“Now then, the fourth and last rule…” The disciplinary supervisor nocked on the lectern. “No one is allowed to venture outside of your residency. To those of you who have difficulties to understand, you cannot leave to compound we are currently in. And once you will be divided and transferred to the two square buildings, you cannot leave them, either, without permission! There will not be farther explanations. Disobey any of the four rules and think of it as if you brought upon yourselves the wrath of Supreme Rulers! ” The disciplinary supervisor turned and left the compound with his last warning still roaming in the air.
From start to finish the elderly disciplinary supervisor did not say anything regarding fights, thefts or even grouping many against one during the “Hunt”, as he named the pinnacle part of the “Great Earth’s Core Pursuit”. Only the participants who were in organized group took notice of it, some wondering, others secretly rejoicing. Of course, the seven representative Guardians already knew the reason why the disciplinary supervisor did not say anything about these conducts. Regardless of the young participants’ success rate in this event, in the end there will not be a child who will not have an Earth’s Core. So why not? Why not add a little bit more challenge besides the required luck? The earlier these children will learn how to safeguard their fortune, the more they will deserve to keep it.
There were not any quarrels or arguments about bottom bunk beds or who showers first when the representative Guardians finished helping the girls settle in the second floor and afterwards left the compound.
In eight o’clock in the evening, after snacking on some of their rotations, Zax and the thousands other boys and girls received one nutrition tablet, each, from a group of fifty or so stuff members which came by the compound and had white ribbons hanging from their shoulders to their waist, which read in brown letter: ”GECP SERVING STAFF”.
The tablets were orange with smooth surface and seemed easy enough to swallow.
“Listen, everyone, the nutrition tablets that you received should last you for twenty four hours. You should take them on an empty stomach tomorrow morning, so if you brought food with you, either eat it now or after the event, otherwise you’ll feel nausea and abdominal pains. If some of you still can’t swallow tablets, it is fine to also chew on them or drink them with water, however the taste will be awfully bitter so be aware and don’t waste them by spiting them out. Eat them and your energy will last till the end of your search”. One stuff member on each floor explained to the groups of boys and girls. When the stuff members finished distributing the nutrition tablets they bid the young participants good night and a bountiful search.
The next morning at four o’clock, thousands of snack wrappers were thrown around the compound. The representative Guardians who came to gather their groups were momentarily stunned by the sight of so much littering. It appeared that during the night someone managed to jam the compound trash chutes, all twenty in the boys’ floor.
The seven representative Guardians sighed in union. The disciplinary supervisor will rebuke them no doubt.
“Participants of cave eighty seven, get yourself organized and ready to leave…”
“Participants of cave three collect your backpacks and get ready to leave…”
“Participants of cave one hundred and forty one, you have ten minutes to get organized…”
The seven representative Guardians led their groups in seven long lines to the entrance of tunnel three hundred and twelve.
Tunnel three hundred and twelve was extremely large! At least three hundred meters wide and two hundred and fifty meters tall. Its length from cave one hundred and thirty nine to cave zero thirty nine was also no joke, about seven hundred meters. A white partition of identical length split the tunnel into two sides, one for the returning participants of the previous day who came in bunches, the other for the new participants and their leading representative Guardians.
Zax and his group of eight converged at the head of the row they were part from during the long walk to the other side of the tunnel.
“Did you take the nutrition tablets, Zax?” Zetsa asked.
To not seem partial she tilted her head toward the rest of the group. She did so even though she was not obligated to do more than her representative Guardian’s duties, which were similar to the event’s Guardians’ duties.
“Not yet”. Zax answered.
“Good. Take it two hours after the beginning of the search”. Zetsa respond.
“Seriously, Zax, how lucky of you to have a Mist Master for an elder sister”. Merly babbled.
“Did he say…?!”
Not many of cave twenty five’s participants knew of the special relationship between one of their peers and their representative Guardian. Because of their parents they all knew that Zetsa was actually “Miss Zetsa”, a B level Mist User, Mist Master, capable of appraising the density of the mist inside an Earth’s Core and determine its quality. Hearing what that one boy said to that other boy, who were both clenched together with six other kids, about Zetsa, a Mist Master, all the close by participants from cave twenty five wanted to puke their guts from envy.
