Vouvik was hesitant to answer. He figured Zax would not be satisfied with forfeiting the assignment just like that.
Yes, the lad had hid from them a depth that he cannot fathom. However, as a mercenary and also a junior, it was still accurate to categorize him as “Greenhorn”, even if not outloud.
“To decipher this type of chips you need an A class processor. I used the violet stone in the communicator to bypass the encryption, as much of it as I could”. Shouva replied.
The communicator… Zax learned about the device on his journey with the party. Only Fengar and Vouvik had ones. Apparently, they are not uncommon, but good ones with proper range to work outside of cities or clans are extremely rare and expensive.
The mentioned violet stone… yes, it was just the same as Laivien’s, a fragment of some other violet stone that was split apart and put as the nucleus of the communicator, as well as the said processor.
According to Fengar, the larger the original piece of the violet stone, the wider the communicator’s range would be.
Lastly, the communicator’s design, with a tiny stone being its most essential part, is more like that of a jewelry. To activate it, soul energy need to be channeled into it and as the formations printed on the violet stone do their thing, the operator must select one of the several functionalities. Naturally, the higher the class of the communicator, with D being the lowest and S being the highest, the more functions it has.
“If only that wretched woman dropped her communicator along with her spatial ring…” Fengar mumbled to himself at the side and the rest just ignored him.
“Shouva is studying with soul arts. Prior to you joining us, her proficiency was the best in our party”. Vouvik was already inwardly at loss with the new recruit’s capabilities.
It was not that he knew about Zax’s extraordinary soul, but at this point he chose to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“By ‘soul arts’ you mean soul techniques and formations?” Zax inquired, a bit covetously.
Much like in Kingdom Earth, if a cultivator wanted to get his or her hands on Martial techniques and formation without spending Splinters, the only way to do so was hiring oneself to influential organizations or families.
Cultivators who appreciated their freedom, such as mercenaries, were affable toward the former.
With that in mind, Zax quickly calmed his excitement even before getting answered. For someone like Shouva, even with the financial support of her father, she could, at best, acquire Intermediate grade soul techniques and formations for her studies.
“Yes”. Vouvik said.
“Then… can I take a peek at your selection?” Zax turned his head to Shouva. “Of course, I’ll pay!” He added adamantly.
Beginner grade or Advanced grade, since his affinity to all matters of the soul was high and, moreover, since he was invited to observe Grandmaster Kartion’s development of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement’s next stage, Zax sought any material with regard to the soul to broaden his horizon.
“Obsoletely not! You saved father and me, Zax. I don’t have much, but if you are interested in soul arts, you can freely revise my scrolls”. Shouva could not bear taking any more from Zax than he already had to pay…
“Nonsense, Shouva, I obtained sufficient amount of Splinters from that Golden Desert Fort’s woman-”
“I won’t accept your money! Father”, Shouva stubbornly insisted and extend her hand to Vouvik.
While Fengar paid no heed to the conversation, Vouvik had preferred that his daughter will not frivolously throw around her precious scroll. Then again, it was Zax she wanted to share her studies with…
Vouvik retrieved from his spatial ring three sealed boxes and gently lowered them on the ground with his mist energy in front of his daughter.
“This one has techniques, this has formation and the biggest is my meager oeuvre and articles of renowned soul cultivators that expound on their achievements in the field”. Shouva explained and whether Zax meant to borrow her scrolls now or in some later date, she presented her entire collection for him to do whatever he wanted.
Zax stared at Shouva and scolded himself for being insensitive toward her when he woke up, even though he is recuperating and his head still hurt. “I also like to study soul techniques and formations, how about we exchange our knowledge when all of this would be over?”
“Ah… Yes!” The change in temperament, as well as the unexpected offer, cheered Shouva.
Simultaneously, Vouvik and Fengar once more felt intrigued, this time about what level of soul proficiency Zax have and kept from them.
“Good. Now then, what info did you find in the chips?”
Shouva was about to open her mouth and answer, when she suddenly halted, recalling what they learned from the chips and how it was not her place to discuss this highly classified and dangerous discovery before her father, the leader of the party, will personally divulge in his own words.
Vouvik opened. “The Golden Desert Fort managed to intercept a transmission of someone in the higher ups of the Mercenary Association. From the partial bits of information we have, it’s concerning an old folktale of Demirva Ridge. I do not know how confident the Mercenary Association about the legitimacy of that old folktale or why those people are so certain that such thing will occur, but if the Golden Desert Fort is also steadfast on not missing the opportunity…”
A pondering countenance formed on Vouvik’s face. For a moment, the initial shock of finding out the Mercenary Association’s real intention in this time’s High Rankers trials’ assignment resurfaced and made his heart palpitate.
He composed himself and continued. “The folktale tells about a celestial event that succeed the creation of the wraiths by God Demirva. According to it, every unkown number of centuries, for an undetermined passage of time, God Demirva’s divinity is weakening and as a result the terror of the wraith in the ridge subsides as they enter a deep slumber. Those who lived by the ridge for all these hundreds of years, say that during this time the ridge is in its safest, whether underground, above ground or in the sky, anyone can cross the continent at ease. However, in the folktale there is a verse ‘Deep in their kip, lost souls are most vulnerable. The dark sleep is the dawn of Immortals’”.
“Immortals…” Zax’s gawked as he uncontrollably repeated.
Regardless of in what contents the word was used, on the Martial path, no matter which cultivator heard it; his or her heart will shake, for this was the highest state of Martial ascension!
“D-Do you know what the verse means?” Zax asked.
“That we are their… the Martial Association’s, the Golden Desert Fort’s scapegoats!” Fengar snorted from his corner, angry and discontent.
