Dale looked around furtively, as he ran back to his room. After practicing for another hour, Dale felt he was confident in his usage of his new step. Shatter Step gave him a large boost in mobility. However, it also caused a great deal of strain to be placed on his legs, and he wasn’t confident that he could use the step indefinitely. After his intense practice session, he felt he could use the step around 7 or 8 times, before it became too strenuous for his legs.
As he ran back to his room, Dale considered the state of his training. He felt that he was rapidly getting stronger and making a good deal of progress. However, he also felt that he wasn’t gaining strength as fast as he could be, but he wasn’t sure why. He was frustrated that Instructor Lem was so far away. Dale had always thought the Instructor was a bit distant but a good teacher nonetheless. He had only fond memories of him. Still, his lack of a teacher at the present time was frustrating.
Dale quickly arrived outside the wall near his room. The stone wall looked virtually identical, his machinations invisible from the outside. He glanced furtively around, seeing no one. Moving quickly, Dale jumped up and punched the stone block he had cut into the wall. It made a shifting sound before falling backwards, sinking back into his room. Dale quickly squirmed through the hole and replaced the block, moving agilely. Dale had opted to remain in his Perfect Balance mode and could sense the two guards still standing at his door. They hadn’t checked on what the loud sound was, thankfully. Dale attributed this to the fact that his practice had been very loud at some points, and no doubt the guards had become inured to it.
Dale quickly replaced the chunk of stone in the wall, snapping it into place. He looked back at it in admiration. His technique had been extremely exact, and the stone snapped nearly perfectly into place. Only if one stood next to the wall, closely examining it, would they be able to notice a difference.
Dale laid down to rest, exhausted from his practice and the jog back. He fell on to his bed, going to sleep almost immediately.
Dale continued to practice like this for the next several days. The stone garden he practiced in rapidly acquired several massive craters as Dale’s Shatter Step mastery grew.
And just like that, in the blink of an eye, a week had passed.
One week later
Dale looked in the long, glass mirror, admiring his new outfit. He was currently in a large dressing closet, trying on the tailored outfit Jerah had arranged for him. He thought he looked quite dashing in it. He was wearing a dark blue coat over a light blue vest, which tucked into his pants. His pants were also a dark blue, matching his coat. His sleeves were covered in lace, and he thought he looked like quite the noble. He turned in front of the mirror, tucking in his undershirt.
Jerah came barging in, wearing a similar suit to Dale, but one that was red. Jerah was smiling, a very confident look in his eyes. His standing in the family had risen tremendously, thanks to their discovery of the Onyx Mine. Jerah had received a 20% initial share of the first month’s profit from the mine, the standard reward for prospecting discoveries. Jerah had insisted that he split the reward with Dale, then resulting in Dale being promised an enormous wealth. He had confided in Dale that all of this would be announced to the rest of the family,when they announced the discovery to the outside world.
According to Jerah, his father had decided they would announce the discovery during the Daja Ball, deciding to visit the Grand Ball personally. The Var family had stationed two separate Black Gold Commanders at the Onyx Mine as well several Gold and Silver commanders. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Onyx Mine was the most heavily guarded facility the Var family controlled.
Jerah had initially planned on going to the ball alone with Dale. However, seeing as his father had decided to come and announce the discovery there, he was now joined by several of his cousins and family members. Jerah looked much more confident going to the upcoming ball now.
Jerah spoke up,
“All set, Dale?” he looked inquiringly at Dale. Dale nodded back saying,
“Yeah! I’m good!” He felt much more confident now that the rest of the Var family was joining them. He was still nervous about the challenges, however. While no one would challenge a member of the Six Great Families, Dale hardly counted as a family member and was just a personal guard. He adjusted his coat, trying to douse his nervousness.
“Alright! Let’s go!” Jerah clapped him on the back, pushing him forward. Jerah had slowly become a true friend in Dale’s eyes, even though he was officially Jerah’s bodyguard. Ever since he helped Jerah discover the Onyx Mine, he had treated Dale like an equal. It wasn’t that Jerah had never treated him well. Jerah had, in fact, been very grateful for Dale saving his life and greeted him equally. However, he treated him differently now than he did before. He felt they were more like partners, friends.
The duo quickly set off from the dressing room and left via the front entrance of the Var Family Estate. In front of the estate were several carriages, waiting on Var family members to enter. Dale and Jerah entered one of the ones near the front, eager to set off. Slowly, other family members filed in, and the carriages set off, headed towards the Grand Daja Ball.
Theldon Continent, The Under Cave, Delica City-State, Top of the Council Stalagmite
Dale looked out the window of the carriage, watching as they went up the gently sloping stalagmite. The Daja Ball was held at the very top of the stalagmite and on an enormous plateau, known as the Borealis Top. The Borealis Top was shaped like a gargantuan oval. It was thousands of meters across, stretching off to form a huge mass of land. Towards the south of the Borealis Top was the Council Room, the area where the leading party of Delica, the Council of Six, made the day-to-day decisions for the City-State. The Council Room was a small sized building, holding just one room, set in stone 20 meters above the rest of the Borealis Top. To the north of this Room lay the rest of the plateau. Several hundreds of tables had been set up throughout, with a large space cleared at the very northern tip as a dance floor. Long tables to the east and west had enormous amounts of food set on them, with hundreds of plates set to the side. The balls hosted by Delica were famous for their buffet like food, allowing one to pick and choose exactly what they wanted to eat.
