“This is the past of our household, the reason for our seclusion and the source of our conflict”. Kartius said to Zax.
Zax nodded his head as a sign that he understood everything. The past of his Master and elders in the household, the great power of their enemies and the gravity of the position he placed himself when he joined the household.
“Recently, Martial son, the condition of our household met a looming calamity. In the next step of big brother’s bodily refinement technique there is an extremely strict prerequisite. To bypass this prerequisite one needs resources that have yet to appear in New Earth”.
“When big brother last talked with His Valor Ozeyn, he secretly learned that His Valor Ozeyn has missed the chance to meet the requirement of the prerequisite. Big brother could not reveal it to His Valor Ozeyn, and had to assure him that the development of the second level of the bodily refinement technique proceeding well. The problem is that currently, His Valor Ozeyn already broke through the seventh gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement. If he to discover that big brother finished the first level of cultivation in the second realm and he cannot practice it, His Valor Ozeyn might reexamine the value of his agreement with big brother in comparison to improving the relations of the Red Rose Beaks tribe with the Black Horns tribe”. Kartius said in an aggrieved tone.
Hearing that the future of the household might not by that much brighter than its past, Zax carefully inquired. “Can’t Grandmaster find another method for His Valor Ozeyn to cultivate the body in the second realm?”
“Of course big brother can”, Kartius replied confidently. “But according to him, eliminating the smallest property of his new technique will lower its quality considerably. If he offered a useless technique to His Valor Ozeyn, won’t His Valor Ozeyn be offended?” Asking a rhetorical question, Kartius did not wait for Zax to answer. “Since big brother cannot predict out His Valor Ozeyn will react when he will find that he cannot cultivate the following technique of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, big brother decided for us to bring an end to the war between the household and the Black Horns tribe”.
“After annihilating core groups of cultivators of the household’s enemies, the Black Horns tribe and his alias raised their vigilance and added some of their better expert among the groups stationed in the caves surrounding big brother’s cave. As protective measures, big brother ordered everyone in the household, other than me, Raroen and Hagen, to travel in pairs when leaving his cave for any reason. That is partly why I came along with you”. Kartius confessed.
Zax raised an eyebrow. “Then Master, four days from now… are you planning to come pick me up?” He asked half amusingly. Zax thought his Master was content with letting him travel Valgarel on his own. Apparently, even if he was, Grandmaster Kartion was not.
Kartius nodded, restraining a chuckle. “I figured you intend to stay in Kingdom Earth for the maximum length of time I permitted you… Four days from now, either I or your eldest Martial brother or sister will come to accompany you back to big brother’s cave”.
“Mm…” Zax hummed. In his opinion, he did not need minders to walk with him in the outer territory of Valgarel. As long as he will not encounter a third level Core Master or a second level Chaoyue second realm expert, he believed the he could outrun anyone.
“Then when will Grandmaster, trust my abilities to travel alone?”
“Well, considering the enhancement of the Black Core to the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement… as I told you in the past, once you’ll break through the sixth gate, you would be free to roam Valgarel freely”. Kartius said expectantly.
“Until then…” Zax thought about how long it would take him to break through the sixth gate, which was not even a part of his present training regimen, and could not help but be a little down.
“Until then”, Kartius continued in his place. “There is another smaller matter I have yet to talk with you about”.
“Ah, what is it, Master?”
For a short breath, Kartius was a tad hesitant to get into the last topic on his mind. “Your ordeal that involved the support of Eden Formation”, he said, surprising Zax with the sudden mentioning of the best Martial school in El-Eden. “It is still too early to get into this subject, and I don’t want it to get into you head before everything is settled”.
Kartius realized the he sound obscure and that he only confuses Zax. He halted his steps and the two of them stops, now, not so far from the boundary between to species next to cave twenty five.
“Martial son, an envoy from Eden Formation and the Dauch family came to big brother’s cave couple of weeks ago. The matter he and big brother discussed is of no importance to you; just know that our household and the powers behind your human school are in good relations”. Kartius concluded without explaining explicitly.
Zax was lost of words. ‘Why would they involve themselves with our household? Could it be…?’ As he wondered, Kartius’s humanoid hand ruffled his hair.
“We are not far from your first home, Martial son, spend your time productively and return to your second home gratified”. Kartius’s hand tilted Zax’s head to look at him as he spoke.
“Yes, Master”. Although it was not a command, Zax still answered decisively.
“Good”. Kartius said, pleased, and left.
As Zax continued on his own to cave twenty five, the lack of company had him circling in his head a few matters. The entire story of his Master he learned about in their fleeting journey together, what he should do first upon arriving to Kingdom Earth and how, in the name of the Supreme Rulers, Don Ram managed to get to Grandmaster Kartion?!
A while later, the tunnel to cave twenty five was at sight and Zax subdued the thoughts regarding the household’s dire situation and sighed in capitulation against the resourcefulness and tenacity of Don Ram. Taking his Master’s advice, he chose to concentrate on the four days he had to spend in Kingdom Earth and dashed toward his long awaited destination.
