Chapter 20 – Choose, Staying Or Leaving?
At the time of his dormancy, Zax’s friends came to visit him on several occasions. Apart from those he grouped with in the Great Earth’s Core Pursuit, only a handful of Zax’s former schoolmates had visit him, but of the seven whom he got closer to during the event, each and every one of them came to visit him as often as he or she could.
At the week that Zax woke up, Laylen and Marco invited his loyal and caring group of friends to surprise their dispirited son. It took a little effort since the fourth school year has already started for Zax’s friends and due to their luck of being in the same group with Zax, they all were accepted to prestige post Core Schools. Anet was even summoned for review in one of the Three Martial Schools of Kingdom Earth, El-Eden’s best and only Martial school for coreless children, “Eden Formation”, and ended up receiving a two years scholarship in their post Core Program!
When Anet arrived with the others, she even wore the white and azure uniforms of Eden Formation, which used the same grading system as Molten Core, the darker the shades of the uniforms the higher the grade of the student. Anet wore a lighter shade of uniforms, but the golden elaborate formation on her shoulder, the school’s symbol which emphasized the mental acuity of its students, made her look sublime.
Zax could not bear seeing his friends. In his lowest moment, the closest someone was to him the harder it was to face them and with his seven closest friends it was the hardest. That is why he acted rebelliously toward his big sister and parents, while toward strangers and distant family members he acted aloof.
First time seeing his friends after waking up, Zax felt like the dimmest Sun Stone on the cave’s ceiling. When some of them, such as Anet, Serah, Dane and Weysey, so emotionally hugged him, their soft and warm embrace made his lungs to shrink and his affection for them to regress to the deepest part of his heart.
The seven knew of Zax’s condition. They knew of his ability to use Qi and of his E level Earth’s Core, therefore representatives of the event’s committee came to their homes to ask of them to not disclose this matter with anyone. Their parents even had to sign a confidentiality document and when Zax’s friends will reach the age of adulthood they will also have to sign a similar document.
As ten years olds, Zax friends did not know how to conduct themselves in the presence of a friend who gave them so much only to end up as a cripple – a comparison that they either heard from their parents or figured out on their own after a few days in their new schools. They asked who he was, can he go out to play, if he wants to see the new updates on Mocca Kart, if he can eat snacks since “I brought some” Weysey said…
Zax sat on the living room’s floor and leaned on the living room’s table. With every question of his friends a growing discomfort emerged in his heart. His responses were also nor positive and not entirely negative, but they caused his friends to feel like their company was undesirable.
To try and dissolve his remote atmosphere, Zax attempted to better socialize by returning the same questions to his friends. That did help to improve the air around the small gathering that his parents arranged. The mood lifted so much that at a certain point Zushi praised and bragged that last month Anet became an E level Mist User and he and Dane were not so far behind.
This revelation was the source of the following distance between Zax and his friends. He was happy for them, he cared for them, but he also envied their blinding glow.
In an emotional breakdown Zax made his mind to stay away before he will do or say something that will hurt his friends, his big sister and his parents. If his future as a Mist User was sealed, then he will concentrate on the only thing that was left, his soul. And if in the far future he will achieve any perceptible achievement, enough to make him accept the path he unintentionally brought upon himself, then he will seek the strength to repent toward those whose love for him he discounted.
September sixth, year 5786.
Zax left grandma Shi Oh’s and grandpa Shi Chin’s small apartment after lunch. He used public transportation to get as close as he could to where is big sister’s apartment building was and continued onward straight into cave zero eight.
Hidden within a grove Zax sat cross legged with eyes closed. Almost a year and a half has passed since he naturally broke through the juncture to level F and a year after he woke up at the Beginner phase of level D, he managed to reach the next critical juncture in his training, and the first to every Mist User, the bottleneck to level C.
Since Zax did not want to be taken care of even by his beloved big sister, he stopped going to her apartment and as a result, stopped training in the Inner Spirit Formation. In the past year Zax’s method of training was self meditation and a few months after he awakened Zax made a breakthrough to the next phase that came after Somnolence Meditation, “Adraak Meditation”.
Although Zax did not have to benefits of the external help that soul refining techniques, such as the Inner Spirit Formation, supply, the next phase of meditation had its own pros that the Inner Spirit Formation could not provide him.
When exercising in Adraak Meditation Zax’s whole senses were engulfed by a void sphere that was similar to the one he experienced when he found the Black Core. In a way, the void sphere that the Black Core turned his Soul Sense into could be considered as the root to Zax’s breakthrough in meditation.
