Book 5 – Horns, Chapter 5 – A Sitting

“Grandmaster, what I meant to say is, although many experts came after us, big sis simply saw it as an opportunity to get rid of Grandmaster’s nuisance”. Zax almost jokingly continued, all to not arouse the flames of fury if this third realm expert in front of him.

A resplendent of contentment shone Grandmaster Kartion’s eyes and a light groan escaped his mouth, as if complementing Zetsa’s way of thinking by saying “as expected”.

“At first we easily escaped from their encirclement and then, big sis sent me to find big brother Raroen while she and big brother Tularg lured the pursuers to stay on track after them”. Zax also saved up on words and did not dare to mention Tularg’s weak state.

“After getting to the adjoining cave, big brother Raroen found me before I could find him. It was the first time that I met big brother Raroen. He gave me some pointers and then took me on his back, in his animalistic form, to further demonstrate the things I need to work at and to beat all fifty two pursuers (he let big sis kill one of them) without allowing one of them leave alive”. He concluded and respectfully waited for Grandmaster Kartion’s verdict.

Grandmaster Kartion lowered his head and shut his eyes. Beside Zax, Kartius had a huge grin across his stag face.

“Good! Good!” Grandmaster Kartion said twice in his pondering state. He opened his eyes and looked straight at Zax. “Zetsa is undeniably quick witted. You and Tularg did well listening to her. Moreover, Raroen gave you a personal lesson… that’s quite rare of him. There are only two of his juniors that he is willing to advise while I’m in close doors training”. Grandmaster Kartion pointed it out as something which Zax should not take for granted regardless of how much gathered from it. “Have you learned something from him or are you still contemplating?” He asked.

From Zax’s ardent behavior when mentioning Raroen, Grandmaster Kartion saw it clearly that the boy did not disregard the personal lesson he received.

“I have”. Seeing the chance to discuss and maybe attain a constructive advice, Zax answered promptly and in earnest. “Big brother Raroen instructed in regards to the bodily maneuvers. As he fought our pursuers he showed the Martial art he developed. From watching him I caught a glimpse of how I should practice the bodily maneuvers Master taught me. When I displayed it before, I followed the grain of insight I gained from big brother Raroen’s teachings and for the first time made it past the third sequence. Regrettably, the bottleneck to the fifth sequence was too difficult to surpass by relaying only on the grain of insight. Later I hope to mediate over what I learned in order to reach the Advanced phase of the Intermediate phase of the bodily maneuvers”.

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“Mm…” Grandmaster Kartion mused over Zax’s reply. “Don’t”. He said firmly. “That won’t help you to break though the bottleneck to the next phase. Everything has to be done gradually on the path of Martial cultivation. Enriching yourself over the profound way of the bodily maneuvers will only provide you the knowledge of how you should proceed, but not entirely enable you to make a breakthrough. Alongside the matter of the dark attribute, forget for now about seeking further insights in the bodily maneuvers”. Grandmaster Kartion said with no intention to elaborate into his reasoning.

“Then, Grandmaster, what else is there for me to do to reach the fifth sequence?” Though Zax sensed that Grandmaster Kartion purposely answered with only half the information with respect to the bodily maneuvers and the dark attribute, he still pushed for a more defined answer. He did not want to practice on his own, make irreparable mistakes and reach the same wall Raroen faced.

“Make a decision”. Grandmaster Kartion said and his expression grew solemn. “Junior apprentice Zax, you have been inspected by I, Kartion, and your accomplishments in the teachings your Master imparted to you have been noted”. Grandmaster Kartion nodded to Zax as sign of approval. To that, Zax’s reaction, as well as Kartius’s, was to all tensed up. Those were the words both of them waited to hear for three years.

“You earned the right to practice my methods and technique and be part of my Martial household”. Grandmaster Kartion, in his own official way, finally accepted Zax. However, the follow of his words did not stop there. “But, will you accept it?” Before this bizarre question could sink in Zax’s mind, Grandmaster Kartion said. “You have seen them on your journey here, and Kartius informed me that you even fought with several of them. I, Kartion, have plenty of enemies that confine me and mine to this corner cave in Valgarel”.

‘Able to confine a third realm expert?!’ Zax was shocked and afraid to ask out loud. Reserve as he tried to be, his reaction, though was no so discreet for Grandmaster Kartion to miss it.

“The humans and beasts that seek to destroy me and mine certainly have the power to do so, at a great price, but capable nonetheless. That is because the prime adversaries of mine who lead the hunt for me and the household I’ve built are two third realm experts”. As he mentioned the two, as if recalling a painful memory, Grandmaster Kartion’s eyes seemed to grow foggy by bottomless hatred and his stag mien convulsed. This was only a matter of a fraction of a second before he returned to himself, he also did not let it radiate from him like his rage from minutes ago, but Zax managed to detect it.

