Chapter 8: Pursuing Earth's Cores
"Now then, the fourth and last rule..." The disciplinary supervisor nocked on the lectern. "No one is allowed to venture outside of your residency. To those of you who have difficulties to understand, you cannot leave to compound we are currently in. And once you will be divided and transferred to the two square buildings, you cannot leave them, either, without permission! There will not be farther explanations. Disobey any of the four rules and think of it as if you brought upon yourselves the wrath of Supreme Rulers! " The disciplinary supervisor turned and left the compound with his last warning still roaming in the air.
From start to finish the elderly disciplinary supervisor did not say anything regarding fights, thefts or even grouping many against one during the "Hunt", as he named the pinnacle part of the "Great Earth's Core Pursuit". Only the participants who were in organized group took notice of it, some wondering, others secretly rejoicing. Of course, the seven representative Guardians already knew the reason why the disciplinary supervisor did not say anything about these conducts. Regardless of the young participants' success rate in this event, in the end there will not be a child who will not have an Earth's Core. So why not? Why not add a little bit more challenge besides the required luck? The earlier these children will learn how to safeguard their fortune, the more they will deserve to keep it.
There were not any quarrels or arguments about bottom bunk beds or who showers first when the representative Guardians finished helping the girls settle in the second floor and afterwards left the compound.
In eight o'clock in the evening, after snacking on some of their rotations, Zax and the thousands other boys and girls received one nutrition tablet, each, from a group of fifty or so stuff members which came by the compound and had white ribbons hanging from their shoulders to their waist, which read in brown letter: "GECP SERVING STAFF".
The tablets were orange with smooth surface and seemed easy enough to swallow.
"Listen, everyone, the nutrition tablets that you received should last you for twenty four hours. You should take them on an empty stomach tomorrow morning, so if you brought food with you, either eat it now or after the event, otherwise you'll feel nausea and abdominal pains. If some of you still can't swallow tablets, it is fine to also chew on them or drink them with water, however the taste will be awfully bitter so be aware and don't waste them by spiting them out. Eat them and your energy will last till the end of your search". One stuff member on each floor explained to the groups of boys and girls. When the stuff members finished distributing the nutrition tablets they bid the young participants good night and a bountiful search.
The next morning at four o'clock, thousands of snack wrappers were thrown around the compound. The representative Guardians who came to gather their groups were momentarily stunned by the sight of so much littering. It appeared that during the night someone managed to jam the compound trash chutes, all twenty in the boys' floor.
The seven representative Guardians sighed in union. The disciplinary supervisor will rebuke them no doubt.
"Participants of cave eighty seven, get yourself organized and ready to leave..."
"Participants of cave three collect your backpacks and get ready to leave..."
"Participants of cave one hundred and forty one, you have ten minutes to get organized..."
The seven representative Guardians led their groups in seven long lines to the entrance of tunnel three hundred and twelve.
Tunnel three hundred and twelve was extremely large! At least three hundred meters wide and two hundred and fifty meters tall. Its length from cave one hundred and thirty nine to cave zero thirty nine was also no joke, about seven hundred meters. A white partition of identical length split the tunnel into two sides, one for the returning participants of the previous day who came in bunches, the other for the new participants and their leading representative Guardians.
Zax and his group of eight converged at the head of the row they were part from during the long walk to the other side of the tunnel.
"Did you take the nutrition tablets, Zax?" Zetsa asked.
To not seem partial she tilted her head toward the rest of the group. She did so even though she was not obligated to do more than her representative Guardian's duties, which were similar to the event's Guardians' duties.
"Not yet". Zax answered.
"Good. Take it two hours after the beginning of the search". Zetsa respond.
"Seriously, Zax, how lucky of you to have a Mist Master for an elder sister". Merly babbled.
"Did he say... ?!"
Not many of cave twenty five's participants knew of the special relationship between one of their peers and their representative Guardian. Because of their parents they all knew that Zetsa was actually "Miss Zetsa", a B level Mist User, Mist Master, capable of appraising the density of the mist inside an Earth's Core and determine its quality. Hearing what that one boy said to that other boy, who were both clenched together with six other kids, about Zetsa, a Mist Master, all the close by participants from cave twenty five wanted to puke their guts from envy.
"That boy ... was "Zax" his name? Is he Miss Zetsa's little brother?!"
"Why didn't you try to approach him?!"
"How should I have known?!"
"That boy is cute, kinda..."
"Crap, it looks like he is already in a group!"
"See how they walk close to each other ... Try convincing him to join us".
"That girl is not his girlfriend, is she?"
"I'm much prettier than that one, urgh..."
"You try! Argh ... he is avoiding stares, he can hear us, how pathetic are we..."
"You're pathetic! He freaking has a Mist Master to his disposal!"
