“Urghhh, I really didn’t expect for someone to find out about me so quickly.” After retreating from the auditorium, Shin sought refuge in his dormitory room in distress. To protect the fact that Lady Seph had returned to the Capital, the young boy had been trying to lay low. Unfortunately, there was no way someone like him would go unnoticed for long. He just didn’t expect it to occur that swiftly.
“The only thing that I can do now is to avoid that girl like the plague… Hah, her connections sure are frightening. To think that she even found out about Ariel…” Recalling the moment his beloved’s name fell out of Kanari’s mouth, Shin felt a wave of despondence envelop his soul. It has been over half a year since that fateful incident. Yet, the pain of losing Ariel was still fresh in his mind.
“Tch, I must be more discrete from now on. Any more slip-ups and she might be able to find out everything about me.” Taking off his shirt, Shin held up the flawed amethyst necklace as he let his mind wander off. “Hah… The only way for me to become stronger right now is to promote to the Spirit Core realm. Once I condense my Spirit Core, I will be able to learn a Spiritual Body Enhancement skill.”
Shin’s current plan for entering the path of the fighter was to train his mana strengthening to a significant degree before attempting to comprehend his own Spiritual Body Enhancement. Like Mychael and Ines, Shin would attempt to merge The Sovereign Koi with his own physical body to boost his attributes tenfold. That was the only way that he could contest with the other monsters in his cohort.
“Kanari, Shizen, Suji, and Danroy… All these guys are all freaks that could easily beat me in my current state. No, even Emma and Ella would be able to take me out easily if they went all out against me… I really need to get some information about all of their fighting styles…” Shin thought out loud.
Eventually, due to the meritocratic system of Imperius Academy, there would come a time where all students in the cohort would vie for the top spot. Since Shin was far weaker than the average combat-oriented student, he had to analyse all of his opponents’ fighting styles to figure out counter strategies to take them out. For instance, if he were to face any of the twins, Shin would do anything in his ability to close the distance, so that the fight could go to melee combat, in which he had a higher likelihood of winning. However, for the analysis to begin, Shin required information, something that he didn’t have.
“Perhaps I should ask Isadore… No, the more pressing issue now is to increase my cultivation.”
Sitting upright on his bed, Shin closed his eyes and started to chant the Celestial Water Mantra once more. No matter how much preparation he made or how many devious plans he formulates, it would all be useless if he wasn’t strong enough. To reach the top, he had to become a cultivator in the Spirit Core realm within the first year of his studies, else Shin would be unable to keep up with the competition.
The second week of the academic term passed rather smoothly for the young teen as the many hot-blooded youths that aimed for his neck had all but dissipated after hearing the false rumours about Shin. After all, no one found delight in bullying the weak, something that Isadore had made the black-haired youth seem to be. Of course, that worked out well in Shin’s favour as he was given a much-needed rest to concentrate on his studies and cultivation.
After Kanari sought him out earlier in the week, she realised that she had overstepped her boundaries and allowed Shin to roam unhindered. Naturally, there were many times where Shin felt as if there were many eyes glued onto him but he didn’t dare to overthink it. As the weekend came, the entire campus was buzzing about with great fervour as a momentous event took centre stage. It was finally time for the upperclassmen experts to show their talents.
Just like the orientation week, the upperclassmen demonstration was an annual event where the best talents of the previous year would showcase their abilities to help trigger the freshmen’s drive to work hard. Selecting only the best of the best, Imperius Academy would elect two representatives from each year to participate in an exhibition match. Of course, since it was not a fight to the death, there were some rules in place to prevent severe injuries, but nonetheless, it would be an entertaining watch for the hopeful freshmen.
The exhibition matches, just like any other fighting bouts, would occur in Lucha Amphitheatre, the biggest stadium in all of the academies. With a seating capacity of over ten thousand, the Lucha Amphitheatre was the ultimate place for festivities as all of Imperius Academy’s most prominent events were hosted there, and the upperclassmen demonstration was no different.