‘Big sis and Master and big brother Tularg, big brother Raroen and the rest… by associating themselves with Grandmaster they have to deal with such a threat?’ His relations with some of them were more intimate than the rest, but overall, were they not those who welcomed and accepted him when he was in his lowest?

‘Does Grandmaster providing me a way out? Telling me to abandon them?!’ Zax’s body began to shake. “I ACCEPT!” He bellowed. ‘Unacceptable! Unacceptable! Unacceptable! Unacceptable!’ The only thing he could not accept was turning his back to those close to him.

“You…” Zax’s outburst took Grandmaster Kartion aback. He did not expect for a first realm, tiny junior apprentice to be so overbearing when confronting his superior. Even his own apprentices, those eight children of his, are very careful with their responses when raising the issue of his enemies.

Kartius, who silently sat in the same manner as his big brother, had his eyes blazing and his right hand hiding the smile on his face. Initially, he, too, exuded the flames in his heart through his eyes when his big brother mentioned the two third realm experts, the core of their anxieties. But his Martial son’s response stimulated a stronger feeling in his heart with purer, grander flames. He thought: ‘Accept? Accept what, you little brat? Care to tell which Martial father will let his one and only Martial son lose his life that you have to answer with so much vigor?’

“Then I won’t speak further”. Grandmaster Kartion said. He leaned forward, his large physique dwarfed Zax’s even more. One hand he raised and lay on Zax’s shoulder, the other on Kartius’s. “Both of you did well”.

“Hahaha!” Kartius received his big brother’s gesture with immense delight. “It has been three years and for the first time in a long time big brother disperses his reticence, hahaha!”

“Enough, Kartius!” Grandmaster Kartion pulled his hands back and scolded. Despite what Kartius said, it did not look like a lot of change, if any, occurred to Grandmaster Kartion when he praised the two.

“Junior apprentice Zax, there are more to say in the matter of those who want to eliminate our household. In time you, like your Martial brothers and sisters, will learn the full story. Now, however, it’s too early. You are young, the youngest in our household, yet the one who shows the greatest promise in cultivation the bodily refinement technique I developed. Therefore, concentrating on your cultivation is all that I want you to be doing for the time being”. Grandmaster Kartion was truly straightforward. When deciding on a matter he did not give a second thought to anything that could be a distraction.

“Big brother, are we getting to it?” Kartius removed his smile and his tone grew stiff.

“Yes”. Grandmaster Kartion nodded once toward Kartius and returned to Zax. “Junior apprentice Zax, what are your thoughts with regards to the future of your cultivation path?”

The future of his path, the next thing in his training he had to focus on in order to break through to the last gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement… to that, Zax had only one thing on his mind. “Master explained to me that due to the modification the Black Core did to the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement, I will be able to become much stronger than any other participant of the same bodily refinement technique, but at the same time I would require more potent resource to refine my body. Furthermore, according to Master, the smoky mist of the Essence Cave won’t be of much help to me and the only medicinal plants that would affect my body are those treasures growing in the second Savage Cave”. Zax recited.

After a pause for a new breath Zax continued. “To go around my limitation, Master gave me one of two tasks to accomplish before resuming cultivating my body… either figuring out the identity of the bodily maneuvers’ energy or reaching with my soul to level A. I found out that the energy of the bodily maneuvers is kinetic energy and since then I gained more insights and my improvement in the bodily maneuvers was the fastest. So now I think that my cultivation path should return to practicing the bodily refinement technique with the help of Master’s guidance”. Zax finished saying assertively. His words reverberated the eagerness inside of him to get to the next level, to become “Unbound by anyone” in New Earth.

“Mm…” Grandmaster Kartion mused. “At the time, Kartius instructions were the best that he could provide for you”. He said in total agreement, but still, with a hint of the possibility to survey further options. “Junior apprentice Zax, by practicing my bodily refinement technique you are entitled to refer to me as ‘Grandmaster’, but ‘Grandmaster’ and ‘Master’ have two different meaning to an apprentice. While the words of a Grandmaster should always be addressed with iron discipline, an apprentice constructs his foundations under the supervision of a Master, and first and foremost Master’s teaching”.

“You wish to proceed with cultivating your body. If that’s your goal, would you agree for me to be your Master, be my ninth Martial son and a true Martial brother to my other children?” Not looking at Kartius, Grandmaster Kartion asked seriously.

“Eh?!” Zax was flabbergasted by the impulsive offer. “No, Grandmaster”. Without a second to even consider the pros and cons, his answer was swift and resolute.

