Staring at the rock he sat on, and then confirming yet again with his Soul Sense, a stupefied expression spread on Zax’s face.
A stash of Earth’s Cores! A cluster of more than one hundred Earth’s Cores! Some embedded in the rock, some underneath it.
“Such a great number! At least one must be! At least one!” Among the so many Earth’s Cores Zax nervously said to himself. “D… D… At least one golden pillow, D level Earth’s Core!” The one in a million Earth’s Core… Was it really impossible?
“Zax?” His friends asked. Looking at his fervent behavior a daring thought popped up in their mind which they were too afraid to say aloud. “More Earth’s Cores?!”
Ignoring his friends, Zax pulled his right arm to his waist. A concentration of Qi swirled in his upper right side of the body.
“Ah!” Zax bellowed, throwing a straight punch at the rook.
The rock shivered however there was not even a sign of a crack.
Seeing how solid the rock was and how his punch barely moved it, Zax did not care and readied himself to punch once more.
Zax’s punch connected with the rock. The accumulated Qi in his arm strengthened his muscles, bones and toughen his skin, yet the rock still only shivered.
The reasons for Zax’s inability to break the rock were not because the condense amount of Earth’s Cores that somehow affected the rock structure. The rock itself had nothing special to it. Zax’s inability was due to the low level of his Qi, his lack of technique in both controlling his Qi and the proper movement of his body and the use of the two simultaneously.
At the moment Zax was not aware of his gauche internal and external properties nor had the guidance and time to learn how to be more proficient in any of them.
In the third punch Zax’s fingers began to tingle.
After the forth punch all five finger were numb.
“Tell us, Zax, did you find more…?” Weysey asked.
The seven completely forgotten about the rock paper scissor and the three Earth’s Core they had to compete for. Zax wild manner upset them. Among the seven only three were familiar with Zax’s fierceness and even their hearts shook each time a “BAM” echoed. If it was them, broken bones would have bulge from their hands after the first punch, that is, if they had to guts to punch with will all of their might like Zax.
“Gather rocks, help him!” Zushi instructed the others. As the most poised he came to the decision. He trusted Zax intuition and the weird technique, or what not, that Miss Zetsa taught him in order to find Earth’s Cores.
Immediately the others started to look for sturdy rocks that they could lift, however…
“Can we even get close?” Mi hesitated.
The rock in question was big enough for one person to sit on, but not for five to hit at the same time and Zax did not leave any opening for the others to join in.
After the sixth punch Zax fell on his butt and a small crack finally appeared on the rock. Panting Zax looked at his right hand. It seems that even with the support of his Qi he could not avoid breaking skin and shedding some blood.
“Why’d you have to go so far?!” Surprisingly Anet beat Serah in being the first one to scold Zax. “Give me your hand”. She sat down next to him and from her backpack took out antiseptic spray and a bandage roll.
“It’s not hurting”. Zax said with a smile. He finally cracked the rock. Unfortunately, he dispersed too much Qi executing his unrefined technique and had to rest before his body could replenish his internal reservoirs. Thankfully, the nutrition tablet helped speed up the process.
“Try to break the rock were I cracked it”. Zax pointed at the line that appeared on the rock’s surface. “Don’t force yourself and be careful”. Since his friends could not use Qi to strengthen the skin of their hands, it was clear to him that even if by smashing rock against rock the force of the thrust will suffice to hurt their hand worse than his.
Dane was the first to check out the rock. He looked through the crack but it was too thin. “Are there really Earth’s Cores in there?” He surveyed the stone that he held, it weighted approximately four kilos. To use it to break a rock that seemed to weight ninety kilos was exhausting just by thinking of all the efforts involved.
“Trust me, it won’t take too long and you’ll see for yourself”. Zas reassured his friends. He was also sure that with the great number of Earth’s Cores inside the rock, it was not that much solid inside. The crack that he made appeared thin and meaningless on the outside, but on the inside…
Zax used his Soul Sense to assess how deep the fracture spread. “Should be deep”. He said to himself. Though the surface of the rock cracked only after the sixth punch, it was probable that the crack initiated from the inside. “Eh!” Zax sprang to his feet. “Where are they? Where are they?” He was utterly frantic. “The Earth’s Cores”, he cried. “I can’t find them… Not inside the rock. Not beneath it. There were more than a hundred. WHERE ARE THEY?!”
“A hundred Earth’s Cores!” The seven gasped. Such a ridiculous notion was on the verge of insanity.
With no regard to his current physical and internal state, Zax accumulated his Qi instinctively in the right half of his body. His face went pale, but it happened so fast. He no longer repeated the same kind of movement for a fist and a punch. He unconsciously remembered a certain move that he saw; watching the Earth’s Core’s showdowns and his inner mind gave the instruction. The fingers in his right hand stretched, his hand actually formed the shape of a spearhead, the rotation of his body originated from the toe in his right foot and from there his Qi surged up with the rotation.
“Graah!” Zax roared.
