As the mid-year tests and assessments drew ever closer, the entire study body had switched from their merry, happy-go-lucky mode, into their cramming phase. Freshmen would rush to get notes from their upperclassmen while bookings of training rooms had been filled up for days as students did their last-minute practices. Of course, for the studious students like Shin, they didn’t have to worry about their slots as they had reserved the rooms months in advance.
In the middle of the mayhem that had fallen upon the cohort, one small group of students were studying in tranquillity in their own remote corner, where they were unhindered by the chaos that surrounded them.
“Shin, are you going to train with Mychael tomorrow?” Elrin looked up from her notebook and questioned the black-haired youth.
Over the three months, Elrin, Kanari, Shizen and Isadore had slowly been integrated into the orphan’s clique, and often times, they could be seen studying together in their own isolated area. A significant reason why that was the case was due to Shin’s superior comprehension and teaching abilities. Practically memorising the entire curriculum, Shin could easily score full marks on any paper that the faculty would set, something that both Kanari and Elrin envied heavily.
“Yeah, sort of.” Shin continued penning down his notes while issuing a blatant lie. After promoting to the Spirit Core realm, all resources and training personnel that had been assigned to him had been revoked, meaning that Shin wasn’t entitled to any more privileges from the school. However, since he didn’t want his promotion to become common knowledge, Shin and the twins decided to keep the facade that he was still at Rank 19.
“That’s a shame, I wanted to invite you to dinner with my father. You know he’s a busy man, and it’s rare that he has time to dine with us.”
“Haha, I’m honoured. But I have to put my training first. I’m sorry.”
“Hmph! You’re no fun~” Elrin bit her lip and turned her head round in indignation. Although she seemed to be hurt by Shin’s denial, everyone present at the table knew that it was a ploy.
Every week, Elrin would tempt Shin with offers to join the Zedcris Conglomerate, even going as far to bring in her father for her tactics. However, Shin was never moved and had politely declined each time, so much so that even the usually patient and methodical Elrin was starting to feel frustrated.
Kanari, on the other hand, knew that the situation regarding Shin couldn’t be rushed. After spending a significant amount of resources, she had unearthed every single detail of Shin’s life. From his early beginnings as an orphan in the Frie Clan, to the time where he showed off his talent in the Battle for Aldrich’s Keep. And yes, she had found out that he was one of the few remaining descendants of the Awter Clan and the fateful night where…
After finding out everything about Shin, Kanari was absolutely floored. She finally understood the reason why he chose to abandon the path of the healer and why he was so committed to gaining power at the fastest rate that he could. Compared to herself, who had led a sheltered life where everything was given to her, Shin had to fight tooth and nail for his path and had clawed his way to the very top.
Thus, Kanari knew that she was dancing with the real deal. If she could gain his trust and bring him over to her camp, there was no doubt in Kanari’s mind that Shin would become her most vital asset in the future. Hence, she had been taking it slow when it came to interacting with Shin. Kanari feared that if she were too hasty, she would instead scare off the youth like she did the first time she attempted to bring him over. Thinking that she was playing a game of fishing, Kanari knew that she had to be patient.
During these three months, she had been slowly figuring out what Shin desired and had been showing off her best sides to Shin and the twins, whom which he called family. Looking out for them when they needed her assistance, Kanari was determined to become a staple figure within their lives, so that Shin would one day turn to her when he was in the most need. Therefore, whenever she saw how crudely Elrin was treating the whole situation, Kanari couldn’t help but scoff in distaste.
“Elrin, stop bothering us while we’re studying. Furthermore, you should focus more on your studies as well.”
“Who the hell could keep up with you monsters? Believe it or not, getting an average of eighty-seven out of a hundred is a good score for others! How you got all of your subjects above ninety is beyond me!”
“So you should study more. Being content with eighties isn’t good enough.”
“What are you?! My parent?!” Elrin exploded.
“Don’t worry, Elrin. Your scores are still better than mine.” Shizen drowsily comforted the hysteric youth.
“I don’t care about that!!!”
