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  1. #161
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    Book 6 – Legacy

    Chapter 25 – Legacy Of The One’s Path



    ‘There is a title’, Zax’s voice quivered.

    The first thing that popped up from the minimal information he could gather from the second subject was a five words title, brimming with immense excellence as if it was part of a divine existence.

    ‘Legacy Of The One’s Path. Zax said in trepidation.

    He clearly could not calmly handle the bits of the decrypted second subject in his possession. Merely staring at the information floating in his sea of consciousness aroused a sense of obeisance, in a way it was similar to the imposing presence of Supreme Ruler Ariel and that of the expert’s colossal image, which he still unceasingly kept constructing with the pieces of spiritual knowledge.

    Currently, Zax has already fully connected sixty percent of the great puzzle of the expert’s image. Regrettably, it was still not enough for him to make up what he sees.

    Zax steeled and reprimanded himself. ‘Enough!’ He cried loudly. He was not willing to let couple of remnants disturb him. ‘If I was not qualified for the part of the second subject, the expert wouldn’t have made it so I could read it, like the rest of the information!’

    ‘Legacy Of The One’s Path’’. He repeated. ‘Mist refinement technique… that is what it is…!’ Despite him forced calmness, Zax still gawked. ‘The mightiest legacy is a mist refinement technique?!’

    To be honest, Zax never encountered a legacy. There were none in New Earth that he had heard about from any source, in any form of context and that was due to the secular circumstance of New Earth and its fairly short existence.

    ‘A message from the expert!’ Zax discovered and received it.

    ‘Potential heir, you have unrevealed the name of my greatest fortune, the mist refinement technique, Legacy Of The One’s Path. Because my demise is near, I decided to assist whoever may inherit the Legacy Of The One’s Path after me. Although, I do hope that you are of mine, potential heir’. The expert opened.

    ‘Potential heir, listen carefully, my words will not iterate, that I am capable of doing whether dead or a live’.

    In other words, Zax understood, the message will vanish from his sea of consciousness on its own, after he will fully realize it.

    ‘First, I will hand you a confession, Legacy Of The One’s Path is not of my creation and in fact, it is much, much old than any being in the Immortal path. For this reason and more, any Martial cultivator who knows about the particularity of this mist refinement technique is doom to lust for it’.

    ‘The second point I will give you is a superficial knowledge of one of the things making Legacy Of The One’s Path so mysterious. Legacy Of The One’s Path, as its name may suggest, cannot be cultivated, in its true sense, by more than one cultivator. The only way for someone to cultivate it, is if he or she will inherit it from the Core of its previous heir. In this case, it is maybe you and regrettably I’.

    Zax could hear the reluctance and depression in the expert’s message.

    ‘You should be wary, at the case of you turning out to be the next heir. If others will find out while you are weak… you can blame only yourself. As for me, I too was chased for a long time, having to hide my identity on multiply occasions. Only when I acquired strength did the burden of those hunting me loose. A prerequisite to survive as a cultivator of Legacy Of The One’s Path until you possess sufficient strength is to avoid revealing the innate signature of the mist refinement technique to those who are familiar with it’. The expert warned solemnly.

    ‘The third and last point you would be given is a test. Even if you are of mine, inheriting Legacy Of The One’s Path should not be done easily, thus, at the instant of my death I have divided my Core into four parts, four Black Cores of Darkness for four potential heirs. Unless you will collect and absorb to your dantian all four Black Core, Legacy Of The One’s Path cannot be cultivated. Potential heir, if you are aware of this message, your soul must have just broken through the second realm and you had yet to let it experienced the world. When you will leave your sea of consciousness, you will begin to sense the direction in which the other Black Cores are located. Go, snatch them from those who might hold them, collect all and absorb, become the sole heir of the mightiest legacy, the unparalleled mist refinement technique, Legacy Of The One’s Path!’

    The message was over, its content engraved on Zax soul, but the otherwise it completely disappeared from the foreign energy of information flood the Black Core has sent him.

    ‘A mist refinement technique…’ Zax sat sluggishly on the Inner Panorama. ‘Can it be? Does this imply that I can really cultivate mist energy!’ A surge of excitement took over.

    Till today, Zax only had half assurance that he might be able to unclogged his Qi channels and cultivate mist energy if he body will break through the second realm and his Qi channels become strong enough to withstand the liquefied Qi clogging them.

    A liquefied Qi or mist energy is the sign that a mist cultivator reached the second realm. Then again, the fitness level of a newbie Core Master is only at level C, the equivalent level to a Core Breaker, much below that of Zax’s fitness level!

    Zax could only assume now that the reason his body and Qi channels still cannot endure his liquefied Qi is because it is at a whole another level than that of a regular mist cultivator, even, probably, one who cultivates the best mist refinement technique in New Earth.

    ‘There are four Black Cores!’ He recalled instantly the day he found the Black Core.

    That day in the Essence Cave he was led, together with a Brown Digger, by an invisible power of attraction.

    ‘Must have been the part of me related to the expert... It should also be why I lost myself during the Earth’s Cores search…’ Zax realized correctly.

    Since the uniqueness of his soul, the expert’s clone found him as a potential heir and led him to find the Essence Cave the Black Cores were hidden in.

    When Zax got to the rock where his Black Core was at, beside an additional Black Core, there were already two cavities.

    ‘Master has the second Black Core, but two should have been taken before I got the Essence Cave!’

    Zax hurriedly left his sea of consciousness and sprung on his feet.

    “If the other two Black Cores have potential heirs like me, then they might already know where I-”

    TUMP!

    An obscure pulse echoed in Zax’s dantian and sea of consciousness.

    TUMP!

    A second pule sounded and a sudden attraction emerged with it.

    TUMP!

    “These… are the directions where the other three Black Cores are at!” Zax immediately tried to concentrate on the pulses and get an accurate position, and as he found out, it was easier said than done.

    “This is the direction to Grandmaster’s cave”. The simplest one to follow was the closest Black Core that Kartius kept, but apart from getting the feeling that it is close and where to find it; Zax did not get much from its pulse.

    “The other two…” Zax concentrated. Turning around. “Mmm… It’s deep in Valgarel”. He opened his eyes, frowning. “About where the core of Valgarel is at”.

    The third Black Core posed a problem for Zax. He never was at the core of Valgarel. It was the territory of His Valor Ozeyn’s Red Rose Beaks tribe and humans were not allowed there.

    “What I should do?” Zax mused. “There is only that…” His frown turned grimmer.

    The only way to be exempted from having to obey a rule is becoming stronger than the one who made it!

    That being said, His Valor Ozeyn is the strongest beast in Valgarel and one of the two strongest experts in New Earth.

    “Breaking through the second realm of bodily cultivation will not be enough to go against him…” Zax clenched his fists.

    Giving up was out of the question for Zax, and as such, as his temperament grew fiercer to attain the complete Legacy Of The One’s Path, a spark of comprehension dawned on him.

    “The potential heir cannot be His Valor Ozeyn! Without collecting the entire legacy, it’s impossible to cultivate mist energy and His Valor Ozeyn is a Mist User! No! There are two option, either the other potential heir is someone who resides in the territory of the Red Rose Beaks tribe and is yet to meet the conditions for receiving the expert’s message, or the Black Core is simply carried on someone or being kept at some place and not being used like Master’s”.

    Zax assessed the condition of the Black Core by considering that up till now no one came looking for the Black Core in his dantian and to what situations this prospect can lead.

    “The last Black Core…” Zax closed his eyes for the last time and concentrated.

    Slowly but steadily his chin perked up and his eyes opened to meet the ceiling of the cavern.

    “Ercas Mir!”

    The fourth Black Core somehow as found its way to the territory of the five powers!

    “Collecting the legacy as just became more troublesome than I could imagine…” Zax whispered, no longer having the strength to plot how to get the third and fourth Black Cores.

    Frankly, he knew too little about Ercas Mir and the dealings of the five powers that scheming for the Black Core was worth, at the moment.

    Zax heaved a deep sigh.

    At the very least he could make the same assertion regarding the condition of the fourth Black Core with one additional option.

    If it has a potential heir that can sense the other three Black Cores, it could be that he or she did not come searching for them because the pathway to New Earth is guarded by the five powers and whoever it may be they do not have the means to sneakily go past the five powers’ guards – which in retrospect also mean that he or she is not tied or under the protection of the five powers.

    “If that is the case, I can make up the way to find and get hold of the fourth Black Core after I’ll leave New Earth. As for the third one, I should consult Master and Grandmaster”.

    Zax decided.

    He moved to the rock blocking the entrance to the cavern, moved it with no effort, and left, ending his long session of training.

  2. #162
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    Book 6 – Legacy

    Chapter 26 – Close Circle



    “Laivien”, Zax called outloud as he entered Grandmaster Kartion’s cave, knowing that Laivien, through the soul amplification of the violet stone, is already aware that he arrived to the cave.

    ‘Little Zax? You finished you closed doors training early?’ Laivien’s voice echoed in Zax’s sea of consciousness and after a short cessation, before Zax had the chance to reply, it resounded once more.

    ‘Eh? You really broke through, little Zax!’ Laivien communicated through the soul and the violet stone made it so she would be much more sensitive. Moreover, Zax did not conceal the strength of his soul.

    ‘Congratulation! Congratulation, little Zax! You truly comprehended five bottlenecks of insight! Even my Kartion is behind you now on that aspect!’

    Actually, the reason Laivien knew that Zax succeeded in comprehending the fifth bottleneck was not because she could sense it along with his soul level, but due to the fact that she early known his this time training session’s goal.

    ‘Laivien’, Zax smiled. There was always an honest care in her voice for him and his Martial brothers and sister, as if each and every one of them was the child in her womb. ‘Thank you, I also didn’t expect to conclude my training so soon. I will later come to personally see, but can you do me a favor before that?’

    ‘Oh! Little Zax, I got too caught up with your new accomplishment that became distracted. You called me, what do you need me for?’

    ‘Please look for Master and tell him to meet me in his cabin’.

    ‘Mm, sure. Big brother is currently cultivating his mist energy in the Essence Cave, but for his Martial son, I don’t think he will mind if I’ll interrupt him’. There was still a trace of excitement in Laivien’s voice, but since Zax promised to visit her, she complied with his request.



    “Master”, waiting beside the cabin he used to reside in after he first arrived to Grandmaster Kartion’s cave and was accepted as Kartius apprentice, Zax respectfully greeted his Master upon his arrival.

    “Martial son, you have done well!” Kartius exclaim in surprise. He, too, could feel the apparent changes in Zax’s soul. “Exceptionally formidable for a newly promoted second realm soul… nothing less from my Martial son!” His eyes shone in gratification.

    “Master-” Zax abruptly halted. He felted, much more evident than in the cavern, the Black Core his Master kept. He could not help but continue extremely thrilled. “More than just breaking through and comprehending another bottleneck has occurred to me… The Black Core, I finally learned its origin… and, literally, cause and effect of everything else!”

    Zax sounded abstruse, and it was clear to him. Part of it, naturally, was due to the opportunity of unloading the burden of the heavy and prominent knowledge he acquired. The other reason, unbeknownst to him, was close proximity to another Black Core. His Qi channels, dantian and the now lone Black Core that has left, were all longing to assimilate an additional part of Legacy Of The One’s Path.

    “Let’s sit inside”. Kartius suggested after picking up on his Martial son’s anomalous behavior.

    Facing each other while sitting on the wooden floor of the cabin, Zax recited his entire experience of the recent training session. At that moment, he intended for the conversation to be private, that is, between him and his Master only. And yet, he was not worried if Laivien might eavesdrop because of two reasons…

    First, he knew that Laivien would never intrude on someone privacy when uncalled. Second, and something that he notice earlier when he talked to Laivien, now that his soul reached the second realm he could detect when Laivien used the violet stone to amplify her soul and encompasses him with he strengthen Soul Sense. Zax assumed that although the violet stone can enable the special abilities of a third realm soul in a weaker soul, it does not really influence that much the weaker soul’s overall power, which is why he could tell when Laivien reached for him before she even talked.

    It was a long time after Zax ended listing in detail the chain of events he gone through in his secluded training that Kartius stopped contemplating and opened his mouth to respond.

    “It is good that you returned here as soon as you finished your training and looked for me, Martial son”. Kartius’s stag head frowned, the muscles of his crossed arms bulged, the grip of each of his hands loosened and clenched over and over. “This matter is of utmost importance, Zax, you cannot share it with someone else heedlessly, do you understand?”

    “Yes, Master! That is why from the first place I wanted to consult you about everything that I should do now. And… despite also considering Grandmaster’s advice about the Black Cores, if I’ll go over everything from the beginning, some things may be unpleasant for him to hear and I’m not sure how to approach him about them”.

    “Humph!” Kartius snorted at Zax’s comment. “This matter should not be taken for granted, but at the same time, Martial son, do not underestimate the top experts of our New Earth, be they humans or beasts!”

    “Master…?” Zax did not expect to be reprimanded by his Master for the concern he had for Grandmaster Kartion.

    “Your way of thinking is a clear sign that regardless of your amazing progression, you are still too immature”. Kartius said and continued without allowing Zax the chance to say anything. “You claim that the exalted expert planted fragments of his Martial techniques and refinement techniques in us, his mixed creation with, I guess, Nature, and this is why experts like big brother were able to come up with their techniques… Preposterous!”

    “Do you think, Zax, that forming a Peak grade technique is so simple? You said it yourself, what the exalted expert bequeathed could only be unrevealed by those with the capacity to recreate it. You yourself are an example of his severe requirements! Being able to accept what the exalted expert had left is already enough to tell that my big brother is an exceptional expert!”

    Kartius’s words resounded in Zax’s sea of consciousness as a wakeup call, one which he probably needed since learning about the experts and his doings, and in a way, they were also the guidance he sought.

    Seeing the look of apprehension on Zax’s face, Kartius’s voice softened. “Meeting the requirements, Martial son, is one thing that shows how great big brother is. Apart from it, there is an additional thing, even more significant that can tell you how deep is the meaning in the exalted expert’s message… Let’s assume that big brother’s Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement is a cultivation technique he inherited from the exalted expert. Big brother could have perceived it in two ways, either as a complete technique or as an impression. We already know that it cannot be the first way; otherwise big brother would not have needed to spend so much time creating the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement and to still work on the continual second realm stages”.

    “Now, if it’s the second way and big brother only perceived it as an impression, than why should he feel shameful by it? Martial son, can you imagine how difficult it is to make something out of nothing? It is not an ordeal of a year or a hundred. Furthermore, the end results are not even near the likes of Peak grade technique. No, to create a Peak grade technique like big brother’s you have to emulate the teachings and creation of many others, like everything in life… to follow the steps of your predecessors. If big brother’s Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement has anything to do with the exalted expert, then it is just as much about the other techniques he studied in his life. At most you can say that the exalted expert was a better teacher to follow, same as Ten Ram is for you with regards to the soul attack you enjoy using”.

    ‘Master is right’. Zax thought as he listened to his Master. The only complete legacy the expert left behind was the divided Legacy Of The One’s Path. ‘I didn’t interpret the expert’s message as Master, even though it was plain that his own legacy was left more in the form of a blueprint…’

    It dawned on Zax and honestly, made him feel good. He took to harsh the expert words and mistakenly conceived from them that anyone and everyone in New Earth are mere puppets of a deceased vengeful expert.

    “Mm?” A spherical black shape suddenly appeared in front of Zax.

    TUMP!

    TUMP!

    TUMP!

    “The Black Core!”

    The pulses were like beat of giant drums.

    While Zax was thinking, Kartius took the Black Core out from the Blue Stone he carries.

    “Take it”. Kartius said. “See what will happen. If you can maybe learned more about mist refinement technique it is part of”.

    Zax did not hesitate. There was not meaning in doing so or being polite if the Black Core was already handed to him. He took it.

    TUMP!

    Upon touch a wave of dark mist energy burst from the Black Core in Zax’s dantian, filling it up. Zax felt his whole body rumbling in starvation, craving to consume the Black Core in his hand.

    A mental link with the Black Core was made instantly, and before Zax knew it, the Black Core submerged below his navel, into the dantian.

    The dark energy encompassing the dantian took immediate possession of the new Black Core. It rammed against its shell and broke it effortlessly as if there was a prior mutual agreement between it and the Black Core.

    The Black Core collapsed and turned into new pure dark energy that was assimilated with the indigenous dark energy and eventually swallowed to the Black Core.

    Zax followed the procedure with eyes close. When it all was over he opened them and stared into space rather than meet his Master’s inquisitive gaze.

    He sighed. ‘Nothing…’ and then repeated outloud. “The Black Core’s energy merged with the other Black Core in my dantian. Apart from it I don’t feel anything different”.

    Kartius mused. “Mm…. The prerequisite to break through the second realm of bodily cultivation might be the reason you can gather new information… Forget about it, then”. He looked up to Zax, instructing. “Do what you currently can. With your diligence, breaking through the last gate is inevitable to happen sooner or later. Until then, we should see what we can do about the Black Core in Valgarel. As for the fourth one in Ercas Mir… seek it out when you go there”.

    Zax nodded in consent. “The Black Core in Valgarel, Master, do you think Grandmaster can help with it?”

    “It is hard to say without investigating its exact whereabouts. Come, let’s see big brother”.



    Inside the blue tower.

    Zax did not omit any detail as he recounted the story to Grandmaster Kartion. Of course, he also did not inquire for his thoughts regarding the expert’s own legacy fragments.

    Grandmaster Kartion was pensive for a little while. The subject did seem to mean something for him, but that was the most of his reaction Zax and Kartius got.

    “Divulging the existence of this grand cultivator can cause more harm than good if it will reach the ears of aspiring outsiders like the five powers. This should be a matter between the three of us, for the mean time”.

    “I think so, too”. Kartius said.

    “It’s for the best…” Zax was not enthusiastic about hiding anything from this big sister or Anet, but enlarging the circle of the people aware of this issue was truly too risky. Besides, the expert himself warned him to be cautious until he will be strong enough.

    Grandmaster Kartion moved on. “A Black Core in His Valor Ozeyn’s tribe… There is couple of months before your departure, Zax, right?”

    “Yes, Grandmaster”.

    “Have you sensed movements for that Black Core since you first discovered it?”

    “No”.

    “Good”. Grandmaster Kartion stood up. “I cannot guarantee brining the Black Core back, but finding where it is… even if it is in the treasury of the Red Rose Beaks tribe, I can at least get a look to affirm its location”.

    “Thank you, Grandmaster”. Zax was satisfied with simply knowing the condition of the Black Core.



    Exiting the blue tower, Zax accompanied his Master back to the Essence Cave and parted ways there to the direction of Laivien’s valley.

    “This few months I have left… should be given for those I love”.

  3. #163
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    Book 6 – Legacy

    Chapter 27 – At It Again…



    Eyes slowly opening, Zax woke up with a serene light expression. He looked down as he did not hurry to get up from the bed. Anet was still lying comfortably on top of his bare chest.

    It was a one room apartment that they bought, and it was more than enough for the two since they rarely spent any private time in it.

    As for how they got the money? It was quite simple for Zax to pick up some natural cultivation goods in Valgarel and let Anet do the rest with the connections she acquired in the Student Council Class.

    The sleep was not essential, far from it. The two’s higher Martial cultivation could allow them to stay awake and sharp easily over months, especially for Zax, due to his type of cultivation. No, the sleep after was more symbolic for the two, a way to commemorate their alone time as none cultivators, like the loved ones how raised them.

    Since his discussion with his Master and Grandmaster Kartion, that is about how Zax was spending his days, investing every moment with his family, friends and above all, Anet.

    “You return to school today?” Zax asked as he caressed Anet’s head. From her breath he could tell that she also woke up.

    “Mm!” Anet raised her head, her warm cheek rubbing no his chest. “Don Mor permitted me to stay with you most of the time before your departure, so long as I don’t completely neglect my training”.

    Mentioning Zax’s leave brought sadness to Anet’s eyes, but it soon disappeared since the matter was already settled.

    “Do you want to come with me or go home?” She asked to change the subject in her mind.

    “Neither. There is actually something that I planned to do today”. Zax replied.

    “Something? Why aren’t you telling me what it is?”

    “It’s not worth mentioning”. Zax insisted.

    He knew that Anet will not let him off the hook with this excuse, but he preferred to spare her the details, and so he finally got up, leaving her lying on the mattress.

    “I’ll make us breakfast. Eggs? Pancakes? Both?” He asked while smiling.

    “Whatever”. Anet stretched and closed her eyes again, enjoying the presence of just the two of them in the cramped room.



    ‘Now then, this day could not have come any sooner’. Zax said to himself after he parted ways with Anet.

    WHOOSH!

    He sprinted through the streets and caves, spreading gusts of wind wherever he passes. Today was quite an anticipated day, not particularity for Zax himself, but for someone else he wanted to conclude some unfinished business with.



    Kingdom Earth, Tongguo, cave two hundred, the Marzel great family’s estate.

    The span of the Marzel family’s private domain encompassed more than two thirds of cave two hundred. The rotunda in the central area belonged to the matriarch and founder of the Marzel family, an Advanced phase third level Core Master, Linda Marzel.

    The other, smaller residences were the homes of Linda’s progeny, second to forth generations.

    Currently, in one of the mansions belonging to an esteemed third generation member of the Marzel family, in a lavish dining room, a dignified looking man, three beautiful women, five young girls and two young men were sitting around a large table and being served lunch by submissive male and female servants.

    “Razil, your cousin, Lizen, let me know that your training is at last getting back on track“. The man at the head of the table said with a deep and satisfied voice. Although he contained his aura, the natural air the man exuded was very profound.

    “I’m also feeling improvement, father”. Razil said respectfully, forcing a humble countenance.

    “Good. You should follow your elder brother’s and cousin’s example. Don’t let your younger sisters look down on you”. The man said sternly.

    “Dear, our son has just got better. Give him some time, don’t be too harsh on him, I’m sure he will not disappoint you”. The women sitting to the left and on the second seat from the man said warmly.

    “Ranser, Razil is doing his best. As second sister said, he just needs time”. The woman sitting closest to the man, Razil’s father, Ranser, said, appearing kind.

    “Yes, father, big brother Razil is trying his best”.

    “Father, don’t be mad at big brother Razil”.

    “I admire big brother Razil”.

    Several of the young girls commented, as well.

    Sitting in his mother’s position but to the right of his father, Razil, yet again, had to force himself, now to smile and show gratitude.

    In truth, the only voice Razil wholly trusted that is on his side was his mother’s. As for his younger sisters and first lady… of the five girls, only one who said nothing was his blood sister from both parents, the other four were only half sisters, while the first and third ladies, although they call his mother “second sister”, there was no real blood relation between them and his mother.

    These days, Razil knew in secret, nearly all of his sisters and first and third ladies supported his big brother in the battle for his father’s inheritance, which will be given when his father will be welcomed into the family’s inner experts circle. The only two who did not take part in it were his youngest sister and second youngest sister, who was also his blood sister from the same mother, because they were not old enough to understand the familial conflict.

    Razil was bitter and engulfed with hatred. Merely a year ago, even though he was the second male child of his father, his future prospects outshined his big brother’s. After the Martial competition, however, that is when things started to slump, and it all were because of him… Zax.

    During the competition, after getting to see, time after time, how fearful Zax can be, a seed of fear to his wellbeing was planted in Razil’s heart. Every battle, when Zax beat his opponent in a more grandiose fashion, that seed would have been nurtured further by Razil’s growing trepidation.

    Then, arrived the battle that brought down Zax, or rather incapacitated him and took him out from the rest of the competition. Viewing this man looking devil being left with nothing to barely support his stance and then hearing that he forfeited completely from the competition, at the time, washed Razil’s concerns, or at least that was his initial emotional reaction.

    Couple of days after the Martial competition, during a meditation session, a sudden menacing shadow appeared in Razil’s sea of consciousness, a terrifying shadow that tears its opponents with brute force!

    The seed sprouted.

    Since then, Razil’s training declined, regardless what he practiced. He no longer had the privilege to behave vulgarly and domineeringly. His persona reluctantly had to adapt to his diminishing status in his father’s eyes.

    Thenceforth, it took almost a year of reflection and guidance from his teachers and Mor for Razil to only recently begin to recover his former bearing, as well as his original cultivation pace.

    Razil seethed with anger but did not reveal it. The object of his hatred was, naturally, Zax. He wanted him in pain and dead for the yearlong humiliation he suffered and still. Nonetheless, Razil was not stupid. He saw Zax’s terrifying strength and even if he was injured in the competition, the management would not have let him heal on his own. Against Zax at his best, Razil knew that even the family head, his grandfather, who was actually like him, a second male offspring but of the matriarch, would not want an enmity with such peerless talent.

    To relieve his fuming emotions, Razil accepted that it is impossible for him to target Zax directly. No, when the time is right and he will once more be at the front for his father’s inheritance, his targets would be those bastards from Eden Formation, Uri and Fi Han, and that *****, Anet. Yes, in terms of status and cultivation they are not able to compare, destroying their lives and the lives of their loved ones, while concealing his identity as the person orchestrating their ruin behind the scenes, would be his retribution.

    The lunch proceeded as the servants cleared the first course of the meal off the dining room’s table and the second course was ready to be served.



    “Hope that Tania wasn’t wrong”. Zax quietly told himself as he measured from afar the Marzel family’s property.

    This “Tania” Zax mentioned was a Student Council Class member in Eden Formation and, basically, the know it all of the entire school. She informed Zax of Razil’s day off from Molten Core and the location of his home.

    In the Martial competition, Zax planned to sort out Razil for insulting Anet. Unfortunately, an unpredictable turn of events forced him to give up on the idea, temporarily. Today was Zax chance to wrap the unfinished business with Razil in the environment he feels most secure in, and this is his only opportunity before he will leave to Ercas Mir.

    Zax could not tell where exactly the home of Razil’s immediate family was. Using Soul Sense to look him up was unfeasible due to the defensive formations high class families placed around their properties. Furthermore, some formations could even react to the probing of a Soul Sense, thus informing the experts who erected them.

    ‘According to Tania, the formations of the Marzel family would alarm them if I’ll breach their air space. Might as well pass through formally…’

    BANG!

    Zax smashed the entrance gate in the wall surrounding the Marzel family’s property. Unlike his visit to the Derneldar family, this time he was not in the mood to completely eradicate whoever in his way, but he also did not care about being polite.

