Staring at the living room’s Screen, Zax and Serah had two huge, proud, childish grins. They did tell the truth and now Troel and Jinka have to believe them.
In contrast to the two children, Troel and Jinka completely ignored the notion of their daughter and her friend lying. The two adult listened to every word of the announcer and followed each of the reporters’ questions that were answered or overlooked.
They did not laugh or were excited. By when the announcement broadcast the third time since they began to watch it, Jinka was holding hands with her husband. Both of them were sweating and seemed to contain great pressure inside their every bone.
An expedition to the environment, the world, that over five thousand years ago nearly destroyed humanity… How could they as simple Mist Users, middle class citizens of Kingdom Earth and most of all parents to a nine years old innocent little girl, not imagine with much more clarity the risks to their society rather than the benefits?
“See, dad, isn’t it amazing?” Serah boasted. “Seeing the blue skies, mom, I also want it!”
“Me too, aunty, uncle. One day for sure!” The pair of children could not sustain their exhilaration.
“Serah, go to your room with Zax. Arrange the bed for him in case he’ll stay the night here and play there until dinner is ready”. Troel’s voice echoed with vibrations that forced the two children on their feet and without protest, obey.
The rest of the evening passed quietly. Serah used the lower layer of her bed to open a second bed for Zax to sleep on and brought some covers from her parents’ bedroom. Afterwards and again, after they finished a mute dinner, they played some Mocca Kart races and when Zax was tired of losing and hearing Serah’s boasting they talked about their day, Mortimer Dauch, the added new goals they set for themselves and the blue skies until they fell asleep.
Zax woke up early in the morning, around five o’clock. Today was Friday and the school was close until Sunday morning, so he got off the bed without making a sound, picked up his schoolbag and prepared to go home. As it turned out, yesterday he lost his last day of training before his big sister returns and because of that he woke up upset.
The only one awake beside him was Troel, getting ready for work. In a low voice he greeted Zax “Good morning” and waved his head for him to go sit near the dining table. He had dark circles under the eyes, apparently he could not shake off the anxiety of last night announcement. Troel did not ask Zax why he also woke up early since his appearance explained this to him. If he wanted to go home early it is his right, the boy lived five minutes of walk from them, but he will not let him go on an empty stomach. Troel served him a meal of fried eggs and sausage, a small loaf of raisins bread and orange juice and left for work after he half instructed half asked Zax quietly to stay until seven and then wake up Jinka so she could lock the door behind him and get ready to work herself.
As a result of the Nightly Cover formation, the morning air was cool and refreshing. Zax returned home and was ready to head out to his big sister’s apartment in hope that he will be able to squeeze couple of training hours before she arrives, but as he entered his room he got startled.
“Zetsa!” He jumped cheerfully on his big sister’s back that laid on his bed, sleeping.
“Little Zi,” Zetsa grabbed Zax’s head and rubbed it forcefully. “You brat! Jumping joyfully on your big sister after giving her so much trouble this past week”. She turned over and pinched his cheeks.
“I’w sowry, I’w sowry”. Zax cried and sounded unintelligible. Whenever he tried to pull her hands and failed she pinched a little harder.
She finally released him. “You know, I got back late at night, wanting to surprise you, but then mom told me you went and slept at some other girl’s home”. Zetsa teased.
“Stupid! Serah is my friend!” Zax frowned.
“Ok, ok, haha… How about this, although I’m back early, I have some other prior commitments to deal with today. You can either come with me or do something else. I prefer that you’ll go my place to train and wait for me, but I’ll let you choose”.
“I want to go with you!” Zax said firmly.
“Haha, I knew it. It’s still early so you can play or watch the Screen until we’ll head out”. Zeta laughed. “Take also will be happy to see you after so long”.
Cave twenty four.
There were three tunnels connecting to cave twenty five. Tunnel seventy seven was connected to the nature reserve, cave twenty three. Tunnel seventy eight was one of the border tunnels between humanity’s territory and the beasts’. And tunnel seventy six was connected to the neighboring cave twenty four.
Having recognition from high level people does not mean having money. Although she has the Mist User’s qualifications for a well-paid jobs, Zetsa would rather to occupy herself in private training sessions than work. Therefore her possessions can be counted on one hand, her apartment, the mattress in her apartment, a few sets of clothes gifted from her mother and the Sun K-79 bike that she drives Zax on its back seat whenever he comes with her to cave twenty four.
Cave twenty four had a slightly higher quality of Life than cave twenty five and most of its residents were high class families. Entering through tunnel seventy six the cave seemed like a huge wide hill. At the top of it was the manor of the cave’s governor, a level beneath it were suburban neighborhoods and at the lowest and widest level was the shining urban area where Jinka worked as a sous chef in one of the restaurants there.
Zetsa’s and Zax’s destination was the governor’s manor.
A private vehicle was luxury only those of the high class could allow themselves. A Sun K-79 was a luxury only a high level Mist Users could save enough in a short time and affords to own, furthermore, only high level Mist Users could gain the license to drive in any cave in the region they lived in.
