When Nyx woke up the next morning, it took him a while to realize just how badly he had needed that night’s sleep. His mind was clear, and he no longer had to fight to keep his eyes open. He hated to admit it, but his friends had been right, he had been pushing himself too far.
In the living room, it looked like Garry had tried to stay up all night, true to his word, but had fallen asleep and was now snoring, a small stain of drool on the couch by his open mouth.
Nyx noticed Matt sitting at the kitchen table looking around at the other team members, something about the way he looked at them appeared melancholy.
Nyx was surprised when Matt sighed and came over to him and reached out his hand. “Nyx, I think I owe you an apology. If there is one thing I am good at it is holding a grudge.” He smiled nervously and Nyx could tell how much of a struggle eating his pride had been.
Nyx considered the hand, realizing he would have an enemy for life if he rejected him now. He plastered on a smile accepting the shake, “fresh start?”
That night Matt and Marisa joined them for their practice session. It was immediately clear how close Nyx Gabe Dan and Garry had grown.
At first everyone was standoffish, not quite sure how to act, but as they trained, small smiles began to show. Matt joked around with Nyx and Gabe occasionally poking fun at Dan whose temper flared.
They had a small scuffle, and this time Dan came out the victor. Nyx was surprised when Matt laughed it off congratulating Dan and telling him how much he has improved in the two weeks.
Marisa was a lively, bubbly girl. She made faces when Nyx tried to be serious and show her why she couldn't cross her feet while circling.She was the only one that seemed to be able to pull Garry into conversations and was quick to laughter and smiles. A much different impression than he had gotten up to this point. She reminded him of a flitting hummingbird, always moving, always happy. He decided he liked her, and that Matt might not be a bad guy after all if a little hardheaded and stubborn.
Despite them all working as one team for the first time, there was still a rift between them. Since facing the Demon, Nyx, Garry and the brothers had bonded. Nothing could quite bring people together like collectively staring death in the face and living despite it. But still, Nyx saw that with time even Matt and Marisa could integrate becoming a strong team.
After practice, they had turned into a dimly lit passage, feet echoing off the stone floor when Nyx heard a scuffle of cloth brushing stone behind him. He didn’t sense anything but when he turned around, the old man Flint was standing there, head tilted as he regarded him with wide eyes. Nyx hid his surprise at being taken unawares by the rangy man again.
“Hello Flint,” said Nyx as his friends glanced between him and the Master quizzically.
Flint blinked slowly, regarding Nyx almost as if he had forgotten where he was. After a moment he finally broke the silence, “Ah, Nyx my boy. I'm glad I found you, would you be interested in a game of Go this fine evening? I lack a worthy opponent, and playing against myself is only fun for so long.”
Nyx shrugged apologetically following Flint who skipped down the corridor as they wound their way into the old man's office. The Go table was already set up, and soon the colored stones clinked as they began their game. Nyx was handily beaten twice but was satisfied being able to hold of the old man for longer each round.
Nyx flipped a white stone between his fingers as he contemplated his position. There were only three viable options as far as he could see, but he was learning that each option was likely a trap.
Flint interrupted his concentration, “Have you ever wondered why the demon came after your father? Why would a demon, the general of all others on earth, come for your father in particular?”
Nyx raised an eyebrow at the question "Tell me," his interest and deep burning anger rose at memories from that day.
“It’s not my place to tell,” said Flint then paused, still squatting like some strange frog on the edge of his seat. “Perhaps you should ask Gregor.”
Nyx laughed derisively. “That man hates my very existence.”
“Well, that is a conundrum isn’t it?”
Nyx knew better than to press the old man. He spoke in riddles never revealing more than he wanted, but decided to confront Gregor on the question. Nyx’s stone clacked against the game board as he placed it. Flint nodded almost as if the move was expected. Nyx had the feeling he had walked into one of Flints traps.
They played in silence for a while in silence, Nyx wasn’t sure why he decided to open up with old man Flint. Maybe it was the feeling of relaxation that had come from concentrating on the game. “Do you have this darkness inside of you?” He asked. “When something frustrates you, is there is an urge to hurt, to destroy?”
Flint didn’t respond for a while then placed his black stone cutting off a group of Nyx's white pieces, then nodded, “some wise men have contemplated the dark side of the human mind. Certain Elementalists have even gone so far as to say that the demons themselves were once just men who gave into their darkness.”
Nyx shook his head, it wasn't possible, or there would also be demons in the higher realms. “That makes no sense. Demons are nothing close to human.”
Flint shrugged his bony shoulders. “Maybe not, some also say the only way to come to terms with the darkness is by letting it free. That only then can an individual gain true understanding and power over it. One such man hypothesized that shutting it away lets it fester and grow in strength.”
Nyx nodded slowly, lost in thought, “there is a darkness inside of me, I think it was always there, but I never really noticed it till after I did something, something I regret. After the incident, it’s like it strengthened and I have to hold it back.”
There was a light in Flint's eyes, and he straightened where he squatted. “Let me explain it something like this. Have you ever known someone who is kind to the point they seem to have no opinions of their own, almost scared to speak their mind in fear of being rejected?”
“One or two.”
Flint nodded, “well, many of these people, as well as their friends and family, claim them to be good people. That’s a lie. They are not good people. These people are weak, held back by their fears. True power and goodness comes with the ability and knowledge that you can act. A good person is someone who consciously holds back even when they have the ability to cause great destruction. Not out of fear, but because they understand their darkness and what it’s capable of.”