    The Mist Masters guards at the gate were startled by the sudden blast. It came out of nowhere without them noticing, which signified that an expert just attacked the entrance to the Marzel family’s property.

    “Hurry! Inform the commander!”

    The guards were aware that the obscure expert was far above their capacity to handle, so they moved quickly to alert every guards’ post nearby and their Core Master commander.



    “Worthily for a great family!” Zax had to confess that the Marzel family sure lived superbly.

    The entire property was divided into four regions.

    The first was merely part of the entrance, a vast landscape with artificial mountains and lakes with even some tamed wild beasts.

    The second region was where the places of residence of the Marzel family fourth generation members were, an extravagant villas, roughly eighty in number.

    Next, was the third region and where the fourth generation Marzels lived. Less than twenty mansions, but each was four to five times larger than any villa in the second region. Unbeknownst to Zax, he skipped the whereabouts of Razil when he proceeded toward his desired destination…

    The fourth region accommodated only two small castles, one of which belonged to the head of the family, the other to the overseer of the family, Linda’s eldest son.

    In between the four regions, atop an artificial hill, was a tall rotunda, the matriarch secluded home, where only her personal servants were allowed to roam. Even her two sons had limited access to their own mother home, and both accepted that decree with mixed fear and respect for the matriarch’s power.

    Zax ignored alarm and guards on duty that were trying to get his position with detective formation in and outside the Marzel’s estate. The true experts of the family were on a standby for the instance he will be found.

    Zax was not worried, even if a formation picked up his position, to keep following him his operator would have to be at least a second level Core Master. Besides, if he was scared from the Marzel’s family experts, his destination would not have been the matriarch’s rotunda!



    At the center of a web of creeks, which decorate the secular hill at the heart of the Marzel’s estate, a lone rotunda was constructed.

    A teem of sixteen servants maintained a pristine atmosphere. Two maids were situated at the second floor of the rotunda, waiting on the matriarch’s call.

    Sitting on a Knole settee, an elderly woman, looking around the ages sixty five to seventy, was peacefully knitting with eyes half opened. From the elderly woman originated an air of repose that could affect anyone around her.

    TAK!

    The two needles hit and the elderly woman’s knitting came to a halt. The leisure air stiffened and sharpness emanated from her eyes.

    “An intruder… who are you, child?” The elderly woman voiced frigidly.

    A silent figure stepped forward, saying in a whimsy yet domineering tone. “Someone your blood has crossed, and now here to collect my pound of flesh”.

  4. #164
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    Book 6 – Legacy

    Chapter 28 – Compromising



    “Dissolute!” An enraged, womanly voice shouted from an unknown place in the room.

    A burst of killing intent assaulted Zax as he stood idly in front of the Marzel’s matriarch, followed by the emergence of black silhouette, flinging toward him.

    “Fall back, Marita!” Matriarch Linda commanded in a subtle voice that contained an overwhelming spirit to her old age.

    The black silhouette froze several meters from Zax, not even earning a jaded look despite the intention to attack him. Unable to contradict the command it was given, the black silhouette flashed and settled beside the Knole settee of matriarch Linda, revealing the appearance of a black skin young woman in her early thirties, impressively in the Advanced phase of the first Core Master level and also possessing hints of dark attribute to her aura.

    Martia, the black skin young woman, stared at Zax with malice reflecting from her eyes. For the way he spoke to her Mor, matriarch Linda, even though she was tad apprehensive due to her inability to sense him in the room until he came out from the shadows, she did not mind a difference in strength if it meant cutting his disgusting tongue.

    “Here, my fingers are tired, you continue”. Matriarch Linda raised her hands, passing the needles and fabric to Martia and gesturing her to sit down.

    Martia, as if she was a child suddenly, yield and devotedly took to the task.

    As he watched from the side Zax noted in regard. ‘What a crafty old lady. In the instance she made contact with this woman while giving her the knitting needles, she actually used soul energy to calm and manipulate her behavior nearly the same way senior Ariel deceived me. She must be an expert of the soul, and a dangerous one at that!’

    Matriarch Linda put a wrinkled hand on Marita’s knee as she sat by her side. “You must keep working on the ambiance you exude in all situations, Marita; otherwise you might as well exercise in the light”.

    As she directed her Tal, matriarch Linda sounded like an amiable grandma, having a pleasant conversation with her granddaughter, while the truth was that she had no need to be strict since every one of her words she curved to her Tal’s soul with her soul sense.

    Zax said nothing as he waited for matriarch Linda to finish dealing with her Tal. This show of patience, despite the reason of his arrival, was not attributed to his decision to start mellow this time. No, it was something else that he picked on from the behavior and body language of matriarch Linda, which was also subtly apparent on her Tal, and made him curious.

    “Are you, perhaps, an expert in assassination?” Zax asked when matriarch Linda returned her attention to him from the Knole settee.

    Zax’s experience with experts of assassination was very meager. Usually he will not be able to tell if his opponent practiced assassination arts, but with matriarch Lida… there was something vague about her that gave him an impression of familiarity.

    “Child”, as she responded, a piercing chilliness once more emanated from matriarch Linda’s voice. “Or rather Mr. Intruder, you have keen eyes”.

    Hearing her comment, Zax’s vigilance rose. ‘So it’s like that… this old lady is most likely related to Linor… her Mor maybe? Her senior? Coincidentally both of their names start with “Lin”’.

    Zax was finally able to put a finger on it. His opponent from the Martial competition and the old woman in front of him felt similar like an old and newer version of the same thing. Moreover, from what he perceived of matriarch Linda, this seemed not be the common case of “old is bad, new is good”. On the contrary, although Linor cannot be considered the orthodox assassin, her proficiency in the movement technique she cultivated is top notch, and yet, from the trivial movements of matriarch Linda while still on the Knole settee, Zax assessed the old lady on a higher level.

    Regardless of being a lot stronger than in the battle against Linor and Zechariah, Zax was not stupid enough to underestimate the more exalted matriarch Linda, especially if recalling that previous time he almost died from the mist detonation of a Core Master he could kill in one punch!

    “Do you have a name, child?” Matriarch Linda asked with a subtle lack of interest in her tone, having an idea in her mind.

    “Zax”. Zax was not worried about matriarch Linda’s retaliation at the aftermath of him getting what he wants. The old lady appeared to have something at stake other than her family…

    “Zax Zel…” Matriarch Linda whispered and her deduction did not surprised Zax.

    Matters of the family in the world behind the walls of her home, since her husband died, no longer interested matriarch Linda. She let her two sons deal with them and in fact, if it was not for the annual report her sons insisted on informing her about, she might have stopped seeing them completely, or in this particular case, know Zax.

    “Tell me, what sort of trouble my family gave you, mighty younger generation?”

    “I don’t want to sound petty, but…” Zax knew it would seem like he is overreacting if matriarch Linda will know his reason of arrival, which is why he displayed an equally threatening disposition. “A descended of yours, named ‘Razil’, has berated and cursed someone dear to me in an open forum. When it comes to this person I tend to be very protective”. Zax’s murderess intent swelled. “Looking down on me is negligible, mistreating her however…”

    The name “Razil” rang a bell to matriarch Linda. She met the boy maybe twice but remembered him only because her second son mentioned him as a potential rising talent of the family.

    “You want me to give you the head of a good seed?” Matriarch Linda asked as if she discussed about the details of another job in her younger years.

    “Give? No”. Zax shook his head. “I’m not here to ask you for anything. This is but a courtesy visit so things won’t escalate regardless of my actions”.

    “Quite overbearing…” Matriarch Linda frowned for the first time since meeting Zax, not minding speaking her thoughts outloud. “What do you intend to do?”

    No matter the talent of her progeny and how much she distanced herself from the family; whoever possessed her and her deceased husband bloodline was forever under her jurisdiction. For any stranger to say otherwise was unacceptable.

    “Kill Razil, ruin his cultivation, breaking his limbs… one of three, maybe all. Depends on how I’ll feel when I see him. What is certain, though, is that I will kill everyone who’ll stand in my way”. To Zax, who forged his temperament in Valgarel, all of the things he listed were very much reasonable. It was pointless to hesitate about taking action or considering their severity.

    As a retired assassin, matriarch Linda could not refute Zax. She herself has done and seen worse. Then again, this was her home.

    “Razil is my great grandchild, if your purpose in seeing me before dealing with him is to show courtesy, then you will have to do so by excluding a harsh punishment”.

    There was no doubt in matriarch Linda’s heart that the young man in front of her will not relinquish the thought of penalizing Razil. She also knew that to fend him off will take too much from her and will not stop him from coming again. “Zax Zel” was a name that no one in the highest echelon of Kingdom Earth dares taking lightly, and both of her sons were efficient enough to detail her why.

    “The most lenient punishment would be breaking his bones. But if I’ll end things with that, your great family will easily find the resources to heal him or sooth his suffering soon enough for him to still be consumed with anger to learn his lesson. If at that time Razil will not think clearly and do something stupid as retaliation…”

    The killing intent Zax projected was not for matriarch Linda to realize what will happen, but what he is willing to do even now, if need be, and not just to Razil. As for worrying about someone else avenging Razil, from his impression of the matriarch, Zax knew that she will not let it happen if they will reach an agreement.

    Zax’s fierce killing intent moved matriarch Linda. It was not that she could not handle it, but for someone so young to be so accustomed to slaughtering… With everything she learned from her sons, this young man actually had even more fearsome layers.

    “I can guarantee that no one will treat Razil before he will make a complete recovery by himself”. Matriarch Linda offered in resignation.

    With regards to what she meant by treating Razil despite him recovered, that is, setting his bones the correct way at the case they will not heal right.

    “Matriarch Marzel, I said that I don’t want to be petty and I also don’t want to take things too far. Your words, should I accept them and compromise, will carry a weight far beyond that of Razil”. The atmosphere in the room became colder as Zax emphasized himself. If matriarch Linda did not isolate Martia with a mantle of mist energy she would certainly regained lucidness.

    No replay from matriarch Linda, for Zax meant that she and sealed their deal.

    “Good”.



    Inside a room, underground a large mansion at the third region of the Marzel’s property.

    Razil was sitting on a flat boulder. The floor was wet and currents of steams erupted once in a while. This cultivation room was prearranged to meet the conditions of cultivators who cultivated mist refinement technique with relations to the fiery attribute.

    Razil did not possess an attribute, but his cultivation technique and the cultivation room would allow him to comfortably integrate with a fiery attribute in the future.

    Biting hard, Razil could not sustain anymore and exhaled. His clothes were drenched with sweat and stuck to his body.

    “Dammit!”

    Even after mostly getting back to his past self, it was still difficult for him to avoid thinking about all of those he wished to make suffer. Such frame of mind impeded his cultivation from surpassing his eldest brother.

    “It will be much easier if I could end all of them right now!” It was a fantastic dream. Shame it was close to impossible for him to make it a reality, at the moment.

    TAP!

    TAP!

    TAP!

    TAP!

    A sound of steps, echoing from the wet floor, alarmed Razil. The cultivation room was big and due to the unique steams the visibility in it was bad and Soul Sense was useless.

    “Who is that?!” Razil demanded to know as his face flushed with anger. No one was supposed to interrupt him during his training, not even him mother or blood sister. His eldest brother could, but that would be an aimless show of provocation. His father, of course, also could, but he never bothers. As for his Mor, he is a resident of his school and not prone on making home visits without informing in advance.

    ‘Could it be a stupid maid?’ Razil slapped the boulder in irritation.

    It could only be a new maid. Such an occurrence happened several time in the past with new maids as they looked to inform the master of the mansion and his kin about dinner or whatnot.

    “Answer me!” Razil waved his arm and a gale of mist energy forced the steams aside.

    “So much foul air… Were you foreseeing my visit?”

    A voice sounded moment before the steams spread, sending shivers down Razil’s back.

    “You!” Razil recognized Zax and looked at him as if he is a nightmare turns to reality.

    “You… you… you…!” Razil felt as if he was stared as a prey, about to be ripped apart. “You are not real!” He declined to believe. “This is my home- property of the GREAT MARZEL FAMILY!” He raised his voice to shout so he will not mentally collapse more so than someone will hear and call for help.

    “It is”. Zax affirmed.

    His unblinking eyes locked on Razil, his voice deep as he spoke, every muscle in his body tightened and his killing intent thickened to the point rendering Razil incapable of performing any sort of further action.

    WHOOSH!

    Zax vanished from Razil’s line of sight.

    BANG!

    A palm struck Razil’s sternum, his entire skeleton vibrated.

    CRACK!

  5. #165
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    Book 6 – Legacy

    Chapter 29 – Departure



    “Get lost!” A heated palm strike shot forward, blasting away the Mist Lord guard.

    The man roaring and almost going out of control was Ranser, Razil’s father. His violent behavior at the castle of his father, the Marzel’s family head, may have seemed impertinent, however, in truth it was nothing but justified.

    “Enter”. A hoarse voice reverberated throughout the castle.

    To its approval, the guards and commander of the family head’s castle made way for Ranser, to proceed from the foyer to the family head’s chamber.

    An old man with grave and imposing appearance waited to welcome Ranser.

    Ignoring, or rather to angry to pay attention to his father’s own fiery temper, Ranser strode into the large chamber, which overlooked most of the Marzel property, as an azure aura erupted from every pore in his body, lashing at every direction.

    “What have I done, father?! What have I done?! An intruder broke into our Marzel territory, came into my home and assaulted my son, your grandson! Putting him at death’s door, and when I summon for the medical team each of my immediate requests are actually all being annulled by you!”

    “Quite down, Ranser!” The Marzel family head erupted in rage. “No aid will come to your son, not from inside or outside the family!”

    Ranser stared at his father in complete bewilderment, at loss for words for the words coming out of his mouths, words regarding the wellbeing of his own grandson. Before he had the chance to ask for account, his father continued as cold and piercing fluctuations emanated from his person.

    “The decree is of the matriarch herself, Ranser, and neither I nor your uncle can go against it! As for reasoning?! Bah!” The Marzel family head was livid. “Razil’s audacity has ticked off a person even the matriarch refuses to meddle with far more than her position demands of her. As such, she agreed to stand back and let Razil face the repercussions of his behavior without interference so long as he is left alive and his cultivation intact”.

    Ranser’s mind reeled in trepidation and his face was ashen. His son is to be abandoned by the family?! The issue actually involves the matriarch?! Furthermore, his son dare offend a person of equal or possibly higher standing than the matriarch?!

    “Sigh…” All the he could do after getting his father to explain was let loose a thick, heavy breath. His cultivation, his age, his status and overall experience allowed the clarity of seeing things as they are and knowing when they reach beyond his limits.

    As if drained from all the hauteur and supremacy he demonstrated before, Ranser now looked like an ordinary, commoner middle age man after a long day of work.

    He turned back to leave without saying a word to his father and head of the family, it was not even in him to bow and apologize for his outburst despite knowing everything.

    “Ranser”, the family head voice was placid and brought him to a halt. “Razil’s calamity can also be looked as a tribulation, should he will show resolution it could temper his soul and forge his future cultivation path. Not all is loss”.

    “I know”. Ranser replied after a moment of silence.

    “However”, the family head’s voice turned solemn. “Dare he, or anyone else for him, will later seek revenge… In the matriarch’s own words: ‘The calamity will evolve to a catastrophe that will sweep the entire family into the brink of extinction’”.

    A shiver ran across Ranser’s back after hearing his father’s following words.

    “I understand”.



    Valgarel.

    A young man, eyes closed and legs crossed, dressed in everyday clothes sat beside the entrance of a lengthy tunnel. In front of him sat a black, big humanoid figure, having his right hand resting on the young man’s head.

    The two were Zax and his Master, Kartius. The tunnel which entrance was situated near them was the entrance to Grandmaster Kartion’s cave, where they a short time ago been.

    Inside Zax’s sea of consciousness black streams of foreign soul energy gushed and assembled to the shape of a dark cloud with bullets like rain.

    BANG!

    BANG!

    BANG!

    Salvo after salvo after salvo of soul bullets rained down toward Zax’s soul, only to be confronted by Zax’s own soul energy and engage in a battle of strategic patterns.

    Kartius’s soul attack was “Densely Packed Soul Bullet”, Ariel Dauch’s creation, and was a small price to pay, coupled with the fact that it was a friction of the total price and the low popularity of soul attacks, for having Zax registered as Eden Formation’s student and represent the school, as well as the pick of the Dauch family, in the Martial competition.

    As for Zax’s defensive measures… The Summit of Eden Formation did not really have any worthy soul defense techniques or formation, so the counter the soul bullets Zax mostly relied on the experience he gained from recreating Superintendent Ten’s Soul Binding soul formation to battle and possibly come up with potential mold for futuristic personal soul defense technique.

    WHOOSH!

    A black ray of soul energy combined with dark attribute shot past the Densely Packed Soul Bullet’s clouds, up above them to the top of Zax’s head and was transmitted to Kartius’s arm.

    As soon as he sensed Zax’s incoming soul attack, Kartius’s eyes snapped opened, he retrieved his arm and concentrated on surpassing his chance for a taste from a similar Densely Packed Soul Bullet soul attack.

    It took the span of two seconds for Kartius to gain his composure and meet Zax’s calm stare.

    Shaking his head, Kartius opened. “It’s not good. When it comes to the soul even without the freakish strength yours have, the affinity to soul related technique is far beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Even little sister can’t compare”. Kartius sighed in resignation and then lingering thoughts breached his shut lips. “Be that as it may, it’s still unsatisfactory, Martial son. Soul attacks aren’t used frequently in New Earth because they require physical contact for he cultivator below the third realm to deploy them. Even Martial Mortals don’t bother with them much, according the big brother. But that doesn’t negate the fact that soul attacks can result in the most devastating wounds for a cultivator and when you leave to Ercas Mir who knows what the local’s opinion of the aspect and if there exists more fearsome soul techniques”.

    As the date of his Martial son’s departure approached, Kartius showed more and more often signs of uneasiness Zax could do nothing about. Moreover, today was the day Zax bade farewell to his Martial family and the Krikitory tribe. At this time it still pained him when he recalled Laivien’s teary eyes.

    “It will be fine, Master”. Zax attempted to reassure him, but considering that there was not a substantial proof to back him up, it was quite difficult.

    “Do not be complacent!” Kartius retorted angrily.

    His rebuke forced Zax to clasp his hands and answer obediently. “Yes, Master!”

    BOOM!

    The defining sound occurred around half an hour after the spiritual dual between the Master and apprentice.

    Kartius and Zax rose to their feet and hooves virtually at the same time to welcome the new arrival.

    “Big brother”.

    “Grandmaster”.

    Zax was of the youngest generation and Grandmaster Kartion the head of their Martial family. Since he has not seen him in quite a while, Zax had to be slightly more courteous than his Master; therefore he added a brief bow to his greeting.

    “Kartius, young Zax”. Kartius said in response as he transformed from his animalistic huge brown stag form to his humanoid one. “Let us sit down and talk”.

    Seeing how the two waited for him outside the cave and knowing the current date, Grandmaster Kartion said nothing about changing places, but he already gathered that from his small, secluded territory Zax already depurated.

    “Big brother”, Kartius said first. “How was your trip to the Red Rose Beaks tribe? Did you manage to find anything about the Black Core Martial son detected?”

    Though the one to ask was Kartius, the one with bated breath and eyes filled with anticipation was definitely Zax. Months passed since Grandmaster Kartius left to seek for him the exact location of the Black Core in the humanity forbidden area which was the private territory of His Valor Ozeyn.

    Grandmaster Kartion knitted his stag head brows and closed his eyes, reminiscing the months he spent in the Red Rose Beaks tribe. Finally, after fifteen seconds or so he opened his eyes and turned to Zax.

    “I could not find it in the Red Rose Beaks tribe’s treasury”.

    A disappointed look immediately appeared on Zax’s face. If the Black Core was kept in some treasury like a valued object that usage is mystery it would at least assure him that no one else will absorb the Black Core and where it is waiting for him.

    “But there are still a few things I did find”. Grandmaster Kartion said in the same breath, yet to the impatient Zax it seemed like a big gap separated the two lines. “When mentioned the subject of quality Earth’s Cores, I noticed a mild discomfort in His Valor Ozeyn’s expression. I suspect that he is hiding something. That is the first thing. More troublesome… I caught note of two beasts in human form that should be Martial Mortals. I did not recognize them from any of the tribes in Valgarel, and from their odd attire and their conduct in the Red Rose Beaks tribe it showed that they were not intimidated by His Valor Ozeyn. It is highly possible that they arrived from Ercas Mir, maybe emissaries of one of the five powers. Regrettably it was both complicated and dangerous to gather information about them, all that I know is that they come and go often and traverse unceasingly the surrounding caves around the Red Rose Beaks tribe”.

    “Foreigners… are they also looking for a Black Core?” It was Kartius who asked.

    “It’s uncertain”. Zax replied instead Grandmaster Kartion who was about to voice his thoughts.

    The two humanoid beasts turned to Zax, waiting to hear him.

    “If they could detect the Black Cores the same way I do and the one in the Red Rose Beaks tribe was the reason of their appearance, then they should also be able to detect my approximate location. If I was as powerful as how senior Ariel makes the five powers, if I knew about a second Black Core in New Earth and it was my aim, I’ll surely send forces to obtain it. Nevertheless, no one peculiar has gone after me and I’m confident that I could sense even a Martial Mortal if one painted a target on my back”.

    Zax’s reasoning drew nodes of concurrence from both his Master and Grandmaster.

    “No. As I see it, if they really search of the Black Core in the Red Rose Beaks tribe, I suspect that this was the same area the other Black Core was discovered before it made its way to Ercas Mir in one way or another”.

    “That could be it”. Kartius approved.

    “A possible scenario if the Black Core is the reason of their stay”. Grandmaster Kartion also said. “However, if that is the case, then it means that one of the five powers possess the Black Core in Ercas Mir and occurring it has just became much, much more difficult than getting the Black Core in the Red Rose Beaks tribe”.

    Listening to his big brother, Kartius was about to once more warn Zax when he was interrupted by him.

    “I’ll be careful”.



    At the outskirt of Kingdom Earth.

    Two men stood side beside. Ahead of them, less than ten meters, was a passageway with low entrance.

    “Past this passageway there is not turning back, junior Zax, not for a long time. Otherwise you will not be able to leave again without confirming to the Golden Desert Fort, Blessed Army or Luminous Church. If you still have unfinished things to do, this is the last chance I am giving you”. Supreme Ruler Ariel made it clear to Zax.

    “I’m ready”. Zax said solemnly.

    He said farewell, he said goodbye, he still felt the warmth of all the hugs and heard the crying of all the loved ones, but his sight was straight and resolute.

    “Good. Then from this moment on all I will say and ask of you, within the boundaries of my shackles, is to learn and study the world above, to think and contemplate and make calculated decisions”.

    The entered the passageway, leaving New Earth.

  6. #166
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    Book 6 – Legacy

    Chapter 30 – The Blue Sky


    The passageway stretched to a distance of couple kilometers. It was dark, completely void from Sun Stones.

    WHOOSH!

    WHOOSH!

    Supreme Ruler Ariel lead and Zax followed, both extending their Soul Sense and Sublime Soul Sense to perceive their surrounding since there were many twists. Of course, Zax could rely on his excellent vision to see the way, but he was quite fascinated in this one of a kind passageway and wondered if there were interesting stuff in it; such as special stones like Earth’s Cores or Sun Stones, or perhaps, due to their close proximity to Ercas Mir, small Deformed Beings who lived in the passageway. Regrettably, Zax found nothing peculiar in the passageway except from the world on its other side.

    After a several minutes run, white rays of light were finally visible along with sounds of birds and insects.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes;"> </span>

    WHOOSH!

    WHOOSH!

    “This… View…”

    At the instant Zax followed after Supreme Ruler Ariel out of the passageway, as his eyes met the scenery that was waiting for them, an indescribable sense of awe had took over him.

    Most abundant was the color green. Lush and bright, a vivid shade that doubtfully exists below the ground, and yet here can virtually be seen at every turn of the head.

    The vegetation was breathtaking, and most outstanding were the heavenly wide and tall trees!

    Unknowingly panting, from his eye level view, Zax slowly began to gouge the size of the trees up ahead as he raised his head.

    Ten, twenty, thirty meters… and they kept going up.

    Seventy, eighty… one hundred… one hundred and fifty… almost three hundred meters tall!

    And wide? It would take fifty or so men with arms stretched to the side to embrace the trunk from its base.

    “Eh?!” Zax uttered and a wisp of wonder escaped from his voice.

    Up above, where he remembered the bright, earthy ceiling usually is, in between the swaying foliage of the top branches, a patch of blue was flickering like a bulb going on and off.

    WHOOSH!

    Zax sprang from the ground, too engaged with the spectacle his gaze captured to care about the stern look on Supreme Ruler Ariel’s face or the deadly silence that befall the surrounding giants’ forest the instant they appeared out of the passageway.

    “Leave him be”. Supreme Ruler Ariel said in a low voice. “He will come down soon”.

    There was no response to Supreme Ruler Ariel’s request more than command. However, the woods remained soundless and for him it was enough to not worry and avert his attention to the ascending Zax.

    RATTLE!

    RATTLE!

    RATTLE!

    Zax climbed swiftly, with each tap of foot on a branch brining sound back to the forest, until at last, his figure breached the crown of the tree.

    Hovering in midair, though it was for only several breaths, it felt like time stood still.

    “Blue… Sky…”

    Zax watched in combination of amazement, reverence and a trace of terror. Only couple of hours ago it was a sight solely visible through the wonderland behind a Screen, and even then, in comparison to the genuine view that encompassed everything at this very moment, it was eons away from experiencing the real deal!

    Vast. Endless. No walls, no tunnels, no ceiling. Holding a promise to something even beyond, while stating one’s insignificant. These were… These are the blue sky!

    ‘Air’. The thought emerged in Zax’s mind.

    As a cultivator, moreover a bodily cultivator, he could hold his breath for much, much longer than this passing few seconds. But the thrill… it emptied all the oxygen from his body, as if the first breath belonged to the world above ground and was taken from what little air he contained, before his turn to take from the world.

    With full lungs, the descent began and the moment was commemorated forever in Zax’s sea of consciousness.

    Returning to the ground, Zax landed in front of Supreme Ruler Ariel.