Inside the void sphere the only sense of existence Zax had originated from his conscious mind. That was because the purpose of the Adraak Meditation was to utterly separate oneself from the outside world, even memories of it, and enrich the soul by uncovering the intimate spiritual knowledge from the subliminal mind. Generally, the more profound and insightful the intimate spiritual knowledge is, the more demanding it is to cultivate it, obviously the more prosperous the results are as well.
In rare occurrences where a child reaches the phase of Adraak Meditation, he or she would be told by their Mor – a good Mor, that is – to keep training in Somnolence Meditation. The reason for it is rational and in most cases cannot be refute. It is the basic understanding that even if a child can learn the secrets of the subliminal mind, the mind itself is still undeveloped. The subliminal mind absorbs its knowledge from the outside world of its owner. If the owner is immature and lack eventful life, naturally the intimate spiritual knowledge of the subliminal mind will not be profound or insightful. Hastily tempering the soul in Adraak Meditation and in a young age will be the same to picking a fruit before its ripe, one will have fast accomplishments but in the long run it will show itself as wasteful and hinder future progress.
Zax, however, had no one to teach him the consequences of training in Adraak Meditation. On the other hand, no other child in Kingdom Earth experienced the epiphany Zax did.
The instant Zax broke through to the phase of Adraak Meditation; he encountered a minuscule piece of information from his subliminal mind, a piece that seemed like part of an immeasurable puzzle, yet somewhat contained boundless profundity.
The piece was a fragment of the entity Zax saw when the Black Core entered his body. In his training Zax studied the piece for hours at a time, days if his parents would have let him. In his mind it was a clear picture that revealed only numerous hues of black, blending into an undefined mess. At first look it was the same as a bland screensaver of an old computer’s screen. On a second look, with further investigation, one would notice the depth of the piece and its inimitable abundant.
There was no time limit to how much Zax could stare at the piece. But since the results depended on his perception, days could come and gone without him undergoing improvement or a few seconds of initial probing, right after sitting on his buttock, will show up as productive. Sometimes, as a sign of success in his training, a vibration will occur in Zax’s soul and after it he could see something new in the piece, new shade of black, new pattern of the moving hues, new depth that he had not perceived before and so on…
By making new discoveries in his training, Zax’s soul improved in both quality and quantity of its energy, and because of the mysterious piece that was part of a higher entity, in terms of quality Zax already reached the purity of a Core Breaker’s soul. After he will break through from the top phase of level D, who knows how far he will be able to advance in his meditation and then how pure will be his soul!
Finishing training, Zax proceeded to a correlated activity… tackling the impenetrable juncture to level C from every direction possible.
As a result of surpassing the juncture to level F all on his own, Zax gain a sort of familiarity with the ambiguous presence of a bottleneck, a feeling only Mist User who broke through level D to level C get to know. Although the juncture to level C was as tough if not tougher as the juncture to level F, Zax was not stressed by its weight.
In Zax’s sea of consciousness the bottleneck took the form of a white barrier. To transcend beyond it Zax tried to demolish the barrier with soul attacks, experimenting with his Soul Sense, probing it the same way he probed the piece of the entity. When he failed Zax hoped that all he needed his further training, more meditation. The problem was that the more his soul energy increased in quantity, the slower his progress in training was, as if the barrier compelled him to break through it if he wanted to make advancements.
“AHHHH!” Zax yelled in frustration. “Break! Break! Break! Break!” He continued yelling and punched the ground. This behavior was his daily display of despairing. “What I’m missing? My training is at its limit! The white barrier… I surveyed every centimeter of it! My soul is a hundred times stronger than it was a year ago! What else do I need?!”
Even though he was within a beasts’ cave, Zax was not afraid from beast hearing him. From the first place cave zero eight was not prone to have many types of beasts in it and even less territorial beasts. During his training, when enclosed inside the void sphere, Zax’s Soul Sense would activate itself on and off and emit its mightiness; much like how to torn tail of a lizard keeps moving after it has been separated from the body. Since the quality of Zax’s soul was that of a Core Breaker and within the void sphere he would lose contact with his sense, his Soul Sense also would lose all restraint and make itself known to any who enter its domain of two hundred meters – the increase in length was, of course, due to Zax advancements in the past year.
Any beast that will stride into the domain of Zax’s Soul Sense would get the impression that an existence at the Core Breaker level lurks inside the grove. Due to this Zax could yell to his heart's content and no beast would dare to bother him.
