“Hahaha!” Carl laughed. “What are you saying, friend of the Zuzubare tribe? No need to yield in a friendly exchange, but oh my, who knew that you are just a Mist Lord. You ended up in such a poor state because of my impotent perception. Rest easy, to make up for my wrongdoings me and my little brother will settle in this grove until you will recuperate”.
The beak of the Zuzubare tribe member paled as he heard Carl imposing himself so nicely and with fake consideration. “Se… Senior! Don’t bother! Don’t bother!” He shrieked.
“Hahaha!” Carl laughed aloud shamelessly. “Of course it won’t be a bother”. His aura flickered and his body appeared next to the parrot head. “Let me give you a hand, friend. Little brother Zax, go fetch us couple of ripe grapes. We should celebrate this blessed encounter with such a welcoming friend!”
“Sure…” Zax replied. ‘I’ll ask him later’. This ordeal was way off compared the usual “come and go” from all the groves they have been to and Zax wondered what was it that made Carl act differently now rather than in previous encounters.
“So many…” Zax’s eyes lingered on the amount of ripe Blood Red Grapes that were on the trees. Less than a hundred meters into the grove he already saw plenty of them, tens followed by hundreds! “We struck it rich!” He could not contain his excitement.
At first, when Carl told him to look for ripe grape for a celebratory reason, Zax wanted to know where the thrifty Carl has gone to. Now he did not care.
“Oh… you return so fast”. Carl was impressed, or maybe acted impress.
‘Acting’. Zax guessed, basing his assumption over the time they traveled together and got to know each other.
Despite the many ripe grapes, Zax decided to bring only three, one for each. Until his and Carl’s souls will reach a hundred percent adaption to the savagery, no matter what, it was better to conserve. “There are hundreds more, Carl”. An ear to ear smile adorned Zax’s face.
Hearing this, Carl pupils constricted. Even though he exchanged some words with the Zuzubare tribe member when Zax was way and had some sort of an idea as to how many ripe grapes they would find in this grove, Zax’s discovery was beyond his expatiations.
“And you brought just three?” Carl maintained his gleeful demeanor. Next to him the parrot head looked like the cave’s ceiling fell on him and there was nothing that he could do but get used to the weight or do something wrong and let it crush him.
“Never mind”, Carl said. “Little brother Zax, say hello, this Zuzubare tribe member’s name is Zri. Zri, my little brother, Zax”. He introduced.
“Nice to meet you, Zri”. Zax said.
“Za…” Zri said in return. He could not read Zax mist cultivation level so he either was not much, maybe like him, or too formidable.
“Zax, Zri is a bird type beast, so it’s hard for him to speak. Only because he is a Zuzubare he can utter some words that he took the time to learn”. Carl explained.
“Oh”, Zax abruptly remembered Shulip, and how she could also just whistle because of her vocal cords. “Then don’t force yourself”. He told Zri.
“Good, now that we all know each other, let’s drink”. Carl raised his grape, punctured it and was the first to drink.
Zax was happy to do the same and Zri had no choice but to comply.
“Back to train! Back to train!” Zri shrieked. Although he was still hurt from the exchange with Carl, the grove was big, nearly two thousand square meters, and since he did not trust the two and had nothing within his powers to do to retaliate or argue, he chose to leave them be, while staying as far away from them as possible.
“If you insist”, Carl said. “We will stay over here for the time being”. Since he did not know the size of the grove, Carl had yet determined where will be most comfortable to accommodate him and Zax.
Zri left upset but quietly.
“How did you know that he was not a Core Master?!” Zax hurriedly asked after Zri left.
“Hahah… Zax, little brother Zax, you are nothing but inexperienced!” Carl taunted. He then shocked Zax. “I didn’t. It was only a speculation”.
“Explain”. Zax more demanded than asked. Since when did the cautious Carl act according to speculations? And would not it also put him in danger?