    “Are they members of the five powers?” Zax asked. His tone of voice was nonchalant but his eyes still possessed the shine of the experience.

    Nodding, Supreme Ruler Ariel turned to the surrounding forest. “He is a citizen of my Kingdom Earth. His level of cultivation abides the rules of the respectable five powers. As Lieutenant General of the Blessed Army I permit him a pass to venture freely in Ercas Mir. Who cares to take testimony?”

    “I”.

    “I do”.

    “For the Violet Scaled Troops I will”.

    “The Blue Sea also wants to confirm”.

    Four voices, five flashes moved in union.

    As the five figures came before him and Supreme Ruler Ariel, Zax squinted as he seized their appearances. At the same time, he could also feel five Soul Senses scrutinizing his three aspects, which made him frown and use his own Soul Sense to obstruct them. With regards to the vice powers’ rules, Zax met them all and had Supreme Ruler Ariel to vouch for him. He did not need any of the five to learn about the bizarre state of his Qi channels or exceptionally high body fitness level.

    Three humans, two humanoid beasts.

    Of the humans, one was a tall, taller than Zax, and husky middle age man. He wore a white tank top with a “Golden Desert Fort” badge and military pants in desert colors.

    Of the women, the first to arrive wore a sliver robe and on her ample chest carried a metal plate embedded with the words “Luminous Church”. The torso of the second woman was shielded by a piece of glowing armor and skinny black pants with golden strings. To her back she wore a short, black mantle that reflected light. She appeared younger than the first woman and as the last human among the group of five, Zax assumed that she is from the Blessed Army like Supreme Ruler Ariel – also, she was the only one who had yet to voice her thoughts and when she saw Supreme Ruler Ariel she gave him a subtle salute.

    The two humanoid beasts were clothes less, similarly to the habit of beasts in Valgarel who tend to cover themselves only in human form.

    One of the humanoid beasts was a tall male, taller even than the Golden Desert Fort guy, with blue and green scales and overall aquatic look never before seen anywhere in New Earth. Zax suspected that he was a member of the Blue Sea. The other humanoid beast was around the same height as Supreme Ruler Ariel, and was brawny more than anyone of the people and beasts present. He seemed to be from the ape family, his body was covered by emerald fur and in the middle of his chest four shimmering violet scales were exhibited, his insignia. He was clearly from the Violet Scaled Troops.

    “Ariel, just a short while ago your Kingdom Earth had delivered a batch of new recruits to the Golden Desert Fort, Blessed Army, Luminous Church. And there is already a group of first realm fingerlings touring Selivereb. It is too late and too early for you to bring him now. Send him back and have him join a new first realm group in two to three decades”. The speaker was the aquatic humanoid beast. He seemed to be irritated over the obstruction Zax posed to his Soul Sense and did not mind to have his voice sounding as if berating Supreme Ruler Ariel.

    “Brencha, who do you think you are speaking in this manner to my Lieutenant General?! Are you itching for an incident?!” The young woman, Zax guessed from the Blessed Army, sneered and walked forward to break the line of sight between the aquatic humanoid beast, Brencha, and Supreme Ruler Ariel.

    “Humph!” Brencha snorted, avoiding answering the young woman.

    He knew quite well the disparity in ranks between him, the other four and Supreme Ruler Ariel. Though only one of them belonged to the same power, if any of the other four push it too far and Supreme Ruler Ariel will retaliate, the powers behind them will say they brought it on themselves. After all, how inept a Peak third level Core Master must be in order to provoke a renowned Martial Mortal?

    “Come now, Shiva, brother Brencha did not mean to offend senior Ariel. These are merely regulations”. The woman from the Luminous Church had tried to pacify.

    “A Lieutenant General of the Blessed Army approved this young cultivator, Joanna, do you think that he will do so while violating the five powers’ rules?!” The truth was that the young woman, Shiva, was a direct officer under Supreme Ruler Ariel in the Blessed Army, which is why she was so infuriated.

    “Shiva”, a voice from behind her softly called and Shiva turned toward Supreme Ruler Ariel. “Let us proceed. Take out the Curator’s Mark. The rest of you, if you want to take testimony, do the same”. When he spoke to the other four, Supreme Ruler Ariel was apathetic.

    There was a slight discontent reaction on the faces of the four that quickly vanished. They, along with Shiva, raised their hands, upon which were five rings, one on each hand. The rings seemed to be nothing special, but when the five extended their other hands and stroke them, a minor fluctuation erupted from the rings and next things appeared in the five’s hands were charm medallions with the characters of their respectable powers in their original and common language.

    “The junior name is ‘Zax Zel’. You can already tell that his soul is at the second realm, but his mist energy and had yet to break through”. Supreme Ruler Ariel said. “Mark him and be done with the ‘regulations’”. He said while his vision moved past Joanna, causing her to smile wryly.

    The husky middle age man from the Golden Desert Fort was the first to point the charm at Zax and imbued it with soul energy. The characters on the charm glowed in golden light. A golden beam shot from the charm and integrated with Zax’s body. It occurred so fast that Zax did not have time react.

    Following the golden beam, a blue, violet, black and silver beams shot at Zax.

    ‘Relax. It is only the procedure. If the beams will return to the charm it means that either your mist or bodily cultivation surpasses that five powers’ limitation. That will not happen. Since you do not violate the rules, the beams will dissipate, leaving five unnoticeable marks that will flare up to alert the five powers when you will break through the second realm. The only way to remove the marks is either by joining one of the five powers and at the day of your return to New Earth, the Curators of the passageway will erase it for you’.

    Supreme Ruler Ariel explained to Zax via his Sublime Soul Sense.

    Zax did not respond. Realizing that nothing out of the ordinary is being done to him, he quietly waited for the five beams to vanish.

    “Qualify”.

    “Qualify”.

    “Qualify”.

    “Qualify”.

    “Qualify”.

    One after the other, the five declared. Seeing as the beams dissipated, even if some of them refused to do so, they were compelled by the rules of the powers behind them to approve Zax.

    Charms disappear back to the rings and hands fall down, the five current Curators concluded their task. The man from the Golden Desert Fort and the humanoid beast from the Violet Scaled Troops retreated back to their posts in the surrounding giants’ forest. Joanna nodded and left, as well. Following her was Brencha. He looked at Zax bitterly and withdrew.

    “Shiva, after you will switch shifts and return to base, use my decree for three days three nights session in the Tempering Chamber”.

    “Yes, Lieutenant General!” Shiva excitedly replied, saluted and went back to her post.

    It was an unexpected treat Supreme Ruler Ariel decided to bestow her after sensing her sincerity.

    BOOM!

    Just as the last of the five Curators left, the deadly silence was overwhelmed by livelihood of the forest that was previously held back.

    Zax perked his ears. It was impossible to ignore the sounds of the wild since they echoed farther than he remembered in Valgarel, and with no walls even the elements seemed more exuberant.

    ‘So these were experts of the five powers…’ Zax mused after getting absorbed in the forest’s revitalization. “Are there beasts only in the Blue Sea and Violet Scaled Troops and humans only in the other three powers?” He asked.

    “Generally, yes”. Supreme Ruler Ariel shook his head. “But you can still find beasts and humans in any camp, doing all sorts of odd jobs. That is the reason for the division of where beasts and humans from New Earth go if they join the five powers”.

    Couple of silent minutes passed before Supreme Ruler Ariel opened again. “Are you prepared?”

    “Yes”. Zax answered, still immersed in the new world he arrived to.

    Supreme Ruler Ariel sighed, turning away, to a direction other than the passageway back to New Earth. ‘I have said all that I could and there is nothing else of importance that we can discuss’. He sent to Zax with his Sublime Soul Sense. “Take care”. His last words kept reverberating even after he left.

    Zax took a deep breath. Staring up, he searched for the patch of blue from before. After seeing the one he suddenly managed to find a lot more flickering in between the swaying foliage of the top branches. He lowered his head, recalling some of the mentioned placed in Earth’s Records. Having decided on where to go, Zax determinedly stepped his first step toward the unknown that waited for him, under the blue sky.

  7. #167
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 1 – Explosive Entrance



    Even after getting couple of kilometers away from the passageway to New Earth, Zax could still feel several Soul Senses sweeping him from afar.

    ‘These Curators are really annoying. Especially that Blue Sea guy, he seems to hold a grudge with me for what happened before…’

    After a certain distance, the Soul Senses gradually disappeared, all but the Blue Sea humanoid beast’s. He pestered Zax for quite a while even after all the others settled down.

    ‘He is gone’. Zax stopped in his tracks, surrounded by the hundreds of meters tall tree in this giants’ forest. “That Blue Sea Curator probably got tired of bothering me”.

    It did not leave Zax in a good mood. There was another thing on his mind that made him feel even more uncomfortable than nosy Curators he could do nothing to put in their places.

    ‘This damned marks they left on him. I can tell that they are somewhere on my or inside my body, by even my soul energy cannot detect the exact places they are at’.

    The marks felt to Zax like a vexing itch under the skin, impossible to subside. To live with them until his day of return to New Earth or enrollment to one of the five powers, if he so chooses, would be something he will have to get used to.

    ‘There should be a village near by and another at that direction. If you go to any of them I might encounter a language barrier… But I rather not enter a human city without familiarizing myself with the proper conduct’.

    Zax was in a bit of a dilemma. He knew the city named “Glorious Ground” of the Blessed Army was his desirable destination. But if he will go there not sure how to handle himself, it would be difficult to get around and make it a good starting point for his venture.

    “Mm?” A distant sound caught Zax’s attention. Turning his head to where it came from, the tree obstructed his field of view. As for using his Soul Sense to see what is going on…

    Zax decided to refrain from using his Soul Sense all too often in Ercas Mir for two reasons. First, as attractive as the new setting was and as interesting as it was to capture every bit of it, it would just tire him mentally if he will get absorbed in it with his Soul Sense for an extended period of time. His eyes, ears and other senses will do just well on this department. Second, when a cultivator uses Soul Sense and accidentally sweeps a cultivator of the same level or higher, the other party will know about it. In this new environment, Zax preferred to rather not reveal much of himself without knowing who might take notice.

    “A calf?” When he got closer to the source of the sound, enough so he could detect it with his Soul Sense without spreading too far and wide, Zax finally released it. What he found was a frantic calf like creature.

    It had the shape, the common color of the fur, white with brown stains, sounded the same, but from a deeper observation there was something off about it, apart from the reason it was screaming and running around frightened. Its skin was not skin and it fur was not fur, its entire exterior was a smooth shell like body armor and at the back of its neck was a thumb size pale looking scale.

    “A Deformed Being!” Zax realized. “Could it be a baby? Its energy level is so pure and high! Already at the Core Breaker level!”

    “MMEEEEE! MMEEEEE!”

    The calf bellowed in horror, and from a place not too far more similar sounds could be heard.

    WHOOSH!

    Zax jumped on one of the surrounding trees and began to run toward from above by crossing the magnitude of long branches. ‘Something chasing it?’

    If the calf was separated from its herd or chased by another Deformed Being, Zax would not have much to worry about, but if it was a cultivator or a group of cultivators that are responsible for the commotion he will not expose himself before finding and examining them first.

    It must be mentioned that Zax was not afraid from the Deformed Beings or cultivators in Selivereb, not even from the five Curators, but he did have compelling reasons not to show off...

    BOOM!

    BANG!

    A loud explosion resounded. Accompanying it was the sound of a falling tree.

    ‘There!’

    Zax retracted his Soul Sense. His ears picked up human’s voices, though he could not understand their meaning, more so due to the mixture of earth shaking bellows and roaring from the same direction than the chance the language spoken was native to Ercas Mir.

    As he rushed ahead, the more cows like Deformed Beings Zax saw running away.

    ‘What’s that!’ Zax halted, standing on a tall branch in a spot where he found a clearing in the foliage for his field view.

    The scene that took place, roughly two hundred meters from him, was outright brutal!

    A group of humans with cold weapons, forty seven in number, a massive bull like Deformed Being and an even bigger alligator looking Deformed Being were in a bloody skirmish.

    The battle transpired in an open field, near the tree line to the forest and less than five hundred meters from an alarmed village.

    Some of the humans, the minority, by their dressing were most likely residents of the village, perhaps its warriors. The majority seemed to be, by their actions, armors and level of cultivation, hired mercenaries. They, along with the bull, were doggedly attempting at killing the injured alligator.

    ‘Could that creature be a Black Chrome Alligator? It is written in Earth’s Records that at adulthood a Black Chrome Alligator can reach a step from the Peak of the second realm. This one, however, has the level of strength of an Intermediate second level Core Master. It should be a juvenile. Still… it’s very vicious, to be able to fight these guys to a state of even losses… The bull is near the Peak of the first realm, eight of the humans also in this level. The rest is lower and only two are in the Beginner phase of the first Core Master level. Moreover there are almost twenty human bodies, who know how strong they were?’

    The skirmish continued with horrendous effort from both sides to try and persevere as red dyed the field of battle.

    The wounds inflected on the body of the Black Chrome Alligator were constantly bleeding and its escape route was cut off by fallen down trees. Of the forty seven humans still living, most were exhausted, more bitter as a result of the casualties friends and kin than their own injuries. One of the horns of the bull was broken, and it gave the impression of staying on its hooves by sheer will, rage and wild instinct, as its eyes were completely red and around it were the half eaten carcasses of the cows Deformed Beings of its herd.

    BANG!

    The Black Chrome Alligator slammed its tail in the bull, lifting it from the ground and throwing it tens of meters.

    The terrifying blow deterred many in the humans group, but their core expert saw it as it opportunity to strike the alligator when it does not pay attention to them.

    SLASH!

    BOOM!

    BANG!

    PUCHI!

    A composition of various types of attack landed on the exoskeleton armor of the Black Chrome Alligator, some via weaponry embedded with mist energy, others were pure mist attacks.

    “ROAR!”

    The Black Chrome Alligator cried in pain.

    WHOOSH!

    It madly brushed with its claws, piercing in its wake more of the humans.

    Looking at the battle from afar, Zax could tell that the bull and the alligator were truly unintelligent as it was mentioned in Earth’s Records about Deformed Beings, which made it easy to assume what was the initial motive of the battle.

    ‘The Black Chrome Alligator should have come here to hunt for the cows Deformed Beings. Intruding on the bull’s territory, furthermore managing to grab members of its herd perhaps aroused its fury. The humans entered the fray either because the close proximity of the village or maybe the bull and cows Deformed Beings are their cattle’.

    The presence of the supposed mercenaries indicated that there was more to the story, Zax guessed, but the knack of it he believed that he got.

    Zax grimaced. Mostly living with beasts for the better part of his life, he was used to slaughter for survival, regardless which species died, but if the battle will be dragged to the village, where there probably were normal weak human, a senseless tragedy will unfold. Besides, it appeared that it was the Black Chrome Alligator a stepped out from its hunting zone, since there was not seem to be any body of water around.

    Having a greater measure of sentiment toward humans – the wild alligator was far from what Zax considered beasts on the same level as those in his Martial family – Zax decided not to sit still.

    Wait for the right moment, Zax searched for the opening for a deceive blow that will kill the Black Chrome Alligator without exposing much of his strength.

    ‘Now!’

    WHOOSH!

    Jumping down from the branch and mustering Kinetic Force, Zax’s speed erupted and with his proficiency, without causing a sound.



    “Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit!” The middle age first level Core Master cursed as he led the assault against the Black Chrome Alligator.

    He brandished his two handed saber and bit his lips in frustration. There were many deaths, far beyond his calculation, and in this point of the battle, his armor was too damaged to amount for a protective wear and equally was the state of the men following him.

    “That ****ing lizard! No matter what, keep attacking it! If it will escape everything would be for naught!”

    “Yes, captain!”

    Shouted all of those who still had fighting spirit in them.

    “Garnet, your village hired my mercenary band to kill a Black Chrome Alligator at the Peak of the first Core Master level, not this monstrosity! When the battle is over if you don’t give us another raise, god help me…!”

    Somewhere on the battlefield, another middle age man, holding an axe, had a deep frown on his face but no words came out from his mouth. His attire was much different than many of the surrounding men and the so called “captain” of the mercenary band. His armor was plain, made from bits and pieces of what appeared to be a white and brown exoskeleton that was put together sloppily.

    The man was Garnet, the leader of the in experienced warriors from the nearby village.

    The Black Chrome Alligator was banished from its congregations by the dominate male, and for the past months hung around the periphery the village, hunting the cattle and sometimes basically putting the residents of the village under siege.

    The head of the village tried, at first, to ask the other village in the vicinity to group together and have their warriors kill the menacing Black Chrome Alligator. But for the time being the Black Chrome Alligator only concentrated in the one village, and so the other refused to risk their warriors. Eventually it became unbearable and the village head submitted to his people request to hire outsiders to deal with the Black Chrome Alligator. Thus, the Mendor mercenary band whose base is situated in the not far Glorious Ground city accepted the job.

    Nevertheless, things only became more complicated after the Mendor mercenary band arrived to the village. Garnet, who estimated the strength of the Black Chrome Alligator was vastly wrong, and changes had to be made in the agreement of the village head and Mendor, the captain of the mercenary band. There was a fifty percent increase from the original fee, the village warriors had to support the mercenary band during battle as the rearguard and most importantly, the mercenary band will keep two thirds of the Black Chrome Alligator’s corpse.

    “Eh? Who’s that?!” Mendor squinted as an unrecognizable silhouette came out of nowhere in high speed toward the alligator.



    Zax aimed for an open wound in a vital area in the body of the Black Chrome Alligator, and a good one was right at the side of its neck, where its head was connected to the rest of the body.

    BANG!

    Zax punched his way inside the wound, shoving nearly his entire arm in.

    The Black Chrome Alligator roared in agony, but was too slow to react as Zax channeled kinetic energy and converged it to Kinetic Force.

    BOOM!

    A garish explosion blew the neck of the alligator, turning half of its skull to raining mush and the other half disconnecting from the body.

    BANG!

    The Black Chrome Alligator’s headless body lost power in its feet and fell. Seconds after its death the bloody rain also stopped and Zax dirty figure was somewhat clear.
    Last edited by Lonahora; 08-27-16 at 12:19 PM.

  8. #168
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 2 – Virgil’s Pasture



    Mendor as well as Garnet and many of the men still standing were in complete and utter shock from Zax’s performance.

    “W-Who are you, sir?” Garnet asked in a faltering voice.

    Although the surrounding view was a mass of sickening gore, there was not one person in the battlefield that carried himself so nonchalantly as Zax, while looking like a ghastly red devil that spawned right out of hell.

    Zax rubbed his fingers and then waved his right hand, trying to get rid of some of the sticky blood and mushy meat. Usually such state did not disturb him that much that he could not wait to find suitable means to clean himself, but the insides of the Black Chrome Alligator smelled truly awful.

    ‘Mm? Is that old man speaking to me?’ From his inability to understand Garnet’s language, Zax was not aware that he was speaking to him until he noticed his look and that there was no one beside him. ‘I don’t understand a word that he is saying. Should I gesture with my hands that I can’t understand? But that might raise question about where I’m from and I’m not sure how to answer them, yet. Maybe I should just leave…?’

    Seeing that he was not getting answered, Garnet misinterpreted Zax’s pensive stare to a murdering look, still consumed with the bloodthirstiness of killing the Black Chrome Alligator.

    Fearing that he spoke too casually and offended the great expert before him, which came out of nowhere and with one blow killed a mighty Deformed Being, even if it was injured, Garnet quickly bowed to express his gratitude so to avoid an incident.

    “Arg… Sir, please forgive my insolence, you just surprised myself and my companions. Please allow me to thank you from the bottom of my…” Garnet said every word so eloquently; one might misunderstand and think that he was chanting from Holy Scriptures.

    When the men around saw Garnet’s behavior, whether they have been the village warriors under him or the Mendor mercenary band, none dared to despise him. No matter how venerable a cultivator was, at the face of a stronger cultivator he or she should act with restraint and the proper etiquette.

    Believing that Zax’s killing intent is on the verge of erupting a second time, it was Garnet’s responsibility to conduct himself as he did and appease him. In fact, Mendor had an equal responsibility as they both were the leaders of their united groups, but he seemed to pick up something else from Zax. In addition, his assessment of Zax’s strength differed than Garnet. Not there he doubted Zax’s capabilities, but taking in consideration the state the Black Chrome Alligator was in, coupled with his years of experience as a mercenary, he gathered that Zax was probably not weaker than him and had used a peculiar attack that met the conditions to defeat the alligator in one blow.

    Mendor contemplated, unsure, but for a second there he thought that what he picked up from Zax… could it be helplessness?

    “Stop”. Zax raised the palm of his hand along with speaking outloud

    Garnet’s sincerity and fear that could not be hidden made him a bit awkward. He realized that it does not really matter if the people in front of him knew that he cannot speak their language. If it will raise suspicious eyebrows, he can just leave, find someplace to rid himself from the gore and continue onward to his original destination, Glorious Ground.

    Garnet saw Zax raised his hand toward him, the same hand that blew up the extremely strong and tough Black Chrome Alligator, and a premature sense of imminent crisis caused his heart to beat so loudly, he could barely hear to what Zax said.

    “Sir, please don’t-”

    “Shut it, Garnet!” Mendor interrupted him and turned to Zax. “You… Lad, don’t you speak Netherling?”

    “Eh!” Zax looked dumbfounded at Mendor.

    He could not understand the words he said to Garnet, but the next sentence that was directed at him was actually in his native tongue. That was beyond his expectation. After gesturing he thought the other will use the same manner of communication, not that among them someone will not only understand him, but his situation as well.

    ‘Netherling, is that the native language of this place or the entire planet?’ Zax thought before replying to Mendor. “No”.

    “A foreigner…” Mendor murmured and looked heavily around, at his men and the village warriors. “Tend the wounded, then gather the casualties and bury them. If they have families, collect their things and arrange them accordingly. And bring the Black Chrome Alligator’s carcass to the village“.

    The atmosphere turned despondent when Mendor’s men heard him. Suddenly the adrenalin and rush from the bottle were replaced by weights of exhaustion. Nonetheless, they hurried to comply, with the only other Core Master in the group supervising. The village warriors were slow to react, by they also helped.

    By that time, from Zax’s placid conversation with Mendor, which he could understand, it became clear to Garnet that he misjudged Zax’s temperament, and that he also was not an old man like the two of them.

    Secretly laughing at himself, he said, finally in a little less apprehensive voice. “The battle was wearying us to out limits… Thank you, young man, for assisting us finish it without suffering additional losses”. He said in New Earth’s language.

    “You don’t have to mention it”.

    It was not that Zax did not care for those who died in the battle, but he knew none of them and the ties they had. As such, there was a tint of apathy to his demeanor. That being said, such behavior was common for experts, and so neither Mendor nor Garnet held it against him.

    Mendor shook his head. “No. Many men died today, and many more would have died if you stayed your hand. Please accept both of our gratitude”. He gave a slight bow with his head and after pausing for a moment he continued to ask. “How can we call you?”

    “My name is Zax”. Zax said, not seeing the point of adding his surname.

    “Mm”, Mendor nodded. “The man beside me called ‘Garnet’. He is the chief warrior of the village up ahead”.

    Garnet smiled respectfully at Zax. He seemed to be fine with Mendor taking upon himself to make the introduction.

    “You can call me Mendor. Most of the men out here…” As he spoke and turned to look around, when his eyes landed row of dead bodies, Mendor gaze became sullen. “Are members of my Mendor mercenary band. The rest are Garnet’s people. I think that you can discern who is who”.

    His opinion of the village warriors was a bit discontent. Many of his men died in comparison, and even thought it was a job they willingly accepted, the end results were hard to swallow without being slightly spiteful.

    “Sir Zax, please, allow my village to entertain you as a show of gratitude for killing the alligator. Naturally, this invitation extends for as long as you want. Though, we may be incompetent, as a foreigner you might find at our place useful information for your entire stay in Selivereb”. Garnet humbly said.

    “Zax, my mercenary band will also stay a few days in Garnet’s village. Afterwards, since our job is finished, we will head back to Glorious Ground. If you want, you can join us”. Mendor said.

    It would be a lie to claim that he was not interested in a cultivator like Zax whose strength, at such a young age, managed to inwardly alarm him.

    Zax wiped some of the blood on his face. “Just call me ‘Zax’. No need for ‘sir’”. He first told Garnet. Considering the amiable approach of the two men before him exhibited, he was fine with them simply using his first name. He proceeded to answer the both of them. “I’ll stay and leave with Mendor and his people”. Not to mention that it was a much more comfortable alternative than spending the night atop one of the Titan Kapok Trees.

    Hearing his reply, Garnet’s countenance revealed a brief look of disappointment. His invitation was not merely to thank Zax; he had an ulterior motive... The village was in a weak state now, a few warriors died in the battle, more are severely wounded, and then there was part of the precious carcass of the Black Chrome Alligator they get to keep.

    Garnet feared that after Mendor and his mercenary band will depart, the other villages will make a move to steal their fortune. At the time, if they would have Zax’s presence in the village, it might suffice to deter the other villages long enough for him and his warriors to recover and forge better weaponry from the Black Chrome Alligator.



    Zax, Mendor and Garnet walked along side each other.

    After sending one of the warriors to arrange Zax’s accommodation and another to notify the head of the village, Garnet began to narrate some details about the village.

    “Our village is called ‘Virgil’s Pasture’. ‘Virgil’ is the last name of the first line of descendants whose forefather founded the village twenty two hundred years ago. Today the village is a home to almost four thousand souls and is the third large village in the vicinity of Selivereb”.

    “Twenty two hundred years…” Zax mused.

    He was curious if the forefather, as well as all the beasts and humans in Ercas Mir, were themselves descendants of survivals who did not take part in the great immigration or that perhaps did immigrate to New Earth and sometime in the past thousands of years quietly returned to the surface of the earth?

    “Yes”. Garnet said, thinking that Zax is asking. “The forefather was an ex serviceman of the Blessed Army and only at old age married and founded the village. On this note, you can say that all the villages and tribes in Selivereb share the same sentiment… they all were established by men and beasts who served in the Blessed Army and Violet Scaled Troops”.

    Zax gawked. With this sort of history, it turned out more difficult to assess which of his assumptions was the correct one, unless he will personally start scrutinizing the five powers, which is what Supreme Ruler Ariel wanted him to do anyway but could not say bluntly due to the oath he made for the Blessed Army.



