Kartius was making his way to the cabin, back from the gorge. It was a journey of fifteen to twenty minutes in his top speed, but there was no reason for him to hurry, therefore he stride idly as he mused over his internal conflicts.
“Laivien”, his attention shifted to the foreign presence that entered his mind. “Is everything fine? Do you need anything?”
“Only that you come visit me more often, big brother”. Laivien tone was playful. Not for naught she sought her big brother, but before she could reveal her true intentions, she had to soften him.
“You know that I would if I had the strength”. Kartius said, nearly apologizing. “And I don’t want to be a nuisance when big brother spends time with you”.
“Mmm… you don’t need to rely on Kartion. I’m sure there are other means…”
There sure were other means, treasures of him, Kartius, which he cannot misuse if even to visit his little sister. “Little sister, how about this. I’ll come to visit you whenever you want after my next breakthrough. Are you pleased?”
“Huhuhu! Big brother is very considerate of his little sister”. Laivien knew that she hit a sensitive spot and when to withdraw before it will explode. In addition, Kartius depended on his treasures to surpass the last gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement and it was not only for his sake…
“Little sister, now that you extorted a promise from me, what is it that you truly want?” Kartius was no fool and definitely not a plaything for his little sister. Her and his big brother’s situation was the reason for his submissive behavior. His heart ached for them. Nevertheless, now that he showed her that he is in a benevolent mood, she will get right into why she used her own treasure to reach him.
“I’ll get right to the point, if big brother is so willing to comply”. Laivien said.
“What is it?”
After a short pause Laivien finally opened. “I want you to send Zax to the Savage Caves”.
“What!” Kartius was startled.
“All of Kartion’s apprentices have been there. It’s about time to send yours as well”.
“Little sister, I don’t know from where this is coming, regardless of what you heard and saw from my own apprentice, he is still too young and inexperienced! Besides, big brother spent treasures, which I don’t have, when he sent apprentices!” Kartius retorted.
“Big brother, you should remember that not only Zax’s words and action I hear and see. Yours are not hidden from me, either”. Laivien shot back. “But I will not repeat what you already know as truth, only state the facts”.
“And what facts are there, that makes you know better than me what’s good for my Martial son?”
“First, you should know that your Martial son had broken through the fourth gate”.
“He made it past the fourth gate!” Kartius was astonished. In the past year and a half his exaptation of Zax to reach the goals he set for him, sooner than three years, grew absolute. Be that as it may, he still assumed that at least half a year would pass before Zax will make another breakthrough.
“Second”, Laivien ignored his reaction and kept going. “His soul’s capabilities already match those of a Beginner phase Core Master. It is only because that the quality and quantity of his soul energy are in the Core Breaker level that the first cave is still good for him. If you keep delaying him until the next level, with his unique soul, the effect of the cave will lessen tremendously and the second cave will still be out of reach. Third, with regard to his bodily cultivation, he needs the herbal liquid of the plants in the Savage Caves and in great quantity, at that. Otherwise, forget him making progress!”
“The hint of dark attribute I will not even mention since there is nothing you can say to disregard what would happen if it will burst. And his body fitness level is still not sufficient”. Kartius got back to his senses. “Should I recite you the dangers of the Savage Caves?!”
“No need if you already started to prepare him to deal with those dangers. For what other reason did you stop him from cultivating the soul and taught him the bodily maneuvers? Your Martial son is not a slow learner even if his advancements are not aided by the Black Core. He broke through the fourth gate at the same of partly figuring the breathing sequence and a few of the breaths. In a couple of months I am certain that he will hone it to the degree of knowing the corresponding breath of each move!” Laivien did not say anything about the dark attribute. Certainly it was a subject she could not refute.
“Knowing the breathing sequence will not progress Zax to the second phase of the bodily maneuvers exercise. If they’ll chase him, he will get caught, and in the Savage Cave it will be on a whole other level of difficulty!”
Laivien was perfectly aware to whom her big brother meant by calling “They”, however, her opinion stayed the same and her response even more so inflamed. “Their scouts won’t attack him right away, they’ll first follow him. Because they won’t be able to detect his body fitness level and the Earth’s Core in his dantian, they’ll think that he is just a coreless boy, another human ‘in our service’ that practice the body refinement technique. Therefore they won’t inform their elders until he will already arrive to the first Savage Cave and by then it will be too late, since none of their scouts is past the Core Master level”.
“Then they’ll simply leave their scouts outside of the first cave for a period of time and if Zax won’t return they’ll either presume that he died or will send a Core Master to check for him”.
“By that time it will truly be too late”. Laivien said emphatically. “If he’ll learn the overall breathing sequence, it will take him a mere few months to unify all three and reach the Intermediate phase. If beforehand he will also reach the Advanced phase of his current body fitness level, even Beginner Core Masters won’t be able to catch him, and anyone below the core master level, better won’t dare”.
