Outside of the cave was the lush vegetation that the Essence Cave Zax livid in for a year and eleven months could never sustain and the cave of his big sister’s Master’s lacked in compression.
Heeding his Master’s and Martial sister’s, Rarahel, warnings, as Zax stepped outside he casted his Soul Sense to detect hidden enemies. After reaching the Advanced phase of level C with his soul, Zax’s Soul Sense could extend for one thousand and seven hundred meters. Other than the foliage, Zax did not discover any other life forms.
“They are either too far or waiting in the neighboring caves”. Zax thought aloud.
He did not waste time because of enemies he could not find. Recalling the first direction he had to turn to, Zax’s body flickered onwards.
‘I traveled the outer parts of Valgarel with big sister. Other than the experts of the five sovereign tribes, there is no one that I should be afraid off. I wonder what could be different in the inner territory…’
Zax felt confidence in his chance to at least escape if dangers arise. While training in the bodily maneuvers exercise, he was chased by his Master and at unpredictable moments even had to avoid his Master’s mist attacks. Sure, none of his Master’s mist attacks were aim to kill, but critically injure him was highly acceptable by his Master.
“It’s fine to lose an arm or a leg”, Kartius actually said. “Your regenerative abilities can deal with the loss thanks to the changes the Black Core had made. Otherwise, only as a B level practitioner of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement you could grow back limbs”. That day Kartius sent a mist attack that nearly decimated all of Zax’s four limbs. “Still, this is not an excuse to be complacent! You don’t have the mist energy to spend on your body. Without external help similar to the herbal fluid, your body won’t receive the nourishment to come up with the energy to regrow one limb!” At the end of that training session, Zax truly lost a limb and only after two weeks it grew back.
Zax followed the map he craved to his mind and in four days reached the boundaries of the outer parts of Valgarel.
There, he noticed humanoid beasts with bull heads, guarding the tunnel to the inner territory. There were seven beasts. Zax first detected them with his bodily senses. In his body fitness level his senses were a lot sharper than most beasts. To determine the level of the guards he used his Soul Sense.
“Six Core Breakers and one Mist Master”. According to their souls levels they ranged between these levels.
Since he did not know the procedure of crossing territories, Zax remained at a distance greater than their senses. To not cause unnecessary troubles, he picked up and threw several big rocks to distract the guards. All he need was for all seven to shift their gaze together for a few seconds.
The impact of the rocks with the trees Zax aimed them at created two explosions and a rain of leaves and splinters.
Two guards were sent to investigate as the others watched them from their post at the cave entrance. When the remaining five bull heads shifted their gazes all that they could perceive of Zax was the guest of wind his fast movement created as he passed them in practically an instant, extremely entertained.
“That was easy!” Zax was truly overjoyed. Two years ago who would have dare to imagine, especially him, that the boy with clogged Qi channels could ever give such a show!
On the second week of his journey Zax used his Soul Sense spontaneously, as he continuously used it to avoid unwanted surprises. It was a habit he developed after the encounter with the bull headed guards. Though they did not discover him, if he had used his Soul Sense back then, he himself would have sense them a lot earlier than his bodily senses.
A few figures were following him.
“Hunters or Master’s enemies?” Zax asked himself. Four days ago he met with a party of humanoid beasts that acted as hunters and the day after with a group that was actually led by a human and while the other members were on all four. In both occasions Zax sprinted before they could make up the color of his fur coat. Besides the human, not the beasts in his party or the humanoid beasts of the day before were above level E.
This time, however, things were a bit different. Zax’s speed was not at its peak and he did not want to alert them, if those after him were indeed enemies. Relying on his Soul Sense he learned that the pursuers were fifteen in number, ten Core Breakers and five Mist Masters. Zax wondered how he can fare against this great number of experts, but remembering his Master’s warning, he simply surveyed their speed and allowed them to follow him up to the entrance of the first Savage Cave. There he in fact discovered that six more enemies, most likely, were waiting for him.
“Told you, boss”.
The group of fifteen caught up, becoming with those who waited a group of twenty one. All the beasts looked humanoid with vicious canine heads.
“My sense of smell is the best in our unit, boss. Known as the thousand odors snout! With a sniff I could tell that this is just a human boy wearing a Two Headed Beaver fur coat!” One juvenile canine boasted.
“Freaking pup”, the one the juvenile canine talked to, the boss, was a large humanoid beast with a wolf head in the Mist Master level. The wolf boss slapped the head of the juvenile canine and averted his gaze toward Zax, who stood between the six that were waiting and the fifteen that trailed.
“Who would have thought that such a young child is practicing that body refining technique…?” The wolf boss seemed a bit shaken.
