Shin walked to the middle of the training courtyard platform with the gazes of over fifty students all glued onto his body. Excluding the monster that was Kanari, who had already condensed her Spirit Core, Shin was the only freshman who had reached Rank 18. Shizen Dundlewoods, who was widely considered to be the strongest fifteen-year-old after Kanari, was still one rank short of Shin’s current cultivation level, and the Son of War was only at Rank 16. Outranking numerous famous individuals, it was no wonder that the unknown name of Shin Iofiel resonated with so many students.
Before the black-haired teen turned his attention to face the training golem though, he sent one final glare at the asshole that had caused his dilemma. The tanned scoundrel, however, cared nought of Shin’s feelings. He had already meted out his revenge by exposing Shin’s cultivation level to the public. Hence Mychael believed that the two had cut it even. Naturally, Shin didn’t feel the same way.
“You asshole… Why did I even ask for your help back in the cave?” Shin had mixed feelings when it came to Mychael. Even though the tanned-skin man had helped him tremendously by teaching him how to use mana strengthening, Mychael was also the cause of many of his recent headaches. From bullying him during training to disclosing Shin’s cultivation level to the rest of the school. Many things had occurred that made Shin want to rip Mychael’s smug face of his body.
“Too bad~” Shrugging his shoulders, Mychael quickly lost interest in the black-haired boy and brought out yet another stone golem. In his first lesson of the semester, Mychael’s class had already ruined two training golems, something that was unprecedented in for students in their first semester. Although he was sure to get an earful from Principal Erudito, the tanned scoundrel didn’t really care about that.
“Urgghhh, I hate you…” Growling in displeasure, Shin walked forward towards the fresh stone golem and waited for the signal.
Sensing that there was someone in front of it, the training automaton’s hollow eye sockets turned red as it powered up. Since it was made to become a punching bag, the golem would not react unless it was attacked first, thus giving Shin all the time in the world to prepare himself.
‘I probably won’t do as well as the rest so I should just focus on hitting it with Mychael’s techniques…’ Shin arranged his fight plan in his head and began to take deep breaths in to calm himself down.
A crisp and refreshing aura started to envelop the young teen as Shin circulated his mana within his body. After observing how the training golem behaved in battle, the young teen knew that none of his created water tendrils or spheres would be able to pierce through its defences. Furthermore, since it was a mechanical object, he couldn’t use his drugged water to immobilise the golem. Adding to the fact that the class that he was attending was a close-ranged combat lesson, Shin felt that there was no need to show off every single weapon in his arsenal.
‘Bone strengthening… Done… Muscle strengthening… Done…’ Peering deep into his body, Shin moved his mana about and ensured that the necessary steps of mana strengthening were completed. Since he was merely circulating his mana, there was no need for him to summon out The Sovereign Koi, lest it causes an uproar in the crowd.
‘The final step…’ Once the initial steps had been undertaken, Shin coated his body in a thin layer of cerulean light, as if a jelly glaze had been smothered all over. Only after three solid seconds, did Shin complete his preparations.
“Now!” Sending some of his spiritual energy into his calves, Shin executed a martial art that Mychael had recorded down in his education ‘manual’ that allows a fighter to close the distance between himself and his enemy. Shin’s ankles started to become illusory as he made a beeline towards the stone golem.
“Lightning Swallow Steps!” Moving erratically to divert the training golem’s attention, Shin instantly reached the feet of his enemy. To the outsider’s eye, the young teen seemed to have used a rudimentary movement technique crudely to close the distance, however, when Mychael saw how Shin used his techniques, his jaw dropped in astonishment.
‘I didn’t even teach him that martial art and yet he learnt it?!’ Mychael had only taught Shin for five lessons and he had only managed to teach the black-haired teen the basics of the basics. Despite that, using the unreadable manual that Mychael had written when he was drunk one day, Shin managed to somehow catch the crux of the technique and even learnt it by himself.