Kanari, Isadore and the twins had all scored well during the preliminary examinations, with less than three of their subjects falling below a ninety. Well, Shizen was on the borderline of failing due to his lazy nature, but there was no issue there as his practical test scores would be more than enough to cover the deficit that he would be leaving.
Kanari even had an average of ninety-five, something that was unprecedented in the illustrious Imperius Academy, that set their papers much harder as compared to the national standard. However, there was one more monster that towered over Kanari’s score.
Shin had scored full marks for most of his papers with his only two ninety-nines coming from open-ended examinations where the marking was subjective. Nonetheless, he had done the impossible and had nearly scored full marks for all of the preliminary tests, something that students could only dream about.
Before, rumours were circulating about the nature of Kanari and Shin’s relationship, as they were often spotted together. There was even a time where Fred from the fourth years ran down to Shin’s dorm to demand an explanation. However, when the results of the preliminary examinations came out, everything became crystal clear. Everyone had expected Kanari to come out on top, but it was Shin who had the best scores. Furthermore, Kanari was only four points below Shin’s outrageous score. It quickly became evident that Kanari was always with the genius youth, just so that they could mutually benefit from studying with each other.
“Speaking of tests, now that the prelim papers are done, soon it would be time for the mid-year physical assessments right?”
At Elrin’s sudden change of topic, Shin’s body jerked slightly in surprise. The white-haired maiden was right. A few weeks from now, it would be time for the mid-year practicals, where students had to show off how much they had grown over the past half-year. Naturally, with the structure of the tests, the fact that Shin had condensed his Spirit Core would come to light, and it wouldn’t be long before everyone would be gunning for his head once more.
‘That’s right… I have to improve on my martial art techniques…’ Shin fell deep into thought and realised that he didn’t have the luxury to be sitting around studying with the bunch of his friends. He had to completely adapt to the changes in his body before the onslaught began.
“Pardon me, I have to excuse myself for now.”
“Where are you going?”
“To train.” With a succinct reply to Elrin’s question, Shin kept his books into his carry-on before walking back to his dorm.
Imperius Academy had always been one of the most tranquil areas in the entire empire, with very little commercial activity or military exercises in the vicinity, unlike the other regions of the Capital. However, on this day, the entire area surrounding Imperius Academy was bustling as students rushed from building to building, just to get tested or to spectate their friends as they underwent the extensive practical tests.
The assessment when it came to practical tests was rather simple. First, the students would take on a training golem, under the supervision of a teacher. Secondly, if the teacher deemed it to be necessary, they themselves would personally feel the wrath of the student’s abilities.
For the Mychael’s class, there were more than a hundred spectators as they wished to view the skillsets of the prominent figures in the level. Suji and Danroy were two of the most talented combat-oriented freshmen and who could forget the Fairies of the Hail, who had dazzled the academy with their frosty dance of ice? Some onlookers were here for Shin as well, but they were definitely in the minority for this session.
“Why the hell does the academy allow people to spectate our tests?! It’s demeaning!!!” Ella grabbed her head while agonising over the numerous banners that were waving from the side of the training yard. Apparently, their fan club had brought dozens of young students into the facility, just to cheer for the success of their two idols.
“They say that it’s to help weaker students look to their stronger peers as examples… Honestly, it’s a stupid rule, but I can’t change it anyway…” Shin was also frustrated that there were hundreds of onlookers. Peering into the crowd, he could definitely see Kanari and Elrin sitting at one corner, hoping to see the full extent of his abilities.
“Urghhh, don’t they have their own assessments to attend?! How can they stay here for this long?!”
“The faculty purposely made sure that there would be very little overlaps, so apparently that’s fine.”
“!!!” Resigning to her fate, Ella threw her head backwards while lying deeper and deeper into her chair.