How could he not? They trailed Zax since the very same day he left that cave… always at a distance of two kilometers or more from him, but six days ago they actually lost him! Luckily, one of his pack members was familiar with the scent of a Two Headed Beaver and besides being able to tell that it was a human wearing its fur coat, he could retrace Zax’s steps, which helped the wolf boss to guess Zax’s destination and send a member of his pack to arrange a blockade at the cave’s entrance, in case he and his unit will not catch up to Zax.
“I can’t assert his powers, boss”, another canine said.
“Me neither”. The wolf boss replied with a growl. “It can’t be that his soul level is higher than a Mist Master. It must be the fur coat or a treasure for the cave… Calrob, can you tell the level of the Two Headed Beaver it belonged to?”
“Afraid not, boss. Even if my mist energy stimulates my eyes and nose to the limit, I can only detect the leftover essence of a Mist Lord. This fur coat belonged to at least a Core Master Two Headed Beaver”. The canine head that spoke was part of the six that were waiting for Zax.
“Grrr…” The wolf boss growled once more.
‘These guys are quite haughty…’ Zax quietly watched them. ‘Talking about me as if I don’t have a say in what they are planning’.
He did not try to forcefully enter the cave since the six in front of him clearly were not willing to let him and also… now that he was so close to the first Savage Cave, if his pursuers were reluctant to follow inside, than it was also a good opportunity to consider again how he will fare against so many experts. Zax felt goosebumps all over his body. After almost two years of isolated training with his Master and a voice in his head, these guys were going to be his first real interaction… a clash of experts!
‘Fourteen Core Breakers, Seven Mist Master, twenty one in total!’
The longer Zax trained in the six sequences of bodily maneuvers the swifter and more agile his control over his body became. Although he knew all six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers and the perfect breathing sequence his rhythm was still behind the Intermediate phase. But, classifying two in the same phase does not mean that their proficiency is equal. To classify Zax at the Beginner phase is akin to saying that he is in the Advanced phase of the Beginner phase. Not exactly the most sophisticated way to put it, but it did not matter since a large gulf separated Zax’s level of control of the body and the twenty one canine heads’!
Apart from the seven Mist Masters, the others could only hear the sound of Zax movement as he reached in a flash to the canine that evaluated his fur coat.
“Calrob, right? Can you tell what level am I?” Zax smirked.
Calrob’s dog face paled. He was one of the Core Breaker experts and those who saw nothing but a flash or a shadow as Zax made his move.
The two Mist Master next to Calrob launched their claws at Zax. However they were too slow and too obvious in their movement. With a “WUSH” sound Zax slide back to the center of the twenty one experts.
‘If that’s their top speed…’ Zax smiled. “Well, my Master warned my about you. Are you supposed to be Master Kartius’s enemies?” He taunted.
“Lowly mutt!” The wolf boss called in anger. “Listen up, Fangs, this one body fitness level is definitely at level C! Revert to your beast form!” Following his order something strange happened.
Despite the astonished expression of the other twenty, not one of them argued with their boss and in several seconds, Zax learned something new and finally understood what Martial sister Rarahel meant by warning him of the true from of the wild.
The twenty one canine heads all transformed from their humanoid physique to their true animalistic appearance. Surrounding Zax, within the length of two short breaths, were two to three and a half meters tall, two and a half to five meters long twenty one true canines on all four.
Zax was utterly shocked! He could tell with his Soul Sense that the Mist User level of the twenty one remained the same, but their bodies, on the other hand, increased in both power, speed and for sure, control!
Was Rarahel alerting Zax of some beasts’ secret when she told him to beware of the true form of the wild? “No” is the answer. She was merely reciting a phrase of Valgarel. The reason Zax did not know that – by meeting certain conditions – beasts had the ability to change appearance from humanoid to animalistic or vice versa, was lack of proper education. Children in Kingdom Earth learn of the beasts’ ability to transform only in the second year of post Core School. Since Zax never been to one how could he possibly know it? Since for beasts this is an innate knowledge, his Master also did not bother to mention it and his big sister had long ago stopped thinking about it as something odd.
Zax composed himself. ‘I’m still faster and stronger! Let’s see if their numbers can do them any good’. He sure felt valiant.
“Arhwoo!” The wolf boss, the third biggest in size, howled and the twenty one canines moved in union. They ran in circles around Zax.
‘Is that what they call a Battle formation?’ Zax wondered while patiently waiting for the canines’ first move.
Two canines jumped at Zax, sent a paw strikes and retreated. The two missed Zax, but it seemed that their primary intention was to test Zax, which, as the wolf boss predicted, avoided the two paw strikes.
The canines doubled their numbers.
“Hahah!” Zax swiftly avoided and laughed. “Too few, too few, stupid dogs, come at me in double digits”. Since he also tested himself and felt assured with his abilities, Zax did not fight back. He utilized the results of his training in the bodily maneuvers and moved like a typhoon inside the circle.
