As the mid-year practicals came to a close, the predominant news that dominated the academy gossipmongers’ ears were the two tales of the most excellent freshmen. Coming out of nowhere, the mysterious black-haired boy condensed his Spirit Core and learnt a Spiritual Body Enhancement ability in the process. After nearly half a year of training, Shin had turned from an empty target that everyone thought was a pushover, to a real imminent threat for one of the top positions.
The second prevalent news that had been disseminated into the public was the fact that Kanari Saniela, the Witch in the South, had finally revealed her enigmatic third spiritual ability. Creating a concentrated mana beam that could incinerate even the enhanced training golem, Kanari’s battle prowess had undoubtedly risen tremendously. Some were even saying that she could easily defeat the majority of fifth and sixth years now.
The news of the two Spirit Core freshmen breaking it into the scene was not limited within the compounds of Imperius Academy. Many members of High Society all paid careful attention to the happenings of the institution. In fact, the very same day that Shin revealed his promotion, hundreds of letters by large organisations were sent to him, giving him tantalising offers to join them. Some of them even included riches that were worth over a hundred gold ingots, if Shin exclusively joined their ranks.
Naturally, the youth turned them down in a heartbeat. His primary goal was to grow stronger and combat the Black Mask syndicate, something that he couldn’t do if he were tied down by bonds to an organisation that he had no interest in serving. Furthermore, none of the offers even came close to what Kanari and Elrin could give him.
Of course, mixed into the pile of letters were challenges that hot-blooded freshmen, predominantly teenage boys, had extended to him. If it were before, Shin would have ignored the messages and turtled up in one corner, hoping that no one would be able to find him. However, now that he had condensed his Spirit Core and drastically improved his combat abilities, Shin had to confidence to take on anyone that stood in his path.
Accepting numerous challenges, Shin beat down over a dozen of those who came forward to confront him in less than a week, earning him the nickname of the black-haired tyrant. After being personally trained by Mychael for many months, dealing with some run off the mill students that wanted to gain fame from challenging him was basically a walk in the park for Shin. With his superior speed and reflexes, all Shin needed to do was outmanoeuvre his opponent until he could land the finishing blow.
After Shin’s ‘week of malevolence,’ the letter of challenges had ceased and the entire freshmen cohort had formed a new found respect for their current salutation. Random students would come up to Shin, hoping to establish a lasting friendship with the youth, while others would stare at him from afar, fearful of even meeting eyes with the black-haired boy. Additionally, since Shin and Kanari were part of the same clique, many believed that crossing the youth would mean getting into the bad books of the Witch of the South.
Speaking of the two prodigious freshmen, they were currently attending the spiritual tools class that was headed by Professor Quinn, the only class that the two of them shared. Without the interference of the meddling Elrin or Shizen, who stuck to Shin like glue, the pair could often have their best conversations during the class.
“Shin, how are your results?” Sitting right beside the youth, Kanari flashed a pleasant smile while she held her own test transcript in her hands.
“Here, have a look.”
“Hah… Full marks again?! How’s that possible?!” The moment she saw the three digits on Shin’s paper, Kanari’s grin quickly turned into a glower of distraught. “I worked so hard on this test as well…”
“How much did you get?” Shin peered over to the paper in Kanari’s hand, curious to find out what she had received.
“Well, that’s a great score as well.”
“But I didn’t beat you! I thought that I could at least beat you in the one subject I’m the most knowledgeable in! Honestly, I just don’t know how you do it! How did you know the answer to question twenty-four?! I have never even heard of that concept!”
“Yeah, that question was tough. However, if you understand the base theory of…”
“Just shut it… I don’t want to hear that from someone who scored full marks.” Before Shin could explain his thought process, the black-haired beauty cut him off with a sny comment before returning to wallow in grief. Naturally, she wasn’t that heart-broken, and her show was all in good fun.
“Haha, yeah.” Shin laughed off Kanari’s act as he kept his paper in his bag. Since he had scored the maximum amount of points, there was no need for him to check if there were any errors. “But with this, I can finally get my reward…”
“Hmmm? What do you mean?” Kanari raised her head almost instantly.
“Professor Quinn promised that the person who scored the highest in the tests would get an elementary-grade spiritual tool, and I intend to claim my reward.”
“…” Kanari stared at the youth in silence for a while before squinting her eyes in confusion. “Didn’t Elrin already give you a set of expert-grade spirit armaments? Do you really need an elementary-grade one?”
“Yes, I do. Don’t you know that the tournaments at the end of the year only allows elementary-grade spirit armaments to be used?”
Although spirit armaments were legal to be used during the tournaments held at year’s end, Imperius Academy imposed numerous rules to prohibit wealthier students from gaining a technical advantage. Firstly, the number of spirit armaments were severely limited and secondly, the grade cannot surpass the elementary level.
“Oh, right… Hoho, so you’re planning to use some needles to take me down?” Kanari hypothesised.
“No, that’s impossible. Before I could even reach you, your Lunar Beam would obliterate me.”
“Haha, who knows? Perhaps your abnormal head would really come up with an idea to defeat me?”
After witnessing Kanari’s full might, Shin went into overdrive mode, hoping to find out the best way that he could defeat the genius beauty. However, every time he tried to formulate a plan, the mind-boggling techniques of Kanari would surface in his mind, forcing him to draw a blank. Kanari was clearly way stronger than Shin.