    The villagers started coming out from their wood structured homes as the wounded were carried back. First to appear were men and women who reached out to help and welcome the village warriors and mercenaries. Elderly followed next and only few children succeeded in escaping the confinement of their homes their parents forced on them, though they quickly returned frightened and crying.

    “Is it fine if I’ll come along looking like this?” Zax asked Garnet. He was well aware of his appearance and how regular people, non cultivators, may react to him.

    “Don’t worry about it”. Garnet reassured him without further words.

    “Garnet, I’m joining my men. Tell the head of the village that if he wants your part of the Black Chrome Alligator to come see me later in the evening. Zax”, Mendor told Garnet and nodded to Zax before splitting to where his mercenary band was staying.

    The two saw off Mendor. Looking at his back, Garnet heaved a deep sigh. He and the head of the village will have find ways to prolong the mercenaries’ stay until the village will be fit to take care of itself again.

    Shortly after Mendor left, the village warrior Garnet sent to arrange a place for Zax returned. He handed Garnet a thick book and spoke with him in Netherling and then was ordered to gather a group of men and bring back the missing cattle.

    “Zax, tonight we will hold a service for the departed. Subsequently, we will have a victory banquet. Please join us at your leisure. The head of the village will surely like to thank you face to face”.

    Garnet lead Zax to a small cottage, only slightly bigger than the surrounding huts the villagers lived in.

    It was one of the six cottages the village head and one of the two that were currently vacant from inhabitants.

    “This dictionary will help you get familiar with our language, Netherling. It’s not much, in the cities you can find better means to learn it fast fluently, but if you are interested…”

    “Thank you”. Zax said, receiving the dictionary.

    “Hahaha, merely a tiny gesture. Well then, I will send someone to inform you when the service will begin. You don’t have any obligations to come, of course. At any case I will send to you once more for the victory banquet”.

    Garnet cupped his hands, since touching the messy Zax was out of the question.

    Zax entered the cottage. It was nicely furnished with all made Titan Kapok Trees furniture and no other words to describe its appeal. It had two floors with a total of seven rooms.

    Zax saw it all with his Soul Sense, to find if there was a shower in the cottage. There was, as well as a laundry room. He smiled and headed upstairs.

  9. #169
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 3 – Manifestation



    There were sets of clothes hanging in the main bedroom’s closet, male and female tunics with a trace of modernism.

    As Zax’s clothes were beyond redemption, after getting stained by the Black Chrome Alligator’s blood and gore, he was looking to no avail for a tunic of his size.

    Around five minutes after he began to skim through the closet, Zax heard the cottage’s entrance door open and the steps of someone entering.

    Observing with his Soul Sense, Zax saw a middle aged woman standing in wait at the ground floor of the cottage, holding a pile of folded male tunics.

    Covering his lower half with the towel he used to wipe himself, Zax went downstairs.

    From the woman’s patient behavior, it appeared that she was aware of Zax’s presence, yet upon seeing the muscular structure of a young man at the peak of his prime and is furthermore an expert which even got the chief warrior’s respect, despite her experiences, her face flushed.

    “Sir, my name is ‘Razela’. During your stay I will be the temporary attendant of the fifth cottage”. Razela composed herself and said with a bow.

    Each of the village’s six cottages had a permanent attendant, but due to language limitations, Garnet sent temporary replacement who knew Earth, Zax’s and Nea Earth’s language, to the fifth cottage along with instruction to bring larger size tunics for the respectable tenant to measure – apparently Zax’s physique was bigger than the standard of Selivereb.

    Zax did not intend to correct every person who timidly calls him ‘Sir’ or uses other honorific. He nodded and received the pile of tunics, guessing why Razela brought them.

    “Thank you. Don’t concern yourself with me, just let me know when the service is about to begin”. Zax said in a relaxed tone, at the very least, letting Razela feel more comfortable toward this stranger.



    Sitting on a chair in the kitchen's corner, finishing a fruit of some sort that was full of taste, Zax picked up in his free hand the dictionary he received from Garnet and browsed in it.

    'There are notes'. He was glad to find them among the pages.

    The notes were in both Earth and Netherling. Most were in the latter. They helped Zax in understanding a bit the pronunciation. Regrettably, they were not so helpful in learning the proper use of verb forms.

    As a cultivator, given enough time, it was simple for Zax to memorize the dictionary. The lexicon of an entire language laid before him in a book format of thousand pages, would probably take him between ten to twenty hours, depending on the similarities of the new language and Earth.

    Outside the sun was at its descend to the horizon. Zax was limited in time and could only go through key words that he specifically searched, arrange them in his mind and practice with himself before the door to the cottage opened.

    "Sir, the village's head, the elders and chief warrior invite you to the service". Razela said politely. Pain and sadness were apparent in her voice.

    Placing the dictionary in the inner pocket of his tunic, Zax stood up, compiling to the invitation.

    As for not keeping the dictionary in his Blue Stone, Zax did not want to do so in front of Razela. He was unsure of the small stone's worth in Ercas Mir and regardless of his confidence in himself to prevent others from stealing it, he assumed that for now he would be better off not revealing it casually.

    "Please show me the way".



    The village had a number of squares, the largest one at its center, and that is where the service for the departed and afterwards the banquet were designated.

    There were already hundreds of villagers encircling the square when Zax and Razela arrived. Men and women of age were building a great bonfire, but from Zax's recollection it should not be to cremate the dead, since they were already buried.

    Fifteen or so meters from the bonfire was a crescent platform with wooden, tall chairs, nine in total. On seven chairs sat a group of elderly men and women, the youngest looking, surprisingly, was the middle aged Garnet.

    Garnet sat to the right of an old man who was sitting in the middle chair. The man was shaved, with short white hair and had a somber look in his eyes as he stared at the bonfire.

    Led by Razela toward the platform, on the way Zax noticed Mendor mercenary band, along with the man himself, standing close to the platform and the carcass of the Black Chrome Alligator guarded nearby.

    "Zax", Garnet got up to welcomed him.

    He was not the first to pay attention to Zax. All the old the men and women and even Mendor and the rest of the mercenaries paid attention to the young and fearsome, they saw and heard about, the instant he entered their field of view.

    "Come on up. We already arranged a place for you at the platform".

    To the side, Mendor climbed up the stairs to the platform. Before Zax's arrival he did not care about the seats that was prepared for him. Having some interest in Zax, he decided to accept the gesture in order to get familiar with the lad.

    "Head, elders, allow me to introduce to you Zax, a benevolent expert who helped us in today's battle to turn the tide and rid ourselves from the menacing Deformed Being".

    Garnet spoke a little exaggeratedly deliberately.

    Although it sounded like all the credit was bestowed to Zax and omitted the participation and sacrifice of his mercenary band, Mendor remained silent. He already concluded the issue of the additional fee with the village's head, after the battle, and even secured the creature's valuable, yet unripe, Pure Core!

    To his ears, Garnet's words were only a pitiful effort to recruit Zax's services until the village's condition will stabilize.

    The village's head and the elders courteously got up from their chairs.

    "Young hero Zax, I am 'Leonard Virgil', the head of Virgil’s Pasture. Elder chief warrior has acquainted myself and our circle of elders of your selfless deeds. I and the entire village thank you from the bottom and hearts".

    From his way of conduct, background as a foreigner, level of strength and, most importantly, the fact that he did not squabble for a piece of the Black Chrome Alligator, all the people present on the platform had a satisfactory impression of Zax.

    "Thank you, young man".

    "Thank you, young hero Zax".



    Along with Garnet, the five other elders showed their gratitude to Zax.

    "I could help, so I did. If the Deformed Being was beyond my capabilities, you would have been on your own". Zax said earnestly.

    Yes, he could and fought in the past cultivators with greater strength and higher ream without betting an eyelash. But, he was no longer a child. Unless he was desperate, taking uncalculated risk fighting someone, for example, of Supreme Ruler Ariel's caliber was out of the question. At the case of a deeply rooted enmity, Zax could always strive, grow stronger and make a comeback.

    "If the alligator was beyond your capabilities, it would not have mattered if you helped or not. The village would have been destroyed, either way, and the villagers dead or running for someplace else to survive". Mendor cut in, not to belittle Zax in any way, but to put a realistic view, as was his temperament.

    Nonetheless, his abrupt and rational interruption caught Leonard and the village's elders at loss for words. They could not refute him, but at the same time wanted to fawn over Zax so convincing him to stay would be easier.

    "Well… that doesn't matter anymore". Garnet said to mellow the already heavy atmosphere. "Zax, have a seat. Head, it seems that everyone is ready for you to commence the service".

    Leonard examined the crowed of mercenaries and villagers, following Garnet's comment.

    "Everyone, please excuse me". Leonard asked the people at his sides and took a few steps, to the edge of the platform.

    Most of the people around the bonfire and next to the platform, were already waiting for the village's head. Only children, those who kept them in check and those who mended the flames were yet to pay attention to him.

    CLAP!

    CLAP!

    CLAP!

    Chief warrior Garnet clapped his hands. His Mist Lord palm released thundering sounds that pacified the crowed completely.

    Leonard opened…



    Sitting quietly, Zax attempted to understand Leonard's speech with what little Netherling he had time to learn. Parts of the speech he did recognize, others, although they sounded like words he memorized, made no sense due to Leonard's phrasing.

    As Leonard concluded his speech, the sitting elders and Mendor stood up and joined at the edge of the platform, while the ignorant Zax imitated them.

    The crowed on the ground, the few on the platform all turned their gazes to the great bonfire.

    "It's fine for you to stay standing, but don't move or make a sound until the end of the ritual". Zax heard Mendor directing him as his voice was solely transmitted to his ears.

    Zax did not respond. He had no notion of the rituals and culture of the people in this new land. But at a situation like this, where they occur just in front of him, as long as he was not compelled to participate, he was willing to be considerate and behave kindly.

    Villagers and mercenaries alike, fell down to their knees as young supported the old and parents guided their kids.

    Falling down, prostrating, rising their backs up and repeat, Zax witnessed as everyone but him lowered themselves to the raging flames in resignation, veneration, a level of fear and only the too young, confusion.

    "Dariel!"

    "Vika!"

    "Savan!"

    "Madius!"



    Villagers and mercenaries called the names of all those who fell to the vicious Black Chrome Alligator.

    Over fifty names echoed from the weeping throats of the villagers, a too many than Zax actually saw dying to the alligator. The reason was that most of the names were of villagers who died since the alligator very first appearance, through its constant assaults.

    'Eh?!' Zax suddenly was taken aback by a glimmer at an odd manifestation that flickered and disappeared before he could gather what it was.

    'Again!' It happened once more, above the highest flames of the bonfire, however this time making Zax doubtful if what he saw was and illusion formed by the fire or his own imagination.

    'Did they add something to the fire?' Zax wondered, but before he could decide a foreboding sensation was imposed on him out of nowhere, a terrifying force that was similar to nothing he ever felt, unrelated to any of the three aspects he knew.

    'What the is that?!' Zax struggled to stay on his feet. Nothing explicitly forced him to go down on his knees, he also did not feel targeted, but somehow it came to his mind that, as if by a temporary law of nature, right now, for all living beings, the condition to stand was withstanding the pressure.

    Looking down at all the people around him, as they submitted in advance, it appeared as if they were aware, even welcoming the force and unaffected by its pressure.

    Again!

    The manifestation emerged, not in one place, rather materializing all around the bonfire, distorting the air.

    The number of manifestations corresponded to the number of names that were shouted. Finally, there was a moment of stillness, everyone but Zax faced the ground.

    CLACK!

    CLACK!

    CLACK!

    The manifestations vanished along with the strange force, the pressure was lifted from the spent and perspiring Zax and crackling sounds of wood burning were the first to break the calm.

    Gradually and in a slow motion, the villagers and mercenaries issued long breaths and started to get up.

    Next to Zax, Mendor lifted his head and surveyed the lad the continued to impress him.

    "You stayed on your feet to the very end". It was hard to tell if he meant to complement or casually said. His gaze shifted to the bonfire. "Hope the departed will be guided to their proper paths…" He lamented.

    Leonard, Garnet and the rest of the elders returned to the seats, while below the platform quick preparations for the banquet were taking place.

    "Mendor, what was that ritual? What was the overbearing force and where it came from?" Zax asked fretfully the instant his body fell tiredly to his seat.

    Upon hearing his question, Mendor was stunned for a second and then looked bizarrely at Zax before actually berating him. "Regardless of where you are from, Zax, you should not raise this sacrilegious question again, especially when God just revoked its presence!"

  10. #170
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 4 – Unwelcome Guests



    "God?!" Zax exclaimed.

    The word was not foreign to him; he even memorized it in Netherling. But the notion? The concept of a higher being? Both were exempted in today's society of New Earth. After the great immigration, Nature was all that was and all there is.

    “Is something wrong? Don’t you do obeisance at your land?” Mendor was aghast from Zax’s reaction.

    From the content of their conversation and Medor’s criticism, Zax hastily understood that he unknowingly treaded upon a very sensitive, very important matter that relates to, possibly, the entirety of Ercas Mir and yet was absent from Earth’s Records!

    On the one hand he thought that it would be for the best to lie and say that where he comes from his people worship God. The drawback was that, in a further discussion, his ignorance can expose the lie.

    On the other hand he can say the truth, not reveal where he comes from and hope that Mendor will not be snoopy.

    Of course, he could also leave without saying a word. But it would mean running away from a situation that who knows how many times will occur to him until he will get familiar with everything Ercas Mir.

    As for saying that he is from New Earth… he was not forbidden to do so, however, he was not sure where it would place his foreigner’s status.

    “We follow Nature’s rules”. Zax ended up saying. His tone was strict, as if to display the firmness in his doctrine, so even if it will sound unorthodox, no one will undermine it.

    “Oh… so you are from the Blue Sea’s dominance, ‘Zenvir ice lands’…” A light of understanding shone in Mendor’s eyes and he nodded his head at ease.

    ‘Zenvir ice lands? Is that how they named the seventy three small islands of past Antarctica? For now I can say that I came from there and if need to, add that I don’t want to talk about it. In Glorious Ground I will seek information about Zenvir ice lands to avoid having inconsistencies in my story’.

    “Apologies if I offended you”. Mendor suddenly said.

    “I, too, said some irresponsible words”. So long as they end the subject he, Zax was willing to admit his mistake.

    “Hahaha! Mendor, Zax, the banquet is about to begin. A table will be shortly arranged for us, so how about the three of us will sit together?” As the chief warrior of the village, that is, the village’s strongest expert, Garnet had the most in common with the respectable guests. And though he preferred to entertain Zax alone, since Mendor already decided to lead his mercenary band back, he demonstrated proper courtesy for both.

    Joining Garnet and the rest of the elders, Zax was served a meat based feast. Large portions of a cow type Deformed Being was roasted and seasoned, creating a savory taste that was a first to Zax’s palate.

    For beverages, the villagers brew their own ale. Mendor was not impressed with it and Zax never had a taste for liquor, which made Garnet and Leonard, who made a toast, feel slightly embarrassed and disenchanted.

    Now that they were free to run around and celebrate, the village’s children were attracted to the butchered carcass of the Black Chrome Alligator.

    The adults were not fond of letting kids get close to the awful Deformed Being, even if it was dead, but with the festive atmosphere no one wanted to limit their approach and ruin their fun after so long of being in constant fear from when the alligator was alive.

    “Chief…” A young village warrior came running and in short breath. The expression on his face was grim and his forehead sweating. He whispered to Garnet’s ear.

    Zax and Mendor took note of the young warrior’s nervous behavior and puckered their brows when they notice Garnet’s effort to keep a straight face.

    The two tried to listen, however, when seeing the young warrior being so distressed, Garnet isolated the sound in the small space between them using his mist energy. Unless Mendor and Zax used their Soul Sense, neither could hear the young warrior.

    “Head”, Garnet stood up.

    Something in the way he looked at him washed away to joy from Leonard’s face. He, too, got up, after saying couple of words to the elders beside him.

    “Mendor, Zax, will you please come along…” Garnet wanted to preserve his peaceful mien. He requested kindly of the two, yet was afraid that his voice will betray him and the pleading in his heart will be apparent.

    “Sure”. Zax agreed, figuring that something not right.

    Mendor also complied, seemingly already guessing what could happen. Before leaving, he discreetly signaled some meaningful gesture to his second, the other Core Master in his band, in a manner that was only caught by Zax.

    The four followed the young warrior to a hut at the outskirt of the village.

    Inside the hut a group of four individuals waited, three men and one old woman.

    One of the men was laying on a bed, biting on a piece of leather, ghastly pale, drenched in sweat. He had several, non fatal, injuries on his upper chest, back and right arm. His left leg, however… There was a long and bone deep wound across his thigh that a never ending stream of blood flowed from.

    The old woman was busy treating the thigh wound while the two other men helped her hold the injured and assist her.

    Garnet and Leonard started speaking furiously. The man holding the injured said something to the young warrior who brought the four. The two traded places and the man stepped forward to narrate the situation.

    The conversation was in Netherling and most of it Zax did not understand, more so due to the rapid narration than his limited vocabulary.

    Garnet shouted, cursed.

    Leonard turned to Mendor, said something and waited for a response, which Mendor appeared hesitant to give.

    “Garnet, tell me what happened”. Zax asked.

    The old woman scolded the four.

    “Let’s talk outside”.

    The left the hut, the young warrior back with them.

    Garnet told something to the young warrior and he left running. Mendor and Leonard also left.

    “My Virgil’s Pasture is in a big trouble, Zax”, Garnet clenched his fists. “The man injured is one of my warriors. He guarded the parameter of the village per my orders. At the time of the service he found a scout. At first he thought the scout as sent from one of the surrounding villages, to gather information about the alligator’s carcass. I informed him that he might encounter one or two…”

    Garnet tried his very best to restrict his aura from bursting wildly in fear of interrupting the old woman inside the hut.

    “And?”

    “He certainly did find a scout, but it was not a villager… Those greedy bastards! They actually invited the Gray Lords!” Garnet gritted his teeth without being too clear in his explanation.

    “Who are the ‘Gray Lords’? Who are ‘Those’?” Zax continued to ask.

    “The Gray Lords are a bandit group that area of control cover the encompassing forest and mountains. This group is managed by three old men that are Core Master experts; they recently made it known that the strongest among them broke through the Intermediate phase of the second Core Master level. As a jealous act, one or more of the greedy neighboring villages, most likely, informed the Gray Lords that we possess a Black Chrome Alligator corpse in hope of attaining a small share of it once they will arrive to claim it”.

    ‘Bandit group?’ Zax was taken aback. It sounded to him like a tale of a fictional movie.

    Sure there was thievery and all sort of crime in Kingdom Earth, but a proclaimed bandit group? Too old fashion, simply too old fashion.

    “So these Gray Lords are on their way to rob your village…”

    “This time they should come for the carcass. Usually they take property and cattle and on occasions kill or kidnap. Money they don’t dare to take. We already pay taxes to Glorious Ground. If it will turn out that we don’t have enough to pay because someone extorting the village, that someone will be eliminated. The Gray Lords take money only from passersby”.

    “So people like myself and probably Mendor’s mercenary band”. Zax laughed inwardly.

    Will there be stupid enough Core Masters to mess with him? Maybe, depend on how much of his strength he will expose.

    “The Gray Lords won’t give hard time to mercenary bands for small change, otherwise they will group together and start a war. A Black Chrome Alligator, even a juvenile, is definitely something the Gray Lords consider worth the trouble, so Mendor is also in tough position”.

    After seconds of contemplating, Garnet turned to Zax, a bit reluctant to say the words. “Zax, the village spent a lot to hire Mendor mercenary band. Even if we will sell our part of the carcass in Glorious Ground we won’t have enough to pay back… But if you’ll give us time… Even though the alligator was severely weakened, you still killed it in one blow. Your cultivation must be at the second Core Master level… Please, the Gray Lords will not commit transgression so soon after God revoked its presence, it will take them an hour or so to come here. Please take the time to consider landing a hand to my village, you only need to take a stand, shall you reveal your cultivation, the Gray Lords will have to take a step back to reevaluate the worth of the of the alligator in comparison to offending a young and talented expert, especially if you will combine forces with Mendor. And if worse comes to worse, it is fine, we will forfeit the alligator and my village would still be forever in debt to you!”

    The matter was urgent, Garnet could not afford the time convincing Zax slowly and had to put out everything at once.

    ‘So I made the impression of a second level Core Master. Mendor and Garnet did not notice that I used body’s strength to kill the alligator because my fist penetrated its flesh… I haven’t decided on how much strength to reveal, a second level Core Master should work fine for the time being, but I should act as if I specialize in soul attacks to cover the lack of use in mist energy’.

    Garnet’s speculation helped Zax determine.

    “I’ll consider your hospitality as payment”. He indifferently agreed.

    Everything else aside, Zax’s moral nature did not permit him to let a group of deprave criminals bully and terrorize the weak. He had been in such situations himself as a child and more than once through the years. Now he already has the identity of a foreigner, a stranger, it would not be weird for him to act.

    It took a moment for Garnet to confirm that he heard correctly. Heaving a deep sigh of relief he grabbed Zax’s hands and shook them. “Thank you, Zax, thank you, thank you!”

    Garnet was the village’s chief warrior, a cultivator in the Mist Lord level. Many would recognize his strength, be they villagers or even residents of cities or members of clans. Nonethless, Garnet was well aware that the Mist Lord level would be the peak of his life as Martial cultivator, and that it is the mere “starting point” of true experts!



    “Zax, the Gray Lords surpass us in both numbers and strength. It will be a rush decision to affront them before seeing how many will arrive and how far they are willing to go for the carcass. You are strong, but new to this land-”

    “I have not shown all that I could do, Mendor. Against second level Core Master, even three, four or five, I still have confidence”.

    The banquet was over early. No one was told why. Leonard ordered without allowing the young to protest regardless of how disappointed they were, and the village’s warriors made sure of that.

    Now, those who were left outside were only the elders, the village warriors, Zax and Mendor and his men.

    After sensing the belligerent ambiance Zax exuded, Mendor, who knew that he and his men have no time to escape with their loot and so agreed to meet the Gray Lords, tried to sway him from being haste.

    “They are coming!” A scout sent by Mendor announced while running back.

    The ground stared shaking; the bandits were many and not reserved at all in their scare tactics.

    Curious, Zax released his Soul Sense to scrutinize the number of bandits and their overall number of Mist Lord and up experts.

    “Oh…” Something caught Zax’s attention as a smile creeped on his face. ‘Interesting, interesting, killing them is surely worthwhile…’

  11. #171
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 5 – Zax’s Expertise



    With the help of his Soul Sense, Zax detected the Gray Lords approaching, riding on horse like Deformed Beings.

    At first, he was taken aback. There were a little over two hundred riders, of which only three were at the Core Master realm while the horse type Deformed Beings all had one, pale scale at the back of their necks, a sign that they can only grow to the Peak of the first realm.

    This meant that the Gray Lords possessed more than two hundred potential Peak Mist Lord steeds!

    Zax found it hard to believe that three Core Masters can manage this many strong Deformed Beings, and indeed, after his Soul Sense examination he discovered that he was correct.

    Scrutinizing the body of the horse Deformed Beings, Zax saw that each of their Pure Cores had a blemish, they were all damaged beyond repair to possibly inhibit their potential growth.

    “Mendor, get your men to stay alert of escapees”. Zax said coldly.

    “Escapees? Zax, don’t look down on my mercenary band. No man will dare to leave his post and run for his life without my command”. Mendor frowned.

    Yes, he was more apprehensive than Zax with dealing with the Gray Lords, but that was only rational behavior and not an indication that he or his men should be underestimated.

    Chuckling and looking ahead, Zax clarified. “I wasn’t talking of your men, but the Gay Lords runts. I intend to swiftly kill the three leaders and then concentrate on the remaining bandits. I rather finish the entire group than give them a chance to revenge after we leave the village”.

    “Taking on three Core Masters by yourself?” Mendor was stunned and only for the sake of proper conduct in this perilous situation, did he insistently stay composed. “This won’t be like fighting the Black Chrome Alligator. Of the three Gray Lords’ leaders, two can handle a one on one battle with the alligator you killed and the third, I heard, is Advanced phase first level Core Master. Even if you are at the Peak of the second Core Master level, it would be too difficult for you to fight alone the three leaders, much less kill them swiftly”.

    From the way he handled the Black Chrome Alligator, Mendor assessed Zax’s cultivation between the Beginner to Advanced phases of the second Core Master level, not higher or lower, and in his opinion that was enough to place Zax as a prodigy on the Martial path.

    “If I were a common cultivator, then I would have agreed with you, Mendor. My forte is not in mist cultivation, but soul cultivation”.

    “A soul cultivator?!” Mendor did not expect Zax to be one.

    Though they were more than bodily cultivators, those who invested their time on specifically soul cultivation were still hardly seen.

    Of course, Zax was unaware of the unconventional perception that accompanies soul cultivators in Ercas Mir. From his experience in Kingdom Earth he was already in the state of mind that bodily cultivators were scarce everywhere, but those who cultivated the soul… He initially just thought to use it as an excuse to cover his lack of use in mist energy, and it also made it a lot easier to explain why he must make direct contact with his opponents in battle. However, from Mendor’s reaction he figured a little bit of the truth.

    “Yes. It may sound like that put me in a disadvantage from the start against the Gray Lords, but it actually the opposite. With my unique movement technique”, a lie to cover the explosive strength of his legs that enables him to reach a speed far greater than any Peak second level Core Master, “I will incapacitate the three leaders without anyone noticing the mist fluctuations. Following that, well… just recall what I did to the alligator”. Zax sneered, to add to his presence and hopefully raise Mendor’s confidence in him.

    To kill two hundred bandits on his own was not an impossible task, but to make sure none will run away was a whole other matter.

    By recalling how Zax killed that Black Chrome Alligator and hearing him explain his method, Mendor felt as if he was enlightened a little about the young expert who arrived from nowhere.



    A cloud of dust emerged from the woods. The Gray Lords galloped on three to five meters tall, gray and black hues horses that trampled everything at their wake, but the Titan Kapok Trees, while the rider themselves were equipped with plates of armor and all kind of weapons.