Zax’s right hand penetrated through the crack. His hand sank into the rock up to the wrist. In a scorch sound the rock split in two. The shocking thing was that inside there was truly nothing.
“It can’t be!” Zax was dazed. Blood covered his fingers and dripped from them to ground. Using his Soul Sense Zax ran around, searching for the lost Earth’s Cores.
“Stop him!” Dane called. He was sorry that he asked Zax if there were Earth’s Cores in the rock. Because of him, he thought, Zax went crazy and broke two of his own fingers, maybe more. “Help me stop him!” Dane grab Zax by the shoulders and Merly helped him. “Zax! Your hand, Zax! Stop struggling!” The two screamed at him.
Zushi and Weysey also tried to block Zax from the front, but the look in his eyes was strange, as if he did not see or hear them. To just two of them Zax was too strong to stop, but with Zushi and Weysey they managed to pin him to the ground. It also helped that he did not fight back and lost consciousness.
Five hours later.
Zax regained consciousness. Opening his eyes he saw the trees’ branches above him. Beneath his head he felt something soft, a backpack. Moving himself a little he found his friends around him, digging, moving rocks, tearing roots.
“Wha-” An excruciating pain in his right hand made him gulp his words. Zax looked at his right hand. A hardening bandage was wrapped around it and prevented him from moving his fingers. He also felt something cold covering his hand, but could not tell what it was just by feeling.
“Hey, Zax woke up”. Mi that was searching nearest to him informed the others.
“Idiot! Stupid! Brute!” Serah cursed Zax. Her eyes were red, she held back her tears. She did not want to cry for the idiot who scared her. Once was more than enough…
“What? Why did I do?” Zax asked baffled. Serah and Anet were holding each other hands. Zushi, Dane, Weysey and Merly also stared at him angrily. The seven gathered together around Zax.
“What sort of technique did Miss Zetsa taught you to discover Earth’s Cores”? Zushi inquired. He was sure that Zax’s method was more than a trick, picking up an irregularity in the surrounding that indicated the presence of an Earth’s Core. Definitely a technique!
After Zax lost consciousness they all started to speculate. A technique to find Earth’s Cores… How come they never heard of such thing? Since the seven of them enrolled to post Core School, most of what they were learning was how to prepare themselves to the greatest event in a coreless child’s life, how to conduct themselves in this event and what to do after, when they will hold their one and only Earth’s Core in their hands.
The curriculum was identical to an almost equal extent in all schools. If there was a technique, a method to better the chances of the younger generation would they been kept secret? Only if it was dangerous, the seven reached to the same conclusion.
Zax was lost of words. What sort of technique did he learn from his big sis? None that was related to finding Earth’s Cores. All he used was his Soul Sense, but he could not tell that to his friend so he had to make up an excuse.
“Never mind that”. Zax replied at last in an attempt to change the subject. “What have you done to the roots and earth?” His friends looked like minute size land workers, soiled from head to toe.
“We were searching your Earth’s Cores”. Wesey said as though it was obvious.
“My Earth’s Cores? The hundred Earth’s Cores!” Zax remembered. He was about to use his Soul Sense, but he noticed the rook that he split to two.
The insides of the two halves were completely solid. “The fracture…” Zax searched for what gave him the confidence to put his all for breaking the, estimated, ninety kilos rock. “How deep did the fracture go in? Was there a fracture at all?” There were no Earth’s Cores inside, so the internal structure of the rock could not be anything but solid. The crack that he made with his punches, it was as deep as the eyes close, that is, not at all.
One on hand Zax was extremely disappointment and confuses, he definitely sensed them, the Earth’s Cores, but after going through so much trouble, where were they? On the other hand he was absolutely astonished. “I split a solid rock in one move that I unintentionally remembered and never before practiced?”
The punches were the product of a basic Qi utilization technique that he learnt from his big sister to strengthen a specific part of his body. In contrast, the spearhead strike was a genuine offensive technique that he merely saw on screen. Zax did not even know the name of the spearhead strike and when he thought to review what he did with his inner mind it was too hazy. What he tried to remember was more than sights and sounds; it was the concerted movement of his body and Qi. To survey the past of these two profound aspects was still beyond his soul’s level.
“Forget about it”. Zushi said to everyone. “Zax awake now. Anet, Merly and Dane won each of the three Earth’s Cores, unless you do want one of them, Zax?”
“I’m good”. Zax replied, got up on his feet and picked his backpack.
“Then let’s keep searching. We have more than thirteen hours to find five more Earth’s Cores. We can go deeper into the cave, or go to the direction of the Hooked Beak rock. If we get there under a hour we might catch Miss Zetsa and she will appraise the three Earth’s Cores. Maybe we’ll find more on our way”.
“Let’s keep heading deeper. It’s not like we have additional Earth’s Cores to replace the ones we already got if their quality is bad. We should keep searching and go in the direction that Zax found the three Earth’s Cores”. Dane said. He was right on mark. With only three Earth’s Cores, even if each of them had an Earth’s Core, it was pointless to assess their quality, at most for personal knowledge.