In the center of the Borealis Top was a large arena, approximately 50 meters across. It was also 50 meters wide, shaped like a giant square. Several rows of stone seats lined the arena, providing onlookers with a place to sit or to stand. The rocks in the arena had a different coloring to the rocks outside of the arena. Dale learned from Jerah that the arena’s base was made of a special alloy of rock that was extremely difficult to damage. Even Black Gold Commanders would have trouble scratching the solid arena floor.
Dale and Jerah currently shared their carriage with three of Jerah’s cousins. Jerah’s father had 5 brothers and 1 sister. Largely because of this, Jerah had over 50 cousins, all of them at varying levels of power. While few of them had Jerah’s ability, when it came to Earth Sense, many of them were much stronger than his Coal Core level of cultivation.
For example, the three boys sitting across from them in the carriage were all much stronger than Jerah. Sitting on the left was Jorn Var, a 17 year old cultivator at the Steel Core level. He had dark brown hair and was looking out the window, ignoring everyone else. In the middle sat Isral Var, a 16 year old, hailed as one of the geniuses of the Var family, and he was at the Silver Core cultivation stage. To the right of him lay Glor Var, a 19-year-old cultivator, also at the Silver Core level. Glor was currently talking to Isral about a type of movement technique he was trying to develop. Dale had listened in at first, quite interested. However, it soon became obvious that the technique he was trying to make was ridiculously complicated, and Dale gave up paying attention, opting to look out the window, as they rode past several other carriages. Isral had a long suffering but patient look on his face, nodding at Glor at appropriate times. Dale thought he seemed nice enough.
They soon arrived at the Borealis Top, exiting their carriages as they came to a stop. Jerah and Dale followed the rest of the Var family to the entrance. At least, Dale thought it was an entrance. It really was just a series of stairs leading to the open plateau. If one really wanted to, they could climb up to the top of the plateau using the sides of the stalagmite. Near the Borealist Top, however, the sides of the stalagmite began to slope sharply. Going up the stairs seemed to be a much easier, but more crowded, option.
Several other families quickly made way for the Var family as they climbed the stairs and reached the entrance of the Borealis Top. At the entrance, there were several guards watching over as people entered. The guards there nodded respectfully as they passed, watching the crowd.
Jerah and Dale stayed with the rest of his family members till they reached the long food tables. Jerah broke off, grabbing a plate and quickly walking towards the center. Dale joined him, grabbing a plate for himself. They quickly piled the plates high with food and made their way to the northern sector of the Borealis Top. As they walked over, hands full with the plates, Jerah started talking,
“Yeah, Dale, trust me. You’ll find the most beautiful and graceful girls in the entire Under Cave here.” Jerah said, gesturing with a drumstick, “Let’s go sit by the dancing floor and watch. It’ll be quite the sight, you’ll see.”
They arrived on the floor, looking out at the large dance area. A band had set up on the west side of the floor, playing music at a loud and rowdy pace. Several couples spun around the floor, twirling and moving in graceful patterns. Dale watched in awe, as a couple of Silver Core experts twirled with seemingly inhuman agility, moving in perfect unison with each other. Jerah noticed who he was staring at and nodded saying,
“That’s David Guile and his wife, Lleyta. They are one of my favorite couples to watch dance.” Jerah watched them as well, mesmerized by their perfect movements.
This was the first time Dale had ever seen extraordinarily powerful and graceful people dance. Dale had always seen cultivators and cultivation strength as something violent and powerful. To see people use their powerful strength in something so innocent was a new experience for him. He watched too, mesmerized.
The song soon ended, the band taking a slight break. A scattering of applause broke out, both for the band and for the dancers. Dale and Jerah joined them, applauding as well. Dale quickly devoured the food on his plate, grabbing water from the cups set in all of the tables. He looked around again, noting all the girls waiting near the floor. They were all standing in small packs, talking and laughing. Dale agreed with Jerah that all of them were very pretty, though he thought it wasn’t as big a deal as Jerah made it seem.
Suddenly, a familiar face rushed over, covered in tears. Jasmine was dressed in a small, pink dress, wrapped around her like a delicate flower. However, right now, her face was marred by a fearful look as she ran and sat down next to Jerah, practically jumping into his arms. Jerah looked up startled, quickly hugging her and comforting her.
Right behind her was a duo of boys, looking to be around 14 or 15, following after her with confident smirks on their faces.
“Oi! Come on now, Jasmine! There’s no reason to be so leery!” said the boy on the right, a blonde kid with streaks of brown in his hair. He gave off a Steel aura, as he walked forward, arrogance practically dripping off of him.
“That’s right, darling,” smirked the boy on the left. He also had blonde hair but without the brown stripes. He too had a Steel aura covering him. “Come away, now.”
Jerah looked up at the duo in rage,
“What do you think you’re doing?!” He yelled out, looking at them.
“Oh? It’s Jerah, one of the trash members of the Var family.” Said the arrogant boy on the left, “Why they take care of someone who’s only at the Coal level, when he’s already 12, I don’t know.”
“Hmph, your Var family is nothing compared to our Claire family.” Said the boy on the right, his eyes staring daggers. “Now hand me back my woman, before I’m forced to take her back.” The Steel aura covering him suddenly strengthened, a crushing aura spreading out.
Several of the nobles surrounding them turned to watch, none stepping forward to help. While many of them were much stronger than the two kids, interfering in the affairs of 2 of the Great Families was not something anyone would do willingly. To help either side was to make an enemy of the other.
Jasmine looked back at Jerah and the boys, her eyes filled with terror. Her family was one of the weakest in the entire Delica City-State. They would be powerless in the face of the Claire family, one of the 6 greatest in the city. Jerah looked on bravely, trying to stand up as his Coal aura flickered under the enormous pressure from the two Steel Core cultivators.
Abruptly, Dale stood up, righteous anger filling his eyes…