“Arhwoo!” The wolf boss retorted, opening his jaw his voice come out again in a human speech. “Kill! Kill! Kill!” He was not hotheaded, but driven by the instinct to kill his tribe’s enemy!
Instantly, the canine complied to both their boss’s commend and Zax’s insult and eleven out of the twenty one jumped inside the circle as the remaining ten shrank its scope.
Attacking with their paws and fangs, the canines used their mist energy to strengthen further their bodies and around them white and silvery aura spread outward.
“Not enough space”. Zax muttered. He wanted to evade the smallest touch with even the canines’ tails and fur; however the eleven were synchronized with each other and could deal with the crowded area of attack. “Time to leave the circle”. He made up his mind. The canines were clearly experienced in fighting using this formation.
The ten canines that made up the border of the circled formation were fast, but not enough to prevent Zax from slipping outside of the formation.
Within three steps Zax arrived to the border of the circle and ran along it. He mimicked the pace of two of the ten canines, two Core Breaker, that made the border and eyed the space between them.
Zax kicked the ground and dashed forward. Naturally he could also jump above the border, but where was the fun in it?
A mixed wave of white and silver mist energy struck Zax and flung him back.
A huge paw followed promptly and hit Zax in the back.
“Humph!” Zax sneered and dodged a bite that was aimed to his right arm. “The fur coat really held up!” He was satisfied with his Master’s present, even if against this sort of foes he could also do without it. “This border is supported with mist energy”. His inability to use his Qi fired him up. “Where are the doggies that hit me and tried to bite my arm?”
“Die, human!” The canines were also enraged. Zax himself was not much in their eyes, they fought beasts in the past that were below their level yet to slippery to catch, but the Two Headed Beaver fur coat was troublesome to deal with.
“There!” Zax found the two canines that annoyed him.
The two were Mist Master and could somewhat see that they were targeted by the human. Knowing their limit, they still tried to meet Zax in a joint onslaught.
Explosive mist energy burst from the two canines, the other nine in the circle moved from their way. Violent mist energy hissed and the two canines pounced at Zax, baring their most noteworthy feature, their fangs, which glowed in condensed pure silver color.
Four fangs, two hands.
The glowing fangs remained Zax two kids in his pre Core School that fought one day and how one kid broke the other’s front teeth when he punched him in the face.
Well, the space between fangs in the canines’ mouths was too wide to break two with one punch.
‘All out!’ Zax felt a surge of unrestrained excitement filling his sea of consciousness and spreads to every nook and cranny in his body. He summoned up his full strength and sent his hand to meet with the canines’ fangs attack.
The three clashed. The two canines, in total bewilderment, felt like they hit an unmovable wall. Zax hands grabbed one fang of which canine and stopped them in the collision.
The sound came from the two fangs in Zax’s grip. He swung his hands to the sides, pulling the two canine heads and…
The two heads collided, two fangs broke each other and the other two were shattered in Zax’s grip.
The impact stirred the two canines’ brain, they collapsed, unaware of the poor state of their jaws.
Watching how two of their experts in the Intermediate phase of the Mist Master level could not budge a single human boy, not even half their size, and then losing to him so effortlessly, the nine canines still in the circle joined the others in the border.
“What? Don’t tell me that this is all you got, little doggies”. Zax mocked. These were the enemies of his Master? Laughable!
“Arhwoo!” The wolf boss howled. Two of the canines left the formation in full speed.
“Calling for help?” Zax immediately realized their intention.
He did not plan to stay for Mist Lord level canines to join the fight, but those who held the formation seemed bound on not attacking, nor letting him out.
“Good, good! Won’t be any fun unless we see how long you can contain me!” This time nothing obstructed him from coming straight at the border, not that in the previous attempt it was a difficulty, and Zax also wanted to break it in its strongest point, not trying to jump above it or going at any canine other than the wolf boss.
A series of collisions resonated like the sound of giant bells each time Zax punched or kicked the placement of the wolf boss in the formations. The united white and silver mist energy formed a mantle that protected the canines and attacked Zax much more brutally than the fang attack of the two canines.
“Hahaha! Here is more power and more power!” Zax did not go all out from the beginning. He gradually raised the strength of his attacks. This attitude served him as an outlet to his dormant frustration, and he wanted to free himself from all of it! To cleanse himself before he will make this one more step in the path his Martial prepped him for.
“Use more of your mist energy! His attacks are getting stronger!” The wolf boss barked in vexation. How was it possible? He knew that the human before him is just a boy, probably not two tenth of his age, so how come he become that much strong in such a young age?! Was that body refining technique really that formidable?!
‘This cannot be allowed to go on! We must restrain, otherwise he’ll become a huge threat to the elders’ goal and our tribe! We must endure until a captain will arrive… and hope that it will be a Core Master!’