The short mercenary stood up abruptly and passed Vouvik in silent defiance.
“Everybody from the Western Continent know the folktale. In plain words, it is believed that by scavenging the dark attribute’s essence of the wraiths, consuming and refining it, a Martial Mortal will be able to instantly reach the high realm of Immortality!”
“Does a method like this really exist?” Zax saw the spark of Fengar’s own inner aspiration for the things of which he talked about, the personal fate in its truth. He asked because he, too, felt compelled by hopes of furthering his own Martial path to where no one in his homeland ever arrived.
“Even if it is true, the risk-”
“There is but one way to find out”. Fengar did not let Vouvik finish the sentence. “You claim to be alright. Can you still hang on with the assignment?“
“Fengar, you can’t just tell him the bright half of the folktale and convince-” Shouva protested, but like her father, was cut short.
“I’m only asking if Zax can continue with the assignment”. Fengar rebuked.
Detecting the an air of disagreement, it was clear to Zax that while he was unconscious, the three had split opinions about proceeding with the trials’ assignment with Fengar being the one who wished to go on with it.
Fengar returned his full of exaptation gaze back to Zax.
“Good! Are you afraid from the Martial Association’s scheme of making us their scapegoats while they wantonly harvest the dark attribute’s essence?” Fenagr impatiently asked.
Knowing where the conversation going, Zax made up his mind. Straining to get up from the makeshift bed he was resting on, he moved slowly till reaching a straight posture.
“I don’t want to fall into conflict with any of the five powers or Mercenary Association”, until he will possess the strength to carry himself in an unconstrained manner in Ercas Mir, per his original plan, it was for the best to maintain a low profile so long as it have not been a life or death matter. “Honestly, I can’t say that I’m not affected by the allure of authenticating the folktale, but even if neither of us will obtain a dark attribute’s essence, we can still see through finishing the assignment and becoming Rankers”.
“There lay the danger, Zax”, Vouvik proclaimed. “Why we were given a long time to complete the assignment? Let’s put aside the question of the folktale’s validity, by its latter verses, extracting the dark attribute’s essence requires utmost punctuality, on top of being extremely cautious and possessing a strong soul. The consequences of doing everything right is gaining a clear path toward ascension, as well as alerting the slumbering wraiths in the vicinity. The folktale biggest warning is exactly that, ‘For only Immortals can withstand the Wraith’, a verse that forewarns even Martial Mortals, who generally are the only ones capable of traversing safely Demirva Ridge. By looking at it that way… The Mercenary Association intending for us to occupy the attention of the incensed wraiths while their experts escape with the moot prize”.
Fengar opened his mouth, wanting to retort, but failed to find the words to contradict Vouvik’s point. He could only look at Zax, hoping that he will not lose the spunk he exhibited against the Golden Desert Fort’s woman.
Zax weighted the pros and cons while listening to Vouvik. He had to be careful, more so than any other regular participant in the trials. Even if he will manage to conceal his identity, he was smart enough to know that any mercenary participant, who will complete the assignment, will appear on the radar of some of the five powers, maybe all.
‘That might be a double edged sword…’ He thought.
There was the chance that they will consider him as a talented cultivator worth winning over, a seemingly good proposition he once would have obliged to. But if today he would have been asked to join the five powers… he did not think that he could comply with the limitations that forced his Senior Ariel to use him as an ill informed “secret agent” in a foreign land.
‘My cultivation is restricted by the marks. If I ever wish to traverse Ercas Mir as a second realm cultivator I need both the means to increase my strength fast and join a group with prestige that will not limit me’.
Currently, the only type of group that came to mind was a Geared ranked mercenary band, which demands from him to accomplish the assignment and earn the qualification so Xinia could make the introduction for him.
“Right now I’m reluctant to give up”. Zax declared. “If any of you desire to forfeit, then here our ways will part”.
“You see, Vouvik…” Fengar said in an importuning, small voice that meant to be heard, but was void of blame.
Clenching his fist and knitting his brows, Vouvik main concern was not the exposed new level risk of the assignment. This was his daughter’s first attempt at the High Rankers’ trials. Although her expertise as a mercenary was on the same scale as Zax’s, in contrast to the lad, she did not have the power to support herself without her father.
“Here we will part ways”. Vouvik said in a solemn voice.
“Fengar, this may be a rare chance or a poor ruse. Either way, I know the enticement you feel. We did will all these years; we can still do better even if circumstances make us temporarily part ways”.
“I’m sorry, Vouvik”, Zax said. He could not be oblivious to the fact that it was his answer that pushed Fegnar into abandoning his old companion.
“No, Zax”. Fengar raised his hand to stop Zax. “You have no reason to apologize, for yours or my behalf. Vouvik, with the progression of this assignment, we won’t meet until during or after the next High Rankers trials”.
“So I presume, as well”.
Shouva shook her head and hastily rearranged to content of the sealed boxes. “Take this one with you”. She handed him one of the sealed boxes. “I mostly use the scrolls and articles inside as reference, anyways. In the future, after you will get a communicator, you can simply contact me through father or Fengar”.
“…Thank you”. Zax accepted the box that was shoved to his chest.
Staring at it and then at Shouva, he figured that without the treacherous encounter with the Golden Desert Fort’s woman, it would have taken a lot more time and effort for the both of them to be this friendly and open with each other; with the whole party, actually.
Saying their goodbyes, Vouvik and Shouva left the cavern. A short while in the Titan Kapok Trees forest the two shared a glance and channeled their mist energy to their arms, destroying the participation’s paper thin red certificate and officially forfeiting the assignment.
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