“Everyone agree with Dane’s suggestion?” Zushi asked.
Everyone nodded. Somehow and somewhere during their search, the role of the group’s leader was passed on to him without anyone noticing. It did not even crossed Zax’s mind that Zushi did not ask for his approval, and Zushi also did not realize that he was the one who led the decisions making. Zax from the beginning was good in being just a member of the group, and Zushi just wanted a righteous search for the whole group. Taking one’s position without him dwelling on it was part of the beautiful simplicity of a child’s mind.
“A friend of mine told me that the best Earth’s Cores can be found around the unsafe zone”. Zax recalled Take’s advice. “We don’t need to enter the unsafe zone, just a few kilometers from it should be fine”. He hastily added.
A distant location but with a higher success rate for finding quality Earth’s Cores was as good or better location than anywhere around. The only thing they had to lose was time. Than again, at worse, they will return late from the search, but the Earth’s Cores that they will find will eventually still be theirs.
“Sounds good, but it’s really far. We should make haste”. Zushi smiled.
Zushi’s group of eight proceeded in direction of the two Earth’s Cores that Weysey dug out. They kept searching with their eyes alone since they wanted to move quickly.
A short unproductive hour had passed.
“It’s useless. That group went east of us-” Mi talked about a group that they encountered around twenty minutes ago.
They were a group of four girls and two boys. When they met no one bothered to exchange any words. Each group was satisfied with the number of its members and neither suspected that the other already found Earth’s Cores, or so it seemed.
“West of us”. Zushi corrected her. “East is the other side. And why are you mentioning them? Do you want us to follow?”
“We can… can’t we?” Being asked for her opinion in a matter that regarded the course of the whole group has put Mi in an awkward position to her personality. “They went northwest…” She waited for Zushi to correct her again, in case the second time she was wrong. Zushi said nothing and so she continued. “They did not look around for Earth’s Cores when they passed us. It felt like they had a place in mind-”
“We also have a place in mind”. Weysey said.
“Yes, but we are keep searching for Earth’s Cores and it slowing us down”.
“You’ve got a point”. Zushi backed Mi. “Northwest will not set us out of our course in a great margin. Actually, it’s not like any of us knows the way to the unsafe zone. Amm… I’m up with going northwest. After all, we’ll still be heading to the opposite direction from tunnel three hundred and twelve”.
“If Zushi says so…” Weysey shrugged his shoulders.
“Dane, Anet, Zax, Merly, Serah?” Zushi asked.
“I’m fine either way”.
“Of course you are. You already got an Earth’s Core. I’m fine as well”.
“Zax?” Zushi turned to Zax who strolled at the back of the group. “What’s up? You did not speak a lot since you woke up”.
Zax’s expression was fixated on the ground. When he heard Zushi calls him he raised he head as if he woke up from a dream. “What? Yes. Let’s go northwest… sorry, I’m just thinking”. He said and lowered his reflective gaze to the ground once more.
When the group changed course northwest, Zax was preoccupied with pondering at the back.
An Earth’s Core that in retrospect should have been in the range of his Soul Sense he missed… A cluster of Earth’s Cores that essentially was not there he supposedly discovered… What was there, his Soul Sense missed and what was not, he found.
“What’s wrong with my Soul Sense?” Zax pondered. “The Earth’s Cores… I was sure that inside the rock and beneath it were more than a hundred Earth’s Cores, but when I checked again they completely disappeared and then I lost control of myself”. The scenes of him parting the rock, frantically looking for the absent Earth’s Core, ignoring the calls of his friends and fainting played in his inner mind over and over.
“Did I really lose control?” As his insight sharpened Zax began to question. When it happened, was his mind not as clear as it is now? “I was fully aware”. Parting a ninety kilo rock? “Am I not the Tal of my remarkable big sis? With my best it’s not impossible”. He started answering his own doubts. Frantically searching? “How can I not look where a hundred Earth’s Core disappeared to?” Ignoring the calls of his friends? “They don’t have a Soul Sense… they could not understand, I didn’t ignore them, finding the Earth’s Core was just too urgent”. Fainting? “Big sis told me not to exhaust my Qi”.
Nevertheless, and with all the answers that he came up with, Zax still hesitated to try out his Soul Sense. There was one thing that was tied to his use of Soul Sense which scared him, one question. The environmental essence of cave zero thirty nine, a beasts’ cave. “Am I incapable of dealing with it for a prolonged time?”
After Zax’s soul advanced to level F, he did not have the time to experiment with his new found ability that he suddenly was able to control. Using his Soul Sense to search for Earth’s Core was truly a brilliant idea, but was he so wretch that he was limited to a place where the environmental essence was less wild than the most meager of the beasts’ caves, a border cave?
Zax refused to believe it. “The environmental essence of this cave, of any border cave, if not before then I’ll do it right now. I’ll surpass it!”
A shimmer glistened in Zax’s resolute eyes, his Soul Sense explosively emerged and extended to a radius of a hundred and thirty five centimeters.