    “Halt!” A shout resounded and the atrocious cavalry stop right at the entrance of Virgil’s Pasture.

    Anxiousness was plain clear on nearly everyone in the welcoming party. Zax and a handful of stubborn young village warrior were the only one ready to battle.

    “Leonard!” Of the three leading middle aged men, the oldest looking one, with full beard and a scar that stretched from his left cheek down, below his chest armor, called the village head out from behind the line of mercenaries and inadequate village warriors.

    Leonard stepped forward, ensuring his reluctant warriors that it is fine with shoulder taps and nods. He walked all the way to Garnet at the front and met face to face the scared Gray Lord.

    Bowing, Leonard said. “As the head of Virgil’s Pasture I welcome the great Gray Lords to my village”. He straightened up. “First leader, second leader, third leader, what can I do for you today that you chose to visit my humble village?”

    “Humph, Leonard, as if you need to ask. Since you arranged such a miserable group of dirtbags to show off in front of us, I’ll do you the courtesy of not beating around the bush”. The one Leonard referred to as “third leader”, spoke condescendingly. “The Black Chrome Alligator that harassed your village, our scouts informed us that you successfully killed it and obtained its carcass. Bring it out, as well as its Pure Core, now!”

    The third bandit leader, who looked not much different than the first and second, was over fifty years of age, but due to the acquired vigor of Martial cultivation, his temperament was quite overbearing.

    “Third leader, first leader, second leaders”. Garnet spoke out. “The alligator carcass was something we obtained after spending a lot of money to invite helpers to kill it. Moreover, he further paid a massive price when the alligator mascaraed our villagers and cattle-”

    “That’s not our problem”. Second leader interfered after scanning the so called “helpers” and not being impressed by their top experts. “Have you forgotten? We are bandits! We don’t force to pay us taxes, for obvious reasons, but we will take everything else as we see fit!”

    An azure aura of a second level Core Master erupted from the second leader; along with it was his killing intent.

    The village warriors were the first to drop down to their knees. They managed not to collapse and entirely lose face, however, apart from the crazed Black Chrome Alligator; they had never felt this level of profound malicious aura and killing intent.

    The mercenaries did better, their cultivation levels were mostly similar to the strongest village warriors, between the Core Breaker to Mist Master levels, yet they were capable of staying on their feet, although, regrettably their faces gave away in how much effort they were putting themselves under the immense pressure.

    “Please, stop!” Leonard called. He was shielded by Mendor and Garnet, because of his low, Earth’s Core Holder cultivation.

    “Doven”, the first leader called the name of the second leader, implying in his soothed tone of voice to disperse his aura and intent.

    The pressure was lifted.

    Leonard looked to Zax and Mendor. He wished to see Zax explodes with the power Garnet described to him and kill the three leaders, he hoped that Mendor will express compliance, follow his suggestion and speak of his position and the consequence the Gray Lords will have to endure after robbing mercenaries who already shed blood for their bread.

    Unfortunately, nothing like he wished or hoped has occurred.

    “Bring the carcass”. Leonard said with a sullen face.

    “Bring the carcass”. Mendor echoed the same words grudgingly. Enough men died on this job, he did not want to lose more. In addition, he waited for Zax to act, but evidently the young man that caught his interest ended up only being full of words when in direct confrontation with the many Gray Lords and their mighty leaders.

    Zax watched silently from the sidelines as the Black Chrome Alligator’s carcass, in all of its pieces, was brought over. Wearing the regular village’s attire, he appeared as an overgrown villager with brighter hair and eyes than usual.

    Has he rescinded the thoughts of annihilating the Gray Lords bandits? No. Having limiting himself, he had to wait for the appropriate moment to strike, when the three leaders will lower their defenses to the utmost minimum and their underling will be too shocked to hurriedly react.

    “Hey, how the hell did you make this mess of the carcass?!” Third leader snapped. “At least a courter of it is ruined. At best it can be used as food, but even if it would be a gourmet meal, the selling price will still be lower than selling it intact!”

    Hearing him, Garnet, Mendor as well as all those who witnessed the savagery of the alligator and lost friends, family and comrades to it, were seething in anger. Yes, in retrospect, if Zax did not help, they would have eventually still taken it down in a better form. Nevertheless, on their own the casualty toll would have become higher.

    “The Pure Core. Don’t play games. We know the Black Chrome Alligator was a juvenile and its Core equivalent to the second Core Master level”. First leader said.

    Mendor opened a bag he carried on his shoulder and took out of it a spherical, transparent stone in about the size of a teen’s fist, the Pure Core. He threw it to the first leader.

    Smiling to himself, the third leader said nothing and placed the Pure Core in the small space behind his chest armor.

    “Carry the carcass-”

    WHOOSH!

    The instant the gratified third leader turned to pick several men to carry the Black Chrome Alligator’s carcass, before the end of his sentence, the wind whistled and a finger that was not his own pressed at his temple.

    Zax did not bother to actually use a soul attack, it was enough that it looked like that.

    CRACK!

    The finger changed into a palm and the third leader’s head turned down and to the side in a rather natural form, yet do to the excessive force his neck broke.

    WHOOSH!

    Zax moved fast and agilely before anyone, even the departing first leader, has registered what happened.

    Next target, second leader Doven.

    Zax appeared behind him, standing at the back of his horse. The second leader could only feel imminent danger when Zax’s hand grabbed the back of his head and pushed it down.

    CRACK!

    Another broken neck.

    WHOOSH!

    The third leader was able to change his smug countenance by the time Zax has reached him.

    “Wait-”

    Zax ignored the pleading in his voice. He appeared in front the third leader on his horse and pushed his head back.

    CRACK!

    Third broken neck… A Mist User who could not use mist energy was truly fragile in the hands of another who can, or at least pretend that he can and use other means…

    “Le- Lea- Leaders!”

    A Mist Lord bandit finally cried out in horror, but his voice was muffled as another resounded.

    “Kill!”

    Mendor ordered as he was the first to move toward the nearest Mist Lord bandit of the nine the Gray Lords had.

    “Kill the bastards!”

    “Kill them!”

    “Take everything they own!”

    Mendor mercenaries followed with passion after seeing Zax’s performance, or at least its end result.

    “Garnet…”

    Leonard was not sure if he was dreaming or is it really at the entrance to his village that the three notorious leaders of the terrorizing Gray Lords died!

    “Take the village’s head back. We join the fight! Don’t let one bandit leave alive… Actually, try to capture two or three, we must find out which village informed them about the death of the damned alligator!”

    Garnet completely ignored Leonard as he ordered his warriors.

    “Yes, chief warrior”.



    Zax’s silhouette was vaguely seen on the field of battle. To all who had the pleasure of perceiving it, it was the last thing they saw.

    It did not take long for the bandits to realize that fighting back his futile and the only way to save their lives is run.

    In the surrounding forest, Zax could be a lot freer in his display of strength and kill much faster with no one noticing. Problem was, the bandit knew the forest better than him and since he still preferred no to unleash his Soul Sense, if they hid, he will most likely not find them. Hence, he decided to block all the bandits who turned from the pasture to the closest tree line.

    “They are running away, don’t let them escape!” A mercenary shouted.

    Bandits, who could not escape and felt death creeping at the back of their still intact necks, dropped their weapon away, fell to their knees and raised their hands while shouting “I surrender”, each in his own pitiful voice.

  12. #172
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 6 – Welcome To Glorious Ground



    Zax passed his gaze at the battle that was enfolding.

    WHOOSH!

    He moved faster than anyone present could see, appearing right next the body of the first leader.

    Slipping his hand inside the small space between the first leader’s chest and armor, he retrieved the Pure Core along with a small sack, filled with a strange round object.

    In Zax previous estimation, when he used his Soul Sense to examine the Gray Lords right before their arrival, he discovered the first leader keeping close to his chest a small sack with quite the precious content, a Pure Core. One of a grown two scales Deformed Being. In other words… a near Peak second realm Pure Core!

    In New Earth, Zax might have led a modest financial life for himself. He was accustomed to his Martial household’s mindset of following the Martial path, and even at his parents’ home, although he never lacked anything as a child, there was still plenty that other children had and he did not, for all sort of reasons that, due to the way he was raised, he never questioned.

    Now, though, things were different. He arrived to a new world with one intention among several, which was to reasonably integrate into the culture and local population. Despite having the capacity to live off the wild lands, with such manner he might as well return to New Earth. By selling the Pure Core he obtained it will be a lot simpler to get familiar with Ercas Mir’ currency and achieve his goals.

    “Here”. Zax handed Mendor his Pure Core back.

    Mendor took note of the little sack Zax grabbed for himself and quickly forgot about it. Regardless of what was the treasure inside, he did not have the gall to want it. From his experience, in his profession sometimes it was preferable to remain oblivious.

    “Mendor, hero Zax”, Garnet joined the two as his warriors and mercenaries subdued the surrendering bandits.

    After seeing him taking out the three leaders, it was impossible for Garnet to not look at Zax in a new light, no longer the young talented expert with good heart who helped them kill the Black Chrome Alligator, but a deity who descended from above, sent by their God. As such, the honorific title “Hero” before his name now naturally came out of his mouth, with no other meaning other than expressing reverence.

    Garnet was not alone in his frame of mind, everyone else were taking sneak peeks at the admirable youngster and only those at the higher chain of command, both in the village and the mercenary band, dared to directly look at him.

    Garnet sighed as he felt a huge burden lifting up from his shoulder. “Thank you!” He bowed toward the two but it was obvious to whom he spoke. “From the bottom of my heart, as a representative of all those who suffered anther the reign of the Gray Lords, if in the present or future there is anything… we will diligently serve!”

    It was loud and clear in Garnet’s voice, the depth at which the Gray Lords affected Virgil’s Pasture and probably the other villages in the vicinity.

    The stars above were in the midst of capturing Zax’s attention.

    “Fine”. He indifferently said. Not for being apathetic, but because he could understand where Garnet was coming from, and since he will soon leave Virgil’s Pasture with no plans to return, he might as well say what the other wants to hear and accept graciousness.

    The banquet did not renew. There were bodies that had to be buried, return to the earth, and prisoners to interrogate and supervise.

    The village’s elders also had no time to oversee a celebration when who knows how the surrounding villages plan to proceed after the annihilation of the Gray Lords they supposedly informed for. At the very least their hearts were clear from one doubt; news of Virgil’s Pasture’s triumph already reached the surrounding villages.



    Zax watched the night sky from the rooftop of the fifth cottage. ‘Superficially the sky looks the same as the illusion of the Nightly Cover formation’. He stared in fascination as there was deepness beyond the facade of the Nightly Cover formation.

    Like that he closed his eyes and fell asleep.



    Two days later.

    At the outskirt of the village

    “Mendor, hero Zax, our village looks forward to see you again”. Leonard saw the two off.

    In addition to Mendor mercenary band and Zax, a small group of village warriors were also ready to head out toward Glorious Ground.

    Currently, the village warriors were being instructed by Garnet. Behind them was wagon strapped to a Seliverian Cow, the cattle Deformed Being.

    To say the truth, Zax was a little taken aback by the simplicity sight of a wagon as the best means of transportation the village had. He wondered if Ercas Mir lags behind Kingdom Earth in technology, or perhaps, Virgil’s Pasture was just unable to afford mechanical vehicles.

    Regardless…

    On the wagon were the detained bandits. The plan was to hand them over to the authorities in Glorious Ground and share the bounty some of them had with Mendor and Zax.

    “Thank you for the hospitality, head”. Zax said.

    He really enjoyed his stay in the village and was not bothered by the Gray Lords incident.

    He carried on his back a bag with a strap that stretched diagonally across his torso. He got it in the village; inside he had his New Earth clothes, some food to last until he will arrive to Glorious Ground and of course, the Pure Core.

    The dictionary Zax returned to Garnet after finishing reading it, though he still had to practice for a while in order to become fluent in Netherling.

    “We will go now, Leonard”. Mendor, as usual, was aloof.



    “It will take us approximately eight hours to arrive to Glorious Ground”. Mendor informed.

    He, Zax and Danus, his second in command, were following at the center of the cluster of men.

    “Zax, I haven’t said from where you are, but you should know that in Selivereb even a second level Core Master can be duped if he doesn’t join a reliable group, especially in cities!” Danus warned Zax.

    “Indeed you should be aware, Zax”, Mendor concurred. “There is an unshakeable hierarchy in Selivereb that you best not forget”.

    “Don’t tell me, at the top of the food chain are the Blessed Army and the Violet Scaled Troops”. Zax smiled.

    He was not worried about encountering troublesome folks. He had the confidence that his true strength could only be confined by Martial Mortals. Even if Ercas Mir possesses a greater number of experts, what are the chances that he will meet a Martial Mortal at every turn?

    “If you know then… well good. The Blessed Army and the Violet Scaled Troops are the ruling powers in Seliverb and their people are stationed and govern all the great clans and cities”. Mendor said solemnly.

    “I did not travel here to cause problems to anyone and if I’ll end up mistrusting someone, that would be my fault”.

    “It’s not a matter for you to decide. The high echelon of the Blessed Army and the Violet Scaled Troops are too busy to care about people like us, but underneath them, those on the next level in hierarchy… officials, heads and leaders that are connected to either of the two powers. They do pay attention at those below them, me and you. Let alone what could happen if they find something of interest… even if their operatives get bored, then it most likely won’t end up well for someone unrelated…”

    “Sounds like anarchy”.

    “Don’t get me wrong. Both cities and clans are great to live and work in. But at the same time, both implement a strict system to maintain the status quo. All I’m saying is that I don’t know how things handled where you came from, but here, for a lone expert in your level, shall you expose that strength of yours you may unwantedly attract the type of crowd that you don’t necessarily want to meet”.

    “The type that can even threaten a second level Core Master?” Zax probed.

    Mendor sighed. “The type that is backed by Martial Mortals”.



    At last, after eight hours of walk, Zax left the forest of the Titan Kapok Trees.

    At a distance of roughly seven kilometers from the edge of the forest, a grand spectacle was erected. It did not take Zax’s breath for being modernly advanced or a magical wonder. No.

    The shine of Glorious Ground was conveyed from its architecture. There were two mountains nearly arching from both sides of the city, shielding it. From afar, a handful of tall structures with bright luster were the highest symbol of progress. From up close, more details started to emerge, specifically bricks, metal pipes, glass and endless amount of gears of all sizes. The city basically looked like it was built by the combined minds of a brilliant architect and an imaginative child, which along the smoke and old style machinery brought to one’s mind the word “Steampunk”.

    To a person like Zax, who came from what gave the impression of a different era, to sum up how he felt as he looked at Glorious Ground two words would suffice, downright intrigued.

    There a large contrast in the field of science between life outside to inside the city, and an even larger one between Kingdom Earth and the city.

    ‘If the five powers are aware of Kingdom Earth they should know that we are far more advanced in technology. If they are really the overlords of this planet, why then did they not adopted out advancement to their world?’

    It was a peculiar issue that without unrevealing the five powers to their core, Zax was still far from figuring out.

    “Zax, the checkpoint we are heading to is for those who have identifications recognized by the Blessed Army. The one over there a registration office for newcomers”.

    The front and back of the city had two wide entrances with couple of meters tall walls that continued for the bases of the two surrounding mountains.

    Zax and the men in his group has arrived to what was accepted as the front of the city, where at both sides of the entrance were squared buildings and between them a mechanical barricade.

    Mendor pointed at the left building, as he showed Zax where he should go.

    “It won’t take a long time for you to compile and receive foreigner identification. As for permanent Glorious Ground’s citizenship, it is more complicated but there is a way if you are willing…”

    “Glorious Ground’s citizenship…” Zax mused. It will only be of use to him in case he will decide to establish himself in one way or another.

    “It can be helpful. I’ll tell you about it inside, the line moves fast and I need to make sure the villagers won’t dillydally”.



    “State your name and reason for coming to Glorious Ground”. After taking his picture, a female officer out of the four officers in the registration office asked Zax, while the other three seized him.

    The four were Core Breakers, wearing glowing armors and black pants with golden strings. They had patches at their shoulders with the words “Blessed” above “Army” and one horizontal golden stripe under.

    ‘No place of origin, age or level of cultivation… well that’s lucky of me’ Zax said to himself before replying. “Zax, no last name-”

    “You must register a last name”. The officer interrupted.

    She was typing in a typewriter with a thin screen and had thick cables that connected it to a pretty big printer.

    “Zax… Walaow”. It was his mother’s maiden name.

    If something will ever happen and someone from Ercas Mir will search him in New Earth, than no registry would have such name.

    “Work. I am accompanying Mendor mercenary band and a group of villagers from Virgil’s pasture”. It was a simple excuse.

    The officer used her Soul Sense to detect Zax’s level of cultivation. Zax, naturally, use his Soul Sense to obstruct her.

    The officer stopped typing and frowned. The other three also changed countenance.

    “State your level of cultivation”. The officer demanded.

    “Advanced phase Second level Core Master”. Zax attentively confirmed.

    Mendor did not tell him about the officers in the registration office being particularly vigilant around cultivators.

    “Sir”, the officer’s attitude immodestly changed as she stood up from behind her desk.

    The other three officers also took a step back, one reached out to phone with red handset that hung on the wall, seemingly about to make a call.

    The female officer bent her back to the typewriter, finishing feeling the required fields and sent the document to print. Taking the article, she stamped it with a “Blessed Army” insignia.

    “Here, sir, to finalize your foreigner identification please proceed to the mayor’s office building. Welcome to Glorious Ground”. She said cautiously.

    Zax sensed a tension in the atmosphere inside the registration office. He took the sheet of paper and exited, asking on question to avoid getting lies. Nevertheless he was clear on one thing… that crowed Mendor recommended him against, he might have caught its attention after all.

  13. #173
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 7 – Invitation



    “Mendor”, Zax called out.

    He waited for almost thirty minutes, after leaving the registration office, for all the mercenaries and villagers to enter the city.

    “Mm? What’s wrong?” Mendor saw the bothered look on Zax’s face.

    “Where are we going?” Zax asked in turn.

    “Well, I need to lead the villagers to the law enforcement station to hand over the bandits and my men need to carry the alligator’s parts to the Business Centre of the city”.

    “I’ll go with you and explain on the way”.

    Time in the risky and sometimes unrewarding profession as a mercenary, more than anything else, enhanced Mendor’s attentiveness. He could tell that Zax probably trod upon a sensitive issue, while keeping a straight countenance and not push for the matter in an indiscreet area.

    “Danus, take the man to the Workshop. If you can get a decent sum for the parts, then sell them all. Otherwise, wait for me to arrive. Also, don’t mention the Pure Core”.

    “Not a problem”. Danus complied.

    “Everyone, we are going. You two, check out the list of the deceased and find if they had families, spouses living in the city and where exactly they are located”.

    ...

    The streets were packed with people and steam engine machineries. The common attire of Glorious Ground’s denizens was all types of suits for men and dresses for ladies.

    The style was a lot different than in Vergil’s Pasture and the air had a sense of pretentiousness, especially when people’s eyes landed on the small group of villagers and their wagon.

    Other than the denizens, there were also many people like Zax and Mendor, cultivators who came from odd places and settled in Glorious Ground for an undetermined period of time and local cultivators who occupied themselves in all kinds of manual labor...

    “This is the first that I hear about it. I know some people who got their foreigner identification in the registration office and they all finished the procedure there”. Mendor answered Zax’s doubts as best as he could. He, too, was stumped by why Zax has to go to the mayor’s office building.

    “Forget it, then. We’ll see when we get there. About your suggestion, I won’t join any group, but I would like to register as a mercenary if indeed it will provide me useful privileges”.

    After they parted with Danus and the rest, before Zax told Mendor about his ordeal in the registration office, Mendor ended up being first to speak and raise the idea of Zax joining the Mercenary Association.

    For a capable cultivator, joining the Mercenary Association of the Western Continent is much better than being a loner without a worthy form of status. Also, the Mercenary Association is the only group that does not restrict its members, unless, of course, they accept some high end assignments or other responsibilities.

    "Thief!" A womanly voice from up the street resounded.

    The surrounding people and humanoid beasts, only few who could be seen walking about in the steampunk vicinity of Glorious Ground, averted their gazes, including Zax and Mendor, to the direction of the shout.

    A boy, around twelve years of age and wearing ragged clothes, was running, or rather escaping. In his hands he held a purse and embraced it close to his chest.

    The one he stole the purse from was an old lady in exuberant attire of a dark blue dress and what definitely was a wig.

    A young man in gray aide's uniform, who accompanied the lady, gave chase after the boy. The man was not a cultivator, but still was faster than the boy, yet the boy knew the streets better and maneuvered around buildings' corners and allies until finally vanishing from the man's sight.

    "Eh?" Zax let out in surprise a short while after the commotion began. 'How did I not see it?! Have I gone blind?!' He scolded himself while being in complete shock. 'The boy, the man, the lady and almost everyone around… none possesses an Earth's Core!'

    It dawned on him for the first time by witnessing the meager running speed of the boy and man and most of all, lack of any mist fluctuation. They were basically regular human beings.

    Actually, it was not really Zax's fault for not noticing before. Since arriving to Ercas Mir he mostly used his Soul Sense to detect the cultivation of Core Breakers and up, levels at which the Earth's Core has already been completely turned into mist energy. Furthermore, if it happened that there was at the time someone at a lower level, without an Earth's Core and at the range of his Soul Sense, he probably overlooked him or her due to them being unassuming and him too strong to be concerned by such levels anymore.

    'It truly is different than New Earth… it seems that in Ercas Mir, although cultivators are, supposedly, more abundant in quantity and level of strength, the starting point of Martial cultivation is not as easy as being granted Earth's Cores and initial guidance from the regime at a young age'.

    Zax refrained from using the word "quality", otherwise, why the five powers would care about the natives of New Earth and also, from the message left by to Black Core's previous owner, he knew better.

    'It's also possible that Earth's Cores are less common in Ercas Mir. But in turn, they do have here the amazing Pure Cores…'

    "Come on, keep going!" Mendor berated the villagers. Turning to Zax, he spoke in a more moderate tone. "Don't pay attention to them. I'm not sure how it is where you came from, but petty crime is quite common in the Blessed Army's cities. Then again, that is as far as the crime rate in the cities goes. If that kid was a few years older and caught, he would have become really miserable… The Blessed Army directs the mayors of its cities to run their offices with zero tolerance toward crime".

    By the time Mendor finished speaking, an officer, with the same armored uniforms as the four officers in the registration office, who patrolled a not far away street and heard the old lady's scream, has arrived and started taking statements.

    The old lady was furious at the young thief and too agitated to explain the situation to the officer. Instead, her aide gave a description of the boy while fanning the old lady.



    "Bring them out. Keep watch that they don't try to run". Mendor told the villagers after showing them where they can park the wagon.

    The arrived in front of a squared building with a line of squared windows at every one of its eight floors and a squared main entrance that had its two sides doors open to the coming and going. The building was the law enforcement bureau of Glorious Ground.

    Parked beside the bureau were some sophisticated looking police vehicles, some with wheels, some were hovering above ground.

    There were more people communing in and out of the bureau, working, wearing common official attire than the expected officer's uniforms.

    "Wait here for a few minutes. Zax, I'll finish here quickly and we will head to the mayor's office building". Mendor said and entered the bureau.

    Roughly ten minutes later, Mendor came out, accompanied by a unit of eight officers and holding a leather suitcase.

    The officers said nothing as they proceeded to take the bandits from the slightly frightened villagers – they were aggressive in their approach and two were at the Mist Lord levels, showing off their strength to intimidate the bandits.

    Soon, most of the bandits were all divided and transferred to four bus's size police vehicles. Only five remained in custody, taken to the cells in the bureau.

    "They don’t keep criminals in the city…?" A villager wondered outloud, a bit worrisome that places other than the great city will not manage to hold up those criminals who terrorized the village.

    "This is the law enforcement bureau. They don't hold here criminals for long periods of time, especially not in large numbers. Since all the bandits are from the same group, the five that remained should have been taken to interrogation and will later join the rest, who are currently being transported to the three police stations of the city, under the law enforcement bureau. After all the bandits will be processed, they will then be dealt with accordingly, most likely taken to one of the Blessed Army's prisons".

    "Oh…" The villager said in relief.

    "Here, make sure not to lose it". Mendor handed the leather suitcase to the villager. "In there is your village's share of the bounties. The head of the village will have to exchange the bonds in one of the city's banks".

    "Yes, thank you". Recalling the robbery from earlier, the villager said and held the suitcase tightly with both his hands.



    Mendor and Zax parted ways with the villagers, continuing to the mayor's office building. It was not a short walk, nor long, around twenty five minutes from the law enforcement bureau.

    "Here it is". Mendor said at the front of their destination.

    The mayor's office building was one of the few and the tallest skyscraper in Glorious Ground.

    The ground floor was both an enormous lounge and the reception. There were people sitting on couches in arranged places, talking, waiting or just plainly reading today's newspaper. There was also a bar and a service line for fast food.

    Behind the reception's desk, were two women and a man, as well as three of those odd typewriter\ computer machines that the officers in the registration office have.

    The man, seemingly at his early twenties and giving the impression of being new at the job, lifted his gaze from the thin screen when Zax stopped in front of him. At first glance his eyes reflected discontent with Zax, due to his rural getup.

    He made an effort to maintain professionalism. "Good afternoon, sir, how may I help you?" He asked Zax while hinting his coworker to step in at the chance that he will conduct himself improperly.

    "I was told to come here from the registration office to finalize my foreigner identification". Zax gave the receptionist the article he received in the registration office.

    There was not something unique writing in it. He read it on the way and it was just filled with the personal information he submitted, including his cultivation level, and standard wording for this type of article.

    "That's…" The male receptionist had a puzzled expression.

    "Please, sir, it may take a bit of time. Please sit wherever you would like and someone will notify you when your foreigner identification will be ready". It was not the first time the other receptionist encountered this atypical situation and, as such, gracefully knew what to say and how to proceed.

    Zax and Mendor left to find a place to sit. As they turned their backs, the female receptionist, who took over the situation, raised the handset of one of the phones on the reception desk to her ear and dialed.



    "It could not be that they sent me all the way here just to sit and wait, don't you think, Mendor?"

    "This… If I was a Ranker mercenary, I might have known. But, if you would agree to accept an educated guess, I, too, assume they did not send you here for your identification, but cultivation".

