Kartius sat inside a fifty meters deep gorge, shrouded in lava like smoky mist. In his hands he was clasping a black sphere, a Black Core, and on his chest, up where his clavicle was, a lone azure gate was glowing.
“Hmm…” Kartius circulated his breath. It helped to bare the pain a little longer, and when it did not, it was good to have the indissoluble Black Core in his hands, to alleviate some of the stress…
‘Absolved from Pain and Destruction… Zax, my Martial son…’ For a year and a half now, whenever Kartius was by himself, in another session of training, he pondered about Zax and the inconceivable heaven given gift in his dantian and directed each thought to the Black Core in his possession.
‘At the beginning, big brother was interested in the Black Core no less than I am. But because of his condition he had to let it go, it was useless for him. So I entered a closed doors training to take you for my own’.
His hands clenched the Black Core without conserving strength. His soul could not support him, to lessen the Pain – it was part of the burden of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement formation in his body. But matters that weighed on his mind made it possible to avert his attention.
‘Coming out with no results, I convinced big brother to let Martial niece Zetsa bring her little brother to his cave. Who would have thought that afterwards I’ll boldly take him as my first apprentice…? There was no other way for me to investigate the effects of a Black Core on a body that received it… But it turned out that apart from Zax, no one can detect the Black Core or what he proclaims it had done to the Earth’s Core in his dantian. If I was not present there myself and saw the same shape and size cavities on the flat mountain wall and sensed the radiance reforming his Qi and Qi channels, how could I believe it myself?’
Kartius got up and fought back the instinct to call forth a layer of defensive mantel. The mist energy of a Core Master will do little to nothing against this level of smoky mist anyway. Instead, Kartius started to exercise sequences of bodily maneuvers.
If Zax were to see his Master right now, his mouth would have hung opened.
Kartius’s bodily might was on a rampage. Attacking was not his intention, but where he passed rocks and earth split apart and then shattered to smithereens and the gorge, in no time, gained the appearance of a battlefield.
‘And today”, Kartius kept reflecting, ‘after a year and a half, before I was able to conceive substantial finds that will help me attain the energy of the Black Core, I actually see and care for him as a son…’
As a Martial cultivator, Kartius reached a fork on his path.
It took him hundreds of years to reach his current place, and during this period of time, in terms of cultivation, he only had himself to worry about. That was one side of the path, the selfish and egoistic, lonesome path that will benefit more the cultivation of a practitioner of the Martial path.
The other side was nearly identical. The difference was that if a practitioner were to choose it, sacrifices will have to be made on his or her expanse, to support the growth of someone else, a new generation.
Kartius was swaying, for a certain amount of time favoring one side over the other and then swaying back to the inception of the fork.
“You broke through the fourth gate!” The voice declared jubilantly in Zax’s head. “Magnificent! You are magnificent, little Zax!”
“The Core Breaker gate!” Zax entered his sea of consciousness. The fourth gate was in the midst of fading. Black spikes sprout from Zax’s body. The fifth gate’s azure radiance transformed to black. “Hahaha! I made it! In just a year and a half… I’m a Core Breaker, I’m a Core Breaker!” Zax shouted and expressed his joy by showing off his new bodily capabilities.
“What ridiculous things are you spouting? There is no Core Breaker that can match you. Have you forgotten what your Master said? Even Mist Users in Beginner phase of the Mist Lord level cannot bully you now!” The voice proclaimed as if it was it that achieved the breakthrough.
“Ah, who is it?” Zax took notice of the odd voice and spread his Soul Sense around, but could not discover anyone in its radius.
“Don’t bother, little Zax, you won’t be able to find me”. The voice said in amusement. “You are cute, but I don’t think that we are ready to meet”.
Someone that could converse with him without being found… Zax thought of the possibilities of whom it could be, knowing that whoever it was, the feminine voice signified that it was a woman and definitely a senior on the Martial path.
“Senior, are you by any chance big sis Zetsa’s elder Martial sister?” Zax asked. Out of his big sister Martial brothers and sister, Zax had yet to meet two of Zetsa’s elder Martial apprentices. One of which, Zax remembered, was a sister and he suspected that the voice belonged to her.
“Little Zetsa is also cute”, the voice replied. “But to me she is more than a little sister”.
“Stop calling me ‘Senior’. Would you call the man that hurt you a senior just because he is older and stronger?”
“The man who hurt me?” Zax was confused. “Who are you referring to?” It sounded like the feminine voice had someone specific in mind, but who was behind the voice that knew stuff about him? “…and how should I call you?”
“Of course, the man of the Martinez family that assaulted you in the Young Mist Users Conference. Who else?”
