Zax sat with his mother and Liz for two hours, until his father came back home. At which point, his father’s reaction was slightly less emotive than his mother, but still very much caring.
With his father, Zax sat for an hour longer, discussing the teaching of his Master, the progress of his cultivation and expounding about the members of his Martial household, though not getting into deep details. Keeping it all in a human’s simple perspective, yet still sounding bold and adventurous.
Nevertheless, having experienced the same things with their daughter, although moved, Marco and Laylen still managed to digest all their son’s accounts.
“Reuniting and rejuvenate the old friendships you had…” Marco repeated, after Zax told him and Laylen about his intention and worries of insufficient time to accomplish them.
“Well, Zax, you have four days. Your friends might be spread across El-Eden, in their different schools, but with your level of cultivation you should be capable of moving around swiftly and freely. In two days you can see all your friends and in the remaining two, why don’t you go visit your grandparents? Better yet, it has been a long time since we had a family gathering. In this case, you can spend three days with your friends and in the fourth, meet everyone in the family in one go”.
Marco tried to offer a way for Zax to spend his four days at home and has he kept going about what he could do, new ideas emerged in his head, which in turn made him unceasingly and excitedly throw new suggestion to the air.
“Hon, don’t be restless”. Laylen laughed. It brought her great joy to see her husband enthusiastically converses with their son.
The first time Marco saw Zax, after the three years training in Valgarel, was at the hospital, when Liz was born. Afterwards, when the family got home with Liz and Zax found himself busy dealing with the Dernalder family, up until he had to, yet again, go to Valgarel, both parents and child missed the small window they had together to properly assimilate the lost time.
Now, however, after couple of hours with their son, not only Laylen and Marco were pleased in their hearts, but unknowingly to them, they also started to view Zax less as the child they remembered and more as they young man he became.
“Zax”, Laylen turned to him, after Marco realized the similarities between his current behavior and his father’s rowdy one and awkwardly stopped talking. “Making a plan just to see people that are your friends sounds ridicules. To my understanding, Serah and Zushi should be at their homes. If you want to see them, simply go”. She said in a tone that both advised and admonished the inessential complexity he and his father treated with an ordinary, everyday matter.
“Oh, that’s right, Zax, two days ago Serah did call and ask if you are still at home. It appeared that she talked with Anet, and Troel also told her that he saw you. She said that she stays at home for the whole week and asked that if you happen to return before she has to leave, come visit her at her home”. Marco recalled the conversation he had and how forcefully Serah made him promise to pass on her message to Zax, in case he would come home again.
“Serah and Zushi…” Since the two were at home, Zax was happy the he might be able to see them at the same time. “Mom, dad, is it okay if I go out?” After the last time he stayed out for a single night, Zax got entangled with so many people and things that by the time everything was over he barely spent a moment in home and already had to leave. Feeling contrite toward his parents, this time, Zax made sure to get their consent before doing what he wants.
“Of course you can”. Marco agreed without a hitch.
“Mm…” Laylen, apparently, was a bit pensive before approving. Eventually she closed her eyes and nodded. “But be sure to return by morning, so we could eat breakfast together”. In an hour or so it would be dinner, yet Laylen agreed to give some leeway for Zax to spend his time with both his friends and her and Marco.
“Thank you”. Zax happily said, getting up from the couch, eager to go see his friends.
Opening the door, Zax heard a small cough behind his back and sensed that something was wrong.
“You are not planning to go wearing these worn out clothes, do you?” Laylen asked with a strict tone.
“Mocca Kart addict!”
After thinking for a short while, Zax decided that there is not a better way to break the icy with his closest friend of the longest time, than calling her by her old and arrant nickname, from outside the apartment building she lived in.
The windows in the front of the building of a first floor apartment opened and slid hasty, seconds after Zax’s shout.
“Hahaha, Earth’s Core Freak!” A curly head, combed to a black ponytail and tied to an elated young woman, barged above the meter tall guardrail of the living room porch and shouted youthfully back.
Zax’s and Serah’s faces met each other for the first time in just above three years’ time, and neither of the two could hold back their eyes from getting moist, and the smile on their faces from stretching to the point of having facial muscles pain.