Nyx shook his head, “I think some beasts are too dangerous to let free.”
Flint placed a piece on the board, “I don’t claim to have all the answers, just some small insights, but as the saying goes ‘a light is always brighter contrasted against the dark’.”
They lapsed into silence, Nyx considered his darkness and the effect the chaos was having on it. Flint couldn’t know about the chaos. It was not possible for him to do as the old man suggested and let the darkness free. Not in his situation.
“Are you a gambling man Nyx?”
Nyx shook his mind free of his thoughts. “I prefer to be in control of my actions. I am not partial to the idea of leaving things to chance.”
“That is an interesting view, but what do you think when I say, just as everyone is a player in the ultimate game, everyone is also a gambler?”
“I would say that gambling implies leaving yourself bound by ‘luck.’” He said spitting the word.
Flint nodded, “but don’t you see, whenever you make a decision, aren’t you gambling that it will have the desired outcome?”
Nyx spoke slowly, organizing his thoughts. “No, maybe luck only exists for those who have no concept of the greater games being played. When they make a decision, it is like tossing a dandelion seed into the wind. But when a true player makes a choice, it is calculated, directly assisting them to achieve their desired outcome.”
Flint nodded, “and what if that knowledgeable player bets wrong?”
“Well, then it still isn’t ‘luck’ that made him lose. It’s just a miscalculation that he will learn from and fix for future plays.”
Flint placed his stone and Nyx realized he had lost yet again, Flint got up and ushered him out of his office. “Well since you are not fond of luck, I would advise you to be gone on the night you see red.”
"What’s that supposed to mean?” Asked Nyx, looking down on the whisp of a man gaze growing hard.
Flint smiled disarmingly not looking in the least bit concerned. “Relax my boy, it is just a friendly tip. I’m sure you will understand in time.” then he shut the door not waiting for a response.
The whitewashed walls of the freezer building glowed with security lights illuminating its front. The downpour had intensified, Nyx windshield wipers worked at the highest setting to keep visibility. He parked in front of the building. The rumbling of the Mustang's engine stilled as Nyx removed the key from the ignition.
The rain outside the car soaked him through rapidly as he unlocked and entered the building. Sensors illuminated fluorescent bulbs overhead as he walked down the white hall. Nobody else was stupid enough to come to check their frozen goods at night in the middle of a storm. His was the only car parked out front.Reaching his unit, he entered shutting the door turning to face the trash bag covered corpse.
Probing the body, Nyx was pleased to note that there had been limited leakage of the demons Chi. He smiled, even with the intervention and taking a night off, he had managed it. This would be sufficient once combined with heavenly Chi to push him through to the next level of Basic.
Taking off his sopping clothing, Nyx sat in his boxer briefs facing the mummified corpse. Carefully he pricked the blocked pores on the cadaver. The demon Chi flowed out pooling on the ground in a thick glowing mass of red. The entire area was dyed an eerie shade of swirling maroon.
Nyx began to draw in the Chi, running it through his system. His breathing intensified teeth clenched bearing the pain. Pops and crackling came from his body as the Chi refined it before entering his core.
Time passed, the pool of red shrinking till it was all absorbed, running through Nyx's meridians. In his core the Chaotic Chi, as though sensing the malevolence next to it, began a relentless assault sending occasional shocks through Nyx's system. Without having to use his soul, Nyx could detect the strength of the demon's presence diminishing under the onslaught.
The demonic Chi he had access to was much more plentiful. He had cultivated enough for a breakthrough but still needed more heavenly.
Entering his mind sea, Nyx faced what remained of the malevolence. It was only a shadow of the presence he had encountered the past couple times. An image started to form, but he was sitting half naked, wet, in a freezer. He wasn't in the mood to see what horrors the demon wanted him to re-live. With a thought, the weakened specter before him burst apart in a blinding flash of white light.
The chaotic Chi in Nyx's core calmed once the demonic energy fell under his control. He found that as the chaotic Chi in his core swelled, so did his drive to destroy. He sat in silence calming his breathing and wresting the drive under control.
Seated in front of the soulstone, Nyx began to draw in the white mist of the heavenly Chi. It was relaxing, he couldn't help but release a sigh of comfort as it massaged its way through his system. A robe was lying on the ground nearby. He didn't want to destroy more of his clothes. Time began to bleed together, it seemed to flow differently when in the meditative state that was necessary for cultivation. He directed all the energy to run through his body correctly before entering his core.
This time as it pooled in his core, Nyx experienced something new; it was almost as though the chaos inside was developing an awareness. As the heavenly Chi entered his core, the chaos siphoned off equal parts of demon Chi and spun them together in a whirl of energy.
The newly created chaotic Chi crackled, before joining with the mass of already existing black and white lightning. Nyx would no longer have to mold the heavenly and demonic Chi himself; the chaos had taken over that responsibility. It appeared it could not wait patiently for him to bolster its ranks. He was sure that soon he wouldn’t need to destroy the malevolence after cultivating demonic Chi either.
He could feel his cultivation on the verge of expanding, pushing on an invisible barrier until finally, it swelled in a burst. A Boom reverberated as his core pushed past that barrier, breaking through to the third level of Basic. With its expansion, the space inside had more than doubled. He had now reached the third level of basic.
Nyx breathed hard, hands clenched keeping his eyes closed. Cords of muscle writhed like snakes as their density increased and his whole body ached even his bones, tendons and organs. In moments it was all complete. He had done it and was now ready.