“Indeed, but you said it yourself, with the current herbal liquid, forget the Intermediate phase, he won’t be able to Advance to the Intermediate phase of his current body fitness level”.
“That is correct, and that is why I wonder how much my big brother care for his only son”.
“Don’t speak in riddles, say what you-” A bit slow, but Kartius understood what his little was saying.
“My own stock…” His own treasures.
“Your puny stock, big brother”. Laivien reminded him.
Kartius sighed. Due to this talk, at the moment he also swayed toward the side of a Martial father, ever so far from the side of a Martial cultivator.
Simultaneously a terrible thought aroused in his mind. Did his little sister spoke with his Martial son? One way or another, Kartius reminded to himself that speech is silver and silence is gold.
“Little Zax, it is done. In time, your Master will send you to the Savage Caves. When exactly depends on your achievements in the coming months”. Laivien informed Zax.
“Will… Will Master say or ask anything that’s related to you?” Forget about the dangers of the Savage Caves, what Zax worried of the most was his Master inquiring about if he did or did not speak with Laivien.
“Rest easy, little Zax”, Laivien said happily. “Your Master’s temperament will be as usual and no question, answers or explanations will arise”. She assured him and her presence faded from his consciousness.
To celebrate Zax’s breakthrough into the experts’ circle, Kartius hunted a beast which was at the Mist Master level to cook for his apprentice. Kartius cooking skills were below average compared to the common human’s skills. Fortunately, he knew how to prepare the meat, and by itself it was a delicacy Zax never tasted before. Later, the two shared Zax’s first cup of wine, which Zax handled better than most humans, after all, his tolerance for alcohol was an additional component that improved as his body did. Still, the taste of the alcohol was unpleasant.
“Since your body fitness level is at the same phase and level as your soul, tomorrow you will resume cultivating your soul. You will spend eight hours of the day exercising the bodily maneuvers and the rest of the time meditating, therefore you will also not get to sleep anymore, so be prepared!” Kartius said during the meal.
Zax did not ask or said anything about the Savage Caves and just listened to his Master instructions in anticipation.
And so, five more months have passed.
In those five months, Zax’s days started by first soaking in the herbal liquid, which he noticed was different by its smell. The fragrance was highly concentrated, its sweetness reached the boundaries of sickening. Zax was sure that it was not the same herbal liquid he used the days before – the old him would have faint from an ounce of this fragrance, and that was no joke – but when he raised the question to his Master, “Get inside!” was his Master’s miserable response.
When the formation embedded to his body got his fill of the herbal liquid, next order of business was Zax’s daily training in the bodily maneuvers. Under the constant supervision of his Master, in the past five months, Zax’s experienced the most rigorous manner of training. It concluded after eight hours whether Zax wanted to or not, since Kartius pushed his body to the limit constantly.
Despite the intensity of Kartius’ training regimen, Zax still did not proceed to the more dense and high level smoky mist areas.
Kartius did explain why. “If your body fitness level will improve faster than your soul, than a heavy setback will befall on you and it is hard to estimate how long it will take for you to surpass it”.
Staying in the same area might have slowed Zax’s bodily cultivation, but it did stabilize and kept his training schedule in order of importance.
As Zax got back to mediating, he noticed that the pieces, fragments of the entity, from his subliminal mind counted by the dozens. Seventy nine pieces, to be exact. Now that Zax was past fully appreciating one piece, it was not hard to study the others. However, his progress was not as fast as it was when he studied the first piece. Of the seventy nine that appeared after the first, after fully appreciating one, the advancements were meager, at best, and another eight to eleven more pieces resurfaced from his subliminal mind.
In the end, breakthroughs and insights were achieved in the following order.
First, of the five months, it took Zax around four months to seize the perfect breathing sequence. As for keeping up with its rhythm… that was still too difficult. Nevertheless, Zax’s control of his body seemed to improve greatly due to him diligently training as his Master instructed, and Zax himself noticed it when he exercised all six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers more easily.
Second, on the side of Adraak Meditation, Zax reached the Advanced phase of his current soul level after nearly consuming the whole five months. Afterwards, the quality of his soul had only progress to the peak of level C.
Lastly, without knowing of his Master, Martial father’s sacrifice… Zax’s body fitness reached, as well, to the Advanced phase of level C a little after his soul. By testing his strength, speed and reaction, Kartius proudly told his Martial son that unless the opponent is a Peak phase Mist Lord or above, he has nothing to worry about.
Within Kartius’s cabin.
“Memorize this map”. Kartius drew a map of the rough layout of the caves from his big brother’s cave to the first Savage Cave. He drew it on an old piece of beast skin, using a drop of blood since there was not anything else as replacement for ink.
Zax carefully memorized the map. There were one hundred and seven caves between here and the first Savage Cave. Zax did not ponder over why he should memorize the route instead of tacking the map, with his current soul level it will not made a difference either way.