“No?” Grandmaster Kartion was startled by Zax’s answer like his previous acceptances, but still raised a brow as if wondering “why ‘No’”.

“Grandmaster, my Master is sitting beside me and that’s it”. A more sophisticated reply indeed did not cross Zax’s mind at all. To a question which others would go on and expound in many words of flattery and devotion, Zax had the sense to answer straight and simple.

Not making a sound, Kartius gaze met with Grandmaster Kartion’s and the former had a smile in his eyes which could pierce the latter’s soul.

Kartius received many great gifts from his Martial son in this one sitting, and Grandmaster Kartion was content with his little brother choice.

“Are you feigns ignorance?” Grandmaster Kartion, for his own reasons, decided to if not make the junior apprentice to give a more reasonable answer, than at least undermine his resolve. “Kartius is an exemplary cultivator whose knowledge and experience can contribute immensely to anyone in New Earth. But, everything he knows, with very little exceptions, are things I taught him or showed him the direction he should explore. Even more so, if training in the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement is what you want, there is no one better than I to instruct you. I’ll say it bluntly, junior apprentice Zax, if you’ll become my apprentice, to reach the last gate in the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement you won’t need any prerequisite and we could get on it immediately”.

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With the seductiveness of his offer, it would be a lie to say that Zax was not completely tempted. With just one breakthrough no one in New Earth would be able to take for granted. There will be very, very few with the power to do so. And beyond the prestige the he would get in New Earth, who knows? Maybe he will reach to level of traveling freely the old world above ground.

Yes, weaker experts have gone before him and couple of years ago a group of such experts left for the world above ground, but going as a Mist Lord or first level Core Master was worlds apart than going as someone with the power of a third level Core Master, maybe even a bit stronger…?!

“Grandmaster, honestly”, Zax said softly, his head down, staring at the sparkling blue bricks of the tower’s first floor. “I really do want to become stronger sooner than later, there are many things I would like to do and a sense of the greatest freedom to achieve. But, by taking you as my Master in place of Master Kartius, won’t it only be that… gaining the same things slightly faster? I can do with taking my time, so long as Master Kartius is by my side. And if Master Kartius thought that Grandmaster could nurture me better than he is, I believe, then, that Master Kartius would intervene and ask Grandmaster to take me as his apprentice even before Grandmaster offered”.

“Oh… and what if I told you that Kartius asked of me to accept you as my ninth apprentice before you arrived?” Grandmaster Kartion enquired.

“Then I won’t agree to become your apprentice no matter what. If Master Kartius think that I should be Grandmaster’s apprentice rather than his, then he should first talk about it with me”.

If such a thing were to happen, in which Kartius did not discuss it with him first, Zax would see past the statuses in their Master apprentice relationship and be offended. That is how momentous figure Kartius was in Zax’s life.

One second, ten seconds, thirty seconds, one whole minute gone by quietly after Zax finished talking.

Grandmaster Kartion was in a pensive mood. The words of a mere junior apprentice struck him deeply, a sample of his own personality reflected from the human boy his Martial daughter and little brother persuaded to let stay in his cave.

“Zetsa passed me a message that you won’t need some time because of a girl…” Thinking to himself, Grandmaster Kartion sighed heavily.

Before Zax could wonder if Grandmaster Kartion knew about the conflict with the Derneldar family, Grandmaster Kartion said. “Junior apprentice Zax, this cave is currently restricted to the enemies of my household, but that might not stay like this for long. Soon, Valgarel would be able to accommodate either us or them. Although your body fitness level is above most of your Martial brothers’ and sisters’, you are still quite weak and as a whole, due to you clogged Qi channels, unfit to be part of our strategy”. Grandmaster summarized explicitly Zax’s stand point in his outlook of their situation.

“Kartius, instruct you Martial son what you think would be good for him. I approve of your request, taking him to her valley”. Grandmaster Kartion turned from Kartius to Zax. “Junior apprentice Zax, that will be it for us. Next time I will see you would be after your break through to the last gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement”. He said and got up.

Kartius and Zax rose to their feet after Grandmaster Kartion. No additional words have been and Grandmaster Kartion, with heavy stomps, climbed to the upper floors of the sparkling blue tower.

“Follow me, Zax”. Kartius said and jumped first from the peak of the mountain.

“Where to, Master?” Zax asked.

“Now that big brother evaluated and saw fit to accept you to our household, there is no need to keep acting”. Kartius was several tens of meters ahead of Zax and the strong wind whistled in their ears as they descended from the steep mountain.

Still, as bodily cultivator, even a Sun Stone storm could not impede their hearing.

Kartius’s voice got smoothly to Zax’s ears.

“We are going to see Laivien!”

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