The Freshmen Ceremony was structured into three parts. Firstly, Principal Erudito would welcome the freshmen and give a brief speech about the academy. Following that, the freshmen student representative would take the stage to give a short address, and then finally, the students would be dismissed as orientation week would formally begin.
The freshmen would be given a tour by their upperclassmen of the entire campus, the dormitories that they were staying at, and would be briefed about the culture around the school throughout the week. Naturally, since it was the first time the students had entered the academy, there was a need to allocate some time for them to get accustomed to their environment.
“Now, please join me in welcoming the Principal of Imperius Academy, his honourable Erudito.” Once every student found their seat, Vice-Principal Hirda formally began the freshmen ceremony by introducing the leader of the most excellent school in the Himmel Empire. Bringing their hands together, the auditorium broke into thunderous applause as the thin bronzed-face man made his way up the steps of the stage.
“Looks like the Principal is really popular…” Ella was amazed by the response that Principal Erudito had received.
Shin observed his surroundings and was similarly flabbergasted by the reactions that his fellow freshmen had. Even though he knew that Principal Erudito was a Spirit Emperor, due to his grovelling at Lady Seph’s feet, Shin had unknowingly treated him with less esteem. “Yeah, it really is surprising.”
In the stories that Shin had heard, opening ceremonies such as this one were typically a tedious affair with many of the attendees ignoring the person giving the speech altogether. Yet, during Principal Erudito’s turn to speak, the students’ eyes were sparkling with excitement. Some of them were even shivering in anticipation, as they waited for the Spirit Emperor to speak.
‘Looks like I really should reassess my view of the teachers here…’ Shin made a mental note. Of the three academics that he had met from Imperius Academy, two of them were total maniacs, with Mychael leading the charge as the resident scoundrel. Speaking of the tanned man, he was sitting at the very end of the stage, alongside dozens of teachers of all shapes and sizes. For a brief moment, tanned scoundrel met eyes with Shin, prompting him to flash a sly smile in response. Feeling a shiver run down his spine, Shin opted to leave his gaze from Mychael to examine his future teachers.
There was a bulky man that seemed closer to an ogre as compared to a human. There was also a bespectacled scholarly woman in her sixties that gave the impression of a stern professor. With such an array of colourful characters, Shin was confident that the road ahead of him would be an eventful one.
“Good morning! Freshmen of the new class, parents and fellow colleagues! I’m Principal Erudito, and today I have the privilege of welcoming the class of freshmen. All of you here are talents that would one day shake the nation, and I feel honoured that you have chosen us to be your education partner for the coming six years. I’ll try to keep my speech as short as possible, so please bear with me for just a few minutes.”
“*CLAP!* *CLAP!* *CLAP!* *CLAP!* *CLAP!* *CLAP!*.” Principal Erudito’s first few words were met with yet another thunderous applause. It was only stopped after the Spirit Emperor raised his hands.
“Imperius Academy is undoubtedly one of the Empire’s top schools, but its success doesn’t stem from the facilities that we have or the brilliant staff that we hire. It comes from the sole desire to foster our students the best of their talents! Over your school semester, you will face many challenges, sometimes it might even seem too hard for you to overcome. Nonetheless, I believe in your resilience as the Empire’s top talents, and I have trust that all of you will complete the six years without dropping out.”
“With that out of the way, let me introduce the faculty that would be responsible for the first years. You will be attending many of their classes so it would be helpful if you could kindly remember their faces.” Principal Erudito uttered a playful joke, drawing giggles from many in the hall. “There’s Rank 62 Spirit King Mychael Dryttimria. Mychael stand up please.”
In one fluid motion, the tanned lanky man stood up from his seat in a proper fashion. His back fully straightened and his poise was as appropriate as could be, forcing Shin to drop his jaw in confusion.
‘Who’s that?!’ Shin couldn’t believe his eyes. In just a split second, the scoundrel that he was all too familiar with had turned into a seasoned soldier that knew all the appropriate mannerisms befitting that of an educator that taught in the illustrious Imperius Academy.