Crowds upon crowds of students, commoners and aristocrats alike, piled up against each other as they tried to gain the best seats in the stadium. Since the Lucha Amphitheatre was free for anyone to access, the only factor determining the seats that one got, was their drive to queue up early in the day before the gates open.
“There’s quite a lot of people here huh?” As Shin turned back to observe the queue, he noticed over a thousand young boys and girls gathering while waiting for their turn to enter the building.
“Of course! Everyone in the school wants to see the best of the best duke it out!” Isadore excitedly replied. “Our seniors that are participating in the exhibition matches are some of the most famous youths in the entire Empire! Especially, the fourth and sixth years! The sixth years are sending out their valedictorian and salutatorian to fight, and they are both in the later stages of the Spirit Core realm!”
“I was wondering why there were so many people here… So that’s the reason huh?” Ella lightly fanned herself to cool her body down. Standing in the blistering heat for hours had started to take a toll on the ice-element user.
“So we’re lucky that we came early right?” Emma attempted to lighten the mood with an encouraging smile. Unfortunately, none of those present had the mind to humour the young girl.
“Yeah… Can’t we just get our seats first? Why must we stand out in this heat?” Shin protested. Shin and the twins were all water-elemental Spirit Users, and they didn’t really feel well with a scorching sun shining brightly over their heads.
“Those are the rules… Imagine if we just let anyone walk in and out of the auditorium without any facilitation from the faculty. It would be akin to a pandemonium! So the gates only open one hour before the event begins. That is the ironclad rule!”
“You know, for someone who doesn’t like giving out information about himself, you sure know a lot about other matters, Isadore…” Shin squinted his eyes and scanned the silver-haired boy with an inquisitive glance. “Hey, can’t you just reveal something about yourself? Some a small fraction of it?”
“Hmmm, what do you want to know?”
“How about… What’s your Spirit?” Shin shot with a straightforward question that Isadore could not wiggle himself out of.
“Oh, that’s easy! I use a Spear Spirit.” Instead of beating around the bush, Isadore replied to Shin’s question candidly, stunning both Shin and the twins. It was the first time that Isadore had ever revealed anything about himself to them.
“I-I see…” Clearly not expecting Isadore’s answer, Shin’s eyebrows twitched slightly as he struggled to find the next words to say. Fortunately, he didn’t have to think for long as a metallic clank pierced through the air and a low creaking sound echoed shortly after. The gates to the Lucha Amphitheatre had finally been opened.
“Quickly! Let’s find the best seats!” Like a gushing river pouring out of a broken dam, the students marched in droves into the stadium, as they all hoped to snatch the best seats in the building.
“We shouldn’t contest with those maniacs that want to get the first level. To be honest, the rows on the second level give a much clearer view of the fight. Come, I’ll lead you there.” Isadore waved his hands as he gestured for the orphans to follow.
While the students, ranging from freshmen to sixth-year seniors all hurried through the opened gates, the contestants that were selected for the exhibition match were all gathered in a glass box up high in the amphitheatre. Varying in their sizes, some of the contestants were lean and terrifying looking while others had soft expressions that made them seem like harmless teenagers. Of course, the actual reality was, the teenagers gathered in the glass box were the best talents in their cohort, with the futures all but secured for them.
“You think Kanari would come?” One of the fourth year males questioned his partner. His eyes were focused on the crowd as he attempted to catch even a glimpse of the ethereal beauty that everyone knew about.
“You’re still head over heels for her?” Exasperated by how smitten his partner was, the other fourth-year male, exclaimed out in shock. “Just give it up dude. No matter how much you have progressed, you still won’t be worth anything to her eyes. From the rumours that I’ve heard, she’s already at Rank 21! And she’s only fifteen-years-old! You’re eighteen and only two ranks higher than her!”
The young boy tried to dissuade his partner once more from traversing on the path that wouldn’t bear any fruit. Even though it seemed like he was putting down his partner, not many Spirit Users are able to reach Rank 23 by the age of eighteen. Junius, who was considered a rare talent by most, had barely formed his Spirit Core at the age of eighteen years old. Most Spirit Users, wouldn’t even reach the Spirit Core realm until they were in their late twenties.