‘Who the fuck is this kid?! How could he learn all of that by himself?! Don’t tell me he was pulling my leg this entire time and his master is actually a martial art genius?’ Shin’s comprehension ability made Mychael doubt his own sanity as he convinced himself that the young teen actually had a top martial arts expert within his household.
“Seismic Step!” Unaware that he had generated waves of doubt in Mychael’s mind, Shin continued on his assault on the training golem. Stomping his right foot aggressively on the automaton, Shin attempted to fall his foe, but it was to no avail. As if it was annoyed by the young teen’s attempt, the stone golem used the back of its hand to swat Shin away from its body. Fortunately, using the Lightning Swallow Steps technique, Shin was able to evade the backhand by the strand of a hair.
“Harggh!!!” Sending a knee to the golem’s abdomen, Shin continued on his fruitless attack on the automaton, causing the spectators to raise an eyebrow in confusion.
“What? Is that the combat ability of the number two freshman?”
Many voices of doubt were raised by the crowd. After the spectacular show from Danroy, Suji and the twins, the bar had risen to an unattainable degree. Therefore, even though Shin wasn’t doing poorly, to the eyes of his fellow classmates, the young teen was a huge disappointment. Ever so often, Shin would graze the stone golem with his clenched fists, but that was about it.
Of course, Shin wasn’t aiming to impress his peers. While the rest of the class looked at this session as a way to show off their talents, Shin had other plans. His goal was clear from the very start. Shin would perform all of the techniques that he had learnt from Mychael so that later on during the combat class, the tanned-skin scoundrel would be able to point out his drawbacks and help him refine his techniques. Therefore, his performance was for the eyes of one person and one person only.
‘That brat… How could he use my great Seismic Combination that way?! He’s basically opening himself up to a flurry of counter-attacks!!!’ And evidently, Shin’s plan was working. Mentally, Mychael was already picking out all of the mistakes that the young boy had made and was preparing himself to reprimand Shin once his session was over.
“What do you think Dan?” While Shin was barely landing hits on the golem, Suji furrowed his brows and asked his childhood friend about his impressions in a low tone.
“He’s boring… When I heard that he was already at Rank 18, I thought that he would make a good fight; but if that’s the extent of his abilities, I could decimate him with one or two blows.” Danroy rolled his eyes in contempt. Just thinking that he was ranked lower than that black-haired teen that was hardly up to par, made Danroy scowl in annoyance.
“You’re right… Perhaps he’s one of those people that is great with cultivation but morbid in real fights…” Suji theorised.
“Hmph! If that’s the case, we don’t have to worry about him. His position as number two would be gone before the year is over. The people that we have to worry about are the Silver Spoon and that asshole Shizen…” Danroy gritted his teeth as he recalled the brown-haired boy that had humiliated him a week ago.
“You’re forgetting ‘her’…”
“If you honestly think that you can beat ‘her’ during our time in Imperius Academy, you’re just outright delusional. No one could come close to her position as the valedictorian of the cohort.”
“To be the best, we have to beat the best. I’m sure you know of all the rewards granted to the number one rank each year. Some of the benefits are hard to find, even with the influence of both our families combined.” Suji reminded the pudgy young teen.
“I know… That’s why it’s frustrating… Why were we born in the same year as that monster?” Rubbing his head in a grievance, Danroy lamented the fact that the competition this year was much more intense than the years prior.
“How feeble… With that kind of mindset, how can you expect to accomplish great things?” Suji admonished his childhood friend with a demeaning tone.
“Shut it! I’m plenty strong right now! And I’ll only get stronger in the years to come! It’s just that some things are not worth fighting for. You should know when you’re outmatched. That’s also an essential skill in war.” Unlike his haughty behaviour before, Danroy seemed to resemble an old sage that had gone through thousands of battles.
“…” Suji squinted his eyes and stared down the pudgy teen that stood next to him. “I’m not going to argue over this again… Let’s just watch the remainder of our classmates’ assessments.”
While the two old pals were having a philosophical debate, Shin’s assessment had concluded with him not able to even force the training golem to move a single step backwards. Angered by Shin’s boorish implementation of his techniques, Mychael swiftly went over and demanded him to stay back after class, so that he could rectify Shin’s mistakes, which was precisely what Shin had hoped for him to do.