“Don’t frown. I had more than eighty percent chance of being right and I was!” Carl tapped on his shoulder to reassure him. “Zri is from the Zuzubare tribe, one of the sovereign tribes in the inner territory of Valgarel. Among the bird type beasts, the Zuzubare tribe members have a unique trait which allows them to change the color of their aura and its oppressiveness to either that of a level below or above their level of cultivation. Unlike true experts, Zri was also quick to try to intimidate us. Because of it, I figured that he merely used his tribe’s trait and most likely his soul is not even in the Core Master level. He probably carries treasures given from an elder of his tribe that enable him to change the color of his eyes and deal with the savagery until his soul will adapt to it. This grove was also probably left for him by a tribe elder”.
“So it was like this…” Zax understood. “But how could you have known that the elder was not here? And won’t he come eventually?”
“If the elders was here, he would not have let Zri, a Mist Lord, risk himself by greeting us. And if he’ll return here in the future… well, that simple, we’ll just have to escape as fast as we can”.
Relying on the plenty ripe Blood Red Grapes in the grove, within half a month the souls of both Zax and Carl had finally attained a hundred percent adaptability to the savagery. On Zax’s side, the progress was especially swift thanks to Carl teaching him his nine point star adaption technique. It was two levels above his most advanced bridge structure in effectiveness. And once Zax combined the two to a nine point star bridge, his adaption progress became frightening.
Due to the complete adaption, the bubble that encompassed their sea of consciousness faded and the two could once more use their Soul Sense. Still, because the savagery was a perpetual force that influenced the inhabitants of the Savage Cave regardless of how well they adapted to it, the two could only manifest a tenth of their Soul Sense’s range and continued to consume ripe grapes.
That aside, the two’s main goal from the start was not to adapt their soul to the savagery, but to cultivate and hone their souls in the best environment for soul training in all of New Earth. Thus, the two finally started to train in their respective soul refining technique.
Zax’s fist landed on the protective layer of mist energy that surrounded Carl and repeals appeared on it like waves.
The second fist penetrated through the mantle and sent Carl flying.
Carl gritted his teeth, waved his hand, forming shapes with his fingers and mist energy at the same time, a seal reformed from the remnants of the mantle and rays of azure light shot at Zax.
‘A long range attack!’ Other than those of his Master, Zax did not see long range attacks of a Mist User and Carl’s were also different than his Master’s.
Zax jumped and wriggled to avoid the rays attack. He was all too familiar with them from previous spars he had with Carl, and although they could not hurt him badly, they still hurt a lot.
On a side note, from sparing with Carl and battling with the savages, since coming to the first Savage Cave all of Zax’s clothes and the fur coat he received from his Master were mutilated. If it was not for Carl showing him how to make a beast skin loincloth, Zax would have been completely naked by now.
The long range attacks missed and Carl was forced to divert those he could to the ground so the grove would not be harmed.
“Remember, easy on the explosions!” Zax halted on the branch of a tree and reminded Carl while smirking. The grove did not possess a repealing force and the savages can be attracted by the noise.
“Inexperienced toddlers should mind their own business”. Carl replied. His azure aura shimmered and mist energy shrouded his arms and legs. “Come at me now!” His four limbs quadrupled in size, black azure fur covered them and fearsome claws grew from his fingers. Carl looked as if he fought to restrain a ground shaking growl and pounced to Zax’s direction.
“’Assault Of The Leader’ Martial technique, close range attack… when are you going to show me your true beast form!” Zax shouted back.
Yes. Carl was a beast in human form. He revealed it to Zax when their souls adapted to the savagery. Why?
“I won’t tell you further than this about myself. If you are a Martial cultivator, venture to the wild yourself and learn on your own”. He said back then. At most he was willing to explain that beasts have three forms “Animalistic”, “Humanoid” and “Human”, but not all beasts are able to transform by simply wanting to. He was not willing to show Zax his humanoid or animalistic forms, but confessed that when a beast dies it changes to its animalistic form.
Carl ignored Zax and the two clashed.
Punches, kicks, slashes, mist attacks, physical attacks…
They clashed in the air, fell back on a tree and launched themselves once more.
“You’ll never beat me in this form!” Zax said. After reaching the Intermediate phase of the bodily maneuvers, every move he made generated the pinnacle of his bodily movement. Every fiber of his being moved in harmony no matter what was the command Zax’s brain initiated.