If the fourth-year boy who was smitten with Kanari was to go out on the dating market, hundreds of eligible females would queue up to be his partner. Yet, due to his one-sided love for the unattainable, the boy had rejected all female advances as he focused on improving himself so that Kanari would spare him a second glance.
“Charles… If I could simply do as you say, I would have. Unfortunately, the one thing that keeps driving me to push myself is the opportunity to stand by her side.”
“You’re a fool, Fred… No matter what you do, Kanari won’t reciprocate your feelings. We had this conversation many times, why can’t you understand?” As an aristocrat, Charles had more information about Kanari’s life than Fred could ever have. The young girl had no plans for romance, and her family was incredibly supportive of her choice. After all, when Kanari breaks through the first mortal barrier at Rank 40 and becomes a Spirit Spectre, her lifespan would double, and she would have all the time in the world to find a suitable mate to bear children with. Furthermore, since she was the heir of the Highgarden Duchy, her husband would have to marry into her family, which meant that Kanari had full control over who she wanted as her significant other.
Thus far, Kanari has not shown any signs of interest in the opposite gender and had never been caught out on a scandal. Training day in and day out to become the strongest Spirit User of the Empire, Kanari simply didn’t have the luxury to fall in love like a regular girl of her age.
“But there’s always a chance. Charles, until my final breath, I will do my best to become someone worthy of standing next to Kanari… And the first step is to etch my valiant figure deep into the recesses of her mind. So I’ll have to trouble you if she does show up…” Wearing a sinister smile, Fred sent a shiver down his partner’s spine with his cold remarks.
“Fine, fine… But you owe me okay! I don’t want to get beaten up in front of thousands of people for no compensation!”
“I wouldn’t even mind being your slave for a month if you agree to take the beating.”
“Hey! You said it! Someone bring a contract signed in blood! Someone bring a contract signed in blood!”
“Haha, you fool…” Lightly chiding his partner, Fred redirected his attention to the booming crowd. It has been over a year since he last saw Kanari. Remembering the first time he met the majestic angel of beauty, Fred felt his entire being tremor in agitation.
‘Soon… I’ll see you again…’
The upperclassmen demonstration was a simple affair. Once everyone was seated, a host would facilitate the event through narration and would invite all of the fighters of the expedition matches up onto the stage. The first pair to be called up were the representatives of the second-year seniors. A referee, who was typically an academy instructor, would serve as the arbiter for the match and would preside over all decisions in the ring.
“Angie Allen and Lyanna Craig. Please step up into the ring.” Without waiting any longer, the host used his microphone to call down the two contestants for the first expedition match of the day.
Two young girls, who were no older than sixteen, flew down from the glass box that stood high above ground level and landed square on the concrete platform, coming into full view of the spectators. One of the girls was small and petite, barely reaching 1.6 metres in height. Her thin robes and streamlined posture, made her seem like a devious assassin, that required the robes for her quick and agile movements.
On the other hand, the other girl was giving off the exact opposite impression. Donned in fully bronze armour, the young girl was as muscular as any other testosterone filled man in the gym, and every step that she took made the earth below her, scream out in fear.
“Angie Allen. Spirit, Dual Tempest Scimitars. Cultivation level, Rank 18.” Cupping her hands together, the petite girl projected her voice in a way that someone of her physique had no business doing.
“Lyanna Craig. Spirit, Avalanche Cleaver. Cultivation level, Rank 18.” Not willing to lose out to her competitor, the muscular second-year girl did the same introduction.
“The highest ranked cultivator in the second year is only at Rank 18?” One of the freshmen murmured out.
“Our batch is clearly better!”
As young cultivators, trying to compare themselves to the previous batch was understandable. After all, who didn’t want to be part of the greatest generation in Imperius Academy’s history? Even Shin was slightly taken aback. The strongest second-year actually shared the same cultivation level as himself? Unfortunately, they were about to get a rude awakening.