Silent whispers escalated to loud whimpers. Soon every participant knew about and cursed that one kid from cave twenty five who was the little brother of a Mist Master representative Guardian. Luckily, not everyone was sure who the specific boy everybody talked about was since there were thousands all around them.
In Zax's group of eight, seven pairs of eyes looked at Merly with furious expressions.
"Argh ... I'm sorry everyone!" Merly lowered his flushed cheeks. "But ... but ... now that they know that Zax is Miss Zetsa's little brother, maybe nobody will mess with our group". Merly did not have the same level of sharpness and adulation as Zushi or the confidence to look at his friends' eyes as he made up the excuse.
"They can still follow us and grab the Earth's Cores on our path before we do. Do you think Miss Zetsa is the kind of person to threaten children if that'll happen?" Dane said.
"But they don't know-"
"Yeah, I'll bet some of them will be willing to try their chances anyway. Miss Zetsa as her own duties in this event..."
The group's internal conversation was in low voices so that others will not listen. However, that only heightened the agitation among the eight participants.
"Stop arguing, it doesn't matter anymore what others have heard. When the search will start just keep your eyes on the surrounding and if anyone will follow you, put a hostile front together to scare them". Zetsa interfered. Her voice reached only the ears of her little brother's friends. "I and the other representative Guardians, most of the time, will do patrols around the cave. If you want me to appraise Earth's Cores, you can meet me every three hours beneath the Hooked Beak rock, it's a forty meters tall rock, twenty meter wide from its base, seven kilometers west of the other side of the tunnel".
Zetsa's offer brought excited smiles on the little faces of Zax's friends. To have the support of a Mist Master they all were utterly thankful to the magnificent Miss Zetsa.
"Zax", Zetsa focused her voice only for her little brother to hear. "When we'll get to the other side of the tunnel read my aura briefly with your Soul Sense. I'll show you the exact direction to the Hooked Beak rock".
Along the path to the other side of the tunnel nearly a hundred staff members distributed green bracelets that showed "24:00:00" in neon colors, bright orange red.
"The timer will start when you'll enter cave zero thirty nine. Remember to return when its color change to red!" Some of the staff membered bothered to explain.
At the end of the tunnel the seven representative Guardians stopped. Right where the partition ended, a tall old lady stood. By the look of it the old lady was the attendant responsible to sign the returning participants and their findings and collect from them the time bracelets.
The seven representative Guardians bowed respectfully toward the old lady. Clearly she was not as simple as her outward appearance.
"May I?" One of the seven representative Guardians asked the other six and they all nodded or shrugged.
The representative Guardian turned to the thousands of coreless participants behind him with a deep voice. "Twenty four hours. That's all you have. Now, there will be no pushing or shoving until everybody is out of the tunnel. You lot, head out..." The representative Guardian then began to send group, after group, after group of participants to cave zero thirty nine in bunches of fifty.
Since Zax's group was at the head of their row, they got to be among the firsts to enter cave zero thirty nine. Zax remembered what Zetsa told him and for a split second extended his Soul Sense when he passed by her. He did not know how, but when Zetsa was in the range of his Soul Sense a minuscule portion of an environmental essence flashed in his inner mind and left a gut feeling that acted as a trail to the Hooked Beak rock, that is, as long as was willing to follow it.
"Come on, there are too many participants coming out. Let's get far enough so no one will be able to follow!" Zax said and the other seven agreed. A warm tingly feeling spread through their bodies, the hair on their hands and legs stood on end and a shining glint appeared in everybody eyes. The hunt as began!
Cave zero thirty nine was vast like a small city cave. The shape of the cave was not a perfect square, but it was one more than it was a circle. The cave stretched far and wide, nine kilometers or so in each direction. It was more similar to the nature reserve caves than cave zero eight. Though it had its wild element in the lush vegetation and rough terrain, there were also unpaved roads, shoes footprints and unsurprisingly and quite sadly, candy wrappers...
After two hour in the search Zax's group took their nutrition tablets. As they advanced deeper into the cave they became more pumped up for the search. They were all aware of the process of finding Earth's Cores since it was not complicated.
Earth's Cores were most of the time beneath the earth. In the Great Earth's Core Pursuit to find Earth's Core there were only three ways. The first way was the most draining and uncertain, digging. Finding a spot which pleases the eye, kneeling and hoping that underneath it there is an Earth's Core.
The second way was venturing throughout the cave. There was not a shortage of Earth's Cores that were partly above the surface, stuck to heavy rock or completely out of the ground. The challenge was detecting them between the dense vegetation and even the earth that had similar shades of color. If following the second way, one can find an Earth's Core ten minutes into the search or come back empty handed. Regardless of the results, one will benefit from a bit of insight into the beasts' vicinity and a great adventure story.
The third way was the least demanding but the most heinous and did not require any profound explanation. The third way was grouping against and stealing from other participants.