“Catch me!” Serah shouted. Not waiting for an answer, she grabbed the guardrail and jumped, aiming to fall on either Zax’s head or in his hands.
The moment he saw her, countless images of their childhood flashed inside Zax’s mind.
Afraid? Embarrassed? Worried? Cautious?
The ominous feelings that Zax initially had suddenly shattered into tiny, meaningless pieces, and then dust, before completely vanishing, the instant he saw Serah.
His reaction bewildered even him, but Zax utterly did not care. He thought calling Serah by her nickname would work as a joke and help reconnect their friendship. Now he just felt stupid. Stupid and happy!
‘D level Mist User, Earth’s Core Holder’ was one of the thoughts that crossed Zax mind after seeing Serah, and before she gave him prior notice…
Zax found out Serah’s level of cultivation seemingly at the same time she opened the windows. He used his Soul Sense for a split second during the time he waited for her to answer, in some way, to his juvenile call, only to make sure there was someone in the house.
A E level Earth’s Core Holder? At that level, Serah could have jumped from the top floor of the three stories building without suffering too much.
Still, her voice echoed in Zax’s ears like the command of a general or an order from his Master. He was so happy that if Serah was not descending toward him, arms spread to the sides; he would have been the one yelling for her to be careful before utilizing Kinetic Force in his feet and explosively jumping to greet her.
Zax declared the moment he caught Serah.
“Three years, you jerk, Earth’s Core Freak! If Anet didn’t tell me, then I would have kept thinking that you never intended to return!”
Zax felt Serah burying her face on his shoulder, as she slobbered and an outburst of tears and snot soaked his shirt.
“I’m sorry”. Encompassing Serah in his arms, Zax whispered while two thin trails of tears stained his firm expression.
His words were not exactly directed to Serah’s ears, but to the general situation that was his fault. Either way, after saying these two words, Serah quieted and only maintained her closeness to Zax.
“Serah, can we go up?” After couple of minutes and a few passersby, the intimate moment began to affect Zax. The shine of his face faintly reddened and a stray thought, which originated from Serah’s silence, made him wonder if she comfortably fallen asleep in this awkward position.
“Yes”. Finally, Serah pulled her head backward, rubbed her eyes and looked up at the fourteen centimeters taller Zax, as she replied.
Once meeting and greeting the amiable Troel and Jinka, Zax and Serah left her house, to go visit Zushi.
On their way, Zax got to learn in depth, what his old friends had been doing the past three years, and also, how much they heard from their parents, and especially Anet, about his development in the time apart.
Starting with what they knew about him, other than hearing from their parents that he returned, along the news that he done so the day a new member joined the Zel family, most of what they heard initiated from Anet.
Apart from Zax, the seven other kids in the group of eight kids, who years ago searched together for Earth’s Core and prosperous future, during the event the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, preserved a strong friendship, despite striding on different paths.
As a result, they all knew, to an extent, about the surface of Anet’s predicament – since, at the time, Anet was still afraid to involve her family and friends by listing what Binjo and his big brother did to her and the threats they used to silence her.
Only when everything was over and Zax destroyed the Dernalder shackles that subdued her, did she open up to her family and friends. In the process, narrating the support she received from her school principal, Don, who also accepted her as a Tal and more importantly, Zax’s resolute promise that he undeniably kept.
Anet did not elaborate about Zax being a bodily cultivator, but as far as the rest of the six were concerned, the boy who amazed them in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit and vanished afterwards, somehow, made his way back.
Proceeding to what Serah told Zax about herself and the other six… Expect from Anet, the only one to join a Martial school with the intention to strive as a Martial cultivator, was Weysey. He currently should at the Intermediate or Advanced phase of level D as an Earth’s Core Holder.
Dane, Merly and Mi enrolled the same school, a Martial school, but mostly in title. The three only took cultivation lessons as secondary classes to not waste their Earth’s Cores and due to their parents and teachers pressuring them.
Serah and Zushi, like the former three, also enrolled the same Martial school and had been in a similar situation as Dane, Merly and Mi. Serah majored in design and programing, hoping to be accepted to the Mocca Kart Company after graduation, and Zushi was majoring in economy. They, as well, were cultivating in secondary classes.