“You know of what happened in the Young Mist Users Conference?!” Zax called out in surprised and his face frowned. “Are you a figment of my imagination?“
“That’s rude!” The feminine voice was offended. “I know what I know because Zetsa told me. Your sanity is in place and I’m most definitely real!” The feminine voice affirmed and went silent. “If I tell you my name, can you promise not to tell anyone that we talked?”
“Can we meet?” If it was the voice of lunacy it could say anything. While conversing, Zax also delved into his sea of consciousness, to check for quirky fluctuations. His sea of consciousness was serene.
“Little Zax, as much as I would like to meet you, he would not allow it. In his eyes you are still not qualified and even if you were, you’ll have to rely on your own prowess to come meet me. As you are now, your level of cultivation is low”.
‘Mmm… why do I get the sense that big sis’s Master is that one that doesn’t see me qualified?’ Zax was not stupid. He maybe not knew who the voice was, but he did know in whose territory he was in and whose approval his Master train him to receive.
“I won’t tell anyone that we talked”. There was nothing else, so Zax agreed.
“I’m glad, little Zax, that you trust me. I also trust your judgment. My name, little Zax, is Laivien… I reside in this Essence Cave for a very long time”. The feminine voice, Laivien, sounded melancholy, however her tone became lively as she went on saying. “For the past year and a half I’ve watched you train diligently, advance faster than anyone before you, and celebrates each breakthrough with great exhilaration. It made me joyous…”
Laivien’s sincere confession somehow made Zax’s heart quiver. The sound of her voice transmitted gratitude and dependence. It was weird to have someone he did not know be so affectionate toward him.
In Zax’s mind appeared his mother, as if she was saying those things to him. Her eyes were tearing, but on her lips was a smile.
“Laivien, if you watched for the year and a half, why only now you speak to me?”
“Little Zax, there are many things you don’t know, were not told, about Valgarel. It’s not my place to tell you of them, but your Master’s. I chose to speak to you today because, otherwise than your Master, I think that you are ready for the Savage Caves”.
“’The Savage Caves’, what are those?”
“In New Earth the Essence Caves are considered secret wonders for being hard to find, for being the ideal place to practice bodily refining technique and for having an immense source of energy, though only humans manage to harvest it. When Essence Caves are good for bodily refinement, the Savage Caves are good for soul refinement”.
“So there is another type of caves!” Zax understood. “But, Laivien, if you not just watched but heard me and Master talk, Master said that I can keep training my soul by exercising in Adraak Meditation until I’ll breakthrough to the next level with my soul”.
“I’m aware of your Master’s decision. However, I say that he is wrong. If you wait for your soul to breakthrough, because of your Master’s uncertainties you will shamelessly waste an unprecedented opportunity!”
“How dare you to belittle my Master!” Zax got angry.
How could he not? What was his Master for him in the past year and a half? A Master of the Martial path during his training sessions and the rest of the time… who could say that he also was not like a parent?
That was all Kartius used in order to refer to himself in the content of his relationship with Zax. After a year and a half, of course Zax could no longer look at his Master as nothing but a Mor. When he was resting after an exhausting training session, Kartius brought food and cooked for him. When the belly was full but the rest was not enough, Kartius arranged a place for Zax to sleep in his cabin, a comfortable mattress made out of countless paper thin vines. As they grew used to each other, was there a thing that Zax still concealed from with his Master? Absolutely not!
Zax’s repressed concerns of his ruined relationship with his friends and family was a constant reminder, that although he found himself a path to follow according to his dreams and aspirations, there were still things that he had to make amends for. And the better Zax got due to his fast improvements, the more he realized that his friends and family were no less important to him than being a mighty Mist User.
To deal with this burden, it was his Master that talked to him, assured him that in this world there is not something that cannot be fixed.
“A damaged relationship with someone that is close to you is one of the easiest. All you need his courage”. It might be obvious, but sometimes simple answers had to be said in a certain manner that only few could express. Kartius always managed to advise Zax in a way that strengthened his resolve.
In a year and a half, Kartius had already attained the position of a father figure in the eyes of his apprentice. The reasons that Zax kept called him “Master” instead of “Martial father”, were that he was shy and already used to the former manner of addressing.
“You claim to know better, to hear and see everything since Master brought me here, but where were you this all time? Only now popping up out of nowhere, speaking to me without showing your face and still daring to speak badly on my Master!”
“Little Zax!” Laivien rebuked. A surge of pressure that was only inferior to that caused by the Black Core and the entity, engulfed Zax’s whole sea of consciousness, as if it was an ant in a human’s hand. “I chose to turn to you now out of care and I’ll never ever speak badly of your Master!” Laivien clearly was furious. “I’m not suggesting something that your Master did not consider, I simply give words to what he hold himself back from saying”.