Numerous eyes stared with admiration at the flashing beam of red light that was Zetsa’s Sun K-79 bike as she sped up to the governor’s manor. Holding her waist and leaning back, Zax felt the extreme wind hitting his face and blowing his hair and enjoyed every moment of it. He did not need to worry about a helmet because he could count on his big sister’s reflexes in case he will lose his grip and he definitely did not need to worry about her having an accident.
The governor’s manor was a two stories building. Every storey was seven meters tall; its width was around eighty meters and its length the same. A fertile garden surrounded the manor and at the only entrance in stood two black suits guards which Zetsa paid no attention to as she drove in and parked near the manor’s doors.
“Pleasure to have you again, Miss Zetsa”. Even before Zetsa cut the engine a middle age man wearing elegant attire stepped outside, accompanied by an old maid in a long dress and a red hair bodyguard in a white suit.
“I hope that you don’t mind, Xingze, my little brother wanted to see Take so I brought him as well”. Zetsa pushed Zax forward to present himself.
“Please forgive my intrusion, governor Edomachi”. Zax bowed.
“Haha, Master Zax, you are a year younger than Take yet, unlike him, polite and know how to address your elders”. Governor Edomachi laughed and clapped his hands. In truth, the only reason he addressed Zax as “Master Zax” was because of Zetsa’s level as a Mist User and her relations with him, otherwise he would not have bat an eyelash at the boy.
“Don’t praise him too much, Xingze, he acts like that just because he's embarrassed. Take far more respected toward me than my little brother”. Zetsa joked and Zax’s face reddened.
“And others far more respected toward me than my son, Miss Zetsa”. Governor Edomachi kept smiling and gestured with his hands for them to come inside the manor.
For their master, Edomachi Xingze, to be so generous and tell jokes when a young woman of lower status that could be at best his illegitimate daughter calls him by his first name was a rare sight for the old maid and the white suit bodyguard that occurred only when Zetsa visited.
Inside the manor governor Edomachi indulged in a small talk with Zetsa while leading the away with his escort behind him and Zax following left to Zetsa. The Edomachi family was rich and productive. Gold, silver, works of art and valuable antiques furnished their manor while large number of servants and maids answered their every command and trained guards kept their and theirs safety.
Mrs. Edomachi received Zetsa and Zax as they entered the greenhouse governor Edomachi brought them to. She was sitting on wicker chair, beside a glass table with a pitcher of iced tea on it, enjoying the aroma and colors of the garden and the company of a young boy, her son, Take Edomachi, as he read her with his sweet voice from a poetry book.
“How very lovely to see you again, Miss Zetsa”. Mrs. Edomachi’s smile was pleasant. She grabbed Zetsa’s hands and held them close to her chest. She was filled with gratitude toward that young woman in front of her who fostered her son.
“Thank you for having me, Slovet”.
“Zetsa Mor!” The handsome Take called happily and closed the poetry book after he marked the last page he read. “You brought Zax too”. He jumped from the wicker chair and laid his arm on Zax’s neck.
Take referred to Zetsa with the honorific title “Mor” after her first name because she was his Martial teacher and he was her Martial student, which sometimes made the nonconformist Zetsa address him with the apprentice title “Tal” after his first name. But his relationship with Zax was entirely different. To Take, which was an only child, Zax was like a little brother that he would see only when his Mor arrive to teach him.
“Zax, whenever you are here my Take gets to experience the sentiment of an older brother. Please do come more often”. Mrs. Edomachi requested of Zax and then walked over to her husband.
“We won’t disturb you any farther, Miss Zetsa”. Governor Edomachi took his wife’s hand and turned to live as Zetsa nodded toward him and his Mrs. Edomachi and continued with the two boys to the training hall.
The training hall was an extension of the manor. Its floor was made of wooden planks and its ceiling was in the shape of a domed. Some of the weapons hanged on the walls were made from Peral metal but most were made of lesser steel. Generally it did not matter since Take was a long way from any form of combat training.
Standing in front of Take, Zax to the side, Zetsa stared at her Tal and ordered. “Unleash”.
Immediately Take took his stance, legs bent, hands lowering from his head till his arms straightened. Take dispersed deep breaths slowly till gradually a thin energy signature that only he and Zetsa could sense began to appear and an invisible pressure distorted the air around him.
“Hang on to it”. Zetsa instructed even though beads of sweat already formed on Take’s face.
“Amazing!” From the side Zax watched enviously. The type of training he yearned for the most was being performed right in front of his eyes. “Why big sis won’t train me in a Qi awareness and Qi refining technique?” Bitterly he said in his head.
“Come here, Zax, I want to see the results of your meditation”. Zetsa took him to a faraway corner of the hall to not distract Take and the both of them sat down. “You have done just as I told mom to pass you, right? Briefly describe me the process you went through”.
