Book 5: The Capital || Chapter 58: The Challenge Ahead

Imperius Academy. Five Months Later.

Time flowed by as if it were gushing down a river torrent. Even though the Capital didn’t experience any drastic changes to its seasons, as the year came to a close, the monsoon caught up with the citizens of the land. Torrential downpours from the heavens graced the everyday lives of the residents, forcing those with weaker bodies to stay in the comfort of their own abodes, sipping on hot chocolate and tea to pass the time. 

Thunder boomed, and lightning crackled. The pitter-patter sound bites of the pouring rain crashing upon their windows become a familiar melody for the students at Imperius Academy. For those who disliked the constant rain, it was a nightmare. However, for a particular black-haired boy whose Spirit thrived under the water elements, it was as if heaven had descended upon the barren earth.

Sitting cross-legged in the cultivation chamber that he had booked, Shin was in the process of reciting his favourite cultivation mantra. With the change of weather, the water elements danced in euphoria as it became the predominant element in the area. Taking advantage of this, Shin spent all of his credits in getting private cultivation chambers just so that he could absorb as much water elements as he could. Since he had scored rather highly during his mid-year tests and practicals, the boy could afford to spend a considerable amount of his accumulated credits.

Shin was in a deep stupor when all of a sudden, a subtle alarm that resembled that of a cicada’s chirping, sounded off inside of the chamber.

“Mmmm… Time’s up huh?” Opening his azure blue eyes, Shin opened his mouth and allowed a sigh that turned into a cold mist to escape. Although there was no winter in the Capital, Shin had purposefully lowered the temperature of the chamber so that it was more conducive for his cultivation needs. 

Getting up from his stone cold bed, Shin walked over to the shower room that was provided in chambers to wipe off the immense amounts of sweat that had been amassing since he entered into deep cultivation. After cleaning his face, Shin took one hard look at himself in the mirror. Now that he had entered into the late stages of puberty, his height had grown to its maximum, and he was now standing at 1.78 metres tall. Shin’s pitch black hair had been expertly trimmed by Emma so that it wouldn’t impede his vision nor would make him look like an unkempt person. His azure eyes that seemed to hide the expansive lake that slept deep within his Spirit Core shone in an intelligent light, giving Shin a sense of mystique that was not common for teenagers his age. 

Due to his extensive training, the black-haired boy was toned down, and there was no wasted fat on his lean body. Since he wasn’t aiming to bulk up, the youth retained his slender figure that helped with increasing his speed. Shin’s long chiselled face that was untouched by even a single blemish had been sanded down as all of the excess fat left his body. 

From the day that he first revealed that he had condensed his Spirit Core, many of the academy’s eyes were glued onto him. That included some of the campus young teenage girls. After he revealed himself, the letters of challenges slowly turned into confession letters by dozens of maidens that desired to be with a suave and talented youth. Even though he lacked the background, Shin’s handsome appearance and overwhelming strength resonated with many girls that were seeking a future spouse in the academy. 

Almost becoming the most desired boy in the campus, Shin had to open hundreds of letters from girls that professed their love for him. Naturally, he rejected them all. Heartlessly, if one might add. Shin had no interest in getting into a relationship, but his aloof and cold attitude towards them had backfired severely, as his hard-to-get personality somehow triggered a switch with some of his admirers. It even got to the point where some girls would come to him in the middle of the day and confess in the middle of a public hallway.

Rubbing his sharp chin, the youth examined the bags that hung deep under his azure eyes and let out a melancholic sigh.

“I haven’t been getting enough sleep…” Shin thought out loud. “I should stop with the cultivation for now. It’s not like I could improve any further before the tournament anyway.”

During these past few months, Shin had trained rigorously in preparation for the tournament at year’s end. Surpassing everyone’s expectations, after he condensed his Spirit Core, Shin had also advanced a rank and was currently at Rank 21. Considering his lack of resources, it was a surprise to many that he was able to consolidate his cultivation that quickly to promote. In a few more weeks, the tournament that decides the official hierarchy of the academy would commence, and everyone was desperately trying to improve their overall powers. Of course, Shin was not exempted from the anxiety of competing, thus explaining the deep dark rings that lay under his eyes.

Donning on a new pair of robes, the young teen promptly headed to the exit, where he was greeted by sheets of rain that blanketed the sky and his vision. Thankfully, Imperius Academy prepared for all types of weathers and built numerous sheltered walkways for the students to move from area to area. Otherwise, Shin would have to have his new clothes drenched yet again.

“Shin, you’re finally out!” While the young boy was admiring the billions of water droplets that fell to the ground, a heavenly voice sounded out from his right. An ethereal black-haired young girl, whose beauty could cause even the most celibate of monks to come out of hibernation, stood up from a stone bench under a pavilion nearby and ambled towards Shin.

“Kanari? Why are you here?”

“We were just looking for you so that we could eat dinner! The rest are already waiting at the usual place.” The girl laughed with a radiant smile. Having interacted with Shin for so long, Kanari had become accustomed to the boy’s hardcore training regimen. Guessing that he would be hungry after his long session of cultivation, Kanari came to fetch Shin as well as assist him in the checking out of the room.

“Ah, thanks for telling me… I really could use a bite.” Shin chuckled as he felt a primal hunger rumbling throughout his abdomen. 

“Haha, you always forget about food when you’re cultivating!”

“I can’t help it. The tournaments are up next, and that would decide our fates. I heard that the rewards for the top three of our year had been raised significantly.” Shin revealed the reason why he had been spending hours each day training like a madman. 