“Mychael will be in charge of teaching first-year courses pertaining to close-ranged combat. As a former colonel in the army, he has been battle-hardened for years and is one of the best fighters that reside in Imperius Academy. I’m sure he will teach you faithfully on what it means to become one of the strongest fighters there is.” At Principal Erudito’s words, Mychael took one fine bow, reaping in breaths of admiration in the process.
“Hey, Shin! Isn’t that teacher the one who kicked you just now?” The silver-haired teen sitting beside Shin, Isadore questioned in a curious light.
‘Tsssk, why is this guy so nosy?’ Shin mentally blasted Isadore but kept his serene face intact. “I’m sure you’re mistaken.”
“Huh? But I…”
“Isadore, I have never met that person in my life.” Shin was still in denial. There was no way that Mychael would look so prim when he was just a foul-mouthed scoundrel.
“The next teacher I will introduce is Madam Warulee Leylesron. She’s a Rank 66 Spirit King that specialises in the healing arts. She is the leader of the auxiliary department and would be helping those in the auxiliary course with any troubles that they have. Of course, if those from the combat course would wish to ask anything, I’m sure Warulee would be more than happy to answer your queries.” Principal Erudito pointed to the bespectacled scholarly woman, forcing her to put on an amicable smile.
Following that, the bronzed-faced man continued to introduce the faculty members one by one. In just a few short moments, Shin had learned all the names of his future teachers and had firmly etched the memory of their faces into his mind.
“Alright, as I promised, I’ll end my speech here. Once again, I thank all of you for choosing Imperius Academy. If you should face any problems, feel free to find Vice-Principal Hirda or me in the Principal’s office, and with that, I’ll hand over the stage to our next speaker, the freshmen representative.”
As the Principal closed his speech, the room broke into a standing ovation, as both students and parents alike applauded the Spirit Emperor. The applause lasted for half a minute as the podium that stood high on the stage remained empty. However, the moment the next speaker step foot onto the scaffold, a chilling silence descended upon Adelcuth Hall.
“As expected she came to Imperius Academy…” After a brief moment, soft whispers began to break out from the crowd
“Arghhh, how could our son get the valedictorian seat if she is attending his year! This is a scam!” A distressed mother complained to her husband.
“Honey, there’s nothing we can do about it… Her talent only comes around once every generation. I’m sure our son can get the salutatorian seat.”
“Still! Why did the Immortals above send this girl here this year?!”
The conversation between the couple caught the attention of Shin, who had lost interest after the Principal’s seat and was busy building sandcastles in the air.
“Why’s there such a commotion?” Shin muttered to himself, not expecting an answer. However, since the busybody, Isadore was seated next to him, the young teen received a stunned reply.
“You don’t recognise who she is?” Isadore sucked in his breath and watched Shin and the twins with a strange gaze. “If you have lived in the Capital, there’s no way you wouldn’t have heard of her!”
“No, we’re not locals. We just came here for school.” Emma gently replied.
“Oh, no wonder! But still, her fame transcends the Capital, and I was certain that the majority of the Empire knows of the Witch in the South.”
“She’s the Witch in the South?!” At this point, Shin hurriedly exclaimed. Snapping his head towards the stage, the young teen carefully observed the young teenage girl whose fame surpassed that of many Spirit Kings at such a tender age.
Standing at 1.6 metres tall, a young black-haired girl was gracefully walking through the stage and was on her way to the podium where Principal Erudito once stood. She had an hourglass waist, and her complexion boasted an immaculate vanilla hue. Her gorgeous red eyes that shone like rubies of the highest quality flickered in the indoor light, giving her a sense of mystique that was unrecordable by pen and paper. With every step that she took, the crowd felt as if a trail of flowers had bloomed in her wake, causing the majority of them to hold their breaths.
As she took her place at the centre of the podium, the young girl adroitly adjusted her jet black hair that was free from any unwanted strands and tucked it firmly behind her ears. In full view of the audience, Shin could now clearly see her exquisite features. Since Lady Seph had reverted back to her younger appearance, Shin had become numb whenever he met a woman of great beauty, as none of them was comparable to the face that he got to see on a daily basis. Yet, as he laid eyes on the gorgeous black-haired beauty, Shin could only gape in awe.