“Yes, I was able to train in the Inner Spirit formation for only one day this week”. Zax answered embarrassedly. “Thereafter mom and dad found out and you know the rest… but I did meditate. After the intense session in the Inner Spirit formation, for the first time, the formation left some sort of fragments, like icy grains, that surrounded, I think, my soul.
“In the first day of meditation, since the icy grains were foreign yet carried the same energy signature as the Inner Spirit formation I decided to tamper with one of them. I wasn’t able to do much apart from dismantling the icy grain, but afterwards it turned into a blue white dust that was absorbed into my soul and felt like it made it a little bit stronger. That’s about all I did in Tuesday and Wednesday. Yesterday, because of the field trip, I had no time to meditate so there are a few tens of icy grains remaining around my soul”.
“Hmm… That’s explaining the glimmer in your eyes”. Zetsa deduced in a small voice. Of course, that “Glimmer” she mentioned was a side effect only an expert Mist User can perceive. “You progressed well in such a short time as eight months”. Zetsa half complimented half said it as a fact.
In accordance to the training schedule that she made for Zax and kept to herself, after last week modification to the Inner Spirit formation, it had to take to him at least a month before he could trap fragments of the formation. Now her little brother claims that after one week, were he trained just once, there are tens of fragment circulating his soul…
“I chose right”. She confirmed to herself.
Knowing that he had done well, a big smile spread across Zax’s face.
“Just this once I’ll allow you to keep that snotty smile”. Zetsa raised a finger as to show that she really mean it. Zax’s has not even made yet his first step on the Martial path. Any type of advancement he may have done is nothing to be proud of at this stage, merely an insight to what might be his future growth. “Enter your meditative state and work on the fragment until your soul will absorb all of them. In the mean time I’ll go instruct Take”.
Zetsa’s strict attitude made her seem like a different person than the one Zax was most familiar with. Unlike when she was angry at him, the way she spoke and the look in her eyes at matters related to Martial instruction gave off a feeling of distant between them. At times like this he saw her not as his beloved sister or the person he looked up to, but his unofficial Mor, and as she ordered, so he did.
Take was unaware of Zetsa’s presence standing less than a meter before him. His hands were burning red and white steam rose from them. He concentrated his Qi brutally to the center of each hand, as if he started a fire inside his body that threatened the existence of his Qi to either escape to the palms of his hands or burn away.
To be precise, it was the intent of his subconscious that controlled the flow of his Qi and after a few minutes that he was left by his Mor to execute that certain Qi refining technique that she taught him, Take hands felt like they were holding a blazing steel sphere while the rest of his body was glacial.
Zetsa channeled her mist energy to her hands and in a flash the pure silver aura of an intermediate Mist Master covered them like tight gloves. She grabbed Take’s hands and supported his effort with the Radical Fiery Icy Provocation Qi refining technique that her Master taught her.
As Zetsa’s younger brother and Take’s training companion every once in a while, Zax also was well versed in the training method behind the Radical Fiery Icy Provocation’s exercise. In its essence the Radical Fiery Icy Provocation is a four stages Qi refining technique. From the begging the first stage, Fiery Icy, is quite arduous, require immense patience while the practitioner meditate and learn to control the body’s temperature.
During these more than five thousand years, even without an Earth’s Core, the human‘s body underwent minimal changes that strengthened its base, thanks to a prolong exposure to the Sun Stones’ radiation. Today, a coreless person body’s temperature could go as high as sixty five degrees Celsius and as low as minus thirty degrees Celsius before the body starts to shut down.
To the average coreless person, it can take weeks or months of training before completing the first stage which by the end of it the practitioner should be able to raise or lower on a whim the body’s temperature to the two extremes. An average Earth’s Core Holder, on the other hand, can master this stage in about one to four weeks. In the end it all depends on the Martial talent of the practitioner.
The second stage, Fifteen Long Bridges, of the Radical Fiery Icy Provocation Qi refining technique acting as a bridge between the first and the third stage, therefore it is the quickest stage to master. After gaining control over the body’s temperature a practitioner will almost effortlessly be able to tap to the natural reservoir of Qi in the human’s body. To practice the second stage the practitioner must follow and repeat day and night fifteen body movements until he or she can execute them fluently. The purpose of this stage is to master control over the movement of and form of the Qi. Since a practitioner cannot stop once starting the second stage until completing it, otherwise it might backlash and the internals will suffer, to the coreless person a week will suffice to master this stage and to an Earth’s Core holder two to three days will be more than enough.
The third stage, also known as the Fiery Icy Qi Unification, for most practitioners is the trickiest. Simply put, as its name suggest, in this stage the practitioner must unify the essence of hot and cold with his or her Qi. The third stage is also divided into three phases; in the first phase the practitioner must convey the characteristic of heat to the Qi, in the second phase the practitioner must convey the characteristic of cold to the Qi and in the third phase the practitioner must unify the two opposites within his or he Qi – by doing so, raising the quality of the Qi more than tenfold!