If Shin used his water to attack her, she could simply wave her Kumiho tail to send a tempest gale to block his assault. If he shot his spirit armaments at her, Kanari could just use her Foxfire to obstruct the damage. If Shin wanted to go into close-quarter combat, Kanari’s superior martial arts would utterly decimate him within minutes. Not only that, using her spiritual pressure and charm ability, Shin would be severely disadvantaged throughout the battle.
Finally, Kanari had the infamous Lunar Beam that was capable to completely incinerating an enhanced training golem, something that Shin couldn’t even hope to achieve. To put it simply, Kanari was way too strong for Shin to best in his current state.
“I wish it was that simple…”
“Hehe, now I’m kind of looking forward to the year’s end.” Giggling in joy, Kanari teased the youth one final time before a thin hand tapped on the desk of the duo.
“Professor Quinn?” Shin raised his gaze to be greeted by the tall man that headed the class.
“Hah… You know, the two of you should be mindful of your surroundings…”
“Huh?” Taking Professor Quinn’s advice, Shin and Kanari took one hard look around only to find out that they had become the centre of attention. All of their male classmates were currently glaring at Shin with an incensed expression while their female counterparts were happily giggling away.
Kanari, in the eyes of the common folk, was an unobtainable beauty that lived in a dimension of her own.
“I know that the two of you are currently the top two students in my class, but that doesn’t mean that you can go off into your own world…” Letting out a dismal sigh, the tall man stood up straight and shook his head. After the preliminary tests, he had purposefully set the mid-year test at a much harder level. However, to his utter surprise, Shin had scored full marks with Kanari not that far behind with only three marks deducted. In contrast, the third place in his class could just score a seventy-four, something that was amiable in his opinion.
“Ah, we apologise!” Being the prim and proper noble that she was, Kanari bowed down in remorse, and she used her elbow to nudge Shin to do the same.
“No, it’s fine. Just be more careful in the future.” Professor Quinn let the two of them off with a warning before raising his brows rapidly, as if he had remembered something important. “Right, Shin. Please come to my office after class. I have something for you.”
“A-Ah, yes! Thank you!”
“Hey, hey. Hold your horses, boy. I haven’t given it to you yet…” Seeing the black-haired boy’s eyes light up, Professor Quinn smiled and walked down the aisle, back to his table to resume the class.
“Look at you, so excited to receive that reward.”
“Haha, you’re right… I should learn to control my emotions…”
“That’s not what I meant… Ah, whatever.” Just as she was about to continue the conversation, Kanari suddenly remembered why she was reprimanded in the first place and diverted her attention back to the front of the class.
‘Of course, I’m excited… I can’t wait to test out the Divine Needle Binding technique using those weapons…’ Shin bit his lip to contain his elation. ‘I really hope they suit that technique…’
Imperius Academy. Training Yard Four.
The current time was half-past eight, and darkness had long befallen upon the acclaimed institution. Since the mid-year tests and practicals were over, the students all felt a sense of relief as they had weathered through the first significant hurdle of the academic year. Many of them had gone out to party and relax while others had taken this opportunity to return home instead of being stifled in one corner of the campus. However, while everyone else was out enjoying themselves, a sinewy, muscular teenage boy, who seemed nothing like a fifteen-year-old, was currently doing swinging his Guandao about, sending thunderbolts flying everywhere in the process.
With a forehead full of sweat, the young man was swinging the two-metre-long weapon as if it were made out of rubber. Slamming the blade straight into the boulders that lay dormant on the concrete floor, Suji ensured that everything that stood in his way was pulverised into a pulp and the hundreds of lightning coils that enveloped him enabled him to do just that.
“Suji, you’re still at it?” While the youth was in the middle of training, a pudgy teenager walked into the training facility with a jar filled with fried chicken. “Everyone’s outside enjoying themselves, you should take it easy.”
“Dan… How could I?” When Suji saw his childhood friend edging in closer, he lowered down his Purple Dragon Crescent Sabre and took a deep breath.
“What do you mean?”
“Can’t you listen? Ever since the mid-year practicals, the only thing that I can hear is the news of Kanari and Shin!” Suji exclaimed. “No matter where I go, the only news that people are talking about is how talented the two of them are! How they would monopolise the top two positions as long as they are in our year!”
As someone who was aiming for the top, Suji couldn’t stand the fact that his name wasn’t up there on a pedestal, and he wasn’t even considered among the top rankers.
“Suji… You know that you’re as good as any of them, so why put yourself through this self-harm?”
“Dan… You should know how I feel better than anyone else. Our families pride and dignity are on the line. I always thought that the only person that I had to surpass was Kanari, yet, this Shin came out of nowhere and took the limelight away from me!” As he gritted his teeth, a crackle of thunder shot through the facility, destroying an innocent boulder sitting in the distance. Suji could stand losing out to Kanari since she had been established as the top dog to beat. However, there was no way that Suji could stand staying under a nobody.
“Don’t try and convince me otherwise, Dan… The only way that I can swallow this belly of hate is to sweat it out. Leave me alone for now…”
Danroy took one final look at his broken friend before heaving out a deep sigh. “Fine… Just don’t overwork yourself. I’ll leave some fried chicken here, just in case you get hungry from training.”
The muscular youth watched as Danroy walked further and further away from the grounds and out the exit.
“Shin Iofiel, huh… Let’s see how good you really are at year’s end…” Tightening his grip around the Purple Dragon Crescent Blade, Suji continued on his deranged sets, blocking out any distractions that might have plagued his consciousness.