“Argh! I… kill them I’LL… Argh! Kill them!”
Inside a crater of over two kilometers in diameter, the formerly cloaked woman struggled in pain and ashen countenance on three limbs, as the left side of her torso was messed.
Caught off guard by the last mist attack, her clothes were mostly obliterated, leaving her half naked, bleeding nonstop and, now at the aftermath, striving to better her posture.
“Darvaj- Argh! Darvajka, help me, DARVAJKA!” Her communication device apparently broke in the fight. Mist energy amplifying her voice and rage suppressing the pain, she yelled and let loose a wave of flames that rose to the night sky.
“Where? Argh! Where, dammit, is it?!” Her vision was blurry. With her one working hand she searched her left hand and on the ground, to no avail. “Where is my ring?!” Although she could not find it, she was nonetheless relieved that she never loosened the grip on her scythe after being blown away.
“Cattelin!” A voice descended from above the crater, belonged to a cloaked humanoid figure.
“Darvajka, argh! Help me, I lost my ring!” Cattelin, the formerly cloaked woman, groaned.
“Tsk!” Darvajka, her counterpart, clucked his tongue. He removes the hood of his cloak off of his head, revealing a bald, bluish head with gills at his neck, slanted eyes and razor sharp teeth. “Wait”.
In a blink of an eye, Darvajka reached Cattelin’s side. With one arm supporting her, in the other he already hold and brought to her mouth a small pill.
“Let the pill’s medicinal properties do their job. I’ll bandage your injuries”. He said, forcing himself to stay calm.
After couple of minutes of rest, where the pill miraculously mended eighty percent of Cattelin’s internal injuries, she finally gathered enough energy to regain her sensibility and clean motor control on her body.
“I’ll give you my second pill to completely heal the damage in the left side of your body in twenty hours. By then, nothing from the first pill would remain in your system”. Darvajka said. Covering her with a cloak he retrieved from his spatial ring and helping her up.
“I know”. Cattelin murmured, no longer being a whimsy woman.
Gauging her condition, physically and mentally, and surveying the surrounding, Darvajka said in a cold tone. “What happened? I told you not to take risks until I return. How did you end up like this? And where is your ring?!”
Recalling all that happened, the shame of being struck so viciously by a weakling and now being berated by Darvajka, Cattelin’s temper heated up again. “I… I… I was careless”. She had to confess due to the importance of their task, and so she recited the chain of events.
Listening quietly until she finished speaking, Darvajka frowned, though it was hard to notice with him being hairless. “We must locate your ring. If you dropped it at the scene of the battle then the situation still might be salvageable. But if they picked it up…”
“I can go! Let’s head there this instant! And, Darvajka, I gave you time to break through the Martial Mortal realm in the midst of the task, you owe me! No matter what, that sly Musclehead and cowardly cat, you must find them for me”. She said, grinding her teeth in resentment. “I’ll butcher the both of them!”
First thing he experienced was at the instant of opening his eyes and staring at the earthly ceiling above his head, that is, a mind splitting headache.
His second odd experience was in his mouth, on his taste buds, a rusty flavor that was all too familiar, blood.
Moving was intolerable, but he could not stay laying, either. So he forced himself up, thereupon becoming aware of all the bandages wrapped around his body and the imbalance of missing his right arm up to the shoulder.
“You are awake!” A slight echo of a concerned voice traveled to Zax’s ears. A tall woman, apparently about his height, with an oval face, long red hair and green cat eyes rushed to his side.
“Shouva”, Zax recognized by the voice and the feline features on the human face, despite it being his first time seeing it.
Placing a hand on his back for him to lean on, in case he will lose the strength to stay up, was the most that Shouva felt herself capable of doing without letting shame resurface. Zax, to save her and her father, took upon him to safeguard their retreat against an opponent that now left him severely injured and even disabled.
Zax sensed the gloomy atmosphere, but his mind has yet become clear. Unlike Shouva, his injuries and lack of a right arm were nothing more than a temporary inconvenience. He had been through worse and healed. Physically, his sole problem at the moment was the absence of unripe Blood Red Grapes to nourish his vitality for fast recovery. He could tell that under the bandages his open wounds were patched and smeared with medicinal something, however that “something” did not seem to be of use to his needs.
By relying on his own healing abilities, for anything other than his right arm he will need a night or two of rest. To fully restore his arm… less than two weeks, maybe, would suffice. But if he will proceed with the trials’ assignment and further exhaust himself… a month, if he is lucky.
“Where are Fengar and Vouvik?” Zax asked.
He was not in the mood for reassuring Shouva that he is alright and that she should not blame herself. That much she will understand on her own, now that he exposed his true strength and there was one less secret to tell.
“Oh, that’s right! I’ll go tell them that you are up”. Shouva hastily said. She slowly released her hold of Zax’s back and went back up the torch lighted cavern that they were stationed in.
“Zax…” Fengar arrived with a complicated look on his face.
“Fortunately. I was afraid that our medicament would not affect your physique”. Vouvik followed after in his human form that shared resemblance to his daughter’s, although masculine. He was still taller than Zax by about a head and had two protrusions on his forehead.
“It wouldn’t”. Zax said straightforwardly. “Not much, at least, but thanks anyway”. There was no point in keeping pretense if the two could help him find a consumable source of vitality, like the unripe Blood Red Grapes, or something close enough.
Both grimaced, seemingly in anger and grief.
“Don’t, Zax, you mustn’t thank us”. Fengar said, discarding the “Greenhorn” label he used to call him with. He felt sufficient shame already. “If it weren’t for the risk you took, we will all probably have died. The opponent you fought… she wasn’t a mere cultivator. As we assumed in Sifon tribe, the five powers are involved with the sudden murders and she was an agent of the Golden Desert Fort”.