He caught Carl’s arm and with great force pulled them from protecting his chest. Carl’s legs hindered Zax’s so kicking was out of the question. Zax released his grip from Carl’s right arm and before it could defend his chest, shot a straight punch to Carl’s stomach.
“Argh!” Carl felt the punch turning his internals. Instantly a surge of mist energy filled his abdomen, stabilized the internals and circulated the remaining force.
“Brat!” Carl squealed. “But I won’t let you see my true form even if you’ll beat me to a pulp, hehehe…” Carl knew that Zax’s display was due to his dissatisfaction with him holding back.
“Then you’ll keep losing to me”. Zax retorted unhappily. “…are you okay?” Nevertheless, his last attack was driven more by an impulse than the desire to win in the spar and unintentionally he put all his power behind it.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine”. Carl assured him. “Though it seems that you get stronger the more you train in those bodily maneuvers of yours… be that as it may, despite being faster than me and slightly stronger, you better avoid real fights with Core Masters. The powers of Core Masters vary and more complicated to assess than in lower levels”.
“Not sure that you can say it in your state…” Zax taunted now that he knew that Carl was fine.
“Say whatever you want, I won’t show my true form to an inexperienced brat”.
Thirty five days since finding the grove.
Zax sat in a meditative position while practicing Adraak Meditation.
‘I can see it!’ His voice echoed in his consciousness.
Over a thousand pieces of spiritual knowledge from his subliminal mind were laid before him. All were fully appreciated. Even more so new fragments of the entity were scattered for him to get to and study, but he did not address them. A new insight was within his grasp and for the last two days Zax battled with himself to not lose it.
‘This one and this one. This and that, the other one back there, also. One more. Yes! I need that and… that, no! That!’ Whether it was due to the benefits of cultivating the soul in a Savage Cave or the consequences of a hard work or maybe his adaption technique, Zax finally gained the insight to construct the pieces into the entity’s original shape.
A day, two days three days… ten days Zax sat with eyes close, unknowingly being watched over by Carl who suspended his own training, till finally his eyes opened and his face beamed with gratification.
“Only a hundred and ninety six pieces fitted…” He complained, but it did not sound like it.
Out of the one thousand two hundred and seventeen pieces that he fully appreciated, he could only fit together a hundred and ninety six pieces of the great puzzle, barely anything of the real shape of the entity. Nevertheless, when the hundredth piece linked with to the ninety ninth, his soul broke through the bottleneck to the Mist Master level. Seven hours later he gave up, for now, on the puzzle after the ninety sixth piece.
“Congratulation, little brother Zax”, since they arrived to the grove Carl did not stop calling him like this. “I can’t assess how far your soul advanced, but by looking at your face I can tell that you made a breakthrough”.
“Hahaha!” Zax got up and walked over to Carl. “I did, my soul broke through the Beginner phase of the Mist Master level!” After getting accustomed to each other and recognizing their friendship, although refraining from talking about where he came from, Zax already told Carl that his soul is actually in the Core Breaker level and because of his own traits, its abilities matched those of a Core Master.
“That is splendid. Maybe you should start training as a Core Master from now on”. Carl explained vaguely to Zax the purpose of soul training for Core Master. Only saying that it is not about raising the soul’s level and before starting he should discuss it with his Master.
“I will, but Master told me to hone my soul before returning and crossing one level doesn’t seem to me enough. I’ll keep meditating until I’ll make it to the Intermediate phase of the Mist Master”. Zax made up his mind. Either that or he will return before the three years’ time his Master’s big brother gave him will be up. ‘Three months is the longer that I’ll stay’. He estimated.
“If you came here to hone your soul, then generally speaking, you achieved that when your soul adapted to the savagery. Pay attention…” As Carl finished talking an immense killing intent surged from him and invaded Zax’s consciousness.
The terrifying killing intent was thick and suffocating, however with a nudge of his soul energy it dispersed like a warm breeze.