Truthfully, although cultivation was bothersome, Serah admitted to Zax that even if one does not choose the Martial path, it was still an essential commodity to have a high level of cultivation. The motive behind the forcefulness of their parents and teachers was quite logical. In essence, a leading figure, or just someone who is a bit ahead from others who work in the same field, must also have the power to protect his or her position from the ugliness that excessive competitiveness can arouse…
Although the group of young teens was far from having to worry about this sort of things, their elders did not permit them to be complacent.
That was it of Serah’s explanation of how she and the others were doing during these three years. Likewise, in the mix of their conversation, Zax drew Serah a picture of what he was doing in the past three years, sharing the exact details he told his parents.
The two walked in a pace fast enough to arrive to Zushi’s home right when they finished updating each other.
Zushi, differ from Serah, was reserved when his eyes met Zax and the realizing that he really returned dawned on him. His reservations did not sprout from ill feeling or resentment for Zax’s decision to return and seek reconciliation when it fit him. Zushi’s behavior was due to his calculated character.
It took Serah’s intervention to set the ball rolling for the two. Couple of encouraging words and finally Serah managed to form a group hug.
“So it’s like that…” Zushi said in an understanding tone after Zax finished sharing his tale.
The three sat on the roof of the building Zushi lived at, with snacks and soft drinks. Above their heads, the Nightly Cover formation brightened the “sky” of cave twenty five with thousands upon thousands of tiny stars.
“Assembling our old group would be nice”. Zushi babbled to himself. Naturally, despite his quiet voice, Zax and Serah perfectly heard him.
“I don’t want to trouble anyone when you all have your school’s commitments”. Zax said. “Tomorrow I’ll go to see Dane, Merly and Mi and the next day, I’ll go to Weysey’s and Anet’s schools”.
“Stupid, Black Core Freak”, Serah scolded. After Zax told her about the Black Core, she determined that he deserves an up to date nickname. “Stop being mindful around friends!”
Watching Serah rebuke Zax, Zushi smiled. He practically saw Serah every day in school, but in this moment he detected a luster he never saw before in her eyes.
What Zushi detected was something that in their group of eight, possibly existed only between Zax, Dane and Serah.
It was the solidified bond the three nourished since childhood. After years of sharing beds, plates, games, homework and even pocket money… what was contained inside the hearts among the three of them was not inferior to a brotherly and sisterly bond.
“Serah is right”. Zushi turned to Zax. “We should arrange a proper gathering for the eight of us. Besides, other than Anet, Dane, Merly and Mi are under a series of test and Weysey is in closed doors training. Since Serah and I have a few free days to spend at home, how about we go see Anet tomorrow and look for the other thing you were interested about?”
Finding out that going to see Dane, Merly, Mi and Weysey would be more complicated than he anticipated; Zax was disheartened for his bad timing. “When do you think we can get together, all of us?” He asked before answering Zushi.
“Weysey is more of the problematic one among all of us. Last time we talked he told me that his Mor pushes him until he’ll break through the Core Breaker level”. Zushi said.
“Yes, but, guys, don’t forget Anet’s present status and that even Zax got accepted to Eden Formation”. Serah said with a smile of the one holding the solution. “If either of you can plea to your school principal to send our Martial teachers a personal exchange students invitations, like the one between the best Martial schools, whose parents or teachers will dare refuse?”
“Is it possible?” Serah’s idea was audacious. Therefore Zax sought Zushi’s opinion before getting excited.
“Anet just attained her status. I’m not sure about how good is your relationship with Eden Formation’s principal, but if you got accepted when you still can’t even use your Qi, moreover, to a school that pride itself in techniques that their basis is mist energy… it might be possible”. Zushi gave his final verdict.
Outright happy to know that the vital he required was Don’s approval, Zax smirked in delight.
“Then it’s settled! Since you two have free time to spend, tomorrow the three of us will go to Eden Formation to see Anet, ask Don Ram to help us and check Eden Formation’s, supposedly, best school library in Kingdom Earth”.