“Done, Master”. Zax said. ‘A week or two journey into the inner parts of Valgarel’. He was excited. His Master already informed that he will not be there to accompany him and that only added to the rush.
“These are the plants that you should look for in the Savage Cave”. Kartius showed Zax an old drawn picture of two types of flowers. One had a red stalk with seven white petals and a lone orange stamen. The other had a green stalk with two purple petals and a lone green stamen. “There aren’t many of them in the first Savage Cave. After you hone your soul and character, get a sense of time with your inner mind and seek as many as you can in a day’s time. Even if it’s only one or two, remember that no matter what, you are not to enter the second cave!” he said unequivocally.
As Zax studied the shape and color of the flowers, Kartius turned to the square box and removed its wooden lid. He returned to Zax holding a sleeveless fur coat.
“The beast it belonged to was a Two Headed Beaver at the Core Master level, therefore his skin and fur are at the Core Breaker level. Think of it as a second skin, as long as you wear it others, who never encountered a Two Headed Beaver, won’t be able to discern if you are a human or a beast”.
“Thank you, Master”. Zax said happily, wondering if other beasts will really take him for a humanoid beast if he’ll wear it, knowing that he will have the answer in a while.
“Hearing about them now is not that time, no until my big brother say so. I’ll remind you only this, outside of the cave there are enemies who oppose my big brother and those by his side. Although those outside won’t be able to harm you, if they’ll call for reinforcement you will be in trouble. For a safe journey you only have two priorities, keeping you identity a secret and getting to the Savage Caves as fast as possible!” Kartius empathized to the point that it was useless to ask if Zax understand.
Zax, too, did not ask questions about the enemies. His Master warned him of the wild before he accepted him. Besides, for some reason he did not feel threaten. Beast Mist Users or human Mist Users, if all that he needs to be careful from are Peak phase Mist Lord then what are the chances that he will face one?
An azure mantle wrapped Zax.
“I will see you off outside of the Essence Cave”. Kartius’s hand reached for Zax’s head through the mantle. It was the first time that he caressed it and Zax could not help but lower his gaze from this Martial father.
Zax decided to pass through the Krikitory village of the Krikitories field workers for a chance to see his big sister. As soon as the young Krikitories saw approaches, they ran home and back outside and jump him with tens cups of water. Zax could not comply with what Zetsa told him about the mentality of the young Krikitories and could not bring himself to disappoint any of the little ones. And so he drank all the cups of water.
In the village, no one of his Martial brothers and sisters were or his real blood sister was. The adult Krikitories also did not know where they were, and so, disappointed, Zax left to the cave’s entrance.
“Oh, out and so soon?” Guarding, or so it seemed to look like, was Rarahel. She saw Zax and spoke from afar. Her draconic complexion was surprised for a moment before it returned to normal.
“Big sister Rarahel”. Zax said respectfully. He did not forget how detached from each other his big sister and Rarahel were the first time he met her. Not knowing if she will act the same way with him, Zax still chose to start off humbly.
“Congratulation for making it to level C, little brother Zax” Unexpectedly, Rarahel answered back warmly.
Zax could tell that Rarahel looked at him differently than she looked at his big sister because, after living for nearly two years with just one person that was a humanoid beast, Zax intuition and ability to read the facial expressions of beasts was as good as it was with humans.
“Thank you, big sister Rarahel”. Zax said.
“You actually broke big sister Zetsa record. I’m starting to wonder if it’s only you two or that all humans are freaks, hahaha…” She actually felt opened enough to laugh and that even more caught Zax off guard.
Zax thought again if his first impression of Rarahel was accurate or poorly timed. He thought of her as the cold and rigid type, but she turned out… okay. It made him wonder what her deal was with his big sister. Still, Zax refrained from asking.
“Well… I doubt that you didn’t work hard for it”. Rarahel said in a serious tone. She, too, trained in the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement.
“Master taught me well”. Zax replied, adding to himself, ‘if only she knew…’
“But didn’t you Master said that your training should last for three years. Even if your progress is that amazing, going back home for a break will be a waste. Don’t underestimate my Master’s evaluation if you want him to accept you”. That she said strictly.
“Big sister Rarahel, I’m not taking a break from training. Master sends me to train my soul in the Savage Caves”.
“What!” Rarahel bellowed. “What does Martial uncle think?!” Making a stumped expression, she grabbed Zax, almost preventing him from leaving the cave.
“Big sister Rarahel, Master told me of the Savage Caves enough to know that going there will only do me good and I’ll be fine”. Zax let loose his consent in his speech.
“It’s not about being physically strong there…” Rarahel had more to say, however she did not know what her Martial uncle wish to share or withheld from his only apprentice. She had no right to undermine her Martial uncle, so she reluctantly stopped deterring Zax and quietly said. “You are simply too young!”
“Goodbye, big sister Rarahel”. Since Zax could not agree with her, he responded silently, as well, and he left, accompanied by her last words…
“Beware of the true form of the wild…”