“Martial son, you already knows about Laivien, don’t you?” Kartius was in the lead as the two entered the Essence Cave, passing through the smoky mist without any sign of deterioration from its acidic properties.
In the past, the existence of Laivien was an issue Grandmaster Kartion did not permit to converse with outsiders, that is, individuals that were not part of the household and the selected few Krikitories that tended to her. Now that Grandmaster Kartion accepted Zax, Kartius could talk to him freely about any of the household’s matters. Naturally, he would not weigh on him all of the household’s problems, otherwise it my harm his concentration during cultivation. Thus, for the time being, Kartius decided to only properly introduce Laivien.
“Yes…” Zax’s voice was a bit shaky.
He promised Laivien that he will not tell anyone that they talked. In the end, he easily admitted for couple of reason. One was that he could not lie to his Master. The second was that he somehow figured that his Master already knew, and the third was the relationship between his Master and Laivien.
With these reasons, it was pointless to lie. And why Zax’s voice was shaky, was because of the anticipation to his Master’s reaction.
Kartius slowed his pace, affecting Zax’s also. They ran shoulder to shoulder, with respect to the difference in their sizes, in a similar speed to that of a level D Earth’s Core Holder.
“That bored girl…” Kartius murmured, but his voice sounded as if he was to blame. “Martial son, Laivien is Martial father’s twin little sister and big brother’s spouse”. Kartius spoke in a straightforward tone.
Zax nearly tripped. “Grandmaster’s wife?!” He was stunned. He was not surprised from the brother and sister tie since Laivien already blurted out about it. But for the feminine voice in his head to be Grandmaster’s wife? It was improbable for him not to get dizzy from this news.
“That’s right”. Kartius glanced at Zax, hinting for him to attentively listen as he began to narrate. “Big brother is almost half a century older then I and little sister. In our tribe, he was the unrivaled genius cultivator. Our status, though, unranked his due to our bloodline. When little sister and I reached level F as Mist Users, our father asked big brother to take us as his apprentices. That is how big brother became our Master”. As he recounted, Kartius’s speed sometimes grew slower or faster and his hooves left deeper prints in the ground. He repressed his tone from giving more meaning to the story than he intended to, but whatever he repressed was reflected in his body language.
“Another fifty years later, little sister and I broke through the Core Master’s realm. At the time, little sister confessed her feelings to big brother and he, too, stopped holding back his true affection to little sister. From then on, the two became inseparable. Big brother was no longer my Master and I, of course, happily gave him and little sister my blessings”. As Kartius finished speaking his pace gradually increased until he reached Zax’s maximum speed.
Zax could sense that there was more to the story than what his Master told him. The parts that explained how the three of them reached their current state, confined to two caves in Valgarel. Nevertheless, he did not ask his Master to further expound. He trusted that his Master would tell him everything when he needs to know it, if at all he needs to know.
“Mm…” Zax hummed as he thought. There was a question at the tip of his tongue that he pondered if it would be rude to ask. ‘Master taking me to her anyway…’ He assumed that it would be fine.
Looking at his Master, Zax asked. “Master, is everything okay with Laivien? How come she is in the Essence Cave and not in Grandmaster’s side?”
Kartius was a few meters ahead of Zax, he turned half his stag face to the side, shifted it back forward and replied. “Big brother is too protective, all of us, in fact, including me and his Martial sons and daughters”. His speech sounded as if there was a break between sentences, but it did not cease to prevent Zax from asking from what everyone worried.
“Martial son, as you know, the only cave connected to the Essence Cave is big brother’s cave, which makes the Essence Cave a closely guarded secret from outsiders. Big brother received his cave from His Valor Ozeyn a long time ago, that is why our enemies don’t dare to intrude to big brother’s cave. If, however, the existence of the Essence Cave will come to light, even His Valor Ozeyn might have regrets of letting big brother have the cave. If that will happen, His Valor Ozeyn would probably give big brother another cave or two in exchange, but that would still be a great loss for us bodily cultivators. Because it is not known to outsiders, the Essence Cave is also the perfect place to hide little sister from our enemies. As for our exact destination, the valley in the Essence Cave little sister staying, it is a place that not even I can carelessly enter to. In the worst case scenario of use ever falling to our enemies, the most important thing would be to keep little sister safe; the smoky mist surrounding little sister’s valley is the best protection little sister would ever have in such a case”.
The two were always proceeding through the most dangerous red orange smoky mist since they entered the Essence Cave and had very little visibility. After about an hour some changes began to take place in the red orange smoky mist. First there were some odd cunctation, which Zax barely noticed, now, on the other hand, azure spots appeared within the red and orange.
Kartius did not pay attention to the new color in the smoky mist, but for Zax it was a first seeing it. The red orange smoky mist was supposed to have the highest level of acid, but as they continued onwards and the azure spots became more abundant. Zax wondered about it and used his Soul Sense to clearly see what it is, yet the instant his Soul Sense made contact with an azure spot, a splitting headache bombarded his sea of consciousness and his facial expression turned ugly. Zax gnashed his teeth as his heart was in turmoil. Other than pain there was one more thing he perceived from the azure spot. Upon touching it there can only be death.