“Begin!” Once the referee commenced the battle, the two young girls summoned out their Spirits in a blink of an eye and Lyanna was the one who fired the first shot.
“HARGHHH!!!” In her hands a colossal axe, that was around the size of an average teenager slammed itself straight into the concrete floor, splitting the platform into two almost instantaneously. If it were any of the freshmen, they would have unquestionably been affected by the impact and would have been blown back tens of metres. However, her opponent was not some ignorant child.
With her two scimitars in hand, Angie took to the skies and evaded the attack altogether. Her one leap had propelled her twenty metres into the air as it seemed that gravity had no effect on Angie’s momentum.
“HIYAAA!!!” Sending a ridiculous amount of mana into her Avalanche Cleaver that was stuck onto the floor, Lyanna screamed as she broke the platform into multiple small boulders that were at most half a metre in diameter, and launched them straight into the air using her second spiritual ability.
“Tsskk!!!” Up in the air, Angie clicked her tongue in annoyance. Lyanna had no intentions of warming up to the fight. She was going straight for the climax.
“Come to me!” A grey light congregated on the ankles of Angie’s feet as two miniature cyclones formed. Before the relentless boulder assault was about to rip through the young girl’s delicate flesh, Angie kicked into blank space, but amazingly, her body moved in the opposite direction, as if there was a wall in mid-air. Using that technique over and over, Angie was able to evade all of the deadly boulders.
“Dance of the Valkyrie!” Lyanna grinned as she watched her friend use her trump card so early on in the battle. By utilising the cyclones on her ankles, Angie could infinitely stay airborne and change her direction at will. Furthermore, her speed would match that of flying Spirit Beasts, making her far too agile to get hit.
“Stupid Ly! You want to kill me?!” Angie screamed out from the skies.
“Come at me An! You won’t be able to win if you keep dodging!” Tightening her grip on her Avalanche Cleaver, Lyanna turned one round and forced the boulders in the sky to form into a tornado that would relentlessly aim for Angie’s head.
“Hmph! You forced me!” In a fit of rage, the young girl that was flying joined her two scimitars together and sent the vast majority of her mana into her next attack. Putting the handles of the swords on her waist, Angie started to whirl like a spinning top and soon, a vicious ring of wind, that could slice through metal as if it were butter, formed.
“Tempest Ring!!!” Sending her attack straight at Lyanna on the floor, the new ability turned all of the flying boulders around her into dust, as Angie descended onto the earth.
Since she was too slow to evade, the only thing that Lyanna could do was to block the oncoming storm that was headed her way. Swinging her Avalanche Cleaver like a madwoman, the young girl met the Tempest Ring straight on and only after much difficulty, did she manage to disperse the crazy attack.
“Hah… Hah… Hah… That’s better!” Lyanna praised her friend’s efforts with a thumbs up.
“Shut it! I almost died there!” Angie angrily retorted.
“I had faith that you would evade them all.”
“HAVING FAITH DOES NOT JUSTIFY WHAT YOU DID!!!”
While the two bosom friends were busy quarrelling about their ‘cordial’ spar, the freshmen who were spectating all had their jaws dropped onto the floor. Even though the two seniors of theirs were only one year older than themselves, they fought as if they were long-time experts, instead of cultivators in the Spirit Apostle realm.
“God damn it… How did they become so strong? It’s as if we’re watching two Spirit Core cultivators fight out there!” None of the freshmen now held their seniors in contempt. So what if they weren’t in the Spirit Core realm like Kanari was? Their might suggested that they could easily take on a Spirit Core cultivator or two with ease.
As the fight began to get heated up, Shin was there trying to analyse which moves were most suited for him to adopt. ‘Hmmm, that evasion technique is spectacular! I wonder if I can get the same results with my created water… I need to test it further.’
The whole reason why Shin came to the demonstration in the first place, was to learn from the best, and fortunately, he was a first-hand spectator to one of the greatest sparring sessions that Imperius Academy had to offer. Rubbing his smooth chin, the young boy continued on his evaluation, unaware of the major changes that the day was about to bring him…