    "Yeah… I was thinking that this is probably the reason, too". Zax corresponded as he contemplated in his head. ‘Though, it's not impossible that my identity has something to do with it. Maybe it's those marks left in me…?'

    "Mr. Walaow", a tall woman in a black dress that highlighted the curves of her fine figure and a long fiery red hair approached Zax's and Mendor's sitting area.

    The two stood up.

    "You are?" Zax asked.

    Before he could get an answer, Mendor interrupted. "Zax, I will wait for you at the bar". He gave a solemn greeting to the woman, as if he knew her.

    "Mr. Walaow, my name is Xinia Sensensar. I'm the Sensensar family's hostess". She was an exquisite beauty with a bright, natural smile that lightened the air around her. "Mr. Walaow, I know it is sudden and confusing, but would you please join me. A reservation at the top restaurant in the mayor's office building has been made prior to your arrival and I would hate to late it go to waste".

    "Xi… Ms. Sensensar", Zax was used to referring people in their first name, however he retracted his words and rephrased himself to blend in this new environment.

    "I will be frank with you, Mr. Walaow, this has nothing to do with your foreigner identification. Moreover, they will be approved whether you will accept my invitation or not". Xinia stepped forward, closing the gap between her and Zax. "You look so young, Mr. Walaow. I've seen many experts who preserve their youthfulness with the help of special techniques or by having the luck of fast cultivation at an early age".

    There are only two means for cultivators to preserve a young appearance. First are cosmetic techniques, second is cultivating to a high level at a young age to slow down the process of aging.

    "But that is not the case with you, isn't it, Mr. Walaow? You really are as you look… An Advanced second level Core Master in his twenties, early, at that!"

    Xinia was way past Zax's personal space and it was not clear if she is trying to seduce or just play him. It would have been a lie to say that Zax did not feel uncomfortable. He wanted to take a step back, but his nature prevented him.

    A quick shift in her approach and Xinia suddenly stood next to Zax, her hands grabbing his arm as if it was already decided that he will accompany her.

    "Mr. Walaow, I promise you won't be disappointed. No one who got invited by me ever was".

  14. #174
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 8 – Proposition



    Glorious Ground. Mayor's office building, seventy second floor.

    The entire floor was a high class restaurant, even in Kingdom Earth’s standards. Nonetheless, for a place reserved only for those with significant capital, there were only a handful of empty tables.

    "Our table is in the VIP area. It's more private there". Xinia smilingly told Zax.

    "Miss", a waiter in black and white uniform, who recognized Xinia upon her arrival with Zax, bowed his head and without saying another word turned to show the way.

    Many pairs of eyes were attracted to the tall and beautiful Xinia, men and women alike were looking at her with an array of different expressions, most of which poorly concealed lust.

    Zax noticed the piercing gazes at his direction, as well as Xinia poised yet contented sweet smile. It was not from a sense of superiority, he somewhat could tell by the air she exuded, something else.

    It was the alluring countenance she put as the hostess of the Sensensar family. But to know that, Zax had to first get to know Xinia better.

    "Who is he?"

    "Mmm… These are the common clothes in the villages outside the city".

    "A villager? What his cultivation level? He looks quite young".

    "I cannot get a read on his cultivation level, but if he is escorted by Miss Xinia, it most likely that…"

    "But for a country bumpkin to be treated here, among the rest of us, is it not going overboard?"

    "As the Sensensar family's hostess, it is Miss Xinia's duty to welcome all potential interest. For someone with no style or class, at least this once, an exception should have been made".

    "Enough, silent. Are you looking for troubles by meddling in the Sensensar family’s business?"

    The guests at the restaurant gossiped among themselves, limiting the sound of their voices to the space encompassed by their tables. Although Zax could still hear them, he did not care. As a Mist Master, Xinia was also able to hear the surrounding talks, yet she, too, was apathetic toward them.



    The VIP table was in a room of its own. Large enough to perfectly accommodate two and decorated more modestly in contrast to the rest of the restaurant. It even was absolved from the large windows that viewed the city and replaced them with a couple of modern art pictures.

    The waiter closed the VIP room's door as he exited. If he will be needed, there was a golden bell at the center of the table.

    "Ms. Sensensar", Zax sighed. "If all of this is for me to eventually be recruited to your family, then allow me to disappoint you in advance". He did not need to be a genius to figure Xinia interest in him. It certainly was not sexual, in his opinion, nor was he looking forward for it to be.

    Xinia still smiled. She was well versed in the many layers of refusal. If Zax will not join her family, it did not mean that he could not benefit it in some other ways.

    "Mr. Walaow, since it is your first visit to Glorious Ground, let me ask you, not in a conceited manner, but with merely pure curiosity. Do you know who the Sensensar family is?"

    Zax let rhe question to sink in a little before replying. "You have the registration officers in your pocket and even the people working in the mayor's office building. If it is not one of the most influential families of the city, then it is the most influential family".

    "Hahaha, precisely. The Sensensar family is the one in control of the mayor's office building and who also possess the Blessed Army's Czar Seal of Glorious Ground".

    For a fleeting instant Zax puckered his brow. He could handle the attention of an ordinary high class family, but to right away be caught in the net of the top family in Glorious Ground… How rotten his luck has to be?!

    "Please, Mr. Walaow, don't make this face. Unless you want me to, I won't bite you". Xinia sweetly laughed and opened the menu. "This supposed to be a meal in the top's second best restaurant in the city on my expense. You should not be shy and order. For starter, I recommend the Gendar salad. It is very refreshing and will open your taste buds for all the following delicacies you may crave after. For wine, do you mind if I'll pick for the both of us?"

    "I don't drink wine-"

    "Then your first time will be with me".

    Zax was perplexed by Xinia's attitude. On one hand, she led the conversation almost seductively, definitely not in a casual tone! On the other, her body language expressed a hard to get ambiance.

    You can see, but you cannot touch.

    At least until you will earn it.

    And then there was the dubious feeling that she just puts on a show.

    RING!

    RING!

    RING!

    Before Zax uttered a single syllable, Xinia rang the bell for the waiter outside to enter.

    "We will both start with the Gendar salad and a bottle of Roshfeletz's Morning Dew wine. Adjust the rest of the course accordingly".

    "Yes". The waiter respectfully nodded, took the two menus and exited the VIP room.

    "Ms. Sensensar, I still don't intend to join your family". Zax was not feeling awkward by being blunt with his decision regardless of him being Xinia's guest and how persistent she was, will be.

    "Mr. Walaow, the Sensensar family doesn't beg. If you are adamant with your choice, then so be it. I won't try to sway you anymore. However, when we walked here, even if I did not show you off, your presence in Glorious Ground would have been uncovered by some of the snooping high ranked families of the city. Moreover, I can say with a ninety percent assuredness that you are not just a foreigner in Glorious Ground, you are a foreigner to the Blessed Army's territory”. Seeing that Zax do not refute her statement, Xinia asked. “Do you want to know how I know this?"

    Once more, Xinia caught Zax unprepared. Not that he planned to hide his status, but for others to determine it before he first does something extreme to divulge information about himself... With the rural tunic he is still wearing, he should not look any different than a robust villager.

    Xinia continued. "Be they humans or beasts, all who live in Selivereb are registered in the Blessed Army's and Violet Scaled Troops' data base. Usually it should not mean much to anyone, but in your case… With cultivation like yours it is hard not to, eventually, get noticed. You can be certain that by registering here, in one of the Blessed Army's cities, it's only a matter of time now before your name will reach the high ranked echelon of this part of the continent, arousing various responses. And with affiliation to no one but yourself, well… should I call you from now on 'Hot Stuff'?"

    Zax was at loss. Did he miscalculate the effectiveness of revealing some of his strength? He does not fear attention, but if he was hasty in his decision, then executing the task he received from Supreme Ruler Ariel would be problematic.

    Although Supreme Ruler Ariel could not be explicit with what he wants him to do, Zax already assessed that following the footsteps of his predecessors who compiled Earth's Records will be the right path to start off. That is, to learn all he can about Ercas Mir and the five powers.

    Now it seems that to accomplish his goal he needs to start from the beginning, in another part of the world…

    "Don't beat around the bush if you have something to say". Zax scowled.

    Now nothing could be changed and Xinia was not exactly subtle with the direction she led the conversation.

    "Mm…" Xinia smiled and halted.

    The waiter returned, holding a rectangle shaped tray. On both ends of the tray were frozen plates with green and purple veggies; next to each plate was a glass of wine and at the center of the tray, a blue and cloudy tall bottle.

    Finishing serving and pouring the murky, white wine, the waiter left.

    Xinia raised her glass. "Wait", she said to Zax, looking at the wine inside.

    The bottom of the glass slowly became clear as all the murkiness rose up, forming two and a half centimeters thick layer of clouds at the top. Crystallized petite flakes rained down to the bottom of the glass, as they reached it they transformed back into murky incense that again joined the clouds.

    Xinia sipped from her glass. "I have a proposition for you, Mr. Walaow. I'll block any information feed with regard to your arrival to Glorious Ground. The only other person to know about you, other than those I answer to in my family, will be my contact in the Blessed Army. It's unfortunate, but your existent cannot be concealed from the Blessed Army's data base".

    "If what you said before is true, your family should not be the only one with connections in the Blessed Army. What will happen when a new record about a loose expert will appear? Will it not catch the attention of those you promise that won't find out about me?"

    "Your registration is not yet complete. Since your article was brought to the mayor’s office building, there need to be final verification, to make sure all the required fields are properly filled and that there is correspondence with the optional ones. If something is found incorrect, the entire article is put in review, a tedious job that sometimes, understandably, reduces the article to basic information for a more efficient use of time".

    In other words, because there should not be any errors in Zax article, Xinia just offered to forge it!

    "And the people in the restaurant who saw the hostess of the great Sensensar family accompanying a 'country bumpkin'?"

    "If I could not deal with them, they would not have been here".

    A moment of silent.

    Since everything on Xinia's side was already figured out, next should be her terms for helping him.

    His glass of wine and plate of salad on his side were still untouched. Zax raised his glass and took a first sip. The initial taste was not to his liking, nor the curt of spiciness. Nevertheless, he found the sensation of the drink pleasing to his palate, uplifting. Lastly was the after taste. It, too, was not great, but a wisp of an indescribable ingredient that stood out at the end left him wanting to give the, seemingly, unremarkable drink a second try.

    "Mm?"

    The first bite from the salad turned out to be different than expected. Despite the frozen plate, the salad itself was room temperature, and from the time of chewing it to swallowing, its juices rinsed the mouth with bits of bitter sweet coldness.

    Seeing the intrigued look on Zax's face, Xinia explained. "These vegetables are grown in icy attribute greenhouses. The plate is carved from a special mineral that absorbs cold temperatures".

    Zax laid down his fork. "In return for your help, what is it you want me to do?"

    Xinia also rested her silverware. "Mr. Walaow, I would really like us to communicate on a first name basis. Regrettably, that can't be done unless you choose to join my family. The next best thing, which should not be impossible for you to achieve or agree to, would be to at least form an alliance with my family".

    "Alliance?"

    If Xinia could measure his real talent, then Zax could imagine why she and the Sensensar family would suggest a proposition that could put him close to or on equal standing with them.

    "You plan to join the Mercenary Association, don't you?" Xinia answered back with a question.

    "How do you know?" Zax would be surprised if without him knowing someone followed him, Mendor and the rest from the registration office and heard their conversation.

    "You came to the mayor's office building together with the leader of Mendor's mercenary band. According to the information I received before our meeting, at the registration office you stated that your arrival is for work and that you are accompanying Mendor and his group. For a foreigner to encounter on the way a mercenary band and ending up traveling together with it is not common, but not that rare, either. However, upon your arrival, Mendor could've sent one of his mercenaries to show you the way to the mayor's office building instead of leaving to his men the processing of the job's gains. The only reason for mercenary leaders to be so blithe is if they found something more precious to acquire".

    Xinia's intuition was sharp. Even if Mendor do not admit it to himself, by following Zax so far and explaining so much, he did have the small hope for Zax to decide to join his mercenary band.

    "A person like you, who doesn't fear the dangers of traveling alone, will not be enticed by joining a mediocre mercenary band like Mendor's. Instead, why don't you have a go at the High Rankers' trials and see if you are then worthy of entering a Geared ranked mercenary band?"

  15. #175
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 9 – High Rankers' Trials



    “High Rankers' trials?” Zax probed.

    “For the sake of being accepted into a Geared mercenary band and gaining proper status”. Xinia proceeded.

    Mendor also mentioned to him about being a Ranker mercenary, but that was as far as their conversation on the matter went.

    “On the twenty eight of every fourth month the Mercenary Association upholds trials for mercenaries to improve their rank through special assignments or tests. It is up for you to choose, but to participate in the trials you first need a certain level of cultivation and to have a passible record of successive complete jobs or assignments. Unless you do, the only other method to get approved for the trials is if you participate as an envoy of a high class family”.

    “And I suppose, the Sensensar family will appoint me as its envoy for the trials?”

    “That’s the idea, you as one of my family’s envoys. As the holder of the Czar Seal, we can send up to five participants. Apart from you, I’ve already met, some time ago, with another brilliant cultivator who were offered and accepted the same arrangement”.

    “You called it a ‘proposition’, now it’s an ‘arrangement’?”

    “You are looking it the wrong way because you have yet to appreciate the amount of shortcuts and future benefits I place before you. The High Rankers’ trials are held every four months, and true, there is no shortage of veteran mercenaries like the guy waiting for you downstairs, but you are underestimating the type of qualification for becoming a Ranker mercenary, much less a High Ranker!”

    “Okay, then last question. How I joining a ‘Geared’ mercenary band will correlate to forming an alliance with your family?” Zax asked, emphasizing the word “Geared” as he still has no idea for its meaning in the said context.

    “Well…” Xinia sweetly smiled. “Position and status, position and status. Have them first by passing the trials, and then it will be worthwhile to explain. For now, let’s end here all business related talk and just enjoy each other company”.



    “This is your foreigner ID, sir. If you are asked by an officer to identify yourself, it is enough if you will just provide your ID’s number”.

    “Thank you”. Zax received the small, rectangle shaped metal plate.

    It mostly looked plain silver with only the ID’s number carved to it, but when positioning the flat side in front of the eyes, a picture of Zax’s face was reflected along with his name and Glorious Ground’s and Blessed Army’s insignia.

    “Sir, there is another thing. The man who arrived with asked to leave this note for when you return”. The receptionist handed Zax a sealed enveloped that belonged to the mayor’s office building.

    Since it took over three hours to finish the meal while being forced to entertain the charming Xinia, when he returned to the reception desk, Zax did not expect that Mendor will wait for him.

    At the front of the mayor’s office building Zax hide his ID in his bag, opened the enveloped and read the letter.

    “Zax,

    A minor issue has arose for my men in the Business Centre. I have to leave to take care of it and afterward I plan to retire for the day. You are welcome to borrow a bed for the night. My apartment is in Penerwoodrem St. 534. You can get directions for the receptionist in the mayor’s office building.

    Mendor”.

    Looking up, Zax stared at the darkening sky, put away the letter and returned to the mayor’s office building.



    Penerwoodrem St. was quite far from the mayor’s office building, near the left mountain that arched over the city. The area itself was mostly populated by loud and boorish residents. There were bars, food stands, hostels, trading houses and hidden brothels occupied by fierce men and women, all of which cultivators, even a few second level Core Masters.

    The vicinity somehow made Zax feel at ease. It was far from looking like a safe place for regular people to hang around, regardless of Glorious Ground’s laws, but to cultivators, especially strong ones, it was a much more lively location than any other in the city.

    Penerwoodrem St. 534 was an old building complex with more than two hundred apartments. Luckily for Zax, it had a decent lobby and reception, all managed by an elderly couple.

    “Excuse me, grandma, can you tell me where I can find a husky man who lives here named Mendor?” Zax asked.

    The old woman was reading a book. Beside her she had a thick booklet.

    The old man was messing with random small parts. He gave a bored look to Zax, and judged his wife’s shoulder.

    “Eh? What is it, Som? Mm? A new renter?” She wondered after noticing Zax.

    “Grandmas, I’m looking for a man named Mendor”.

    “Mendor…” The old woman put the book aside and opened the booklet. “Second floor, apartment eighteen”.

    “Thanks for the help”.



    TING!

    TING!

    TING!

    The doors of all the apartments were made of steel, giving the feeling of being inside a sophisticated, giant tin can.

    It slid into the wall as it opened. A hand had to be keep holding it; otherwise the gears and springs inside will shut it automatically.

    “Hey”. Zax raised his hand.

    “You decided to come after all”. Mendor smiled and let him in.

    “Old man, did the guy you talked about arrived?”

    “Bring him here, old man”.

    Two voices sounded past the short corridor from the entrance to the rest of the apartment.

    Mendor passed Zax. “You two, keep your voice low at someone else’s home!”

    Zax crossed the corridor and saw, at the left side of the apartment, two men, beside Mendor, sitting next to a wooden table, drinking and eating salty snacks.

    “Zax, let me introduce”. Mendor gestured at a red haired man with a full mustache. “This uncle here is Toja, captain of Toja’s mercenary band”.

    Currently, Toja allowed himself to get drunk. However, when he first crossed eyes with Zax, a hint of clarity and strong spirit could be detected in his expression.

    “And this uncle”, Mendor pointed at a small and thin man with black, spiky hair and a nonchalant look to his face. “Is Zenar Lar. Despite having the capacity as a Core Master, he doesn’t work as a mercenary”.

    “Kid, don’t listen to these two. Being a mercenary, like them, is the least rewarding profession a cultivator can pick while living in a city”. Zenar Lar retorted.

    “Tell that to a Ranker”. Toja countered. “And, kid, go ahead and call us ‘uncles’, just don’t forget to give the proper respect to your old man here, and refer to him as ‘grandpa’”. He pointed with his thumb on Mendor.

    ‘A merry gang of old men’. Zax though in amusement. He never saw Mendor behave so casually around his men, even when they walked alone in the city.

    “Uncle Toja, uncle Zenar Lar, nice to meet you, I’m Zax”.

    “A polite young lad… I take you haven’t been in the circle of men like the three uncles here for long”.

    “Zenar Lar, Toja, Zax and I met only several days ago, today is his first visit to the city and he had not been to any of the others”.

    “Oh… A foreigner. Mendor just told us that he met a talented young cultivator”. Toja stared.

    “I came from a faraway place”. Zax affirmed. “Glorious Ground is my first major stop in Selivereb”.

    “Zenar Lar, Toja, you got my liquor and eaten what little crumbs I have. Go find someplace else to couch at or go to your homes”. Mendor took the bowl of salty snacks from the two’s reach.

    “Tsk! Mendor, afraid that we will rob from you a new recruit?” Toja grumbled.

    “Go!” Unless he spoke in a harsh tone, Mendor knew it will be impossible to send off the two.

    “Yes, yes”. Zenar Lar said and turned to Zax. “Kid, forget about becoming a mercenary. If you want an easy and profitable life and you do have the skill, come looking for me”.

    The two finally left and when Mendor locked the door behind them, Zax got a chance to see the full scope of the apartment.

    The left side was the kitchen and dining room. At the same was also a door for the shower and bathroom. The right side was the sleeping area, not even a proper separate room. Mendor kept there a pile of mattress and his mercenary equipment.

    “The mattresses are clean. A little bit dusty in the corners, but that is all”. Mendor said.

    “It’s fine. Did you handle your issue?”

    “It wasn’t anything serious. Some new punk at the Workshop was insisting on talking about purchasing the alligator’s Pure Core before buying the body parts. Danus did not want to start a commotion that will affect the price for the parts, so I had to go and settle the matter”.

    “So you ended up selling it?”

    “The Pure Core? Not over my dead body, to that bastard. The Workshop is the biggest buyer of Deformed Beings’ body parts in the city, and here is not even the main branch. But when it comes to Pure Cores, there is only one place that you should keep in mind, the Broodlin Siblings Auction House”.

    Picking a mattress and using his azure mist energy to clear away the dust, Mendor asked. “You actually were invited by Miss Xinia Sensensar”.

    Zax received the mattress, put it on the floor and followed Mendor to sit were he been before with Zenar Lar, Toja.

    “I gather that she has a known reputation in Glorious Ground”.

    “Glorious Ground… the other cities and clans probably also heard about her. She is the youngest daughter of the city’s mayor and famous for being the first face of the Sensensar family. Did she try to recruit you?” Mendor took from the fridge and put on the table an opened case of beer cans.

    “Since I plan to become a mercenary, she offered me the position of the Sensensar family’s envoy in the next High Rankers' trials”.

    “The Rankers’ trials!” Mendor nearly suffocated. “Do you really believe that you can pass them? They are nothing like a juvenile Black Chrome Alligator or a bandit group like the Gray Lords”.

    “Well… actually, she didn’t elaborate about the trials. But if it they will help getting by in Glorious Ground-”

    “Glorious Ground? You really have no idea what you are talking about, try the entire Western Continent!” Mendor rubbed his forehead, put down the beer can and turned to Zax grimly. “Zax, the High Rankers’ trials are gathering participants from all over the continent and send them on some impossible assignments or put them through death and life tests. You can go ask around, there was a staggering number of forty thousand participants in the last trials, two and a half months ago, and only a small percentage made it back alive while an even smaller percentage passed!”

    Zax drank out of courtesy, but found Mendor’s explanation a good excuse to rest his beer can.

    “What is the level of cultivation required for qualifying to the trials?” He asked, starting to sense the pressure of the trials.

    “The trials are divided to two levels. First is for Core Masters and the second is for Martial Mortals, but the Mercenary Association warns that to have fifty percent chance of passing the first level, a cultivator should be, at least, at the Advanced phase of the third Core Master’s level or equally strong”.

    ‘Advanced third level Core Master…’ Zax mused. ‘This level of strength is not a problem to me, but for it to count as only fifty percent chance of passing the trials…’

    “There is more than a month and a half until the next trials. I suggest that you should rethink participating in them. If by then you will be steadfast in doing them, then I wish you good luck”.

    After talking about the trials, the two discussed about everything Zax experienced and witnessed in his first day in the city.

    Eventually, Mendor drank himself to sleep and Zax sat quietly by the apartment’s front windows, savoring the brimming night life of Penerwoodrem St.



    During the month and a half before the High Rankers’ trials, Zax stayed a few days at Mendor’s.

    When Mendor went to sell the Black Chrome Alligator’s Pure Core to the Broodlin Siblings Auction House, Zax also sold the one he picked up from the first Gray Lord leader’s corpse.

    The Broodlin Siblings Auction House was another of Glorious Ground’s skyscrapers and the procedure for buying Zax’s near Peak second realm Pure Core warranted him to a king’s hospitality and treatment.

    The Broodlin Siblings Auction House had to open Zax a bank account in Glorious Ground to pay him the seven thousand Splinters for the Pure Core.

    Splinters were Ercas Mir’s currency. They are coins and bills that are specially made from a splinter shaped mineral that is very rare and sought for its unique properties that allow it, in any form, absorb the world’s energy.

    Fair to say that after learning about Splinters, Zax solved his problem of slow bodily cultivation. The downsize was that he needs millions of Splinters to make a dent in the last gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement.

    Completing the deal for his Pure Core, Zax rented a place in the active Penerwoodrem St. and spent his time getting to know people and steampunk culture. He mostly got accounted with mercenaries and cultivators like Zenar Lar who were dealing in stuff similar to Kingdom Earth’s Basement Floor…

    In the following months and a half, Mendor mercenary band were hired for three jobs, while Zax continued on his own.

    As for training, before to imminent day of the High Rankers’ trials, Zax tried to cultivate his body and soul, but something obstructed him, the connection to the two Black Cores he was missing.



    “Tomorrow are the High Rankers’ trials. Wonder how many will make it alive this time”.

    Zax sat on a stool in a bar five minutes’ walk from his rented hostel room. The food served was delicious, so he came couple of nights a week.

    People in the bar knew him and some were even friendly, but Mendor was the only one to know, partly, about his arrangement with Xinia.

    “Zax, Deejena is the only regular that will participant in the trials. Bid her good luck when she come tonight. She has to potential to pass the first level trials, and when she will imagine the type of reputation it would bring here!” Luis, the middle aged barwoman, instructed him.

    “I will”, Zax smiled, raising his bottle of beer.

    It was actually tasty when giving time and being in good company.

  16. #176
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 10 – Gathering Of Experts



    The Mercenary Association, despite its immense prestige, was not one of Glorious Ground’s skyscrapers. It was surprisingly a rather unassuming, two storeys, wide grayish building that had across it a vertical tin sign with hollowed letters reading “Mercenary Association”.

    “Did you except an extravagant structure?” Mendor poked the stupefied Zax with his elbow.

    “Can this even be called a ‘branch’?” Zax gawked.

    “The Mercenary Association has better use for its revenue than spending it on exterior design. It’s up for the mayor’s office buildings of every city to decide if they want to invest in their Mercenary Association branches to attract skillful cultivators and increase the popularity of their cities”.

    “And Glorious Ground’s mayor doesn’t care about it?”

    “How should I know? If it’s bothering you, ask Miss Xinia next time you will see her. Us who were born here and in the profession for several decades don’t have complaints”.

    Zax nearly staggered when he first saw the building, but when the full scope of the surrounding scenery entered his field of view, he put his wondering thoughts to rest and raised his vigilance.

    There were perhaps over two thousand cultivators around and more kept coming. Most of which were accompanying potential participants or just witness might be future Rankers. Cultivators aside, if counting the regular people that also came, influenced by similar curiosity, then there were over ten thousand people, assembling all in the same place.

    “Move! Move!”

    “Open up a path!”

    “Get lost!”

    “Today, those who stand in the way are risking their lives knowingly! Don’t except city’s laws to protect you!”

    Some men and women shouted for themselves, as they wished to register of the High Rankers’ trials and were obstructed by the masses. Others who grumbled and shoved people were friends, subordinates and even dimwitted lackeys of cultivators that waited to register for the trials.

    “I cannot see Deejena”. Mendor told said as he stretched his head above the countless heads.

    “Would have been easier to find her by using Soul Sense”. Zax stated.

    “Don’t! Do you want to stir the crowd? Last time an idiot used his Soul Sense around so many edgy cultivators, someone snapped and things ended up with the mayor stepping out of his office. Let’s not do anything to invite the wroth of a Martial Mortal”. Romancing of that time, a faint pleading could be detected in Mendor’s voice.