“Alright!!! Everyone settle down!!! The mid-year practical for combat class C is about to begin!!! All you fuckers better keep quiet while the tests are commencing. Otherwise, I’ll wring your heads myself!” As the clock struck noon, a rough voice bellowed out from the corridor, as a tanned middle-aged man made his way to the centre of the arena. Seeing the scoundrel make his appearance, the entire training yard quietened down, so much so that if a pin was dropped, there was no doubt that it would be the loudest noise in the facility.
“I’m sure all of you are familiar with the format by now. When you assholes come up, you must take on the training golem, like how you brats did during the first session. If I think that more assessment is required, you would have to face me. The pattern would continue until the very last student.” Mychael crudely explained the rules before taking out a list.
“Shin Iofiel! You’re up first!” Hollering out Shin’s name, Mychael flashed a sinister smile. In the entire academy, only a handful of people knew that Shin had condensed his Spirit Core, and unfortunately for Shin, Mychael was one of them.
“Hah… I knew he would do this.” At this point, Shin was screwed over by Mychael so many times that he grew numb. Either way, the truth would come out today, so he might as well get it over with.
“Shin, good luck!” Emma grabbed the youth’s hand to give him some support.
Stepping forward until he was at the centre of the ring, Shin was stopped by Mychael’s tanned and lean hand. “Brat, destroy the golem while you’re at it, would you? I need to get back at Waru.”
“What makes you think I would do your bidding?”
“Doesn’t matter. If you don’t destroy it, but Suji or Danroy do, I would be forced to give them bonus marks, don’t you think?”
“Tch, how did you even pass your teaching exam?!” Unwilling to accept that Mychael was his direct instructor, Shin bit his lip in frustration as he walked forward to face the unmoving golem. Like before, the automation wouldn’t move unless Shin attacked first. “Fine, I’ll just end it with one move!!!”
Closing his eyes, Shin spread his mana out from the transparent marble that lay deep within the compounds of his abdomen. Feeling his entire body strengthening instantly, Shin unconsciously let out a slight pressure that weighed upon every soul within his vicinity.
“This is!!!” Hundreds of gasps sounded out in recognition as they all accurately identified the nature of the pressure.
“What the hell?! He condensed his Spirit Core?! Did he tell you about that, Kanari?!” Elrin’s impassioned shout echoed from the stands.
“No… Not at all.” Kanari’s face turned pale as a sheet while she carefully observed Shin in a meditative state. All this time, she had believed that she was the sole Spirit Core cultivator coming into the mid-year tests. Yet, she was proved dastardly wrong by Shin current display.
“No wonder he was so secretive these past few weeks! He had bloody condensed his Spirit Core! Looks like your number one spot is in serious danger huh?” Elrin teased the ethereal beauty, but it was to no avail. Kanari was, at the moment, enthralled by Shin’s momentous demonstration. Knowing the boy’s full backstory, Kanari could fully respect the amount of effort and suffering Shin had to go through to get to his current point.
Ignoring the commotion that was happening around him, Shin opened his eyes and felt his physical body changing rapidly. Fishy cerulean scales covered his entire body, and his muscles began to condense into a leaner state. His vision rapidly improved as his perception of the world drastically changed. Now, he was in an enhanced state that no Spirit Apostle could hope to compare to.
Sensing that it was in danger, the training golem stood up clumsily in preparation to receive the oncoming attack. However, it was too late. After being schooled by the golem the first time he faced it, Shin had investigated all of the weak points that the automation possessed and knew the exact place that he had to aim to rapidly take down the golem. In less than two seconds, Shin had disappeared from his original position and had reappeared right in front of the training golem. Immediately moving to immobilise the threat, the automation flung its rocky hands at Shin, hoping to crush him under its body. However, there was no way that a training golem, designed to take hits from fifteen-year-old Spirit Apostles, could match the overwhelming agility of Shin’s speed-oriented Spiritual Body Enhancement ability.
Shin released a heavy punch towards the core of the training golem, immediately shutting off its mana supply and thus, defeating it once and for all. Turning around, Shin cancelled his Spiritual Body Enhancement and returned to his normal state. Walking nonchalantly back to Mychael, Shin tried to turn a blind eye to the hundreds of dropped jaws in the arena.