“That boy… was “Zax” his name? Is he Miss Zetsa’s little brother?!”
“Why didn’t you try to approach him?!”
“How should I have known?!”
“That boy is cute, kinda…”
“C**p, it looks like he is already in a group!”
“See how they walk close to each other… Try convincing him to join us”.
“That girl is not his girlfriend, is she?”
“I’m much prettier than that one, urgh…”
“You try! Argh… he is avoiding stares, he can hear us, how pathetic are we…”
“You’re pathetic! He freaking has a Mist Master to his disposal!”
Silent whispers escalated to loud whimpers. Soon every participant knew about and cursed that one kid from cave twenty five who was the little brother of a Mist Master representative Guardian. Luckily, not everyone was sure who the specific boy everybody talked about was since there were thousands all around them.
In Zax’s group of eight, seven pairs of eyes looked at Merly with furious expressions.
“Argh… I’m sorry everyone!” Merly lowered his flushed cheeks. “But… but… now that they know that Zax is Miss Zetsa’s little brother, maybe nobody will mess with our group”. Merly did not have the same level of sharpness and adulation as Zushi or the confidence to look at his friends’ eyes as he made up the excuse.
“They can still follow us and grab the Earth’s Cores on our path before we do. Do you think Miss Zetsa is the kind of person to threaten children if that’ll happen?” Dane said.
“But they don’t know-”
“Yeah, I’ll bet some of them will be willing to try their chances anyway. Miss Zetsa as her own duties in this event…”
The group’s internal conversation was in low voices so that others will not listen. However, that only heightened the agitation among the eight participants.
“Stop arguing, it doesn’t matter anymore what others have heard. When the search will start just keep your eyes on the surrounding and if anyone will follow you, put a hostile front together to scare them”. Zetsa interfered. Her voice reached only the ears of her little brother’s friends. “I and the other representative Guardians, most of the time, will do patrols around the cave. If you want me to appraise Earth’s Cores, you can meet me every three hours beneath the Hooked Beak rock, it’s a forty meters tall rock, twenty meter wide from its base, seven kilometers west of the other side of the tunnel”.
Zetsa’s offer brought excited smiles on the little faces of Zax’s friends. To have the support of a Mist Master they all were utterly thankful to the magnificent Miss Zetsa.
“Zax”, Zetsa focused her voice only for her little brother to hear. “When we’ll get to the other side of the tunnel read my aura briefly with your Soul Sense. I’ll show you the exact direction to the Hooked Beak rock”.
Along the path to the other side of the tunnel nearly a hundred staff members distributed green bracelets that showed “24:00:00” in neon colors, bright orange red.
“The timer will start when you’ll enter cave zero thirty nine. Remember to return when its color change to red!” Some of the staff membered bothered to explain.
At the end of the tunnel the seven representative Guardians stopped. Right where the partition ended, a tall old lady stood. By the look of it the old lady was the attendant responsible to sign the returning participants and their findings and collect from them the time bracelets.
The seven representative Guardians bowed respectfully toward the old lady. Clearly she was not as simple as her outward appearance.
“May I?” One of the seven representative Guardians asked the other six and they all nodded or shrugged.
The representative Guardian turned to the thousands of coreless participants behind him with a deep voice. “Twenty four hours. That’s all you have. Now, there will be no pushing or shoving until everybody is out of the tunnel. You lot, head out…” The representative Guardian then began to send group, after group, after group of participants to cave zero thirty nine in bunches of fifty.
Since Zax’s group was at the head of their row, they got to be among the firsts to enter cave zero thirty nine. Zax remembered what Zetsa told him and for a split second extended his Soul Sense when he passed by her. He did not know how, but when Zetsa was in the range of his Soul Sense a minuscule portion of an environmental essence flashed in his inner mind and left a gut feeling that acted as a trail to the Hooked Beak rock, that is, as long as was willing to follow it.
“Come on, there are too many participants coming out. Let’s get far enough so no one will be able to follow!” Zax said and the other seven agreed. A warm tingly feeling spread through their bodies, the hair on their hands and legs stood on end and a shining glint appeared in everybody eyes. The hunt as began!