    “I get it. It was just a suggestion; I didn’t really think that you will follow it”. Zax tapped Mendor shoulder, smiling apologetically.

    “Enough! It is not a day for jokes, especially if you are going through with participating in the trials!” Mendor berated Zax.

    In a sense, although there still was a certain form of distance between them, in the past month and a half the two got to become like an uncle and his grown nephew who meet for the first time.

    In Mendor’s perspective, he saw something unique in Zax due to his level of cultivation at such a young age, which in truth aroused his interest since he first saw him blowing to smithereens the Black Chrome Alligator.

    And Zax himself was simply unfazed by Mendor’s rough around the edges personality.

    “Anyway, you should start paving your way to the Mercenary Association’s building. Luckily, for the duration of the registration to the trials, only those who wished to participate allowed inside”.

    “Well, then. If you’ll manage to locate Deejena, don’t say anything about me. If she will know that I plan to participate, she might not let me”.

    “That is your fault for not showing your real strength and acting so reserved”.

    “Is that so. Then it’s about time to make an impression”. An ominous glint flickered in Zax eyes.

    “Your meaning?” Mendor probed.

    Zax did not reply, instead, a change has occurred in his easygoing demeanor.

    People in a radius of two meters from Zax began to breathe heavily as their limbs uncontrollably shook. Zax’s killing intent indiscriminately permeated into all who stood in its range.

    One by one, regular people and weak cultivators fell to the ground, alarming those outside the range of Zax’s killing intent as women shouted in panic, children cried and men froze in their places.

    Mendor, too, had tasted a portion of Zax’s killing intent. At that moment, being a Core Master he could hold his bearing, but in the depth of his sea of consciousness his soul and spirit were quivering.

    “Oh… someone could not stay patient”.

    “Humph, is that even the killing intent of a human or a predatory Deformed Being?”

    “Impressive, human”.

    There were also among the crowed those who were too far to be affected by Zax’s killing intent, but were sensitive, no less savage and even strong that commented in unperturbed voices.

    Zax ignored the stares and the hubbub. No one took him for a villager anymore; since he purchased the light attire mercenaries like to wear underneath their armor. A long blue pants with sturdiness and texture like jeans that were made from the most durable denim, while still being comfortable to maneuver in and a long black shirt from some Deformed Being’s fur, buckled at the waist by a simple utility belt with little compartment and folded by the sleeves. It was not much, but sufficient for those who are used to burden themselves with metallic weapons and armors, not to mention maintain a constant keep of medicine on their person.



    The ground floor of the Mercenary Association’s building was quite like a post office. There were eight desks lined next to each other and clerks in neat Mercenary Association’s uniforms sitting on high stools behind them.

    On the walls were thin screens that were each connoted by a multitude of cables to those computer typewriters there were popular everywhere in Glorious Ground.

    There was a screen for every matter that required the services of a mercenary or a band. However, at this moment, not one soul occupied any of the typewriter and screens.

    Zax walked inside, proceeded by a feline humanoid beast, and followed her to stand waiting for the line to the desk to clear.

    ‘The sorrows of a world that lags behind…’ Zax sighed inwardly.

    In Kingdom Earth technology provided convenience that was absent in this city of pipes, bricks, cables and gears.

    The clerks were rapidly and proficiently identifying and registering the stream of mercenaries.

    “ID’s number”. The short haired female clerk asked from Zax.

    “8584874”.

    “I’m sorry, there is no history in your-” The clerk lost her breath as her eyes landed on a small line on the screen, “Sensensar family’s envoy”.

    “First level trials. You will have to choose between a test of strength or an assignment”.

    “An assignment”. A test of strength would have revealed him as none Mist User, exquisite bodily cultivator, whereas an assignment would allow him to contemplate over maintaining discretion.

    “Take that”. The clerk handed Zax a finger width and length, paper thin red certificate that had glowing golden lines drown on it. “Return it at the end of the trials. Exit the building and wait outside”.



    “Yo, brat, show me your certificate”. A one eyed, short and coarse looking man pulled Zax’s hand to his eye level as they both seemed on their way outside the Mercenary Association’s building. “Red and golden... Did you pick a test or an assignment?”

    Drawing his hand back, Zax measured the short fellow’s facial scars and intent in his eye before answering. “An assignment. Why? What did you pick, old man?”

    “Brat…” The man squinted his eyes, making unclear whether he minded Zax’s unruffled response. “An assignment”. He finally said.

    “Fengar, here!” A deep and loud voice attracted the attention of the short man, Fengar.

    Swinging his head back to Zax, Fengar said. “Greenhorn, it’s your first time in the trials, right? Yes. It’s easy to see on your tender cheeks. Come with me. Also, you heard my name, so give me yours”.

    ‘To follow?’ Zax asked himself before he realized that it made no different to him.

    If Fengar planned some sort of trap to eliminate rookies to, somehow, better his own chances in the trials, Zax did not feel threatened and, regardless, not allowed himself to lower his defenses. Besides, a sideline glance showed him that other mercenaries who finished their registration were also grouping, whether they were familiar with one another or not.

    “My name is Zax”.

    “Greenhorn Zax, come”.

    “Is this nickname going to stick?” Zax queried. He was not offended by Fengar’s approach or attitude when it dawn on him that he is just that type of person, but his first name alone was good enough for him.

    “I asked you before and you did not answer. Is this your first time in the trials, right?”

    ‘You answered yourself before I could say anything’. Zax retorted in his head. He felt that giving this response outloud would only drag the way to the point he tries to reach.

    “Yes”.

    “Then I never in my entire life heard about a rookie passing the trials. Since you are most likely to fail, maybe die, it doesn’t matter what you are called”.

    Though Zax did not sense an evil intent from Fengar, he could swear the guy’s arse was chronically sore.

    “Fengar!” Again, the same voice roared from beyond the crowd.

    “Got it, give me a moment, Vouvik!” To the bitter Fengar, the people outside the Mercenary Association’s building were not just in his path, but also blocking his view. “All of you, bastards, get out of my way!”

    A whirlwind of azure mist energy erupted, pushing more than lashing at the surrounding people.

    “Good! Let’s go, Greenhorn Zax”.

    A humanoid beast, about three meters tall, with a coat of flaming fur and a horned tiger head. The humanoid roaring beast was Fengar’s companion, Vouvik, who also had an earthy cape and a larger utility belt than Zax’s.

    Another person, humanoid beast, was waiting next to Vouvik, the feline humanoid beast that stood before Zax in the Mercenary Association’s building. She, too, had flaming fur and was just as tall. But her tiger head was slightly smaller, more oval and had no horns.

    “Who is he, Fengar?” Vouvik asked.

    “A rookie. I got a vibe that he won’t hold our group down, so I brought him over. Greenhorn Zax, meet, Vouvik and Greenhorn Shouva”.

    Both Vouvik and Shouva gauged for a silent moment.

    “Did Fengar explain to you that we are a team for the trials’ assignment?” Vouvik checked to see if Fengar bothered to update Zax on the purpose of their group.

    “No. But it’s easy to assume when taking a look around. I don’t might to join, if you guys don’t have problem with it”.

    “…Father, if Fengar approves, then let it be”. Shouva told Vouvik,

    “Vouvik, if you want to be the one searching for a fourth companion, then you better pick someone I can stand”.

    “No. I concur. Welcome to our party, Zax”.

    “Zax! Zax!” Mendor in breathless anticipation plastered on his face emerged from the crowd. “They are…?”

    “My party for the trials”. Zax said and then showed his certificate. “We all picked to take up the assignment”.

    Mendor gave a brief look to the red certificate. “Forget about it. They arrived!” He gestured with his hand at the horizon. “They used their Sublime Soul Sense to split the crowd for their arrival, Martial Mortal Rankers!”

    Mendor’s words astonished the entire party and others nearby that heard him.

    All people and beasts turned their heads to the sky.

    Two distant figures were flying toward the Mercenary Association’s building with mantles of black and purple auras around them. Both, unexpectedly, were beasts in their animalistic forms, a giant rhino with a spiky armor and a giant ram with golden fur.

    “Move away! Move away!” Officers of the city commanded.

    BOOM!

    A sonic boom reverberated in the sky as a third silhouette, also purple, appeared from the direction of the mayor’s office building.

    “Mayor Rolo has arrived!”

    The clear and excited voices of men and women informed the ignorant ones of the third Martial Mortal’s identity, a red haired man in a silver gray suit.

    The three Martial Mortals converged tens of meters above the Mercenary Association’s building and the two beasts transformed to their human form, the rhino into a bald black skinned man and the ram into a man with snow white skin and long golden hair. A pair of same clothes appeared out of nowhere for each and covered their naked bodies.

    “Mayor Rolo”, the two greeted.

    Mayor Rolo indifferently responded. “Have you come for the second level trials?”

    “Yes”. The two said respectfully.

    “Follow me”. Mayor Rolo flew off, leading the two to his office building.

    “These two were Rankers and Martial Mortals, yet they expressed reverence toward Glorious Ground’s mayor who, according to what I heard, isn’t even a Ranker…” Someone said in dismay.

    “Fool! The mayor is one of the Lieutenant Generals of the Blessed Army, what need is there for him to become a Ranker?! Furthermore, so what if they are Rankers and Martial Mortals? Just a first level Martial Mortal cannot hold a candle against our mayor Rolo!”

  17. #177
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 11 – Demirva Ridge



    “That’s the level of strength that truly makes one unbound…” Zax murmured to himself in resignation, after watching the three Martial Mortals flying away.

    The registration was finally over, as the last expert to join the High Rankers’ trials walked out of the Mercenary Association’s building and nobody followed in.

    RRURA!

    RRURA!

    RRURA!

    An extremely loud siren at the top of the Mercenary Association’s building and resounded throughout all of Glorious Ground.

    Zax raised his head to the sky, as everyone around him did. From above the clouds, two huge objects were descending, heading to the plateau outside the city.

    “Zeppelins!” Aghast, Zax watched with a slacked jaw.

    The immense airship was only mentioned in Kingdom Earth in records from before the great immigration period and now the spectacular flying machinery that was bigger by a large margin than any means of transport in his cloistered home was right above him.

    The two zeppelins were not quite those in Zax’s history books or in the movies. In shape they were similar, but internally they were definitely different since those currently in the sky had a blue glow coming out from their engine cars. Plus, the design itself was more present era accurate…

    “Participants of the High Rankers’ trials who were listed for the test are to arrive to the zeppelins’ landing area and board them in an orderly fashion. Further instructions will be given once you’ll take off”.

    The loud alarming sound of the siren was replaced with a notification.

    “Participants of the High Rankers’ trials who were listed for the assignment, your certificates are active as of this moment. Please followed their instruction and be sure to not lose them until the end of the trials”.

    “Mm?” Zax felt and tiny electric discharge from the finger’s size, paper thin red certificate in his hand.

    In a matter of a fraction of as second, the certificate embedded itself in Zax’s hand and then, under his skin, it slid to his wrist. It happened so abruptly that Zax was about to carve it outside, but eventually stopped when he noticed his new companions patiently trailing the process.

    A second electric discharge ensued and an imprint of what seemed to be a map, appeared on Zax’s palm.

    “Son of a *****!”

    Someone cursed in an enrage tone.

    “Mother ****ers!”

    “Are they ****ing insane!”



    “Burn their mothers in a bowl of rotten fish soup!” Fengar shouted in solidarity with the other foul mouthed participants.

    “So… I gather that we are required to go to somewhere bad?” Zax asked the poised Vouvik who view the map in his hand wordlessly.

    The imprint vanished from Vouvik’s palm as he lowered his hand. It did not surprise Zax. He could feel that the certificate connected to his nervous system and he, at will, could make the imprint appear and disappear, zoom in and zoom out – with the down size of having to feel the uncomfortable electric discharge each time.

    Vouvik looked at Zax for a silent moment before saying. “It’s a map of the continent… It seems that the directive of the assignment, this time, is an A to B race”.

    This much Zax understood on his own by seeing the green route marked in the map and the timer at its top edge that just about indicated the span of four months.

    “You can’t go there! No matter what, Zax, wait another four months for the next trials. I’m sure Miss Xinia would agree, just don’t be stupid and go there!” Mendor yanked Zax, to be certain that he reads the map right, and as he became more assured, his tone turned more severe.

    The imprint vanished, and Zax withdrew his arm back. “Tell me what the problem with the route of the assignment is?” Zax told Mendor, a bit irritated by his domineering demand that followed no explanation.

    “This is serious, Zax, I’ll tell you, but only if you promise to wait the four months”. Mendor was truly shaken and steadfast in not letting Zax go.

    “Father, should we give up?” Shouva held her father arm.

    “It is path from the lower side of the continent to the higher side through the Demirva Ridge”. Vouvik ignored his daughter’s hesitation and so answered Zax instead. “Only foreigners may not know it, but the Demirva Ridge is the most dangerous place in the Western Continent, an unsafe place that even first level Martial Mortals do not take lightly”.

    “Exactly, father”, Shouva said worriedly. “The first level trials supposed to have an Advanced third level Core Master’s difficulty, not something that even Martial Mortals would feel threatened by”.

    “Shut up! You Greenhorn Shouva! Shut up, all of you cry babies!” Fengar screamed with annoyance. Turning to Zax, he raised his palm to his eyes and said. “Demirva Ridge is the badass place around and you can see how bad by just taking a look around. Nevertheless, this is the assignment and I, for once, don’t plan on having a prefect strike of failures. Come if you want, otherwise, beat it! Vouvik, I’m leaving!”

    In a feat of rage, Fengar stormed through the crowed.

    “Shouva, once in a while an assignment like this one resurface and many choose to forfeit. You are old enough to decide for yourself”. Vouvik said and turned after Fengar.

    “Zax…” Mendor tried to plead with him one last time.

    “I’m a traveler, Mendor, I have my share of risks and dangerous experiences. Whether I’ll forfeit or not, this won’t be the last of my troubles“. His response was clear as he tapped Mendor on the shoulder and left, as well.

    Shouva was not accounted with Mendor, therefore she said nothing as there was no one to listen to her when she succumbed to the mindset of the three previous three, along with many others around, and ran after them.



    “Due to the complicated route, it was probably purposely calculated that way, but it would take us about until the next trials to reach our destination. If you want to buy provision or anything else, you’ve got an hour. When you are finished, head to the frontal city’s entrance or accompany me there now”. Vouvik ordered.

    “Greenhorn Zax, it’s best if you fill all the compartments in your belt with Linder Seeds. See you later, Vouvik”. Fengar said and left.

    “Father, I need you ring”. Shouva stepped closed to her father as she asked.

    Vouvik nodded, and that was about all of what Zax could see from his reaction.

    Vouvik reached to a certain compartment in his utility belt, retrieve a bronze’s color ring and swiftly gave it to his daughter.

    “I won’t take long”. Zax ignored the two’s cautioned conduct and departed.



    Zax order of business was to first go to his place and pick up his stuff, which were mainly his clothes and bag.

    Outside of the hostel a long, hovering limousine was parked. It was a peculiar sight on Penerwoodrem St. and Zax’s attention was attracted to the side of the passenger seat for an instant before turning his back and entering the hostel.

    The door at the passenger seat opened and a familiar voice whimsically called. “Come on, now, are you really forcing a damsel to exit the car and chase after you?”

    Zax halted and looked back. “Xinia…” He was neither surprised nor aware that she was in the limousine since the windows were blackened.

    “Enter the limousine. We should spend some alone time before you leave, Mr. Walaow”. She referred to him formally as a reminder that they are not yet on first name basis.

    “This is the second invitation that I extends to you. Next time you ought to take the initiative, otherwise I would feel used“. Inside the lavish limousine, Xinia in her manner and exquisite beauty stepped up the allure. Nonetheless, she maintained the “No touch” policy.

    Zax suspected that if her father was not the city’s mayor, one of these days she might encounter someone who will lose his composure and forcefully try to snatch a bite.

    “You led me into an extremely dangerous path, Ms. Sensensar. From what I heard the assignment in this time’s trials can even pose a risk to Martial Mortals. As you know, I’m a second level Core Master. Considering my fighting capabilities, common third level Core Masters aren’t concerning, but that’s about as far as I can boost myself”. Zax said grimly.

    “I know, I know”, Xinia leaned back, no longer merry and playing around. “I was not expecting the Mercenary Association to be so cruel”. She glanced at Zax with disinterested eyes. “If you want to forfeit-”

    Zax interrupted her with his right hand stretched in front of her eyes and the slight glow of the map shining on his palm. “Then I would not still have that”.

    Seeing the imprint, the liveliness returned to Xinia’s eyes. “You two are really my good fortune…” She whispered. “You know, the other envoy also chose the assignment and decided to proceed with it”.

    At the press of a button, a drawer opened. Its left side took most of the space, occupied by wine bottles. The right side had a round, thin box atop a tower of glasses.

    “That’s for you”. Xinia gave Zax to box. “Open it”. She said when he received and kept it in his hand.

    “Are these… Linder Seeds?” Inside the box were eighteen tiny black looking seeds.

    “If you are asking, this should be your first time seeing them”. Xinia said. “But you know their name, so you were probably already informed about their benefits in the assignment”.

    “Not really. My new companion just recommended that I should buy them without additional explanation”.

    Picking up one of the seeds, Xinia said. “Though they may be called ‘Seeds’, Linder Seeds are not like the traditional ones, which you plant in the soil and wait for harvest. Instead, you hold them in your hand and use soul energy to extract the dark attribute essence they contain”.

    “Dark attribute essence?” Zax became intrigued.

    He reached his hand to take the seed Xinia held.

    “Don’t be rush. If you’ll tap to it, even for just to examine the seed, it will agitate the essence and you will be forced to extract it to yourself or let it wastefully disperse”. Xinia put the seed back in the box and closed it. “Tell me, have you been told why it’s for the best to bring along Linder Seeds to Demirva Ridge?”

    Before getting into to what exactly the seeds are meant for, Xinia inquired.

    “I haven’t”.

    “Do you have time, or do you need to soon meet back with your companion for the assignment?”

    “I have around forty minutes before we all regroup”.

    “In that case, I won’t give a full history lesson.

    “Demirva Ridge is named after a God who was many years ago, worshiped by the hundreds of villages and tribes and tens of thousands humans and beasts that lived in the ridge, which starches all across the continent.

    “Roughly a thousand years ago, a terrifying Martial Mortal – said to be at the third Martial Mortal level – who commanded an army of the worst bandits, invaded Demirva Ridge with the intention of sacrificing all of God Demirva’s believers for another God that will bless him with the path to Immortality.

    “That Martial Mortal was aware that if the five powers will realize his plan they will stop him. To avoid any obstructions, he formulated a plan of attack that in the span of one night enabled him to massacre every living being in the ridge and when news of the attack reached the Blessed Army and Violet Scaled Troops it was already too late. The exuberant ridge turned into a valley of death.

    ”Bathed in the blood of his victims, the Martial Mortal and his bandits prayed for their God to accept their offering. But, they receive none of God’s mysterious ways of response. In their God’s place someone else, something else answered.

    “The innocent humans and beasts that died, at the wake of the demise, begged with madness and indignation for their god. Initially they ask to be saved, but as they witnessed powerlessly their families and friends die, spirits shattering, their request had changed. Not for salvation to come or to at least for their spirits to pass into the afterlife together, but for revenge.

    “They began to offer themselves, their spirits, into complete and utter servitude in whatever God Demirva will find them fit to serve.

    “God Demirva replied.

    ”As the Martial Mortal and his army eagerly awaited, a blinding light descended on the ridge, setting aflame the innumerable dead bodies and collecting their spirits. As for the answer for their prayers… assembling and bounding fragments of their souls, God Demirva made new beings out of them, creatures of soul energy and dark attribute, driven by the last violent memories of the deceased, the wraiths of Demirva Ridge”.

  18. #178
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 12 – Alternative Endings



    ‘Wraith? Gods?’ Zax struggled to wrap his head around the two terms. ‘Wraith like a ghost… like in a horror movie?’

    The manner in which Xinia recited how God Demirva used remnants of the souls and dark attribute to create such creature was inventive. Seems to be impossible to the current Zax, but still a mind opener to the, maybe, reachable heights a proficient soul cultivator can attain.

    ‘But what sort of existence do they talk about in Ercas Mir when they mention Gods?!’

    His only hope of knowing without having someone to tell him at the risk of exposing himself due to ignorance was, at the moment, to try and find clues in Demirva Ridge.

    “The damnable wraiths in Demirva Ridge are merciless monsters, capable of threatening even third level Martial Mortals, when they converged. What worse is that only soul attacks work against them, yet no necessarily enough to kill them. Anyway, this is the origin of Demirva Ridge and the basis you should know before heading there”. Xinia finished.

    CLACK!

    Zax opened the limousine’s door. He got the answer for the Linder Seeds’ need without Xinia being explicit about it.

    “Thank you for letting me know and for the seeds”. He got out of the vehicle.

    “Mr. Walaow, the Linder Seeds I gave you are eighty percent more potent than those in the market, so I will advise you to be a little frugal with them and still purchase the common ones”.

    Zax nodded. “In our next meeting you’ll be obligated to show me what is a Geared ranked mercenary band”.



    After collecting his things from his hostel room, Zax actually found the common type of Linder Seeds in a regular pharmacy. As it so happen, apart from being remedy for the soul, Linder Seeds were also treated as a not cheap painkillers for the privileged. Thus, they were not typically recommended by pharmacist, but if someone will ask then there definitely was a supply.

    “Fengar, Vouvik”. Zax called the two when he arrived to the city’s frontal entrance.

    On his way he saw a bunch of experts, which he guessed were participants, running around, completing their final errands before setting out.

    “Good. You didn’t dilly dally, Greenhorn Zax”. Fengar was pleased. “See, Vouvik, your daughter is the only one who doesn’t seem to be wholeheartedly ready for the assignment”.

    “Stop speaking nonsense”. Vouvik growled. “She is on her way”.

    Smiling, Fengar quieted and Zax joined the pair in their silence.

    Couple of minutes after Zax arrival, Shouva showed up.

    “Everything is done?”

    “Yes, father”.

    “Then we are leaving Glorious Ground”. Vouvik declared, apparently as the leader of the party, which the other three accepted.

    “Hey, you, stop!” A frisky voice shouted toward the direction of the four the moment they left the city.

    A boy, twelve or thirteen years old, came running.

    “You, sirs and lady, are participants in the High Rankers’ trials; you chose the assignment, right?” The boy inquired enthusiastically.

    “Beat it, kid”. Fengar scowled.

    Though they were about the same height, the boy knew better than irritating an expert. He turned around disappointment, but soon enough started running in his previous cheerful manner toward another party of participants.

    “What’s that about?” Zax stared at Fengar of the answer, since it was he scared the boy away.

    “Just a little scoundrel”. Fengar said. “News about the assignments and its details were already spread in the city and now certain people will try anything to make money out of it. Look over there”. He pointed on a large, bus looking vehicle that hovered near the city’s entrance. “They even offer rides to checkpoints, most likely, up to several hundred meters from Demirva Ridge”.

    “Don’t let anyone fool you with promise for important information and such things”. Shouva interrupted. “My father and Fengar are seasoned mercenaries and this isn’t their first trial. They know on whom you can rely and from whom you’ll better stay away”.

    “Converse on the way. There is nothing for us here”. Vouvik said.



    It seemed that most parties had their own preferable routes to the ridge. Vouvik’s route led back to the Titan Kapok Trees forest, eastward from Glorious Ground.

    Early on, Vouvik explained to Zax and Shouva that they have nothing to hurry for. The designated time for the assignment was calculated to be sufficient for completion in a non cultivator’s traveling speed, on foot.

    As such, when night came the four made camp and stopped for the day.

    “Father, I trust your and Fengar’s judgment on people… But are we going to travel like this throughout the assignment?” Shouva was not persuaded of the practicality of actually maintaining the speed of a non cultivator.

    Zax had the same question in mind. He said nothing only because of his patience and the fact they had more than enough time.

    “Of course, not”. Fengar said as he turned above the fire the meaty body of the Deformed Being he hunted earlier.

    Next to him was a kit, specifically made to hold spices. Also, much like Vouvik, Fengar also had a spatial storage space bronze’s color ring.

    “Shouva, there are many experts heading to the same place. Some will not waist time and get there fast, others will drag every second they have. Entering the ridge before knowing exactly who is waiting at the front and who is staring at our back will put us at risk. Tomorrow we will make a quick stop at Sifon tribe. There is a Lavish Tail there who gathers information about participants in every High Rankers’ trials. We will rush to Demirva Ridge after seeing if we can purchase some information from that Lavish Tail”.

    “Enough talks. Food is ready!” Fengar used the same axe he split the Deformed Being in two, to cut and serve.



    Just like villages were a stepped down from cities in Ercas Mir, tribes and clans were the same. Nevertheless, in comparison to Virgil’s Pasture, Sifon tribe was akin to a town, the in between among the four types of settlements.

    The tribe was located on a vast cliff that after its edge lain a field of Titan Kapok Trees’ treetops. From an outsider point of view, it was large enough to accommodate close to twenty thousand souls. It had not wall or fence, of any sort, around it and inside was a mass of wooden structures and electrical lines. Like an old west kind of style that only started integrated technological advancements.

    About the tribe’s occupants… Zax refrained from asking questions. He gauged the social conventions from what he saw and basic knowledge. Most occupants appeared as human, but were actually beasts in their humanoid forms. There was also a high number of humanoid beasts, generally flying type, members of the tribe. As for beasts in their animalistic form, there were barely any in the vicinity and those seen were tots and guarded heavily. Supposedly, only selected members of the tribe were allowed to roam freely with their immature offspring. The rest were allocated to a closed location until being able to distinguish the wild and transform to humanoid form.

    “We are not the only party that came”. Zax noticed other participants’ parties. And, of course, they noticed his group.

    “You thought it would only be us, Greenhorn Zax?” Fengar snorted. “Information is the most important commodity a mercenary can hope to obtain, regardless of the job. There are many old timers who will delay themselves for useful information to be available before proceeding with a job”.

    “Let’s follow suit, then”. Vouvik said.

    “Doing what, father?”