Following that, the remainder of the students came forward to finish their assessment. As expected, there were no other freshmen who were able to topple the training golem, but there were some standout performances. Once the class concluded, news that the mysterious black-haired Rank 18 Spirit Apostle was not as powerful as once thought, spread through the campus like wildfire, ending the desire to find out more about Shin. In its place, the new tale of the Fairies of the Hail dominated the academy rumour boards.
Himmel Empire. The Capital. Lady Seph’s Residence.
“I wonder how Shin, Ella and Emma are doing…” A longing voice called out for the trio that had moved straight into the dormitory rooms of Imperius Academy. Lia, who had already become the household ‘mother’ of the mansion, was looking out of the kitchen window in the direction that her siblings had moved to.
“I’m sure that they’re doing fine. After all, they are much more mature now.” Ryner replied in a cold voice. Having returned from a long hunt with his group, the young adult was fatigued to the point of collapse. Sprawled out on the table, Ryner was waiting for Lia to finish her cooking so that he could have an early dinner.
“Still, they are in an unfamiliar place, all alone by themselves… How could I not be worried?”
“They can take care of themselves. I mean, if Shin could bounce back from that incident, there’s nothing that he can’t face…”
“You have a point…” As Lia remembered the event that had changed their lives forever, she couldn’t help but release a huge sigh. They say that time was the greatest healer, and yet, the agony that they felt was as painful as if those events happened yesterday. “I really hope that Shin doesn’t push himself too far.”
“He knows his limits…”
“Talking about my disciple?” While they were having a casual conversation, an adenoidal voice interrupted the duo.
“L-Lady Seph!” Realising who had entered the room, Ryner stood up from his slouched position and greeted the gorgeous blonde woman. Lia, who was stir-frying a pan of vegetables, did the same maneuver.
“Lady Seph! It’s rare to see you out from your study room… Is something the matter?”
“No, it’s just I felt something weird… It’s alright now. What are we having for dinner?” After a brief glance out of the window, Lady Seph shook her head to indicate that nothing was wrong and questioned about the menu.
“Ah! We’re having venison cooked in black bean sauce and stir-fried chilli vegetables! If you would like, I could prepare a side of cold noodles for you?” Remembering that Lady Seph loved to eat cold noodles, Lia offered to cook one portion for her.
“That sounds delightful… Your skills in the kitchen are steadily approaching those of the chefs in the Imperial Kitchen, my dear. Perhaps you could open up a restaurant in the future.”
“Thank you for your praise!”
“Haha, don’t mention it. Alright, once dinner is made, you know where to find me.” Just as quickly as she appeared, Lady Seph returned back to her study room where she did the bulk of her research.
“It’s rare to see Lady Seph outside… Did something happen?” Now that the beauty that was almost two centuries old was gone, Ryner could finally relax.
“Not sure… Hehe, she complimented me though.”
“Look at you, getting giddy over some praise.”
“You’re just jealous… I’m sure you would want a Spirit Venerate to praise your hunting skills as well.”
“S-Shut it!” Blushing furiously at her comments, Ryner got up from his chair and headed towards the dining table, in preparation for the meal ahead.
In the dark corners of the forest, where Lady Seph’s residence lay, two dark-robed individuals were thoroughly drenched in their own sweat as their eyes hinted of the horrific experience that they had just encountered.
“T-T-That was close!” One of the covert operatives exclaimed.
“To think that an expert was hiding in this remote location. Judging from the spiritual pressure, that expert must have at least been a Spirit Emperor!”
“I thought that this would be a simple mission of reconnaissance! We almost lost our lives there!”
“Anyway… We have to report this to the missus. Actually, we might have to report it to madam as well! That boy that the missus asked us to investigate, his backing isn’t light!”
Fearing that their young mistress was about to do something untoward towards the boy, the operatives rushed through the forest to return with the news as soon as they possibly could.