderstandings that he had no patient to deal with. “Even if you come by with empty hands, the event’s organizers, our Supreme Rulers, directed us, staff members of the event, to keep a stock of Earth’s Cores available for distribution to any of the unlucky ones. Please realize, all of you, participation in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit is not a chance for you to gain Earth’s Cores in order to become Mist Users. “Participation” means that you get one chance to find the best Earth’s Core out there to better your position and future prospects as dignified Mist User!”
“Best Earth’s Core?”
“High quality Earth’s Cores?”
“They definitely won’t give those who come back empty handed any good Earth’s Cores”.
“Yeah, probably the lowest quality Earth’s Cores…”
“Common Earth’s Cores like my mom’s and dad’s…”
“High quality Earth’s Core! High quality Earth’s Core! High quality Earth’s Core!”
A wave of whispers and speculation mixed with cries of excitement could not help but resonate in the compound. To the ten years old coreless children the knowledge that they will soon pass the threshold toward the greatest opportunity that they will ever get in their entire life, to receive the chance to search for those legendary Earth’s Core that only one in a million can find, made many of them drool buckets.
“Settle down, settle down…” The elderly man said mildly. Although the disciplinary supervisor, he still gave his consent, to some degree, for the children’s boisterous excitement. After all, with children the louder the noise the higher the spirit and in a pitiful event, such as the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, sometimes high spirit was adequate to compensate the lack of fortune that many will encounter.
“Participants of cave eighty seven, quiet down!”
“Participants of cave three, stop talking!”
“Participants of cave one hundred and forty one, keep it down!”
The representative Guardians saw that the disciplinary supervisor, an A level Mist User they all respected, did not want to topple the children’s enthusiasm by force like when he entered, so they used their own aura to aid him, since their aura and voices were both familiar and, in a way, more authoritative from the perspective of the children they were responsible of.
“Now that all of you have calmed down, know that I will not accept any more interruption. Try me and I will cut hours from your time of the hunt!” The voice of elderly disciplinary supervisor sounded resolute and right after it sank in the mind of every child in the compound, a hush fell over.
“The third rule I should mention is an extension of the second rule and it is about the time bracelets. Tomorrow, before entering cave zero thirty nine, each of you will receive a time bracelet which function as a timer that will show you how long do you have in the hunt until you have to return. The time bracelets are green and in addition to time, they can also tell your geographical location in cave zero thirty nine. The time bracelet will calculate your remaining time and distant from tunnel three hundred and twelve and will turn red to notify that you should head back before the end of the twenty four hours you each have in the hunt. Anyone who will dare to be late will not receive an Earth’s Core, whether if he or she found one or not, until a month after the official end day of the event!”