“The Golden Desert Fort?!” Zax was aghast. Involvement with the five powers was the last thing he wanted, but he could not turn his back to Vouvik’s and Shouva’s peril and now he cannot even lay low.
Vouvik glanced at Fengar and the former pulled out a bronze ring from his utility belt and threw it to Zax.
“When Fengar picked you up, he found it on the ground. It is the cloaked woman’s spatial ring. While you were unconscious we skimmed through it and discovered the origin of the woman as well as the reason behind the murders”. Vouvik explained. “We did not, however, take anything out of the spatial ring”. He added so there would not be a misunderstanding.
Fengar also pitched in. “Zax, you don’t have a spatial ring. Spatial rings are very rare even to Peak Core Masters. As the one who fought off the cloaked woman, you should have her spatial ring and its content”.
Zax realized the two’s meaning and knew that it was not their way of thanking or apologizing to him. Being the one responsible for making Cattelin lose her spatial ring made it his own fortune.
He unceremoniously put the ring on his finger – later he will keep it hidden in his utility belt. It was restricted by a soul seal, Vouvik’s, a he was the last to use it. Zax shattered the seal with his soul energy and proceeded to channel it with accordance to the Restriction formation inside the ring.
After a short breath, a new seal was erected. From what Fengar taught him in their travel to the Sifon tribe, if someone will break it he would be able to sense it along with losing the spiritual connection to the ring, which alerts of its whereabouts.
Examining the space in the ring was gave a similar sensation to inputting his consciousness in Laivien’s violet stone. Inside was a void that could not sustain the living, be they human, beasts, vegetation or anything else. The space was a ten meters height and width cube. Inside were a number of objects. Data chips, journals, two pills of some sort, a Peak second realm Pure Core and about one hundred thousand Splinters.
‘So I ended up paying with my arm for more than my life…’ Zax heaved a deep sigh.
Initially he was overwhelmed by the astonishing amount of Splinters. After selling his near Peak second realm Pure Core he only earned a trifling seven thousand Splinters. Now, not only he had an actual Peak second realm Pure Core, he also obtained over fourteen times his savings!
Following the Splinters’ count, Zax observed the rest of the stuff. The several data chips were at the size of a human’s nail and he had no idea to what device they belong or for what purpose. He also ignored the pills, since he was oblivious to their medicinal effect. Last were the journals. Zax summoned them out with his soul energy, before examining their content.
Seeing the small pile of seven journals, all three appeared to have guessed that Zax finished covering the content of the spatial ring.
“There was also the Golden Desert Fort’s insignia, but I had to destroy it so it would not be used to detect our movement”. Fengar said.
“The journals belonged to the murdered brokers. They hold all kind on notes. Anything regarding the High Rankers’ trials and the assignment is mentioned briefly in the last pages of each journal. The important intelligence is encrypted in the data chips. Of all eight, Shouva managed to partly decipher the information recorded in only two”. Vouvik expound.
“What we discussed, father…” Shouva interrupted, motioning for him with her eyes to be considerate.
“I know”. Vouvik said and next to him Fengar lowered his gaze to the ground and went to sit by the cavern’s wall. “Zax, the three of us have decided… This time’s assignment is too dangerous for us to take on. We thought about it and reached the conclusion that we should forfeit and participate in the next trials”. As he saw Zax about to comment, he continued to say. “Yes, some of the reasoning is your condition. But, the fact is that the matter that attracted the attention of, at least, one of the five powers, and most likely was planned all along by the Mercenary Association, is a too serious issue for us to get involved with as well”.
Rubbing the pain off of his head, Zax disapprovingly stared at Vouvik and then averted his gaze to the fidgeted Fengar who stayed far from the conversation.
“Let me stop you there, Vouvik”. Zax dismissed any notion of a junior’s decorum from his tone. Not in an attempt to be mean or discontent with the three. He was still thankful that they accepted him to their party and for the good way they treated him, but at the moment he just wanted to cut short the misinterpretation they had of him.
“From the fight with that woman, you all should be able to tell that I’m a bodily cultivator. Moreover, my cultivation technique isn’t simple. With it even growing a new arm isn’t impossible. But for it to be an easy process for me I require sources of vitality”. In his narration, Zax indirectly inquired the three’s knowledge for something that could help him, all the while shocking them with the statement he made for his cultivation technique.
Full ten second passed before they could satiate their astonishment. Although bodily cultivation techniques were rare in Ercas Mir, they were also inferior to above average mist cultivation techniques, which created a lack of interest from the general cultivators’ public. Conversely, bodily cultivation techniques that managed to surpass the norm by having certain uniqueness, such as growing back severed limbs, were extremely sought after.
Repressing the desire to inquire about his cultivation technique and moving on… The three were not stupid, not to mention that helping Zax was a given whether he asked or not.
“In clans and cities there are many consumables that generate vitality. Pills, herbs, fruits and meat… qualities vary, but prices are negotiable. If we will return-”
“Good”. Zax said immediately, not letting Vouvik finish. “That matter aside, the journals and data chips, can you teach me how to use them and finally tell me what you discovered from them that made you flustered?”
Resigning from the assignment was a choice Zax was willing to comply with. It might implicate Xinia’s status for picking him as the Sensensar family’s envoy and he will feel bad for it, but with a good enough reason behind this choice he had to be reasonable.
Thus, as Zax looked for his clothes and noticed that was currently left of his upper garments was tattered fabric, thrown right next to him, he was also deeply curious on how much reasonable the information salvaged from the data chips was.
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