Chapter 8: Twenty One
Outside of the cave was the lush vegetation that the Essence Cave Zax livid in for a year and eleven months could never sustain and the cave of his big sister's Master's lacked in compression.
Heeding his Master's and Martial sister's, Rarahel, warnings, as Zax stepped outside he casted his Soul Sense to detect hidden enemies. After reaching the Advanced phase of level C with his soul, Zax's Soul Sense could extend for one thousand and seven hundred meters. Other than the foliage, Zax did not discover any other life forms.
"They are either too far or waiting in the neighboring caves". Zax thought aloud.
He did not waste time because of enemies he could not find. Recalling the first direction he had to turn to, Zax's body flickered onwards.
'I traveled the outer parts of Valgarel with big sister. Other than the experts of the five sovereign tribes, there is no one that I should be afraid off. I wonder what could be different in the inner territory... '
Zax felt confidence in his chance to at least escape if dangers arise. While training in the bodily maneuvers exercise, he was chased by his Master and at unpredictable moments even had to avoid his Master's mist attacks. Sure, none of his Master's mist attacks were aim to kill, but critically injure him was highly acceptable by his Master.
"It's fine to lose an arm or a leg", Kartius actually said. "Your regenerative abilities can deal with the loss thanks to the changes the Black Core had made. Otherwise, only as a B level practitioner of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement you could grow back limbs". That day Kartius sent a mist attack that nearly decimated all of Zax's four limbs. "Still, this is not an excuse to be complacent! You don't have the mist energy to spend on your body. Without external help similar to the herbal fluid, your body won't receive the nourishment to come up with the energy to regrow one limb!" At the end of that training session, Zax truly lost a limb and only after two weeks it grew back.
Zax followed the map he craved to his mind and in four days reached the boundaries of the outer parts of Valgarel.
There, he noticed humanoid beasts with bull heads, guarding the tunnel to the inner territory. There were seven beasts. Zax first detected them with his bodily senses. In his body fitness level his senses were a lot sharper than most beasts. To determine the level of the guards he used his Soul Sense.
"Six Core Breakers and one Mist Master". According to their souls levels they ranged between these levels.
Since he did not know the procedure of crossing territories, Zax remained at a distance greater than their senses. To not cause unnecessary troubles, he picked up and threw several big rocks to distract the guards. All he need was for all seven to shift their gaze together for a few seconds.
The impact of the rocks with the trees Zax aimed them at created two explosions and a rain of leaves and splinters.
Two guards were sent to investigate as the others watched them from their post at the cave entrance. When the remaining five bull heads shifted their gazes all that they could perceive of Zax was the guest of wind his fast movement created as he passed them in practically an instant, extremely entertained.
"That was easy!" Zax was truly overjoyed. Two years ago who would have dare to imagine, especially him, that the boy with clogged Qi channels could ever give such a show!
On the second week of his journey Zax used his Soul Sense spontaneously, as he continuously used it to avoid unwanted surprises. It was a habit he developed after the encounter with the bull headed guards. Though they did not discover him, if he had used his Soul Sense back then, he himself would have sense them a lot earlier than his bodily senses.
A few figures were following him.
"Hunters or Master's enemies?" Zax asked himself. Four days ago he met with a party of humanoid beasts that acted as hunters and the day after with a group that was actually led by a human and while the other members were on all four. In both occasions Zax sprinted before they could make up the color of his fur coat. Besides the human, not the beasts in his party or the humanoid beasts of the day before were above level E.
This time, however, things were a bit different. Zax's speed was not at its peak and he did not want to alert them, if those after him were indeed enemies. Relying on his Soul Sense he learned that the pursuers were fifteen in number, ten Core Breakers and five Mist Masters. Zax wondered how he can fare against this great number of experts, but remembering his Master's warning, he simply surveyed their speed and allowed them to follow him up to the entrance of the first Savage Cave. There he in fact discovered that six more enemies, most likely, were waiting for him.
"Told you, boss".
The group of fifteen caught up, becoming with those who waited a group of twenty one. All the beasts looked humanoid with vicious canine heads.