“You can come out now”. After he calmed down Zax got up on his feet and turn his head to the right. “Congratulations, big sis, for becoming a Mist Lord”.
Out of the dense flora Zetsa emerge with a complicated expression on her face. In the past year her relationship with her little brother got colder whenever they met with each other. Zax was the one to initiate the cold atmosphere. At first she was not willing to unknot their bond, but in time, whenever she attempted to get closer to her little brother, it would backfire and the next time they will meet he would try to avoid her even more. She knew that it was the same with his friends and their parents, but with their parents, since Zax still depended on them, the aloofness got to a halt.
Now, Zetsa came to the place where she was probably the only one to know that her little brother will be training in. cave zero eight. When she found out months ago that he returned to the beasts’ cave, she did not confront him. Instead she watched over him from afar. Nowadays, she let him train alone.
“Little Zi, it’s too early, I’m still a step away from the Mist Lord level, only my soul reached it”.
“Little Zi…” Her voice resonated in Zax’s head. He was aware of the pain he causes his beloved ones, and seeing the one whom in her heart he knew his place was at the epicenter… Zax wanted to ran to his big sister and beg her forgiveness.
Zax withheld his swaying heart. Training did not tire him, but trying to surpass the white barrier did, so he had to exert himself to control his emotions.
“Is there something…?” Zax asked softly.
Zetsa did not answer immediately. She found a place to sit, on a bulky root that breached the ground and was large enough for three to four grown men.
“Come here, Zax. If you finished training for the day come sit by my side”.
“Zax” not “little Zi”, was how she called him, and with this little change the tone of her voice also changed from the sweet and loving to the severe and sharp. Whether a year or a hundred, Zax could not disregard that tone of voice. He obeyed and joined her on the root.
‘I sensed your progress, Zax. Without the support of an Earth’s Core you made it to the top of level D and the quality of your soul have already made it past it. I can tell that you are training in the next phase of meditation. Do you know its name?”
“No”. Zax answered, slightly shocked. Was he so easy to read or was it because she was his big sister?
“The phase after Somnolence Meditation is called “Adraak Meditation”. I never thought that you will reach it so fast. I, myself, spent five years of training before reaching that phase”.
“Five years?” Zax repeated in his head, while feeling a sense of gratification.
“And yet I keep training in Somnolence Meditation till this day”.
Zetsa next words startled Zax out of his short moment of accomplishment. He could not help but ask. “Why?”
And then she told him, explained what he would have known if his heart was not weak and his mind was not set.
“But this evidently doesn’t apply to you, does it?” Zetsa smiled as if she read his mind.
“I don’t think so”. Zax shook his head and did not hide anything. What was the point?
“I guessed it, that your subliminal mind may possess something special, it had to, considering the condition of you Qi channels. That is why I didn’t interfere”.
“It’s a piece of something that’s related to the Black Core”. Zax voluntarily confessed.
“Another secret of our underground world…” Zetsa sighed.
“Secret? You know anything about it?!” Zax nearly jumped back up. His inner mind instantly pondered the value of such information. Additional knowledge about the small piece could lead him to a breakthrough!
“In Adraak Meditation you have to uncover the spiritual knowledge on your own. Others, too, can only give you another perspective, if they share the same experiences, but it’s best for you to find different outlooks independently. Ultimately, it is your subliminal mind that you meditate on”.
“Hm…” Zax thought about and accepted Zetsa’s advice. With a few words she made the remnants feeling of today’s failure disappear. “Ah?” Something clicked to him.
“Big sis, what did you mean by “secret”?” Could it be? The reason for her coming to see him… Was it his clogged Qi channels?
“Oh!” Zetsa waved her hand in deny. “Nothing for you to know. Don’t think too much, and it’s time for me to get into why I searched for you”.
“It’s not about me Qi channels…” Zax’s spike in expectation diminished his mood. It was his fault for bringing the subject up, even if he did not say it aloud.
“Little Zi, remember when you woke up and we had the conversation of what would be the preferable path of your future cultivation?”
“My soul”. Zax answered as the memory resurfaced. His letdown roused his isolated demeanor, so much that he missed the change of how Zetsa referred to him.
“Lift your eyes, little Zi, can you really not stand looking at me?” She grabbed his arm and pulled his closer. “Did becoming a Mist User really meant to you more than all the people you isolated?!” She reprimanded and made his raise his head.
Zax’s cheeks were red and his eyes teary. Who else but his big sister could make him look like that? “I don’t want others to look down on me”. He said back with cracking voice.