Looking up at the ceiling of cave twenty five, the Sun Stones up above were shining as ever and though Zax did not have a watch, he sensed that he had arrived at around midday.
Unleashing his Soul Sense, with the current level of his unique soul, the span of Zax’s Soul Sense was close to five kilometers to every direction from him as the focal point.
Zax released his Soul Sense to locate his parents in cave twenty five, given that in this hour of the day, both of them should have been at work. The reason he bothered to check, despite knowing their schedule, was because he was not sure how long his mother maternity leave was. If she was still staying at home with his baby sister or back at work, while leaving Liz at his grandparents to babysit.
When his Soul Sense located his mother and baby sister at home, Zax looked ahead with anticipation and rushed home.
Knocking gently on the door, Zax did not want to scare his mother by bursting in without her expecting him.
“Zax!” Laylen saw through the eyehole and opened the door with sheer delight.
“Mom…” Having her jumping and hugging him with an increasing tightness, Zax momentarily was alarmed of the flood of emotions streaming from his mother’s eyes. Other than soothing Laylen with a soft softly by calling her in the title that only she, in the whole world, was eligible to, Zax did nothing but returning the hug and waiting for his mother to calm down.
A minute gone by before Laylen released Zax, but her heart was still beating fast with no signs of slowing.
“Sorry… for coming and going without spending any time with you”. Zax said apologetically both to his baby sister, when he picked her from her crib in the living room, and his mother who stood and watch by the side.
“You don’t need to apologize, Zex”, Laylen said with a dim smile. “Your father and I learned to get use to this kind of life style for our children since your big sister, Zetsa, met her Mor and began to stride after him on the path of cultivation”.
Zax believed his mother and knew that she was not trying to comfort him. Then again, even though she spoke honestly, there was still a hint of displeasure in her voice.
Zax did not want to make it difficult for his mother. He said nothing further and sat down on the living room’s couch, with Liz still in his arms.
‘I haven’t seen her for only a month, and this is the second time I get to hold her, as well…’ Zax felt dejection pinching at his heart.
His baby sister was just a little over a month old. There should not have been a lot of changes to her, but from barely seeing her since she was born, with the keen senses he developed from cultivating his body, Zax found a different baby girl resting in his hands.
‘She is so little and there is a long future ahead of both of us, but right now… can I still be considered her big brother?’ It was not easy for Zax say this words outloud for his mother to also hear. He held back his tongue and caressed Liz’s red and tiny cheeks with his thumb as Laylen watched, silently, her son and daughter weaving their bond one thread at a time.
“That’s right, Zax”, Laylen clapped her hands as she remembered something and went to the kitchen. “Lay Liz back in her crib and wait a moment”. From one of the drawers in the kitchen’s cabinet, she retrieved a sealed letter and got back to the living room.
“This arrived last week”, she handed the letter to Zax with a brimming smile. “It was sent from Eden Formation with your name as the recipient. I and dad wanted to open it, but in the end decided to wait for you due to how important the sender is”.
“Eden Formation”. Zax read from the envelope with a wryly smile on his face. He opened the letter as Laylen came closer next to him.
Upon reading the content of the letter, Laylen failed to hold back an excited shrill. Fortunately, she covered her mouth with both hands on time, muffling the shrill so to not startle little Liz.
Zax, in contrast to his mother, felt as if a tight leash was put around his neck and was there since he put the Eden Formation’s school uniforms a month ago.
The content of the letter was short and to the point:
“Dear Zax Zel,
I am pleased to inform and congratulate you for being accepted to Eden Formation, the institute for higher learning and better preparation for the Martial path.
School principal of Eden Formation”.
“Zax, when you last returned wearing this dark shades clothes, I didn’t recognize or pay attention to the symbol on them, but isn’t this the same pattern you wore last time on your clothes before leaving with your big sister?” Laylen pointed at the Eden Formation’s school symbol at the inside of the envelope.
When Zax came home wearing clothes with the same elaborate pattern, neither she nor her husband, Marco, gave it much relevance. Besides, at the time, the two were awestruck and taken aback by the way Tularg handled Liz, to care for some set of new clothes their son happened to wear.
“It was coincidental, mom”, Zax thought how he can explain coming back home with the school uniforms of the best Martial school in El-Eden.
By how his mother behaved, Zax’s intuition told him that she did not know about the ordeal with Anet, the Dernalder family and his intervention, and that it would be for the best if he not lay it on her abruptly.
“When I previously returned, I happened to visit Eden Formation and its school principal, Don Ram. Don Ram was impressed with my cultivation and treated me very well. By sending this letter, apparently she made me an official student of the school”. This much was enough for an explanation, Zax thought.
In truth, he was not entirely clear on how Don Ram could decide to accept him without him never trying to enroll. But he did remember that his big sister spent some time with Don Ram when he was recuperating and his Master also said something vague about the household being in good relations with the school.
‘For now I’ll just go along. Who knows? Eden Formation pride itself in its formations. Maybe if I’ll check their library and look for some help from Don Ram or one of the teachers, I will be able to find a legit attack or defense formation that can be executed using soul energy?’