Book 7 – Ercas Mir
Chapter 21 – Cinder Mercenary Band
Zax’s attention on the party of five, below the mound, waned after his warning statement. He silently remained in his place, scrutinizing the three wraiths, particularly the one the chased.
He was infatuated with the dark attribute’s essence after so much exposure to its fluctuations, and partly aware of it. He knew that his judgment is affected, probably for the worse, yet pushed this thought to the back of his mind. If he recalled his eventful past, then he would have realized that it is not the first time he was driven, almost uncontrollably, as if possessed.
It happened to him as a child, when the first Black Core drew him to it. It was easy to understand how he lost himself, back then; it was basically entrenched to his soul with him being the result of an experiment by the clone of the previous Black Cores’ owner.
Now, though, the question left unanswered was whether he was yet again drawn by some other ordinance ingrained into him for anything that might enhance his candidacy as an inheritor of “Legacy Of The One’s Path”, or just overly influenced by the awesome power of an object, the dark attribute’s essence, that is far beyond his comprehension.
‘Fight, get weaker, kill. Three, even two is too much. This time, before the last one standing raises its vigilance toward us and before his suicidal tendency dissipated, that’s when I’ll strike!’ Zax calculated the right moment to launch a certain kill attack.
“Who the hell are you to command us?!” Oleg shouted. “A cripple and a midget aren’t qualified to look down on the Cinder mercenaries!”
“Enough, Oleg!” Luze berated. Of the five person party, she was the sole one to maintain reserved countenance after listening to Zax.
Oleg was the youngest in the party, but related by blood to one of the four commanders in Cinder mercenary band which they all were part of, which was usually the source of his confidence around strangers.
The other four women in the party were veterans in Cinder mercenary band, but the shaven, bulky and old woman, although being quiet, had discontent expressions.
‘The short one is not a threat, Beginner third level Core Master… By cultivation level, Carina and Rosalina can both at least match him. But the one armed guy… He looks young, even younger than Oleg. Moreover, unlike the short one, I didn’t sense mist fluctuations from him when they showed up, and yet he seems to be in the lead!’ Luze quickly gauged the situation.
“Luze, the wraiths…” The bulky woman, Rosalina, hinted. As she mentioned the damned creatures, the rest, following Luze, also shifted their gazes to where Zax and Fengar were already looking.
“A wraith actually died and the glowing dark attribute’s essence in its head vanished with it!” The shaven Carina exclaimed.
“The other two sustain heavy injuries and continue to fight, this might be a chance!” Oleg said outloud in delight.
His carelessness resounded in Zax’s ears, arousing his kill intent.
“You haven't left, yet?” Zax’s voice was sharp; one could feel bloodthirstiness in it.
The five party members ceased staring at the two wraiths. The threat in Zax’s mannerism was almost tangible. His focus on the five revealed his willingness to fight to the death without an ounce of concern regarding the opponents’ strength.
Although the ridge was couple of levels above the typical jobs the five took as mercenaries, with regards to life and death battles, not even the little bit juvenile, Oleg, was lacking his fair share.
Zax’s killing intent did not startle the five, at most just mildly alerted them and forecasted what may imminently occur.
“Luze, if this is chance to obtain a dark attribute’s essence…” The old woman, the first to compose her temperament to a battle ready state, spoke in a low voice.
“Keep an eye for other experts”. Zax told the observant Fengar, as he began to descend the mound in unhurried strides.
“Luze, my great uncle… anyone of the commanders and most of all, the leader will amply reward us if we return with a wraith’s dark attribute’s essence!” Oleg urged to retract the decision to retreat and instead pursue the same goal as the two strangers, even if it means to start a fight.
Two auras erupted before Luze gave her response. The old woman and Oleg both had a frosty blue aura, meaning they integrated icy attribute’s essence to their soul and mist energy.
“The wraith will soon finish their battle, Luze. Taking into consideration that these people appeared as if they chased a wraith, I suspect that the wraith will choose to escape than face us in a weakened state. It is an opportunity we cannot pass! Carina, Rosalina, you as well must not hesitate!”
The old woman’s aura blew cold winds, freezing the ground beneath her feet.
‘A Peak second level Core Master, two Beginner third level Core Masters and two Advanced third level Core Masters’. Zax measured, not oblivious to the fact that the old woman and the one named Luze will be most difficult to handle, even dangerous if he will not watch out for himself.
“Aunt Belkis is right!” Rosalina said as her purple aura flourished with an essence of electric attribute.
Carina followed suit with a radiance of fiery red aura, not bothering convincing the party’s leader like the other three. Enough was said.
Luze gritted her teeth exasperatedly. The four were too impulsive. Yes, the pay will be beyond their wildest dreams and to win it they must act fast, that is, not worry about attracting attention with the display of their aura. Nevertheless, the opponent still walked toward nonchalantly, not uttering a word of help to his short friend.
A dark azure light burst from Luze’s delicate physique, the shade of an attribute less third level Core Master’s aura.
The dark azure aura momentarily took Zax by surprise. In New Earth experts with attribute were fairly rare, but in Ercas Mir, nearly every expert, Core Master and above, possessed an attribute. The lack of attribute placed Luze second in strength in the party, after the old woman, Belkis, but Zax knew first hand, a Peak Core Master can use any attribute’s essence as the catalyst to break through the third realm and become Martial Mortal! He suspected that this is Luze’s aim.
