The fight between Angie and Lyanna from the second-years went on for five solid minutes with Angie failing to pierce through her brutish friend’s defences and Lyanna missing all of her flying boulders. Ultimately, after both of them had expended their mana reserves, the referee called a stop to the fight and declared it to be a draw. After all, it was just an exhibition match. There was no need to decide a clear winner.
“Stupid! Stupid Ly! Why did you have to try so hard from the very beginning! We could have just shown some flashy moves, and the freshmen would already be impressed!” As the teachers hurriedly attempted to fix the messed up platform, Angie raised her voice in protest against her long-time friend.
“If I held back, how would I have brought out the best in you? I’m sure you weren’t even thinking about bringing out the Dance of the Valkyrie.” Lyanna sharply quipped as she removed the straps on her armour.
“Of course I wasn’t! It’s just a battle for the show! There’s no need to go all out!”
“That’s the problem! We must put on a good performance so that our juniors have something to emulate! With your wishy-washy attitude, that won’t happen, and the majority of them would grow up thinking that they’re better than us!”
“Urghhh, I can’t argue with that… But honestly, this year’s cohort is terrifying…” Angie quietened down as she stared deeply into the spectator seats. “The Witch of the South is already at Rank 21, while there are four cultivators at Rank 16 and above… The Freak of the Dundlewoods, Son of War, Silver Spoon and even the mysterious black-haired boy that is at our cultivation level… How were all of these talents born in the same year?”
Any of those geniuses that Angie had mentioned could have easily taken the valedictorian place. When Angie and Lyanna first joined the academy, they were both at Rank 15 and back then, they were considered as outstanding geniuses. Yet, compared to the elites in the first-years, they weren’t up to par.
“We should be thanking our lucky stars that they weren’t born one year earlier… Otherwise, our spots at the top would have been in serious jeopardy.” Lyanna reaffirmed Angie’s statement as she wiped her sweating forehead with a hot wet towel. “Especially that girl…”
Pointing to a breathtaking black-haired Adonis that was sitting high up in the amphitheatre, Lyanna eyes burned with a red-hot passion, as her blood started to boil. “Against Kanari, we would have surely lost. In fact, I’m not sure if we could beat her even if both of us joined forces.”
“She’s that strong? I mean I know that she’s already in the Spirit Core realm, but we have one year of training in the academy!”
“That doesn’t mean anything… I had witnessed her fight just once. Back when she was twelve years old. Kanari had just promoted into the Spirit Apostle realm and her mother, the Duchess of Highgarden, held an event to celebrate.” Lyanna narrated her experience to her commoner friend. “Hundreds of nobles gathered, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Empire’s future goddess. There were even some aristocrats that came with the intention of betrothing their sons to Kanari. However, the main event wasn’t what anyone expected… Instead of having a regular meet and greet, Kanari appeared in full combat attire and accepted challenges from any cultivator at was around her age in the audience.”
“She did that?! At the age of twelve?” Angie exclaimed in horror. Nobles hosting an event to show off their might was a common occurrence. However, Kanari had just awakened her Spirit two years prior and had the audacity to challenge a room filled with the best talents in the Empire.
“Exactly, her intentions were clear. She wanted to exert her dominance against her peers. She wanted to cement her legacy as the top genius in her generation.” Clenching her fists, Lyanna’s face began to pale. “What followed next was a scene that I would never forget for the rest of my life… Smashing down Spirit Apostle after Spirit Apostle, Kanari defeated seven challengers in less than ten minutes, and she soon got bored. Deciding that those coming up were too weak, she changed her terms… Kanari would only accept cultivators that were in the Spirit Core realm.”
“WHAT?!” Angie hollered out like a maddened woman. For a twelve-year-old girl to take on opponents that were in the Spirit Core realm was an utterly ridiculous concept.
“That was my exact reaction… I legitimately thought that the Duchess of Highgarden had a few screws loose in her head. Why else would she allow her successor to take such a risk? However, I was the one who was ignorant… Kanari defied all expectations and completely decimated a young twenty-year-old aristocrat in the Spirit Core realm with ease. It wasn’t even a contest…” Lyanna’s body shivered in fear as he recollected the night where Kanari made her name known worldwide.
“She’s that strong?” Absolutely floored by the concept, Angie fell back onto her chair and curiously stared at the black-haired beauty that was innocently seated a distance away. Her exterior appearance seemed to be rather virtuous, and Kanari didn’t seem to be the kind to even harm a fly, but as the saying goes… Appearances are often deceptive.
“Yeah… That’s why I’m looking forward to her performance this year. Three years ago, she could easily take on a Spirit Core cultivator… Now that she has condensed her Spirit Core, one could only imagine what kind of heights she had reached…”
After the second-year pair exhibition match, the next duo up were the third-years, and the match was just as entertaining as the second-years. The two seniors in the third-year had already formed their Spirit Cores, and it was the first time that Shin was exposed to how spiritual pressure could be used in an even fight. Although it was not as flashy as the previous match, Shin learnt a great deal from the two Spirit Core cultivators.
‘That’s an interesting method of fighting… I really have to reach the Spirit Core realm soon to try it out…’ For Shin, who was two ranks away from the Spirit Core realm, he had to learn the various methods that a Spirit Core cultivator would use in battle. ‘There are five matches today… Next would be the fourth-years. I wonder what heights they would have reached…’
Meanwhile, the fourth-years that Shin was referring to were intensely staring in one direction, one of them more engrossed than the other.