Kartius was not oblivious to his Martial son’s curiosity. He was in the midst of explaining to him about his little sister and the Essence Cave when Zax suffered from the contact with the azure spot. Kartius deliberately let Zax experience the threat of the azure spot, both to show him under what kind of protection his big brother put Laivien and to teach him that even an intangible instrument like Soul Sense has its limits and there is no need to make physical contact for a soul attack. Of course, if Zax was to try and touch an azure spot, Kartius would have stopped him instantly.
“That is merely the outer layer of protection around little sister’s valley”. Kartius had a placid countenance. He took Zax by the arm, until he would regain his balance, and kept moving.
“Ahead of us there are clouds of azure smoky mist. If one tries to probe them with Soul Sense, they can inflict a long range soul attack that can even affect a second level Core Master. If one were to touch them… My condolences”.
“Master, isn’t it too much? How are we to go beyond this smoky mist?”
For the first time since they entered the Essence Cave, Kartius had a smile on his stag face. “We will go past this smoky mist in the only way possible for cultivators under the third realm”. With a nudge of his hand a violet stone appeared between his fingers. One side of the violet stone was smooth as water. The other side was fractured, asymmetrical and rough.
As if the accumulating azure spots could sense the violet stone, a corridor free from any type of smoky mist opened for Zax and Kartius.
“This stone, Master…?” Zax was fascinated by the miraculous powers of the violet stone.
“A stolen treasure”. Kartius refused to say more about it. “Asking if it’s too much”, he got back to Zax’s first question. “For a safe delivery, big brother will use and do whatever is necessary to protect little sister”.
The corridor was enclosed by dense azure smoky mist. Its length was two kilometers and seven hundred meters long and only as wide as the one holding the violet stone, Kartius.
Zax followed his Master closely. In several breaths they crossed the corridor, into Laivien valley.
“You finally arrived”. A jubilantly warm voice resonated in both Zax’s and Kartius’s heads even before the scenery of the valley sunk in.
“Little sister”, Kartius did not bother with talking to her in his mind. “We will shortly be there to see you”. He tapped Zax’s shoulder to stoop staring at the hidden valley of the Essence Cave and come with him.
Zax sighed inwardly. For such a beautiful place to be unknown, barely reachable, ‘What a waste…’
The valley had an encirclement of about four kilometers. A carpet of healthy green-blue soft grass was its carpet. There were small hills, shallow lakes and scattered lone trees. It gave the impression of a miniature cave.
Near to the central part of the valley were five large huts, an adequate to the scenery habitation.
As Zax and Kartius approached the huts, a group of seven young Krikitories arrived to welcome them. This group of young Krikitories did not seem older than the first young Krikitories Zax met three years ago when his big sister brought him to Grandmaster Kartion’s cave. However, as the tiny Krikitories met them, none of the seven ran impulsively with cups of water. At a first glance the seven appeared disciplined and exceedingly polite.
Two young Krikitories broke from the group and stepped in front of Zax and Kartius. The two bowed and the five behind mimicked them.
“Take us to Laivien”. Kartius said affably.
The two young Krikitories straightened and the other five followed suit. Greeting the two guests seemed to be their responsibility. With them finishing doing what they were told, the seven raised their bear cub faces. Regardless of how they were taught to be around guests, they were still very young. Eyes sparkling as they studied the two visitors, all of the young Krikitories clapped their paws in excitement.
Four young Krikitories ran to Kartius, jumped to grab his hands, saying. “Bulivon! Bulivon!” For them to reach with their small legs to the ground, and to not disappoint their attempt to show him the way, Kartius hunched his back.
The same thing happened with Zax. Three young Krikitories ran to him, “Bukibi! Bukibi!” The assessed him the same way the young group of Krikitories assessed him three years ago and called him by the same name. Since Zax was much smaller than Kartius, it took less effort for the three to grab his hands and make him follow them.
They barely walked a hundred meters distance before they reached pavilion that was situated at the back of the five huts.
Around the pavilion was a group of adult Krikitories. Seven females and four male waited to the sides of the pavilion.
Under the pavilion’s thatch, which was wholly made, like the frame and platform of the pavilion, from wood, was an egg like meter tall violet stone. And near that egg like stone lay a beautiful white doe.
The white doe’s body was resting on all four, and just like this, she was still practically huge. If standing she seemed to be around eight meters to ten meters tall. However, despite her size, the white doe exuded a balminess of atmosphere.
The white doe’s stomach was a bit bulging. On it and across her back she was covered by a thin, colorful blanket.
The white doe directed her gaze to Kartius and Zax and her eyes were shining with splendor and bliss.
To the left of Zax, a vibration issued from Kartius’s body. He transformed, became bigger and bigger, revealing his animalistic form.
In but a second a fourteen meters tall stag stood in front of the pavilion.
His mouth opened for all to hear as his voice softly got out. “Sorry for being late, dear little sister”.
An even softer, cordial voice left the white doe’s mouth. “Big brother… Little Zax, allow me to properly present myself. I’m Laivien, a white doe of the Black Horns tribe. My Kartion’s apprentices refer to me as Martial mother or use my name. Whether you were taken as my Kartion’s apprentice or remained my big brother’s, you can also call me Martial mother or keep using my name. Apart from this, I’m pleased to finally see you with my own two eyes”.
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