Before Zax could vent his anger for the sudden assault, Carl threw his hands up apologetically. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I did that just to show you. By surpassing the savagery of the first Savage Cave, among other things, you can now withstand the oppressing killing intent of those that are not above the Core Master realm. Though, that does not mean that you can cross now to the second Savage Cave”. Carl said.
“The Core Master realm?” Around this point Zax stopped listening.
In truth, Zax did not know much about the Martial path after breaking through the Core Master level. Since he was accepted as an apprentice by his Master and began cultivating the body, he no longer wondered about things beyond his reach and concentrated about the goal laid before him. Now hearing this new phrase from Carl, his curiosity arose.
“A brat in the Mist Master level should not probe”. Carl waved his raised hands to the sides. “This is a matter between a Master and apprentice. Regardless of how capable you are, you had not even made it to the last level before the Core Master’s!” He rebuked. “Besides, it’s beyond the point. If you think of staying until you’ll reach the Intermediate phase to hone your soul then let me divert you toward something more vital for a Martial cultivator”. Carl knew of Zax’s level of cultivation with regard to his body and soul, but was unaware how long it took him to reach those levels. Still, he was able to guess that Zax was younger than him by a great margin, which was why he felt that it was appropriate for him to instruct his companion of two and a half months. “You can keep cultivating the soul and practice your bodily maneuvers, but until the day you’ll go back to your Master, use the savage force of the cave to explore the morality of your actions under its influence”.
“You mean whether it’s right for me to kill or not?” Zax asked to be sure. In his time in the Savage Cave he thought about and developed his own concept over the matter.
“Not just that, also how to accept lives that you take. But bluntly, yes. You have been in the Savage Cave for a short time, and soon after you arrived, you found a shelter to aid you. When we traveled I saw you fight and kill humans and beasts, but even raged by the savagery you seemed to cogitate before each kill. To be honest, I’m always saying that you are inexperienced because things that you say or do or just to make fun of you. But, the truth is that you are inexperienced and for a long time you will stay that way, even when you’ll accumulate as much knowledge as I have and more. That is why I advise you, instead of answering that you know why or when to kill and how to deal with it, continue to ponder about it until you’ll leave to your Master”. In his finishing words Carl implored Zax to listen, it was the evidence that he himself learned to care for the boy.
“It will take me a month to finish my next training session. But when I’ll be free, let’s go search for the plants that you are after. Till then, just think about what I said”.
Carl immediately turned, indicating that he is going to a closed doors training. He knew that for his words to sink in Zax’s mind, for the time being, he should leave him alone and as soon as he can. By doing so, even if Zax will want to retort, his words would be directed at no one but him to ponder about.
‘Killing for survival…’ Carl, apparently, did rattle Zax’s conception. But to reevaluate it after all the lives he took and carried by this belief… ‘Not now, not today’. He just made a breakthrough. This was a cause for celebration, not a fitting time to submerge in doubt over depressing subjects.
In a month time, although Zax solely trained on the bodily maneuvers, dispersing and converging the energy past the second sequence was as difficult as making a breakthrough in cultivation, as if before the first move of the third sequence there was a bottleneck that he could not perceive.
A month passed by quickly.
“Are you prepared to go?” Carl returned for his closed doors training, saying nothing about his last discussion with Zax.
“I am”. Whether for the plant or any other reason, Zax was eager to go out into the wildness of the Savage Cave. In the grove he could not cultivate his body, the bottleneck of the third sequence was too enigmatic and whenever he wanted to cultivate his soul, Carl’s words echoed in his head and he began to mull over things that he already made his mind on.
From left to right and up ahead the calls of the savages reverberated in the cave. It was not that in the grove the trio, Zax, Carl and the aloof Zri, had peace and quiet from those savage sounds. But the acknowledgment that for the most part they were safe made it as if all outside sounds diminished to whispers or absolute silence before resonating beyond the grove’s borderline of trees.
“The best place to find noteworthy plants should be around the entrance to the second Savage Cave. It’s the energy of the second cave that supplements the truly unique flora, while the force and the bloodshed of the first cave supports the growth of the Blood Red Grapes. Let’s go”. Carl explained and moved out first.