Since this year’s freshmen cohort had so many talented individuals, each with the capability of taking the valedictorian seat of any other year, Imperius Academy had raised the stakes, and the rewards for the top ten seats had been increased exponentially. Of course, the little donations from the Duchy of Highgarden and the Zedcris Conglomerate helped in their raising of resources, but that wasn’t something that was publicised yet.

“Yeah, after all, there are two freshmen in the Spirit Core realm.” Kanari right eye playfully winked at Shin.

“You’re right… The lass that’s already at Rank 24 is bound to get the valedictorian seat is bound to get all the best rewards right?”

“Hey, it’s not my fault that you advance so slowly!”

“Urgh…” Shin rolled his eyes as Kanari’s teasing. Even though Shin was rather fast in his cultivation, Kanari was way quicker, and she had recently advanced into Rank 24. Of course, the resources that her parents provided her were crucial to her sailing through the ranks, but her effort was a driving factor as well. Not willing to lose out to Shin, the young girl cultivated at the same pace as the black-haired youth, hoping to at least maintain her lead. 

“Shizen is also at Rank 19, so if you don’t hurry up, perhaps he might overtake you?” Kanari reminded the youth that one of his closest friends was also about to catch up.

“That lazy blob? I doubt so. He wouldn’t even have the dedication to condense his Spirit Core before the tournaments begin.”

“Haha, yeah! He doesn’t seem like the type to work hard at all. But wouldn’t it be interesting to have three freshmen at the Spirit Core realm? I bet the faculty would be stumped for words if that ever happens!” Kanari jokes.

The Imperius Academy curriculum had been designed in a way that freshmen who first enter the campus would be between Rank 10 to Rank 14. Yet, in this year alone, some geniuses entered at Rank 18 and Kanari had even enrolled while she was in the Spirit Core realm! If even Shizen condensed his Spirit Core, the upper management of the academy might be forced to revise their entire syllabus just to accommodate those monsters.

“Honestly, I’m more concerned about Suji and Danroy… They are the most significant threats in my way…” Shin thought out loud.

Suji Lasgeor, living up to his Son of War moniker, had gone from Rank 16 to Rank 19, catching up to Shizen’s cultivation level with ease. His martial arts techniques had advanced even further, and there was also a time where he effortlessly sparred with a fifth-year senior to a draw, garnering him even more fame that he had before.

Danroy Frithron, on the other hand, had similarly advanced three ranks, reaching Rank 18. Using his Bangeo Rhinoceros, the youth had continued to showcase his might by his actions, knocking down his competition bit by bit.

Even though the two of them hadn’t been openly aggressive towards Shin, every time they crossed paths, the black-haired boy could sense the hostility in their eyes. Should they meet during the tournaments, Shin had no doubt that they would go all out to decimate him under their feet.

“Really? What about me? Am I not a threat in your path to the number one spot?” Kanari pouted. 

“Stop it with your overacted play, Kanari. You know that no one in our cohort could possibly hope to beat you.” After lightly sparring with the black-haired beauty numerous times, Shin knew that he had no chance of beating Kanari, at least for the time being. No matter what tactics he employed, the girl would just counter it with ease with her Kumiho form. Thus, he had given up on attaining the valedictorian spot this year and settled for retaining his salutatorian one.

“Hehe, who knows? Perhaps you have something up your sleeve that I haven’t seen yet.”

“Yeah, as if I could finish an overpowered person like you.”

“Well, let’s leave it as that…” As they conversed, the duo finally reached the usual diner where their clique typically ate their meals. Pushing open the rusted metal doors, a sonorous chime rang through the entire room alerting those inside of the new arrivals.

“Shin! Kanari! Over here!” As the entered the room, one hyper voice bellowed from across the room. Elrin, who had stood up to show the duo of her location, waved her hands rapidly. Shrugging their shoulders, the pair walked over to the table where all of their friends were waiting.

“Shin, you’re finally here!” Isadore flashed a playful smile while slurping down his glass of milkshake. 

“Yeah, sorry for being late.”

“No, it’s fine!” Emma consoled the youth while signalling to the owner that it was okay to bring out Shin’s food. “So, how’s the cultivation?”

“I think I’m stopping for now… The tournament is coming soon, and I don’t want to overwork myself before the first match.”

“That sounds logical, you have been crazily cultivating ever since the weather had changed.” Ella came in with an assertion. “You should be mindful of your health as well.”

Ella, Emma and Isadore were all at Rank 17 after almost a year of training. Although they weren’t quite at the level of the monstrous prodigies such as Shin and Kanari, they were still talented in their own right and were currently in the upper echelons of the cohort. If it progressed smoothly, by next year, all three of them would be sent to the Star Class to study alongside the rest of the clique.

“*Zzzzz!*” While Shin was catching up with the rest of the group, a resonant snore could be heard from the side of the table. Peering forward, the youth could see one of his best friends lying dead on the bench, unaware that Shin had arrived.

“Shizen is sleeping again?”

“Don’t mind him. He just ate over half a kilogram of salad and drank that fizzy drink that Elrin bought for him. He’s probably out of commission for the next hour or so.” Ella explained while pursing her lips. Evidently, it wasn’t the first time that she was forced to take care of the slothful youth.

“Sure…” Taking their seats, Kanari and Shin waited for the food to arrive while the group continued to discuss the upcoming tournaments that would decide the fate of their futures.

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