“There she is, Charles!!! She’s really here!” Fred exclaimed in glee after spotting the girl that had been plaguing his dreams on a nightly basis. The young man’s fascination over Kanari grew to an exponential level as he once again laid eyes on the ethereal beauty. “She’s grown much prettier…”
“Hah… Looks like I have to take a beating from you huh?” Sighing deeply, Charles shut his eyes in despondency as he blurted out those words. However, when no reply came back, the youth raised his eyebrows in confusion. “Wow, you’re not even going to listen to me? Yeap, I’ve lost him.”
Wholly enthralled by Kanari’s charm, Fred placed his face on the glass window, hoping to get a more unobstructed view of the goddess of beauty.
“Hey, we’re up next! So if I were you, I would start preparing myself…”
“Yeah, I can’t show my bad side to her!” Motivated by his partner’s words, Fred sprung into action and immediately went to put on his combatant gear. To impress Kanari, the eighteen-year-old must do everything in his power in the coming fight. Otherwise, he would be relegated to the side, just like the thousands of other suitors that Kanari had.
“Fred Newton and Charles Castillo! Please step up into the ring!” The exhibition match of the third-years was less destructive than the fight between Angie and Lyanna, quickening the cleaning process of the aftermath. In just a few minutes, it was already time for the fourth-years to make their appearance.
“It’s finally time for the fourth-year representatives to take the stage…”
“Oh? Is there something special about them?” Shin turned to Isadore and asked. It was something that the young teen had learnt over the past two weeks. When in doubt, seek Isadore. The self-declared walking encyclopedia had possibly all the answers when it came to any student in the academy.
“The two that are coming up in the ring are quite famous in the Capital. Charles Castillo is the son to one of the richest Counts in the Empire, and he frequently rubs shoulders with the Imperial Family. Considered to be one of the best auxiliary Spirit Users in the younger generation, Charles has been sought after by all of the top schools in the Capital, with some of them promising him the best resources that they had to offer. Therefore, it caused some controversy when he finally decided to attend Imperius.” Isadore gave a brief background narration of Charles’ life.
“The other guy, Fred Newton, is the current valedictorian of the fourth-years. Just like you, he was a gifted commoner that was scouted by some of the faculty members. When he first came into the academy, he was already at Rank 16, something that was unprecedented at the time. Naturally, with such a high value on his head, many students aimed to dethrone him from the number one spot, but they all failed when they met with his deadly iron fists.”
“Fred Newton is also quite infamous in the Capital. Due to his immense talent, hundreds of organisations sought him out and offered massive packages for him to join them. The Imperial Military, the Mercenary Guild, and even aristocratic families looking for a talented Spirit User to join their ranks. However, he turned them all down.”
“You see… Fred is what you call a classic lovebird. He has sights for only one organisation, and he will not settle for another.” Isadore winked at the young teen as he whispered in a soft voice. “Fred only has one choice in his mind, and that is the Highgarden Duchy.”
“Hoho… So he’s aiming for the ‘queen’ huh?” Ella sharply retorted.
“Exactly! Initially, the Highgarden Duchy was elated that such a talented individual was actively trying to join their armies. However, when they heard his demands, they were dumbstruck… Fred didn’t want riches or fame. The only thing that he wanted was Kanari’s hand in marriage.”
‘Wow, so there are people that are desperate to join Miss Kanari’s forces… Looks like I turned down quite a big shot.’ Thinking back to the moment where he declined Kanari’s invitation, a wry smile crept up Shin’s face.
“That’s absurd! Does his head live in the clouds? Why would anyone accept such a ludicrous condition?” Being a fellow female celebrity that was chased around by egomaniacal boys, Ella felt angry on Kanari’s behalf.
“That was the exact same reaction that the Highgarden Duchy had. Appalled by his terms, they barred him from ever stepping foot onto their lands and threw out his application altogether. When Kanari first heard of Fred, she was immediately disgusted and vowed to never interact with him. But that didn’t stop him from trying to get close to her. Every few months, there would be a new tale of how the devoted romantic tried to woo the untouchable queen. However, all of his efforts were useless as Kanari wouldn’t even spare him a second glance. Rumour has it that he has been rejected thirty-seven times to date. It’s honestly a tragic story if you go into the details…”
“Wow… He’s really committed huh?” Emma was amazed by the grit that Fred possessed.
“Well, that’s the magic that the Witch in the South has… With her bloodline, heritage, beauty and talent, the number of men that want to pursue her is immeasurable. Fred is not the only person that sought her out. It’s just that he’s the most famous one.”
“What drives him to be so crazy?” Shin shook his head at the stupidity of the eighteen-year-old that couldn’t take rejection. Kanari clearly had no intentions of even humouring his love, yet Fred still persisted.
“I don’t know… Love, I guess? Not that I know of it.” Isadore shrugged his shoulders as he revealed that he lacked the experience to understand Fred’s mindset.
“Love, huh?” Shin only loved one girl in his entire life, and his feelings weren’t one-sided like how Fred’s relationship with Kanari was. Over the years, Ariel and Shin had a mutual understanding of each other’s feelings but were too afraid to make the first move, and when they were ready to take the next step…
‘Perhaps I’m a little like this Fred… We’re both chasing the impossible…’ Shin mentally sighed.
Both of them were chasing an ideal. Shin wanted to ascend to the Immortal Dimension, in hopes of reuniting with his deceased lover, while Fred wished to gain the love of someone who was unmistakably out of his league and despised him. However, it was clear that Shin’s situation was much more tragic.
‘Haha, now I kind of feel like rooting for him…’ Unlike Ella who felt utterly repulsed at Fred, Shin felt a slight connection with the crazy youth, making him look forward to the performance that the fourth-year is about to bring.