Cave zero thirty nine was vast like a small city cave. The shape of the cave was not a perfect square, but it was one more than it was a circle. The cave stretched far and wide, nine kilometers or so in each direction. It was more similar to the nature reserve caves than cave zero eight. Though it had its wild element in the lush vegetation and rough terrain, there were also unpaved roads, shoes footprints and unsurprisingly and quite sadly, candy wrappers…
After two hour in the search Zax’s group took their nutrition tablets. As they advanced deeper into the cave they became more pumped up for the search. They were all aware of the process of finding Earth’s Cores since it was not complicated.
Earth’s Cores were most of the time beneath the earth. In the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit to find Earth’s Core there were only three ways. The first way was the most draining and uncertain, digging. Finding a spot which pleases the eye, kneeling and hoping that underneath it there is an Earth’s Core.
The second way was venturing throughout the cave. There was not a shortage of Earth’s Cores that were partly above the surface, stuck to heavy rock or completely out of the ground. The challenge was detecting them between the dense vegetation and even the earth that had similar shades of color. If following the second way, one can find an Earth’s Core ten minutes into the search or come back empty handed. Regardless of the results, one will benefit from a bit of insight into the beasts’ vicinity and a great adventure story.
The third way was the least demanding but the most heinous and did not require any profound explanation. The third way was grouping against and stealing from other participants.
“I bet the nature reserve caves have plenty Earth’s Core scatter around”. Serah groaned. It has been three hours since their group of eight entered cave zero thirty nine and yet they could not find one Earth’s Core in this miserly cave.
“There can be hundreds of thousands of Earth’s Core in the nature reserve caves, and it still will not change anything. No one is allowed, apart from the Supreme Rulers and selected few, to go beyond the paved roads without a permit, and they don’t give any for Earth’s Cores hunting”. Zushi said aloud what everyone already thought in respond, even Serah.
In the residential caves of Kingdom Earth it had been couple of hundred years since someone, literally, stumbled upon an Earth’s Core. For various reasons, fanaticism – which can be interpreted as fear of Nature – as the most prominent, pursuing Earth’s Cores in Kingdom Earth was an illegal activity. If someone accidentally found one in a residential cave it still would have been tolerable, but if someone dared trespassing into the secure areas of the nature reserve caves, a severe punishment will be inflicted upon them.
Now, why would someone want an Earth’s Core when everyone in the general public already had one? Well, the common answer will be for money. Pursuing Earth’s Cores the conventional way in Kingdom Earth was indeed illegal, but selling and buying Earth’s Cores was the unconventional market that only the top tier of the high class of Kingdom Earth got to enjoy, since they, basically, were the only ones who could afford it.
Normally, in Kingdom Earth, Earth’s Cores are divided one per person regardless of statues. The exceptions are often Earth’s Cores that are donated to Martial or scientific research, and less often, Earth’s Cores that are found by Mist Users who ventured in the beasts’ territory.
“I wonder…” Zax said in a speculating tone.
“What’s up, Zax?” Merly asked.
“Stop everyone”. Zax did not give an answer right away. The group was deep into the forest; about two kilometers from where they came from, lifting small rocks and blowing leaves that concealed the ground.
“Did you find an Earth’s Core?” Anet was the first to ask and besides her the rest of the group waited in anticipation for good news.
“No, I didn’t”. Zax waved his hand casually, shattering the hope of his friends. “But wait… Big sis taught me something which might help…” Zax said vaguely on purpose. Anything that was related to his training could not be shared with others without his Mor’s permission first.
Focusing with his inner minds, Zax used his Soul Sense to the best of his abilities to grasp some of the secrets of his surroundings. An invisible force in the shape of a bubble released from Zax’s soul and surveyed the space in its small domain.
Zax frowned, though his Soul Sense was much more helpful than all his other senses in this situation, it was still very limited. Zax walked like a nomad, not doing his baffled friends the favor of illuminating their wondering minds of what he was doing, nor paying attention to them at all. Using his Soul Sense was very straining and demanded Zax to maintain his utmost level of concentration. Then again, after ten minutes it undeniably paid off marvelously!
“Hahaha!” Zax laughed as his hands dug into the ground.
“Show it to us, Zax, what are you digging?”
“Zax, come on. You have been quiet for some time. Did you find an Earth’s Core? What did Miss Zetsa taught you?”