    “Fengar is right. The trials just began. Any information gathered is still in its infancy. Besides, if we leave just after our arrival, some parties would rather steal our info than pay for it. Since staying a few days is unavoidable, we might as well allow my Lavish Tail contact to properly do her job”.

    ‘A few days in a tribe… this would be a good educational opportunity’. Zax made up his mind to get familiar with the livelihood of beasts in Ercas Mir.



    Someplace else in the Sifon tribe. A short, shady spot at the commerce area.

    “No! Please, sir! I’ll erase everything… I’ll- I’ll- I won’t say a thing and- and- and if you must, scrap it from my soul, but please don’t-”

    SLASH!

    A greenish, feathery, bird head fell on the ground, cut at the neck from the rest of its former poisoned wings, stork’s physique.

    “He dared to put up a fight”. A voice came out from beneath a gray cloak that hid a humanoid figure.

    “His body will start to discharge poisonous fumes soon. I got the list. We should leave”. Another figure, standing at the wreckage of a once homely living room, said in a deep and detached voice.

    “Ending number one or number two?”

    “Two”.

    “Sorry, kids, daddy stuck his beak where he should not. Now give mommy a hug and close your eyes”.

    “Sir, please, they are fledglings. They don’t understand and won’t remember-”

    SLASH!

    SLASH!

    SLASH!

    “You didn’t need to let fear sink in before you killed them”. Said the detached voice.

    “I know, but why they always mistake me for a man just because I cover my face? It’s annoying. Anyway, I did give them a quick death”.

    “Forget I ask. You, earth dwellers have weird customs”.

    “Speak for yourself, fish breath. Martial path aside, Kingdom Earth is far more fun than this place… I wonder when we’ll find a decent game for my ‘Bright Rays Of New Hope’ ending…?” The girl under the gray cloak reminisced.

    “Doubtfully in this joint assignment”.

    “Sigh… then its ‘Bloodcurdling Nights’ all the way…”

    As the two figures turned into blurs and vanished, silhouettes of two different symbols flickered for an instant under their cloak.

    A golden, cinderblock badge and an azure necklace with emerald pendent.



    “Zax, wake up”. A voice whispered from beyond the door to Zax’s inn room.

    A near full moon lit up the night sky.

    Zax was perfectly awake the whole night, sitting on his bed, until the voice forced him to move.

    Opening the door, Shouva waited for him. “Come on, we are leaving. A string of murders occurred and father’s contact is one of the victims. We must go now. Members of the Violet Scaled Troops have been dispatched to investigate and they’re rounding up suspects, including all outsiders”.

    ‘Murders… so that what the entire ruckus is about.’ Zax mused as he followed Shouva to the inn’s ground floor and back exist.

    From the opened window in his room, while trying to perceive the last bottleneck of insight, Zax sensed the unrest through odd movements outside the building and voices congregating, despite the late hour and the peaceful street the inn was located at.

    Vouvik and Fengar were already waiting outside, concealed by a mantle Vouvik raised with a signature only his daughter could recognize. Until he saw the two, Zax was truly oblivious to their whereabouts.

    “Someone is killing the Sifon tribe’s information brokers who were involved in the trials’ assignment”. Fengar said right as the two appeared. “Vouvik, we must leave the tribe, search for parties who already got the info and see what it is before entering Demirva Ridge. What’s happening is unconventional and I hate being left out of the loop!”

    “I concur”. Zax sided with Fengar. “I keep hearing how this time’s assignment is more dangerous than usual and now things getting even more troublesome. I’m starting to think that we are in for something bigger”.

    “…Nevertheless, nothings matter unless we escape”.

    “’Escape’, father?” Shouva gawked.

    “Yes, this is no longer a departure. I receive a transmission. Beast or human, all information dealers of the High Rankers’ trials in Selivereb are dead!”

    “What the hell?! How come I didn’t receive anything?!” Fengar furiously wanted to know. He, too, shared the same communication device as Vouvik.

    “Don’t shout”. Shouva blocked Fengar’s mouth with her paws.

    “Mmim muuing he am emvise am amea ode” *I’m using the same device and same area code.

    Fengar’s muffled voice was barely understood by his longtime partner, though Vouvik still answered. “Beasts were the first to release the news and done so on a frequency only other beasts could interpret the message”.

    “Father, this level of operation can only be executed by-”

    “That five powers”. Zax finished and his countenance was bleak.

    It was inconclusive whether he was right or wrong. But who else will dare interfere in such a big and renowned event as the High Rankers’ trials.

    ‘If I’ll be discovered by the abominable marks for participating in the trials… a Kingdom Earth cultivator who has no affiliation to any of them… What should I do?’

  19. #179
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 13 – Eventful Night



    Zax was at loss, but in his moment of anxiousness he could still find a silver lining. ‘Senior Ariel explained that the purpose of the marks left in me is to notify the five powers when either my body or supposed mist energy break through the second realm. Hopefully, that’s about it for their surveillance capabilities…’

    “Listen well; the soldiers from the Violet Scaled Troops aren’t necessarily from the Second Corps. At worst, only one platoon from the Second Corps is on its way. If they do come and happen to find us, we would split into two groups. As only I and Fengar possess communicators, Shouva will follow me, and Zax and Fengar, you two split together to another direction. No matter what, remember not to fight them, we cannot afford offending one of the five powers”. Vouvik instructed everyone and then averted his gaze to the shortest in the group. “Fengar, calculate five meeting points from here to Demirva Ridge and send them to me”.

    “Yes”. Fengar said and the four fast made their retreat out of the town like Sifon tribe.

    Under the bright light of the moon, the four moved quickly and without hindrance. In contrast to the ordinarily communed manner of villages and tribes, due its unofficial status as a “Travelers Town”, it was easy to enter the Sifon tribe just as much as it was easy to leave it, usually.

    Bursts of mist energy from various locations in the Sifon tribe erupted one after the other, as the experts responsible for them made a blatant escape.

    “What’s up with them? Are they trying to get caught?” Shouva said in a low voice.

    “I don’t think so”. Fengar annoyingly berated. “Considering the current situation and the level of power emanating from their auras… It’s more like they are experts, either participants or those behind the killings, and in a hurry to get as far away from town as possible”.

    “Which means”, Vouvik added. “That they might have an idea of what’s occurring, and more importantly… By the fluctuations of their auras, some of them do not seem impossible to handle, should we pursue for answers”.

    Zax stayed quite as the group discussed and left the Sifon tribe, back to the cover of the Titan Kapok Trees forest.

    ‘Whatever they will decide, I guess, for now I can comply with. Worst case scenario I’ll say my goodbyes in a moment notice. Till then, continuing with the assignment is still beneficial, and I am curious about the motive of the five powers in this time’s trials’.

    The four dashed through the forest, relying solely on their physical’s speed. Three of which had to surpass their mist energy to avoid getting sensed.

    Suddenly, surges of Soul Senses began to sweep the forest, enveloping in their reach the four and who knows how many runaway trials’ participants.

    “Damn!” Fengar cursed.

    Although he, Vouvik and Zax were quick to react, use their own Soul Senses to shield and conceal them, Shouva’s soul was weaker than couple of the snooping Soul Senses. By her upset expression, it was clear that her position was made.

    “This… It’s actually those hurrying to leave bastards!” Fengar spewed a second time.

    The Soul Senses were not belonged to the Violet Scaled Troops, but the trials’ participants who used mist energy for explosive escape, those suspected to have an idea of what is going on.

    WHOOSH!

    WHOOSH!

    WHOOSH!



    The five or so parties of fleeting experts separated and dispersed in the Titan Kapok Trees forest. Two lone experts headed toward the direction of Zax and his party.

    “Are they insane? Actually trying to pick up a fight?!” Fengar half anticipated their arrival, half got angry.

    Yes, they were their potential means of find out everything, but for the mark to initiate contact with the bullet… sending only two experts, an Advanced second level Core Master and an Intermediate third level Core Master, were they looking down on their group?

    As he was a Beginner third level Core Master, Vouvik was nearly at the Advance phase. As for Shouva and Zax, one, to his limited knowledge, was at the Peak of the second Core Master level, while the other was at the Advanced phase.

    “Fine, make it easier to catch you!”

    “No!” Zax retorted. Realizing first the fleeting experts’ intention, his complexion turned ugly. “It’s as if they are not just running away, but knowingly being chased. That’s why they left the Sifon tribe so fast. But while the rest of us are being reserved, they can’t keep up accelerating while beaconing where they are with their mist energy-”

    “They want to drag us with them”, Vouvk caught up. “There were many participants in the Sifon tribe, but only few left rushing. I gather they flee due to obtaining unique information from the murdered brokers and therefore are also being targeted by the five powers or some other troublesome entity-”

    “But, father”, Shouva cut in. “If any of the five powers or anyone close to their level decides to get involved in the trials, they can do so freely above ground. Why resort to foul play?”

    “Claiming that the five powers have something to do with the killings is just the most probable hypothesis, Greenhorn Shouva. The Violet Scaled Troops might act as a cover or because it genuinely unrelated and wants to investigate what’s happening in its territory”. Fengar answered, also finally understanding the motive of the scattering fleeting experts. “In the end, it doesn’t matter from whom they flee. If so many of them, veteran mercenaries and capable Core Masters, chose to do so over simply fighting their pursuers. What matters is that soon they’ll get all the other participants involve!”

    The two fleeing experts indeed got close to the party, enough to make up their real numbers by their other senses. The stayed at a distance of approximate one hundred meters from the party, maintained the same running pace and released their auras wantonly.

    This vile method of using the ill informed participants as scapegoats was executed by the fleeting experts all across the forest, as if they planed so beforehand. They were aware that even if they left inconspicuously, whoever chasing them will avoid wasting time after those who did not receive the news. Therefore, they decided to lead them themselves toward parties or individuals like Zax, Shouva, Vouvik and Fengar.

    “Vouvik, they aren’t advancing anymore”. Zax said, referring to the two experts on their tail. “We should get rid of them and take the chance to find out what they know”.

    “Shouva and I will deal with them. You and Fengar, proceed to the second meeting point. We are already too close to the first one“. Vouvik assessment of Zax’s strength was the same as Fengar’s, hence, he preferred to coordinate with his daughter since she was not too far apart from him and more reliable.

    “So the two of us don’t get the chance to fight?” Fengar said disappointedly.

    “Calm down”, Vouvik said soothingly. “By how eventful this assignment turned out, unless we will withdraw from the trials, I doubt this would be the last of our battles”.



    WHOOSH!

    WHOOSH!

    Vouvik and Shouva changed to their animalistic forms, two flaming Blaze Horned Tigers the size of double and near quadruple decker buses.

    The duo were, obviously, noticed by the two experts, however, they closed in fast, erupting with red fiery attribute mist energy.

    “Shouva, delay her for ten seconds, that’s all”.

    “Yes, father!”

    Of the two experts, the weaker was a female human. The one Vouvik targeted first was a female Scaled Ape who transformed to her human’s size yet quick animalistic form the instant she realized a battle is inevitable. As it occurred, all three beasts were Zhìhuì class.

    “Vouvik, so it was your party we intercepted!” The two meters tall ape with the brown scales said as she maneuvered swiftly from one Titan Kapok Trees.

    “You got eight seconds to tell me why you came after us and what your contact told you, Danttena, otherwise this will be your last attempt in the High Rankers’ trials”.

    Despite being larger and obstructed by the Titan Kapok Trees, Vouvik managed to keep up and even shorten the distance between him and Danttena.

    “I prefer not to fight with you; Vouvik, let’s both take a step back and I and my companion will stop following you”. Danttena struggled to conceal her apprehension.

    She was a member of a party of six. Splitting to twos and shadowing others was only to aid their escape from those who killed their contact. When she discovered Vouvik’s party with her Soul Sense, she decided to approach them despite not being clear on their identities. After all, she had confidence against most under the Martial Mortal realm. But then it turned out that she and her companion selected a problematic associate she heard enough about to recognize as an opponent beyond her capabilities.

    “Too late for that!” Vouvik roared and swung his paw, sending four brilliant pillars of flames toward Danttena.

    Danttena channeled all her dark attribute mist energy into her protective mantle.

    BOOM!

    With great effort, she managed to block it but the bones in her palms broke and the force pushed her through tens huge and thick Titan Kapok Trees’ trunks.

    “Four seconds!” Vouvik counted and pounced after Danttena.

    He did not hold back. There was no meaning in doing so. He gave Danttena enough time to answer his questions.

    Danttena fell to the ground, her black aura swelling for a moment, yet eventually dying out. “I’ll talk”. She resentfully said, transforming back to her human form of a brown haired brown skinned middle age woman, not bothering retrieving new clothes from her spatial ring. Unlike Vouvik and Shouva, she was fond of her human form.

    “Danttena, don’t!” Her wounded companion shouted while being besieged by Shouva. Although they were equally matched, seeing Danttena surrendering had shaken her resolve, creating an opening for Shouva to strike.

    Time was running out, thus both Danttena and Vouvik ignored the pitiful yells of the female human.

    “Speak”. Vouvik demanded.

    “We-”

    SWISH!

    A bright red ray of light penetrated Danttena’s head, killing her abruptly.

    “Danttena!” Her companion shouted.

    SLASH!

    Another crescent ray of light cleanly cut the female human’s head.

    “Who?!” Vouvik raised his guard. Before he could react, Danttena and her companion died by two precise and frightening attacks.

    A gray cloaked figure walked leisurely out of the nightly darkness of the forest.

    “That’s a shame… I hoped to follow these two until they’ll regroup”. A sighing female voice resounded from beneath the hood of the cloaked figure. “According to the dead bird’s list, Aiden’s party who bought information from him should have six members. You, kitties, are certainly not part of the remaining four, right? Oh! Maybe your names are on one of the other lists? But I don’t recall getting the description of two kittens…”

    The gray cloaked figure walked forward. Holding in her hand was a long scythe with curved World Gathering Bone for a blade. Her attitude was carefree, but malignant killing intent leaked from her relative small physique.

    Vouvik’s claws gripped the earth. He could tell that the cloaked figure is at the Advanced third Core Master level, a small gap between their levels. Nonetheless, he was scared, terrified, almost, from her profound technique, from which he will not be able to protect his shivering daughter.

    “Run!” He roared and released his aura to the utmost. ‘Fengar, a gray cloak person, human by the smell, has killed the two experts that came after us. She is likely behind the killing… I won’t be able to escape her. Please protect Shouva, protect my daughter!’ He transmitted before opening his mouth and letting out a beam of fiery hues.

    “Father!” Seeing her father using his signature move, “Scorching Tiger Roar”, Shouva found her bearing and roared in dismay, hesitant to comply with his command.

    “Go!” Vouvik roared, exuding a blast of wind that slammed against his daughter.

    With no other choice, Shouva turned her back and ran.

    “Not so fast!” The gray cloaked woman sneered. She swung her scythe back and forth, meeting the fiery beam head on.

    CHICHICHICHI!

    A grinding sound followed the collision. Vouvik’s beam split in two and continued to fly for several kilometers, incinerating everything in its path before finally dissipating.

    Proceeding with her attack, the cloaked woman shifted the trajectory of the World Gathering Bone blade; her mist energy contained a fiery attribute in it, as well, it colored the blade red as it struck the earth.

    BOOM!

    The forest’s ground shook and a long, red glowing fissure extended toward the escaping Shouva in high speed, toppling the majestic Titan Kapok Trees in its wake and swallowing the dead Danttenta and her dead companion.

    WHOOSH!

    Vouvik overtook the fissure, mist energy augmenting around him a translucent giant shape of a tiger.

    BANG!

    He ruptured the ground and halted the advancement of the fissure, but it came with a price as he was hit with the residual force.

    ‘Her power… it’s infinitely close to a first level Martial Mortal!’ He thought in alarm as his muscles contracted in pain.

    “How cocky, daring to turn your back to me”. The cloaked woman said in disdain. The blade of her scythe shining, its edge was about to descend on Vouvik’s head.

    WHOOSH!

    TING!

    The metallic blade of a huge axe rapidly flew in the air, hitting the scythe’s blade and forcing the cloaked woman several steps back.

    WHOOSH!

    A blurry figure appeared next to the woman, savage killing intent imbued in its whispering voice.

    “Soar With The Storm”.

    BOOM!

  20. #180
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    Book 7 – Ercas Mir

    Chapter 14 – Helpless


    “Soar With The Storm”. Zax punched from point blank.

    The cloaked woman used the momentum of the collision with Fengar’s axe to turn around and meet Zax’s fist with the edge of her scythe.

    BOOM!

    SPLASH!

    Zax felt a hot liquid, blood, hitting his face, and then a sharp pain in his right arm, as it was ripped.

    “What?!” He was more stunned by finding himself wounded than the pain.

    The scythe dispelled most of the Kinetic Force, the rest of it crashed against the protective mantle of the cloaked woman, compelling her to spit a mouthful of blood. Simultaneously, with her endurance, she stabbed the blade of her scythe in Zax’s stretched right arm and split across.

    The confrontation sent the cloaked woman tumbling tens of meters backwards, while rendering Zax’s right arm useless, mostly.

    Sweat ran down Zax’s back and his heart palpitated. He recognized the scythe, it was similar to Zechariah’s, only, in the woman’s hands, gave a far more threatening impression. That was one thing. What really affected him was that he could tell the cloaked woman cultivation was below the Martial Mortal realm, and yet he was not certain that he could beat her.

    The hood fell back and the face of the cloaked woman was exposed. She appeared to be young, but for a cultivator it did not say much about her age only that she attained a high level of cultivation at an early age. Her black hair was short and her black eyes were piercing. She had light skin and was overall pretty. Despite having blood on her lips, she promptly balanced herself, stood up and sneered.

    Wiping her lips, she stared at the newcomers, Fengar and Zax. “A midget and a cripple, another two that I haven’t been briefed on. Well, even if you are not on any of the lists I’ll kill you just in case!” She kicked the ground and in a flash renewed her assault.

    “Fall back, Zax!” Though Fengar was dumbfounded by Zax’s performance, the Greenhorn participant’s arm was butchered and he was concerned for him.

    Zax gritted his teeth; she actually managed to withstand his strongest attack point blank!

    It was hard to accept!

    His last life and death battle was years ago against Ilen-Tar, since then he lived in an easygoing manner where he did whatever he wanted to. This moment brought back his killer temperament, not because it was a matter of life and death, but due to him legitimately feeling overpowered!

    It has been a long time since he considered it, but circumstance, this time, made it best choice. “Prepare to run away!” Zax ordered the three behind him, his voice was hoarse from both savagery and opposing the cloaked woman’s killing intent with his own.

    “Wai-” Before Fengar finished to pronounce the entire word, Zax also kicked the ground.

    WHOOSH!

    The cloaked woman channeled her blazing mist energy through her scythe and swung it.

    Zax bent back, avoiding the blade. Now that he knew its terror, he did not dare to meet it barehanded and moreover, took it as a new life lesson.

    “Good reflexes, but no aura? Bodily cultivator!” The cloaked woman exclaimed, finally impressed by her opponent. “Your physique might be stronger than mine, but my blade is tougher and sharper, my mist cultivation technique is also High grade and above all… your Martial art is sloppy”. She kept waving her scythe, for every strike that missed Zax; two more cut him between skin to bone deep. “So it turned out that you are just a little brat”. She smiled venomously, dodged a kick and struck the other end of the scythe in Zax’s stomach and chin.

    Zax growled with severe expression, the two blunt hits broke a rib and fractured his jaw. He disregarded the pain and threw a cross.

    BANG!

    The fist struck the scythe’s shaft and was blocked by the cloaked woman’s quick reaction. Though she successfully avoided damage, the force lifted her from the ground and sent her forty meters in the air.

    Zax turned his head. “Go!” He yelled again at Fengar and Vouvik who were reluctant to leave him behind, much like how Shouva could not abandon her father.

    “Sly kid!” Fengar angrily remarked at Zax for hiding his true strength and whatever more he plans.

    “Let’s hope that he has more up his sleeves!” Vouvik said to quietly.

    Following their reactions, with no other choice, after retrieving the axe the two began running, catching up with Shouva who halted her retreat since Zax’s and Fengar’s arrival. When they reached a certain distance, the three stopped and looked back.

    “Vouvik, the moment something goes wrong, more wrong… I intend to intervene. You, supply me support from the back with your roar!”

    “Um!”



    After landing on a tree’s branch, the cloaked woman jumped back. Zax’s eyes struggled to keep up with the scythe swift movement and had to use all of his senses to persevere.

    ‘Not yet, there is only one chance! Not yet!’ Zax endured.

    “That was a good punch, Musclehead, but you are seriously starting to annoy me. I wasn’t planning to go all out before the hunt in Demirva Ridge and if I’ll fail in my task, fish breath won’t shut up about it”. The cloaked woman grew more infuriated by the second.

    The longer they fought, the more Zax got accustomed to her scythe technique and the harder it was to land a decent blow.

    Zax concentrated only on evasion. It was not that he was bad at close quarters combat, on the contrary, he very much exceled in it. But the cloaked woman’s skills were way above him, even more taxing to deal with than fighting against his Master.

    Although he amassed a lot of fighting experience in the many battles he had been to, the core of Zax’s fighting skills evolved from the bodily maneuvers, and to that there was a downside and an upside…

    The drawback was that the bodily maneuvers’ objective was to foster one’s proficiency in kinetic energy utilization. Improving combat skill, helping to formulate a Martial art, those were nothing more than byproducts.

    Fortunately, by cultivating the body along with practicing the bodily maneuvers, Zax acquired an additional byproduct, a near perfect control over his body that the cloaked woman could not even come close to compare. Most important, by now Zax could scratch the surface of the last bottleneck before breaking through to the Advanced phase of the bodily maneuvers. Such results allowed him to minimize the injuries he received at the cost of focusing only on evading.

    ‘I won’t be able to break through. Don’t rely on that. If I’m lucky, then after this fight…’ As the moment drew near, his mind became sharper and other than his aim, Zax started to perceive the benefits of giving everything he had while being in a perilous situation, all the accumulation of the past peaceful years that even the Martial competition could not bring him to comprehend.

    SLASH!

    The scythe cut his chest vertically and more blood was spilled as the scorching mist energy seared the flesh.

    “How can your body be so durable? It’s damn frustrating! This game suck!” The cloaked woman complained. “Just wait, for being so irksome I’ll cut you a thousand times more even after I’ll kill you. Then, I’ll kill the two kitties. Or should I destroy their dantian and domesticate them? The dwarf, though, is too ugly even for a pet”. She downright dominated the battle, but at the same time…

    ‘Her defenses are getting lower, good!’

    First signs of dizziness due to the loss of blood were hampering Zax’s movement. Still, he was fine with it since the cloaked woman saw it as his final struggling attempt and put less attention on him further retaliating.

    WHOOSH!

    WHOOSH!

    WHOOSH!

    WHOOSH!

    The one sided battle spread through the Titan Kapok Trees, setting aflame the vegetation, cracking the earth, toppling trees.

    ‘Now!’ Zax put his plan into play.

    Kinetic energy streamed to his split right arm and converged to Kinetic Force. More and more, Zax was incapable of using his arm to fight, but he could still feel it, still channel and control the kinetic energy and Kinetic Force in it. And when completely disregarding, treating it as an expendable tool rather than a limb, he could gather Kinetic Force above and beyond his limits!

    The Kinetic Force gushed like a raging sea. In his physical domain Zax could postpone its explosiveness, however with his arm split, maintaining it from scattering was worse than swaying a full glass of water and hoping not to spill a drop.

    In mere seconds Zax surpassed the maximum capacity of Kinetic Force that he could before it will be rampant.

    Miniature booms echoed in the vicinity of his right arm, the Kinetic Force that leaked out despite his best efforts.

    The sound was almost inaudible through the clashes of the scythe with the environment and the howls of the wind, but the explosions, as small as they were, created undulations in the air that were easily noticeable for an expert at the cloaked woman’s level.

    Zax, whose body was sensitive to changes in the surrounding and was the source for the miniature booms, knew right away that he could not disguise his preparation for a counterattack anymore.

    The cloaked woman’s attention was shifting to his right arm, and that was not allowed to happen, for his sake and his three companions. He kicked for her waist!

    BANG!

    As expected, it was too obvious of an attack and once again he was blocked by the scythe’s shaft.

    ‘Now!’ He beseeched himself not to miss the opportunity and sent his split right arm in a whipping motion.

    The cloaked woman knit her brows. There was no force in the kick like her weakling opponent’s previous attacks and that confirmed her belief that he is spent, yet an ominous sensation at the back of her mind bothered her. That is when she noticed the arm she cut in two about to hit her.

    The cloaked woman spun her scythe. She could not be fast enough with the blade so she, again, used the shaft to block.

    BANG!

    The shaft collided with Zax’s upper arm. It did not matter. In the instance of the attack he stored the Kinetic Force in his forearm and hand, which continued to twist like a whip and collide with the cloaked woman’s left shoulder.

    BOOM!

    She blacked out for a fraction of a second. When she came back to it, there was nothing left of Zax’s right arm, except from an expanding eruption of invisible force that carried her off of her feet like a rocket.

    While uncontrollably being thrown into the distance, an acute pain caused the upper left side of her body to pulse and issue sounds of bones breaking and muscles tearing apart.

    For kilometers she shuttled through the forest, through the trees and even after hitting the ground she kept rolling violently.



    Zax’s entire body felt like it is about to collapse, never to get up again. Typically he could handle another round of “Soar With The Storm”, but to call the manner in which he executed it this time “reckless” was a colossal understatement!

    He tried to move his body, to use this chance to run away. He was not sure in what condition the cloaked woman is, how resilient she can further is.

    Taking half a step back, instead of finding his footing, Zax fell. Anything besides halting the blood flow was too arduous.

    “You Greenhorn scoundrel, hurry, let me help you!” A voice from behind resounded in Zax’s ears.

    Fengar supported his back, pushed him to stand up. “Come on, hold a little bit longer. Vouvik charging his roar to distract her, in case this monster of a woman will use her Soul Sense to deduce our path!”

    Zax said nothing, he barely heard Fengar, anyway. Leaning on the small fellow that returned for him, he let him carry him away.

    As the rushed to and through the darkness of the forest, from somewhere on a high place, a beam of fiery hues shot past the treetops and the nightly sky, as if it were a shooting star. And when it finally reached its target, a dome of fire erupted in crimson light, like the sun of dawn.

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