“I don’t understand you! Why would Master deliberately impede my training?!” Zax threw back.
“Because of your abnormal improvement and the hint of dark attribute in your soul!” surveying Zax’s expression from someplace far far away, Laivien saw that he was not aware of the latter part of what she was saying. “You don’t know… I get it now. That Master of yours had really changed!” A soft sigh reverberated in Zax head and spread tranquility.
“The Black Core has done to your soul more than raising its level, little Zax, it left a remnant of dark attribute… an elemental energy you should not seek answers to understand right now. All that you should know is that at the moment, the dark attribute is dormant. If, however, your soul will be under a great deal of pressure it would awaken and convert your soul. You can’t withstand the intensity of the conversation in your current level. Even I and your Master can’t… But that still don’t change the fact that the Savages Cages are the best place for you to make up for tossing the principal of Pain”.
“How is that related? The principal of Pain is a principal of a bodily refining technique. You said that the Savages Caves are for soul training”. Zax was not satisfied with Laivien reasoning mostly because he did not get it.
“The principal of Pain in the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement has more than one purpose. Aside from supporting the cultivation process, it also builds your character as a Martial cultivator. I won’t tell you much of it because the Black Core has already outdone it, but without letting you to be forge in the true way of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, even at the risk of awakening the dark attribute, you will never be qualified as a Martial cultivator!”
“Master said that I should wait to reach the next level, maybe then he will talk to me about the Savages Caves”. Zax began to consider her remarks. His Master did tell him to wait after all.
“I believed him too, at first”, Laivien said. “Up until he decided to teach you the bodily maneuvers and told you to stop cultivating the soul. Your Master is impeding your training for caring too much for his apprentice. Let me explain, the ‘Savage Caves’ is not a mere name, all who enter them will be affected by a mental boundary that arouse the savage instinct in beasts and human alike. The Savage Caves known to have at least three caves of savagery, but up to date; no one has managed to cross the third cave and so only three are really counted”.
”There is only one tunnel that allows entrance to the first Savage Cave, and one tunnel between each Savage Cave. There are many experts who think that they can venture into the Savage Caves, but for one to cross from the first cave to the second, the soul must be at the Core Master level. That said, so long that you don’t fall to complete savagery and survive the first cave, the benefits will be substantial, even more so than those of the principal of Pain!”
“Better than the main principal of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement…” Zax muttered.
“And it’s not all. Because of the Black Core’s modification to the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, the herbal liquid is not sufficient anymore to sustain the formation. On the other hand, at one point or another, a trip to the Savage Caves will be unavoidable since only there the medicinal plants that can sustain the last stage of the formation are growing. In your case, it will take years and an inconceivable amount of the current herbal liquid for you to break through the next gate. You are already in need for the Savage Caves’ medicinal plants”.
“Little Zax, do I give you the impression that I harbor malice animosity toward you?” Laivien suddenly asked.
“No”. Zax answered plainly. From start to finish, Laivien might have said things that he did not appreciate to hear, but not once he felt her trying trick him. At most he could just say that there was a tension between their opinions due to disagreement. Besides, after the surge of pressure Zax had no doubt that if Laivien wanted to harm him, she did not need to put much effort.
“Then agree to go to the Savage Caves. I believe that with the unique soul that you have, you will be able to surpass the hurdles of the first cave, and when you’ll return, we could finally meet!”
Laivien’s powers of persuasion succeeded to tempt Zax. He was about to agree when he realized… “Laivien, even if I want to go, how am I supposed to tell this to Master? Master will surely want to know from whom I learned about the Savage Caves and then I’ll have to tell him that we talked!”
“Be at ease, little Zax. In the end going or not is your decision. If you’ll make it wholeheartedly, I’ll take care of your Master”. Laivien said confidently.
“I’m still unsure…” Was he supposed to let his master talk to him about the Savage Caves himself and act as if he did not know anything about them? That will be the same as deceiving him, and how could he? He is no more the young boy who said white lies to hide his training sessions from his parents.
In the past year and a half, even if his Master was not awfully strict, Zax still developed a sense of discipline toward him.
“Little Zax, let’s make a compromise. If you truly want to go, then no matter what I’ll support you with dealing with your Master and if later you still won’t feel comfortable with him, then I will not mind you telling him that we talked. Is that fine?” Laivien sounded like a mother who tries to help her son confess to his father something bad that he had done.
“It’s fine”. Zax answered like an obedient child.