‘It still might not be that simple, seeing that most Core Master I met chose to use an attribute early in their Martial Path. Ginlin’s aptitude was most likely mutated, too, to attempt that feat… or possibly everyone with a bit of cultivating talent in New Earth can try this method and this is why the five powers are interested in us’. Zax assumed and stop thinking about it, he reached the base of the mound!
Zax, Luze and Belkis practically moved at the same time.
Luze caressed her spatial ring and in a smooth motion swung her arm, her hand clenched at the hilt of a Celtic looking sword as the sharp edge split the air as the entire blade shone with azure hue.
Belkis did not use a weapon. Her palms stretched forward, on each were drawn weirdly shaped symbols. Minute ice crystals formed around her wrists, looking exactly like the symbols on her palms, which began to glow in the same blue as her aura.
Zax’s left arm muscles bulged, Kinetic Force swirled around it and its focal point at his fist.
His figure suddenly disappeared, appearing next to Belkis. This was not an attempt to attack, but a test. After the fight with Cattelin he learnt deeply the value of restraint.
Luze had a dazed look on her face. She initiated the first assault, her sword’s trajectory should have been impossible to evade, yet when the edge was about to slice that overbearing young man, it only managed to cut air!
Zax’s pause allowed Belkis the time to realize his position by her side. She, too, was stunned. ‘What freak speed was that?’ To someone at her level, Martial Mortals were the only experts her eyes should struggle to keep up with.
She waved her hands, the symbols around them connected, creating two formations. ‘Is he hiding his mist purposely?’ As she wondered, the temperature in a radius of fifty meters around her slumped instantly and layers of frost covered the ground.
Enough time passed for Zax to assess the capabilities of his main opponents. ‘Slow and mediocre, not worthy of that woman’. He compared them to Cattelin and they both fell short.
The icy domain assaulted him, but was not profound enough to do further than coating his skin, allover except his left arm, with a thin layer of ice.
The fist connected with Belkis’s ribcage.
“Aunt Belkis!” Three voices shouted anxiously. Everything happened too fast for Oleg, Carina and Rosalina to react.
The old Belkis flew and slammed a mountainside tens of meters away. She felt half her body exploding, the rest forcefully trying to remain intact by her icy mist energy. ‘No! I can’t die! The icy attribute’s essence was meant to help me pass the High Rankers' trials! I can still endure, I…’ Her consciousness faded. The vast experience she accumulated over the years allowed her instinctively to hardily preserve her vitals, though for how long was unknown.
An azure shine approached Zax from behind, the edge of a long blade.
Luze’s sword struck Zax’s palm and astonishingly was grabbed without a hint of even causing a scratch.
Zax smiled in satisfaction. This was not an attempt to show off. Since meditating on the insights he gained from the fight with Cattelin he wanted to enrich his control over kinetic energy and Kinetic Force in hopes that it will take him closer to breaking through the Advance phase of the bodily maneuvers.
His idea, despite him already implementing in the past, was to more use Kinetic Force as if mist energy.
When he noticed Luze’s sword, the mist energy and the blade enchanted with it were indeed taken as a mighty combination, thus, he could not bluntly counter it.
First, he used Kinetic Force to offset the momentum of the sword. Second, he let it flow, collide and disperse along Luze’s mist energy. Third, as the blade was left with no aggressive properties he grabbed it.
‘This was a mistake!’ Luze deduced and let go of the hilt in retreat. ‘He is actually a bodily cultivator, furthermore, with speed and strength comparable to Martial Mortals!’
Her sword was precious to her, but not as much as her life, which is why she did not risk pulling it from Zax’s grip.
Zax did not care that the other side lose their fighting spirit. She and the rest were still present here; hence a viable hindrance to obtaining the dark attribute’s essence.
Appearing and arching his right leg above Luze’s head, he went for the kill.
Her life flashing before her eyes, Luze plead and dispel her mist energy to display her surrender.
Zax’s heel stopped millimeters from Luze’s forehead. The battle of the two wraiths reached its climax. Soon, one will be no more and the other will expose a very short, very small opening. He was had sufficient clarity to avoid senseless slaughter and be aware of his priorities.
“Leave”. He told Luze. Should she or any of her companions dare to negotiate, say something out of place, he will kill them then and there.
Luze saw the shadow of death passing over her and from fear nearly fell. ‘I- I- I was dead!’ For a moment it seemed to be truly so. Flustered, she tried to muster her strength to no avail.
Carina arrived to support her. Rosalina and Oleg went to help Belkis. Regardless how much hatred and dismay they had for Zax, no one said a word.
As Zax continued to wait for this opportunity, Luze and her party departed in disgrace.
“The lapse in judgment was caused by greed nearly cost us our lives”. As she leaned on Carina, Luze said quietly to herself, but the rest could still hear. “If that man did not show us mercy… Now, I’m not even sure if we can pass the trials…” She turned to look at Belkis, even more so unsure if they will be able to return as many as they left.
“It’s not over”. Oleg said insufferably. They advanced far enough to not be heard by Zax even if they did not whisper. “When we’ll leave the ridge I’ll notify my great uncle, tell him that some arrogant fellow stood in our way of obtaining a wraith’s dark attribute’s essence”.
“I can’t! This guy must pay for what he did to aunt Belkis and you!”
Oleg was stubborn and Luze knew it, so she did not add.
‘The four commanders are all first level Martial Mortals. If that man will obtain the dark attribute’s essence and manage to improve his cultivation with it… I must inform leader, to decide if it’s worth to make an enemy out of hm!’