"My sense of smell is the best in our unit, boss. Known as the thousand odors snout! With a sniff I could tell that this is just a human boy wearing a Two Headed Beaver fur coat!" One juvenile canine boasted.
"Freaking pup", the one the juvenile canine talked to, the boss, was a large humanoid beast with a wolf head in the Mist Master level. The wolf boss slapped the head of the juvenile canine and averted his gaze toward Zax, who stood between the six that were waiting and the fifteen that trailed.
"Who would have thought that such a young child is practicing that body refining technique... ?" The wolf boss seemed a bit shaken.
How could he not? They trailed Zax since the very same day he left that cave ... always at a distance of two kilometers or more from him, but six days ago they actually lost him! Luckily, one of his pack members was familiar with the scent of a Two Headed Beaver and besides being able to tell that it was a human wearing its fur coat, he could retrace Zax's steps, which helped the wolf boss to guess Zax's destination and send a member of his pack to arrange a blockade at the cave's entrance, in case he and his unit will not catch up to Zax.
"I can't assert his powers, boss", another canine said.
"Me neither". The wolf boss replied with a growl. "It can't be that his soul level is higher than a Mist Master. It must be the fur coat or a treasure for the cave ... Calrob, can you tell the level of the Two Headed Beaver it belonged to?"
"Afraid not, boss. Even if my mist energy stimulates my eyes and nose to the limit, I can only detect the leftover essence of a Mist Lord. This fur coat belonged to at least a Core Master Two Headed Beaver". The canine head that spoke was part of the six that were waiting for Zax.
"Grrr..." The wolf boss growled once more.
'These guys are quite haughty... ' Zax quietly watched them. 'Talking about me as if I don't have a say in what they are planning'.
He did not try to forcefully enter the cave since the six in front of him clearly were not willing to let him and also ... now that he was so close to the first Savage Cave, if his pursuers were reluctant to follow inside, than it was also a good opportunity to consider again how he will fare against so many experts. Zax felt goosebumps all over his body. After almost two years of isolated training with his Master and a voice in his head, these guys were going to be his first real interaction ... a clash of experts!
'Fourteen Core Breakers, seven Mist Master, twenty one in total!'
The longer Zax trained in the six sequences of bodily maneuvers the swifter and more agile his control over his body became. Although he knew all six hundred and fifty bodily maneuvers and the perfect breathing sequence his rhythm was still behind the Intermediate phase. But, classifying two in the same phase does not mean that their proficiency is equal. To classify Zax at the Beginner phase is akin to saying that he is in the Advanced phase of the Beginner phase. Not exactly the most sophisticated way to put it, but it did not matter since a large gulf separated Zax's level of control of the body and the twenty one canine heads'!
Apart from the seven Mist Masters, the others could only hear the sound of Zax movement as he reached in a flash to the canine that evaluated his fur coat.
"Calrob, right? Can you tell what level am I?" Zax smirked.
Calrob's dog face paled. He was one of the Core Breaker experts and those who saw nothing but a flash or a shadow as Zax made his move.
The two Mist Master next to Calrob launched their claws at Zax. However they were too slow and too obvious in their movement. With a "WUSH" sound Zax slide back to the center of the twenty one experts.
'If that's their top speed... ' Zax smiled. "Well, my Master warned my about you. Are you supposed to be Master Kartius's enemies?" He taunted.
"Lowly mutt!" The wolf boss called in anger. "Listen up, Fangs, this one body fitness level is definitely at level C! Revert to your beast form!" Following his order something strange happened.
Despite the astonished expression of the other twenty, not one of them argued with their boss and in several seconds, Zax learned something new and finally understood what Martial sister Rarahel meant by warning him of the true from of the wild.
The twenty one canine heads all transformed from their humanoid physique to their true animalistic appearance. Surrounding Zax, within the length of two short breaths, were two to three and a half meters tall, two and a half to five meters long twenty one true canines on all four.
Zax was utterly shocked! He could tell with his Soul Sense that the Mist User level of the twenty one remained the same, but their bodies, on the other hand, increased in both power, speed and for sure, control!