“Dig there!” Zax pointed his finger without even raising his gaze from the hard soil. “Pick a sharp stone to cut it. It’s just beneath the rightmost tree’s root!”
Zax dug nine centimeters before the tip of his index finger felt the buried, roundish smooth surface. The light reflected from the smooth surface of the first Earth’s that he found mirror the exquisite mist that was trap inside.
“By our glorious Supreme Ruler!” Weysey cried. “There are two! Guys, there are two Earth’s Cores under the root!”
“What?” Even Zax was in shock. He was sure that there was only one Earth’s Core buried two centimeters under the bulk root.
“One here, two less than a meter over there!” Mi, the shyest member of the group, gasped stupefied. “Amazing, Zax, you are too amazing”. She said in total admiration and jumped on Zax’s back.
“Ah?” Zax felt awkward.
“Amazing!” Dane burst laughing. “O, almighty lord Zax, allow me to show you my deepest affection as well”. He jumped on Zax with perky lips, ready to kiss him.
Before Zax had the chance to react. “Me too, hahaha, make place, Mi, Dane”. Merly butted in with more than fifty kilos of pure fat dangling in his stomach as he prepared himself to jump on Zax.
Sensing an impending disaster, with a swift motion Zax pushed Mi and Dance off his back rolled with the newfound Earth’s Core in his right hand before Merly crashed on him.
“Stop it!” Serah reprimanded the three overexcited group members. As a matter of fact, she, too, was beyond words a moment ago. However, when she saw how friendly Mi let herself be with Zax, it pissed her somewhat.
“Are you okay?” Anet, much like Serah, felt uneasy seeing how affectionate Mi was with Zax. Nonetheless, she was too reserved to show it.
“Yeah, sure”. Zax got up with a grin. He retrieved his Soul Sense and shifted his consciousness back to the outer mind. “Look”. He lifted his hand for Anet and Serah, the two closest to him, to see the thing which everyone currently in cave zero thirty nine coveted.
“Hahaha, Zax, if you can repeat whatever you did to find these Earth’s Cores our search will end earlier than we expected”. Zushi and Weysey stepped forward together, each holding a round and brownish Earth’s Core.
“You are exaggerating, Zushi, I only found two Earth’s Cores. The third on was unexpected”.
A bit reluctant, Zushi and Weysey passed the two Earth’s Cores to Zax. “Which one are you planning to take for yourself?” Zushi asked.
Seeing the envious glances of his friends Zax sighed inwardly and looked at the three Earth’s Cores in his hands. He was interested in the Earth’s Core that he missed. Using his Soul Sense one more time, he was curious if he could perceive its existence. Oddly enough, there were no problems sensing it at all. His Soul Sense detected three round objects with smooth surfaces. Now if Zax had a soul comparable to that of a Mist Lord’s, he Soul Sense could then have penetrated the Earth’s Core’s shells to determine its quality.
“The seven of you can compete for all three”. Zax gave the three Earth’s Cores back to Zushi. He decided to relinquish is right as the one who discover them, according to their prior agreement, in favor of his friends. “We’ll find more anyway”. Though he sounded confident, Zax knew that he was insanely lucky to already find three Earth’s Cores. Soul Sense or not, it will not be easy to find another five.
“Zax…” Amazed, Serah wanted to sway his mind, but Zax turned his back before she could say anything.
“Are you sure Zax?” Dane asked.
“Yeah, don’t be overconfident. We are not the first group in this year event. More than ten thousand participants already were here before us…” Zushi reminded.
Although each of his friends tried to convince him, Zax knew that they also coveted these three Earth’s Cores very much. The chances of them being of better quality than the ones the event’s organizers have kept aside were a lot higher.
“Forget it. I’ve already made up my mind. Do rock paper scissor already, the bracelets show that we still have more than twenty hours. Who knows, maybe in another three hours we will find three more Earth’s Core”.
Having nothing more to say, the seven looked at each other and raised their hand.
“I wonder who will win…” Zax saw a big rock with flat surface and sat on it. “Let’s see if I can predict what each will do”. The eight were pretty close to him, within the range of his Soul Sense. “Eh!” Zax cried astonished beyond belief. He jumped on his feet, distracting his friends from the first round of rock paper scissor.
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