“No one is looking down on you, Zax!” Zetsa’s complexion also reddened, but while Zax was driven by low self esteem, Zetsa was driven by her anger for her little brother’s behavior.
“You pity me… I look down on myself!” Zax poured out his heart.
Hearing his inner thoughts, his sorrowful confession, Zetsa realized something. “He isolated himself from his true feelings, too!” Under her grip she felt his useless resistance. “It’s good, it’s good”, she took him close to her bosom. “You can cry”. She said inaudibly, and he did.
When Zax body stopped shacking Zetsa loosen her hold, but not exactly let to get away from her.
“Zax, I got an offer for you”, her breath hit his face like a warm breeze that cleanse it from the dry tears. “I told you in the past that the soul is your path and your Qi is forever gone, Zax. But those are only two aspects. Your body is the third one I said nothing about”.
Zax listened without saying or asking. “The body…” He only thought while resting in her arms. From what was known throughout the kingdom, the soul, the Qi and then the mist were the only cultivatable aspects. “Cultivating the body…!” It did not require a genius mind to figure that on the Martial path cultivating the body could be another method to become stronger. He quietly continued to listen.
“There is another path, the path of the body, Zax”. Zetsa confirmed, and as she did, she noticed the increasing pace of Zax’s beating heart. “Are you willing to look at me calmly now?”
In her arms Zax lifted his head. “It’s harsh, Zax, the most painful thing that one can experience. It is a path only handful in all of New Earth dare venture. Nonetheless, it does exist, it exists and it is mightier than any other path, but not here, Zax”.
“I’m willing. Where?” Zax asked, afterwards Zetsa finally let him loose completely.
“I mean it, Zax. My Master leading me on this path, he is leading since I was in your age, and yet I’m falling behind, crawling at the lowest level of hell”. A look of bewilderment and distress seemed for a moment on Zetsa’s face.
“I’m willing”. Zax repeated despite the warnings, not even caring why now she chose to mention it. “Where?”
“This place has rules, Zax, if I’ll take you there only my Master can let you leave”.
“Big sis, I’m willing!”
“Zax! Don’t be hardheaded and actually think before answering! I, too, am willing. I’ll take you there if that’s what you really want, but not unless you think!” Zetsa scolded.
“Say it again, big sis, what I need to know”. For a path out of his misery, a path that can compensate for his inability to his Qi or mist energy, even if Zax knew that acted impulsively, he would still keep saying the same thing.
“Cultivating the body won’t make your strength inferior to those who cultivate their mist. On the same level of cultivating no Mist User will be your equal, even if they’ll come at you one against a hundred”. It was not within Zetsa intention to just talk about the bad. The advancements of body cultivation deserved a lot of praises, but the perils of the method deserved countless warning.
“However, whether if you succeed or not on this path, you will become a monster. The only different is that by failing, it will be a dead monster. Bear in mind, Zax, the method, the bodily refining technique my Master developed, its principal is growing through pain, the utmost pain that you can suffer. It pushes you to the edge of life and death, it won’t kill you, but it can make you long for death. It’s either making it through hell or dying…”
“Moreover, my Master will never approve of you giving up because it’s too hard or will let you go before you will reach a certain level of accomplishment. Three years, that’s how long it would take before you will be allowed to leave, see our family, your friends, everyone but me. Till then you will be bound to one place where escaping means death. After all this, are you, from the bottom of your heart, willing to take this path?”
Not as before, Zax thought of what Zetsa told him. Was he prepared to not isolate, but leave completely all the people in his life apart from his big sister? To risk his life on a path knew nothing about? Did he not have any other way to reface his dreams in concur them? If there was it either passed him or move to slow for him to bear.
“Is that so…” Zetsa had her doubts. She would have had them no matter what; therefore she did not try to persuade Zax again.
“Yes! So can you tell me now where it is and why you didn’t offer this path for me before?”
“To train you in my Master’s method I have to first bring you to him. To get his permission I had to reach the Mist Lord level with my soul and even that was a compromise on his side. And the last thing, my answer to your ongoing question… It’s within a cave in the beasts’ territory”.
“Ah! You are taking me to the beasts’ territory?”
“Aren’t we already here?” Zetsa joked. She got up from the root and pulled Zax by the hand to stand next to her. “Let’s go. I already talked with mom and dad. You should tell them goodbye”.
“Now? We are leaving today?”
“We can’t waste time. We should go to my Master before he will change his mind about letting me bring you. Oh! And don’t get surprised by my Master appearance”.
“Why? Is your master a b-”