Her aristocratic nose and heart-shaped face that seemed to be as small as a fist stood out the most to the young teen as they were the most perfect features that he had ever seen. Even though she was at the age where puberty hit, the young girl’s face was void of any pimples or blemishes and remained as clean as a glass cup. Every time she smiled, her beguiling creamy-white teeth would stun the audience, forcing even the most happily married fathers in the assembly to blush. Her features were so otherworldly that even a sculptor lacked the imagination to chisel a mould in her image.
“So you have heard of her!” Isadore proudly asserted. “The Witch of the South, Kanari Saniela. Also known as the Himmel Empire’s future goddess. Born by the Duchess of Highgarden, Kanari was just fourteen when she condensed her Spirit Core, making her one of the youngest Spirit Users in history to do so.”
“What?! She’s already at the Spirit Core Realm?!” Ella was unable to hide her shock. Even Shin, who was a freak of nature that had awakened a Spirit that triggered a natural phenomenon, was only at Rank 18. Yet, the black-haired girl that was currently standing on stage had already reached the Spirit Core Realm.
“Exactly! Her talent is so terrifying that many common folks in the Kori Federation labelled her as the Witch in the South. Many hypothesise that she would one day become a Spirit Saint, and perhaps even reach the heavens to become the twentieth Spirit Immortal. Due to her immense potential, the Imperial Family had actually placed a large number of resources into grooming her to become a future powerhouse that could defend the nation from the Kori Federation and the Lantis Republic. In fact, some say that she has more influence compared to the Royal Princes and Princesses.”
‘Hoho, this guy is like a handy encyclopedia when it comes to affairs in the Capital huh…’ Shin mentally thought. Almost instantaneously, the value of the silver-haired androgynous male sitting beside him had risen dramatically. ‘I could use him to teach us about everything in the Empire.’
“T-That’s crazy… To think that someone like that exists…” Emma muttered out, her voice quivering with every word. Back on Frie Mountain, she believed that Shin and Ariel were perhaps the best talents that the world had ever seen. However, now that she had entered the famous academy, she finally understood that there was always a mountain higher.
“Good morning my fellow freshmen! First and foremost, I must thank Principal Erudito and the kind members of the faculty for preparing such a wonderful event for all of us.” As Kanari opened her mouth, a sonorous voice, as sweet as the best honey that nature could provide, echoed through the spacious hall, making the spectators fall into a trance-like state.
“I am elated to share this morning with all of you, as we begin on our first steps together as freshmen of Imperius Academy. As students, we are here to learn from the best of the best and to better ourselves so that we could become the finest talents that the world has ever seen. As such, I urge you, my fellow freshmen, to keep an open mind as we continue on our learning journey. For our instructors that are all too wise, I hope you would be patient with us as we take our baby steps through the year, and catch us whenever we fall.”
‘The Witch of the South huh? As expected of Imperius Academy. Alongside the Freak of the Dundlewoods, they are talents that are rarely seen. Not to mention, there are many other strong freshmen this year… Looks like getting the top position would be harder than I thought…’ Shin fell into deep thought as Kanari continued with her speech.
All these while, even though he had lacked the combat training needed for someone in the combatant path, Shin always thought that with his superior cultivation level, he could somehow manage to get by. Yet, there stood someone who was much more talented than he was when it came to cultivation.
‘To get the benefits of first place, I must become stronger as soon as possible!’
Imperius Academy adopted a meritocracy system when it came to training their students. Those who were exemplary in that year would get various rewards such as one-on-one training sessions, valuable training herbs such as medicinal pills, and even a personal cultivation chamber that was so dense with elemental Spirits that it would even make a Spirit Core cultivator drunk with mana. However, to gain access to the best rewards, the only way was to reach the first place in the cohort.
With a competitive gaze, Shin acutely stared at Kanari as she concluded her speech. All around him, the fanatics, especially males, were all cheering and whistling, as she waved goodbye and left the stage.
‘I won’t lose!’ Shin obstinately declared as the opening ceremony came to a close.